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Mar 16 2012

On insults-3: Insults and blog banning policies

I participated in an interesting discussion recently with some other bloggers about what to do with commenters who seem to be either trolling to create mischief or being outright abusive and insulting to either the blog host or to other commenters or anyone else. Should such people be banned?

Although I have been blogging for seven years, I personally have never had to confront this problem. In fact, I do not even know how to ban someone. The discussions have been pretty peaceful even when the topic was controversial. On occasion, there have been people who disagreed with me persistently and implied motives to me that I thought were unwarranted but there has never been any real nastiness that might have tempted me to wish that they would go away. My usual practice is after awhile to simply walk away from exchanges that I think have ceased to be fruitful, particularly if the other person does not provide useful information or substantiation in support of their claims.

But not all the other blog authors agreed with me and I discovered that the practice of banning some commenters who were perceived as obnoxious or abusive is fairly common. The divide on this issue seemed to be between those who see their blogs as existing largely in the private sphere to which commenters are granted the privilege to enter, and those who see it as part of the public sphere where pretty much anything goes. While each blogger has the right to decide which path to take, they do lead to quite different landscapes.

The former group uses the metaphor of the blog being ‘their house’ and reason that anyone who enters their house has to abide by their rules and violating it by insulting the host and other guests is grounds for being thrown out. Some lay out explicit rules for what is and is not allowed in the comments and have no hesitation in yanking those who run afoul of those guidelines.

The latter group (of which I am one) tend to be more or less committed to the position that we are working largely in the public sphere and thus should not have the expectation of not being offended by what is said about us, at the very least because we reserve the right to say things that may be construed as being offensive to others. Of course, the blog is not a pure public sphere, since the blogger does have editorial control. Hence we are more like newspaper publishers/editors and the issue becomes trickier. But I suspect that newspaper editors’ sensibilities are largely commercially determined by their desire to prevent the loss of advertisers rather than to some abstract ideas of civility. I am not so constrained. I write because I have things I want to say and whether people think it is worth reading is up to them. Market share does not factor into the equation.

Furthermore, I take the view that such criticisms are not necessarily personal. After all, very few of my blog’s readers know me or other commenters personally. To a greater or lesser degree, depending on our prominence, bloggers are not so much individuals as a ‘brand’ (to use a somewhat distasteful piece of contemporary commercial jargon). For readers on the internet, ‘Mano Singham’ is now a brand, an umbrella label for that set of views that are loosely associated with me, just as ‘Wall Street’ is a brand for the policies of the financial sector. When people attack ‘Mano Singham’ or ‘Wall Street’, they are attacking the brands and what they stand for, not necessarily the individuals who make them up. So getting angry at insults hurled at the brand is like getting angry with someone who curses General Motors.

But while I can perhaps ignore things that are said about ‘my brand’ because I have developed a thicker skin, one blogger raised an important issue concerning vitriolic comments made about other commenters or other people, or intemperate and even vicious language in general. If I let such comments stand and not expel the culprits, am I not tacitly condoning those words? It was pointed out that some of the worst excesses come from people who display racist, misogynistic, and homophobic qualities and that I may be able to take a more casual attitude because I am in a privileged position and not vulnerable to such attacks.

The point that I may be arguing from privilege because I am not a member of groups that are routinely subjected to abuse is a good one. It is true that I have not been subjected to anywhere near the same level of abuse as some others and I am mindful of the fact that this may be unduly coloring my somewhat relaxed attitude on this issue. To combat it, I tried to think what kind of insult a commenter could say about me personally that would tempt me to ban them but have failed to come up with any. I have many personal and professional qualities that I am sure could be easily turned into coarse insults. I tried to think of some but I discovered that it is hard to find ways to insult oneself without soon descending into laughable parody. It struck me that being insulted is like being tickled, one cannot do it to oneself but requires another person to be effective. So I will have to wait and see what others may come up with.

But what about people who are not insulting me but are attacking others? In a comment to the previous post, Beth pointed out that people who have not developed a thick skin may be shut out of the public sphere because they cannot tolerate a high level of vituperative language. Do we have a collective responsibility to provide at least a partial shield so that those who are uncomfortable with the sometimes intense heat of the language of the public sphere can find a more temperate zone?

This is a serious argument that merits serious consideration and in the next post in this series I will look at the blog host’s responsibilities to all readers.

58 comments

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  1. 1
    slc1

    My position is that the internet is a tough place where no quarter is asked or given and those who can’t take the heat should stay out of the kitchen. Having said that, it is my opinion that someone who runs a blog is in no way, shape, form, or regard obligated to accept personal abuse and character assassination from his commentors. Such people should be given the heave ho and banned from commenting.

    As Prof. Singham is certainly aware of by this time, I have some very strong and some would say extreme views about the situation in the Middle East and am not at all shy about sharing them, particularly on Ed Brayton’s blog where I have been subjected to considerable such abuse from numerous commentors. That’s perfectly OK; it ain’t my blog and I have no right or expectation of being immune from abusive comments.

  2. 2
    Somite

    I am more worried about the other side of the argument. That feigned or even real offense is used to censor an opinion, no matter how wrong or misguided it is. I see this happen on sexism discussions where generally inflexible positions at either extreme drown out sensible discussion. In this discussions labels like “privilege”, “MRA” and others fly out drowning any fruitful exchange.

    To give a concrete example during the recent elevatorgate I suggested that sexism in skepticism should be approached as a scientific subject and a survey should be attempted to quantify its extent. Out came the labels of privilege and “mansplaining”, etc.

    Abusive and mysoginistic postings are very obvious. We should become suspicious also when vague labeling is used to censor a possibly valid opinion.

  3. 3
    Mano Singham

    What is MRA?

  4. 4
    Mark

    Regarding your second to last paragraph, I think you’re hinting at, but not quite getting to, a more salient point: people with valuable opinions and insight just don’t want to post in a troll-infested forum. It isn’t fun when a comment based on exceptional experience, which you spend a long time thinking about, carefully constructing an argument and looking up sources, is completely overrun and ignored because of both troll posts and the posts written by dozens of users to “counter” the troll (that’s an oxymoron; you counter a troll by ignoring it).

    It’s a complicated issue, but in some venues a laissez-faire policy toward comments can be a terrible thing. I suspect this sort of thing is more common and more relevant than worrying about offending those with “thin skin”.

  5. 5
    Dan-o

    Mano,

    As a practicing Christian I seem to receive quite a few negative and derogatory remarks which I understand that not everyone is as forgiving as a Christian but others seem uninterested in hearing opposing. View points. It is funny that on mychristian sites I less of the flaming remarks towards the other side. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with them without opposing views you will not be able to make your own decision.

  6. 6
    Somite

    Men’s rights activist. Which to my surprise do exist.

  7. 7
    Somite

    The best policy to keeping forums interesting is to keep responses centered on the subject and attempt to argue from facts. Trolls should be ignored but abusive personal comments should not be tolerated. Similarly there should be no censoring of criticism of ideas or beliefs.

    For example, you can call conservatism or Christianity dumb outdated ideas but it would be unacceptable to call Christians or conservatives dumb. Many feuds would have been prevented if everyone understood this difference.

  8. 8
    Sergio Sider

    Completely agree with you for choosing the second group (instead of the “this is my house” group).

    It’s something you have the opportunity to learn as a child but not everyone accomplishes: Bullies and trolls are attention seekers, they need it. As with hungry and miserable dogs, feed them and they will just not leave ;-)

    The problem in banning is how to draw the line between someone that just deserved banning from another that almost deserved it ? I’ve been banned from an atheist site just by disagreeing with the host (and I am an atheist).

    It’s the dark side.. together with editing and sock-puppetry. For some people it’s an irresistible…

  9. 9
    Otrame

    Dan-o

    1. Is English not your first language? Or did you need more coffee this morning?

    2. Your views, christian or otherwise, will receive no automatic “respect” on most free thought blogs. That does not mean you are not welcome to express them. I would like to point out that even in Pharyngula, where the comments are a happy piraña tank, some Christians are welcome and respected. Hell, a couple have Mollies (a commenter-voted award).

    3. “forgiving as a Christian”? Some of the most profoundly decent people I’ve ever met were Christian. Some of the most vile people I’ve ever met were Christian. The Christian part is a very poor predictor of how decent a person is.

    —–

    Mano, I think it is, and should be, a matter of personal taste of the blogger. Libby Anne’s “be nice” policy (as long as it is applied to all) is fine with me. Relatively open policies like PZs are fine too. I admit that I like the rough and tumble there most of the time and, while endless repitition in MRA-infested threads can become mind-numbing, I don’t have to read them and they do serve a purpose.. In general, when PZ does ban someone I agree, largely because the person is so outrageous that commenters spend all their time calling them out and it gets boring.

    My personal feeling is that commenters who are insulting, of the blogger or their commenters, are entertaining at best and boring at worst, and I would not ban such. My own ban policy would probably be pretty limited because I like to know what is going on in their tiny little minds. As for protecting those of thin skins, with the exception of a very specific goal like Libby Anne’s, I think it does people a genuine good to be forced to defend their ideas and anyone who can’t take being called an idiot needs to get over themselves.

    But, as always, YMMV.

  10. 10
    Dan-o

    Sorry using my iPhone code generator app.I just shut off that app.

  11. 11
    Physicalist

    MRA = “men’s rights activist” = someone who hates feminists = male who is indifferent to misogyny.

  12. 12
    left0ver1under

    Your blog, your rules. Commentors are guests in your (sub)domain. Not everybody has PZ Myers willingness to say “anything goes”.

    My only expectation would be to see no hypocrisy in the application of rules. And I doubt that would be a problem.

  13. 13
    VF

    I do not understand, blogs are supposed to be “publications” would you say about a paper-newspaper that it can insult anyone, but the victims should not open the newspaper if they are not tough enough? Why should internet be different in this respect?

  14. 14
    ollie

    One other issues: some topics attract more cranks.

    For example, if you routinely blogged about quantum mechanics, you might attract other physicists but you would also attract cranks and woos who would drown out the constructive discussion.

    Those who blog about evolution topics might also have this problem.

  15. 15
    slc1

    The internet is a lot tougher then newspapers because any moron who has a computer and a modem can sign on and spout of at will. Newspapers strongly censor their letters to the editor and reject the type of invective that is common on the internet.

    Again, some bloggers are more sensitive then others. For instance, Chris Mooney, who apparently has very sensitive corns, has banned FTB blogger Ophelia Benson for comments that would hardly be noticed on Ed Brayton’s blog.

  16. 16
    slc1

    Re ollie @ #8

    Actually, I doubt that Prof. Singham would get any quantum mechanics deniers, unlike, say Jason Rosenhouse’s evolution blog or Panda’s Thumb that routinely get evolution deniers. More likely, he would attract quantum quacks like Deepak Chopra wannabees.

  17. 17
    Leni

    Do we have a collective responsibility to provide at least a partial shield so that those who are uncomfortable with the sometimes intense heat of the language of the public sphere can find a more temperate zone?

    I think the answer to this question is “if you think you do, then yes.”

    If you feel a personal responsibility to do that, then it’s your blog and you very well should and your readers will probably appreciate and understand it. If not, it’s your blog, so don’t.

    I’m thinking of Libby Anne from Love, Joy, Feminism. She actually wants people who may still be practicing Christians to contribute for reasons that are unique to her blog and her reasons for writing it. If she had a PZ style comment policy I’m quite sure it would undermine her efforts. I don’t know if that’s her primary reason, but it’s certainly a sensible and understandable one.

    But that may not be sensible for PZ, who has a different style, a different audience, and different goals. I don’t know how you could devise a policy that would suit both of them.

    That’s not to say it couldn’t be done. I just have no idea how it would work beyond the basics like “No threats”.

  18. 18
    VF

    But you could aswell argue the opposite, that the fact that “any moron who has a computer and a modem can sign on and spout of at will” implies that it should be carefully regulated, because it makes this instrument too dangerous and slippery

  19. 19
    VF

    about this :

    “Not everybody has PZ Myers willingness to say “anything goes”

    I am sorry to say, this is not the way PZ Myers’ blog works. Myers deliberately ignites the flames. His blog is construted in order to generate this “anything”.

    Not only he slaughters people, but then he lets the comments finish the job. Is this really acceptable in the academic sphere? Why should it be accepted?

  20. 20
    ollie

    Oh yes, I meant to say that. Sorry. :)

  21. 21
    Leni

    It’s not the academic sphere, it’s his personal blog.

    And what would “not accepting it” entail?

  22. 22
    VF

    I disagree. Myers calls himself professor, he talks from the univeristy at Minnesota, his blog is intended in part for his students, he blogs as a peer and even insists on blogging on “peer reviewed” articles; his entire academic agenda is displayed on his blog; he gives opinions and judgements as a scinetist, to scientists; etc. etc.

    @And what would “not accepting it” entail

    Making effective laws against internet misconduct, both general laws, and more specific, among academics, in this case. This what laws are for : to be able to live in a world which should not be just a jungle. Habing opionions is one thing, orchestrating insults is another. It is extremely difficult to have defamation and insults be withdrawn from the internet, especially from abroad.

  23. 23
    'Tis Himself

    Pharyngula is not an academic blog. Myers may be a professor but his blog has no connection with the University of Minnesota-Morris. If you don’t like how he runs his blog, you don’t have to go there. Nobody is holding a gun to your head and demanding you read Pharyngula.

    As a professional biologist, he does discuss biology from time to time. So what? I’m a professional economist and I write about economics from time to time. If you don’t want to read about biology or economics, then don’t read Myers’ or my posts.

    But what you’re really whining about is how you don’t like the raucous, rowdy, often impolite tone of Myers and the Pharyngula commentariat. Your concern is noted.

  24. 24
    Leni

    I disagree. Myers calls himself professor…

    Myers is a professor. He calls himself one because he is one. Further, if he blogged anonymously, this would still be true. Do you honestly think he should face legal consequences for not being anonymous?

    … he talks from the univeristy at Minnesota, his blog is intended in part for his students…

    His blog is not on a U of M domain. He works at the U of M, he doesn’t “talk” from it so far as his blog, which is a personal endeavor, is concerned. His students are as free to read (or not read) his blog as anyone else.

    …he blogs as a peer and even insists on blogging on “peer reviewed” articles;

    Maybe on scientific issues. But that’s only part of his blog. I really don’t know if he does this, but I don’t see how it’s relevant. Even so, it would be an informal peer review (i.e. input from peers because of a particular expertise) and not the sort you see in journals. It’s a good standard, but it’s still not strictly academic.

    …his entire academic agenda is displayed on his blog; he gives opinions and judgements as a scinetist, to scientists; etc. etc.

    He’s not blogging anonymously. Why should he not mention his credentials? This is absolutely the norm for people who blog using their real names.

    You really think that academics should not be able to express their opinions, even inflammatory ones?

    I guess I disagree. Mostly it sounds like you have a problem with PZ that could be easily remedied by you not reading his blog.

  25. 25
    Leni

    he blogs as a peer and even insists on blogging on “peer reviewed” articles…

    I actually misread as meaning that he has his blog posts peer-reviewed. But this is actually even more trivial.

    People blog about peer reviewed articles all the time. This doesn’t mean they are acting in an official academic capacity.

  26. 26
    slc1

    Not a bit of it. I would argue that the internet is a good place for people to let off steam. I would strongly oppose letting the government regulate it.

  27. 27
    P Smith

    If you don’t like it, VF, don’t read it.

    But that’s not what you want. You want to dictate what others do, how their blogs are run. You don’t have the decency to admit it.

  28. 28
    VF

    I disagree

    if you go the wikipedia note of the university of Minesota at Morris you read “Faculty : PZ Myers : Assoc iate Profesor of Biology, prominent atheist blogger”; scientific research is a domain in which you can hardly separate profesionnal and “private” expression. It is an intellectual thing.
    It is again an example of double-language, with which people can play freely on the internet. In France it is certainly not allowed to academics to express anything freely on the internet.

    About “If you don’t like how he runs his blog, you don’t have to go there”. That is all too easy. Take the point of view of the victims. I see people can hardly take the point of view of the victims. In general terms, it is sad and dangerous.

    M; Myers insults people, who do not deserve being insulted. And especially myself. If I understand well, you can torture people psychologically, but over all, do not let the victims scream?
    I certainly do not “like” the general manners of M. Myers; but the main problem was explained by Beth : interesting ideas and new concepts are just flatenned and slauthered by incompetence, but with authority. It should not be legal to insult pepople the way he does it is just brutally hurting and inconvenient: he does so either directly, or indirectly, by letting anyone pour anyform of insults on the person he comments about. Which is dangerous.

  29. 29
    VF

    I don’t understand your reaction; this post and the disussion is ABOUT people being insulted on the internet, and how hurting it is etc. Instead of discussing this in general and theoretically, I am just showing you a specific example, and telling you : yes, it is very hurting for people to be treated like that the “don’t go see what they say about you” argument is not an argument. Internet should be regulated. It is all too easy and sad to use such a fantastic tool to hurt people.

  30. 30
    VF

    Hu? I am just arguing that LAWS, should dictate people what they can do or not do. There has been enough victims of this general mood for insults and harrassment found on the internet. I certainly wish there were more regulations on the internet, specifically on blogs and forums, which have all advantages of a world wide rapid publication, and none of the duties.

  31. 31
    Leni

    In France it is certainly not allowed to academics to express anything freely on the internet.

    France isn’t the internet.

    That said, he didn’t, and doesn’t, allow “anything”.

    …scientific research is a domain in which you can hardly separate profesionnal and “private” expression. It is an intellectual thing.

    Yes, you can separate it. Do you deny that people can have opinions about scientific research, perhaps even their own research, that isn’t employer approved?

    That is all too easy. Take the point of view of the victims.

    We can all do that without legally preventing other people from expressing their opinions. I don’t go to Stormfront and expect them to censor themselves for me. I just don’t go there.

    Myers insults people, who do not deserve being insulted.

    See, some people think that they do deserve it.

    It should not be legal to insult pepople the way he does…

    Why?

    So we could all live in a nice, polite world where the Hitlers and Idi Amins and Pol Pots are safe from having their feelings hurt?

    Should America have made a law that Europeans couldn’t insult George Bush? On the internet? Because we thought we were victims?

    Just imagine for a moment what that would mean.

    Imagine what it would take to enforce. And then tell me with a straight face that you honestly think this is a good policy.

  32. 32
    Dan J

    VF says:

    I am just arguing that LAWS, should dictate people what they can do or not do.

    Yes; laws regulate what people can or cannot do in many circumstances. That’s their primary function.

    I certainly wish there were more regulations on the internet, specifically on blogs and forums, which have all advantages of a world wide rapid publication, and none of the duties.

    It’s been my understanding that the laws applied to media of all types regarding libel and slander already apply to speech on the Internet. If you think your country’s laws are not strict enough, perhaps you should discuss the matter with your elected representatives.

    Most of the blogs where I participate are governed by the laws of the United States. Our various states’ laws against slander or libel are applicable, and people are responsible for what they post.

    The same rights apply, and the same responsibilities apply. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it.

  33. 33
    VF

    I certainly say straight in your face that internet should be regulated more. Or maybe to make it simpler : that the laws, some of them which actuallt exist, should be implemented more easily as regard what goes on the internet. It is impossible from France to sue defamatory and insulting statements in the US on blogs and forums, although illegal claims are found, nothing can be technically done against them.

    I am no Hitler.

  34. 34
    Dan J

    Now I understand! I think perhaps VF isn’t as upset about insults as he is about someone completely tearing apart his “scholarly” work.

    Perhaps Mr. Fleury should expend more effort in pursuing scientific excellence rather than simply fuming that he’s been insulted.

  35. 35
    Henry Gale

    The best method I have seen used in dealing with insults and trolling comments is to let the speaker have their say, but disemvowel them. There is a handy tool that helps with this:

    http://novalis.org/cgi/vowel.cgi

    So a comment such as this:

    I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.>/blockquote>

    becomes:

    dn’t wnt t tlk t y n mr, y mpt hdd nml fd trgh wpr. frt n yr gnrl drctn. Yr mthr ws hmstr nd yr fthr smlt f ldrbrrs.

    Disemvowel a poster often enough and they’ll go away.

  36. 36
    VF

    Sir
    the initial posts by M. Singam (who is a physicist, and can therefore judge by himself the work) is about insults on the internet (I am just a colleague of M. Myers, I do not see why a review of my work should start by “toilet drain behaviour”, end by “down the drain”, and be tagged with “kook” “Krank” etc.

    Yes, M. Myers uses internet to confortably insult people from far away. Then he lets followers ridicule and slaughter people.
    I give you this as an example. Now, on this post (I mean here), while people discuss in general the issue of insult and heated language, there is a victim coming to give his point of view. So a true fact, to be analyzed within the framework of the said theoretical thoughts (justification of insults).

    I see that even here, the voice of the victim cannot be heard. This is to say, that in the internet, you can insult and slaughter people as you will, free of any responsability, but the sound of the victim “is not fun”, the screamms of the victims are considered as “harrassment”.

    This is a problem, both for the victims, and for the propagation of ideas. If internet is just used by new form of authorities to destroy people who do honest work in government labs, then ; first it hinders the emergence of new ideas, and second, it rots the very interest of freedom of speech.

    Somebody here above has written that insults against, say a colleague in a University, should be accepted, because that allows to insult Hitlers someday somewhere. This is a wrong view, a very wrong one. There is no point in expressing insulting opinions, and let others do even worse, against a colleague in a University; the society cannot function with that. Colleagues in other universities are not Hitlers. And such behaviours are observed also against highschool pupils on facebook etc. That leads to suicides.

  37. 37
    VF

    It does not work this way. Internet changes the deal by allowing anyone from anywhere to publish instantaneously anything. It is extremely difficult for somebody insulted, say in France, to have anything withdrawn, let alone judged and repaied, in Minesotta.
    For example, if somebody says “X is an asshole” on blogspot, it is very difficult to have it withdrawn, you first have to prove that you are M. X etc.
    Just go on the pages of the providers, and you will see : their interest is to have many more people open blogs, and as few as possible be sentenced or closed. So its very easy in two clicks to open a blog, it is miuch more difficult to report seriously a misconduct.

  38. 38
    VF

    It does not work this way. Internet changes the deal by allowing anyone from anywhere to publish instantaneously anything. It is extremely difficult for somebody insulted, say in France, to have anything withdrawn, let alone judged and repaied, in, say, Minesotta.
    For example, if somebody says “X is an asshole” on blogspot, it is very difficult to have it withdrawn, you first have to prove that you are M. X etc.
    Just go on the pages of the providers, and you will see : their interest is to have many more people open blogs, and as few as possible be sentenced or closed. So it’s very easy in two clicks to open a blog, it is much more difficult to report seriously a misconduct.

  39. 39
    VF

    To be completely accurate, and re-reading M. Singham post I aknowledge that in the first place the post is about:

    “… commenters who seem to be either trolling to create mischief or being outright abusive and insulting to either the blog host or to other commenters or anyone else. Should such people be banned? ”

    So it is not actually about bloggers who themselves in the first place insult freely colleagues, or anybody else on their blog.

  40. 40
    left0ver1under

    Thanks. I suspected that Fluery was a crank, but I didn’t want to say that without verification.

  41. 41
    VF

    I would be happy to have your name and email
    regards
    VF

  42. 42
    left0ver1under

    Post your own email here first and I’ll consider sending you an email.

    Do you intend to send another 50 page rant full of verbal diarrhoea?

  43. 43
    slc1

    Re VF

    I am not aware of the laws on speech in France, but here in the US, we have what is known as the First Amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees almost absolute freedom of speech. The libel and slander laws are civil in nature and thus not the concern of the authorities. I think that Ed Brahyton’s approach to the problem is that the answer to speech one doesn’t like is more speech, not censorship. The particular thread on PZ Myers blog that Dr. Fleury is complaining is, indeed, pretty rough on him, but, just for his information, I have personally been subjected to much worse by commentors on Ed Brayton’s blog and this one for my views on the Middle East, which are considered extreme by them. I have been called a genocidal maniac, among other choice epithets. My reaction is that sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.

    Despite having a PhD in physics, I was not able to follow the gist of the discussion on the particular thread on PZ’s blog but a cursory scan seems to indicate that both PZ and many of his commentors are taking issue with Dr. Fleury’s arguments. I suggest that Dr. Fleury grow a thicker skin; perhaps some of the comments might point him toward presenting more convincing arguments in the future.

  44. 44
    Dan-o

    This may be a dumb question but.why is (pz Meyer)a sixty year old professor (guessing based on pic on his blog) acting like complete azz?

  45. 45
    slc1

    Actually, I believe that Prof. Myers is in his mid 50s.

    Further, I fail to see that the good professor acted like an ass. On re-reading his comment, he appears to have raised fundamental questions about Dr. Fleury’s paper. I didn’t find his review particularly vicious (see the comment of Prof. Jerry Coyne on that thread). Clearly, most of his commentors, many of whom, like Prof. Coyne, are professional biologists who know a lot more about the subject then does physicist Fleury agreed with PZ.

    It would appear that Dr. Fleury may have fallen prey to the notion that expertise in one scientific field qualifies him to pontificate in a completely different field. I find it not surprising that biologists might object to a physicist who they consider to be insufficiently knowledgeable about biology presuming to lecture them on their area of expertise, just as elementary particle physicists might object to biologists pontificating about string theory.

  46. 46
  47. 47
    VF

    Thanks for your comments, but I still doubt very much that a scientific discussion between peers or even a critical review should have to invoke the 1rst amendment and be at that level of constitutional borderline. The discussion, here, is not on whether my views are right or wrong, but whether there is any true justification and normality to let people pour such insults on sombeody on the internet, so easily.
    But if course, if you do think that the content of the work is what justifies the level of insults, I can drive you to all the relevant references and hard data. The fact that M. Myers got references and data, and did not show them, is another aspect of the question of misconduct, not independent of insults, but this thread is about insults only.

  48. 48
    slc1

    Re VF

    I would also point out to Dr. Fleury that PZ printed a reply he received from him in full, without comment. I rather think that Dr. Fleury was treated fairly by PZ as the latter was under no obligation to print the former’s response. He also allowed Dr. Fleury to comment freely without censorship in the thread in response to other commentors. IMHO, Dr. Fleury has no grounds for complaint.

  49. 49
    VF

    Actually you are not right :

    The right of reply is legal and he had no other way than publishing it.

    However what I actually asked as a right of reply was that he put one of the animations in front of one figure he published, which he did not do. He printed the cover letter which was not what I asked for.

    In a second letter I sent experimental data, he ridiculed the letter but hid that I had sent him experimental data.

    While his blog is indeed open to comments, it it useless, since it is a constant bombardment of insults by his followers.

    He stated that the things I describe do not exist.
    I sent him experimental data by email again. That is treated as a supposed harrassment by email.

    He stated that I am a kook etc, and that what I describe does not exist and is complete nonsense. I sent him references to many people working on the same topic (and there are many). Then you are treated as being a “crank”.

    He asked to see experimental published data. I sent him many published articles in reputable journals, including biology journals, with all containing quantitative experimental data.

    That becomes :

    “Am I supposed to be impressed by the fact that you’ve found a journal and reviewers in a field far outside the relevant ones who are willing to let your nonsense slide through review?

    Because I’m not.

    All in all, whatever you do, especially in exact response to his criticism, is turned upside down and morphed into a flow of insults and lies. PZ Myers manages to intoxicate people by cheating constantly with the most elementary ethical rules of our profession. It is so effective that eventually, yes, regular readers are convinced by what he writes.

    That IS the problem of the internet.

  50. 50
    slc1

    The right of reply is legal and he had no other way than publishing it.

    Absolutely incorrect and inaccurate. Neither Prof. Myers or any other US blogger is under any legal obligation to publish anything they receive, and he would be within his rights to ban Dr. Fleury from commenting if he so chose. Don’t believe it, just ask John Kwok.

    By the way, as an aside, in no way, shape, form, or regard am I denigrating the French judicial system. As a matter of fact, IMHO, the the way in which criminal investigations are conducted in France are superior to the way they are conducted in the US, Britain, and Canada. As I understand it, investigations are directed by specially trained judges in France, unlike the US, Britain, and Canada where the police, with input from prosecutor’s offices, which have a vested interest in getting convictions, direct them.

  51. 51
    VF

    As far as I know the right of reply is mandatory in France, and any blog visible from France has to abide by French laws.

    That makes little difference anyway since, indeed, Bloggers like Myers do whatever they want, with no consideration whatsoever for the persons they critisize.

  52. 52
    Dan J

    As far as I know the right of reply is mandatory in France, and any blog visible from France has to abide by French laws.

    Pardon my language, but this statement is an absolute bucketload of dingo’s kidneys.

  53. 53
    VF

    what do you mean?

  54. 54
    Dan J

    What do I mean by “an absolute bucketload of dingo’s kidneys?” There are many phrases that could be used in place, but perhaps couillonnade would be appropriate.

    Do you actually think that French law applies to any web site (and its owner/authors) that is accessible to any Internet service provider and its customers who happen to be located France?

  55. 55
    VF

    In matters of internet, as far as I know, a webpage is a publication; as such, if it is visible from France (actually the entire European Union), french courts are competent to sue any author of a webpage worldwide, and french law is applicable. I believe it seriously, and it was told to me by lawyers; now maybe it is not true; but I do think this sort of competence of foreign courts for this or that offense is rather common; so indeed, it is at all seriously possible, now, the problem is not that french laws are or not compteten, it is that even if you obtain a judgement in your favpor for libel slander etc., it cannot be enforced, or hardly, until the fellow puts a foot on France

  56. 56
    Dan J

    Oh, it’s quite simple to bring suit against anyone in the world for anything you care to, no matter what the jurisdiction. Getting a court to hear the case or pronounce a judgment is another thing entirely.

    The 1st Amendment to the US Constitution affords us one of the world’s broadest interpretations of freedom of speech (even more broad in California, via their state Constitution). Items I have personally blogged about would be sufficient for me to be executed in some countries on our planet. Am I in fear for my life? No. I have no intention of traveling to any location where I can not be assured the freedom to speak my mind.

    I would also suggest that the insults you have “suffered” at the hands of those who have ridiculed your work are merely that; insults. They are not defamatory or libelous by legal standards.

    As to comment moderation by blog administrators, it’s a very difficult question. I’m very close to an “anything goes” system on my own blog. I have only ever had to moderate one commenter, and I released his last seven comments one year after the fact.

  57. 57
    vf

    The point which I do not understand is why a discussion over scientific work should go so far as to be protected by 1st amendment? What is the justification for letting a prof. in biology insult colleagues, and let his followers insult colleagues?
    Is this the way it works in the US? Ar you all the time insulting the colleagues of the building across the street or the College next door, or calling you names at the coffee room and at once invoking the 1st amendment for your protection?
    Maybe it is the case that you are raised since childhood in the knowledge that there is this amendment and that there is no point in feeling hurt by insults, and maybe to some extent this lowers the heat of these insults, and it is just the way people behave in the US.
    Still I see a problem : internet is supposed to be an international thing, so it sounds difficult that the habits of the US should be imposed to the entire planet.

  58. 58
    Dan J

    Hello, VF.

    I think that you have some misconceptions about freedom of speech, and in this you are definitely not alone. A great many of my own countrymen are not well informed as to the rights they posses, as well as the limits of those rights.

    I think we have taken the discussion as far as we should here in Dr. Singham’s drawing room, as it were. I would be happy to discuss these very details at length with you in another forum, however.

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