Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Blogging and Responsibility

Monday, for the first time, I dropped in on Autism Speaks' Message Boards. It was, predictably, the home of some rather heated conversations. So I jumped in a little bit, in a typical Steve way of trying not to step on too many toes but trying to state clearly how I felt on some issues (specifically, what is Neurodiversity's "message").

I was quickly responded to by one "SamsDad", who apparently holds a low view of Neurodiversity and those who are associated with the Autism Hub. That's okay, as he doesn't know me from Adam and I really don't care what he thinks, as we don't really know or impact each other in any meaningful way. But ... a portion of his comments gave me some food for thought. And the result is this blog post on the topic of ... responsible blogging.

In response to my statement,

"The whole philosophy appealed tremendously to me - and still does - on any number of levels. Here are what I consider to be a few facets of the ND point of view as I see it. I speak for no one but myself."

SamsDad replied:

"You speak for no one else, but blogging speaks to everyone else, including people that have not yet formed an opinion. As KevLeitch has pointed out, that's a pretty substantial audience. I know blogging isn't supposed to be as "objective" as the media per se, but it can be as influential. Is there a moral responsibility there then? I think so, but I'm naive and somewhat idealistic. So, like it or not, all of you that "publish" these blogs, are in the public eye, by your own volition, and are thereby viewed as "representatives", with all the trials, tribulations, criticisms and responsibilities that come with such a position, as well as the very loud voice that accompanies it. "

Which is an interesting point of view that deserves further discussion. And, yes, this will follow my typical pattern of discussion that leaves me with more questions than answers. Its a good thing I named this blog "One Dad's Opinion" because had I named it "One Dad's Indisputably Known Facts" there would be like two or three posts, and the only topic would be that I love my family. How boring that would be.

I don't think I agree with the basic premise of SamsDad's statement - "I know blogging isn't supposed to be as "objective" as the media per se, but it can be as influential." I think the flaw here is the intimation that blogging operates under the assumption of objectivity. Blogging, instead, is the epitome of subjectivity, in that it is a person or group of people writing in a way that they feel comfortable with, unfettered by any hard-line ethical and professional codes (actually, that sounds a lot like today's news media). So we are responsible to ourselves, as bloggers, to keep it honest and real, and ultimately our own self-imposed code of conduct determines how we choose to use our words.

I stated in the first post I ever wrote:
"It occurs to me that, years from now, these words will be accessible to all three of my sons. At this very moment these words are able to be read by the other people who I value so much in my life."

That is my guiding principle, my own self-imposed code of conduct. My boys will read this someday. I want them to know that Dad cared. My wife reads this, and I want her to know I love and appreciate her. I also stated my goal very clearly in the title bar: "This is one Dad's opinion of various subjects, most of which involve the reality of raising a child who is autistic." and in the sidebar: "This blog is for discussion of all things related to autism. I especially welcome the input of autistic individuals." I don't think I have any moral imperative to forewarn my readers (all 37 of them) beyond that. Do you? At some point, someone has to read what I or anyone else on the Hub or anywhere on the Internet wrote and decide for themselves if they agree or disagree. And here are some of the topics I have covered. Maybe SamsDad can decide for himself if I am worthy of my self-appointed soapbox:

  • Our son's school district doing a particularly good job of adjusting to increasing numbers of autistic students.

  • My favorite post, in which I compare my three boys to newly founded cities.

  • How great my dog is.

  • What an ... unsavory guy JB Handley is and how he changed his story instead of owning up to his premature declarations of "mercury poisoining is autism!".

  • I joined in "Blogging Against Disablism Day" by writing a post about how having an autistic son changed me as a person.

  • Some great conversations with Mark Twain.

  • I wrote about my son's preschool graduation and included some pictures.

  • I did a write-up of a great conference I attended at University of San Diego. (Just yesterday I got a response on one of those three posts - from one of the presenters, Stephen Hinkle. I recommend that people read his comments.)

  • I examined the Autism Speaks-sponsored study on Prozac as a pharmaceutical support for autistic individuals.

  • I did a three-part series on Evidence-Based Interventions.

  • I posted an essay by Martha Leary about Movement Differences.

  • I talked about the controversial topic of recovery in the context of Jason's progress.

  • I criticized a Fortune Magazine blogger who had coined the term "Blackberry Autism".

  • I posted a discussion of and, later, a form letter for people to use, that encouraged the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to not stop funding transportation for Special Ed students via the school districts.

  • I wrote two posts about my feelings on how the whole Jenny McCarthy thing went down.

  • I talked about Hyperlexia and reading comprehension.

So there you have it. Apparently, upon reviewing this list, I am an extremely boring blogger. Not much controversy here! Yes, there are other topics as well, but I think it can be agreed by many that mine is not the stuff of severe conflict. Or maybe some perceive that it is. Should that be of concern to me?

Some bloggers, such as our friend Harold Doherty in New Brunswick, take a far more ideological approach than some class-B Hub blogger like myself. Harold watches news feeds all day keyed to the term "autism". Once he sees a good one, he quickly spins the news to make the Evil Neurodiverse out to be the source of all that is bad in the world of autism, then posts it. He actually uses horrible stories like the one I just linked to as an ice-breaker for another attack on the "ND's". He spends the rest of his online time sniping at people on their own blogs, then moderating out comments they choose to make on his blog. How does this approach fit in with SamsDad's view of responsible blogging? Also, while Harold and I agree on some things and disagreeon others, I would never want to take away his right to talk about anything he wants to. He deserves the same platform as I or anyone else has, and it is up to him to do what he wants with it.

( I wasn't going to post a link directly to Harold's blog since sending traffic there seems irresponsible, but I only have 37 readers so I thought the impact would be minimal)

And there is (at least) one more thing that I think devalues SamsDad's analogy between blogs and journalism: Unlike developing a network to compete with Viacom, anyone can write a blog! Even me! SamsDad could be a blogger within 5 minutes of reading this post if he chooses to. He can attempt to reach, to use his own words, "... people that have not yet formed an opinion." If he were to do this, we would potentially provide counterbalancing viewpoints (assuming we disagree on things).

So SamsDads' point, though interesting, may have been a bit misplaced. I guess he identified me with the Autism Hub and jumped to the conclusion that I oppose all he holds dear or something, which amounts to painting a whole group with a pretty broad brushstroke. After all, when he made his comments, all I had done was identify myself as a Hub blogger and describe several aspects of what I feel are apects of Neurodiversity's message.

I'd like to hear other opinions on what constitutes responsible vs. irresponsible blogging.


Fore Sam said...

It looks like you've been found guilty by association. We know there are a few sane and honest people amongst the loons who lead the autism hub.
Kathleen Seidel is the epitome of irresponsible blogging with her constant attacks on scientists who help autistic children. Through all of her well researched character assassinations, she never mentions the fact that children who are treated by Mark Geier are improving. Kev and Diva are in the same class with their constant denials that any children have been cured while they bash the people who do the curing.

Of course, the award for most irresponsible goes to Amanda Baggs for being a complete and total fraud.

Joseph said...

I think an important part of blogging is allowing comments, for transparency. I can't say I respect the way Harold handles comments, for example, given that his policy on acceptance of comments is not clear. You start discussing something with him, and he stops accepting comments when he feels like it.

Unfortunately, if you have too lenient a policy then you get trolls. I'm sure you've seen some very recently.

I'd just like to add the the job Kathleen does is admirable and largely thankless.

Steve D said...

Joseph -
I agree about the comments. And though I have never moderated before, the policy is subject to change. Here's guessing I'd still be a bit more liberal of a moderator than some other folks.

As far as Kathleen, I think she is a perfect example of responsible blogging. First off, she references with direct links virtually every fact she offers. Second, when she is writing an essay, she separates out fact from opinion by laying out a summary of events, then concluding with an analysis. This allows a reader to understand when she is declaring facts and when she is putting her own spin on the facts. When writing letters, she uses a respectful voice (even though it still angers the targets) while not sidestepping the issues. Her writing is extremely impressive.

Fore Sam on the other hand? Let's let people decide for themselves about your style.

Autism Reality NB said...

Steve D

I saw a few visitors from this location to my blog site and figured you were up to your usual antics. Your comments, and joseph's, came as no surprise and have given me a good chuckle.

Someday I hope to be able to drop in and see you discussing autism in a meaningful way instead of engaging in personality attacks on parents of autistic children who don't share your ND ideology.

Fore Sam said...

It doesn't matter how many references Kathleen uses when she intentionally omits some of the truth. That's what is commonly known as a liar.

Another Voice said...

Hello Steve,

I for one am happy to see you blogging on the Autism Hub. I think the title of your page tells everyone what you are all about.

I find someone using the media as any type of standard for objectivity to be quite novel.

You, and many others on the Hub, treat the topic of autism as well as those who comment on your posts with the consideration and respect they deserve. Continue on the high road, keep up the good work.

Steve D said...

"Someday I hope to be able to drop in and see you discussing autism in a meaningful way instead of engaging in personality attacks on parents of autistic children who don't share your ND ideology."

How quickly we forget, Harold:

An excerpt from your post:
"Steve D mentions "epiphanies" in his commentary. Personally I hope that some day Steve D and the Neurodiversity movement have a different sort of epiphany and stumble onto a "concept" they have long abandoned and forgotten - reality."
Ah, this smells like a personality attack, with a side of hypocrisy.

And lest we forget, Harold, this is the post wherein you accuse me of saying that deficits are not a part of autism, when in reality I was discussing the Deficit Model of behaviorism. When I explained this to you, you scoffed and attacked me personally again. When I linked to a paper showing the term, you vanished, then moderated my comments out on your own blog.

Let's take another look at your comment here and the post about the USD conference that you attacked (link above).
On this post:
"Someday I hope to be able to drop in and see you discussing autism in a meaningful way instead of engaging in personality attacks ..."

contrasted with my words from the post you chose to isolate and attack back in July:

"What I took from it is that we need to move away from the "deficit model" of autism. The DSM-IV-r defines autism specifically by what autistic people cannot do compared to NT's ... This, in their view, improperly biases observers to look for "voids" of good behavior or existence of "bad" behavior - without ever considering the root cause of any given behavior at all. It leads to the (classic behaviorist) conclusion that "If I can just isolate this one behavior and eliminate it, my subject will become less autistic."
An example (my own, made up right here on the spot): In small children, a commonly observed autistic behavior is lack of response to the child's name being called. The deficit model would indicate any of the following familiar reasons: She is in her own world (isolation) and cannot hear you; He is so focused on the spinning truck wheel (perseveration) that it trumps all other stimuli, She is overloaded with other stimuli and cannot sort your voice from other sounds (sensory integration), etc...
But perhaps it is that he/she does hear, does want to respond, and simply cannot organize his/her sensori-motor system quickly enough that the observer receives a response quickly enough that it is deemed (culturally determined, of course) to be appropriately delivered in an acceptable period of time. Do you see the difference?"
Gosh, Harold, that looks like meaningful discussion - just exactly what you hoped to see more of here. Does that mean you'll be dropping by more often?
You're always welcome, Harold.
Here we can discuss views of autism without attacks on others, though I reserve the right to defend against ad hominem attacks. Can you say the same?

Steve D said...

Fore Sam -
You seem to be not making a distinction between 'truth' and 'fact'. I said Kathleen referenced facts, which she does. You accuse her of ommitting truth, which is in the judgment of the reader. She draws a clear line between fact-reporting and analysis so that a critical reader can make that distinction. That, to me, is responsible blogging (in the context of investigative reporting) whether or not you agree with the content.

Steve D said...

AV -
Thank you very much for your kind words.
I do try to stay on the high road. Sometimes it feels the lines are blurring a bit.

Anonymous said...

From what I saw of Samsdad and his wife Samsmom on the AS board (over a period of a few weeks of reading their posts daily) is that they are really, truly, shockingly dimwitted people.

Samsdad would no doubt ADORE Harold's truthiness from NB. What upsets Samsdad and wife is that anyone would dare question their unsupportable, illogical (antivax and jawdroppingly stupid about science and statistics) opinions.

They are horrified that autistic adults could express an opinion other than the one THEY hold (all autism is hideous, needs to be cured) all the while saying, "we don't think our daughter is autistic."

In other words, at any moment they will up and leave "autism" in the dust, and decide that their daughter has something else, and autistic adults are stuck with the definition of autism that Samsdad and wife are trying to form as entirely negative.

Then they tried to make it seem that autistic adults have some kind of nefarious ability to stop them from "curing" their child, that makes autistic adults EVIL to them, and so acceptable objects for gross verbal abuse. This is much like Harold from NB and his attitude.

No doubt Harold would cozy up to the Sam's parents and they'd love each other's ideas.

Club 166 said...

I have come to the opinion that the reason that those that oppose ND are so fervent (and even vicious in their attacks) is really quite simple.

They do not have the truth on their side, and on some level they realize that.

Knowing that, they know that people only go from being self-pitying, bitter, vaccine hating curebies to proponents of neuro-diversity. They never go the other way.

That is why they need to crush any and all rational discussion. It may reveal the truth. And then they will have less 'true believers' in their camp, who will never come back.


Fore Sam said...

Kathleen is being dishonest any way you look at it.
Is it responsible blogging for her to take parents quotes out of context from lists where she does not belong? Is it responsible blogging when Kevin Leitch does the same thing?

Matt said...

SamsDad is known on the AS board because he posts a lot and

He is not a person who has tried to become an autism internet "personality". So, I am somewhat uncomfortable with focusing on him in blogging and comments.

SamsDad and SamsMom are some of the more approachable of those who are not happy with neurodiversity. It is not always easy. It would be nice to see that become more so rather than less so.


Steve D said...

Matt -
Thanks for your comment. I do understand your point, and would like to clarify that I am not "ripping on" SamsDad here. His comment to me on the AS board was the catalyst for this post, and I refrained from disparaging him in the writing of this post.

As far as the Anonymous comment, I don't know who that person is. I don't know that person's experience with SamsDad or SamsMom. I simply have nothing to offer on that comment. I do not have the same feelings about SamsDad, as I simply do not know the guy other than his comments to me (which I considered to be over-reactionary and a bit harsh).

Patrick said...

Keep blogging!

Of course there are the dimwitted respondents (and bloggers, speaking of the Hating blog, and the one that attacks ND as the enemy) that drip venom in their every keystroke, there will always be.

The people that wish to be caught up in their negative insanity and incredulity are actually wasting their energy and not making progress in terms of their own humanity.

If the more positive folks aren't around to let the more reasonable thinking people make up their own mind about what is good, right, and true then there will only be the bad information available. And that would truly be a shame.

Anonymous said...

if anyone wants a good laugh, they ought to listen to the free July 2008 audio podcast put out by Midnight In Chicago entitled "Special Feature Interview with Douglas Giesel and An Update Interview with Lewis Schofield" at the end of which a 13 year old boy, in a few concise words, rips Autism Speaks to pieces.