A note on courtesy and posting behavior

July 26, 2012 • 4:52 am

Reading this post at Scientific American, “Why is everyone on the internet so angry?“, I was prompted to reiterate some guidelines for posting at this website.  The general internet problem highlighted by authors Natalie Wolchover and “Life’s Little Mysteries” is this:

These days, online comments “are extraordinarily aggressive, without resolving anything,” said Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. “At the end of it you can’t possibly feel like anybody heard you. Having a strong emotional experience that doesn’t resolve itself in any healthy way can’t be a good thing.”

Some of the reasons for this behavior:

A perfect storm of factors come together to engender the rudeness and aggression seen in the comments’ sections of Web pages, Markman said. First, commenters are often virtually anonymous, and thus, unaccountable for their rudeness. Second, they are at a distance from the target of their anger — be it the article they’re commenting on or another comment on that article — and people tend to antagonize distant abstractions more easily than living, breathing interlocutors. Third, it’s easier to be nasty in writing than in speech, hence the now somewhat outmoded practice of leaving angry notes (back when people used paper), Markman said. [Infographic: A Typical Day on the Internet]

And because comment-section discourses don’t happen in real time, commenters can write lengthy monologues, which tend to entrench them in their extreme viewpoint. “When you’re having a conversation in person, who actually gets to deliver a monologue except people in the movies? Even if you get angry, people are talking back and forth and so eventually you have to calm down and listen so you can have a conversation,” Markman told Life’s Little Mysteries.

Now I don’t think that this website is severely afflicted by the kind of vitriol that characterizes some blogs, and I do try to keep people on topic and steer them away from name-calling.  I also try to read every comment, though sometimes it’s hard to keep up with them. That’s why the lucubrations of trolls, and some nasty name-calling, sometimes intrudes.  When I’m aware of commenters insulting each other, I try to intervene, either on the site or via private email. Nevertheless, people seem to have become a bit more splenetic around here lately, perhaps as a spilloff from squabbles that afflict other websites.  I want, then, to emphasize some guidelines for posting here.

1.  If you can, please use your real name rather than a pseudonym when posting. I recognize that people may have good reasons to be anonymous, and won’t demand the disclosure of names, but I’m convinced that people are more civil when they have to take public responsibility for their remarks. I never comment anonymously on other people’s sites. Please try to avoid using pseudonyms unless you have good reasons for doing so.  Again, I won’t ban anyone for not using their real names, but do consider taking responsibility for what you say.

2.  Do not insult other commenters.  Sometimes it’s okay to call public figures names like “morons”—I do this myself, but am going to try to cut down on that—but readers of the site should have some respect for each other as persons.  If I see an egregious insult, I try to intervene, often asking for an apology. If it happens twice, I’ll ban the person.  You will not change anybody’s mind if you insult them as a person. (Granted, it’s hard to change anybody’s mind about some of the topics we discuss.)

3. Please try to stay on topic.  I am quite proud of my commenters, who are diverse, educated, usually classy, and often have instructive and useful things to say about a post. As I’ve said many times, I learn more from the comments than from writing the posts themselves.  If there is an intellectual or moral issue under discussion, try to stick to that.  Countering my own arguments, or those of other posters, is welcome—I want free discussion.  But it’s not okay to make a comment that simply insults someone else without adding anything else.  Try to avoid obscenity if possible: that degrades the tone of the site. (I realize that sometimes this is impossible.)

4.  Don’t post if you don’t have something to add.  Reactions like “I like this post” or “I hate this post” are okay only if you give reasons. Posting “sub” to subscribe is okay.

5.  Please don’t tell me that I shouldn’t have written about something, or that you don’t like posts about cats, food, boots, or whatever.  I write about what strikes my fancy, and that is not going to change. If you don’t like the content here, you are welcome to go to other places having more congenial material.  Also, don’t insult me.  By all means take issue with what I say, but try to avoid saying I’m disingenuous, lying, or other such stuff.

6.  Religious people often will post here.  Many times they are simply trolls (you wouldn’t believe the comments I’ve put directly in the spam file!), but sometimes they have sincere arguments. Do not call them morons, or deluded fools, or other such names.  Yes, most of us don’t like religion, but calling religious people names will not foster any dialogue. Remember, some of them can be swayed.  My policy, though, is if you make a post asserting something like the reality of God, I will usually demand that you immediately provide us with the evidence for your deity.  That evidence then becomes fair game for discussion. But remember, attacking religious believers is not the same thing as attacking religious belief. Go after ideas, not people. I do believe that religion is a terrible thing for society, and have no problem excoriating the stupidity of religious belief. Quite often the religious person takes that as a personal insult, but that is their problem, not ours.

7. Please don’t insert the URL for YouTube videos in comments if you can avoid it–a link will suffice.  The URL will put the entire video in the comment, which eats up bandwidth.

8.  Please write posts, not essays.  Some comments are extraordinarily long, and often aren’t germane to the discussion. I don’t have a word limit, but sometimes write privately to people to shorten their comment before I’ll post it.

9. I know from private emails that a lot of people lurk here but never comment. That is perfectly fine, but I encourage lurkers to join in from time to time. If you have a question that you want answered, by all means ask it. As I tell my students, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question, and if you don’t ask you won’t learn.”

10. Remember that all first-time posters are automatically subject to moderation. Once I approve the first post, everything you write thereafter will appear automatically. Since I’m not at the computer 24 hours a day checking email, first-time approval may take some time. (If your first post is wacko, though, it won’t get approved!)

11. Use your real email address when making a comment. I will never disclose it without permission, but if I have to communicate with readers (for example, if you don’t close your italics properly!), I’ll need a valid email address.

I encourage readers, as always, to send me interesting material via private email; my university address is easily obtainable with a bit of Googling. Many of my favorite posts have been prompted by reader submissions. I always try to acknowledge these with a “hat tip” (“h/t”), but sometimes I forget or lose the original email. Forgive me if you’re not acknowledged, as I get a lot of suggestions.  And forgive me as well if I don’t take you up on a suggestion for a topic worth posting about.  There are simply too many of these, and I can’t use them all. But I do appreciate every suggestion.

And of course I welcome pictures of your cat along with a paragraph of information about it.  I have a long queue of readers’ cats to post, but that’s good.

Finally, I again want to thank the readers for their thoughtful commentary.  I have learned a lot (and changed my mind!) on many issues, especially that of free will and other philosophical matters. I am a biologist, not a philosopher or an expert on politics or literature. On the latter issues I post as a tyro. (Even when I post on biology I often make mistakes, and am usually corrected within an hour!) Yet we have such a diverse readership that I—and others—can learn a lot from experts who comment on these other fields.  There is hardly a profession (or nation) not represented by one or more readers.  Do remember that we have an international readership, so things immediately comprehensible to Americans may be unfamiliar to others.

kthxbye.

257 thoughts on “A note on courtesy and posting behavior

  1. An excellent post. Part 9 caught my attention, as I tell my students something similar. I say “There are no stupid questions… just stupid people.” It’s usually enough to raise a laugh or two and I think it get the point across nicely.

    1. I am a novice at teaching (I have only ever taught one class so far), but I am not sure I would ever tell any students “There are no stupid questions… just stupid people.”, for if I was on their side, this would discourage me even more from asking perceived “stupid” questions: “No, it’s not the question that is stupid, it’s me”.

      I like Prof Coyne’s version better: it says exactly what it wants to, and (most probably) can’t be construed as anything else.

      1. It’s a joke. It’s funny. Say it with a smile. They laugh. Students are not stupid. They understand.

  2. well put on all points, even though I think it’s a sad day that you have to do so. I don’t comment often, but usually read the comments along with the post & am usually struck by how knowledgable & even the comments are. & I also love the thing about no stupid questions. I usually tell students not to be scared of mistakes, ’cause if you don’t make mistakes you never learn. I shall add the one about questions, though 🙂
    Keira

  3. Thank you for this. This site and my other favourite, Tetrapod Zoology, are rare in that the comments sections are just as interesting as the articles.

  4. I recently saw a hilarious YouTube video of people having a conversation around a table as if they were posting on the Internet. I thought it was on PZ Myers blog, but I can’t find it. It echoes many points made here.

    All good points. Thanx

    (except some of us may not know how to link to a YouTube video without embedding it. Please enlighten us via addendum at top!)

      1. Yes, there are reasons for using pseudonyms that have nothing to do with anonymity. I use the same one everywhere and have done for a long, long time. I use it so people know who I am (and can therefore just skip my comments without reading them 😉 rather than to hide my identity, which is not a secret.

        Because of this, there can be repercussions when I post under the pseudonym, since people will recognise me when I post elsewhere. If I say something so unpleasant and stupid that someone needs to find me in meatspace, it isn’t that hard.

        Jerry’s guidelines seem good to me. While I’m not overly concerned about tone, I find it frustrating when people trying to make a controversial point are attacked personally (attacking their arguments is fine, of course). I just don’t see what that sort of behaviour is supposed to achieve.

    1. Use the href html tag,

      General form:
      &lta href=”video URL address here”&gtyour link description here&lt/a&gt

      The quotes are needed around the video address.

      So, this here:
      &lta href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1m4mATYoig”&gtJerry on WEIT, AAI 2009&lt/a&gt

      Looks like this when your comment is published:
      Jerry on WEIT, AAI 2009

      That is, assuming that I’ve shown the code correctly.

      1. Well, that looks like a blob of christ.
        One more try!

        General form:
        <a href=”video URL address here”>your link description here</a>

        The quotes are needed around the video address.

        So, this here:
        <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1m4mATYoig”>Jerry on WEIT AAI 2009</a>

        Looks like this when your comment is published:
        Jerry on WEIT AAI 2009

        1. On comment. It might not be clear because of the way WordPress displays text, but the quotes (quotation marks!) after href= are straight quotes, not “smart” quotes.

          /@

          PS. Some WP and othe blogs (websites too!) have a list of tags for italic, bold, blockquote, &c. in a sidebar…

            1. Jeez, I’m almost sorry I asked! No offence meant, it’s just that it seems awfully complicated. In future I may just say “look it up on YouTube”

              1. OK but, it really is much easier than it looks (due to a syntax change that I was unaware of in my first comment and the need to explain what is happening so that you can see how it works, in the second comment).

                Here’s a simple form that you could have as a note on your desktop for example:

                <a href=””>change me</a>

                Then all you need do is paste it into the comment box, paste the URL between the quote marks and put something in the “change me” spot.

                It’s rather fun to do really, to see the result of your effort.

                However, it can be irritating too if something goes wrong. Don’t let the irritation persist though, just try again or fallback to explaining how the reader can find the reference on whichever video site.

                As Ant notes, the quote marks are the thing I’ve had the most problem with. If you paste the format, to use as a template, into some word processors the code will be broken when it is pasted back into a comment box. Simple text processors such as Notepad (in its default state) usually won’t cause a problem though. A more sure way to get around the problem is to just delete and retype the quote marks when pasting the URL into the comment box.

                Also, I suspect that the rule will be broken somewhat often anyway for one reason or other, such as those that start reading and posting in the future and are unaware of the preferred practice, or for some other reason.

                BTW, thanks for your comment, whatever you decide on.

    2. The video was from College Humor. It really highlights the difference between online and in-person interactions, particularly with regard to crude sexual comments:
      http://www.collegehumor.com/video/2563451/internet-commenter-business-meeting

      Incivility in online communication has been with us since the beginning; the term “flame” was coined back in the usenet days. The big difference today is that so many people are online reading and writing comments, and any random knucklehead can get online and post. Back in the day, it was generally a more educated brand of knucklehead stirring the pot.

      1. Thanks for the link to that hilarious video. That piece of satire definitely found its mark.

        (BTW who painted the bullseye on my butt?)

        Professor Coyne, it’s hard to say why your blog is such a pleasant place to post comments, but methinks it has much to do with your personality and demeanor. I noticed the difference in my very first visit, many moons ago.

        Your message is loud (pleasantly loud) and clear!

  5. Ok. I will use my real name. But I won’t be commenting on anything too controversial that might upset my customers or future employers. The upside about posting anonymously is you can tell it like you feel it without the worry you will be recognized.

      1. My online name, anthrosciguy, is as far I as I have seen, unique to me. My real name is shared with nearly 20,000 people in the USA alone, several of them in the same field I usually write about. Which one is less likely to be confused with someone else.

        1. Name, don & zip should do nicely!

          antallan19610121ln69nu

          /@

          PS. The first page or so of Google hits on “ant allan” are me.

          1. Too much information, Ant. Looks like a very pleasant neighbourhood. Have they finished resurfacing the road yet?

            1. No more than anyone can find out about me online anyway, Colin!

              It will be — when they’ve finished resurfacing the road, got rid of the lorry park, and finished the house building. It should have been completed a few years ago, but the downturn slowed down the development… 

              We plan to move in a year or so, but these things might make it hard to find a buyer at the “right” price.

              /@

          2. PPS. My willingness to share real-world identity information doesn’t imply that I expect anyone to do the same. I just thought I should make that clear. 😉

            /@ 

            1. Thank goodness. I was afraid you might hunt me down in Milwaukee and make me buy you a beer. Instead I’ll have to look for you in a pub somewhere in North Hykeham for a pint… The Harrows looks like they have a decent brew available. (Ain’t the Internet grand?)

      2. Sorry but I won’t use my real name. This is not for any specific yearning for anonymity but simply because I have SUCH an unusual name that the first (and only) hit on google is me! Jerry – you know who I am anyway ! 😉

  6. Regarding YouTube URLs…. I think the trick is to not include the “http://” part of the URL. If you include it, then the video gets inserted. If you leave it out it appears just as a link.

    I think. I won’t test my hypothesis here.

        1. There’s a tax on it now? Is this a new move by the RC church to raise more money?

          Colin.

          1. I don’t find searching through HTML for examples particularly satisfying. It is much easier to copy/paste a URL and strip the “http://” from it. And far less prone to error.

  7. People are a lot more polite and reasonable here than they are on Pharyngula, which is why I spend more time here.

    1. I still check Pharyngula regularly, but it’s usually a cursory glance. WEIT has become my favorite site to visit due to the eclectic mix of quality posts and funny, intelligent commentators.

      1. Ditto here. I enjoy many of PZ’s posts but the “funny, intelligent commentators” make WEIT more appealing as a place to hang out.

    2. I read PZ but never the comments. PZ’s fiery take no prisoners attitude and indifference toward the hurt feelings of his deserving targets is fun and appealing in many respects. But his cephalopodian killer instinct certainly gratifies and draws the most angry, combative, and argumentative from among the atheist population.

      I’m plenty angry about the dominance of religious stupidity, but as a rational and civilized atheist I try to rein in my anti-religion id. I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, and believing that religion was a significant repository of some authoritative mysterious encoded knowledge is a mistake from my past. People under the sway of that brain parasite deserve some compassion for suffering that illness.

      People who comment here are mostly really smart and have something to say that’s worth reading. I’m in awe of many posters here. If there is anything like that on PZs site it’s hard to find amid the acres of bitter and hostile venting.

      1. I couldn’t help thinking, after reading today’s Pharyngula, that the atheist movement has reached the significant milestone of engendering splinter groups.

        Not good, but inevitable.

        1. Indeed. A perceptive comment.

          As you undoubtedly recognize, it was inevitable because atheism has no dogma. I sincerely hope the splintering doesn’t dilute the overall progress towards full secularism.

          As an aside: I don’t use my real name because I work in the defense industry, which is infested by religious conservatives, and I have been tracked-down and discriminated against for some of my online writings.

          This situation is fluid, and will hopefully change, because I would sincerely like to use my real name.

          1. “As you undoubtedly recognize, it was inevitable because atheism has no dogma.”

            Since when has dogma prevented schisms?

            1. Do you mean since when have boot-camps prevented marines from partying all night long in the barracks?

              Dogma is designed to prevent schisms. It isn’t always 100% effective, but it certainly squelches dissent to a much larger degree than no dogma — which by definition can’t squelch dissent.

              1. 2000 years of Xtian dogma sure hasn’t prevented schisms in that community. Without dogma, what is there to have a schism over?

              2. You could just as easily say: “Without a community, how can there be a schism?”

              3. Without dogma, what is there to have a schism over?

                Proper etiquette in elevators?

              4. I tend to agree with those above (or below; I haven’t paid much attention to the order in which the postings are placed.) It was the insistence on believing unquestionably some implacable, unprovable random ‘truth’ spouted by one or a small group of old men, most likely in various stages of senility that began my turning away from religion. I cannot accept even the concept that there was ever anyone who was never wrong. And is it just me or does anyone else fined a marked resemblance between the current pope and Uncle Fester on ‘The Addams Family’?

              5. Okay Ant, that link has me convinced that lisa is on to something here. Somebody needs to stick a light bulb in the popes mouth to see what happens…

          2. I don’t comment here often, but like abrotherhoodofman, I too work in the defense industry, and generally keep my non-beliefs on the down-low. As abrotherhoodofman stated, there are many of religious conservatives in that field, and I have no desire to put my job in jeopardy.

        2. @zendruid1:
          “Not good, but inevitable.”

          Schisms aren’t necessarily bad for a community as a whole. Big groups can either be strict about what they consider relevant to their community, which can put off people with slightly different interests, or so inclusive that nobody can get excited about anything. More focussed groups with some underlying core principles can work better in cases where there are lots of diverse views.

          For example, ‘traditional’ skeptics in the mould of Randi are primarily concerned with dealing with scam artists and educating people to think critically, but are frequently soft on – or ambivalent toward – religion. Others, especially more recently, are much less tolerant of religion or actively aggressive toward it. Some groups of skeptics identify as humanists, some as scientists, some as hard-core skeptics, some as atheists etc. Some atheist groups tend to subscribe to the dictionary definition of atheism whereas others feel that atheism ought to be about morality and consciousness raising as well as reality.

          I think the community is a better place for the diversity and I’m glad there are places where everyone can feel at home. The fact that there are individual groups making lots of noise in their particular area is a great thing, particularly if we can keep the links intact at the high levels. Disagreement, rivalry and even open hostility between groups can be stimulating even if they are just arguing about what freethought is.

      2. I absolutely agree with Jeff there. I used to read Pharyngula, but the witch-hunts and vendettas indulged in by some of his commenters put me right off. And this wasn’t due to the language (anyone who ever participated in a good old Fidonet flamewar would find modern blogs tame!), but just the mob mentality.

        Ceilingcat does a good job in keeping this area relatively civilised.

    3. Sorry, catching up on blog reading after falling off the planet for a work deadline, so this post is a bit late to the party. But I read both Pharyngula and WEIT nearly daily, including comments on both. I appreciate the candor on Pharyngula and the freedom to be friendly or not according to my mood and the situation (and to be received similarly), but I think long and hard before posting there (which ends up being a good thing for me and everyone else!). So the freedom of expression there is, I think, more broad than on other sites.

      I appreciate the commentary here but don’t find the actual content of comments/posts to be more or less irreverent than Pharyngula, just that the words are (certainly) more polite. Maybe that’s just me. Diversity is important to the movement, though, and I try to respect the rules of whatever site I (infrequently) comment on.

        1. Dammit, “myself”. I meant to type, “I couldn’t have said it better myself”. Damned kyeboard!

            1. Not “teh”, THE. I meant “THE”.

              (Sorry to belabor the joke, but you can probably guess that strings of these sorts of posts annoy me…)

              1. Perhaps you should take a break. My biggest problem of this type is having the auto-correct change my meaning completely.

    1. Interesting idea. Just like that blog that was set up to post the crazier ideas and suggestions by some readers (I forget who did it), Jerry could make a post of some of the more, uhm, fanciful comments that he didn’t allow through the first time. 🙂

  8. With regards to the real names, I use my real name but I don’t know if I messed something up or not. I could only fit my name in by not using a space, but others seem to manage fine with more characters.

    1. I guess I should check my details more often! Looks like I’m using a gravatar account, I might have fixed the issue.

  9. This particular dumpster does seem to attrack a much classier breed of cat. The feasting is always much pleasanter here than in other alleys, with less fur in the air.

  10. Hi,

    Excellent post but I’d like to let you know that I would use my real name if I could but since I have a crazy stalker I can’t use my name anywhere lest he find me and make something else I like into a nightmare.

    But I am not a troll, just a scared woman.

  11. Since you brought up free will in the post, it’s fair game.

    You’re asking people to change or monitor their behavior. I don’t understand how that makes any sense under a no-free-will stance.

    You cannot say that you changed your mind about free will and be consistent. The most you can say is that the material substance that makes up your brain and its environs changed deterministically in such a way that your “mind” (whatever that is) experienced the illusion that it voluntarily changed.

    Look, I’m as puzzled about the free will question as anyone, given our current understanding of physical law. My guess is that our understanding is incomplete.

    I hesitate to question motives, but I suspect that your no-free-will stance is motivated by your understandable desire to quash religion, and not by a dispassionate view of the meager evidence we have.

    1. Maybe I have no choice about what I say, but that doesn’t mean that what I say can’t change peoples’ behavior. Of course it can: it affects your neurons.

      As for my motives, you’re dead wrong: my stand come from materialism and what I know about the brain, not at all from religion. Our brains are physical and material, ergo no dualism. We can redefine free will so it’s compatible with determinism or quantum indeterminacy, but that’s a semantic matter. It’s not so hot of you to speculate on my motives but at any rate you’ve gotten them completely wrong.

      1. I may be wrong about your motivation, but I’m afraid that you question the motives of faithists quite often.

    2. You’re asking people to change or monitor their behavior. I don’t understand how that makes any sense under a no-free-will stance.

      Jerry posting his request is a real, physical phenomenon in the material and physical world, and as such it can have a (deterministic) effect on other physical/material phenomena, such as your brain/mind. In the same way, a hammer can have an effect on a nail.

      1. “Jerry posting his request is a real, physical phenomenon in the material and physical world, and as such it can have a (deterministic) effect on other physical/material phenomena, such as your brain/mind. In the same way, a hammer can have an effect on a nail.”

        There is a gaping hole in that argument. Jerry is assuming that by reading his plea for politeness, people will choose change their behavior. That assumes they have a choice.

        1. There’s a subtle logical difference between a “change in behavior” and an “effect on behavior.” Jerry is being consistent enough so long as he takes the former as a kind of metaphysical metaphor for the latter.

          From that point of view, “there is only the behavior that happens,” but you can maybe trace a smidgen of its cause back to something someone wrote on the internet.

        2. They may have no choice but to be affected by Jerry’s request.

          Requests, praise, consequences, etc, all remain valid sources of deterministic input even in the absence of free will.

        3. There is a gaping hole in that argument. Jerry is assuming that by reading his plea for politeness, people will choose change their behavior. That assumes they have a choice.

          There is a gaping hole in that argument. Everyone assumes that if a nail is hit hard by a hammer then the nail will be driven into the wood. But that assumes that the nail has a choice.

          [Or, if instead you don’t think that the nail needs to have “a choice” in order for it to be affected, then neither do Jerry’s commentators need a free-will choice to be affected.]

        4. When you post an argument, and someone refutes that argument, it’s kinda rude to respond with “There is a gaping hole in that argument” and then simply repeat your original argument.

    3. I wouldn’t bother replying to this; it’s a copy/paste comment (I saw it on Pharyngula a couple of weeks ago) from somebody with the weirdest chip on his shoulder I’ve ever seen.

      1. If you’re talkinhg about me, you’re absolutely wrong, and I don’t have a chip on my shoulder. I think you’re on the cusp of violating Jerry’s request here.

    4. My guess is that our understanding is incomplete.

      While our understanding of science and the brain is of course incomplete, I think that there is enough understanding to conclude that free will is an illusion.

      I agree, the belief in free-will is based on inadequate understanding of science. It’s also natural to conclude that we have free will if one hasn’t fully internalized the idea that intelligence and consciousness are purely materialistic phenomena based on the activity of the brain.

      You’re asking people to change or monitor their behavior. I don’t understand how that makes any sense under a no-free-will stance.

      This question seems to be based on confusing intelligence, control, and brain plasticity, i.e. the ability to memorize and learn, with free-will.

      Computers or intelligent systems based on computers change and monitor their behavior all the time based on changes in their environment, or based on an algorithmic re-balancing of priorities. Not only do they not have free will, they aren’t even conscious.

      To have free will one must be able to somehow extract themselves from the deterministic chains of causality. This seems pretty clearly to be impossible.

      Or else one has to re-define free will (compatibilists) to mean something like intelligence, control, flexibility, and the ability to learn. But then it’s no longer free-will the way it has traditionally been understood. These things are worth having (ala Dennet), and it’s wonderful that we have them, but they don’t amount to free will.

      Given the experience of consciousness, it is in fact quite difficult to see that we don’t have free will, even though we do make choices and decisions that are based on what we want. That wanting and that choosing are caused, but our consciousness makes us believe we are making uncaused choices. Hence the illusion of free will.

  12. Thanks for this, Prof Coyne. This is a wonderful list of policies. I wish I could copy this almost verbatim for my own blog, since you’ve expressed very clearly what I would want from my own commenters.

    And agreed: you have incredibly smart commenters, who have taught me, a regular lurker, many wonderful things.

  13. I only like posts that have cats, food, boots, and whatever in them, so I’m this close to canceling my membership here.

    1. There will be plenty of cats and food, and I’ve nowhere near exhausted my photos of boots. . .

      1. I’ve been meaning to speak to you about this.

        Why don’t you ever write about things that interest me? I like fashion and gardening and martial arts.

        And what’s the deal with all the biology posts? Nobody reads those.

        1. I’ve been looking for a picture of a suckling puss-in-boots, but all I’ve been able to find with that search term is porn.

            1. My sister used to have a cat and when my brother in law would whistle at a certain pitch, the cat would try to suckle my sisters arm as if it was a kitten again.
              Quite odd.

  14. On October 8, 1814, discussing the preparatory modalities of the Vienna Congress, Talleyrand, the French foreign minister, asked for a clause stating that the deliberations should proceed in accordance with the principles of public law.
    The Prussian chancellor, prince Hardenberg, countered: “This goes without saying.” Thereupon Talleyrand: “Si cela va sans dire, cela ira encore mieux en le disant.” If it goes without saying, it will go even better stating it.
    Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Prussian delegate, would not desist: “What has public law got to do with us here?”
    Calmly, Talleyrand nailed it: “It has to do with the fact that you are here.”

    From time to time, stating the obvious is the most necessary thing to do.

    However, I beg Jerry’s leave to register my nuanced dissent with his first point, namely, pseudonyms.
    For one thing, I should be ashamed of myself if my public utterances under a pseudonym were in the least different in tone and stance from the ones penned under the name inscribed in my passport. I’m perfectly willing to make the same assumption about the other contributors. If civility and consideration were dropped at the cloakroom, no civilised debate would ever be possible.

    For another thing, we must distinguish between privacy and anonymity. I am persuaded that the right to privacy is one of the achievements of our civilisation, a right that is under continuous threat and constant erosion. I also think that a certain amount of distancing between the private ego and the public persona is healthy for the debate.

    Finally, a technical point: On several technical forums of which I am a member, there exists a mechanism allowing the exchange of private messages between participants. This allows for some heated exchanges being taken off-line, and guarantees that the participants are not anonymous, while safeguarding their privacy if they so wish. I don’t know wether WordPress has a similar mechanism, but if it could be implemented without adding to the burden of our genial host, it may be worth trying.

      1. Indeed.

        If you’re interested, there’s a witty novel by a young German writer, Daniel Kehlmann, about the uneasy rivalry between the Humboldt siblings. Further featuring: Carl Friedrich Gauss, Wilhelm Weber, and Aimé Bonpland, it’s titled Measuring the World (“Die Vermessung der Welt” in the original), and despite some technical inaccuracies and anachronisms, it makes good thumping reading about the scientific grandees of the early 19th century.
        One of the few recent novels with a true science historical theme, and a surprise best-seller in Germany, it outsold even Harry Potter. 🙂

  15. Just in case this post was in some part urged into existence by my postings over the last few days in the polar bear thread, I will make a general apology for, and withdrawal of, the phrase down a ways in post 11 “…none of you are bright enough to grasp…” which should not have seen the light of day. Yes, I am very angry about the exploitation of the PB for political ends, but that was a rude comment and I am sorry.

    John Donohue

    1. Between you, Kristen Stewart, and Rupert Sanders, that’s three public apologies I’ve seen in the past 24 hours that are real apologies and NOT “notpologies”. What is this world coming to? (Seriously though, John, thanks for setting such a good example.)

  16. A great set of guidelines and worth being reminded of from time to time. I primarily use a pseudonym because my name (Richard Edwards) is quite common rather than a lack of ownership of comments. (It’s only a couple of clicks to find out who I really am!)

    Personally, I have no problem with people who choose to have an online pseudonym as long as they are consistent and recognisably them – getting into discussions with an “anonymous” is often frustrating because you do not even know if it’s the same anonymous in each comment.

    1. ‘getting into discussions with an “anonymous” is often frustrating’

      Or worse yet, a sock puppet!

    2. My real name is in my profile in case anybody actually cares to know. Since I use this more distinctive ‘nym as consistently as possible, though, my many stupid comments are more likely to follow me around. Wait….

    3. With all due deference to your real name, I think ‘cabbagesofdoom’ is awesome, not to mention highly distinctive and memorable. I think I must respectfully disagree with our host a.k.a. CeilingCat on the subject of pseudonyms, so long as they are used consistently. (In my case I’m known in some other unrelated Internet areas just by my initials, but they happen to have been ‘already taken’ by an infrequent commenter on this list).

        1. Yes, yes. Things simply exist or not. A thing can’t lack existence. You can’t outdo something that doesn’t actually exist. This intentional (!) illogic is what makes my comment a “joke”, to reference a concept explained upthread a bit.
          🙂

  17. I think there is an additional factor at work. We live in a world driven by “popular opinion”, and people are told that their opinion matters and all opinions are equally valid, whereas “experts” are often denigrated as being arrogant. So-called “news” programs try to be “fair” by presenting “both sides”, even when there isn’t really another side (many science stories fall in to this trap). Combine that with the fact that anybody can Google and find some wacko who has a nice web site that validates their opinion no matter how fringe, and we have a problem. So rather than respecting the opinion of someone who has spent most of their life studying a subject (I’m whining about climate change here, but you guys doing evolution can whine as well), the average person Googles, reads a couple of web sites, and suddenly becomes an expert and wants to argue esoteric points that need a deep understanding of the subject to explain. Sorry if I blew out the “length” commandment 🙂

    1. Quick and unimpeded access to information may well lead to a better informed population over the very long-term, but no less a luminary than James Randi has pointed out the problem you discuss here.

      The internet is a prolific source of misinformation to at least the same degree as it is a source of valid information.

  18. When a person despite being given mountains of evidence refuses to be dissuaded from his arguement that no proof for evolution has been found and that it is all a conspiracy what do you say? Most here would agree that this person has chosen to be willfull ignorant rather than give up his firmly held ideology. Unfortunately when this person hears this reply he will take it as an insult. What other way is there to reach this person?

    1. I would conclude that such a person is inaccessible, and that it’s no use prolonging the discussion. So: ‘Good bye’.

  19. I have always (since the late 1980s dial-up 300 Baud modem days) posted publicly (as an out-of-the-closet atheist and Old-Earth Evolutionist critic of so-called “scientific creationism” in an ocean of theists and Young-Earth Creationists) using my real name; I never felt any need or desire for the anonymity of a “cybernym,” and I have never understood why any SERIOUS person would.

    I grant that this makes incumbent on me that I THINK before I post — THINK about the potential consequences for myself (and others) of careless, thoughtless, or abusively ad hominem commentary I might post — but that seems to me to be a GOOD thing, not a bad thing.

    And most important, why should I take seriously what others who post anonymously have to say (and why would anyone else take seriously what I have to say if I post anonymously)?

    1. As noted elsewhere, some people are subject to harassment, job consequences, and so forth to an extent that anonymity makes sense. It is nice that these don’t affect you and me.

      1. Good point! But still, even with a good reason for not using one’s actual name in posting, cybernyms DO dilute the “take what I have to say seriously” factor.

        On the other hand, however, the value of the logical content of a given post should stand alone (and be judged) independently of the identity of the author, so I’ll agree that posting under a cybernym beats not posting at all. “Caveat emptor” always wisely applies, even with an identified “seller” (given that NONE among us is infallible).

    2. “And most important, why should I take seriously what others who post anonymously have to say (and why would anyone else take seriously what I have to say if I post anonymously)?”

      I understand what motivates that view, but you might miss some interesting and worthwhile ideas/concepts/viewpoints if you do literally ignore all comments that don’t have legal names attached to them (Not claiming you do, just an example). I think it is better to judge a post on its contents than on whether or not the poster is using their real name or not.

    3. Frank, I consider myself a “serious” person, yet only use my first name to post. It’s nice that you don’t have to worry about repercussions of being an atheist, but some of us do. I’m a second year medical student and have to apply for residency in a couple years, which can involve a pretty thorough internet search, with results of the search brought up during interviews. Considering that several doctors have told me that they would never trust a person who was an atheist, and that physicians are a lot more religious than other groups of scientists, I’ve thought it best to not use my whole name until after I get into and finish residency. I hardly think that alone makes me not a serious person.

      I’ll also answer your second question, about why I would take you seriously even if you didn’t post under your full name. I evaluate comments based on content. If a comment is logical, evidence-based, and thoughtful than I don’t ignore it simply because I don’t know author’s real name. I agree with Jerry that it is optimal to use our full name, but, as he understands, sometimes that isn’t practical.

    4. What do you think of the idea of employers – private corporate tyrants, whoever, who can choose not to hire, or to fire, one for no good reason if they so desire – surfing the web for the personal opinions of their employees, with which opinions the corporate demigod doth not agree? If one is retired or financially independent or has tenure, etc., one is a bit more free to dispense with privacy.

      Regardless of ones moniker, does not ones statements logically and rationally stand or fall on their own merits?

    5. “And most important, why should I take seriously what others who post anonymously have to say (and why would anyone else take seriously what I have to say if I post anonymously)?”

      As I’m currently touring Philadelphia, I’ll offer the answer, “because of Common Sense.” Do you think less of Thomas Paine for having published his arguments for colonial independence anonymously?

      1. Give me a break. Thomas Paine was risking his life. You’re commenting on a blog. Anonymity is the poison of the Internet. Stand up.

        1. Anonymity is the poison of the Internet.

          But that doesn’t make sense. How can you know which names are real and which are not? “Stephan Barnard” could just as easily be made up as real. If you want people to post drivers’ licences and other forms of ID in order to comment, I’m afraid it wil slow down the discussion quite a bit.

          1. I’m in a Facebook group that was derived from a Usenet group. Facebook takes some care to ensure that people use their real names (although I’m sure it’s not perfect). Usenet doesn’t. The Usenet group was full of the worst behavior — exactly what Jerry was complaining about. The Facebook group has more-or-less the same people, but the behavior is cordial and polite. I’m convinced that it’s because of the lack of anonymity.

            I don’t insist that people use their real names — that would be futile — but I’m far more inclined to trust and respect someone if they do.

            1. I trust that no reader will perceive me indulging in incivility and “terminological inexactitude” (Churchill) of me to reflect that President Dwight Eisenhower (his real name), told Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev that no United States U-2’s had been flying over the Soviet Union, when at that moment Krushchev was in possession of the wreckage of a U-2 and its pilot Francis Gary Powers.

            2. Stephen Barnard wrote:

              I don’t insist that people use their real names — that would be futile — but I’m far more inclined to trust and respect someone if they do.

              None of that answers the question of how you can possibly know if a blog commenter is using a real name. You can’t. This must put you in a real quandry over which commenters to trust and respect.

              1. I don’t know for sure, of course, unless I know them personally, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove unreliable or rude.

                BTW, there’s another website dealing with the same subject (The Drake — fly fishing) that also allows anonymous comments. The behavior there is appalling: rude, sexist, and insulting to newbies.

                All I’m saying is that anonymity enables and encourages bad behavior. This isn’t only common sense. There’s evidence.

              2. anonymity enables and encourages bad behavior. This isn’t only common sense. There’s evidence.

                No, there isn’t. Just because you’ve seen what you consider bad behavior from someone posting anonymously, doesn’t mean that’s the problem. A big majority of the posters on this site post without real names. Do you see a lot of bad behavior? It has nothing to do with with anonymity and everything to do with what the moderator allows.

              3. We’ve run out of reply space. I’m responding to your comment below.

                “Do you see a lot of bad behavior? It has nothing to do with with anonymity and everything to do with what the moderator allows.”

                The three examples I gave (Usenet group, Facebook group, and The Drake forums) are unmoderated. The one that discourages anonymity is polite, and the others, that don’t, are appalling.

                If there were no anonymity here Jerry would probably have a lot less moderating to do.

              4. @Stephen Barnard

                “The three examples I gave (Usenet group, Facebook group, and The Drake forums) are unmoderated. The one that discourages anonymity is polite, and the others, that don’t, are appalling.”

                A small sample which you selected. I fail to see that proves your point.

                “If there were no anonymity here Jerry would probably have a lot less moderating to do.”

                A completely unsupported assertion. Frankly I doubt it. (If Jerry cares to comment based on his experience then I would take notice of it).

        2. You’re missing my point. The question Frank asked was why an anonymous post should be taken seriously. I’m suggesting that judging the merits of an argument solely on its author’s anonymity is not likely to be reliable.

          Of course Paine was risking his life. So were many other colonists who published and spoke out using their real names. Who among them was more worthy of being heard and read?

          Several anonymous commenters here have stated that they feel they’d risk their livelihoods to ‘out’ themselves. If that’s not enough peril for you to justify the effort, I guess you’ll miss out on some great contributions to Jerry’s comments.

          1. I’m certainly not suggesting “judging the merits of an argument solely on its author’s anonymity.” Sometimes people have good reasons for being anonymous. Usually, they don’t, and often their reasons are nefarious. If you don’t believe this, look up “sockpuppet” on Wikipedia.

            I am suggesting that anonymity can have a corrosive effect. Reputation is important, and anonymity makes it irrelevant.

  20. Many times they are simply trolls (you wouldn’t believe the comments I’ve put directly in the spam file!), but sometimes they have sincere arguments.

    If I may suggest, trollish comments should go to trash, rather than to spam. I’m not sure, but I think what is marked as spam influence how akismet (the spam detection engine) treats other comments by the same user.

    As a side remark, I am a regular reader, but I rarely comment because I have been trying to follow your rule 4 (don’t comment unless you have something useful to add).

  21. I have had legitimate reasons to use a “rainbow name” in the past, though it’s no longer much of an issue. I’m a blacksmith (among other things), hence “Ironwing”. The gravatar offers a link to my website which has my real name as well as links to my WordPress blog (art, nature, and pics of mah kittehs) and Flickr account (pseudonym “leonfangs”).
    I do enjoy the posts and comments on this site!

    Lorena Babcock Moore
    http://ironwing.wordpress.com/

    1. It is my imperfect, incomplete, subjective impression that “Lorena” is a name which more so than not hails from the antebellum South. I once heard a song on an LP record entitled “Lorena” from that era.

      Brings to mind “Lenora” and “Lenore” (re: Edgar A. Poe).

      1. Yes, I was named after that song. You are the first to guess that in 25 years! Most people just make various racial/ethnic/nationality assumptions which are not offensive but they are incorrect.

        My father’s family is from Appomattox, VA. Dad inherited land on the Civil War surrender grounds, adjacent to the national park. I grew up in northern VA. I don’t look or talk like a southern belle but I can cook like one. 🙂

  22. Ah. On almost every forum, blog and site I participate I call myself MNb, because even my compatriots tend to spell my name wrong. But I’m not anonymous.
    MNb stands for Mark Nieuweboer, Moengo Suriname.
    (Not that anybody can check this; which is why I think the anonimity debate silly)

    1. Not that anybody can check this;
      which is why I think the anonimity debate silly

      Exactly right. I never understood the pride people take in using supposed real names. How would anyone know if “Frank Lovell,” (for instance), is a made-up online name or a name on a birth certificate? And why would anyone care? I’ve known people for years only by their online names and they’re just as real to me as any live person name. As long as one is consistent, always using the same name, I see no difference.

  23. Regarding point 9, I still remember well a math professor from three decades ago expressing the stupid question concept in a pithy way: “The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask”.

    I’m a little confused about 7: what exactly is the difference between using a link and cutting and pasting a URL? I’m going to experiment and I may violate the rule (but only this once).

    Here I’m cutting and pasting a YouTube URL from my browser address bar:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8b3vhTO248&feature=g-high-rec

    Here I’m using the HTML ‘a’ tag to define a link:

    Dawkins talks to Joe Cohen, Jewish Muslim religious fanatic

    I suspect the bandwidth problem will come from actually embedding YouTube videos…I’m not sure how to actually add a link without using a URL.

    1. Okay, I stand corrected. This comment software actually does embed videos if the URL is cut and pasted. That isn’t always the case.

      Using the HTML tag ‘a’ and pasting the URL into the href attribute avoids this problem.

          1. nope, formatting didn’t work.

            I’ll spell it our:

            less-than symbol
            a
            space
            href=
            quote mark
            html
            quote mark
            greater-than symbol
            text
            less-than symbol
            forward slash: /
            a
            great-than symbol

              1. Yep, that’s it. It’s hard to demonstrate (as JBlilie shows) because it will be interpreted by the comment editor.

                Whatever text you type between the start tag and end tag shows up as a clickable link.

                You can also look at my post above by using the view source option of your browser.

          2. If you put one html tag inside of another, it will break the outside one. So, for instance, here’s me putting a bold/unbold tag inside of an href tag:
            <a href=”video URL address here”>your link description here

            And here’s me putting bold/unbold tags inside bold/unbold tags inside an href tag:
            <<b></b>a href=”video URL address here”>your link description here

            If this works correctly, the first bit of code that you see in this post should be what you should write to get other people to see a link, and the second bit of code that you see should be what I actually wrote to get you to see the first bit of code (hopefully that’s not too hard to follow; you can also look at the source code of this page to see what what people actually wrote in their comment box). Note that you can use this trick to post a url as just plain text. So, assuming this works correctly, the URL below shouldn’t embed:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8b3vhTO248&feature=g-high-rec

            1. There should be a </a> at the end of those bits of code; I guess end-tags without begin tags are simply deleted rather than rendered as text.

            2. Wouldn’t it be GREAT if WP had a ‘sandbox’ like Wikipedia does, so one could test ones post for horrible HTML crimes before launching it on the site…

              1. This isn’t exactly what you want but can be useful. Note that there still can be syntax variation that might be different when rendered by wordpress.

                http://htmlsandbox.com/

                http://www.w3schools.com/html/tryit.asp?filename=tryhtml_links

                Also, as an aside to gbjames humorously intended comment, none of nor any of the christian gods were the least bit helpful in this endeavor, whether forced by process of prayer or otherwise. It is interesting when listening to christians, they actually demand that their god preforms some act such as when they state ‘bless you’, that isn’t a request but a demand that some god thingy keep evil goblins from entering. It is interesting to note how well the christians have trained their gods to preform to the christian’s demands. Or when the christian claims to interpret the reasoning behind the result of their god’s action, as if their god was performing for the christian’s enjoyment.

              2. Interesting observation about “god as servant”. I imagine it gets a bit annoying for The Deity after a while. Perhaps that accounts for the petulant earthquakes and tsunamis.

  24. I’d just like to say that I very much appreciate the general caliber of conversation here, and I often enjoy taking part. All things considered, you do remarkably well to maintain such an atmosphere – one of the main reasons I no longer read PZ out the rest of ftb is because I never felt that I could have a discussion because of the never-ending barrage of confrontational arrogance from readers.

  25. I like to play internet chess and sometimes find myself subjected to abusive comments from my anonymous opponents during the game.

  26. Has anyone studied whether anonymous comments are actually more ass-hatted than identifiable ones? It sounds plausible, but it also sounds like one of those things people assume to be true without bothering to check because it sounds, um, plausible. I’ve always felt like the medium itself has a lot to do with it. Markman does mention some aspects of this, like distance from the “target” and so on. One thing that I have noticed is that it is not only more common for people to be offensive, but it is also easier to *be* offended. Lots of times someone will add what they think is an inoffensive comment and have it flamed by somebody who reads it differently.

    The way things are going these days, I suppose I will have to give up my ‘nym soon. I will miss it, as I have been CherryBomb or CherryBombSim for almost 20 years now.

  27. Thank you Professor Coyne. I’ve been turned-off by comments posted on other, cephalopodish blogs, and hope this kitteh community can rise to great civility. You provide the purrfect occasion.

  28. It must be hard having this many commenters. My blog is set to moderate comments automatically because of just a few weirdos who use any chance they get to change the subject to inappropriate conversation.

    I find there’s a point at which a line is crossed between private blog and political blog. I don’t literally mean politics but rather a public forum like Grist or Not Exactly Rocket Science.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree that comments should be brief. But with NY Times, Grist, etc, it does seem like discussion is more open than on a private blog as long as the comments are on topic.

    But I agree with moderating comments. People show their true colors when they spew online; and the best way to teach those folks how to behave is peer pressure and public scolding.

  29. We attribute a lot of the hostile aggressive social behavior on line to mid age + guys with anger management challenged brains and increasing disinhibition with age. The vast majority of hostile aggressive people in all social setting are suffering a brain impairment. Mainly guys.

    Why police were invented.

    1. LOL. It’s obviously much more complicated than that, but here is not the place to discuss such matters in depth.

    2. That’s strange. Being a middle aged guy I thought it was the young hotheads who hadn’t yet had enough time to mellow and mature.

      My anecdotal evidence: the worst offenders seem to often be fluent in Internet slang, which most middle aged guys aren’t. God only knows ;). Yes, I mean nobody knows.

      1. What happens is older male brain lose inhibitory capabilities. The dirty/grumpy old man stereotypes speak to this. Woman’s brains change for the worse as well but later so the “witch” and “crazy Jane” stereotypes describe that. But, yes, males are always more aggressive. In young men mental health problems start to emerge in late teens early 20’s.

  30. I appreciate the humanistic values of this
    website. Promoting science and critical thinking; challenging people for their belief
    in the supernatural, while honoring people for their talents and contributions, in spite
    of them. (Skeeter Davis, Ernest Borgnine …)

  31. Thanks again Dr. C.: This is a big part of the reason that your site is #1 for me. (You are crushing Facebook!) Please keep up the good work!

  32. +1.

    I mean, #4 applies to me: +1. Though maybe its interpretation as “agreed” is a little bit of adding a voice instead of an emotional response.

    And I may be a tad rude when provoked. The three religious A’s, Apologists, Accommodationists, and Agnostics, are an astoundingly asinine crowd. I’ll have to work on seeing the individual better.

    And I may have trouble with #8, as I like to take the opportunity to collect my thoughts if I find I have any. =D

    Which gets me to the the absence of “no “blog”, no emoticons”. Kudos!

    Okay, seems like my work schedule is set. :-/

    1. “The three religious A’s, Apologists, Accommodationists, and Agnostics, are an astoundingly asinine crowd.”

      Oops, there you go, breaking bad again! 🙂

  33. The problem with sites like PZ’s – and one of the primary reasons for the different, more civilized tone here – is that you can’t continually post with an aggressive, confrontational, hostile, antagonistic, personal attack-laden,[insert synonym for being an asshole here], and then expect your commenters to do anything but follow suit.

    (Ironically, PZ is much more gracious and considerate in person than he is on his blog – without compromising his message one iota).

    Culture on blog comments filters down from the host.

    1. Exactly. PZ and most of his followers wouldn’t dare speak to anyone face to face the same way they do on that blog. I hate to say it, but if you went around insulting and humiliating people you met, eventually you’d end up getting your ass kicked pretty good. I don’t necessarily condone that sort of thing, but let’s face it, people don’t like getting called terrible names to their face, and some of them are willing to fight over it. That’s the world we live in and everyone knows it. There’s a reason why most of us don’t go around insulting people to their faces. Because we know that there’s a risk that somebody will be offended enough to bloody our nose over it (or worse). It’s not safe to insult people in the flesh, but hiding behind a keyboard gives courage to cowards to attack perfect strangers with vicious insults. They ought to think about whether or not they’d be willing to say something to someone’s face before they type it into their keyboard and hit return. But they never do. Luckily, I had a big brother who taught me early on not to run off at the mouth. It was a painful lesson to learn (over and over again), but very valuable.

    2. I don’t think I agree. I don’t find PZ’s posts any more aggressive than Jerry’s. Well, maybe a little more… but not enough to account for the delta in comment flavor. I think the difference may be due to the targets of the posts. It seems like Jerry’s self-sacrificial reading and critique of theological/philosophical material is just as aggressive but more nuanced than PZ who goes more at the lower hanging fruit of dumb-ass creation-museum types rather than the John Haught types.

      But maybe I am wrong. It is true that PZ’s rules don’t limit personal invective the way the 11 Laws of The Cat do. But I don’t find the posts themselves to be unduly aggressive.

      1. I think PZ has a much more sarcastic style when skewering faithheads. Jerry is generally more straightforward with his criticism. Equally aggressive. Different styles.

        Or so it seems to me.

        1. I don’t think it’s PZ’s posting style so much as the (lack of) moderating that he seems to use. If I called someone a ‘f***ing moron’ on this notablog the odds are that CeilingCat would jump on me instantly. On Pharyngula, nine times out of ten I’d get away with it, the tenth time PZ would ban me (or possibly he’d ban the guy I was fighting with instead)…

          That’s the impression I get from (past) observation of Pharyngula, anyway.

          1. My sense is that PZ’s ban hammer comes down mostly on religious trolls but that people don’t get called out that much for other forms of obnoxiousness or belligerence. But I no longer read the comments much there, so maybe things are different now.

            1. OK. The first poster (randomactsofreason) specifically put the tone of PZ’s commenters down to PZ’s own posting style. I assumed (incorrectly) that you were taking the same view. Apologies for the misunderstanding.

  34. I suppose I could use my real name but both my first and last names are just so boring, so I use my nickname. My first name, Jason, is easily one of the most common names among thirty-something men. My last name, Martin, is the 16th most common surname. If you type my name into Google, you’ll get 381,000,000 hits. So, my real name is just as anonymous, in a sense, as any pseudonym I could come up with with.

  35. I have the same name as a rabid right-wing asshole who appears periodically on Fox News and elsewhere, so I tend not to use that name on forums.

  36. Jerry has the balance right, IMO. Sufficient disrespect shown to the logically indefensible without tipping over into gratuitous insult. Some other bloggers I could name have a tendency to tolerate, or even encourage pack behaviour when it suits their purposes whilst also being quick to sensor the inconvenient. The result can be a downward spiral into a clique of the intolerant re-inforcing each other’s vitriol.

    I use a nym because it’s simply not worth the risk of exposing my atheism to potential clients.

  37. Thanks Jerry. With respect I don’t like to have my full name up, but I have found that since I’ve had my photo up people are more polite in response to my (sometimes ditsy) comments.

    In honesty people are extremely civil here in comparison to what I see elsewhere on the net!

  38. What I like about this site is that Prof. Coyne applies his rules fairly to everyone. Some blogs/sites have “Don’t say rude things” rules, but only apply those rules to people disagreeing with the blog. If you’re “one of the regulars” you can get away with a lot, if you’re an outsider with a different opinion you get blasted.

    When I started posting years ago, I was more mordacious than I am now. I should probably change it to lessmordacious1. As far as nyms go, I think that there are only 4 people with my last name in the U.S. (all in my immediate family). So to protect the innocent from having to defend my remarks online, I’ll keep being anonymous. My family has enough problems just being related to me. 🙂

  39. The way WordPress organises the comments on this site works very well. It’s much clearer than (say) Richard Dawkins website where contributors posts are often accompanied by odd ID photos. However, I do wish some people would make their comments a lot shorter. There’s always somebody who writes an essay on every post and these are invariably irritating. Finally, I’m very impressed that Jerry tries to read each post. Must be an exceptionally quick and efficient reader….

  40. This is one of the most civilized forums for discussion I know of, if not number one.

    And indeed it can be hard for people to use their real name. I have decided to work around that by using the same alias everywhere; that should incentivize me not have it become mud by being insulting or aggressive. I think many others are doing the same.

  41. For reasons similar to those of Bonzodog, I don’t feel comfortable using my real name.
    As for the reasons why people respond in hostile ways, I would add to the list that some individuals are simply not very intelligent, and thus will quickly take offense at things that they don’t quite understand, or understand in ways that are quite off the mark.
    Also, others are lazy, and will jump to conclusions before they read through the whole post that they criticize or make sure that they understand it. They jump to conclusions before they have the whole picture in front of them, because they, possibly presumptuously, THINK that they don’t need to read any further.

  42. It’s strange that we can get away with behaviours as adults online that we wouldn’t be able to get away with as children (or even face to face). I wonder if anyone would be willing to hold their comments up to their children as a way that adults should conduct themselves when arguing with others.

    That said, I really would prefer keeping my last name off my comments. I don’t really want a future employer to google my name and come up with a comment on an internet blog where I say something that might bias them against me…

  43. Thank you Jerry,

    I visit your blog regularly because of my revived interest in evolution. One of the primary reasons I continue to do so is because the discussions are largely civil, intelligent, and interesting. I am learning a lot from comments, so thanks to all.

    In regards to real names, my wordpress login has always been cremnomaniac, so that’s what you see. If anyone wishes to know who I am, my blog by the same name has an “about” page for viewing.
    And for the record my real name is Rick.

    I have already stopped visiting at least 2 similar blogs because of the vitriol in the comments. Another thank you to the readers here for not descending into acerbity.

    1. Likewise. I’m just waiting for PZ’s comments to be called a “cesspool” – that’s how it usually ends up.

  44. I have been guilty and apologize. (especially because rudeness was what I was angry about.)

    Mea Maxima Culpa

  45. Courtesy and posting behavior is certainly worthy of study, and I’m glad to see that Scientific American has published an article about it. Like Road Rage, internet rudeness shows that there are a lot of folks with short fuses running around out there. Like the presumed anonymity of a driver, internet participants lurk behind just such presumed anonymity to unload on anything or anybody that rubs them the wrong way. It isn’t just scientific blogs, either: I have a friend who is a Jane Austen scholar. She was on a Jane Austen discussion list for many years, but finally got off because of the nastiness involved. One woman who didn’t like one of my friend’s posts replied that my friend should be “locked in a cage, and tortured like an animal.” [Certainly a lot of food for psychological thought in that statement]. It was almost nonstop. For instance, someone on the list would post an off-topic political rant. My friend would respond to it, and suddenly there would be a bunch of folks chiming in about “posting off topic,” not directed at the person who initiated the political discussion, but directed at my friend for having dared to respond. I tried to put it in perspective for my friend: These were people who read all of Jane’s books, written a couple of hundred years ago about characters who never actually existed. So speculating and fighting about what Jane Austen would have thought of the women’s movement today was fruitless, but, even more so, fussing about what one of her invented characters thought, or would think now, was totally useless, and served no good end. Following the simple rules outlined in the WEIT post above is just common sense.

  46. Using your real name is overrated. Think how much clamped down discussions would be if people have to worry about their real life friends and family members seeing their controversial opinions. Some of us are not out of the closet atheists for one thing. What if grandma reads my bashing of Jesus. She’ll have a heart attack.

    And a pseudonym is an identity in any case that one maintains and through this identity takes responsibility for ones postings. It’s not hard to change online identity but it’s a hassle building it from scratch again.

    1. “What if grandma reads my bashing of Jesus. She’ll have a heart attack.”

      You say that like it’s a bad thing. 😉

  47. WEIT is probably one of my favorite sites. I lurk a lot and comment little, but whenever I do it’s under my real name (because I’m a public figure and have nothing to hide).

    I strongly disagree with some posters at other venues, but when they also post here, I find the level of discourse more engaging and am compeled to interact in polite and mesured manners.

    Kuddos Jerry, you’re doing just fine!

  48. I’m a new reader here and like the site so far as well as the general quality of the comments section. I am wondering if something can be done about the nesting of comments here, where replies to replies to replies get smaller and smaller until you have these long, 3-inch wide columns that are very hard to read. It’s a minor quibble to be sure, but one that makes it hard to skim through the comments and get to the ones of interest.

    1. The current indenting system is good in that it is immediately clear to whom a commenter is responding.

      I notice at this site that a commenter occasionally deals with the problem by starting a new “thread,” taking care to clearly state what s/he is up to.

      Subscribing to a given posting seems to help expedite separating the commentary wheat from the chaff.

      (There is much more wheat than chaff at this website. For sure, topics discussed here deserve more than a Twitter modus operandi.)

  49. It’s refreshing to come across such obvious (though rarely followed) suggestions. I came here via a ‘philosophy’ site whose authors are so fervently faithful to whatever they believe that even a gentle contrarian is feared.
    You’ll have an uphill battle in our postmodern age trying to convince posters to analyse their own sacred ‘true beliefs’; but I fear the decline in intellectual analysis (combined with a flight from the high level language skills on which it depends) means you’ll need to remain a super-optimist. I watched it occurring at all levels in Australian ‘education’, as we concentrated on raising students’ self-esteem.
    This not, by the way, another, “Things used to be — etc.” I still remember my teacher’s bemused reaction when (in 1948) as we chatted while walking the 3-4 kilometres to our respective destinations, and I expressed concerns about falling standards in English.
    “You’re right, Norm, but I don’t think anyone else in the class is worried.”
    Nothing has changed. The education caravan has disappeared into the postmodern desert, and the dogs have long since stopped barking.
    Hope I haven’t breached too many of your 11 commandments?

  50. I don’t think the word “disingenuous” is all that insulting. People often respond or comment on other people’s ideas and present those ideas that they disagree with somewhat unfairly, or in a way that others might view as unfair, simply because they disagree so strongly.

    At the very least I wouldn’t equate it with calling someone a liar.

      1. The word “disingenuous’ has nothing to do with treating people’s views ‘unfairly’. Nor, as you say, is it same as lying.
        It is, however, used dishonestly to say what is true, but is also misleading.
        That’s why Courts ask us to tell not merely the truth.

        1. I take it to be similar to insincere. Your definition is about as confusing as you could make it.

          Calling someone you disagree with disingenuous is common. I believe it’s actually why it was mentioned in this post, someone called the blogger disingenuous but I don’t think it was meant as an insult even if the author didn’t agree.

          1. I was around when the word ‘disingenuous’ was first coined, Patrick. Its meaning was quite clear, and I remember thinking it was a far more valuable neologism than many summing up as it did so well an all too commonly encountered aspect of our species’ behaviour.
            It means saying something which is true, but leaves the listener with a false interpretation of the facts, because it doesn’t tell significant parts of the relevant information.
            Of course it has an ‘insincere’ aspect; but it’s not the same as lying, otherwise there’d have been no need for the new word.
            I acknowledge that, as you say, “Calling someone you disagree with disingenuous is common”; but regardless of whether or not the accuser’s assertion is correct, it doesn’t change the meaning of disingenuous.
            I lack the insight to assess whatever the intention was of that blogger’s post, and am content to fall back on what we’re told Socrates suggested re the definition of terms is the beginning (only) of wisdom.

            1. Norman Hanscombe: :I was around when the word ‘disingenuous’ was first coined, Patrick.”

              I doubt that, because the word usage extends back to at least 1911, which would put you at around 101 if you came out of the womb understanding English.

              “Disingenuous” is the negation of “ingenuous”, which means, essentially, “free from reserve, restraint, or dissimulation; candid; sincere.”

              1. Thanks, Stephen. Mea culpa, as I’m neither quite as old nor near as precocious as that. It was only in the 1950s that the terms cognitive dissonance and disingenuous suddenly became widely used in psychology, and had I been concentrating more carefully when typing, that’s what I should have said.
                As for the definition of disingenuous (which IS the important issue) I’m glad you didn’t feel it needed correction?

              2. A shame you missed my 9.44 p.m. confession, anonymous ant, or you’d not have spent time finding another example. Still pleased, though, you apparently found no flaw in my reference to the far more important question of what disingenuous actually means.
                You have, of course, reinforced my acceptance that at a time when I’m slowing down, don’t have full use of either hand, and am engaged in serious discussions elsewhere, I need to concentrate more closely on quick responses related to my hobbies, so that I don’t encourage people to become so riveted on trivia that they pay less attention to the core elements of a discussion.

  51. Here’s my experience – active, zero-tolerance moderation is necessary. All social settings require constant, low level policing. Apparently, the same is true in other primates.

    I moderate 3-5 groups in social media and multiple blogs.

    Online bullying generally:
    – Is very few people
    – They are easy to identify. They are unbalanced.
    – However, they have outsized influence as bullies always do so can ruin a site.
    – They degrade and prevent principaled discussions and learning
    – They drive away normal folks and the quietest voices.
    – Their main tool is personal attacks.

    Best to remove them and block from group. That has solved the problem in my groups and led to some very useful, open discussions and the group really growing.

    I started the Linked In groups to avoid sales spam, poor moderation and bullying and the groups are now running well and attract high levels of participants and sharing.

    It’s all about safe open sharing and that cannot happen if one two people are calling anyone names or attacking them. Kick ’em out.

Leave a Reply