Adventures in Ethics and Science

Sometimes I think the whole question of civility and incivility (online or offline) boils down to the question of am I welcome in this space?

Do you think I belong here just as much as you do?

Do you think I don’t really belong here? Are you going to exert the effort to run me off, or are you just going to wait until I give up and go away on my own?

Do you welcome me enough that you’ll tell me when I’ve messed up — not because you were waiting for me to slip up, but because you respect me enough that you think I’d want to know that I’d messed up so I could fix it?

Do you trust me enough to tell me what’s on your mind? To tell me how your experience might be different from mine and trust that I’ll believe you? Do I matter enough to you that you will take what I tell you, including my experience of things, seriously?

Or are my concerns and my reports of my own experiences, ultimately, going to seem like more trouble than they’re worth to you?

Discuss.

Comments

  1. #1 Larry Ayers
    January 8, 2010

    Good questions to ask oneself before wandering into a web forum! I’ve inadvertently started a few flame wars — people saw me as an outsider and rudely drove me away. I’m chastened, and a bit more careful about where I choose to leave comments these days.

    Just because a blog comment section seems open to all doesn’t mean that it really is. Certain commenters (and sometimes the blog proprietor) can make a hapless newcomer feel very unwelcome very quickly.

  2. #2 david
    January 8, 2010

    I’ve been following and I’m still up and checking in. This is pretty good and I think you can travel with it for a good discussion. I hope it goes well and you have lots of fun.

  3. #3 Ian Tindale
    January 8, 2010

    I think it really depends on the payoff balanced against the transience of the scenario. If it’s a highly transient population – if there’s a high likelihood that I’ll never encounter any of you again and certainly never encounter most of you again – that gives permission to optimise my behaviour by not caring about how I impact your behaviour. That’s an energy investment equilibrium – to a certain extent – given the payoff. The notably civil person is probably one that can “afford to” invest in acting as though they’re in far less of a transient situation than they really are, in case it proves to be so, even though the energy required to effect such signalling is greater.

    As an example, on the tube in Central London, I’m full of politeness, allowing people into my way, waving people on or off the tube first, and I note there’s a growing wave of this sort of energy-intensive politeness. Whereas, a few decades ago in my 20s/30s, I’d be the opposite – maximising my required output of interaction, cutting through crowds, pushing people aside (not roughly but probably rudely), not really caring about how pleasant or not I’m making the experience of commuting on the tube is for other people, as long as I get where I’m going quickly and without impedance and with minimal outlay.

  4. #4 mdiehl
    January 8, 2010

    Not that one should open oneself to needless ignorant statements, but another way to look at the question is:
    “Am I welcoming of others in this space?”

  5. #5 Nick
    January 8, 2010

    I find this way of looking at civility to be very appealing, but it seems to be a necessary rather than sufficient description. There are certainly places (in real space or otherwise) where people engaged in uncivil behavior are made to feel welcomed, in some cases, specifically for engaging in uncivil behavior. An example here would be something like 4chan, where uncivil behavior is practically a requirement to feel welcomed.

  6. #6 S. Rivlin
    January 8, 2010

    Janet,

    There is one blogger on SciBlogs that actually could answer most of the questions in your post through his own responses, mainly to my comments (see below), but to many other commenters, too. I believe that he is an excellent example of what one could describe as ‘uncivility gone wild’ online. Unfortunately, many of the readers seem not to mind such uncivility, while others actually cheering it up. Even more significant is the growing acceptance of such uncivility among other SciBloggers, one of whome will participate in your upcoming discussion of ‘online civility.’

    DoucheMonkey, do you really think it improves your blog to let this fucking senile asshole derail every single fucking discussion here to his pompous smarmy fucking obsession with finding misconduct under every single fucking rock in the universe and aggrandizing his own purity? Seriously?
    This sleazy fuck doesn’t have a single relevant useful thing to say about *anyfuckingthing* and is only obsessed with stroking his own imaginary massive cock of moral rectitude.
    Posted by: Comrade PhysioProf | January 4, 2010 10:26 PM

    Listen “anne”, I don’t know what are you about and I can understand that you’re all immersed in not having a fucking clue what you are talking about, but my humble advice to you is to get a fucking grip on yourself, before you turn into another gibbering Rivshit.
    Posted by: Comrade PhysioProf | January 5, 2010 7:28 AM

    Fucklin, how about you make a comment with some motherfucking content other than “everyone involved in the scientific enterprise other than me, Soldouche Rivshit, is totally corrupt and horrible”? Think you can do it?
    Posted by: Comrade PhysioProf | January 3, 2010 10:14 PM

    Listen, fuckface, the reason for wanting you to shut the fuck up already has nothing to do with “putting one’s head in the sand” nor with “mak[ing] the problem disappear”. It has to do with wishing that you would stop polluting this blog with your obsessive senile ravings.
    We are all aware that scientific fraud exists and we are all aware that scientists–like all human beings–sometimes behave in unsavory ways. But that is not the raison detre of this fucking blog. If you want to talk incessantly about how horrible all scientists today are and how great scientists used to be back in the motherfucking olden days and about what a great moral paragon of fucking virtue you are, then GET YOUR OWN MOTHERFUCKING BLOG ASSHOLE!
    If it were up to me, your slimy irrelevant off-topic ass would have been banned from this blog a long time ago. The only reason DoucheMonkey lets you shit yourself here is because it entertains him to see me peeved.
    Posted by: Comrade PhysioProf | January 4, 2010 5:34 PM

  7. #7 Arctic
    January 8, 2010

    There is a lot of blogs here that is not saying very much of scientific relevance at all. I don’t want to point out someone, but for me there is nothing to care about.

    Better to be here then here, thought ;-)

  8. #8 Katharine
    January 8, 2010

    I see S. Rivlin is trumpeting himself rather loudly.

    No, no, Sol, your quoted comments from Comrade PhysioProf do not, in my opinion, really substantiate that he’s being terribly uncivil, as I think they are quite valid criticisms of some of your squawkings.

  9. #9 yolande
    January 8, 2010

    @6

    Looks like CPP has a full blown case of Tourette’s Syndrome to me.

  10. #10 S. Rivlin
    January 8, 2010

    “I see S. Rivlin is trumpeting himself rather loudly.”

    Katharine with a K,

    Your criticism of me, as demonstrated in the quote above, is civilized, despite the sarcasm. However, would you let your children read the SciBlogs where CPP posts, comments or responds? I’m sure there are some youngsters who read these blogs. Would Janet let her offsprings read CPP’s blog?What about CPP’s response to Anne? She is not S. Rivlin. Does criticism means being uncivil? Would you criticize your partner, your children, your peers, using CPP’s language? Does CPP criticizes his wife, children, postdocs, students, using this kind of language? I guess you are one of the cheerleaders of this type of uncivil behavior online. Maybe you should start using it, too.

  11. #11 Katharine
    January 8, 2010

    Oh, now you’re getting into language. This is a common gambit for people who don’t like it when what they say is criticized. Physioprof may have a far more, er, coarse style of addressing points of criticism, but frankly, I don’t mind. We’re all big people here. Grow a skin. I don’t honestly think, either, that a whole lot of people younger than high school age are going to be reading this.

    About ‘anne’, looking back in context at what he wrote:

    ” My humble advice is that if you really care about your science, you should (at a minimum) question your view that misconduct is a marginal issue.

    My humble advice is that you pull your fucking head out of your fucking ass and look for some evidence beyond the obsessive ravings of a senile fuckwad that my “view [is] that misconduct is a marginal issue”. You lose all credibility when you mindlessly vomit back up Rivshit’s demented talking points.

    My views of the prevalence of scientific misconduct have fuck all to do with the fact that every single topic on this blog does not need to turn into a discussion of Scuzwit McRivshit’s imaginary massive cock of moral rectitude (you’re welcome, becca!).

    Listen “anne”, I don’t know what are you about and I can understand that you’re all immersed in not having a fucking clue what you are talking about, but my humble advice to you is to get a fucking grip on yourself, before you turn into another gibbering Rivshit.”

    And the comment he was replying to:

    “Listen CPP,

    I don’t know what are you about and I can understand that you’re all immersed in your research, your training students, your writing….So was I when my full occupation was science. I never thought that scientific misconduct could be widespread and never came to my mind that “science” “scientific management” and “money” could be such an intimate TRIO IN LOVE. I was truly blinded with science.

    It just took to find myself forced out of my job and indicted (I mean it IN-DIC-TED) to have the time to read the newspapers carefully and follow the leads on “scientific trends” to put together the pieces of the puzzle taking place at my academic institution. My blindness started dissipating then !!!!.

    My humble advice is that if you really care about your science, you should (at a minimum) question your view that misconduct is a marginal issue. You might find convincing answers that your view is correct. And if so my sincere congratulations. If on the other hand you find answers indicating the “no marginal at all” nature of misconduct, you’d better start working on the issue to get things corrected. It is in the best interest of your science and that of all your colleagues.

    Are you tenured ? Even if you are, your tenure is not a sure bet!. You can be on the streets rather easily. I saw that at my own institution before my departure.”

    It appears that you are distorting, to some extent, the context of the argument. Physioprof appears to be angry at having his views distorted.

    I don’t think whether someone criticizes others in meatspace with that language has much to do with this.

  12. #12 yolande
    January 8, 2010

    Any discussion on Internet behaviour “should” have as pre-requisite reading the latest Edge Question for 2010 ” How Has the Internet Changed the Way You Think?” a collection of thought provoking essays/replies.

    http://www.edge.org/q2010/q10_1.html

    I am of the opinion that we mostly behave according to what we think and if our thinking is being changed by the Internet, so is our online behaviour.

  13. #13 S. Rivlin
    January 8, 2010

    Katharine with a K,

    Language is the only tool with which bloggers and their commenters relay their opinions, their positions on an issue and their emotions as evoked by an issue or another blogger or commenter. To discount the role of language, its neuances and specific chosen words and their connotation is a complete nonsense.

    CPP is being angered by my comments from the very first one I ever posted on DrugMonkey’s blog. He is constantly enraged by my comments about his language on that blog and on others’ and he’s tirelessly campaigning on DM’s blog and on others’ to censor me. As DM has said, I got under CPP’s skin for some reason. Of course, now he uses other explanations for why he wants me to go away, such as the excuse that I am “obsess[ed] with finding misconduct under every single fucking rock in the universe.” But my very first comment that dealt with scientific misconduct received his very uncivil, bullying-type response. And when I criticized the language he used in that very response, he attacked in a similar way my criticism of his language. CPP does not like to be criticized, yet he is the king of criticism in the bloggosphere with harsh, uncivilized, gutter-like language that not everyone enjoys as much as you do. This has nothing to do with being adults with thick skin and everything to do with an uncivilized language that was brought online from the gutters where it is glorified by the uneducated and, which is now poisening the medium in which supposedly educated people with more enriched English vocabulary are discussing their profession and its related issues. I never understood the need to use profanity to make one’s point except the need to appeal to the lowest common denominator among us.

  14. #14 yolande
    January 8, 2010

    @S.Rivlin

    I don’t know the history behind this and I don’t particularly want to. I have witnessed similar attacks by similar types of people elsewhere and came to the conclusion that those types of people aren’t worth engaging with. Their behaviour is gross attention seeking and sociopathic in some extreme cases, so it is best to avoid them. There is no point trying to reason with them, because they have no empathy with others.

    In other words I agree with you. People who use gutter language to shock or offend others reflect where their minds are…. in the gutter. What you have probably also noticed is that those types of people love to collect support from other “bottom-feeders” , much like maggots feeding on rotten meat.

    My advice is to seek out other blogs where people are nicer and more welcoming and leave the bottom feeders to rot in their own filth.

  15. #15 Grant
    January 9, 2010

    Haven’t read other comments first (but then that also means I’m not biased by them!):

    I’ve always thought of civility as being defined in the negative, as a restraint from being rude, with other near-synonyms carrying the positive equivalent.

    Incidentally, my computer’s dictionary (Apple’s Dictionary application, which uses the dictionary) has this in the origins section “In early use the term denoted the state of being a citizen and hence good citizenship or orderly behavior. The sense [politeness] arose in the mid 16th cent.”

    Perhaps with the move to “commonwealth”, in it’s older sense of public welfare served by the public for itself, that the blogs imply, we’re also moving back to the older sense of the word ‘civility’?

  16. #16 S. Rivlin
    January 9, 2010

    yolande,

    Thank you for your advice. No disagreement from me here to your description. Nevertheless, since the topic of civility online is the one discussed here and I do believe that it is up to participants such as you and me to be a counter voice to the “bottom feeders,” I will do my part, while this discussion is on-going.

  17. #17 Isabel
    January 9, 2010

    I would be curious to hear some non-American views on the “vulgar language” issue. It also seems like SR is making this into another class issue. It seems very puritan to me. As far as the ageist attacks I agree.

    As long as you act upset he will keep delighting in it. But cursing when we are genuinely angry is our birthright.

  18. #18 S. Rivlin
    January 9, 2010

    Isable,

    If ‘educated’ and ‘uneducated’ are two classes in your book, fine. However, the way I see it, as our education progresses so does our vocabulary. The first words a non-English speaker learns upon landing in America are the curse words. S/he hear them at the baseball and football stadia, at the R-rated moviews, at the comedy shows and, of course, on the streets where the less vocabulary-endowed fellows are using, on average, a total of a couple of hundreds of English words or less for all their communication. Not suprisingly, profanity fills large portion of that vocabulary. You maybe right that poor language (and civility or incivility) could be associated with certain classes of people however, this is a distinction you could highlight on a different online or off-line discussion. This surely was not my intention here.

  19. #19 Jimjam
    January 11, 2010

    Comrade PhysioProf is one of the most uncivil personas I’ve seen trolling the sci and other learned blogs. Without defending the targets of CPP’s attacks – it is clear that CPP’s tone is pretty repulsively uncivil and is crafted to be that way. So why is CPP tolerated among intelligent participants? What seems clear is that CPP’s “fans” seem to appreciate CPP’s “uncivility”. So, what is going on when blatantly uncivil personas are allowed in to inhabit certain more-or-less civil spaces. How is it that uncivil behavior like CPP’s can be accepted by a community and incorporated into otherwise civil interactions? I can’t help but think of the court jester – of sanctioned shows of impropriety or uncivil behavior where a particular agent is tolerated where anyone else who tried would be run out of town. Or perhaps the ferocity and uncivility of the junkyard dog is instrumental to chasing away unwanted visitors?

  20. #20 Larry Ayers
    January 11, 2010

    Jimjam’s view of CPP’s behavior is spot on. CPP once followed me home to my blog, like a diseased dog. I didn’t encourage him and he wandered away. Yeah, sort of a court jester, but one who wears out his welcome rather quickly.

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