Bad Manners

August 7, 2008

My apologies for the absence of posts in recent days. I have been a bit swamped, not so much with work as with domestic stuff – finding a house, buying a car, passing my California driving test, getting phone and internet arranged, and about a million other things, including arranging medical insurance, and then getting vaccinations for my kids so they can go to school here. Of course, you can’t just sign up, you have to choose from about sixteen different confusing options. Do you want an HMO or a PPO ? Is it better to pick a plan with a large deductible and small co-pay, or the other way round ? Do you want that on rye, wheat, or sourdough ? Extra cheese ? I DON”T CARE JUST GIVE ME A SANDWICH !!! Brits find this aspect of US culture very stressful. Give me the Nanny State any day.

I found a website that had customer reviews of the local medical facilities. But as usual, these were close to useless because they were bi-modal. Half of them gave four or five stars and said “these people were so much better than my last hospital ! I am so glad I changed ! They were professional and courteous.”. The other half gave no stars or one star and said “Do NOT use this hospital ! They are rude and overpriced !”. Of course, there is an obvious selection effect here. If you feel the correct statement is “well, they were pretty much run of the mill” then you don’t go to the bother of typing up your comments. But its more than that. Somehow the sight of those empty boxes waiting for your thoughts brings on the red mist. Its even worse than email. On the web people are just so aggressive.

The great unwashed were certainly kinda rude about the whole Pluto thing, as I noted in this post from July last year. And many of you will recall that there was a rather sticky episode on this blog when some posts went rather beyond rude and I had to issue a disclaimer.

It seems that neuroscientists too get rude on the web. Today I got my free copy of Nature, having published in it last week. (And of course my half price subscription offer .. but I don’t think I will take that up.. sorry Phil). A short printed article referred to this discussion by the Nature neuroscience blog editor Noah Gray, following an outburst of mudslinging. The worry is that web based technologies for science won’t work if they become dominated by exclusive, agressive types. The article suggests that anonymity of comments is a bad idea, and that the intolerance of online communities will put off others contributing, and will discourage online scientific collaboration.

This blog has not been about fostering scientific collaboration, but about comment on science politics. (That isn’t how it started, but its how it ended up.) Its pretty clear that the anonymous comments are much more aggressive than the non-anonymous ones. Is this good or is this bad ?

Over to you.