Are there any opinions which cannot be held? January 5, 2009 11:27 PM   Subscribe

We saw two extremely emotional discussions yesterday on two extremely emotional topics. Some people in each thread held wildly unpopular views. Is there a moderator litmus test for censoring sincere opinions/arguments?

Assuming that Matt et. al use whatever detector they have and take a comment/post not just to be trolling, but actually just to be someone presenting a very radical/extreme opinion buttressed by at least some attempt to make a factual/logical argument, what, if any, are the limits of what can be argued here?

Is it one of those Supreme Court "I know obscenity when I see it" definitions? Can everything be argued if done properly?

I mostly asked because I was impressed with how relatively civil the Maggiore thread turned out, considering that many people I know (myself included) equate AIDS denial more or less with Holocaust denial on the "hot" end of the thermometer of offensive opinions.
posted by Damn That Television to Etiquette/Policy at 11:27 PM (86 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

No, there are no limits to what can be argued here. Argue away. We are stong, and bright. We mostly self-moderate. Isn't that tremendous? Would you want mathowie, cortex and jessamyn to step further? I would NOT.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:32 PM on January 5, 2009 [9 favorites]


Well, yeah, I've been lurking since like 2005, so I get that it's self-moderated under most circumstances. I'm talking about the most extreme of the extreme here. And plz note I didn't express a desire one way or the other about moderation in my question -- I just really got interested all of a sudden in the outliers of the site's experiences.
posted by Damn That Television at 11:37 PM on January 5, 2009


Mathowie writes on the New User page;

"... I trust you. I trust that you'll act in a civilized manner, that you'll treat others with opposing viewpoints with absolute respect, that you'll contribute in a positive way to the intelligent discussions that take place here everyday.

I give you the benefit of the doubt, because I trust you, so all that I ask is for you to honor that trust and promise to become a good contributor.

When the level of discourse here is high, conversations are typified by good contributions from a variety of viewpoints and experiences. Be respectful of others, bring your experiences and share them with everyone. If you make a statement of fact, show supporting evidence (hopefully as hyperlinks to other web resources). When everyone brings intelligent, thoughtful commentary to a thread, MetaFilter is the best it can possibly be. If you have a unique perspective on a topic, by all means contribute. If you'd like to express an opposing viewpoint in a respectful way, by all means contribute. If you'd like to add supporting facts and statistics or stories from others you've found elsewhere on the web, by all means contribute.

One of the things that makes MetaFilter valuable to its members is the contributions of the community. This means that a comment is appreciated for the value that it adds to the discussion. With many topics, members go into a conversation already having a general idea of how they feel about the subject. The most valuable posts present new information, new perspectives, and new ideas that challenge each of us to consider not just what we believe, but why we believe it."


I think that this is pretty much the be-all and end-all of how the mods operate here (and, by the way, one of the reasons I love this place). The only time the mods really seem to delete comments is if people are posting them with the express purpose of being a troll. Other than that, no, I don't think there are any opinions which can't be held as far as the mods are concerned.
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:45 PM on January 5, 2009


If someone is sincere and level-headed, there is pretty much no limit to what can be argued here (I guess except for hair-trigger illegal stuff like saying you're going to shoot a prominent politician or something). I've never deleted something simply because I disagreed with it strongly, there had to be malice or name-calling, or trolling, or something else sinister going on.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:47 PM on January 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just don't mention the war!
posted by jonmc at 11:59 PM on January 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks Matt. My reason for asking is best encapsulated in your final few words -- I am a pretty bland guy when it comes to most things, and even though I have very strongly held political beliefs, I never really get away from keeping cool when discussing them. However, when reading the AIDS denial thread today, I got so angry that I just started to assume that there was something sinister/insincere going on at first.

One small other thing, just while I have your ear: what if the wildly unpopular opinion is, by its very nature, malicious in some way, even when argued level-headedly and sincerely?
posted by Damn That Television at 11:59 PM on January 5, 2009


I don't think it is very civil for multiple people to instruct a fellow commenter to inject herself with HIV so that she can die and thus make the world a better place.
posted by loiseau at 12:01 AM on January 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


Comments on the blue get deleted if they fall into the "creepy stalker/personal attack" bin, but otherwise no. Holding a contentious viewpoint doesn't qualify.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:07 AM on January 6, 2009


One small other thing, just while I have your ear: what if the wildly unpopular opinion is, by its very nature, malicious in some way, even when argued level-headedly and sincerely?

Then you can refute it point by point and demonstrate why it is malicious and wrong. I've seen people drop into a thread and leave borderline bombastic comments that sane, rational people took completely apart and I definitely prefer that to name-calling or anything worse.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:10 AM on January 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't get why remaining unconvinced by evidence would be offensive, either about the Holocaust or about AIDS. I thought that the reason Holocaust deniers are offensive isn't that they don't believe it happened, it's that they believe that Jews are deliberately inflating the number for their own purposes. That is, they are unconvinced and they are anti-Semitic. I think it's possible to imagine someone who is (at least temporarily) unconvinced but does not have an offensive alternative theory.

Unless you are offended by stupidity, which I can definitely see. Although in that case, I might be more inclined to be offended by something even more patently obvious, such as the roundness of the Earth, the obfuscation of the GOP or the ridiculosity of religion.
posted by DU at 4:42 AM on January 6, 2009


I don't think it is very civil for multiple people to instruct a fellow commenter to inject herself with HIV so that she can die and thus make the world a better place.

Well, I suggested that the commenter was a coward for not injecting herself with HIV, but I certainly didn't wish her dead.

One might argue that my suggestion was among the most civil in the thread, as it gave the denier the benefit of the doubt that HIV does not cause AIDS, and therefore would not be harmful if injected. Within the context of the conversation, that is, within the context of that deniers claims about the relative harmfulness of HIV, my suggestion was not even cruel. In an argument for such an extreme position, surely its permissible to suggest that there is an easy way for the anti-science proponent to prove their point?

For Maggiore, however: slight regard, contempt, and anything else that does not misbecome the mighty sender.
posted by OmieWise at 5:03 AM on January 6, 2009


The earth is flat fyi.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:24 AM on January 6, 2009


The earth is phat fyi. (FTFY)
posted by Jofus at 5:33 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Metafilter is already hostile enough toward unpopular opinions. It would be unfortunate if the moderators decided to sanitize discussions by removing unpopular viewpoints - as opposed to removing uncivil comments, which is good.

I expected this post to be a complaint about the name-calling and shoutdowns that watercressprincess endured. I'm thankful that the signal-to-noise ratio in that discussion was favorable - due to the heroic efforts of some constructive posters and the comment-deleting mods. The posters calling her a troll did nothing useful.
posted by yath at 5:37 AM on January 6, 2009


I've learned, through my own trial and error, that just about anything can be argued here so long as it's done respectfully.

Sometimes, it's the OP that sets the tone with a title that may have seemed clever at the moment but later feels crass (e.g. "Don't Murder Me Bro"). Or, in other cases, the post is so laden with editorial content that readers are immediately put on the defensive. I've made this mistake in the Blue and gotten (justifiably) thrashed for it. The lesson I had to learn is that Metafilter isn't a place for me to drum up support for my own opinion or to have my opinions validated. If I don't want to hear views that are diametrically opposed to my own, I shouldn't be here.

Great discussions about hot-button topics are often sired by a post which contains little or no editorial comment. This allows commenters to respond to the issue, rather than responding to the post (which is a nuanced difference).
posted by DWRoelands at 6:19 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


What a weird Meta post. It's almost like a passive aggressive version of "why didn't you delete these comments?"
posted by smackfu at 6:23 AM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


The posters calling her a troll did nothing useful.

Oh, I don't think the lady was trolling. Congenital contrariness is my preliminary diagnosis. In only 41 comments she's already exhibited a fondness for HIV/AIDS denialist theories, Ron Paul, and the phrase "new world order." Presuming she doesn't take OmieWise's dare, the patient will probably live.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:30 AM on January 6, 2009


Well, I suggested that the commenter was a coward for not injecting herself with HIV, but I certainly didn't wish her dead.

I think that was me, and I too left open the possibility that she was right, as a source for her making the world a better place. But it's already been done, allegedly; I remember the story of Dr Abalaka. If those article dates are to be believed, he was still around 6 years after injecting himself with HIV. Of course the dormancy time is in decades....
posted by nomisxid at 6:35 AM on January 6, 2009


Is there a moderator litmus test for censoring sincere opinions/arguments?

What Matt said; there really isn't. Sincere opinions and arguments can get problematic on unrelated axes and force the issue, certainly, like when the Maggiore thread took a dip into "fuck you" "no fuck you" territory, but an unpopular opinion presented in a civil matter is usually just something to be argued out in the clear.

There are some meta-discursive elements that can make it really hard for a civil conversation to happen or to continue—if the subject is deeply, deeply charged to the point where hostility is a guaranteed outcome; if a position is strongly historically correlated with a rock-solid taboo to the point where benefit-of-the-doubt going in is shot for most respondents; if the person arguing the unpopular line is a poor or hot-headed communicator despite whatever sincerity drives their argumentation; if the person making the argument is a one-track mind and will not moderate their own involvement with the topic or the volume of their output; and so on.

And probably the hardest part of managing these sorts of tough conversations, from our end, is when those meta issues end up conflated with the subject of the discussion to the point where it's hard to take action on the problematic side without having some disruptive effect on the core conversation itself. We aren't going to have people just running around screaming "AND FFFFFFUUUUCCK YOOOUUUUU!" unchecked, but since people like as not appending their FU to another rebuttal, it gets up their shirt that their comment got deleted, or that their FU was the one that crossed the threshold when someone three comments back was nearly as rude and didn't and it's turtles all the way down, etc.

(And roughly speaking I'd say it's just that sort of situation that's responsible for most of the cases where someone writes us shitty mefimail or contact form email about how we're a bunch of fucking Nazis or Rovian Bushites or Leftist Cocksuckers or whatever the fuck it is that day.)

I'm really glad we don't have any verboten subjects here, and I'm glad both those threads have been mostly even keeled even if large stretches of both have made for not exactly pleasant reading for me personally. I think mefi works pretty well, even relatively so for the things it doesn't do particularly well.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:00 AM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


bout how we're a bunch of fucking Nazis or Rovian Bushites or Leftist Cocksuckers

Not to stir things up, but do you guys get a lot of that stuff? Sure, not everyone will agree with your various actions, but the vicious hate filled name calling that's dead serious? Really? That seems so odd.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:25 AM on January 6, 2009


Man, all you folks just need to realize the reality of the four distinct HIVs that make up the AIDS-CUBE. Taser all the teachers!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:29 AM on January 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


I don't think the lady was trolling.

Part of the reason why trolling works is that it's very difficult to distinguish a troll from someone who genuinely has opinions that happen to rub people the wrong way, enough so that I think it's pointless to go through the whole troll or not routine.

I think it's more productive to leave the motives out of it (even though motive is the defining aspect of actual trolling) and focus on trollish behaviors themselves. So was watercressprincess doing the things that trolls tend to do?

Making claims that tend to get people riled up: Yes, it seems pretty clear from the results of the thread that sparks strong emotional reactions.

Drive-by single inflammatory comments in multiple threads: No, at least not in this case.

Many combative comments in a single thread: Yes, watercressprincess posted 19 comments in the thread, most of which were disagreeing with someone.

Baiting people into arguments: Yes, watercressprincess explicitly requested that people show proof, in what I consider to be an attempt to start an argument rather than as a genuine appeal for information. To be fair, some of those comments were responses to people calling her an idiot without any supporting evidence.

Gratuitous offensive statements or personal attacks: No, even when others went with personal attacks against her.

Obviously irrational or wildly contradictory arguments: Not that I can tell. I don't agree with her claims, but as a non-expert on the issue I can't dismiss her arguments as being completely unreasonable.

Misrepresenting or ignoring the points of other people when quoting or addressing them: Again, not as far as I can tell. The technical details are over my head honestly, but watercressprincess' comments seemed to address people directly rather the usual deflection and confusion troll tactics.

So, in my opinion, watercressprincess' behavior was only trollish in that she started an vigorously participated in an argument about a controversial topic. Based on this incident alone I don't think she was being especially disruptive, regardless of her motives.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:40 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't get why remaining unconvinced by evidence would be offensive, either about the Holocaust or about AIDS.

I'm with you on this -- I think they belong with the flat-earthers. But I think what's behind the hostility is the assumption (often correct) that skepticism is often used as a cover for less wholesome ideologies. In that way, I think you're right that it's the anti-semitism (for example) that's the problem, not the doubt, but that's why I think you see that reaction.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:47 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


what if the wildly unpopular opinion is, by its very nature, malicious in some way, even when argued level-headedly and sincerely?

90% of malicious comments made on the Blue will conform to the prevailing Metafilter opinion and therefore rack up tons of favorites. Why should people be punished for not being malicious in the right way?
posted by Bookhouse at 8:09 AM on January 6, 2009 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure that remaining unconvinced by evidence is offensive, either. What I do know, though, is that it's so wrongheaded and unsupportable that it becomes incredibly frustrating to talk to someone about. If you've ever tried to read an article by a historical revisionist, or a flat-earther, it can make you want to tear your hair out because it's just so unbelievably poorly thought out but firmly believed and worse: tends to cause death and misery. Holocaust Denial would be kind of funny, except... If you've never seen the Errol Morris documentary "Mr. Death," see it. He's kind of a funny guy, and his ideas and everything are almost laughable, except that they end up as propaganda for neo-nazis who then go out and terrorize people. Intelligent Design is so stupid it's funny, except it helped get Bush Jr. elected and continues to infect our political discourse. And when nothing you say can possibly change someone's mind because they have deep within themselves refused to accept evidence of the truth it gets even more frustrating when that winds up causing people misery and even death.

This doesn't excuse the behavior some mefites exhibit, but hopefully it helps explain where that behavior might come from.
posted by shmegegge at 8:22 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm with you on this -- I think they belong with the flat-earthers.

Not exactly. Flat earthers, along with a range of other conspiracy theorists, may be nuts but they're relatively harmless.

AIDS denialists and some of the other junk medicine people are seeking to convince people to ignore treatments that actually work, and adopt health care strategies that may put their lives at great risk. Many of the people who do this stuff have vested interests in pushing worthless complementary therapies. Matthias Rath springs to mind, along with those people who sell chelation therapy as a treatment for autism.

If they were simply putting themselves at risk, I'd be happy to go along with seeing them as useful nominees for a Darwin award. But given there attempts to persuade others and disrupt the important public health agenda with regard to these issues, failing to acknowledge their idiocy creates huge risks.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:23 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm very glad to be a member of a site that does not censor any person's opinions, yet strives for a civil level of discourse (and mostly achieves it).
posted by desjardins at 8:40 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Flat earthers, along with a range of other conspiracy theorists, may be nuts but they're relatively harmless.

Unless you ask one to navigate an airplane flight.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:48 AM on January 6, 2009


what if the wildly unpopular opinion is, by its very nature, malicious in some way, even when argued level-headedly and sincerely?

What's an example? We've found historically that the times when people are arguing and incredibly unpopular and possibly harmful opinion, they're often arguing in some way that leads to other site problems. The downside here is that telling someone "I think you need a day off because you're totally monopolizing that thread and calling everyone a bunch of child molestors" can be seen by the person arguing to be "oh my gosh you're censoring me for my beliefs!" and it becomes very touchy to go back and forth with that person and/or keep the thread civil.

The AIDS/HIV denialist thread was particularly interesting because the person with the unpopular views was actually someone with some level of stature which made her comments slightly more worth paying attention to than the average person with wacky op9nions and also scary. The big thing that we did in that thread, as moderators, was remove comments linking to her real name/reserch and to her principal investigator and I went back and forth with a few people over IM about that.

The biggest issue we face is someone who says something either totally off the wall aggressive or totally off the wall crazy/hurtful/harmful and then a LOT of people respond to it meaning we can't really remove the comment without a huge thread prune which is something we try to avoid if we can (and I personally wouldn't do in the blue without at least running it by cortex and/or mathwoie and preferably both). So things that are perhaps more hostile than we think is appropriate may stay because they're locked into the thread by the time we see them.

Otherwise I'm with the other guys, in AskMe there's more of a bright line for comment removal and not answering the question. In MeFi it's mostly just being terribly fighty, aggressive or anti-community [those are my loose paraphrased feelings, not policy outlines] and not anythign abotu the content of what you're saying unless it's "we're gonna get in trouble just for leaving that up [assassination talk] and otherwise it's good.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:48 AM on January 6, 2009


Not to stir things up, but do you guys get a lot of that stuff? Sure, not everyone will agree with your various actions, but the vicious hate filled name calling that's dead serious? Really? That seems so odd.

Not a lot of it. Maybe once a month or so, varying from outright nutso vitriol down to mere petulant assypantsing. It's also one of those things where because some of it comes via personal mail I don't necessarily know when some goes nuttersville on Jess or Matt and vice versa; we seem to each attract our own flavors of that sort of thing to a degree, I think, based on our personalities and who pushed which button when.

It's something that just kind of comes with the job, and as much as I growl at the screen now and then when it happens it's not really that big of a deal—that it's as infrequent as it is is I think again a mark in Mefi's favor, that a community this big doesn't produce much in the way of flipouts and personal attacks even with thousands of comments flying around on the site every day.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:03 AM on January 6, 2009


{{fact}}
posted by Artw at 9:09 AM on January 6, 2009


The moderators are incredibly open-minded and content-neutral in their moderation.

Those responding to comments? Not so much. There is a rush to be offended, castigate, label, and yell at the source. There is rarely a rush of "sane, rational people" that "take [the comment] completely apart" as Matt notes. Would that there was more of the latter, the marketplace of ideas would solve it all. Unfortunately, we have an increasing amount of the former, increasing both in number and in scope. Across wider swaths of subjects, dialogue and disputation is replaced by shrillness and vitriol. Or at least drowned out by it.

As it is so often the case, the problems come from the reaction and not the original comment. The original comment can always be sufficiently handled as Matt described and things can proceed without incident. But when the predictable nasty derision comes out, things go badly.

Kudos to the moderators. Wish your example was more consistently followed by everyone, including me.
posted by dios at 9:19 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


do you guys get a lot of that stuff? Sure, not everyone will agree with your various actions, but the vicious hate filled name calling that's dead serious? Really? That seems so odd.

Yeah once a month seems about right. I've only gotten what I would term scarymail a few times ever and I've just set my email filter to /dev/null the guy and let mathowie and cortex know in case scaryman wanted to complain about it to them.

Having a thick skin for some of this is part of the job, having a short memory is also part of it (a good chung of angrymail comes with apologies later) and also understanding that when you're in some sort of power relationship (I can delete your stuff, you can't delete my stuff) that can push people's buttons and it's pretty important to know how to defuse and smooth things over.

One of the more awesome parts of working here is that in almost all cases we're on the same page so people can talk to whichever one of us they feel the most comfortable with but if that doesn't work out right they can talk to the others and most likely get the same story and/or response just in a different way. mathowie cortex and I have different approaches, but our interpretations of the site guidelines don't vary too much so we don't get into a "if mom says no ask dad" situation where people try to play us off each other. And yeah agreeing with cortex, I'm pretty impressed how little we have in terms of flipouts and freakouts considering how much discussion happens here on the site.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:21 AM on January 6, 2009


Aw, c'mon, mods, when I said I'd kill you, I meant at Scrabble. Jeez.

(I am going to shoot a prominent politician WITH MY LOVE RAYS)
posted by klangklangston at 9:43 AM on January 6, 2009


I delete Jessamyn's comments by covering them with black magic marker.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:43 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


man, i have gotten so frothingly mad at someone that the resulting comment was deleted. just raging "FFFFFUCCCKKKK YOOOOUUUUU!" style shit.

and I gotta say, though i'm not questioning the deletions, I do happen to believe that there are times when someone is being such an unbelievable dickhole that the only sane response really is a hearty "fuck you." but maybe that's why i'm not and never will be a mod. it's a weird thing, thoough, that the person who is literally contributing nothing to the discussion but veiled insults won't get deleted so long as he doesn't sound angry when he makes the comments. but someone getting angry at him for being that insulting is what's over the line. I can understand not wanting to foster rage on the site, obviously, but there is a weird tolerance for jerkitude sometimes.
posted by shmegegge at 9:48 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I hear you, but the subtle jerk isn't excluded from email telling them to cut it out, etc. Keeping the overall level of fuckyouness low is one goal in its own right, but it's not the only thing we're up to on our end; and as satisfying as a hearty in-thread fuck you can be, it's really pretty much never the only way someone can deal with a jerk.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:58 AM on January 6, 2009


Not exactly. Flat earthers, along with a range of other conspiracy theorists, may be nuts but they're relatively harmless.

AIDS denialists and some of the other junk medicine people are seeking to convince people to ignore treatments that actually work, and adopt health care strategies that may put their lives at great risk.


Well no. Mere holders of a certain opinion aren't rightly compared to activists for another. If flat earthers were ruining geography and science classes, that might be one thing. I get that you're talking about real-world effect, and that this is not what is happening, but there is no basic difference between a person honestly doubting one and a person honestly doubting the other. When I say that I lump them in with the flat-earthers, I'm not saying that it's ludicrous for Germany, for example, to legislate limits to activism on the basis of Holocaust denial (though the line-drawing can be troubling). I am saying that, for conversational purposes on an internet forum, where "activism" already has its limits, the "deniers", whether they be of the Holocaust, of climate change, or of the spherical nature of the Earth, deserve to be treated alike: as a joke, not a threat.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:02 AM on January 6, 2009


Metafilter: petulant assypantsing
posted by slogger at 10:07 AM on January 6, 2009


whether they be of the Holocaust, of climate change, or of the spherical nature of the Earth, deserve to be treated alike: as a joke, not a threat.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:02 PM on January 6

How about treating them as a third category: as a representative of a point of view you disagree with and attempt to offer up why you disagree with them.

The problem with you assigning a label and then declaring, by way of nothing more than ipse dixit, that all who are labeled such are a joke not worthy of anything other than mockery, is that you do not account for the fact that you may be wrong, either about the topic or the label.
posted by dios at 10:10 AM on January 6, 2009


Yeah, I hear you, but the subtle jerk isn't excluded from email telling them to cut it out, etc. Keeping the overall level of fuckyouness low is one goal in its own right, but it's not the only thing we're up to on our end; and as satisfying as a hearty in-thread fuck you can be, it's really pretty much never the only way someone can deal with a jerk.

yeah, totally true. I know my own instances of fuckyouness were completely right to be deleted, as an example. i think the difficulty for us to know precisely how much you guys are doing behind the scenes is unfortunate and unavoidable.
posted by shmegegge at 10:16 AM on January 6, 2009


petulant assypantsing

This my new favorite phrase, and I am so going to use it on my students next semester -- though perhaps not to their faces.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:21 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


How about treating them as a third category: as a representative of a point of view you disagree with and attempt to offer up why you disagree with them.

I certainly think that's appropriate. My suggestion was more intended as a recipe for dealing with what appears to be a need to vent what would otherwise be hostility. I am definitely in favour of dealing with the evidence presented and arguing these matters on their face. I think the typical MeFite reaction to these kinds of arguments, though, stems from either repeatedly refuting the same basic misconceptions and poor evidence, or as I said, suspicion that they are used as cover for ideologies that would be unpalatable if nakedly put forward. My answer to refuting the same poor evidence or argument for the Nth time: let someone else do it. It's better for the blood pressure that way.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:27 AM on January 6, 2009


How about treating them as a third category: as a representative of a point of view you disagree with and attempt to offer up why you disagree with them.

This would be an extraordinarily tolerant way to deal with people who claim that the earth is flat. I'm not sure that I'd have the patience for it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:40 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Derision and mockery have played a vital function in human society from the earliest days of recorded history; for every sensitive genius they may have caught in the crossfire they've saved us from ten thousand more pointless, dangerous or offensive arsewipes. And it's also to your benefit: if you're going to subscribe to some out-there views, what better than to first put them through the crucible of public opinion so as to refine the gold from the dross?
posted by Abiezer at 10:48 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


As someone said in the AIDS thread, you can't reason someone out of a viewpoint they didn't reason themselves into.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:50 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


i think the difficulty for us to know precisely how much you guys are doing behind the scenes is unfortunate and unavoidable.

For my participation in the thread, I think I removed

- two outing comments which dragged in the personal information of another mefite
- two "fuck you, no fuck you" comments

That's it. The thread pretty well ran itself for the most part, fwiw.

I know there's a difference of opinion about whether nearly-uncontrollable rage is ever justified in the face of obstinate refusal to "face facts" but our general opinion here is that we'd prefer people to focus on the topics and not the people and "I hope you die in a fire" talk is pretty much not okay. It's sometimes tricky and/or messy to moderate and I'm sure we blow it sometimes but I hope we don't blow it often.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:53 AM on January 6, 2009


This would be an extraordinarily tolerant way to deal with people who claim that the earth is flat. I'm not sure that I'd have the patience for it.

If it will help, consider that you haven't - I assume - really demonstrated for yourself that the earth is round. You've been presented a claim by books and pictures and society and decided "OK, I believe them."

Now the flat-earthers have chosen to believe a much smaller group of people whose books are not as widely published. But they're still accepting an argument from authority - just like you.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:55 AM on January 6, 2009


And because I can't resist...

Metafilter: ten thousand more pointless, dangerous or offensive arsewipes
posted by Joe Beese at 10:55 AM on January 6, 2009


This would be an extraordinarily tolerant way to deal with people who claim that the earth is flat.

Well what ends up happening in reality is that people make a call as to whether or not they think the poster is being genuine in the representation of his/her beliefs. If the answer is yes, then there is usually some attempt to address the evidence. If the answer is no, then some hostility/impatience is directed at the poster. Of course, impatience may result in conveniently assuming disingenuineness, but adopting a skeptical pose over well-refuted counterevidence is classic trolling and is not exactly unheard of on the intarwebs.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:16 AM on January 6, 2009


Metafilter: my knowledge is better than your knowledge.
posted by mrmojoflying at 11:25 AM on January 6, 2009


If it will help, consider that you haven't - I assume - really demonstrated for yourself that the earth is round. You've been presented a claim by books and pictures and society and decided "OK, I believe them." Now the flat-earthers have chosen to believe a much smaller group of people whose books are not as widely published. But they're still accepting an argument from authority - just like you.

Observing an eclipse or the curvature of the planet from an appropriate vantage point doesn't require accepting any argument from an authority.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:25 AM on January 6, 2009


I refuse to listen to your arguments from authority, just as I refuse to note that the sails of ships appear over the horizon before their decks.

Also: yo mamma.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:32 AM on January 6, 2009


I've never deleted something simply because I disagreed with it strongly, there had to be malice or name-calling, or trolling, or something else sinister going on.

Or a fourth category: celebrities with expensive lawyers. Unfortunately.
posted by Justinian at 12:00 PM on January 6, 2009


If it will help, consider that you haven't - I assume - really demonstrated for yourself that the earth is round.

I did once Google Ron Paul.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:04 PM on January 6, 2009


Observing an eclipse or the curvature of the planet from an appropriate vantage point doesn't require accepting any argument from an authority.

I assume flat-earthers have never been in space. And they may be afraid to fly - due to the gremlins that can tear wings off airplanes.

Eclipses are easily explained by CIA brain ray technology.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:04 PM on January 6, 2009


Observing an eclipse or the curvature of the planet from an appropriate vantage point doesn't require accepting any argument from an authority.

Other than the authority of your own senses, from which all other authority is derived. So when flat-earthers, Holocaust and HIV deniers hold a particular sensory or logical blind spot, they end up making conclusions from what they cannot or will not see.

The best thing we can do for each other as human beings is point out these blind spots so that we help prevent others from falling into the same traps.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:15 PM on January 6, 2009


Every time I see an eclipse, I simply do the Eclipse Chant to stave off the destruction of the universe by the Sun Eaters, who are clearly attempting to consume Sol. And it works, every time! CAN YOUR SCIENCE COMPETE WITH THAT?
posted by Greg Nog at 12:18 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


My rock keeps away tigers, scientifically.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:35 PM on January 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


The Tigers Have Spoken, and they told me that they are mostly sticking to country noir these days. Great success, jessamyn!
posted by adipocere at 12:48 PM on January 6, 2009


Jessamyn, I would like to buy your rock.

With which to clout Greg Nog, who is getting a little too close to the truth for My Dark Lord Who Consumes Yet Is Never Sated's liking.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:53 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The best thing we can do for each other as human beings is point out these blind spots

No, the best we thing we can do for each other as human beings is help each other find good Chinese food.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:58 PM on January 6, 2009


A guy once tried to sell me a tiger's tooth. Truse story. He had it on a necklace. He said it would protect me from gunshots.

I asked him how the tiger died. He moved on to another customer.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:58 PM on January 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


How about treating them as a third category: as a representative of a point of view you disagree with and attempt to offer up why you disagree with them.

Insistence on polite, reasoned argumentation -- the last refuge of the deeply delusional.
posted by fleacircus at 1:51 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mods/all: thanks for some very good answers to my question(s).
posted by Damn That Television at 2:06 PM on January 6, 2009


Insistence on polite, reasoned argumentation -- the last refuge of the deeply delusional.

There's a place for reasoned skepticism and the Socratic method, but I agree that it's not necessary to give equal airtime to false views.

The trick is to know when the person you're discussing an issue with has chosen to remain stubbornly ignorant, despite empirical evidence and reason. At that point you cut the discussion short and move on.

To a degree nearly all creationists, flat-earthers, HIV and Holocaust deniers fall into this category. Best to use them as warning signs to others.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:06 PM on January 6, 2009


I like to use them as whetstones upon which to sharpen my spears.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:12 PM on January 6, 2009


Just in case you were worried it would only be 2, we have a breastfeeding thread today!
posted by Eideteker at 2:39 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Headed over now!
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:46 PM on January 6, 2009


Alla y'all are crazy insane. Proof? Here.
posted by deborah at 2:51 PM on January 6, 2009


*Tears off jessamyn's clothes, shoves her out of the cave into the snow, chanting and throwing dirt. gestures at a male member of the group, oh howabout you, BP, to come pick up the rock, keeping a good distance from it. Takes jessamyn's, oh, say, hoodie, and wraps it around waist. Gestures at breasts, points at rock and shouts, once for every woman in the room, while staring at them directly. Gestures at self, pounding chest. Makes a simple pantomime sign like a keyboard. Repeats the chest-pounding and typing gestures for emphasis. Sits by BP's feet and chews sinew.*
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:04 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Modern dance sucks.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:07 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


And the reason we allow calm argumentation no matter how ludicrous the starting point is that it produces comments like this.

Kind of like watching Michael Schumacher show up to a Driver's Ed class: vaguely embarrassing but oh so satisfying.
posted by Skorgu at 3:12 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


*Tears off jessamyn's clothes, shoves her out of the cave into the snow

Please don't. I get your point but don't.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:22 PM on January 6, 2009


Just in case you were worried it would only be 2, we have a breastfeeding thread today!

Apparently, "Facebook is entitled to enforce its Terms of Service" is an opinion which cannot be held.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:30 PM on January 6, 2009


There may be better paths to expressing that opinion than the one that was taken, is a pretty key idea here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:35 PM on January 6, 2009


Apparently, "Facebook is entitled to enforce its Terms of Service" is an opinion which cannot be held.

Apparently you are still a little new here and think that statements like "This is an attempt to revenge the naricissistic wound inflicted by the reminder that your baby is not special." are in some way furthering the discussion not gringing it to a screetching halt while people stare at you and say "the helll..." as their jaw drops.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:43 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Apparently you are still a little new here and think that statements like "This is an attempt to revenge the naricissistic wound inflicted by the reminder that your baby is not special."

So babies ARE special snowflakes?
posted by nomisxid at 4:24 PM on January 6, 2009


The trick is to know when the person you're discussing an issue with has chosen to remain stubbornly ignorant, despite empirical evidence and reason.

There's a fine line between what you consider to be "empirical evidence" and what could be thrown into doubt. Keep in mind that a hundred years ago nobody believed in continental drift and the best explanations anyone could offer for some phenomena involved sunken continents and possibly wind- or bird-driven dispersal of monkeys. These ideas seem patently false today, but at the time they seemed like the best ideas. Don't admit every idea, but keep an open mind— today's crackpot theory or lunatic notion could be tomorrow's common sense. These people must be engaged, not in such a way that gives them legitimacy necessarily, but in such a way that they continue their investigations. What if AIDS actually isn't caused by HIV? What if the world actually is flat? Unless we encourage the crackpot scientists— not at the expense of the real ones, but just enough to keep them going— we'll never experience the quantum leaps of knowledge that result from an outside theory being proven correct.

The other trouble with this attitude is that people apply it to non-scientific things, too, like politics or religion, where people assume that people who disagree with them are insane, or are possessed by devils, or whatever. This leads to a breakdown of civil society, as people who hold different opinions have rocks thrown at them whenever they rear their heads. Holding a few deeply unpopular ideas myself, I can say that you're not going to change my mind just by playing the howler monkey. All you are doing is winning the approval of your peers, who are the same as you. Maybe you think yourself better than me, but do not presume that I am insane simply because I believe what I believe.
posted by Electrius at 5:00 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The trick is to know when the person you're discussing an issue with has chosen to remain stubbornly ignorant, despite empirical evidence and reason.

For insight into why people do this, and what they gain from it, I recommend reading Power Works, Power Plays by John Fiske. Lots of stuff out there on media, power, etc., but Fiske looks specifically at the dichotomy between rational/scientific knowledge and folk reckonings in American culture.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:54 PM on January 6, 2009


Ignorance can be cured with knowledge; unfortunately, hatred is the fire that feeds itself.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:51 PM on January 6, 2009


There's a fine line between what you consider to be "empirical evidence" and what could be thrown into doubt.

There is no line, everything is in doubt. The best the species can manage is using empirical evidence to validate theories. Reality is the benchmark and nature doesn't seem to brook a "third way", even if the crackpots and the religious hope and pray otherwise. If you think the world is flat, you've got a lot of homework ahead of you.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:33 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


... you can't reason someone out of a viewpoint they didn't reason themselves into.

Atheists who were raised as religious would disagree, among others.
posted by philomathoholic at 2:19 AM on January 7, 2009


These people must be engaged, not in such a way that gives them legitimacy necessarily, but in such a way that they continue their investigations. What if AIDS actually isn't caused by HIV? What if the world actually is flat? Unless we encourage the crackpot scientists— not at the expense of the real ones, but just enough to keep them going— we'll never experience the quantum leaps of knowledge that result from an outside theory being proven correct.

Ridiculous. Do you actually think crackpots need encouragement to continue? "Oh dear, nobody's engaged my flat-earth theory in a respectful way, in fact people keep telling me to shut up and go away... guess I'll give in and accept the consensus." That's not the way people work. People who refuse to accept the consensus, whether crackpots (flat earth) or ahead of their time (continental drift), are stubborn and do not depend on validation from the likes of us. And a good thing too, because I have no intention of wasting my time and energy engaging crackpots in a respectful way so they can continue their valuable crackpottery.
posted by languagehat at 7:31 AM on January 7, 2009


Ridiculous. Do you actually think crackpots need encouragement to continue?

The real scientists might. The crazy people looking for confirmation of their theories in the stars probably don't.
posted by Electrius at 8:04 AM on January 7, 2009


The real scientists might.

Scientists are not crackpots, by definition. A scientist's experiments are repeatable and a scientist's theories can be validated. A real scientist will encourage others to repeat the experiment and take apart the theory. A crackpot values secrecy and doesn't allow independent verification or evaluation. It is fairly easy to tell scientists apart from crackpots, despite romantic notions otherwise.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:27 AM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


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