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May 20 2014

Why you can’t trust Wikipedia

The entry for Chris Rodda is a lovely example of lies.

By 30th of April 2014, she gave up her writing presence on Freethoughtblogs due to the repeated cyberbullying by leftist social justice activists, instigated by Freethought Blog’s own head of operations, Paul Zacharias (PZ) Myers.

How many lies can you squeeze into one sentence?

There was no “cyberbullying”. Chris was very highly regarded here. If mere disagreement is “bullying”, then I’m the frequent victim of bullying. (Note: I do not think it is.)

I did not instigate anything. I made one comment questioning whether it was appropriate to treat being called an atheist “libel”. That was really it. Apparently several other people made similar objections.

She spontaneously and independently decided to leave. If I’d had my choice, I’d have asked her to stay — she was a good contributor.

I am not the “head of operations” here. If anyone fits that description, it’s Ed Brayton — who is a good friend of Chris Rodda. I am confident he would have liked her to stay on, but this is not a prison — if people elect to leave, they can.

My middle name is misspelled.

Wikipedia: where any hack can edit anything.

126 comments

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  1. 1
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    I’d say just be aware that Wikipedia has some editing problems, and just make sure you read the citations.

  2. 2
    cartomancer

    At least they got your surname right!

  3. 3
    dannysichel

    “90% of Wikipedia is reliable, 90% of the time” — some guy somewhere

  4. 4
    Charly

    As of now, the lie is not present anymore.

    I do not trust Wikipedia without reservation, but it is usefull nevertheless. As far as I can tell, good information outweigh the bad very significantly.

  5. 5
    parasiteboy

    That part about you and FTB is gone already.

    Wikipedia: where any hack can edit anything.

    I thought they have volunteers who will monitor what edits are made and correct them as needed.

    Wikipedia is still a great resource and a good place to start for a lot of basic science. I never let my students cite it in there work, but it is usually a good place to start to get an overview of a subject.

  6. 6
    Jenna Stewart

    Looks like the lie was taken out in the last revision. You can view the edit history to verify it was indeed there and see when it was fixed.

  7. 7
    PZ Myers

    I tell my students the same thing. Scan it for a quick intro, look specifically for citations at more reliable sources for any details, but that I never ever want to see it cited in any of their papers. Why? Because you can’t trust it — verify everything you find in it.

  8. 8
    Moggie

    “Poopyhead of operations”, surely?

  9. 9
    Gregory in Seattle

    With any collaborative project open to public participation, you have vandals. Editors like myself build a watchlist of articles, which reports any and all changes to that article. When we have time, we check the watchlist and review the changes. There are mechanisms to reduce persistent vandalism — prohibiting unregistered editors from making changes, banning registered users, banning certain IP addresses, setting up an article to require approval before edits go live, and a few more — but edits that are made still require that someone verify the changes. That can take time, especially with smaller articles that normally get little traffic.

    So while the Wikipedia is generally accurate, problems do creep in: being an editor is often an uphill battle against entropy. As Kevin said in #1, it is best to use the text as a guide and consult with the references for verification. For what it is worth, I am a long-time editor and I’ve put Rodda’s article on my watchlist. I will do my best to catch and correct anything suspicious, but the more eyes the better.

  10. 10
    Pen

    I do not know what went on here, but several times over the course of some weeks (months?) I noted Chris expressing her distress and discomfort with the way people were responding to what she’d said. Possibly, if a person says something, and ‘lots’ of other people react all at once, all complaining, or criticising, in strong terms… well, certainly each of those people individually might not be bullying (I assume), but the effect of being ‘mobbed’ might be so intimidating to some people it makes no difference. Certainly, it seemed Chris felt so. Just a theory.

    PS I have no idea what the criticisms were about because due to the way my work pans out I read this network intensively at times, then not at all for long periods.

  11. 11
    markgisleson

    Wikipedia, where anyone can edit an erroneous page and then put a “freeze” on further edits in less time than it took you to research and write this post.

    A very disappointing post, PZ. You need a thick hide to blog and “friendly” fire is the worst, but blaming Wikipedia for this harms the free exchange of information.

    Had she found a publication to print her libel, you’d be looking at years of lawyers’ fees to make things write. Wikipedia gives you the tools to correct this for free.

  12. 12
    otocump

    But why can we trust the cited articles more then the wiki article that links to it PZ? That way leads to infinite layers of ‘but why can we trust what’s on the internet’ madness. Common sense needs to apply at some point. If a wiki article has well sourced material, and no clear factual errors regarding the subject, why is it any less of a source then any of it’s sourced articles? Why are you any more of an expert on your subject matter then the texts and papers and studies you may use to support a point?
    Outright banning wiki as a source is just a blanket fix for a problem that already exists with any information….’how can you trust this?’.

  13. 13
    Gregory in Seattle

    I looked at the history, and noted that the IP editor linked to Al Stefanelli’s blog. Sadly, that explains the content of the edit.

  14. 14
    Gregory in Seattle

    @otocump #12 – The reason is that you may be reading a particular article after a vandal has snuck in, and before an editor has had a chance to roll the vandalism back.

  15. 15
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    @Otocump:

    “You can’t trust Wikipedia” != “banning Wikipedia”

  16. 16
    parasiteboy

    PZ@7
    I agree. You should always look at the citations on Wikipedia and verify the information at more reliable sources. I also tell my students to never trust what one peer-reviewed article has written about another peer-reviewed article and that they should find the original article and read it for themselves. I have found the original article misinterpreted or misrepresented on several occasions. With that said, something like Wikipedia will have a higher error rate on information than the peer-reviewed literature, but neither are perfect.

  17. 17
    craigmcgillivary

    Surely you wouldn’t allow them to cite any encyclopedia right?

  18. 18
    erikjensen

    I don’t understand the skepticism of Wikipedia. Articles on many topics in my field (except for the extremely obscure) are usually very good. Of course they have occasional errors, omissions, or unsupported claims. So do textbooks. So do scientific journal articles. So do print encyclopedias. So do blogs.

    Here is a comparison of Wikipedia and a print encyclopedia:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4530930.stm

    Here are a few criticisms of journal articles (misconduct and statistical issues):
    http://www.nature.com/news/misconduct-is-the-main-cause-of-life-sciences-retractions-1.11507
    http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21588057-scientists-think-science-self-correcting-alarming-degree-it-not-trouble

  19. 19
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    It seems weird to single out Wikipedia for such general good advice. At least Wikipedia articles have citations. They can be corrected. They have a transparent edit history. Politically charges articles are regularly flagged as such.

    Sounds a bit like science to me. Should we give up on evolution because of Piltdown Man?

  20. 20
    Jackie

    Markgisleson @ #11,

    PZ never said that he thought Chris wrote that. What “she” are you referring to?

    Chris was never once bullied here. Pointing out ablism is not bullying. WTF, people. Are we really going to have that argument again?

  21. 21
    Infophile

    @12 otocump: The key here is that Wikipedia (along with other encyclopedias) is a tertiary source – it compiles information from various reliable secondary sources, which summarize information from primary sources.

    To give an example:

    A video recording showing that Mrs. X killed Mrs. Y – primary source
    A newspaper article detailing the murder, drawing from the video recording and other primary sources, such as witness accounts – secondary source
    An encyclopedia article on the murder, summarizing points from various news stories about it – tertiary source

    With each step past the primary source, error and bias has a chance to creep it. Therefore, it’s always preferably to keep one’s citations as close to the primary sources as possible. Secondary sources are good for citing overall analysis (for instance, a report on the causes of murders in city Z might cite the newspaper article rather than the primary sources, which are too specific to give information on broader things like causes), and tertiary sources do have their uses as well. But they should really only be used when needed, thanks to the tendency for error to sneak in.

  22. 22
  23. 23
    Alan Boyle

    Wikipedia has its limitations, of course. But I don’t think there’s a single better way to do a generic source of information on everything notable. If I wanted to do in depth research on a topic, then I’d have to go further. But if I’m just on the look out for an overview on a range of topics, then I don’t think there’s any better model for providing that. Good information on everything is fragmented around the internet, Wikipedia uses crowdsourcing to bring it to one place. The alternative is me trying to track it all down by myself.

  24. 24
    otocump

    @Gregory in Seattle #14: There is a list of edits to see if there has been any recent changes. Also, anything PZ’s students are researching aren’t probably ‘new news and fast changing information’ that wiki is often going to be vulnerable to ninja-edits for sabotage. But…maybe I’m wrong there and don’t really know what he’s asking his students to research.

    @Kevin #15: Correct. Not banning. Bad use of word. Forbidding might have been better.

    @Infophile #31: Yes of course, that’s absolutely correct, however forbidding a tertiary source on ‘potential for error’ should include a reasonable assessment of why and how that error came to be. It’s not a blanket statement of ‘there may be error, don’t use it’. But a question of ‘how much error is often going to be acceptable’. Would using Wiki as a source on current events be acceptable? No. Hell no. And double no. But how about using Wiki on a source regarding Cell Types? It’s edit history has included no substantial changes other then some updated wording and typo edits since May 2012. What’s the range of error possible on that page? Small? Large? Is it well sourced enough to be considered correct? This is what I mean by some common sense. Whats the range of error in a publicised paper on Cell Types since May 2012 that can’t be updated? Small? Large? Has new information surfaced recently to change that papers findings perhaps? PZ isn’t checking all that, neither is the student, at least in Wiki you can see new changes…

  25. 25
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Gregory in Seattle:

    I’d like to make a suggestion to you in your capacity as a Wikipedia editor. I’ll leave it in the lounge if you’re so inclined.

  26. 26
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I don’t understand the skepticism of Wikipedia.

    In general terms, it works by the following:

    1) think about what could potentially go wrong with Wikipedia’s model.
    2) filter the results of 1) through a multiple-feet-thick layer of “HURR HURR ONLY STUPID TEENAGERS EVER DO THINGS ON THE ENTERNIT”
    3) blindly assume nothing can or will ever be done to correct the issues identified in 1)
    4) get off my lawn! PROFIT!

  27. 27
    ashleybell

    well actually red flags like “leftist social justice activists” givesw one enough info to outright dismiss this particular entry

  28. 28
    gussnarp

    I expect the biggest issue with the Chris Rodda article is that it fails Wikipedia’s notability test.

  29. 29
    Shatterface

    The great thing about Wikipedia is you can cite an entry you wrote yourself to back up an argument you are having elsewhere on the internet.

    Unless it happens to be factual and gets deleted for being original research.

  30. 30
    parasiteboy

    craigmcgillivary@17

    Surely you wouldn’t allow them to cite any encyclopedia right?

    That’s correct. Since I have only taught at the college level, I tend to even limit the number of text books they can cite. Depending on the subject, lower level classes I may allow 1 or 2, whereas upper level classes would usually be none. The exception would be a specialized textbook for the field of study. These specialized books are usually written by the prominent scientist in that field so they may be allowed.

  31. 31
    Muz

    On the bright side, real editors would flag that for no cites, libelous claims and npov almost immediately (and probably did). Even if they are obsessed bureaucratic dingbats some/most of the time.

  32. 32
    Gregory in Seattle

    @Josh #25 – The link for my name here will take you to my website. You can contact me through there, if you would like.

  33. 33
    parasiteboy

    Gregory in Seattle
    Although I am skeptical about things that I read on Wikipedia, as noted above, I do think it is a great resource and appreciate the work that you and other volunteers do to make it a fairly reliable clearing house of information.

  34. 34
    David Marjanović

    I like to say that it’s immoral to complain about Wikipedia: just click on “edit”.

    I thought they have volunteers who will monitor what edits are made and correct them as needed.

    The volunteer is you. Just click on “edit”!

    If you want to become a registered editor (who gets to sign edits with a name rather than an IP address and gets to have a talk page), you need to do nothing more than create a login just as you did to comment here.

    Wikipedia isn’t a “they”. It’s a “we”.

    The key here is that Wikipedia (along with other encyclopedias) is a tertiary source

    That depends. On scientific matters, it is often a secondary source: it is (in the best cases, of which there are many) based on, and cites, the primary literature.

    (I hope it goes without saying that PZ’s students should cite those primary sources rather than Wikipedia. Wikipedia is very useful in making people aware that the primary sources exist – I have used it that way to review manuscripts and probably even to find information for my own manuscripts.)

    Yup.

    Nope. That’s not how it works. In the real world most of us live in, edit wars attract the attention of administrators who notice that Einstein cites scientific papers while Diggins cites fuck-all, and then Diggins’s ass will be added to this list if he doesn’t stop. Note how fucking long the list is.

    And take a look at the real articles with “relativity” in their name. I’m pretty sure none of them was written by Einstein’s pickled brain, but the ones on physics might as well have been…

    I expect the biggest issue with the Chris Rodda article is that it fails Wikipedia’s notability test.

    + 1

    The great thing about Wikipedia is you can cite an entry you wrote yourself to back up an argument you are having elsewhere on the internet.

    [citation needed]

  35. 35
    mudpuddles

    I find Wikipedia is often excellent as a rough resource for articles on geography, fine art and history (and in my reading, the older the history, the more reliable the article tends to be), for biographical sketches, and for film and music articles. But it is frequently rubbish for science articles. Yes, articles can be edited by anyone to be improved, but a huge number simply are not edited by knowledgeable experts. I once had a battle (several years ago) trying to get the entry on viruses changed to correct some major errors; the page was edit protected so that you had to ask someone, who was not sufficiently expert in the subject by any stretch, to make a change. If he refused, the change was not made. In this case, poor referencing (e.g. referencing to articles that did not support the statement in question, were out of date, or were fringe ideas reported as widely accepted fact) and false statements were the issue, but despite pointing out the flaws and requesting edits, no changes were made, and those errors still exist. I’ve had similar issues with articles on biodiversity, including some that cite my own work inaccurately (again, errors which exist 3 or 4 years after I first pointed them out).

    I agree that other resources such as text books and journal articles can also have errors – but there are many reasons why they are cited by experts more widely than on-line wiki articles (i.e.. articles that may be edited by poorly-informed people, articles which anyone can mess with, and which sometimes have no supporting citations at all).

  36. 36
    parasiteboy

    David Marjanović@34

    I like to say that it’s immoral* to complain about Wikipedia

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means

    *emphasis mine

  37. 37
    Gregory in Seattle

    @David #34 – Well said.

  38. 38
    David Marjanović

    The current state of the article:

    The topic of this article may not meet Wikipedia’s notability guideline for biographies. Please help to establish notability by adding reliable, secondary sources about the topic. If notability cannot be established, the article is likely to be merged, redirected, or deleted.
    Find sources: “Chris Rodda” – books · scholar · JSTOR · free images
    [all of these are links to "Chris+Rodda" searches, mostly Google] (September 2011)

    Chris Rodda is an author, blogger, and religious freedom activist. She is the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation [link to article] (MRFF). She is the author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History and wrote the blog “This Week in Christian Nationalism,” which was part of the blog group Freethought Blogs. Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History ["Religious Right" links to article] (2006) “debunks many of the historical lies invented and used by the Christian nationalist history revisionists in their efforts to further their far right political agenda and destroy the wall of separation between church and state in America.” She began the blog “This Week in Christian Nationalism” in 2011 and also blogs at Talk2Action.org and the Huffington Post [link to article]. She blogs about Christian nationalist revisionism of American history and religion issues in the military.

    By 30th of April 2014, she gave up her writing presence on Freethoughtblogs due to disagreements with some who use the website. [1]

    References

    1. ^ So, I have now officially left FTB. [link to her Facebook post]

    External links

    Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History

    Categories:

    Living people

    Didn’t take long, did it.

    Back to the discussion:

    I once had a battle (several years ago) trying to get the entry on viruses changed to correct some major errors; the page was edit protected so that you had to ask someone, who was not sufficiently expert in the subject by any stretch, to make a change.

    Ah. Probably a kook or several had started an edit war at some point, so the page was protected to stop this, and an incompetent admin happened to get in charge of the page.

  39. 39
    David Marjanović

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means

    No, I really do mean it.

    If you feel like an asshole now and don’t have enough time to be part of the solution, stop complaining about Wikipedia. That’s what I have done (I have edited a few articles and written one from scratch, but there are only 30 hours in a day, as I also like to say…).

  40. 40
    parasiteboy

    David Marjanović@34

    The volunteer is you

    No it’s not, but it could be. The volunteers that I am talking about are people like Gregory in Seattle (see his comment @9)

    Wikipedia isn’t a “they”. It’s a “we”.

    For me it is a they, for Gregory in Seattle it’s a we…unless Wikipedia is the first iteration of the Borg, then I must assimilate

  41. 41
    hillaryrettig

    I thought the Z stood for Zod.

  42. 42
    trollofreason

    ” If I’d had my choice, I’d have asked her to stay — she was a good contributor.”

    Serious understatement. I kind of looked forward to her weekly contributions and was more than a little worried when they became increasingly sporadic. I didn’t know that she was recieving nasty comments (though that’s largely my own ignorance related to the time-old axiom “never read the comments section”), so was dismayed and confused when she related the reason why she was leaving.

  43. 43
    parasiteboy

    David Marjanović@39

    No, I really do mean it.

    Then you better update Wikipedia’s entry on Immorality since it does not include the ridiculousness way you are using the word

    If you feel like an asshole now and don’t have enough time to be part of the solution, stop complaining about Wikipedia

    Not sure why I would fell like an asshole, but I’m sure you’ll tell me.
    As I said previously I think it is a fairly good resource and appreciate the work that people (even you) do for the website, but because it is open source and covers such a wide variety of topics it will always have issues with accuracy. I think Infophile@21 has a good example of why this would be. The closer asummary is to a original source the more accurate (usually) that summary will be.

    As for the last part of your quote

    don’t have enough time to be part of the solution, stop complaining about Wikipedia

    Replace Wikipedia with say, crime in my town, I don’t have enough time to be a police officer or create a neighborhood watch so I should stop complaining? That’s an idiotic stance to take on any subject

  44. 44
    Al Dente

    I find wikipedia most useful for things like dates and other specific information about factual events. Recently I wanted to know who got tossed out of the window at the Second Defenestration of Prague (Count Vilem Slavata von Chlum, Count Jaroslav Borzita von Martinice and Philip Fabricius). All three men survived the 20 metre fall (Catholics claimed they were caught by angels, Protestants claim they fell into a large dung heap). That’s the sort of thing wikipedia is good for.

  45. 45
    Cyranothe2nd, there's no such thing as a moderate ally

    I also do not allow my students to use Wikipedia (nor any encyclopedia) as a source, although they use them to collect background info and guide their research. This is an ongoing problem though, because no matter how many times I say it, 20% of the students will still insert Wiki in their Works Cited page. *sigh*

    David @ 39

    If you feel like an asshole now and don’t have enough time to be part of the solution, stop complaining about Wikipedia.

    I dislike this because it sounds like a silencing tactic, ie “If you aren’t doing Thing I Think is Productive, then stop complaining about Thing.” Agitation *IS* a form of protest, and it is acting towards a solution. And, as many here have said, we are teachers who discuss things like proper attribution and gather source materials in our classes. I do not feel that I need to become an editor of Wikipedia before I have the right to criticize it as a sometimes unreliable (and always uncitable) source.

  46. 46
    daniellavine
    The great thing about Wikipedia is you can cite an entry you wrote yourself to back up an argument you are having elsewhere on the internet.

    [citation needed]

    A friend of mine used to get in stupid arguments IRL, quickly edit a wikipedia article during the argument, and then show the article to the other person to win the argument.

    Murphy’s Law, man. If it can happen it probably does happen.

    Replace Wikipedia with say, crime in my town, I don’t have enough time to be a police officer or create a neighborhood watch so I should stop complaining? That’s an idiotic stance to take on any subject

    +1. Replace it with anything. Replace it with creationism. Stop complaining about creationism and do something about it.

  47. 47
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    The reality is that Chris Rodda threw a tantrum at being chided for cartoons that some people viewed as ableist. I don’t remember the details. But I do remember thinking her reaction was bizarrely extreme and seemed to be rooted in IM NOT THAT KIND OF PERSON HOW DARE YOU.

    It really is too bad, because she really does do awesome work.

  48. 48
    David Marjanović

    A friend of mine used to get in stupid arguments IRL, quickly edit a wikipedia article during the argument, and then show the article to the other person to win the argument.

    The fact that your friend edited that article is immediately obvious from clicking on “View history”… and using a Wikipedia article as a source for another Wikipedia article is a bit bizarre.

    Stop complaining about creationism and do something about it.

    I argue on the Internet :-)

  49. 49
    nich

    Josh@47:

    The details are a little nastier than you remember, I think. The cartoon was definitely a cheap shot at blind people, but the comments to it got downright vile.

  50. 50
    krelnik

    The edit described in the post was done on May 1 by an anonymous user (logged only by their IP address), apparently in Germany. That IP has never made any other edits to Wikipedia. This is quite typical for Wikipedia vandalism.

    It went unnoticed until now because fewer than 30 people have this particular article on their watchlist. Gregory in Seattle described watchlists earlier in the thread – they are the mechanism for catching stuff like this on Wikipedia. The text was removed (no doubt because of this post) and has since been replaced with a more neutral phrasing that doesn’t mention PZ at all.

    IMHO it’s a bit of an overreaction to publicly decry the whole of Wikipedia over one piece of vandalism on a low-traffic article. (This particular article has only been viewed 332 times in the entire month of May up until yesterday). In fact, blogging like this is counter-productive, because you have now brought this piece of vandalism to the attention of thousands of more people who would never have seen it. Tomorrow when those stats update we’ll know precisely how many.

    There are a group of editors who focus on skeptic-relevant Wikipedia articles, one of the things they do is remove vandalism like this. They are called Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia. In the future, if you merely send a tweet to @SusanGerbic, she could have one of her people fix something like this and take care of this much more efficiently. All you have to do is ask.

  51. 51
    David Utidjian

    Looks like that page has had a bit of vandalism over time. I am not familiar with how the system presents the revision history but the bogus entry has appeared twice in the past. There is also a record of the user who made the change(s). Sometimes the ‘user’ is just an IP address.

  52. 52
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Tim Farley, ever at the ready to chide people for speaking in public rather than being what I assume he thinks is “collegial.” Thank you for helping.

  53. 53
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Nich—I don’t read the A+ forums so my memories were only of what happened in Chris’ own thread here at FtB. Without a doubt my memories are incomplete. They may even be inaccurate.

  54. 54
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    I’ve never had a problem with Wikipedia when it comes to straight facts. When opinions creep in, however. . .

    There was no “cyberbullying”. Chris was very highly regarded here. If mere disagreement is “bullying”, then I’m the frequent victim of bullying. (Note: I do not think it is.)

    Since there is, to my knowledge, no clear definition of what does or does not constitute “cyberbullying”, the Wiki entry is an opinion.

  55. 55
    PZ Myers

    Hah. I also tell my students they don’t get to cite blogs or print encyclopedias — they’re too far removed from the primary sources, and therefore unreliable. And wikipedia is like a giant print encyclopedia, except there are no standards for who gets to write the articles, and the content is constantly shifting.

    I do tell them they can do a preliminary scan of wikipedia to get the gist of a topic, but only to get a starting point to dig deeper into more reliable sources. I stand by my point: you cannot trust wikipedia.

  56. 56
    PZ Myers

    Krelnik: are you seriously suggesting that the appropriate response to serious errors that are a consequence of the intrinsic properties of wikipedia is to be silent, and slip notes under the table to people who will quietly clean up the superficial expression of the problems with no effort made to address systemic issues? Have you considered the possibility that I might have wanted to call attention to the untrustworthiness of wikipedia (hey, what do you know, it’s even in the title!) rather than to get an entry corrected?

  57. 57
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Rex Little:

    Since there is, to my knowledge, no clear definition of what does or does not constitute “cyberbullying”, the Wiki entry is an opinion.

    While that may be true, ‘bullying’ is well defined:

    Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively impose domination over others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power. Behaviors used to assert such domination can include verbal harassment or threat, physical assault or coercion, and such acts may be directed repeatedly towards particular targets. Justifications and rationalizations for such behavior sometimes include differences of class, race, religion, gender, sexuality, appearance, behavior, body language, personality, reputation, lineage, strength, size or ability.[2][3] If bullying is done by a group, it is called mobbing.[4] “Targets” of bullying are also sometimes referred to as “victims” of bullying.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullying

    Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

    In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

    An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
    Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
    Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
    http://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/definition/index.html

    Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions.
    The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to “cause” the bullying.
    http://www.apa.org/topics/bullying/

    Although the second definition (from stopbullying.gov) limits the definition to school aged children (given the extent of the problem among those who are school aged, I can see why this definition is limited; that said, bullying can and does occur among adults as well).

    Do you have a problem applying the definition of bullying to online activities?

  58. 58
    PZ Myers

    #49, nich:

    Whoa. But where is the vileness coming from? Not the critics of the cartoon, but from Paul Loebe, who charged in with his agenda and amplified the bad sentiments.

  59. 59
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.

    Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.
    http://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/

    Cyber bullying refers to any harassment that occurs via the internet, cell phones or other devices. Communication technology is used to intentionally harm others through hostile behavior such as sending text messages and posting ugly comments on the internet.

    The National Crime Prevention Council defines cyber-bullying as “the process of using the Internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.”

    Cyber-bullying could be limited to posting rumors or gossips about a person in the internet bringing about hatred in other’s minds; or it may go to the extent of personally identifying victims and publishing materials severely defaming and humiliating them.
    http://definitions.uslegal.com/c/cyber-bullying/

    Cyber bullying is bullying through email, instant messaging (IMing), chat room exchanges, Web site posts, or digital messages or images send to a cellular phone or personal digital assistant (PDA) (Kowalski et al. 2008). Cyber bullying, like traditional bullying, involves an imbalance of power, aggression, and a negative action that is often repeated.
    http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/cyber_bullying.page

    There appears to be some consistency in the definitions.

  60. 60
    mikeyb

    I looked up a Wikipedia article on Obama not too long ago and it described him as a communist. When I went back to look at the article a few hours later, noticed it had been edited out. Wish I had made a pdf of it at the time just for the record. So yes, Wikipedia is subject to a lot of flux, depending on whoever likes or dislikes the particular subject or person at the particular time it is being edited.

  61. 61
    nich

    PZ@58: Oh yes. Most definitely. The criticism of the funnies was basically, “That’s not funny.” The reaction to that mild as ketchup criticism was mind boggling and pretty damn vile. My apologies if I implied the vileness was coming from the opposite direction.

  62. 62
    ck

    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel wrote:

    Since there is, to my knowledge, no clear definition of what does or does not constitute “cyberbullying”, the Wiki entry is an opinion.

    Since Tony took care of the “cyberbullying” part, I’ll tackle the “is an opinion” part. In the context of Wikipedia, an opinion is rarely a neutral point of view. Using words that are loaded with negative meanings, like cyberbullying, is another violation of Wikipedia’s neutral point of view goal.

    However, even if the word cyberbullying wasn’t loaded, an opinion isn’t necessarily valid. My opinion may be that the sky glows a brilliant red at midday with the sun directly overhead, but my opinion would also be completely wrong. You may be entitled to wrong opinions, but that doesn’t mean others should treat them as if they were true.

  63. 63
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    Do you have a problem applying the definition of bullying to online activities?

    Short of threatening harm to someone’s physical person or property, and demonstrating the capability to carry out the threat (*), I don’t consider anything said online to be bullying. However, if “mean text messages or emails” are deemed to be bullying (per your citation from stopbullying.gov), the door is open for any online criticism to be so considered–in someone’s opinion.

    * – You could say, over and over, that you’re going to kill me. But unless you show that you know my real name and where I live, I’m not harmed.

  64. 64
    ck

    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel wrote:

    However, if “mean text messages or emails” are deemed to be bullying (per your citation from stopbullying.gov), the door is open for any online criticism to be so considered–in someone’s opinion.

    Only if you ignore the words “bullying” and “harassment” in the three definitions, which both have clear meanings, too. You’re sounding like a Freeze Peach warrior, Rex.

  65. 65
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    ck:

    You may be entitled to wrong opinions, but that doesn’t mean others should treat them as if they were true.

    If you follow the link in my post #54, you’ll see that’s exactly what I was saying. The URL itself might be sufficient to make the point.

  66. 66
    nich

    Giant Douchweasel@63:

    Short of threatening harm to someone’s physical person or property, and demonstrating the capability to carry out the threat (*), I don’t consider anything said online to be bullying.

    Lord help you if you have teenagers. If you don’t consider anything said online to be bullying, I’d love to see what you’d tell your crying child when they hand you an iPod and you find that some creative non-bullies have photoshopped her face onto a porn star with “Janie likes it in the butt” for a caption. Maybe she should just grow a pair, amiright?

  67. 67
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    Nich, I’d fall back on a saying from my childhood which I took to heart whenever I was teased, which was quite often. It begins with “Sticks and stones. . .”

  68. 68
    nich

    Rex Little@67:

    Nich, I’d fall back on a saying from my childhood which I took to heart whenever I was teased, which was quite often. It begins with “Sticks and stones. . .”

    Stick and fucking stones? Sticks. And. Fucking. Stones??? Please tell me you don’t have kids. If you do, I hope to god they are not LGBT.

    Your handle is apt.

  69. 69
    Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy

    David Marjanovic @48:

    That someone recently edited the article will be obvious from “view history” (though not everyone realizes how Wikipedia works even enough to do that). Who edited it might not be, if the person is arguing with someone who doesn’t know their Wikipedia handle (mine is my full name, but most people’s aren’t), or if the edit was done while not logged in.

  70. 70
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Rex Little:

    Short of threatening harm to someone’s physical person or property, and demonstrating the capability to carry out the threat (*), I don’t consider anything said online to be bullying. However, if “mean text messages or emails” are deemed to be bullying (per your citation from stopbullying.gov), the door is open for any online criticism to be so considered–in someone’s opinion.

    You might not consider anything short of that to be cyberbullying, but you’re not the one defining the term. You’re also not the one facing this problem:

    From 2010-2011, 1 million children reported being harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on Facebook (Consumer Reports, 2011)
    http://www.meganmeierfoundation.org/statistics.html

    You’re also conveniently forgetting that

    Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

    emphasis mine. The definition of cyberbullying does not mean that “anything said online” is bullying.
    • aggressive
    • unwanted
    • actual or perceived power imbalance
    • repetitious or the potential to become repetitive

    For some reason, you’re drawing a distinction between bullying in meatspace and online without explaining why you’re making the distinction, nor why that matters.
    Why? And on what grounds do you dismiss the evidence that shows cyberbullying is real and harmful?
    For the people dealing with cyberbullying, the shit they face is real. For some, it has resulted in them committing suicide.

    http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html
    Cyber bullying statistics refers to Internet bullying. Cyber bullying is a form of teen violence that can do lasting harm to young people. Bullying statistics show that cyber bullying is a serious problem among teens. By being more aware of cyber bullying, teens and adults can help to fight it.

    Cyber bullying affects many adolescents and teens on a daily basis. Cyber bullying involves using technology, like cell phones and the Internet, to bully or harass another person. Cyber bullying can take many forms:

    Sending mean messages or threats to a person’s email account or cell phone
    Spreading rumors online or through texts
    Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages
    Stealing a person’s account information to break into their account and send damaging messages
    Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person
    Taking unflattering pictures of a person and spreading them through cell phones or the Internet
    Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person
    Cyber bullying can be very damaging to adolescents and teens. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Also, once things are circulated on the Internet, they may never disappear, resurfacing at later times to renew the pain of cyber bullying.

    Many cyber bullies think that bullying others online is funny. Cyber bullies may not realize the consequences for themselves of cyberbullying. The things teens post online now may reflect badly on them later when they apply for college or a job. Cyber bullies can lose their cell phone or online accounts for cyber bullying. Also, cyber bullies and their parents may face legal charges for cyber bullying, and if the cyber bullying was sexual in nature or involved sexting, the results can include being registered as a sex offender. Teens may think that if they use a fake name they won’t get caught, but there are many ways to track some one who is cyber bullying.

    Despite the potential damage of cyber bullying, it is alarmingly common among adolescents and teens. According to Cyber bullying statistics from the i-SAFE foundation:

    Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.
    More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyberthreats online.
    Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet.
    Well over half of young people do not tell their parents when cyber bullying occurs.
    The Harford County Examiner reported similarly concerning cyber bullying statistics:

    Around half of teens have been the victims of cyber bullying
    Only 1 in 10 teens tells a parent if they have been a cyber bully victim
    Fewer than 1 in 5 cyber bullying incidents are reported to law enforcement
    1 in 10 adolescents or teens have had embarrassing or damaging pictures taken of themselves without their permission, often using cell phone cameras
    About 1 in 5 teens have posted or sent sexually suggestive or nude pictures of themselves to others
    Girls are somewhat more likely than boys to be involved in cyber bullying
    The Cyberbullying Research Center also did a series of surveys that found these cyber bullying statistics:

    Over 80 percent of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most popular form of technology and a common medium for cyber bullying
    About half of young people have experienced some form of cyber bullying, and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly
    Mean, hurtful comments and spreading rumors are the most common type of cyber bullying
    Girls are at least as likely as boys to be cyber bullies or their victims
    Boys are more likely to be threatened by cyber bullies than girls
    Cyber bullying affects all races
    Cyber bullying victims are more likely to have low self esteem and to consider suicide
    Parents and teens can do some things that help reduce the cyber bullying statistics:

    Talks to teens about cyber bullying, explaining that it is wrong and can have serious consequences. Make a rule that teens may not send mean or damaging messages, even if someone else started it, or suggestive pictures or messages or they will lose their cell phone and computer privileges for a time.
    Encourage teens to tell an adult if cyber bullying is occurring. Tell them if they are the victims they will not be punished, and reassure them that being bullied is not their fault.
    Teens should keep cyber bullying messages as proof that the cyber bullying is occurring. The teens’ parents may want to talk to the parents of the cyber bully, to the bully’s Internet or cell phone provider, and/or to the police about the messages, especially if they are threatening or sexual in nature.
    Try blocking the person sending the messages. It may be necessary to get a new phone number or email address and to be more cautious about giving out the new number or address.
    Teens should never tell their password to anyone except a parent, and should not write it down in a place where it could be found by others.
    Teens should not share anything through text or instant messaging on their cell phone or the Internet that they would not want to be made public – remind teens that the person they are talking to in messages or online may not be who they think they are, and that things posted electronically may not be secure.
    Encourage teens never to share personal information online or to meet someone they only know online.
    Keep the computer in a shared space like the family room, and do not allow teens to have Internet access in their own rooms.
    Encourage teens to have times when they turn off the technology, such as at family meals or after a certain time at night.
    Parents may want to wait until high school to allow their teens to have their own email and cell phone accounts, and even then parents should still have access to the accounts.

    Denying that cyberbullying is a form of bullying denies the reality that it *does* exist, and causes harm.
    Here is a list of 9 teenagers who committed suicide due to cyberbullying.
    To
    Ciara Pugsley, 15 years old
    Erin Gallagher, 13 years old
    Jessica Laney, 16 years old
    Shannon Gallagher, 15 years old
    Anthony Stubbs, 16 years old
    Joshua Unsworth, 15 years old
    Daniel Perry, 17 years old
    Hannah Smith, 14 years old
    and
    Rebecca Sedwick, 12 years old
     
    cyberbullying was very real.
    You deny that what they experienced was bullying and I find that reprehensible. These kids took their own lives bc of the bullying they experienced.

  71. 71
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    nich is right-Rex you *are* a giant doucheweasel.

  72. 72
    nms

    Yup.

    An undemocratic Wikipedia? What could possibly go wrong?

  73. 73
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    If you feel like an asshole now and don’t have enough time to be part of the solution, stop complaining about Wikipedia. That’s what I have done (I have edited a few articles and written one from scratch, but there are only 30 hours in a day, as I also like to say…).

    Yes, yes, yes. If you don’t like it, it’s your responsibility to change it. That’s why Wikipedia is, according to its supporters, the greatest source of information in the world. It’s also why Open Source Software is so great. (*cough* Heartbleed *cough*)

  74. 74
    Ichthyic

    Nich, I’d fall back on a saying from my childhood which I took to heart whenever I was teased,

    and still do?

    tell me, do you also still employ the rubber-glue defense?

    what other neotenous traits do you possess?

    Inquiring minds…

  75. 75
    Ichthyic

    btw, for the apparently dense to comprehension crowd, PZ complaint was, literally, that Wiki should not be trusted.

    the first objection to that comes from someone who agreed that entries can be randomly edited.

    ….which means, by FUCKING DEFINITION, that the information on any given page at any given time… cannot be trusted.

    IT DOES NOT mean that wiki is not a valuable resource, it means that, like ANY specific source of information, one should not solely rely on it.

    it also means that people are rightly concerned with how editing works on wiki, and while wiki has indeed taken steps to improve the control of the editing process… being what it is, it simply cannot employ a strict enforceable method to achieve perfect control.

    so, bottom line:

    nobody said:

    DESTROY WIKI!

    people ARE saying:

    There is a problem here that needs to be addressed.

    frankly, I’m 100% sure it never will be addressed, and wiki will ALWAYS remain a source of information that is good as a starting point, but not an endpoint.

    It should be treated like any other encycopedia always has been… with a grain of salt and a nod towards going further to look at primary sources of information any time you actually want to know more information about something.

    I mean, really… at what point in your education did your instructors stop allowing you to use enclycopedias as primary references for any paper you wrote?

    I think it was 5th grade for me.

  76. 76
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    Rex you *are* a giant doucheweasel.

    That was established months ago. I forget who first called me that, but I know it was here.

    For some reason, you’re drawing a distinction between bullying in meatspace and online without explaining why you’re making the distinction

    Actually, the distinction I make is between actions and credible threats of action on the one hand, and words on the other. Words by themselves carry the same weight in meatspace as in cyber (IMO, of course).

    nor why that matters.

    It doesn’t to me. My original point (which we’ve strayed rather far from) was that Wiki articles tend to suck when they deal with opinions rather than facts. I used the claim that Rodda was cyberbullied as an example of such an opinion.

    You deny that what they experienced was bullying and I find that reprehensible.

    What they experienced was what it was, no matter what label I, or you, put on it. Your finding is noted and given the weight it deserves.

  77. 77
    Owlmirror

    ObSticksAndStones:

    https://xkcd.com/1216/

  78. 78
    ck

    “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can permanently scar me.”

    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs) wrote:

    It’s also why Open Source Software is so great. (*cough* Heartbleed *cough*)

    Utterly off-topic, but what makes you think that problem is unique to OSS (*cough* known NSA backdoored Dual_EC_DRBG was the default PRNG in RSA BSafe *cough*).

  79. 79
    Ichthyic

    Words by themselves carry the same weight in meatspace as in cyber (IMO, of course).

    an opinion which very few share.

    oh, this is good…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_threat

    heh.

  80. 80
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Rex Little:

    Actually, the distinction I make is between actions and credible threats of action on the one hand, and words on the other.

    Why do you adhere to such a narrow (and unrecognized) definition of bullying?
    Why do you believe your definition is preferable?
    Why do you discount the effect words can have on people?

  81. 81
    Ichthyic

    Why do you discount the effect words can have on people?

    ’cause they’re an internet tough guy!

    you can’t say anything that would bother them, I’m sure….

    of course, the lack of empathy is overwhelming, but who cares, right?

  82. 82
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    78, ck:

    Utterly off-topic, but what makes you think that problem is unique to OSS.

    I don’t. But it’s very interesting that the whole “written by amateurs and anyone can make changes” thing leads to… tadaa! bad code, which is supposedly going to be improved by having large corporations pay to have people work on it. If money solves the problem, then hey, this problem was actually solved a long time ago, it’s called “proprietary software” and it is certainly no worse than the garbage the open-source movement keeps pushing out. If they’re both insecure, and the non-open-source version comes out first (as it usually does), ends up being faster (as it usually is), and has a better user experience (as it nearly always does), and at the same time lets the people who write it make a living by writing good code (which open source explicitly fails to do), why put up with the open-source ripoffs of proprietary software at all?

  83. 83
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Ichthyic:

    ’cause they’re an internet tough guy!

    you can’t say anything that would bother them, I’m sure….

    I suspect you’re correct on both points and since no words can bother them, these tough guys think the same should hold for others.

    ****
    Rex Little:

    Words by themselves carry the same weight in meatspace as in cyber (IMO, of course).

    How much weight would that be?
    Do you even believe that words have power?

  84. 84
    Inaji

    Rex Little:

    Short of threatening harm to someone’s physical person or property, and demonstrating the capability to carry out the threat (*), I don’t consider anything said online to be bullying.

    So…that would mean you think verbal abuse* isn’t a real thing at all, wouldn’t it?
     
    *Yeah, yeah, I know.

  85. 85
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    Why do you adhere to such a narrow (and unrecognized) definition of bullying?

    I use it myself because it’s what I believe. If it were relevant to a conversation I was involved in, I’d either use the term the same way as those I was talking with, or explain what I meant by it, without claiming that my definition was “right”. If it were relevant, I’d explain why I believe that a particular behavior should or should not be considered bullying. It’s not relevant here, at least not to the point I was making originally.

    Why do you believe your definition is preferable?

    I prefer mine. You prefer yours. I will stipulate for the sake of argument that 99.99% of those who have ever considered the matter prefer yours. I’m fine with that.

    Why do you discount the effect words can have on people?
    Do you even believe that words have power?

    To a much greater extent than actions, words have only as much power as those who hear or read them are willing to grant them. If you punch me in the nose, I can’t choose not to hurt and bleed. If you call me a giant doucheweasel, I can choose to smile and include it in my handle.

    Mao Tse-tung did not famously say “Power grows out of the mouth of a bullhorn.”

  86. 86
    Amphiox

    Mao Tse-tung did not famously say “Power grows out of the mouth of a bullhorn.”

    Mao was wrong.

    And so are you.

  87. 87
    ChasCPeterson

    To a much greater extent than actions, words have only as much power as those who hear or read them are willing to grant them. If you punch me in the nose, I can’t choose not to hurt and bleed. If you call me a giant doucheweasel, I can choose to smile and include it in my handle.

    It’s a good point. To at least some extent, you choose how you take words, however intended.

    Mao Tse-tung did not famously say “Power grows out of the mouth of a bullhorn.”

    Mao was wrong.

    wait…Mao was wrong because he did not say that? (I’d disagree…how many bullhorn-weilding blowhards have you seen with zero political power? I’ve seen plenty.)
    Or he was wrong for what he did say (i.e. that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun)? (I’d disagree again…seems pretty empirical.)

  88. 88
    ChasCPeterson

    wielding

  89. 89
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Chas

    It’s a good point. To at least some extent, you choose how you take words, however intended.

    To which extent you can choose that differs significantly from person to person (and I mean significantly, including not at all), which doesn’t make the point good, just… oblivious.

    Also, define “take words”.
    Rex Little said:

    If you call me a giant doucheweasel, I can choose to smile and include it in my handle.

    The words might make me cry and deplete my self-confidence and I could pretend they don’t bother me since you can’t see me cry, putting them in my handle just to spite you.

  90. 90
    knowknot

    @85 Rex Little [badge of defiance]

    To a much greater extent than actions, words have only as much power as those who hear or read them are willing to grant them. If you punch me in the nose, I can’t choose not to hurt and bleed. If you call me a giant doucheweasel, I can choose to smile and include it in my handle.

     
    Indeed. Or you could have it tattooed on the small of your back, with curlicues and butterflies, and it would have a similar effect. Which would be saying to the world something along the lines of “I am so completely unaffected by words that I will affix any which are used in an attempt to insult me directly to my person, which will prove a point… because even though such words mean less than nothing to me and have no value of any kind, my use of and reference to them proves my superior ability to engage in behaviors which mean nothing whatsoever to me.”
     
    Or you might be some “lite” variation of the sort of person who welcomes being called a sexist, or racist, or whatever, because it makes them feel so Brando.
     
    Or you might find “Douchweasel” to be such a baroque confection of an epithet that you simply wished to honor it (though the bragging gives the first two possibilities an Olympian head start).
     

    Mao Tse-tung did not famously say “Power grows out of the mouth of a bullhorn.”

     
    Mao also did not call himself “Mr. Opium Head” to taunt various Imperialists and their assorted ilk.
     

    I use it myself because it’s what I believe. If it were relevant to a conversation I was involved in, I’d either use the term the same way as those I was talking with, or explain what I meant by it, without claiming that my definition was “right”. If it were relevant, I’d explain why I believe that a particular behavior should or should not be considered bullying. It’s not relevant here, at least not to the point I was making originally.

     
    The meaning of this is opaque. To me anyway.
    Do you mean:
    “If I were accused of bullying, I would use the same definition use by the accuser to argue that… um… something…”
    or
    “If I am accused of bullying, I will either admit it, or explain why words and/or phrases used intentionally by me that were perceived as bullying were, by definition alone, not.”
    or what?
     
    I am honestly not saying that you mean this, but, as written and altogether, all of this sounds more like a “blow me, I’ll say what I want” statement rather than the argument that “we could all use a bit more of a New York skin,” which seems rather weakly implied. (I am biased to think that there is actually a difference between the two, and to agree with latter when intended honestly, even though a great many folks are simply not going to be able to acquire it.)

  91. 91
    cim

    73/Vicar: Note that Wikipedia really does not resemble the typical open source project. It does resemble the “bazaar” from Eric S Raymond’s analogy and provides a very good illustration of why almost all open source projects still follow a “cathedral” model (just like proprietary ones). In open source software development, anyone suggesting “how about we allow anonymous commits to our production code; y’know, like Wikipedia” would be considered ridiculous (or dangerous, more likely).

  92. 92
    knowknot

    @87 ChasCPeterson

    To a much greater extent than actions, words have only as much power as those who hear or read them are willing to grant them. If you punch me in the nose, I can’t choose not to hurt and bleed. If you call me a giant doucheweasel, I can choose to smile and include it in my handle.
    It’s a good point. To at least some extent, you choose how you take words, however intended.

     
    Mmmmm. And what virtually always gets left off – because it’s easier – is some attempt to look seriously at the question of the magic quantity used here: “some extent.”
     
    It may be obvious (though I would no longer be surprised if it weren’t) that if a police officer in riot gear states that further actions of a given kind will result in tear gas, tasing, or deadly force it is as of that moment such actions are unadvisable regardless of the emotional valence one attaches to the statement.
     
    By the same token, if you were to threaten my niece with rape in an online venue, I would tend to take you seriously. Not least because in the this modern world there is nothing known to me that negates the “capability to carry out that threat.”
     
    Further, if I were to find that her stocks-and-stones-repulsion-field were lacking power, and repeated threats of this kind causes emotional harm, I would take you still more seriously.
     
    And at this point we would need to quantify “some extent.”

  93. 93
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    Knowknot, I hadn’t thought at all about being accused of bullying; in such a case I’d probably ask the accuser to specify what I had done that they considered bullying, and go from there. I was thinking more in the context of a discussion about what should be done to combat bullying. For instance, if someone wanted to make it a criminal offense to send an insulting text message, they and I might get into it concerning definitions.

  94. 94
    ChasCPeterson

    To which extent you can choose that differs significantly from person to person (and I mean significantly, including not at all)

    True.
    One might inquire further whence such diversity originates. Three people presented with the same dire insult to their person: one shrugs, one cries, one suicides. How come?

    , which doesn’t make the point good, just… oblivious.

    Not oblivious, but also not universal. For some people, some times, there is an element of choice involved. I’d like to think there was always an alternative choice to suicide. Maybe that’s oblivious.

    Also, define “take words”.

    um…to take words = to react to words, to behave in manner X subsequent to hearing words Y.
    (was there really ambiguity there?)

  95. 95
    knowknot

    Oh… and I was just wondering… might we say that the hypothetical statement “interpretation is not magic” is related to a similar statement regarding intention (in a way I lack the skill to parse)?

  96. 96
    knowknot

    @94 ChasCPeterson

    To which extent you can choose that differs significantly from person to person (and I mean significantly, including not at all)

    True.
    One might inquire further whence such diversity originates. Three people presented with the same dire insult to their person: one shrugs, one cries, one suicides. How come?

     
    As with the mysterious quantity of “some extent,” the question is left hanging.
     
    Since you are taking the exception, and since you are not offering an answer of any kind, it appears (appears) that you will likely not give a bloody damn until the internal state that results in these variations is shown to have a verifiable, valid and excusable cause.
     
    Because, even having gone so far as to include suicide (which will admittedly not take the question out of the realm of “personal weakness” for some), the fact of behavioral reaction to the internal state, much less other’s reports / explanations of their internal states simply isn’t enough to bother with.
     
    ?

  97. 97
    knowknot

    @93 Rex Little
    Thank you. Being an official arbiter precisely nothing, I get that.
     
    Still, re any circumstance related to threat, the idea that a hard extension of “sticks and stones” can be meaningful (or even benign) as anything other than a strictly personal maxim continues to jitter in my craw.

  98. 98
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Chas,
    The ambiguity should be obvious from my example.

  99. 99
    knowknot

    Behold, for I am error incarnate.
     
    @92, Incomprehensible bit; should have been: “It may be obvious (though I would no longer be surprised if it weren’t) that if a police officer in riot gear states that further actions of a given kind will result in tear gas, tasing, or deadly force, as of that moment such actions are unadvisable regardless of the emotional valence one attaches to the statement.”
     
    @93, Only “It’s a good point. To at least some extent, you choose how you take words, however intended.” should have been attributed to ChasCPeterson.
     
    @97 Should have been “…arbiter of precisely nothing…”
     
    blablabla sorries.

  100. 100
    knowknot

    @94 ChasCPeterson.

    Also, define “take words”.

    um…to take words = to react to words, to behave in manner X subsequent to hearing words Y.
    (was there really ambiguity there?)

     
    Yes… there was ambiguity, only because of the “sticks and stones” implications of the conversation.
     
    You could have meant “the way in which you understand and interpret the words / statement,” or, given the subtext (not necessarily or exclusively from you) that some people are just too “thin skinned,” you could have meant “how you take the hit.>
     
    The latter may be less obvious to some, but it was the usual meaning where I came from, and various elsewheres. It is intended to bear the scent of “what’s your problem, Bud?”
     
    Just saying. Things twist in the vernacular. .siht ekiL

  101. 101
    Ichthyic

    If you call me a giant doucheweasel, I can choose to smile and include it in my handle.

    I’m sure this has been covered, but general insults tend not to be triggering. You can, in fact, severely injure people with just words.

    you haven’t thought very much about this, this much is clear.

  102. 102
    knowknot

    @87 ChasCPeterson
    .

    Mao Tse-tung did not famously say “Power grows out of the mouth of a bullhorn.”

    Mao was wrong.

    wait…Mao was wrong because he did not say that? (I’d disagree…how many bullhorn-weilding blowhards have you seen with zero political power? I’ve seen plenty.)
    Or he was wrong for what he did say (i.e. that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun)? (I’d disagree again…seems pretty empirical.)

     
    Seriously. You think it was being argued that political power does not grow out of the barrel of a gun? Maybe if Ramtha was involved in the conversation… but otherwise, this is honestly a very O’Rielly / Teaparty / Cliven Bundy / “mutually assumed density” response.
     
    The wrong was the implication that political power grows only ever from the barrel of a gun. Which is sometimes wrong, thankfully.
     
    And that wrongness was important in this context due to the simultaneous contrasting of the powerlessness of words with the “hurt and bleed” of being “punched in the nose.” Implying (perhaps accidentally, perhaps not) that the only options in conflict are impotent verbiage or violence.
     
    And given all that, the way in which the statement is wrong is extremely important to bear in mind, because militia freakout, because guns everywhere dammit, because local police with tanks.

  103. 103
    markd555

    See vandalism?
    Click “View History” upper right of every article
    Click “Undo”
    Done.

    It’s not hard people.
    But it’s not your responsibility?
    Neither is the peice of trash you see on the sidewalk. Pick it up anyway.

  104. 104
    Ichthyic

    It’s not hard people.
    But it’s not your responsibility?

    it’s also not relevant to the argument.

  105. 105
    Ichthyic

    The wrong was the implication that political power grows only ever from the barrel of a gun. Which is sometimes wrong, thankfully.

    or not thankfully in some cases.

    some pretty damn evil folks have managed to talk their way into power.

  106. 106
    Ichthyic

    Neither is the peice of trash you see on the sidewalk. Pick it up anyway.

    what information tells you that when you see a wrapper on sidewalk, it is trash and should be picked up?

    now, if you go to a random page on wiki, what information tells you that there is a piece of trash that should be removed?

    I go to a page on Obama, and it says he is a Christian. I decide he’s really an atheist, and so clean up the page to reflect the better choice. Billyjobobjeter goes to the same webpage, sees Obama is Christian, says to himself: “That’s not right, my preacher told me he’s Muslim”

    and changes the page.

    if you, random visitor, go that page not knowing anything about the man, and you catch the page while either my or billy’s edits are up….

    You have an authoritative source telling you that Obama is either an atheist, or a Muslim.

    can you see the problem now?

  107. 107
    Charly

    I cannot search references right now, because my lunch break ends, but I want briefly adress this, as mentioned by giant doucheweasel:
    “Sticks and stones…blabla”

    Words do have qn effect. Physical effect. Brain is a physical organ. Giant part of our brain is dedicated to interpretting words, and this interpretation involves emotions, associations and physical response, even in form of pain and long term metabolical responses. Not only by triggering known unpleasant memories, but even by invoking unknown but unpleasant associations (there goes empathy again, look it up).

    People differ widly in this regard, just as well as they do with regard to their physique, and they have limited ways to influence their mental states just as they have limited ways to influence their physical state. You cannot simply “choose” not to react to certain words, if you are predisposed to it, just as you cannot “choose” to lift a 100 kg weight if you lack the (ability to grow) the muscle. Your condescending of people who suffer of online bullying is just as stupid as if Arnold Schwarzenegger condescended those who cannot lift 60 kg in one hand because he can do it easily.

  108. 108
    Anri

    I certainly hope I would never be arrogant, insensitive, and generally ignorant of the real world enough to assume that my level of tolerance for negative speech is typical or normal, or – even worse – the right way to look at things.

    I also was taught the ‘sticks and stones’ bit when I was young, and it’s helped me substantially.
    Fortunately, I’m not enough of an ass to think that my experiences are, or should be, universal. I have no idea if the lack of effect on me is heroic strength of will, or general lack of empathy, or if it’s just that I’ve never really been exposed to honest-to-god bullying.

    Even though I don’t know if I’d feel the same way, I certainly am sympathetic to victims of bullying, face-to-face, electronic, or otherwise.
    I guess that means I’ve failed my Kolinahr.

  109. 109
    knowknot

    @105 Ichthyic

    The wrong was the implication that political power grows only ever from the barrel of a gun. Which is sometimes wrong, thankfully.

    or not thankfully in some cases.
    some pretty damn evil folks have managed to talk their way into power.

     
    Indeed. In a perfect world all evil would be violent.

  110. 110
    David Marjanović

    An undemocratic Wikipedia? What could possibly go wrong?

    See also this handy comparison chart.

    Mao Tse-tung did not famously say “Power grows out of the mouth of a bullhorn.”

    He did, however, make sure the Little Red Book was handed to everyone and their surviving brother.

    It’s not hard people.
    But it’s not your responsibility?

    it’s also not relevant to the argument.

    It’s not directly relevant to PZ’s argument, I suppose, if that’s what you mean; it is, however, relevant to the argument I had made, which in turn is relevant to, at least, PZ’s presentation of his argument.

    I go to a page on Obama, and it says he is a Christian. I decide he’s really an atheist, and so clean up the page to reflect the better choice. Billyjobobjeter goes to the same webpage, sees Obama is Christian, says to himself: “That’s not right, my preacher told me he’s Muslim”

    and changes the page.

    What actually happens with such well-known topics is that someone comes in and cites a primary source or five. This has an intimidating effect on most cranks, because they know their inability to cite anything in response makes them look wrong; the most determined ones start a short-lived revert war and end up banned within a day.

    This is why an article like the one on DDT cites one or two sources at almost every comma or period, for a total of 146 in this case.

    There are obscure topics where the crank makes their edit and then nobody notices for a year or three. But anything related to Obama is not one of those.

  111. 111
    zenlike

    Well, it was actually me who ‘gave’ Rex his current handle, and much deserved it was, and apparently still is.

    If I recall correctly, the general issue then was a total lack of anything resembling empathy. And REx still seems lacking in that regard.

    But yeah, I guess a kid getting verbally abused by more than a dozen of his peers during the entirety of a breaktime in school, almost each breaktime again, almost each day again, during a couple of years, is not bullying, because it’s just words. As someone who has been there, fuck you very much Rex.

  112. 112
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Re: the “sticks and stones” debate:

    Words are, indeed, not weapons. But they can hurt.

    Let me relay a real-life event.

    A few weeks ago, a guy I know socially told me the following: “It’s a pity you’re a lesbian, because otherwise I’d hit on you.”

    I was offended and more than a little upset.

    Now, let’s look at why.

    The fact that this guy is a poor judge of boundaries is a problem. Most people, by the time they reach adulthood, have at least once had a crush on someone unattainable. The mature, adult response is to swallow it.

    The fact that American society is patriarchal, with non-insignificant levels of people believing that men are entitled to women’s bodies/affections/attention is a problem. A non-insignificant number of men display a marked tendency to discount and flat-out ignore women’s desires.

    The fact that homosexuality – and lesbianism in particular – is believed to be aberrant and “fixable” is a problem. The fact that many lesbians are subjected to sexual aggression and rape by men who want to “fix” them is a problem.

    Now. Do I think this guy wants to rape me? No. Do I think myself in danger when I’m around him? No.

    It’s just that I cannot ignore this context. And that context is profoundly upsetting and worrisome.

  113. 113
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    To make myself perfectly clear: I don’t think I’m in danger from this guy. It’s just that the only way I can ever be sure of his intentions is when he either (1) attempts something violent or (2) he permanently exits my life.

    Such is life as a woman (see also: “Schrödinger’s Rapist”). The fact that he thought that comment was okay is alarming because it edges him somewhat from one category (“probably safe”) to another (“questionable”).

    I have to be leery.

    Because the alternative is to make myself vulnerable to someone who does have violent intentions.

  114. 114
    John Horstman

    So… did you fix it? ‘Cause the fact that any expert can also edit Wikipedia is a reason to trust it… :-P

  115. 115
    anne mariehovgaard

    @107 Charly:
    You are right. People can’t actually choose how they react to the things other people say. Sure, to some extent they can choose how to act in response, and they may be able to train themselves to react differently (perhaps more like those lucky people who happen to be less sensitive to those specific words/statements, or just less sensitive in general?) – but the immediate, emotional, physical (!) reaction is not something you can control. That’s why swear words “work”, why obscene words give even people who pride themselves on not being prudish a little thrill, why you should avoid using certain words even if you think it looks silly to write “the n-word”: because saying things to someone is “doing something to them”. By the time they get around to consciously deciding “how to react”, the damage, if there is any, is done.

  116. 116
    inquiringlaurence

    It’s changed now, the less partial editors are pretty quick.

    By the way, I’m pretty sure someone at Conservapedia just went to Wikipedia under a different username (and possibly IP address) and pulled it out of his ass.

  117. 117
    Nathaniel Frein

    All “sticks and stones” ever did for me was let me know I was a failure when I couldn’t ignore what the other children called me.

  118. 118
    Ichthyic

    What actually happens with such well-known topic

    sweet fist of jesus you clowns are really not getting this.

    what happens if it’s NOT a well known topic?

    not that the popularity of a topic is even really relevant, since it hardly affects my argument now, does it.

  119. 119
    Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy

    I keep being impressed at how many words people will use to argue that words don’t have an effect.

  120. 120
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Rex Little:

    I prefer mine. You prefer yours. I will stipulate for the sake of argument that 99.99% of those who have ever considered the matter prefer yours. I’m fine with that.

    This isn’t a matter of preference. I used the definitions of bullying and cyberbullying provided by the American Psychological Association. Do you recognize that bullying and cyberbullying have psychological effects on those experiencing that behavior? Do you recognize the expertise of the APA on this subject?

    You know what, define the words how you want to. That doesn’t change the reality of what many people face:

    [...] aggressive behavior that (a) is intended to cause distress or harm, (b) involves an imbalance of power or strength between the aggressor and the victim, and (c) commonly occurs repeatedly over time
    https://www.apa.org/about/policy/bullying.pdf

    I don’t think anyone should have to deal with the above, whether you call it bullying or not (the same holds true of cyberbullying).

    Re: sticks and stones-
    I’m glad that worked for you, but you can’t expect everyone to be just like you. Not everyone is able to react in the same manner you do upon being bullied. Worse, you’re basically telling victims of bullying to suck it up and deal with it, rather telling the bullies to stop their behavior.

  121. 121
    Menyambal

    The “sticks and stones” thing is bizarre. It is supposed to rob words of their power, but it does so by using words. “Their hateful, hurtful insults can’t hurt you, but this little rhyme can fix everything.”

  122. 122
    anteprepro

    I think “sticks and stones” might be useful if taken as a reminder to not escalate a verbal confrontation into a physical one. But more often than not, it is a trite little phrase used to dismiss emotional abuse, wholesale.

  123. 123
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    Tony:

    you’re basically telling victims of bullying to suck it up and deal with it, rather telling the bullies to stop their behavior.

    I’m not telling anybody to do anything. Everything I’ve said on this subject has been in response to direct questions, mostly from you, asking what my opinions were and the reasons for them. My opinions are opinions, not advice or prescriptions. And on the general subject of opinions, I refer you back to what I linked to @54.

  124. 124
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Rex:

    I’m not telling anybody to do anything.

    Nich @66:
    If you don’t consider anything said online to be bullying, I’d love to see what you’d tell your crying child when they hand you an iPod and you find that some creative non-bullies have photoshopped her face onto a porn star with “Janie likes it in the butt” for a caption. Maybe she should just grow a pair, amiright?

    Nich, I’d fall back on a saying from my childhood which I took to heart whenever I was teased, which was quite often. It begins with “Sticks and stones. . .”

    My apologies. I misread your hypothetical. I thought you were giving generalized advice on how to deal with bullying, rather than advice for your hypothetical child on how to deal with “aggressive behavior that is typically recurring and is intended to cause distress and/or harm, involving an actual or perceived imbalance of power” (said advice being a childhood saying about “sticks and stones”; how this is intended to diminish or eliminate the aggressive behavior directed at the victim-which they have no control over-is unclear).

    Everything I’ve said on this subject has been in response to direct questions, mostly from you, asking what my opinions were and the reasons for them.

    You haven’t given your reasons for having this opinion:

    Short of threatening harm to someone’s physical person or property, and demonstrating the capability to carry out the threat (*), I don’t consider anything said online to be bullying.

    Cyberbullying *is* real, has been defined, and has caused demonstrable harm (remember those 9 teens I listed that committed suicide as a direct result of cyberbullying?). I’ve formed my opinion on bullying (and its subcategory ‘cyberbullying’) based on evidence. What is your opinion based on and why?

    Btw, your link @54 is not helpful in this discussion. I *know* that opinions are like assholes and everyone has them. In this case, though, your opinion is dismissive of the experiences of a great many people:

    Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.
    More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyberthreats online.
    Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet.
    Well over half of young people do not tell their parents when cyber bullying occurs.
    http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html

    There are people (not just kids and teens) that deal with cyberbullying on a recurring basis. There are parents who have lost their children as a result of cyberbullying. Your narrow definition does nothing to help understand or resolve the problem of internet bullying. It does, a spectacular job, however, of treating harmful behavior as if its “not that bad”.

  125. 125
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    (said advice being a childhood saying about “sticks and stones”; how this is intended to diminish or eliminate the aggressive behavior directed at the victim-which they have no control over-is unclear)

    It’s not intended to do anything about the behavior; it’s intended to help the victim react to the behavior in such a way as to reduce or eliminate her psychic pain. (Recall that the behavior in the example was humiliating and demeaning, but not physically aggressive.)

    Of course, the assembled multitudes have expressed some reservations about its effectiveness. . .

    You haven’t given your reasons for having this opinion:

    Short of threatening harm to someone’s physical person or property, and demonstrating the capability to carry out the threat (*), I don’t consider anything said online to be bullying.

    Was I asked to? I checked back through and couldn’t find any such request, but I might have missed it. In any case, I did say “the distinction I make is between actions and credible threats of action on the one hand, and words on the other.” That’s the basis of my reason, but it does need some elaboration.

    In a meatspace bullying situation, the very presence of the more powerful bullies, combined with the hostility of their words, constitutes a physical threat. (I never said the threat had to be overt, just credible.) I did also say that words by themselves carry the same weight in meatspace as in cyber, but what I neglected to add was that in meatspace bullying the words are rarely if ever “by themselves.” In cyber, they are.

    (The preceding paragraph is, of course, an opinion. Nothing in it should be taken as an attempt to state a fact.)

    Your narrow definition does nothing to help understand or resolve the problem of internet bullying.

    I beg to differ. It triggered you to present a great deal of information which surely increased some people’s knowledge and understanding.

  126. 126
    Adam Paine

    Rex, #76:

    the distinction I make is between actions and credible threats of action on the one hand, and words on the other

    This is a nonsense distinction.

    It seems pretty plain that expressing words – either speaking or writing them – is an action. Actions, famously, have consequences. It may be that those consequences are sometimes trivial, but it doesn’t follow that they always are.

    And #125:

    In a meatspace bullying situation, the very presence of the more powerful bullies, combined with the hostility of their words, constitutes a physical threat.

    Is it only threat or actual detriment to our physical well-being that can constitute bullying? Do you accept that there are forms of harm that a bully might seek to inflict other than physical harm (or the threat of physical harm)? If so, is it possible that these other forms of harm can be inflicted merely by expressing words?

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