Monday, September 01, 2008

Aah, Those Little Secrets

Scott, one of our frequent contributors, asked a very interesting question today. Rather than post our response as a comment, we felt that because of the question’s depth and possible relevance, we would post it here.

Scott’s question is: What's your take on non-fiction by an author that keeps her/his real identity a secret? Let us say hypothetically that you're part of an industry where if you were honest about the industry it would hurt your career in it. That and if you could keep your identity a secret, you could talk more honestly and openly about your industry. Would having a judge or such publicly trusted person verify that you have the credentials you say you have help in such a situation?

My take on this is that if your identity is secret, doesn't that ruin credibility, or at least somewhat erode that credibility in the eyes of other experts? In my opinion, I would be rather skeptical of an expert who didn't want to risk his or her position and so wanted to hide behind a wall for fear of being identified.

Another consideration here is that anyone who writes a book, especially a controversial one, has to understand that his/her identity, at some point, could be compromised. So, that person would have to weigh that VERY heavily. What if the person’s identity is discovered? How much would that person be willing to sacrifice in terms of his/her professional and personal life? Many people write under pen names, but there is ALWAYS the risk of discovery, usually by accident. Or, in the case of something controversial, especially in today’s media-saturated, 24-hour news cycle to fill, Internet- overloaded society, anyone writing a book is subject to as much scrutiny as a political candidate. People who say they are experts do not have the luxury of remaining anonymous without being questioned, even if they can find people to certify their expertise.

I’m sure there are a few anonymous (so-called) experts out there, but for me, I really want to know who I’m dealing with and what their background is so I can understand the personal and professional filters through which the person gathered his/her knowledge. As a reader, that gives me a foundation on which I can build my own understanding. Expertise has to stand up to critical examination and anonymity usually doesn’t do well under that sort of scrutiny. In a way, it cuts off communication, and one of the frustrating things a person can do is refuse to communicate (consider the silent treatment).