Sunday, October 5, 2008

Commenters and Me

This is a collaborative blog, so I am speaking for myself only, although I suspect that CW has a similar comments policy to mine. I am normally polite, even to commenters who do not agree with me. Eric disagrees with me in just about every way imaginable on the mechanics of politics (although not on most of the goals, I must admit), and we debate each other all the time in a private forum as well as our own blogs. I normally enjoy debate with sharp and intelligent opponents. I really enjoy debate with Eric.

If you comment on my posts and are reasonably polite, then you’ll get a reasonably polite response. You can ask Eric and Jim, who disagree with me most on this forum and on their own blogs.

There is one group of people I have no patience for, however: people who believe and espouse ideas that are demonstrably false in the face of proof that those ideas are false. This would include Wiccans who claim that their religion is ancient, rather than dating back to just before the days of Alstair Crowley who took ancient, but moribund ideas and crafted them into something only a New Ager could love. This would especially include Young Earth Creationists, whom I took to task in this post. Most recently, this includes the opponents of the Large Hadron Collider. One of the reasons this groups ticks me off so much is that they hunt down every blog post on the subject and spam it, as you can see in the comments to my posts.

When the anti-LHC crowd happens upon a non-anonymous blog or site of known scientists, those scientists have to be careful in their response, lest they look unprofessional. Measured responses to the anti-LHC crowd, unfortunately, make the layman think that their might be something to this “black hole stuff”, since real, known scientists are engaged in “debate”. The layman doesn’t have the tools to discern when the subtext of the scientist’s response is “go read a couple of hundred articles and take 5 or 6 graduate classes in physics before you come back and argue this nonsense here again, dickhead”.

The misperceptions is closely related to Warnock’s Dilemma on blog and usenet posts:

Warnock's Dilemma, named for its originator Bryan Warnock, is the problem of interpreting a lack of response to a posting on a mailing list, Usenet newsgroup, or Web forum.

The problem with no response is that there are five possible interpretations:
1. The post is correct, well-written information that needs no follow-up commentary. There's nothing more to say except "Yeah, what he said."
2. The post is complete and utter nonsense, and no one wants to waste the energy or bandwidth to even point this out.
3. No one read the post, for whatever reason.
4. No one understood the post, but won't ask for clarification, for whatever reason.
5. No one cares about the post, for whatever reason.

In this case, we are dealing with a derivative of #2: the post is utter nonsense, and the respectable scientists don’t want to be caught on the internet with their professional pants down by replying to these quarter-educated nutjobs with their real, profanity laced feelings. Unprofessional conduct can haunt you a long, long time, even if it was justified.

Polite response is also somewhat related to the Geek Social Fallacy #1:

Geek Social Fallacy #1: Ostracizers Are Evil

As a result, nearly every geek social group of significant size has at least one member that 80% of the members hate, and the remaining 20% merely tolerate. If GSF1 exists in sufficient concentration -- and it usually does -- it is impossible to expel a person who actively detracts from every social event. GSF1 protocol permits you not to invite someone you don't like to a given event, but if someone spills the beans and our hypothetical Cat Piss Man invites himself, there is no recourse. You must put up with him, or you will be an Evil Ostracizer and might as well go out for the football team.

These people in no way have earned a polite response from the legitimate scientific community. They need to be ostracized from legitimate scientific discourse on the ‘Net. The politeness with which they are treated at CERN and at physics blogs where the scientists blog under their own names is due only to the natural degree of civility of those scientists. Unfortunately, that makes the anti-LHC crowd look as if they are carrying on a legitimate debate. If they pulled their rhetorical tricks in meatspace on real topics, someone would drop their ass with a well-aimed right hook, or at the very least tell them directly to shut the fuck up.

This is where I come in. I blog anonymously. This opens me up to accusations of just being “some guy on the net” and lying about my credentials. I don’t give a shit. Real scientists will see the telltale signs of my scientific training in the topics I choose and the way in which I talk about them. Laymen can take my writing to a known expert and see the same thing. Everyone else in the nutjob category can take a running jump. My purpose here is to get, somewhere on the net, a non-polite response to the anti-LHC idiocy. I want to show what the rational people are really thinking when they deal with this mess.

The debate over the LHC is no longer an intellectual game in my view. When a Nobel-winning physicist gets death threats over the idiocy of pseudo-scientists, the gloves come off.

One final note. Our friend from Lower Saxony “debating” the rational people who visit (and run) this blog is trying one of the oldest tricks in the pseudoscientist's book. Eric will immediately recognize the “cover them in paper” gambit of trying to open questions on multiple issues at once. MWT called the dude on it, and he ignored him. It gets to the heart of their rhetorical assault, however, because they are always trying to find something to pick at. The idea is that if they can get a win anywhere then it bolsters their credibility, and they can then wave and shout about an irrelevant victory as if it damaged the premise of the central argument against them. Fortunately for the rational people, these nuts are extremely unlikely to win on anything, given their poor grasp of the physical sciences.

In all these comment threads, I’m going to clearly label the tangents so that those playing at home don’t need a playbook.


Janiece said...

John, I'll just say here that if my comments to your Lower Saxony friend lowered the tone around here, I apologize. I do not intend to be a rude guest in your house, and even if his little endearment to me would normally earn him a punch in the nose, doing so on your space instead of mine is poor form.

Eric said...

Janiece, if you go back and read the comments from LHC et al., you'll quickly realize you didn't lower the tone at all. The conspiranoiac/"purveyors of woo" tone was there from the start in their tactics and stance, including willful incomprehension, question sniping, "bury 'em in paper," "NO, I have the open mind" and all the rest of it.

For the record, in case I haven't said it before: I enjoy our disagreements, too, John.

Sincerely, your servant (ha!). :-)

MWT said...

Heh, I guess that means he never did answer my question.

I'm glad everyone is having fun playing with the troll. I kind of got bored and left...

John the Scientist said...

Janiece, did you see the language I've been using? It's not possible to lower the tone in that thread. :)

Anne C. said...

MWT, I've tried to bring it back around to a discussion of Wagner (on topic!) instead of the LHC, so we'll see how that goes. :)

I do have to agree with the laughter about the "servants" jibe. No one who had followed our discussions would ever mistake us for a group with one voice.

Anonymous said...

Wow - our very own flame war. Gnarly!

John the Scientist said...

Yeah, you know it is juvenile. This post was a bit of a rationale, but it's still juvenile.

My fervent wish is that some physicist gets visited by these guys, points to that thread and say's "what he said, just I'm too polite to say it".

That would make my day.

Jim Wright said...

Well, if I lowered the tone around here, I'm glad. You urbane elitist scientists are just too damned polite - somebody has to be the uncouth Warrant Officer. :)

John, I've dealt with a number of these idiots, online and off, and I'll say this - Life is just too damned short to put with these people (and it's especially too short if the world is going to get sucked into a black hole Real Soon Now. Yuk, yuk). I give them one, and only one chance, to put up or get both barrels in the face. And it always ends the same way, both barrels in the face. Always. And I just won't deal with it politely, they're wasting my precious time and energy and they deserve nothing but buckshot.

Anyway, well said, as usual and don't let the bastard off the hook.

MWT said...

No one who had followed our discussions would ever mistake us for a group with one voice.


A lot of communities say that in self defense, actually. Outsiders accuse them of being one big hive mind, insiders say "no we're not, really, you just don't know us." I see it as a sign of insularity.

Having been both an outsider and insider to a number of communities while this kind of statement has been made, I find it rather disturbing to see the UCF say it already when we're less than a year old. Hopefully I'm just being paranoid...

Janiece said...

MWT, you honestly believe the UCF is engaging in group think? Seriously?

MWT said...

Not here per se. The trolls in the other thread deserve what they're getting (even if they don't deserve the amount of attention being put in...).

I do see examples of groupthink occur elsewhere from time to time. However, I don't think it's the excessive, problematical kind that gets communities in trouble. We also have dissent pop up when it starts veering toward out-of-handness. I'm just being paranoid, I think.