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Thursday, April 17, 2008

I Prefer People Who Sign their Names to Comments and Blogs

Given a choice between anonymous bloggers (and commenters) and those who sign their real names, I prefer to deal with those who use their real names. In part, this is because I admire their willingness to stand behind what they say regardless of the possible consequences. I do understand that it's easy for a tenured Professor to say this but I've never hidden behind anonymity even when I was an undergraduate, a graduate student, a postdoc, or an untenured Professor.

Greg Laden discusses anonymous bloggers in Some of my best friends are pseudonymous bloggers. I pretty much agree with his position. His posting is well worth reading.

I also agree with his stance on arguing from authority. In the real world, it makes a difference if someone is someone is putting forth an argument based on years of experience in the field or not. Nobody has time to evaluate all of the facts on every issue. We have to learn who we can trust and who we can't. The connection between this and anonymous blogging is obvious.

Please do not interpret this as a blanket recommendation to trust everyone in a position of authority. Similarly, I'm well aware of the fact that non-experts often make insightful contributions to a debate. The issue is much more complex than that. We don't need to list all the exceptions to the general principle that wisdom and experience usually count for something.

[Cartoon Credits: (top)Anonymity and Sovreignty (bottom) Cerebral Kitchen Productions]


  1. And what about those using a nickname, say Oldcola, well known to be Antoine Vekris?

    I will not quit a 40 yo nickname, despite the fact that I like you or Greg ;-)

  2. For whatever reason, Google/Blogger pushes you into use the same name and id for all comments. I would be happy to use my real name here, but I also write and comment about other subjects that are more personal and sensitive.

    I could use the 'anonymous' or 'name/url' feature and sign my name at the bottom if it's important enough to you. Your call. I may say some dumb things here, but I'm learning and am happy to stand behind my words.

  3. Darwin's first draft goes online

  4. A nickname is very different from a shield, oldcola is safe. As I had put it:

    While I think that I understand and sympathise with those who have to remain anonymous, I like the analogy that Greg used for them as "characters" like those in plays or films - yes they often have interesting opinions, sometimes real insight, but I don't think it's really possible to debate with them.

    My name is no secret too, anyone can click through to it :)

  5. I make no claims of having any fancy credentials or advanced degrees, so why should anyone care that I call myself "chickengirl" instead of "Susan J. Anderson" (not my name)? Would that actually make any difference?

    What if I did decide to blog as "Susan J. Anderson"? It's every bit as much a pseudonym as "chickengirl" is, and gives you every bit as much of a clue to my real identity as "chickengirl" does. (I'm now kind of starting to wish I had made up a real-looking nom de net like that, for the chance to screw with people's heads when they find out that's not my real name and GASP! I've actually been anonymous all this time! more than anything else)

    Several weeks ago I blogged something that upset some 15 year old Muslim kids in London. They left hundreds (no joke) of comments on my blog calling me a racist bitch and asking me to tell them where I lived so they could come over and beat the crap out of me and shove my head in a toilet, etc, etc. This happened while I was doing a little experiment where I was signing my comments with my real first name. I switched back to "chickengirl" after that incident. I decided I feel decidedly less uncomfortable about getting death threats as "you stupid bitch CG" instead of "you stupid bitch Cassie".

  6. If you feel that way, then why not disallow anonymous posters on your blog? It would give a good excuse not to read your crap anymore.

  7. "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog"

    Several years ago I googled my name and realized how many hits it pulled up. I'm not bashful of any of my posts and I wouldn't be embarrassed by the tone or substance of my postings, but I really would prefer not to reveal my peculiar interests and internet hobbies to potential employers. Although I doubt it would have much impact either way, I'm just not going to deal with the one idiot HR-bot who doesn't know the subjects I discuss.

    That said, if Larry or any other serious scientific blogger wants to know who "unsympathetic reader" is (or a couple other pseudonyms), I've got no problem telling him (or them) privately. I'd just prefer to run underneath the Google-radar, thank you very much.

  8. I don't like to put my persona in front of my arguments; the few times I have said what I do and where do I work people disappear quickly, and there is no feedback. No fun!

    I don't buy into this "know who to trust" form of obtaining pseudoknowledge. If I don't understand a topic, I don't, and that is IT. Following someone is no replacement for true understanding, no matter how convinced you may be of the prestige and excellence of such people.

    The argument that "there is too much knowledge out there" is not very encouraging of a reanaissance, integrative mentality bus seems more along the lines of the barbarianisms of specialization.

    Read Ortega & gasstes "man and crsis" you will understand a great deal more about christianity, science, knowledge saturation, fatigation of one model or the other, all in great philosophical-historical analysis. Superb reading!!! Fun as hell, and a way of getting to know a GREAT historian-philospher. Don't just trust sacred cows Don't shy away form other areas. READ them!

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  10. I'm inclined to agree with Larry on this. I think you need to have the possibility of identifying someone to form a rounded opinion about what they say.

    This may seem hypocritical, as people who don't know me may think that I sign with a false name, but I don't: it is indeed (part of) my real name, and I reckon that there are sufficiently few Athels in this world (other than in South Africa, where they usually spell it differently) that it's not much of a disguise. Larry didn't have any trouble figuring out who I was last autumn, and nor did Sanders a week or so ago. Admittedly, both had advantages, as Larry is a biochemist and Sanders is Chilean, so both probably share some acquaintances with me.

  11. The situation when you are a nobody like myself, whether I use my real name or my nickname, nobody would know the difference.
    And when you are a nobody, it looks almost a bit pompous using your real name as if people should know who you are.
    But if I get well known before I snuff it, then I promise to use real name.
    So the day you see me use my real name you know that I think I have raised my status to a sombody.
    Oops, my google identity came up as my real first name, which means I think I am half-way there.
    Nickname is generally "(the) shonny" or "contrary bastard".

  12. I certainly admire people who use their real names to blog, or to comment on blogs, for their openness and courage. I also don't deny that there are people who write nasty things while hiding behind anonymity. However, I don't think people should be dismissed just because they don't use their real names. Personally, I prefer not to reveal my real names in many occasions.

    I don't know much about Greg Laden, but I have to say that I wasn't impressed with the way he dealt with the commenters to this post that he wrote. So, I just see that Greg has an ax to grind.

    Here were the problems:
    (1) Greg wrote a post that was problematic. I was among the people who pointed it out. Some comments were over the top and some were politer, but I think it was unanimous opinion of the people who commented on it, whether they were anonymous or not, that Greg's post was problematic.
    (2) Greg only grudgingly revised his post without ever acknowledging the problem.
    (3) Greg called the anonymous commenters trolls and started a tirade against anonymous blogging and commenting.

    I think that you should be willing to listen to criticisms and should acknowledge if your critic have a point. Who the critic is should be secondary.

  13. Athel, you were easy to pick out.
    I've read your papers and have at least one of your books on my office shelf (The other is on loan to a colleague).

  14. In general, I agree that there's something to be said about not blogging anonymously. I sign my name to my blog, which is probably a good thing because it keeps me from writing drivel I'd never want associated with myself.

    However, in the past few months, I've had at least one incident wherein students in the department where I'm completing grad school took offense to comments found on my blog and confronted me personally. At no time had the idea that anyone could have seen that particular post as offensive crossed my mind.

    I guess the point I'm getting at is that this made me quite hesitant about continuing to blog non-anonymously. I'm only a lowly grad student and someday I'll be looking for a job. Although I enjoy blogging, I don't want my blog to come back and bite me in the arse.

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  17. Chickengirl pretty much summed it up. If you use your real name, you get threats if you comment on some things, especially those that deal with religious bullshit. But also go try criticizing the Beijing Olympic "Games". You will get untold responses from Chinese, government or other, internauts insulting you in pidgin English.

    If you are a name, you can probably handle it, but most posters are not in that position. I could have chosen my real name for some blogs and one or more pseudos for others, but that becomes complicated.

    But in any case, I don't pretend to be an expert in anything, so any arguments I might make have to stand on their own.

    If I presented myself as some sort of particularly knowledgeable person, then I should probably have to present my real self.

  18. "If you use your real name, you get threats if you comment on some things, especially those that deal with religious bullshit"

    Ever tried criticizing femino-fascist ideology? AKA"feminism" and the police state ideology it has enabled (more cops, bigger prisons,an unwanted illegal war 'manned' by single mother raised kids, etc.)?

    You will get banned, blacklisted, defamed, derided and generally,um, just ridiculed...more than any religious position you could/have/will ever take.

    I promise you this is true. Don't try it at home!

    It is almost as if there is this subset of didactical castrati that sing to the tune of "massage-iny in the blogosphere" but have very dull untuned ears when it comes to misandry.

    For all of the uninitiated out there: blog posts--especially in your 'full legal name' do get you stalked, threatened,and can even cause trouble gaining/keeping employment in this social climate ...good luck getting anybody to jump on your free speech bandwagon if you are male.

  19. I also think using a pseudonym can avoid what happened to me. PZ banned me and published my real name on a "dungeon list", which has its consequnces.
    I think PZ is an "ethically challenged" person. In my book, doing that is simply wrong.