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clod's avatar

Is anonymity really an advantage?

Asked by clod (141points) March 2nd, 2012

Fluther has complete anonymity, and this may be advantageous in some settings, i.e. asking a personal question. However, if one really wanted a definitive answer, wouldn’t it be better to know who you are getting your answer from? Anonymity also allows people to be harsher and meaner than that might otherwise be if they used their real names. Thoughts?

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74 Answers

Nullo's avatar

Anonymity kind of goes away as one increases his presence in the community. For instance, right you are just @clod, but a few thousand lurves down the road and we will know you, from your posts. Or you’ll leave before you get there. You either stop being anonymous (in the 4chan sense) on your own or you will cease to be relevant.
We counter the GIFT issue with strict moderation.

chyna's avatar

It depends on what you are looking for. If you just want other people’s opinions, does it really matter who they are? If you are seeking medical advice, although we have plenty of qualified medical specialists here, you can get their advice but seek medical advice concerning your unique conditions and prior health issues from your own doctor. I like hearing that others have had some of the same issues I have had and can give me their input or tell me how they have handled the same situation. Again, I don’t need to know who they are, but after being on this site for as long as I have, I have gotten to know many of the jellies and trust that they are giving me their best advice.

Kardamom's avatar

For me anonymity is very important. I could not/would not be able to give complete and concise answers without it, as I often have to relate my own personal experiences as examples. If my friends, relatives, neighbors or co-workers knew who I was on this site, they would probably be upset. And I would never mean to hurt those people, but personal experience is the only thing I’ve got (in addition to Google).

On the other hand, like @Nullo said, we’re never totally anonymous. You can pretty much tell what kind of person I am, what I like, what I don’t like, what my political leanings are, what my religious beliefs are, what my sexual orientation is, what part of the country I’m from, by my answers, but that still doesn’t say, “Hey I’m Joe Blow and I live at this address, work at this company, and my phone number is XYZ!”

And like @chyna said, it doesn’t really make much difference who any of us are as long as you think that we’re real people (and not trolls) and that we’re on this site to help people get good/straight/legitimate/useful answers. If you don’t think that about us, Fluther is not the place for you.

In the real world, I would not have ever been able to give half the answers that I give on Fluther. People in the real world either think I’m too old or too young, not in a high enough position, not enough in the mainstream, not of the correct sex, too boring, too provacative, too stupid, too smart, not experienced enough, too involved with this or that topic, to anti-this, to pro-that, too involved with certain subjects, not involved enough with other subects, too introverted, too extroverted, too fat, too thin or whatever. On Fluther, people (hopefully) read what I have to say, after having read other posts by me, and either take ‘em or leave ‘em according to what they think of anonymous me.

Sunny2's avatar

Sometimes it’s easier to talk about things with a stranger than with the people you know best. I like the anonymity here.

6rant6's avatar

I tend to get more amped here than I do in face to face. Not sure why that is.

fundevogel's avatar

The effect of relative anonymity on our interactions here is something that interests me. It’s true that you can’t know if so-and-so really is a doctor or a lawyer or a bee-keeper and that certainly can be a factor in how much you can trust the comments you read. But on the other hand where else can you have a serious conversation completely stripped of any bias you might project onto other participants based on their age, accent and relative symmetry?

Here we only have our ideas, arguments, jokes and stories and they are the only thing that defines who we are to the community. Well that and that little picture over there.

harple's avatar

I think you temper what you read here with the fact that it is all opinion, some of which will be very informative and based on a great deal of knowledge/experience, and you can use that to guide you forward as to where you go next on a topic. As @Nullo wrote, it is possible to learn things about fellow jellies, both in terms of what their areas of expertise are, and in the style and nature they consistently answer questions on here. Yes, it could all be an online persona, but then it comes back to having an understanding that you are reading opinions.

Medical advice given on here has actually saved someone’s life because they were given the push to take something seriously and go to their doctor.

As to anonymity freeing people up to being harsher than in real life, that may be true, but it also frees people up to be more open, more honest, more frank… And you see a lot more of those three elements than you do of the ability to be more harsh. There’s a core userbase here, who actively participate in the community daily – relationships are still formed as in society, and care and compassion, empathy and sympathy still play out here as they would between friends elsewhere.

downtide's avatar

My username “downtide” is not anonymous: I use it all over the internet. As far as I’m aware, it’s unique or nearly so. So even if you don’t use your real name you can become known just as well by your username. I’ve been on Fluther over two years now, so I think many people here know me quite well now.

thorninmud's avatar

I read a study recently (can’t seem to find it now) that found that despite the fact that online anonymity allows one to misrepresent himself with impunity, In actual practice people tend to be more honest online. I definitely see that on Fluther; people here are very open about aspects of their lives that they would never want associated with their public persona.

The dark side of that is, as you pointed out, people have fewer filters online and will just say what they really think, even if it’s hurtful. When you participate in an online forum, you just have to realize that the social ground rules are different. You’re seeing humanity with its morning face and bed-head. It ain’t always pretty, but it is revelatory.

marinelife's avatar

Personal attacks are not allowed on Fluther.

You mean that you would judge the quality of the answer based not on the content but on the poster’s name? That seems weird.

PhiNotPi's avatar

Removing anonymity will not really create any advantages. Knowing the actual name of a poster will not help if you do not know the person outside of Fluther.

If someone on here was Steven Hawking, then knowing his name will be important because it lends credibility to his argument.

But, if a person’s name is William Smith, or Bob Smith, or John Doe, then chances are you have never heard of that person outside of Fluther. All of the information you have about him will be gotten off of Fluther. If you did know that @marinelife‘s name was John Doe, that tells you nothing about personality, credibility, credentials, etc that you wouldn’t know already. There is no reason for @marinelife to reveal his name because it is not useful to anybody and only reveals personal information.

SavoirFaire's avatar

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

No answer is definitive until you’ve confirmed it via your own powers of reason and discernment. Professionals make mistakes, and sometimes they even lie to suit their own purposes. There may be reason to take expert opinion seriously and to let it weigh heavily in your deliberations, but it is not to be taken unquestionably. That is the mistake of argumentum ad verecundiam.

As for how one behaves online, forums that require members to use their real names have quite the same distribution of personalities as forums that allow pseudonyms in my experience. While anonymity may sometimes be a factor for specific individuals, then, it seems that other factors may be just as important when determining how one will act online (baseline personality, familiarity with and status within a particular online community, lack of real-time social cues, and so forth).

clod's avatar

I believe that anonymity indeed creates a more toxic environment and also one that requires much more outside verification than if someone was forced to use their real name, and real experts actually were present. This notion that everyone’s opinion is equally valuable is deeply flawed. Some people just are more knowledgeable than others, and there just isn’t getting around that. Take this answer on another website. Mark Cuban directly answered the question that was asked. You can’t get more accurate than that, and there are many more examples of answers there that are more credible because people use their real names.

wilma's avatar

It is an advantage as far as I’m concerned.
I can ask and answer much more openly without giving my real name. If I asked or answered a question about sex or any topic that might potentially be sensitive, I would not be apt to answer as honestly or even at all if my real name was attached to it. The reason is, what if my kids or nosy neighbor lady googled me? I have an uncommon name. I have googled myself and found newspaper articles and other things that were written about me. I wouldn’t want the fluther answer that I answered about how many times a week I have sex to come up. I would not have answered that question if I had to put my real name with it.
I agree that for some questions and answers, credibility could be in doubt. I know that, but that is the tradeoff that I am willing to make.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@clod LOL, what are ‘real experts’ in matters of life?

Nullo's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir There’s a columnist in the local paper who bills himself as a “Life Sherpa.” I suppose that he feels himself to be such a person.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@clod You believe that anonymity creates a more toxic environment, but I wonder what your evidence is for this. My own experience contradicts yours. I have participated in online forums where everyone had to use their real name, and the environment was no different than the environment on other forums. Indeed, I find that the presence or absence of moderation is a better indicator of the kinds of behavior that can be expected than the use of real names versus pseudonyms.

You also suggest that anonymity makes one do more independent verification, but I wonder why you think this is so. Let’s say that Fluther forced people to use their real names and somehow forced us to verify our identities. Are you saying that you wouldn’t fact check something if it came from someone verified to be a doctor? I certainly would. Doctors can be wrong; doctors can have agendas. I’m not just going to take someone at his word because he’s a doctor.

I also don’t understand your comment about real experts actually being present. Anonymity does not prevent the presence of actual experts. Fluther has several actual experts on various topics, and we can know this because of their consistent and repeated demonstrations thereof. We don’t need to know their names or see their credentials because their expertise is shown through their posts.

Given that this is how we are discerning who to pay attention to, then, it is also clear that we are not operating under the mistaken notion that everyone’s opinion is equally valuable. So while I agree that such a notion is flawed, that it is flawed is irrelevant because no one is saying otherwise. There are some topics where advice from all sides is worthwhile, some where it is not. But using one’s real name is neither necessary nor sufficient for having a valuable opinion.

The Mark Cuban example doesn’t really make your case, either. I think it’s rare that you’re going to get a question about a specific person being answered by that very person on an internet forum, and I’m not sure why you think people answering questions about themselves are more likely than not to be honest. If I asked a question about whether or not Julia Roberts had hairy feet on Fluther, it wouldn’t help me to have Julia Roberts herself show up and tell me that she doesn’t have hairy feet. That’s what I would expect her to say regardless of the truth, so the lack of anonymity wouldn’t really be helpful in that case.

Moreover, me telling you my name and allowing you to look me up wouldn’t help you decide if I’m really an expert on the things that I might claim expertise about since I wrote all of the descriptions about myself that are to be found on various websites. If I’m lying here, I’m probably also lying there. Better to judge the content of what I write for yourself than to fret about whether I’m really who I say I am.

Finally, I don’t see the advantage of forcing people to use their real names. It means we’d have fewer contributors, and thus fewer ideas with which to engage. Having more ideas to consider is a good thing, as is constructive disagreement about those ideas. It helps us to see things from different angles, all of which adds up to better decision making. Insofar as anonymity is useful for getting people to speak up against popular opinion, it can help undermine the sort of groupthink that led to the Challenger disaster. Seems like a good thing to me.

Kardamom's avatar

@SavoirFaire I just got all tingly reading your answer. It’s brilliant!!! And extremely articulate. I’m jealous that I could not give such a perfect answer.

ddude1116's avatar

The purpose of these internet forum sites is to engage anonymously with others. It’s a fundamental characteristic, and lacking it would alter the nature of them, and be rather difficult to accomplish. That being said, Fluther is less anonymous than, say, Yahoo Answers which totally sucks. The longer you stick around, the less anonymous it becomes as you become more familiar with the members, but the ease of anonymity remains because you don’t know many, or maybe any, of them, and that is the beauty of it.

wundayatta's avatar

Anonymity is a particular advantage when you want people to talk about things that they are normally ashamed of. There is a huge industry in the addictions field that is based on the value of anonymity—it all started with alcoholics anonymous. If you want people to testify to their own experience, and you want them to tell the truth, then you have to reduce the penalty for talking about things that most people will shame them for: things like infidelity, non-mainstream sexual practices, failing relationships, anti-social behavior, craziness, disease, and more.

Nobody talks about these things in the real world, except maybe on some of the talk shows or reality shows. But people here talk about it. I talk about that stuff, and I can assure you that I have never talked opening about these things before and I would shut up the instant I knew it would get out to people I know in the real world. I am crazy and self-destructive, but not that crazy and self-destructive. Anonymity makes this website work. Without it, fluther would get almost no traffic at all.

Kardamom's avatar

^^ You boys are on a roll tonight! GA’s to @wundayatta and @ddude1116 and @SavoirFaire !

augustlan's avatar

Interestingly, I’ve experienced being both an anonymous contributor and a ‘known person’, all on Fluther. When I first joined, I was augustlan, the anonymous member. Once I became augustlan, the community manager, my real name was out there for anyone to see. The way I interact with the site and it’s members hasn’t changed a bit. The way they interact with me hasn’t changed much, either.

One downside to being ‘known’ is that any trouble you may encounter on a website can follow you around, even to your ‘real’ life. A member we banned from Fluther has harassed me all over the web, using my real name. If he wanted to, I’m sure he could find out where I live, too. Kind of scary, really.

clod's avatar

Thank you all for your answers that essentially made my point. What Fluther is is basically a site for anonymous kibitzing about one’s personal experiences (as in @wundayatta‘s example of AA). If one, as @SavoirFaire says, has to go and extensively verify specific answers, then what’s the point? If you were going to Google the answers to most things anyway (Google is useful that way), then why ask here in the first place? Considering that there are probably no more than a few hundred active users here, I doubt highly that one would find many varieties of experts.

More specifically, @SavoirFaire critiques my answers with his/her personal experience. Mine is different. HEY, would you look at that? We’re BOTH EXPERTS! I find that anonymity breeds abusive behavior. Most websites that allow anonymous posting follow suit (see, Yahoo Answers, Youtube, most news sites, etc.) Even here, flame wars break out, that while lacking in direct ad hominem attacks (YOU’RE AN IDIOT… NO, YOU ARE A MORON), are still just as filled with negativity. @SavoirFaire then goes on to challenge ONE EXAMPLE as not being representative, as if the lack of massive sample negates the value of the example? I wonder if @SavoirFaire would prefer that I provide hundreds of links to prove my point? I’m certainly capable of doing so.

Finally, I find the “great answers” here rather amusing. Long term users post answers in support of the site and everyone is like “Yeah, tell that @clod where it’s at!!!” If this arrangement isn’t a classic example of confirmation bias, I don’t know what is.

wilma's avatar

I don’t think that Fluther claims to be using a scientific method or unbiased opinions. I don’t know of anyone who comes here for that.
If you did, then it’s no wonder that you are disappointed. Or, if we proved your point, then you might be very happy about that.
I do know that I have changed my mind about several topics after learning what other people on this site have to say about things. So I don’t think that your theory of confirmation bias is completely true.
We are what we are, I don’t think anyone claims otherwise.

fundevogel's avatar

@clod Fluther isn’t google or jstor or your local library. Nor should it be. Those things already exist and do what they do just fine. Fluther won’t do your homework.

I don’t come here to have Fluther do my research for me. I know how to google and if I am looking to learn about a subject I do a lot of reading. For me Fluther is about discussion. That doesn’t mean that I don’t learn anything here, but it isn’t really about stuffing facts into my head. It’s about evaluating what the information I and others bring to a conversation means. What does it say about the workings of the world? How should it influence the choices I make? Does it mean what I think it means? Is my philosophy and worldview consistent with the facts?

It is by allowing your thoughts and positions to be challenged by from a variety of directions that you get the full benefit of Fluther. I’m with @wilma. Fluther plays a key role in my continually evolving perspective.

wundayatta's avatar

@clod It is not clear to me what you think fluther is supposed to be or wants to be. It sounds like you are looking for something else, but I’m not sure about that.

I’m not sure how confirmation bias is applicable. We’re not a neutral arbiter of anything. We’re a community and we have our own cultural biases, and of course we like them because for the most part, only the people who like them choose to stay. There are others who don’t mind butting heads against the prevailing culture who also participate regularly. If they are polite, they get respect. No one tries to push them away.

If you have an axe to grind, then please try to be clear on what that axe is. Don’t set up straw men to knock down. No one really cares. It’s not really relevant to the conversation. But if you have an opinion, or better yet, a philosophy, please lay it out. If it’s principled, it could be interesting to learn about.

If you only want science, you are going to be disappointed here.

clod's avatar

My point is that, for a site attempting to be more sophisticated than other Q&A sites, it still has the same failings, which is that there really is no way for anyone to discern the credibility of an answer. One’s answers could be entirely fabricated, and there would be absolutely no way to tell. More importantly, the dearth of true expertise actually creates some very dangerous and damaging situations. One simply needs to casually peruse the medical or scientific or law topics to recognize the futility of trying to get real answers here.

@wundayatta As far as confirmation bias, just scroll up this very question to see what I mean. All the supporters are given a hearty pat on the back “Yeah! Stand up for our little, tiny corner of the internet” for no reason other than they’ve been here a while. Regarding a “philosophy”, I’m not sure what you mean. How can anyone have a philosophy about something so trivial? Finally, I don’t believe I’ve set up any straw men to “destroy”. I’ll happily demonstrate on an ongoing basis the failures that result from anonymity.

wundayatta's avatar

@clod Where do you think you are? We have very real answers here—answers you won’t find in law or medical or scientific journals. Those journals generally don’t traffic in opinion as much as we do here. Opinion is what matters here. That, and personal experience. If you want what you find in scientific journals, you’re in the wrong place. You have your proverbial apples and oranges situation.

Also, I suspect you have fallen victim to the cult of expertise. You may be the kind of person who fawns over anyone with a degree. We do not tend fall victim to that logical fallacy here. We make our opinions about the veracity of what someone says based on the logic and concrete support for what the person says; not based on who they are.

As evidence of your weakness here, it is clear that you believe that tenure here matters in the sense that it gives people a free ride. That comes from your own kind of confirmation bias. That’s what matters to you, so you see it wherever you look.

Unfortunately, it’s not what you are seeing here. In fact, people have reputations based on a history of answers that are appreciated by others. People here actually prove their expertise by a trial by fire. They answer and answer and answer and after a while it becomes clear who is doing a good job in the opinion of others.

I guess your philosophy is that anonymity leads to mistakes or mistaken understandings or something bad. It seems like you don’t feel like you can trust your own ability to decide the worth of any comment. Perhaps you need the degree and the reputation next to the name so that you can know it is ok to trust something. That won’t fly here.

clod's avatar

@wundayatta I think it is you with the proverbial “chip” on your shoulder. Truth is absolute. There are no relatives. Experience may allow a person to describe deeply personal situations, but the world is based on facts, not opinion. For many questions, there is but one legitimate answer and your opinion matters little. If I asked, “How do we know that the Earth is round?”, there really can only be one, albeit long, answer.

You seem to be one who likes to talk, and talk, and talk. That’s fine, which is why you seem to value rhetoric over fact. Nonetheless, the world is constructed of truths, not opinions. As they say, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. In fact, I’d venture to say that this site feeds off of that deeply held desire to feel knowledgeable and/or helpful. Whether that feeling is connected to true knowledge is irrelevant, as you point out that it is up to the questioner to (attempt to) determine if the answer is legitimate or not. This really only works for fluffy questions like “How do I break up with my girlfriend?” where anyone can chime in and it doesn’t really matter either way.

janbb's avatar

I was going to answer this seriously (or as seriously as I get) but now I’m just thinking “troll” or discontented former Jelly.

harple's avatar

@clod Are you actually asking a question here, or merely seeking a platform to state your own fixed opinion over and over again? There seems little point in investing the time to respond if you belittle every response, and yet little point in having asked the question in the first place if all you intend to do is to belittle every response.

clod's avatar

That’s right. I’m a troll. Simple answer. Of course, it’s getting close to the time for the GTFO answer. It should arrive momentarily.

janbb's avatar

So why don’t you shed your anonymity and tell us who you are?

wundayatta's avatar

Yes, @clod. You’re opinions are well known here, but few agree. Yes, the idea that there is one objective truth is an opinion. Hoisted on your own petard, not that you will see it.

What interests me is how you came to believe there is one objective truth. I wonder if your childhood fits the pattern of people who end up with that belief. Can you say anything about how you came to believe in a knowable, ascertainable truth?

clod's avatar

@wundayatta Education. And, an extensive amount of individual study and pursuit of true knowledge.

wundayatta's avatar

@clod Must have something to do with the kind of education, because I have had the same, and ended up at exactly the opposite conclusion. Did you have a religious education?

clod's avatar

@wundayatta Hell no! A very thorough, and critical education (I highly doubt we’ve had the same education, FWIW). I know to question everything and assume nothing. In that regard, I’m a classic skeptic, but I also understand that some truths are just that. Relativism, in my opinion, is an empty philosophy. I can see where this site clearly doesn’t subscribe to that. Indeed, it seems entirely dependent on that, for were it to be beholden to a more rigid interpretation of information, there really wouldn’t be any room for discussion, would there?

wilma's avatar

@clod I guess we are just going to have to agree to disagree then aren’t we?
Or don’t you subscribe to that sort of thing?

wundayatta's avatar

@clod no there wouldn’t. And of course, science is very squishy—or at least, probabilistic—which I see as squishy. And what’s the relationship between probability and relativity? I think we have lots of room for discussion. I think you think that, too.

clod's avatar

@janbb I am…. the one and only, Stephen Hawking. Just killing time, you know.

wundayatta's avatar

So Stephen, tell me, what’s it like having all those nurses take care of you all the time?

ratboy's avatar

“ratboy” is my legal name, and everything I say is definitive and accurate as I am an expert. The definitive answer to your question is “no.”

clod's avatar

Lovely. Thanks for asking. I was also glad they raised a red flag about my wife. Boy, that was really a tough time.

Kardamom's avatar

@clod If you think Fluther is so silly, and you hypocritcally don’t post your own photo, name and address and phone number, why are you still here? If we bore you and disgust you, then why do you Keep on “truckin’?” There are plenty of other websites that would gladly adopt you. You’re a cute little troll, though.

Otherwise, the rest of us, will just continue on, as usual, because it works for us.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@janbb I’ve already established @clod was here before when he/she answered this q and used this answer on a general health question. I strongly suspect this is someone we all know.

clod's avatar

@Kardamom And, to prove my point, thanks. Actually, upon further review,her answer proves my entire thesis. Thank you VERY MUCH.

SpatzieLover's avatar

What is your real point for returning to Fluther @clod?

clod's avatar

What do you mean? Your statement is pure conjecture based on one answer? Really?

More to the point, why would I want to stay considering such a hospitable welcome.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@clod A quick dialectical point: you are here using a pseudonym and an avatar that is not your face. By your own argument, we should ignore your arguments. I disagree with that assessment, however, and so I will continue to address and take seriously the arguments you have made.

You say our answers have made your point, but I disagree. If you were to ask a factual question about philosophy (e.g., “what is epistemic contextualism?”), I could give you an answer. It might even be a definitive answer in the sense that it would be correct and tell you everything you needed to know. But you’d still need to go out a verify it. The same would be true if you read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the topic. Why? Because that’s what being intellectually responsible requires. You never take one source at its word. Extensive verification is necessary no matter what source you use. What’s the point, then? Well, that’s up to each individual questioner. If you want to know the answer to something—to anything—you have to be prepared to do the work.

Now, maybe you have a different sense of “definitive answer” in mind. If so, you would need to explain what that sense is and then we could investigate it. We must be careful of begging the question, however. If you mean “comes from a person whose name you know and whose face you’ve seen,” then it will be trivial to point out that you can very rarely get that sort of answer here on Fluther. If you mean something like “correct and well-researched answer,” on the other hand, you can find such things in abundance here. But again, there is a difference between getting a correct and well-researched answer and knowing that you’ve gotten such an answer. The latter always requires some intellectual work of one’s own. That’s the way of the world, not an oddity of Fluther.

As for the Google point, no one here denies that many questions would be better answered by a search engine. One may ask such questions here, but Fluther seems more oriented towards those questions that a Google search won’t easily answer. Nor do I see why you would think otherwise. Google has one purpose, Fluther has another. Wikipedia has still a third purpose. If you are operating under the misconception that Fluther is trying to fulfill some function that it is not actually trying to fulfill, I can see why you might be frustrated or confused. Still, that problem would be your own, not Fluther’s.

On the question of personal experience, I think you have misunderstood the dialectic here. You cited personal experience, and so I countered with contrary personal experience. I did not claim that this experience made either one of us an expert, nor do I think experience necessarily makes one an expert (even if it gives one something relevant to say). The real point is that personal experience is not a very good argumentative tool at all, and you should not rely on it (though it can be useful against universal generalizations). This is why I asked for evidence of the underlying claim, though you chose to respond to that request with a rhetorical question about whether or not you should provide links rather than actually providing links. I should note, however, that I am not asking for links to sites where bad behavior and anonymity coincide. It is no part of my argument that such sites do not exist. My request was for evidence that the two are causally linked. The science here is quite open, as far as I understand it.

Moreover, it simply would not follow from examples of anonymity coinciding with bad behavior that the former was causing the latter. The sad fact of the matter is that you can find all of the same bad behavior in non-anonymous situations. Perhaps the clearest example is politics. In the US, for instance, politicians and political pundits are engaged in a constant stream of flame warring, ad hominem attacks, and endless negativity. This despite the fact that one’s real name and picture (or video image!) are attached to these comments and recorded for posterity. Human behavior just seems to tend towards this kind of behavior when certain topics are discussed, and using one’s real name does not appear to be a hindrance.

Finally, I don’t think the pattern of GA’s is an example of confirmation bias. It is unsurprising that the people who like this site like this site—indeed, it is tautological—and thus it is unsurprising that those people agree with answers defending the site from ill-founded attacks. But claims of confirmation bias require more than this. They require some demonstration that people are gathering or remembering information selectively. That someone has merely taken one side in an argument is insufficient for such a demonstration.

janbb's avatar

In terms of the question of people weighing in on subjects that we are not experts in, I think that for medical questions, as one example, nearly all of us who are not doctors will state that up front and that it is crucial to seek a doctor’s diagnosis for definitive answers. However, we can share examples from our own experience that might be of help in alleviating some discomfort in the meantime.

However, in terms of questions on database searching, libraries or literature, I stand on my expertise as the best Penguin Librarian on the web.

It does feel as if you are someone who has a particular bone to pick with Fluther and I wonder again who you really are.

Nullo's avatar

@SavoirFaire I’ve always wondered: where do you stop verifying? Where does the skeptic stop? Records of events are primary enough (I suppose), but definitions? Language is a slippery beast, since a definition amounts to a consensus of opinion.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Your statement is pure conjecture based on one answer?...More to the point, why would I want to stay considering such a hospitable welcome.

@clod My opinion was not based on your first answer. I was already watching you prior to your first answer.

Considering I did welcome you upon your entering of Fluther, and considering you found the Pilgrim award within the first five minutes of your arrival, I have no doubt you are not new.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Is anonymity really an advantage?

King Neptune says No

wilma's avatar

What the heck? Who was that anyway?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Nullo For the record, I am not a skeptic. I am a fallibilist. A skeptic never stops verifying because he never even starts verifying. Verification is not part of his modus operandi. The fallibilist, on the other hand, stops verifying when he is confident enough for his purposes. Yet he also must always remain open to the possibility that new evidence may overturn his beliefs and be forthright about the extent to which he has and has not been able to verify his beliefs. As such, fallibilists tend to refrain from making claims of certainty and tend to never stop investigating those issues which are of particular importance to them.

Nullo's avatar

@SavoirFaire So I can safely spock-eyebrow people calling themselves skeptics. Good to know.

Kardamom's avatar

@Nullo I love that term, to Spock-eyebrow someone!

fundevogel's avatar

@Nullo & @SavoirFaire I’d never heard of fallibilists before. I consider myself a skeptic, but my frame is consistent with your explanation of fallibilists. I’m torn. Your definitions aren’t really reflected in the common usage of the word “skeptic” and my browser doesn’t even think “fallibilist” is a word.

I think adopting this set of terms and definitions would make me less understood. I am inclined to continue using the word skeptic in the manner it is commonly used.

Nullo's avatar

@fundevogel * liberally applies some spock-eyebrow *

chyna's avatar

^ ^ <—-sprock eyebrow.

fundevogel's avatar

@Nullo Well I’m waiting to see if @SavoirFaire gives me the eyebrow.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Nullo It depends. People use the term “skeptic” to mean a variety of things these days. This comes from its root in a Greek word having to do with investigation. Most of the self-described skeptics you encounter are probably not skeptics in the way I understand the term. Instead of being committed to the suspension of judgment as the classical skeptics were, they are probably conceiving of themselves as upholding rigorous attitudes of criticism and self-reflection. As such, I recommend understanding people on their own terms before determining what sort of facial gestures are appropriate.

@fundevogel Define “common.” The usage to which you refer is a blip on the historical radar, and it represents the philosophical ignorance exhibited these days even by those who consider themselves devotees of reason. In my view, I am using these words in the common way—by which I mean the way in which they have been used for centuries. Nor do I think I am merely holding onto a tradition needlessly. The philosophical distinctions were made this way for a reason and are based on understanding the whole range of epistemological options. The trouble with popular philosophy is that it tends to relabel things as if the topic of the day adequately reflects the entirety of related issues.

Kardamom's avatar

Some one else giving the Spock-eyebrow

fundevogel's avatar

@SavoirFaire It may be a blip of the historical radar, but it’s the blip we exist in. It doesn’t really mean much that it has been defined the way you describe for hundreds of years if the people who used it in that way are mostly dead now. It makes it really hard for them to exert their usage in modern language. This is one of those cases that makes me painfully aware of language creep. Words do change their meanings and the fact that you had to explain the way you use them is a pretty clear indicator that language has moved away from that usage.

Language is too much of living thing to follow tradition if popular usage takes it in other directions.

Ok dudes, I haven’t seen Star Trek for ages. How do I read this “Spock Eyebrow”? Because right now I’m getting “too idiotic to respond to” and I don’t really think that’s what you’re going for. Break it down like I’m a trektarded.

wilma's avatar

@fundevogel only one eyebrow is raised.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@fundevogel I’m not saying anything against language creep. It happens, and I accept that. But the words are still used in the way I use them among those most familiar with the issues at hand. Calling oneself a skeptic when one is actually a fallibilist is imprecise, imperspicuous, and philosophically shallow. It misrepresents the epistemic options available, confuses already complicated issues, and sometimes closes off useful areas of discussion. None of those things should be agreeable to a fallibilist.

Kardamom's avatar

@fundevogel Here’s the classic Spock-brow.

Nullo's avatar

I believe it’s one of those genetic things, like being able to roll your tongue.

fundevogel's avatar

@SavoirFaire I am not a philospher. I read it sometimes, on my own. My reading is far from complete. However I don’t think the fact that I haven’t plumbed the depths of philosophy precludes me from having my own philosophy which probably incorporates formalized philosophical positions that I don’t know the names for. I suspect this is the case for an awful lot of people.

I also don’t think that using colloquial language to explain myself is a bad thing, so long as I’m understood. It works. If I were in the philosophy community I would no doubt use the specialized vocabulary of the community, the same way doctors use the vocabulary of their field and programmers use their technobabble and stone masons use their own. These vocabularies are indispensable for a specialized set of people to which I do not belong. If I were to adopt such specialized language for use outside such a community it would require it’s own explanarion. I do not think this is necessary when I can get my point across with words people understand.

As much as I like specialized language I really don’t use much of it when it comes to philosophy. The ideas are involved enough without introducing unfamiliar words to complicate things. It’s too close to obscurantism for my tastes.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@fundevogel I see your last point from the complete opposite side. The issues are complicated enough without using imprecise (and technically incorrect) terminology. “Fallibilism” is not a difficult word to understand, and it prevents us from pretending that actual skeptics don’t exist (which is something I’ve seen “colloquial skeptics” do in an attempt to keep their opponents from undermining them by pointing out what “real skeptics” are committed to believing).

Ultimately, though, you seem to believe I am arguing for something I haven’t defended. You asked me to define my terms, so I did. You claimed to be using the words in the common way, I gave an alternative conception of “common” that undermined that claim. You claimed that the language had drifted, I pointed out that the words are still used in the way I use them. In short, you’ve made claims, and I’ve shown the ways in which they are false (or imprecise). The only other thing I’ve argued is that my usage has merits that yours does not. I’ve not once said you are not entitled to that usage, and even endorsed understanding people on their own terms when responding to @Nullo above.

fundevogel's avatar

@SavoirFaire It’s your definition of “common” and insistence that because “fallibilism” is more narrowly defined it is less confusing than “skepticism” that I can’t let go.

Unscientific Survey of Word Usage
AKA, A Survey of Word Popularity According to Google Hits

skepticism – 17,800,000, obviously inflated by uses not associated with the philosophic position of skepticism, how much? I don’t know. We could review the top hits to see how skepticism is being used to project the what percentage of its usage refers to the definition we’re referring to. Sounds like work.

euclidian – 2,140,000 Unlike “skepticism” we don’t have multiple definitions muddying the waters. Still, it’s a decent count for a highly specialized term.

freethinker – 1,960,000 This one is arguably a synonym for skeptic (in the sense we’re referring to). Personally I never use it as it seems condescending. I suspect this synonym is used less than “skeptic” because it sounds elitist.

offal – 682,000 Completely unrelated to philosophy of course, but this is a word I only get to use at holidays when turkeys are cooked and that little bag of gobbets can be remarked on. Gobbets gets 439,000 hits even though it is less narrowly defined than offal. Go figure.

fallibilism – 144,000 An then there’s your word. It’s almost 5 times less common than offal, a word I get to use twice a year and always have to explain.

It might be even more damning that my spellchecker doesn’t have it in it’s dictionary. Usually I have to bust out words like theophagy (29,800), artolatry (39,800), or impanate (372,000) to stump my spellcheck. And those words refer to something way more specialized than fallibilism.

This breakdown may not reflect the vocabulary of the circles you run in, but since my crowd doesn’t belong to a special philosophy club it does reflect word usage for us. When I start hanging with your buds I’ll adapt, until then I’m sticking with what is understandable to my comrades.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@fundevogel First, I get 579,000 results for “fallibilism.”

Second, my point about commonality was very clearly couched in terms of history. Google doesn’t index the usage of any word prior to 20th century, so your results are completely meaningless with regard to the point that I actually made (as opposed to the one you keep pretending I made).

Third, the very same post in which I made my point about commonality includes a statement to the effect that people can use whatever labels they like and we should try to understand them on their own terms.

Fourth, my spellchecker doesn’t contain the word “Epictetus,” but that doesn’t mean I should call the man “epithets,” “epiclesis,” “pickets,” “piteous,” or “epicenters” no matter how many times the suggestion is made.

Fifth, contemporary skeptics often confuse themselves with the word “skeptic,” sometimes taking refuge in the “skeptics don’t assert anything, so the burden of proof is on you” definition, sometimes appealing to things like scientific evidence to support a position (which a fallibilist can do, but not a classical skeptic).

Sixth, your entire line of argument is internally inconsistent insofar as it carries an implicit criticism for me using the words I like while insisting on your right (which I have not denied, and have in fact defended) to use whatever words you like. I use the word “fallibilist” because I think it is more accurate, and I have presented my reasons for doing so. I have not told you or anyone else follow my lead, nor have I told you to stop calling yourself a skeptic. As such, your argument is either self-contradictory or a non sequitur.

fundevogel's avatar

@SavoirFaire “Second, my point about commonality was very clearly couched in terms of history. Google doesn’t index the usage of any word prior to 20th century, so your results are completely meaningless with regard to the point that I actually made (as opposed to the one you keep pretending I made).”

I’m not pretending. We’re using words differently. When I say common I am not factoring usage by people who are dead, because I do not speak to dead people. That would be a remarkable exchange and not at all common. I get that the historical usage matters to you, I am more concerned with contemporary usage.

“Third, the very same post in which I made my point about commonality includes a statement to the effect that people can use whatever labels they like and we should try to understand them on their own terms.”

Excellent. I wasn’t challenging historical usage of the term. My concerns were with it’s prevalence among modern speakers.

“Fourth, my spellchecker doesn’t contain the word “Epictetus,” but that doesn’t mean I should call the man “epithets,” “epiclesis,” “pickets,” “piteous,” or “epicenters” no matter how many times the suggestion is made.”

Oh common on. Reductio Ad Absurdum. One: Fallibilism is not a proper name. Two: I mentioned spellchecker as a gauge of word popularity, not as the arbiter of canonity.

“Fifth, contemporary skeptics often confuse themselves with the word “skeptic,” sometimes taking refuge in the “skeptics don’t assert anything, so the burden of proof is on you” definition, sometimes appealing to things like scientific evidence to support a position (which a fallibilist can do, but not a classical skeptic).”

Honestly people do all sorts of things in arguments. I do think the party making the positive claim is obligated to support it. I’m not really sure what your complaint is here or why the title a person holds should prevent them from utilizing basic persuasive strategizes. Unless you hold an extraordinarily narrow definition of what a skeptic is. I don’t. Skepticism is a very big umbrella.

“Sixth, your entire line of argument is internally inconsistent insofar as it carries an implicit criticism for me using the words I like while insisting on your right (which I have not denied, and have in fact defended) to use whatever words you like. I use the word “fallibilist” because I think it is more accurate, and I have presented my reasons for doing so. I have not told you or anyone else follow my lead, nor have I told you to stop calling yourself a skeptic. As such, your argument is either self-contradictory or a non sequitur.”

I simply question your assertion that “fallibilist” is a less confusing term than skepticism. I didn’t ask you to stop using it either. Clearly both of us are happy with our own language and not particularly invested in the other’s, so shall we smooth our feathers and call it a day?

PS Are your 500,000 odd hits with google because I’m still getting 145,000 and it weirds me out that we could do the same search and get such different results. Wait, maybe if I switch from moderate safe to unfiltered…nope. Still 145,000.

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