Monday, June 29, 2015

some more thoughts on what some call watchblogging, the Samuel James double bind on blogging--don't minimize bad stuff but never watchdog blog about it.

You'll have noticed Wenatchee The Hatchet was on something of a vacation from blogging for a while.  There were some things that were topics WtH aimed to address earlier but later suffices.  Let's get back to something that came up because a Christian blogger talked about how to not talk on the internet about stuff as a Christian.  Because, you know, it wouldn't exactly be a real Christian blog without posts talking about what it's immoral for people to actually do, which makes Christian moralizing sort of like Objectivist moralizing. :)

Cue, some links to Samuel James.

What started off with hectoring got worse in the sequel.

Thursday, Somewhere in Cyberspace
Scene 1: A humble, 20something blogger writes a short, probably simplistic post about how (not) to talk about the church.

Scene 2: Our youthful hero writes disparagingly about a certain genre of online blogging that he finds distasteful and generally unhelpful. He is careful, however, to mention no names and no real scenarios.

Scene 3: He publishes the post, expecting little feedback. After all, it is a brief post, and makes only one real point: That Christians should not be bitter towards the church.

Call it the experience of age that comes unbidden but it seems impossible to imagine a humble, 20something blogger.  "short, simplistic"?  Ah, yes, THAT is utterly believable!

The irony of Samuel James inveighing against watchdog blogging from a blog is probably not lost even on Samuel James' part.

Back when James formulated the axiom of don't start a watchblog, ever, it was before Wenatchee The Hatchet had a chance to read the soon-to-be quoted content.  It's a sprawling quotation but the reader's urged to read it thoroughly:
But back in 2013, the now-26-year-old Broockman, a self-identifying “political science nerd,” was so impressed by LaCour’s study that he wanted to run his own version of it with his own canvassers and his own survey sample. First, the budget-conscious Broockman had to figure out how much such an enterprise might cost. He did some back-of-the-envelope calculations based on what he’d seen on LaCour’s iPad—specifically, that the survey involved about 10,000 respondents who were paid about $100 apiece—and out popped an imposing number: $1 million. That can’t be right, he thought to himself. There’s no way LaCour—no way any grad student, save one who’s independently wealthy and self-funded—could possibly run a study that cost so much. He sent out a Request for Proposal to a bunch of polling firms, describing the survey he wanted to run and asking how much it would cost. Most of them said that they couldn’t pull off that sort of study at all, and definitely not for a cost that fell within a graduate researcher’s budget. It didn’t make sense. What was LaCour’s secret?
Eventually, Broockman’s answer to that question would take LaCour down.
This might seem like a strange, mafia-ish argument to a non-academic, but within the small world of political science—particularly within the even smaller world of younger, less job-secure political scientists—it makes sense for at least two reasons. The first is that the moment your name is associated with the questioning of someone else’s work, you could be in trouble. If the target is someone above you, like Green, you’re seen as envious, as shamelessly trying to take down a big name. If the target is someone at your level, you’re throwing elbows in an unseemly manner. In either case, you may end up having one of your papers reviewed by the target of your inquiries (or one of their friends) at some point—in theory, peer reviewers are “blinded” to the identity of the author or authors of a paper they’re reviewing, but between earlier versions of papers floating around the internet and the fact that everyone knows what everyone else is working on, the reality is quite different. Moreover, the very few plum jobs and big grants don’t go to people who investigate other researchers’ work—they go to those who stake out their own research areas.


Jason Peterson, then, was their man—he might be able to explain what was going on with their poor response rates. Broockman asked Kalla to call him; Kalla went upstairs and did. He came back a little bit later. “Holy shit,” he said. There was no employee named Jason Peterson at uSamp. An email to double check confirmed this: A uSamp staffer responded later that day, saying, “There was never a Jason Peterson at uSamp at any time.” (Not only had LaCour made up an employee, he’d promoted that made-up employee all the way up to vice-president—and note the weird capitalization in LaCour’s name in the forwarded message, which may or may not mean anything.) The firm also reiterated the message Broockman had received a year and a half prior, the one he hadn’t realized the significance of at the time: The firm couldn’t even do the research LaCour had described. This was now a far cry from vague concerns about artificial-looking data patterns and weirdly reliable thermometers.

 Later that night, Broockman hosted a Hawaiian-themed graduation party at his apartment. About 70 people came—a mix of grad-school friends, family, and friends he had made in the Bay Area. All day, Broockman’s boyfriend had begged him to help get the place ready, but he was too fixated on the LaCour and Green paper. Yet even with the revelation about Jason Peterson, Broockman and Kalla still thought they lacked the smoking gun they needed. “We were in a state of panic, not sure if we should keep looking, what we should look for, and what to do with what we had found,” Broockman says. Right as the party started, Kalla tried to get Broockman to chill: “No more talking about this!” he told Broockman. “Your boyfriend made a nice party for you!”

But it was now almost impossible for Broockman to stop talking about the paper. He was surrounded by his academic advisers and imbibed more than a couple of sparkling rosés. He ended up talking to Malhotra some more. Yet again, Malhotra said: Be careful. Don’t expose yourself. But, in addition to the revelation about Peterson, Broockman was starting to feel moral concerns: “The Ireland referendum was coming up,” he says. “Big grants were about to be spent.” He hated the idea that people were being misled by “findings” that looked increasingly suspect. [emphasis added]

See, when it came time to decide whether or not to just "let it go" and "move on" over the prospect the vast sums of money were about to spent on activity inspired by the belief that a study was true when, in fact, the study was a sham, somebody felt obliged to say something, something for the record.

Meanwhile, it seems a bunch of evangelicals with blogs seem to think it's bad if evangelicals take up what's called watchdog blogging.

Which gets Wenatchee The Hatchet back to "don't start a watchdog blog, ever."

Samuel James' 7 can be read, basically, as a declaration that 1 doesn't really count in the end. 

Of course longtime readers of Wenatchee The Hatchet will understand that this is not, in fact, a watchdog blog. 

But when gay activists have the principles and intellectual integrity to debunk research that had been cited to lend creedance to their cause while Christians, in the wake of Mark Driscoll's plagiarism scandals, actually proposed that intellectual property isn't even really remotely Christian then, well, okay.  What's there to say to that? 

Well, if gay activists are better at policing fraudulent claims among their own peer group than Christians are that DOES tell us something ... but it may not be something evangelicals who would rather talk about gays than consider their own foibles might want to read.

For folks who don't read the Old Testament quite enough, the book of Judges is not a book that proposes that everybody in that book was a hero.  Sure, a few names made it into Hebrews 11 but if you read Judges on its own terms you get the distinct impression those heroes were still monsters.  A hero may well just be a monster whose expediency to a particular cause and effectiveness in promoting it is weightier to the constituency than the vices of the hero.  When the vices and damage outweigh the positive representation and expediency of the cause the hero becomes a liability.  Or, over time, it may turn out the hero didn't represent the values the group thought the hero stood for.  When that happens is the way to handle it really to not minimize that ... or is it to not start a watchdog blog, ever?  Every team, given enough time, will have its atrocities.  We live in an era where no one can pull the "no true Scotsman" defense for their team.  Let's be mindful of the possibility that the difference between a hero and a monster is his or her usefulness to a cause.

There's more that could be said about this as it could potentially apply to Driscoll, but this year WtH hoped to not have anything that seemed necessary to say about the nobody who's trying to tell everybody about somebody.

We live in an era where on the internet a lot of people want to police every team's thoughts and actions and words ... except for their own.  People at Mars Hill have no doubt not exactly appreciated Wenatchee The Hatchet over the years and that's understandable.  It should be said that as a moderately conservative Reformed not-cessationist Christian people at Mars Hill could at least have some confidence that Wenatchee The Hatchet's criticisms, admittedly at times severe, were intended to be constructive in spirit.  It's a shame Driscoll opted to quit but at this point the world is a big world, and it's a big world in which somebody the Driscoll kids might read "Pussified Nation" and "Using Your Penis".  Driscoll's gotta live with the reality of that possibility.  No honest accounting of Mark Driscoll's legacy can avoid that.

Ten years ago Wenatchee The Hatchet imagined spending a lifetime at Mars Hill.  Things change, obviously.  Driscoll used to tell us that if he ever went off the rails to leave.  So a lot of us did.  He apparently did not take that as a sign that he was going off the rails but that a bunch of us weren't on mission.  Now he has no church and his legacy is mixed at best. 

Here's something for people who are averse to watchdog blogging to consider, what if watchdog blogging is capable of being a demonstration of repentance?  Sure, it might awkwardly be a process of repenting for being part of a church culture the blogger has come to consider malignant and abusive ... but a watchdog blog does not have to be undertaken from a perspective of condemnation.  Wenatchee The Hatchet has never told people at Mars Hill to leave Mars Hill.  All Wenatchee has done is document things as carefully as humanly possible and has invited people to reconsider the narrative.  When controlling the narrative has been so much at the heart of how people were kept in line, giving people a chance to reconsider the narrative themselves has more power to effect change than telling people that if they have any ethics at all they should be on your side already.  The big problem with that approach is, well, it's kinda what we saw the top dog doing at the top of Mars Hill. 

If evangelicals cannot appreciate even the possibility that so-called watchdog blogging can be undertaken not from spite or envy but out of a love of neighbor, and out of a desire to serve not just the body of Christ but to try to contribute positively to the benefit of the greater public good and public discourse on the role of religion in civic life, then that's going to reflect badly on us.  It could tell the world at large we care quite a bit less about the truth (even if it makes us look like the sinners we so obviously are) than we care about the branding.  Not all of us who identify as Christians consider that the right path to walk.

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