Thursday, April 01, 2010

Advanced Trolling 101

Continuing Eli's course on trolls, we have Fran Barlow over at Deltoid commenting on a subspecies of the concern troll, the tone troll

One of the interesting subsets of the concern troll John is the tone troll. The tone troll need not profess agreement with the consensus but pleads for more civility in language and more respect for other points of view.

We may all disagree, the tone troll maunders, but surely we can all agree to be polite and show each other respect.

Now who could possibly object to that? Of course, this merely opens the door to allowing other invading spammers and trolls simply posting and reposting their talking points as if they have not yet been civilly dealt with. It can't possibly rein in those trolls who come to the group with outlandish and utterly unfounded slanders -- which those of us who see them for what they are are supposed to dignify with counter-argument.

People who post with a reckless disregard for the truth, who lack the seriousness and discipline to anticipate and address likely objections and yet hold themselves out as experts have not earned respect or the right to be dealt with civilly, IMO.

The Golden Rule applies. If you are constructively rude to others, then others are perfectly entitled to respond in quite the same way. It may or may not be wise in practice to do so. Some trolls take pleasure in nuking discussion by making the thread all about them. Not uncommonly, they declare thinly disguised stupidities as bait for those willing to wander off at a tangent. This is all part of the culture war that the trolls for the filth merchant position do.

Nevertheless accepting lectures from concern and tone trolls ought not to be something those of us who take ideas seriously ought to endure.

As the JGR editor said
while I appreciate the value of "taking the high road", I do not object to emphatic statements that conclusions are incorrect. Strong language is needed sometimes when errors must be corrected.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

UPDATE: Fran continues

If people want to hurl epithets, then while I personally see little value in this for the group, I see greater potential systemic harm in attempts to restrain them. If the person moderating the blog doesn't like it, let that person act as he or she sees fit.

A person hurling epithets must reckon with the possibility that their substantive observations, worthy as they may be, will be deprecated accordingly by some whose respect they would have. That ought to be a sufficient restraint.

One hears persistent objections from the trolls that any robust rejection of the sub-intellectual nonsense some post here in the service of their delusions over the etiology of the climate anomaly amounts to a new iteration of Stalinist patronage of Lysenko or some equivalent. The implicit idea that one could debate tone with a violently repressive autocracy, or that what happens in the blogosphere is comparable is not merely absurd but offensive to anyone who has suffered coercion for dissent.

So FWIW, I don't favour substantial discussions over the tone in which we should answer apparent trolling, even though, paradoxically, I now seem to be in such a discussion.

For many reasons, Eli thinks that silly is a better word to use to describe trolls than stupid.


Steve Bloom said...

An ear for an ear.

So, does Andy Revkin tone-troll his own blog?

(WV says the hot seat awaits him: sitsinge!)

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is mid warfare.

There are a fair number of trolls of all kinds have hijacked Black's thread (at the BBC) on the HoC committee's ruling.

Maybe some bunnies could invest some time trying to keep people on track and set the record straight.


Horatio Algeranon said...

Some trolls take pleasure in nuking discussion by making the thread all about them.

Horatio thinks "con-trolls" might be an apt moniker.

Nick Barnes said...

The Golden Rule applies. If you are constructively rude to others, then others are perfectly entitled to respond in quite the same way.

Um, that's not the golden rule.

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

No thanks. There's some sort of irony in reading this post this morning.

Dan Olner said...

As a climate science newbie, it's only been arguing with people that's made me learn. I don't think that should happen on just anyone's thread - perhaps people like me should be sent to a sandpit somewhere. But as regards civility - it really aids that learning, even if your opponent remains unmoved.

Open source software forums have a particularly strong ethic of cognitive conservation: asking questions there before you've put in work to find the answers, you get at the very least 'constructively rude' and usually just 'go away and learn'. That seems apt for blogscience! It is, after all, about the same sort of principles: saving cognitive effort being poured down a drain of stupid.

But that still leaves a need for people like me to learn, and harsh cognitive conservation doesn't help me.

Fran said...


Speaking for myself I've no problem addressing people at the base of the learning curve in a civil way. If people don't know pertinent data, I can easily point them in the direction of useful sources of information of the kind they are short on ...

What is galling is people swaggering like experts, making declarations as if they are the first to make them, when they don't really grasp the things they are saying or the discussion to that point on the matter.

Mikael said...


This is off topic, but: was your comment on G&T published in the latest issue of IJMPB as planned? Any press releases to the media?

It will be interesting to see whether information about the comment (rebuttal) actually eventually will reach any wider audience or just fail to materialize.

I assume G&T will want to publish a response to your comment. Have they already written something in response to what was publicly available before publication?

One further question: any estimate as to how long did it take for you all to produce comment (in work time)?

I was (but am no longer since it seemed just futile) chatting in one forum and suggested to some of the people there that instead of just repeating their (imho recycled and contextless) arguments against AGW in discussion forums, they should actually refocus a bit and try to publish their findings if they really have something new to add to the scientific debate. The skeptics thought it was an idiotic idea mainly because it would be too much work, so that's why I'm asking the question above. (:

Best regards,
Mikael Lönnroth from Finland (with lots of rabetts running on the snow in front of his house)

Anonymous said...

I guess this is why the word "please" is so commonly observed at the start of denialist posts. Start politely then sow a field of nonsensical delusion! What is perhaps the all-time classic of the genre was this post at Realclimate a month or two back:

"Please stop resorting to the "evidence". It’s now completely irrelevant."

Like the UK comedian Jasper Carrott and his collection of wacky motor insurance claims, I've been collecting the daftest online comments from the anti-science sector for a while. If they carry on at this rate I should have enough for a book in a few more months!


Fran said...

Indeed CP ...

Popular is the "can we please stop the ad hom and discuss the science ...?"

as if those demanding this ever stop doing ad hom or discuss the science ... still they would like to imply that they do ...

EliRabett said...

An ear for an ear was the original Golden Rule (Hammurabi's Code). It introduced the element of proportionality. The one that we commonly think of as the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have others do unto you added a level of mercy, but at root it is Hammurabi with forberance, but that forbearance does not extend eternally, which, to Eli was Fran's point.

Trolls try and make forearance extend to eternity and try and ding everyone for running out of patience.

willard said...

The tone troll is wrong when he conflates civility with humaneness. It is quite possible to mock, tease, deride, vex "with all due respects." Anyone with schooling experience should know that.

A tone troll would be silly to expect blog comments to show more politeness than mundane scholars' gatherings. A tone troll would even be sillier to believe that politeness safeguards against verbal violence or that politeness' warnings will increase civility.

A tone troll would be right in saying that it's more challenging, more inspirational and more fun overall to take the effort to mock, tease, deride or vex someone "with all due respects." Like anywhere else, authenticity is key. But who can judge if an exchange really is authentic? Something between

PS: The Talion law should not be conflated with the Golden rule, nor the Silver rule.

willard said...

[To finish my last sentence:]

Something between a mob and a deity always have to moderate.

Marc said...

There are people who have demonstrated that they aren't behaving in good faith, and it's important to moderate them out if you want an intelligent discussion.

Reflexively hostile responses to perceived wrongness, on the other hand, is demonstrably counter-productive. Being on the side of the angels does not make it any more useful to shout people down and insult them. TNH over at Making Light had some very insightful guidelines on why moderation is important, and why codes of conduct are important, in online discussions.

FogHornLegHorn said...

I do declarah: We always shall always criticise indecent ideas with perfect civilitah.

Fran said...


Would you sub "tone" for "concern" in the sentence beginning "We may all disagree ..."

Thanks ...

carrot eater said...

Eh. When there's somebody on your 'side' needlessly being a jerk, I think the site owner should post a rebuke; hopefully that would suffice, and then civility is less of an issue anyway.

There's maybe a couple commenters at RC who could use that rebuke, I think. An overdose of emotional responses is not helpful, and off-putting to the few earnest newcomers out there.

EliRabett said...

Carrot Eater, that has been Eli's practice. Bart is doing a good job too

Fran said...

Thanks muchly Eli ...

Anonymous said...

I'd rather read a response to a comment from Robert Grumbine (or Penguindreams) than, say, Ian Forrester. I also note that an offhand insult in an otherwise substansive post is often seized on as an excuse to ignore/avoid the substance and thus leads to others having to waste time reiterating the substance.

Chris S.

Ian Forrester said...

Hmm Chris S, so you don't like my posts? Do you think I care? I get very upset when deniers lie, slander, distort and call scientists hoaxers. My view is that scientists should be far more vocal in showing up these deniers for what they really are. Too many academics sit in their ivory towers and do not respond. Such silence from the bastion of "science" is far worse to climate science than my vociferous posts.

Silence is not golden when you are dealing with the denier scumbags. The average person takes silence as acceptance.

mike roddy said...

I agree with you, Ian, especially after listening to McIntyre on CNN. An open and civil discussion inevitably leads to a troll takeover, as has so obviously occurred at Dot Earth. The smart posters get exasperated and leave, and the deniers end up with the field to themselves.

I still go there when in a masochistic mood. Someone quoted Lindzen as an authority, and when I commented that he has no credibility, I got the old "ad hom" treatment, and Revkin got on my case, too.

Deniers and trolls need to be publicly humiliated, spanked, and then ignored.

Anonymous said...

MarkeyMouse says: Don't forget the "timing" troll. Somtimes it's always "the wrong time".

Lotharsson said...

"One hears persistent objections from the trolls that any robust rejection of the sub-intellectual nonsense some post here in the service of their delusions over the etiology of the climate anomaly amounts to a new iteration of Stalinist patronage of Lysenko or some equivalent."

I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed the writing in that densely packed sentence :-)

Anonymous said...