4

After spending a few months on this site, I keep noticing a pattern.

Someone asks a question (which, in my opinion, is well-formed and has content), which usually stems from a personal experience. Most answers are good and helpful; but some small comment will inevitably attack the OP, and those comments are irrelevant to the question. Often it takes one sentence that the OP has written, and make personal attacks to the OP. Some notable examples that I have seen in the past day are here (there's a separate meta thread, even), here (calling the OP "obnoxious", and the general patronizing vibe), and here (being patronizing towards the OP for having said "unfair", which I think makes sense given the context).

I acknowledge that the posters should have thought more carefully about saying certain things, since many things can be taken out of context, but we are not dealing with colleagues or advisors; rather, this is a place to come and get advice about the difficulties in academia that we are facing, and I often sense the holier-than-thou feeling of glee with many, many comments and answers to problems. I am actually fairly certain that most of these posters would think a lot more carefully if they were dealing with colleagues or students, and their "faults" that we are pointing out are actually irrelevant to their daily lives.

I feel that it would be a lot more productive if we suppressed our compulsion to educate the others (it is our jobs, after all!) and answer precisely what is being asked. So I think roughly the following set of guidelines could benefit the community:

  1. Have a strict guideline for what the answers should contain (maybe answers should be hidden or put on hold if the majority of the answer does not pertain to the specific question at hand, like how we deal with questions).

  2. Have a more strict system for flagging the comments. Most comments are not "abusive", which is the criterion that we have for removing them. Rather, they are snide little remarks designed to make the OP feel bad for having asked the questions in the first place, and they are passive-aggressive. There are many comments that do not fit in any flagging criteria, yet is not useful to the vibe of the community as a whole.

To some degree, I think we need to realize that our personalities are not perfect, and more of it will show through on an anonymous online forum than when dealing with your colleagues. So I think it is normal to see more of the "weirder characters" online; so we should try to be a little bit more accepting, and actually focus on helping each other. Even when the fault is too great to be ignored, we could try to adopt a bit more tact, and try to be nicer to each other, especially as a community that aims to acknowledge and address the emotional difficulties in academia that one goes through.

By the way, this kind of behavior should be discouraged for two reasons

  1. This drives away the new users. In MathOverFlow (stackexchange for professional mathematicians), this phenomenon is even more apparent. In fact, half or more of the mathematicians I know stay well away from this website, because of the aggressive nature of the established users there, and many will actually declare this in public. Academia.stackexchange is nowhere near this point yet, but it is a newer site as well.

  2. This kind of behavior often prompts the reaction of the question asker in the form of accepting the answer that is the most palatable to him/herself. However, often this is not the best answer, and this would not be helpful to other users who might stumble upon the post in the future.

  • 7
    "snide little remarks designed to make the OP feel bad for having asked the questions in the first place, and they are passive-aggressive" -- I was wondering, Sana, what has your experience been with flagging this sort of remark? Have you tried flagging these non-blatant negative-feel comments, and if so, what has been the result? – aparente001 Dec 4 '16 at 6:35
  • Stricter comments/answers only make sense (and will be enforced naturally) if we had strict questions. But that is not the case, as most questions typically contain (at least) 50%+ useless information. Also, many (most?) users don't understand that SE is not a personal Q&A site. So when you answer a question, you shouldn't think only of helping the OP, but also the tens or even hundreds of people who will have the same question in the future, and may find their way to your answer. – 101010111100 Dec 5 '16 at 9:31
  • 6
    because of the aggressive nature of the established users there Note that on this site, the aggressiveness comes chiefly from passersby and people who felt the urge to create an account solely to write something mean and unhelpful. – Cape Code Dec 5 '16 at 14:37
  • @CapeCode I'm not sure about it, my experience with Stack Exchange doesn't indicate that established users are less aggressive. – Franck Dernoncourt Dec 13 '16 at 1:04
  • 1
    I agree with the OP, I have posted a few questions on this website, and unpleasant comments are not so infrequent. – Franck Dernoncourt Dec 13 '16 at 1:04
  • I just noticed the MathOverflow remarks and (predictably) I feel that the picture you paint is overstated, although I agree the established users - myself included - could sometimes be more careful about being welcoming. – Yemon Choi Jan 5 '17 at 0:00
6

Have a strict guideline for what the answers should contain

This is what voting is all about. Bad answers should be down voted and good answers should be up voted.

Have a more strict system for flagging the comments. Most comments are not "abusive", which is the criterion that we have for removing them.

There are also flags for not constructive and too chatty. I would definitely classify snide little remarks designed to make the OP feel bad as either not constructive and possibly abusive.

If people are not being nice, step in and be nice. If you see a comment that is making a point (i.e., constructive), but is a little harsh, leave a new comment that makes the same point in a nicer way and then flag the old comment as obsolete.

If an answer is making a point, but is not being nice, edit it.

  • I agree with this enough to think it's the right answer, but I also did some digging on my own flagging "success" rate for comments like this (i.e. marked as helpful). If you exclude someone who was mid-flaming out, I have about a 50% success rate. So it might be easy to feel like flagging was doing nothing, even if its the right approach. – Fomite Jan 8 '17 at 7:23

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .