Aug 31 '13

A journalist asked me for my thoughts on academics and blogging, in light of our recently announced move to the Washington Post. I responded as follows:

John Sides is the leader of the Monkey Cage and in particular was the key person involved in the Washington Post move.

But I will give you some general comments based on my own experiences.

I started blogging in 2004: Samantha Cook (my postdoc at the time) and I set up the blog so that we could communicate our partially-formed research ideas to each other, in a way that would be open to the world so that (a) we could get input from interested outsiders, and (b) we could publicize our work. We decided to post daily (or approximately thus). At the time, I figured that if there was ever a time that we ran out of material, I could post summaries of my old research papers.

The blog quickly became a place for us to give our various thoughts on statistical modeling, causal inference, and social science. Samantha and, later on, other research collaborators have posted to the blog but it’s been mostly me. I’ve found it very rewarding for several reasons:
– as a way of spreading my own research ideas and methods
– getting feedback from a wide range of potential users of the statistical methods that my colleagues and I are working on
– giving me a chance to participate in larger debates regarding social science, journalism, and policy.

A few years ago I was given an opportunity to join the Monkey Cage, and that has worked very well. I had always been posting on political science related topics, but the Monkey Cage has an audience that is more focused on that topic. In addition, the Monkey Cage works well as a group endeavor. Each of us (the five primary collaborators and the various occasional and guest collaborators) plays a distinct role. In particular, I am not so conversant with the political science research literature (I am a prof of statistics and political science, and my Ph.D. is in statistics) so I end up focusing more on American voting and public opinion (my main substantive research interest in poli sci) as well as methods (survey research, statistical modeling, causal inference, etc). The other contributors to the Monkey Cage can do a better job linking the news of the day with current and classic poli sci research.

Also, the commenters on these two blogs (the Monkey Cage and Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science) are excellent. They often supply me with useful insights, references, and connections to new ideas of which I was not aware.

Not all my blogging experiences have worked so well. For awhile I (along with a few others) contributed to Nate Silver’s 538 blog. When that blog moved to the New York Times, the contributions by authors other than Nate fell off. The problem was that we had to run all our posts past a New York Times editor, and these editors were usually too busy to read our posts! I felt frustrating writing a blog post and then waiting weeks to find out if it could run. It was better to just post directly on the Monkey Cage and my research blog.

I expect the Monkey Cage at the Washington Post will work better because it is my understanding that we will post directly to the blog and not have to go through an editor. This is crucial. A key part of blogging is its immediacy and its informality.

I don’t think that having the Monkey Cage at the Post will change my career. I’ll continue doing my research and my writing. But it will be good to reach new audiences, and I really appreciate the work of John Sides that’s let us to this point.