Saturday, September 23, 2017

My ambivalence to anonymous blog comments

Although this blog has a wide readership one thing it struggles with is to attract many comments, and particularly much back and forth discussion. Sometimes people tell me that this is just because it is not provocative or controversial enough.

A while ago I changed the settings to allow anonymous comments and this has led to an increase in comments which is encouraging. However, I do have some ambivalence about this. 

Ideally, any comment and opinion should be judged on the merits of its content not based on who is giving it. We should beware of arguments from authority. On the other hand, that is not the way most of us think and act. We do give some weight to the author. For example, an anonymous commenter says "I am a physicist and I am a climate change skeptic" it does not have the same weight as the opinion of a respected physicist who has relevant expertise.

I am also concerned that people are not willing to take the risk of being publically identified with their views. This does not just reflect on the commenter but also reflects poorly on the scientific and academic community. Why are people so hesitant? Is the community so intolerant of controversial views? 
Here I should say I am very sympathetic to some peoples nervousness. At least twice, I suggested to younger colleagues who did not have permanent jobs that they delete specific comments they made on the blog that were critical of the "establishment".

I welcome discussion.

Nevertheless, please don't let my ambivalence stop you making comments.


  1. Perhaps it's because the decision makers in universities are not really academics anymore.

    Yes, I post this anonymously.

  2. I concur with the poster above.

    In my view the hesitance indeed is from the fact that opinions, even if non-controversial within the science community, can do damage - especially since there are often differences in opinions on controversial issues between scientists and managers (that stand above the scientists).

  3. In other words, people are afraid...

    1. Thanks for the comments.
      You confirm my worst fears.

  4. "I am a physicist and I am a climate change skeptic"

    This would apply to me, but not really the "physicist" part, I am just an interested amateur that like to think I have some ability to identify what is reasonable or not.

    "it does not have the same weight as the opinion of a respected physicist who has relevant expertise."

    So, the content seems less important then?

    I would never dare to evaluate information based on the messenger instead of the content. It would put me at the risk of trusting humans, and they are known to be unreliable;)

    Is this the state of science today? Truth depends on who say it, not the quality of what is said?

    1. I see your point; the content should matter most.

      To illustrate my view of Ross's remarks, I would like to ask you whether you would more trust advise regarding your retirement savings when it is coming from the land-scaping professional mowing your lawn, or from a certified financial advisor.

      Certification in science is given by 1. a degree in the appropriate field, and 2. a track record of peer reviewed publications in the field.

      Since these problems (climate science as well as long term financial issues) are very complicated (multidimensional), "lay-people" often are simply not able to devise ideas ("theories") with a level of quality that is necessary before one would act on these ideas.

      I have a PhD in physics, but no track record in the science of climate change nor financial issues.
      I could give my opinion on climate change, based on my physics basics, and some ideas may indeed have some quality to them. I would however strongly advise not to take action based on my ideas but rather talk to the experts out there with a proven track record of quality ideas or at least the proven capability to judge ideas on their merit.
      Similarly, I am happy to provide my financial insight to anyone, but it would be rather risky to follow them without input/feedback from a financial advisor, however reasonable my ideas might sound.

      So, yes, whether one takes action on ideas depends on who communicates the ideas. Chances of ideas having merit are much higher when they originate from or are vetted by someone with a track record.

      "Fair sounding ideas" by people without a proven track record just don't cut it most of the time when compared to the reality of multidimensional, feed-back driven systems.

    2. Thanks for another helpful insightful comment. I agree.
      I like the analogy with financial advice.

      Other dimensions that are relevant in evaluating complexities such as climate science and financial advice include conflicts of interest and levels of consensus.

    3. The problem is, nowadays the 'experts' become too fancy when they express their views intended for the lay-people. They may be pressured or willing, but the damage is clear. This is particularly so in issues such as climate change (I remain to see a proper answer to the counter-evidences that every lay-people could understand) and the science of the universe (see e.g. the recent farce on Scientific American). Those experts are just so 'politicised' that dissidents are not tolerated anymore. This is a nightmare for true scholars, which are sparse today.

      I remain anonymous, not because I do not want to be identified publicly; rather I do not want to be engaged in the discussions too much. This world is now in a Godless state, and every one has his own view and has no will to adjust.

  5. My crap can be found here:

    I guess AGW-people, or "blanket people" as I like to call them, really dislike this:

  6. This is Svante Arrhenius paper which is related to carbon dioxide published in 1896. Page 270 is interesting. It is almost 121 yrs since Arrhenius published this paper. He has given a lot of tables.
    Makes interesting reading. Worth spending some time reading this paper.

  7. It is sad that people will try to destroy your reputation to get back at you. That's just the way it is. Until we as a species are older and wiser, that's the way it is going to be. If we stick to 'anonymous' then we get to pay attention to arguments and not personalities. And that is actually a good thing, I think.

  8. I suppose most anonymous commenters on this blog do value the blog owner, and are not malicious. Perhaps they may express nasty views, but they are not intended to damage the owner. Anyway, this blog is already a public forum, isn't it?

  9. Please write more theoretical chem/phy which your blog is very good at. Very few blogs are clear on this. Teaching has been undervalued for tenure world over with publish or perish culture resulting in BS as your previous postings reveal. Pl write more theoretical chem/phy Q &A.

  10. I think there’s nuances here.

    In scientific settings, I prefer to put my name. This is a form of integrity, I will stand by what I say and people are welcome to critique/argue/etc. The expectation is those critique/arguments/etc. are backed by facts or another reasonable argument. I'll then be happy to respond to them.

    In on-line commentary, where many people can (and will) twist and take things out of context, I prefer anonymity. At least this will save me time from the need (or rather urge) to respond to “random noise”. Selfish? Yes. But, the alternative is not that great...