Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Anonymity

If you're around in the blogosphere you have probably gotten used to the anonymous background noise of hostile, stupid, or just completely nonsensical comments.

I certainly understand that anonymity can be necessary in certain situations, and I myself have made use of it. Mostly when commenting on problems with former co-workers, in cases where I thought even if I don't name them explicitly it would be easy to find out who I was talking about. But most of the anonymous comments I see are anonymous for no other reason than cowardice. I believe these people chose anonymity because they wish not to be responsible for what has been said, and they are afraid to make a mistake. I don't think this is a good development - not for the scientific content, and not for the atmosphere of the discussion.

To begin with, let me differentiate between 'anonymity' and 'pseudonymity'. Pseudonymity is if you choose a nickname and stick to it, even if you don't connect it to your real name, your job, or affiliation. I have no problem with that. Except that occasionally I would of course like to know more - but that's the story of my life. If you have a pseudonym, you'll create a history and a reputation. If you come back, I will know what scientific knowledge I can expect, know already your opinion on various matters, and it will be much easier to reply to your comments. In addition to this, if I am under time pressure I don't read anonymous comments. Why should I? There are 6 billion people in this world. Of course I distribute my attention primarily to people I know.

The very least you can do is choosing and sticking to one nickname in the comments to one thread. Look, after the 10th 'Anonymous' it becomes really confusing. Can't you at least enumerate yourselves?

In case there are still people who haven't figured it out: if you write a comment you get 3 options - blogger ID, Other, and Anonymous. If you don't have a blogger ID and don't want to get one, you can comment under a nickname choosing the option 'Other'. This does not require you to leave an email address. There are some of you among the frequent visitors (Klaus, changcho), who always comment as anonymous, but sign with a name. You can do this, but in this case I will miss some of your comments, since they appear in my inbox as: Anonymous left a comment... and I ignore them. If you want to get a blogger ID, you don't need to write a blog for that, and I assure you you don't get any spam. The advantage is that the link to your profile confirms it's actually your comment.

If you are afraid to sign your criticism with your name, what light does this shed on our discussions? It is without doubt that writing in anonymity tempts you to put less thought, and less care into your argumentation. Before you leave the next anonymous comment, here or elsewhere, do me the favor and ask yourself whether it is really necessary to do so.

"Anonymity is like a rare earth metal. These elements are a necessary ingredient in keeping a cell alive, but the amount needed is a mere hard-to-measure trace. In larger does these heavy metals are some of the most toxic substances known to a life. They kill. Anonymity is the same. As a trace element in vanishingly small doses, it's good for the system by enabling the occasional whistleblower, or persecuted fringe. But if anonymity is present in any significant quantity, it will poison the system.

[...]

Privacy can only be won by trust, and trust requires persistent identity, if only pseudo-anonymously. In the end, the more trust, the better. Like all toxins, anonymity should be keep as close to zero as possible."

59 comments:

Plato said...

I hope these thoughts have no relevance to Peter Woit's anti-string propaganda?:)

Bee said...

I think the relevance of the blogosphere in this regard is generally over-rated. Things only heated up after the books. Besides this, I generally dislike and mistrust anonymous comments, whether pro or anti something.

The fact that people from our community are afraid to say what they think PUBLICLY is part of the problem, in fact it IS the problem. You can't solve it by merely protecting their anonymity, but by assuring them having an opinion doesn't kill their career. As long as people are afraid this might be the case, we will just push around the bump under the carpet.

Best,

B.

ChickenBreeder said...

Bee,

The academia is not as open as you want it to be. If someone is found by his colleagues to have posted a comment at, say, Peter Woit's (or Lubos Motl's) blog, it could leave an "impression" that he might have frequented that blog and even support PW's view.

Unfortunately, impression (and imagination) is often more important than any objective measure when one judges whether one's colleague or prospective employee is good or not.

I agree that absolute anonymity is not good. Pseudoanonymity, on the other hand, serves an important purpose of protecting one from potentially prejudiced colleagues and peers. Without this protection, science blogsphere would be as boring as the real world academia, then why bother?

rillian said...

I know you're being serious, but I'm often anonymous just because I can't be bothered to fill in all the fields. Or worse, create an account. If it's somewhere I regularly participate, fine, but the first few times I contribute to a comment thread I usually don't bother.

Bee said...

Hi Chickenbreeder:

I totally understand this. As I've said above, there are cases in which anonymity is necessary. What I am saying is that an overdose of anonymity is fatal to every kind of constructive communication. It can't be the aim to provide a forum to anonymous string theory fans or haters. The problem is that these anonymously made very low quality bullshit comments pull down the reputation of the whole scientific blogosphere to begin with. As a result, more people are afraid to be brought in connection with it, and more people will restrain to anonymity.

Look, I know many people who share my concerns when it comes to selection processes (topics and people) in our community. If I talk to them in private, they agree with what I say, and I don't think they do so to be nice. But they would never say in public, I'm working on X just because it's presently the thing to do, and this granting pressure is a disaster to do research. If they do so anonymously, it won't help zip. What it needs is an environment where they can say things like this without being afraid to damage their career. If more people would speak out that would become possible. It's a threshold effect, like with every inconvenient, but widely known bug that has to be fixed.

Hi rillian,

Yeah sure. There are the occasional comments people make just for fun, and I certainly don't mind the anonymous visitor telling me they like my blog. But that's actually not the reason why I find science blogs useful. What I find interesting is that they offer a new possibility to have exchange about rather recent developments, and collect information fast, and hear a variety of opinions. For such to be of any use, names or pseudonyms that certify expertise are definitely beneficial - for the passive reader even more than for the comments. Also, I admittedly have to say if somebody doesn't take the time to fill out even the name field, how much effort can he/she have put in his comment all together.

Best,

B.

Kea said...

Hypocrisy is a fashionable vice, and all fashionable vices pass for virtue. Moliere

Bee said...

“So our virtues lie in the interpretation of the time”
~ William Shakespeare

almida said...

In some cases anonymity is a natural response to terror. when psychopaths pseudo-physicists like lumo pick a victim they bit him mercilessly just for fun. Usually their educated attacks are as superficial as a 2-dim sheet of paper can be, but the bad taste remains. Nobody whats to swim in this swamp. Thus, in order to discuss things freely, people feel better when they hide behind anonymity.

Uncle Al said...

smjames@my-dejanews.com was Inflatable Space Bunny. One cannot hope for parents to see that far forward when naming a hatchling. OTOH, it would have been tough on a resume.

http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/fleas.htm
A riff on Inflatable Space Bunny's social transform function, _canada_

Masks are useful. Soldiers wear uniforms so their bullets are anonymous. There are still rules, albeit ethical rather than moral.

L. Riofrio said...

Anonymity may have its uses, but Bee is right that anonymous cowardice is rampant for blogs.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bee,

The reason for my answering by clicking anonymous is

1) ignorance... (how to, link please)

2) convenience, lazyness

I will sign up for a blogger account as soon as 1) is clarified.

best

Klaus

Bee said...

Hi Klaus,

The only thing you need to do is chose the option 'Other' under the box where you post your comment, and enter 'Klaus' in the field 'Name'. To get a blogger account go to blogger.com. Best,

B.

Peter Woit said...

Glad to see you're generating some discussion of this question, I think you're right that it would significantly improve the level of discussion in the physics blogosphere if there were less anonymity.

On the Wordpress software I use, I see not only the name people have put on the posting, but whatever e-mail address they put in that field (and the internet name of the machine they post from), so I often know a lot more about who is posting what than the public sees.

I think there rarely is a good reason for posting a fully anonymous comment, and it's a completely unprofessional thing to do if you're engaging in hostile attacks on someone. In the past, if someone wanted to anonymously attack people, no medium capable of reaching much of an audience would publish such a thing. About the best you could manage if you wanted to engage in this was to write on the bathroom stalls of your institution. And then your message could only reach one gender...

The internet now allows people to anonymously engage in vicious nastiness directed at anyone they're not happy with, and this is not at all a good thing. I normally delete such comments if they're posted on my blog, unless they're directed personally at me from possibly serious physicists, in which case I don't mind them being aired, and I can respond as appropriate.

It's extremely unfortunate that scientific discussions about the problems of string theory have become so contentious that people have legitimate reasons to fear that having their name attached to a reasonable comment one way or another on the topic might damage their career. This fear was always there, and that's a sad fact, but Lubos Motl has done a lot to make it worse. This is due to not only his over-the-top behavior, but also to the fact that people may reasonably believe that other string theorists share some of his views about people critical of string theory, while having enough sense to keep quiet about this.

I've been aware for a long time of how anyone critical of string theory might be intimidated by this. More recently, as string theory has come in for a lot more criticism, I've also realized that someone who wants to make a forceful defense of string theory might also have cause to worry about whether he/she might alienate a colleague who is no fan of string theory and reads my blog. So, this is not a good thing, but I can see why people might want to adopt a pseudonym for their comments on this unfortunately contentious subject. Even if people do this, I strongly encourage them to, as Bee suggests, use the same pseudonym consistently, as well as to include a valid e-mail identifying themselves to me. If you do so, I'm not going to out you on my blog. Even if you're engaging in obnoxious behavior, if you give me a way to let you know what I think of it privately, I'll do that. On the other hand, if you insist on trying to hide your identity and behave unprofessionally while doing so, I have your IP address and various other possibly identifying info captured by the web-server, and don't see why I shouldn't use them...

Bee said...

Hi Peter:

Thanks for your comment. Indeed, I am not particularly happy with the comment feature at blogger, but there isn't much one can do about it. We're about to move the blog though, and will have wordpress run on a private server.

"It's extremely unfortunate that scientific discussions about the problems of string theory have become so contentious that people have legitimate reasons to fear that having their name attached to a reasonable comment one way or another on the topic might damage their career."

I think this is the real problem. I didn't agree with much of what Nancy Cartwright said in that debate in (?) London, but she's made an good point with "Good Physics is conflict". If our community looses the ability to deal with criticism because people feel the need to self censor their opinions, then that's a total disaster for progress in science - with or without any specific method.

I know I've said it before, many times, but it's our community and we are the ones who set the rules for what deserves a career and what doesn't. It is very sad to see that the scientific community itself is not able to identify its problems, because single members can't look beyond their own concerns and realize the cause for these developments. Somebody, somewhere is sitting in a hiring committee, frowning his forehead, thinking that person X might damage the reputation of the institute, just because he has opinions.

It's not an anonymous almighty force trying to damage our careers, it's not just 'the way it is' --> it's people not being aware how dangerous this line of reasoning is for science on the long run.

Best,

B.

Domenic said...

Similar to Peter's comment, I think that anyone whose blog software requires an email address has a potential solution in their hands. I'd do it something like this.

If your blog gets an anonymous attack-comment, email the writer and say "You have two choices. I will either replace the comment with '[attack-comment vs. person X removed because the author was too cowardly to reveal his/her real identity]', or you can be un-anonymized." If the writer leaves an invalid email, your email to them regarding this will bounce, and so you can replace the post with '[comment removed due to fake email being used]'.

Thoughts?

changcho said...

Ok, let me try "Other" instead of Anonymous. Ah, the "preview" feature shows that this works better, and I'll do this from now on.

Thanks for pointing that out; it was just ignorance on my part.

Plato said...

vokpBee:Things only heated up after the books.

Historically this is not true Bee.

There had to be some time for perspectives to form and this has to take place before the words materialized into a conclusion.

The climate has usually been set before one even enters the environment.

Everyone knows that the IP gives identification and everyone knows that the owners of blogs have some deeper insight into who is who.

That while using such a Pseudoanonymity we entrust the owners to safe guard our identities.

While we may not be associated or in the business, does not relegate our positions less then what the knowledge of science requires, and thus, should not be thought less of.

A Pizza guy, who has a genuine interest in what our scientists are doing, should not mean an open door policy on email or direct access too, what are busy people.

By blogging you invite the common people unless you lock entry to those you feel should be or not be part of the team.

Arun said...

Dear Bee,
For the longest time I thought anonymity and pseudonymity were both wrong. I still think so about anonymity, but were I to begin my Internet peregrinations all over again (from back in the Usenet days) I would be pseudonymous. The reason is that with the availability of information on the internet, it is no longer safe. One just has to hope a criminally minded person doesn't pick on oneself.

I've done my own searches on people who are pseudonymous and whom I know and checked that there is some degree of protection there.

Fortunately, I have no hostages to fortune.

Anonymous said...

If you're around in the blogosphere you have probably gotten used to the anonymous background noise of hostile, stupid, or just completely nonsensical comments.

I hate you. All of physics is wrong. Energy = five kidneys times a lamentable flowerpot.

Signed,
Mr. Anonymous

Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

Oh, OK, I've posted here as "Anonymous" on two occasions. They were utterly inconsequential comments, other than to make you laugh one time.

To be brief: Sure I'm afraid to use my real identity. Having lurked around the blogosphere for a good year before making my first post, I felt I'd seen enough. There are clearly lots of wonderful people out there. There are also hordes of certifiable nutcases. It's not likely I'd have a run-in with a member of either catagory, but the risks of the latter outweigh the benefits of the former, unfortunately. While I admire the integrity of those who choose to put a name (and sometimes a face) to their (now very public) communications, I'm not sure if it's always wise.

I have taken to heart some of the comments Dr. Woit has reiterated here, so I'll leave any criticisms to idle chit-chat about politics and the like. I'll ask questions of experts when I'm very curious. I might offer an opinion (negative or positive) about some really broad societal phenomenon without singling out individuals, lest I act unjustly.

Mostly I'm just around to learn about what I consider to be, overall, the greatest of human endeavors, and to pose a question to an expert now and then who might be willing to answer. Sometimes in the process I get exposed to things that have little or nothing to do with physics, and maybe I'll chime in for the heck of it.

I'm no one that anyone ought to worry about. I'm unimportant, and I'd rather like to keep it that way, given the crazy world we inhabit. Knowing my identity will enhance the reader's appreciation of any comment I have any business making not an iota. My thoughts can hopefully stand on their own merits or deficits, and I make them with malice towards none so as to keep it that way.

I imagine I'm not alone in these sentiments.

Dr Who said...

Some comments and advice:
[a] My institution forbids us to put names or anything else that might associate our postings with them. In other words, pseudonymity is not our choice. I don't think this is unique, and actually I think it is a sensible policy.

[b] Peter Woit said: " I have your IP address and various other possibly identifying info captured by the web-server, and don't see why I shouldn't use them..."

No, you *think* you have their IP addresses. Let me tell you a story. Some time ago I tried to do this kind of sleuthing on someone who posted something nasty on my blog. I got hold of the IP address [outside the US --- maybe things are different for IPs inside] and went on, making quite a bit of progress and congratulating myself accordingly. In the end, all the evidence pointed to one culprit.

Who turned out to be myself. My opponent obviously had a whale of a time leading me down this little garden path. I learned something: there are people out there with the skills to make it look like their posts are coming from absolutely *anywhere* and *anyone*. I'm actually grateful to this guy because he might so easily have caused the trail to point at someone else, tempting me to accuse some innocent and thereby look like a total fool. Moral: the idea that you can find out who someone "really is" on the internet is strictly for the birds. You would not *believe* how clever and cunning some of these guys are.

amused said...

I like to indulge in a bit of string-bashing from time to time, and might feel inhibited if I had to do it under my own name ;-).
I regret having chosen such a silly and generic handle though. The first few times I really was `amused', and now I'm stuck with it...

vonCookie said...

Thanks for making the distinction between anonymous commentary/blogging and pseudonymous commentary/blogging. In academic circles, pseudonymous blogging seems to be the trend, and one that will be sticking around for a while... I tend to see it as both a professional and psychological necessity, in that one tends towards self-preservation in general, especially when it comes to career. But there is also the psychological need to create an alter-ego, in a way, and many academics are frustrated writers who cannot venture beyond the character of the "I". I myself have written about this under my pseudonym of "vonCookie" (a pseudonym that is entirely ridiculous and perhaps undoes whatever validity my comments may have), here's the
link to the post
.

At any rate, this is an issue that will be debated for quite some time. Who would've thought there'd be a blogging closet from which to emerge? When I started writing, it certainly did not occur to me that this would become so polemical. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.


vonCookie

Thomas Larsson said...

Anonymously (and pseudonymously?) flaming somebody is actually criminal, at least for US citizens.

chris said...

"If you are afraid to sign your criticism with your name, what light does this shed on our discussions? It is without doubt that writing in anonymity tempts you to put less thought, and less care into your argumentation. Before you leave the next anonymous comment, here or elsewhere, do me the favor and ask yourself whether it is really necessary to do so."

quite frankly, what is the whole point of these discussions? if i have something substantial to say, i will not write a signed or unsigned comment on a weblog, i will write a paper.

anonymity - or actually, pseudonymity as you call it (anonymous as a name is a real nuisance, i agree, but the man culprit here is your blog software) is one of the big advantages of net discussions. i see it as a real gain. you can't impress people with your titles and awards, you need not worry about getting fired because of a dissenting opinion and your arguments have to stand on their own. in general, people will be more honest (and as a corollary more direct, outspoken and - depending on the personality - also more violent) when they don't have to disclose their real name. for a lifeley discussion, this is optimal.

of course, for the moderator it is probably less enjoyable since (s)he is forced to not be anonymous and therefore suffer all the restrictions of courtesy and behavior these impose (there are some notable exceptions, too of course). but maybe the blog owners could also put the anonymity cap on in the comment section. that would be really great. then the arguments will have to stand on their own.

Bee said...

Hi Changcho,

You're welcome :-) I admit it's confusing with the options, I noticed that some other providers use the option 'Other' for identification with other accounts than their own, not for entering a name.

Hi Chris,

I totally disagree with you.

if i have something substantial to say, i will not write a signed or unsigned comment on a weblog, i will write a paper.

Well, this seems to imply in your opinion there is no category between irrelevant and writing a paper. I guess I just don't share this point of view. In many instances questions are relevant, and misunderstandings and their discussions can be very helpful.

anonymity - or actually, pseudonymity as you call it (anonymous as a name is a real nuisance, i agree, but the man culprit here is your blog software) is one of the big advantages of net discussions. i see it as a real gain. you can't impress people with your titles and awards, you need not worry about getting fired because of a dissenting opinion and your arguments have to stand on their own. in general, people will be more honest (and as a corollary more direct, outspoken and - depending on the personality - also more violent) when they don't have to disclose their real name. for a lifeley discussion, this is optimal.

As I've expressed in my post, anonymity shouldn't be used without the need to. It is pretty plain obvious that knowing who said A makes a difference to what was said and how it can be discussed. As I've mentioned above, if somebody asks a question, it makes a difference to me if I know that person holds a PhD or doesn't. If Quasar asks about the black holes in AdS/CFT I will certainly think of a different explanation than if Moshe asks. It is just an enormous waste of time to repeat such a 'get-to-know-each-other' in every comment section. It's time I don't have, and I'm not willing to spend it on anonymous random visitors. After all, you can just read a paper if you want to have the relevant statements all together.

If Prof. X with N topcited papers says he doesn't understand approach Y, it definitely makes a difference to hearing the same from an anonymous commenter.

I don't see why anonymity promotes honesty. It makes it equally possible that people will trash down something just for the fun of it, because they don't feel responsible for what they are saying. What you call 'more direct, outspoken' I'd have called less thoughtful. As far as I am concerned discussions and augmentations in face to face communication work pretty well, and the respect and understanding you have for people you know plays a big role there. Best,

B.

Bee said...

'augmentations' should read 'argumentations', sorry, spell check did that

Bee said...

Plato,

How many people frequently read science blogs? Some thousand? Maybe some ten thousand? How many copies have been sold of Peter's and Lee's books. You count.

B.

Bee said...

Hi amused,

like to indulge in a bit of string-bashing from time to time, and might feel inhibited if I had to do it under my own name

If you think that's funny, you've missed the point. Inhibition to insult and potentially hurt others is an evolutionary developed trait, that exists for good reasons, and knocking it out poses a serios challenge for constructive online discussions. I want to refer you to my earlier post on the matter

Communication

And esp to Goleman's article 'Cyber-disinhibition'

"The Internet inadvertently undermines the quality of human interaction, allowing destructive emotional impulses freer reign under specific circumstances [...] The tech problem: a major disconnect between the ways our brains are wired to connect, and the interface offered in online interactions.
Communication via the Internet can mislead the brain's social systems. The key mechanisms are in the prefrontal cortex; these circuits instantaneously monitor ourselves and the other person during a live interaction, and automatically guide our responses so they are appropriate and smooth [...] In order for this regulatory mechanism to operate well, we depend on real-time, ongoing feedback from the other person. The Internet has no means to allow such realtime feedback (other than rarely used two-way audio/video streams)."


Best,

B.

Bee said...

Just for clarification I want to mention that I *don't* track IP addresses of commenters. I have a website tracker that shows IP addresses (during workdays an astonishing amount ends on .edu) but I can't map them to comments left, and besides this I neither have the time nor the patience to take care of such things.

Cynthia said...

Some of y'all are scaring the daylights out of me! So to allay my fears, maybe I oughta go underground. Maybe I oughta become an anonymouse...

Though I hate to imagine this, but the day a crazy nut comes after me with a shotgun or a butcher knife or some sort of weapon 'cause of what I write will be the day I realize that it's myth that the pen is mightier than the sword!

chris said...

hi bee,

thanks for the long reply to an anonymous post. that we totally disagree is quite obvious, since you run a blog with your real name. don't get me wrong. i applaud you for doing that and the courage of letting the whole world know your opinion. but some of us are just not that extroverted.

about the famous prof.x, i have my doubts. i once attended a seminar by noone less than gell-mann and after the talk and nice question sessions, i asked people for their opinion. and it turned out that everyone else was equally bored but since it was gell-mann, well, you know the drill.
this sort of authority bonus accompanies us thru our whole life. and it is quite good if from time to time you have to reset the couner and gauge if in this particular area or discussion someone is making equal sense as in her past brilliant episodes. especially for a physics blog, it should be obvious after 2 sentences of serious discussion at what level your counterpart is.

about the honesty let me just make this one statement: maybe the PI is really a special place, but if it is even vaguely like any other physics department that i have ever seen, i.e., a bunch of intelligent people joined together fighting for the limited resources provided, then you know very well the routine of smiling in someones face and then backstabbing her when she is not listening. academia is full of this (as far as i have experienced it) and i am quite frankly thankful for forums where i can see extreme opinons clash out in the open. after all, let us not forget that this is not a life and death competition but a blog that people read to maybe sharpen their understanding of some physics topics.

anyway, this is how i see it and it's great that the forum at your blog leaves this possibility open.

amused said...

Hi Bee,

I don't *really* chose pseudonymity for that reason. Just my feeble attempt at a joke... It wouldn't take much detective work to work out who I am from what I've written already on various blogs, and, knowing that, I don't write anything that I wouldn't be prepared to say to people face-to-face. But I do worry about the risk of causing embarrassment for my institution, and also about revealing ignorance or making mistakes in physics discussions. (Blog comments are just as permanent as research papers on the internet, but a lot less thought goes into them.) For those reasons I prefer pseudonymity.

Rae Ann said...

I completely agree with you Bee. I've always viewed anonymous comments as cowardly (99.9 % of the time I've avoided being anonymous), and the pseudononymous comments are only slightly better. Generally, I've found that statcounter logs fairly accurate information on visitors so that I can know who has been abusive, etc.

I really do think if someone is going to say something they should have the guts to own it. But I've also learned that there's little point in getting too upset over anonymous, or even known, online specters. We're all just ghosts in the machines anyway. ;-)

Bee said...

Hi Chris,

then you know very well the routine of smiling in someones face and then backstabbing her when she is not listening. academia is full of this

I know. Are you seriously trying to tell me the cure to that is having anonymous discussions in the Web2.0?? Do you really think you get a realistic picture of scientific arguments there? I don't want a parallel world that makes people schizophrenic with split identities, I want an atmosphere that is conductive to criticism on a scientific level in the real world - and in the virtual world likewise. It's very sad that people think it is necessary to hide behind anonymity.

about the famous prof.x, i have my doubts. i once attended a seminar by noone less than gell-mann and after the talk and nice question sessions, i asked people for their opinion. and it turned out that everyone else was equally bored but since it was gell-mann, well, you know the drill.

That's an interesting story but has absolutely nothing to do with my remark.

Hi amused,

Okay, sorry for taking your joke too seriously, glad you clarified that.

Best,

B.

Peter Woit said...

Dr. Who,

I don't know what institution you work for but I have never heard of one that has a policy of not allowing people to post comments on the internet using their own names. At least for US academic institutions, any such policy would completely violate standard understandings about academic freedom.

Anonymizing your connection to a web-site is not hard to do, using a fake IP is harder. But in my experience most scientists who think it's a good idea to behave unprofessionally are either unaware of how to do this, or don't think it's worth the trouble to bother.

chris said...

hi bee,

first, would you rather prefer people smiling in your face and behind your back calling you a crackpot? or would you rather hear it directly from a not 100% identified anonymous?
also, as someone noted above, postings are permanent records of yourself. how would you think about someone denying you a job 5 years from now, because you have a track record on the internet of discussing toe's with a so-called 'crackpot'? these things happen. if you are out to change them, my best wishes to you. i am not this leader type, food for me and my family are higher in my priority list then changing the social environment of academia.

about the second point: guess what comments gell-mann would have gotten, if somehow this talk was given 'anonymously' (i know it is technically difficult to imagine for a talk).

there is also another episode i had in an online forum. there someone (a professor emeritus no less) would sign with his whole credentials and post mostly unrelated garbage. but due to his credentials, he had a following crowd and regularly would act insulted in the face of contrary opinions.
there was even this funny guy at one of your recent posts who tried to have it both ways, remember? being anonymous and invoking his authority as a full professor (at your institute even i think).

pseudonymity does away with all this nonsense. you are what you say and that's that. you get treated based on your contribution. and if you happen to make mistakes or say something you will regret 5 years from now, don't worry.

sorry for this repeated long postings, but this really has hit a nerve with me.

Bee said...

Hi Chris,

If somebody anonymous thinks I'm a crackpot I don't give a shit, and why would I? Why on earth should I spend time even thinking about it? If some colleague thinks I'm a crackpot I want them to tell me into my face. I don't take criticism on my work personally. (If somebody walks around making fun of my hormone cycle that's a different issue.) You give me an either/or option

would you rather prefer people smiling in your face and behind your back calling you a crackpot? or would you rather hear it directly from a not 100% identified anonymous?

What I am trying to say is that I don't want either, instead I want an atmosphere that supports constructive criticism in the real and in the virtual world, where people don't have to be afraid of commenting or getting commented about. Why does this necessarily have to be insulting, and be done by calling people names? The over-use of anonymity in the blogosphere is not helpful to achieve this kind of communication I am hoping for.

how would you think about someone denying you a job 5 years from now, because you have a track record on the internet of discussing toe's with a so-called 'crackpot'?

It doesn't sound like somebody I would want to work with, so why should I bother.

Best,

B.

Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

So no one is concerned about the crazy factor? It just strikes me as odd not to be. People rightly worry about giving out their phone number to just anyone; and yet they go on the internet and not only disclose their identity, place of work, and professional contact info with no ability to choose who sees it, in a manner that exponentially increases the ability of such information to be distributed. To make matters worse, after revealing all this, they freely offer up details about their personal lives, like where they've traveled, who they marry and when, etc.

Again, I'm torn between admiring your integrity, and worrying that some of my favorite bloggers harbor under the delusion that they live in some kind of protective bubble because they can't see the people they're talking to. If there's middle ground between the trivial and the publishable, there might also be middle ground between cowardice and prudence.

Bee said...

Hi Low Math, Meekly Interacting,

Sure, I understand the crazy factor. It's sad but true that the world is not a nice place. I certainly wouldn't expect anybody should publicly identify with a real name or email address if he/she has serious concerns about it. Given however that many people have all kind of accounts under their real name and don't seem to be too concerned about this, I don't think this is the dominant reason for anonymous commenting in the science blogosphere. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Again, I'm torn between admiring your integrity, and worrying that some of my favorite bloggers harbor under the delusion that they live in some kind of protective bubble because they can't see the people they're talking to. If there's middle ground between the trivial and the publishable, there might also be middle ground between cowardice and prudence.

You should talk to some bloggers. Most are perfectly aware that their public presence can be potentially dangerous. If you look closely you'll find that the privacy barrier is higher than it seems at first sight. It's kind of funny Chris above calls me 'extrovert', a remark I've heard many times since I'm writing a blog. Best,

B.

Cynthia said...

After reading both Arun's and Chris's comments (including low math, meekly interacting's comment, of course), I'll conclude that posting under a pseudonym is the best way to go--at least when it comes to safety and security. But finding a pseudonym, which captures one's persona without sounding too cheesy, isn't so easy, though...;~)

QUASAR9 said...

Hi Bee, nice to see
Garrett Lisi's Mathematical Pattern
has made it onto
New Scientist

Bee said...

Hi Quasar,
Thanks, I know. Did you have a chance to read the article, I don't have a subscription? Best

-B.

Neil' said...

Does anyone know or suspect, any "handle" posters or commenters around, that could be good thinkers or people we'd know? Any good ideas you've seen, that these people might be too timid to put out "as themselves" because the thoughts are too revolutionary, etc? What might be lurking under some pseudonyms that we just think are Internet trolls?

Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

I do respect your position, Dr. Hossenfelder. Not that I'm going to give up on pseudonymity just yet! Maybe I listen to the security experts too much, I don't know. I'm certainly not someone who wants to behave unethically, so perhaps it's best to limit comments to just straightforward questions. It's never been my intent to take cowardly cheap shots at others from behind a virtual cloak of invisibility, but so much of what's out there that's interesting to discuss is, well, debatable. And when one debates, they often find themselves criticizing a position, if not a person. Hard to know where the ethical lines are being crossed, so maybe it's best to just stay well behind them.

Bee said...

Hi Neil,

What might be lurking under some pseudonyms that we just think are Internet trolls?

Well, Quasar is actually Ed Witten, asking all the question he'd otherwise never dare to. Island is really Don Page, Klaus is Heisenberg's son, Uncle Al is an alien from outer space, sent to teach us but fails to adapt to our low average IQ. Plato is just Plato, posting comments through a timelike wormhole, my husband is actually George Clooney, and I am actually Madonna, but I am too embarrassed to publicly admit I have an interest in physics. Any questions left?

Besides this, as I've pointed out earlier, all you commenters here are just manifestations of my multiple personality disorder anyway, so it doesn't matter.

Best,

B.

Uncle Al said...

Uncle Al had a genetic origins test done. Don't believe these clear blue eyes. It's too late to pursue paternal grandparents about the Mongol invasion of Hungary.

Madonna? Ewwww! How 'bout Amanda Peet/Amanda Peet? "8^>)

Arun said...

...all you commenters here are just manifestations of my multiple personality disorder

A new theory of creation as well - at first there was God, also known as Bee. God has a multiple personality disorder, and here we are. The Upanishadic Mahavakyas "Tat Tvam Asi", "Aham Brahmasmi" become perfectly understandable.

Anonymous said...

This post is just a lot of boring arguments over trivia, so please write something new that's more scientifically interesting, soon!

Bee said...

Anonynous: There are plenty of links to our most interesting earlier posts in the sidebar. How about you read them if you are bored.

John G said...

Apparently the problem with Garrett's model is that it's dyslexic, it ended up with 284 posts instead of 248.

Anonymous_1 said...

I like being Anony Mousone (pronounced like zee French)!

Barking up a different tree...I just finished reading the blog entry/comments concerning Garrett's recent paper -- fascinating, both the paper and the discussion. It's been fifteen years since I read Bjorken & Drell, but it felt like old times back in the Ivory Tower...sniff, sniff. Although, I don't recall anyone as colorful as Motl in the Tower.

Hendrik said...

On the original question of the different flavors of anonymity and their pros & cons: If one has a certain professional web profile, where people may regularly try to find your papers via google, then you don't want to create too much irrelevant noise. The problem is that Google also produces blog entries in its finds. So, to avoid this, I chose a single blog identity (across several sites) which is not my full name. So search engines will not produce my blogging discussions alongside my papers. On the other hand, my identity is fairly transparent to humans, e.g. via the citing of my papers now and then in a discussion.

Michael Cassidy said...

I don't think posting on a blog is that dangerous, if you mean identity theft or someone physical attacking you. Its hard to get you bank account, SSN or pins from posting on a blog. It hard to be punched by an irate physicist through a computer screen. I don't see Ed Witten, Peter Woit or Lubos Motl tracking anyone down and beating them with a stick.

I think for adults the internet is safer than most cities.

I'm not qualified to comment on whether making anti-string theory comments would hurt someone's career; except if its true that's bad for the physic community.

As for tracking IP addresses; try tracking mine I come out of my company's servers about all you would find out if I messed around with my browser or got an uncompiled one and modified it would be that I'm browser from Conde Nast and even that I could hide/change.

Anonymous said...

For students anonymity is sensible. There is one kind of anonymity that goes with reading your blog and commenting. However, there is another kind of anonymity that those above the student reserve for themselves: accessing our applications and grades and writing our recommendations. They moan about the anonymous referee even as, they, dear hypocrites, continue to judge others in secret. It is an anonymity they do not relinquish. I hold everyone in academia, who is not a student (for they are powerless), culpable. Those are the cowards.

You want my names, or at least a tag, so you can size me up, prejudge me, stuff me into a pigeonhole. Oh yes, he or she will say this thing, for he or she is this or that way. Respond to the argument not to the person. Respect your scientific training in the art of reason and leave ad hominem and other genetic fallacies for the untrained minds.

The view of anonymity as inconvenient, we should leave for the Chinese government, yes? What does it say about you that you can see eye to eye with the Chinese government on the problem of the anonymous internet user? For you see, this is exactly their problem, the anonymous online slanderer of the benevolent Chinese government. And why do the wise Chinese prefer to keep their anonymity from their loving government? Think on these things.

And those comments that are attacks on the characters of others with no foundation, delete them when you think they are not adding anything. That is not only sensible but easy.

I will mirror the accusation made to the anonymous commenter back at the scientific blogger who complains about his commenters: he or she is too cowardly to exercise strong editorial control over his or her blog, instead immaturely trying to outsource this job to the audience.

Georg said...

The insert from that Kevin Kelly
is quite true with respect to his
intention, but total nonsense
with respect to rare earth toxicity.
They are in fact almost nontoxic,
and value as trace elements in nutrition
is not proven (and rather unlikely).
He should have chosen selenium as an example,
this element is rather toxic but very
important for living organisms in traces.
GSchön

anon non-phys math prof said...

I like anonymity because I can ask dumb questions to try and learn some physics, and also so I can engage in a bit of crackpot speculation, without professional embarrassment.

Bee said...

Hi Anon,

To reiterate what I said above already, the problem is that a) nobody should be embarrassed to ask questions and b) that I've come to find the idea of 'just asking dumb questions' occasionally very annoying. Given that the internet is a vast source of information, one would think the person asking should have at least sufficient interest to check the available resources (not to mention readint the post) before wasting other people's time. The barrier to 'just ask a stupid question' because it can't be embarrassing if done anonymously leads many people to not even try to answer it for themselves first. (That is not to say this applies to you whose pseudonym I can't recall having seen here previously.)

Best,

B.