Am I a dog? Vote Now

When I wasn’t trying to solve the fiendishly difficult Easter Clue Hunt my kids set for us, I spent a pleasant hour or two re-discovering the original wiki, started by Ward Cunningham in 1995. It still feels fun and anarchic and useful. Another day I will start a rant on what is and isn’t a wiki .. but meanwhile … one thing that struck me is that the community policy is Real Names Please. This seems to run counter to standard Internet sociology. What many people love about the Internet is that nobody knows you are a dog. On the other hand, maybe hiding behind anonymity is what leads to the nastier sides of the internet, like trolling. I note that I just made a couple of wikipedia links there. Now the folks that edit wikipedia are by and large a sane and well behaved community, but most usernames have almost no information, or little that tells you whether to trust this particular editor. I can see that one wants to avoid things getting personal, but its far too easy to make sock-puppets.

My instinct is that openness and transparency is good. I always sign my referees reports. (So if you just got a mean one that you suspect is me, it isn’t!!) On the other hand, from various experiences of friends and colleagues, I am well aware that sometimes you need privacy. And of course we need the possibility to blow that whistle without the secret police knocking on the door etc. But how common is all that? Enough. Lets do a poll thingy. Which of these is closest to your opinion?



22 Responses to Am I a dog? Vote Now

  1. andyxl says:

    One voter has suggested the alternative “On the Internet nobody knows you are a doge”. Why anybody would want to pretend to be the Duke of Venice is beyond me.

  2. Albert says:

    Interesting. Would the same question on a different blog give the same result? And in the scientific literature? There are a few astronomers who publish under an adopted name.

    • andyxl says:

      Albert – that is indeed an interesting question. I was expecting more fans of invented identities, but apparently they don’t read this blog!

  3. keikomushi says:

    Though I can see some purpose of an invented identity, it also means that people can avoid repercussions for inappropriate behaviour much more easily. This environment sponsors trolls rather than the legitimate and constructive exchange of ideas and information. However, there are some situations where I can foresee an invented identity providing some extra security for people in regions where posted their ideas can result in death, rape or torture.
    Personally, I use an avatar name, but have links for my real name usually attached to the online profiles that use this avatar name. I have a sentimental attachment to the combination due to an appreciation for a science fiction anthology that I read around a decade ago. In this regard, it is less about hiding and more about my own geekdom.
    (I am a student of your Astrotech course at Coursera.)

    • A profile worth checking out: “reader, writer, New Media buff, Anime fangirl, Gnome huntress extraordinaire, Last Action Femme Fatale, Appreciator of Nature, Jack-of-all-trades, and devourer of Mexican cuisine”. As Heinlein wrote, specialization is for insects.

      • keikomushi says:

        It can be somewhat difficult summing up one’s interests in such limited characters, but I think it managed to convey some of my personality and interests in a friendly way. You only make a first impression once, unless you’re dealing with someone suffering from memory retention issues.
        After a quick look at your website, I was a little surprised at the mention of the Fortran language. I am only just getting into programming, pretty much started out with simple stuff like HTML 2 and CSS3. It looks like you have a lot going on with your Cosmology research as well. I won’t claim to understand much of your work as I only just started study into Astronomy, but I am guessing that you drink a lot of coffee.

      • “I was a little surprised at the mention of the Fortran language”

        I was planning anyway to put up some more recent photos, including a much greyer beard. 🙂

      • “It looks like you have a lot going on with your Cosmology research as well. I won’t claim to understand much of your work as I only just started study into Astronomy, but I am guessing that you drink a lot of coffee.”

        Actually, I drink a lot of tea. Unfortunately, like most people who want to, I no longer get paid for work in cosmology. However, unlike most who have “left the field”, I still follow it, write the occasional paper, give the occasional talk, go to the occasional conference etc. And, of course, comment on blogs. 🙂 I do plan to start my own blog, hopefully this year.

        If you’re just starting out: I am occasionally amazed at how little knowledge of the history of the subject some young students have. In the old days it was easy, especially in cosmology: since there wasn’t much observational data, most people had a good grounding in the theory and history of the subject. I can understand being overwhelmed by data, but I think all the young dudes should take some time out and get at least a basic knowledge of the foundations. A few months ago at a conference, I met some people who worked on gravitational lensing who didn’t even know who Sjur Refsdal was. That’s like being in a rock band and not knowing who The Beatles were.

      • keikomushi says:

        In my own case, I am trying to remove some of my own ignorance in Astronomy and Cosmology. This has led to me enrolling in several online courses on the subject. One of the challenges is having to undo some of those poor habits I’ve developed since high school.
        As for the blog thing, I like the platform, but it does have some limitations as to what sort of code that is allowed. The variety of free themes gives folks some wiggle room at least, with some options that can give a professional look without the cost or the need to install anything. also offers some neat options for their wordpress themes with seemingly less restrictions than but I haven’t used them in a while to gauge their support. I’ve used Tumblr, but prefer wordpress personally, but don’t exactly know how easy it is to paste equations and whatnot directly into posts as I post text-based content. If you decide to go with and want some assistance with some of the features, then drop me a line. I may not know all of the answers but may be able to point you into the right direction.

      • “I was planning anyway to put up some more recent photos, including a much greyer beard.”

        I’ll also put up some really old photos. Recently, I visited an old aunt and she gave me some decades-old pictures, including one in which I look almost exactly like my youngest son. (The son in the avatar, though, is my eldest.) Of course, as an astronomer you should recognize the big guy in the avatar as well.

      • “If you decide to go with and want some assistance with some of the features, then drop me a line. I may not know all of the answers but may be able to point you into the right direction.”

        Thanks. I might actually write my own blog software; I’ll see how it goes when the time comes. I run all my computer stuff at home myself, so it’s nice to be in control. 🙂

  4. andyxl says:

    Welcome to both! And your opinion fairly much agrees with my own.

    • keikomushi says:

      Glad to make your acquaintance! I finished the first week of videos and the quiz for the course and have to say that I am quite happy with the materials so far. The videos are easy to understand but not oversimplified. Also, discussing the various innovations gives some insight into how the information is being gathered.

  5. Chris Chaloner says:

    I suspect the main reason for not using real names is to avoid spam…

  6. Phillip Helbig says:

    Wake the Squire?

    Just a test to see if Andy is still monitoring his blog!

    • keikomushi says:

      It certainly has been a while. I suppose that we can expect this given the nature of teaching which requires a large chunk of non-teaching time to organize materials and whatnot.

  7. Like Andy, I also have a policy of signing my referee reports, or at least letting the authors know who I am. This is not always ‘encouraged’ by the Journals, who in my view, veer on the side of encouraging anonymity. The role of referees is to be helpful, to be critical, and to maintain the standards expected for the acceptance to ‘refereed papers’ to Journals. I have a(n optimistic) hope that my Peers, who referee my own papers, will feel completely free to identify themselves in passing on their frank views and recommendations. This is a very valuable part of the process of submitting and publishing papers.

    Even if I at first mutter darkly under my breath on receiving a report, I know that referees in general have the best of intentions, and in >everyplease< identify yourself on your referee reports (to my papers at least!) – I won't hate you in perpetuity – will appreciate the time and effort you took in making comments and suggestions – act on them in an appropriate way (I chose my words carefully …) – and (probably) buy you a beer next time we are at a conference together – even if (in the unlikely case) it is to tell you why you were fundamentally wrong!

    So my vote is firmly for more transparency in the refereeing process!

    • Some of the text I typed in has not appeared in the printed version above – the text ‘>everypleaseeveryplease<

      Andy has been alerted to this problem that what you see is not what you get !

      • Phillip Helbig says:

        This blog seems dormant.

        Maybe the problem is caused by improper processing of HTML elements (or what are interpreted as such) in your post.

  8. Hmmm – that did not come out correctly as typed either – Andy – over to you – Houston – you have a problem !

  9. UPS Systems says:

    It does seem rather dormant…

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