Should More Academics Blog?
Last week, Michigan State agricultural economics graduate student Jeff Bloem had a nice post about why he thinks more applied economists should be blogging. And seeing as to how blogging has seemingly done very good things for the careers of those academics who do blog, I can see why Jeff might have chosen the title “Why (More) Applied Economists Should Blog.” In a recent article in Economic Development and Cultural Change, David McKenzie shows that economics blogs play an important role in the dissemination of knowledge, they raise the profile of bloggers and their institution, and they improve the knowledge of the blog’s subject matter for the average reader.
But in a Twitter exchange with Jeff (whom you can follow here), I crystallized my thoughts on the could-should-would of blogging. Though I used to think along the same lines as Jeff–“More economists should be blogging!”–I am now a bit more skeptical.
Specifically, I think most academics who should blog already do so, and most academics who should not blog do not. That is, what looks like a positive effect of blogging on the average academic blogger’s* career is an average treatment effect on the treated (ATT), and I suspect the average treatment effect on the untreated (ATU) would be much less positive, and may even be negative (blogging takes time, after all). In other words: Those who do take up blogging (and who keep up with it) are those for whom it works. Those for whom it wouldn’t work don’t take it up (or if and when they do, they don’t keep it up). Or, as Tyler Cowen once put it:
[W]hy do not more economists blog? I believe it is because they can’t, at least not without embarrassing themselves rather quickly, even if they are smart and very good economists. It’s simply a different set of skills. The underlying cognitive model here still needs to be worked out, but it is not a story of smooth continuity.
Smooth continuity notwithstanding, what is the average treatment effect (ATE) of blogging, then? In other words, what does it do for the average academic, who does not know whether she should stay or she should go? Heck if I know: given that the ATT is positive and the ATU can be zero or negative, the ATE of blogging can be anything. Should more academics blog? Maybe, maybe not. If you are on the fence, the best way to figure out if it’s for you is to try it out, maybe by leaving the posts private until you know you can do it. And I’m not sure there is any correlation between one keeping a journal or diary and one’s ability to blog–I have lost count of the number of times I have tried and failed at keeping a diary.
* This is obviously for those academic bloggers who blog regularly and about matters related to their research and/or teaching. There are many dead blogs out there, and there are many blogs that are about their owner’s hobby rather than their job.