The Thoughtful Animal

I’ve been watching with interest a recent kerfuffle involving a relatively new blog in the sciblogosphere, Academic Jungle, which is written by the pseudonymous blogger GeekMommyProf.

Prof-Like Substance has already written a good summary of recent events, so I won’t duplicate his efforts. Instead, I’ll duplicate his text! (Bracketed bold text inserted by me):

GeekMommyProf started a blog about a month ago, which burst onto the scene in a hurry. Most blogs (including this one) toil in obscurity for a while, eventually gain some steam and get enough readers coming back to get talked about a bit here and there. In the process of earning your blog chops, you make mistakes and write some stupid [stuff], but no really notices because, again, there are like 6 people who read it. But GMP started off with an uncharacteristically large readership for an independent blog when she hit the ground running and so when she made a mistake people noticed.

At her one month mark, she has written a post in which she suggests that the response from Isis and others [i.e. Zuska] to one of her early posts has left her a bit disillusioned with blogging.

GMP writes:

I was an unwilling recipient of a lot of negative attention by you-know-whos and a whole host of snide-comment writers a couple of weeks ago. They thought they saw something in one of my posts that wasn’t there. This generated bursts of traffic on their sites and mine, resulted in a storm of unpleasant comments, judging and patronization galore. Everyone had a bone to pick. It was a couple of exciting days and gratuitous venom in the scientific blogosphere.

Well, as someone who has recently been on the receiving end of such negative attention, I can say that I completely totally understand GMP’s perspective here. It totally sucks, especially when people run away with something you either did not say or did not intend to say. It totally sucks when people use your blog as a platform from which to shout their thoughts and opinions. It makes you wonder about whether or not this blogging thing is really worth all the headache and heartache.


Zuska has said (expletives edited by me):

Those of you who get all whiney and defensive whenever anyone dares to point out that you have stepped in the dogsh$t. Stepping in dogsh$t is an accident and it is something that all of us do upon occasion. Now, when you step in dogsh$t, do you want to just go blithely prancing about the place, spreading the dogsh$t hither and yon, stinking up the place to high heaven? Or do you want someone to point out that, jesus h. christ, there’s a great big steaming heap o’ smelly dog turds trailing off your right shoe, why don’t you go scrap ‘em off? Or better yet, just get yourself a whole new pair of shoes, for sure Isis can recommend something stylish.

It is of course the prerogative of Zuska or other individual to decide whether or not GMP or anyone else seems whiney. Additionally, Zuska takes exception to GMP’s description of her experience as a “witch hunt.” Perhaps this was the wrong analogy to use, but I certainly understand the sentiment.

Isis commented:

I grow weary of the whining from many in the blogosphere that I somehow have the power to destroy poor mortal bloggers. I started on blogspot just like many others.

But I don’t think that the real issue here is whining. I think the real issue here is bullying. It appears as if GMP agrees with my assessment, as she has noted:

But these pile-ons are nothing specific to me. Apparently, the blogosphere is alive with the sounds of bullying. While I think bullies are a vocal and obnoxious minority, their effects can be so strong and so negative that they completely overshadow the majority of positive interactions one enjoys.

Plenty of people have written before about the many complications that arise through the use of pseudonyms in blogging, as well as the complications that arise through interaction in the blogosphere in the first place. It is often hard to remember that you are arguing with a PERSON instead of your computer screen, pseudonym or not. Does this mean you always have to be nice? Of course not.

In a separate thread and kerfuffle, Drugmonkey wisely mused:

Furthermore, a blog persona is a constructed persona. There is no obligation that it hew closely to one’s IRL persona.

And here is where the power of the pseudonym and the power of the blogosphere come into play. Isis, Zuska, and others have social capital on the sciblogosphere. It is clearly not necessary to have a pseudonym to construct a persona (I’d admit that I have a certain online persona that is in some ways different from my real life personality), but I would argue that the pseudonym facilitates that construction. And that social capital contains a lot of power.

By analogy, I would draw the reader to a recent post by scibling Eric M. Johnson of The Primate Diaries about social capital and the emergence of cultural patterns:

…To explore this question Horner and colleagues conducted a series of trials at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center’s Field Station near Atlanta, Georgia. The experiment involved two separate groups of female chimpanzees as the models (n = 4) while the rest of the troop was divided between the groups as test participants (n = 10). The models were selected to have very different social ranks, such that Model A in both groups was older, held a position of high status in the troop, and had previously been observed introducing novel behaviors. In contrast, Model B was younger, held the lowest rank in the troop, and had no previous experience introducing novel behaviors. Based on these criteria, Model A held the characteristics of prestige in chimpanzee society while Model B did not.


Figure 1: (A) trained models retrieve a token from an experimenter standing between the receptacles outside the enclosure fence; (B) models deposit their token into their respective receptacles; (C) a food reward is thrown to the model by a second experimenter standing on an observation tower.

Eric continues (emphasis added by me):

Model A and Model B were then trained to perform identical behaviors with a single variation (see figure above). In Group 1, Model A was taught to collect plastic tokens and place them in a spotted container in order to receive a food reward. In the same group, Model B was taught to deposit identical tokens into a striped container located 10 meters from the first and would also receive a food reward. In Group 2 this was reversed so that Model A used the striped container and Model B used the spotted one. The question was, would the rest of the troop follow the example of high-ranking Model A, low-ranking Model B, or would it be evenly divided since both received identical rewards?

In three experimental trials on separate days Model A and Model B each collected and deposited their token only once while the rest of the troop watched. Each participant was then allowed to copy one of the two models until all chimpanzees had accomplished the task. Group 1 and Group 2 were separate from each other and did not see either the models or the participants from the other group perform their task. The results clearly demonstrated that, in both groups, participants preferred to follow the example of the high-ranking Model A by a significant majority. These results remained consistent both between groups (p < 0.0001) as well as between individuals within groups (p < 0.05). When given the choice between two similar tasks, chimpanzees overwhelmingly chose to follow the example of the most prestigious model.

While this isn’t a perfect comparison, I would argue that Isis is Model A, the dominant individual who has a position of status within the social group. GMP is Model B, the younger less experienced and lower-ranking individual in the social group.

For all the talk of power and privilege that I read coming from Isis, Zuska, and others – many of whom I have lots of respect for – they seem to forget that on the sciblogosphere it is often they who are in the position of power and privilege. Isis may have started in a little corner of the blogspot universe as she says, but that is not her social reality anymore. She has, to borrow a phrase from the primate literature, become a dominant individual in the dominance hierarchy of the sciblogosphere. The same can be said, for example, of Zuska.

Recently, I was the target of similar public calling-onto-the-carpet. It was explained to me that, as a male, I was in the position of power and privilege over other individuals (in this case, females). Even if it was never my intention, and even if it never even occurred to me that this could be the case, simply by virtue of the fact that I was born a male, I had the responsibility to discuss certain topics in sensitive ways. What I intended as humor was interpreted as offensive. What I intended to be an objective discussion of a small amount of research was interpreted as a selfish apology for certain cultural patterns perpetuated by human males.

And here is why I think the constructed online persona makes the whole social interaction so much more complicated. I’ll use an example of pseudonymous blogging, but the same could be said of non-pseudonymous bloggers: let’s say Isis’s real life name is Jane. When Jane reads a blog post, such as the one by GMP, she has a certain set of cognitive and emotional responses. And then she responds to it, through commenting or through writing a blog post of her own, but, critically, even if it is Jane who is typing, it is Isis who everybody else is listening to. Jane may not have the power to “destroy poor mortal bloggers,” but I would argue that in certain circumstances, Isis might.

Well, Isis and Zuska, just as I have a certain responsibility given my position of privilege as a male, I think you too have a similar responsibility by virtue of the fact that you have a certain amount of power and privilege because of the social capital you enjoy on the internet. Everyone does not participate equally in the creation and maintenance of cultural patterns in the sciblogosphere, as the chimpanzee study illustrated by analogy. Those who are in positions of power can set the tone and best practices for how we behave in the sciblogosphere.

In a very real sense, I think you do indeed have the power to “destroy poor mortal bloggers.”

[Update: This post from omgomgomfg makes some similar and interesting arguments. And this one. This one too. Obviously these are not new problems.]

Comments

  1. #1 Larkspur
    June 19, 2010

    I tend to disagree.

    If I am walking down the street and someone slams into me, knocks me down, then starts jumping up and down like it’s really funny, I’m going to be surprised and mightily annoyed.

    But if I’m out on the field, I have the ball, and someone slams into me and knocks me down, I’m going to make a mental note about how to avoid that in the future, and maybe I’ll ask where my teammates were, and just possibly I’ll complain if my opponent doesn’t get penalized for taunting.

    No one likes to get knocked down. Everyone does sooner or later, and it is distasteful to watch a bunch of jerks jumping around and taunting you. But if you post on a blog, you’re on the playing field. If you suit up, it looks kind of silly to plead mere-mortaldom. You deal and move on. If you made a mistake, you try not to make that same mistake again. If you were mistreated, you go get ‘em next time, fair and square.

  2. #2 Isis the Scientist
    June 19, 2010

    How exactly did I bully you, Jason?

  3. #3 Sacktitere
    June 19, 2010

    GeekMommyProf sought out approval and link love from Isis and other high profile bloggers. If she didn’t want their attention, both positive and negative, she shouldn’t have done this.
    The internet is a public forum. You have to take the douchebags and cheeseweasels along with the goddesses.

  4. #4 Sacktitere
    June 19, 2010

    GeekMommyProf sought out approval and link love from Isis and other high profile bloggers. If she didn’t want their attention, both positive and negative, she shouldn’t have done this.
    The internet is a public forum. You have to take the douchebags and cheeseweasels along with the goddesses.

  5. #5 Jessica Hekman
    June 19, 2010

    I’ve read several blog posts recently in which people seem to conflate “explaining to someone that they made a mistake” with “being rude.”

    If I make a mistake on my blog, I hope someone will point it out to me. But I hope they will do so politely. It often surprises me that bloggers don’t seem to feel that they should be constrained by the rules of polite discourse. When did we agree that people could be rude just because they’re blogging? I never voted for that to be part of the game.

  6. #6 Larkspur
    June 19, 2010

    Jessica, the incivility really does deserve to be examined. It’s kind of like road rage, only with fewer sanctions. You know how weird people who are otherwise mostly normal can get behind the wheel, tucked away into their own metal fortress. It happens even though we can see each others’ faces and can certainly write down license plate numbers. The internet offers so much more detachment. That’s what often makes trolling so appalling. When you’ve got a cyber reputation to maintain, there’s more accountability. I think we’re still sorting everything out, how to be with each other in this space, how to compensate for the absence of facial expression and vocal inflection.

  7. #7 PalMD
    June 19, 2010

    ZOMG…not the Civility Wars again!

  8. #8 Isis the Scientist
    June 19, 2010

    Yeah Pal, I think we have to do this every 4 months or so.

  9. #9 Sacktitere
    June 19, 2010

    Did anyone piss on the carpet here? I don’t think so…

  10. #10 Jason G. Goldman
    June 19, 2010

    I don’t see this as being about civility per se (though that was before my time, so to be fair, I haven’t had my turn yet!) I see this as being about imbalances in the dominance hierarchy of the internet.

    I don’t believe that I was bullied by Isis, at least not intentionally. To the contrary, as I hope has been clear by many of my other posts and interactions both public and private, I have a great amount of respect for Isis and consider her a trusted advisor.

    But I think that in a very important way “Isis” (as well as “Zuska” or “PZ” or “Orac”…) is an institution that carries with it a certain amount of social weight (by analogy, the President isn’t just a dude with a nice office and private jet, he represents an institution). And those institutions can certainly be intimidating to a relative outsider or to someone lower in the status hierarchy. And bullying is intimidation of a weaker individual by a stronger individual. This need not be overt or intentional. This is the interpretation I was working from.

    It doesn’t mean anyone necessarily needs to do anything differently, and I’m not saying we need to sugarcoat anything, and I’m all for keeping people honest. But we should at least be aware of what I perceive to be an apparent power differential.

  11. #11 Zuska
    June 19, 2010

    I’d love to comment on this post but I am too busy enjoying my massive internet power and privilege. Perhaps I will come back later when I feel like smiting someone.

  12. #12 Comrade PhysioProf
    June 19, 2010

    Jeezus [redacted], dude, don’t be such a [redacted] crybaby. Just blog your [redacted] [redacted] and quit the [redacted] WATB caterwauling.

    [JGG: removing the expletives just seems to ruin the beauty of CPP's comments]

  13. #13 Isis the Scientist
    June 19, 2010

    Where do I derive all of this power from?

  14. #14 Sacktitere
    June 19, 2010

    Science blogging isn’t a mother[redacted] Carebears tea party. If you can’t take the heat, get off the internet!

  15. #15 bioephemera
    June 19, 2010

    Honestly, I’m dying laughing over here. Yes, I know some people are new to the blogosphere (and it’s therefore indecorous and uncharitable of me to laugh). But really, these arguments (civility, supportiveness, divisiveness in the blogosphere) have been hashed out so many times over the past year or two – and those important conversations have often been pushed forward by some the very people blamed here for being bullies.

    In addition to the incivility problem, and the identity/pseudonymity problem, another major problem with the blogosphere is its recursive way of returning to the exact same issues over and over, each new thread/thread-cluster without apparent benefit from all the prior wrangling with those issues. The blogosphere is like freaking Groundhog Day.

    Carry on.

  16. #16 ERV
    June 19, 2010

    SciBlogs short-bus strikes again.

    We really should put bells on that thing, or something.

  17. #17 anonymous
    June 19, 2010

    Ha ha – Isis, Zuska, whatever, who cares about them? (really, ask yourself WHO) The web is just another place where humans interact, and so the stupid ones get the most attention. Forget them, and focus on what you want to say to the few people who discovered your blog and deserve it. Since your many recommendable pieces like about science on pornography, Intellectuals read you, and not Isis, and definitively not Zuska, because their stupid attacks against you proved how stupid they are – many work in science now, few are scientists.

  18. #18 Christie Wilcox
    June 19, 2010

    Isis and Zuska -

    I love both of your blogs, and I mean this with the utmost repect: Come on. You know what he means in terms of your “power”. Where does this “power” come from? – that’s like asking why small polls on obscure websites suddenly change their percentages when PZ brings them up. You have followers, fans – whatever you want to call them, and you have a lot of them. Or, at least, a lot more than, say, the blogs brought up in this post. You are, in the science blogosphere, celebrities to some extent. People care what you say. People pay attention.

    You have influence. Now, I don’t mean to imply in any way that this influence means anything other than it exists. But to say or imply that it doesn’t exist or that you’re somehow unaware that you have more influence than brand new bloggers – that’s just silly.

    Does it matter that you have influence? Do you owe something to society (in this case the science blogosphere) because you are well-known, well-liked, and well-respected? I don’t think you do.

    You should at least be aware that you have that kind of sway, and not be so surprised that others see you as leaders or role models in the realm science bloggers. We (as a society in general) hold sports stars, politicians and anyone with influence to higher standards than we hold ourselves. Is this “right”? I don’t really care. But you shouldn’t be surprised that some might desire you to be nicer, gentler, or whatever-er than others, or that your critiques of others might be seen as attacks. What you choose to do with that knowledge is up to you.

  19. #19 Isis the Scientist
    June 20, 2010

    I will agree that I have an audience and that many in that audience like me. People may pay attention and that may grant me some influence. I am very, painfully aware of this. I have always carefully consdered the things that I say because I know that people read it. It doesn’t mean that I am always right. It just means that I consider the fact that people read me every time I blog.

    But, I dislike the notion that this grants me “power” because it seems to imply that the people who read me lack the free will to interpret the things I write and act, well, freely.

    And, wait, who was that at #16? If ERV is offensive on the blogosphere, does anyone give a [redacted]?

  20. #20 Otto
    June 20, 2010

    Ah, the battle for the Western Sahara.

  21. #21 BGT
    June 20, 2010

    I know I will sound like a “dood”, but from someone who has followed Isis and Zuska and PZ, and Orac…..

    I don’t think that Isis ans Zuska have to ‘prove’ anything to anyone.

    but, in the spirit of this post, Isis and Zuska, can you foster the little ones?

    Call them to the carpet if you must, but then give them some guidance along the way?

    Yes. the post may full of doodly stuff, but dissect it, and help us all learn from it?

    OK, back to lurking on SB for the next few months

  22. Sorry dude, but I think you’re way off here. Isis and Zuska have influence because their posts and opinions are insightful and are drawn from a lifetime of experience. People follow them and the other borg heavyweights because people value their insight. And part of the reason people value their insights is because they call a spade a spade when it’s a spade. I’ve disagreed with some of what they’ve said, but I can’t think of any incident where I haven’t learned a huge amount from them.

    And let’s face it. The “dominant individuals” have a responsibility towards pointing out when mortal bloggers make [facades] of themselves.

    But that’s ridiculous. If a blogger can’t stand some negative press, then that’s their problem, not the blogosphere’s. We all get negative press, if we don’t, then we’re not doing our jobs.

  23. #23 Don Rowe
    June 20, 2010

    I find as a general rule, with a few exceptions I’m sure a developmental psychologist could cite, offense cannot be given, only taken.

    By that, whether offense is intended or not, it’s the recipient of the sentiment that decides whether it is offensive and whether to take offense.

    I also don’t really see the insight that the blogosphere might manifest as a microcosm of “real life” society to be all that revolutionary. It seems pretty obvious.

    Maybe this might be the time to coin the term “blog opera”… if it hasn’t been done already.

    Also, my word of the week is now “kerfuffle”.

  24. #24 Stephanie Z
    June 20, 2010

    Yes, social interaction is really a sporting competition, that kid who dared to go up to the jock table at lunch had it coming, people should really have something better to do than think about people’s feelings, nobody down the totem pole a bit ever has any power over those further down, and the popular kids have a responsibility to show everyone else how they don’t measure up to local, temporary standards. Did I miss anything?

    No, I really don’t miss junior high school.

  25. #25 sousys
    June 20, 2010

    All bloggers are attentionwhores and want to shine and competitions is the spice of life so none of this is really any big mystery.
    But just as i dont like to see McDonaldsstaff argue infront of me when im drunk and waiting for 7 cheese$burgers im only going to eat 4 of, i dont want to see my attentionwhores squabble over really pointless things using rather silly arguments.
    Only Zuska gets a gold star for delivering hilarity and staying out of the fray at the same time. She gets extra attention from me this month.
    Now, get back to work.

  26. #26 Comrade PhysioProf
    June 20, 2010

    AHAHAHAHAH! I knew Communication Is My Field would show up.

  27. #27 Sally
    June 20, 2010

    Is it just now occurring to you that Isis is a bully? Perhaps she perceived the attention the new blogger was receiving as a personal threat. I wouldn’t be surprised if the *only* place she has any real power is in the blog world. It was a mistake for ScienceBlogs to include her, that’s for sure. She rarely writes anything interesting (her popularity relies on her ability to stir up kerfuffles and then, I bet, she sits back and watches with pleasure as real people get hurt, that’s the way she rolls) or remotely scientific (I have some doubts about the veracity of her stories about ‘lab shenanigans’). Isis, a feminist? Isis, a scientist? Isis the bully-fake is more like it. I have actually heard her with my own ears talk disparagingly about one of her “friends,” her little muffins, just seconds before that “friend” joined the conversation, and she changed her tune faster than Sybil could change personalities. Unfortunately, I think “Isis the afflicted” suits her best. The cure? Stop letting your morbid curiosity make you click on that train-wreck blog.

  28. #28 Bob O'H
    June 20, 2010

    I will agree that I have an audience and that many in that audience like me. People may pay attention and that may grant me some influence. I am very, painfully aware of this. I have always carefully consdered [sic] the things that I say because I know that people read it. It doesn’t mean that I am always right. It just means that I consider the fact that people read me every time I blog.

    But, I dislike the notion that this grants me “power” because it seems to imply that the people who read me lack the free will to interpret the things I write and act, well, freely.

    How can having some influence over people not equate to having some power?

    I wonder if the issue is partly about rights versus responsibilities. Free speech is perceived as a right on the blogosphere, but does blogging also carry some responsibilities too? Should we, for example, accept some responsibility for the reactions to what we write? If so, to what extent should we?

    Whether we want it or not, popular bloggers do have an effect, and it can be a negative one. We can see this here – one new blogger is now more disillusioned about blogging, and several more may be thinking that there are some areas that they don’t want to blog about, because they don’t want to deal with the aggressive reaction they might face.

    To some extent, this boils down to the sort of online society we want to create – do we want an “anything goes” society, which allows everyone to say what they want, at the expense of turning away the more timid, or do we want to encourage some level of self-censorship, so that the quieter voices can be heard? There are clearly plusses and minuses either way.

    P.S. anyone fancy a cress sandwich?

  29. #29 Ken
    June 20, 2010

    It’s funny to see Isis defend her “powerlessness.” She so enjoys playing the oppressed minority she can’t bear the thought that she may be privileged in any way.

  30. #30 Stephanie Z
    June 20, 2010

    You’re right, CPP. I did leave one out. “These are the unpopular kids. Pay no attention to their opinion. They’re unpopular.

  31. #31 Isis the Scientist
    June 20, 2010

    You know, I have been thinking about this thread this morning while drinking my tea and eating my cucumber sandwiches. If pointing out to a blogger that I believe his interpretation of a research study is incorrect is bullying, then I am pretty ok with it. Especially when that person was being destroyed on his own blog and I provided an interpretation that might explain some of the anger he was receiving. That kerfuffle was not started by me. Jason had closed his comments long before I noticed the post. If pointing out that another blogger has written a post that reinforces some of the attitudes that I dislike in academia makes me a bully, I’m pretty ok with that too. Even when that person actively solicited my attention. Still, I have a hard time believing that a pseudonymous blogger who spends her real life responding to critical paper reviews and summary statements could be destroyed by me.

    I agree that I have influence in the blogosphere and that I have a fairly well-established readership, but I have power over no reader. I think Southern Fried Scientist’s got it right. I called a spade a spade when I was at blogspot and I still have a responsibility to call a spade a spade. No one would ask PZ to go easier on the fundamentalists or Orac to lay off Jenny McCarthy a little more. In fact, I bet their readership would revolt if they did.

    Much of the reason I know this discussion is [something that Jason would redact] is because I have been responding to the same criticisms since I was at blogspot. Has anyone here been around long enough to remember a particular teddy bear on a particular potty? If you dislike it, blog about it.

  32. #32 Nomen Nescio
    June 20, 2010

    I dislike the notion that this grants me “power” because it seems to imply that the people who read me lack the free will to interpret the things I write and act, well, freely.

    similarly, the chimpanzees in the described experiment certainly had the ability to interpret the examples shown to them, and the free will to decide on them independently of the social factors of status and privilege. chimps are plenty smart and self-aware enough for that.

    but what they actually did was follow the leader, do what the popular high-status chimp did. that is how social power works.

    human leaders and high-status individuals should have the sense to realize that social power works the same way in human societies, that their followers and idolizers do likewise. otherwise they run the risk (the near-certainty, i’d say) of becoming atrociously bad, even harmful, leaders.

    i personally like PZ Myers because he seems aware of this, and wields his considerable influence with a deliberation that speaks of an awareness of the bumps he deals out, and the courage to take his lumps as he deals them. i personally dislike a long list of other bloggers who seem unaware of the consequences of the examples they set, and whose palates cannot abide the taste of their own medicine. i’ll refrain from naming them, since our bloghost here seems to have higher standards of gentlemanly behavior than i normally live up to myself.

    thus endeth the lecture to the high school clique leaders. now can us adults please go back to ignoring those brats, and maybe to discussing something worthwhile instead? let them rage and fume, as and when that strikes their little fancy; this digital world has invented filters with which to shut them out. use those, they’re wonderful tools.

  33. #33 lix
    June 20, 2010

    Isn’t it time ScienceBlogs introduced a karma system? The majority of your readers probably aren’t interested in getting into detailed arguments with people they consider idiots. But many would happily click a “Vote Up” or “Vote Down” button on posts and comments.

  34. #34 Irene
    June 20, 2010

    Interesting how things don’t change on the Internet. For anyone interesting on the topic of on-line bullying, cliques and cliquish behavior, I recommend a little browsing on Mike Reed’s Flame Warriors website:

    http://redwing.hutman.net/~mreed/index.htm

    This classification of on-line “combatants” began in the days of Usenet, but it’s still perfectly relevant today in the context of blogs and social networks.

    Regarding today’s topic, let’s just quote this classic description of the synergistic bullies Big Dog and Me-Too:

    Big Dog may be smart, articulate or just plain mean, but in any case he is a remorseless fighter, brutally ripping into even the weakest of combatants. Once Big Dog securely fastens his powerful jaws on a hapless victim, Me-Too will join the attack.

    Reed also hits the nail on the head when portraying relentless evangelical activist Issues:

    Issues has an issue and she won’t rest until it becomes your issue, too. Even when she’s not talking about her issue it’s clear she would rather be talking about her issue.

    There’s also some thought-provoking stuff under the labels “Howlers”, “Cyber Sisters”, “The Swarm”, etc.

  35. #35 Stephanie Z
    June 20, 2010

    If you dislike it, blog about it.

    Then expect the usual group to show up, as above, to tell you why you shouldn’t blog about it and/or to tell you why they shouldn’t need to think about it even if you do. And of course, to call you weak, whiny and unpopular while they do it.

  36. #36 Irene
    June 20, 2010

    If pointing out to a blogger that I believe his interpretation of a research study is incorrect is bullying, then I am pretty ok with it.

    You are aware, are you, that you didn’t just “point out” that something was incorrect, but actively ridicule and take to task both the blog post and the blogger? Or maybe you are not aware that you’re not just one of many little voices any more?

    Especially when that person was being destroyed on his own blog and I provided an interpretation that might explain some of the anger he was receiving. That kerfuffle was not started by me.

    Ouch. As my mother always said: “One started it and the other continued it. You are both wrong.”

  37. #37 Isis the Scientist
    June 20, 2010

    Did I call Jason weak, whiny, or unpopular, Stephanie? I certainly don’t remember calling GMP any of those things. Or, are you projecting something I should be aware of?

    I am also curious where I ridiculed Jason in my discussion of his post. Indeed, Jason himself sent me an email where he said, “I think you’re right. You are also the only one to have actually addressed the content of the post – read the papers, and offered a serious and legitimate criticism of the way I described the studies. And you legitimized the asking of the question in the first place, which the others did not.”

    So, perhaps that’s why this is all a bit strange. Jason has written a post in which he says in one paragraph, “It was explained to me that, as a male, I was in the position of power and privilege over other individuals (in this case, females)…” These are statements made by Zuska. In the next paragraph, he talks about me, saying “it is Isis who everybody else is listening to. Jane may not have the power to “destroy poor mortal bloggers,” but I would argue that in certain circumstances, Isis might.” Conflating these two paragraphs, however, gives the impression that I took Jason to task over his privilege and attempted to destroy him, which I did not. All that I did in this situation is to criticize a study that he presented as flawed. This is far from bullying.

  38. #38 Stephanie Z
    June 20, 2010

    Isis, since I haven’t recognized anyone here as one of your sock puppets, I was most certainly not calling you a group. Unless your conscience is feeling guilty about something I should be aware of.

  39. #39 Jason G. Goldman
    June 20, 2010

    Dr. Isis (@31) wrote:

    But, I dislike the notion that this grants me “power” because it seems to imply that the people who read me lack the free will to interpret the things I write and act, well, freely.

    This is exactly the point I’ve attempted to address and explore. Not the question of whether or not people should be held accountable for what they write.

    I included the description of the chimp study to try to illustrate this point. Models A and B were doing the same actions (token in a jar, receive reward), but the rest of the group emulated the behaviors of the dominant individual and ignored the subordinate individual. We can argue about the extent to which the individuals in the group had the free choice to decide which individual to emulate, but the fact that you see such a strong effect of social position suggests that there is more going on than equally evaluating two options and “choosing” to follow the leader.

    Decades of social psychological research in group dynamics and social conformity demonstrates that, indeed, people do not necessarily have the free will to interpret the things that are written or said freely. I’ll provide a second example from the human adult social psychology literature, which are the Asch conformity studies, beginning in the 1950s. Rather than explaining them in detail here, I’ll just direct the reader to this relatively short and accessible article written by Asch in 1955 about his line judgment studies. The second paragraph is particularly striking, as it was written over 50 years ago:

    How, and to what extent, do social sources constrain people’s opinions and attitudes? This question is especially pertinent in our day. The same epoch that has witnessed the unprecedented technical extension of communication has also brought into existence the deliberate manipulation of opinion and the “engineering of consent.” There are many good reasons why, as citizens and as scientists, we should be concerned with studying the ways in which human beings form their opinions and the role that social conditions play.

    I would argue that, in these instances or for these individuals (i.e. Isis, Zuska, etc) , the “manipulation of opinion” is not deliberate, premeditated, or intentional. But those social dynamics are certainly still present.

    Finally, in @37:

    Conflating these two paragraphs, however,
    gives the impression that I took Jason to task over his privilege and attempted to destroy him, which I did not.

    Right. This is a mistake in the way I organized my thoughts. The paragraphs should have been ordered somewhat differently.

  40. #40 Isis the Scientist
    June 20, 2010

    Jason has full acces to my ip address. Why would I bother to sock puppet?

    And yes. The structure of your post was more than unfortunate. You’ve now called me to judgement for something I did not do. Thanks, dude. But perhaps it doesn’t bother you because you consider my real and blog selves to be different.

  41. #41 Stephanie Z
    June 20, 2010

    Isis, I didn’t say you would be likely to use even your favorite sock puppet here. I’m well aware that you generally keep the sock puppetry on your blog and the blogs in your circle.

  42. #42 Isis the Scientist
    June 20, 2010

    If you say so.

  43. #43 Jason G. Goldman
    June 20, 2010

    Whether or not Isis uses sock puppets doesn’t appear, to me, to be related to the issues here.

    For what its worth, I just checked the IPs. No sockpuppetry here by Isis, unless she puts a lot of effort into commenting from different IPs under different names. I don’t imagine anybody would be interested in putting in that kind of effort. We all have better things to do. Even the people with whom we disagree.

  44. #44 Stephanie Z
    June 20, 2010

    Jason, out of curiosity, why did you bother? I said twice that Isis wasn’t sock-puppeting here. She’s the one treating that as an accusation (so something I “said” can be dismissed?).

    On the other hand, her use of a sock puppet in the comment threads on her blog and others in her circle is quite relevant to the question of how much consideration she offers the people who disagree with her. Look for the commenter who is most consistently denigrating of others. Decide for yourself whether the speech pattern matches Isis’s. Ask yourself whether Isis is as thoughtful as she claims about what she posts or whether she’s merely thoughtful about what gets attached to her name.

  45. #45 Sally
    June 20, 2010

    OK, why don’t we just lay off Isis and get back to the important people/things in our lives? She does this sort of thing all the time and surely she will do it again soon.

    Isis must have a busy life what with all of the scientific papers, students, grad students and post-docs, cutting-edge research, endless committee meetings, active membership in a church (that despises women), domestic duties, shopping for shoes and make-up, and not least of all, the blogging — and monitoring the blogosphere for any hidden trace of political incorrectness — and bringing the guilty everywhere to justice. Obviously, she is a crusader for social justice, not unlike Sarah Palin. And she does all of this in spite of her Attention Deficit Disorder (=she doesn’t get enough). A simple change of script and *poof* she’d be Glen Beck!

    Sadly, we lurkers who have even a remote ability to read between the lines just want to wrap our arms around her and tell her she’s OK, just the way she (really) is.

    Perhaps the battle-cry of civility has historically been used as a method of exclusion, but in the 21st century, the meaning is fundamentally inclusive: as a fellow human being you deserve my respect, my kindness, my cooperation, and to be given the benefit of the doubt unless or until your intent to do harm to the community is unambiguous.

  46. #46 Comrade PhysioProf
    June 20, 2010

    Look for the commenter who is most consistently denigrating of others. Decide for yourself whether the speech pattern matches Isis’s.

    Communication Is My Field, FTW!

  47. #47 Bob O'H
    June 20, 2010

    Perhaps the battle-cry of civility has historically been used as a method of exclusion, but in the 21st century, the meaning is fundamentally inclusive: as a fellow human being you deserve my respect, my kindness, my cooperation, and to be given the benefit of the doubt unless or until your intent to do harm to the community is unambiguous.

    Thank you – more elegantly put than I could.

  48. #48 becca-the-brave-little-tailor
    June 20, 2010

    “Where do I derive all of this power from?”
    Me. And I can take it away again, so don’t you forget it!

    “and those important conversations have often been pushed forward by some the very people blamed here for being bullies. “
    “bully” is no more a binary character trait you either possess or not than other power issue. You can say something dickish, or act as a bully, without *being a BadPerson(tm)*.
    “dude, that thing you said there, that was dumb/abusive/bullying/racist/douchetastic”

    Also, it’s pretty obvious that approving of a “very important conversation” when *one* person pushes it forward, and then being *entertained* by the redundancy when another person puts it forward, is basically saying “stripes are better than spots!!!”

    Strictly speaking, Jason did not call Isis or Zuska a bully, he pointing out that their actions were bullying.

    Basically, Isis and Zuska have a horde of little monkeys following them saying “stripes better than spots!”. As a little monkey who thinks stripes are better than spots, I think *that* part of his argument is pretty bloody obvious.

    “Still, I have a hard time believing that a pseudonymous blogger who spends her real life responding to critical paper reviews and summary statements could be destroyed by me.”
    You underestimate the power of human interactions, I think. “Destroyed” may be a little hyperbole, but I’m strongly of the opinion that the immediate knee-jerk mindless *cough*CPPesque*cough* response of “oh they’re just whiny whaaaaaaaaaambulance idiots worthy of scorn and mockery” whenever anyone tells you that you have hurt them is downright sociopathic in effect.
    Mind, it’s a response that’s common enough on the internet, but sociopathic nonetheless.

    Look Isis, I know a little bit about you. I know you did *not* grow up with livejournal drama, and 14 aim conversations during *your* junior high years. I’m not sure you really understand the phenomenon of internet bullying, or the consequences it has. If someone is telling you they feel bullied, it’s worthwhile to understand why they feel that way. It doesn’t make you some kind of intrinsically power-crazed sociopath who gets off on stabbing people in the eyes with pointy high heels; it *does* mean you hurt someone. When you say “I am ok with bullying” you are saying “I am ok with hurting someone”.
    (@Jason- if you really want people to be sympathetic to you, and act kinder in the future, you really do have an obligation to try to explain why you feel the way you do; I think I can understand it, but you’ve not really elaborated on it from your own perspective, you just said you ‘know how GMP feels’- well, what is that exactly?)

    “No one would ask PZ to go easier on the fundamentalists or Orac to lay off Jenny McCarthy a little more.”
    Of course people would, and do. And I simply won’t read Orac or PZ most of the time. You are pretty much right on the edge of nastiness I, personally, tolerate. Actually, you may well be nastier than Orac or PZ, just funnier/more interesting to compensate. Still, the nastiness is something I put up with to get to the other stuff, not the hilarious highlight of your blog. In this “yay stripes!” monkey’s opinion.

  49. #49 Stephanie Z
    June 20, 2010

    becca, thank you for bringing the PZ/Orac comments back around. I think it’s also worth noting that someone who screws something up in a blog post or doesn’t write about quite what you want them to is not a fundamentalist trying to legislate their version of morality or a Jenny McCarthy trying to mess with public health. To use Sally’s test, they haven’t done anything like unambiguously demonstrated their “intent to do harm to the community.”

    Do we not calibrate for this? Or as someone else so eloquently put it, “What have you left to say when I commit murder?”

  50. #50 bioephemera
    June 20, 2010

    Also, it’s pretty obvious that approving of a “very important conversation” when *one* person pushes it forward, and then being *entertained* by the redundancy when another person puts it forward, is basically saying “stripes are better than spots!!!” Strictly speaking, Jason did not call Isis or Zuska a bully, he pointing out that their actions were bullying. Basically, Isis and Zuska have a horde of little monkeys following them saying “stripes better than spots!”. As a little monkey who thinks stripes are better than spots, I think *that* part of his argument is pretty bloody obvious.

    becca, I only find the direction the blogosphere is currently heading “entertaining” in a mordant, Gorey-esque way.

    You’re setting up a stripey, spotty straw man, at least with regard to my comment. The point is not that one person has the right to have a conversation, and another person doesn’t, or that one person has a right to cry “bully” and another one doesn’t. Open conversations about respect and civility are important no matter who is having them; I appreciate the people who are putting themselves out there to discuss it, whether or not i agree with them.

    On the other hand, I find the complete lack of “institutional memory” in the blogosphere frustrating. The fact that I can go to Sb’s homepage after a week or so of neglect, and immediately see this thread rehashing the same old issues just goes to show that the efficacy of blog dialogues in effecting community change – their ability to actually get us anywhere new – is pretty much null. And contrary to the insinuation peeking out of your comment, I didn’t get to this post via any other blogger – I wasn’t even on Isis or Zuska’s blog this week, much less “following” them here. I simply opened a browser where Sb is the homepage, and voila, the same old argument, only everyone’s shifted positions like musical chairs.

    Maybe you don’t find that funny, but I do. Funny-sad, that is. On the one hand, it’s unfair to ask new participants to get up to speed on several years of past conversations before they start blogging. But if those past conversations simply evaporate within months, and cease to be acknowledged as relevant to future debate on the same issues by the same people, then blogospheric dialogue seems to be worth very little. This lack of long-term context for arguments is one of the main reasons commenting, and perhaps blogging, is much less productive than it could be. lix’s suggestion of karma system is a good one, although I don’t know how well it would play out at Sb, where the cliques are pretty well entrenched.

  51. #51 bioephemera
    June 20, 2010

    Apologies for lack of quotes in previous comment #50; html failed me. The first paragraph is a quotation from Becca in #48. And apologies for not submitting this clarification sooner – the inadequacy of Sb’s commenting system, which said I had posted “too many times” in a short span, needs no discussion among those who use it often. :P

  52. #52 yogi-one
    June 20, 2010

    I’m pretty much out of the loop on this. But I do have one opinion:

    Please, no karma buttons on SB!

    Also, for what it’s worth, I usally don’t read Isis, Zuska or even PZ. I like blogs where there’s less comments, and less clique activity.

    PZ may be the The.Greatest.Ever.

    But that’s not my criterion.

    I’m looking for stuff I find interesting to me. If Stephen Hawking and Chad bioth posted up somthing about the TOE, I’d read what I thought was the more interesting post. In all likelihood, it would be Chad’s. I like the way he writes.

    Maybe I’m one the few chimps who doesn’t give a [redacted] about how big your (ahem) karma is.

    So be it.

  53. #53 Samantha Vimes
    June 20, 2010

    Why Isis and Zuska and NOT Orac and PZ?
    Yeah, sure they were the ones directly involved in some recent skirmishes. But they sure as hell aren’t ruder than some of the well known male bloggers. But it’s more shocking when they are rude because women are supposed to care about other people’s feelings. The person who suggested they try to mentor the newbies– my FSM, did you ask the same of PZ or Orac? Oh, but they are *important*, and shouldn’t be expected to make time for mentoring.
    Because women are unlimited fonts of time and energy to care for others instead of focusing on their needs and careers.

    head –>desk

    Maybe the reason Isis and Zuska have influence is their readers like their style. If they changed their online voices not to hurt anyone’s fee-fees, they could lose the audiences they’ve built. Not a sacrifice they should be expected to make.

  54. #54 Name Withheld
    June 20, 2010

    My advice to you, Jason, is this: If you give the kliqueons your lunch money once, they’ll never leave you alone.

    I think you may have overestimated the social capital that some of these bloggers have. A large part of their social capital exists in the top dresser drawer, as it were. Otherwise, it’s just the the same set of Gollum like followers.

    The topic of your blog is one of the most important topics that can be discussed here at scienceblog.com. Don’t be distracted by the side show, because your blog is going to kick (intellectual) ass.

  55. #55 skeptifem
    June 20, 2010

    So you took down your joke because you felt like you were being impolite, not because you actually grasp what privilege is and what it means. I bet it is still funny to you, eh?

    Privilege isn’t something you can ask for, make, or give away. It is something society grants YOU, for something that you ARE, not something you DO.

    Zuska and Isis DO something for the degree of popularity that they enjoy (which is not even that wide spread), and they are appreciated for their character. They write things that other people agree with and support. This, vs you getting privilege in society just for existing. Isis and Zuska could throw away their popularity any time they want to, you can’t ditch your privilege.

    It is friggin infuriating to see you make a comparison of the two by saying that they should adopt the same sort of behavior you have regarding your privilege, meaning that you are nicer about what you say and try to anticipate the possible offense you may cause. You aren’t really making a stretch into actually changing anything about yourself, you just don’t want anyone to get their feelings hurt. You should feel like crap when someone calls you out on exercising your privilege, it isn’t supposed to be comfortable, and it is impossible to make it so.

    What I don’t get is why you aren’t all over PZ for being, you know, RUDE. He defends rudeness all the time, but frankness from these women about what they think means they were ‘bullying’ you. Please.

    Not only that, but Isis and Zuska do not have much popularity in the first place. You mentioned the public calling out of your piece on pornography- maybe you should go see how the thread at Zuska’s about that ended up. Yeah, she has so much privilege, d00d. It isn’t like a bunch of freaks descended upon her thread to taunt her about her problems or something, right? You just aren’t paying attention. Or you could find one of those nifty studies about women on the internet and how they get all kinds of threats to their safety and abuse simply for existing. People show up to spew hatred at Isis and Zuska for what they ARE regularly. You have no clue what that is like.

  56. #56 skeptifem
    June 20, 2010

    Also, wtf?

    But I think that in a very important way “Isis” (as well as “Zuska” or “PZ” or “Orac”…) is an institution that carries with it a certain amount of social weight (by analogy, the President isn’t just a dude with a nice office and private jet, he represents an institution). And those institutions can certainly be intimidating to a relative outsider or to someone lower in the status hierarchy. And bullying is intimidation of a weaker individual by a stronger individual. This need not be overt or intentional. This is the interpretation I was working from.

    Bullying is purposely causing psychological or physical harm to other people. It is characterized by the intent on the part of the bully to needlessly hurt others for their own amusement (or maybe to feel less bad about themselves). They target weak people and hurt them.

    http://www.apa.org/topics/bullying/index.aspx

    Intimidating newbies by doing what you were doing previously is very VERY far from bullying.

  57. #57 Tyler DiPietro
    June 20, 2010

    I usually find “debate” with Zuskaids and her cohorts to be singularly non-productive. They aren’t people whose minds are open to being changed by evidence, they are borderline self-parodying zealots. Instead of arguing rationally based on evidence they bray a lot of gibberish about “privilege” and “mansplaining”, which is more or less a deliberate attempt to disqualify people who are white and male from having any reasonable objection to said braying.

    You simply can’t have a rational debate with someone who starts from the premise that you are incapable of forming a rational opinion contrary to anything they have to say, whether that premise is “privilege” or something similarly vague and ill-defined. The best approach to them is, rather, mockery, dismissal and derision. At least that’s what we’ve found over at ERV.

    Good luck in the future! I enjoy your blog and hope you’ll be at it for some time to come, Jason.

  58. #58 becca
    June 20, 2010

    @bioephemera- yeah, I was writing that comment while thinking about many things, and the result may have been defocused.
    I wasn’t trying to frame your position as “civilitytalk from Isis GOOD, civilitytalk from Jason BAD”- but it’s certainly true for me, at least, that “stale conversation topic from somebody I was already finding interesting != stale conversation topic from somebody I knew nothing about”. But then, I’d seen psudenomity and civility discussions pop up in many contexts prior to Isis or Zuska.

    @skeptifem:
    “You should feel like crap when someone calls you out on exercising your privilege, it isn’t supposed to be comfortable, and it is impossible to make it so.”
    Yes and no.
    1) you *aren’t* supposed to feel like crap, at least not totally. Guilt is not a particularly productive force for emotional growth, and it’s beside the point anyway:
    feministhulk say: HULK TAKE SELF-INVENTORY WITHOUT SMASHING HULK SELF. MALE GUILT DOES NOT UNDO MALE PRIVILEGE.

    2) That said, I think we’re in agreement that it’s *not the job* of someone calling out privilege to make it *comfortable* for the person who could use it pointed out. I do think that calibrating discomfort to optimize emotional maturation is worthwhile to attempt, if crazy-likely to fail.

    3) “Privilege”, as you use the phrase, is by definition unearned. “Power”, in the broad sense, is not always unearned. Zuska and Isis have a certain level of social power- earned social capital, if you will. Comparing it to privilege is… awkward at best.

    @Samantha Vimes
    “If they changed their online voices not to hurt anyone’s fee-fees, they could lose the audiences they’ve built. “
    They wouldn’t loose me. Just sayin’. If you require someone to hurt other people in order to give them enough respect to actually read what they say, that might be worth analyzing.

  59. #59 Tyler DiPietro
    June 20, 2010

    Although I do find it funny that these people frequently end accusing someone of having “white male privilege” who is neither white nor male. In the case of GMP, she turned out to be a non-native english speaker and a woman. Then it was funny to see Isis complain that it was GMP’s fault for blogging under a pseudonym. Neat rational, dumbass. So it’s the responsibility of the targets of your bigotry to prevent you from once again revealing yourself as a bigot.

  60. #60 Phoenix Woman
    June 20, 2010

    It saddened me last week when I saw people that I respected utterly lose their minds at the very word “pornography” and start talking about bukkake and simulated rapes in a manner obviously intended to intimidate everyone into shutting down what could have been an interesting and useful discussion. It as if all erotica since the dawn of time began and ended with those two things — and as if there were no such things as “couples videos” meant to be watched by both men and women together. Or gay porn. Or lesbian porn. I don’t remember if anyone brought up the old “snuff films are real” myth as if it were true, but after a point I was too disgusted — and yes, intimidated — to bother with it any more.

    As far as discussions of sex are concerned? I think I’ll stick with Susie Bright, thanks. She gave up on letting herself be intimidated a long time ago.

  61. #61 Sally
    June 21, 2010

    Oh, for god’s sake, leave ORAC OUT of this. There is a BIG difference between ORAC and the others: he has a really big brain and he knows how to use it. One needs to read PZ exactly *once,* after that it’s old news. Historically, Zuska has been interesting, why she falls for Isis’ nonsense is a mystery to me, but obviously Isis needs her. ORAC, on the other hand, writes long, thoughtful, intelligent posts that actually MEAN something to the world. He actually performs a public service. When your stupid friend is about to not have her baby vaccinated, you can send along one of his posts and say *this* is why you’re making a big mistake and you’d better think it out again.

    Too bad Revere checked out. He was reliably the best. Orac is also reliable, although he has not quite reached the level of dignity of a Revere.

  62. #62 Jason G. Goldman
    June 21, 2010

    This post is not about which bloggers are cooler, better, more annoying, less annoying, more reliable, less reliable, meaner or nicer. Everyone has their favorite bloggers and the bloggers who they dislike for one reason or another. People read blogs for different reasons. This is how it goes. Let’s keep it on topic, please.

  63. #63 skeptifem
    June 21, 2010

    My 2nd post got stuck in the moderation que, perhaps because I included a link to the APA’s definition of bullying.

    But I think that in a very important way “Isis” (as well as “Zuska” or “PZ” or “Orac”…) is an institution that carries with it a certain amount of social weight (by analogy, the President isn’t just a dude with a nice office and private jet, he represents an institution). And those institutions can certainly be intimidating to a relative outsider or to someone lower in the status hierarchy. And bullying is intimidation of a weaker individual by a stronger individual. This need not be overt or intentional. This is the interpretation I was working from.

    The definition of bullying being used here is not accurate- bullying is being misrepresented in order to accuse Zuska or Isis.

    Bullying means intentionally hurting another person over and over. Physically or psychologically, for the personal satisfaction of the bully. People like zuska going about their business and saying things like they always have and inadvertently intimidating another person is not bullying.

  64. #64 twocentsfromtheaether
    June 21, 2010

    First article/post I’ve read on this blog. The whole virtual prestige seems to me to be spot on. I suspect that even how it works is still under construction, so to speak. As for the whole civility/bullying/unaccountability thing, I don’t think of it so much as something that needs to be addressed (or would it be eddressed) as it is something that needs to be explored and understood. Is it more rude than reality? If so, we can teach those that would use it about that, NOT try and rewire a seemingly vast and living entity with new rules which would be actively resisted (think of every internet user as an antibody of some kind).

    Oh, and as it seems that certain words are being filtered, this will also be the LAST article I read here. I really have no tolerance for others deciding what is appropriate for me. (I’m NOT talking in the widest context, since obviously I allow others to decide what is appropriate for me when they decide what to say or not say, but that’s THEIR decision.) I know that you have that right and ability and if I don’t like it I can just leave, so jya ne!

  65. #65 DeepThinker
    June 21, 2010

    The whole premise that people who are being “called out” should *immediately* submit to the judgment of their accusers is in itself questionable.

    Expecting this, and ramping up the accusations if the accused does not submit without any attempt at clarification or self-defense is unreasonable and childish.

    “I called a spade a spade ”

    Isn’t this racist?

  66. #66 Jason G. Goldman
    June 21, 2010

    Several comments have suggested that by calling Isis et al to account for various callings-onto-the-carpet, but not PZ or Orac, for example, reflects some sort of cherry-picking or bias. (Despite the fact that my comment #10 above, I mentioned that they too possess considerable power.)

    The difference, as I see it, is that PZ and Orac (and surely others), when informing someone they have crap on their shoes, that someone is almost always someone who has even greater power than they do. Politicians. Religious leaders. Andrew Wakefield. Even washed-out actresses like Jenny McCarthy. People already in the public eye. Or entire groups of people (religious wingnuts, the anti-vax movement). I haven’t read every post Orac has ever written, but I’ve never seen him, for example, take down a specific parent by name or pseudonym, for refusing to vaccinate his or her child.

    A comment regarding moderation: I’ve deleted or not let publish several comments meant only to insult or belittle.

    Please disagree, but disagree with an idea or argument. This blog is about discourse and exploring complicated issues, not about proving someone else right or wrong. And certainly not about questioning anybody’s character.

  67. #67 Stephanie Z
    June 21, 2010

    Jason, at least two of those people suggesting you are cherry-picking are well aware of and decry the old “You can’t talk about sexism because you’re not also talking about racism” strategy. I would think they’d recognize it in this context too.

  68. #68 Sven DiMilo
    June 21, 2010

    This blog is about discourse and exploring complicated issues, not about proving someone else right or wrong. And certainly not about questioning anybody’s character.

    Good luck w$th that. All of the other blogs ment$oned (or l$nked when ment$on was w$thheld) are really about the narc$ss$st$c bloggers’s selves. Source of the “problem” r$ght there. $t’s a freak$n teacup, the blogosphere, and the tempests are st$rred by egos and scaled to f$t.

  69. #69 Sigmund
    June 21, 2010

    It doesn’t take long to figure out the Heathers of the scienceblog playground. Some fellow bloggers like ERV and SC know exactly how seriously to take their fits of outrage. Don’t let them or their clique push you around, Jason.

  70. #70 ildi
    June 21, 2010

    Well, Isis loses most of her “speak truth to power” cred with me when she’s uberquick to point out the mote in her cohort’s eye but ignores the beam in her own of participating in one of the more patriarchal and abusive institutions around (Roman Catholic Church) with nary a peep about that…

  71. #71 skeptifem
    June 21, 2010

    @70- Nary a peep? There are people who bring it up in every post she makes, follow her around to harass her about it. “Nary a peep” my ass.

  72. #72 skeptifem
    June 21, 2010

    The difference, as I see it, is that PZ and Orac (and surely others), when informing someone they have crap on their shoes, that someone is almost always someone who has even greater power than they do. Politicians. Religious leaders. Andrew Wakefield.

    Two things-

    1. You say this like men as a class enjoy greater power in our society than women. They do. Feminists calling out individual men is the same thing as calling out those with a greater amount of power in the world. You don’t have to deal with the things women do but you should at least aknowledge that the power dynamic exists.

    2. No, they aren’t just rude to politicians and the socially powerful. The “I get email” segment is a regular at pharyngula, and PZ will rudely debunk things from random internetters who happened to email him something supremely stupid. He will rudely argue with individuals who comment on his threads. Hell, he has had a thing or two to say about other SB articles before, and he is by far the most popular science blogger out there.

  73. #73 Quietmarc
    June 21, 2010

    On the subject of the science, I’d be interested in a similar experiment where the benefits to following Chimp A or Chimp B were not the same, eg, perhaps Chimp A’s training only provides reward half the time while Chimp B’s method is successful all the time. Can an actual benefit change how the rest of the community behave?

    The reason why I come back to different blogs is because I find it useful. In addition to all the science, I find Zuska and Isis useful for challenging me to think about privilege. PZ is useful for challenging my thoughts on religion and atheism. ORAC is useful for me in combatting my teenage sister’s newfound anti-vax enthusiasm.

    I definitely disagree or dislike what they have to say sometimes (I imagine it would be strange if I didn’t), but overall I feel I get some benefit from following those blogs that outweighs the cost.

    On the bullying: I think comparing the GeekMommyProf pile-on to road rage is a bit different in that road rage can lead to actual injury and death, whereas having people be mean to you on the internet usually not so much, but I certainly sympathize with someone feeling bullied when in that situation. I appreciate what someone (becca, I think?) said about the difference between power and privilege. Isis and Zuska have earned their power (IMO), but that doesn’t mean that their words don’t hurt. I think in their cases, though, they’ve done their best to use their words responsibly.

    And, I can’t decide if it’s funny or sad that a post about bullying brought out it’s own collection of aggressive, insulting comments (not gonna point fingers, because, well, bullying can be subjective, too, right?).

  74. #74 ildi
    June 21, 2010

    Nary a peep? There are people who bring it up in every post she makes, follow her around to harass her about it. “Nary a peep” my ass.

    It should be obvious that I meant nary a peep from Isis, skeptifem.

    “Every post?” “Follow her around to harass her about it?” Exaggerate much? Bit of a persecution complex for poor, harassed Isis…

    Oh, I get it, it’s called harassment when ISIS is called out on her hypocrisy.

  75. #75 Bob O'H
    June 21, 2010

    On PZed and Orac, they aim their worst rhetoric at people outside of science blogging (Orac more so than PZed). There’s a strong element of in- and out- groups: anti-vaxxers, creationists, etc. are in the “out” group, so it’s seen as OK to be aggressive and insulting towards them.

    The problem with bullying here is that it is being aimed at people who are seen as being part of the same group: science bloggers. Pissing on members of the same tribe is seen as bad form, and doesn’t make yourself popular with other members. I’m sure Zuska doesn’t see it this way (I suspect she doesn’t perceive the groups that are involved in this way), but I think that’s part of the social dynamic.

  76. #76 Isis the Scientist
    June 21, 2010

    And who defines the “tribe?”

  77. #77 Azkyroth
    June 21, 2010

    It is of course the prerogative of Zuska or other individual to decide whether or not GMP or anyone else seems whiney. Additionally, Zuska takes exception to GMP’s description of her experience as a “witch hunt.” Perhaps this was the wrong analogy to use, but I certainly understand the sentiment.

    It is absolutely the right analogy to use.

    I have tried for a very long time to be charitable to Zuska – as a fellow engineer and a person with whom I generally agree in terms of general political goals (at least, stated goals…), but the simple facts are that she 1) is categorically willfully blind to any distinction whatsoever between “the argument she WANTS to attack” and “what the person the attack is addressed to actually said,” and 2) divides the entire world into the classes of “people who agree with her” and “THE ENEMY.” She is a bully first and foremost and any good she might be doing for the cause of gender equality is purely an incidental side effect. The continued willingness of anyone to either defend or or try to argue with her in good faith amazes me.

    Isis I’m less sure about; I’ve seen sensible posts from her and strikingly cheerleader-stereotype-esque bullying from her (mostly in comment threads) but her internet persona rubs me the wrong way far too hard to read much of what she’s written.

  78. #78 ildi
    June 21, 2010

    Oh, and while we’re at it, how come there’s no anti-patriarchy pile-on when Isis posts pics of some of her fave shoes with four-inch stiletto heels? After all, high heels are just a version of foot-binding and objectification of women… if Isis loves heels it’s because she is blind to her own internalization of patriarchal values…

  79. #79 DeepThinker
    June 21, 2010

    Perhaps more relevant to Jason’s original post, ildi, are the titillating pictures of scantily clad women.

    @Azkyroth: as far as her personae, that’s another thing that she wouldn’t tolerate in others – she’s a Westerner appropriating an icon from another culture.

    Two sets of rules I guess.

  80. #80 William Scott Scherk
    June 21, 2010

    Great comment thread. I am one of those Scienceblogs readers who rarely comments — since someone else always says what I think and says it well.

    Here I see something that may or may not be true:

    – criticism ought be accepted and acknowledged, when the criticism is correct. The criticism may not be correct. The criticisms ought be weighed for truth.

    – some people (most people) don’t immediately like criticism. It might not hurt, but it stings, it is felt. Some people (like me) need to go off to a cave to examine the criticism, because some people (like me) are more apt to leap down the throat of a critiquing person because on first self-glance, some people (like me) have a wall of self-esteem or self-regard. In other words, arrogant people (like me) figure they Have It All Correct going in.

    But in the cave, I often (sometimes) discover that the critique was correct in whole or in part, and then go back out and correct my ‘mistake’ by apology or addendum or whatever.

    _________

    I worry (in the sense of chew over the implications) when I perceive someone who cannot accept criticism, nor correct ‘mistakes,’ nor apologize. And sometimes (all too often) this non-accepter of criticism turns ugly.

    I will now go read the threads that led to this reported kerfuffle. I will before doing so lay out my prejudice, so that I can come back and correct it if I am wrong:

    Isis cannot be wrong. Can Not Be Wrong. Cannot wrong someone, ever. So the idea that she misused her mouth in a cavalier, High School Lunchroom manner is a Non-Starter.

    I hope I am wrong and Isis wasn’t a prick to the MomGeekProf while correcting her.

  81. #81 William Scott Scherk
    June 22, 2010

    Yup, Isis was a prick, and apparently still is a prick. Doesn’t make mistakes in instructing other people on How To Behave.

    Besides the arch, self-regarding tone of her Correction To Probably A Racist White Hag (Mom), besides her excellent writing chops, her ease and fluency in English, besides her wit and her bit, she was a one-eyed prick in her opening salvo.

    Here’s what clinched it for me — after the smugly Correct post that took issue with Mom, after being poked with the same sharp How To Behave stick which she poked at Mom, Isis reacts here in this thread as if Mom herself clung steadfastly to her Racist Assumptions.

    Well, you know what? Mom thanked her interlocutors for their corrections, and changed her post to better reflect her points about managing a lab.

    Here’s how she finished her thanks for the correction in one comment response (replying to mildly shirty Watch It, White Lady comments by a couple of her readers)”

    I think this type of conversation is very important. I hope you will keep reading and commenting, and calling me on my BS when needed!

    I don’t accept any of the baloney about the Internetz giving us inscrutable messages. The messages from Mom and from Isis, in their respective posts were:

    Mom: I care about my lab people. I want them to succeed in their field, and in my lab, and I will work to maintain a fair, respectful working place. Moreover, I will correct my own BS when called on it.

    Isis: I have X-ray eyes. I see racist people. And I correct it. And I don’t need correcting, nope, not me.

    I would rather take a mistake+correction from Mom — including her humanity and empathy and genuine care for those who work under her authority — than any measure of the implacable rectitude exhibited by Isis.

    Some folk are far too kind to Isis on this kind of behaviour. If the excellent writing and facility with barbs and emotive rhetoric is misused this way in more than a small part of her output on the topics at hand, she needs a short, sharp (verbal) slap to her pretensions.

    Isis, try being Wrong. It might smart for a bit, but you can always get righted afterwards. If you don’t admit a wrong, however slight, you will appear (though not necessarily be) a Prick. And we have enough pricks in science already . . .

  82. #82 DrugMonkey
    June 22, 2010

    You shoor are selective in what posts that are “intended to insult or belittle” you delete holmes. What a joke.

    (this, btw, is why it is so easy to come off the ass when you are a little too free and easy with the delete button. Your blog, your perogative…)

    [JGG: DM's initial comment got caught up in moderation, and I accidentally deleted instead of published it. My mistake.]

  83. #83 korakoeides
    June 22, 2010

    “as far as her personae, that’s another thing that she wouldn’t tolerate in others – she’s a Westerner appropriating an icon from another culture.”

    Yeah, all those born-and-raised ancient egyptians kicking about are surely quite upset…

  84. #84 Jason G. Goldman
    June 22, 2010

    Alright I’m going to go ahead and close comments here. It has degraded into “Isis totally sucks” and “You moron, she totally doesn’t,” and I’m still trying to figure out where to draw lines with moderation. Nasty comments have certainly gotten by me, and I’ve probably kept unpublished some lesser offenders. It’s a wide new world of comment moderation (for me), so I hope that you will all bear with me as I figure it out.