Back into the storm—the pseudonymity lab

When we get to ScienceOnline09 in January, Abel and I will be leading a session on blogging and anonymity. I agreed to get involved because it sounded interesting, but I had no idea it would become such a big deal. There have been active discussions at many of the Sb blogs on this issue, particularly here, at Abel’s TerraSig, and at DrugMonkey. As part of the discussion, I put out a piece on the ethics of blog anonymity. Now here’s a related question (which I would prefer to treat in a general sense, without referring to any ongoing RL disputes).

Let’s take a quote from an anonymous writer:

We shouldn’t have anonymity or pseudonyms in place to protect people from the consequences of expressing bigotry, we have it so they can tell the truth.

It is true that we can always be held responsible for what we write, and anonymity is not guaranteed. I’ve written earlier that I don’t think anonymity is a right, as such, but more of a clause in a contract. If I, as the writer, break the contract by launching nasty attacks on others, does that abrogate the responsibility of my readers to guard my identity?

Another anonymous writer brings up a glitch here:

What you are saying here is that if you, personally, think someone should be outed for whatever arbitrary personal reasons you would do so.

Since there is no agreed-upon set of rules in the blogosphere (remember, it’s dangerous—bring a helmet), there can be no single answer here.

If a blogger is spewing hate-filled white-supremecist rhetoric, I won’t feel so bad about outing him. But that’s just my (ultimately) arbitrary judgment. Is there a decision-making tool in our ethics kit that measures when an outing or threatened outing is fair? Part of the decision-making process has to involve the good or bad that accrues with either outing or not outing someone.

I’d like to see a real discussion of this, without over the top hostility, and without reference to any ongoing disputes. Thanks.

Comments

  1. #1 lukas
    November 7, 2008

    One man’s truth is another man’s bigotry… I think voluntary anonymity is one of the ‘net’s greatest strengths, and it should stay that way.

    What’s the point of outing someone, anyway? It doesn’t really help your point in a debate, it only fans the flames by taking it to a more personal level… Well, it allows you to expose hypocrisy, but there are alternative ways to do that without compromising your adversary’s anonymity.

  2. #2 Tor
    November 7, 2008

    As you’ve stated, there are no rules to blogging anonymously, nor pseudonymously. Let’s talk about the risks of exposure first. The measures an anonymous blogger must take to hide their true identity are in direct relation to the cost of the discovery. If you’re a top lawyer at a law firm blogging against patent laws; yet your firm profits handsomely from such a law, then the costs may be your job as well as tarnishing the firms reputation. If you’re a high school student trying to expose some organized cheating in a sport, then what are your consequences of exposure? If you are a lesbian in Saudi Arabia blogging about your feelings, your risks of exposure are most likely torture and death.

    In each case, a dedicated reader, commenter, or adversary may be able to determine your identity, or may be able to subpoena your ISP or the blogging company for your IP address and other information; such as payment details. In all cases, if you simply picked a pseudonym for your posts, the control is in someone else’s hands. You can’t decide when or how your identity is exposed.

    If you take further steps to anonymize all aspects of your blogging from using proxy servers, to pre-paid credit cards, to posting at random times of the day, to not using localized slang or conventions in your posts; then your risk of exposure is minimized. And for most practical purposes, the choice to expose your identity is yours.

    Another thing to think about is how your audience will react to your posts. If, in fact, you are spouting white supremacists posts, but your audience is all white supremacists, well, the risk isn’t much. However, as a non-white, if you post anti-white supremacist sentiments in a comment, you probably want to take some basic steps to avoid exposure.

    If it’s your blog, you control the medium. However, you can’t control the content of what someone will say nor their actions. You can only control if that comment or post stays online.

    Are there ethics for this sort of thing? No. You’re trying to norm the world’s cultures as a whole. You’ll never get everyone to agree to any one set of ethics. They all may agree to parts, but not the whole.

  3. #3 MarkH
    November 7, 2008

    Lukas,
    The point is that when people use anonymity out of cowardice to express opinions that are reprehensible or false, it is ok to expose them to stop them. Many people wouldn’t say certain things if they knew that their boss, their family, their colleagues and friends knew it was them saying it. To say it’s arbitrary ignores the fact that there are behaviors and messages that are reprehensible and wrong, and one of the big points of denialism blog is that discourse has standards. There is not parity of ideas, or even parity of speech. Threats, racism, bigotry, hate, lies etc., don’t deserve the protection of anonymity.

    Or take the example of the various homophobes who turned out to be homosexuals and the effect of outing them. It reigned in their hypocrisy right quick and I tend to think that’s a good thing.

    I don’t think anonymity is admirable or worth protecting for those who use it as a cowardly shield from which they can attack others who have the stones to put their opinions in their own name. Or to claim falsehoods, libel others, threaten, or otherwise engage in stinky behavior. That kind of practice ruins anonymity in the instances when it can be valuable.

    By the way, we want to make it clear that we have a policy at denialism blog that we don’t out people using info we’ve obtained from comments because we don’t like them or disagree with them. But we reserve the right to in the case of violating the law, threats, sockpuppetry, or other blog malfeasance etc., and it would also be a good idea to read Seed’s privacy policy as well.

  4. #4 lukas
    November 7, 2008

    MarkH,

    I agree that many people wouldn’t say certain things if they knew that their boss, their family, their colleagues and friends knew it was them saying it… but, on the other hand, the things people will refrain from saying out of fear of being exposed might be good and valuable contributions. Not everyone’s boss, family or indeed government is a model of tolerance.

    Of course, discourse must have standards, and you, the people who host it, should be free to set those standards as you deem adequate. I just don’t think the threat of removing people’s anonymity is an effective tool for stimulating debate. If you want to silence someone’s unacceptable views, it’s sufficient to ban them. Ditto if someone is being nasty (unless they are actually violating the law). Why not leave it at that and save yourself (and your readers) the trouble of spelling out and thinking about the cases in which you’ll consider outing?

    I think the situation with the homophobes that were outed is different: They did not make those statements anonymously, but in person and publicly to a great number of people. They leveraged their very names, names that many would recognize and respect, in order to make people receptive to their message. There was no expectation of anonymity whatsoever, and I think their personal lives have rightly come under scrutiny. But the harm done by some guy on the internet ranting anonymously is in no way comparable to that.

  5. #5 D. C. Sessions
    November 8, 2008

    The point is that when people use anonymity out of cowardice to express opinions that are reprehensible or false, it is ok to expose them to stop them.

    I must say that I am not comfortable around people who are so perfect that they can sanction “reprehensible or false” speech.

    I’m certainly guilty of both on a regular basis.

  6. #6 MarkH
    November 8, 2008

    I totally get where you guys are coming from. However, think of an example.

    Say we had an anonymous blogger on something like HuffPo (I know they don’t have any but follow me) and they said “I’m a pediatrician in a major medical university and I know personally of the conspiracy to hide the effects of vaccines on autism”

    Now. Wouldn’t you want to be able to figure out who that was? How do you challenge such statements, and determine their veracity without knowing who is saying it? How do you stop liars who would make such a comment from behind a shield of anonymity?

    As far as my statement about comment malfeasance, I don’t think such situations are ever likely to arise. But in the rare possibility that some creep decides to share their plans to kill PZ Myers for being an heathen apostate here, I’m sure as hell going to share the IP with someone. I’m not really talking about comments though and I’m not going to use information gleaned from them for spite. I’m saying if someone says something outrageous on their website, not mine, and I think it is possible to judge something as reprehensible and false or dangerous, what’s wrong with figuring out who they are? If you know, and you know you can stop their misdeeds through exposure, wouldn’t it be your responsibility to do so?

    I get why folks like Orac and PAL want a pseudonym. They’re not even anonymous of course, but they have a good reason for it that passes the smell test. They have to treat people in the real world and as a general rule docs don’t want patients to feel their religious beliefs, or woo beliefs, or what have you are being attacked at the same time they want to express themselves honestly. If a patient is searching PAL out online, he wants them to find out about his practice, not his contempt for collectors of beany-babies or what have you. But when it comes to their separate online lives they want to have a venue for discussing things that won’t impinge upon their professional responsibility to be nice all the time. It’s about having a personal life separate from a professional life, and even so they know that they are still restricted in such endeavors by professional responsibility.

    I think that is a good use of pseudos. It allows honest expression, they aren’t using the pseudo to be cowards or to hide who they are, they’re just trying to operate in two different spheres of engaging the public and avoid conflicts that might affect their work or their patients.

    Then take my made up example of someone using a pseudo to tell lies without consequences. Certainly there is a difference here. Certainly you would want to find out the veracity of their claims, and challenge them. How would one do that without exposure?

  7. #7 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 8, 2008

    The point is that when people use anonymity out of cowardice to express opinions that are reprehensible or false, it is ok to expose them to stop them.

    It is easy to say this, but the devil is in the details. Who decides what is “reprehensible or false”, and what process is engaged to make that decision?

  8. #8 MarkH
    November 8, 2008

    Hmmm, is this going to involve into some argument about the non-existence of objective truth? I don’t truck with that.

    I would say the standards for reprehensible and false consist of:
    1. Lying – yes lies exist
    2. Slander/Libel – not just illegal but wrong
    3. Threats – exceptionally bad taste those
    4. Denialism – it’s my bag
    5. Racism/bigotry/sexism – universally recognized reprehensible behaviors.

    The most important thing is that I don’t think that the internet should be a responsibility-free zone – an alternate universe where you can say what you want no matter how harmful and false with no real-world consequences. I don’t see the value added by not challenging such expression in the real world. And even if I am a hostile bastard for doing this, that doesn’t mean I’m actually banning free expression or restricting free expression. People are still free to say what they want, and I’m free to investigate and attack them for it. I don’t remember signing a paper when I started blogging that said “I must respect other people’s decision to be anonymous no matter how bigoted/stupid/evil they are”. Screw that. If people are shitty I’m going to go after them, by any means necessary.

    I will, however, protect my commenters to the extent they don’t break the law. But I don’t feel I should protect any liar on the internet just because they don’t want to be found out.

  9. #9 daedalus2u
    November 8, 2008

    A journalist may let a source remain anonymous, provided that the source is honest and is not using the journalist dishonestly. For example Oliver North once leaked information to Newsweek and then blamed others for leaking that information. Jonathan Alter then outed North as the source. I think that is exactly the appropriate response.

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/61762?tid=relatedcl

    To me, allowing a source to remain anonymous is a privilege the reporter grants in return for receiving honest information. If the information isn’t honest, and/or if the leaked information is used dishonestly (as above where North blamed his leak on others), then the implicit contract between the journalist and the leaker is broken and the obligation of the journalist to the public then becomes to disclose who the leak is from.

    An analogous situation on a blog would be for a commenter to leave an anonymous comment with foul language and then complain in another comment about the foul language on the blog. Any form of sock puppetry is (in my opinion) sufficient grounds for the sock puppets to be outed as such.

    Outing commenters and bloggers for the purpose of intimidation, or as an attack is (in my opinion) unacceptable, unless the commenter or blogger is using anonymity for the purpose of intimidation or attack, and then outing them becomes the right thing to do.

    I think that outing hypocrites of all sorts is the right thing to do. If someone found out that in PalMD’s real life he was a closet homeopath, then he should be outed as such because his public persona advocates against homeopathy. If he was found to be a homosexual, that should remain private because he hasn’t made a public stance against homosexuality.

  10. #10 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 8, 2008

    I would say the standards for reprehensible and false consist of:
    1. Lying – yes lies exist
    2. Slander/Libel – not just illegal but wrong
    3. Threats – exceptionally bad taste those
    4. Denialism – it’s my bag
    5. Racism/bigotry/sexism – universally recognized reprehensible behaviors.

    Who decides whether this standard has been met, and what process is engaged to make the decision?

  11. #11 I am so wise
    November 8, 2008

    Anonymity and pseudonyms have the positive effect of forcing people to attack the arguments being offered rather than shooting them down on the basis of those who make them. For example, if you know the identity of someone who makes an argument for or against something, you can, rather than debunk his view, simply conjure up a conspiracy accusing him of saying what he believes for profit.

  12. #12 lylebot
    November 8, 2008

    Say we had an anonymous blogger on something like HuffPo (I know they don’t have any but follow me) and they said “I’m a pediatrician in a major medical university and I know personally of the conspiracy to hide the effects of vaccines on autism”

    Now. Wouldn’t you want to be able to figure out who that was?

    Maybe. Maybe they don’t have a right to anonymity. But does the owner of the blog have the right to out them?

    The HuffPo privacy policy specifically says that they won’t release any of your personal information to anyone, except in the case of legal injunctions. So supposing that a real name counts as “personal information”, if that person was outed by TPTB at HuffPo, TPTB would have violated their own policy. And then who would trust them? Would anyone continue to comment there?

    I guess their policy doesn’t explicitly exclude the possibility that they can use info about you that wasn’t provided but that they went and figured out for themselves. But if they did that, it would really push the bounds of the contract. I doubt anyone would continue to trust them.

  13. #13 lylebot
    November 8, 2008

    I’ll note that your own policy says that you’ll never divulge personal information or contact information.

  14. #14 Stephanie Z
    November 8, 2008

    Who decides whether this standard has been met, and what process is engaged to make the decision?

    We each decide, every time we read a blog post or a comment from someone about whom we know a little more than the rest of the world does. The standards are as varied as the people who have the information. That they may decide by some process we don’t like is a risk we take by participating. If we say anything important or controversial, the risk goes up dramatically.

    That’s why it’s important to talk about anonymity and pseudonymity, so people understand that there’s more to it than just, “Ha, ha. You don’t know who I am.” And that importance, combined with the high degree of uncontrollable risk, is why people get so upset when they feel anonymity and pseudonymity are being abused. When tempers flare, it increases the risk of someone being outed, which sets a precedent no one wants to deal with.

  15. #15 D. C. Sessions
    November 8, 2008

    Say we had an anonymous blogger on something like HuffPo (I know they don’t have any but follow me) and they said “I’m a pediatrician in a major medical university and I know personally of the conspiracy to hide the effects of vaccines on autism”

    Now. Wouldn’t you want to be able to figure out who that was? How do you challenge such statements, and determine their veracity without knowing who is saying it?

    No, because there’s no point.

    We get that kind of “appeal to my own authority” all the time in MHA. To almost anyone, it’s a red flag that the poster is a crank at best, and for most of the rest a few pointed questions (e.g. “So if you’re such a great authority, point us at your thesis and publications.”) make it pretty obvious that they’re blowing smoke. The rest are pretty obviously cases, not of “the credentials prove the position,” but of “the position makes me believe the credentials.”

    In witness whereof, I present to you the poster known as drceephd — a true wingnut’s wingnut. Claims his PhD is from the Interplanetary University of Mars. Need I point out more than that even most of the alties of MHA consider him short a few fries?

    By all means treat actually illegal behavior as it deserves; nobody should be able to hide threats and the like. But “false” is best addressed by “true,” not by “shut up.” Address the speech, not the speaker.

  16. #16 pcfg
    November 8, 2008

    People are still free to say what they want, and I’m free to investigate and attack them for it. I don’t remember signing a paper when I started blogging that said “I must respect other people’s decision to be anonymous no matter how bigoted/stupid/evil they are”. Screw that. If people are shitty I’m going to go after them, by any means necessary.

    You consider yourself free to “attack” people using “any means necessary” whenever you decide that what they “say” establishes that they are “shitty”?

  17. #17 D. C. Sessions
    November 8, 2008

    If people are shitty I’m going to go after them, by any means necessary.

    That’s really two distinct statements. One is “If people are shitty I’m going to go after them” — a reasonable, if pugnacious, position.

    The second proclaims a lack of restraint in means. I don’t think I would like to have a dinner guest who felt that “any means necessary” were appropriate if I am “shitty.” Especially in a concealed-carry state like the one where I live.

  18. #18 MarkH
    November 8, 2008

    I was just looking for an excuse to quote Malcom X, or Magneto, whichever. I’m not going to shoot you (I’m in a conceal carry state), I’m just going to attack. If you haven’t noticed, that’s a lot of what we do here at denialism blog, attack liars who propagate false information.

    And no, I don’t think you need to convene a “court of truth” to decide when someone is being dishonest. We actually spent some time defining the criteria of what we consider dishonest debate, and that’s what we use. To say we can’t attack, and sometimes ferociously, because we haven’t spent time in some bizarre notion of internet due process, that creates an overly high standard for the debunker, that the liar is of course free from. I don’t need to convene a court hearing to attack the likes of Mike Adams or Gary Null, and if I could cause more consequences for them for their campaigns of public lying I would.

  19. #19 D. C. Sessions
    November 8, 2008

    I’m not going to shoot you (I’m in a conceal carry state), I’m just going to attack.

    “By any means necessary.”

    If you haven’t noticed, that’s a lot of what we do here at denialism blog, attack liars who propagate false information.

    And a fine thing it is, that. However, “attack” covers a range of alternatives from deconstructing the argument to nuclear weapons. Approval of one means does not mean approval of all, and there are straw men enough for everyone.

    And no, I don’t think you need to convene a “court of truth” to decide when someone is being dishonest.

    See? Plenty to go around.

    We actually spent some time defining the criteria of what we consider dishonest debate, and that’s what we use.

    There’s another. As it happens, I’m pretty much on the same page with regard to definitions of “dishonest debate,” although I think I may be a bit more prone to hayfever than you are.

    To say we can’t attack, and sometimes ferociously, because we haven’t spent time in some bizarre notion of internet due process, that creates an overly high standard for the debunker, that the liar is of course free from.

    Aaaaaaahhhhh-CHOOOOOO!!!!!

    I don’t need to convene a court hearing to attack the likes of Mike Adams or Gary Null, and if I could cause more consequences for them for their campaigns of public lying I would.

    “Any means necessary.” Would that include the NZ “three accusations and you’re off the net for good” rule? How about a DOS attack? Are there limits or did you really mean “any means necessary?”

    After all of your no-doubt-satisfying exercise against rags and straw, I don’t see you addressing the point: the role of anonymity (or pseudonymity) in Internet discourse. Honest or dishonest, the question is quite fundamental: is it desirable to turn from addressing (and that includes “attacking” as appropriate) words with more words to addressing the speaker?

    We’ve just had a very large-scale experiment on that question in the United States. On the one hand, we had a program attempting (however imperfectly) to put forward ideas and substance — good or bad. On the other, we had a concerted attempt to attack the opposing person instead of his position.

    Which approach was more effective? Which do you want to emulate?

  20. #20 Tor
    November 8, 2008

    When arguing a point or trying to assess facts, how do you do it in real life? Perhaps you meet someone while waiting at the subway station. You find they make a statement about some topic. You need to evaluate it. The benefit is you have their facial expressions, tone of voice, etc in the face to face, yet anonymous, discussion. Online, you need to evaluate the posts in the same way, just with less information to go on. Paul Graham wrote a nice piece about how to disagree, http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html. This is relevant because via anonymous/pseudononymous blogging/commenting you’ll encounter many opinions. Pair the DH with http://www.rogerdarlington.co.uk/thinking.html thinking critically and you’re ready to tackle any online situation.

    Just because an idiot posts, doesn’t mean you need to respond nor acknowledge the post. If someone brings the comments to a personal level, then it’s up to your thresholds for whether to respond or divulge their personal information (assuming you know more than the others on the blog/forum).

    If the blog posts include everyone’s IP address and browser information, you’re likely to get less trolling. The more symmetric the information between you as the blog owner and the commenters, the better the conversations may become. Transparency is always the best policy. Transparency and Anonymity aren’t necessarily opposites. I can be very transparent and tell you many things about my life without divulging my actual identity.

  21. #21 MarkH
    November 8, 2008

    DC, those weren’t straw men, this is what PP is putting forward – this idea that it’s not fair for me to decide without some kind of due process or set of community-defined rules to attack people – read his posts.

    I actually meant to say “I live in a concealed carry state too” in sympathy. Without the too it makes it sound like I’m toting. Oops. Anyway, by “attack” I mean I might try to create real world consequences for people’s crankery. That might, for instance, mean writing to a campaign to attack a potential candidate for a government job and denigrating someone’s credentials. I did this yesterday. That might include me writing people at their institution making them aware what one of their folks is saying. Meatworld attack is not necessarily wrong or out of place. One of our fellow bloggers is famous for outing a Bush administration science employee as an underqualified liar who falsified his credentials. It cost the guy his job. That’s not wrong, that’s victory!

    And it’s not like I haven’t been on the receiving end of such attacks. I have had people write the Dean of my medschool, my boss, people at UVA attacking me and saying I should be expelled for things I have written. My brother has been similarly attacked in meatworld by antivax cranks who have contacted his boss. Luckily, our workplaces tend to be pretty cool with people standing up for science and think we’re pretty neat (except when they mistakenly think we’re picking on surgeons). We’re capable of defending ourselves and we don’t say anything that should actually cost us in the real world because we’re not cranks, liars, slanderers, threateners etc.

    Now, why in the world would I feel restrained, given I am attacked in this way, from giving in kind? Who said that someone can declare “I am anonymous” or “I am pseudonymous” (when to anyone with half a brain and an internet connection they are really not) and they are therefore immune to similar attacks?

    The information is there for me to access. The precedent is set that blogworld does not excuse you from meatworld professional standards and standards of honesty in behavior. There is a clear benefit to society to attacking dishonesty in blogs and extending it to meatworld when necessary. What is the benefit of letting people use this flimsy shield to protect them from misbehavior? Why shouldn’t I figure out who they are and make their lives difficult if there is benefit to doing so?

  22. #22 D. C. Sessions
    November 9, 2008

    DC, those weren’t straw men, this is what PP is putting forward

    I don’t pretend to speak for PP, nor do I wish to have PP speak for me [1]. In future, please be clearer.

    Anyway, by “attack” I mean I might try to create real world consequences for people’s crankery. That might, for instance, mean writing to a campaign to attack a potential candidate for a government job and denigrating someone’s credentials. I did this yesterday. That might include me writing people at their institution making them aware what one of their folks is saying.

    Do bear in mind that there are too many companies ($EMPLOYER fortunately not among them) which reflexively dismiss first and investigate later — if at all. I know of at least one instance where a calm, rational poster lost his job explicitly due to a campaign by a netcrank who barraged his employer with sock-puppeted complaints.

    Yeah, you don’t do that. How do I explain the difference to someone not involved without special pleading?

    Meatworld attack is not necessarily wrong or out of place. One of our fellow bloggers is famous for outing a Bush administration science employee as an underqualified liar who falsified his credentials.

    You appear to be conflating two issues again. If he falsified his credentials to get the post, no reference to his online activities would be necessary to get him the dismissal he appears to have deserved. The fact that his online activities inspired the effort to get the facts is just one of those things that assholes — online or off — have to deal with.

    It cost the guy his job. That’s not wrong, that’s victory!

    I profoundly wonder how much of that elation is due to the fraud and how much to his association with the current (spit!) administration. The shoe has been on the other foot in analogous past situations, and I seem to remember a great deal of “how dare they!” going around from people I suspect you would otherwise support.

    Would you be as ready to turn on someone who was a champion of causes dear to your heart? Are you sure?

    Now, why in the world would I feel restrained, given I am attacked in this way, from giving in kind?

    You make it sound like you’ve earned special privileges for having been attacked yourself. That’s why I distrust revolutionary governments — they tend to justify oppression on the grounds that they’ve been oppressed. You’re not retaliating, you’re passing the shit along. That way lies Serbian feuds that last millennia [2].

    In fact, you point out yourself how invalid the “I’ve been threatened, so I can threaten whom I will” plea is:

    Luckily, our workplaces tend to be pretty cool with people standing up for science and think we’re pretty neat (except when they mistakenly think we’re picking on surgeons).

    Yes, you’re lucky. Not everyone is.

    We’re capable of defending ourselves and we don’t say anything that should actually cost us in the real world because we’re not cranks, liars, slanderers, threateners etc.

    “Hey, if you’re innocent you have nothing to hide.” Others who are also not cranks, liars, slanderers, threateners, etc. aren’t lucky. How do we complain about them losing their livelihoods to the same methods you want to use? By comforting ourselves that we’re the Good Guys and the rules are different for us based on the color of our hats?

    Now, why in the world would I feel restrained, given I am attacked in this way, from giving in kind?

    You know, I think I remember the Bush Administration using that one. A lot. How are you about waterboarding cranks?

    Or is this a case of “the argument is only valid when the Good Guys use it, but the Bushies aren’t Good Guys?”

    Why shouldn’t I figure out who they are and make their lives difficult if there is benefit to doing so?

    Maybe you’re the Philosopher King. Me, I don’t trust people to always do the right thing and gave up believing that a white hat excuses all before Lyndon Johnson moved into the White House.

    If someone posts crap, show that it’s crap [3]. The answer to false speech isn’t to silence the speaker, it’s true speech; when I encounter someone who wants to answer the pen with the sword I have good reason to suspect it’s because they have a limp pen.

    The blogspace is a bar. If you wouldn’t file a police complaint over what happened last night over beers, then why is blogspace different?

    [1] Ewwwwwww — I’d be getting most of my nutrition from soap.
    [2] We had a case a while back of two neighbors in Prescott who found out that they were from the same area in the Balkans and were all set to pick up their ancestral feud here. Charming.
    [3] And let’s not chase the “threats” red herring and its schoolmates; they’re fundamentally different and I don’t disagree on them.

  23. #23 PalMD
    November 9, 2008

    Interesting discussion, which I’m sure will continue at the conference.

    Since on person’s mortal sin is another one’s peccadillo, it’s certain that there will never be absolute standards of “offense”.

    Given the, erp, diversity of the online community, I have never expected anonymity to completely protect me, although I certainly would prefer those I share space with to respect my preferences. In return, I must offer them some level of respect.

    It is very easy to allow online disputes to go to the nuclear option (pronounced correctly for the new administration), and it takes, sometimes, a great, great deal of restraint when dealing with people who seem to use anonymity as a sword rather than a shield.

    Still, I prefer to stay on the side of protecting identities unless someone seems to be a danger in some way, as, at least in my biz, privacy and confidentiality are a deeply held value and it tends to bleed over into other facets of life.

    I grew up answering my father the psychiatrist’s phone, so I learned about discretion very early in life.

  24. #24 pcfg
    November 9, 2008

    Shorter MarkH: “I got myself in trouble by blogging about the content of my interactions with particular personally identifiable surgeons while on rounds. Therefore, I reserve to myself the right to ‘attack’ using ‘any means necessary’–including ‘outing’ pseudonymous/anonymous bloggers or commenters and complaining to their employers–people whose opinions I disagree with and deem expression of on the Internet to be ‘misbehavior’.”

    MarkH is starting to sound and behave exactly like the “cranks” this blog supposedly exists to debunk: utter certainty of correctness, demonization of perceived enemies, and angry violent eliminationist rhetoric. This descent is sad to see.

  25. #25 Silver Fox
    November 9, 2008

    1) Posting an IP address isn’t equivalent to outing – mostly you are just getting an IP address issued by a server, and an inaccurate location. The city is wrong, the state may be wrong, and sometimes the entire region is wrong – for almost all of the IP addresses generated by my web surfing, for example.

    2) Live by the sword, die by the sword – if you out them, they will out you, which doesn’t, of course, apply to bloggers already using their real names.

  26. #26 MarkH
    November 9, 2008

    Shorter MarkH: “I got myself in trouble by blogging about the content of my interactions with particular personally identifiable surgeons while on rounds. Therefore, I reserve to myself the right to ‘attack’ using ‘any means necessary’–including ‘outing’ pseudonymous/anonymous bloggers or commenters and complaining to their employers–people whose opinions I disagree with and deem expression of on the Internet to be ‘misbehavior’.”

    Actually I didn’t do anything remotely like that, and didn’t get in any trouble. If people remember, lots of people were upset when I was misquoted by another writer, my peeps at UVA saw this and took my side, no trouble at all really but it did make me more cautious. But we have had real cranks contact our work and complain about us, don’t doubt it.

    Now, aside from the issue of pseudonymity, how much of this argument has centered around whether or not their should be real-world consequences for public speech?

    It is remarkable, when I think about it, of all the times in the last few years that speech resulted in people losing their jobs, and my opponents in this discussion seem to think that internet speech is or should be different. Lawrence Summers? James Watson? Big people get taken down for saying reprehensible stuff all the time.

    Why should blogging be different than any other public speech? Why shouldn’t I be able to express outrage like any other citizen when some racist, or sexist, or yes anti-science crank is holding a position of power? It’s interesting how many sciencebloggers here at SB wrote to have Watson removed from our organization after his racist statements, yet I’m being called some kind of extremist because I think real world consequences should follow offensive speech.

    Speech should sometimes result in more than an angry blog post. Sometimes you should go nuclear, as PAL calls it, and see that people who believe reprehensible things aren’t in positions of authority or power, or in positions inconsistent with their stated positions. You have to act. Just like we did with the hint of an RFK nomination. That means writing letters, making a stink and yes maybe even contacting their work (Harvard, Cold Spring Harbor, Seed e.g.) and saying “this racist/sexist/crank has no place at your institution”. This is, after all, speech as well. And if someone has been so incautious as to make their online identity easily discoverable, why is using who they really are sacrosanct in attacking them?

    So, before we can even have a discussion about whether someone can put on invisible pseudonymity armor, I think people need to take a minute and rethink whether or not it is true that “the answer to speech is more speech”. I find this incredibly naive.

  27. #27 DrugMonkey
    November 9, 2008

    It’s interesting how many sciencebloggers here at SB wrote to have Watson removed from our organization after his racist statements, yet I’m being called some kind of extremist because I think real world consequences should follow offensive speech.

    Which card is this? Red herring? Tantrum? jack of clubs? king of spades? Ace of clubs?

    or is this just good old goalpost moving? I dunno, you guys are the experts.

    It comes down to this Mark. It is not that people are saying that there should never be consequences in real life for pseudonymous/anonymous commentary. If you would engage honestly you would see this. Illegal, threatening, personally endangering…we’re all right there with you my friend.

    What people are objecting to is that you are setting yourself up as internet vigilante or rogue-cop which, apart from movies, rarely goes well. The specific issue at hand with respect to an alleged “slander” of the medical profession doesn’t make the cut for most of us but it obviously does for you. It is this issue that puts you on the extreme end of the distribution, not the basic principle.

  28. #28 Stephanie Z
    November 9, 2008

    Oh, come on, DM. Mark (and everyone around him) is barred from ever talking about the circumstances under which stripping away pseudonymity might be justified because, although you suggest otherwise, he decided it wasn’t once upon a time?

    Yeah, things got tense. Get over it. Or at least nurse your grievances in the appropriate place.

  29. #29 D. C. Sessions
    November 9, 2008

    Mark (and everyone around him) is barred from ever talking about the circumstances under which stripping away pseudonymity might be justified because, although you suggest otherwise, he decided it wasn’t once upon a time?

    Good thing I have a bottle of allergy meds left over from this spring.

    Let’s see if we can clear away some of the dust here in the hayloft and establish some agreed points.

    Resolved:

    1) Illegal, threatening, or objectively injurious behavior is not only not exempt from meatspace followup but it would be irresponsible for any of us in a position to do something about it to not do so.

    2) No laws bar “outing” an anonymous or pseudonymous writer. Doing so is, at worst, rude.

    3) Disproportionate responses to minor offenses lead to feuds.

    I hope there are more points we can agree on; I’ve tried to pitch these to stay away from hot buttons. Any suggestions?

  30. #30 MarkH
    November 9, 2008

    Now DM, Pal asked us not to bring up specific fights, but now it’s clear you’re not interested in talking about this in the abstract but just have an axe to grind because I once said PP did something stupid that would get him fired, and pseudonymity was a flimsy barrier to hide behind. And it wasn’t just offensive to me, it was offensive to PAL and Orac, and Steve Novella as well – three MD bloggers that I respect a great deal. Get over it. He made stupid careless statements. I didn’t out him. I’m not going to out him. And if he wants to continue to use his pseudo to attack his colleagues and students with impunity (which contrary to your argument that pseudos don’t exist for that purpose he clearly did) he can keep on doing it no matter how foolish this is. If you want to discuss this ad nauseum, this isn’t the thread for it.

    Illegal, threatening, personally endangering…we’re all right there with you my friend.

    Ok, and why not also bigoted? Why not also false? throughout this thread people have been saying that such things are arbitrary. I don’t think so. There is objective truth. And if someone is in a position of influence that holds contemptible ideas on race, sex, or reality for that matter, why not challenge that? If, after all, my objections are arbitrary, wouldn’t their colleagues and their superiors then disagree with me and ignore my complaint? If their colleagues and superiors are bothered, doesn’t that mean that maybe our objections were correct?

    How about for once someone addresses one of my reasonable hypotheticals. Say a pseudo blogger writes, “I’m the head of a department at a university and I don’t think we should hire female scientists because they’ll just get pregnant and cost the program money”. Wouldn’t you want to find them out? Is this really just respect for speech or a persistent attempt to defend stupidity and cowardice hidden behind anonymity?

  31. #31 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 9, 2008

    2) No laws bar “outing” an anonymous or pseudonymous writer. Doing so is, at worst, rude.

    Intentionally attempting to destroy people’s careers/lives by outing their pseudonymous/anonymous writings is, at worst, rude?

  32. #32 Lukas
    November 9, 2008

    I totally get where you guys are coming from. However, think of an example.

    Say we had an anonymous blogger on something like HuffPo (I know they don’t have any but follow me) and they said “I’m a pediatrician in a major medical university and I know personally of the conspiracy to hide the effects of vaccines on autism”

    Now. Wouldn’t you want to be able to figure out who that was? How do you challenge such statements, and determine their veracity without knowing who is saying it? How do you stop liars who would make such a comment from behind a shield of anonymity?

    By debunking their arguments, just as you would do in any other event. If you have a case, it should be able to stand regardless of the identity of your opponent.

    And of course being anonymous does not exempt anyone from the obligation of bringing actual evidence to the table.

    In the case you cite, the argument would actually be pretty straightforward, something like “So you continue to vaccinate (or at least condone the practice), even though you know it’s actively harmful to children? You are a disgrace to the medical profession and you should be ashamed of yourself. The very least you could have done about it would be quitting your job. As things stand, you are accusing yourself of being complicit in an outrageous crime. HuffPo is not a confessional.”

  33. #33 D. C. Sessions
    November 9, 2008

    Interesting comment from “Mike” here:

    To go back to the professional science/medical arena, this puts such people in company with extreme animal rights or anti-abortion activist/terrorists who “hunt down” the personal lives of scientist and doctors with whom they have beef on their professional activities.

    Are the two cases comparable? Either way, why?

  34. #34 Lukas
    November 9, 2008

    Come to think of it, pseudonymity is not only an “armor”, it cuts both ways. An anonymous idiocy is much less likely to be taken seriously than a statement by an accomplished scientist like, oh, Watson.

    You are still free to call out (and, yes, laugh at) people for their stupidity and cowardice.

  35. #35 D. C. Sessions
    November 9, 2008

    How about for once someone addresses one of my reasonable hypotheticals. Say a pseudo blogger writes, “I’m the head of a department at a university and I don’t think we should hire female scientists because they’ll just get pregnant and cost the program money”.

    Sounds like a lovely opportunity to rip that position to shreds. Utterly marvelous. I’d invite my daughter to join the party and she’d drag in reams of actual data on the subject (it’s closely related to her area of research.)

    If trolls like that didn’t occur spontaneously from bogon-antibogon pair creation we’d have to invent them.

    Wouldn’t you want to find them out?

    No. However, I can understand that others might. DarlingDaughter, for instance. I suspect she wouldn’t “out” the individual in question, though; that would either be overkill or inadequate and either way inappropriate. What she just might do, though, is figure out where this putative chair was putatively engaging in illegal activity and find out if it’s true. At which point, either way, the online comments won’t matter any more.

    Is this really just respect for speech or a persistent attempt to defend stupidity and cowardice hidden behind anonymity?

    Damn straight I’m defending stupidity and cowardice, and fucking proud of it too. If I don’t stand up for your right to make an ass of yourself, or PhysioProf’s to be the obnoxious shit that he is, or DrIsis’ to be offensive (in her totally hot way, of course) to the authors of excellent papers, then there won’t be anyone to stand up for me when my turn comes. After all, there has to be some l337 hax0r out there who can figure out the real meatspace identity behind the ever-so-s3kr17 “D. C. Sessions” nym. Fluffy knows I’ve posted at least my share of idiocy in my time.

    If you want to wipe out stupidity, I’m afraid that you’re in the wrong field. Microbiology might be better, and maybe you can come up with an aerosol-transmissible HIV derivative. With a long contagious prodromal duration. Cowardice likewise.

    However, if you’re really in favor of having Truth enforced on the Interwebs then I present to you this thought:

    For the past eight years the Official Truth has been handed down by Dick Cheney. Four years from now, it might be issued from the desk of Sarah Palin. In between, they have lots of people who agree with them (including some anxious to do God’s Will with powder and shot) and on the other end of the scale you have “animal rights” groups who don’t have a problem with using bombs to “protest” the activities of biological science researchers including people in physiology and medicine.

    So don’t be so sure that your idea of “stupidity” is going to be the one that ends up mattering.

    So, in pure self-defense, I’m one of the most fundamentalist free-speech Fedayin you’re likely to meet. I go totally ballistic on the subject of “chilling effects.”

  36. #36 MarkH
    November 9, 2008

    @DC, I think in the end we just have diametrically opposed notions about the ideal of speech on the internets, which is fine. You’re certainly a commenter I respect and take seriously, but I think this will end up being an “agree to disagree” situation.

    I’ll give you my summary of our positions and tell me if you agree and then we can quit jabbing at each other.

    DC – The internet is great because it allows great free expression and anonymity/pseudos on the internet contributes to greater expression of ideas. Retaliation against people for speech on the internet is inferior to challenging it in the marketplace of ideas and suggests you have an inferior position, rather than the high ground.

    MarkH – Free expression also means that I can attack people in the real world that I disagree with for behaviors I find contemptible – including anti-science. There is no right to anonymity and no rule that requires me to respect it other than voluntary self-regulation. Further a marketplace of ideas will tend to select for popular notions – not necessarily true ones that science favors like evolution. If I want to fight against an idea I am not restricted to just blogging about it but am free express my dislike for it aggressively in the real world even if it has consequences for the speaker.

    Sorry, not a huge “markets solve everything” fan. And will no one accept my Magneto/Malcolm excuse? I’m not going to go throw rocks at Dembski’s house.

  37. #37 D. C. Sessions
    November 9, 2008

    I’ll give you my summary of our positions and tell me if you agree and then we can quit jabbing at each other.

    Close enough. However, I’ll see if I can sneak in a last word. Probably won’t get away with it, but what the Hell:

    Further a marketplace of ideas will tend to select for popular notions – not necessarily true ones that science favors like evolution.

    If the land of pens does favor popularity over “truth,” it’s not clear to me how you expect the land of swords to be better.

  38. #38 TSK
    November 9, 2008

    ————————————-
    I would say the standards for reprehensible and false consist of:
    1. Lying – yes lies exist
    ——————————

    There are several problems with this statement from the beginning:

    a) Did the author wrote the piece in question ?
    Fake identity, Joe Job, usage of a friends account, use
    of a zombie computer, all things which have already
    happened.
    b) How did you get the message ? Did you read the original
    entirely in its context ? Or did you get a garbled
    version from your friends or you didn’t read all of it
    (because it is so nasty) ?
    That opens the possibility that you are building
    strawmen arguments or state irrelevant conclusions (or
    slander and libel *him*/*her*).

    c) Did you understand what the author is trying to say,
    *not* what you think it is trying to say ? This disease
    is unfortunately widespread and noone seems to be totally
    immune, especially on a medium without body language.

    d) Is the author *lying* or is he/she *erring* ? If I
    *lie*, I know that I am telling not the truth; if I am
    erring, I am convinced that I am speaking the truth.
    Especially alties and cranks are often not *liars*.

    e) Worst case: The author is right.
    This will sooner or later happen because you don’t have
    a ‘S’ on your chest, *especially* in such a discipline
    of medicine. It is simply not possible to know
    everything and prove everything you want to debunk.
    Heliobacter pylori as cause of stomach ulcers was
    considered a bad joke in the 80s.

    If you attack (with “any means necessary”), you set yourself up to be downright nasty and in that case you will make it yourself extremely difficult to retreat and apologize. Given all the possible circumstances given above which could put ****you in the wrong*****, tell me, is your purported course of action wise ?!

    ———————
    2. Slander/Libel – not just illegal but wrong
    3. Threats – exceptionally bad taste those
    ———————-

    Still prone to a)-c), else agreement.

    —————————
    4. Denialism – it’s my bag
    —————————

    Is that a label for all things which should be out of question ? I propose you take a look for Paul Graham’s
    “What you can’t say”.

    ———————————
    5. Racism/bigotry/sexism – universally recognized reprehensible behaviors.
    —————————————
    Ouch. These are *not* “universally” recognized reprehensible
    behaviors. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of the current earth population are “sexist”: They are convinced that women don’t have equal rights and expect specific behaviors of women. If you suggest otherwise, some cultures will treat you as crazy/repugnable: Both *men* AND *women*. The same with racism or homophobia. It is not considered reprehensible to beat up homosexuals in Russia. Gallas have
    no problem to consider Bume inferior.

    Indignation won’t change that, it is still a very long way to globalize humanism. And the taboos change from culture to culture. If you want to hold a standard for your website,
    fine. But don’t try to argument with “universal” standards
    which don’t exist.

    All in all I have the impression that you trying to bite off more than you can chew. You may have the righteous indignation that so many people are harmed by wrong information and you try to change that. But you are not responsible for other people’s behavior. There are at least *two* people involved in accepting e.g. alternative medicine: The proposer AND the patient. It is the patient’s responsibility if he/she chooses to ignore you and trust a charlatan.

  39. #39 D. C. Sessions
    November 10, 2008

    5. Racism/bigotry/sexism – universally recognized reprehensible behaviors.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some posters here and on other Scienceblogs criticizing Sarah Palin and being called on it for sexism by other posters, and then the first calling out the second for being sexist for trying to use SP’s gender as a shield from all criticism.

    Either way, someone is being sexist. Now, who gets to go nuclear and what will be left when the mushroom clouds clear?

  40. #40 Greg Laden
    November 10, 2008

    Interesting discussion. As you point out, there are no rules in the blogosphere, and most prior attempts to make rules or assert that there are rules (such as substituting journalistic practice and ethics) have not been well founded or effective.

    I have always supported the idea of pseudonymous blogging, but at the same time, I object to wanton asshattery. Or,at least, if you are going to be an unmitigated unrepentant asshole to your fellow internet denizen, especially those within your own community, don’t do it on my blog, and if you do, don’t later whine about it when I kick your ass.

    Why are these two things related … pseudonymous blogging and asholeosity? They may not be. But my sense is that of all the people who are either plain old assholes or perhaps more subtle and simply act as holier than thou above the fray know-it-alls, a much much higher percentage of them use pseudonyms, many of which are well maintained opaque pseudonyms (while others are individuals who have known identities).

    I quickly add that some of my best blogospheric friends are pseudonymous bloggers, such as Bora of A Blog Around the Clock, and the bloggers at Almost Diamonds and Tangled Up in Blue Guy. So I don’t have a personal aversion to pseudonymous identities. Indeed, I myself have a nome-de-plume that I have used both in print and on the blogosphere.

    This is all preface to what I have to say about outing: My feeling is that being pseudonymous sometimes provides an uneven playing field, and when a pseudonymous blogger uses this to his or her advantage, than not only is outing OK, but it is kinda necessary.

    A relevant though trivial example: I know a blogger who was deeply insulted by a pseudonymous asshole, and the insult mentioned specific real life things about the recipient of the insult (like, but not actually, “Joe is a chump because he drives a particular crappy car and lives in Troy New York, the arm pit of the universe, and his MA degree is from Podunk University… and so on).

    “Joe” knew the name, workplace, etc. of the pseudonymous blogger, but could only retort in kind (if Joe wanted to continue the sophomoric conversation the other blogger started) by revealing information that was supposed to be secret.

    What Joe did was to send the message: “You open your hole again, and your identity goes public.” … and that was the end of it.

    If I was Joe, I would have either ignored the situation … Joe’s particular strategy in this case was probably not final enough or clear enough. But I would totally support Joe if he outed the offending anonymous blogger under these circumstances.

    I want to add one more very important point: Most decisions to be pseudonymous seem to be mainly self serving. There are those of us who speak out and take the shit we take, and those who use a pseudonym to protect themselves from harassment, but it is all about ego (‘ego’ used in the anthropological sense here, as the center of the decision matrix). I am not terribly impressed with this one way or another. But pseudonymous identity may also be used to protect third parties. When this is the case, I would say that outing is wrong, bad, do not do it. If a blogger is being an asshole and inviting outage of his/her identity, and the reason that this blogger is pseudonymous is to protect third parties, then that blogger is a scoundrel and should be drummed off the internet and driven into the swamp. But if a blogger is reasonably well behaved within his/her own community, and respectable, then outage would hurt innocent bystanders.

    I quickly add that this is all pretty much up in the air…

  41. #41 MarkH
    November 10, 2008

    What greg said.

  42. #42 Nat
    November 12, 2008

    Greg Laden said: As you point out, there are no rules in the blogosphere, and most prior attempts to make rules or assert that there are rules (such as substituting journalistic practice and ethics) have not been well founded or effective.

    I think this is just garbage. It’s like saying, there’s a group of people out there without any ethics, so I’m justified in behaving any which way I please. Then why have ethical standards in your scientific discipline, which I assume you would support? Of course there will be people who don’t live up to the ethics that the group holds to be important, and times when the ethics provide poor or contradictory guidance. But that is very different than saying we just shouldn’t bother with trying to establish those standards, and then live by them.

    Greg Laden said:I have always supported the idea of pseudonymous blogging, but at the same time, I object to wanton asshattery.

    Fair enough, but I don’t see how both fully support pseudonymity, while also dealing strongly with the asshattery.

    Greg Laden said: Or,at least, if you are going to be an unmitigated unrepentant asshole to your fellow internet denizen, especially those within your own community, don’t do it on my blog, and if you do, don’t later whine about it when I kick your ass.

    I’m not so concerned with protecting those whiners on the receiving end of Greg’s boot. I’m more concerned with how the lack of support for pseudonymity will limit the diversity of voices and opinions captured by the science blogosphere. That limiting reduces what I see as one of the science blogosphere’s primary strengths.

    Greg Laden said: I quickly add that some of my best blogospheric friends are pseudonymous bloggers, such as Bora of A Blog Around the Clock, and the bloggers at Almost Diamonds and Tangled Up in Blue Guy. So I don’t have a personal aversion to pseudonymous identities. Indeed, I myself have a nome-de-plume that I have used both in print and on the blogosphere.

    You’ve made this statement about supporting pseudonymity and how you’re friends with pseudonymous bloggers in the past. But to me it rings a little hollow. In my opinion. real support means extending that support even to people you despise.

    As a related hypothetical: Assume that one of your pseudonymous friends were outed by somebody else on the net. And assume this outing was based on an action that was factually correct but not illegal, and furthermore that it really hurt them (they lost their job, got divorced, what have you).

    Do you think that outer was justified in his actions? What would you say to your pseudonymous friend?

    Greg Laden said: This is all a preface to what I have to say about outing: My feeling is that being pseudonymous sometimes provides an uneven playing field, and when a pseudonymous blogger uses this to his or her advantage, than not only is outing OK, but it is kinda necessary.

    Why? Why not simply ignore the person’s comments, or deal only with whatever argument they’re making, or ban their ass? Why take the next step to outing?

    Greg Laden said:I want to add one more very important point: Most decisions to be pseudonymous seem to be mainly self serving. There are those of us who speak out and take the shit we take, and those who use a pseudonym to protect themselves from harassment, but it is all about ego (‘ego’ used in the anthropological sense here, as the center of the decision matrix). I am not terribly impressed with this one way or another.

    Two things here. First, I don’t think that the shit received is really any different if you’re a pseud or using your real life identity. Say this little discourse makes you want to kick my ass, or punch me in the gut or be stomped by your boot (to adapt your charming phraseology). You write those things addressed to me, and I read them (shit delivered, where do I sign?). Now substitute the pseud, where you address comments to them, and the pseud reads them. It appears to me the quantum of shit is the same.

    Secondly, of course having a pseudonym is self serving. It’s there to protect a person from harrassment. I agree with you there. But you appear to think that the harrassing is largely warranted, so that protection from it is unfair. I submit that for much of the potential harrassment, the protection offerred by pseudonymity is warranted. Well, I can’t be sure, since I can’t know every pseud’s motivations, but obviously they think it is needed (because of their race or gender, because of their employer, whatever). And I’m having a hard time thinking they are doing it solely to be an asshole on the internet (and again, if they are, why not just ignore them, or ban their asses?)

    Greg Laden said: But pseudonymous identity may also be used to protect third parties. When this is the case, I would say that outing is wrong, bad, do not do it.

    This is a really interesting point. It make me wonder how carefully you suggest someone who would ‘out’ a pseudonymous blogger ought to comb through that pseud’s writings to determine whether a third party might be affected?

    Greg Laden said:I quickly add that this is all pretty much up in the air…

    I agree, and this is why I think these discussions are so important.

  43. #43 Chris
    November 12, 2008

    You’ve made this statement about supporting pseudonymity and how you’re friends with pseudonymous bloggers in the past. But to me it rings a little hollow. In my opinion. real support means extending that support even to people you despise.

    It rings hollower still when the examples you give of pseudonymous friends are all bloggers whose names are known.

  44. #44 Chris
    November 12, 2008

    I should also add that even in the case that everybody seems to agree on – when a pseud is doing something illegal – I’m still not convinced that outing is the ethical thing to do. Report them to the authorities and help them out in any way you can (including identifying information). Use their info to report them to the right authorities. But public outing and vigilante justice? Not quite sold on that.

  45. #45 Stephanie Z
    November 12, 2008

    Chris, at least in my case, I was pseudonymous for a while. I stopped when it got to be a pain and got in my way. Greg was, in fact, very protective of my identity during that period.

  46. #46 Nat
    November 12, 2008

    Greg was, in fact, very protective of my identity during that period.

    Maybe he could explain why you deserved that protection, that he would not necessarily extend to others.

  47. #47 Anonymous
    November 12, 2008

    Nat:

    By suggesting that there are not established rules in the blogosphere, have am not saying that someone should act unethically. In fact, I take exception to this statement of your, it is rather offensive.

    I absolutely support pseudonymous blogging and oppose asshatery because not every pseudonymous blogger is an asshat. Or are you suggesting that pseudonymous blogging is mainly in support of asshatery? I certainly hope not! (But maybe it is, I don’t know…)

    I’m more concerned with how the lack of support for pseudonymity will limit the diversity of voices and opinions captured by the science blogosphere.

    Yes, I agree totally, Nat. And this is why I have said in a number of contexts that the asshats need to go away. If Pseudonymous blogging becomes a tool for asshatery, then it will become reasonable for various entities to disallow pesudonymity.

    Note for those not paying enough attention. I am not saying that such entities should do such a thing. But I am saying that they might. (By entity, I mean things like Blogger.com, or Scienceblogs.com, or whatever). If that happens, it is the asshats who are partly to blame for ruining it for everyone.

    Now, watch and see what happnens. Whenever I say something like that the asshats come out of their holes and get very upset. But I’m right. And you know it.

    You’ve made this statement about supporting pseudonymity and how you’re friends with pseudonymous bloggers in the past. But to me it rings a little hollow. In my opinion. real support means extending that support even to people you despise.

    I do not support asshats. Even if you ask me nice to support asshats, I’m not going to.

    But you appear to think that the harrassing is largely warranted, so that protection from it is unfair.

    No, harassment is always unfair and this is my whole point. But my point is also that we are humans communicating. If you go after someone again and again, right or wrong, no matter who they are, and they get upset at you and retaliate or do something you don’t like in return, then it is quite possible that you are not an innocent victim. Right?

    It rings hollower still when the examples you give of pseudonymous friends are all bloggers whose names are known.

    Well, fuck you very much for telling me how hollow I am, I’m not quite sure why you want to start off the conversation on such a negative note. But anyway, I’m pretty sure I have not told you who all the pseudonymous bloggers I know or deal with on line or elsewhere are. A number of them… a majority, in fact, are not known to anyone as far as I know.

    Nat again: Maybe he could explain why you deserved that protection, that he would not necessarily extend to others.

    Maybe you can explain to me exactly why I need to follow the rule you seem to be imposing on me? I have no a priori obligation to protect anyone else’s pseudonymity. None. Nada. Zero. If you think I do, please explain where that comes from legally, ethically, morally, whatever. There are selective circumstances in which that responsibility arises. I know the identies of a handful of pseudo’s on Scienceblogs.com because of back-channel communication. That back channel communication is protected. I have effectively signed a contract saying that information I receive in that specific context is confidential unless otherwise agreed to. If a friend is an anonymous pseudo (and as I said above, this applies to a number bloggers … I’m thinking six right now) and they ask me or indicate to me to protect their identity, then i will out of friendship. There may be other particular circumstances that would pertain here and there.

    There is no more an automatic ethical requirement of protection of anonymous pseudos than there is protection of some asshat who walks into a 7-11 to rob it wearing a mask. I have no idea what the basis for such automatic protection would be. A random person that I’ve never met before and that I have nothing to do with asks me to protect a secret identity? Sorry, no can do. Not my concern, not my job. If you don’t want me to accidentally or on purpose ‘out’ you make sure I don’t know who you are, or make sure there is some reason that I would have this obligation.

    Asking nice would probably be all I need because I’m basically a nice guy. But asking nice and then spending great heaps of energy being an asshole to me and guess what … you’re out!

    There is not a fundamental or built in protection.

  48. #48 Greg Laden
    November 12, 2008

    Ha!!! This is very funny. I’m totally swamped with work, and dashed off my reponse to Nat and others, and apparently forgot to sign my name to my comment. That was me.

  49. #49 Stephanie Z
    November 12, 2008

    One point worth noting for those who are looking for a clear-cut “I will do this. I will not do that” response. Receiving a promise that your identity will be protected is not the same thing as having your identity protected. You still have to decide whom you’re going to trust out here.

  50. #50 Nat
    November 13, 2008

    Ok, here is where I really see the crux of the disagreement. There are other issues that are important to discuss, but let’s start with this exchange:

    Nat said: I’m more concerned with how the lack of support for pseudonymity will limit the diversity of voices and opinions captured by the science blogosphere.

    Greg said: Yes, I agree totally, Nat. And this is why I have said in a number of contexts that the asshats need to go away.

    This is what I’m having a hard time squaring. You agree that maximizing the voices in the science blogosphere is important. I think that pseudonymity does precisely that, and that maximizing the voices requires a strong support of pseudonymity. It gives people a sense of safety to add their voice without fear of unfair retribution.

    In order for pseudonymous voices to truly feel that safety, they must feel some assurance that their pseudonymity can me maintained (assume the weak level of pseudonymity, which protects against a dead easy Google search).

    But, you have reserved the prerogative to yourself to decide that a person is an asshat, and once you’ve made that decision, the pseudonymous person no longer feels that safety. Because at that point, you feel it’s right, even “kinda necessary” to out them. For you, banning and ignoring the asshat is not sufficient (even though this approach achieves your other goal of making asshats go away).

    (You might retort that, well, it’s obvious when someone is being an asshat. Well, it might be obvious to you, but I submit it is not obvious to a potential pseud.).

    So, now the pseudonymous person is left without that feeling of safety, which you have removed. In response, it seems likely that they will remove their voice, or even worse, never add it to the blogosphere in the first place.

    Thus, my question to you then is this: Which is a more important ideal to you? Maximizing the diversity of voices in the science blogosphere, or reserving your ability to deal with a designated asshat by outing?

    Nat again: Maybe he could explain why you deserved that protection, that he would not necessarily extend to others.

    Greg said: Maybe you can explain to me exactly why I need to follow the rule you seem to be imposing on me? I have no a priori obligation to protect anyone else’s pseudonymity. None. Nada. Zero. If you think I do, please explain where that comes from legally, ethically, morally, whatever.

    I only think that you should consider how your ambiguous support of pseudonymity is inherently in tension with your agreed upon goal of maximizing voices. At some level you must choose one as being more important than the other.

    Greg said:There is no more an automatic ethical requirement of protection of anonymous pseudos than there is protection of some asshat who walks into a 7-11 to rob it wearing a mask.

    Relax about the “rules” and “requirements”. I’m not trying to make a standard that coerces people to conform to it (upon pain of banishment from scienceblogs or whatever). I’m trying, as part of the community, to flesh out a series of norms that we should want to live by, in order to support our vision for what the science blogosphere can be.

  51. #51 Nat
    November 13, 2008

    Stephanie Z said: One point worth noting for those who are looking for a clear-cut “I will do this. I will not do that” response. Receiving a promise that your identity will be protected is not the same thing as having your identity protected. You still have to decide whom you’re going to trust out here.

    Well of course. But assuming you are a pseudonymous person. Who would you trust more, someone who explicitly says:

    “I will never release your private information (barring illegalities)”,

    or someone who says:

    “I support your pseudonymity as long as you don’t act in a way I decide is asshatty, whereupon I think it’s kinda necessary to out you.”

    That doesn’t seem to be a terribly hard question.

  52. #52 Stephanie Z
    November 13, 2008

    Seriously, Nat, I trust someone who recognizes and acknowledges gray areas a lot more than I do someone who speaks in absolutes. One is thinking. The other is (usually) reacting. If I’m going to trust my identity to one or the other, I’ll trust it to someone whom I believe is going keep thinking even when I piss them off.

    It’s counter-intuitive, I know, but my experience is that the people who claim the strictest rules are the ones who turn into rules lawyers in a pinch.

  53. #53 Nat
    November 13, 2008

    Seriously, Nat, I trust someone who recognizes and acknowledges gray areas a lot more than I do someone who speaks in absolutes

    That’s your choice. But first, I still don’t think that some putative pseudonymous person out there is likely to agree. Secondly, that trust is only likely to develop subsequent to significant interactions, which I argued is prevented by keeping the threat of outing on the table.

    Nor do I believe that any community norm that might evolve regarding pseudonymity must be set in stone, for time immemorial. And as I said it’s not a rule. It’s an expression of an ideal, which forms a guideline for each person to apply to their own behavior.

    Furthermore, I consider the position “I must retain my prerogative to out pseudonymous people I determine to have crossed the line into asshattery” to be just about as absolutist as anything I might have proposed. Why? Well, there are alternatives short of outing to deal with asshats. The implicit threat of outing removes diversity of voices. Yet I am the one thinking in absolutes?

  54. #54 Stephanie Z
    November 13, 2008

    Hmm. I didn’t say you were thinking in absolutes. You do seem to be asking others to speak in absolutes, though.

    As for developing trust, I tend to read a blog for a while before I comment on it. Not always but usually. I do it both to see whether the community of that blog is one I want to participate in and to determine the local community norms. That’s the kind of low-risk interaction that builds trust on the commenter’s side.

    Note that when I do that, I’m deciding whether to engage with the blog as a community, not just with the blogger as an individual. A strong presence of asshats (as we appear to have decided to call them) can be an inhibiting factor for someone deciding whether to participate. They can be a factor in removing the diversity of voices. They may even have a disproportionate effect on the voices that aren’t usually heard, limiting diversity further.

    Now, am I saying that the best way to deal with asshats is to out them? Nah. I mock them, myself. I’m just saying there are gray areas and more possible situations under the sun than you or I can imagine. I don’t find it absolutist to say that I tend to do one thing but every situation is just a little different and may require different tools. That doesn’t even make me likely to use a particular tool.

    And I tend, as most people do, to hang out with people who agree with me on things like that. One of the lovely things about the internet is the chance to decide whom I hang out with. With that in mind, I’m not big on more than local community norms.

  55. #55 Nat
    November 13, 2008

    Stephanie said:As for developing trust, I tend to read a blog for a while before I comment on it. Not always but usually. I do it both to see whether the community of that blog is one I want to participate in and to determine the local community norms. That’s the kind of low-risk interaction that builds trust on the commenter’s side.

    Bingo.

    This is what I would hope that this discussion has made clear to people who currently are, or considering, contributing here.

    Stephanie said:A strong presence of asshats (as we appear to have decided to call them) can be an inhibiting factor for someone deciding whether to participate. They can be a factor in removing the diversity of voices.

    I agree. Which is why I’m clearly not saying that a blogger and the attendant community must tolerate asshats (to contine using Greg’s term). In fact, as I’ve repeatedly said, deal with them by mocking them or banning them. That removes their voice from that particular community.

    I just think that statements about going after people who are shitty, using any means necessary, are more likely to prevent a larger group of potential voices from getting involved in any online community.

  56. #56 Greg Laden
    November 14, 2008

    Nat,

    This is fairly complicated and therefore difficult to understand all of the interrelated aspects. The fact is, there is no presumed or a priori agreement among internet denizens about pretty much anything. Anonpseudos have shown up on the scene (because that makes sense … for some people to be anonymous and/or to use pseudonyms). I myself have three pseudonyms active on the internet, one of which is not really anonymous and some people know, the other two re completely hidden. But the fact that it would be a lot easier for anonpseudos to have everyone follow a non-outing rule does not make that rule exist. There is not a way to get everyone to agree to such a rule, there is no mechanism for developing such a rule, and so on. So it does not exist.

    One thing I have noticed is that most of the overt yelling and screaming about how pseudonymity is sacred happens to be coming from anonpseudos who happen to have adopted, as part of their online personality (I hope …. hoping it this is not in real life as well :) ) a certain degree of what we are calling asshatery (though it gets more complicated than that). These are on line personalities who can’t stop the offensive shit for a moment to calmly and nicely discuss this issue, or (I suppose) their personalities will fly apart and everything will be ruined.

    So an interesting result occurs: Some of the people who claim to need anonymity are in a position where they can’t ask for it nicely or have a respectful conversation about it. So the discussion about, or request for, anonymity becomes an obnoxious tussle. Some people, myself included, have questioned the validity of their claim, and of course, the response we get is more obnoxiousity along with a NEW claim: That someone’s asshatery should not be taken into consideration when making these decisions. Which is funny. Not funny ha ha, but rather, funny “What are you, delusional or something? Get away from me!”

    Nat, you have noted, I think correctly, that one cannot draw these lines objectively … lines to cross or not cross before some social or personal result occurs. That is correct. While such lines have patterns, and you can in fact draw some of them some of the time, it is absolutely true that my statement that if you are an asshole to me, I won’t protect you is utterly subjective and results in an unpredictable circumstance for anonpseudos.

    What you need to add to this insight is this: The fact that we can not a priori draw these lines in an objective way does not mean that we can’t draw these lines, or act when perceived line-crossing happens. There are many, many areas in life when it is hard to know exactly when to act … when to throw the ball, when to pull the trigger, when to jump onto the horse passing below the castle window (to run through a mess of metaphors). This is the same. Life works this way. Yes, the anonpseudoasshats would like there to be a simple solution … whereby they make a rule that says “everyone must love me regardless of the pain I give you” but this is is just … well, again, delusional and stupid.

    For me to give up the right to draw a line that says “do not harass me or I will bite” just because someone might come along and decide to harass me is not logical, reasonable, or possible. When people engage in aggressive, obnoxious, harassing behavior, of course they are going to try to make a rule that everyone has to follow. Of course they are going to try to make a rule that says “whatever I do, you have to let me do it.”

    But the thing that bothers me is something entirely different. What bothers me is when the annonpseudoasshatery is extended to people who are really potential allies, people who pretty much agree on most if not all important sociopolitical issues. This causes the breaking up of communities that might have more power from cohesion into cliques. People look at these cliques and think rather sad thoughts, I believe.

    I have not spoken about how one protects anonymity. I think Stephanie has made a lot of important valid point in this regard, and I’ve mentioned a couple of things to. I argue that not being an asshole would help, but that does not protect one from the people who are going to hate you because of your belives. But it does make it easier to survive, unhated and undispised in a community of like-thinkers. Certain venues need to be understood as places where anonymity is protected. For me, it is easy. My main and most important (to me) ‘on line personality’ is the one people can associate with my real identity (though they are not the same, of course … as many of my readers who have met me can attest … and that is true of every blogger that I know personally). My anonpseudos are minor and well hidden.

    In fact, this is a recommendation I would make to anyone seriously considering creating an on line anonpseudoself. Make an on line self first, even if it does not have a lot of work to do. My other recommendation is to not be a habitual asshat. One might think some people like you this way, but the only people who like the asshat are other asshats, and asshat symps. Everyone else thinks the asshat is … well … an asshat.

  57. #57 Nat
    November 14, 2008

    This is good, it feels like we’re getting somewhere. I don’t think we’ll ever agree on pseudonymity, but that’s ok. This was a really useful exchange in clarifying my own beliefs. I hope you feel the same. And I hope the all the readers do.

    This is what I think the difference boils down to:

    Greg said:While such lines have patterns, and you can in fact draw some of them some of the time, it is absolutely true that my statement that if you are an asshole to me, I won’t protect you is utterly subjective and results in an unpredictable circumstance for anonpseudos.

    Ok, so you will decide when some pseudonymous person has crossed the line. And when that line is crossed, you might take the step of outing that pseudonymous person. You might do this rarely, the offending actions might differ from case to case, but you will make that decision. Now I understand.

    Greg said:Yes, the anonpseudoasshats would like there to be a simple solution … whereby they make a rule that says “everyone must love me regardless of the pain I give you” but this is is just … well, again, delusional and stupid.

    And relatedly,
    Greg said:For me to give up the right to draw a line that says “do not harass me or I will bite” just because someone might come along and decide to harass me is not logical, reasonable, or possible.

    I don’t think pseudonymous people (well, at least what I believe they want) want. They don’t want you to love them or respect them, or refrain from biting them. I would think they are fine if you hate them, bash them, attack their ideas, ban them, ignore them, mock them.

    What I believe they don’t want is the thought hanging over their head, that in some heated argument and disagreement with you, you decide they have crossed the line, whereupon you might out them.

    I still haven’t seen a good explanation of why other means of dealing with asshats without resorting to outing is not sufficient to deal with them. Stephanie Z herself said she would just mock them.

    As I’ve argued, keeping outing on the table leads to reducing diversity of voices, and might lead to unintended consequences, especially for third parties. Two things which, though important to you, are secondary to going after asshats.

    I see going after asshats as being less important. That’s why, in my policies on my own blog, I’ve come down very strongly on protecting pseudonymity.

    If you’re a troll or an asshat (which hasn’t happened, because, well, maybe you need more than about 10 people reading to get one), I’ll warn you, then ban you if you keep it up. And you know, I don’t feel I’ve given up anything at all in doing so.

    Here are some other related points:

    Greg said:But it does make it easier to survive, unhated and undispised in a community of like-thinkers.

    I wonder if we have different takes on what we want from interactions online. I want to be challenged, I want to be offended, I want to be pissed off. I want to hear things that enrage me, that disgust me. I want to hear it all (it’s why politically I read everything from The Nation to The National Review). Why? To force me to always be thinking about my beliefs, and feeling those things I am passionate about (that just makes it fun). And if people do that in a vulgar, annoying way, that’s fine with me. The more rowdy and raucous, the better.

    Greg said:My anonpseudos are minor and well hidden.

    I have to admit that I am a bit flummoxed by the fact that you have anonpseuds, and yet don’t come down on the side of strongly supporting pseudonymity. So, in maintaining the consistency of your beliefs, you would not think someone outing those identities is out of line? Maybe they decided you crossed the line (you might not agree, but that has never been a relevant factor in your decisions). Maybe outing your pseud would really hurt you or your family or friends. Given what you’ve said here, I you could not argue that the outer was unjustified in his actions.

    And another issue that keeps repeatedly coming up, but which I still don’t as completely relevant:

    Greg said:But the fact that it would be a lot easier for anonpseudos to have everyone follow a non-outing rule does not make that rule exist. There is not a way to get everyone to agree to such a rule, there is no mechanism for developing such a rule, and so on. So it does not exist.

    I would like to stop conflating the workability of maintaining pseudonymity with the ethics of a single person maintaining pseudonymity. As I said, whether it’s hard or not to maintain pseudonymity in practice doesn’t enter into whether it is ethical for me to partake in destroying pseudonymity. If we were to agree that pseudonymity is crucial (which I will grant we have not in this case), then the fact that some other person doesn’t respect it does not make it ethical for me to not respect it. (And this doesn’t even consider the fact that as I said, there obviously is some a ability to maintain pseudonymity, or else outing would not be a threat.)

  58. #58 Greg Laden
    November 14, 2008

    What I believe they don’t want is the thought hanging over their head, that in some heated argument and disagreement with you, you decide they have crossed the line, whereupon you might out them.

    I agree that they don’t want this, but so far, this is what works. I agree that finding other solutions would be nice, but so far, there has been nothing along those lines that I know of.

    As I’ve argued, keeping outing on the table leads to reducing diversity of voices, and might lead to unintended consequences, especially for third parties. Two things which, though important to you, are secondary to going after asshats.

    I’m not sure what is secondary. If mocking anonpseudoasshats is the only way to deal with them, that is not sufficient for me, because that means that I can’t just say “no” and be done with it. If I’m being harassed, I want to just say no. I do not want to be forced by the intractability and insensitivity of the a.p.a. into having to expend that emotional energy and time. It works for Stephanie, but it may not work for everyone.

    I do not want to see reduced diversity. But it is not my fault if it happens. No, I will not be blamed for the bad behavior of others. I did not create a situation like the one we sometimes see where an anonymous pseudonymous asshat cannot be stopped without sending the signal that if they don’t stop the harassment they will be outed. That is a problem caused by the a.p.a. Blame them, not those they chose to victimize.

    A person might have to be anonymous. But a person never has to be an unmitigated asshole.

    I see going after asshats as being less important. That’s why, in my policies on my own blog, I’ve come down very strongly on protecting pseudonymity.

    Here, we we might be conflating commenters with bloggers, with bloggers who comment. That could make a difference.

    I wonder if we have different takes on what we want from interactions online.

    Probably so. I have limits.

    I have to admit that I am a bit flummoxed by the fact that you have anonpseuds, and yet don’t come down on the side of strongly supporting pseudonymity.

    I strongly support pseudonymous blogging and commenting, always have, and always said so.

    Look, anonymity is a tool, and one has to know how to use it. And like a tool, it can cause damage.

    If I have made no promises, and I know who you are (because you give met this information or I have it from some legitimate source) and then you shit all over someone I feel protective of (such as myself!) then there is not ethical constraint for me to keep your identity secret. I have made no promise, there is no rule in application, that’s the way it is.

    If this is hard for people to ‘get’ then just pretend that bloggers are journalists (which we are not, but people seem often comfortable with this idea, for some reason). A journalist would not be bound to protect anonymity of random anonymous people, and in most cases, would in fact be obliged to report the identities. If someone does not get why I do not a priori promise to protect the anonymity of any asshat that comes along and demands it of me, just pretend I’m a crack reporter!

    Yes, we probably are coming closer to a general understanding!

  59. #59 PalMD
    November 14, 2008

    I think one of the important points in greg’s comment is that anonymity does not grant someone some sort of right to be free of ethics. In fact, one could argue (although maybe not) that being anonymous confers extra responsibility.

  60. #60 Nat
    November 14, 2008

    PalMD,

    Of course, but I think we’ve dealt with this many times. No one is saying that adopting a strong presumption for pseudonymity means that we have to let pseudo-anon jerks run roughshod over us.

    I have repeatedly said that mocking or banning them is warranted if they misbehave. It’s how internet trolls have always been dealth with.

    I still have yet to see an adequate justification for why taking the step to outing should be kept in play, given it’s possible chilling effect that silences voices in the conversation.

    Greg gave his justification, I just don’t agree with it.

  61. #61 Anonymous
    November 15, 2008

    Since pseud asshats get outed, what ‘punishment’ do you reserve for real name asshats? Why isn’t that good enough for pseuds?

  62. #62 MarkH
    November 15, 2008

    A real name asshat is putting their opinions to their real name and reputation. They are accepting the risk that that entails. I think we agree it’s not acceptable for pseuds and anons to use their powers for evil and avoid the consequences of their asshattery by saying “no tag backs, I’m anonymous, home base, nananananana” at us.

    Again, I’d reiterate that commenting is safe. We do have the option of mocking or banning or disemvoweling which is our response. I have, as far as I know, never actually outed anyone. I was talking not about commenters but about anons and pseuds that are out there on the internets that I have no prior obligation to, just as Greg describes. I don’t have any obligation not to use my investigative skills to figure out who they are and attach their speech to their name other than not being a jerk. As I’ve said, I’ve never done this, but I deserve the right to investigate people with google-fu if they are behaving badly and need to be stopped. And bad behavior exists, and yes there is objective truth. On a blog devoted to science and the demarcation problem it’s interesting how many of these comments are centered on “how do we know someone is a denialist” or “how do we know someone is lying”. C’mon people, don’t give me this pomo crap. Lies exist and are real. Denialism exists and is real. We can detect it, investigate it, challenge, expose it, and attack it. It’s what we do.

  63. #63 Stephanie Z
    November 17, 2008

    Nat, sorry, I’ve been offline for a few days or I’ve had clarified this sooner. What I said about mocking isn’t prescriptive. I have the dubious distinction of being very good at mockery. That makes it a more powerful tool for me than it would be for a lot of other people.

    Also, as Greg points out, mockery takes time and energy. This puts it in a certain privileged class of response/defense. I do it because I can afford to and it works for me, in a lot of different ways. I’m not suggesting everyone else needs to follow my lead.

  64. #64 Nat
    November 17, 2008

    MarkH said:Again, I’d reiterate that commenting is safe. We do have the option of mocking or banning or disemvoweling which is our response. I have, as far as I know, never actually outed anyone. I was talking not about commenters but about anons and pseuds that are out there on the internets that I have no prior obligation to, just as Greg describes.

    Ok, so just to be clear, if someone anono-pseud transgresses on their own blog, you feel free to go after them. But your commenters are safe. So then assuming that the same transgressor also made a comment on denialism, but the transgressing act occurred elsewhere. They’re safe too? Even if your Google-fu doesn’t require the backend info gained via commenting?

    That is, does the appearance of possibly breaking your own privacy code override your desire to get at someone “if they are behaving badly and need to be stopped.”

    MarkH:And bad behavior exists, and yes there is objective truth. On a blog devoted to science and the demarcation problem it’s interesting how many of these comments are centered on “how do we know someone is a denialist” or “how do we know someone is lying”.

    Well, I’m not just worried about some denialist out there, I’m also worried about people who are expressing opinions that get you upset.

    MarkH said:“C’mon people, don’t give me this pomo crap. Lies exist and are real. Denialism exists and is real.

    No, you stop. Stop whining about how people who question you are actually questioning the existence of objective truth. Of course I doubt your ability to always get at the objective truth. I doubt my own ability as well. It’s part of what I learned when I became a scientist.

    MarkH said:We can detect it, investigate it, challenge, expose it, and attack it. It’s what we do.

    Thank you for making that quite clear. Your overriding goal here apparently is not to foster discussion and expand other viewpoints. It’s to attack what you define as requiring attack.

  65. #65 Stephanie Z
    November 17, 2008

    Nat, how very, very wise of you to determine Mark’s one and only true purpose.

    I think you’re losing perspective. Just because you’re focused on this one issue does not mean that it has overwhelming importance for everyone else involved in this discussion. Just because someone doesn’t say they will never out someone does not mean that it is the first response to any petty annoyance. In short, your insistence that this is a black-and-white issue does not make it one.

    Once again, I’d like to note that the people whose future hypothetical behavior has you so concerned are people who have been involved in very contentious arguments with pseudonymous bloggers. Rather than getting vaporish about what they might do, you can look at what they did. It might be instructive.

  66. #66 Nat
    November 17, 2008

    Stephanie:Nat, how very, very wise of you to determine Mark’s one and only true purpose.

    Well, I presume there are some gradations about what his goals are, and that there are multiple motivations for what he is trying to do. But all I really have to go on his what he’s written. I am sure he’ll correct me if I have substantially misinterpreted him.

    I’m just pointing out that there is an inherent tension between fostering open debate and maintaining the prerogative to out pseudonymous people. This tension has never been denied, by either Greg or Mark.

    So while in the abstract he might think open debate is all well and good, it doesn’t seem to be as important as attacking denialists. That’s why it’s his “overriding goal” not his “only and only true purpose.”

    Stephanie Z said:Just because you’re focused on this one issue does not mean that it has overwhelming importance for everyone else involved in this discussion.

    Heh, we’ll I admit I may be coming across a little…ardent shall we say? But I’ve done my best to be very clear about why I have taken the position I have. I do think the discussion has played itself through, and I for one have learned a lot in the exchange. Also I hope that it has in some small way been useful for the science blogosphere.

    Stephanie Z said:Just because someone doesn’t say they will never out someone does not mean that it is the first response to any petty annoyance.

    The thing is, it isn’t just the act of outing that has the effect of scaring off potentially valuable pseudonymous voices. It is the threat of outing which ends up convincing those people that they should not get involved.

    Stephanie Z said:Once again, I’d like to note that the people whose future hypothetical behavior has you so concerned are people who have been involved in very contentious arguments with pseudonymous bloggers. Rather than getting vaporish about what they might do, you can look at what they did. It might be instructive.

    Well, perhaps it would surprise you to know that what they did is precisely why my interest in this started. It was as you said, instructive. The fact that, in the end, MarkH did not actually follow through on his threat might make you rest easy about his restraint, it surely did nothing of the sort for me. Just the fact that he even went near an outing threat in response to this “offense” that was not individually directed at him is telling.

    One has only to compare Orac and PalMD’s responses to this situation with MarkH’s, and then decide for one’s self whether, regardless of his ultimate lack of followthrough, it is comforting or chilling.

  67. #67 Stephanie Z
    November 17, 2008

    Nat, there’s also the fact that I never read Mark’s statement as a threat, just as a continuation of the contentious pseudonymity discussion that was already going on. Saying that PP would have only himself to blame if he were outed, yes. Saying that Mark wouldn’t cry over it any and might even gloat, yes. But as I said at the time, PP feeling threatened is not the same thing as Mark issuing a threat, especially considering that Mark clarified his position pretty quickly.

    I know some people didn’t want to believe Mark at the time, but I went on record about that too. I’m rather annoyed at having to do it again, although not at you in particular. There’s been a distinct effort made to help people remember those events in a way that doesn’t favor Mark, just as there has been to keep steering the discussion back toward them.

  68. #68 Nat
    November 17, 2008

    Hah! That’s funny. First you explicitly steer the discussion back to the actual happenstances of Mark’s real/perceived threat, and now you’re annoyed at having to have that discussion again? I don’t recall ever bringing it up until you did.

    Furthermore, reading Mark’s comment as anything other than a threat is being…shall we say generous. In fact, I just went back to reread it. Your reading is very generous. If you’d like me to quote him, I can.

    Besides, as I’ve said many times, the perception of a threat to out is nearly as detrimental to silencing people as actual threats.

  69. #69 LanceR, JSG
    November 17, 2008

    And if people are so soft-skinned that any possible threat will leave them quaking under their beds in fear, we are better off without them. For someone who is scared of some vague threat, you sure have been posting quite a bit.

  70. #70 Stephanie Z
    November 18, 2008

    Nat, I specifically said I wasn’t annoyed at you in particular. If you go back and read the thread, it’s pretty clear who ticked me off and how.

    I’ve read all those old threads recently, thanks, including the ones that gave the context of the older argument. I don’t argue in ignorance or from memory.

    The funny thing about people calling my interpretations “shall we say generous” is that the “very generous”–or calm or non-escalatory or adult–interpretation keeps ending up being the one that meshes with the writer’s intent. That tends to suggest that there’s some value in generosity.

    And you’re starting to creep me out with this talk of going “near an outing threat” and “perception of a threat to out.” While I work hard to be understood, I will not be responsible for your interpretation of my words. I’ve seen too many people recently try to tell an author what the author was “actually” saying, despite the author’s statements to the contrary. Nope, the very idea is, shall we say, chilling.

  71. #71 MarkH
    November 18, 2008

    Thank you for making that quite clear. Your overriding goal here apparently is not to foster discussion and expand other viewpoints. It’s to attack what you define as requiring attack.

    This should have been clear from the beginning. We are not about expanding viewpoints here we are about showing which viewpoints are psuedoscientific and not worthy of discussion. Sorry if we don’t buy into the value of all viewpoints being discussed. Some of them aren’t worth discussion.

  72. #72 Nat
    November 18, 2008

    Thanks for the clarification Mark. This was the whole point of the exercise, to help ensure that your words were being interpreted correctly.

    In the end I think we really hashed out some issues, regardless of whether some people thought I was being absolutist or posting too much about something vauge and really not worth worrying about.

    So, in the name of battling crankery, you’ll feel justified to use outing as a means to defeat your opponents. Just as Greg has said that in the battle against asshats, he feels justified in outing.

    Now that that’s established, each reader can decide for themselves whether to risk themselves by somehow being labeled a crank by Mark or an asshat by Greg.

    Hmmm, turns out I was interpreting his words pretty accurately, eh Stephanie?

  73. #73 Greg Laden
    November 18, 2008

    Nat: At some point, your insistence on painting other people’s arguments with your own brush starts to make you look like you are incapable of getting it. But I don’t believe that about you. I have faith in your ability to get it.

    I sense that this thread is done. So, I will have the last word. Nobody comment after me, please. :)

    My current thinking on this issue, subject to evolution:

    1) There is not an a priori ethic, practice, rule, etc. that asserts “If X knows the identity of anonymous person Y, X cannot reveal that identity.” I don’t think there is any rule like that in real life, and I don’t think there is one in the blogosphere, and there is not a unity of, or definition of ‘bloggers’ as a ‘thing’ to serve as a context for such a rule (or any other rule). The concept of a ‘bloggers ethic’ is illusory. We are all something, and bloggers. That something is where our ethics come from.

    2) It is quite possible to imagine contexts in which discovery of an identity should involve that identity remaining secret. I know the identity of a couple of anonymous sciencebloggers from the Sb back channel. Or at least, in theory I do, but I don’t really pay that much attention to who is anonymous vs. not. Anyway, that is sacred knowledge not because it is about blogger identity, but because there is a system I participate in with a rule that says “what happens in the back channel stays in the back channel.”

    I am going to a bloggers conference in a few weeks. I assume that if I learned the identity of a pseudonymous anonymous blogger there, that would be sacred knowledge. This has not been stated officially to my knowledge (somebody should probably do that), but for now this is what I assume.

    3) Having said that, I have to admit, there is not much tying me to this. Now and then a reporter goes to prison to protect the identity of a source. I certainly hope that there are no anonymous pseudo bloggers who imagine that their identity is going to be protected at that level by anyone!

    4) I think anonymity on the internet is important and valuable, and this should be respected to the degree possible.

    5) I believe that people’s actions and behaviors on the blogosphere are no different symbolically, culturally, socially, and emotionally than in face to face traditional discourse. People will make enemies with enemies. I would never expect James Watson to like me after all the bad shit I said about him in the blogosphere. But I also expect some people will be socially inept enough to make enemies of allies. I believe we witness this all too often. Sorry, but where others see validity in legalistic bashing of each other (“You called me a dork!” “No, I said you made me feel like you might be a dork!” etc.), I see Middle School Clique Politics. My point is, that in this context for some people, anonymity has emerged as a tool that allows some bloggers to do things that you really couldn’t otherwise get away with.

    [warning: money quote coming up just now:]

    An asshat anonymous pseudonymous blogger is a fly on the wall with a megaphone.

    [/end moneyquote]

    Therefore…

    6) Eventually, the fly that annoys gets swatted with the big rolled up newspaper. By somebody. Eventually.

    7) The issue has come up as to what to do about asshatery in general, and the assertion made that outing an anonpseudoasshat is fine, but what does that leave for the already outed?

    That reminds me of the argument that the death penalty should be maintained as an option otherwise there is no way to punish lifers who kill someone. A very naive idea.

    This simply brings me back to point number 6. Life is complex. This is a social interaction, and indeed, a social interaction among people hiding inside of manipulated symbols. You takes your chances when you mess with this stuff. This is not a boxing match following the Marcus of Queensberry Rules. This is just life and culture with electrons.

    I laugh when I think of the concept of people bullying others around and then making rules to protect their bullying behaviors. Sorry, no can do.

    My personal reaction to bloggers that I don’t like: I ignore them if possible. I don’t put them on my blog roll, I don’t link to them, I don’t read their blogs. I simply avoid overlap between their part of the internet and mine. I assume that everyone else is doing this tacitly or not, knowingly or not, and that some day a meteor shower will hit us and random parts of the internet will be killed off, and the other parts will become part of a radiation of forms into the newly emptied spaces. Nobody knows who is going to get hit by the meteorites.

    Nat: On your final point, that readers beware. WTF, man? As I said earlier (ignored) — we need to keep distinct issues of bloggers and commenters, and probably commenters who are bloggers.

    I have not made a statement on this thread regarding readers/commenters.

  74. #74 Nat
    November 18, 2008

    Um, isn’t that essentially your justification for why outing is on the table? Most of which we discussed upthread.

    Maybe I am missing something. I guess they just don’t teach reading comprehension at our doctoral alma mater anymore.

  75. #75 Greg Laden
    November 20, 2008

    Nat:

    I was going to respond but then I remembered that I already had the last word…

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