Somewhere on the Nature Network, someone just fucked his 50,000th goat . Unfortunately, there are only like 10 dudes who care. To think, it only took them three years to fuck that many goats (metaphorically, of course).
Figure 1: An artist’s representation of commenting over at the Nature Network.
Now, you might find yourself asking, “Isis, why are you so hostile toward that other blog network.” To be honest, before last night I really wasn’t and I have no interest whatsoever in any kind of ScienceBlogs/Nature feud. In fact, there’s a blog over there that I quite enjoy. Except of course that in this thread, rather than take the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishment of reaching 50,000 comments and engage in the type of self-referential, circle-jerk congratulatory behavior that gives us bloggy-types serious blog wood, some cockweaseldouchemonkeys used the opportunity to talk some trash and stir up some drama. The entire thread reveals blog community FAIL after FAIL. And of course, when Mama sees something like this…
…followed by Henry Gee running his pie hole about what a hypocrite I am and misconstruing what I said at ScienceOnline, I can hardly resist. Seriously, it’s like taking me into DSW and telling me not to touch anything. So, I figure if they’re going to keep starting beef (see DrugMonkey’s for more beef), you might as well finally hear the story of the civility panel that I have avoided telling (including naming Henry Gee by name) because Henry Gee made it such a hot heap of stinky awkwardness that I thought I might do him a small kindness by not making “Henry Gee completely lost his shit” trivially Googleable. But, here we go…
Since ScieneOnline is an “unconference”, the session was designed to be largely interactive. Sheril Kirshenbaum, Janet Stemwedel, and I each prepared about 3 minutes of comments and then intended to allow our audience to do most of the talking. Janet has a full set of the slides here. I want to focus specifically on what I said.
I defined the goals for my blog – establishing a community where individuals can discuss issues related to being a woman or “other” in science. Part of trying to achieve those goals means constantly reevaluating what you are doing and how that affects the health of the community, including maintaining a tone that your audience finds welcoming or “civil.” I confessed that I am not sure that I always do this effectively, but that I certainly have no problem with navel-gazing or self-reflection. I also threatened the life or anyone who tweeted that I was admitting that I am not perfect. I gave this definition of “incivility” from the Random House Dictionary…
If you’ve been around the blog, or read the post I wrote asking you for a definition of “civility”, then you already know that I find this definition to be insufficient en face. In fact, I find the fact that the dictionary still links “civility” to the archaic definition important and believe that the simple call to civility is frequently used to suppress people who have a valid reason to be angry. So, I sought an alternative and felt satisfied with this definition that I adapted from Wikipedia.
Slide 2: More hilarious photoshoppery and defacing of muppets. As I was posting this Little Isis asked, “Mommy, what does Grover have in his hand?”
I like this definition because it requires that the behavior be aimed at disrupting the community and lead to non-productive stress and disorder. Thus, we come back to my central thesis that you must first define the community’s goals because that will help define the behavior you’re willing to tolerate on your site. You’ve also got to be willing to ask who your standards for civility excludes. For example, I obviously tolerate the liberal use of foul language, providing it is not aimed at disparaging women, minorities, gays and lesbians, and the disabled (who I have admittedly not spoken much about before, but I am working on my own awareness. See above about navel-gazing). I’ll tolerate the use of the word “goatfucker,” but the first person who says “no homo” is off the island. I appreciate that Sheril Kirshenbaum’s blog is read by children, and she prefers to limit foul language, so I tone it down over there in order to help her further her goals. Before the session began, Janet and I had a series of conversations about my desire to show this video (if you’re at work, consider yourself warned), but when she expressed serious concerns that it would offend her readers, I backed down. See? Evaluating goals.
Then I postulated that the lack of clear tone can lead to chaos, or at least the establishment of a tone that you are not comfortable with. In the context of our session, I offered these comments from the ScienceBlogs website to illustrate an example of what, for me, constitutes uncivil behavior.
Slide 3: Seriously, I blew my Photoshop wad for ScienceOnline.
Quotes from the top panel are comments from my blog and the DrugMonkey blog. In the context of the goals for my blog that I gave, I consider those comments uncivil. But, maybe if you’re writing a blog about fellatio, you’d consider “suck a cock, Isis” to be totally within the margins of acceptable commenter behavior. Like, it’s some sort of encouragement or something.
I don’t know. Let’s move on.
The quote from the bottom panel is from my dear friend PhysioProf and is advice he gave his readers about co-first authorship on scientific papers. It’s phenomenal advice, and if you’re reading the DrugMonkey blog as a scientist in an exercise in professional development, this piece of advice should be among the required reading. Despite the use of naughty words, I’d argue that this advice probably advances the goals they have for their community.
I showed another example that is available in the complete set, but I won’t belabor the point. We then opened it to questions. I tried to limit my involvement to calling on people, with the occasional opinion thrown in for good measure. That’s when, as has been described previously, shit got real. Here’s a description of Henry’s actions from someone else who was there (I’ve learned since beginning this post that you can link to Nature comments, but you’ve gotta go just a hair shy of also flagging it as inappropriate and most of the bloggers don’t know how to do it) in response to Henry’s comment that he doesn’t like me:
Hey Henry Gee, you know who doesn’t like you? Me.
I was sitting behind you in Dr. Isis’s session on civility at ScienceOnline, and the way you belligerently yelled at the woman sitting next to me made me sick. Furthermore, at the conclusion of the session that you single-handedly turned into an episode of Jerry Springer by exhibiting a complete lack of self-control and masculine aggression, when you stood over her (and me) and yelled insults at her again before storming off, it made me afraid for the physical safety of us both. You may as well have physically attacked her, because the outcome was the same — it created a chilling, silencing effect. Because of what you did, the brave woman sitting next to me, as well as others in the room, might be deterred from speaking out against hegemenous patriarchal constructs in the future because they’ll be afraid assholes like you will come at them with testosterone-fueled rage. What you did there was defaming to you and the institution you were there representing, and are here representing on this forum, and you deserve every bit of criticism you have coming.
If there is anyone who is casting a pall over the enterprise, Henry Gee it is you.
So, there ya go little muffins. There’s the whole, scary, aggressive drama. The last point I didn’t get to make in the session because of all the shit getting real is that, in order to effectively gauge if you’re achieving your goals, you have to have effective metrics. We can talk in another post about my ideas for that.
So, my opinion of the Nature Network? Henry Gee can suck it, but there are some talented folks over there. By their own admission, they are incredibly insular and many of them have zero concept of what it means to social network in web 2.0. Did you know that tagging something “#natnet” (their own hastag) on Twitter is akin to talking in some type of private backchannel and that folks on the Nature Network have totes already civilly discussed women in science? In fact, Henry remains amazed that “there are still people in the world who take this stuff seriously, 40 years after Private Eye characterized all that stuff as ‘loony feminist nonsense’.”
Loony. Feminist. Nonsense.
I think it is a shame that Henry remains so angry so many days after the Great Meltdown of 2010, because there could have been things to be learned here. I think it is a shame that some of the Nature Network bloggers lost sight of what they accomplished in getting to 50,000 comments (insular as they are) in order to start a flame war that you know Mama now has to finish. I think it’s a shame that, instead of trying to evaluate what ScienceBloggers are doing right when they solicited feedback about being insular and some ScienceBloggers offered a response (including Dave Munger, Coturnix, and DrugMonkey), they took this as an opportunity to accuse the bloggers here of being traffic whores, as though this were some great abyss of chaos.
Figure 3: The state of things at ScienceBlogs, as seen by folks at the Nature Network.
But, you fine folks keep doing what you’re doing. And, most importantly, congratulations on this milestone and welcome to web 1.0.