On anonymity in science and on Twitter

A lot of people who I interact with on Twitter, and whose blogs I read, have chosen to tweet and write under pseudonyms. This puzzled me at first, but I have come to realize that there are a LOT of good reasons for people to mask their real identities online.

Anonymity allows people to express their opinions and relate their experiences without everything they say becoming part of their personal permanent record. It affords people who are marginalized or in tenuous positions a way to exist online without fear of retribution. Pseudonyms help create a world where ideas matter more than credentials. And they provide some kind of buffer between people – especially women – and the nastier sides of the internet.

The myriad and diverse pseudonymous voices out there make the internet a richer and more interesting place. Maybe it’s weird, but I consider many of these people whom I’ve never met and whose real identities I don’t know to be my friends.

So I was really pissed off yesterday when I heard that a pseudonymous blogger named Dr. Isis was “outed” – you can read her account of what happened, and her response, here. This would have been bad if the outing had come from an anonymous tipster. But it didn’t. It came from Henry Gee, a senior editor at the journal Nature.

Gee and Dr. Isis have apparently had issues in the past. I don’t know the full history, but I was witness to some of it after Gee published a misogynistic short story in Nature several years back. Gee behaved like an asshole back then, and apparently he has not stopped.

Think about what happened here. A senior figure at arguably the most important journal in science took it upon himself to reveal the name of a young, female, Latina scientist with whom he has fought and whom he clearly does not like. This is not a casual event. It was a deliberate attack, clearly meant to silence someone whose online existence Gee wanted to squash. If you don’t believe me, read this exchange:

DrIsis

Apparently Gee felt aggrieved by comments from Dr. Isis, who he claimed was using the veil of anonymity to slander him.

Having myself come under fairly withering criticism from Dr. Isis, I feel somewhat qualified to speak to this. She has a sharp tongue. She speaks with righteous indignation. I don’t always think she’s being fair. And, to be honest, her words hurt. But you know what? She was also right. I have learned a lot from my interactions with Dr. Isis – albeit sometimes painfully. I reflected on what she had to say – and why she was saying it. I am a better person for it. I have to admit that her confrontational style is effective.

And thinking back on this now in light of Gee’s actions, there was an aspect to it I hadn’t appreciated before. In the heat of the moment I found Dr. Isis’s anonymity incredibly frustrating. It felt somehow unfair. Here I was – me under my real name – being publicly taken to task by a phantom. It was unnerving. It was disarming. It made it more difficult to fight back. And of course, I now realize, that is the whole fucking point!

If our conflicts had existed in the “real world” where I’m a reasonably well known, male tenured UC Berkeley professor and HHMI Investigator and she’s a young, female, Latina woman at the beginning of her research career, the deck is stacked against her. Whatever the forum, odds are I’m going to come out ahead, not because I’m right, but because that’s just the way this world works. And I think we can all agree that this is a very bad thing. This kind of power imbalance is toxic and distorting. It infuses every interaction. The worst part of it is obvious – it serves to keep people who start down, down. But it also gives people on the other side the false sense that they are right. It prevents them from learning and growing.

But when my interlocutor is anonymous, the balance of power shifts. Not completely. But it does shift. And it was enough, I think, to fundamentally change the way the conversations ended. And that was a good thing. I know I’m not going to convince many people that they should embrace this feeling of discomfort – this loss of power. But I hope, at least, people can appreciate why some amongst us feel so strongly about protecting this tool in their arsenal, and why what Gee did is more fundamental and reprehensible than the settling of a grudge.

You would think, of all people, that someone in Gee’s position would get this. After all, he is an editor at a science journal. He thus works in a profession that is built, to a large part, on the notion that providing the veil of anonymity to peer reviewers is the best way to ensure that they give honest feedback on papers. I think there are many problems with the way peer review is currently carried out, but it is definitely true that junior scientists feel far more comfortable speaking their mind about papers – often critiquing their more senior colleagues – when their comments are anonymous.  Sound familiar?


[Addendum] Several people have pointed out, very correctly, that anonymity actually often doesn’t work in peer review. I wasn’t trying to endorse the way peer review is done, rather to point out that Gee is a hypocrite for embracing anonymity in one context and not another despite the fact that they exist for the same reason. However, it is worth pointing out that there is a crucial – and I think instructive – difference between anonymity in peer review and the pseudonyms we’re talking about on Twitter, which is that Dr. Isis and most of the other pseudos active on blogs and Twitter have put considerable time and energy into crafting an online identity, and thus they have a lot invested in this identity and, with very few exceptions, act responsibly, presumably because they want their pseudonym to be respected and taken seriously, just like people who use their real names do. Of course this is different in peer review – where each review is a separate event – where there are essentially no consequences of behaving poorly (except, perhaps, in the eyes of the editor). I think it’s no accident that the worst interactions I’ve had with people on Twitter have been either with low traffic accounts that seem to have been created solely for the purpose of harassment. It’s something to think about as we try to figure out better ways to handle peer review.

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102 Comments

  1. Posted January 20, 2014 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Mike, How much of your above comment is colored by your dislike of journals like Nature, Science, Cell and how much of it is genuine chivalry? If someone publicly insulted your friend deRisi (retraction of whose paper made you upset – http://www.homolog.us/blogs/students/2012/09/29/making-a-case-for-retraction-of-2001-nature-paper-on-human-genome/) and he ‘outed’ the person, would you have said the same thing?

    • Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

      I think you will find that I do not let my distaste for Nature, Science or Cell affect my opinion of the people who work for them – many of whom are my friends and people I admire. Gee is an asshole, and he would be an asshole even if he worked for PLOS.

      • Bill Cole
        Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

        Mike, the correct spelling is “PLoS”.

    • Astraea_M
      Posted January 23, 2014 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

      Did you really attribute this defense of pseudonymity to “chivalry”? Nice demonstration of sexism there. Keep it classy.

      • Posted January 27, 2014 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

        In this case you are irrelevant. The defense was not sex, but pecking order based.

  2. Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    Nice post. I often regret the decision to conduct my online life under my real name. It’s definitely stopped me writing about some of my career frustrations for fear of the damage it would cause. Sad, because many of these stories need telling.

    • Matt Grobis
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:36 am | Permalink

      Why not have multiple accounts? If you have a message to share, it should be heard

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        Alas, one identity is hard enough to keep up with a busy schedule. Two identities would be intensely difficult, as you’d have to double the output in order to keep up with the amount of volume you need to stay as a respected member of the science blogging community, and it’s not a linear effort do to so.

        I personally feel in the same position Siouxsie – what you write under your own name requires a LOT of editing, as opposed to what you might say when the people you sit next to aren’t following your blog and commenting on it.

        • Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

          Exactly! I can’t quite keep up with one identity, never mind multiple :)

          • ThrowawayUsername
            Posted January 23, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

            What about posting the material fully anonymously, i.e. from a public computer to somewhere like http://pastebin.com, then publicizing it gradually through private channels? The issue is that such material lacks any kind of reputation, and if it is not sufficiently anonymized (i.e. removing lab names, details), it can still be used to identify you — but it does provide a way to get the material out into the world.

  3. Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Gee’s answer with the use of the word ‘inconsequential’ is also very shocking. It’s a clear value judgement implicitly saying ‘I don’t give a shit about your boycott because you’re not a famous scientist !’

    So apparently some editors give more credits to the name of a scientist rather than the scientific work that is done. Good to know.

    Alexis

    • atcg52003
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      Agree. The use of “inconsequential” is extremely telling. I guess any young, unknown female PI knows now knows for certain how she will be viewed by the senior editor of Nature … and by extension, how the work she submits for consideration will be viewed.

      Coming on the heels of the Koube incident, this suggests the existence of a very disturbing culture in the Nature offices … and all of their pretty protestations of support for female scientists do very little to counter it.

      • Catherine
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        Just for the record, I am an editor at NPG and I am outraged by this situation.

        • sop scientist
          Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

          I am happy to hear this. I hope that there is serious discussion at NPG about this incident and other related ones. I also hope that this results in substantial change at your organization.

  4. Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    Restricting my comments to the idea that anonymity facilitates “a world where ideas matter more than credentials” and more specifically “the veil of anonymity to peer reviewers is the best way to ensure that they give honest feedback on papers”

    I disagree that anonymity is actually such a universally great way of conducting peer review that you seem to be suggesting – in fact I expect most of us that have attempted to publish something have received anonymous reviews that frankly stink. Perhaps just sloppy or inaccurate, or even containing personal attacks on credibility and previous work (I’ve received all these kinds). They are thankfully rare but they do happen and it’s directly facilitated by being anonymous.

    I have recently started to sign reviews and it quite a refreshing way to conduct a review – I find I am more careful and measured in my responses and I am also less willing to accept reviewing tasks on papers that stray too far from my comfort zone. It’s basically too easy to be sloppy when writing anonymously and too easy for someone to slam down someone’s work just because they don’t like it, and without a very insightful and underworked editor, it’s an uphill struggle to get those kinds of reviews the weight they deserve. Working as an outed peer allows me to take the credit for the work I have done, being willing to stand up for the faults that it may contain.

    • aeon
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      +1. I sign my reviews with my name. I don’t sign my 140 character ramblings on twitter. I don’t comment under my real name.

      The way papers are sometimes shot down on the basis of near-to-hostile reviews is outrageous. I am working in a lab of 13 researchers right now. I was working in a lab with about 23 researchers. Of course, most of them are at the beginning of their “career”, and those reviews are, basically, often the end of it.

      Also, sometimes people get the idea that they identified the ‘hostile’ reviewer. (Yes, the community is not _that_ big, and I think that’s a recurring theme.) Which leads to more worries, as you can imagine.

    • aeon
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      Just to add one thing to the debate:
      double-blind reviews, best: triple-blind (without the reviewer knowing who submitted the paper) would be worth a try.

      An analog would be, yes, twitter or blogs. Many users interact there, and quite civilized as I would like to point out. Sure, there are shitstorms and comment trolls. But I say: in peer review, we’ve got the same, only a little more covert.

      But as long as I have to loose everything(*), and the editor and reviewer not very much, the imbalance of power is toxic.

      (*) To define everything: from a chapter of your dissertation, grant prolongation, even your job might be at stake. Not to speak of your health when another setback hits you.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      I’ve also starting signing my reviews. I was not trying to defend anonymity in peer review – rather pointing out that Gee relies on anonymity all the time in his professional career, and thus he should have more appreciation for why people value it elsewhere.

  5. Rahul Siddharthan
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    OT — just a few months ago I came across this, which has nothing to do with Dr Isis: Nature editor Henry Gee goes all anti-science

    Hm.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Not seen that. Interesting. Particularly the bit about this apparently really consequential scientific editor not understanding the statistical meaning of P.

      • Posted January 27, 2014 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

        Gee is an editor not a scientist. Powerful but frustrated.

  6. Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    It’s always sad when the scientific world isn’t the immaculately unbiased sphere of thought we’d like it to be. I just hope nothing is irreparably damaged.

  7. Terra Glasser
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:34 am | Permalink

    Do keep in mind that many use anonymous profiles to stalk, harass, and sexually exploit others online repeatedly, academics included. In this case the outing seemed wrong but do we have all the facts here? Was this man trolled or shamed by this person more than once?

    Outing seems a reasonable step in revealing abuse online, regardless of gender. Full stop.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      The potential for anonymity online has both advantages and disadvantages for the rest of those online, as Glasser says. My own opinion is that outing should be reserved for those cases in which complaints about the tenor of the contact have been made, with specifics of objectionable posts, and the objectionable posts contain threats to the recipient’s person (including family & colleagues) or employment. In other words, others should be able to see clearly the reason for the outing, beyond “I hate his/her political views on X” sort of thing.

      People actually being stalked, threatened, harassed do need to be able to unmask their attackers, something law enforcement won’t bother with unless you’re a celeb or there’s been a physical attack. OTOH, some people are so sensitive t0 criticism (usually from a lifetime of privilege) that they consider disagreement a personal attack, and stiff criticism as equivalent to a threat against life and limb. These people are defending an overinflated ego, a narcissistic belief that they should never be crossed or criticized. So someone considering outing a pseud should (ideally) stop and consider: was it a threat to person, property, job…or just a blow to the ego?

      And when it comes to women…it’s important to keep in mind the society-wide tendency to think that women falsify reports of abuse and probably did something to bring it on, and men do not falsify or ever precipitate an abusive situation. The question “Do we have all the facts here?” is common when a woman claims abuse, with the implication that when “all the facts” are clear, there was no abuse or there was a “reason” for it–it was actually her fault. “Was this man trolled or shamed by this person more than once?” falls right into the category of “What did this woman do to deserve what happened to her? How did she aggravate her abuser?”

      Are there female trolls and harassers? Definitely. But as someone who’s been online almost every day for well over a decade, posting under her own name, I can say that 90% of the trollish negative comments I get for speaking out are male. 99% of the worst (the rape and death threats) are from males. The 1% coming from females are just as nasty, certainly, just fewer of them. Harassers/stalkers–100% male, with and without pseuds. The only pseud I’ve outed is the guy who actively, physically stalked me and two of my friends in person as well as online.

      So outing may be necessary in extraordinary circumstances, regardless of gender, yes. But it should be done only in such circumstances, and when others in a community (including members of the pseudonymous person’s age range/gender/race/social class) agree that the situation is one step from serious risk of injury. Otherwise, outing is just like the criminal who trashes one store to convince the other store owners to knuckle under and “pay respect.”

      • Terra Glasser
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        Definitely agree with Emoon here. Many of these posts have been reactionary and I wanted to be clear whether or not this person under pseudonym did not have a history of being abusive online? You have to call the behavior on what it is. Regardless of Gee’s history of frankly “being” an asshole he doesn’t deserve what essentially is genuine abuse. I do know from personal experience that abusive women are ever so capable of causing lasting, sometimes irreparable harm via online abuse. I don’t feel as if she “deserved” to be outed and I certainly would not be in a mindset to accuse a rape victim of deserving to be raped so I do o disagree with that point there. As a person who has been both bullied and stalked online I’ve felt in many cases the only way to police the situation is through the risk to the abusers status and livelihood as the abusers sense of moral decency doesn’t seem to exist once they don a mask.

        • Jen L
          Posted January 24, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          Yet you imply that she is a harasser and stalker rather than actually do the research necessary to determine the facts of the case. This issue is being talked about in many places and in fact, it’s reasonable to assume that the tenor of this article, written by someone who has felt attacked by her in the past would be harsher towards her if he thought her attacks amounted to harassment or stalking.

          Yet, you chose to imply that the woman is a harasser rather than take even this author at his word. Despite viewing evidence that the man is in the wrong and the woman is in the right, you chose to give the benefit of the doubt to the man and attack the woman.

          Statistically speaking, online harassment happens to women far more than it happens to men– and when it does, people come out of the woodwork to claim that the women must have deserved it. Your stance is typical but irrational.

          You might want to read this: http://groupthink.jezebel.com/the-benefit-of-the-doubt-part-i-fairness-1506539867

  8. Posted January 21, 2014 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    i haven’t followed the gee vs. isis history closely though am aware, so can only speak in generalities. seems like a genuine ecology does need the full spectrum of people from anon and pseudo to those with fully integrated real life identities. people bring different things to the table. to me the question has never been anon/pseud, but how the person in question is behaving. being anon/pseud does tend to change things in various ways. that’s not always actionable as noted by mike above. in some cases it is. rather than the focus being on the anon nature of the individual what they are doing/saying should be at issue, and making recourse to “outing” seems like drastic escalation. perhaps i’m missing libel or threats, but it seems like henry is going to regret the rash behavior. because it can’t be undone.

    -signing off as a less consequential scientist than ‘isis,’ though not an anonymous one

  9. HI
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:17 am | Permalink
  10. DrugMonkey
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    Well said.

  11. Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    I find people who hide behind false names are mostly internet trolls who can be ignored. They rarely have anything interesting to say.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      Well you’re just wrong.

    • Ginger
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      You’re assuming that we can believe you when you say your name is “Stephen Hurrell”, but the truth is we can’t. The spurious debate over anonymous or pseudonymous names on the internet is a red herring; what we’re really talking about is how we code people by names. The internet allows us to disguise certain aspects, such as gender, race, orientation, nationality, etc., and this is what makes it difficult for some people to deal with. If you’re privileged enough (i.e., white, male, heterosexual, Christian, American, middle-class, etc.), then you (plural) haven’t had to check your assumptions of the default persona before (or very often), and when challenged to do so, many of the privileged people become defensive.

      Henry Gee outed Dr. Isis because he felt challenged by her, and wanted to make it easier for others to assign gender, race, etc., so they could treat her differently again. That’s the basic underlying pathology, which is misogyny.

      All of us can claim any name or moniker online. Our identity isn’t our names; it’s our interactions with each other. We create our identities by the way we interact and where we interact, and this becomes associated with the label of name or nickname. I can post under a different name in my regular online communities, and it may take some time for my attributes to become reassigned, but people will recognize me because of my specific style of interactions. That is true for all of us. That’s why reviewers become identifiable in peer comments; it’s not a bug, it’s inherent in our social capabilities — whether face-to-face or online makes no difference.

      If a person is bigoted, his behavior will give him away far more quickly than his name in an online forum. That’s why Ed Rybicky and Henry Gee have run into opposition: they’re demonstrating their inner attributes very publicly, and being called on it, which is new to them. That is the power of the internet.

  12. BenK
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    As for the specific case, I would suggest that a comment that starts ‘for the record’ is a problematic start to an anonymous ‘whistle blowing.’ I have no other particular insight into the apparent war between these two parties.

    In the general case, I’ve seen plenty of vile comments posted anonymously. This is a serious problem. I’ve seen people and families (bi-racial) attacked for their race, for example. I can hardly recommend anonymity as a systemic corrective to differences in public stature.

  13. Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    I’ve had some interesting experiences from the other side. I’ve had a cheesecloth of distance between my twitter/blogging name and my identity since I started blogging. Partly because I’m female, and partly because I did some shouty political activism for things like stem cells and evolution during the Bush administration, while applying for federal grant money.

    But that often made it look like there were no female voices in the conversation. So I at least did a twitter avi that was female to uncloak that. Frequently though I’ve been tossing my Google+ account into my tweets, and I have linked G+ to my twitter account since I began it a couple of years back.

    This definitely incenses some people. In one case I signed up on a blog in my own name, but their software didn’t print my name in the comments. In the ensuing debate the discussants wanted to have my name, though, in order to call me a shill for Monsanto. I am not associated with Ag in any way, or never have been, but they wanted to use it to dismiss me. I tried to make them focus on the facts, but they were hair-afire because of my presumed association nonetheless.

    Recently GMWatch thought they “outed” me too. It was definitely an attempt to piss me off. I laughed. But–because I own my own company, you can’t really go to my boss and complain about me. But here I was concerned about the conservatives “outing” me, and it was the left that attempted it–my own team, ironically.

    That said, scientists have thanked me on the back channel for being aggressive to cranks because they can’t be. Some people can’t put their kids at risk from some of the nuttery drawn to hot topics. Yet I know people who have had their persons and families threatened.

    So it’s a mixed bag in terms of outcome. I can definitely see the need and I support ‘nyms though.

  14. Gina D.
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Twitter justice seems to be operating by a child-like moral code where being “correct” justifies whatever actions you take. Justice also needs to be proportional and I cannot feel any sympathy for Dr Isis or her ilk because the way they act is not essentially ethical. Repeatedly, I have seen them act as a hornet’s nest attacking people as a group and utter failing to self-monitor their degree of outrage to keep it proportional to the offence. On top of that, they actively silencing people who call for balance by appropriating the language of the truly oppressed.

    In the case of the Womanspace debacle there were two strongly worded letters to the editor published in Nature immediately after its publication. The story was sexist in a very silly way and this was an appropriate response. One or two strongly written blog posts would even have been warranted, but I question the moral compass of whatever person who hit the publish button the 26th blog post.

    I have seen this hornets nest of self-appointed defenders of women in science (who presume to speak for me) attack en masse men for trivial offenses repeatedly, labeling them as mysogenistic, including Jamie Vernon for posting a picture of some men and saying, “here are some men” and Daniel MacArthur for agreeing with a blog saying their response was disproportionate. These men are the farthest thing from mysogenists possible and do not deserve that kind of treatment.

    To say that Dr Isis is less powerful than Henry Gee is defining the power dynamic in terms of an outdated paradigm. In the Twittersphere she is far more powerful than he is, and it a power that was taken by using the cloak of anonymity to say inflammatory things. Anonymity removes temperance, and a lack of temperance attracts followers. People like a fight and they like to get all stirred up in an us versus them war.

    Yes, Henry Gee is playing dirty. But that seems to be the rules of the road.

    And I’m posting this under my pseudonym because I do not want twenty-six nasty blog posts about me being the top hit when employees google my name. Try googling Ed Rybicki and see what comes up after 30 years of work researching HPV.

    • Joe
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      This comment is far more insightful than many of the blog posts and tweets posted by the defenders of Isis. Yes, what Henry Gee did was dead wrong, but that doesn’t make Isis a hero or right, either.

      • iGrrrl
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        Actually, Dr. Isis is my hero. She’s used the thin veil of a pseudonym, but it was very thin. Her department knew, and no one who knew her personally could have been fooled by the masks on Pub-style science hangouts. She is my hero because she chooses to live and speak as fearlessly as possible. I haven’t interacted with her directly, just read her blogs and watched her not let the privileged get away with presumption. And if you don’t like the tone, try googling #iaskedpolitely to find out why many women have decided to be direct, blunt, and forthright.

        If she were male and men didn’t like what she said, or how she said it, the response would be an eye roll and something along the lines of, “He’s an asshole. Whatever.” Because she is female the exact same behavior brings rape threats, at a minimum. If you do not believe this, you choose to ignore the data.

        • Gina D.
          Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

          First of all, if she’s your hero you should probably read more.

          Second, it misses the essence of the problem completely to not distinguish between a thin veil of anonymity and a completely open identity. When Dr Isis anonymously writes about someone (Henry Gee’s friends or Michael Eisen, whoever) she is contributing to publicly defining their identity. Whenever you look them up the record of her opinion of them follows them.

          When she was anonymous you could perhaps go from Dr Isis to her real name if you cared enough to look, but your impression of her in real life (professionally, etc.) would not be formed by what people publicly said about Dr Isis because there was no public link between the two identities. An potential employer or date or whatever would not google her and find her defined that way.

          Even with a thinly veiled identity there were no real consequences for her professionally or publicly for whatever Dr Isis said. That is not the same either for people who blog under their real names or for people who are attacked under their real names by anonymous bloggers.

          To say, which she has, that most people know who she is anyway just demonstrates that she does not fundamentally understands how the internet works and what the impact of her writing can be.

          It’s pathetic.

          • Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

            You are right that anonymity affords people insulation from their bad deeds. And I admit that when Isis was writing negative things about me, I worried about it affecting the way people would think about me. But there are two important points to make about this.

            1) It’s not like Isis sought me out and randomly tried to ruin my reputation. In every case she was responding to something I wrote on my blog or said on twitter. And these were things that were meant to be trigger responses. Obviously, like most people writing on the internet, I was hoping for praise, not opprobrium. But Isis did absolutely nothing wrong in responding pointedly to what I wrote and said – even putting aside the fact that in both cases I ultimately decided she was right and learned from it. Gee too was hardly curled up in a corner trying to avoid attention.

            2) Some people here seem to be operating on the assumption that if there was no anonymity on the internet it would all of a sudden become Shangrila – as if all of the negative things said online come from people using pseudonyms. Do you really think there are negative consequences for people who say negative things on the Internet about others under their real names and not pseudonyms? Because, especially when I write about GMOs, I’ve had many many people operating under their real names say many far nastier things about me, things that – because they are devoid of context – have far more potential to damage my reputation.

          • Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

            Responding to Gina and Michael.

            Gina, thank you for your cogent analysis about what I find toxic about DrIsis.

            Michael, you keep analyzing the DrIsis situation in terms of yourself and Henry Gee.
            But let me give you another example (to go along with the ones already provided by Gina) involving myself.

            I am interested in the phenomenon of outing and commented on the DrIsis case from my perspective as a journalist. Here’s the response I got: https://twitter.com/AnnB03/status/425783615356563457

            A DrIsis acolyte told me, among other things:

            “you don’t know of what you speak & should not speak of it again”

            “let’s get this straight. you’re writing gaslighting victim-blaming twitter bigotry. there are people (not I) who don’t like that”

            “don’t answer that except in your head because it is a rhetorical question which should be kept in the cozy spot of ones private mind”

            So, in the name of “protecting” DrIsis, who speaks out against sexism, this anonymous man tried to threaten me, a woman, into silence for a politely expressing a point of view different from his, which incidentally was that Henry Gee “stalked” DrIsis.

            Now, of course this was not DrIsis making threats and she may very well not approve of her fan’s behaviour, but this type of incident is not rare. In fact, it is very common and it is what happens when you get a Twitter leader who behaves like DrIsis.

            As someone who looks at systems and the injustices and power balances inherent in them, DrIsis has a responsibility to analyze her role in the Twitter system and what’s being done in her name, and to call it out. No, not every single incident, but the overall hornet’s nest mentality and the very real damage it inflicts on real people who may be less powerful than DrIsis both online and in actual life.

            Just because she’s chosen to be anonymous doesn’t mean that she should not be held accountable for the consequences of her speech.

            You have argued that someone should not be outed by another more powerful person, but the more fundamental question is why should a person whose attacks result in real life damage to others not be held accountable simply because she has chosen to present herself anonymously/psueudonymously? And if it is indeed fair to hold her accountable, by her real name, then why can she only be held accountable by someone less powerful?

            Finally, I would just like to stress that I strongly support anonymous and pseudonynous speech and in no way favour gratuitous outing. But I don’t think anonymous speakers deserve special protection either.

          • Gina D.
            Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

            Dr Isis does not exclusively target people who speak out on the internet.

            Here is the link to her blog where her commenters actively try to “out” Ofek, the editor at Biology Online who sent an offensive email to DNLee. (See Douglas Moran’s comment, Oct 12 8:29)

            What he did very offensive but it was not, as you say, a public attempt to provoke thought.

            http://isisthescientist.com/2013/10/11/tell-someone-no-get-called-a-whore-standingwithdnlee-batsignal/

          • Gina D.
            Posted January 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

            And here is one about Dario Maestipieri regarding a comment he posted on his private facebook page.

            http://isisthescientist.com/2012/10/18/what-we-learn-when-professorly-d00ds-take-to-facebook/

            Don’t dole it out if you can’t take it.

    • Tom
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Agreed 100%.

      Also, not sure how the tone of this so-called debate is helped by repeatedly calling Gee ‘an asshole’. You may well think that, of course, but it’s corrosive to insult people, and really I don’t see what you gain by lowering things to that level.

    • None
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      The above post is excellent.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Why do you get to decide what level of outrage is acceptable, and what a proportional response looks like? Different people can have different conclusions about that, no?

      And as far as the power disparity, I find Henry’s tweet, as Michael shows above, very telling for how Henry himself viewed the power differential.

    • Gina D.
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Isn’t that what Dr Isis is doing?

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        What’s “that” refer to? I’m not following you

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Having several times been on the receiving end of the hornets’ nest you talk about, I appreciate the comment. Yes, there is an unfortunate tendency towards mob behavior on Twitter with insightful criticism often followed up with vicious waves of name calling. It’s bad. But I don’t think you can blame Dr. Isis for all the problems of the internet. Yes, she gets outraged. But she backs up her outrage with intelligent posts the explain why she is outraged, and tends not to take out – or call for – the pitchforks.

      • Gina D.
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        You have been on the other end of it as someone with a large internet footprint.

        If you are on the other end of it as someone with a small internet footprint incurring the scathing wrath of the hornets nest, justified or not, becomes your internet footprint.

        It is not just unpleasant. It can have real financial and career consequences if some HR lady googles you and finds a bunch of Tweets and blogs about what an asshole you are.

        With power comes responsibility.

        • None
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          Exactly, the hypocrisy of this hornets nest is truly astounding. It’s classic school yard in-group/out-group dynamics.

          • Ed Rybicki
            Posted January 24, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

            Yes!! My daughter’s school had policies on this sort of thing. If one judged a bunch of the anonymous bloggers out there by these, they’d be suspended.
            But they won’t be, of course. Because they’re a self-congratulatory circle of hate that can’t be regulated – but can and does hurt people.

          • Posted January 24, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

            The dynamics of twitter has its clear problems – and nobody’s behavior here is beyond reproach.

            But do you seriously contend that Isis’s dogged efforts to expose persistent anti-female biases in the halls of science constitutes bullying? I have followed her writing and tweeting for several years, and while her style has a byte, and I don’t always agree with her, she always lays out a coherent, and usually compelling, case for why things people say and do have earned her ire. That some people choose not to listen and try to understand what she is saying, and instead try to turn her into a demon, is their problem, not hers.

            And Ed, do you really not see any issues with Gee’s behavior – or your own for that matter?

            And my daughters’ schools have anti-bullying programs too. In these programs one of the important things they try to teach them is the distinction between bullying and disagreements – that just because someone doesn’t like what your doing, and lets you know it, doesn’t mean they are bullying you. It’s a distinction people on the Internet would be wise to try and learn.

          • None
            Posted January 24, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

            Michael,
            So let me get this straight, if someone at your daughters school called her a goatfucker or satan then that would NOT be bullying? I know you are firmly on ‘Team-Isis’ but you must admit, that’s stretching it a bit.

            TEAM-ISIS all the way I see.

          • Posted January 24, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

            It is, of course, all a matter of context. I am routinely called things of that ilk for all sorts of reasons and do not consider it bullying. And with children, I find that bullying is rarely correlated with being foul mouthed – it is far more often about excluding people from activities, belittling them for who they are, and otherwise undermining their confidence. As a friend is want to say “the nicest people will do you dirt”.

            In any case, your interest in Isis’s foul mouth rather than in Gee’s foul behavior is counterproductive, as are your efforts to divide people into “Team Isis” and “Team Gee”.

          • None
            Posted January 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

            I find it difficult to stomach how demeaning this whole affair is to women in general. Over and over the story goes, it doesn’t matter what people heard, it’s how it made them FEEL. Like the repeated and ridiculous assertion that Gee’s “LIST” was some sort of hit list. IT DOESN’T MATTER we’re told because of how it made people feel. So THAT’s bullying right? .. because he’s an editor of nature….

            Compare that to Isis with 6000+ twitter followers and how many daily blog hit. Who really has the power to harass and bully. Wait, aren’t we supposed to strictly focus on how Gee felt regardless of how it was meant or is that rule just reserved for women??

            The double standard and hypocrisy of this is absolutely astounding.

            FWIW I’m team-neither. Both acted like childish jerks.

          • Gina D.
            Posted January 25, 2014 at 5:46 am | Permalink

            “The dynamics of twitter has its clear problems”

            No it doesn’t. You can choose to act in a mob or you can choose not to. Pitchfork mobs don’t just happen. They are the product of individuals choosing to participate.

            If you do not hold individuals responsible for their behavior within a mob then Twitter become like a firing squad. Everyone shoots, no one person is responsible, but yet someone is dead on the ground.

            It is easy to argue that any individual blog does not constitute bullying but the mob action as a whole can. An individual blog can be a disagreement. But the 12th saying the same thing? The 20th? The 30th?

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      “And I’m posting this under my pseudonym because I do not want twenty-six nasty blog posts about me being the top hit when employees google my name.”

      So you agree that it can be necessary and justified to shield one’s opinions behind anonymity. Thus, by extension and regardless of your feelings for Dr. Isis, you accept that Henry Gee acted unprofessionally here?

      “…(who presume to speak for me)”

      The caveat of anonymity, of course, is that identity appeals to one’s gender, ethnicity &c have no evidential basis, and are indeed highly suspect when used to strengthen one’s argument (“Well, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a bum squeeze here and there, and I’m a a woman, so…” &c). If you wish to use you gender in this manner, you unfortunately have to sacrifice anonymity.

      • Gina D.
        Posted January 23, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        I will accept that Henry Gee acted in an unprofessional manner if you will accept that Dr Isis acted in an unprofessional manner first when she allowed her blog comment section to be used as a medium for attempting to out Ofek which actually resulted in publicly naming a scientist as Ofek who in all likelihood had nothing to do with emailing DNLee.

        Because I do not see how what Henry Gee did to Dr Isis was fundamentally different from what she did to Ofek unless you believe that people only have a right to anonymity when you agree with what they are saying. And given that Henry Gee named the correct person, whereas Dr Isis’s blog was used to name random people, I would say say Dr Isis acted not only unprofessionally but also recklessly.

        Further, given that Henry Gee was reacting to 4 years of nasty comments from someone with a wide blog and Twitter following, and that her followers were reacting to a single obnoxious email sent in the middle of the night, probably by some drunk kid who they seemed intent on publicly labeling a racist misogynist, I would argue that Dr Isis’s behavior was somewhat worse.

    • Ed Rybicki
      Posted January 24, 2014 at 2:23 am | Permalink

      “I cannot feel any sympathy for Dr Isis or her ilk because the way they act is not essentially ethical. Repeatedly, I have seen them act as a hornet’s nest attacking people as a group and utter failing to self-monitor their degree of outrage to keep it proportional to the offence. On top of that, they actively silencing people who call for balance by appropriating the language of the truly oppressed”

      I can second that. Attacking people pseudonymously – and persistently, in the case of Henry Gee – is simply dishonest. And also incredibly hurtful, incidentally.

  15. J. Andrews
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    As great deal of science, if not the vast majority, is done by “inconsequential” scientists, nibbling away at the unknowns, setting the stage for the occasional big breakthrough with a thousand smaller understandings.

    I quit reading Dr Isis years back. I found her a knee jerk reactionary on some subjects, myopic and unable to admit that she might have a big blind spot that kept her from admitting she could be mistaken, which also prevented her from further exploring issues to come to a better understanding, which meant she held onto her cartoonish one dimensional straw man argument never realizing how ridiculous she looked — no big deal if we disagree but you at least should have more than a one dimensional understanding of the issue. I get enough of shallow ignorant based thinking from creationists and don’t want to see it in science blogs where we should know better.

    None of that justifies what Gee did. In fact, hard to come up with any good reason for it. It was a petulant vindictative act designed to shame. It came from a position of ‘power’, from someone who thinks they’re “consequential”, it was an abuse of authority. If it happened in a workplace, he’d be asked to apologize and attend sensitivity training at the very least. At my work place it would get you stripped of authority, possibly fired (we just did our annual training last month). As you said, he’s an asshole, and has demonstrated he’s not fit to have a position of authority over anyone.

    My subscription to Nature is ending in February. Depending on what they do, I’ll likely let it lapse, and pick out another journal instead (which will be a pain because Nature has a good app and a cheap subscription rate, not something I’ve yet found in other top journals).

  16. Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    While there’s no denying that Gee is a pompous ass, I don’t really buy most arguments for having secret identities in the first place. They don’t help marginalized groups in the big picture even if individuals may find it easier in the short term. The gays had it right when they realized that a large part of the problem was secrecy in the first place and that most people wouldn’t be homophobic if they knew how many friends of theirs and celebrities they admire were gay. And more recently atheists have also made themselves public for similar reasons. And bringing up anonymity in the context of peer review is disingenuous – most people realize that the anonymity of the peer review process is part of the problem – that’s why PLOS encourages reviewers to sign their reviews.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      I commend you foir standing up and explaining that. Finally a white man with the courage to explain to women of color who to behave!

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        Yawn. Congrats for taking the laziest (and frankly most irrelevant) response.

      • Darnell
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        How about you try that again, Joerg. This time read it coming from a non-white scientist. Try and find a more legitimate reason to dismiss the point, if one exists.

        “While there’s no denying that Gee is a pompous ass, I don’t really buy most arguments for having secret identities in the first place. They don’t help marginalized groups in the big picture even if individuals may find it easier in the short term. The gays had it right when they realized that a large part of the problem was secrecy in the first place and that most people wouldn’t be homophobic if they knew how many friends of theirs and celebrities they admire were gay. And more recently atheists have also made themselves public for similar reasons. And bringing up anonymity in the context of peer review is disingenuous – most people realize that the anonymity of the peer review process is part of the problem – that’s why PLOS encourages reviewers to sign their reviews. “

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      My point about anonymous review was not to say that it works – as I noted in my addendum I think it doesn’t – but to note that Gee is disingenuous for acting like anonymity is some kind of horrible thing that people use to cloak bad behavior.

    • DrugMonkey
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

      Yawn. On what basis should we give a shit what you “buy”?

      (…and like “Badger” is your real name. Good one)

      • Odoacer
        Posted February 22, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        “d like “Badger” is your real name. Good one”

        I’m not certain if you’re being facetious, but he has a link to a webpage with his publications, photo, e-mail address, and work address.

  17. Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Excellent post, Michael, really great points especially about the power differential.

    • Patrick Bradley
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      I agree. I have more thoughts here but for now I’ll say that I respect the thinking you’ve done here and the conclusions you’ve come to.

    • Posted January 23, 2014 at 2:15 am | Permalink

      I completely agree – excellent post, very well said. I respect people in power using their power well, and this is a topic that certainly deserves the spotlight.

  18. Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I think there are many good reasons for writing anonymously/pseudonymously and I’ve never shared the idea that people who chose to do so are cowardly or somehow inferior.

    That said, I find it puzzling that so many people seem to believe that just because someone has opted for anonymity/pseudonymity, they should be guaranteed it.

    Like any kind of speech, anonymous speech has consequences, and for those who choose anonymity, one of those potential consequences is being outed.

    Of course, I would hope that anyone who “outs” someone would weigh the consequences.

    But in the case of anonymous authors who use vicious tactics to attack others, my feeling is if you can dish it out, you should be able to take it. Unless, there’s a very strong reason not to out them, tough luck.

    In this particular case, I have no sympathy for Dr. Isis and the fact that she’s a Latina woman is as irrelevant as the issue of whether Gee is an asshole.

    • Wow
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      You are right in your arguments. Also you have to really read the context of what these “rude” people are writting. They may be rude for one, but may have a point. There are polite people who impart virious speech but… a nice way. Yet people accept them because they are nice although they are as hurtful too ?

      I personally think anyone who “outs” someone just because of wanting that someone to have consequences (or truthfully “to punish someone”) have no honor. It’s not just the someone who will be affected but how about their family members ? A fair way is fight words with words to win the arguement or just give up if someone doesn’t want to have a decent conversation with you. Don’t use despicable method just to win (A diect way is “to cover up the your Ego trip”).

  19. None
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    First – Dr Isis was hardly outed. As she points out anyone who spent 5 minutes looking it up could figure it out so lets calm the cries of injustice. You can’t out someone who is already widely known.

    Second, sure what Henry did was kind of douchey but really what did Dr Isis expect? This isn’t victim blaming – she goaded Henry into a fight. You can’t throw mud anonymously without some kind of dig back. You know what this reminds me of? A woman in a bar who is punching some guy and the guy decides to not play by the agreed to rules of never hitting a woman under any circumstances and decides to clock her one. Am I advocating domestic violence? No, I’m advocating ones right to defend themselves.

    Seriously though, if a man was ‘outed’ or if a woman ‘outed’ Isis it would be completely different. What all this Sci Drama has tough me is that there are Sci Bloggers are paid appropriately (almost nothing), twitter is horrendously overvalued, and scientist are a bunch of drama queens.

    Jesus people, grow up – you’re all acting like school children.

    • Anonymous
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Having been at the business end of the kind of juvenile goading and quite frankly abuse by both Isis and Zuska, I think that what Gee did was quite understandable. When a bully behaves like a bully, people ought not be surprised that victims respond in kind. Gee would not, I believe, ever break confidentiality in a professional situation; but Isis wasn’t behaving professionally, so she set the tone. Frankly I think that there is a type of feminist who hides behind their feminism in order to behave like pricks.

      • DrugMonkey
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

        Frankly I think there is a type of over sensitive asshole who doesn’t like being told he is wrong, when he is, who hides behind fake outrage over civility, “Anonymous”. And in doing so he acts like a blowhard and a prick of the highest order.

        • None
          Posted January 22, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

          Jesus DrugMonkey calm down a little.

          Yes, Henry was being an oversensitive asshole and Isis was being needling prick.

          They were both acting immaturely and both ended up getting burned by it. Everyone who wanted to know who Isis was already knew – so really all of the outrage over it is ridiculous.

          Kudos to Isis though on getting ahead of it and controlling the message. The last line in her blog post: “Retaliation can be a real bitch.” That should have been a new paragraph.

      • mytchondria
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        So my children rant, rave and throw tantrums. My trainees occassional yell, cry and fuck things up. I don’t get to do those things. Because I’m faculty so I put on my big kid pants and show them how to behave.

        Maybe you should read the rest of Gee’s immediate Tweet train on Isis where he is told he is being assholish and unprofessional. He then says Michael Tomosson and I are ‘on the list’. FTR, Eisen went on to use the exact same words in later tweets. So not only is he outing and diminishing the career of Isis….he now has a list of other people he will treat just as poorly.

        Don’t tell me he’s a good guy. Don’t tell me she started it. And REALLY don’t tell me that this won’t happen again. Isis, but because she dared to jangle his chain. The nerve. Of a sports physiology. Guess what Gee can do? Block her arse. Write a professional correspondence. But have a spiteful tantrum? No. And leave it up for 4 days now out of stubborn resolve? No.

        I disagree. She has increasingly come out with her SciCom efforts in the last few months. She actively avoids being ‘google-able’. And no, I won’t CALM THE CRIES OF INJUSTICE. That statement is the height of arrogance akin to ‘go eat your cake and be happy’. Who made you the arbitor of what is just? And who made Gee? used his professional contacts to out Isis and said as much. “There were lots of people willing to help”. He can’t respect anonomity, has used his influence to ‘go after people’ and has treatened to do it again.

  20. julian
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    As mostly an outsider to the science-blogging community (although I am a mid-career social scientist myself), I find this whole discussion a bit strange. There are plenty of sexists and assholes in science, both male and female, just as there are everywhere else. Is anyone surprised by this? Gee (whom I’d never heard of until today) sounds like someone I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with. Isis (whom I’d never heard of until today) also sounds like someone I wouldn’t want to spend time with, although I’m a little less sure about that.

    Why should anyone care who I want to spend time with? They shouldn’t! Don’t take any of this so seriously. Twitter and blogs do not actually change the world (unless you have some solid evidence for me that they do?), much as those in the middle of it might like to think so. Somebody got outed here, because someone else is a jerk. There is no guarantee of anonymity on the web, or anywhere else. Life goes on.

  21. Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Rather than echo what Gina D. (January 21, 2014 at 12:05 pm) and J. Andrews (January 21, 2014 at 6:44 am) said, I’ll just rehash my own reaction on Twitter yesternight:

    So, Henry Gee was upset over things Dr. Isis did. His response was to punitively out her, thereby ensuring that everyone would talk about his action instead, and she would be essentially beatified.

    Well played.

    C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute.

  22. Shecky R
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    So much sound and fury over very little… I suspect many, if not most, of Isis’s regular followers already knew her name by now (not that hard to discover), so I don’t even know how much of a real “outing” this was (…by the way, I didn’t even know she was Latina, so YOU’VE outed that much for me).
    I’m a huge fan of pseudonymity, so long as one is civil about it… but when someone sits in a pseudonymous-bunker and freely, recklessly (hurtfully?) lobs grenades at others are they really so naive as to think they won’t be outed???
    This big Web-drama hissy-fit will bring Isis that much more of the attention she craves, but other than her wringing it for all she can, it’ll blow over quickly. …Besides, she’s an EXCELLENT writer; maybe this circumstance will move her in the direction of full-time writing where her real talents lie, and away from the messiness of physiology/science/research.

  23. Richard Careaga
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Sticks and stones, but yeah, both Gee and DrIsis should have thought about what the callout by name added besides an ad hominum, neither the strongest argument in rhetoric nor of any evidential value in research. “a repugnant homunculus” and a “considering the source” would have served as well, if those were the views intended.

  24. fobard
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Wow, Shecky R. Do you work in the same field as Dr. Isis?

    “maybe this circumstance will move her in the direction of full-time writing where her real talents lie, and away from the messiness of physiology/science/research.”

    I do. I am usually programmed in the same poster sessions as her. I have known her identity for years, (because I figured it out; we’re just acquaintances) and she is well-respected within our field. In particular, people admire her because she is one of the few people in our sub-discipline that actually performs clinical research, and she kicks ass at it. In fact, she has a number of high-profile clinical reports published or in press.

    She is an excellent writer AND an excellent researcher, and I am guessing you are not well-acquainted with her professionally. Those who are hold her in high regard.

  25. Dr. Joe Nobody
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Hello Dr. Eisen, I’m Dr. Joe Nobody, I am a minority at a major research university, I have to say, you are very sexist and racist. I believe you don’t know the first thing about evolution and that you are a joke of a professor. Why anyone would want you teaching or doing research at their university is beyond me. Have a nice day.

    Now Dr. Eisen, obviously the above is meant to be fake and a poor attempt at trolling, but I wanted to highlight the inherent danger of anonymity, especially online. You don’t know who I am, what my qualifications are, where I studied, where I am from, or what my research is about. But why should I be granted a soapbox to stand on and criticize you when you can’t necessarily respond. How am I qualified in saying anything without my credentials to back it up? That’s the nature of the world. Dr. Isis wanted all of the benefits of anonymous commenting without any of the downfalls. Dr. Gee considered her inconsequential, maybe he was right. But why does he not have the right to identify his critic? What unspoken law/social conduct norm did he break? Please publish and respond. Dr. Isis may very well be relevant in her field and in what she says, but if her identity removes any validity, then she should be outed no?

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t read every word of the interaction between Isis and Gee, but in nothing that I’ve read did she appeal to any form of identity-based authority. She pointed out repeated problems in the way Nature deals with women’s issues. Her comments would be equally valid if she were any of the 7 billion people on Earth.

      Obviously Gee didn’t break any laws in identifying her. There is no constitutional guarantee of anonymity. But he did behave very, very poorly – especially given his position as a gatekeeper to success in the field. He wasn’t defending himself. How does knowing who she is change any of the facts on the ground? I don’t think there is any doubt that he was trying to use his position of authority to silence her criticism of him and his employer, and that is reprehensible.

      • Dr. Joe Nobody
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 1:46 am | Permalink

        But that’s just it, she used Dr. Isis to put herself above those 7 billion people without the credentials to back it up no? In the end, Dr.Gee showed that she was insignificant in the community. I don’t want to mention her identity here but her actual education and credentials have very little to do with half the stuff she’s commented on and used her anonymity to be an authority on things she really wasn’t. Because anonymously I can be Stephen Hawking, but in real life, I can be Joe Nobody from Podunk University.

        • drugmonkey
          Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          May I just say I am LOVING the long reveal on the part of these idiots who simply cannot escape from the idea that credentials = credibility.

          (and by LOVING, I mean, weeping for the sad state of academics these days. )

          • None
            Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

            Leave your resume out of your next NSF and we’ll see how you do.

          • drugmonkey
            Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

            What you fail to grasp, None, is that these domains are not necessarily tied together. My professional qualifications are relevant to any NSF application I might submit. My blogging qualifications are not (mostly). Similarly, my precise professional attainment apart from the general issues of being a grant funded scientist working in substance abuse have fuckall to do with my credibility and influence as a blogger.

          • None
            Posted January 22, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

            Well lucky for us everything on the internet is true I suppose.

        • drugmonkey
          Posted January 22, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          used her anonymity to be an authority

          I just…. I can’t……WHAT?

    • Posted January 22, 2014 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      “How am I qualified in saying anything without my credentials to back it up?”

      In the sciences we’re supposed to appeal to the evidence and the substance of the argument that stands upon it, not the authority delivering the argument.

      • Spiny Norman
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        …bubtbutbut NATURE!!!

  26. Posted January 22, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    We are all DrIsis.

  27. Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Excellent blog (& led me to ask/tweet, if it’s time for double-blind peer review for everything, as suggested by research coming from Aarssen, Budden, Lortie and colleagues).

    The comments certainly probe the various pros and cons that came to my mind, about anonymous comments made by people using pseudonyms. I find the gender component of this whole issue very worrying.

    For me, it’s really all about the power dynamics of any particular situation or interaction. I’ve certainly had climate skeptics leave really annoying comments on some of my past blog posts, and would love to know exactly who they are in order to confront them face to face (& find out who’s paying them…)

    When it comes to ongoing gender imbalance in #STEM, and the complex psychosocial drivers involved, the defensive, hostile reactions (some v. NASTY) that I’ve received (as a full prof), when raising some of the research of the last couple of years with male colleagues approaching retirement, who consider themselves to have been champion of women, certainly make me realize that if I was younger, I’d be totally silenced and chilled. Bottom line, is that the policies in the Global North (North America & Europe) of the last 30 yrs, aimed at addressing the leaky pipeline, have more or less failed, because they’ve failed to take the subtle social dimensions into acc’t. I’m glad to see younger women speaking out on this, but there are definitely consequences to be risked.

  28. Posted January 23, 2014 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    Regarding the statement: “a world where ideas matter more than credentials” and “the veil of anonymity to peer reviewers is the best way to ensure that they give honest feedback on papers”:

    On the balance I don’t think this is the case overall. It is certainly possible to identify examples where anonymity is thought to protect individuals; stalking of females online and speech in countries with oppressive regimes come to mind.

    Unfortunately, the use of anonymity online also masks pettiness, vindictiveness, racism, ignorance, and the willingness to say things that would never otherwise be said in polite company. This is why when I read an anonymous comment I always wonder, “Does this person really believe this? Or is this person trolling?” It’s for this reason I rarely connect with people online who deliberately mask their identity. If they think their thoughts will stand on their own they are sadly mistaken as communication comes in many forms and involves mutual trust; it’s hard to trust someone who habitually hides his or her own identity. (Remember: I agree there are instances where anonymity makes sense; I just choose not to interact that way.)

    Finally, to all those who choose to remain anonymous online: do you really believe that it is possible to maintain anonymity given all the tools that public and private organizations have for tracking your online behavior?

  29. Ambika Kamath
    Posted January 27, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks for a very insightful post. Just one thing: I tried to share this article on facebook, and for some reason the image that pops up is of the tweets between Dr. Isis and Gee, but the redaction you’ve inserted of Dr. Isis’ name disappears, revealing her name! Not sure if this is something that can be fixed, but I thought I should point it out.

    • Posted January 27, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Yeah. Some weird thing with caching at FB. I deleted that image a long time ago.

  30. adelady
    Posted January 27, 2014 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    May I point out one serious drawback to people using “real” names. They’re not exactly exclusive – the Steve project highlights this. One reason I chose to start out with a ‘nym is not that I’m a scientist, I’m not. But my real name is e.x.a.c.t.l.y the same as that of a journalist who writes regularly for international magazines like New Scientist and a couple of others.

    If I used my real name, every single thing I posted on any topic anywhere would need to include a disclaimer that I’m not that person. And/or I would find myself either not saying anything at all on contentious topics – so self-banning from any discussions on climate, vaccines, evolution, nuclear power and the like- or self censoring so that I never say what I think. And every time I reread something I wrote last week or last year I’d be hoping that some clumsy writing or a scientific error wouldn’t have damaged this unfortunate woman’s chances of a contract with her publishers.

    The ‘nym is the way to go.

  31. Posted January 28, 2014 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Michael, when I first read this post, I just put it away again. I didn’t want to spend the time unpacking everything with which I disagreed.

    I came back to it today, as somewhere I had followed a link to mid-way through the comment thread. And what a pleasant surprise!

    Even though there is significant disagreement expressed, this almost feels like a real conversation. The level hasn’t descended too far intolerably into ad hominem attacks. Some people have actually expressed things I would have written, and so I don’t have to. (Thank you, Gina D. I agree almost entirely, including the bit about how self-professed feminists don’t necessarily represent my point of view or experience, even if I have experienced my share of harassment. Shecky R’s comment about the “Latina” extraneous information was kind of my reaction, too. I can hardly think that was a relevant factoid to this situation.)

    Such conversations about controversial issues used to be the whole point of blogs. I am glad to know this still exists. Echo chambers may be the rule, but there are exceptions. Whew.

    What’s left to me is to compliment you on maintaining the comment thread and attracting the diversity of perspectives needed to remind us that it is actually possible to agree to disagree and that everyone needs not be convinced to think the same way for us to be able to get on with our lives and our research (when relevant) and still make contributions that command respect.

    This particular post is under my real name :-)

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