I have spent over 10 days agonizing over how to start writing. It is not because I don’t have topics or ideas to write about, I have plenty. The reasons are worse than that.

I have avoided posting anything because of a certain fear and self-consciousness that I know to be irrational and wrong, but had been unable to properly overcome until now. It is a combination of being afraid to make bold public assertions or arguments that are later shown to be wrong and possibly not being informed of how they are wrong.

Counter-intuitively, this worry is exacerbated by the fact that, as of now and as far as I can tell, scriptogr.am (update: this was back when I was using scriptogr.am. I’ve now moved to Octopress Jekyll) does not have a commenting system enabled for its posts, and I don’t know if that is something they plan on doing in the future. It is counter-intuitive because I think the typical idea is that if people are unable to comment on your posts, you cannot be easily and publicly shown to be wrong on your site, and are thus spared the embarrassment. This is true for those whose primary considerations are public image, gaining followers, or other alien goals none of which are mine.

My goal is to achieve a better approximation of the truth. This would be achieved by making the best argument I have with respect to a certain problem, and having others offer criticism and discussion, after which mistakes are corrected and the argument or solution is refined and improved. Not having the ability to receive comments on my writing means that I can only receive criticism or host discussion over email, and while I would - and will - post it for those who wish to contact me, posting a comment is much easier for people than composing and sending an email. Meaning, visitors could read, have criticism, and be discouraged from contacting me with it, and I would thus miss an opportunity to learn, and continue to be as wrong.1

As I have mentioned above, being afraid of being wrong is an irrationality, or a sign of misplaced priorities. Unfortunately, being wrong is not the only consideration when planning online contributions. Other peoples’ irrationalities (employers, superiors, family) often come into play; even if you are willing and able to make bold and controversial assertions in a sincere invitation to receive good criticism, those parties will often not be as truth-seeking, and unpopular opinions could lead them to mistakenly disqualify you from positions you would otherwise be excellent at.

That is the meta problem I have been struggling with when it comes to online writing.2 I would not have written about it if I did not also think that self-censorship and increasing timidity are problems worth bringing up. I thought a decent solution was to write about the problem and my thoughts on it, and perhaps that would loosen up some of my courage and criticism-welcoming muscles, and relieve this mental cramp I’ve been having.

Finally, for some reason, I thought the following xkcd comic was an apt inclusion:

  1. There is no indication that comments will be natively enabled. I’ll try “installing” Disqus commenting system in the posts. (update: Disqus should be up and operational right now. update Dec 2014: Disqus isn’t automatically enabled. I’ll just enable it on posts that call for it. Otherwise, conversations can happen over email.)

  2. Incidentally, this is a problem that faces scientists just as well as amateur online writers. I will hopefully write something about the increasing fear of committing to a concrete idea, and the extremely damaging consequences this fear is having on scientific work and integrity.