Pharyngula

Pseudonymity ≠ anonymity

Another minor blog skirmish has erupted over a perennial issue in the blogosphere: the wickedness of anonymous commenters/bloggers/whatever. I’m going to sort of take the side of Greg Laden.

I despise anonymous commenters. It’s pretty much a sure sign that anything the person is going to say is worthless noise if they aren’t willing to sign a name to it.

That said, though, I consider a consistent pseudonym to be a name. I’ve gotten to know lots of people on the web via their chosen pseudonym, and that pseudonym acquires its own authority on the merits of the writing behind it. You don’t need to reveal your full, legal name to be known on the web — it’s good enough to have a handle so we can recognize you. Note that of the 17 Molly award winners here, 10 are using pseudonyms, and that’s just fine.

There are some people who use their own names who are effectively anonymous, and I’ve been getting lots of email from them this week (I may post some of them later — most are short and angry). If your name is Tom Smith, and you send me a one-shot email that is littered with expletives, I’ve never heard of you before and you certainly haven’t explained your position well. You are effectively anonymous. I don’t regard your contributions at all highly.

I also have to comment on something from Drugmonkey. Note, first of all, that “Drugmonkey” is a pseudonym for a person who has a nice consistent voice on the web — I have a clear picture of who “Drugmonkey” is from his writing, which may or may not align well with the person, but that doesn’t matter. And usually I enjoy what he writes, but not this bit.

A final comment on the special SuperDuperz occupational hazard of the teaching college professor. Now, I love you all, really I do. And I once aspired to be one of y’all. Heck, I may eventually be one of you. For full disclosure I’ll further admit that I spent a considerable number of my formative years in rather close proximity to one of you. Here’s the thing. Your whole professional life is predicated on you as the Authority. In the classroom, you have all the knowledge and the students have relatively little. They are explicitly seeking you out for your authority. Even within most “teaching departments” you are the sole expert in not just a narrow area but in several subfields, are you not? And…c’mon, ‘fess up. It goes to your head after awhile doesn’t it? And even more pernicious…do you teach at a small college in the middle of nowhere? Plopped down amongst the local rubes? So you are more worldly and informed on many topics than most of your neighbors? Which makes you…an authoritah? On oh-so-many things?

Well, it’s nice that he aspired to be one of us, but he clearly didn’t make the cut, and I can guess why. His assumptions are faulty. In my classroom, I’m an authority only by accident of birth — I’ve got a thirty year head start on my students. However, my whole goal is to get these students to start questioning and challenging me, and finding out new stuff that I didn’t know before. I even like it when the creationists in class start raising objections. If Drugmonkey thinks a college classroom is a place where the best teaching is done by imposing his views on a roomful of students, he’s not going to make it to that exalted position of The Teaching College Professor, because he won’t be teaching.

Comments

  1. #1 Zeno
    April 19, 2008

    The really awful thing about Drugmonkey’s comment is that we find students in our classes who absolutely believe what Drugmonkey believes: “Oh, professor, just tell me what to do!” When you try to coax them into thinking through a problem, marshaling facts and techniques toward a solution, they get resentful: “Oh, just tell me what to do!”

    These are the most difficult students to teach, because they really want to be trained, like circus animals. As one of my students once said to me, “Oh, Dr. Z are you explaining things again?”

    “Just tell me what to do.”

    No.

  2. #2 Jsn
    April 19, 2008

    Wait PZ, he can if he wants to teach at Bob Jones U or Oral Roberts U…

  3. #3 Moses
    April 19, 2008

    Heh. If you’d have had my Chinese Philosophy teacher you’d be realizing you’re just a data point, not the universe! After the first day of class with that nut bag, I ran to the Registers Office and changed from “for grade” to “credit/no credit,” the only class I took in that grading option while in college.

    I could tell that he had “his views” and that the slightest deviation would be the kiss of death. I was so right.

  4. #4 CalGeorge
    April 19, 2008

    “Your whole professional life is predicated on you as the Authority.”

    Must have missed the class where they teach aspiring college professors not to make massive generalizations.

  5. #5 Strakh
    April 19, 2008

    Thank you, PZ.
    That’s exactly what I told my students: “I have no special gifts that you do not also possess. I know more than you now only because I’ve been sudying for so long. In time you will know more than me. And together we shall make the world a better place.”
    Didn’t work out, though, and while my present career is rewarding in and of itself, I will never be as alive as I was when I was in the classroom sharing and receiving knowledge.
    Long may you share.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    April 19, 2008

    Note that of the 17 Molly award winners here, 10 are using pseudonyms, and that’s just fine.

    And in your dungeon, some 75 pseudonyms are distributed among some 20 or so individuals in contrast to a half dozen possibly non pseudonymous identities.

    (These numbers are made up, but something like that seems to be the case)

    Oh, and an interesting irony of me getting slammed for an inaccurate understanding of my position on this is that at least two of your dungeon-ed commenters are regular commenters on my site, and of them, only one has ever been banned by me, and that was on my old blog. In other words, I do not hold anonymity against commenters, yet I’ve got the horns and the pitchfork…

    And I agree.. Pseudonymity does not equal anonymity. Indeed, having a name does not = the opposite of anonymity. Does anyone really know who any one else really is?

  7. #7 Seamyst
    April 19, 2008

    Your whole professional life is predicated on you as the Authority. In the classroom, you have all the knowledge and the students have relatively little.

    He’s obviously never taken a history class, then – especially an upper-level undergrad or graduate class. None of my history profs have EVER told the class that their way was *the* way, and that they are the Authority. Hell, a seminar class, if it’s done well, is explicitly about reading and deconstructing the historiography on a certain topic, and discussing why we agree/don’t agree with the historian in question! Even in my medieval class, for instance, I know more about certain aspects than my prof does. It’s just natural – he can’t be expected to know everything about medieval studies (it’s a freakin’ huge field), and our interests aren’t always identical.

  8. #8 R N B
    April 19, 2008

    Again paraphrasing Greg, a consistent pseudonym is really a “character”, a chosen aspect of personality rather than a personality. It may reveal interesting opinion, perhaps even inspired revelation, but it’s not possible to have a genuine debate between a “genuine” person on one side and a character on the other.

  9. #9 Gary
    April 19, 2008

    I think the great majority of posters and commenters on the internet keep the same identity. Although I can’t say for sure there’s anything inherently wrong with not doing that, if I knew someone was constantly changing their identity, it would immediately make me suspect he or she was a troll.

  10. #10 (((Billy)))
    April 19, 2008

    Well written and thoughtful (and (more important) thought provoking) as (almost always) usual. I have two (pseudonymous) comments:

    1. Regarding pseudonymity and anonymity: I choose to be pseudonymous (though my pseudonym (screw that, my handle) has gone from “Billy(A Liberal Disabled Vet)” to “Billy(ALDV)” to “The Parenthetical Atheist” (which was actually hung upon me by a fellow blogger), to “(((Billy)))” or “iambilly” depending upon how I am logged in. My first handle was a reaction to a chicken hawk at a news and comment site. Through the various permutations, on the way to becomming (((Billy))), I have changed my handle not to hide who I am, but to bring out who I am. I figure that, as my blog (shameless plug division) becomes more mature, as I become more comfortable, it will most likely become (((Bill))) but, as I am still a neophyte, (((Billy))) it is. My approach has remained consistent and (on the blogs upon which I comment more regularly) the name changes have elicited no major response. Were I changing my handle in order to hide who I am, avoid troll status (which, after this long rambling post, I just may achieve), or attempt to argue out of a different side of my arse. So, in relation to the first part of your post, names may change (for a variety of reasons) but (for me at least) my web persona has not.

    I said all that so I could say this:

    In college (majoring in History (yes, I did sell cars for about a year, why do you ask?)) I found myself one of the students professors liked. Why? Sometimes I told a professor he (or she) was wrong (did it to a PhD once, too) and, since I had sources to back up my statements and/or causal theory, got away with it. In High School, it got me kicked out of class. In college, the profs loved it.

    I did not, as Drugmonkey did (and still appears to), approach an instructor as the be all and end all of knowledge. I did, however, approach instructors as beings of some expertise within their field but, more important, as guides who, through questioning and arguing (not the Monty Python argument, but real ones), could help me become an expert in my own field.

    I had one professor who, when I challenged her on her explanation regarding a geological formation diagram (it was similar to the one on the t-shirt with the geologic layer cake), she stopped talking, glared at me (over her cat’s-eye glasses (and this was in the 80s)) and, with a voice which could solve AGW, said, “I am the professor. I have the master’s in anthropology. I have the BS in geology. You are the student. Remember that.” For the remainder of the two-semester course, I kept quiet and regurgitated exactly what she said on the tests. I learned more listening to my Dad when we lived at Grand Canyon and Death Valley (and took lots of vacations through incredible geologic formations) then I did from her class. I did get 8 credits, so I shouldn’t complain.

    To summarize (the second half of my comment, anyway), an instructor who regards him- or herself as The Authority is not a teacher. They are a preacher. And I divorced myself from that long ago.

    Sorry for the long post. I’m now an NPS interpretor and, well, rambling the long way to get to a point has become an occupational hazzard (which, by the way, the Spanish Inquisitor hung on me for a while).

  11. #11 Seamyst
    April 19, 2008

    @ Greg #6:

    Nope, sorry, I disagree. I’ve only been reading Pharyngula for about three months, but I can definitely see many differences in the writing styles of the commenters here. The comments that are satirical are a little harder, but sometimes I can spot differences even among them. And commenters like Cuttlefish or MAJeff? Uh-uh.

    What does it matter if some of the dungeoned commenters here also comment on your blog?

  12. #12 Ichthyic
    April 19, 2008

    Does anyone really know who any one else really is?

    …and does anybody really know what time it is?

  13. #13 Strakh
    April 19, 2008

    Crap! And one of the things my students will learn to do better than me is how to more accurately proof their work while they *study*.

  14. #14 raven
    April 19, 2008

    There is a compelling reason to be pseudonymous rather than using your real name. Threats, death threats, legal action, SLAPP suits, and any and all other forms of harassment. Mail bombing anyone?

    I’ve been through the threat cycle so many times in my medical quack busting days that I’ve even lost track of who threatened to do what when.

    It gets real and real vicious when money is involved and jail time is a possibility for the offenders. One group who tried to file a SLAPP suit were interupted when the FBI picked them up for fraud. Another group hacked my computers with a sophisticated and highly illegal spyware program. Unfortunately for them, a professional forensics computer expert managed to trace where all the data was being sent to. They are under investigation at this very moment and may be charged in the future.

    Cyberspace can be a dangerous jungle.

  15. #15 (((Billy)))
    April 19, 2008

    Crudescence Maximized. Sorry for the sentence fragment:

    Were I changing my handle in order to hide who I am, avoid troll status (which, after this long rambling post, I just may achieve), or attempt to argue out of a different side of my arse.

    should continue with “it would be a horse of a different colour.”

    And I mispelled my job. I am an Interpreter, not an interpretor. Sorry.

  16. #16 Dinzer
    April 19, 2008

    I actually found teaching to be very humbling. Nothing can expose one’s weaknesses in a subject like teaching that subject. I know it really knocked me down a few pegs.

  17. That said, though, I consider a consistent pseudonym to be a name. I’ve gotten to know lots of people on the web via their chosen pseudonym, and that pseudonym acquires its own authority on the merits of the writing behind it.

    _Finite and Infinite Games_, James Carse.

    (Hows that for pseudonymous AND gnomic?)

  18. #18 Ichthyic
    April 19, 2008

    In High School, it got me kicked out of class. In college, the profs loved it.

    That brings up a good point.

    There IS a difference in how things are taught at the secondary vs. university level. Often, a high school teacher really IS the local authority on the field they teach, and there is a LOT more pressure (especially after NCLB) on teachers to have students that reliably test on the information presented (which often is very basic in nature, anyway).

    I have noticed (as something I’m sure everyone has) that as children grow up, they rely less and less on authority figures for information, and high school typically is the earliest stage where students tend to start looking beyond localized sources (like their teachers) of information. Some overlaps exists, but I could easily understand how someone could maintain the idea of the teacher as an authority figure throughout their high school years at least, and some will of course maintain that perception even into their undergraduate careers, regardless of how much the professors themselves encourage the students to look beyond any individual professor as a source of information.

    I liken it to when younger, tending to look at books in an authoritarian fashion, and when older, tending to look at books as just the “entryway” to information, a digest of source material that one then has to search the primary literature to flesh out properly.

    However, some people will always look at a book in an authoritarian manner; some books especially so…

    The perception of a professor as an authority figure is NOT a hazard of being a professor, it is a result of the inability to abandon childhood ideas of the value of authority itself.

  19. #19 Dennis
    April 19, 2008

    “Teaching is the art of encouraging discovery”: Anonymous

  20. #20 Ichthyic
    April 19, 2008

    “Teaching is the art of encouraging discovery”: Anonymous

    heh.

  21. #21 Bronze Dog
    April 19, 2008

    I definitely favor pseudonymity. I can be myself online and have reduced risk for being punished for voicing my opinions online. I feel more myself online: When I work in an office full of fundies, I have to keep quiet or be very careful about how I make points.

  22. #22 Steve LaBonne
    April 19, 2008

    The saddest thing I ever encountered as a college professor was a few students who were dumbfounded when I responded to a question, “I don’t know- let’s find out.” It seems these students, throughout their K-12 careers, had never had a teacher willing to admit not knowing something. That’s just very, very wrong.

  23. #23 pcarini
    April 19, 2008

    Two words: Mark Twain. Writing under a pseudonym is no indication of quality of lack thereof.

  24. #24 pcarini
    April 19, 2008

    Eek.. correction to above: “Writing under a pseudonym is no indication of quality or lack thereof.”

    It’s definitely not an indication of quality in my case ;)

  25. #25 Ollie
    April 19, 2008

    One of the most popular websites in Japan, 2ch, actually encourages anonymous posting. The idea is that comments and contributions should be judged on their content, not who posts it. I don’t know how that worked out, but the US clone, 4chan — purportedly the 4th most popular US website based on membership numbers, did the same thing. Take just a quick look there, and you’ll see that anonymity has not in any way improved judging comments by their content. Quite to the contrary, it doesn’t matter what you say, somebody will manage to take great personal offense to anything you say and dig up no lack of insults for you. So much for intellectualism.

  26. #26 John B. Sandlin
    April 19, 2008

    I’ve used a pseudonym in the past – It was a name I’ve used since going online in 1990 or 1991. So it’d be easy to figure out who I am.

    JBS

  27. #27 freelunch
    April 19, 2008

    Good point Ichthyic. Really, I doubt that the person who said that was anonymous but that he is unknown. It would be nice if people offering quotations would not conflate anonymous with author unknown, but I don’t expect instant reform.

    There are things that the instructor is the master at. 2+2=4 is a definition of a relationship. Students don’t get to redefine definitions. Pi or e are well-defined concepts, but not easily understood. Students don’t get to redefine them. In accounting, there are debits and there are credits. They are part of a consistent system of double-entry bookkeeping that is arbitrary in one sense, but needs to be followed to be meaningful to others.

    Any question can be asked though. Textbooks contain errors. Teachers say things wrong and don’t immediately catch themselves. Imagine reading a business law textbook that claimed that President Eisenhower nationalized the steel industry during a strike in 1952. People make mistakes. Everyone has the duty to correct such mistakes, even students.

    That said, it really does depend on the personality of the teacher. Once, in high school, I corrected a teacher who taught both in HS and college, when he made a lame joke that confused AT&T with ITT. He was particularly unhappy with me. I have learned that this probably was because he considered it beneath him to teach high school classes, since he was much more tolerable as a college professor.

  28. #28 Tatarize
    April 19, 2008

    You could run a search for my actual name, but you’d never find me. Search for Tatarize and you’ll be overwhelmed with my activity.

    *shrug*

  29. #29 CalGeorge
    April 19, 2008

    “Remember, this character is a false persona, created for the purpose of making a certain impact in the blogosphere, not a human being that I can deal with on any level other than as that very persona.”

    Not sure I know what he means by “false” persona. Isn’t a persona a mask?

    I also don’t agree that a persona is always adopted for the sake of making a certain impact. That’s attributing a rather selfish motive to a heck of a lot of people.

    I feel constrained to be more polite if I used my real name – I won’t use words like “fuck” when I communicate my opinions to news organizations, or on petitions, etc.

    I value very much the opportunity to, for instance, call the Pope a fucking asshole on a blog – and I regard anonymity as a welcome mask that makes it easier to say that.

  30. #30 Maezeppa
    April 19, 2008

    Drugmonkey sounds very young.

  31. #31 wÒÓ?
    April 19, 2008

    The main reason I use a pseudonym is so that John A. Davison can’t find out where I live and show up with a case of KY jelly.

  32. #32 Rachael
    April 19, 2008

    Hah – maybe he meant just in the arts department. ;)

  33. #33 Tulse
    April 19, 2008

    Boy, I feel old, ‘cuz no one has mentioned the obvious cartoon from fifteen years ago (I guess the half-life of Internet memes is shorter than that).

    And I’ll agree on Mark Twain, and add in George Eliot, Dr. Seuss, George Orwell,
    Saki, Hergé, John le Carre, Lewis Carroll, Molière, O. Henry, Pablo Neruda, and Voltaire
    (among others). How many here can name the birth names of more than half that list? Does it matter that these people wrote under a pseudonym?

    Pseudonymity is just another form of identity. If I called myself “Bill Smith” here, no one would even know that it was a pseudonym, and no one would care, as long as I wrote honestly and in a consistent voice. Heck, I know very little about people like “Greg Laden”, “Chris Mooney”, “Jason Rosenhouse”, “John Wilkins”, or “Larry Moran”, and hardly more than I do about people like “cuttlefish”, “MAJeff”, or “Kseniya”. I don’t really know that the first set of names aren’t in fact pseudonyms, and I don’t see how knowing that they aren’t tells me much more about the quality of their writing.

  34. #34 True Bob
    April 19, 2008

    Hey college profs, how you like this:

    “Is this is going to be on the test?”

    MWUUAAHH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH!

  35. #35 Brian English
    April 19, 2008

    Am I using a pseudonym? Russell Blackford may not answer this question.

  36. #36 Q
    April 19, 2008

    I am Q,
    Q be me,
    I do not use names 1 through 3

    What I say,
    What’s said by me
    It means much more than who I be

    Sometime smart
    is what I say
    My name is not why it’s that way

    Occasionally
    I will speak dim
    But am not due ad hominim

    I am Q,
    Q am I,
    If you are Q, then it’s a lie

    (with deference to Cuttlefish, of course)

  37. #37 DrugMonkey
    April 19, 2008

    Geez, would that be “I heart DM” or “I club DM”, there PZ?

    Here’s the thing, before y’all go off all half cocked like Greg.

    The part about college professors as the Authority was written as a caution. One that in the immediately prior section was directed at people in my job category. Broadly speaking, a caution that we all should heed. Not at all a description of everyone.

    If all the professors that I’ve had the benefit of being around were Authority types, I wouldn’t have learned much and sure as hell wouldn’t have traipsed off to grad school wanting to be one!

    This is not to say that professors who manage to avoid overly heavy Authority in the classroom aren’t subject to the expertise-slide that was my second point and I think a main point of the bayblabbers. Also not to say that some professors do not manage to avoid this occupational hazard.

    Bottom line here, if the shoe doesn’t fit, why are you getting so ticked? Are you asserting that this is not an occupational hazard? That you’ve never met any professionals that may be a little bit down the road on “respect my authoritah!”?

  38. #38 Ichthyic
    April 19, 2008

    and I don’t see how knowing that they aren’t tells me much more about the quality of their writing.

    indeed, another point of using a pseudonym is to call attention to the information in the post itself, rather than who it was that posted it.

    it’s a basic argument against authoritarianism.

  39. #39 Peregrine
    April 19, 2008

    OT, but whats the story on this story? Seems like more extremely solid and obvious evidence of evolution in action to me:
    http://www.wildbiology.com/research/Lizards_Undergo_Rapid_Evolution_After_Introduction_To_A_New_Home.asp

    How can that not be treading into the territory of “macro-evolution?” A small but complicated change such as those lizards have evolved can take place in just 36 years? It seems to me a much bigger change than just a slightly evolved virus: a whole new structure in the gut? Evolution critics, please tell me, when does a never ending series of such evolved new structures NOT become “macroevolution??!”

  40. #40 Ichthyic
    April 19, 2008

    Bottom line here, if the shoe doesn’t fit, why are you getting so ticked?

    because your warning is misdirected at a profession, instead of at people in general.

    Authoritarianism is not an inherent danger in being a professor, isolated from any other profession. A reliance on authority is a character flaw many humans carry onwards from their own childhoods. Whether student or teacher, engineer or poet, gardener or president.

  41. #41 Jennie
    April 19, 2008

    I would be very surprised if any of my students saw me as an authority figure!
    I do find, like Zeno, that some students want to be told ‘the right answer’, rather than being encouraged to think for themselves. Indeed, a large part of my job as a teacher is to change that attitude. In my Applied Ethics classes, I make a point of not revealing my personal views, so as not to unduly influence them. Some students always complain about this, because they’re convinced they’ll get marked down if they write essays that disagree with my views. I tell them that I take great delight in giving high marks to students whose views I disagree with, when said views are based on a solid understanding of the material and are backed up with coherent arguments.
    Of course, there are some things that are just incorrect (fallacious arguments, for example). But if I had to appeal to my authority to convince them of that, I would be a pretty lousy teacher.

  42. #42 Mrs Tilton
    April 19, 2008

    Well, given that my own Christian name actually is “Mrs” and my surname “Tilton”, this is all very theoretical for me. But I would just like to say that I think anybody who has PZ as an undergraduate teacher is very lucky.

    And nobody more so that the hypothetical young creationist he mentions. We all know what PZ the Atheist Blogger thinks of such views; but I think PZ the Biology Teacher would see that role as imposing very different responsibilities.

    Even if the creationist remains, on the whole, a bible-basher, if PZ manages to jumpstart his brain enough to get him thinking that believing something is true isn’t worth very much without thinking very carefully about WHY you believe it true, well, then PZ will have fulfilled his role as a teacher. And there are very few roles as honourable.

  43. #43 efrique
    April 19, 2008

    I’m someone who believes in owning their opinions; I would prefer to be able to use my own real name, to be honest, but circumstances I won’t harp on about here forced me to adopt a pseudonym last year.

    I don’t believe in fully anonymous commenting. In general, I think if you can’t at least post from a consistent pseudonym, you probably don’t have a good reason to post. I can think of a couple of potential exceptions, but they’d be fairly rare.

  44. #44 PZ Myers
    April 19, 2008

    Yeah, right. Hypothetical caution, my ass. That was a direct slam at everyone who teaches “at a small college in the middle of nowhere”, people like yours truly. And while it is certainly true that some people may teach like pompous jerkwads, that is not true of any of my colleagues.

    So yes, I take it as an insult to everyone in my profession, since it is clearly written that way.

  45. #45 Mrs Tilton
    April 19, 2008

    Well, given that my own Christian name actually is “Mrs” and my surname “Tilton”, this is all very theoretical for me. But I would just like to say that I think anybody who has PZ as an undergraduate teacher is very lucky.

    And nobody more so that the hypothetical young creationist he mentions. We all know what PZ the Atheist Blogger thinks of such views; but I think PZ the Biology Teacher would see that role as imposing very different responsibilities.

    Even if the creationist remains, on the whole, a bible-basher, if PZ manages to jumpstart his brain enough to get him thinking that believing something is true isn’t worth very much without thinking very carefully about WHY you believe it true, well, then PZ will have fulfilled his role as a teacher. And there are very few roles as honourable.

  46. #46 Nix
    April 19, 2008

    I was assured with complete seriousness by one economics prof once that pseudonymity would lead to economic collapse.

    I asked what a corporation name was, if not a pseudonym for a group of people?

    No response…

    (N., with seventeen-year-old consistent pseudonym: why anyone would think that a name I’ve used for my entire adult life doesn’t have reputational concerns as strong as those associated with my legal name, I have *no* idea)

  47. #47 inkadu
    April 19, 2008

    Ah, pseudonymity.

    I remember back in the day when I had an actual character to go with my pseudonym, complete with a cockney accent. Fun, but ridiculous.

    A few points:
    1. I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I sure don’t relish my atheist bomb-throwing comments being perusable by a quick google search.

    2. If my name was Tom Smith, I could use my real name and not have to worry about point one. But, unfortunately, I have a rare last name, so I can’t claim to not be the atheist bomb-thrower.

    3. What makes people think two common names next to each other is NOT a pseudonym? I could just as easily have chosen “Jeffrey Thomas” or “Marc Abel” as “inkadu.” Just because it sounds like a real name doesn’t mean it is. Christ, if I was REALLY lazy, I would go by “Greg N. Laden,” which would be even MORE convincing.

    4. (((billy))) – damn, now I wish I’d chosen “(((triplenested)))” instead of “inkadu.”

    On the professor thing — DM, yer holding a grudge and picking a fight. I’m sorry that a professor was a dick to you — I think it’s happened to everybody. But professors are just people, like everyone else; meanwhile, assholes are everywhere. Maybe you feel an extra ounce of betrayal because you put so much stock by them. That is probably unwise.

  48. #48 (((inkadu)))
    April 19, 2008

    Nix:

    I asked what a corporation name was, if not a pseudonym for a group of people?

    Wow. Best (and only) post unifying two disparate blog topics. Is there an interwebs award for that? Congratulations.

  49. #49 mikecbraun
    April 19, 2008

    I’ve been posting as mike instead of my usual mikecbraun that I use over at richarddawkins.net, but that’s just out of laziness and mild paranoia. We know how nutty the people in positions of power can be when one insults religion, superstition and tradition, but what the hey. From now on, let me be known as mikecbraun! Don’t hunt me down, please.

  50. #50 Rebecca Harbison
    April 19, 2008

    Psuedonymity also helps me in things. For instance, I keep a professional presence online, since I’m a grad student, and I want my students, and present/future collaborators, to be able to find me. On the other hand, I’d rather they not find some of my artwork and my blog posts on Japanese animation, so I post those under a pseudonym. One I’ve had since I was a minor (and forbidden from using my real full name online by my parents). I separated these when I applied for grad school and a professor mentioned that he had found my personal website. On the other hand, I do keep both consistently in use — sometimes in shortened form. I want to have a clear persona, even if I’m not using my given name.

    (That being said, there are a few places where my two personas mesh — one gallery I post my artwork at requires use of a real family name. I also use my given name on email lists, so my constructed language hobby goes under that name, since I do most of that discussion over lists. With work, it’s possible for someone with one name to find the other.)

  51. #51 armillary
    April 19, 2008

    Finding your prof to be in error is a badge of honour in any education system worth its salt. I’m afraid I only managed that one in high school, since we had very good profs at the university, but it still warms my heart, 15 years later…

  52. #52 Nix
    April 19, 2008

    31: He wÒÓ?’s, he scores!

  53. #53 Vagrant
    April 19, 2008

    There are certain fields of study where a healthy percentage of professors expect to be treated as absolute authorities. Political science has a major problem with this.

    If a polisci professor expresses a preference to a specific theoretical perspective on how the world works, students are expected to treat it as gospel for the purposes of the course. Students who don’t learn this skill won’t be graded highly enough to move beyond undergrad level.

    It’s also not unheard of for ideological compatibility to be used as a litmus test for admissions purposes. Members of the reality based community aren’t all that welcome in many places that teach international relations/foreign policy.

  54. #54 Heather
    April 19, 2008

    I tell my students fairly frequently that I don’t know the answer. They are usually dumbfounded that their French teacher does not know every single word in the French language. Well, I don’t know every single word in the English language, either. But I do know how to find out what a word is, and I know how to properly use a French-English dictionary to determine that I have the right word. I also know the rules of grammar, pronunciation and syntax that will allow me to use that word properly. Honestly, is their any reason why a high school French teacher should know how to say “handcuffs” or “wooly mammoth” off the top of their head? I’ve not been arrested in any language, and I’ve never needed to discuss wooly mammoths with a Frenchman. Now that I know these words are for some reason important to my students, I’ve looked them up. Does it make me more authoritative that I now have this information?

  55. #55 Falyne
    April 19, 2008

    Just to chime in from the other side, however… There’s a couple different kinds of having students think for themselves, and I’ve had professors conflate them. The first and desired one is for students to be forced to think their way through the problem rather than to simply be given the answer. Students will still complain about this, especially if they don’t particularly care (ie, I’m in a Graphics elective to complete my CS major, and… yeah. Never gonna do a damn thing with graphics ever, and I’d rather just get outta here.), but it’s overall a good technique.

    HOWEVER, it is possible for students to approach the professor with questions, not because the student is being lazy about solving the problem, but because the student has no bloody idea what you’re asking. I had a Int’l Relations seminar class (my OTHER major) where the prof made a lot of vague and confusing notes on a paper draft that I had *no idea* how to interpret. I emailed him about my desire to meet with him, and apparently a number of other students did as well, and he responded by telling the entire class that he would not “hold our hands” and there was no point in us meeting until we’d followed his instructions. Which we didn’t understand.

    There’s also a need for feedback. To use Graphics again (I’ve got a prof who’s brand new… smart guy, shows promise, but very very green and idealistic), we had a lab earlier this semester where he would sign off after each pair had answered a question to his satisfaction. Now, the fact that this lab structure had him running around visiting about 15 pairs contributed to the frustration of this lab, but so did the fact that he provided *no guidance* as to what was wrong with our train of reasoning. The last question in particular took about 45 minutes of us saying things very very close to the right answer before he finally corrected a minor quibble with our phrasing and let us get the #$@##!% out of there.

    In the end, yes, teaching is more about guidance than it is about instruction. The problem is, I’ve had professors use the “think for yourself” principle to avoid providing guidance, which is very very frustrating. Just my student-y two cents.

  56. #56 Falyne
    April 19, 2008

    Oh, and I definitely don’t mean to imply that all professors, or even most, make that mistake. But I can see how it’s an easy conflation to make, too. I’m lazy, many of my fellow students are lazy, and it’s a fine line between “eh, don’t get it at first glance, don’t feel like putting any effort forth, just tell me already” and “what on earth are you asking me to do?” or “what was wrong with what I just said??”. But from the student perspective, it’s an important line.

  57. #57 longstreet63
    April 19, 2008

    “now on, let me be known as mikecbraun! ”

    No! Not Mike_C_Braun! My world is shattered! To think that all this time, I admired, unknowing, and now I find you’re…one of THEM!

    Just kidding. Never heard of you.

    I seem to confuse some people because I post using both my pseudonym ‘Longstreet63″ and my name, Steve “Insert Quotes Here” James. That’s my real name, so feel free to Google it and figure out which one I am.

    Steve “Glutton For Identity” James

  58. #58 ekzept
    April 19, 2008

    Drugmonkey’s comment about professordom is lossage. i fear, however, that it’s an expression Western (yes, Europe, too) malaise regarding scholarship and scientific scholarship in particular. i think it’s a fancy way of saying you professor dudes aren’t that special and you don’t know so much, something with which i disagree. although the Internet and Web are wonderful, IMO just like computers and software have become commodities, as a result, the popular view is that knowledge is a commodity, too. we can always just look it up, they say, if it really matters. meanwhile, people don’t and can’t know what is good or bad about a secondary school, or a course. they get their opinions from the wingnuts, people who blame all education’s ills on teacher unions.

    i see this a lot, even in engineering and computer science. i see relatively recent college grads who no longer remember (or never knew?) how to fit a line to a set of points. it doesn’t seem important to them. they seem to always think they just need to find a box of software to do it.

    it’s a kind of mindset of rating things by whether or not they are extremely applicable. while there are uses for science, i think the best science is done while not giving a damn about whether it is practically useful or not. that’s hard to get people to buy these days.

  59. #59 ice9
    April 19, 2008

    I’m a high school teacher, but of the highest-achieving kids in a high-achieving school. They are extremely wary of know-it-all teachers, and with good reason because your average high school know-it-all teacher doesn’t know nearly as much as the top echelon of kids they see every day…you have to tread lightly, especially if you veer outside of your strict curriculum area, because they’ll tamp you down but good. On the other hand a secondary teacher is far more likely to find the obedient stenographer approach in play, even in demanding courses. I feel it’s my duty to train them out of that, and it’s tough sledding sometimes. So half my students want dictation/multiple choice, and half want subjective coolness layered with yogi-like wisdom. Makes for an interesting class.

    And as for pseudonyms, nothing beats “Mr. Teacher.” They know me all the way across the parking lot in a snowstorm when I’m wearing my cardigan and Rockports, but catch me coming out of the liquor store in cutoffs and a Bon Jovi T-shirt and they look right through me.

    ice

  60. #60 Planet Killer
    April 19, 2008

    PZ teaches hate for religious people like the Klan does against Black people.

    What is the difference?

    A redneck is still a redneck. Professor or not!

  61. #61 PhysioProf
    April 19, 2008

    In relation not to the mentoring of research trainees, I emphatically demand that my trainees let me know when they think I am full of shit. I make it very clear that this is an affirmative responsibility that they are expected to fulfill as members in good standing of my laboratory. This is particularly important in the context of my understanding of their experimental results.

  62. #62 PhysioProf
    April 19, 2008

    Oh, crap. Strike “not” in the first sentence.

  63. #63 Bee
    April 19, 2008

    “Remember, this character is a false persona, created for the purpose of making a certain impact in the blogosphere, not a human being that I can deal with on any level other than as that very persona.”

    The very first time I went online to express an opinion using my own name, some angry misogynist waste of oxygen tracked me down and phoned me up to engage in some direct criminal threatening behaviour. This is a hazard of living in a rural area and having an unusual name, you are easy to find.

    People have various reasons for using a nickname – fear and loathing happen to be mine, whatever nefarious purpose Greg Laden thinks I may have. I use the same name wherever it isn’t already in use. I’m not striving mightily to make ‘a certain impact on the blogosphere’, for sure.

    My experience with professors has been about the same as it has been with other professionals. Some are really good at their jobs, others, not so much. Most of the profs I’ve known spend a lot of time being anxious about whether they are doing a good enough job, because they are sincere people and really want to teach their field. Same range of personalities as the rest of humanity, same range of enthusiasm to burnout, same range of egotistical to self effacing.

    I’d love to have had PZed as a professor – he has a very clear way with words when explaining some interesting process, he appears to be honest and very forthright. I hope his students appreciate him.

  64. #64 Rayzilla
    April 19, 2008

    Planet Killer:
    HERE IS THE ATTENTION YOU SO DESPERATELY SEEK! LOOK, I’M PAYING ATTENTION TO YOU!

  65. #65 Vagrant
    April 19, 2008

    ekzept:

    i see this a lot, even in engineering and computer science. i see relatively recent college grads who no longer remember (or never knew?) how to fit a line to a set of points. it doesn’t seem important to them.

    I hear the kids of today don’t use slide rules anymore and even talk back to their elders on these new-fangled computer tube thingamajigs. It’s sacrilege, I tell you. The world is going to hell in a hand basket–in my day we’d do all this work by hand with sharp pencils and no erasers.

    Times change and technology advances. There’s no good reason to do statistics or complex math by hand anymore.

  66. #66 Ichthyic
    April 19, 2008

    PZ teaches hate for religious people like the Klan does against Black people.

    In the immortal (paraphrased) words of ObeeWan:

    “You have done that yourselves.”

    Why you gotta be a hater, projecting all your hate onto those who are trying to dispel your delusions?

    All PZ is doing is holding up a mirror.

  67. Many of my best moments as a professor are seeing our students go on to do really cool things after leaving here – things I can’t or haven’t done myself. A real highlight was having one of the students I did research with when they were an undergraduate at UMM lower my Erdos number after graduating from UMM, through their research in grad school.

    I’m sure I have my moments of ego (sadly, we all do — academics or not), but in general my working assumption is that the students will go on to do cool things, and often things that I don’t/can’t do myself. That doesn’t really work if I spend my days lording my amazingness over them.

  68. #68 Patricia C.
    April 19, 2008

    PK, Be a good christian. Say you’re sorry, go look up Proverbs 26:11. Then go to confession.

  69. #69 decrepitoldfool
    April 19, 2008

    Having grown up in a faculty family, gone to a small college in the middle of nowhere, and working at a state university I have known a hell of a lot of professors. Based on that sample, authoritarian jerk-ism among professors is very rare.

    But a common complaint among professors is that some students dislike to be forced to think. Others thrive on it.

  70. #70 Falyne
    April 19, 2008

    Patrician, Be a good greek pagan. Say you’re sorry, go consult an oracle. Then go burn a sacrifice.

  71. #71 ekzept
    April 19, 2008

    Times change and technology advances. There’s no good reason to do statistics or complex math by hand anymore.

    sorry if i suggested or implied fitting of lines should be done by hand. my point was they don’t know how to write a computer program to do it, either. i don’t suppose people should know how to program up a cutting edge eigendecomposition routine, but affine least squares?

  72. #72 The Science Pundit
    April 19, 2008

    I always comment using my handle of The Science Pundit. Before that, I used to comment on your blog as CousinoMacul (still my YouTube name). It’s a pseudonym, but if you go to my blog, you’ll see that my name is Javier Pazos FCD. (In fact {or in point of trivia}, I was anonymous until I decided to join the Friends of Charles Darwin, which is when I made my real name public. And I have PZ and Bora to thank for that.

  73. #73 Zachary B.
    April 19, 2008

    That settles it, we should get rid of all the teaching college professors! Wouldn’t want to risk anyone’s power getting to their head would we?

    /sarc

  74. #74 Patricia C.
    April 19, 2008

    OK, I’m sorry. I’ll consult with Eris. And I’ll burn the Julbock. (I’m by DNA a Norse pagan) *you can play too*

  75. #75 bill r
    April 19, 2008

    It really depends on the subject, school, and professors. Most students quickly learn which professors want toadies and which like a questioning student, in both undergraduate and grad school. In my case, certain policy related courses in grad school did not tolerate deviation while the math/science courses were wide open. My daughter was just downgraded told to rewrite a paper (in communications) because she didn’t toe the political line.

    And my name is a simple abbreviation of my full name.

  76. #76 Russell Blackford
    April 19, 2008

    I edit Wikipedia as “Metamagician3000″ and sometimes use variations of that when forced to by the way some sites work. I’ve been known to use pseudonyms in the past, but these days I have a policy of always writing under my own name if I easily can.

    That does restrict me slightly. I am less inclined to make irresponsible, knee-jerk statements that I don’t really believe but which feel good at the time. I’m less inclined to fling around obscenities. I’m less inclined to express my more outrageous views without due argument and qualification. But I think that being open about my identity, and having some continuity between my formal publications and my everyday online presence, is worth those inconveniences.

    However, I’m in a position where I may be less vulnerable than most. Yes, I don’t want to make a fool of myself or seem nuttily inconsistent or offend people unnecessarily. On the other hand, I’m reasonably secure financially, and if absolutely necessary I can say “screw you” to anyone who doesn’t like me. I’m not beholden to people in other ways, at least not to a great extent. I probably have less reason to be fearful than 99 per cent of the population. If I were in a full-time job (back in a law firm, for example), rather than being a part-time philosophy teacher and a struggling freelance writer, I’d (a) have much less time to maintain an online presence, and (b) feel the need to use a pseudonym whenever I ventured into a forum like this.

    As for the bit about authoritarian university academics, well … there are people like that everywhere but my experience is that academics are usually far less like that than most.

    Of course, if you’re teaching any subject that demands a the mastery of a knowledge base and the understanding of difficult concepts (and don’t they all?), students need to obtain the basic knowledge and the conceptual understanding. But in a subject like philosophy, you’d be a lousy teacher if you weren’t open to students then applying their knowledge and understanding in a very wide range of ways. Even in law, there’s a lot of room for debate – in fact that’s what lawyers notoriously thrive on – but of course, a student who can’t identify the ratio of an important case in a way that’s at least reasonably arguable is going to be in a lot of difficulty. To acknowledge that is not authoritarianism.

  77. #77 poke
    April 19, 2008

    Pseudonyms are a mainstay of online conversation. I don’t use my real name because it would feel weird; like wearing a tie when I go swimming. That’s something I almost never do. Where did all these “I don’t trust anyone who posts under a pseudonym” people pop up from anyway? If I go to a blog that says not to post under a pseudonym my first thought is that the author just got a computer for Christmas and is new to the whole “online” thing. Is there anything that marks someone out as being less clued in?

  78. #78 Skemono
    April 19, 2008

    Quote-mining ahoy!

    If your name is Tom Smith … I’ve never heard of you before ….

    What? You’ve never heard of Tom Smith!? For shame, PZ!

  79. #79 Pale Rider
    April 19, 2008

    Every time you hear a story about warrantless wiretaps, the FBI abusing National Security Letters, and the prevalent scouring of blogs by people at any of a number of Federal Agencies, well, no one assumes that they’re “anonymous” online, but it sure does give you pause.

    Perhaps when we have our basic Constitutional rights restored one day there will be a massive unmasking of so many “anonymous” people who comment in various places around the Internet.

    Til then, all bets are off.

  80. #80 falterer
    April 19, 2008

    What about Anonymous, the Scientology critics who require anonymity to protect their individual identities from savage cruelty of Scientology smear campaigns? Ironically, Scientology is now attempting to smear “Anonymous” itself as some sort of global terrorist religious hate group! Because “Fair Game” and Operation Freakout-like tactics are failing them on this one, Scientology is resorting to smearing anonymity itself. What a silly, evil organization.

  81. #81 Becca
    April 19, 2008

    1) To me, DrugMonkey’s post reads like a caution, not like a condemnation. But then, it’s not me he’s attacking.
    2) The allure of relying on authority is certainly not unique to teaching.
    3) What is unique to a profession, is the attitude scientists are supposed to have about universally accessible reality (e.g., reproducibility). For this reason, it especially pisses some scientists off when others get lazy and ride on authority.
    4) Frankly PZ, I hate to break it to you, but some of your comments in the past- specifically about academic freedom- have come off very much as sounding like “I am the professor, what I have to say is valuble and worthy of protection [tenure]. What students have to say is *not* valuble, or at least not worthy of protection.”
    That perspective (which may not be how you feel, but is how you came off) is actually semi-resaonable. But it makes it particularly important that you keep up the admirable attitude you described- you are successful when proven wrong by your students. If you truly feel that way, and act in acordance with that, BULLY for you! If you never get upset in the process of being proven wrong, I think you are some kind of super-human.

  82. #82 mothra
    April 19, 2008

    Except for a few very early posts here two years ago, I have always and consistantly used the moniker ‘mothra.’ If one were truely desperate to hunt me down, it could be done through the hints given. However, in all written correspondence or, in correspondence directly with fundies over the internet, I ALWAYS use my real name as I want the trail, paper or electronic, to be clear in case I happen to cross the path of a true psychotic.

    On teaching: my goal as an instructor is to somehow (teach/ inspire/ influence) a student to be a better instructor or researcher than myself. One of the greatest joys of teaching is getting questions that cause me to think about a subject from a different perspective, or being forced to figure out ‘where the student is coming from’ so as to answer a question in a way that will be most beneficial to the questioner.

    There are a few college instructors (general term to include assistant, associate and full professors) who do in fact fit Drug Monkey’s description- they are a rare and endangered specie. :) I have NEVER met, either as a student or now as a collection manager/ curator/ instructor, a fellow collegian who both fits Drug Monkey’s descripton AND is an outstanding researcher/ instructor and a real authority. PZ has a right to feel insulted.

    Thanks Ichthyic #65, you saved me from noting that all of PK’s comments here have been stupifyingly foolish. . .oops.

  83. #83 Russell Blackford
    April 19, 2008

    Sorry, poke, but I think you have it backwards. If anything, it’s the use of pseudonyms online by people who don’t need them that’s a kind of 1990s thing. I think more and more people who feel they don’t really need the protection of a pseudonym are now using their real identities. But of course, many people do need that protection for one reason or another. As I said, I would myself if I worked in a job where I felt the need to appear respectable to the corporate world – such as if I were a solicitor or partner in a law firm.

  84. #84 Tapetum
    April 19, 2008

    Heh – I comment on-line using three different names. One is even my “real” name. Mind you googling my legal name will bring up many links to a Playmate of the Year (who is not me), but nothing about me. Googling my pseudonyms will net you much more information about me.

    I don’t ever comment in the same place under two different names. Instead I use them to separate out different aspects of my on-line life. I post articles under my legal name, since they are part of my resume. I post political commentary under Tapetum and have for several years now – basically anything controversial I want to say goes under this pseudonym. My third name is the name I blog under. It’s the on-line name my family knows, where I post personal stuff and connect with other bloggers who know me IRL. Me, but blander, basically, whereas Tapetum is me, but more outspoken.

    Ironically, the stuff I post under my legal name is the stuff that bears the least resemblance to my actual personality.

  85. #85 magetoo
    April 19, 2008

    Pseudonyms is a kind of 1990s thing? Perhaps, but if you’ve been online since the 1990s, then your pseudonym is where you’ve invested all your cred, so to speak. Switching to using a real name is effectively the same as adopting a pseudonym for a “normal” person.

    And then there’s the whole “Tom Smith” issue too, for some of us at least.

  86. #86 magetoo
    April 20, 2008

    One of the most popular websites in Japan, 2ch, actually encourages anonymous posting. The idea is that comments and contributions should be judged on their content, not who posts it. I don’t know how that worked out, but …

    It seems to have worked out pretty well. Certainly the signal-to-noise ratio can be pretty low at times, but “serious” posters learn to deal with that pretty quickly. It’s not a coincidence that 2ch has been called the center of the Internet in Japan. It has even made prominent appearances in TV and movies.

    Transplanting it to the west seems to have brought out the worst in people, though. Perhaps people act differently when anonymity is the norm, instead of the exception. Then again, 4chan is special, and differs from 2ch in many ways. (And it’s not a clone of 2ch, it is more related to Futaba Channel, 2chan.)

  87. #87 BaldApe
    April 20, 2008

    Does anyone really know who any one else really is?

    …and does anybody really know what time it is?

    And what the devil does “25 or 6 to 4″ mean?

    I started using a pseudonym when I realized that some of my beer-induced rants might show up when a potential employer searches on my name. OTOH, my real name is hardly well known, so if I comment on a few blogs regularly, my pseudonym may give readers a better idea where I’m coming from.

    On kids not wanting to think, they start early. Kids learn very early that they can sit there and act dumb, and somebody will give them the answer.

    I wish some of my students would seriously (that is to say, respectfully and intelligently) challenge what I say in class. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a real discussion based on the evidence and our interpretations, rather than “This is what you need to know for the High School Assessment.”

  88. #88 Greg Laden
    April 20, 2008

    What is rather funny and possibly a bit disturbing is this: When I read through these comments, and similar comments on other blog posts, I see occasional mention of how Greg Laden is against pseudonymous blogging and commenting. Yet, not only am I not opposed to this at all, I’ve written two or three recent posts explicitly stating that I am not.

    At the same time, some pseudonymous sympathizers are insisting that being anonymous allows the reader to focus on the content of a bit of writing and not on the authority or lack thereof of the writer.

    Does anyone else see why this is ironic? Did MTV destroy so many people’s ability to read and comprehend?

  89. #89 Greg Laden
    April 20, 2008

    PZ:So yes, I take it as an insult to everyone in my profession, since it is clearly written that way.

    Yes, clearly that is the case. But now the DrugMonkey Two Step will come into play. Watch for it.

  90. #90 Ichthyic
    April 20, 2008

    Did MTV destroy so many people’s ability to read and comprehend?

    yes, yes it did.

    move along.

  91. #91 Crudely Wrott
    April 20, 2008

    I choose to comment under a pseudonym mostly for common reasons. Doing so provides a buffer against being hassled in “real” life and it keeps my email from being flooded by flamers. An additional reason is that I really do want my on line persona to be slightly removed from my day to day one. Why? Because I do. That’s why.

    When I comment here I realize that I am in the company of people who are much more knowledgeable than I am with regards to most of the topics discussed here, their having benefited from a full course of education. I have a high school diploma and a single semester of college. Not much to brag about, I know. But I think that I have put it to good use.

    I gained my education in fits and starts, often having to stop in mid-stride to attend to other demands. Through my own studies and experiences I feel that my knowledge base is broad but many of you put that idea in a more realistic perspective. I learn a lot here and am grateful for that. And if I come off as a fool, well, at least only you and I know. This spares me from embarrassing questions from bosses and family. A camouflage of sorts, but not for hiding. More like a rain coat, or galoshes.

    My chosen name is meant to indicate not my educational level or my personality, rather it denotes how I have come to be what I am and how I came to be here. I’m perfectly comfortable being pseudo-anonymous while hoping that I will enjoy some appreciation and approval. If I had anything to hide I would probably use a name picked at random from the phone book. I’m not that kind of guy.

    I also thoroughly enjoy playing a part that I don’t have much opportunity to enjoy in my workaday life. Plus it puts me in good company. I also like to try to picture the faces of regular commentators based upon heir commenting tone and their chosen screen names. I’ll bet a lot of others do the same.

    I know I’m taking a terrible risk that someone will use this to track down my real name and try to sell me something but for what it’s worth, my father was named Tom Smith. Thomas Watson Smith. Tom Cat. The Old Master. My middle name is Thomas. That’s all I’ll tell you. You’ll have to keel haul me for any more information!

  92. #92 magetoo
    April 20, 2008

    At the same time, some pseudonymous sympathizers are insisting that being anonymous allows the reader to focus on the content of a bit of writing and not on the authority or lack thereof of the writer.

    Does anyone else see why this is ironic?

    Not ironic at all. You choose to make your opinions known under a well-known name (or pseudonym), and people attach some existing prejudice to their interpretation of whatever it is you are saying. This is precisely why some people argue in favour of anonymity. (At least as used on anonymous textboards, which is my main point of reference.)
    But perhaps you have some specific comments in mind, and I’m missing something here.

  93. #93 Bride of Shrek
    April 20, 2008

    But my real name IS Bride of Shrek, my parents were a couple of comedians.

    Seriously I don’t post under my real name because I’m a solicitor in a well known law firm in my city and I have a very unusual and easily traceable surname.

    And its not my views that I’m worried about people knowing I hold, its the fact that I say “fuck” a lot and the partners would probably take a very dim view of one of their employees not acting in the same upright, tight-wadded, stick-up-the-arse manner that they do..

    And after that comment I’m going to have to stay anonymous for fucking ever.

  94. #94 DH
    April 20, 2008

    Oh, the limitations of the English language. I have just started reading this blog a few weeks ago, and have only made one or two comments, but already DH is just as real as David Hunt. As other commenters have noted, we are sometimes forced by circumstances into using a pseudonym, but that does not make it any less real than the name on my birth certificate. In fact, in some cases it is more true to the person behind it then their legal name. I would, in fact argue, that none of these various personas are “real”. Much as the Internet (or even the spoken word for that matter) is one of the greatest tools ever created, it is still limited to language, which is but a pale imitation of what we truly mean (the whole “I know the answer, but I can’t figure out how to put it to paper!” thing).

    And as a young university student, I can say that I have taken courses I thought i would hate, but ended up loving due to a prof who forced me to think, and taken similar course that were made terrible by the prof who marked me down because I thought they were wrong for x and y reasons (they never addressed x and y for the record, just said “But you fail to understand!”, damn postmodernist). I didn’t get a very good mark in that second class, but would rather walk away with my dignity than debase my capacity for rational thought so I could agree with the prof and get a better mark.

    Finally, why memorize pointless minutiae? I can look up the formula for regression on the off chance (thanks to computers) that I need to use it. Nor do I think that I COULD remember it correctly more than 5 minutes after the lesson without wasting a lot of time repeating it for the sake of dint memorization. More importantly is spending the limited time in the classroom UNDERSTANDING what it does, and what the result shows, including all the limitations. That is something that is far less easily looked up in reference material, and something far more important.

    Rimor incognitus – “Discover the unknown” (Feel free to correct my Latin, I translated it myself, so it’s probably wrong somehow)

  95. #95 Autumn
    April 20, 2008

    Okay, I chose the pseudonym “Autumn” because I just went with the idea that I had, based on everyone else on the web using false names, that I should do the same. I use this name online, or the extension “Autumn1971″ on all of the sites I visit. I see no reason not to use my actual name, as I am not in any way important outside of my local community. I certainly say the same things in public that I do online, even at my job.
    In the interest of full disclosure, my actual name (it is up to you to determine if I am lying or not, or why I would) is David Horrell.
    Google it.
    Nope.
    None of them is me.
    I had no idea that my name was so common.
    Now I’ll get notices from their lawyers that I need to shut the fuck up about my name.
    Life with modern tech is funny. Ha-Ha funny.

    Hot monkey sex to all,
    David Horrell

  96. #96 Peter Ashby
    April 20, 2008

    Well David I had a nice disconnect once a few years ago when I apparently got an email from myself. The other Peter Ashby had seen my handle in a usenet group.

    The real problem is that there is another Peter Ashby publishing BioMed papers. The other one seems to be a cardiologist. Once I realised this I started publishing as Peter R Ashby, but that excludes my earlier ouevre. Tricky thing using your own name on teh interwebnets.

  97. #97 True Bob
    April 20, 2008

    I started using “The One True Bob” at an atheist parenting/family forum. Ironically, I quit going there (someonenamedmywife found my input too close to home and too harsh). Now I’m too lazy to type the front part. Politically I used to go by Ill Do Chay, as another ironic handle – not being a fascist, you see.

    My college prof story is this:
    When I took differential equations the first time, the prof would work through a problem until he came to the Insanely Obscure Trigonometric Substitution. Then he would call on us ignorant students by name until someone got it right. The day he went through the entire class on one problem was the day I decided to drop. I withdrew failing. Next quarter I got a better (more communicative) prof. By drop day I was understanding the material with an A, and I coasted the second half, to a B. So sure, Prof A was smarter than us all, whoopdeshit.

  98. #98 gustav
    April 20, 2008

    The only sense in which college professors can be said to be “authoritarian” is in their frankly medieval relationship of overlord to their graduate students. This is a position of one-sided, unchecked power that is easily abused.

    Every person I’ve known who has gone through graduate school has had stories of their lives being continually messed with by arbitrary and sometimes inconsistent decisions made by their major professor–and that includes those who had good overall experiences!

    Many professors are diligent, hard-working and considerate as they train their students. But too often a student who is ignored, discriminated against or even physically or verbally abused has no recourse but to leave and abandon years of work.

  99. #99 woody, tokin librul
    April 20, 2008

    I will admit that when I was teaching in university I did ‘impose’ on my students. At least, I tried to do so.

    I imposed cosmopolitan awareness. I required them to become aware of both the overtly and subtly political nature of our enterprise (I taught first in journalism and later in teacher education programs). I imposed the duty to actually ‘think.’ I imposed books on them to read which they hated, and resisted, and often rejected. I required them to substantiate and contextualize their opinions and to reflect critically on their actions. I forbade them the use of ‘biblical’ or ‘scriptural’ “evidence.” One young man once asked me why he was required to read ‘all this commie shit’, to which i replied that he already knew about the ‘fascist’ shit, and needed to broaden his scope.

    I was both admired (I won a couple of teaching awards) and loathed (my student evaluations were always extremely diverse).

    Where I taught (LSU & U of Okla), the vast majority of my students were children of (in-state) parents wealthy enough to send their kids to any school their kids could get into.

    They stayed close to home…They–the undergrads–were attending LSU and/or OU primarily because it was (often, the only place) where they got accepted. They attended the University for two and only two reasons: 1) to have their prejudices ratified and validated at the expenditure of as little effort and thought as possible, and 2) to get their tickets stamped to board the express train to the middle-class.

  100. #100 SharonC
    April 20, 2008

    “I despise anonymous commenters. It’s pretty much a sure sign that anything the person is going to say is worthless noise if they aren’t willing to sign a name to it.”

    I appreciate that an awful lot of scumbags and airheads comment anonymously, but please can you remember that some of us want to contribute intelligently to the discussion, but have had enough of evil emails and really don’t want to open up the possibility that those who spew such vitriol can track us down in real life. Such emails aren’t necessarily sparked by anything as controversial as evolution, I get the impression that even something like being female can be an attractant for bile.

    If you’re happy posting under your real name and feel perfectly safe despite all the horrible emails you get, that’s great, I’m happy for you, but please show a little compassion towards those of us who are wary of being targets for hatred through no fault of our own.

  101. #101 True Bob
    April 20, 2008

    Nicely said, SharonC. Here in my area (on Mary Washington campus), some guy tracked down another he was arguing online with. Assault and battery charges shortly followed their encounter.

  102. #102 Dee
    April 20, 2008

    Back in the days when phonebooks held the same position as email does today, I learned the hard way that it was dangerous (in a physical security sort of way) to appear under my own name. Dealing with the inevitable obscene phone calls in the middle of the night was bad enough, but when some of these guys showed up drunk at my apartment trying to force their way in, I decided anonymous was a damn good idea. The experience was powerful enough that I’ve never had the slightest desire to change my opinion. I understand the effect being anonymous has on whatever I post, but better that than the possible alternative.

  103. #103 windy
    April 20, 2008

    #100: note that the original post makes a distinction between pseudonymous (like yourself) and anonymous commenters.

  104. #104 PatrickHenry
    April 20, 2008

    I’ve been posting on the internet with this screen name for about nine years. In retrospect, I should have chosen something unique. There are a few others using this name, but I don’t think any of them post on science-related boards.

    In my own blog I have an essay on my anonymity. Essentially the point is that my writing can be judged on its own merits by people who understand the issues. I’ve always found this to be true. Creationists will accept none of it, regardless of my identity. Indeed, creationists delight in challenging people like Darwin, and other internet nutballs love to claim that Einstein was an idiot. Credentials mean nothing to them. There are enough lunatics out there that anonymity seems very prudent.

  105. #105 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 20, 2008

    I use my real name because I’m lazy, because I lack the imagination required to come up with anything halfway interesting and/or funny, because interested people with a few hours on their hands could probably find out easily enough anyway, because I’m naïve, and because this way I can show off (…or at least explain, with credibility, what we were thinking when we submitted this paper, should this kind of question come up).

    Honestly, is their any reason why a high school French teacher should know how to say “handcuffs” or “wooly mammoth” off the top of their head?

    For “wooly mammoth”, yes, because it’s simple enough: mammouth laineux. :-)

    Well David I had a nice disconnect once a few years ago when I apparently got an email from myself.

    I’ve repeatedly got spam from my own spoofed address. That’s normal.

  106. #106 Nick Gotts
    April 20, 2008

    I use my real name because when I started taking part in online discussions, around 1994, it never occurred to me to do otherwise. I’ve had no reason to change this default decision (yet), and until I do, I feel more comfortable posting under my own name. If I lived in an area where expressing atheist and socialist views was likely to be physically hazardous, if I made a habit of discussing details of my private life, and perhaps if I were female, I’d use a pseudonym.

  107. #107 brokenSoldier
    April 20, 2008

    I realize the distinction PZ made between commenting anonymously and using a pseudonym, though it seems many may have misunderstood, because I see a lot of people vehemently defending their use of pseudonyms – and in some cases it looks like they have taken some offense at the statement – rather than simply discussing their reasons behind using one.

    As for why I choose to use a pseudonym, I am young enough to have grown up in the age of screen names when AOL was just becoming popular, so the use of a pseudonym was always just second nature to me. Plus, (and I can’t be certain who out there shares this situation, but I’m sure some do) for the the better part of the decade prior to this January when I was medically retired, I was a combat arms officer on the Army. While the Army in no way prevents anyone from HAVING a political opinion, per se, OPENLY EXPRESSING your political opinions under your true name is not only a bad idea as a military officer, it is – in some cases – against the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and being retired only relaxes that restriction slightly because my name and rank (even though retired) are still followed by “U.S. Army” in my signature block.

  108. #108 Greg Laden
    April 20, 2008

    brokenSoldier: That is an interesting point. We could also discuss the question: Why do people use a first name and a last name, instead of a baptismal name followed by the name of their village, like we did in the old days!

    I once asked a student why he was a vegetarian. I can’t remember why I asked him … my research at the time involved meat vs. veggies in human evolution, so we were probably discussing this … and he said “I don’t know. My whole family is, this is just how I was raised.” … in other words, this was simply part of his received culture.

  109. #109 khan
    April 20, 2008

    If you include Yahoo and usenet I’ve 7 or 8 pseudonyms. I’d go to register on a new forum and my old one would be already in use. (I’ve been at this internet stuff for more than 10 years; I can tell how long I’ve been visiting certain sites by which pseudonym I use.)

    I only post with one name at any given forum; at scienceblogs, I am always Khan.

    I’m not anybody you’re likely to have heard of, and I’m retired; but it only takes being threatened once to make anonymity sound like a good idea.

  110. #110 brokenSoldier
    April 20, 2008

    Posted by: Greg Laden | April 20, 2008 1:43 PM

    We could also discuss the question: Why do people use a first name and a last name, instead of a baptismal name followed by the name of their village, like we did in the old days!

    Interestingly enough, when I was over In Iraq I found that this is the exact way a lot of the families in the area I was in named their children. And, though I don’t know if it is a widespread cultural custom to do this or not, it was often the eldest uncle of the child that chose his or her name.

    … and he said “I don’t know. My whole family is, this is just how I was raised.” … in other words, this was simply part of his received culture.

    After going back and looking at my post on why I use a pseudonym, I realized this exactly explains my own reason for doing so – it was just the thing you did when you signed on. It’s those damn social patterns, at it again…

  111. #111 Tlowe
    April 20, 2008

    I’m in the ‘aspiring to be a prof’ phase as well & luckily haven’t had many courses with an authoritarian-type professor (until Biochem this semester, I had respected all my professors). I’ve realized that the single worst thing a professor can do is bullshit his way through a student’s question. I have the utmost respect for professors who will admit ‘I don’t know’, ‘I’m not an expert on that’ when posed with a question they don’t know the answer on. I’m fine with ‘intelligent guesses’ when they preface the response saying it’s just a guess.

    When I realize that a professor never admits he doesn’t know the answer, I immediately distrust everything he’s lectured about. The thing I love about science is that we don’t know everything–that’s what inspires me.

  112. #112 Blake Stacey
    April 20, 2008

    falterer (#80):

    What about Anonymous, the Scientology critics who require anonymity to protect their individual identities from savage cruelty of Scientology smear campaigns? Ironically, Scientology is now attempting to smear “Anonymous” itself as some sort of global terrorist religious hate group! Because “Fair Game” and Operation Freakout-like tactics are failing them on this one, Scientology is resorting to smearing anonymity itself. What a silly, evil organization.

    The situation is even weirder than that. As my pseudonymous friend Joshua recently wrote,

    [H]ere’s the thing about Anonymous.

    Anonymous is a joke. It doesn’t exist.

    4chan.org has a section called /b/ where people can post anonymous, without any tracking of IPs or anything to identify them. Needless to say, /b/ often proves the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, i.e. “Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad”. The forum itself is often referred to as “Anonymous”, so whenever someone posts about something stupid they did there, people who don’t know about /b/ assume that “Anonymous” is some kind of alias. This happened often enough that it’s become a running joke on /b/. Sort of their version of Keyzer Soze, except that Anonymous actually doesn’t exist.

    The group opposing Scientology arose out of that because some of the aforementioned fuckwads on /b/ decided to do the usual script-kiddie thing and crash some Scientology webservers. Scientology declared war on Anonymous, which everybody who knew anything about /b/ thought was hilarious because Anonymous doesn’t exist.

    And basically what happened from there was that people started joking about actually creating an anti-Scientologist group called Anonymous in response. That’s where the first Anonymous vs. Scientology video came from. It turns out, the joke was funny enough that the idea caught on. So when Wise Beard Man [the journalist Mark Bunker] encouraged Anonymous to harness their power for good, some people laughed about it… but others listened and realised that they actually had thousands of people unified around what amounted to a damned good joke.

    Those people, inspired by Wise Beard Man, came up with the idea of organising world-wide protests against Scientology. And not only that, they’d do it under the banner of Anonymous. Because, damn. If Scientology’s vow to destroy Anonymous — which doesn’t actually exist, remember — actually created Anonymous, well, shit, that’s the meta-joke to end all meta-jokes. Epic Lulz were to be had.

    And so the protests happened. And people came out because it was a funny joke. And people came out because they really believed in the cause. The latter types somehow ended up outnumbering the former, although the former still do exist and even the latter like to have fun rather than being all This Are Serious Protest.

    Many people have compared Anonymous to the “Stand Alone Complex” of the Ghost in the Shell cartoons for this reason. Copies without an original. . . .

  113. #113 Neil Schipper
    April 20, 2008

    I’ll see your

    Mark Twain, … George Eliot, Dr. Seuss, George Orwell, Saki, Hergé, John le Carre, Lewis Carroll, Molière, O. Henry, Pablo Neruda, and Voltaire

    and raise you: Sam Harris, P.Z. Myers, Thom Jefferson, Thom Paine, Abe Lincoln, Clarence Darrow, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, the people on your local school board and your city council, certain journalists and editors in Azerbaijan or Sudan …

  114. #114 Nick Gotts
    April 20, 2008

    I value very much the opportunity to, for instance, call the Pope a fucking asshole on a blog – and I regard anonymity as a welcome mask that makes it easier to say that. – CalGeorge

    The Pope is indeed a fucking arsehole. (Excuse my Britishing the word).

    Not my normal style – I generally prefer specificity over obscenity for insults, so I’d be more inclined to call him a bigot, hypocrite, liar, mass-killer, and head of the world’s largest pedophile ring – but for me, not hard to write under my real name. A lot depends on how vulnerable you are (or feel) to negative consequences.

  115. #115 Alverant
    April 20, 2008

    #78

    You beat me to it. I found out about this blog from Tom Smith. He’s a pretty decent guy. You’d probably like him if you met him. Of course there’s more than a few Tom Smith’s out there. PZ probably picked a “generic sounding” name as an example.

  116. #116 windy
    April 20, 2008

    We could also discuss the question: Why do people use a first name and a last name, instead of a baptismal name followed by the name of their village, like we did in the old days!

    Going by the village name was not so common around these parts, afaik. Patronymics and house names, rather. And of course cognomens like “Bluetooth” are recorded in Scandinavia from ancient times, similar but less famous examples from Finland include “Blackhead” and “Largepants”. So, nicknames may actually be older than last names in some places :)

  117. #117 Bride of Shrek
    April 20, 2008

    Here in Australia we have a town called Humpty Doo. Would you real want that as your surname?

  118. #118 Napoleon Dworkin
    April 20, 2008

    “I despise anonymous commenters”
    Ah…there is never enough hate in the blogosphere to pacify the ever lovefestin’ left–which is OK as long as you direct your hatred, and socio-political policy makin’ venom at *males-only*…
    bunch a’ castrati….

  119. #119 Bill Dauphin
    April 21, 2008

    Pseudonyms are a mainstay of online conversation. I don’t use my real name because it would feel weird; like wearing a tie when I go swimming.

    I post under (over?) my real name more or less by accident, and it does rather feel like I’ve shown up dressed for the wrong party.

    I threw in comment here under my real name long ago, thinking it would be a one-time thing. Now that I’ve become a regular, I don’t want to give up the “brand identity.” As it happens, I can’t think of anything I’ve posted here that I would worry too much about anyone finding, and I can think of only one or two times that I’ve (very slightly) limited what I might have said out of concern for discovery.

    But then I’m naive: I can’t seem to summon up the requisite paranoia (or, some would say, good sense) to worry about protecting my identity. OTOH, I’ve been involved in other online communities where folks would actually rent mailboxes to so they could receive mail from forum members without having to give out their home addresses… even privately… even to long-term, trusted online friends, some of whom they’d even met in person! Takes all kinds, I suppose.

  120. #120 shane
    April 21, 2008

    Also in Australia we have a town called Darwin. Who’d want that as your surname? ;-)

  121. #121 DH
    April 21, 2008

    #120:

    With pride.

  122. #122 Master Mahan
    April 21, 2008

    The sad fact of the matter is, sometimes a degree of anonymity is required in this free country of ours. Just ask Chez Pazienza, blogger and ex-CNN employee, or anyone who’s been harassed or threatened online. I wear my constant online pseudonym proudly, happily linking to my personal blog, but I’m in a stage of my life whether the potential benefits of a public identity are outweighed by the risks.

    Anyone whose played an MMORPG or been heavily involved on a message board should understand the mechanics of this. Name changes are typically unobtainable because your other identity gains a reputation you have to live with, good or ill.

  123. #123 magetoo
    April 21, 2008

    Going by the village name was not so common around these parts, afaik. Patronymics and house names, rather.

    Still in use where I live. Or, the combination name-of-farm + given name, to be specific. But it’s declining.

    The problem is that the “house names” do not have legal status, so people have them registered essentially as a second (zeroth?) given names. When I grew up it wasn’t that uncommon to not even know some people’s last names, since nobody ever used them.

    Um…yeah. What were we talking about?

  124. #124 Peter Ashby
    April 21, 2008

    Well my surname almost certainly came about as a village name. Ashby is just the other side of the M1/Watling Street/Danelaw boundary from the little place the family ended up. Ashby de la Zouch (mentioned in Ivanhoe as it happens) is just down the road. My antecedents, being yeoman farmers, paid rent to the Spensers (Princess Di’s lot). They were probably the local Normans who imposed surnames on everyone in the first place.

  125. #125 anonymousscientist
    April 21, 2008

    I only use pseudonyms. Usually male ones, as I want to avoid misogynist vitriol spewed against me in discussions.

  126. #126 Pocket Nerd
    April 21, 2008

    I’d think reality is the only real authority in a science classroom.

  127. #127 Arnosium Upinarum
    April 21, 2008

    What we say is what we are…sort’a, kind’a, more-or-less.

    My gloriously dumb and irritating pseudo for this site popped (almost) purely from reflex and what was handy in mind at the time. (“Our Nose +ium Up in the Air +um” – awkwardly referring to many people’s penchant for being at least somewhat snobbish about the viewpoints they hold – especially the trolls that were exercising me at the time…but certainlly not restricted to the self-hoodwinked).

    It may have been a crude irritant, and was not well-conceived or pretty, but I’m content to be stuck with it. At least it had context at the time. Somewhat.

    As for Drugmonkey’s comments, it’s as transparent as imaginary glass that that kind of vitriol demonstrates a smarting from a major rejection episode followed by a long burn. Drugmonkey obviously had much to stew over…and over again. Where else could that fascinating set of equivocating qualifiers have come from? Now we all know where the “blame” is to be attached, and we are invited to suppose whatever happened wasn’t Drugmonkey’s fault.

  128. #128 frog
    April 21, 2008

    Another reason for pseudonyms: internet discussions have a tendency to get more vitriolic than in meatspace, since you lack the visual clues to fine tune them. An emphatic statement, or an unintentional faux-pas, can lead to a flame-fest that would lead to hurt feeling if we couldn’t conveniently all the clues that could easily identify the other arguers.

    There are issues where folks have strong feelings, and need to have a space where they can argue openly and not behave like an old-fashioned dinner party (no discussion of religion, politics or money), particularly for the more speculative, philosophical or methodological questions that can only be investigated so far in normal public venues. Pseudonymity is very handy for trying out new arguments and getting unusually honest responses.

    When I want dry academic treatises on a subject, there are much better places than blogs. They fill a different space than traditional literature; in place of professional credentials blogs have continuity of character.

    Re: Mark Twain. His posthumous publications are some of his best (see Letters from Earth). Only death gave him sufficient protection to say what he really felt.

  129. #129 chancelikely
    April 22, 2008

    I note a repeated theme of ‘fear of misogyny’ as a reason for a pseudonym. As a bearer of a Y chromosome, I often neglect to think about what it’s like for a woman in a given situation I find myself in.

    As far as pseudonyms go, I’ve cycled through a few – back in the era where it only took a few months for spam to find your good email address, I’d come up with a new one twice a year or so.

    Chancelikely is a combination injoke with a nod toward the field of statistics that I love. On religious boards you may find me as Christian the Atheist, combining my theophoric given name with my current religious viewpoint. So I’m half-pseudonymous, since you get the front end of my real name.

    Concerning authoritarian vs. thought-provoking professors, I just took the final in a class where I was the only student who enjoyed the professor’s let-us-reason-together approach, set against a sea of is-this-on-the-final types.

  130. #130 Carlie
    April 22, 2008

    As a college professor, it’s important for me to remain pseudonymous in some areas because I want to be free to express my opinions on hot topics, but I don’t want any of my students to come across that and be uncomfortable with me if they hold different views. Scienceblogs is the only place I use my given name, both because I don’t mind people knowing my thoughts on science, and I’m trying to make a personal stand to come out as an atheist in small steps, the internet being first. I have several usernames with varying degrees of pseudonymity on the other sites I comment at, and there is such an identity attached to them now that I wouldn’t change them even if I wanted to.
    As far as misogyny as chancelikely noted goes, all of my pseudonyms are fairly gender-neutral, but I simply don’t even go to places where that seems to be an issue. Perhaps that keeps me from some interesting information, but it’s better on the sanity.

  131. #131 Carlie
    April 22, 2008

    …and by several I mean a different username for each site, not that I sockpuppet myself on the same place, of course!

  132. #132 Napoleon Champagne
    April 22, 2008

    Misandry in the blogosphere is an every day occurence, and women are by far the biggest proponents of it, and held unaccountable for it.

    Misogyny rarely occurs, but when it does is orchestrated into blog scandal and hitcouters gone wild by those who use it as a label to discourage discussions about misandry.

  133. #133 admiralh
    April 23, 2008

    Famous Pseudonyms:

    Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
    George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
    George Sand (Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin, Baronne Dudevant)
    O Henry (William Sydney Porter)
    archy (Don Marquis)

  134. #134 Neil Schipper
    April 24, 2008

    admiralh, my comment #113 would apply to your #133 as well as the similar ones appearing earlier.

  135. #135 Heather Kuhn
    April 30, 2008

    I use a pseudonym on most sites with three that I use depending on where I am. I happen to use my real name here, but I sort of outed myself to defend the family honor, so to speak when some made a snide comment about Tom Kuhn and the concept of scientific paradigms. The problem here is that a lot people manage to completely misunderstand what he said and then base their posts on that misunderstanding.

    On the authority question: Does anybody remember the Sunday Doonesbury where a professor at Walden College got excited because Mike’s brother (at that point going by “Sal Putrid”) spoke up in class? Sal was wondering if he’d done something wrong while the professor was oohing and ahing over someone actually thinking instead of just transcribing.

  136. #136 Oran Kelley
    April 30, 2008

    Well, it’s nice that he aspired to be one of us, but he clearly didn’t make the cut, and I can guess why. His assumptions are faulty. In my classroom, I’m an authority only by accident of birth — I’ve got a thirty year head start on my students. However, my whole goal is to get these students to start questioning and challenging me, and finding out new stuff that I didn’t know before. I even like it when the creationists in class start raising objections. If Drugmonkey thinks a college classroom is a place where the best teaching is done by imposing his views on a roomful of students, he’s not going to make it to that exalted position of The Teaching College Professor, because he won’t be teaching.

    Your take on teaching strikes me as deeply naive. I taught at the university level for years and I worked in a department that was intensely concerned with questions of pedagogy, and your attitude was one that the department sought to debunk early on.

    It simply isn’t true that your students are younger versions of yourself. Pretending they are is a form of condescention.

    Your qualification to teach is not your year of birth. Not facing up to what it is precisely that puts you in the front of the classroom handing out grades and puts students in the position of submitting themselves to your judgment is dishonest/incurious/unscientific.

    Drugmonkey has at least seems to have given the matter a little thought, and doesn’t just mouth empty liberal platitudes about teaching.

  137. #137 PZ Myers
    April 30, 2008

    You seem to have read an awful lot into that comment that isn’t there. My 30 year head start gives me a much deeper knowledge base to work from — if I have any authority at all, it’s built on that, not my appointment or title.

    I simply don’t see where I even suggested that my students are younger versions of myself. I am well aware of student diversity, and know that very few will or even want to follow the path I did.

    So, your complaint here basically reduces to making shit up. Do try to do better.

  138. #138 Oran Kelley
    April 30, 2008

    “I’m an authority only by accident of birth”

    “Only” does have a meaning in the PZ lexicon, doesn’t it?

    I can see claiming perhaps to have just sloppily used that word, but what then is your disagreement with Drugmonkey?

    He, after all, never says (even sloppily) that the “best” teaching is done by imposing one’s viewpoint (as you infer) but rather he says that “Your whole professional life is predicated on you as the Authority,” which is a different point altogether.

    Admittedly, the implications is rather personal: how one’s persona may have been shaped (distorted?) by authority, complacency & condescension. But it has nothing to do with the “best” teaching.

    Nothing you say goes to his point at all. Nothing you say speaks of any serious thought on the subject of authority at all (which more or less provides evidence for his point of view).

    What your response essentially does is distort Drugmonkey’s point (who’s making stuff up?) while, on your own part, mouthing agreeable-sounding platitudes.