On outing in the sciblogging community

I’m coming in to this a bit late, but since I really do care about the online science blogging community,I still have something that I want to say.

For those who don’t know, there’s a complete horses ass named Henry Gee. Henry is an editor at the science journal Nature. Poor Henry got into some fights with DrIsis (a prominent science blogger), and DrIsis was mean to him. The poor little guy was so hurt that he decided that he needed to get back at her – and so, Henry went ahead and he outed her, announcing her real name to the world.

This was a thoroughly shitty thing to do.

It’s not that I think Isis didn’t do anything wrong. We’ve got history, she and I. My experience with her led me to conclude that she’s a petty, vicious bully that takes great pleasure in inflicting pain and anguish on other people. She’s also someone who’s done a lot of good things for her friends, and if you want to find out about any of it, go read another blog – plenty of people have written about her in the last couple of days.

If she’s so awful, why do I care that someone outed her?

Because it’s not just about her.

The community that we’re a part of isn’t something which has been around for all that long. There’s still a lot of fudging around, figuring out the boundaries of our online interactions. When people play games like outing someone who’s using a pseudonym, they’re setting a precedent: they’re declaring to the community that “I know Xs real name, and here it is”. But beyond that, they’re also declaring to the community that “I believe that our community standards should say that this is an appropriate way to deal with conflict”.

I don’t want that to be something that people in my community do.

People use pseudonyms for a lot of different reasons. Some people do for bad reasons, like separating unethical online behavior from their professional identity. But some people do it to avoid professional retaliation for perfectly reasonable behaviors – there are tenure committees at many universities that would hold blogging against a junior faculty; there are companies that don’t won’t allow employees to blog under their real names; there are people who blog under a pseudonym in order to protect themselves from physical danger and violence!

Once you say “If someone makes me angry enough, it’s all right for me to reveal their real identity”, what you’re saying is that none of those reasons matter. Your hurt feelings take precedence. Bloggeroid tells you how to blog successfully so you avoid all of this. You’ve got the right to decide whether their reasons for using a pseudonym areimportant enough to protect or not.

Sorry, but no. People’s identities belong to them. I don’t care how mean someone is to you online: you don’t have the right to reveal their identity. Unless someone is doing something criminal, their identity isn’t yours to reveal. (And if they are doing something criminal, you should seriously consider reporting them to the appropriate legal authorities, rather than screwing around online!)

But to be like Mr. Gee, and just say “Oh, she hurt my feelings! I’m going to try to hurt her back”! That’s bullshit. That’s childish, kindergarten level bullshit. And frankly, for someone who’s an editor at a major scientific journal, who has access to all sorts of information about anonymous referees and authors? It’s seriously something that crosses the line of professional ethics to the point where if I were in the management at Nature, I’d probably fire him for it.

But Henry didn’t stop there: no! He also went ahead and – as an editor of Nature! – told people who criticized him for doing this that he want “adding them to the list”.

What kind of list do you think Henry is adding them to? This guy who’s showed how little he cares about ethics – what do you think he’s going to do to the people who he’s adding to his list?

I think that if Nature doesn’t fire this schmuck, there’s something even more seriously wrong over there than any of us expected.

50 thoughts on “On outing in the sciblogging community

  1. scicurious

    Fantastic post, Mark. Justice needs to apply whether or not you get along with the person involved.

  2. becca

    Very clear and to the point.
    I don’t see Isis the way you do at all, but I don’t think of her with any kind of halo either. And it’s not impossible for me to see Gee as “merely” having a kindergarten type mentality and feeling hyper threatened by stupid stuff, resulting in lashing out impulsively without any real awareness of how his actions impact others (though at this point there could be an Occam’s razor argument against that…).
    BUT the specifics of their personalities or actions are completely irrelevant. Outing is not acceptable. The situation with Grantland and ESPN should bring that vividly home, if nothing else does (as an aside, it’s criminal for ESPN to not have a code of conduct on this, precisely because transgender/intersexed/sexual minorities WILL come up in sports; Grantland’s actions are infuriating in part because it should have been an EASY call, compared to some situations I could imagine).

    I’d be surprised if there isn’t some kind of code of conduct at Nature that Gee has violated, and if there isn’t the LEAST they should do is come up with such a policy and fire anyone for it in the future. I imagine they’ve thought about what should happen if you reveal anonymous peer reviewers, but *maybe* bloggers haven’t been on their radar in this context. It’s long overdue for all organizations to develop policies here, really.

  3. Anonymousbiophys

    I agree on both points. My, limited as they are, experience with the science online community has been generally negative–beginning with interactions with drisis. There also seems to be a collective mob-like behavior typically centered on gender discrimination that I find unappealing. Nonetheless, announcing someone’s name when they interact pseudonymously online, without said persons permission, is quite simply wrong.

  4. Dan J. Andrews

    Well said. Dr. Isis isn’t an angel and I feel pretty much the same way you do, but what Gee did was wrong (to put it mildly and politely). Not just the outing, but the insults (inconsequential, Nature quaking, etc). School yard crap not worthy of anyone, and shouldn’t have even been considered by a senior editor. I too care about this online science community even though I stay at the periphery, mostly lurking, till something comes along that is worth speaking up about—and this is something worth speaking up about.

    Incidentally, he’s managed to unite Dr. Isis fans and her detractors, so that should be a clue he’s a complete twit (once again, mildly and politely).

    1. drugmonkey

      Incidentally, he’s managed to unite Dr. Isis fans and her detractors,

      Interesting isn’t it? And perhaps more telling, the people that remain in Henry’s camp seem mostly to be mad at Isis for some prior interactions and, just as Henry clearly did, want her to pay some personal price for their hurt feelings. It is a fascinating vindictiveness particularly when you realize that in most these cases (I’ll perhaps entertain some of Isabel’s complaining) people’s feelings are mostly hurt from having their rhetorical asses handed to them. Nothing more.

      1. Amy

        Not at all, and as for me, I don’t appreciate being mischaracterized for your own point-scoring. I object to people running around being flat-out mean, particularly when unprovoked, in what’s an otherwise friendly community. I handled my own business with Isis by doing as others suggesting and leaving her alone, and forgot about her except when her name came up now and then. Bad aftertaste, but nothing more. Some of us actually have other things going on in our lives.

        Furthermore, this isn’t about “Henry’s camp” and “Isis’s camp”, and the insistence that it be that way is part of the problem: this notion that you operate in a world of grudges, camps, enemies, and tit-for-tat. Maybe your world’s like that. Mine is not.

      2. Isabel

        Complaining? Sensitive? Isis never handed my rhetorical ass to me, whatever that means. We were never in any kind of serious dispute-it was always an idle sport for Isis as far as I could see. I took a lot of crap during those “wars” as you call them, and no one accused me of being sensitive at the time, quite the opposite- I was accused of being a masochistic troll. My objections were specific to her fighting dirty- revealing my location (I absolutely took that as a threat) spreading lies about supposed names I called her on her own blog that she had to censor (I never did anything like that) and other outright lies. This is the only reason I bring it on on Mark’s post because I am trying to point out that this sort of ugly behavior already seems to have some (frustratingly unacknowledged) support in this so-called community. I am not surprised to see it occurring at higher levels since it is completely accepted at lower levels.

        1. Isabel

          I also brought it up at the time to people like Janet because I couldn’t believe someone who was behaving this way (lying, outing people and general bullying for kicks) was seen as some paragon of virtue and was at the very same time leading workshops at Sci online conferences in online civility. Now I see people are circling the wagons again, claiming that if she was male her behavior would be shrugged off- uh, no.

        2. MarkCC Post author

          Look, I understand your problem with Isis completely. As I said in the original post, I really, really dislike her, and I think she’s an awful person. But that’s irrelevant here.

          The point of this blog isn’t “Isis deserved it” or “Isis didn’t deserve it”. That’s irrelevant. The point is: do we want to accept it as an OK tactic.

          The part of your comments that are relevant here are the question of whether what Isis did to you was right or not. I didn’t know about the incidents that you bring up. I’d appreciate a link to anything that could help show what happened. If she did out your location – and I’m not saying that she didn’t, just that I didn’t see it or hear about it when it happened – that was every bit as despicable and wrong as what Henry did, and I’ll be damned angry at this so-called community if we collectively chose to ignore something like that.

          1. Isabel

            Yes, I keep saying I agree, Isis did not deserve it, and neither did I.

            This happened years ago so I have no idea after all the blog moves if the links even exist and there would be a lot to wade through. I tried very hard to get people to pay attention at the time. But one thing I will say is 1) I have been in a lot of online skirmishes and otherwise have held no grudges and 2) no one has ever accused me of lying, I just don’t do that.

            Bringing it all up now in detail will just out me again and bring the attention on me. I try to keep a much lower profile these days. But I will look for the email to Janet and forward anything else I can find directly to you if you want. Another use of outright dishonesty against me that I now remember complaining about in that email was that Isis used a comment of mine on a slide for SciOnline as an example of uncivility but purposely used it out of context in a way that made it look like I was being uncivil when I was not. I don’t remember the exact details, I was actually quoting someone, something like that. I complained about that at the time not just privately. That slide show may still be around.

            Because I was arguing in general against the hypocrisy in the community I was unpopular so my complaints were considered safe to ignore. At least that is how I read the situation.

  5. Amy

    Again, there’s more to this than people here appear to know, but it’s Henry’s business to tell what he wants to, not that I would in his place.

    As for Isis: Yep, that was pretty much my experience with her. Shockingly petty and mean. And out of nowhere, too. I disagreed with her, and bam, that was it. I tried talking to her, finally said “screw it”, and others came backchannel telling me to just stay away from her, that there wasn’t any point in trying to have a conversation. I’ve got no history with her — once was plenty — but in 20 years online…well, there was one person as flat-out mean, a long time ago, but he was also much smarter and more subtle, and nearly made it up in post quality. Thankfully he grew repetitive.

    It’s a serious question, the “is outing ever the right thing to do” one. We call for it regularly when there are threats and routine Twitter misogyny that may or may not rise to the level of criminality, so the shock’s a little disingenuous. But I really don’t know. I’ve been a privacy and online-anonymity-rights advocate and supporter for many years. But the destructiveness and toxicity of that kind of sniping and meanness from behind a nym…I think too of the protests that Isis is on the market, vulnerable. But I also live in a department, at least for now, and I think I’d very much want to know if a candidate were prone to secretive nastiness and viciousness. After the tenure-track hire is the wrong time to find out. If you want to talk power relationships there, consider the position of grad students and staff who’re essentially defenseless against a capricious or simply mean faculty member, and stand to lose career and livelihood if they complain. (The short-circuit answer is “get rid of tenure”, but I know how well that one goes over.)

    Of course, if the answer is “yes, there are times to yank the mask”, then the question is “who gets to decide when”, and the answer shouldn’t be “the aggrieved”. But who? I’ve yet to see a teacher on this playground.

    1. MarkCC Post author

      I can’t agree with you.

      What people do in their time away from work is their own business.

      If a candidate for a job plays mean, awful, vindictive games in their personal time, and they’re able to keep it completely separate from their professional work and their professional interactions, then there is absolutely no reason why it needs to be considered by a hiring committee of potential manager. If they can’t keep them separate – ie, they act the same way at work – then their professional behavior at work is the issue that should be considered by the hiring committee, not the fact that they do the same thing under a pseudonym.

      When it comes to that, it seems to me that it’s the same situation as people who engage in non-mainstream sexual stuff. Suppose you’ve got a candidate who’s big into the S&M scene. They get off on tying up and beating their (consensual) sexual partners. You’ve got a candidate who, in their time off work, enjoys inflicting physical pain on others for sexual gratification. As long as they’re not bringing their whips to the office and beating up their students, is that any business of a hiring committee?

      When it comes to threats, I think there’s a line to be drawn. There’s a reason that I said consider talking to the appropriate legal authorities. In a perfect world, when someone made serious threats, the police/courts would be able/willing to take some kind of legal action to protect the safety of the targets. But that’s not the world we live in. Police don’t understand the internet, and laws lag behind the ways that interpersonal interactions have changed due to the net. When it comes down to an issue of personal safety, and there’s no way to get legal action to prevent harm, and outing a pseud can protect the safety of a victim, then I’d agree that outing them is appropriate.

      For example, think about the case that came up last year(?) about the redditor who was running forums specializing in non-consensual upskirt photos of women. I don’t have a problem with outing him: what he was doing was really harming and potentially endangering numerous women. If he’d been selling the pictures, it would have been unquestionably illegal. But due to the non-profit angle, and the pseud, and the fact that the legal system has no idea what to do about online forums, there was no way to get legal authorities to take any action to protect his victims. But outing him? That shut him down. In that kind of case, it’s OK.

      But because someone was mean to you? Sorry. No.

      1. Isabel

        “They get off on tying up and beating their (consensual) sexual partners”

        Bad analogy. There is no consensus is Isis’ bullying.

        As I pointed out elsewhere she even outed my location (when laughingly joining a mob that was attacking me-no threats to her or anything). She also lied about me (eg claiming she was censoring my posts because I called her a bad name). She refused to take down the info about me or apologize. Or show proof I called her names. No one else seemed to be the least bit bothered by her behavior.

        Sure, Gee was wrong but Isis isn’t “just being mean”, or as some say “brave and outspoken”. She is a bully also and people like that don’t compartmentalize in my opinion. Isn’t that what people are suggesting about Henry Gee?

        What steps have the science community taken about Isis/ behavior? None. At the time I wrote to her buddy Janet who ignored my emails. yes Janet we were never on the same side.

        1. MarkCC Post author

          First of all, I agree that Isis is a malicious bully. I just don’t agree that it’s relevant.

          With respect to that analogy: analogies are always imperfect.

          My point wasn’t that being a dom in a consensual BDSM relationship is equivalent to being a bully in online interactions, or that being a consensual sub is anything like being the victim of online bullying. What I was trying to do was create a scenario where a person is engaging, off hours, in some kind of activity that a hiring committee would find distasteful. I still argue that what a person does when they’re not at work shouldn’t affect decisions about hiring/firing/promotion, so long as those activities stay away from their work.

          If someone wants to act like an vicious asshole in their private free time, and it doesn’t affect their work, and it doesn’t affect anyone that they work with, it’s their private business.

          Of course, I’m very skeptical of peoples ability to compartmentalize that kind of behavior. In my experience, a person who is a bully, who gets off on tormenting other people, isn’t going to limit it to off hours time under a pseudonym. But again, in that case, the problem isn’t that they act like an asshole in their private time – it’s that they act like an asshole at work, that they mistreat their coworkers.

          In the case of Henry: to me, the issue here isn’t that he did something bad to Isis. It’s that he did something that I consider to be ethically wrong, for the reasons that I explained in the blog. When you set a precedent for behavior like that in a community, and the community doesn’t reject it, it becomes an acceptable way of dealing with conflict within the community. Once you say “It’s OK to out someone if you think they provoked you enough”, then it’s not just going to happen to someone like Isis. Someone like Isis can do it to you, or to Scicurious, or to Dr24Hours, or to anyone who someone happens to get upset at.

          In Henry’s case, though, we have an additional factor to consider: that “I’ll add you to the list, shall I” comment. He’s an editor at one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world! This is a guy who at least appears to have the power to triage papers, to decide who’ll review them. His actions can have a direct impact on whether or not a junior faculty member gets tenure or not! His making public statements about putting people on lists and remembering them does have a direct impact on his job. Any editorial decision he makes – any editorial decision that anyone at Nature makes – that involves the people he publicly put on a list is questionable now that he’s done that. That goes way beyond Isis: he chose to put his professional judgement (or lack thereof) on display in a way that raises real questions about whether he can continue to do his job.

          1. Isabel

            I am not defending Gee’s actions. I only disagree about the irrelevance of his target’s behavior in this case. Not because she deserved it but because she gets away with the same behavior now being condemned by her defenders.

            I am not saying she has bullied Gee, or if that is even possible. the one tweet is not conclusive and I don’t know the situation. I am talking about other targets, fellow bloggers or commenters and others who have shared their stories. I am not suggesting that there should be real-life repercussions but that there should be sci-comm community responses at least.

            “Once you say “It’s OK to out someone if you think they provoked you enough”, then it’s not just going to happen to someone like Isis. Someone like Isis can do it to you, ”

            well, as I pointed out she already did this to me, a grad student commenter, and her behavior was accepted by the community. It is obvious from all these recent comments that I am not alone in my experiences, yet Isis has some vocal and prominent defenders in the sci blogging/tweeting world who will defend her no matter what she does. Like most bullies she is charming and manipulative at will.

            Yes, I fully expect she would be behaving exactly like Gee if she was in the position to.

    2. drugmonkey

      there’s more to this than people here appear to know

      Well let’s see. I know about the SciOnline thing and the subsequent blogging about it. Then there was Womanspace, and the blogging about it. Now this letter to the editor and comments from Isis, myself and perhaps others that it was Henry, following up his provocative gloating about the Womanspace story, that had something to do with letter.

      What else is there that Isis did to him?

      1. Amy

        I wish I could, and I don’t mean to sound dark/fingerwaggling. But they aren’t my stories to tell. I know it’s not entirely fair, either, to say, “there are things to take into account” without saying what, and I would understand being dismissed. But I’m disturbed generally by lack of hesitation in attack, particularly in something that’s been a functioning community, and the “I know all I need to!” sentiment, generally. Things involving people aren’t very often simple. Hence (as below) novelists.

        1. drugmonkey

          It is just fascinating that there are some pretty clear facts on the table. Including Isis’ blog/Twitter remarks directed at Henry. Including his online remarks and his behavior at that fateful Science Online*. OTOH, there is this dark insinuation from him of some continued persecution campaign that is not available to all. You seem to be referring to the same. Yet you “can’t” tell the story. This is a pretty bogus attack on Isis. At least when Isabel makes accusations, it is pretty clear she’s talking about comment section wars, I’ve seen them and can make up my mind if she’s right, is being over sensitive or whatnot.

          *there is essentially zero substantive variance in the description from multiple people about what he did and the relative body language and tone, btw. there is no credible alternate view on this that changes the valence.

          1. MarkCC Post author

            Please, I really don’t want this comment section to turn into the “Isis is good”/”Henry is evil” wars.

            I don’t care much about the details of their dispute. From my perspective, unless somehow the hidden part of their dispute involves Isis hiring thugs to visit Henry’s house and threaten him, it doesn’t matter.

          2. nicoleandmaggie

            Let me make it clear re Gee. His own words being his double down on the woman space story, outing a pseudo blogger in a way that makes his editorial position shaky, then threatening to put others on what sounds like a blacklist (including a colleague at nature.). Isis is really irrelevant given those items. (As in, no, it doesn’t matter how she was dressed that night, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.) If she was sending thugs, then perhaps outing her after the police refused to do nothing, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case.

          3. nicoleandmaggie

            Actually, I’d like to amend that a little. If Isis were sending rape or death threats, that would also be a reasonable reason to out a pseudo. Those are very difficult to get police to take seriously when they come via the internet. Also if she claimed to be, say an editor at Nature, and claimed she was blocking Gee from getting something published because of her position, another potentially valid reason for outing.

            So in theory, Isis could matter a little bit in terms of the outing (but for not the previous womanspace thing or subsequent bat-shit-crazy threats of “lists” and litigation). But she didn’t step over any of those bounds, so she still doesn’t. And even without this pseudonym thing, there’s some serious concerns about sexism with Nature the magazine and Gee the editor in particular.

  6. Amy

    I think when we’re talking about the tenure question — and this is an unusual situation generally, but not unusual in the sci comm world — the question is “Is this a matter of character, or is this private business? Because we may have to live with this person for the next 40 years. And if this person is simply capricious and mean whenever she feels she can get away with it, and we bring her here, it could not only be damaging to our own mental health and interfere with departmental growth and adaptability, but could make it difficult for us to keep good staff and students.” I’d want that as little as I’d want a lifetime work partner who — on his own time, naturally, and in the privacy of his own home — has maneuvered his wife into economic dependence and insists she entertain his girlfriends although she doesn’t want to. Indeed academic departments might be infinitely more pleasant and saner places if more recreationally-mean people could be spotted early.

    I’ve been around for 45 years now, and met a fair number of people in that time, and I don’t think I’ve met people who are selectively vicious-for-fun. On the other hand, I know people who are multiple flavors of kinky, but in specific and sharply limited situations, all of them related to sexual relationships, and none of which have shown up at work. I wouldn’t worry about working with someone who goes home and spends all evening with friends and a collection of overpriced fantasy-torture kit. I would very much worry about someone who’s randomly vicious in conversation with people who disagree with her — so long as she feels she can get away with it.

    This is not an Isis-specific — or a Henry-specific — set of questions, but I think we will have to go on thinking about these issues in less stick-figure ways. What is destructive to a community, and when should it be allowed, and by whom? When is it appropriate to say “put on big-boy pants” and when “nobody should have to live with that”? What are the differences between meanness, gadflyism, and simply being a pain in the ass? The sort of relative-victim economy that’s driven so much conversation in the last few months is going to wind up eating itself, I think, unless we’re all issued spinny wheels that weight an ever-proliferating set of power relationships. That, or we’re going to have weekly roving bands of “yaaar!” and people on the sidelines being very quiet for fear of drawing attention to themselves, particularly if the roving bands are made of the economically/careerwise secure (who can perhaps make entire careers out of “yaaar!”) and the people on the sidelines are not. And you’ve read that all in Golding. We haven’t even started on the role of sentimentality.

    I think you might need literary fiction writers after all.

    As someone who’s been stalked, by the way, I don’t think that outing an online attacker in the absence of police protection has much chance of protecting anyone’s personal safety. If you want to antagonize your stalker, though, it seems like a good thing to do.

  7. Shecky R

    Jeeez… Why does the science blogosphere seem to need some self-absorbed drama every month-or-two? I don’t know the history between Gee and Isis, so won’t pass judgment on what’s transpired, but I DO KNOW that once you become active on the Web you essentially forfeit your privacy (worse yet, you forfeit your spouse’s and children’s privacy) — for good or ill, that’s the way it’s evolved. Pseudonyms serve a LOT of (good) purposes, but hiding your identity is not one of them.

  8. Wondering

    I looked at her blog and feed, and quite frankly I can’t find any science in it. I see a lot of shoes, frosting, small-scale interpersonal conflict and exercise sessions. I guess you could argue that showing daily life emphasizes that women scientists are three-dimensional but presumably they also do some actual science at some point. In what way is her blog/feed “scicomm”? What I see is a lot of prescribing how she thinks other people should behave within the context of science, but that’s not the same as showing that she actually knows some science. She seems to have strong opinions about how students should publish for example … If she wants to serve as an inspiration and role model then shouldn’t her protogés have the information that they need to evaluate just how far she’s gotten professionally using her unique approach?

    1. MarkCC Post author

      This isn’t the “let’s all judge whether Isis should be considered a sciblogger” thread.

      I don’t care whether you like her or not, or whether you think she’s a good blogger or not, or whether you think she’s a good example of what a blogger should be or not. The discussion here isn’t about her: it’s about whether or not outing is an appropriate tactic for dealing with conflict in the community. The quality of her blogging has nothing to do with whether or not it was right to out her.

      1. Wondering

        Sorry didn’t mean to derail. I’m new to scicomm and trying to figure out just why this is such a scandal. I’ll reread.

        1. MarkCC Post author

          It’s a scandal because it involves outing a pseudonym over a personal dispute. Just read the original blog entry here!

          Sorry, but it’s incredibly frustrating to watch some of the nonsense that goes on. What does the content of her blog have to do with whether or not it’s OK to out a pseudonym?

          In addition, I get really annoyed at gatekeeping. Who gets to decide whether or not someone’s blogging is actually science related? I’ve had people tell me I have no right to be called a science blogger, because I talk about math, not science. I’ve heard people say that drugmonkey shouldn’t be called a science blogger, because he writes about grants and the process, not about science. Some people say that the only real science blogs are the ones that blog about peer reviewed research papers. Or that the only real science blogs are blogs that people write about their own research.

          Which definition should we be enforcing? Which one do we decide is OK before we start talking about whether or not certain kinds of behaviors are acceptable?

          My approach is to say that anyone who’s a scientist, or who’s writing about scientific topics, or about things related to science or being a scientist, who wants to be called a science blogger, should be.

          1. Amy

            “I’ve had people tell me I have no right to be called a science blogger, because I talk about math, not science. I’ve heard people say that drugmonkey shouldn’t be called a science blogger, because he writes about grants and the process, not about science. Some people say that the only real science blogs are the ones that blog about peer reviewed research papers. Or that the only real science blogs are blogs that people write about their own research.”

            What? That’s crazy! Why is the categorization necessary in the first place? (Rhetorical.)

            And Wondering, yes, it’s a serious thing, revealing a pseudonymous writer’s real name. For reasons why you need not just scicomm but history generally.

    2. drugmonkey

      It is always a serious mistake to think you know what a blogger should be blogging about. Particularly when we are talking about the vast majority of bloggers who are doing so as a hobby and not for pay.

      1. Isabel

        ” … If she wants to serve as an inspiration and role model then shouldn’t her protogés have the information that they need to evaluate just how far she’s gotten professionally using her unique approach?”

        serve? unique approach? lol and from a quick look at her blog about science and motherhood and her personal twitter feed you now have a good sense of what her mentees have knowledge of in relation to her success in science or her track record?

        yes totally derailing, and there seems to be no disagreement about her abilities and influence even amongst her detractors – Isis is a talented writer and communicator. I never had reason to doubt her claims about being a good scientist. Her blogging is pretty much about what she says it is going to be about.

        Drugmonkey on the other hand should definitely blog more about…well that’s another story.

        1. drugmonkey

          Drugmonkey on the other hand should definitely blog more about…well that’s another story.

          haahaha, don’t you ever change Isabel

  9. TSK

    One question about right and wrong behavior:
    If I understand your argumentation right people on science blogs are setting a
    precendent with their behavior.
    If for example you are declaring to the community that insulting people who you disagree with (for whatever reason) you are also declaring that “I believe that our community standards should say that this is an appropriate way to deal with people” ?

    1. MarkCC Post author

      Derailing is not welcome. That’s a question that I answered plenty of times in the appropriate comment thread. When you do something stupid, being told that you did something stupid isn’t a horrific unacceptable insult. I expect people to do it to me when I screw up.

  10. TSK

    It is not derailing and you know why.
    The first possibility is that the argument is wrong because the preconditions are not shared. Someone can state that it is his/her personal blog and his/her personal opinion does not speak for anyone, only for him-/herself.
    Or he/she can say, damn, sometimes I am simply human and cannot stand his stuff.
    Ok, it is understandable.

    The question you are dealing with in this post if there are things which are right or wrong, how to deal with them and if repercussions should be handed out.
    Your argumentation is essentially that outing a pseudonym is not ok, that someone who does this has no respect for the important reasons which needs a pseudonym and there are community standards. This community standards are the very first argument you mentioned, so I assumed that they are very important.

    I hope we have the same opinion that there are nonnegotiable wrongs in science blogs because they are threatening to science itself: data fudgings, illegal arguments to win a discussion, honesty in findings etc. etc.
    But you also mentioned the argument that there should be a code of conduct for science editors dealing with personal attacks. As Henry Gee is a not a blogger (?) I supposed that the community code does not include only science bloggers but also scientists in general.

    I suppose that we also agree that the code of conduct depends on the level of power someone has. If two unknown people slug it out, there are very little problems
    if it remains verbally and both can leave at any time. But if a very powerful science editor or a blogger with a very high number of people who have some influence there should be some constraints so that this power is not abused.

    Now you also mentioned the division between work and private behavior. First, it is not very convincing because we all know that people do not change much. If someone has disagreeable behavior, in most cases it will not magically disappear if the environment switches.
    Second, it is illusory. Randi is a magician and not a climate scientist. But his denial triggered an outrage because he is an eminent skeptic. On the other hand, if you as scientist are privately engaging in parapsychology and it comes out, your reputation will be damaged.

    I do not accept your argumentation about BDSM or other disagreeable behavior because they are consensual. It is about behavior which at least one party does not agree with.

    Knowing all this, I found that argumentation really strange. It is not about you, but about the behavior on science blogs in general. If people get the impression that disrespectful behavior is wrong but can/or must be respected, how can someone argument that behavior X is wrong but must not be respected ? On what grounds exactly ? I want to understand how you can argue for a specific code of conduct and repercussions if you share this logic.

    1. MarkCC Post author

      It is derailing, because you’re trying to take your annoyance at something trivial, and compare it to something huge.

      Saying that someone said something stupid on a blog, and outing a pseuodonymous blogger? These are not remotely comparable acts. And trying to drag the triviality of the former into a discussion is utter, dishonest bullshit.

  11. TSK

    So you have the opinion that e.g. the “Muslima” comment of a certain prominent scientist and skeptic to a certain elevator event is, according to your answer above, “something trivial” and “not remotely comparable” to outing a pseudonymous blogger ?
    Mind you:
    – he did not insult the person of the event.
    – he did nothing physical or criminal.

    Ok, why the ruckus then ?

    1. MarkCC Post author

      Yes, there is a huge difference.

      See, in one case: Dawkins acted like an asshole. And the response to it was to say “Good lord, dude, you’re acting like a total asshole”. In the other case, Gee said “Isis was mean to me, therefore I’m going to try to damage her career and compromise her safety”.

      Even when it comes to non-outing, there are, of course, huge differences, between:
      (a) Saying “You did something stupid” when, in fact, you did something stupid; and
      (b) Saying “you have no right to be complain about how someone treated you” because you don’t like them complaining.

      Get it?

      Any more attempts to derail, and I’ll just delete the comments.

      1. ScentOfViolets

        Sorry, Mark, but Isis is an asshole and I fail to see the difference between your ‘she was mean to me’ and ‘she was behaving like an asshole’ save that this is your personal opinion as opposed to someone else’s.

        More to the point, I’d say that Dr. Isis has a long paper trail of being a bully. The fact that she was finally stepped on by a bigger bully might not be right, but it’s certainly not news; it’s just what’s bound to happen sooner or later to someone who is consistently unpleasant over a long period of time. Like it or not, the perception seems to be that this sort of behaviour is fungible. ‘What goes around comes around’ and all that.

        1. MarkCC Post author

          There’s a reason why I keep trying to avoid making this discussion be about Isis – I don’t want to bring her history into it.

          My point isn’t that there’s a substantive difference between being a bully and being an asshole. It’s that there’s a difference between calling someone out for being an asshole, and doing something that’s threatening their livelihood/safety because of a personal conflict.

          Dawkins was completely free to write his post criticizing Rebecca Watson. It was a completely assholish thing to do, but people are free to be assholes online.

          Plenty of people reacted to Dawkins post by calling him an asshole, because indeed, he was being an asshole. I would never, for a moment, claim that people didn’t have a right to do that, and to do that in harsh terms.

          But suppose that instead of just writing his asshole-ish Muslima post, Dawkins had posted “Hey, Rebecca Watson claims to have been threatened at my conference; here’s her address, people should go there and show her what it’s really like to be threatened”, that would have gone way beyond just acting like an asshole: that would be threatening her safety.

          Of course, the lines between these things aren’t always clear. Just by posting the “Muslima” letter online, Dawkins should have known what kind of reactions it would provoke. It’s possible for a privileged guy like Dawkins to not understand what’s going to happen to someone who he targets for scorn. His acting scornful is fine; his using his scorn to turn someone else into a target isn’t. In cases like that, you start to hit gray areas: did he know what kind of reaction his letter would provoke? If he didn’t, should he have?

          Coming back to Isis – I really, really dislike her, and I hate the way that she treats people. I think she’s a petty, vicious bully. And, yeah, on some level, I think that when you publicly play that kind of game, targeting other people, eventually, you’re going to target someone who’s going to react in an unreasonable way. As the old saying goes, if you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.

          But that doesn’t make the reaction less unreasonable. Outing people is wrong, even if they’re assholes.

  12. Alethea

    Out of curiosity, how do you feel about >a href=”http://jezebel.com/5952080/anonymous-names-names-outing-the-man-who-allegedly-drove-amanda-todd-to-suicide”>this situation?

    1. MarkCC Post author

      Like I said in the original post: there’s an important line around personal safety.

      In the case you reference, someone badgered a young woman into taking a topless photo, and then posted that photo, along with her contact details online. That’s so far across any line of reasonable behavior that it’s amazing anyone would feel the need to ask.

      Yes, it’s damned-well perfectly OK to out the SOB who did that. It’s also perfectly reasonable to ask what the hell that asshole is doing outside of a prison.

      1. Alethea

        So, will it then be okay when the SOB gets lynched before he gets put on trial, a necessary precursor to putting him in prison?

        I think, like someone said above, that outing is the risk anyone takes online. It’s not that old word, “netiquette”, to do it. But Gee didn’t put Isis in danger. You have approved an outing that clearly puts the (presumed) SOB in danger, but are calling for Gee to be fired? Seems like misplaced outrage, to me.

        1. MarkCC Post author

          The jerk who drove that girl to suicide was doing something illegal, horrible, and deliberately endangering the well being of a minor. He should be arrested, put on trial, and sent to prison if convicted. But in the meantime, outing would serve the purpose of letting other potential victims know who he is. I’m not saying that vigilantes should hunt him down; I am saying that based on his history of doing serious harm, releasing his identity does serve a valid purpose.

          In the case of this blog nonsense, there’s two distinct things going on.

          First, Gee knows that Isis has received threats in the past, and in any case, she’s a junior faculty member. Revealing her real name and location is putting her career, and possibly her safety, at risk.

          Anyone who outed a pseudonymous blogger like Isis would be doing that. If you’re honest, you have to know that for a junior faculty person, a pseudonymous blog can be professionally damaging.

          But for Henry Gee, there’s something else going on. Henry is an editor at one of the most prominent science journals in the world. He’s not just anyone: he’s someone with a job that requires access to a large amount of private information about the identities of anonymous people. He demonstrated that he can’t be trusted with that information: he’s willing to reveal information if he’s sufficiently personally upset.

          And beyond even that, he specifically made comments on behalf of his employer.

          And beyond even that, he made comments about putting people on a list. Which given his job, is pretty damned threatening.

          That’s why he should be fired. Because he demonstrated that he’s incapable of doing his job. He’s not willing to keep his job separate from his personal life, and he’s not willing to act with the kind of ethics that are required for his position.

  13. TSK

    You mentioned about Henry Gee: “He’s not willing to keep his job separate from his personal life, and he’s not willing to act with the kind of ethics that are required for his position.”
    But Henry Gee was not since his birth an editor of one of the most prominent science journals. He climbed up the career ladder and I presume his behavior was not completely different from the beginning.
    Which should raise the question *why* he should raise into the position in the first place *if* he has not the kind of ethics that are required for the position. I mean, instead of firing someone from a high position *after* leaving a path of victims should not have been the correct course of action to prevent him from climbing the ladder in the first place ?
    You mentioned that Isis career has been put on risk.
    So given that you called Isis a “petty, vicious bully that takes great pleasure in inflicting pain and anguish on other people” I would like to ask if you would put her in a position of power like Henry Gee ?


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