A few minutes with Andy Rooney

May 15, 2010 • 6:08 am

“You know what really bothers me? It’s those people who write in and say, ‘Andy, I love your website, but isn’t it supposed to be about evolution? What’s with all the other stuff—the cats and the atheism?’

Well, to those people I say this: If you don’t like the place, there are plenty of other websites around, and many of them never mention Jesus or kittehs.  This is America, you know, and you can not only vote, but you can vote with your feet.  If you don’t like Cheerios, there’s a box of Raisin Bran nearby.

After all, I never told Don Hewitt how to run 60 Minutes.

And another thing.  I’ve learned that there are people out there who run blogs but do it anonymously.  Anonymously—get it? That means that they hide their identity from readers.   Now when I first heard this I was astounded.  After all, I’ve been a journalist for nearly seven decades, and the first thing you learn is that you stand behind your work—you take responsibility for what you say.   And I’ve done that all my life, starting with my pieces in Stars and Stripes.  I wasn’t ‘G.I. Joe,’ or ‘Writer X’—I was Andy Rooney.

Now you may not like what I say, but at least you know who to complain about when you don’t.  As far as I can see, there’s only one reason for people to hide themselves like this.  Fear.  They’re afraid of what might happen to them if people knew who they were.  It might hurt their chances of getting grants, or respect from their colleagues, or—that great sinecure of academics—tenure.

Here at CBS we have a word for people like this:  cowards.  Grow a backbone, for crying out loud! If you want to mouth off day after day, but do it while hiding behind a pseudonym, fine.  But don’t expect me to mention your site, and don’t reference it in your comments.  Okay?

Now who is this Lady Gaga, anyway?”

57 thoughts on “A few minutes with Andy Rooney

  1. I confess I have only the faintest idea of who “Lady Gaga” is, and “Justin Bieber” remains a mystery. On the other hand I had never heard of “Andy Rooney” either

  2. Get off my lawn!!!!!11!!!

    I knew a lady who one night had too much to drink and then went gaga all over the place.

    Justin Bieber is what you do for an 11 month old just before you give him/her a banana to eat. ‘justin it keeps the food off the onesie.

  3. The only person mentioned above I have heard of is Lady Gaga and I know that Jerry and I disagree about her. But I presume it all makes sense to US readers…

  4. Seriously Jerry, people write in and call you Andy Rooney? And you humour them? That makes me thoroughly confused… 😛

  5. I do post most of my fiction/art online under a pseudonym, but mostly because I’ve yet to figure out a way so that a Google search on my real name will pull up my work before my hobbies.

    It’s kind of an open secret. I have my first name and that I’m a grad student of astronomy at Cornell, so it would take a minute on Cornell’s website to figure out who I am.

  6. Ah, let’s rant against the one thing that allows for new, unpopular ideas to be expressed: anonymity.

    There might be many reasons why someone might not want to use their real name as, say, their blog handle. Very few of them actually relate to the content of the blogs themselves; the content might be the same regardless, except that it might not get expressed otherwise.

    What if someone is an atheist but is afraid to let their family know because the family is religious? They might have brilliant ideas, but that are never expressed because expressing them — in their minds — isn’t worth the trouble with the Internet searching family.

    What if someone does indeed have unpopular ideas that might affect their careers or life? Would you rather they stay quiet — right or wrong — because it’s “cowardly” to not want to potentially ruin your entire life over it?

    What about potential issues of legalities? Maybe someone just wants a place to rant but doesn’t want to have to worry about being sued if someone doesn’t like what they say (see that whole libel law thing at Sandwalk for that).

    Ultimately, these are choices that people have to make for themselves, and while one can disapprove telling people not to reference their own sites in comments if they don’t conform to that is stupid and irrational. But, that’s your choice; you can be irrational if you’d like.

    And, as a point of interest, my name is now on my blog in the “About” section. Why didn’t I make it public from the beginning? I wanted a cool nickname and wasn’t sure if I wanted the blog things to bleed over into my real life. Now that I’ve concluded that I don’t have a life, it’s okay to put it up [grin].

    1. I don’t like dealing with email from losers; I have better things to do. If you use your real name you’ll get even more spam and the nutjobs don’t even stop at spamming you – they write stupid letters to your boss or company (if you have a boss or company).

      1. Supposedly on a Google group I’m on a member forwarded someone’s posts to their employer and the person ended up being fired. And I hadn’t thought what they said was that bad …

  7. As far as I can see, there’s only one reason for people to hide themselves like this. Fear. They’re afraid of what might happen to them if people knew who they were. It might hurt their chances of getting grants, or respect from their colleagues, or—that great sinecure of academics—tenure.

    That’s easy to say for someone who is already a successful, published author with a tenured position. I have two blogs – one is primarily educational, and my name is plastered right there beneath. The other is political and personal, and I don’t feel like I should be judged by its contents when being considered by potential employers. I use a pseudonym on FaceBook for the same reason – my personal life and beliefs should not matter when I’m being considered for a job except for how they have come into play in previous jobs, and prospective employers get that information when they talk to my references/supervisors.

  8. I do not buy the claim that anonymity is somehow “cowardice”. It just do not follow. It is usually used as red herring.
    If I have something important to say, it does not matter what label I attach (or anyone) to the message as the originator. The label should function only as identifier, and should not change from publication to publication.
    The claim, reasoning and arguments should defend by themselves and author’s label should not matter in discussion. I can be criminal sentenced for 100 years in prison, but I may have an important point in the discussion, and personal situation would be only red herring, potentially leading to ad-hominem attacks or similar distractions.

    I understand the desire to know who is hiding behind nicknames – it is a mystery and it is discomforting, but calling someone “coward” or “chicken” or similar names is just immature. Andy Rooney should recognize this.

      1. It depends on the form of the attack you have on mind.
        If you attack subject under discussion and not a person, identity does not matter.
        If the attack is personal, hateful, or otherwise stupid, such person should be ignored as a troll. If such person is using pseudonym to hide or not, it does not matter either. The content is irrelevant and should be ignored.
        But calling people who contribute to discussion “cowards” just because use nicknames is still red herring. It is suggesting as if they are not qualified to discuss issues if they do not reveal their real names. So this is in fact type of ad hominem argument in my opinion.

        1. “It is suggesting as if they are not qualified to discuss issues if they do not reveal their real names”

          Exactly how is one check their qualifications if they are anonymous? You have negated your only argument here.
          This is EXACTLY one very cogent point at stake!

          1. Unless they’re making appeals to authority — their own — their credentials shouldn’t matter. Yes, in the case of someone like Jerry Coyne we basically assume that because of his credentials he gets the biology mostly right (and so we might not feel the need to directly check it) but beyond that it’s really irrelevant to what he says: his arguments are right or wrong regardless of whatever credentials he might have.

  9. Now you may not like what I say, but at least you know who to complain about when you don’t. As far as I can see, there’s only one reason for people to hide themselves like this. Fear. They’re afraid of what might happen to them if people knew who they were. It might hurt their chances of getting grants, or respect from their colleagues, or—that great sinecure of academics—tenure.

    Yes indeed. Spot-on, Mr. Rooney old chap.

    Seriously: if a person is going to criticize and/or attack others in blog posts or comments, they need to grow a pair and stop hiding behind anonymity, full stop.

      1. I think it’s unacceptable for an anonymous writer to attack someone who is willing to use their name online. It’s both cowardly and unethical.

        Other issues regarding anonymity are just personal preference, I suppose. I’m not fond of anonymous blogging or commenting, as I think that, unless you are going to face some serious consequences for what you write online, you should always be willing to stand behind it. For that reason, I do think that it’s a relevant factor when it comes to criticizing an idea an anonymous writer puts forth, regardless of whether it attacks anyone or not. I recognize, though, that that’s just my preference and do not think it’s an ethical issue unless the anonymous writer is attacking a non-anonymous writer.

        1. In all honest, being non-anonymous got me targeted by neo-Nazis; they went as far as to spread fliers in my neighborhood which denounced me.

          Still, I won’t cower behind anonymity, though I can see how some might, say, fear for their job (e. g., if they are a non-academic atheist living in the Bible belt)

          1. My consequences weren’t that serious; the neo-Nazis spread their fliers (with Swastika) in a neighborhood that went for Obama by 70 percent. The head guy is now serving a prison sentence (another charge). But I understand the atheist in the Bible belt.

          2. I think you are hiding behind anonymity because of your contention that frogs are better than kittens.

            You fear us cat lovers.

            (…what?! my real name IS articulett!)

          3. I can’t see who you are on your website. Are you still anonymous?

        2. Seriously, I don’t see how it is cowardice at all.

          First a note though. I will not care about if it is unethical. I don’t harken to ethical systems (more unempirical philosophy, bleech :-D) but morality, but if you believe in such stuff I’m sure it’s important to you. Since some people do this without harming others it is a moral practice.

          Returning to the presumed cowardice, there has been given many reasons why people use handles without a basis in fear.

          [Disclaimer: I thought about it briefly when I started to comment on blogs. But handles, especially cool ones, tends to be or become symbols. That means you can eventually tire of, or otherwise want to change them. And that is hardly practical.]

          Now you can argue, successfully, that anonymity or pseudonymity tend to make people careless and vociferous. But this goes again back to the quality of their contributions, not the original intent.

          And finally, yes, there will always be that group of people who hides purely for reason of being able to make a nuisance of themselves. Those will however also be accompanied of a large group of non-anonymous people intent on the same. I don’t see how that makes a practical difference, until such time that discussion drown in such people. That, however, hasn’t happened.

        3. Are you referring to an attack on the person (aka an ad hominem attack) or are you referring to an attack on their ideas?

          The ad hominem attack is meaningless because it is an ad hominem attack. When you criticise someone’s ideas, does it really matter?

  10. I do my blog under the name “Jimalakirti” to keep blog-related email totally separate from my personal email.

    My actual first name is “Jim” and my last name is the same as my domain name, “peavler”, so my anonymity is pretty thinly veiled.

    “Jimalakirti” is a joke on a famous Buddhist layman (named Vimalakirti” who know much more about real Buddhist teachings than any monk or bodhisattva he met, and is kind of a model know-it-all. All I had to do was to change the first letter and all of my Buddhist friends immediately got the joke. To make matters more clear, I named my evolution/climate change/critical thinking blog “arguendo”, because I present articles and blogs on my chosen subjects that I think are strong arguments for the “yes” side of my chosen subjects. This makes me link to a lof of whyevolutionistrue and to be a big fan of the book, although Jerry now is trying to claim that Andy Rooney wrote it.

    So, far from hiding behind a pseudonym I seem to be drawing attention to myself. I would rather attract attention to my blog at http://www.peavler.org/arguendo
    (cheap plug)

  11. Re: “atheism”: If one talks about the educational aspect of evolution, I don’t see how atheism doesn’t come into it. After all, one of the aspects of evolution is that it is the result of random (e. g., directionless) mutations, though, of course, what gets passed along is highly non random. Hence evolution is directionless, which is directly counter to the idea that there is a deity that intended for current humans to exist.

  12. Uh, is Andy Rooney unclear about the difference between writing anonymously and using a pseudonyn? Or has he never looked at a blog?

    By and large, I don’t care whether a blogger goes by “Ribeye,” “Hot Chick,” or “Jason Alexander”. Unless there’s some reason why I would recognize the bloggers IRL name, there’s no particular benefit to attaching it to a blog (in my point of view). I can figure out whether “Hot Chick” has two brain cells pretty quickly, and it’s a more memorable/recognizable name than “Mary Morisson”.

  13. ‘Andy, I love your website, but isn’t it supposed to be about evolution? What’s with all the other stuff—the cats and the atheism?’

    Phil Plait gets this all the time as well. I really don’t know what it is that makes people so compelled that they have to read everything put before them.

    To paraphrase the very wise Arnold Zwicky: Labels are not fucking definitions! Last I checked Boing Boing wasn’t all superballs all the time.

  14. I posted on usenet for many years with my real name (which had interesting consequences when Google made the archive available, and my teenage sons checked out what I had written). Now I’m usually pseudonymous (which is not the same as being anonymous, as others have said – I see it more as a nickname). I’m happy to disclose my real name to whoever asks, but given my current precarious employment situation, I prefer to play it safe, and avoid broadcasting it everywhere by default.

    Oh, and for the record: I love the cats and atheism, but even if I didn’t, it’s certainly not my place to complain. I continue to boggle every time a blog reader takes it upon themselves to instruct a blogger as to the content and/or tone of what should be posted.

  15. Ain’t it the truth. It’s quite a comical spectacle, people taking a High Moral Tone about a slew of named individuals while they themselves are entirely unaccountable.

    Granted, there are reasons for being anonymous, but if you are anonymous, you kind of give up the right (ethically speaking) to go after people who are not anonymous. It just really is both chichenshit and hypocritical.

  16. I see that one anonymous blog has already commented on this post, with lashings of righteous indignation. What a prat. (It pretends to be several people but I suspect it’s one – the same mistakes and infelicities and the same pompous manner appear in every post. That much uniformity of style seems unlikely in several bloggers.)

  17. Damn christians won’t produce or define their anonymous skydaddies either.

    Some people have common names, that makes posting and sorting things out, as a unique individual, problematic.

  18. OK, I’ll admit it. I’m not following – what prompted “A few minutes with Andy Rooney”?

  19. I find my choices to be

    i) “be completely out, sign my comments and blog posts by my full real name and cause risk to my children and my employer, neither of which I care to harm in any way

    ii) “Shut up and say nothing about egregious wrongs”

    iii) “speak out somewhat anonymously by using a consistent pseudonym”

    I’ve found the third one to be a reasonable compromise. If people find my net presence objectionable, there are avenues through which they can communicate that to me – I am not a ghost in the night. However, if they wish to track me down and cause trouble for the people around me, that process is a bit more involved.

  20. Andy/Jerry has a point.

    However, there are some other reasons for not being completely “out” on the web. Some of my antireligious opinions would get me barred or worse from some of the countries that I visit on business. (Residents would be severely punished for the same.)

  21. Couldn’t disagree more. Though I find it interesting that those who fail to understand the value of anonymity are usually those who didn’t have the privilege of growing up with the internet. It’s an unfortunate generation gap.

  22. 28-30

    Wanting/needing to be anonymous in order to discuss controversial subjects is one thing; wanting to be anonymous while pursuing a project of railing at named individuals (who are not powerful people like the pope or a head of state or a CEO) is quite another.

    You can’t ethically do both. If you need to be anonymous in order to be politically or religiously etc controversial, then it is incumbent on you to remember that you are anonymous, and refrain from incessantly blackguarding people who are not anonymous.

    It’s bullshit to say this is generational. Perhaps it’s more a matter of anonymousal – people who are anonymous naturally don’t get anonymous jerks railing at them by name, because they are anonymous. It’s not a matter of growing up with the internet, it’s a matter of being anonymous.

    You can’t have both, you know. You can’t have the safety of anonymity and the accountability of non-anonymity. You do give something up by choosing anonymity – you give up quite a lot, in fact. It’s no good pretending you’re on exactly the same footing as people who are out there as themselves.

  23. Consider this for example (comment #10):

    Maybe someone just wants a place to rant but doesn’t want to have to worry about being sued if someone doesn’t like what they say.

    More to the point, maybe someone just wants a place to talk smack about real people with real names but doesn’t want to have to take the social consequences of being known to be a smack-talking jerk. I think that's a much more accurate description, frankly – of the particular subset of anonymous bloggers it fits, of course. I'm not saying it applies to all anonymous bloggers, but there is a subset whose schtick is talking smack about people while avoiding the social consequences of doing just that.

    I think all these defenders of anonymous smack-talk blogging are ignoring this aspect of what they're defending. Anonymity for the sake of controversial ideas is one thing and anonymity for the sake of smearing people without consequences is another.

    1. If someone is just smack talking, they can safely be ignored — anonymous or not.

      The only case where there’s any issue at all is if they are committing libel. While anonymous commenters might not be as easily traceable, most bloggers CAN be traced, even if anonymous, since there almost certainly has to be something that traces to an identity to get an actual blog in most cases.

      You can feel free to ignore any baseless accusations or statements from anyone. Why does attaching it to a name make any difference?

    2. So because you (and Jerry), don’t like You’re Not Helping, you’re prepared to toss Revere from Effect Measure, Publius from the Federalist Papers, or publius from Obsidian Wings (or PhysioProf, Atrios, digby, coturnix, George Eliot, and a host of other pseudonymous writers) under the bus?

      If You’re Not Helping is wrong, argue against their ideas. You don’t need the authors’ names and addresses to do that.

      Jerry’s OP fails to deploy any argument worthy of the name, and Ophelia, yours seems to be “People are saying mean things about people and I can’t say mean things about them.”

      Setting aside whether saying mean things about people is a meritorious form of argument, there’s nothing stopping you from ripping into You’re Not Helping. The author(s) have an identity and a well-established presence. All their pseudonymity means is that you have to address them on the basis of what they write, rather than what you can dig up about their background.

      It’s a shame that Jerry has decided that the work of revere and other pseudonymous bloggers is unworthy of his attention, but let’s not treat this as some point of moral superiority. It’s just an ad hominem whine that you can’t use ad hominem arguments.

  24. The most delicious part of this is Jerry using Andy Rooney as a sort of puppet-voice.

    I don’t mind pseudonyms at all, especially if they link back to their blog or site of Flickr or whatever. Then I know who I’m dealing with, same as they know me.

    Anonymous comments are frustrating even when they’re complimenting you. It’s a conversation and they’re slipping notes into my locker.

  25. I post under a psuedonym because I’m currently involved in consulting, rather than academics — and the consequences of being “outed” as an atheist in the Texas oilfields are potentially quite severe (like, out-of-work severe).

  26. GM @33:

    Finally someone notes the beauty of the piece.

    The most delicious part of this is Jerry using Andy Rooney as a sort of puppet-voice.

    Right on.

  27. When I originally read this post at the weekend I thought it was a joke and took it as such, but it seems that at least some of the people responding here are doing so as if it were serious.  In the event the points made here were serious, and for the  commenters here who took it seriously, I’ll briefly respond.

    It’s pretty simple – the position that anonymous bloggers are somehow less good is nothing but ad hominem – you are attacking the person (he’s not using his real name) rather than the arguments presented.  I don’t know why that’s so hard to spot – I see people who would soon call fallacious reasoning on a pseudo scientist or a religious believer, happily relying on one of the best known fallacies in the book.  Adding your real name to a blog does not make what you wrote any better, or even even slightly different.  And indeed some blogs written under pseudonyms (eg Effect Measure, Respectful Insolence) have an exceptional record of serious and weighty blogging. 

    Furthermore, if someone writes slander, attacking decent people without good reason, using continuous foul language or whatever as was suggested, this would still be slander and poor blogging even if those people added their real names to their blogs.  Adding a name does not somehow make their writing better or not slander any more.  (If you don’t believe me, just google Graeme Bird – assuming that is his real name.)

    And that brings me to another thing.  You do realize, don’t you, we are on the internet where no one knows who anyone is (with a few exceptions of public figures, or professors like Jerry of PZ)?  If I wrote under a name – let’s say James Gilroy of San Francisco – how the hell would you know if that was my real name or not?  According to your logic though, I would be a better person, a blogger worth reading or whatever.  But it isn’t my real name.  And you wouldn’t know.  Of course, if I had a blog under the name James Gilroy of San Francisco, and after five years had many regular readers, and if I then went off on some mad profanity laden tirade against some innocent person – wouldn’t my regular readers start to think, ‘christ it looks like James Gilroy has lost it; maybe I’ll stop reading his blog.’  Well guess what, if I do that under my pseudonym, I’ll get the exact same effect. 

    And it isn’t even true that all journalists publish under their names.  The Economist never publishes its columns under the names of its journalists.  Why?  Because:

    The main reason for anonymity, however, is a belief that what is written is more important than who writes it.

    Precisely.  And that is the original reason I took my name off my blog.  ‘Skeptico’ is more catchy anyway.  It’s not the only reason.  My blogging world and my business world are separate – others have commented on this above, especially noting that anti-religious views are not popular in the world where we live when we’re not blogging.  Regardless of the reasons, the argument that anonymous (really pseudonymous) bloggers can be ignored is just fallacious reasoning.

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