Challenging the elites, and the blogs


by Sunny
30th October, 2007 at 6:55 pm    

I was chatting to a friend yesterday who works at a British women’s NGO and regularly conducts research and lobbies the government on that basis. As many organisations do. So I said it would be really useful if more of their people blogged about the research they do and feed into debates taking place on the web.

I think that’s important because, as we already know, many (political) bloggers will simply spout off on a subject without having any research to back up their points. They have an opinion on an issue and then get really agitated when the government does something else. Why does no one listen to them, they scream with rage.

Firstly, I think the level of debate on the blogosphere makes it very difficult for academics, anlysts, think-tanks and other NGOs to get involved. There’s too much “drive-by commenting” and people just want to spout abuse because that’s the culture we’ve developed. I believe this needs to change if the British blogosphere is to attract heavy-weights who can feed into constructive dialogue, as is the case a lot in the United States. I’m not saying the Americans do it better but I definitely think the level of debate there is way better (apart from the likes of LGF, Michelle Malkin and sometimes even Daily Kos) because more academics, analysts, policy people get involved.

Secondly, there’s also a fair bit of elitism amongst such organisations, who feel that testing their ideas amongst the masses serves no purpose and they should concentrate solely on lobbying. To an extent I can see their point since resources are usually quite stretched.

But sometimes I get the feeling they don’t want to have that debate because they’re worried it might challenge their own methodology / ideas. It may partly be because they don’t see a constructive debate happening (so it becomes a chicken and egg situation). But unless we get more people working at grass-roots, doing research or developing policy actually engaging with others on their ideas, it means intellectual stagnation. And I see this happening a lot on the left on areas like race, religion, feminism, environment, migration etc – where the same ideas from 20 years ago are being recycled.

That was the main reason I launched New Generation Network – to challenge those ideas and move the debate forward. And I think we did that well. Now the challenge remains to build a broad coalition, to have cross fertilisation of ideas, but also re-think our ideas on other issues than just race and religion. There are far too many single-issue groups just talking to themselves. It needs to change.


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57 Comments below   |  

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  1. j0nz — on 30th October, 2007 at 7:29 pm  

    ‘Even the Daily Kos’ . LOL. It sometimes produces some of the nuttiest things you can get on the web. Support of Hamas, mourning the death of the virgina tech killer etc etc. Even worse than the Guardian…

  2. nodn — on 30th October, 2007 at 8:21 pm  

    Did she agree?

  3. Sunny — on 30th October, 2007 at 11:06 pm  

    It sometimes produces some of the nuttiest things you can get on the web.

    Well, anyone can sign up and start writing a diary. I don’t know why you think nutters wouldn’t exist. It doesn’t compare to the nuttiness of the main writers at LGF or MM though.

    Nodn – she did. :)

  4. Clairwil — on 30th October, 2007 at 11:29 pm  

    Can we not just ban j0nz out of sheer irritation? Every time I see that wacky font I feel murderous.

  5. Leon — on 31st October, 2007 at 12:45 am  

    Seconded.

  6. sonia — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:02 am  

    i’m rather fond of jonz actually. i think he stirs it all up nicely, otherwise it might get a bit boring.

    and don’t people come to PP to irritate each other?

  7. Sunny — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:06 am  

    and don’t people come to PP to irritate each other?

    And then you complain that people aren’t nice enough to each other!

    Anyway, can we get back to the point please? I’m watching the Democratic candidates debate on the web right now. Hehe.

  8. Sunny — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:11 am  

    Or, I’m trying to but the bastards are not streaming it live. Honestly, this web malarky is so lame sometimes.

  9. sonia — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:30 am  

    i don’t think jonz has been nasty to anyone has he?

  10. Nyrone — on 31st October, 2007 at 3:04 am  

    Sunny, are you streaming on MSNBC? It’s working great on my side.

    great post btw, “drive-by commenting” daaaamn straight.

  11. ChrisC — on 31st October, 2007 at 8:15 am  

    j0nz is always very polite

    “don’t people come to PP to irritate each other”

    It’s excellent from that point of view, and much more pleasant than the Guardian where there are a lot of nutters…and that’s just the authors!

  12. j0nz — on 31st October, 2007 at 9:11 am  

    i’m rather fond of jonz actually. i think he stirs it all up nicely, otherwise it might get a bit boring.

    j0nz is always very polite

    Aww thanks guys :)

    Drive-by-commenting… Heh.

  13. Leon — on 31st October, 2007 at 10:54 am  

    and don’t people come to PP to irritate each other?

    If they do they’re missing the point by a country mile…

  14. Ros — on 31st October, 2007 at 11:16 am  

    Hey guys – novice needs advice.
    Some of you insert text in colour (usually red) or a smilie in your message.
    The comment box only takes B & W text.
    So how do you do it?

  15. Rumbold — on 31st October, 2007 at 11:24 am  

    Ros:

    “Hey guys – novice needs advice.
    Some of you insert text in colour (usually red) or a smilie in your message.
    The comment box only takes B & W text.
    So how do you do it?”

    Many of us have the great Leon to thank for teaching us.

    On your keyboard, there is a bracket which shares its space with the comma. Put one of those in first. Then, without touching the spacebar, write blockquote then immediatly after put in the facing bracket (i.e. the one sharing space with the full stop).

    Then write what you want to write. At the end of what you want in red, do the same thing as before, except with /blockquote instead of blockquote.

    Example:

    (blockquote)”This might work”(/blockquote)

    (But instead of using round brackets use the diagonal ones, where the full stop and comma are)

  16. Refresh — on 31st October, 2007 at 11:27 am  

    “j0nz is always very polite”

    Perhaps, but does he have the facts?

  17. Morgoth — on 31st October, 2007 at 11:36 am  

    It doesn’t compare to the nuttiness of the main writers at LGF or MM though.

    I’m not aware of either LGF or MM engaging in holocaust denial, anti-semitism and 911/ trutherism, which are both endemic at KoS.

  18. Ros — on 31st October, 2007 at 11:46 am  

    Rumbold,
    Thanks for the prompt response.
    Here I am trying it out.

    Thank you,Rumbold

    Will it work?

  19. Ros — on 31st October, 2007 at 11:56 am  

    Rumbold,
    As you can see, it worked all right. Thanks again.
    But why does it pick on red only?

    How about other colours? Or even bold or italics?
    And the smilie?
    There must be a way. Leon, how about sharing some more secrets?

  20. ChrisC — on 31st October, 2007 at 12:08 pm  

    “I’m not aware of either LGF or MM engaging in holocaust denial, anti-semitism and 911/ trutherism, which are both endemic at KoS.”

    And at the Guardian too!

  21. j0nz — on 31st October, 2007 at 12:11 pm  

    Ros didn’t you get recruited in to a clandestine organisation last night on Spooks?

    Ros, the smilies are automatic when you do : ) without the space. Try googling basic HTML for other tricks.

  22. Kismet Hardy — on 31st October, 2007 at 12:19 pm  

    Sign up for my Save jonz from Extinction campaign

  23. j0nz — on 31st October, 2007 at 12:22 pm  

    It’s the comments on LGF that make it nutty, but Charles Johnson, the arrogantly yankee git that he is, is often first with news stories and often corrects himself when mistakes have been made. Though I really hate his Euro-doom-mongering and Brit-bashing.

    Whereas on the Kos both the posts and the comments can be off their face loony, and very rarely correct themselves, though fairly often entire posts will be deleted as other Kos Kids realise a line has been crossed into insanity

  24. j0nz — on 31st October, 2007 at 12:24 pm  

    LOL Kismet… But that would be another single-issue group!

  25. Kismet Hardy — on 31st October, 2007 at 12:33 pm  

    Jonz, that’s for academics, analysts and policy people to decide

    By the way, I’ve got a punchline. Don’t know the joke

    KOS AND EFFECT

  26. Leon — on 31st October, 2007 at 12:34 pm  

    There must be a way. Leon, how about sharing some more secrets?

    Heh, maybe we should do a HTML for beginners post…

    Right, you know how to ‘wrap’ text in tags (tags being the term for the angle brackets and what’s in them) using blockquote?

    Try using i or b in angle brackets to get italics or bold text. Smilies are : and D together or : and p, like so :D :P

  27. Jagdeep — on 31st October, 2007 at 1:10 pm  

    Jonz used to be much more rabid and piss-in-his-pants. He has mellowed somewhat, don’t you think? I seem to remember he would often soil himself with generalised rage. What happened jonz? Did you get laid?

  28. KB Player — on 31st October, 2007 at 1:21 pm  

    “Drive by commenting” -excellent. Also stalled posting – ie every second post about the same subject.

  29. ChrisC — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:08 pm  

    Does this work

  30. ChrisC — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:10 pm  

    Ooops – there goes my HTML experiment

    Back to the topic.
    Which blogs would people currently point to as having the “best informed” commenters (not authors)?

  31. douglas clark — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:10 pm  

    Oh Rumbold,

    What happy, innocent days they were back then, when we gathered around the feet of the great master and learned these arcane secrets :D

  32. douglas clark — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:17 pm  

    ChrisC:

    Apart from here? Probably Deltoid and Crooked Timber. Harry’s Place has an eclectic range of commentators, some of whom are incredibly well informed.

  33. ChrisC — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:24 pm  

    I have not heard of Deltoid – will look now.

    Crooked Timber – they’re all so f*cking smug!

  34. Refresh — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:25 pm  

    “Sign up for my Save jonz from Extinction campaign”

    j0nz is an attitude. And if Jagdeep is right then it may well be too late. A few more facts and j0nz is history.

  35. douglas clark — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:34 pm  

    ChrisC,

    Ré Crooked Timber, well it does seem to be a club for University Professors and their mates! But it does mean that the comments are also pretty well argued.

  36. ChrisC — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:41 pm  

    But it does mean that the comments are also pretty well argued.

    Hohoho – I have just discovered a few wackos on the site.

  37. Jai — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:42 pm  

    Which blogs would people currently point to as having the “best informed” commenters

    Sepia Mutiny comes to mind, for Razib and Kush Tandon.

  38. ChrisC — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:42 pm  

    Now why didn’t my italics end when I typed for the second time?

  39. Sunny — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:44 pm  

    Douglas – and that’s my point. We don’t have enough of that good analysis.

  40. nodn — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:47 pm  

    Who is she, Sunny? I’ll be interested in reading her blog.

  41. Kismet Hardy — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:48 pm  

    I’m very disappointed to find there isn’t a blog started by a Newcastle fan called BLOG ON THE TYNE or an Irish one called BLOGMANEY or any by night owls calling theirs THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE BLOG AT NIGHT TIME

  42. Kismet Hardy — on 31st October, 2007 at 2:49 pm  

    Sorry, that should be BLOGMANAY by a Scottish fellow

  43. Sunny — on 31st October, 2007 at 3:08 pm  

    Hi nodn, it’s a group of people:
    http://www.crookedtimber.org

    DailyKos.com is one of the most brilliant blogs on the web.

    Other good ones are:
    http://www.tpmcafe.com
    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/

  44. douglas clark — on 31st October, 2007 at 3:30 pm  

    Sunny @ 39,

    Point.

    Why not ask your friend if she’d like to post something here and then we can all see what kind of response it gets? There are some pretty clever folk that comment on here, maybe something specific like that would draw out their expertise?

    Your comment about elitism, specifically:

    who feel that testing their ideas amongst the masses serves no purpose and they should concentrate solely on lobbying.

    suggests that they haven’t really got their heads around the genuine power that the internet can potentially provide.

    If they can persuade an audience here, then they should find persuading politicians a lot easier, for two reasons, firstly because they will have more evidence that their ideas are acceptable to a wider audience and secondly, because the counter arguements will all have been well rehearsed.

  45. Rumbold — on 31st October, 2007 at 5:05 pm  

    “DailyKos.com is one of the most brilliant blogs on the web.”

    If you consider the Guardian to be a bit too right-wing for your tastes.

    Ros:

    “Rumbold,
    As you can see, it worked all right. Thanks again.

    Just passing on Leon’s lore.

    Douglas:

    “What happy, innocent days they were back then, when we gathered around the feet of the great master and learned these arcane secrets.”

    We were so young and carefree then. Where has His Grace, the Duc de Nemours gone?

  46. ChrisC — on 31st October, 2007 at 5:13 pm  

    Daily Kos – oh dear, oh dear – capable of being at least as barking mad as “Comment is Free”

  47. zohra — on 1st November, 2007 at 1:15 am  

    nodn @2 and Sunny @3, um, no, not exactly I didn’t!

    Hello everyone, I am the ‘her’ and the ‘she’ in this conversation and I work for the Fawcett Society.

    Sunny, there seems to be some confusion here around terminology with the result that I’m reading two ideas from your post:

    1. campaign groups like Fawcett need to work with grassroots (who are these people, and ‘work with’ in what way?) and the (best/only) way to do that is through blogs

    2. campaign groups need to avoid intellectual stagnation, and the (best/only) way to do that is by engaging with blogs

    My response to this is:

    On the one hand you’re asking campaign groups (e.g. Fawcett) to engage with ‘the masses’ – which you conflate with ‘grassroots’ – as if they aren’t already. Just because I don’t regularly write on blogs (as part of my Fawcett work) doesn’t mean these groups aren’t engaged at grassroots levels, e.g. Fawcett’s No Pay Day campaign: http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=515 (I swear I’ll remember the html to make those links work properly soon; my cms doesn’t require it).

    On the other hand you’re saying “But unless we get more people working at grass-roots, doing research or developing policy actually engaging with others on their ideas, it means intellectual stagnation” which means what exactly (because the sentence is having grammatical problems)? Because the research and policy development does actually engage with quite a few others – many active at the grassroots – through seminars, roundtables, conferences, etc. (e.g. my project on ethnic minority women: http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=375). And it is this work that mitigates against your ‘intellectual stagnation’ threat while also engaging with grassroots work.

    What you seem to be calling for is a broader online engagement at the level of ideas – i.e. debates on the blogsphere and not online organizing/activism – as if this guarantees wider participation in a way that is better than other ways of widening participation (e.g. through a conference or mass action). But in my opinion, there is nothing inherently grassroots about being online and neither is there anything particularly grassroots about spending time debating.

    More importantly, blogs don’t appear to me to be all that good at widening participation: they are full of jargon, can be technically daunting for people, are culturally exclusive (in terms of codes of conduct for example where a certain level of abuse and negativity is accepted), are resource intensive (takes time to read through all these posts and comments and think about what to write back, computer and internet access etc) and ultimately require more work to make the investment translate into action/connection with others/social change.

    I’d like to throw the challenge back to you – prove that blogs are effective at making change happen and you’ll see groups like Fawcett (and others you have in mind that are also short on resources) using them more.

  48. zohra — on 1st November, 2007 at 1:27 am  

    douglas clark @44: I have posted here (via Sunny and directly in comments) and while some comments have been clever, many have been frustrating (poor logic, poor grammar, poor analysis, ill-informed etc).

    In terms of the elitism charge (which I think is not entirely fair), the reason I might choose to lobby a politician directly rather than write on this blog is directly related to my ideas on how change happens.

    For a campaign group with limited resources, I think this is the material point. While it would be nice to spend all my time on blogs (ok, not really since there’s all that vitriol), I’m not yet convinced that blogs make change happen when they are about the debate, rather than about the organizing of particular actions.

    Is it really that I don’t know the power of the internet? From my perspective, it’s that there are other ways to meet your two learning points that have already been shown to be effective whereas the evidence on blogs’ influence on politics in the UK is still extremely limited (happy to discuss how the Iraqi workers campaign was effective precisely because it was still about direct lobbying and not about debates on blogs).

    For example, on evidence about wide acceptance of ideas, we can use Mori polls (proven to be effective with politicians), which is easier and faster for us than trying to gauge acceptance via blogs (how would we do that? Count the number of ‘I agree’ comments? Remember politicians care about votes). And on rehearsing counter arguments, we work cross-party and do spend time on understanding where resistance to particular proposals lies by asking the resisters directly.

  49. Sunny — on 1st November, 2007 at 2:00 am  

    What I meant to say was… she agreed that I frequently write or offer my opinion without any backup evidence! ;)

  50. Desi Italiana — on 1st November, 2007 at 7:34 am  

    Sunny:

    I agree with all three of your points, especially about the “elitism” and the need to open up the process to PEOPLE, for whom this reports are targeted towards (and discuss in the name of). But also, I’d like to point out a couple of things:

    1. There simply cannot be enough time for people to sit down and write posts if you work full time.
    2. If you research for a living, sometimes, when you get home around 8 pm, you just want to zone out or many spend time with your family/friends/etc, not get back on the computer and blog about what you just left at the office.
    3. Publishing: Reports that get publised are the result of spending months, even years, of painsakingly making sure that all of the information is correct and put together thoughtfully. Many would be hesitant to blog about things they’ve just stumbled upon during their research but haven’t made sense of it yet. And to post blogs on something that might potentially turn out to be inaccurate is disseminating information, which is anathema to any good org.
    4. Some orgs are built on the fact that they publish good, sound reports. For them to publish their stuff on blogs before it getting published on a finalized hard copy and “trademarked” (so to speak) is to in a way undermine their own ability (and reputation) for delivering well thought out analyses (because others could very well easily pick their stuff up and incorporate it).

    That said, there ARE human rights orgs and NGOS that have blogs. Amnesty International does on a few issues such as the death penalty, Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission does, as well as the UN (called UN Dispatch). There are many more that I’ve come across but haven’t tabbed. But they are there.

  51. douglas clark — on 1st November, 2007 at 12:31 pm  

    Zohra,

    Thanks for the reply. I think I wrote one of the worst sentences ever, up above at 44.

    If you would bear with me, what I was trying to say was that attention is a marketplace. It is, frankly almost beyond belief, nearly 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, that there should be a need for your organisation to be dealing with this issue at all. It suggests that, despite legislation, despite apparent goodwill, that the degree of apathy or ignorance about the issue has left it to wither.

    What I was trying, very badly, to suggest is that if issues like your own are to be kick started, then policy folk and politicians meeting together is clearly not the answer. If, and I’d agree it’d be difficult, there was to be some engagement with a broader church of activists, or even just folk that read blogs come to that, then the political inertia might be easier to overcome.

    Where I think Sunny and Leon are right is in thinking that this is a new, and extremely powerful, way of engaging people. But it is still at an early stage of it’s development, particularily in the UK.

    To be honest, I’d think that your own topic would be unlikely to cause much controversy on here :D

    But, even the least controversial threads can run off topic.

  52. Hamish — on 1st November, 2007 at 6:11 pm  

    Interesting post Sunny and glad Zohra joined in to save the thread!

    It’s hard enough to connect researchers with policy makers (in part because of cultural differences about what is reasonbale to do with evidence) and I think as Zohra and Sunny point out the differences are far greater when it comes to bloggers.

    I was recently invovled in an e-conference looking at Mixed Race issues (http://mixedness.millipedia.net/) which brought together short papers – some academic some personal – for people to comment on and discuss. It was a useful and novel platform for people to read material and find organisations but in terms of meaningfully engaging with the ideas it was limited by the format (short disconnected comments) and perhaps in the range of people that are drawn to such online activity (who might only be interested in giving their existing opinions).

    I think the onus then is on bloggers to engage with published research and comment on it in the same way that reporters might do in Guardian’s Society supplement. It might not be a direct route to the grassoots but it can widen the reach of material and hopefully drive up the quality of the blogsphere. It’s something I try to do anyway (http://oproject.wordpress.com/category/themes/research/) although perhaps like newspapers I am also guilty of blogging about polls which give neat headlines but little else.

    An advantage of the internet surely is that research can be found, linked to and disseminated so easily (research that is only available in hard copy or at a price seems to be at a tremendous disadvantage). I agree with Zohra that reserachers might not have the inclination, time or ability to blog themselves (and anyway once it’s ‘out there’ they will only be one voice in a crowd) but they do need to think harder about what happens after they have published. ESRC are currently very good at bringing reserach to the people (most recently in their recent glossy magazine summarising their key projects, available in EH Smith)

    ps Sunny – what’s happened to NGN??

  53. H — on 4th November, 2007 at 1:54 pm  

    Researchers don’t blog as much because they tend to write from informed research. Bloggers on the other hand, it seems to me, exert opinions – which may or may not be informed research or professionalism. Point is that is doesn’t matter if blogging isn’t informed – it doesn’t have to be.

    Also – I enjoy blogging but might not want to blog using an institutional hat – that’s the fun behind blogging. There is a democratic side to blogging where everyone is equal regardless of their institutional hats, I like this.

    Sometimes, blogging is like talk radio on-line …

    Open Democracy do a nice job with comment and campaigning I think, but it’s hardly reaching out to the ‘grassroots’ but still is very effective in what they do.

    Halima

  54. ashok — on 6th November, 2007 at 2:56 pm  

    I have my problems with LGF, but I think they are decisively superior to DailyKos in at least one regard, which is media critique.

    Very often progressive critiques of media will rely on the fact of corporations and big-money being involved to demonstrate bias in the media. Now there are clear examples of this, i.e. Murdoch forbidding his news networks to do any reporting about China that might endanger his business deals there. But progressive critiques usually go too far, as they tend to argue that all media is slanted to the Right in ways that are utterly unverifiable (i.e. does the way Iraqi and American casualties are depicted in a US paper reflect a bias towards the Americans that is unjustified? If you say yes, you may be a citizen of the globe, but at the price of holding your own country in contempt).

    There is no ambiguity with Charles Johnson’s attempts to detect media bias. When he catches a photo that has clearly been photoshopped to make things look worse than they are, or catches CBS outright falsifying a story, he makes the Right’s loonier charges look very credible, and shows that bias has less to do with where the money is, but with who holds what ideology. What’s more is that when he’s mistaken, he can be held accountable. The way progressive critiques of media are framed, it is impossible many times to say that the authors have made mistakes, or if anything they’ve said holds water.

  55. Sunny — on 6th November, 2007 at 3:55 pm  

    Ashok – but that’s very much like LGF’s own assertions that the entire media in America is infected by a liberal bias. The US righ is way more paranoid than the left simply because the media is mostly right-wing (conventionally) and yet is still accused of a left-wing bias by CJ, Michelle Malkin etc.

  56. Morgoth — on 6th November, 2007 at 4:04 pm  

    the media is mostly right-wing

    *guffaw*

  57. ashok — on 6th November, 2007 at 5:44 pm  

    #55 – Thank you for the response. I would like you to expound on what is meant by “right wing (conventionally),” if you would.

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