Why blog about political methodology? The internet and the future of academia.

by Justin Esarey

A number of my friends and colleagues have excellent blogs where they discuss new findings in social science research, or the methodological and statistical challenges associated with this research. For example, Andrew Gelman has a blog that I read and admire, and is certainly similar in subject to the one that I aspire to write.

So, why do we need another methodology blog? Chances are that this blog won't get me tenure, or make me famous. Shouldn't I be writing articles, or something?

Well, I am. But my experience has been that blogs are an important avenue for researchers and scholars to communicate their findings to others in an accessible yet scientifically robust way. I've concluded this because, when I'm learning about new ideas in methodology as a part of my own work, I often consult the internet's various oracles for advice, and those sources frequently link back to blogs of political scientists and statisticians.

Blog discussions help bring me up to speed on the latest (often unpublished) research, and discuss new findings in a professional but accessible way. Very often I get useful code snippets, or clues about where to look in professional journals or books, off of some internet resource: a blog post, a set of posted lecture notes, an on-line forum discussion, or whatever.

So, it strikes me that methodology blogs are becoming a kind of open-source, ever-changing textbook and forum for the dissemination and refinement of methodological ideas. Like Wikipedia, there's quite a bit of noise in the channel—but I think there's plenty of signal, too. And I'd like to add to the signal.

In my mind, this is what it means for academia to go massively on-line. I'm not a big fan of massively open on-line courses, because I don't think they can take the place of close mentorship, detailed feedback, and freedom from distraction that characterizes a good college environment. And if Spence was right, a MOOC can't fulfill the quality-signaling function which is one raison d'etre for higher education. So, for normative and economic reasons, I don't think MOOCs are where higher ed is destined or pose a serious threat to universities. (How's that for a prediction?)

But I do think that the massively open availability of information and resources (not of education, which is something different) is where academia is going. I think that's a good thing. And I want to add my rock to the pile.