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In a recent dustup with a user, I received the comment

And clearly you're not a PhD, otherwise you'd know that my last remark was not an ad hominem.

I find this remark somewhat distressing. Some points:

  1. I post on this site under my professional name and with a link to my homepage.

  2. On my homepage you can find my CV, in which I record having received a PhD.

  3. You can also find that I am a tenured professor at an American research university, and that I have directed PhD theses. For this position I need a PhD: if anyone in my university became seriously concerned that I didn't have one, I think they would have to investigate. If in fact it turned out that I did not have a PhD, this would certainly be grounds for revocation of my tenure and termination from my position. Since I do have a PhD, this is not a worry of mine...but being investigated for this would still not be a positive experience.

  4. A lot of people read this site who are not otherwise familiar with me or even with the American academic system. I can almost imagine a student somewhere who would be interested to come to my university and work with me but would be given pause by the idea that it is somehow "contentious" whether or not I have the appropriate credentials. Almost: such a student would have to be incredibly clueless, but "incredibly clueless" is not strictly incompatible with being a successful student.

So while a large part of me thinks that the appropriate reaction to this is simply "Fools say foolish things. They have the right to, because they're fools. Just rise above," another part of me is not completely sanguine about letting this go. While I feel honorbound to say that I would not in my wildest dreams consider suing anyone about this, spreading falsehoods about someone that could in principle jeopardize their professional life if they were believed seems....isn't the right word libelous? Should we allow such comments?

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    I am not sure how to reconcile your feelings about deleting comments with this question. – StrongBad Aug 8 '14 at 22:46
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    @StrongBad: I don't think that I mentioned deleting comments anywhere in this question. I am asking about the acceptability of the behavior, not the specific remedy. However, I have often flagged comments (and answers) for deletion: deleting comments is a form of censorship, and thus it should not be done lightly or unilaterally...but it should certainly be done in certain circumstances. If a comment clearly violates agreed upon site norms, it should be deleted. – Pete L. Clark Aug 8 '14 at 23:22
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    We have certainly agreed that comments which are, e.g., offensive to minorities should be deleted. What I'm currently talking about is similarly specific. In general though, I find comments "rude" when they negatively address the person rather than what the person has said: e.g. to me "That's totally ridiculous" is a civil comment whereas "You're a ridiculous person" is not. I'm not sure whether others make that distinction as strongly. – Pete L. Clark Aug 8 '14 at 23:28
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    It's so pity to see that someone has told something like that to you. I've seen how much respectful and perfect you answer to the questions, trying to fully answer the questions with good answering structure and deep reasoning and examples. I am not a professor but I can feel how you are bothered. I am not at your level of understanding and knowledge, but I want to point two things: 1) Don't care about such statements. Don't let others bother you by what they say. 2) I think that these types of bothering comments can be flagged under the "rude or offensive" to attract the moderation attention. – Eng Myt Aug 9 '14 at 14:49
  • You didn't address the possibility that perhaps, indeed, it wasn't an ad hominem attack in your otherwise comprehensive enumeration. Was it? – TheDoctor Sep 25 '15 at 1:38
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Setting aside the other issues here, abusive and discourteous treatment of other users on this site will not be tolerated. I personally would want to be treated with respect, and that courtesy should be extended to others. If one can't make your point without belittling other members of the community, then one should find alternate communities which may tolerate such behavior.

In this particular matter, the poster in question has indeed transgressed, and has been dealt with accordingly.

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    Thanks very much. I consider the matter handled. – Pete L. Clark Aug 10 '14 at 0:27
  • Is this a site where voting isn't allowed to work and quasi-dictatorship on how PhD's should behave within Academia? Apparently you took it upon yourself to take favor with one, but not another. Had you read the offending comment, you might have seen that he accused the speaker of making an ad hominem attack. That was not true according to definition. Further, you did not bother to clarify what was meant on suggesting the user was not a PhD. The person could have meant it in the sense of Socrates, rather than the modern and diluted version of being a "master of the field". – TheDoctor Sep 25 '15 at 1:27

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