Feb 19 2013

Comments to Science Articles

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31 responses so far

31 Responses to “Comments to Science Articles”

  1. Ori Vandewalleon 19 Feb 2013 at 8:28 am

    I can’t wait to see studies on an article’s Godwin factor — the rate at which the probability that Hitler is mentioned in the comments approaches 1.

  2. Zhankforon 19 Feb 2013 at 9:41 am

    I think an interesting related study would be to present readers with identical comments, but tell them beforehand that the authors of the comments were either hostile or friendly, and see how that affects their perception of the article. I suspect that “tone” in terms of the way a comment is written has less to do with its reception than its perceived/imagined tone by the reader.

  3. ccbowerson 19 Feb 2013 at 9:51 am

    I’m sure I’m not pointing out anything new, but it’s even worse in political and general news articles. Some websites have removed the comments section altogether because they draw so many trolls that they cannot manage the negativity, and the negative commenters reflect on the website as a whole.

    On the other hand, some sites seem to encourage trolling by allowing anonymous readers to “thumbs up” a comment they like, but force you to log-in to give a comments a “thumbs down.” Of course this results in the most polarizing and outrageous comments to rise to the top, usually ones that insult a peron or group.

  4. Steven Novellaon 19 Feb 2013 at 9:58 am

    I would also like to see data looking at the effect of anonymous registration vs forcing people to use their real name. I suspect that online anonymity is a large factor in all of this, and perhaps some forums would be best served by requiring full disclosure.

  5. locutusbrgon 19 Feb 2013 at 11:31 am

    @ Steve Novella
    “I would also like to see data looking at the effect of anonymous registration vs forcing people to use their real name. I suspect that online anonymity is a large factor in all of this, and perhaps some forums would be best served by requiring full disclosure.”

    I would agree it is very plausible.

    Yet… I usually try to keep away from the vitriol commenting here. Obviously my online name is not completely anonymous, unless you check, it is nondescript. . On another science blog where I occasionally blog and comment I have no anonymity even a picture. Still the overseer had to correct me because I was getting a little bit out of control on the comment string. I will be frank I was losing it and being a jerk. So in that case I would say that my experience is the opposite of what you propose.
    In self critique I think I was more invested because I felt that this poster knew my credentials and was still dismissing me. I think I took great offense. The madder I got the more my objectivity fell. I could have cared less that they knew who I was. I think here, you set the tone, and that is why I tend to let it go when things get a little vociferous.

    Maybe the data would show minimal effect. The internet is by it’s nature impersonal. How many people show up at Yale/your office to continue an argument with you? You are a very visible and you obviously generate anger. So if they do not show up it is because they like the electric distance between you? Does knowing their name make a difference? Maybe I am assuming incorrectly.

    To me, requiring no anonymity, would lower the chance that you will shut out good people that you have a chance to include. I think it is always good for people to point out that you take anonymous posts for what they are worth. Not much. It means allowing the irritation of the same knuckle-headed troll renaming himself every so often. You have a trade off.

  6. Bronze Dogon 19 Feb 2013 at 12:21 pm

    I would also like to see data looking at the effect of anonymous registration vs forcing people to use their real name. I suspect that online anonymity is a large factor in all of this, and perhaps some forums would be best served by requiring full disclosure.

    I also think pseudonymity versus anonymity is an important thing to look at, as well as type of pseudonym.

    I generally watch what I say because “Bronze Dog” is who I am when I’m online. It’s a unique name that’s never taken when I register at a new site, which adds to the reputation factor, so if people see my ‘nym in “plain” format in two places, they have reason to suspect they’re both me. If I damage my reputation in once place, other places will recognize me elsewhere. On the upside, if I cultivate a good reputation, it carries over to other locations.

    Another type: I’ve seen my share of people with pseudonyms of popular characters tortured into uniqueness with numbers, odd capitalization, and framing characters. If you have a bad experience with xXxSeph1r0th_666xXx, in game forum X, it’s not so easy to pick that same person out of a lineup of other Sephiroths in game forum Y. So if they ruin their reputation in one place, it’s easier to contain that damage.

    And, of course, you’ve got people who create throw-away pseudonyms for specific forums to troll, up to sock puppets if they’re dedicated, which is little different than total anonymity.

    The latter two types generally don’t carry the benefits of a good reputation, so they don’t get the extra incentive to behave well.

  7. ccbowerson 19 Feb 2013 at 12:25 pm

    @locutusbrg

    I think there is big difference between your anectdote and what most people mean by troll. I do not doubt your experience, but your description is more about a person being intellectually and emotionally invested in a topic, and that person losing his/her cool. Just as people get upset in real life and say things they may regret, this (of course) also happens online and is not necessarily a systemic problem. In other words you are not a troll, so I’m not sure that you can extrapolate much from your experience when you felt you lost control.

    Of course trolling-type behavior existed before the internet, but the internet allowed for a less personal and easier way to do it, and much of that is helped by relative anonymity. I agree that you may turn away “good people” so of course making the process as flexible as possible will help. Unless they are particularly good, I dislike the idea of each website that requiring you to create an account. This certainly is an obstacle, but there are many alternatives, including those that allow for “logging in” through multiple options (e.g. ones that allow facebook, gmail, openID, wordpress etc.). I relate to your concerns, however- I am also reluctant to give away personal information, and I am very careful of what I put ‘out there’ online. I am very cognizant of how much I have disclosed about myself on this blog, for example. Most of it has been pretty general.

  8. Todd W.on 19 Feb 2013 at 1:27 pm

    I suspect that online anonymity is a large factor in all of this, and perhaps some forums would be best served by requiring full disclosure.

    What about the middle ground of pseudonymous comments? I can imagine that completely anonymous commenting may be more prone to vitriol, while full disclosure might be the least vitriolic on average (there are plenty of anti-science advocates who exemplify the exception). But full disclosure may chill conversation when people have real fear of retribution (e.g., on the topic of vaccines, we’ve seen what can happen; or if someone is being stalked, but still wish to join the conversation; and so on). Use of a pseudonym, particularly one that is well-established, can provide a measure of accountability, while still allowing freedom of discussion.

  9. davewon 19 Feb 2013 at 2:17 pm

    I think the results of the study are overstated. Clearly the comments will only have an effect on the people who read them. The study participants were required comments, but people in real life are not. I rarely read comments at all and never read comments on unmoderated forums. What I will do if I have more questions is try to find related papers. This is a much better use of time.

  10. Karl Withakayon 19 Feb 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Well said and ditto, Bronze Dog.

    There’s a built in degree of anonymity for anyone with names like John, Smith, Robert Williams, Mary Smith, etc. Go ahead and comment under one of those names on P.Z. Meyer’s site, you’ll likely never have to worry about a conservative evangelical owned firm doing a goggle search on you when you submit a resume.

    If you have relatively common first and last names, you have far more anonymity online than someone named Steven Novella or Kimball Atwood IV or someone going by pseudonyms like Bronze Dog or Karl Withakay.

    “If you have a bad experience with xXxSeph1r0th_666xXx, in game forum X, it’s not so easy to pick that same person out of a lineup of other Sephiroths in game forum Y. So if they ruin their reputation in one place, it’s easier to contain that damage.”

    Likewise for jerks who happen to be named John Smith.

    Also, unless sites require submitting a valid government ID (and have some way to determine authenticity), it’s easy enough to choose a handle that looks like a real name, but isn’t your real name.

  11. ivoryboneson 19 Feb 2013 at 10:56 pm

    I wonder what would transpire if web 2.0 were left for more than a decade. Anyways I guess moderating comments and implementing rules would be like web 2.1. lol.

  12. ChrisHon 19 Feb 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Karl Withakay:

    If you have relatively common first and last names, you have far more anonymity online than someone named….

    Yep! I sure do! And one more advantage to not taking my hubby’s very unusual last name. When I Googled my name I got more than twelve million hits (you know it since I emailed you the video of your colored Dalek debate with Orac, and whose blog has more than one user “Chris”, heh heh). My very common last name shows up in a couple of forums, I just hope the local real estate agent who shares my name does not get nasty grams meant for me.

    Which brings me to your next comment:

    Also, unless sites require submitting a valid government ID (and have some way to determine authenticity), it’s easy enough to choose a handle that looks like a real name, but isn’t your real name.

    Having taught my dear daughter the value of online safety, she never ever uses her actual last name online. For her last name she uses her grandmother’s maiden name. It is also not a terribly common name, but it also happens to have been used as a medical term and in physics. So searches are to articles on those subjects.

  13. Myk Dowlingon 19 Feb 2013 at 11:32 pm

    You don’t say whether the comments were saying nanoparticles were dangerous or safe. If the former, then your discussion technique would be counter productive, and we’re better off being rude.

  14. madmidgitzon 20 Feb 2013 at 12:36 am

    My only other post has been a “troll the trolls” post so my credibility is sh!t
    This will probably be my only serious post ever so here goes:
    If there is a debate going on in the comments section, that can sway people on the fence immensely and there are certain people who have higher degrees of credebility who hold more sway.
    If a troll attacks that person the simple act of not responding lowers thier higher standing, and sometimes the trolls start off rational and polite, gets the person involved in the argument and slowly gets more and more incoherent,but still unfailingly polite, if you stop feeding that troll it will say you gave up and it won.
    Further lowering your credebility.

    I am talking of the epic fights between ccbowers ( featured above ) , nybgrus and billy joe 7 among others, against ,zach and notAnAthiest

    May he touch you with his noodly appendage
    Pesto be upon you
    Praise the FSM
    r’Amen

  15. Steven Novellaon 20 Feb 2013 at 7:21 am

    I wrote that the researchers wrote a “balanced” article, meaning that they tried to make an even case for safety vs risk of nanoparticles.

  16. Bill Openthalton 20 Feb 2013 at 8:04 am

    The regular commenters on a blog, or participants on a forrm or mailing list form a community. As such, they influence each other, and create a subculture. The use of a more-or-less unique, recognisable communication style is part of all subcultures. It does not surprise me that priming a discussion using particular tone would influence a significant proportion of commenters. A real-life example is Pharyngula, just compare the comments on “More trivial excuses for the anti-choicers” on FtB with those on SB.

  17. Bronze Dogon 20 Feb 2013 at 12:59 pm

    If you have relatively common first and last names, you have far more anonymity online than someone named Steven Novella or Kimball Atwood IV or someone going by pseudonyms like Bronze Dog or Karl Withakay.

    And this kind of moves into why I use my pseudonym: My real name is almost unique (only one other I know of), and I have a lot of opinions that are unpopular in Texas. There are plenty of trolls who want no good deed or cogent argument to go unpunished, so I’d prefer to have at least one layer of insulation between us.

    That, and I think being under a pseudonym builds on the point that it’s the arguments I present that matter. Being insulated means trolls often have to make desperate-looking guesses to produce fallacious ad hominems. It once got funny when an old troll of mine ended up accusing me of being an unemployed gay black Jew Mexican immigrant suffering from white guilt. (Not all at the same time, of course.)

  18. tmac57on 20 Feb 2013 at 1:50 pm

    You know this is the case when a news story is followed by thousands of comments. I find these comments to be almost worthless – there never appears to be any meaningful discussion, just senseless trolling and naive people being offended at the trolls. Anyone with sense stays far away.

    The aptly named “Yahoo News’ is a prime example of this. Reading their comments on even the most benign fluff piece of ‘news’ is likely to generate (degenerate) comments that can actually lower your IQ just reading them.It’s enough to make you fear for the ability of society to continue.

  19. Bill Openthalton 20 Feb 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Reading their comments on even the most benign fluff piece of ‘news’ is likely to generate (degenerate) comments that can actually lower your IQ just reading them.

    In the halcyon days of newspapers, it usually was the task of the most junior journalist to read the “letters to the editor” and pick (OK, suggest) which ones to print. People had to pay to send letters, and often had no alternative to longhand, but this didn’t stop them from writing the most inane, insane, rude, uninformed, bigoted and tedious diatribes (and follow up with the vilest insults when their handiwork wasn’t published). Free, instant and anonymous commenting facilities have made this treasure trove of human stupidity accessible to all.

  20. ConspicuousCarlon 21 Feb 2013 at 12:27 am

    Maybe none of you will believe it, but this (along with a couple related places) is actually one of my “good behavior” locations.

    I don’t know how advanced moderation filters can get (particularly recognizing nasty phrasing rather than just bad words), but I was wondering if it would help to have a system which, if a comment is flagged by the system, gives the commenter an option to re-write it instead of having it instantly saved and hidden pending moderator review. e.g., “Your comment will be flagged for moderation as written. Do you want to submit it, or edit it?” I have occasionally wondered if I might have decided not to say something a particular way if even a machine had asked me to reconsider it.

  21. tmac57on 21 Feb 2013 at 11:01 am

    Hal2000- “I’m afraid I can’t do that Carl”

  22. Dianeon 21 Feb 2013 at 1:41 pm

    The one disadvantage to using real names is that the real name will usually tell you the person’s sex, and maybe give a clue as to their race, nationality, or religion as well. You can even make a guess as to age, as names go in and out of fashion. With pseudonyms we can all interact as equals, without knowing where we are supposed to slot each other in the social hierarchy. There is a lot of evidence that these sort of social cues influence how people respond to each other, and I think there are advantages to eliminating them.

    By the way, my name is not Diane or anything similar to it.

  23. ccbowerson 21 Feb 2013 at 3:28 pm

    “With pseudonyms we can all interact as equals”

    Well, not exactly, because I’m certain that those judgements are still made subconsciously with the pseudonyms. For example, a person may assume you are a woman over the age of 35 by “Diane” assuming you live in the US, since that name has had a significant decline in popularity the past several decades (but was a much more common name for people born prior to the mid 1970s). Now those judgements would not necessarily coincide with your actual characteristics, but I’m not sure that helps much if we are talking about biases. I have occasionally wondered if the “cc” in ccbowers makes people think of the female name.

  24. tmac57on 21 Feb 2013 at 7:41 pm

    I could see people using the name ‘Diane’ nowadays, just would just spell it Dyeaynne.

  25. ChrisHon 21 Feb 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Diane:

    The one disadvantage to using real names is that the real name will usually tell you the person’s sex, and maybe give a clue as to their race, nationality, or religion as well.

    I think the only thing you can get from mine is probably a whole swath of Christian religions. I have checked the Facebook listings for my name it came up with men, women, some young and some old, and an entire spectrum of skin color.

    Country could be narrowed down to about three continents. If I forget a couple of important numbers on my email address some nice fellow in England gets emails meant for me.

    There is a reason we gave our daughter a name that is used for both men and women.

    I think one very valid reason for anonymity is safety. There are some crazy people who will stalk or harass a person in real life. My younger son was stalked by a young lady who attended a high school in a neighboring town. This was quite a while ago, and she did find our number in the phone book (only one listing for that last name), and kept calling. Fortunately she quickly stopped and apologized. Hence the emphasis on online security in our house.

    tmac57:

    Reading their comments on even the most benign fluff piece of ‘news’ is likely to generate (degenerate) comments that can actually lower your IQ just reading them.

    That is why I do not read them, nor do I register to comment. It is not just news, I am amazed at the vitriol posted under comics like Funky Winkerbean. Though the ones posted after the “New Adventures of Queen Victoria” are pretty fun (it seems have a skeptical bent).

  26. Dianeon 22 Feb 2013 at 2:07 am

    @ccbowers

    Oh, I agree completely. And I did think about that when I chose the pseudonym Diane, but I chose it to honor someone whom I had been fond of and I decided to keep it despite its connotations. But some people do have entirely neutral names, like Bronze Dog, and for them you can’t tell anything.

    @ChrisH
    That might be true of you but it’s certainly not true of everyone.

  27. ChrisHon 22 Feb 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Diane, what is true for me and not anyone else?

    1: My choice to not register to comment on news sites?

    2: My daughter’s choice to use her grandmother’s last name?

    3: The choice to be careful with internet security?

    4: My choice to not use my last name? Or to not use my full first name*?

    You are not using your own name, so you must have had the same choice of being anonymous on this site. There is nothing that requires you to post comments anywhere. I, for one, refuse to use Facebook. That is a choice that bothers my relatives, but if I want to update them on something I actually email them (or with my father, send him a hand written letter by the postal service, or a phone call).

    Everyone has a choice whether or not they wish to comment, and there are ways to not use your real name.

    * Which I hate, and no one outside of my family is allowed to call me that, and they only do it when they are mad at me. It is not as common as the others with the same nickname, people always guess wrong. I just respond with “That is not my name”, and when asked what my name is I just say “You may call me Chris.” I am not telling them. Especially after the horrendous mispronunciations of it.

  28. BillyJoe7on 23 Feb 2013 at 12:08 am

    Chris,

    “You may call me Chris”

    Are you perhaps of polish heritage and therefore is you name perhaps Krystyna?
    (I ask because one of my bosses – I call all my receptionists bosses because that’s what they are! – said exactly that when I asked what I should call her when I looked at her application form and wondered how on Earth to pronounce that)

  29. ChrisHon 23 Feb 2013 at 2:56 am

    Don’t even try. You are still very far off. A nurse even spelled it wrong on the birth certificate, just like “Oprah.” One thing parents do when they have a very common surname (and mine is slightly less common that “Jones”) is to saddle their children with “fun and unique” given names. Give it a rest.

  30. Dianeon 26 Feb 2013 at 8:25 am

    Hi Chris,
    Sorry to reply so late; I haven’t been on the site. I meant, it might be true that people wouldn’t get much info about who you are from your name, but some people have more revealing names. (What do you think of when you meet someone named Jose Martinez? Shanique Young? Islam Mohammed?) I wasn’t talking about anything else you brought up, which were fine points. Although, to be honest, your name, while common, isn’t entirely neutral. If I think your name is Chris, I would assume you are not of Jewish origin, because Jews pretty much never give their kids any form of the name Chris. If you were expressing opinions on, say, the Israel-Palestinian conflict the fact that I think you are not Jewish could color my response to you. Not saying it’s accurate, just as it is not accurate to make assumptions about me based on the name Diane which is not my real name, but subconsciously that is what would happen.

  31. Dianeon 26 Feb 2013 at 10:13 am

    ChrisH,

    Let me say it a bit differently. I think you and I are talking about different things. You are focused on whether someone can be identified as an individual, which is a valid concern and you make some very good points. But I was talking about whether a name identifies someone as a member of a group. Real name often do, and the stereotypes associated with that group would color how other people respond to their postings. A pseudonym like Diane or ChrisH has fewer associations, and some thing like tmac has none at all (that I can think of). So, while your real name might not be associated with a particular group, many people’s names are (mine, for instance).

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