Why I Rant

Someone pointed me to an over-the-top social science paper that is scheduled to be published soon. I then wasted 2 hours writing some combination of statistical commentary and rant.

I expect that, once the paper is published, there will be major controversy, as its empirical findings, such as they are, are yoked to political opinions which seem pretty much targeted to offend lots of people in its academic field.

Fortunately, by the time my post appears, the furor should have quieted. That’s one of the advantages of the blog delay: I can write a comment before something becomes a big deal, and then it appears after the controversy has blown over.

And, yeah, sure, I know, I know, that was not a good use of 2 hours—maybe more accurate to say this was a half hour of blog writing, interspersed with 1.5 hours of other things. But it wasn’t even a good use of a half hour . . . nor was writing the above paragraphs a good use of 10 minutes . . . nor was writing this paragraph a good use of, umm, 2 minutes . . . ok, we’re getting real Zeno here.

Whatever. We gotta do what we gotta do. In all seriousness, I do think these rants have value, not merely in allowing me to vent by typing rather than shouting at the TV or whatever, and not merely in letting those of you who agree with me know that others share your feelings, and not merely in the highly unlikely event that they convince any open-minded people to my position (I’m pretty sure a rant isn’t the best way to go about that, if your goal is persuasion).

No, the value to me of such rants is that they allows me to explore my thoughts. Writing is more rigorous than daydreaming, writing in public in complete sentences is more rigorous than writing notes to myself, and writing in a forum that allows comments from people who might disagree with me (along with people who agree with me but can help me refine my ideas) . . . that’s the best. And it’s not just about me. I write my blog posts, but these discussions express some sort of zeitgeist. I don’t claim ownership of these ideas or even these slogans. As scholars, we act as scribes for the ideas that are out there. I’d like to think George Orwell felt the same way, at a much higher level.

P.S. The above is not to be taken to imply that my ranting, or even my blogging, has net positive value. First off, it could have negative value by pissing people off, discrediting my statistical work, crowding out more subtle commentary by others, etc etc. Second, there’s the opportunity cost: instead of 5 rants I could be publishing one article for Slate; instead of 50 rants I could be publishing a research paper; instead of 500 rants I could be publishing a book, etc. Who’s to know? The above post is titled Why I Rant, not Why My Ranting is a Good Thing.