The Holbo

by Henry Farrell on March 22, 2010

is “profiled”: along with other academic bloggers (DeLong, Drezner, Shalizi) in Berkeley’s alumni magazine. Some discussion of CT, and changes in academic blogging included as part of the cover price. Two quotes:

Like DeLong, Holbo thrives on that public sparring. He finds the virtual salon a perfect antidote to the insulation of the ivory tower and the glacial pace of conventional scholarship. “I have a split intellectual life: these ant-like projects that evolve over months and years, and then this by-the-moment blogging life,” he says. “Blog posts take an hour, while an academic paper can take four years.” Yet even though the blogs reach a huge and influential audience compared to that of scholarly journals, the blogs are not recognized as scholarly publication and don’t count toward tenure.

Holbo admits he and his fellow pioneers have lost the “revolutionary fervor” of blogging’s early days. “I’m fortunate to be at the top of the food chain, to have these bully pulpits where I can stand up and know thousands of people will hear me,” he says. “But we all thought blogging was going to transform academic life, and that didn’t really happen.”

If there’s one thing Shalizi can’t stand, it’s misinformation bandied about in the name of science. “A lot of the time, when I’m motivated enough to post something, it’s because I think someone is ‘being wrong on the Internet,’ as the saying goes—and this cannot stand,” Shalizi says. “It’s usually something I’ve read more than once and it seems such a pack of lies, or utter misunderstandings, that I feel like writing something. I wish I wasn’t so destructively motivated, but I am.”

When asked how much time and effort that takes, he says, “Quite a bit, to be honest. Part of that is the fact that I’m way over trained as an academic, and part is also wanting to leave people no excuse or way out,” Shalizi says. “If I can show that they’re just totally wrong, thoroughly wrong, then I will try to do that.”

If anyone reading knows Randall Munroe (I’m pretty sure one regular CT reader at least does), he or she is hereby requested to get a new version of the famous cartoon commissioned; this time with the guy at the computer depicted with a “Leon Trotsky beard”: …



ben w 03.22.10 at 4:05 pm

Munroe. And if someone knows him, they should ask him to stop.


Sebastian H 03.22.10 at 4:37 pm

“But we all thought blogging was going to transform academic life, and that didn’t really happen.”

Isn’t it way too early to judge? When most of the hiring professors and administrators at least know what a blog is from reading one or two themselves for a while (as opposed to having heard someone talk about a blog once), then we can judge whether or not it transformed academic life.

Though even then, the way I suspect it transforms things may be difficult to track. I think the thing about blogs is that they expose people to useful things, ideas, and techniques that they never would have seen in just their own specialty.


rm 03.22.10 at 4:38 pm

That’s an awfully gratuitously mean comment. One does not need to read what one does not wish to. Geez.


rm 03.22.10 at 4:38 pm

I meant ben w’s, not Sebastian H’s.


Henry 03.22.10 at 4:43 pm

ben w – spelling corrected, but count me among the Munroe fans.


Adam Roberts 03.22.10 at 5:17 pm

The Valve, another brainy group blog that Holbo launched in 2005, also draws an astonishing number of readers for a site that calls itself “a literary organ.”



Russell Arben Fox 03.22.10 at 5:31 pm

If John’s blog posts–even if we just average them out individually–usually only “take an hour” of his life, then I can only conclude that I’m the slowest blogger on the planet. I mean, I’ve sometimes spent an hour just reading one of John’s posts before.


Walt 03.22.10 at 7:51 pm

Sebastian, that reminds me of Cringely’s Law: “People overestimate change in the short run, but underestimate it in the long run.” Cringely said it in the early days of Internet hype, and I think it’s proven prescient.


Sumana Harihareswara 03.22.10 at 7:54 pm

Since all xkcd comics are under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License, you can take your inspiration into your own hands and scribble a beard onto the relevant stick figure, then share the results!


Bill Benzon 03.22.10 at 8:13 pm

Ya know, John, I think blogs may be the greatest thing since sliced bread. But I didn’t think blogging was going to transform academic life when I started blogging at The Valve. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around somewhat longer than you have — if not exactly around academic life, as I’ve been out of the academy since the mid-80s — and some am somewhat less sanguine about the academy’s latent powers of self-transformation. Heck, over 30 years ago I was doubting those powers and nothing’s happened since then to convince me that deep change is possible in these institutions.


Bill Benzon 03.22.10 at 8:22 pm

Oh, just in case you’re interested, John’s only made 5 posts at The Valve in the past year (and two of those were advertisements for his [way cool] book projects), but he’s still racked over 150 more posts than anyone else over there.


rea 03.22.10 at 11:20 pm

@11, So the next leading contender has made -145 posts?


Bill Benzon 03.23.10 at 12:30 am

As of now, Holbo has 473. The whole blog has 2161 posts, so Holbo is responsible for over 20%.


Bill Benzon 03.23.10 at 12:35 am

Oh, I get it now, rea. You were confused about the scope of my count in #11 as my phrasing wasn ‘t very clear. Sorry. I have no idea how many posts anyone else has done in the last year. Counting Holbo’s five was easy, but I’m not going to do such counts for the rest of us. The system itself gives counts for total posted since the beginning of the blog.


jholbo 03.23.10 at 1:32 am

Thanks Henry. For whatever reason, I myself don’t seem to be able to access the article in question for the time being. Though I am eager to find out what I said! But I should – as is standard in these cases – make a few quick corrections.

“the blogs are not recognized as scholarly publication and don’t count toward tenure.”

I don’t remember exactly what I said – on the phone, some months ago. But I think it was more like this: academics is about things that go on your CV, and blogging isn’t CV’able in the conventional way. You don’t list your posts, to put it as crudely as possible. Not that you should be able to! But, given that you can’t, counting the value of such activity is hard. I think I mentioned as well, in the interview, that I was pretty sure my blogging had helped me, with my department, rather than hurt me, but I wouldn’t have made the point very strongly because I was, at that very minute, waiting to find out how the tenure thing came out. (I got it!)

Now, in retrospect, I can say with some certainty that blogging was a significant (though hardly decisive, by any means) plus for me, in getting tenure. My department appreciated that it had raised my profile – people who came to visit the department tended to know who I was, for example. And this fact was effectively communicated, up the chain of command, in my dossier (obviously I am not privy to everything that went into that.)


john c. halasz 03.23.10 at 1:52 am


Congratulations on getting stranded in Singapore! Now, to get back to business, let’s get to rectification on how the hermeneutics of thrownness and projection is no mere “romanticism”, but rather “technically” deep.


Matt 03.23.10 at 2:08 am

(I got it!)



Salient 03.23.10 at 3:32 am

Since all xkcd comics are under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License, you can take your inspiration into your own hands and scribble a beard onto the relevant stick figure, then share the results!

I believe the phrase is Anonymous Delivers.



Salient 03.23.10 at 3:35 am

Though really the Summer Glau venting xkcd might be more apropos.


Doug 03.23.10 at 7:33 am

How many holbovian lengths comprise a sagan?


Kieran Healy 03.23.10 at 1:00 pm

Billions and billions, obviously.


Cosma Shalizi 03.24.10 at 3:58 pm

18: What do I find on my office door this morning but…

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