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I would like to discuss the comments to https://academia.stackexchange.com/a/54888/958.

I am a bit puzzled by the way the discussion has evolved. In my view, aeismail's comment is sloppy, since it just claims that this is not "correct usage", without backing up the claim with a reference. It is basically equivalent to writing "you are wrong". This is not how a polite discussion should start.

TheDoctor's answer, albeit sarcastic, aims to point this out this in a playful way: what does "correct" mean? Who are you to be able to say what is correct and what is not? I don't find it out line at all (no more than the first comment, anyway). In fact, when confronted with a real argument against his suggested practice (rpattiso's comment), TheDoctor acknowledges it and answers like a sensible person.

I have some issues also with the following comment by Pete L. Clark. The first thing it does is throwing a professor title in front of TheDoctor. I find it a highly questionable behavior. Is the argument here "aeismail is correct because he is a professor"? That is the exact opposite of science, and in my view academia should frown upon these appeals to authority as a general practice. I have rarely seen people pointing out each other's title in the university world.

Then Pete L. Clark puts on a moderator hat (without being one -- I don't see a black lozenge next to his name) and threatens TheDoctor with a suspension. This puzzles me, too. We have appointed moderators; acting like one without being one promotes vigilante behavior. Pete L. Clark is a valued member of this community, as his reputation proves, but I really feel like he is the one acting out of line here.

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    For what it's worth, that comment with "young padawan learner" was flagged as rude or offensive twice (and not by Pete L. Clark). So apparently others find it offensive as well. (I declined the flags, because I don't.) – ff524 Sep 25 '15 at 4:15
  • @ff524 - Hm, I had deleted based on yet another flag. I just undeleted pending outcome of this discussion. – eykanal Sep 25 '15 at 12:33
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    @ff524: The reason for my flag is well explained by Fomite's answer. – Massimo Ortolano Sep 25 '15 at 13:06
  • "black lozenge"? I see an orange diamond for mods... – Shokhet Oct 1 '15 at 21:06
  • The link in the question probably points to the wrong place. (I guess the question has been deleted?) – Dirk Oct 5 '15 at 9:21
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    @Dirk The question is the correct one, but the answer we speak about has been deleted. I guess it is still in the system, but visible only to mods and 10k+ users (which I am not at the moment). – Federico Poloni Oct 5 '15 at 12:43
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@Fomite's answer explains my perspective very well. But let me amplify a bit:

  1. My dealings with this user are based on a pattern of behavior beyond any one posting. I think this is only rational. When someone behaves badly enough on a forum to be censured, then comes back and starts evincing the same behavior again, it would be strange not to keep the past behavior in mind.

  2. This user is across the board disrespectful of academia and academics. I won't try to hide that this really bothers me. In the last few days alone this user has been ridiculously dismissive of other users....and then most recently he blamed academia for the worst terrorist incident in American history. (That is way too stupid to really anger me, but when someone says something that nuttily contrarian, I think it would be irrational not to start thinking in terms of correcting the behavior or extricating them from the situation.) In another deleted answer this user made a comment saying that one of the brilliant, benevolent veteran mathematicians who frequents this site just didn't understand mathematics as deeply as he did...this was in an answer explaining that there is no such thing as "theoretical mathematics".

    My memories of what this user said before his suspension are slightly vague: it is in the nature of the deletion process that the worst stuff goes away, and therefore someone who did not read and remember can have a different reaction to new content posted by a formerly problematic user than someone who did. But the bottom line is that by no means do I interpret the "young padawan" comment as being playful. I view the comment as someone who has, apparently, no experience whatsoever in peer-reviewed science articles taking a gratuitous swipe at an established scientist.

    Is the argument here "aeismail is correct because he is a professor"? That is the exact opposite of science, and in my view academia should frown upon these appeals to authority as a general practice. I have rarely seen people pointing out each other's title in the university world.

    No, the argument is that because aeismail is a professor, the belittling comment is manifestly inappropriate. It wouldn't be a kind thing to say to anyone you don't know personally, but if someone actually does have more expertise and seniority than someone else then they do get to call attention to that if they want to. Aeismail is correct because....well, I don't know what the "cause" is, but he manifestly is correct. I agree that his answer would be better if it were sourced, and if someone for whom I could reasonably assume good faith responded to his answer by challenging it, then I would certainly not have reacted in the same way.

  3. I didn't threaten anyone with a suspension. As has been pointed out, I don't have the power to do that. However I told the user that he is repeating past behavior that led to a suspension before. I think it is productive and healthy for users of this site to interact with each other directly as much as possible. Moderators have some responsibility to stay "above the fray" to the extent that they may not respond as directly to individual attacks as other users. Also I think it's better for a non-moderator to come to the defense of a moderator precisely because it's less threatening.

Having said all that: I really think it's time for the moderators to have a conversation with this user. It just doesn't seem plausible that this user's future behavior will become constructive, or even not problematically negative and a big waste of everyone's time and energy, without course correction. If this seems in doubt we could discuss it in a separate meta question...but is it actually in doubt?

Added: As a sign of recognition that my comment was not ideally worded, I have deleted it. I think there's a good chance the answer itself will get deleted, so really why not...

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    Thanks for clarifying your point. My two issues with your comment are: (1) The use of "you have been warned" is a bit over the top for me. There is an official warning system, and community members posting comments isn't it. (2) Your comments are very public. I seem to recall reading that you don't like to use chat, but that's exactly what chat is for... having confrontational discussions in public is rarely productive. – eykanal Sep 25 '15 at 13:49
  • @eykanal "you have been warned" is not my most temperate phrasing ever, I agree. I didn't say "This is an official warning" or anything like that. I will choose less ambiguous language in the future. About chat: yes, I don't like to use it, and I think that some amount of public interaction between users is productive. I don't think that confrontation is inherently negative. – Pete L. Clark Sep 25 '15 at 13:56
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    Thank you. Regarding confrontation: it's not inherently negative at all, but it's usually not productive. The goal in warning someone is to effect behavior change, and public confrontation rarely has that effect. – eykanal Sep 25 '15 at 15:49
  • Thanks for the explanation. I had missed TheDoctor's previous history of answers and comments, which certainly shift the perspective. – Federico Poloni Sep 26 '15 at 0:20
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    +1. I remember that I found the answer obviously arrogant and, frankly, didn't understand how anyone could see it differently. That is not what this site (the friendliest SE site I frequent) is, and should be, about. Minus a bad, unnecessary formulation, thanks for standing up to it, and for staying active as one of a handful of contributors whose answers I like to always read (even when disagreeing). – gnometorule Oct 2 '15 at 21:16
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The first thing it does is throwing a professor title in front of TheDoctor. I find it a highly questionable behavior. Is the argument here "aeismail is correct because he is a professor"?

I am pretty certain, the argument here is only that Aeismail should not be called young padawan learner because he is a professor.

By the way, I think that nobody on this site should be called young padawan learner because using this term is either patronising or irony; and irony is not very well communicable over the Internet. Moreover, the term is very young in everyday conversations and has yet to find its position. Due to this, people across the world may interprete it differently and are more likely to fail to see any irony.

On the other hand, when I say that nobody should use this term, I do not consider it “outrageous”, “highly uncivil” or sufficiently offensive to flag as such – if I would, I would have to flag a lot. Also, I do not consider think that the addressee’s rank plays into this.

Then Pete L. Clark puts on a moderator hat (without being one -- I don't see a black lozenge next to his name) and threatens TheDoctor with a suspension. This puzzles me, too. We have appointed moderators; acting like one without being one promotes vigilante behavior.

Depending on how to interprete your first and, we may have the same opinion here, but let me write it with my own words: Stack Exchange lives from community moderation and in this includes that non-diamonds address borderline behaviour in a respectful way. This does not, however, include the capacity to utter officially seeming warnings (”You have been warned...again.“). Suspensions are entirely at the liberty of diamond moderators and are usually not discussed in public. Moreover, even diamond moderators are urged not to threaten with suspension or similar.


As a sidenote, I suggest to delete all three comments, as they have at the very least been made obsolete by the existing answers.

  • Personally, I think the right thing to do is not to delete the comments, but to delete the whole very poor quality answer, which currently has two delete votes already. The controversial comments will vanish quietly along with it... – jakebeal Sep 25 '15 at 10:43
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    @jakebeal: I disagree. The answer clearly is an answer; it just is wrong or bad advice. Thus, it should not be deleted by somebody other than the author. Deletion by others is reserved for NAAs and pure nonsense (which arguably is also NAA). – Wrzlprmft Sep 25 '15 at 10:46
  • I appreciate your thoughtful answer, and I hope my own answer explained my perspective. Two comments: (i) In my experience on SE sites, the complaints of non-moderator users have a role to play in many suspensions. My writing "You have been warned...again." is not as precipitous an action as my writing to the moderators to complain about a user...which I have not yet done in this case. (ii) Do you really think that wrong answers should never be deleted? I think that if there is sufficiently wide agreement that an answer is sufficiently bad, deletion becomes a good option. – Pete L. Clark Sep 25 '15 at 13:47
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    i) As I said, I do not disagree if “non-diamonds address borderline behaviour in a respectful way”. The problem with “You have been warned...again.” is not that it is precipitous but that it can be understood as an official warning (even if it was not intended as such). Also, I do not think that any good can come from discussing a user’s suspension publicly (unless that user explicitly wishes to do so). – Wrzlprmft Sep 25 '15 at 14:09
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    ii) Do you really think that wrong answers should never be deleted? – It is general SE policy that answers that are “just” wrong should not be deleted (and I agree); see this post on Meta. Wrong answers can be handled by downvotes. Deletion is for NAAs that cannot be reasonably voted upon (e.g., a good comment posted as an answer) or utter gibberish (that is not even useful to expemplify how not to do something). – Wrzlprmft Sep 25 '15 at 14:10
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I am a bit puzzled by the way the discussion has evolved. In my view, aeismail's comment is sloppy, since it just claims that this is not "correct usage", without backing up the claim with a reference. It is basically equivalent to writing "you are wrong". This is not how a polite discussion should start.

It is, perhaps, not the best comment aeismail has ever written. There are however infinitely many ways to respond to that without being condescending. For that matter, the original answer doesn't actually have any reference either.

TheDoctor's answer, albeit sarcastic, aims to point this out this in a playful way: what does "correct" mean? Who are you to be able to say what is correct and what is not? I don't find it out line at all (no more than the first comment, anyway). In fact, when confronted with a real argument against his suggested practice (rpattiso's comment), TheDoctor acknowledges it and answers like a sensible person.

It's well beyond sarcastic and into condescending. Asking on what basis aeismail made that argument would have been appropriate. Speaking down to them isn't.

I have some issues also with the following comment by Pete L. Clark. The first thing it does is throwing a professor title in front of TheDoctor. I find it a highly questionable behavior. Is the argument here "aeismail is correct because he is a professor"? That is the exact opposite of science, and in my view academia should frown upon these appeals to authority as a general practice. I have rarely seen people pointing out each other's title in the university world.

If you say "Just who do you think you are?" in a condescending tone, one should probably expect to have the person's credentials thrown back at them. If a poster doesn't want an argument by authority, they shouldn't help feed one.

As for rarely pointing out each other's title in the university world - I'd suggest your experience is not necessarily generalizable.

Then Pete L. Clark puts on a moderator hat (without being one -- I don't see a black lozenge next to his name) and threatens TheDoctor with a suspension. This puzzles me, too. We have appointed moderators; acting like one without being one promotes vigilante behavior. Pete L. Clark is a valued member of this community, as his reputation proves, but I really feel like he is the one acting out of line here.

He threatened no such thing. He noted that last time TheDoctor posted something like this, Pete gave him a warning (not in the formal sanction sense of the word but the actual, real English sense) that he was likely treading on thin ice, and that warning proved accurate. He's giving him the same warning again, perhaps in hopes that his advice will be heeded this time. There is more to building a community than black diamonds by someone's names, and "Hey buddy, this didn't go well for you last time..." is, on occasion, part of that.

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