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I am sorry for this contentious question, but I couldn't help but noticing lately that many answers and comments here are, to my perception and understanding and experience in academia, completely wrong :) If the answers were a bit modest and reserved it would be mildly okay. But it seems that the more wrong some answers are the more assertive tone they use!

Question: Is there anything a user can do about this? Is there a way to advise major users here to reserve their answers a bit more, as to avoid giving people a possibly wrong advice by mistake?


Here is a recent example, where people are claiming, e.g., that the student cannot ask to waive his/her conference fees by contacting the organizers (this is in comments, though).

Is it ok to show up to a conference without registering if I don't eat any meals?

Or another example: Would it be rude to ask a famous professor who doesn't know me personally for a recommendation letter if I have published in a high ranking journal?

Where people claim that it is inadequate to ask for a reference from a senior professor unless he/she knows you personally!

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    Comment the wrong answers, possibly downvote them, but there's nothing more you can do. But if you see a lot of wrong answers, uh, maybe it's your perception which is biased. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 18 '16 at 1:44
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    Moreover take into account that academia varies more than you think around the world: thus, an answer which seems "wrong" from your perspective is right from the perspective of another country, or field. That's why one should always specify the country when asking certain type of questions. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 18 '16 at 1:59
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    @Massimo Maybe turn those comments into an answer? Unless you're afraid they're wrong ;) – ff524 Aug 18 '16 at 2:27
  • @MassimoOrtolano, precisely my point! Academia varies a lot. That's why I would suggest people to be more reserved in their answers here. You can say "I would suggest this course of action, but you have to be aware of the norms in your area/department/country, etc." – Dilworth Aug 18 '16 at 11:53
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    Good question after edits, I disagree with the close votes. Maybe the title could be made a bit more neutral, but I it's a question I have asked myself and I find useful to gather the possible actions. – Cape Code Aug 18 '16 at 13:00
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    I downvoted the question because I disagree with what the OP says. However, I strongly disagree with the close vote here. Meta is different from the main site. I cannot think of any reason to close this question. If anyone has different opinions, they can comment or answer the question. If the question is unclear, please leave a comment or edit it to make it clear. To close a question on Meta is like to tell somebody to shut up. – scaaahu Aug 20 '16 at 3:18
  • Interestingly, there was a comment here that was removed. Anyone knows why? – Dilworth Aug 22 '16 at 16:12
  • While I share the wish expressed in your opening paragraph: gnothi seauton – Yemon Choi Aug 24 '16 at 2:24
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I am actually having trouble understanding the examples you give as evidence.

This comment, which seems to be one of your examples of the problem you are asking about, does not appear to me to be written in an assertive tone:

You can of course email the organisers and ask if you can participate without paying I would not actually recommend this unless you have a reason much more compelling than "I couldn't get funding". I think it will simply annoy the organizers, who are usually influential people whose bad side you don't want to be on.

Frankly, I don't see any assertiveness in its tone. It actually includes several qualifiers - "I would not recommend this", "I think", "usually".

Whereas to me, your response does seem to have an assertive tone. Instead of saying in a more reserved way "in the conferences I attend this is different from what you report, and here's how", or "this is not true as a general rule", you appear to deny the other person's experience by saying it is "certainly not true":

@NateEldredge, certainly this is not true. The organizers are usually not influential, but local academics which are not influential. The most influential people are usually the PC members and especially chairs. Not organizers. Emailing the organizers with a reasonable reason is a good advice.

Your main proposal seems to be that users should use a less assertive tone. Perhaps you could rewrite that first comment you gave as an example to indicate how you would write it in a less assertive way?

Finally, when a user asks about how something will be perceived by other academics, I think it is useful for them to know if the response will be emphatic, and if different people have passionate and diverging responses. To quote a comment by user2390246 on one of the other threads you find objectionable,

Yes, very nice answer. The range of (quite passionate!) opinion expressed on this page is a clear indication that your mileage may vary. So, OP needs to find out a) will such a letter help him/her in their particular situation, and b) will the professor be able to write them a strong letter? @BenWebster's suggestions for how to do this are spot on.

Note also the element of "gamble". There clearly (as evidenced here) exist people who would look very favourably on such a letter, and others who would consider it very negatively. So having canvassed opinion, OP needs to decide whether it is worth gambling, or whether they are better off going for a set of "standard" (but hopefully strong) recommendations.

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    really nice answer 🙃 – user58865 Aug 18 '16 at 16:21
  • As I said, I use assertive tone in my answers to counter the assertive answers by others, who I consider false or subjective. This comment you gave is objectively false: organizers are not influential in average. I also think that this comment doesn't seem assertive on it's face, but uses extreme or intimidating claims like "who are usually influential people whose bad side you don't want to be on". So the OP would now fill threatened to even email the organizers! – Dilworth Aug 18 '16 at 17:06
  • Note also that the other person has not expressed an "experience", but a claim about organizers which is factually incorrect. – Dilworth Aug 18 '16 at 17:09
  • Of course, I can edit my post to add the qualification "threatening tone" along with "assertive tone". – Dilworth Aug 18 '16 at 17:18
  • I guess I agree with your last paragraph though. – Dilworth Aug 18 '16 at 17:28
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    @Dilworth So... you find it impossible to believe that the conference organizers Nate Eldredge knows and has interacted with are different from the conference organizers you know and have interacted with? And it is objectively impossible that his perspective might be accurate in some contexts based on the conference organizers in his circles, while yours is accurate in other contexts based on the conference organizers in yours? – ff524 Aug 18 '16 at 18:01
  • @ff524, since Nate Eldredge used a universal statement, stating that conference organizers in information science are usually (meaning, in average) are influential with frightening bad side, it can be refuted objectively. Had he not used the term "usually" and reserved his statements by "in my experience" it would be perhaps okay. – Dilworth Aug 18 '16 at 18:26
  • Also, Nate himself retracted in some sense his claim about the influence of organizers. – Dilworth Aug 18 '16 at 18:27
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    @Dilworth I still don't understand what you are proposing to change here. Are you suggesting that every answer and comment that does not include citations to objective evidence should be prefaced with "In my experience,..."? ("In my experience" is somehow a better qualifier than "I think"?) I don't see you doing that in your content, including on questions where yours is the first or only answer. – ff524 Aug 18 '16 at 18:30
  • I'm trying to get the message that some commenters here are saying things that are a bit baseless, and it would be good for all of us (yes, including me) to cast doubt on what we write here, unless we are 100% sure. – Dilworth Aug 18 '16 at 18:30
  • (Yes, "in my experience" or "in my opinion" is a reservation. "I think" has not semantic content and so the former is better). – Dilworth Aug 18 '16 at 18:34
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    @ff524 To be honest, I have to admit that I've found, too, Nate's comment totally exagerrated, from whatever point of view, and I've replied accordingly (uhm... maybe a bit too harshly). – Massimo Ortolano Aug 19 '16 at 19:30
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    @MassimoOrtolano So you did what you yourself suggested people do in response to wrong or misleading content. Do you feel like more action is necessary, or that Nate should have done something differently (presumably that comment was made in good faith, with the belief that it was accurate)? – ff524 Aug 19 '16 at 19:32
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    @ff524 Eh eh, yes, I tend to do what I suggest :-) No, I really don't think more action is necessary (actually, it wouldn't have been a bad comment were it not for the last sentence): one points out what they think is wrong and that's it. The issue might be instead in the visibility of a reply, when a possible misleading comment is highly upvoted, but there's nothing we can do about that. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 19 '16 at 19:39
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This site is a forum for academics from all fields, all nationalities, and all cultures to speak with one another. We have had many questions where the answers have contained the types of contradictions you mention—this one stands out in my mind, mostly because I was one of the answerers. I was right, for my field (and some others), and he was right for his field (and some others). There are lots of differences between fields and these differences frequently come out in the answers.

To that extent, if you think an answer is incorrect, or if you think it's representing only a subset of academia, post a different answer and call out those differences. Even if the answer gets no votes people should know that there are other ways of doing things.

  • More than just differences between fields, everyone answers based on their own experiences. Everything from how hands off their PhD advisor was, to how much oversight there is of faculty in their departments, can lead to multiple answers that are accurate based on the author's experiences but are wildly diverging. – ff524 Aug 18 '16 at 14:17
  • Yes, precisely my point. This is a universal forum. Hence the assertive tone in expressing personal experiences and judgment is misleading. I have also stated some of my answers in an assertive way, but this is slightly to counter other answers. – Dilworth Aug 18 '16 at 14:28
  • @Dilworth - I'm not really following. It doesn't seem that you're so bothered by assertiveness, but rather just that they're stating something at odds with your experience. I don't see that as a problem so long as everyone understands the parameters under which each answer applies. – eykanal Aug 19 '16 at 18:12
  • @eykanal, no, I am bothered by the assertive, authoritative and even threatening at times (see below), tone of these unsubstantiated answers. – Dilworth Aug 19 '16 at 19:27
  • @Dilworth If someone believes that the OP faces a potential threat if they follow a certain course of action, they should warn the OP about it. That's not called being threatening, that's called being helpful. (If they are wrong about the threat then other users should post another comment correcting them.) Are you really suggesting that if someone believes there's a potential for harm to the OP, they shouldn't say anything? – ff524 Aug 19 '16 at 22:26
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    @Dilworth you seem to believe that "correct" advice can be assertive, and can describe potential threats, and that the problem is when "incorrect" advice does this. But most people (including you) only write what they believe to be correct, so how are they supposed to act any differently? All we can do is correct the record by pointing out incorrect information whenever we see it. – ff524 Aug 19 '16 at 22:29
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    If someone is taking an assertive or threatening tone they should be damn sure what they say is correct, and to reflect on it seriously. I have the impression that some commenters are actually "talking out of their a**" with no reflection. If you're sure your threat is correct that's different---still be more careful and reserved. – Dilworth Aug 20 '16 at 11:33
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Of all the answers on that recommendation letter question, yours is the one that uses the most bold print. Moreover, in that answer, not only do you disagree, but you "completely disagree with all the other answers" [emphasis added].

I don't see what you're driving at. You've made your comments (12 of them); you've put forth your opinion in an answer; presumably, you've voted your conscious as well. I don't see any need to raise the matter here in meta and accuse your peers of being "assertive, threatening, and intimidating." (That seems to describe your behavior as much as anyone's.)

You've had the chance to make your case and the community has heard you out.

  • Indeed, when you go against the (assertive) stream, you need to shout. – Dilworth Aug 24 '16 at 21:26
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    Maybe. But don't then turn around and call everyone else assertive and intimidating; it just makes you look close-minded and petty. – J.R. Aug 24 '16 at 21:43
  • No, as I explained above, I use it as a tactic to rectify completely wrong answers haphazardly written with assertive tone, that apparently have no basis. It is not good if readers of this site get wrong answers written with bloated confidence. It is much better if they see contradicting answers both written with self-confidence, so that they will need to make up their own mind whose right. – Dilworth Aug 24 '16 at 23:07
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    @Dilworth - If ten people respond one way and one person responds another, then perhaps the other 10 aren't really as "wrong" as you seem to think they are. I didn't see much "bloated confidence" in the other answers on that question, nor were they "haphazardly written" – it was merely a lot of sound, common-sense advice. – J.R. Aug 25 '16 at 17:13
  • I don't think the ratio of 1 against 10 people here is strong enough. First, it's not 1million against, but rather 1 only 10. And second, even if it was, there's no reason to assume that the majority opinion is correct, since it might be, e.g., influenced by group-thinking, common fallacies etc. Moreover, In one example, talking about the "bad side" of conference's organizers is certainly haphazard and also factually false (as a universal statement). – Dilworth Aug 26 '16 at 17:17
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    Wow, it takes a million people to convince you that there may be two different ways to look at a situation? I suppose, then, there's not much point in me bothering to say anything else about this matter. – J.R. Aug 26 '16 at 17:29
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    @Dilworth "It is not good if readers of this site get wrong answers written with bloated confidence." I agree, but once again: physician, heal thyself – Yemon Choi Aug 27 '16 at 2:38

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