Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The problem of anonymity on the internet

There's a little kerfluffle in the blogosphere because an anonymous blogger has been outed. Michael Eisen posted an interesting comment of the episode and I want to add my 2 cents to something he says at: On anonymity in science and on Twitter. Here's the part I want to address ...
A lot of people who I interact with on Twitter, and whose blogs I read, have chosen to tweet and write under pseudonyms. This puzzled me at first, but I have come to realize that there are a LOT of good reasons for people to mask their real identities online.

Anonymity allows people to express their opinions and relate their experiences without everything they say becoming part of their personal permanent record. It affords people who are marginalized or in tenuous positions a way to exist online without fear of retribution. Pseudonyms help create a world where ideas matter more than credentials. And they provide some kind of buffer between people – especially women – and the nastier sides of the internet.

The myriad and diverse pseudonymous voices out there make the internet a richer and more interesting place. Maybe it’s weird, but I consider many of these people whom I’ve never met and whose real identities I don’t know to be my friends.
Here's the problem. I agree with everything that Michael says but there's still something about hiding behind a pseudonym that makes me uneasy. I much prefer dealing with people who use their real names. I grew up believing that it was admirable to stand up and be accountable for your beliefs and opinions no matter what the consequences.

Yes, I'm well aware of the fact that it's a lot easier for a tenured professor to say this than for someone who is in a much more vulnerable position. Michael Eisen also knows this—read his post. That's part of the problem. We understand that the "consequences" of speaking out against authority can be quite severe and we both understand that there's value in hearing from certain anonymous voices.

I guess where I differ from Michael Eisen is that right now I don't think I follow any blogger whose identity isn't known to me. It may be true in theory that ideas matter more than identity but, in reality, there just aren't very many examples. On the other hand, there are lots of examples where people use anonymity to say things they would never say in public even if their identity was concealed.

Does the upside of anonymity make up for the downside? That's the real question. I don't know the answer but I'm leaning toward "no."

I'd like to live in a society where you could never be punished for anything you say or believe. It makes me uneasy to live in a society that accepts the idea that you will be punished for your opinion and sets up ways of permitting people to say whatever they want without having to face any consequences. It seems like that's a way of giving up on the fight for freedom of expression and legitimizing the idea of systemic intolerance.

I try to get my students to speak up during class and express their views and opinions. I think it's an essential component of learning how to think critically. I try and get them to write essays where they defend a controversial idea, even if it's unpopular. I don't think it's a good idea if it becomes the accepted norm that you can only do this if you can be assured that nobody will find out who you are.

(I know most of the people who comment on Sandwalk but there are some who use pseudonyms. There's a good correlation between people who comment anonymously and those whose ideas don't deserve respect. There's also a powerful correlation between those who use their real names and those ideas are worth listening to even if they disagree with mine.

That's doesn't mean you shouldn't comment using a pseudonym. Just be aware of the company you're keeping.)


65 comments :

  1. I disagree that the downside outweighs the upside. Yes, there are horrible people who hide behind anonymity to say hurtful, abusive, and disgusting things. Losing anonymity would reduce this, but there would be a ton left behind. There are more than enough horrible people saying hurtful, abusive, digesting things using their real names. What you will do is take away the voice of people in vulnerable positions. Women and minorities will be less likely to speak up or out.

    Fore example, women are already heavily abused by internet trolls. Jessica Ahlquist received inordinate numbers of threats and was even called out by a state politician ('evil little thing' iirc). Yes Ahlquist spoke out and survived the storm of hatred, much from real named people. I wonder how many women see this kind of abuse and refuse to say anything. How many atheists would stop speaking up if they were known to their communities, especially in the deep south of the US?

    How about an editor of a major science journal outing a scientist and ''putting them on a list' as well as all those who support her?

    I think the good far outweighs the bad. From a strictly number crunching sense, the bad outnumbers the good, but this is basically background noise that brings nothing to the table. I will take the incessant buzzing if it means we get the voice of others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. FWIW I use my pseudonym (not tough to find out who I am) because I have been using it for years. I started using it when I was in a more vulnerable position and continue to because it is how people know me online.

      Delete
  2. I'm an anonymous blogger and I've been passively following your blog for quite a while now. I just thought today I would share why I write anonymously. I started writing my blog back in 2008 and did it just for a bit of fun. I picked a pseudonym for nor particular reason but my identity was no secret. I told family and friends about the blog and work colleagues and posted pictures of myself and my name was mentioned many times. At the time I was a PhD student in ancient literature, specialising in the New Testament. I was working for a small Catholic institute run by the Dominicans. Being a non-Christian I often expressed views on my blog that were contrary to Catholic dogma. I posted an image of the Last Supper by DaVinci with cartoon characters instead of the disciples. The administrator of this small Catholic institute saw this image and made a complaint against me. She said I was mocking everything the institute stood for and being offensive. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I was to remove the image, remove all reference to my job and the institute and apologise. The consequences would have been the loss of research funding. In that instance, anonymity was somewhat forced upon me as I could not express my own opinions under my own name without the fear of consequences. I am no longer at this institute but continue to write under a pseudonym to avoid potential future conflicts.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sorry Larry, there are to many things wrong with your post that a response would become way to lengthy so let me just say this and please don't take it personal:
    Based on the way you react to criticism on your blog I would not advise any of your students to write an essay defending controversial ideas.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's ridiculous to compare a professors teaching methods to his "reactions" on his blog.



      Delete
    2. Dear "second opinion"

      Who are you and why do you say that? Are you referring to the fact that I sometimes argue with and debate people who disagree with me instead of just agreeing with them? If so, that's exactly how I want my students to behave and that's what I tell them. I encourage them to defend controversial ideas—the emphasis is on "defend." Sometimes that means defending it against me. They will never, ever, lose marks for doing that.

      I have two other things to say about your anonymous personal attack.

      1. It IS a personal attack in spite of what you say.

      2. It's really cowardly to say that there are so many things wrong with my post that you haven't got time to mention any of them but you do have time to impugn my integrity as a teacher.

      I understand why you don't want anyone to know who you are.

      Delete
    3. I'm sorry Larry, I did not want to impugn your integrity as a teacher, I should have kept my thoughts to myself.

      Delete
    4. I'm not suggesting that you keep your thoughts to youself. What I objected to was you pretending that what you said wasn't a personall attack. What you implied was just about the worst thing you could say about a teacher. You implied that I was lying to my students and that, contrary to what I said, I would punish them for disagreeing with me.

      Let's forget about it. Would you have felt embarrassed if you had signed your real name to that commentt? Is one of the reasons for hiding your identity to enable you to post insults like that without hurting your reputation?

      Delete
    5. The simple reason for posting anonymous is that I don't want to draw the attention of people towards me who won't hesitate to kill me.

      Delete
    6. Wait, this is a real issue! Let's not let the mis-steps and over-the-top rhetoric obscure this issue! Larry, you put the argument on a personal level in your original comments-- invoking your own experience and authority and putting yourself out there as an exemplar-- so don't complain if someone comments about whether your claims about yourself are accurate. Second opinion has a valid point. Everyone who reads this blog knows that Larry calls the people who hold a certain position "IDiots". Sarcasm and scorn are not very welcoming. Larry, this is reality: your online demeanor is not welcoming to people who disagree with you. Some people enjoy that in an online forum, because it isn't real for them: other people are intimidated precisely because the emotional language is real for them.

      Perhaps your classroom demeanor is totally different. But if your classroom demeanor is like your online demeanor, then I doubt that you are having open discussions in your classroom. Even if your classroom demeanor IS totally different, doesn't your blog still matter? What if someone in your classroom knows about your blog? Are they going to feel welcome to share ideas about ID or the ENCODE project that differ from your oh-so-strongly stated opinions?

      Delete
    7. Arlin says,

      Second opinion has a valid point. Everyone who reads this blog knows that Larry calls the people who hold a certain position "IDiots". Sarcasm and scorn are not very welcoming. Larry, this is reality: your online demeanor is not welcoming to people who disagree with you.

      There are all kinds of people who disagree with me. Some of them are IDiots and deserve to be mocked because their ideas really are quite stupid. I explain to my students that debate in the real world uses all kinds of tools—it's not the polite Oxford common room out there.

      I also explain to my students that they need to learn these tools and techniques if they are really going to make a difference in the world. I encourage them to debate with me and with their fellow students but I warn them that I'm not going coddle them or tie one hand behind my back so they have a better chance at winning.

      I also explain to them that their essay grade will not suffer if they choose to defend a position that I disagree with. I'm pretty sure about that after twenty years of experience and over one hundred essays that took contrary opinions.

      "Second opinion" implied that I was lying to my students and that they would suffer if they disagreed with me. That's really insulting.

      There are lots of people other than IDiots who disagree with me, including you, Arlin. You don't all get treated the same way as long as you make logical arguments and back them up with evidence. Many of you have changed my mind.

      Besides, if my style is so intimidating, why do the IDiots keep coming back for more? You'd think they would avoid this place like the plague. :-)

      Some people enjoy that in an online forum, because it isn't real for them: other people are intimidated precisely because the emotional language is real for them.

      No problem. There are lots of other blogs and forums where they can hang out and be really polite to one another. I'd be interested in knowing whether you think there's free and open discussion of controversial issues on those sites.

      Perhaps your classroom demeanor is totally different. But if your classroom demeanor is like your online demeanor, then I doubt that you are having open discussions in your classroom.

      I don't think my classroom demeanor is very different than what you see on my blog. What's different is that I choose different topics to discuss in class so that there's more opportunity for debate. I also try to get students talking to each other as much as possible.

      I agree that it's very hard to encourage open discussion in the classroom. I'm not sure you can do it without ruffling some feathers.

      Delete
  4. Posting "an image of the Last Supper by DaVinci with cartoon characters instead of the disciples" when you are working for a Catholic institution is certainly not a good idea. I do use my own name when blogging and commenting. and I have a policy of not creating posts or tweets that make fun of my employer. That's just good sense.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I certainly learned the hard way. I didn't have good sense and made a mistake. I'm not in anyway defending what I did. It was a small institution and a very liberal one at that so I thought the image would be taken in the spirit it was meant, fun. I wasn't making fun of my employer. Their threats were somewhat empty as they could not actually remove funding because of something I did outside of work that was so minor. Most people thought it was funny and didn't really care. It was only because of one complaint that it happened.

      By comparison, my supervisor who was a Dominican monk then wrote a book claiming Jesus didn't exist. He was removed from his position.

      Delete
  5. There is a big difference in this context between anonymity and pseudonymity. Conflating this is rather missing the point, in my opinion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. People tell me all the time that there's a big difference. The only difference it makes is that pseudonyms allow you to tell one anonymous person from another. For example, I can tell that you, Tim, are probably not "second opinion" or "Quest"—although I can't be certain.

      This is helpful when I ban someone but unfortunately they show up later under another pseudonym.

      Delete
    2. Ok, it seems we should also recognize the distinction between bloggers and commentors. When Dr. Isis (for example) writes a post on her blog, there is no question that it is written by the same person who authored every other post on her blog. I don't need to know her real name or credentials to know whose opinion it is, and whether or not I should take her seriously, since she's spent a lot of time building a consistent and tangible online identity. Knowing her real name and affiliation doesn't matter at all to me.

      This is very much not the same as someone showing up here and posting an anonymous comment (like me, I guess, although Tim is my real name). I say it's a mistake to paint pseudonymous bloggers and anonymous commentors with the same brush.

      Delete
  6. I agree with Tim - anonymity =/= pseudonymity.

    I have no problem sharing my identity with anybody on a need to know basis. That sais - unfortunate past experience prompts me to continue posting under with a pseudonym.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know who you are and that makes me a lot more comfortable. However, I wish you would stand up for your right to express an opinion no matter where you are employed. It would encourage others to do so. Don't we all want a society where you can't be fired or punished because of what you write on the internet?

      BTW, I will never reveal someone's identity no matter how I feel about the issue of anonymity.

      Delete
    2. Larry - I hear you and I respect your POV.

      I will provide details by email.... just that pseudonymity is sometimes prudent.

      Best regards,

      Delete
  7. My name is shared by literally tens of thousands of Americans plus people in other countries; my nym is, so far, unique. So if your position is that you want to know who's typing (and foolishly pretending that no one can type in a name or nym and pretend to be someone else) you would want me to use my nym.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. .... foolishly pretending that no one can type in a name or nym and pretend to be someone else ...

      Do you really think I'm that foolish? Would you say that if you were using your real name?

      Delete
    2. Actually, are you saying that if I signed this Anthony R Smith, you would believe I was Anthony R Smith? I do find it interesting that I have to have an account somewhere with a name attached to it... Of course, I could have any other name and still create an account there. Either you're taking the commenter's word that they are the name they attached to it, or you're assuming everyone is a liar. I've learned the hard way that, to an extent, you can be "anyone" you want to be on the internet...

      Delete
    3. Actually, are you saying that if I signed this Anthony R Smith, you would believe I was Anthony R Smith?

      Yes. especially if I activate authentication where you have to enter your email address. But really, the fact that some people might fake an identity that looks like a real name is not a very good argument.

      Delete
  8. BTW, exhibit two: Casey Luskin.

    I could go on. and on. and on.

    ReplyDelete
  9. By outing Dr. Isis Henry Gee made sure that the death and rape and death-by-rape threats get sent to her work email and office instead of a pseudo email.
    I understand that Dr. Moran's main concern is speaking out against admins and accepting the reprisals, but I don't think that's why so many women gays and minorities use pseudo. A pseudo seems worth it just to avoid the nuisance of it (even if we reject that it's a safety issue).
    Also I don't see how you can talk about this without mentioning how horrible it is that Gee used his position to out someone for personal revenge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope I made it clear that there are some very real concerns out there. I understand why some people enjoy the modern day privilege of speaking out without revealing their identity. In the past, their only audience was their friends and families.

      I understand that there are some examples of anonymous bloggers who make a valuable contribution to the blogosphere and to blog comments. On the other hand, I think that contribution is, unfortunately, being exaggerated and the downside of anonymity (pseudo-anonymity) is being ignored.

      You still can't publish a letter in a newspaper, a magazine, or a scientific journal without using your real name (with a few minor exceptions). I think that's a good thing.

      Henry Gee is not the first person to out an anonymous blogger out of spite and anger. What he did was wrong. It would have been wrong if he were a university professor or a construction worker. His job is irrelevant.

      My advice to anonymous bloggers is that if you are going to play with fire by attacking people then you're being a bit naive if you think that you can hide your identity from someone who is determined to expose you. Those of us who blog under our real names know that our families and employers will get letters from kooks when we attack them in public. I don't think you can avoid that for very long by trying to hide your identity.

      The way to avoid it is to keep a low profile so you don't attract people who want to embarrass you. But that kind of weakens the case for anonymity in the first place, doesn't it?


      Delete
    2. Again, I think there is a crucial difference between "anonymous" bloggers or commentors simply using anonymity as a shield to spew hateful or ridiculous opinions that they wouldn't necessarily want to claim under their real name, and pseudonymous bloggers like Isis who use the shelter of pseudonymity to speak truth to authority and power in ways that would simply be dangerous to their personal and professional lives if they used their real names.

      Someone like Henry Gee has enormous power to damage the professional career and/or reputation of anyone who (quite rightly) calls him out on his words and actions. Maybe a tenured full professor would have the professional security to call Gee out in public without using a pseudonym, but it seems that not many of them are inclined to.

      Delete
    3. Larry: My advice to anonymous bloggers is that if you are going to play with fire by attacking people then you're being a bit naive if you think that you can hide your identity from someone who is determined to expose you.

      What evidence is there that Dr. Isis, who was outed by the despicable Henry Gee, possessed such naivity? There's no evidence that she, or other prominent anonymous bloggers, are "naive" about the way their opponents operate.

      Delete
    4. Diogenes says,

      What evidence is there that Dr. Isis, who was outed by the despicable Henry Gee, possessed such naivity?

      You are naive if you think you can hide your identity from someone who really wants to "out" you. If you make enemies, and if revealing your identity could be harmful to you, then you are taking a big risk. That's just a fact of life on the internet. Better to stay out of the kitchen.

      Delete
    5. Laurence A. MoranWednesday, January 22, 2014 2:59:00 PM

      You still can't publish a letter in a newspaper, a magazine, or a scientific journal without using your real name (with a few minor exceptions). I think that's a good thing.

      On balance, it is. However, there are still many things you can only publish if you are a tenured professor, and there are things you cannot publish even then (because they would mean the end of your lab as nobody would dare give you any grants once you have come out publicly with those views). Remember what happened to Watson a few years ago (note: I am not defending him nor sharing the views he expressed; I am just using him as an example to make my point as you do not get more famous and "untouchable" than that in science). And this has little to do with the substance of what you say and everything to do with the political environment.

      Now what hope is there for a junior scientists to come out publicly with something controversial and get away with it?

      And before you bring it up, let me state the other side of the problem which is that if you want to say something that seriously shakes things up, there is no way to do it other than by signing your name under it. Otherwise nobody would take it seriously. And I am not really even talking about blogs here - science-themed blogs may be important for us, but they are still quite inconsequential (sorry for the word choice) in the bigger scheme of things, and it's influencing the bigger scheme of things that really matters.

      It's a catch 22 of which I see no way out other than transforming society from what have now into one in which arguments and views are judged based on their intellectual merits while petty politics and tribalism are relegated to the dustbin of history. But that's a transition that's itself made almost impossible by that very same problem...

      Delete
    6. Georgi Marinov says,

      It's a catch 22 of which I see no way out other than transforming society from what have now into one in which arguments and views are judged based on their intellectual merits while petty politics and tribalism are relegated to the dustbin of history. But that's a transition that's itself made almost impossible by that very same problem...

      Exactly. The short term goal is obvious but what are the long-term consequences of encouraging anonymity (and pseudonymity)?

      Delete
  10. Clearly there is a trade-off between anonymity allowing one to say controversial things without fearing retribution and anonymity allowing one to insult without suffering the consequences.

    But I appreciate the view that Eisen has taken here more. Some of us work for institutions that are so touchy about public comments that making a remark on something political or religious could threaten their livelihood and career. Some of us live in countries where making a comment against religion could threaten their life. Yes, we can wish for the situation to be better but at the moment it isn't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understand how the real world works. But the situation is much more complicated that most people care to admit.

      I remember the world from before the internet. (I started contributing to newsgroups in 1988.) Back in the olden days people couln't make their voices heard around the world without revealing their identity. Everyone seems to assume that the world is a much better place today because some people can publish anonymously. I wonder how true that is?

      Delete
    2. Back in the olden days people couln't make their voices heard around the world without revealing their identity.

      Since when? The Federalist Papers were published under pseudonyms. They're the philosophical basis of the US Constitution.

      Delete
    3. I prefer to write under my real name, but I am not opposed to pseudonyms, pen names, nicks or whatever you call them, as long as people use them consistently and don't create sockpuppet identities. A person using a pseudonym (and identifiable thanks to it) can earn respect and reputation, so that the pseudonym itself becomes a sort of trademark. Diogenes is as recognisable (in terms of style, temperament, knowledge, wit, etc.) as any person whose personal details I know. Most people have no idea that, for example, George Orwell and Lewis Carroll were pseudonyms. Monsieur de Voltaire did not even have a first name.

      Delete
    4. "Most people have no idea that, for example, George Orwell and Lewis Carroll were pseudonyms."

      And Mark Twain, my hero.

      And Cassandra, who once described Liberace as: "…the summit of sex—the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Everything that he, she, and it can ever want… a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love."

      Delete
    5. Oh, I would strongly hesitate to say the world is necessarily a better place as a whole. As mentioned, it is a trade-off. But given that we are in part talking about risks to people's jobs and physical existence I'd come down on the side of pseudonymity.

      Delete
    6. Diogenes says,

      Since when? The Federalist Papers were published under pseudonyms. They're the philosophical basis of the US Constitution.

      Do you honestly think that I was completely unaware of any anonymous or pseudonymous books or papers that had ever been published in the past 500 years? I was obviously referring to the average person.

      BTW, why do you hide behind a pseudonym?

      Delete
    7. Alex SL says,

      But given that we are in part talking about risks to people's jobs and physical existence I'd come down on the side of pseudonymity.

      Here's the problem. Nobody NEEDS to publish under a pseudonym. It's a privilege, not a right. If you can't demonstrate that it's a net benefit to society then what other arguments are there?

      Delete
    8. Compare a society in which many people risk losing their livelihood if they participate in public discourse, and a society in which they can somewhat safely participate by using pseudonyms. Is not extending the right to be express oneself without fear to more people a societal benefit? Is not having more opinions heard, especially those that might be repressed by employers, a societal benefit? To me they are.

      Delete
    9. "Nobody NEEDS to publish under a pseudonym. It's a privilege, not a right. If you can't demonstrate that it's a net benefit to society then what other arguments are there?"

      It's exactly the other way around. If you can't demonstrate that there is a net benefit of banning people from publishing under a pseudonym it should not be banned, like if you can't demonstrate that there is a net benefit of banning gay people from getting married it should not be banned. Publishing under pseudonym is a right not a privilege.

      Delete
    10. Second Opinion: "If you can't demonstrate that there is a net benefit of banning people from publishing under a pseudonym it should not be banned, like if you can't demonstrate that there is a net benefit of banning gay people from getting married it should not be banned."

      Yeah, Larry has two standards of evidence, one for him and one for us.

      Here's Larry's evidence for the huge social benefits of nobody having pseudonyms. Wait for it, here it comes, he's got a mountain of evidence.

      Larry: "there's still something about hiding behind a pseudonym that makes me uneasy"

      Poor Larry. It makes him feel bad. There's his evidence of a social benefit from nobody having pseudonyms. He would feel better.

      We can thus reply simply that using pseudonyms makes us feel good. It's fun. That's all. We do not have to prove a social benefit for carousels or roller coasters or Angry Birds.

      Then our evidence of "social benefit" is equal to his.

      Delete
    11. Larry to me: BTW, why do you hide behind a pseudonym?

      Well, Larry, I've been on the run from the CIA ever since I leaked those classified government documents.

      But since you don't want me to "hide" from you, you can find me here at Suite 312 in the Holiday Inn in Boulder, Colorado. Please keep that just between us.

      Hey cool, out my window there some guys sliding down ropes from a helicopter.

      Now, another advantage of using a pseudonym is-- excuse me, there's a knock at the door.

      Hello, who sent you and why are you training a laser sight on my forehead? Larry Moran sent you?

      Now wait, don't shoot, I'm sorry I exposed the government conspiracy-- I--

      No! NOOOO! AARRGH!

      Still typing... darkness spreading... lights dimming...

      *gasp* curse you Larry Moran *cough* *gasp* *death rattle*

      Delete
    12. Diogenes says,

      Larry: "there's still something about hiding behind a pseudonym that makes me uneasy"

      Poor Larry. It makes him feel bad. There's his evidence of a social benefit from nobody having pseudonyms. He would feel better.


      Excuse me for being honest. Am I the only person in the world who thinks that insulting people while hiding your identity is bad?

      Hello, who sent you and why are you training a laser sight on my forehead? Larry Moran sent you?...

      *gasp* curse you Larry Moran *cough* *gasp* *death rattle*


      I'm sorry you feel that way. I guess I've given the wrong impression on my blog because turning you in to the police or government is not something I would ever do under any circumstances. One of the easiest ways to get instantly banned from Sandwalk is to write to my employers. That's despicable.

      Do you enjoy making these accusations knowing that you will never have to own up to them? Would you do it if we knew your true identity?

      This is what makes me uneasy. I think it's cowardly.

      Delete
  11. Interesting the way you start out talking about pseudonymity, and then segue your argument right into anonymity without even remarking on the change. Then nicely muddy the two together at the end.

    It is also very telling how often middle-class middle-aged white men tend to have a vocal opinion on this.

    Of course nobody can check what your real name is, so its foolish to assume that requiring a pair of names makes it less likely you're dealing with a pseudonym.

    > My advice to anonymous bloggers is that
    > if you are going to play with fire
    > The way to avoid it is to keep a low profile

    Thus sayeth the man: to avoid being a victim, keep yourself hidden away. We tell our daughters something similar, don't we? Interesting that not a gram of opprobrium in your post was directed at Gee.

    Ian Millington - Middle Aged, Middle Class, Professionally Secure, Straight White Male.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting that not a gram of opprobrium in your post was directed at Gee.

      My post had absolutely nothing to do with the catfight between Henry Gee and Dr. Isis. You're the one who's trying to drag me into that fight by putting words in my mouth and criticizing me for something I never said.

      That's pretty despicable, Ian.

      I don't know Henry Gee and I don't know Dr. Isis. I'm sure they are both adults who can speak for themselves. It sounds awfully condescending to argue that I should rush to the defense of someone I don't know just because she's a woman.

      Thus sayeth the man: to avoid being a victim, keep yourself hidden away. We tell our daughters something similar, don't we?

      That's a pretty rotten thing to say. I guess you didn't understand what I said.

      I greatly admire people who have the courage of their convictions. All I'm saying is that you probably can't have your cake and eat it too. If you make enemies, then good for you. You are probably doing something right. But don't think you can remain anonymous (pseudonymous) while trashing powerful people. If you think you can get away with that, then you are wrong and you'd better be prepared for a shock.

      I'm not telling people to keep themselves hidden away. I'm telling them the exact opposite. I'm telling them to sign their names and be proud of it.

      Delete
  12. Here's the first big advantage of using pseudonyms, IMHO.

    Once, I think on Uncommon Descent, some IDiots were discussing a cutting, and quite accurate, criticism of Dembski's pseudomath by Mark Chu-Carroll of "Good Math, Bad Math." They didn't refute MCC's mathematical points. Instead, one of the IDiots, presumably an engineer, went online and counted how many patents MCC gets per year (MCC is an engineer). Said IDiot argued that primo engineers are supposed to get X patents a year, but MCC must be sub-par because he had < X patents per year.

    As if I care! No mention was made of the quality of the patents, and they IDiots dodged the huge mathematical flaws and tricks in Dembski's work that had been deconstructed by MCC.

    And never mind the fact that 99% of the scientists, and 100% of leading scientists with great credentials, are on the side of evolution against creationist ooga booga. The IDiots had thus changed the subject and their vulnerable egos were protected.

    When you see that kind of stupid behavior, it hardens your resolve to keep your pseudonymity as long as possible.

    And second, what if your credentials are great-- better than the idiots you're arguing with?

    In that case, if you have good credentials, you're still better off keeping your pseudonym so that you're not tempted to invoke said credentials, and make the argument personal... or more personal, anyway. I've seen that kind of fight too-- some real prof with real research and articles in Science and Nature pulling his credentials in an argument against a creationist egomaniac who doesn't do research. It's ugly, it's not necessary, and if you don't have a pseudonym, you're tempted to go there.

    So with a pseudonym, people can't attack your credentials if they're bad (or some IDiot thinks he can cast them as bad), and if your credentials are good, you can't invoke those credentials against others.

    Either way, you're forced to focus on facts and ideas and keep your eye on the ball-- keep that discipline and laser-like focus.

    P.S. Henry Gee pulled an asshole move.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. P.S. Henry Gee pulled an asshole move.

      He shot himself in the foot. All the world loves vindictive bullies, especially if they bully ladies.

      Delete
    2. If pseudonyms don't have value, why do assholes like Henry Gee seek to take them away?

      Gee's outing of Dr. Isis is a perfect example of the point I was trying to make above-- Gee outed her specifically so that he could invoke his allegedly greater credentials, and mock hers, on the basis of her field of specialization.

      For those who don't know, his tweet was as follows:

      @drisis Hah! Nature boycotted by inconsequential [field of specialization] [real name]. Nature quakes in its boots.

      So he "outs" the pseudonymous blogger specifically so he can mock her allegedly lesser credentials-- which I've elided above as I won't give Gee the dignity of treating his arguments as valid.

      And I describe his credentials as allegedly greater because he's an editor at Nature, the supposed behemoth that carefully planned the dishonest, disgusting hype behind the ENCODE project.

      Do you remember the journal that made a cartoon portraying ENCODE as a giant robot beating up and destroying cancer? That was the rag that Henry Gee works for. Its editors should be the ones hiding their credentials, not Dr. Isis.

      Delete
    3. Diogenes says,

      In that case, if you have good credentials, you're still better off keeping your pseudonym so that you're not tempted to invoke said credentials, and make the argument personal... or more personal, anyway. I've seen that kind of fight too-- some real prof with real research and articles in Science and Nature pulling his credentials in an argument against a creationist egomaniac who doesn't do research. It's ugly, it's not necessary, and if you don't have a pseudonym, you're tempted to go there.

      I argue with IDiots all the time. When the topic is biochemistry, I find it useful to mention that I know something about that subject. They can easily verify it because I put my real name on my blog.

      Similarly, I write lots of posts about how to teach biochemistry and molecular biology. I believe that I have a lot more credibility than someone who blogs under a pseudonym.

      Think about the people who criticized ENCODE: Ford Doolittle, Sean Eddy, Dan Graur, Michael Eisen. Do you think they would have been just as effective if they hid behind a pseudonym?

      Like it or not, credentials are important. I mock those IDiots who pontificate about science when there's no evidence that they've ever studied it in any great detail. It's a valid criticism.

      We've had people commenting here on Sandwalk who have hidden agendas. They try to disguise their identify by using a pseudonym. Often they are not very nice people. We've had people who comment under a variety of different names. We've had people who issue real threats.

      That's the downside of anonymity. It's why some blogs insist that you register with an email address before you are allowed to comment. Don't pretend that anonymity only protects good people from harm. It also protects the kooks who would do harm to good people.

      Delete
    4. Mmmm, credential-mining is a point I hadn't considered. I'm nobody - I have an education, but not a reputation - but I found it faintly sinister when Vincent Torley, critiquing at UD a piece of mine written elsewhere, asked parenthetically "[BTW, does anyone know his position and where he teaches?]". I felt distinctly Googled!

      (Philosopher) Torley is a great one for prefacing any quote in the service of ID with the credentials of the quoted authority, so might choose to undermine an anti-ID-er in the reverse manner, but the possibility that a less genial individual might want to make trouble with my institution had not occurred to me.

      Delete
    5. I must also mention that this argument, attacking credentials, has been used by Piotr's opponents on this very blog. Right here idiots have dismissed biological facts that were accurately presented by Piotr on the grounds that Piotr is, wait for it, a linguist.

      @Allan: Yeah, I don't recall exactly but I think it was VJ Torley at UD who googled the number of patents that Mark Chu-Carroll (an engineer) had in order to dismiss MCC's irrefutable demolition of Dembski's pseudomath.

      Do any of us give a crap whether anybody is a "linguist" or a, gasp, sports physiologist? I've yet to see Piotr present any facts about biology that are inaccurate. Recently he corrected me about Xenopus not being a tree frog-- I got it confused with Hyla-- I don't give a crap whether somebody is a linguist or a sports physiologist, we need people correcting us.

      Delete
    6. Larry, some of your arguments are true but irrelevant, whereas others are neither true nor relevant.

      Larry: "We've had people commenting here on Sandwalk who have hidden agendas."

      True but not relevant. It's always, always obvious to us within 1 or 2 comments that someone is posing as an alleged "neutral observer" or "just curious" or one of the the finite, limited kinds of concern troll. We always detect concern trolls within 1 or 2 comments. Nobody can really pretend to be a "neutral observer", no matter whether it's a real or fake name.

      "They try to disguise their identify by using a pseudonym."

      No, they try to disguise their agenda by pretending to be "neutral observers" or "just curious", which is a perpendicular question to their name, fake or not.

      "Often they are not very nice people."

      True but irrelevant. Michael Egnor, Jonathan Sarfati and David Klinghoffer are all people whose real names we know, and they are the least nice people on the internet or indeed, in the English speaking world. Knowing their names does not make them nice. They are actually meaner and more obnoxious than the pseudonymous trolls we get around here.

      "We've had people who comment under a variety of different names."

      True but irrelevant. You're conflating sock puppetry with pseudonymity.
      Moreover, a person who employs sock puppetry will not hesitate to create the illusion of a seemingly "real name."

      These idiots will not hesitate to use their mom's or wife's email account. I'll give a real example of this below.

      The number of pseudonymous commenters is larger than the number of sock puppets. You can't stop liars from lying.

      "We've had people who issue real threats."

      True, and you have correctly banned those who do. But what is to stop people from issuing threats under a real name, a fake illusion of a "real name", or from the email account of his mom or wife?

      Remember that PZ Myers got a death threat from a guy who used the work email account of his wife, who worked for 1-800-FLOWERS. What good was a "real name"?

      Delete
    7. Re Diogenes

      Michael Egnor, Jonathan Sarfati and David Klinghoffer are all people whose real names we know, and they are the least nice people on the internet or indeed, in the English speaking world.

      You apparently not encountered Robert O'Brien, a teacher of statistics in a community college in California. He has been given the heave ho on a number of blogs for being an obnoxious poopyhead. He makes the three individuals you named look like Casper Milquetoast.

      Delete
  13. AMEN to saying a society should not punish anyone for what they are thinking or saying .
    I get punished all the time on both evolution and creation forums. Seems like a lot.
    Only slander should be punished in society .
    On the internet only malice and changing the subject should be corrected or lead to banning. however everyone should be more sensitive to the host of the forum as it reflects on them what is said.
    I use my real name. I'm pleased with my comments as a reflection on me. Not the writing ability of coarse.
    Words are very dangerous in human civilization. Everyone has a list of the few big mouths who made a better or worse planet.
    With a few words Darwin overthrew a lot and with a few more words creationists are overthrowing.
    Canada is not a free thought and free speech nation today. America struggles. The rest of the world, as usual, controls speech.
    The beat goes on.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Reason for my alias: guards against patients finding my info. (I work in medicine)
    My compromise: my site has tons of personal information about me -- my name may not be my actual legal one, but i am transparent otherwise -- showing vested interests, bad decisions and all sorts of stuff.
    Being anonymous AND not sharing your experiences, employment, family, training and such but who pretend that ideas are not attached to real people with investments, fool themselves and others.

    I'd love to see a study of rudeness and anonymity -- I wager you are right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd love to see a study of rudeness and anonymity

      It is a curious psychological phenomenon, and seems to be down to more than just worrying what people who actually know one might think. People all essentially doing the same thing, self-publishing thoughts to invisible strangers from the safety of their 'mom's basement', do feel a different restraint when their 'real-life' label is attached, as opposed to one they chose. Either way, the people reading usually do not know the poster from Adam. It's as if 'real name' is closer to making eye contact, or maybe 'who I want to be generally perceived as' simply wouldn't say the things that 'this persona' does, requiring judicious editing of the internal monologue.

      Delete
  15. Many of the blogs I read and people I follow on twitter are trans women or men. Some of them write under their given or adopted names, and some write under pseudonyms. Much of their writing concerns both recording and denouncing the discrimination and violence they face on a daily basis. Providing their 'real' identities on the internet considerably magnifies this very real danger to themselves.

    In their case, silence will only perpetrate the violence, and pseudonymous posting is the only practical solution for them. I too would like to live in a world where people's writing was judged on the quality of their work, and there we no repercussions to be faced. However, we are a long way fro m being there yet.

    In my case, I began blogging and commenting under a pseudonym because I wanted to write about my own experiences with mental illness and some of the problems we face. At the time I wasn't sure I was strong enough to face any personal fallout. As I continued and my health improved, I continued with the pseudonym, but when possible with a link to my blog, where my "Who am I" page lists the name my parents gave me.

    peicurmudgeon aka John Underhay

    ReplyDelete
  16. I make no apologies for commenting using a moniker. I also don't hide the fact that I once commented using the moniker SLC, on a Verizon account but now comment using the moniker colnago80 using a gmail account. I appreciate the fact that Prof. Moran has, so far, raised no objections to this practice (i.e. he hasn't given me the heave ho).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't realize that you were SLC. That's confusing.

      Delete
    2. Re Lawrence A. Moran

      Sorry for the confusion but you have to bear some responsibility for it. When you started requiring a reply using a recognized email service, Verizon's was not on the list. Therefore, in order to comment on your blog, I had to open an account on one of the recognized ones. I chose Google's email service which was free and easy to sign up to. After some cogitation, I decided to change the moniker I was using before and chose colnago80, being as how I own a 1980 model Colnago Superissimo professional racing bicycle. Actually, although it was professional when I purchased it 30+ years ago, it is now obsolete and belongs in a museum, not in the peleton.

      Delete
  17. I'm not a scientist so I don't (or try not) comment on technical scientific issues in biochemistry or other scientific disciplines. If I did I would think using my full name would be appropriate. I mostly comment on general issues of atheism vs. religion and there I am handicapped by the fact that most of my family are religious of the fundamentalist-evangelical type, and if they were to google my name and find my comments I might not see much of them or my nephews and nieces again. Maybe that is paranoia on my part, but it can be seen here that arguments between atheists and fundamentalists often get very acrimonious.

    There is a solution of course to both not comment here in a way that is annoying to my host, and not run any risks of offending my relatives and I think I will try that solution.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I've been writing online under my own name for about twelve years, which a lot of pseudonymous harassers and stalkers exploit to try to destroy my ability to write on or offline. Pseudonymity has been a disaster for me, so I have a hard time seeing it as all or mostly beneficent.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I use a pseudonym, even though it is easy to find out who I am. The evidence and logic I bring to a debate should be what matters, not my identity.

    If I were a tenured department chair, would that make my points any more credible? Credibility comes from the quality of evidence cited and from the ability to valid points.

    A tenured department chair can be a complete idiot, while an anonymous blogger can present an excellent case. If I need to know who is writing to be decide if an argument is valid, then that is a criticism of my lack of ability to understand.

    I work in EMS, where few people have any interest in evidence, or reasoned debate, but that is changing for the better. Many EMS organizations have rules prohibiting blogging by employees.

    I do not think that an employer's misguided rules should be used to taint a blogger's work. Some bloggers need anonymity to protect low-paying jobs. Should we pretend that they have nothing important to state? How limited do we want the knowledge of the people who care for us in emergencies to be?

    I will continue to write under a pseudonym. It is the least I can do to support those who must write under a pseudonym.

    We should not allow the misbehavior of some pseudonymous bloggers to bias us against all pseudonymous bloggers any more than we should adopt any other stereotype.

    Using tradition, power, and ad hominem to limit debate to the usual suspects is antithetical to progress.

    .

    ReplyDelete