INTERNET ALIASES AND INTEGRITY
One of the most appealing things about the Internet, right from the start of it's mass appeal almost a decade ago, was the anonymity it afforded. When your interface is, basically, a keyboard, monitor and IP address, you pretty much are at casual liberty to assume any identity you choose. I'd say most people, most of the time, go ahead and reveal who they are readily anyway, perhaps for no other reason than lack of imagination. But then, there are people who, for instance, cruise dating chatrooms pretending to be of the opposite sex, just for kicks. Or on a less warped level, others will participate in a range of debates by assuming a personality that's nothing like their everyday one: Usually, a meek Joe Average who spends his nights being a belligerent loudmouth, emboldened by the buffer his computer and Internet connection provide.
Is there something fundamentally wrong with any of this? It's dishonest, sure, but does it really do any harm? In my mind, it's a matter of application and degrees. I don't think it's the end of the world if someone wants to vent some frustration through this method, using an outlet that's just not replicable in real life. And if the stakes are nothing more than trying to win a neverending argument over abortion rights or U.S. foreign policy or why Shaq O'Neal is overpaid, then I say have at it.
Then there are other cases. Like the one involving John R. Lott. Lott, a research scholar who held high posts at Yale and the University of Chicago, was recently caught using a made-up alias on several Web message boards and other sites, in all cases offering effusive praise to himself and his work, for a three-year period
. Part of his maneuvers included having his son join in the fun under the same pseudonym, "Mary Rosh".
Did Lott do anything wrong? Like I said, there's no harm in my mind in creating an anonymous doppleganger for use in engaging in arguments across the web; and in the case of well-known (or at least fairly well-known) figures, it's probably liberating and advantageous to do so. This is Lott's defense of himself in a nutshell.
Too bad it's a crock. As I said, it's a question of application and degrees. Regardless of his original intent in creating this screen name, Lott obviously crossed the line of personal and professional integrity by shamelessly using this tool for self-promotion. Even using this alias to argue about his own work is pretty shady, to say nothing of his need to engage in hoi-polloi level debates in the first place. The fake glowing reviews of his book on Amazon.com takes his shenanigans to absurd levels, and to me pretty much blast apart any credibility he might have had left.
If Lott really believes he doesn't think he's done any harm through all this, he'll wake up to reality pretty soon. Someone in his field is buoyed solely on his integrity and credibility. When those things are called into question, as they are now, the work he produces pretty steadily turns to mud, because the quality of that work is automatically called into question thanks to his reputation.
Lott's already being subjected to this: His well-known research work in gun control is being picked apart, and the best he can offer is the equivalent of "my dog ate my homework"
. He'd better get used to it. At this point, it's not like anyone would want to collaborate with him, since he'll do nothing but bring a perceived (rightly or wrongly) taint to the work.
I haven't even mentioned his questionable parenting skills in teaching his son the family business. I've got to assume that his son has other influences in his life that affect him as much as his dad's teachings. He's got a mind of his own, and he'll have to decide for himself what to think about proper conduct in the personal and professional spheres. I just hope Lott isn't too surprised when his kid(s) start pulling the same sort of crap in other facets of life, at some point screwing him over too. You reap what you sow.