Where Two Tribes Go To Roar…

(…or Why I Left The Twitter Trenches)

I was warned by colleagues and friends not to do it.

“You’ll definitely regret it”.

“I know what you’re like — you’ll get drawn into far too many pointless arguments.”

“Where are you going to find the time?”

In the end, I lasted a little less than 18 months. I deactivated my Twitter account last Sunday.

And breathed a huge sigh of relief.

No more petty playground barbs, ad hominem slurs, or tweenage memes (in lieu of any type of coherent argument) clogging up my timeline.

No more logging on to find fifty or sixty notifications, scrolling down the list and finding my faith in humanity chipped away just that little bit more.

And, in particular, no more of the spinelessness and hypocrisy of that particular subset of Twitter users who spend their time cravenly slagging off others from behind cosy anonymous cover. (More on this below – it’s a theme about which I’m just a little…obsessive).

I’ve received a number of e-mails asking why I deactivated my account. Some have thought, quite reasonably, that I left Twitter because I’d been “driven off” by Louise Mensch following a number of ‘debates’, i.e. slanging matches, on the subject of the Tim Hunt furore (and related themes).

No, I’ve not been Mensch-ed. Indeed, while I may vehemently disagree with the vast majority of what Mensch writes and deplore her vacuous vitriol, in one way (and one way only) I recognise a kindred spirit in her. She is obsessive. Even those who, unlike me, are on the right-of-centre of the political spectrum and could thus be considered to be Mensch’s allies have pointed this out: she spends an inordinate amount of time on Twitter, tweeting at a phenomenal rate and arguing seemingly continuously. (Of course, it’s rather easy to maintain a high tweet bandwidth if your wit and insightfulness too often fail to rise above the level of “LOL!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!” but, then, Mensch is a columnist for The Sun — lowest-common-denominator bile and boilerplate are her newspaper’s stock-in-trade. It’s perhaps unfair to expect incisive insights/pithy Twittery from Mensch when her day job doesn’t require it.)

Nonetheless, Mensch’s tenacity and obsessiveness resonate with me; I am not the sharpest tack in the box but I can be single-minded, pig-headed, and, yes, obsessive. Those are qualities which, while not always the most laudable or attractive, are very helpful in science; Edison’s 99% perspiration maxim is especially apposite for scientific research. (On a slightly tangential point, I should note that, in my opinion, Mensch is invested heavily in the Tim Hunt furore (and other debates/arguments/slanging matches) because she genuinely cares about these issues. I don’t agree with her position but I think she’s genuine in her vitriol. This is not to say that there isn’t some aspect of self-promotion in her proclivity for Twitter but it seems to me that she’s in a different category to, for example, the self-aggrandising, unprincipled, hate-for-hire, human detritus that is Milo Yiannopoulos.)

In contexts other than scientific research, however, Mensch’s level of obsessiveness can, at best, be rather unseemly and a massive waste of time, and downright unhealthy at worst. What does anyone gain from the type of playground name-calling that is the signature characteristic of so many exchanges on Twitter? And I don’t mean just the spats with Mensch (although I’d imagine these account for a non-negligible percentage of the total); too often when the Left and the Right collide, the level of debate on Twitter descends to the gutter in the space of a remarkably small number of characters. Of course, the Left and Right  — and warring internal factions within both the Left and the Right [Note that the recent appalling sexism of some affiliated with a particular faction of the Left is one area where I do agree with Mensch] — vociferously disagree with each other in so many other fora (both real-world and online). But the 140 character/rapid response format of Twitter is particularly ill-suited to fostering any type of intelligent, thoughtful, or simply courteous debate.

I should stress at this point that I am certainly not suggesting for one femtosecond that I am any type of paragon of virtue in this context. I have certainly descended to Mensch’s level on a number of occasions (and one example is mentioned below). But that’s the point — being dragged down to that level is one damn good reason to quit Twitter.

There were two key catalysts, however, for my decision to leave Twitter. The first of these was an exchange with a Twitter user with the wonderfully witty and inventive handle of @SlagOffTwits.  @SlagOffTwits is one of that rather well-populated tribe of Twitter users which claims to be protecting freedom of speech and the opportunity to offend whomever and whenever they like. But they, errmm, “slag off twits” behind anonymous cover — an utterly dishonest, totally spineless, and amusingly hypocritical way to behave.

As I told @SlagOffTwits (and have repeatedly told others who similarly lack the honesty and basic decency to put their name to their slurs), I’m more than comfortable with being slagged off online. Indeed, I’m very used to it. I’d prefer if my points were met with coherent and thoughtful arguments, but if you can’t quite rise to that challenge I’m more than happy to listen to your slurs.

But here’s the rub. Slag me and others off openly and honestly. Have the backbone and integrity to put your name to your slurs. Otherwise you’re not even the playground bully — you’re the bully’s weaselly friend who cowers in the background.

So I explained this all to @SlagOffTwits and their responses followed the same tediously evasive and inconsistent pattern I’ve encountered so many times before…


[Edit 12:43 09/12/2015. I guess I should point out that in the following I am paraphrasing @SlagOffTwit’s and others’ arguments — they are not direct quotes. ]

“You’re not engaging with the arguments — you’re using your criticism of anonymity to scupper debate”.

No, that’s demonstrably incorrect. I have engaged with each and every one of your points. And each and every one of the points raised by others with whom I disagree. I don’t block or mute for precisely this reason. It’s entirely dishonest of you to argue otherwise. I can engage with each of your arguments and at the same time point out how spineless and dishonest it is to slag off others from behind anonymous cover.

“I have a perfectly good reason to be anonymous”.

Which is? Are you writing from a location where you’re under an oppressive regime? Are you likely to face the death penalty for what you write? If not, then explain just why it’s OK for you to “slag off twits” from behind anonymous cover. And, no, the fact that you’re frightened of how your place of employment might look on your views and/or your behaviour online is not a justifiable reason. That’s pure cowardice. Stand behind your views. (I may disagree vehemently with Mensch but at least she’s willing to keep her head above the parapet. (A very long way above the parapet…))

Strangely enough, I’ve not had any type of credible answer — from any of those who hide behind anon cover while screaming “freedom of speech…we’ll offend who the f**k we like…don’t be so sensitive” — to my question asking why their anonymity is necessary. They seem to get very defensive, touchy and, um, sensitive when I raise the matter.

 

“Your Twitter account isn’t verified. You could be anyone. Hypocritical for you to focus on my anonymity when your account isn’t verified”

It is very difficult to get a Twitter account verified if you are not a public figure. The likelihood of my getting a verified account is therefore slim to none (as no doubt you know). But that doesn’t mean that I can’t verify my identity. Here’s a link to a short video where I verify that this is indeed my account.

“But your Twitter account isn’t verified”.

I sent you a link to a video where I verified that it was my account and that my affiliation is the University of Nottingham. Moreover, here’s my University of Nottingham phone number. You can check online that this number is indeed the office phone number for Philip Moriarty. Give me a call.

“But your Twitter account isn’t verified”.

OK, this is getting tedious now — you’re dishonestly ignoring the responses I’ve given. As I’ve said, I can just as easily verify it via my University of Nottingham affiliation. Just phone the number.

[@SlagOffTwits departs from the usual script…].

“I’m now going to set up a false Twitter account in your name to show you how easy it is to have an unverified account. And I’ll tweet from it”.

I know full well just how easy it is to set up an unverified account. Please don’t insult my intelligence. In any case, I’ve told you how I can verify this account. It’s entirely dishonest and reprehensible of you to set up a false account in my name simply to evade my points about your cowardly use of anonymity. The fact that it’s very easy to set up any number of false accounts/sockpuppets and to steal an identity does not make it ethically defensible to do so! In fact, that you would stoop this low highlights your inability to defend your anonymity using credible arguments. It significantly strengthens my point that those who slag off others from behind anonymous cover are fundamentally dishonest and cowardly.

[Around about this point I accused @SlagOffTwits of being one of Mensch’s acolytes. That was unfair both to Mensch and @SlagOffTwits and I retracted the statement and apologised to Mensch. As I said, I’m no paragon of virtue when it comes to Twitter spats].


 

I have participated in quite a few online debates over the years. One of the first, on the physics and possibilities of advanced nanotechnology, was over a decade ago and stretched to over 50 pages of discussion (although, technically, it was via e-mail, followed by posting of the documents online). This got rather heated in the later stages but I implicitly trusted my opponent, Chris Phoenix, to debate in good faith; I was entirely confident that he and I were of the same mind when it came to basic values like the importance of honesty and intellectual integrity in debate. The language was robust, sure, but Chris and I were never dishonest with each other. And, in the end, that debate with Chris — despite us being very much on opposite sides of the fence — was exceptionally productive in that it led to a £1.7M grant on the fundamental issues underpinning computer-controlled mechanochemistry. 

Similarly, in a variety of other debates, I have implicitly trusted those with whom I’m debating to argue their points honestly and not resort to grubby dishonest tricks like sockpuppetry, identity theft, or setting up false accounts, despite our sometimes very strong differences in opinion. And generally, I find that my values align with those of my opponents. But not when it comes to @SlagOffTwits and their tribe. There is a fundamental clash of values with regard to the central importance of honesty, intellectual integrity, and basic decency in debate. It is a monumental waste of my time to debate with someone who sees nothing wrong in dishonestly setting up a false account in order to evade questions about…their dishonesty.

Yes, there are many great things about Twitter, as this compelling post from Paul Coxon points out. And yes, I could in principle just block @SlagOffTwits and their ilk. But unlike many of those who claim to be all for free speech, I don’t block or censor. I value free debate. (Fascinatingly, Louise Mensch is all for freedom of speech…as long as she’s not being criticised. The…let’s be charitable and just say “cognitive dissonance” here is intriguing). Moreover, in my experience there any very many on Twitter who share @SlagOffTwits’ lack of honesty and integrity in debate; I know that at some point they’ll end up in my timeline and I’ll get drawn into another pointless spat with them because their dishonesty winds me up so very much.

So that’s one reason why I left Twitter. But the much more important reason is the following…

While I was involved in that spat with @SlagOffTwits discussed above I overheard the following exchange between my six year old son, Fiachra, and his big sister, Niamh:

Fiachra (whispered): “Niamh, why does daddy look so grumpy when he’s typing on his laptop? Does he not like working on his laptop?”

Niamh: “Oh, he’s on Twitter again. He’s always grumpy when he’s on Twitter.”

’nuff said.


 

CODA

(added 11/12/2015. 19:00)

Following an exchange in the comments thread below, @SlagOffTwits tweeted the following. Note that nowhere in the post above, nowhere in the comments, or nowhere online have I suggested that @SlagOffTwits “bullied me off” Twitter. I certainly mention bullying in one of the comments below but there has been no accusation that @SlagOffTwits “bullied me off” Twitter. It’s precisely this type of dishonesty that makes engaging with @SlagOffTwits and his/her ilk so infuriating.

 

EDIT (16/12/2015) Coda to the coda. Because the Tweet above is a direct link to the Twitter account, rather than a screenshot, I’ve just noticed that @SlagOffTwits has recently changed his Twitter profile picture from a cartoon to what appears to be his actual photo. Kudos to him for doing this. We need more of that type of honesty on the web.

 

 

Author: Philip Moriarty

Physicist. Metal fan. Father of three. Step-dad to be. Substantially worse half to my fiancée Lori, whose patience with my Spinal Tap obsession goes to far beyond 11...

41 thoughts on “Where Two Tribes Go To Roar…”

  1. Found your post on twitter.

    Moreover, in my experience there any very many on Twitter who share @SlagOffTwits’ lack of honesty and integrity in debate;

    I blocked about a dozen people and now my twitter experience is okay. Maybe these kind of people gravitate to you because you are one of the few ones not to block/mute them. By leaving twitter, you blocked everyone, also the people that benefited from hearing from you.

    Twitter is not for debating, but it is a great way to share information with interested people acting in good faith. The debating is best done in person or maybe via blog posts.

    Like

    1. Hi, Victor.

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not that confident that too many benefited from hearing from me on Twitter! Twitter is indeed a great way of sharing information and has many, many advantages — this is why I specifically link to Paul Coxon’s post above. It’s just not for me — I get drawn into pointless, time-consuming spats far too easily.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:
    It seems that my former colleague from Nottingham days Professor Moriarty has decided to leave Twitter.

    I have to say my own experiences of Twitter haven’t been as bad as Philip’s, but then I just tend to ignore or block people who irritate me rather than try to enter into pointless and frustrating dialogues with people.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Peter, for reblogging the post.

      Here’s an example of a key reason why I don’t block: https://twitter.com/efeprat/status/674706701443051521

      The argument always comes back that “Oh they don’t want to be challenged. They just want to shout into an echo chamber. They have no response to our points”.

      I’m more than happy to be challenged. As you know, I enjoy nothing more than a good, honest debate (even if the language is, to use that great political euphemism, ‘robust’ and it gets heated at times). And I’ll tolerate a fairly high level of abuse.

      …but, as noted above ad nauseum, too often the debate is far from honest. And that I can’t tolerate.

      Like

  3. This makes sense on two fronts.

    First I sent you something via Twitter last Sunday and got no reply & was surprised but this makes sense now.

    Second you have wisely heeded the words of your kids. Young children are sometimes scarily accurate in knowing what is really going on in the world.

    If leaving Twitter means you spend five minutes each day happier and with your kids then you have made a good decision.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Ravi!

      If leaving Twitter means you spend five minutes each day happier and with your kids then you have made a good decision.

      That’s precisely it.

      Like

      1. I once asked a mate of mine who is a clinical psychologist of be had any general advice on mental health. He said as long as your kids are not the root of any problems then time spent with your kids is never wasted. So on this score you win.

        I didn’t spend enough time with my son when he day growing up but have taken this advice to heart with respect to my grandsons.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. From @slagofftwits

    If the result of interaction is you are “always grumpy when he’s on Twitter”, perhaps I’m not the problem… Try a little introspection. We only ‘chatted’ several times, and you tweeted back to me at probably somewhere between a 5:1 – 10:1 ratio. And usually you immediately moved to nonsense tweets about identity. The result was that I had to keep muting you from my timeline.

    As for that last tantrum you threw, I created a copy of your account marked as PARODY, named @evilmoriarty, that basically cloned your account to show how tenuous identity is on the internet. (I did not @ anyone.) And I deleted immediately on request. You then went on a speed typing, tweet storm tirade that resulted in me once again muting you.

    Anyone that is not verified is unknown. We trust regardless of avatars or user handles that the people we communicate with are who they claim to be. And we deal with discussions based on the merits of the content, not avatars or user handles. That you don’t speaks to your nature, not anyone else’s.

    Since you deleted your account during your tantrum, the full context of our conversations are gone. However, here is a link to the advanced search of all tweets I sent to you: https://twitter.com/search?q=from%3Aslagofftwits%20to%3Amoriarty2112&src=typd&lang=en
    I welcome anyone to check it. My input was rather brief. Yours was considerably longer and angrier. (Various youtube podcasts also attest to your angry posture on identity.)

    In closing, it was not my intent to drive you away. That was your decision. And I will take no blame. I hope during your break you find peace and tranquility. Good luck with whatever you do in the future.

    Like

    1. @SlagOffTwits or @toadliquor

      The key difficulty here is that our values are so very different. I value openness, honesty, transparency, and decency in debate online or elsewhere. You clearly don’t.

      You seem to think that noting you set up a parody — oops, sorry, PARODY — account proves the point. In fact, it entirely misses the point. As I say in the post above, I am fully aware how easy it is to set up an unverified account, parody or not. Indeed, my colleagues and I have encountered very similar underhand behaviour while embroiled in a scientific debate over the last few years (see https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/philip-moriarty-peer-review-cyber-bullies/ and https://raphazlab.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/identity-theft-a-new-low-in-the-stripy-nanoparticles-controversy/ ).

      A fake “parody” blog — the fakerapha blog mentioned in the latter post — was set up because the author of that fake blog couldn’t honestly and openly address our extensive critique and criticisms (see https://pubpeer.com/publications/B02C5ED24DB280ABD0FCC59B872D04). Sound familiar? So, I am well-acquainted with parody accounts — no condescending capitalisation necessary. (There’s much more on the problems with anonymity in peer review in this article in yesterday’s Times Higher Education: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/should-post-publication-peer-review-be-anonymous )

      You are absolutely correct to say that underhand behaviour like yours infuriates me. It does. What only adds to the frustration in the case of our exchange was your absolute dishonesty in refusing to accept that I could very easily verify my account by other means. You could, for example, have phoned me up (even at the point where I was sending you a tweet!) To provide full verification that I am indeed the Philip Moriarty who works at the University of Nottingham you could also have phoned up the central University of Nottingham switchboard and asked to be put through to me.

      But instead of apologising and admitting that you were wrong to suggest the account wasn’t mine, you instead set up a fake parody account. This is underhand, dishonest, and spiteful behaviour. I’d say it was the behaviour of a teenage bully but that would be doing a disservice to the vast majority of teenagers who are a great deal more principled and honest than that. (In any case, hiding your identity while slagging off others is, as I said in the post, not even as principled as the behaviour of a playground bully.)

      You said:

      We trust regardless of avatars or user handles that the people we communicate with are who they claim to be. And we deal with discussions based on the merits of the content, not avatars or user handles. That you don’t speaks to your nature, not anyone else’s.

      First, re. content:: This is the same tired argument that I address in the post above. I don’t block. I don’t mute. And I debate every point, regardless of whether the commenter is anonymous or not. Disingenuous of you to suggest otherwise (but hardly out of character).

      I also find it really amusing that those who have been staunchly defending Tim Hunt’s “joke” on the basis that “Look, you can’t take the words out of context. Context is everything” so often respond to criticism of their anonymity with “Look, only the words matter. Only the words”.

      No, context indeed matters.

      Honesty matters.

      Oh, and, yes, trust matters. Which brings me to…

      Second, re. trust. This is an exceptionally important point and I’m glad you raised it. I don’t trust you. And one of the reasons I don’t trust you – or others like you — is that you lack the intellectual courage to stand behind your words. You can state whatever you like and not have to take responsibility for anything you say — you can walk away after having slagged off everyone you like with no “comeback”.

      I described in a previous blog post how the asymmetry in communication arising from anonymity erodes trust and, at worst, debase communication. See https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/we-are-anonymous-we-are-legion-we-are-mostly-harmful/ . In addition, in that Times Higher article to which I refer above, I quote from Mike Blatt’s recent important editorial on anonymity in post-publication peer review: “Anonymity is intimidating in itself, regardless of how polite a commenter may be; psychologically, it wrong-foots the author from the start, and the price often is an absence of worthwhile discussion.”

      I fundamentally don’t trust anyone who slags off others from behind anonymous cover, who stoops to setting up a fake parody account instead of honestly arguing their points, and who lacks the good grace to admit when they’ve made a mistake.

      So, yes, we agree. It’s all about trust.

      Like

  5. From @slagofftwits

    Another long, emotional diatribe. Where to start?

    You repeatedly abandoned whatever your argument was to rant loudly and insultingly in favor of your identity obsession. The account was created to highlight the tenuous nature of identity. You say you understand that. So why continue harping? And again, I did NOT @ anyone from the account, and I deleted it immediately on request. I’ll let your readers judge how malicious that is.

    I could phone… yes I could. But… and this is important… this isn’t about you, your identity, or your massively overinflated ego. It is about the people you address with your silly identity paranoia. Should they all post a phone number and employer? Perhaps an email or home address? Don’t be ridiculous.

    In my case I work as a contractor in a government town. Having my identity tied to my arguments on some topics could restrict my employment prospects. Simple as that. Whether or not YOU consider that valid is hardly relevant to anyone else.

    I never suggested your account wasn’t yours, or that you weren’t who you say. You conjured that out of thin air. (The link I previously posted to my tweets will testify to that.) That is your ego speaking; everything must be about you. No. My point is that trust is implicit with almost any communication over the internet. Excepting for the paranoid, of course. And you’ve once again made it clear you are.

    If you hadn’t deleted your account, and let me point out the obvious that it hides your tracks, (you could have tweeted an explanation and went dormant) it would be clear exactly “who slags off” who, and who was blustering, emotional and irrational.

    This will be the last of my communications with you. You quite obviously need the break. I’m truly sorry you reacted the way you did. I’m sure there are others who enjoyed your conversation and will miss having you on twitter. Get well. Be well.

    Like

    1. @SlagOffTwits

      First, please note the “coda” I added to the post above.

      “Another long, emotional diatribe…”.

      That’s not a counter-argument, as we both know, so let’s ignore it and deal with your points one by one…

      You repeatedly abandoned whatever your argument was to rant loudly and insultingly in favor of your identity obsession.

      Simply not true. You don’t need access to my tweets to see this. Go and take a look at the comment thread under this: https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/08/i-wasnt-going-to-menshn-this-again-but/

      I do not abandon the argument. I continue the argument and at the same time point out why slagging off/attacking others under cover of anonymity is spineless.

      The account was created to highlight the tenuous nature of identity. You say you understand that. So why continue harping?

      First, let’s ignore the ad hom “harping”. (I could, for example, point to any of your tweets on a range of subjects and also say that you were “harping” or “whining” and “why don’t you get over yourself”? Again, that’s not a counter-argument.).

      I understand entirely why you created the account. And I’ve explained very carefully that just because you think the nature of identity is tenuous that doesn’t mean that it’s justifiable to create an account. In any case, my identity is not tenuous. I link everything back to my real name and to my profile. It takes a matter of seconds via Google to get my contact details. Not tenuous at all.

      Of course, if you want to be dishonest and gutless then of course it’s possible for identity to be tenuous. But that’s a very different point.

      It’s a matter of principle not practice. It’s precisely the same point I raise in the exchange with PubPeer in yesterday’s Times Higher.

      Should they all post a phone number and employer?

      Why not? There’d be a heck of a lot less dishonest abuse and bullying on the web if this were the case. Very easy to link to a profile which identifies you. The fact that you think this is “ridiculous” speaks volumes about the difference in our mindsets about openness and honesty online.

      In my case I work as a contractor in a government town. Having my identity tied to my arguments on some topics could restrict my employment prospects. Simple as that.

      So, as I suspected — basic cowardice. You don’t want to stand behind what you say because you can’t defend it openly.

      As you say, simple as that.

      Note also — and this is important — I don’t care who you actually are — see below. But I care that you are anonymous. There’s a difference.

      I never suggested your account wasn’t yours, or that you weren’t who you say.

      Really? “https://twitter.com/SlagOffTwits/status/673618819949072384?lang=en” : “My ‘position’ is that you are a hypocrite for ceaselessly harping about anonymity when you are unverified. “

      In just what sense is that not suggesting that the account wasn’t mine? I gave you clear examples of how I could verify my identity (to you or anyone else). You ignored them. Please explain your accusation of hypocrisy.

      That is your ego speaking; everything must be about you. No. My point is that trust is implicit with almost any communication over the internet. Excepting for the paranoid, of course. And you’ve once again made it clear you are.

      I’ll ignore the ad homs. Yes, trust is key. But trust involves arguing in good faith. And setting up a false account/hiding behind anonymity to slag off others is not arguing in good faith. It’s fundamentally dishonest.

      The paranoid point is interesting. I’ve heard that a few times before. You again miss the point. I don’t care who you are. But I care that you hide behind anonymity.

      If you hadn’t deleted your account, and let me point out the obvious that it hides your tracks, (you could have tweeted an explanation and went dormant) it would be clear exactly “who slags off” who, and who was blustering, emotional and irrational.

      There are many comments threads here, and at various blogs, where I make the same points about anonymity while maintaining the core arguments (as noted above). I deactivated my Twitter account for all of the reasons I discuss in the post above. (Moreover, remind me of your Twitter handle…)

      I don’t want the account to be dormant because then there will always be the temptation to jump in and start wasting time trading insults with you and your ilk. It’s pointless. I think we can at least both agree on that.

      I’m sure there are others who enjoyed your conversation and will miss having you on twitter. This is big of you. Thank you.

      Get well.

      That’s somewhat less big of you!

      Nonetheless, my best Christmas and New Year wishes to you. (I’m a fellow atheist so I hope you’ll take that in the spirit in which it’s meant.) Here’s an atomic Christmas tree for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRF9hM_eFPU

      Like

  6. PM,
    I find your comments on Athene Donald’s blog strange

    [1] You left Twitter, it seems, because of your kids’ response to your demeanour.

    But you left precisely at the juncture when the Guardian duplicitiousness (inadervtent or otherwise) in their handling of Hunt’s clarification came to light. The Guardian’s severing and decontextualization of the Hunt apology, the exact same thing media outlets did with his words themselves, produced and accentuated the initial negative impression.

    You used the ‘he said himself he was being honest’ argument in defense of your characterization of Hunt’s position. You used the ‘he was honest’ argument and the ‘unbelievably stupid’ comment from Hunt’s wife, Mary Collins.

    You think it is a bit of a coincidence that you walked away from Twitter at a point when one of the two pillars in your argument collapsed?

    Perhaps, it was an unpleasant moment when it happened?

    I find your hiding under Athene Donald’s mother hen wings, and sniping at other commenters counter-productive. After all, there is much evidence now unearthed, including that which shows how the original misunderstanding and anger at Hunt arose and how Waddell and Higgins’ various concerto pieces fall apart. These didn’t just materialise out of nowhere. They took some effort and work to find, analyse and confirm. Yet, your position seems to have hardly changed from that of June 10, when essentially a biased caricature of what he said and intended, was broadcast. How do you manage to glide effortlessly from the anger and frustration generated by false reporting, to a dispassionate call for cessation of ‘hostilities’ aimed at the very people who worked to show the falsehoods to the world? Why hasn’t the reporting affected your position? Where is your acknowledgement of facts beyond a hurried attempt to bury crucial distinctions beneath a cosmetic and false ‘both sides did appalling reporting’?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Shub”, even for you that’s an appallingly weak and poorly constructed argument. I’ll break it down for you on a point-by-point basis.

      1. I left Twitter for the reasons discussed in the post above. It is a monumental waste of my time debating with you and your ilk/descending to the level of playground slurs. Someone who lacks the intellectual courage to put their name to their slurs is clearly never going to debate in good faith.

      I find it remarkable that you, who hide behind anonymity, are accusing me of lying about my reasons for leaving Twitter. Don’t you think that’s a position that reeks of hypocrisy? Give me one example of where I wasn’t entirely open and honest with you (or anyone else). Just one. (See, for example, my long — and very productive — exchange with Debbie Kennett elsewhere at this blog). And then contrast with your inherent dishonesty in criticising others from behind anonymity.

      2. There’s a glaring inconsistency at the heart of your argument. If I was “running away” from the debate why the heck would I post anything at Athene’s blog? Why would I have debated with Athene over the “microinequities” issue?

      Moreover, why would I respond to you here if I was “running away” from the debate?

      [Added 21:56 18/12/2015 –I could, for example, have simply not let your comment through moderation here. Or I could have blocked you at any time on Twitter. It is beyond disingenuous for you to suggest that I was “running away” from the debate. If I blocked or if I moderated comments such that I quashed debate then you would at least have some evidence for your claim. As it is you have zero evidence. You have your baseless supposition. And that’s it.]

      I left Twitter because, as I explain very carefully above, it is a shocking waste of all of our time to end up in spats which descend to the playground level of “LOL!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”.

      3. “I find your hiding under Athene Donald’s mother hen wings, and sniping at other commenters counter-productive”

      In what sense am I “hiding”? Go back and read that thread. Note that Athene and I hardly see entirely eye to eye on the matter of “microinequities”. So your “mother hen” slur (yet another one) is demonstrably not justified.

      More importantly, Athene **and Mary Collins** very reasonably asked for this debacle to be brought to a close. Give me an example of where I am “sniping? I asked those who were ignoring Mary’s request for the petty squabbling to come to an end to respect her wishes. How is that “hiding”? Or how is it “sniping”?

      Did you read Athene’s and Mary’s responses to my comments at Athene’s blog? (Note this comment from Mary Collins: “I have “called out” privately and publicly the inappropriateness of Tim’s words” http://occamstypewriter.org/athenedonald/2015/12/15/whats-changed-anything-just1action4wis/#comment-137711 )

      4. “Why hasn’t the reporting affected your position?”

      This is what I find most infuriating — having to repeat myself time and time again because of an inability of some to parse very simple arguments. I have said repeatedly — including in comments I have made directly to Louise Mensch, Debbie Kennett, Thomas Basboell and others at this blog (and elsewhere) — that there were key deficiencies in the reporting. I have stated explicitly that my position is very similar to that of Colin Blakemore. I am not going to waste my time repeating that argument in detail because I have restated it so many times, including most recently at Athene’s blog.

      But given that you seem to have an inability to comprehend nuanced (or even not-so-nuanced) arguments, let me reduce it to two very simple sentences:

      There were flaws in the reporting. But Hunt’s “joke” was still appalling (to use Blakemore’s term) and deserved censure.

      Like

      1. Shub, it’s worth reading Athene’s closing comment in that thread at her blog. She’s of course entirely correct in wanting to bring this furore to a close.

        Let’s summarise our particular situation…

        (i) You and I don’t agree.

        (ii) You and I have different worldviews.

        (iii) You and I have very different positions regarding the importance of openness, honesty, and “full disclosure” (i.e. lack of anonymity) in debate.

        (iv) You and I fundamentally don’t respect each other and dislike each other intensely.

        We can at least agree on these points. So what does either of us gain from continuing this spat? Nothing, apart from aggravation. Right?

        Much like my spat with “SlagOffTwits”, our value systems are so different that we’re continually speaking past each other. A key example is that I will never accept that it’s fine to criticise/slag off others while hiding behind anonymity. You see nothing wrong in this. That alone demonstrates the gulf in our worldviews.

        So let’s do each other a favour and bring this to a close.

        Like

  7. PM, when specific accusations are made in light of incomplete information and only a “yes, the original information was regrettably incomplete” statement is issued with further new information, without referring to the how they affect the original accusations, there is no closure.

    That is your position.

    Your original post depended on accounts from Dorothy Bishop, David Colquhoun and Sylvia McLain

    In your original post/s you argued that Hunt’s comments were ” indefensible”, were not “merely a harmless/misjudged joke that was taken out of context”.

    You thought Hunt might come in the way of women as you concluded he might “shout his mouth off” and that he doesn’t “really want women researchers in his lab”.

    You never set out to examine the facts yourself, instead relying on trusted second-hand sources.

    Now that Hunt’s comments have been shown to indeed by a misguided joke taken out of context, and that his comments were an ironic mocking of old, dusty attitudes, and that he did not literally mean for women not to be in his lab and rather meant the comment as an reductio ad absurdum, you smoothly transitioned into saying “well, even if it was indeed a joke, it’s a micro-inequity.”

    You don’t see the switch there?

    The real issue is this: What if a man or a woman from another generation, a creative genius individual, an individual who’s kept the spark of the mind alive, thinks aloud reminiscing, as many creative minds are wont to, about his or her own life’s experiences and says politically inconvenient things that are susceptible to being misunderstood?

    Does what this person said, ‘damage’ women? Is that a ‘micro-inequity’, a pinprick? Is that a secret window into the person’s mind? A window that shows a glimpse at the wretched sexist soul that lives inside? (the soul that disqualifies it from holding committee positions)

    What if the person apologizes profusely, explains their own words and what their true intent was? What if you examine their life’s record – and you find the exact opposite of a closet misogynist’s?

    I think it’s an important question and I am glad you asked it. Many women fear that their bosses and superiors are sexist. The academic world has reacted strongly on the basis of this suspicion, instituting systemic biases to counter it.

    However, I don’t think it has one universal answer that is acceptable to everyone. I don’t think the world accepts the one approach – that of criminalizing sexist thought – as the means to combat sexism. Women were once subjected to such measures. As you can see, the matter is already less rooted in the specifics of what Hunt said in Seoul, and more about how we should tackle sexism as a society.

    The question, or what has become of it, does not concern Hunt.

    You cannot police thought to ferret out the supposed sexist nidus that resides in people. It should not be done. Everyone holds the right to represent their mind with their own words. Hunt was deprived of his.

    In any case, this will be last comment. You many choose to keep it, or delete it, it doesn’t matter.

    Best

    Like

    1. Shub,

      I must admit to being rather impressed by this most recent comment of yours. It’s thoughtful, carefully-considered, and well-written. Thank you for posting it here. It serves to make me even more convinced that I made the correct decision in disconnecting from Twitter: the type of intelligent argument/commentary you’ve posted above is simply not possible via a rapid-fire stream of 140 character tweets.

      The tenor of your reply is particularly impressive given the tone of deep irritation in my previous response to you. I remain (deeply) irritated by your anonymity (and always will be) but in the case of the comment above you forgo the usual slurs and focus on putting across a case which is deserving of a similarly considered response. Here it is…

      PM, when specific accusations are made in light of incomplete information and only a “yes, the original information was regrettably incomplete” statement is issued with further new information, without referring to the how they affect the original accusations, there is no closure.

      This is a fair point. Let me make my position on this entirely clear. For me — and I know we disagree fundamentally on this — those “39 words”, * even in the context of a joke* are a problem. What I mean is that even if CSL had reported the “joke” accurately and placed it entirely in context (“But seriously…”), I still have a problem with what Hunt said (for all of the reasons I’ve discussed at tedious length previously).

      I am clearly not alone in finding Hunt’s “joke” a problem — for example, Blakemore, Donald, and even Mary Collins herself have variously said he deserved to be “called out” for it (publicly and privately); that it was “appalling”; that it “energised sexists”.

      Did Hunt (and his wife and family) deserve the level of opprobrium and abuse that was levelled at him across social media (and via more traditional media/communication channels) due to the misreporting? No, of course not. Absolutely not. And I’ve said this a number of times before.

      Does CSL deserve censure for her misreporting? Yes.

      Was Blakemore right to resign from the ABSW for the reasons outlined in his resignation letter? On balance, yes, I think he was.

      Does CSL deserve the type of abuse (and petty slurs) that have been flung at her across social media? No. No-one deserves that level of abuse. (And this is true for both sides. Did Hunt deserve the abuse he received? No, of course not. Did Mensch deserve the appalling sexist abuse flung at her during the “PigGate” farrago? No, of course not).

      Your original post depended on accounts from Dorothy Bishop, David Colquhoun and Sylvia McLain

      In your original post/s you argued that Hunt’s comments were ” indefensible”, were not “merely a harmless/misjudged joke that was taken out of context”.

      No, this isn’t quite true. In my original post I refer to posts from Bishop, Colquhoun, and McLain but also mention other bloggers who had written about Hunt. I disagree with Colquhoun’s tweet/Facebook post that Hunt is a misogynist (and have said so clearly very many times previously; see, for example, function_rebuttal{} at Thomas Basboell’s blog).

      But I maintain that the “joke” was indefensible. This is entirely in line with Blakemore’s comment that it was “appalling”, Athene Donald’s description of the joke as “idiotic”, and Mary Collins’ statement that it was “unbelievably stupid”.

      Your second quote is from the second post I wrote on Hunt. Here’s the quote in full:

      “Harris’ twitter timeline would also seem to imply that he is of the opinion that Hunt’s comments were merely a harmless/misjudged joke that was taken out of context and that the UCL and Royal Society overreacted:”

      I stand behind this. It was not a “harmless” joke. Even in context the joke is crass, “idiotic”, “appalling” etc… (You know the quotes by now). As I’ve explained to Thomas Basboell and others (including you?) previously, an interesting parallel can be drawn between Hunt’s “appalling” and crass joke and John McDonnell’s woeful “little red book” joke directed at George Osborne after the spending review speech. McDonnell’s joke was certainly misjudged but it was not harmless. It did immense damage to the Labour Party.

      Similarly, Hunt’s “joke” was not harmless *even in context*. It was a crass, cringeworthy joke that even if reported accurately with the “But seriously…” proviso in place was damaging to the Royal Society and to UCL. I refer you again to Dorothy Bishop’s Times Higher Education article entitled “The Trouble With Jokes”.

      I have stated and re-stated my position on this multiple times over the last few months.

      “You thought Hunt might come in the way of women as you concluded he might “shout his mouth off” and that he doesn’t “really want women researchers in his lab”.”

      Those are quotes taken from a video for The Magic Sandwich Show podcast, if I’m not mistaken?

      Here I’ll agree with you on one point, re. the “not wanting women researchers in his lab”. That was an appallingly (let’s use that word again, but this time I’ll apply it to myself) hasty and just wrong statement to make. I told Debbie Kennett many months ago that I regret a number of hasty statements in that video and I explained just why I was much less considered than I should have been. See the aside under Point 2 of this comment (in response to Debbie Kennett): https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/08/i-wasnt-going-to-menshn-this-again-but/#comment-663

      So as regards “doesn’t really want women researchers in his lab”, you’re absolutely correct. That was a very hasty remark which I should not have made (regardless of how wound up I was about the lazy sexism of one other contributor to that podcast, as I mentioned in my response to Debbie).

      However, I stick by the “shout his mouth off” comment. Tim himself said that he “stood up and went mad”. In this interview, http://jowsey.org/SirTimHunt.pdf, Hunt mentions that “this sort of devilment got in me”. I think that “shout his mouth off” is a fair enough description.

      Now that Hunt’s comments have been shown to indeed by a misguided joke taken out of context, and that his comments were an ironic mocking of old, dusty attitudes, and that he did not literally mean for women not to be in his lab and rather meant the comment as an reductio ad absurdum, you smoothly transitioned into saying “well, even if it was indeed a joke, it’s a micro-inequity.”

      In an otherwise carefully argued piece, this paragraph is jarring in its inaccuracy.

      That’s your particular erroneous take and it’s demonstrably incorrect — you’re rewriting history to suit your view. I have said on numerous occasions that even as a joke his comments were problematic. I say this even in my very first blog post on the Hunt case. I say it at the start of that podcast video. I have said time and time again that the joke was cringeworthy and crass. I have linked to Dorothy Bishop’s THE article re. jokes time and again over the last few months.

      And I stress again, those 39 words, even if accurately quoted so that the “Now seriously…” was included and even if presented entirely as an ironic joke, are crass and idiotic. I have said this many times over the months and throughout the period when the inaccuracies in CSL’s reporting were brought to light (by, to give her credit, the tenacity of Louise Mensch).

      You don’t see the switch there?

      No, because there simply isn’t a switch, for all of the reasons I’ve discussed at length in tens of thousands of words of comments and blogposts.[Edit. 19/12/2015 21:58. As early as July 2nd 2015, I specifically and very carefully stated that even if the comments were a “joke”, they were problematic: https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/yes-were-all-individuals/#comment-358 . I would ask again that you please don’t misrepresent me. Thank you.]

      The real issue is this: What if a man or a woman from another generation, a creative genius individual, an individual who’s kept the spark of the mind alive, thinks aloud reminiscing, as many creative minds are wont to, about his or her own life’s experiences and says politically inconvenient things that are susceptible to being misunderstood?

      Indeed. And what if those comments were racist or homophobic? (And I know I don’t need to stress to you that I am not for one second suggesting that Hunt was racist or homophobic, but there are some exceptionally thick people out there on the internet whose reading comprehension skills are really not very high so I have to include this pointless disclaimer).

      “My problems with blacks…but seriously…”.; “I worked with a number of Irish researchers and they had me pissed all the time. We got no work done. Now seriously…” ; “The problems with working with gays is they always have a chip on their shoulder. Now, seriously…”

      Crass, dumb, idiotic.

      As regards “politically incorrect”, these short pieces by Stewart Lee may be of interest and give you an insight into my particular stance on the importance of being “PC” —

      and

      Does what this person said, ‘damage’ women? Is that a ‘micro-inequity’, a pinprick? Is that a secret window into the person’s mind? A window that shows a glimpse at the wretched sexist soul that lives inside? (the soul that disqualifies it from holding committee positions)

      After a very strong start, your argument is now unfortunately starting to get very much weaker and lazier as it comes to a close. That’s a shame. First, when I say “damaging”, I mean damaging to the reputation of the Royal Society and/or UCL. (And, again, I have made this point countless times before — cf McDonnell’s damaging joke).

      Note that “microinequity” isn’t my term. It’s Athene’s term — she included it a list of action points in her most recent blog post; a blog post that Louise Mensch tweeted about favourably, so I guess she at least must support the idea of microinequities.

      But let me reframe your question re microinequities. Is a crass racist joke a pinprick? Something to be ignored? Something to be brushed off and ignored?

      …until, unchallenged, that pinprick leads to another pinprick and another pinprick and another…

      …until racism starts to become normalised?

      Still OK?

      What if the person apologizes profusely, explains their own words and what their true intent was? What if you examine their life’s record – and you find the exact opposite of a closet misogynist’s?

      And, again, I have not disputed this. I have specifically said that I do not consider Hunt to be a misogynist. (function_rebuttal{})

      But that doesn’t excuse the “appalling”, “idiotic”, “unbelievably stupid” joke. [Not my words — you know the sources at this stage]. I have stated my position on this time and again. You may not agree with me but please don’t misrepresent me.

      I’ll turn it around again. What if it were a crass racist joke from someone who had an unblemished record and, indeed, a history of helping ethnic minorities. Should we ignore that joke? Or should we call it out privately and/or publicly?

      I think it’s an important question and I am glad you asked it. Many women fear that their bosses and superiors are sexist. The academic world has reacted strongly on the basis of this suspicion, instituting systemic biases to counter it.

      Indeed, many women fear that their bosses and superiors are sexist. I wonder why …

      https://theconversation.com/study-confirms-sexism-in-science-so-what-are-we-going-to-do-9762

      http://www.endmisogyny.org/solidarity-with-dr-emily-grossman/

      http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/taking-the-long-view-on-sexism-in-science

      et cetera and ad nauseum…

      However, I don’t think it has one universal answer that is acceptable to everyone. I don’t think the world accepts the one approach – that of criminalizing sexist thought – as the means to combat sexism. Women were once subjected to such measures. As you can see, the matter is already less rooted in the specifics of what Hunt said in Seoul, and more about how we should tackle sexism as a society.

      I have never suggested “criminalizing sexist thought”, as you put it. However, I refer you back to the casual racism examples above. Should we simply turn a blind eye/dear ear to it or should we aim to tackle it? And if your response is that casual racism is wrong, why is casual sexism any different? We should call it out.

      I guess I should stress at this point that I am certainly not advocating for “safe spaces” or any type of censorship. I disagree fundamentally with the worrying trend in UK universities for debate to be quashed and speakers banned from campus. (As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the recent example of students at Brunel turning their back on Katie Hopkins and walking out on her is exactly the wrong thing to do. They should debate her hateful views and show her up for the brainless bigot that she is).

      You cannot police thought to ferret out the supposed sexist nidus that resides in people. It should not be done. Everyone holds the right to represent their mind with their own words. Hunt was deprived of his.

      “Everyone holds the right to represent their mind with their own words.” Let’s consider this in the most general sense. Racist jokes are OK? Homophobic jokes are OK?

      This is an important point and I’m keen to know your response because it strikes me that this is at the very crux of our dispute. Should we be free to say whatever the hell we like in any context?

      I am, for example, deeply opposed to religion. [See https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/sure-youre-not-meant-to-take-it-seriously/ and https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/yes-were-all-individuals/ ] Should I criticise the Christian students in my lectures at any given opportunity because I “hold the right to represent my mind with my own words”? Or would that be crass and misplaced in the context of an undergraduate lecture?

      In any case, this will be last comment. You many choose to keep it, or delete it, it doesn’t matter.

      As I’ve said before gazillions of times, I do not block and I do not delete/censor/redact comments. I therefore don’t understand why you’d suggest that I would delete your comment. That would never happen.

      Have a good Christmas holiday and I wish you all the best for 2016.

      Philip

      Like

  8. “My problems with blacks…but seriously…”.; “I worked with a number of Irish researchers and they had me pissed all the time. We got no work done. Now seriously…” ; “The problems with working with gays is they always have a chip on their shoulder. Now, seriously…”

    I think that if you made such remarks then, yes, people would say that they were inappropriate, even in the context of a joke. But let’s look at the context. Hunt is old and male. Much of the audience were neither. The occasion was “women in science”. Certainly someone decided why to invite hunt and not someone else. So, it would be more akin to a former slave owner, say (think Thomas Jefferson: not someone intentionally evil, just someone who had no choice and where freeing his slaves might have led to their deaths), who survived into the time well after slavery was abolished, then invited to a conference on desegregation because, despite his age and perhaps youthful sins, many descendants of slaves were treated well by him. Were such a person to make such remarks, then it would be clear a) that they were a joke and b) that he was sending himself up.

    It’s the context that matters. Remember Dire Straits’ rather surprise appearance at Knebworth or wherever? And Eric Clapton(!) on rhythm guitar? Mark Knopfler said “At short notice, we couldn’t find anyone better.” Hunt’s remark seems more in this spirit. (Of course, “couldn’t find anyone better” is ambiguous; it can be understood as a negative assessment, but also as the highest praise, i.e. couldn’t find anyone better because there is no one better.)

    Like

    1. It’s the context that matters.

      Phillip, you’ve read enough of what I’ve said here and elsewhere to know that we both fully agree that it’s the context that matters.

      And in this case the context is clear. There’s a big problem with sexism in science. You yourself mentioned the Marcy case. Of course, Hunt is in no way comparable to Marcy in any way at all — you and I both know that and I shouldn’t have to make that disclaimer but, as I say above to “Shub Niggurath”, there are quite a few people “out there” whose reading comprehension skills are somewhat lacking — but he made his remarks in the context of the long-standing issues re. sexism in science.

      We’re going round in circles because I have addressed your point about context time and again. I keep pointing to this article by Dorothy Bishop because she makes the case much better than I ever could: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/the-trouble-with-jokes-about-girls

      As “Shub” puts it above, there isn’t a universal view on this. We are just going to have to agree to disagree. I think the “joke” was appalling. Blakemore thinks the “joke” was appalling (despite resigning from the ABSW). Athene Donald thinks the “joke” was “idiotic”. Mary Collins thinks the “joke” was “unbelievably stupid”.

      …and Tim himself thinks the “joke” was “inexcusable”: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/dec/19/tim-hunt-mary-collins-weve-not-been-chased-out-of-the-country

      “My remarks were inexcusable, I admit it”.

      Like

      1. …and please never, ever mention Dire Straits at this blog again. I don’t want to have to block you.

        😉

        Happy Christmas and all the best for 2016, Phillip. Thanks for making many valuable and thought-provoking contributions to this blog. I appreciate it.

        Like

  9. “I don’t think the world accepts the one approach – that of criminalizing sexist thought – as the means to combat sexism. Women were once subjected to such measures.”

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to, but for a long time women were viewed as sexual aggressors, preying on innocent men, tempting them from the path of righteousness.

    Like

    1. Shub,

      That’s rather unfair and just a little disingenuous. I provided a detailed, blow-by-blow rebuttal of your comment and addressed each and every one of your points.

      Your central accusation was the following:

      Now that Hunt’s comments have been shown to indeed by a misguided joke taken out of context, and that his comments were an ironic mocking of old, dusty attitudes, and that he did not literally mean for women not to be in his lab and rather meant the comment as an reductio ad absurdum, you smoothly transitioned into saying “well, even if it was indeed a joke, it’s a micro-inequity.”

      This is demonstrably not the case. I did not “smoothly transition”, as you put it, to criticism of the joke. And I gave you very clear evidence of this in my previous response by linking back to my comments on July 2nd 2015:
      https://muircheart.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/yes-were-all-individuals/#comment-358

      It would be gracious of you to admit that your accusation was demonstrably incorrect. But I’ll not hold my breath.

      Philip

      Like

      1. Moreover Shub, now that you’ve responded (despite stating that you wouldn’t comment here again), I’d appreciate a response to this point in my previous reply to you:

        ——————

        “Everyone holds the right to represent their mind with their own words.”

        Let’s consider this in the most general sense. Racist jokes are OK? Homophobic jokes are OK?

        This is an important point and I’m keen to know your response because it strikes me that this is at the very crux of our dispute. Should we be free to say whatever the hell we like in any context?

        I am, for example, deeply opposed to religion. [See https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/sure-youre-not-meant-to-take-it-seriously/ and https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/yes-were-all-individuals/ ] Should I criticise the Christian students in my lectures at any given opportunity because I “hold the right to represent my mind with my own words”? Or would that be crass and misplaced in the context of an undergraduate lecture?

        ————————

        Thanks.

        Philip

        Like

  10. I’ve just noticed I hadn’t seen you on Twitter for a while so came to see if you had put anything on here. Another voice of reason gone from Twitter it seems! Your reasons why make total sense though. It’s a shame that for all that I think Twitter is generally a force for good in the world, it does have a dark side.

    All the best,

    Chris

    Like

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Chris. The problem is that I’m such an argumentative sod and, as I say in the post, rather too obsessive. I simply could no longer justify the time I was wasting on Twitter. Since leaving, my productivity has gone up about 300%!

      All the best,

      Philip

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Professor.
    As one of your ex students this is the reason I stay anonymous online, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R_v_Elliott .
    Frankly, when simple disagreement can be construed as harassment it’s not in my interest or benefit to show my face. I usually assume anybody with whom I disagree is arguing in good faith, until I have reason to think otherwise of course, and don’t think it’s too much to ask for that favour to be returned.

    Unfortunately, until the progressive sect of the left (cultural Marxists, authoritarians, collectivists, neo-progressives, SJWs- whatever they want to be called) stops trying to silence dissenting views by force I will have to let my views stand anonymously.

    Just look at how these people react to a talk:
    http://livestream.com/YAF/events/4870270/videos/113531013
    His talk can be summed up as:
    – Skin colour is not important
    – Shared values are good
    – Diversity of experience is strength
    and just look at the reaction of these supposed ‘progressive’ students.

    It’s so disheartening for a classical liberal/ libertarian like myself to agree with uber-right-wing libertarians more than the progressive left when it comes to cultural issues.

    This kind of thing lasted around 5 years last time (remember when the professors of these students tried to convince people that equations were sexist?- http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/dawkins.html ) so maybe in 3-4 years you’ll see less anonymity- perhaps sooner since this time we have social media to discredit their stupidity.

    We’re never going to agree on things like #GG, Tim Hunt, gender representation, Shirt Gate etc. but I’d like to think that we can amicably disagree, even while being anonymous.

    Anyway, take care.

    Edit- I’d love to hear your take on the Norway gender equality paradox? https://vimeo.com/19707588 I asked Dr Emily Grossman here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Mbv4FfFlIk but my comment seems to have been removed (probably due to including a link)

    Like

    1. Hi.

      Thanks for commenting.

      First, I find it strange that you would use the Elliott case as a justification for anonymity. He won his case. I have no time at all for the idea of “safe spaces” or censorship as a means to quash debate and the ruling in the Elliott case backs up freedom of speech.

      However, what I find deeply amusing — and at the same time immensely weak and hypocritical — is that so many of those who rail against the “SJW hordes” trampling on their right to say “what the f**k we like” do it cravenly from behind cover of anonymity. These “SJW-slayers” love to portray themselves as wielding the sword of universal truth….all the while cowering behind anonymity.

      As I say, it’s amusing in its hypocrisy. What particularly makes me chuckle, and which ramps the hypocrisy up to another level, is when someone like “Shub Niggurath” argues precisely that they should be able to say what the f**k they like and then they whine when someone disparages the fairy tales and mythology of (their?) religion. (https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/youre-a-professor-at-university-for-fks-sake-stop-wasting-your-time-on-youtube-and-do-research/comment-page-1/#comment-1068). Or when Louise Mensch screams “Freedom of speech — I’ll offend who the f**k I like. Don’t be so sensitive”. And then asks me to censor a thread that was critical of her. etc…

      Slagging off others (or worse, subjecting others to homophobic, racist, and/or misogynistic abuse) from behind anonymous cover is spineless, gutless behaviour. As I’ve said to others before, it’s not even the behaviour of a bully — it’s the actions of the bully’s weaselly friend who hides in the shadows. If you don’t agree, fine — it means that our values are very different indeed.

      You say “I usually assume anybody with whom I disagree is arguing in good faith…” . The problem is that if someone is hiding their identity they’re not, almost by definition, arguing in good faith. There’s a huge imbalance/asymmetry in the communication. The anonymous person can walk away at any time — they’ve staked nothing in the conversation. They’re anonymous in so many cases because they lack the intellectual courage — or indeed simple courage (see my response to @SlagOffTwits above where he argues that he’s too frightened to put his name to his tweets because of what his place of employment might think) — to put their head above the parapet and stand behind what they say.

      See Mike Blatt’s most recent editorial — http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/170/3/1171.full

      “Knowing who enters into a debate does matter, if only because the most appropriate response almost always demands some knowledge of the context and the background of the questioner. To my mind anonymity also implies a lack of conviction and a refusal to engage meaningfully. As the psycholinguist Steven Pinker notes (Pinker, 2013, 2014), context is the core of social interaction.”

      You also said…

      “Unfortunately, until the progressive sect of the left (cultural Marxists, authoritarians, collectivists, neo-progressives, SJWs- whatever they want to be called) stops trying to silence dissenting views by force I will have to let my views stand anonymously.

      Why? Why not put your name to your views and debate openly? . Why not just have the backbone to stand up and be counted? If you disagree with these people why not debate them openly? The case you highlight shows that freedom of speech won out in the end so it’s not a very effective argument for anonymity.

      Moreover, the separation of people into “right” and “left” is a gross oversimplification (and we’ve all been guilty of doing it). I would identify as having views which are broadly left of centre but, simultaneously, I have no time for “safe spaces” or arguments based on cultural relativism (barbarism is barbarism, regardless of the cultural context). Moreover, when it comes to some aspects of science funding I am almost (but not quite!) libertarian in some of my views.

      Reducing people down to “Left” or “Right” makes about as much sense as trying to define someone’s intelligence on the basis of a single number…

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  12. I cite this case because I think it demonstrates my point excellently. I’m not sure if you have seen the interactions between Guthrie and Elliot, so…
    The guy basically disagreed that doxing somebody was a productive or moral tactic. What followed was a 3 year trial in which a graphic designer was banned from using anything with a wifi connection. He spent 3 years unable to work in his profession, while fighting a costly court case which presumably crippled him financially.
    The trial ‘was’ the punishment and although free speech ‘won’, this man certainly didn’t.

    I don’t find anonymous promotion of free speech hypocritical, weak, nor cowardly. Ideas matter, people don’t. When three years of your life can be stolen from you, for the mortal sin of disagreement, I feel that unless you are a neo-progressive anonymity is not only smart, but necessary.

    “Shub Niggurath” and Louise Mensch do, indeed, sound very hypocritical.

    How could anybody disagree with the analogy of a bully’s friend? It sums up that behaviour beautifully, as I said, “I usually assume anybody with whom I disagree is arguing in good faith, until I have reason to think otherwise”. That behaviour would put them in the “otherwise” category.

    Maybe I’m being naive in assuming others can dissociate ideas and people, whenever I listen to a debate I couldn’t care less who delivers the points. I don’t even know the name of some of my favourite ‘debaters’. Perhaps I have underestimated how much the ‘who’ matters to third parties/ debate spectators.

    Regarding “the left” and “the right”, I agree, but when talking about ideologies you need to be able to label them somehow, if anything for the sake of brevity.
    That’s why I preface ‘left’ with “the progressive sect of the…” and specify “authoritarian” (=top left of the political compass) and labelled Shapiro as “libertarian” “right-wing”(=bottom right of the political compass).
    There may be a better way of doing it but using the political compass seems like the easiest(?) way to do it. If you have a better way I’d be grateful if you could share it.

    Your “left of centre views” and “barbarism is barbarism, regardless of the cultural context” suggests to me that we are probably very close on the political compass, however simplistic that model may be.

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    1. I find it really interesting that although we are indeed likely to be very close on the political compass, we have such wildly different views on anonymity.

      For me, for someone to communicate behind cover is simply discourteous at best, and weak and dishonest at worst. It’s just a mindset I can’t fathom. We are having an entirely innocuous conversation here — there is no question of you being embroiled in legal proceedings. And yet you choose to hide behind cover of anonymity. It’s deeply depressing that communication has descended to the level that anonymity is the norm.

      On the “Ideas matter, people don’t” point, I simply don’t agree. Context is everything. As I say in the blog post by Leonid Schneider I link to below, it’s like Feynman’s one-sentence definition of science — “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”. All us scientists get a warm, fuzzy feeling when we read that and nod sagely, despite the fact that if we consider that statement critically for just a second, it’s clearly bunk. Science doesn’t work like that.

      https://forbetterscience.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/blatt-is-back-open-debate-cornerstone-of-scienti%EF%AC%81c-process/

      Similarly, context is absolutely essential in any type of scientific debate. Moreover, as Julian Stirling — a Nottingham alumnus, now a research fellow at NIST in the US — put it with regard to online post-publication peer review (here — https://muircheart.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/we-are-anonymous-we-are-legion-we-are-mostly-harmful/#comment-625 ):

      “With this second type of discussion, I see can’t see any good reason to be anonymous. If you actually have the expertise in a field to argue a specific point in detail what possible incentives are there to hide your identity. I see a few (there are probably more):

      * You aren’t really that confident in your criticism and want to be able to ditch it without the embarrassment of people knowing you were wrong.

      * You have a clear conflicting interest and want to hide that.

      * You are an early career researcher and you don’t want to start a spat with those at the top.

      Frankly, I have zero sympathy for any of these 3 objections:

      1. If you aren’t confident then it is either because your idea is half baked and you really owe yourself and those you are criticising the courtesy of really thinking it through until you are confident. If you turn out to be wrong, then just admit it! We have all been wrong!

      2. It is obvious what is wrong here.

      3. As a PhD student this never put me off a good debate with those far senior to me. If you plan to get to the top of your discipline without ever publicly questioning established views then you have a very strange view of science.”

      It will take a great deal to convince me that the majority of anonymous communication online is not driven by the three objections Julian lists above.

      Moreover, we have experienced both identity theft and sock puppetry during debates with those who have hidden behind anonymity. See Julian’s post — http://physicsfocus.org/dark-side-post-publication-peer-review/

      …but I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree. You see no problem with anonymity. I think it fundamentally debases communication. And never the twain shall meet…

      All the best,

      Philip

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      1. I know this is an old discussion so excuse my coming into it late but I think there are other reasons for seeking anonymity than the ones you’ve listed above, and to the ones you’ve mentioned elsewhere about people operating under repressive regimes in which critical speech is harshly punished.

        The reason I’m thinking of particularly is the possibility of individuals being targeted for real world abuse by followers/supports of those that individual criticises.

        I’m sure you’ve heard of the incident last year(?) in which a Youtube user who called herself ‘Laughing Witch’ raised the ire of Thunderf00t supporters (and I make no comment here, either in defence or support, about the actions of LW). The response from some of Mason’s supporters, or possibly just viewers who saw it as an opportunity for ‘lulz’, immediately went on a quest for what I imagine they saw as retributive justice, doxing her on 8Chan, downvoting her business on Yelp etc.

        You’ll doubtless have also heard of more serious attacks that angry/bored mobs have initiated against critics whose anonymity is absent or compromised that involved swatting, threatening phone calls, and stalking. People’s lives can be made very difficult indeed by such actions, and sadly those who are disadvantaged in some way are often the prime targets. Middle aged white professionals like you and I have less to fear.

        Anonymity doesn’t just shield people from consequences of their actions that might be exacted by employers (although there’s lot’s that could be said about that), but also from the aggregated malice of shitlords.

        I think it’s revealing to note that sites where such folk typically hang out; 4Chan, 8Chan, Kiwifarms etc. radical anonymity is the necessary norm, because when someone’s identity is discovered they become vulnerable to attack from their own.

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