On pseudonymity

When I posted a couple of new rules the other day, one of them brought a reaction stronger than I expected.  That was my requirement that, when somebody criticizes me in a post on their own website, they can’t link to it on my site unless they provide their real name.

Now of course some people could use “fake” real names, but, given the Internet, that can usually be checked out. But I insist that if you’re gonna take me on on your website, you tell me who you are.

I do recognize that some “bloggers” and commenters have reasons to remain pseudonymous.  They might be atheists living in a small Southern town, for instance, and in such situations posting openly can cost you your friends and family, as happened to pastor Jerry DeWitt, who came out as an atheist in Louisiana. Or you might have a stalker who could make your life miserable. Or you might be transgendered, and timorous about revealing that. Those situations I can understand—and excuse.

But, in the end, posting anonymously, and commenting anonymously, ultimately rests on fear, and that fear is often tantamount to cowardice. Afraid of losing tenure if you say your opinions? Too bad—then keep them to yourself.  (That fear is largely unjustified, anyway; any failure to grant tenure for private opinions violates most university policies, and that of the AAUP, I believe.)  Anonymous because you want to excoriate someone in a comment, or use intemperate language? That’s cowardice, pure and simple.

In my opinion, which I will check by soliciting comments below, the best way to have civil discourse on a website that dicusses contentious matters is to ask commenters to use their real names.  When you do that, you’re taking personal responsibility for what you say, and are less likely to use invective and more likely to be rational.  There is a reason that every atheist or secular website I pay attention to—from Richard Dawkins to Sam Harris to P. Z. Myers—has an author that uses his or her real name.  If people like those can do it—and they might have a very justified fear of being attacked by the religious—then so can anyone else.

As for the claim that “names don’t matter, arguments do,” I disagree on a few points. First of all, using names, as I said above, confers a certain responsibility and dignitas on the commentariat that often vanishes when you can use pseudonyms.  Pseudonymy encourages acrimony, name-calling, and the kind of free-for-all you see on some websites that will remain unnamed.  Would you call someone a “douchebag” if you had to take responsibility for it? Well, you might. But perhaps you might also consider making your argument better rather than indulging in a bit of gratuitous abuse.

Second, names matter if you can associate them with someone’s history or credentials. If someone posted medical advice without at least giving her credentials, would you trust it as much as if you knew who the person really was, and could check up on them? (And yes, Orac’s name can be found without much trouble.) I like to think people pay attention to my views on evolution because I’m trained in that area and wrote two books on it.

If names don’t matter, but only arguments, why do newspapers make authors of op-ed pieces give their names? It’s because one writes more thoughtfully and responsibly if people associate your opinions with who you are.

Ask yourself this when you write a post or a comment: why would you not want to give your real name? Don’t you stand personally behind what you write—indeed, aren’t you proud of what you write? Or do you prefer to cower behind the protection of a pseudonym, not for good reasons but just so you can say whatever you want?

So yes, I will require those who take me on in public to give their real names on my site. If you don’t want to, feel free to go after me or my ideas as hard as you want on your own website, but don’t expect me to pay much attention to it. When I have an opponent, I want to know who it is.

I will not require people who comment on this site to give their real names, but let me add that I would appreciate it if they did! Some frequent commenters, like Ben Goren, often take strong and controversial stands, but they don’t seem to suffer because of it. I believe that if people did abjure the pseudonyms, my job of enforcing civility would take much less time (though that’s not the reason behind this).

So, what I am asking is this: if you post here, at least consider using your real name. If you don’t want to do that, could you at least explain why in the comments below?

Would it really bother you to use your name when engaging in discussion here? Do consider that, and consider as well whether your strong reaction against using real names is rationally warranted, or does it simply come from taking people outside their mental comfort zone?

300 Comments

  1. Jeremy Nel
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Bravo!

  2. Jonathan Smith
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Always used my real name. Nothing to hide from this man.

  3. Rob
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    If names don’t matter, but only arguments, why do newspapers make authors of op-ed pieces give their names?

    Do they? Unless it’s in the paper and not online, it’s not in this article. Just grabbed off their opinion front page, not credited, so content is random. Yes, there are credited ones on the main page, but also this non-credited one.

    • Sajanas
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      I’d also say that contributors to newspapers have steps put in place to keep them from being buried under hate mail. The average person does not have a locked down facebook, an unlisted phone number, or work emails designed just for responding to readers.

    • Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Op-Ed Editorial

      Editorials are crafted by the editorial board of the newspaper, whose names are public.

      • Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        Guess less than and greater than signs are striped out. I meant Op-Ed does not equal Editorial.

    • Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      That’s an Editorial, not an Op-Ed (which stands for opposite-the-editorials). Editorials are the work of the Editorial Board, whose identities are well known, and two clicks away at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/opinion/editorialboard.html

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Nothing in The Economist is bylined.

  4. Cliff Melick
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    This should be interesting.

  5. eric
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    I don’t have a website and have no intention of attacking you in some other venue, but I can still see the value in anonymity. We live in an age where HS teachers get fired for being in a porn video years before they were ever a teacher. Its not reasonable to think that every blogger has the luxury of working for a rational, 1st amendment-respecting employer (or the luxury of leaving or suing an irrational one).

    However, this is not a binary issue. There’s plenty of halfway solutions. Just one example, but a blogger interested in critiquing one of your arguments could contact you by private email and explain their situation. You can then agree or disagree to respect their anonymity, and they can then choose to publish or not publish as they will. That way, you both understand what will happen. Blogger X will know if you plan on breaking or respecting his/her pseudonym before the publish the critique, and you will know the identity of the person who is critiquing you.

    • JBlilie
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      He’s already said that anyone can go after him as much as they want in the comments section of this bl-website, and remain anonymous. As long as they remain civilly-tongued and are not trolling.

    • eric
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      Ah, I did not explain why I don’t use my real name (well, ‘Eric’ is my real name but without a surname it functions as an effective pseudonym).
      Work, basically. I work at an at-will firm. They do not have to respect things like the AAUP policy and if they want to fire me for something I say in my spare time, they can and will. Could I leave and find an employer with stronger employment protections? Yes. Is it worth it? No. I like my job. I like the people I work with. If I quit, it would likely cause significant stress and financial hardship for my family. So, if you were to adopt a policy that commenters have to use full names, I would simply stop commenting.

      I see a vague connection between your position on identity and the GOP position on welfare. In a completly fair world, everyone who worked hard would have a good job and so welfare would imply laziness. But in the real world, it doesn’t. A perfectly competent and hard-working person can find themselves the victim of bad fortune and end up on welfare. We have welfare (or should have it) because the real world is not fair; people do not always get the treatment the deserve. Likewise, in a completely fair world, pseudonymity implies cowardice. But in the real world, it doesn’t. It can be the result of a competent and hard-working person who has, through a combination of choice and fortune, ended up in a career or job position that is vulnerable to employer dictat. It is unrealitic and callous to tell that person they should just move jobs – its like telling the welfare recipient they should just work harder. It ignores the reality of an unfair world. Web pseudonymity is simply a response to the reality that not every commenter is going to be treated by their employer, the media, or other RL agencies the way they deserve to be treated.

      • JBlilie
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        Eric: I use a name for comments that retains “plausible deniability” for the same reasons you do.

        As I understand it, Dr. C.’s objection is to linking from his site to a blogger’s site, and then the b logger goes after him anonymously.

        I may be understanding him incorrectly.

        • eric
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

          That’s how I understand him too. But, what’s sauce for the goose, etc. A blogger linking can be in the same RL position as a commenter commenting.

          Seems very reasonable to me to take the middle road. Between “nobody knows” and “everyone knows,” there is “I [Jerry] know, and that’s good enough.”

      • JoelH
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        eric wrote:

        “…in a completely fair world, pseudonymity implies cowardice. But in the real world, it doesn’t. It can be the result of a competent and hard-working person who has, through a combination of choice and fortune, ended up in a career or job position that is vulnerable to employer dictat.”

        I agree with this completely.

  6. crusherofdreams
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    While I agree with you wholeheartedly in spirit, Jerry, I work for a religious organization, so my anonymity is very important to me. Although I rarely post here, I would be quite happy to share my name and my particulars with you privately.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      No, I don’t need to know everybody’s name, though lots of readers do email me with their real names. What I was suggesting is that if can do it without problems, post here under your real name.

      Let me add, though, that I sometimes contact readers for various reasons, so you should enter your real email address. I will never make that public.

  7. Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I think your position makes a lot of sense in general. As for me: Some commenters might refrain from using their real names because they’re at early stages in their careers, and don’t want people turning them down for jobs e.g. for questionable reasons.

    But it makes perfect sense to me to demand very high standards of civility from commenters in general, and especially from anonymous commenters. And as you know, in any case, it’s possible to discover my real full name.

  8. Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    “In my opinion, which I will check by soliciting comments below, the best way to have civil discourse on a website that dicusses contentious matters is to ask commenters to use their real names.”

    See, this is a commonly-held opinion – but there is not actually any evidence for it, and quite some evidence against, e.g. http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Who_is_harmed_by_a_%22Real_Names%22_policy%3F “Who is harmed by a Real Names policy?”

    Real Names policies are something that sounds good to comfortable people, but aren’t actually good in practice except to other comfortable people.

    And frankly, the biggest dicks I’ve ever met online were using their real names and often with accessible addresses and phone numbers. Screen the trolls or delete their comments, but the blank assertion that a “real names” policy will significantly cut trolling just isn’t supported by any of the considerable investigation into this claim.

    • RedSonja
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      Agreed. I have zero interest in using my “real name” as a commenter or writer ANYWHERE that I can’t control access to who can access it.

      Why? Not because I’m ashamed, or a troll, or nasty and vicious. But because I have more than a few friends who get death threats, rape threats, stalking, and overall harassment. Why should I make it easier for those people to find me? As a woman, I am likely to get 25 times the harassment that men are, so yes, I take steps to head that off at the pass as best I can.

      • Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        “As a woman, I am likely to get 25 times the harassment that men are, so yes, I take steps to head that off at the pass as best I can.”

        Yes. This is the overwhelming counterargument against requiring traceability of commenters, and must be answered properly by advocates.

        • raven
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

          “As a woman, I am likely to get 25 times the harassment that men are, so yes, I take steps to head that off at the pass as best I can.”

          Absolutely true.

          It was well known 20 years ago.

          If it isn’t harassment, a lot of people just assume if you are female, that you are a moron. Women with something worthwhile to say are looked upon by some as surprising, like a dog that can walk on its hind legs.

          The internet often looks like a boys club for one simple reason. A whole lot of women are using nongendered aliases for good reasons, including personal safety.

          • SA Gould
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

            Which is why I prefer to be gender-neutral on the web. (And for safety.) But I changed to initials here, to comply with DaRoolz.

            However, I like to mess with the internet as much as it messes with me. Found that facebook WAS indeed, publishing my real birthday, so I changed it to that of my dead brother, and changed my status to “male.) (Which is actually a good idea for self-defense reasons.)

            The day I did that, I got a post- from someone who had known me on a website, for a year or so AND had met me in person. Facebook had sent her a notice that I was now a man. She apologized profusely for “assuming I was a woman.”

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        But isn’t this an argument for women to never speak out in public unless they’re veiled in a burqa? That is, women should never write articles or give talks using their real names because they can’t “control access” to who hears the talks or reads the articles?

        Yes, I am perfectly aware of harassment directed preferentially at women, but rest assured that I will never allow that behavior on this site.

        • Scote
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

          “Yes, I am perfectly aware of harassment directed preferentially at women, but rest assured that I will never allow that behavior on this site.”

          If people use ‘nyms you can use your control to stop the harassment. It can’t go beyond your site, or other sites they use the same ‘nym on. However, if people use only real names they can be tracked to, and harassed at, every other site in the world where they have a presence, and harassed in their real lives.

          Also, real sounding names, such as, say, “David Mabus”, can get by real name rules but still allow trolls cover to attack honest people who post under actual real names. Real names rules are not a panacea. I think behavior based rules are more productive, even though they can be a pain to implement.

          • Rob Schneider
            Posted January 31, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

            When pseudonyms are outlawed, only outlaws will have pseudonyms!

        • RedSonja
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think so, because clearly there are women in the movement who DO use their real names, and speak, and blog, and publish books.

          However. That is not a choice I am ready to make for myself. So, by using a nym, I can limit the arenas where I may be attacked. That doesn’t mean I won’t fight back with my nym, but it means I don’t have to fear that I’ll get photos of my front door. Or emails to my professors or employers. (All of which have happened to my “out” friend.)

          I think the equivalent of burqas would be saying “Women aren’t allowed to comment here, because they may be harassed. And women may not speak at conferences.” Having a CHOICE in the matter is the part that makes me feel a bit safer.

          • Sajanas
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

            And its worth remembering that there are women in the movement right now that have been the subject of pretty large campaign of harassment for over a year. To the extent that quite a few have been driven away from blogging. I think its quite right for RedSonja to decide that she doesn’t particularly want to deal with that as part of her daily life just to comment on an atheist website.

          • Timmy
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

            Couldnt agree more I use a male english pseudonym to avoid gender and race issues because in many cases not being American automatically disqualifies you from participating in certain conversations and also because some people can be really mean if you are an Arab, Mexican, North Korean,etc…

            Men can be very dismissive toward women sometimes.

            • Timmy
              Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

              Is race the right word? I’m starting to doubt..

        • RedSonja
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          Though I should mention, I absolutely trust that you won’t permit noxious behavior here. And I do appreciate that. But you can’t control what they do in meatspace, and that’s where my concerns lie.

          • SA Gould
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

            Also trust this host/site. Other places? Notsomuch.

        • Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

          “Isn’t this an argument for women to never speak out in public unless they’re veiled in a burqa?”

          I think a more analogous situation would be “giving women the option to wear a Guy Fawkes mask, if they choose”. While I am happy to post here under my real name, I would not begrudge any person who elected not to do so.

        • Posted January 30, 2013 at 6:36 am | Permalink

          Whether you allow it on this site or not is less important than you think it is.

    • JBlilie
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Read his entry carefully! He’s said you can comment to your heart’s delight anonymously.

      He’s really just saying that don’t expect his site to be a funnel to your site — where you then try to take him down anonymously. He’s perfectly fine with linking — if you use your real name.

      These seem like pretty minimal rules.

      • Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        The premise remains, however, utterly false, and therefore would sensibly seem to need deeper re-examination to divine the origins of the error.

      • eric
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        I don’t think the folks defending anonymity here are complaining about JAC’s comment policy per se. I agree with you – its very reasonable, rule-light, and nothing really to complain about at all.
        They are instead critiquing his general argument against anonymity. The two counterarguments in @8, for example, apply just as well to pseudonymous website owners as they do to regular commenters.

    • Scote
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      “Real Names policies are something that sounds good to comfortable people, but aren’t actually good in practice except to other comfortable people.

      And frankly, the biggest dicks I’ve ever met online were using their real names and often with accessible addresses and phone numbers.”

      This is something TechCruch found out as well. They were tired of trolls in their comment threads, so they ditched their comment system and moved all their threads to Facebook, where people have to use their real names. Instead of improving comment quality they lost regular commenters and found that now trolls could attack people’s *real identities*. The trolls either didn’t care who new their identity or signed up with fake identities. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that real sounding names are, in fact, real.

      Either an argument is supportable or its not. Who says it is irrelevant. To claim otherwise is to invoke various logical fallacies, from Argument From Authority to Argumentum Ad Hominem. So, while I understand the reasoning behind Jerry’s stance on real name websites, I can’t get behind it. I think it is a policy of expedience, even as I can see why Jerry may bristle at the asymmetry given that Jerry is out and some of his detractors are behind cover.

      I’m a freelancer, not a professor in what I assume is a supportive department. I literally cannot afford to have my religious and political opinions come up when people Google me. The number of clients I have is small enough as it is. What Jerry calls cowardice I call making a living in the real world, where we can’t all do as we please. If Jerry were to institute a real names policy in the comments I’d stop commenting.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        Either an argument is supportable or its not. Who says it is irrelevant.

        This sounds good in theory, but I can’t quite buy it. If who says something were truly irrelevant, we wouldn’t have screen names at all (real or pseudonymous). All comments would be posted without attribution, with no way to tell who said what. Conversations would be carried forward by whoever feels like picking up the ball at any given moment, and nobody would care who that was.

        But I can’t remember ever seeing a forum that works that way. It turns out we do care who says what. If some known crank says Einstein was wrong, then I needn’t waste my time analyzing his argument. But if Sean Carroll or Max Tegmark says it, then I might want to give it some thought. Not because they have advanced degrees or other impressive credentials, but because they’re known to be smart, thoughtful guys whose opinions are worth hearing. It’s about reputation, not authority.

        We’re social animals. It’s how our brains are wired. We want to know who we’re talking to so we can do that calculus of reputation that makes society work. That’s why we hate things like morphing and sockpuppetry, which undermine that calculus.

        For myself, I’ve never been hassled in real life for opinions I’ve expressed under my real name online. Not saying it couldn’t happen, just that it hasn’t. On the other hand, I have occasionally met people in real life who said, “Oh, you’re the guy who posted those interesting comments on WEIT.” So I consider that a plus: my real-life reputation benefits from being open about my identity online, and that (for me) outweighs the risks.

        • Old Rasputin
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          I agree on all points, but surely everything you say about reputation is equally valid for a pseudonym? If you’re interested in building a reputation all you have to do is be consistent in your posting identity. The only way it would benefit you to have that online (WEIT) reputation tied to your offline one, is if the subject matter is somehow similar. If I were a philosopher or a scientist I might want those two reputations to influence and (hopefully) enhance one another, but I’m a musician, and so have nothing to gain by publically musing on the nature of free will.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

            I wasn’t particularly trying to argue against pseudonyms. I just don’t think you can sensibly defend pseudonyms on a “names don’t matter” basis. Names do matter, and that’s why we use pseudonyms (or real names) instead of complete anonymity.

            As for what you might have to gain, well, philosophers and scientists listen to music too, and might take more interest in your music if they know you’re that guy they’ve interacted with online. You might find yourself having interesting conversations with your audience that you might not otherwise have had. Whether that outweighs the risks for you is of course your call.

            • gr8hands
              Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

              Naming conventions matter so that you can know whether or not you’ve made a point to the same individual — not for purposes of argument from authority logical fallacy.

              It is what allows a person to note that someone is being inconsistent or a hypocrite (“you said exactly the opposite last week in this post”). It allows you to choose to address specific individuals based on what they’ve written.

              I don’t provide my name, age, gender, occupation, education, sexual orientation, race purposely so that I’m not pidgeonholed and dismissed (“Oh, you’re just an another angry black dude” or “that’s what all lesbians think” or “if your degree was in XYZ you’d understand.”)

              • Rob Schneider
                Posted January 31, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

                Agreed. Anonymity is in some ways the embodiment of “freedom of association.”. It allows unbiased equality of opportunity to participate on discussions without having the well-evolved strategies of dismissal deployed against us. (Racial,gender- based, lack of professional credentials, country of origin, etc.)

                I choose “real-name” because I think the ability of atheists to function in society without fear, and to earn a living without having to hide our thoughts, will only come if we publicly, visibly and communally come out and demand an end to the discrimination. Will some adopting this strategy suffer? Absolutely. Did Harvey Milk get assassinated for advocating gay rights in e early ’70′s? Yes. Analogy clear enough?

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                @ Rob Schneider

                Nice, tidy summary.

                I’ve experienced nearly 100% more discrimination, offensive stereotyping, and verbal abuse for being a woman than for being an atheist, which makes the pseudonym choice on many forums a simple one.

                Not too many other venues where one can hide gender.

        • Scote
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

          “We’re social animals. It’s how our brains are wired. We want to know who we’re talking to so we can do that calculus of reputation that makes society work.”

          Yes, we are social animals, and that is where many of our logical fallacies come from. If you want to argue logically then you have to distance yourself from our built in irrationality.

          “Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers of the preceding generation…. As a matter of fact I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

          –Richard Feynman

          https://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/bookshelf.aspx?name=the-dubious-pleasure-of-yet-more-feynman&content=true

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

            Who is this Feynman guy? Why should I care what he thinks?

            • Scote
              Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

              :)

              I thought about heading that off in my post, but decided to leave it out. It is true that I’m citing an authority, but I cited it because I think it is a defensible claim. It isn’t valid merely because Feynman said it.

              The thing about reputations here is that giving you my real name won’t tell you anything about the quality of my arguments because I’m not famous. Instead, you have to form an opinion on my posts based on the posts themselves, and my consistent Scote “brand”.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

                If you think I’m insisting that you give your real name, then you’ve misread me. All I’m saying that you need to give a consistent name, which you seem to agree with.

                So presumably we’re also in agreement then that attaching consistent names to comments is important, and that the contents of the comments do not stand entirely on their own. The commenter’s name (or nym) is part of the message and provides useful context for evaluating the contents.

    • switchnode
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Thank you for posting this. I was frustrated and upset by the previous pseudonymity post; that link hits most of the points I was going to make (and very neatly) and should hopefully keep me from going on too long about this.

      Dr Coyne: I am younger than you. I am younger than most of the commenters here. I’ve spent more than half my life on the internet; my experiences here I consider as formative as those in meatspace. I was originally encouraged not to give out my name in order to protect my safety. I continue to use pseudonyms—multiple pseudonyms—because I am still growing, still slightly paranoid, and still intensely private.

      You ask if I’m not willing to stand personally behind what I write. Yes, I am, or else I wouldn’t post it—or at least, I am at the time I write it. I’ve said and done things on the internet I still cringe whenever I think about—not because I was anything genuinely unacceptable, but because I was a child, and children are idiots. I put creative writing on the net as well as opinion pieces, and everything I post goes up with a hidden expiration date: how long before I don’t want to be associated with this? Very likely, in a month, or a year, or five years, I’ll find it’s no longer representative of either my views or my abilities; it won’t be mine. It would be unfair of me to delete things without warning—and anyway, given the tenacity of information on the internet, it wouldn’t be practical. So I post it anonymously. I’m trying to preserve the ability to change my mind. By keeping only loose ties between me and my various presences on the internet, I can jettison pieces of my past as they become irrelevant. If I must make mistakes, isn’t it better to make them discreetly, have them called out, and clean up than back into a corner and fight all the harder because my honor is at stake?

      My social interactions, both on and off the net, are highly compartmentalized—and I use different pseudonyms to keep my identities separate. The people I talk to about sexuality don’t need to know anything about the games I play; the people I talk to about gaming don’t need to know anything about my sexuality. On sites like this one, I have conversations about things I would almost never discuss in real life. No matter how much I interact with someone or how close we are, I’m not obligated to reveal anything about my religious beliefs (or lack thereof)… or my politics… or my childhood… or any such thing—and just because I am open with a particular person about one private subject does not mean I have to be open about any other. Knowledge is power; information is intimacy. I see no reason either to allow intrusive questions or to put myself at others’ mercy.

      My name is everything. It’s my gender and my race and my family and my schooling and my location, for gods’ sake, and from there it’s not too far to my religion and my politics. I don’t have tenure to lose: I have little financial independence and as yet a very slim resumé, in an age where employers ask job seekers for their Facebook passwords so they can scour their private lives for anything untoward (one of many, many reasons I stay away from FB). Even restricting myself to one pseudonym would make me uneasy (for reasons jay describes at #25)—and using my name freely would be like deliberately leaving my doors unlocked. It’s never going to make me feel safer, more confident, or more justified, and it’s always going to be a barrier to entry for me and people like me. Certainly you can make exceptions for those you feel have genuine reasons to fear the use of real names—but before long that will put you in the unenviable position of having to decide who is disadvantaged enough.

      Make no mistake; your site, your rules. But I think rules couched in anything other than “because I want to” deserve scrutiny.

      That was still really long. I’m sorry.

      • switchnode
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        (#27. I can’t count.)

      • gbjames
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        Usually I hate overlong comments. But this one is very helpful.

        Part of it is a good argument against excessive tattoo indulgence, too.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        +10

      • Marta
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        I completely agree. Well done.

      • Old Rasputin
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        Well said.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Hear, hear!

      • Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        Brilliant comment.

      • gluonspring
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        This comment will be a keeper, I bet.

      • Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        LENGTH ISSUEZ ASIDE, I FINKZ UVE DUN RLY WELL. I HAS 2 USE PSEUDONYM, CUZ MAH CEILIN CAT-GIVEN NAYM DOEZ NOT TRANZLATE 2 HOOMAN. MAH HUMANZ CALL ME BUTTR, BUT MAH REAL NAYM SOUNDZ LIEK BRR-G-GAIO. SO I HAS 2 USE MAH HUMANZ INTERNET ACCES WHEN HE LEAVEZ HIS CELL FONE ON TEH COUNTR. BESIDEZ, THEY DOAN GIV INTERNET ACCES 2 KATS. MAH HOOMAN USEZ HIS REAL NAYM WHEN HE POSTS THOUGH, WHICH IZ FUNNY WHEN U FINKZ BOUT IT. SUM SECURITY EXPERT.

        This message has been sent from my Blackberry!

      • brujofeo
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 12:45 am | Permalink

        +1

        Long it may be, but eloquent.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 12:57 am | Permalink

        Yes! Very well put!

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 30, 2013 at 12:46 am | Permalink

      “Real Names policies are something that sounds good to”…. Global internet marketing companies.

  9. Sajanas
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I don’t necessarily find the particular link-display thing all that terrible.

    But as far as anonymous commenting in general, I would never, ever use my real name for commenting on a website. We live in a society where atheism is not socially accepted, and where, more importantly, not all of my family members, or co-workers, or friends find it socially acceptable. And I don’t necessarily think you’re right that discussions will be more civil. There are still people who will take things too far, except without anonymity, now they will know who you are and where you live. Given the sheer mass of hate directed at some atheist bloggers today, why would I expose myself to that just to chat a bit about the historicity of Jesus, or argue about Israel?

    • JBlilie
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      I agree that commenting anonymously is fine. For the reasons you have given.

      I think it’s very clear that Dr. C. s rules DO actually clean up the conversation. Compare the comment threads on this site and certain others, including one with mollusc associations.

      • RedSonja
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        Absolutely. Worried about civility? It would appear you get much better results with enforcing a commenting policy than simply saying “no nyms!”

        • Scote
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

          Exactly. It is an actively enforced comment policy and forum culture and engenders civility rather than real names (or names that look like real names).

          People think of Facebook and civility, reasoning that they use their real name on Facebook and their Facebook wall is civil, but that is not because of the real names but because your Facebook is just your *friends* (or acquaintances) and you’ll bounce them if they are dicks. The presumed civility of Facebook doesn’t scale for forums like this one, as TechCrunch found.

          https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130123/03271121761/techcrunch-admits-that-using-facebook-comments-drove-away-most-their-commenters.shtml

          They sough civility in dumping pseudonymous comments by moving to real name only Facebook comment threads, but have now moved back to anonymous comments after loosing most of their commenters.

          • Sajanas
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

            The one thing I learned from my gay friends when Amendment One banned gay marriage in NC is that bigoted people are seldom inhibited from stating their opinion by having to use their real name.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Well, I think we should think about the fact that the more people who are willing to take the risk of “coming out” as atheists, the more socially acceptable it will become. Believe me, I worried about that at the beginning but decided I would say what I thought, and I’m glad I did. (Granted, I wasn’t shunned by my colleagues, who are mostly atheists anyway.)

      But coming out worked, I think, for gays, so why shouldn’t it work for us? By the way, although I do take my share of flak as an “atheist bl—er,” I don’t mind it much. I feel much better with people knowing who I am, and what I think.

      • Sajanas
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        I am hardly a closet atheist in general, but you have to look towards the future employers too, family members, neighbors, etc. There’s a big difference between someone finding out your an atheist via a conversation you participate in, and someone finding out through a website where you’re making fun of Jesus or Vishnu. In general, we treat religion with rough hands here, in part because we’re talking more about the religious people doing harm to the world (or at least to reason), but that’s not how I’d talk to a new Episcopalian co-worker.

        But having your real name (and I have a rare name too) out there means I’m basically out to everyone that cares to do a Google search. And, generally, you already do a good job of moderating this place without the need for full disclosure.

        • Sajanas
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

          And the other comments about how our words are set in stone here are well made. I can no longer fix that ‘your’ to ‘you’re’, and it lives on forever, mocking me.

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

            I’ve always told readers they can email me if there’s something serious they want fixed in a comment. Several have done so.

    • rr
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      We live in a society where atheism is not socially accepted, and where, more importantly, not all of my family members, or co-workers, or friends find it socially acceptable

      Also here in the US we run the risk of idiots trying to establish “faith-based-solutions” for things like the social safety net. Imagine you need some help and the faith-based provider finds out you’re an atheist.

  10. Alice Wonder
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Alice Wonder is not my real name. It is not however hard to find out who I am, I don’t go through proxies or anything like that, and all one has to do is ask.

    Alice Wonder is my alter ego.

    That being said, I don’t like to start Internet flame wars with my alter ego. For that, I prefer to use my standard handle, which is directly associated with my real name in numerous places.

  11. Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    “Pseudonymy encourages acrimony, name-calling, and the kind of free-for-all you see on some websites that will remain unnamed”

    You should name them!

    As for myself, I use my real name when I comment on other websites, such as Slate and even Yahoo. I only hide behind a pseudonym on sites that deal with atheism, and I made this decision years ago because my “strident” new atheism would certainly be considered offensive to many of my co-workers, clients, and potential clients.

    At some point though, I should probably just bite the bullet and drop the fake name. My opinions on religion after all are pretty tame in the scheme of things, and I am a complete nobody anyway. If some colleague or prospect does by chance stumble upon my comments and cannot handle them, is this really a person that I would want to work with or take their money?

    • Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      Same here.

    • Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Without in any way criticising your personal choice, the way to make atheism socially acceptable is for all the atheists to be open about it.

      • Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        I can’t find any fault with the logic of your position. It’s just harder for some of us to apply.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        +1 from the management!

  12. Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I fully agree with the argument against pseudonymity and as one who has gone along with it all via twitter, I for one will change that. I use a brand name for my blog as I felt that the content is better represented that way. Thanks for the eloquent wake up.

  13. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I appreciate taking time to explain your (JAC’s) view, instead of a one-off comment on another thread. each issue I was thinking about was addressed.

    I’d still be interested to see a few examples the offending bloggers.

  14. Robert Bray
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I agree with every point you raise in favor of full and true names, Professor Coyne. A further reason to do so: the rawer the negative response to someone else’s opinion, the stronger the impulse to spew vitriol while hiding behind a wall of anonymity. It says, in other words, ‘I mean it, but I will not admit I mean it.’ And that’s tantamount to revealing that you mean what you shouldn’t.

  15. Vera
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Here and at other science- and atheist-oriented web sites I have to use my alias–I’m not ready to lose my job, and neither is my husband.

  16. Gordon Hill
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Excellent point. I like using my real name because my cogent posts baffle my critics. ;-)

  17. Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Well here I am all fessed up and ready to glow.

  18. Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    I have always preferred a pseudonym for the opposite reason that Jerry opposes them – I always think they promote amicability! To me, it feels less formal than everyone having ‘First name Second name’ appear with every comment they make. If I met any of you I would positively welcome you calling me J, as it is only a shortening of my name James & is what my friends call me. Meaning I only really use a semi-pseudonym in any case!

    The option to include a link to a website allows me to link to my Twitter profile, where my real name is easily found. So if I do offend anyone & they want to know who’s talking to them, they can easily follow the link & see who I am.

    Finally, by offering anonymity to those who need it, a pseudonym allows them to join the discussion freely & feel safe, so they can let their guard down a bit & talk openly.

    • Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      I should add though that I do welcome da roolz concerning commenting on this site with regard to insults. I would say that that rule is sufficient to allow you to err on the side of retaining pseudonymity, because some commenters (as they have pointed out) do need that protection.

  19. agentwhim
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I’m Brian and so’s my wife!

  20. JBlilie
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I use a name with plausible deniability (Dr. C. knows my real name via email) because of the reasons discussed above: Co-workers (bosses!), family members, and potential customers. However, if I had a bl — er — website, I’d use my real name.

  21. Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    While I’d tend agree that names do matter that does not automatically invalidate the use of pseudonyms.

    ‘Unity’ is not my real name but it is a pseudonym I’ve used consistently online for getting on for 15 years, give or take occasional variations where registration is required and the name has already been taken. It’s the name I’ve used on my own blog for almost eight years and the name I’ve used when writing for group blogs.

    To all intents and purposes I am ‘Unity’ as much I am a person with a real name and, online, I have personal reputation attached to that name that I’ve built up over a considerable number of years, one that actually matters to me and of which I am very protective.

    So, I’m the rather curious position of having a real name which would mean absolutely nothing to you, but a very well established online pseudonym with a clear and easily researched track record that will provide you with meaningful information.

    As Eric notes, this is not a binary issue – there are nuances particularly in relation to long established pseudonyms that bear some consideration. There are other bloggers out there that I’ve interacted with over the year who do know my real name, just as I know theirs and even in the case of those who’ve come out from behind their pseudonym, I will still more often than not refer to them by their pseudonym, just as they always refer to me by mine, as both as a matter of courtesy and because it helps to maintain and make accessible the searchable reputation that we’ve all built up over the years.

    That, for me, is as valuable – if not more valuable – than using my real name as if you looked for that you’d find almost nothing whereas, if you look for me as ‘Unity’ you’ll quickly find everything you need to know in order to decide whether or nothing anything I’ve written is deserving of a response.

  22. Mark Neunder
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Bravo! Stick to your guns on this one Jerry! I actually think you should make all commenters use their real names. Anonymity and pseudonymity have made internet comment sections the vile cesspool of America.
    Neither you nor I are fans of Chris Mooney, and he is largely wrong on the alleged tone of the New Atheists, and its alleged effects, but it does seem that tone matters—for tone is at least one reason you’ve given for your real name policy.

  23. NoJoy
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    My real identity is digitally tied to my personal email, banking information, medical history, employment, family, etc. The larger my web presence, the more ways there are for people to gain access to my private information.

    Using a pseudonym allows me to have a coherent web presence while acting as a speedbump (as opposed to an ironclad lockbox) when it comes to protecting my privacy. If somebody scrapes your site or hacks your database, there is no information about me that I mind them having.

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Google is working tirelessly to out everyone with a pseudonym anyway. It is going to get harder and harder to keep them from connecting all the dots.

  24. gbjames
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I don’t have a problem with this kind of policy. But I’m not concerned about being associated with my opinions. Some (many?) people are in less liberal business/social environments and fear retribution. I can understand their fear. Still, more people need to “come out”, IMO. Living in a closet isn’t a good way to live.

    • mordacious1
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Not everyone who posts anonymously online is in the closet, everyone in my town knows who the village atheist is, but being out locally is different than posting online, especially if you have a unique name.

      • Scote
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

        Exactly. There is a difference interactions on and off-line. The searchability makes a difference.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        If you don’t fear exposure in the real world, why do you fear exposure in the internet world?

        • Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          Typically because on the Internet, you expose yourself to a much greater number of people, and therefore a much greater number of devotedly dangerous lunatics. This appears to work out in practice as well.

        • Scote
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

          Ask the 25 year-old college student who’s college refused to grant her degree because of a picture captioned “Drunken Pirate”, showing her holding an opaque plastic cup.

          http://voices.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2008/12/court_rules_against_teacher_in.html

          The the college claimed she was promoting underage drinking. And they won their right to discriminate against her and yank her degree based on the MySpace photo.

          She was engaged in legal behavior and not breaking any student rules, but the photo being posted on-line made all the difference, that and the totally unreasonable school. We can’t control the unreasonable people, but we can control what we post on-line, what they have access to, and whether it easily points back to us.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

            I don’t agree with the school (or court) in this case, but I’d also suggest that people should be aware that what you post online follows you online. Better to not post Drunken Pirate photos at all than to just post them anonymously. People can recognize you either way.

            • Scote
              Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

              I think we are essentially in agreement. I consider posting a photo of yourself in many ways be comparable to posting your real name, especially now that many social media websites allow others to tag you in photos, and even have automated facial recognition. Either way, the issue is that what wouldn’t have been an issue to her friends and local community became a big issue when it was posted on the net, connectable with her real identity.

              There is a difference between the reach and impact of off-line and on-line information about ourselves.

            • SA Gould
              Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

              Often *your friends* can post such a photo without you even knowing about it, and circulate it!

  25. @eightyc
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Well unless you can eliminate bias altogether, then there is value in pseudonymity.

    I personally find Jesus infinitely entertaining to think about. And so that naturally manifests itself in making jokes about Jesus all the time. It never gets old for me when I think about Jesus in all sorts of situations and how religious people take this made-up dude so seriously.

    So given that I’m surrounded by people that do take Jesus so seriously, then that’s quite a valid reason to use a pseudonym (jobs-wise, relationship-wise, family-wise).

    • @eightyc
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Also can you post a link to the supposed website where you are attacked with invective by a person hiding behind a pseudonym.

      If it is a reasoned, rational attack of your arguments without any invectives then I don’t see the reason for your demand that they reveal their real name because the reason you are using for the requirement that they reveal who they are is that they are using a pseudonym to behave unreasonable and to hurl invectives at you under the protection of anonymity.

      So I certainly would like to read that website and if they did hurl invectives then yes I think it’s reasonable to ask for their real names if they would like to continue to post here or at least an apology and the understanding that they cannot simply start throwing out invectives in the future if they want to continue to post here.

  26. Rebecca Harbison
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I maintain two web presences. My real name goes to my professional identity as a grad student in the sciences. Hence, I don’t mind commenting on a site devoted to biology under it. My ‘pen name’ — my real first name and an obviously fake ‘surname’ goes to my writing and art. It’s an open secret (maybe not as open as Orac’s) but it saves people looking for my science from having to wade through other information. (And vice versa.)

    If I had an absurdly common name (a colleague of mine has not only a common name, but one shared by a famous children’s author), I might not mind as much, since any search for me would already be limited by ‘astronomer’ or something. And I do keep my penname consistant; enough that using it to troll or start shit would be as likely to fall on my head as using my real name (with the exception that it would take longer to figure out what university I attend, etc.).

  27. jay
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I am going to strongly disagree, Jerry. (as you see, I post under a vague ambiguous name).

    In this day of Google and internet memory, I feel one should NEVER post under their real name (except for certain professional related blogs etc).

    This is why Facebook has become such a privacy danger and I don’t use facebook or any other login service that requires full name. Anyone, a far future potential employer, stalker, litigant in a civil suit, nosy neighbor, or who knows what can pick up lots about a person with a simple google search. Especially if you post in a variety of different fora (as many of us undoubtedly do).

    A comment here and there about your favorite restaurant, your preferences in alcohol, what car you drive, type of job you hold, your neighborhood seem trivial, but when pulled together can reveal very much more about you than you really care to reveal.

    It’s NOT just a matter of saying something very offensive. It’s not that you’re currently worried if your boss finds you’re an atheist (not a problem for me), but that with the internet’s long memory, things can be found and used in other contexts. And you have no control over who finds these or when.

    A recent test, for example, involved people simulating employment applications. The test subjects, evaluating them as employees, were subtly primed as to whether the applicants occasionally had a glass of wine with a meal. Statistically, applicants with that priming scored lower in their ‘evaluation’. Simple, innocent, completely legal and socially acceptable…. but it had an effect. What about other discussions: religion, homosexuality, pot, the church, the government… etc. Do you really want a HR person to see your comments even before getting to know more about you?

    Jay (one of millions)

    • Uncle Ebeneezer
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      Well said, Jay. I think Jerry is totally justified in not wanting to grant free publicity to anonymous bloggers who want to attack him to increase their own page-views (though if they seem sincere in their disagreement and present good arguments I could also see Jerry engaging with them once he’s convinced they aren’t just trolling), I think framing pseudonymity as “cowardice” ignores the reality of the internet in regards to potential (and current) employment, custody fights, harassment etc. Every person has to figure out their own personal balance of risk/reward when considering where they put their name on the internet. Because for some people, that the risk outweighs the reward, says nothing about the seriousness of their argument.

      On my own choice to usually use a pseudonym online, I have mainly used it because I was taught that people have a right to some privacy even if they want to speak out on issues. Facebook, internet stalking, employment discrimination etc., have all convinced me time and again, that caution is warranted.

      • Scote
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        “I think Jerry is totally justified in not wanting to grant free publicity to anonymous bloggers who want to attack him to increase their own page-views”<

        I think it is understandable, if a bit petulant. I think it is pretty silly when religious-types (or Phil Plait, for that matter) criticize people like Jerry or PZ but refuse to mention them by name or link to their site. Such actions come off as petty, defensive and lacking substance since they seem afraid to let people see the arguments they claim to be countering. Yet by not naming the sites he’s offended by, Jerry risks doing the same thing.

        I think Jerry is taking a slightly wrong approach. There are behaviors he doesn’t like, say, trolling or certain kinds of criticism, but instead of just dealing with the behavior directly he’s trying to find a shortcut, a correlation, he can use to eliminate the behavior indirectly, thus the names policy. I think the names policy, and the claims of “cowardice” and such, is poorly targeted way of governing behavior that causes collateral damage without actually achieving the desired ends.

        • Marta
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

          I’d agree with you, and emphatically, except that John Scalzi, at his blog WHATEVER, wrote an incredibly interesting and useful post about NOT naming a troll or providing a link to the troll (his new technique, which he’s calling “kittening”, was picked up by Scientific American or some such, which is how I found it.)

  28. gravelinspector
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Providing my real name doesn’t bother me (it’s Aidan Karley, BTW), though it didn’t stop you from recognising my posting ID when you were in Glasgow.

    (That fear is largely unjustified, anyway; any failure to grant tenure for private opinions violates most university policies, and that of the AAUP, I believe.)

    That sounds awfully close to promoting people to join a trade union. [voice : Deep south redneck, and gun being cocked] “Are you all some sort of Komm-yewan-eest? Messing with mah precious bodily fluids?”
    And back in my voice – as a former officer of a trade union, “Congratulations!”
    I’ll try to figure out how to change this gravatar thing to post under my real name.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 30, 2013 at 1:23 am | Permalink

      But if you post under your real name we won’t know who you are! We all know ‘gravelinspector’ : )

      • gravelinspector
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        I’m sure that you’d adapt, Mr Heart-of-Gold. (Yes, I did read all 5 volumes of the trilogy.)

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 30, 2013 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

          Argh! It’s the first time I’ve ever been called that. I never thought of that implication when I chose the pseudonym, honest. Rather, the connotations of a cup of tea, and the occurrence of bizarre side effects whenever the II Drive was used, seemed much more attractive.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted January 31, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

            Cup of “something that almost completely failed to resemble tea,” IIRC.

  29. mordacious1
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I can understand Jerry’s point but don’t totally agree with him (if he wants to know my name, it’s in the Email I registered with, there are only 4 people with that last name in the US). Not everyone in the atheist community is nice or respects privacy. If they can’t defeat your argument, they email your boss and try to get you fired or the faculty at your university. Should people have to go through this? Personally, I don’t care. If you want to come after me, go ahead. I rarely leave the house without “ATHEIST” emblazoned on my clothing. But my wife works for an organization that might fire her because she’s associated with me. She certainly shouldn’t have to deal with that BS. Also, my daughter is in High School and doesn’t need the bullying that she might receive.

    One more point, there are several bloggers who use the “Argument of Anonymity” (you won’t tell us your name, ergo you’re wrong). Of course, many of these bloggers have no other job than blogging, having their name out there just helps their business (I am not talking about Prof. Coyne here). Many of their posters OTOH, have real jobs that they could lose if some nasty person wanted to make trouble.

    • gravelinspector
      Posted January 30, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      If they can’t defeat your argument, they email your boss and try to get you fired or the faculty at your university.

      Wow, there are some really nasty currents under the surface of American society.

  30. neil
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    “Pseudonymy encourages acrimony, name-calling, and the kind of free-for-all you see on some websites that will remain unnamed”

    Agreed. At the same time, identity may inhibit people from making comments which they fear might be considered outrageous, wrong, or stupid thus suppressing free expression which presumably is the purpose of the comment section.

    IAC, your rule is fine with me since I don’t have a website.

  31. Kevin
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    1. Your site, your rules.

    I guess there is no 2. Rational or not, supported by “evidence” or not…your site, your rules.

    Of course, I don’t have an anonymous blog where I seek to trash “real name” web site owners’ ideas.

    Frankly, my use of first name only is born of two concerns. I live in a town where being a public atheist is not the best idea — yes, fear of harassment and personal safety is an issue. And second, I don’t want people to figure out how much time I really spend hanging around your place and others. :-)

  32. Chris Quartly
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I always use my real name, I can see both sides to what Jerry is saying, but I do think that openness is ultimate the best thing.

    • Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      I use my real name everywhere, I’m assertively out in all sorts of ways and I tend not to give a hoot. I do have sufficient friends for which this is not at all true or safe that I wouldn’t presume to generalise from my own secure position to say that they should do what I do or just shut up in public.

  33. Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised nobody’s yet made the parallel with the gay community. We, as a society, just saw this a decade or two ago, and still see remnants of it today — the fight not only over involuntary outing, but the insistence by some activists that all in the closet should come out.

    Though this really is my real name, I have no problem with anonymity.

    Not only are there a great many very valid reasons for anonymity, our country wouldn’t be what it is today were it not for the Federalist Papers, whose authorship was a closely guarded secret from the time of their publication in 1788 until a quarter century later after the death of Hamilton.

    So, I while I would encourage everybody to step forward and publicly speak their minds, it is to me more important that people speak, even if anonymously.

    A chorus with many voices muted by anonymity is louder than one with but a few voices, even if those few are all wearing name tags.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • mordacious1
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Darn, I was just going to use the “Federalist Papers” argument. If anonymity is good enough for Hamilton, Madison and Jay, it’s good enough for me.

      • neil
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        On the other hand, the signatories to the Declaration openly pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor.

  34. tubby
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I figure that if I am polite and civil to begin with and respectful of the people I am having a discussion with that using a pseudonym shouldn’t even be an issue. Using a pseudonym is a privilege, and I’d rather not give anyone cause to revoke it by trolling.

  35. brujofeo
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Have to run out to trial…I will explain my use of a pseudonym later, but suffice it to say that I don’t “hide” my identity from anyone on sites like this. My “day gig”is as Terence Geoghegan. You can meet that persona here: http://www.tgtriallawyer.com. More later today–much later.

    • brujofeo
      Posted January 30, 2013 at 1:54 am | Permalink

      OK…back at the keyboard.

      Here’s my issue. I’m a trial lawyer, an atheist , and a biker. This is the modern trifecta…like years ago being black, Jewish, and gay.

      Add in that I’m a libertarian bordering on anarchist, a 2nd-Amendment firebrand (and just look at the opprobrium that that’s got me here), and a constant polemicist against the vile, murderous War on Some Drugs.

      No big deal, right? And if it was just others’ shunning of ME over whichever prejudice they’re indulging, no problem. I’ve got a thick skin.

      But I’m a trial lawyer, and I live and work in “Bakersfield by the Sea.” I represent victims of elder abuse, victims of medical malpractice, legal malpractice, etc. Judges are generally disciplined enough not to let their disapproval of a lawyer’s politics outside the courtroom prevent them from being fair to that lawyer’s client…which is EXACTLY why defense lawyers ALWAYS demand a jury. I have to be VERY careful of the possibility of some juror figuring out that I’m “that fucking atheist who trashed Mother Teresa,” and polluting the whole pool. So at the office I’m Terence Geoghegan, but online I’m Brujo Feo.

      But that’s not all. I also represent victims of identity theft, and I’ve written educational articles for other lawyers on how to avoid being a victim of identity theft. The rules are simple, and it starts with: NEVER, EVER use your real name on online social sites. Never post your home address, or your personal phone number, let alone your date of birth. Because if you’re going to do those things, you might as well post your SSN, your driver license number, your mother’s maiden name, and all of your bank account and credit card numbers.

      BTW, musical beef and Another Matt: I’m the principal violist in a symphony. There are probably more musicians here than you think.

      • Another Matt
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        BTW, musical beef and Another Matt: I’m the principal violist in a symphony. There are probably more musicians here than you think.

        Always great to find this kind of thing out. I appreciate your sharing — thanks!

  36. moleatthecounter
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Interesting – This name I use is my ‘standard’ Intertubes name, I use it on RDF and various football fanzine sites in the UK. But would happily change it if it makes things smoother. That said, I haven’t been in an argument here, so I don’t feel too guilty.

    I’d change my user name, but I think that it may be difficult to do… It may be easier to change my real name by Deed Poll (UK) to Mr. Moleatthecounter!

    Anyway,

    Cheers,

    Al Lee
    Staffordshire,
    UK

  37. Drew Hardies
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I prefer pseudo-anonyminity.

    My field has weird rules about ‘professionalism’. There are plenty of things (wearing swimming trunks to an interview, posting drunken photos on facebook, discussing sexuality in text) that will make people shake their heads and question someone’s judgement.

    It’s not that it’s wrong to swim, drink, or discuss discuss sex.

    But there’s a sort of signaling game, where someone who breaks the semi-arbitrary rules is assumed to either not know them (and thus be socially ignorant) or not-care.

    Since I don’t want to have to eternally self-censor (“is _this_ conversation going to be seen as a sign of bad judgement by a random googler?”) it’s easiest to just use a pesudonym.
    —-
    That said, I think it’s entirely fair for you to only respond to criticisms that are sponsored by someone using a real name.

    You’re vastly outnumbered by potential critics and potential commentators. So you can’t possibly be expected to respond to everything (let alone read it).

    And your proposed rule seems about as fair as any other potential filter.

    If a criticism is really meritous, it can get echoed by someone using a real name.

  38. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure I see the problem.

    Names or pseudonym are handles, and if you want them to stand for something you would protect them equally. (And look out for fakers trying to nick your handle.)

    Reversely, you can as easily fake names as nyms, and use them irresponsibly. And if someone doesn’t understand that behind each nymes stands a person as surely as for names (i.e. in these days of web bots not so surely), that is their problem of [no] abstraction.

    The reason I use my everyday handle (my name) is because I have decided to bind it (the usual way) to my physical location. In that way I can discuss my past and present in a more meaningful way, should the occasion arise.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Eh, “nymes” instead of “nym”? Interesting contamination from “names”.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Also, I am privileged, obviously. Living in Sweden, you don’t fear much.

      I get the anonymity safety reasons. I also get the your site-your rules reasons.

      That is another level of circumstances. I was trying to address the arguments – are nyms of lesser value than names? (I think “no”.)

  39. Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Hi, I’m Mark Bradford. Why do I use the name “Squiddhartha” online? For one, it amuses me. For another, it’s actually *more* identifying of me as an individual — there are a bunch of “Mark Bradford”s out there, but I’ve never met another person going by “Squiddhartha.” (There’s a west coast band that started using that name a few years ago, so I’m no longer unique on a Google search.)

    I haven’t yet had any desire to criticize you on my blog, er, website. In fact I agree with you on most subjects, and value your professional perspective on evolutionary biology. But just for future reference, do you consider the fact that I state my real name in the “About” page sufficient, even though I post and comment as “Squiddhartha”?

  40. Scote
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Will Jerry continue to post Jesus and Mo cartoons? Or does the opprobrium of anonymous websites only apply to people he disagrees with? If so, why is one ok but not the other?

  41. Ken Pidcock
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I recognize the pseudonymy is important to many, many people, and grant equal authority to the voices of pseudonymous writers. However, I agree that those to whom it is not important should not be employing it.

  42. Another Matt
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I happen to have a namesake who is unfortunately one of the most foul conservative pundits around:

    http://townhall.com/columnists/mattbarber/

    I almost never use my name to post because of the visceral reaction it gets from people who are aware of this vile person.

    I’m a composer by trade — you’re welcome to go listen to my music: http://ecmc.rochester.edu/mbarb/web/music.php?filter=chrono

    NOW LET US NEVER SPEAK OF THIS AGAIN

    • Jolo
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Mine is a former KKK member turned anti-abortion crusader turned prisoner for molesting teenaged girls…

      Wanna trade?

      PS. I also use jolo5309, depending on whether I am posting from home or work.

    • Old Rasputin
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the link. I’ve often noticed you commenting on musical matters and assumed you were a composer; no one else would be on such intimate terms with Stravinsky or any of the serial music you reference, the analysis of which is a little over my head, but interesting. I meant to ask, but never got around to it.

      • Another Matt
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        Hi, thanks so much for having noticed!

        Sometimes I feel bad for writing about music in this space, especially when it’s about some obscure music theory thing; but it seems to add to the discussion now and again.

        • Dermot C
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

          Well I appreciated it and I’m still doing the homework.

        • Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

          I’m extremely heartened to see other serious musicians on sites like these. In RL my colleagues tend toward the woo/religious end of the spectrum.

          • Another Matt
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

            Also, you’re an organist, yes? Almost all organists I’ve known have had to make their living in a church. There’s a ton of lovely church music, of course, but I don’t think I would have the fortitude to be a participant in the liturgies.

            On the other hand, when I lived in NYC, one of the Lutheran churches did live, free performances of Bach Cantatas — at the time I was Eastern Orthodox, but the Bach was impossible to resist.

            • Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

              I am an organist, which I suppose explains the fact that many of my colleagues are religious. But much of the musical community here in MN’s Twin Cities is soaked in woo to boot.

              I dont particularly mind having to “attend church”, but the church I work for is very liberal. But I also don’t see myself still doing this in 5 years. I will want to get out.

              I believe you’re talking about Trinity Lutheran’s Bach Vespers? I have a few friends in the choir there.

              I’ve just visited your site and I’d be very interested to hear what you have to say about musical epistemology. Perhaps a private email would be more appropriate: andrew@haumc.org.

    • Marella
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      I have a namesake who is nutty US politician (though not very successful) and she is also my sister-in-law forsooth! Oy vey.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 30, 2013 at 1:38 am | Permalink

      Shakespear as usual put it well:
      Third Citizen: Your name, sir, truly.
      CINNA THE POET: Truly, my name is Cinna.
      First Citizen: Tear him to pieces; he’s a conspirator.
      CINNA THE POET: I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet.
      Fourth Citizen: Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses.

  43. 3cheersforreason
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    i use this screen name because i was blacklisted under my ‘real’ name, and it will no longer function. i’d happily go back to using it.

  44. KP
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I use KP because a number of people actually call me that and it’s how I sign my e-mails (only I go lower case kp).

    I am currently a government scientist at a US Forest Service Research Lab. As such, there are actually rules about us taking political stands publicly. Although this is primarily a scientific blog, er, WEBSITE, and not likely to attract the Office of the Inspector General to my comments, I do like the precautionary anonymity.

    Jerry knows who I am because I earned my Ph. D. in his department (on the ill-reputed “ecology” side) and I’m fine with him identifying me when appropriate/necessary, as he did when he posted the “amber restorative” pic I sent in for the Hitchens Tribute.

    • gillt
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      Re Government scientist. I used to work for the NIH in research and was submitted to background checks and swearing of oaths to god and country. Using a nym on online forums during my lunch break on a work computer (perfectly legal) was a basic and easy to institute barrier–frail is it may have been–between my personal identity and my profesional identify. Does it really make me a coward that I feared my employee file might get flagged by some nosey HR person who was my political opposite? I wish the “management” here would realize that not everyone has, as I do now, the privilege of working in academia.

  45. matt
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    have you ever considered just not allowing comments? Harris doesn’t at his site (i think they’re all at his facebook page), and i think that’s a good policy.

    all that aside, i agree with your post.

    • Andrew van der Merwe
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      The discussion here is too good to can.

      • gluonspring
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Very nearly the only good discussion on the web. It’s a real service!

    • Scote
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      I think that much of the popularity of this site is because Jerry has fostered a community by having a civil comments section where people can talk openly about these issues, under a ‘nym or their real names. A website without a comments section isn’t a community. I prefer websites, and blogs, with comments sections even if I’m not a commenter there. I’m interested in the feedback, the context, the back and forth, not just a one way pronouncement.

      Sam’s way may work for him, but I don’t read his website. Maybe its the lack of comments, or maybe its because I find his arguments to be lacking in consistency. Or both. I think Jerry’s a better philosopher than Harris, and I prefer Jerry’s website, thinking and community. Plus cats.

      I do think it is ironic, though, for you to post a comment saying you agree that not having comments is a good policy.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        I, too, read this website much more than others because of the community of commenters. Both of the alternatives (no comments allowed and no roolz at all) result in a less interesting place to visit.

        • Marta
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

          I don’t read Harris’ blog at all because he doesn’t enable comments. If we’re going to use the word “cowardly”, disabling comments is the first thing that comes to my mind. [Yes, yes, I get it, the trolls, the time consuming moderation, etc.]

          Secondly, although I read Jerry’s posts, especially if he’s writing about penises, I come here particularly because of the comments. The threads that develop here can be extraordinary.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think it is fair to call Harris’ decision “cowardly”. The fact that he published “The End of Faith” when he did speaks to the fact that he is not a coward. I believe him when he says he doesn’t allow comments because he doesn’t have time to police his site. Which is fine, but it comes at the expense of offering the kind of interactions that we’re used to here at WEIT.

            • Scote
              Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

              “I don’t think it is fair to call Harris’ decision “cowardly”.”

              Maybe we should all avoid loaded claims like that? Cowardice is an accusation that presumes intent or state of mind. We don’t know why he doesn’t enable comments, and we all know that managing a comment site takes a fair bit of work.

              However, I do think it is plausible that Harris isn’t interested in an open dialogue as much as he is in pontificating. I think a lot of his arguments don’t hold up well to even cursory examination. And we see brittleness about comments and criticism at plenty of sites, including both religious and accomodationist philosopher’s blogs, at creationist websites, etc.

              For me, I often think of well moderated but open comments as a sign of someone who has good arguments. And I think that closed, or highly censored, comments as being common to people who’s arguments don’t hold up well to reason. (I include sites with mob dogpiles encouraged by the host, such as at Phyrangula, in that category at times, too.)

              • gbjames
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

                Actually, we do know why. He has addressed this subject directly.

                Your “plausibility” argument seems to me to be just your dissatisfaction with his arguments and frustration for being prevented from replying on his blog. It isn’t convincing. I, too, dislike some of his arguments (him on guns, for example). But I have no reason to question his explanation for why he doesn’t allow comments on his blog.

              • Scote
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

                “Actually, we do know why. He has addressed this subject directly.”

                No, we know what Harris claims is the reason. And it is plausible. But that isn’t the same as knowing for certain. It isn’t unknown for people to give excuses.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                And I have no way to know if you are being honest with me now, either. Makes it kind of hard to discuss things if you aren’t willing to take a person’s plausible explanation of what they say as truthfully representing what they think.

                You may want to check out Sam’s book “Lying”.

              • Scote
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

                “And I have no way to know if you are being honest with me now, either.”

                You have no way to know that regardless of whether you know my real name. But what are you specifically claiming might be a lie?

              • gbjames
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

                I’m not claiming you are lying. That wasn’t my point. I’m trying to point out that there is no reason to doubt Sam Harris’ explanation for why he doesn’t allow comments on his blog. In fact there is considerable reason to trust him on that. I referenced his small book “lying” as evidence towards that, not as a comment on your statements.

                I’m trying to get you to recognize that if you refuse to accept Sam’s explanation on the basis that “you can’t tell what he thinks, only what he says”, then the same is true for your statements. That argument is self-negating. Just because you don’t like some of his arguments (nor do I), doesn’t mean he is a coward for not allowing comments on his blog.

            • Marta
              Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

              I tend to regard any posters who disable comments as cowardly, and this includes Andrew Sullivan, Jerry Stangroom, and a host of others. If comments are disabled, I don’t read the poster. Period.

              I don’t disagree with you about the time it must take to police a site. It must be huge, and I still don’t care. Jerry puts up at least 3 posts per day, and he moderates this blog to a fare-thee-well. PZ puts up as many, and although his moderation policy is fairly hands-off, his blog is fairly well-moderated (although this depends on who you ask, and I’m not looking to open a FTB can of worms here.)

              • gbjames
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

                Well, it is easy for you to not care. The bloggers (or not-a-bloggers) DO have to care. Nobody who blogs is obligated to put in as much time as you or I might want. It is immensely unfair to them all of the reasons to “cowardly”.

              • Marta
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

                Yep, it’s easy for me not to care. I don’t write blogs. I mostly garden and drink beer.

                No one is obligated to put in any time at all, I don’t disagree.

                So? You put up a blog, and you disable comments, I don’t read your blog. I doubt they’ll miss me, or my, er, “insightful” (?) comments.

                And what I’m saying is, you disable comments, I don’t read your blog because I think you’re a coward. Deal.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

                You are just calling names. I don’t read his blog much, either. But not because he is a coward; because I don’t get to engage with the discussion. That doesn’t make him a coward any more than you are a coward for not blogging yourself.

              • Marta
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

                Well, you “don’t get to engage with discussion”? Ok. Whatever. Don’t care.

                Listen. You put a post where nobody gets to disagree or whatever, you’ve just put a billboard in space. Who the hell cares?

                However, you put up a billboard in space where I, and a lot of people so much smarter than I am are writing, yeah, now I’m reading, and following, and whatever else.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

                I guess you also don’t read books or magazines either, right? Are the authors cowards because you can’t respond to the pages?

                Who cares? Well the people who read it may care. There may be fewer readers than if comments were allowed but that doesn’t make the blogger-sin-comments a coward.

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

                I’d like to be a tenth the “coward” that Harris is.

              • Marta
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

                C’mon. Really?

                “Are the authors cowards because you can’t respond to the pages?”

                You’re having some difficulty making a distinction between a blog post and a magazine article, or a published book and a blog post?

                C’mon.

                If you have the ABILITY to enable comments, and you don’t, for whatever reason, I think you’re a coward.

                Book writers don’t have this option. Some magazine articles writers don’t have this option, either.

                Blog writers? They mostly do. And if they turn off comments because [whatever] I think they’re cowards. Cowards, cowards, cowards.

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

                @ Marta

                I believe there’s a lot of discussion of Sam’s posts in the forum section of his website. Not every blogger offers that.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                Yes, we know that you think this marks a blogger as a coward. And by now you know that I think that is nothing but lazy projection of your own frustration. There is probably not a lot of progress to come on this thread if you can’t allow the possibility that there might be more than one reason for not enabling comments on a person’s blog. You’re just name-calling as far as I can see.

              • Marta
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

                I don’t go to Sam’s website so much, so whatever my reasons for not going are–none of them can properly lay any claim to any frustration I may or may not have.

                I’m not in the least “frustrated”.

                I don’t read Sam Harris’ blog because he doesn’t enable commenting. I think he’s a coward, in this regard, as I’ve said {apparently abundantly).

                I appreciate and value vigorous argument. That
                s what I get here, and some several other places elsewhere.

                Sam Harris is a smart guy, and he’s the one who got me to this “community” in the first place. But if he’s going to be in the blog business (and our fair host, who’s ALSO written a book and is in the “blog business”), let him step up and take on the problems that the blog business entails.

                You got any questions about the above, just ask our host.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

                My only question is this. Do really think that there is only one reason (cowardice) that a blogger might not enable comments?

              • SA Gould
                Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                Marta / Allowing comments also saves everyone time. If I think of something to say, and it has already been said- usually better- there is no need for my comment. Which is why I dislike Sam Harris’s site.

      • @eightyc
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        lol.

        I’m a fan of Sam Harris but I too don’t visit his website much.

        As informative as it is, it is boring as hell!

      • matt
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        to clarify, i just meant that it may be a good policy for this website. an awful amount of time is spent telling us what the rules are. i’m not sure how hard it is to read what is written and apply accordingly. those that throw their hands up because they are somehow an acceptable exception fail to see that they are, and press for further clarification. these rules aren’t that hard to interpret and it does seem to detract from other quality posts that would best serve this space. i don’t comment frequently here, and don’t usually check the comments here after reading a post.

        i like Sam’s site. it’s very professional. also, he responds to emails/reader comments by either emailing them directly or following up in a subsequent post. this prevents a lot of worthless back and forth.

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          I like Sam’s site, too.

        • matt
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          correction: i’m not sure it’s that hard to read what is written and apply accordingly.

      • Marella
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        I love Sam Harris, though his take on the gun thing is a bit disappointing. I read all his work and I’m sorry he has disallowed comments on his website/blog because I’d like to read them and possibly add to them, but I understand that he doesn’t want to be bothered moderating it. I do think he is a bit thin skinned as well which is his cross to bear, and I quite understand that not everyone is as fearless as PZ or Jerry. If I only read the words of perfect people I would get a lot of knitting done. (I don’t knit).

    • Marella
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      What an appalling idea! The commenters here are nearly the best part! If I couldn’t ever read Ben Goren again I’d be desolate.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      I’ve always told readers they can email me if there’s something serious they want fixed in a comment. Several have done so.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

      I thought about it for a millisecond or so, but never seriously, as I simply learn too much from the commenters here to ever entertain stopping discussion. As I’ve said, I don’t think I’ve ever made a serious post that didn’t contain a mistake, and don’t remember any serious ones from which I haven’t derived intellectual benefits from the commenters.

  46. Beachscriber
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Well, reading this has me concluding that I aught to switch from Beachscriber to my real name, but not because I fancy myself smart enough to take on the ceiling cat in public. Beachscriber is a more specific, unique name which can easily be linked to me but I’m thinking that perhaps it’s inappropriate to link my beach calligraphy work to what I might have to say about the kinds of issues raised here. So, from now on I’m Andrew van der Merwe, amateur philosopher, sophisticated theologian, curious agnostic and so far unconvinced non-determinist who believes the theory of Evolution but also David Bohm’s implicate and explicate order of things.

  47. David Sepkoski
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I agree with Jerry 100%. I used to post on a couple of blogs with a handle, but I became increasingly uncomfortable with how easy it was to disassociate my “real” persona from the one who had commented. So I started using my real name. On a basic level, I want to take responsibility for what I say, whether it’s in a book or an in-person conversation or a website comment. Using my real name has stopped me a couple of times from saying intemperate things in the heat of the moment, and it has also caused me to be more thoughtful in my comments.

    I understand that there are cases where a commenter might genuinely find his or herself in economic or even physical danger if his/her beliefs became widely known. However, I think fears about this kind of thing are vastly exaggerated, and it legitimately applies to only a tiny number of people. Jerry is absolutely right to encourage people to take a stand for what they believe in, and frankly I think a lot of people are simply too insecure to do so. Seriously–if you’re afraid that something you’ll say might come back to haunt you, you probably shouldn’t say it.

    One exception I can’t argue with is the problem women have using their real names. It is really sad that women become objects of unwanted attention from members within this community when their identities become public. There are a lot of male losers on the intertubes that seriously need to grow up or get some counseling.

    It may well be the case that, in general, use of real names doesn’t guarantee civility. But this is a question of what should obtain on THIS website, which in many ways is not your average internet echo chamber. There are plenty of places to go and have arguments anonymously–I think it’s great that Jerry wants this to be a different kind of place.

    • Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      “But this is a question of what should obtain on THIS website, which in many ways is not your average internet echo chamber.”

      And if they comment here in a manner that attracts a Mabus, well, that’s just their bad luck, and they should have kept quiet. End of story.

  48. Rebecca Sparks
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    1) I rarely comment here, because occasionally my comments disappear and I don’t know why. (Last one that disappeared was a “guess”that the fuzzy bunny was a tribble-especially puzzling since several other people guessed the same thing). There was no e-mail or other acknowledgement telling me what I had done to offend.
    2) My legal name is far from unique, but my internet handles are. Searching for them I can find a smattering of posts and journals that I’ve made over 15 years.
    3) As many others have pointed out, there’s no objective proof that tying id’s to comments make them more civil-there more proof that it leaves vulnerable people at risk.
    4) In effect, your policy would privilege dialog with certain people who are not at risk for discrimination or violence, not people who are particularly vitriolic.
    5) I can understand the need to know to whom you are talking. Perhaps if someone send you a confidential e-mail, or if there was a way to save a profile where you but not the public can see who they are, that could be an acceptable compromise?

    • Marella
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      It’s not offence it’s WordPress, that happens to everyone occasionally. If you want something posted that WordPress ate you can email it to Jerry and he will put it up for you.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        Marella is right here; comments do get lost for reasons that I can’t fathom and am not always able to track down. Just email me if you have a problem.

  49. Dermot C
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    There are two reasons why I don’t give my name, ever, online; the most cogent one is that my adopted daughters’ birth-father is a convicted paedophile and internet groomer.

    The less I am traceable, the better. Dr. Coyne knows my name, but if you can’t trust JAC, well who can you trust?

  50. Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I fully support this rule, I think if you are going to be arguing on the internet then you should do it without hiding behind a false name.

    People who use personas do so for a variety of reasons, many of them, like mine, valid and necessary.

    But while I may use another name because of safety reasons I would absolutely tell you my real name if you asked in an email, I have nothing to hide from YOU, only someone else.

    People who use personas to attack others without having to level the field and use their real names are only using the ability to hide their name so they don’t have to use the normal courtesies that civilized people practice.

    It’s not PC but for a long time now these people have been referred to as “AnonyTards” for a good reason, they earn it.

  51. DV
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    There’s a drawback to using real names. You discourage uninhibited discussion. In real life, people don’t always tell you what they really think. Many opinions are expressed only in confidence. People do this for diplomatic and strategic reasons in expectation of future interactions where they may need to ask a favor or assistance. Or to manage their reputation and prospects for future favors by not voicing out on controversial and divisive issues. Don’t say people should not put up a face, and why can’t people maintain friendship with those they fundamentally disagree. There’s a long history of evolution that honed and ingrained these two-facedness strategies because they work.

    • Posted January 30, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      “There’s a drawback to using real names. You discourage uninhibited discussion…”

      What is valuable about “uninhibited” discussion that cannot also be reasonably had by thoughtful, person-respectful serious discussion? I have been engaging in open public theism/atheism, creation-evolution, political and scientific discussions for over three decades as an atheist using my actual name and cannot think of even one time when I was inhibited in thoughtfully publicly sharing my (feeble, admittedly fallible) thinking on any subject that came up.

  52. Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    There was a subjectively interesting post relating to this about two years back over at Razib Khan’s GNXP (which blog has since moved, but the old post is still there).

    I suspect some of the backlash may be the feeling that this requirement is and expressing of dominance beyond your earned prestige; that is, it clearly is within your power to decide such a rule is going to be imposed, but may be beyond the level of trust for you to decide it ought to be imposed. I’ll note that there seem to be some technical papers indexed on Google Scholar on the mathematics of reputation and trust, which would have some theoretical implications to the question of “real” names versus pseudonyms versus anonymity and so forth. However, that seems a subject of discussion well afield of your usual topics — though the issue epistemic warrants which you’ve touched on seems distantly related.

    Some frequent commenters, like Ben Goren, often take strong and controversial stands, but they don’t seem to suffer because of it.

    Some end up with moderator approval required before posts appear, as a result of presenting provoking questions. But that’s mostly just a local nuisance.

    Non-locally, there may be other consequences. I really don’t like arguments based on “social privilege”, as they often seem thrown about as cheap signalling. Contrariwise, I’m a white, straight, median income CIS male just short of two meters height, my boss is a lapsed Catholic; about the only major privileges I don’t have are Wealth and Academic Tenure. While I have less to worry about than most (and thus use a pseudonym that’s readily resolvable to my name — though not so much FROM my name), I do understand some people are not quite so privileged, particularly women, minorities, and other such groups. There have been more than a few complaints (EG: Elevatorgate) about the Atheist/Skeptic movement’s assorted insensitivity to concerns of groups the object of traditional derogatory prejudices. I don’t think this is a decisive factor in impact here (though someone may surprise me). However, I do think the question of how such a policy might disproportionately impact those lacking social privilege is worth at least noting.

  53. CJ
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    JC: why would you not want to give your real name?

    Privacy. Some people are more private than others. That doesn’t mean they’re cowards.

    JC: Don’t you stand personally behind what you write–indeed, aren’t you proud of what you write?

    Not always. And i can’t remove comments that i regret, or have outgrown, from the interweb.

    JC: Or do you prefer to cower behind the protection of a pseudonym, not for good reasons but just so you can say whatever you want?

    Nope. But it’s your website. I believe that if you don’t like what someone has to say, or you’re afraid of how their words might effect you or your reputation, you can ask them to use their real name, call them cowards, block them, make your website more private, use a pen name, don’t have a website etc.

    It’s your house, and i thank you for letting me in.

  54. raven
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    If you don’t want to do that, could you at least explain why in the comments below?

    As someone who has been getting dozens of death threats over the last 12 years, I have no intention of ever using my real name on the internet again.

    Asking me to risk my life and those of my affiliates is asking way too much.

    It’s an easy decision to just wave bye bye. It’s a lot more important that I remain alive and breathing than commenting on someone’s not-blog.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted January 30, 2013 at 4:10 am | Permalink

      In short: Nevermore!

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 4:28 am | Permalink

        Lol. Not the Poe we expect to see around here.

    • Posted January 30, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      “As someone who has been getting dozens of death threats over the last 12 years, I have no intention of ever using my real name on the INTERNET again.”

      Wow. I can’t imagine what you even COULD say to provoke dozens of serious death-threats over a dozen years!

      But wouldn’t it be more reasonable (and more horizon-expanding for you and for your correspondents) to simply stop saying things in ways that makes bunches of people want to kill you and instead simply say serious but thoughtful, mutually person-respective things which would give you no reason for fear or shame if said under your real name???

      • RedSonja
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        I am gobsmacked by this comment. The assumption that Raven has brought the death threats upon him/herself is incredible to me.

        Mabus wasn’t making threats because people were saying outrageous, inflammatory things. People get death threats for saying such intolerable things as “Abortion should be legal under any circumstances”, “Gay marriage should be legal”, and “Increased gun control laws need to be considered”.

        Perhaps the goal should be punishing internet threats, not making commenters try to guess which random statement is going to set off a round of violent harassment.

      • Posted January 30, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        In the context of the comments in this thread, this comment is pretty blatant trolling – and evidence against Jerry’s claim that “real names” mitigate trolls.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        You seem to have a seriously impaired imagination. I’m glad life has been so good to you.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        OK… Imagine you live in Iran and put up a sign in your window (or on your FB page) saying “Allah is a fantasy and Mohammed was a pedophile”. Just one way I can imagine provoking death threats.

        • Scote
          Posted January 30, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          Iran? You don’t need to go out of the US. Atheists routinely receive death threats whenever they make legal challenges to anti-constitutional mixing of church and state–even high school girls get death threats from Christians, who seem to see no irony in both calling for the death of someone they disagree with and declaring that removing “God” from our schools is the source of American moral decline.

          I agree with other posters that in the context of this thread Frank Lovell’s “if you are getting death threats it’s your fault” post is trolling and proof that real names (or real sounding names) are not a panacea against incivility or trolling.

          • Dermot C
            Posted January 30, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

            @Frank Lovell

            And you don’t need to write or think any particular thing in order to be a potential object of death threats. You, or your family, could be the obsession of a stalker or a psychopath for reasons entirely unrelated to your wish to discuss interesting ideas online.

            I may be in that position, and I suspect many, many others are; targets, not for what they say, but for what they are, and I refer to something as non-political or controversial as it is possible to be. Sometimes I can’t understand how people can say such terrible things.

  55. NewEnglandBob
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I post under this name because I have done it for so many years on so many web sites (notice I didn’t say the b word) and all the defaults are set up for it.

    My email address has my first and last name in it so you (JC) know it. If anyone needs to know it they can ask me or even ask you. I will most likely give it out.

    - Bob Terrace

    PS: I am now a snowbird, so should I post half the year as FloridaBob? ;)

  56. Marta
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I don’t say anything online that I wouldn’t say in public, to someone’s face, on the front page of the New York Times. This is a character issue for me, and no other. It’s worth saying, however, that I’ve been online for years, and I’ve certainly said things that I wish I could take back, just as I’ve said things IRL I wish I hadn’t.

    I post here, using my real first name, but do note that I keep my last name to myself. This has very little to do with not standing behind what I write, and everything to do with being prudent. I assume that others who post pseudonymously do so for the same reasons I would: they’re practical, and they’re prudent.

    An argument is an argument. It’s either sound or it isn’t. The name of the person who is making it is irrelevant, and though it is known far and wide how much affection I feel for you, Jerry, you are sensitive and thin-skinned when it comes to criticism (as am I), and it is not (necessarily) “cowardice” when a person criticizes you pseudonymously (however much I admire that you put yourself out there, multiple times a day–a thing I could not do, even if I had worthwhile things to say.)

  57. Mateus
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    The m in my email address stands for Mateus :)

  58. Old Rasputin
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    While it sounds reasonable to me to say that real names promote civility, I’m curious to know if there’s much in the way of data supporting this claim. I’m afraid that the difficulty of enforcing such a rule would undo any benefits. If people are expected to use the honor system, then those who want to hide offensive or troll-ish behaviour behind a nym will continue to do so. And if you’re going to make a habit of investigating people’s identities, you’re not really saving yourself the trouble of moderating comments in the first place.

    Personally, I’m not sure why anyone would want to use their real name. As many upthread have already pointed out, there are real-world risks involved with being publically associated with political or religious ideas (socially acceptable or not); there are for me anyway, although I needn’t bore you with the details. Perhaps such fears are exaggerated and perhaps I’m a bit paranoid. Maybe. But the bottom line is, even if I have relatively little to lose by using my real name, I have absolutely nothing to gain.

    • gr8hands
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Go to the comments on the Chicago Tribune website. It is only through facebook.

      It is not civil.

  59. Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    The problem I see is that not everybody is from the USA, where “any failure to grant tenure for private opinions violates most university policies”.

    But well, the point is, this is your website, and thus you can well make the request that people don’t do certain things if they annoy you. End of story.

  60. Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    First off I have to say that I completely respect your decision – your site, your rules. Yet I disagree with considerable part of your reasoning, although I do not intend to comment frequently neither do I intend to write long disagreeing posts on my site.

    But I was reminded of the value of pseudonymity previous year, when I registered myself under my full name on a site for finding job opportunities, because the situation in my work took considerable downturn. Within days our new HR manager contacted me via that site. I also learned he contacted and tried to “befriend” several of my colleagues on Facebook (where I am not present, neither I intend to be in foreseeable future). He evidently spends considerable proportion of his time browsing internet and basically spying on people.

    To be honest, this makes me very uncomfortable. It is tantamout to voyeurism, since he has absolutely no legitimate reason to browse the internet and search for what his employees are saying/doing there in their spare time. Even if I am checking new job opportunities, it is none of his bussiness. Or yours, for that matter.

    I use pseudonym Charly because that is a nym by which all my close personal friends in meatspace call me, also they can recognize my online presence. I never write anything I would not dare to say under my real name, or even face to face, but context matters. What I say on the internet is irelevant to my employers and I do not wish them to read it and on some personal whim of theirs to decide that my opinions on religion, or politics or anything make me unfit for my job.

    I also have to disagree with your premise, that the use of real names encourages civility, at least until I see som hard data to support it. One of greatest czech news portals novinky.cz has put this rule to work a few years ago. The even verify the name via regular post, before allowing to comment, and insist of posting real name AND the town of residence. If there occured increase in comment civility, it is subjectively indistinguishable from the previous state. They still need to maintain workforce of moderators to delete abusive/threatening/illegal comments. There still exist flamewars and namecalling under every single article about politics, religion or homosexuality. If I ever see scientific study confirming, that using real names online leads to statistically significant increase of civility, I shall change my mind. But now I have only my experience to go with and my experience tells me, that only rules and their active enforcement can achieve that.

    If I ever (very unlikely, since my web page is czech) decide to write web post disagreeing with you, I shall post you my real name per e-mail. My approximate location you can get from my IP adress, but I am willing in such unlikely scenario to provide you even with my adress. But I will not post my real name and/or my meatspace adress on the internet for anyone to see. Stalkers, abusers, violent psychopaths and voyeurs might be a minority, but their existence can neither be ignored, nor underestimated. If you want to call me coward for this, then be it, but I do not have neither the psychical strength nor the necessary time for dealing with potential threats for saying on my webpage something someone does not like.

  61. Prof.Pedant
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I use a pseudonym because I have psychological doubts about the legitimacy of me speaking my mind, doubts that have been detrimental to my career. When speaking as myself I worry that anything I say is going to be seen as wrong and a waste of time for other people. Using a pseudonym – the illusion of anonymity – enables me to speak more freely and with a valuable reduction in anxiety.

  62. Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Ah shoot, I made some typo and commented while not being logged in, and now my comment “awaits moderation”. My appologies. Here once again, properly:

    First off I have to say that I completely respect your decision – your site, your rules. Yet I disagree with considerable part of your reasoning, although I do not intend to comment frequently neither do I intend to write long disagreeing posts on my site.

    But I was reminded of the value of pseudonymity previous year, when I registered myself under my full name on a site for finding job opportunities, because the situation in my work took considerable downturn. Within days our new HR manager contacted me via that site. I also learned he contacted and tried to “befriend” several of my colleagues on Facebook (where I am not present, neither I intend to be in foreseeable future). He evidently spends considerable proportion of his time browsing internet and basically spying on people.

    To be honest, this makes me very uncomfortable. It is tantamout to voyeurism, since he has absolutely no legitimate reason to browse the internet and search for what his employees are saying/doing there in their spare time. Even if I am checking new job opportunities, it is none of his bussiness. Or yours, for that matter.

    I use pseudonym Charly because that is a nym by which all my close personal friends in meatspace call me, also they can recognize my online presence. I never write anything I would not dare to say under my real name, or even face to face, but context matters. What I say on the internet is irelevant to my employers and I do not wish them to read it and on some personal whim of theirs to decide that my opinions on religion, or politics or anything make me unfit for my job.

    I also have to disagree with your premise, that the use of real names encourages civility, at least until I see som hard data to support it. One of greatest czech news portals novinky.cz has put this rule to work a few years ago. The even verify the name via regular post, before allowing to comment, and insist of posting real name AND the town of residence. If there occured increase in comment civility, it is subjectively indistinguishable from the previous state. They still need to maintain workforce of moderators to delete abusive/threatening/illegal comments. There still exist flamewars and namecalling under every single article about politics, religion or homosexuality. If I ever see scientific study confirming, that using real names online leads to statistically significant increase of civility, I shall change my mind. But now I have only my experience to go with and my experience tells me, that only rules and their active enforcement can achieve that.

    If I ever (very unlikely, since my web page is czech) decide to write web post disagreeing with you, I shall post you my real name per e-mail. My approximate location you can get from my IP adress, but I am willing in such unlikely scenario to provide you even with my adress. But I will not post my real name and/or my meatspace adress on the internet for anyone to see. Stalkers, abusers, violent psychopaths and voyeurs might be a minority, but their existence can neither be ignored, nor underestimated. If you want to call me coward for this, then be it, but I do not have neither the psychical strength nor the necessary time for dealing with potential threats for saying on my webpage something someone does not like.

  63. Bethany
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I don’t always use my real name in commenting or other online activity, I mostly do here because you have requested it. My pseudonym is unique enough that you are actually far more likely to trace that back to me and my thoughts and real name than finding me through my name its self.

  64. Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I started to post under a pseudonym mainly because my real name (Richard Edwards) is pretty common. The Gravatar sorts that out, though, and your post has inspired me to find out how to change how my name is displayed. If it worked, this should now show up as “Rich Edwards” rather than cabbagesofdoom. (My real identity was at most two clicks or one Google search away anyway.)

    • Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      I would also add that posting under a pseudonym can sometimes work against you, even it is innocent. I generally use “cabbagesofdoom” for the reasons given above but when discussing “Natural Genetic Engineering” with James Shapiro at HuffPo, I was jumped on as soon as people found out “who I was” (by clicking on my website link, I guess). The fact that my real identity was one (unhidden) click away did not eliminate the accusations that I was hiding my identity and imagined atheist agenda.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 1:54 am | Permalink

        Aww, I *liked* cabbagesofdoom, one of the coolest ‘nyms I’ve seen.

  65. Diane G.
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    sub

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      checking the fucking box this time

  66. gluonspring
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m a coward. I don’t use my real name. If you wish, I can sign my posts from now on: “Gluon Spring, Coward”, to highlight this point.

    I often ask myself why I don’t use my real name. Once or twice a year I am tempted to “come out” and just change my Facebook profile to read Religion: None/Atheist, instead of the blank it is now. Once or twice I’ve opened the page, and it gives me that feeling that one must have when tempted to do something destructive… drive off a cliff or shoot your own foot, say… just one click, one twitch of the wheel, one pull of the trigger… But you know that that simple click/turn/trigger would instantly unleash all chaos, and irreversibly. I wouldn’t lose my job or home or any friends I care about. It really just boils down to mom and dad.

    On any given day, I just can’t quite bring myself to unleash that pain and anguish on them. The reaction would be instant. My mother would wail. Her son, her first born and beloved son, is going to burn forever and ever in Hell. She would cry for days at the least. I have thought, on occasion, that she might get over it. That this might be just the jolt she needs to reevaluate her beliefs now at seventy five years of age. She might come to stretch her views, to imagine that some good unbelievers could escape Hell, or she might become someone who believes in the annihilation of unsaved souls instead of a literal lake of fire. On days of wild optimism, I think she also might realize that it’s all hokum, and we could stroll along the beach together talking about the cosmic ocean.

    She might. Or she might just mourn the loss of her son to the fires of a very real Hell for the rest of her short days. It might be a sadness that dogs her to the grave. It is a very tragic, indeed wicked, world view she has imbibed since her youth, that almost everyone is going to burn forever. I’m not sure how well people who have not grown up like this can imagine the terror that stalks someone like my mom, the terror that they or someone they love, might suffer this fate. The terror is real, even if the object of the terror is imaginary.

    It is Tuesday. Is today the day that I tell her I’m one of those people? Maybe tomorrow. I’m sure the crying will seem like less of a big deal tomorrow.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      All that needs to be said. Humanity trumps other considerations.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      My mom is 95. It is a great sadness to her that her oldest son is an atheist. But she has managed to deal with it and she knows by personal experience that atheists aren’t immoral and don’t lack compassion. And, when push comes to shove, I think she would prefer an honest atheist son to one that was living a lie. Your situation is, no doubt, different in many ways. But it is possible you are selling your mom short.

    • DV
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      In the same boat here.

      My brother changed his religion. No he didn’t become fashionably Buddhist, or a crazy Scientologist. He merely switched from Catholicism to some obscure evangelical sect with a membership of maybe 5. He still believes in Jesus, just worships now in a different church. Broke my mother’s heart.

      Imagining the orders of magnitude more unnecessary pain my outing as an infidel would produce, I vow never to come out of the closet as long as my parents, who are also in their seventies, are still living.

      • gluonspring
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, my mom would think I was going to burn in Hell if I merely became a Baptist, a sect that is nearly indistinguishable from her’s to outsiders.

      • Rik Smith
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        While my parents were clearly disappointed when I came out as an atheist, they seemed almost angry when my twin sister switched from the family’s new testament-based church to a more mainstream christian denomination. I’ve always thought they were more threatened by indirect competition for her faith than the direct abandonment of it (faith) in me.

    • Marella
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know if you guys have been paying attention, but people don’t all die in their seventies as they once did, your mothers could easily live another 20 years. Do you really want to live a lie for that long? It’s up to you of course, but there are many stories on the net of people helping their parents find liberation from superstition.

      • gluonspring
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 12:06 am | Permalink

        Live 20 years? Not if I tell her I’m an atheist! ;-)

        But really, I do consider these things. I am especially moved by the possibility of helping someone else who is toying with the idea of atheism. The main reason I started to comment here at all was because I came from a very religious background and I thought that seeing comments from someone who came to atheism from such fundamentalism might encourage someone in a similar situation who stumbles onto this site.

        My mom provides me with the visceral reason not to act impulsively about de-cloaking. I know with certainty that there would be tears before nightfall. Hard to say how it’d play out after that but there is at least that immediate consequence to consider. But even without my mom I’d probably continue to comment under a pseudonym for many of the excellent reasons others have outlined here.

        If JC banned pseudonyms, I’d probably just stop commenting. On the other hand, I think if you dig back through my comments you will find me a consistently civil and respectful commenter.

        • gluonspring
          Posted January 30, 2013 at 12:12 am | Permalink

          I should say, I am in the closet only online. All my friends, and the family I live with, know I am an atheist, even the ones who still are members of that cul… denomination.

  67. HaggisForBrains
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I guess I just like my pseudonym, which I believe says something about me. My real name (Colin McLachlan) is now available in my Gravatar profile, if anyone cares. Mostly my posts are frivolous, and for that I apologise. However, I enjoy the humorous posts of others, which help to lighten the mood sometimes. Anyway, I’m retired and from a part of the country where being an atheist is not regarded as a crime, so anonymity is not important.

    I did try to sign each post for a while, but kept forgetting, so you’ll just have to look me up if you have a complaint.

  68. zedeeyen
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    If I google a nickname I used to use the top result is from a forum post I made about 15 years ago. I’m astounded that I ever wrote what I wrote, and thankful that I wrote it under a pseudonym, because if I’d witten it under my own name it would still be there as a permanent record of who I used to be before 15 years of life lessons taught me to be someone else.

  69. Marella
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    I use a pseudonym out of a combination of gutlessness and history. I started posting years ago in my own name which is sufficiently anonymous really, but everyone else seemed to have a cool nym, so I thought I’d have one too. Also, I was between careers and didn’t really want anyone to be able to Google me and find a bunch of scathingly anti-religious posts. I live in Australia and atheism in not a problem, but being anti-religious is generally considered poor form. The religious still maintain a lot of the moral high ground around here unfortunately. Now I’m kind of attached to it. If you really want I’m happy to go back to my name but it’s not nearly as cute. I am however careful not to say anything that is needlessly unpleasant or inflammatory. Sometimes I do need to say “fuck” though. ;-)

  70. Occam
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    There is one key reason for my use of a nickname: privacy.
    I have lived through sufficient vicissitudes to value the right to privacy as one of the achievements of our civilisation.
    I am not ready to squander it.
    The moderator should be aware of our identities, but that should suffice.

    jay at post #27 is correct: there’s no reason why a commercial search machine, or a kid with too much time on his hands, or an over-zealous self-appointed web cop, should know that the person under my real identity is posting this after what would be, at my current geographical location, dinner time.

    Last time this discussion was launched by Jerry, I called for the multi-tiered system at work on several technical fora where I am a participant: enable private messaging between users, with the option of transparent identities upon request. Thus, all participants could decide just how much or how little of their identities they would be prepared to divulge, and to whom.

    I’d like to address two specific points raised by Jerry:

    “…the best way to have civil discourse on a website that discusses contentious matters is to ask commenters to use their real names. When you do that, you’re taking personal responsibility for what you say, and are less likely to use invective and more likely to be rational.”

    The implication is that moral behaviour is a result of peer pressure, not of autonomous guidance. As I’ve written last time, I cannot disagree more fundamentally with this stance. I should be deeply ashamed of myself if my behaviour when writing under a pseudonym were any different from my behaviour with a name tag attached.

    And finally:

    “But, in the end, posting anonymously, and commenting anonymously, ultimately rests on fear, and that fear is often tantamount to cowardice.”

    In my book, cowardice is the failure to address fear. Conversely, courage is not the absence of fear, nor ist it recklessness, nor the jettisoning of prudence.
    Example: if you took a bad fall while mountain-biking, you’ll take care to wear protective padding and a helmet, then summon your courage and get back up on the bike. Never mounting a bike again for the fear of falling would be giving in to that fear. It might be cowardice. Using a helmet and protective padding on your next ride would be prudent, but also courageous.

    Perhaps I’m wrong. Therefore, a direct question to Jerry:
    Jerry, do you, frankly, think I’m a coward for using a pseudonym on your site? I’m not asking about anybody else, just about myself.
    Let’s call a spade a spade. A simple Yes or No, please.

  71. Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I, like NewEnglandBob, use my chosen
    handle because I like it, it’s convenient,
    and because I’ve been using it since
    Babbage.

    As a proud atheist compelled to promote science and critical thinking, I recognize
    my own adolescent behavior online would be counterproductive to the cause, lower the level of discourse and reflect poorly on other nonbelievers, including Professor Coyne.

    Randy Jones
    Phoenix, Arizona

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      LOL!

    • Dave
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Er, didn’t you mean
      Arizona Jones
      Phoenix, Randy?

  72. Thanny
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    A few weeks ago, I received spam messages addressed to my full name, putatively from my family members, using their full names. The less my real name is exposed to mechanized harvesting, the better. That’s partly why I still use a pseudonym when posting comments. Back when I frequented UseNet, I posted under my real name.

    Before UseNet, I was involved with the BBS scene. I ran one in the mid-to-late 1990′s, first with dial-up access only, and then with telnet access when I got a cable modem in 1997. Using a pseudonym, called a “handle”, was expected and normal behavior on most systems, including mine. Mine was Thanatos, which my online friends quickly reduced to Thanny (which they called me by even in person).

    So I have a lot of experience with remote electronic communication both with and without pseudonyms, and all that experience tells me that Jerry is factually incorrect.

    It’s not anonymity that breeds hostility and a lack of restraint. It’s distance. People are just as nasty under their real names as under pseudonyms when they don’t have to look the other person in the eye. It really is as simple as that.

  73. SLC
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I compromise by using my initials. I don’t care to use my full name.

  74. Dave
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Biggest reason by far (I think) is that prospective employers now routinely search the web for your name, Facebook page, etc, etc, and you never know who in HR will decide you’re not a suitable candidate because of your religion/politics/etc – things that would allow you to sue if you knew about it. And you’ll never know why. And with the people here, probability is not likely to work in your favor.

  75. Roo
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Alas, I am a transgendered kangaroo living with my Amish family in a small southern town. Under a communist regime. Also I want tenure, which is notoriously hard for kanga’s to get.

    Appreciate the thoughts and the ability to post anonymously, and will keep the tone of any future comments in line accordinly. For me, I’m a therapist – I want to be Suzy Q. Anybody to my families. No known political, religious, or personal affiliations. Maybe that’s a cop-out, but it’s important to me. Also, the idea of strangers being able to search my personal thoughts online, even if it’s about knitting, just sleeves me out. But that’s a personal thing, I guess.

    • Dave
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      I do not think any of that is a cop out. Few of us write from the security of tenure. There can be consequences to making your opinion known – even in the good ole freedom-of-speech-lovin’ US of A – and, as far as the people I care about, none is under any false impression about what I think on a given subject or my opinions on religion. So maybe throwing the word coward around is not entirely appropriate. Bottom line: many of us have more to lose than gain by identifying ourselves in any on-line forum so, why should we? I write a post mostly for my own satisfaction – I don’t expect to change the world with it.

      • Roo
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        “Skeeves”, not “sleeves”! And thank you! I was kidding about everything in the first paragraph, including tenure (not an academic,) but I appreciate the sentiment. Again, the idea of a family feeling uncomfortable talking to me or standoffish due to an easily Googled comment online really does bother me – there’s a place for activism, of course, but I don’t necessarily want my every thought on a controversial topic broadcast. Many of us probably don’t have a social circle where people like to discuss these sorts of things, either, so online communities are a great surrogate.

        • Dave
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

          Gosh, had no idea you roos were so smart – I think it’s the incessant bouncing.

        • Dave
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

          PS ‘Dave’ IS my real name. Oh, there, now I’ve gone and done it!!

  76. neil
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    This discussion reminds me of an old Peter Steiner cartoon showing a dog at a computer keyboard, and the balloon read “The great thing about the internet is that nobody knows you are a dog.”

  77. Jeff Johnson
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Pseudonyms seem like the on-line equivalent of a Halloween costume. Being anonymous can encourage one to be more daring than usual, to feel a kind of exhilarating freedom perhaps. But they can also be like the mask of a bank robber or murderer, perceived as license to do mischief or mayhem.

    I wouldn’t go so far as saying pseudonyms shouldn’t be used. Of course they can be fun and frivolous. But nobody should ever attack or criticize anybody under the disguise of a pseudonym.

    My name is kind of boring and vanilla, so the idea of a pseudonym would be a chance to add a bit of flair perhaps. But in the end, using a pseudonym just wouldn’t be me.

  78. cherrybombsim
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    If I used my real name, noone would know who I was. :(

  79. Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    My real name is Martin Wiesner.

    Here’s the rub. I’ve had the nickname Pog ever since I was a small boy. When I first signed up for an e-mail address plain pog was taken so I just adopted the moniker pogsurf and have had various e-mail addresses using the nym ever since. Anyone I know in real life could spot the damage I have done to the Internet in the name of pogsurf and know it was me with some certainty.

    On the other hand, there are eight Martin Wiesners listed on LinkedIn, none of which are me. So it seems that my real name that gives me a level of pseudonymity, whilst it is my nickname which is unique.

    Jerry is quite right that it is cowardly to attack someone without providing your real name. I speak as someone who was outed as notorious sock-puppet on one site (I had provided my real name to this particular person, so the detective work on his part was limited), and whose pseudonym has been sin binned by PZ Myers’, for confessing to trollish tendencies. Where would we be if there weren’t others to upset in this world?

    • gbjames
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      Where would we be if there weren’t others to upset in this world?

      If this your motive for commenting, with a bit of luck, somewhere else.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

      I have the opposite problem. There are no other people on the web with my real name, so it stands out like a sore thumb.

      • Occam
        Posted January 31, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        My sympathy.
        I’ve been checking periodically, over many years, and there is no other person with exactly my real name anywhere.

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      How do I know you’re not just impersonating a notorious sock puppet/troll?

  80. Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    As you can see, I’m Shinashi, as usual. I’ve been Shinashi on the internet, protecting myself in chatrooms and such, since I was eleven.

    In that time, I frequented gay porn sites, anime chatrooms, and others. Those sites were a big no-no for my parents. (Not really because of age… but because they are super-religious, and my mom thinks the anti-Christ is going to come from Japan… because of anime)

    They thought I would outgrow all that, buuuuut I didn’t. I’m already outed as an atheist on Facebook, but I don’t want future employers, more family, friends to know some things about me. To make it clearer, I live in Tennessee. I can literally walk about ten minutes and get to the Kentucky Army Base. So you can get an idea of my environment if I’m outed as a porn-loving, pansexual, pro-incest, pro-abortion, non-religious, pro-kink, bipolar female.

    But I can give you my real name in some sort of code… Hmm… Z*S*E*R*I*L*Y*N F*I*N*N*E*Y

    I don’t know if this will work, but I’ll edit it if not!

  81. Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes I wonder if I’m too free with my non-anonymity, commenting all over the place about anything and everything. I’ve only read about half of the comments currently on this post, but so many people seem freaked out for various (some legit, I’m sure) reasons.

  82. Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Also, just from personal experience, I much appreciate seeing real names attached to comments on this website. For example, whenever I see “Joe Felsenstein” comment on a post about evolution, I know I’m getting some great info!

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 30, 2013 at 12:22 am | Permalink

      Ditto that. I like real names when the name orients me to some expertise or other asset the person is bringing to the discussion. Most of the time, though, I don’t care. There are many pseudonyms on this site that I recognize and I know them by reputation which is all that matters to me in this context.

      • Posted January 30, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

        Yep, I agree with that. On sciencey posts, I particularly appreciate real names. On religion posts, cats, etc., I don’t really care either way. Attacks are another animal entirely, though, and I fully support Jerry’s rule requesting real identities of those who attack him on their own websites.

  83. Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I am with Jerry on this! I’ve been using my own actual name as a public atheist and critic of “scientific” creationism in open dialogue in cyberspace ever since my first modem (a zippy 1200 Baud dial-up) back in the mid-1980s. Never used a cybernym, not even once, and I’ve never really understood why serious people would (though I am not making a judgment of those who do use cybernyms, I grant that my not understanding does not mean it is not understandable).

  84. terryln
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    I agree, it’s cowardly to criticize someone anonymously, especially that on that persons blog.
    terry

  85. mandrellian
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    FYI: the handle “mandrellian” was invented by me (Hank, Melbourne) years ago for gaming, commenting and general online purposes (I seem to remember it was the thing to do). As far as I can see it’s unique on the web, unused by anyone else. You’ll find me using it here, at FtB, Scienceblogs, the Panda’s Thumb, Blogspot and elsewhere – in fact, Google the name and all you’ll see are comments/profiles that are mine. It’s a consistent, unique and (for me) comfortable identity and, after all, that’s all we want from a name, isn’t it? A consistent focus for our communications?

  86. Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    I use the nym “Cubist” because way back when, deep in the mists of Time, when I signed up for my very first internet account, I tried to use my offline name as my account name… and it was already taken. Several variations of my offline name, also, were already taken. So I said heck with it and went with an alias that was indicative of one of my interests (Rubik’s Cube, to be precise). So in my case, at least, my use of a nym is distinctly not rooted in fear, but, rather, in the practical issue that I couldn’t use my offline name, and now (after N years of consistent online use of the nym ‘Cubist’) it’s at least as much inertia as anything else.

    Personally, I don’t see any point in fussing over use of a “nym” rather than an allegedly “real” name. “Cubist” is obviously not the name I was born with, true, and what of it? It’s no more ‘fake’ of a name than, say, “Alexander Morson”, which is also not the name I was born with. But if I did use “Alexander Morson” as a nym, people would be much more likely to accept that string as a “real” name, even tho “Alexander Morson” and “Cubist” are (in my case, at least) both equally fake nyms.

    A nym is nothing more than an identifying label, anyway. As long as the identifying label is consistently used, it really shouldn’t matter whether that label is “Alexander Morson” or “Cubist” or “Late to Dinner” or what. And if you want to ask how a reader can be sure that the label “Cubist” actually is being used consistently, the answer is “exactly the same way a reader can be sure that the label ‘Alexander Morson’ is being used consistently”. If you get your knickers in a twist over a ‘Cubist’-like nym, but not over an ‘Alexander Morson’-like nym, that suggests the problem isn’t what sort of nyms are being used.

  87. Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    As someone who was hounded out of a job for letting it slip that I’m pro-choice, I would certainly worry about employers or clients finding some of my finer rants about abortion or religion. Some people have worse problems: stalkers, disinheriting or abusive parents, custody battles. A consistent pseudonym is the way to go.

  88. Owlglass
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Lots of great comments. The internet is —I think— not merely an extension of the real world, but also an “ideas space” where people explore parts of their personality and roles; were they are only judged on the merits of the personae they adopt and what it writes and does. It is a narrative we create as natural storytellers.

    Only the internet allows people of so widely different backgrounds congregate and discuss, without having prejudices in the way. Real names can indicate age, gender, and ethnicity. Women are already treated differently than men, perhaps someone with a chinese looking name will have a hard time on a US politics topic.

    There is of course also the issue with misconstruing other peoples opinions or downright libel. Godwin’s Law is invoked quickly, who is a misogynist has become a quick-draw duel and shootout on some tentacular side (who slings the accusuations faster, wins). There will be quote mining just as before, and drive-by blockquote assassination, by adding some nasty spin below (the skimmers and lurkers more likely catch up, and narrate further). And a trillion more advanced rhetorical tricks that can make even a well-minded person look very bad, very quickly. In real-life, we learn and move on. But the internet doesn’t forget, as noted, and everyone will be able to see it forever. Possible employers me a minor problem even.

    Keep in mind that what we share under our name may be very well be the beginning of “personalized history”. In 100, 500, 1000 years, people perhaps regard YOUR comment as the very first of their recorded family history. This can be a castigating thought. Would I want that movie review posted half-asleep in the middle of the night to appear on my family CV? What will my children think of me in the future when they can see all my activities anywhere? Do we really grow as people, when not some imaginery invisible ghost watches and judges our every move, but thousands of eyes of our children? Our will we just put up a great show?

    Damn. Long. Sorry about that.

  89. Cremnomaniac
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Haven’t we been here before? I think I posted my creds already. Besides, I’ve emailed JC and he knows my name.

    I prefer my pseudonymity. One, its a matter of convenience here, as this is my login for my own wordpress blog, which if anyone wanted to find would take about 5 seconds. Once there you can read my “about” page.
    Second, while this isn’t a particularly contentious site, I do on occasion say things that I don’t want prospective employers googling in my name.

    Employers are more adept and are more consistently using search engines to dig up information on prospective employees. For example, How well do think it would have played to have my Atheist beliefs (and anti-catholic views) show up prior to an my interview at Catholic Charities?
    Not well, I assure. It is incredibly important to protect our privacy in any way we can.

    That said, if I have an axe to grind, my name is a request away. Fortunately, I believe JC to be a man of integrity, and if he says he’ll keep my name private I believe him. That, however, is not true of so many scumbags we find online.Be careful.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

      Such as Greg Laden.

  90. E.A. Blair
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Unlike most other people, I have a name that is close to being unique. There are only two other people who share my family moniker in all of North America, and two of them live in Canada, leaving me the sole proprietor of the name in the US. It is even a rare name in the European lands in which it originated. Three or four times a year, I do a search on my last name just to see how big my internet footprint is. When I do a search on “Xxxxxxxxxxxx” on Ask.com, I typically get fewer than 200 hits; Google turns up about the same number. I am reasonably certain that my personal/family name combination is unique in the world; I appear to have zero namesakes.

    This lack of presence, while humbling, is not really very reassuring, because it means that there is a 60% – 80% chance that any given reference on the internet to “Xxxxxxxxxxxx” probably means me, personally. There are enough crazy people in the world that I don’t want to post signposts leading to my door.

    A number of years ago, after trying out a couple of pseudonyms that were (or failed to be) clever or witty in varying degrees, I settled on using my current handle, which I first used in posting comments on political and news sites (making the provenance of the nom de comment rather obvious to certain people). Since I started, E.A. Blair has posted thousands of comments on dozens of web locations, and, more recently, have written guest posts on a blog dedicated to political and social commentary*. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if my Blair identity would get more hits on Google than my real name**.

    So E.A. Blair has grown into something more than just a commenting pseudonym. With the number and range of posts and comments, it has taken on some of the trappings of a brand name, and I feel almost as proprietary towards it as I do to the name on my Medicare card. On a number of occasion I have declined to click on “Post” because I feel a need to protect that brand and the comment wouldn’t live up to that.

    Employment issues do not enter into the matter; I have none. Credentials do not concern me because I have none. What I do have, however, is more privacy and anonymity in my real name than I do with my pseudonym, and in a world where Facebook and Twitter are full of details of people’s last toilet session, privacy is probably an illusion, but I’ll treasure what little I have left while I can.

    *My next major post is a commentary on religious practices in the US, scheduled to appear this weekend. If Ceiling Cat and and his Moderator allow, I shall post a link to it here when it goes online.

    **My real name appears four times in Wikipedia – three of them refer specifically to me, the other to the etymology of the name.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

      Update: I just checked, and on Ask.com, at least, the instances of “E.A. Blair” that refer to me outnumber hits on my real name by at least six to one.

  91. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 30, 2013 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    Why I’m anonymous (no not _that_ Anonymous! : )
    1. I’m a fairly private individual and I prefer to keep my separate interests separate.
    2. I have a moderately unusual name, I googled myself once and the first link was a comment I’d made on some website years before and out of context and hence mildly embarrassing. We’ll have forgotten our posts on this thread on a few days, but they’re on the Internet forever. I wouldn’t want someone at work Googling me, it’s none of their business.
    3. I only know people here by their posts, I know nothing of the ‘real’ people. To me, Ben Goren or Gravelinspector are both equally ‘real’ identities, regardless that one’s a pseudonym (Ben and Gravelinspector please forgive me for using your names as examples).
    4. I guess I’ve put scores of hours into reading / commenting on WEIT as ‘infiniteimprobability’, so I have a certain value invested in this identity, I’m not going to waste it by acting dickishly. At least, not intentionally ; )

    As it happens, I was originally going to use the initials I’m universally known by in other places, but they were already taken.

  92. Posted January 30, 2013 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    Let me comment on a few technical issues first, and then list why I started totally pseudonymous and ended up with my real name being findable (which is all your fault).

    So, I’m not sure what you mean by comments that are dropping a link to a post, but if you mean trackbacks, from WordPress at least these are automatically generated, and so use the name on the account, basically, and the blog name. Which they should, because they are supposed to be highlighting the blog which is the interesting information in a trackback. This can be changed, I think, but I’m not sure how and for people who are, say, better known by their blog persona than their real one, it would be more of a pain and something that they’d have to remember to undo when they post to other sites that are less restrictive.

    As for the commenter name, since you’re on WordPress and I’m on WordPress, it ties my comments to my actual blog, including the link to it that others can click if they want, which is a very good thing, for the most part. In order to avoid that, I’d have to log out of my WordPress account … which means that I’d have to log back in to write on my blog, which would be really annoying.

    Now, my real name is findable — and I think you’ve been told it once and told how to find it once — but I started out with the pseudonym at least in part because of the concern you call cowardice, which is of there being social consequences for expressing some of the things I said. There are a few legitimate fears here. One is being concerned about there being personal life consequences if you happen to express a view that doesn’t fit the views of the society you’re in. Being pseudonymous allows you to explore those sorts of ideas without worrying that in real-life people will say “Hey, you’re the person who thinks X”. Sure, academics and the like take that, but then they get paid for it, too. Also, there’s a worry about what might happen if you make a mistake, and say something in a way that implies something that you don’t mean. Taking personal consequences for that and having to explain it to everyone who heard it would be very, very annoying. Finally, related to that there’s the issue of people misinterpreting what you’re saying — either intentionally or unintentionally — and associating a view with you that you don’t hold. Again, facing personal consequences for something you didn’t even say is really bad, and we all know that that can happen on the Internet.

    Again, you can find my name if you look. But I’d rather let the pseudonym be my online persona, plus I kinda like it now, anyway [grin].

  93. Posted January 30, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Remember when we all thought “Tom Johnson” was a real person, criticizing real people on his own blog?

    OH, I just choked on my morning coffee thinking about that. Jesus.

    If you’re trying to create a fake identity and hide from your audience, beware your trackable IP! heh

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 30, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      I guess I wasn’t here then so I didn’t know about this. Thanks for the reference. It is instructive to see some some depressing history.

    • Scote
      Posted January 30, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Ineed, the “Tom Johnson” affair is more proof that a real (sounding) names policy can’t prevent the kinds of things Jerry wants to prevent, and, instead, real sounding names can cause us to unknowingly give a false sense of credibility to the poster.

      • Dermot C
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        I’d be grateful if someone could explain this Tom Johnson affair. I also have a facebook account, again not in my real name. What can I do to ensure, as far as possible, that my family and I are not traceable to a potential threat?

        I’m sorry, JAC, if this is contrary to the spirit of your post, but I value the site, wish to continue viewing or commenting, and value my security, and that of my family.

        • Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

          I don’t remember the rule on format for posting links, so I’ll just suggest that you search “Tom Johnson” in the search box at the top of this website, and it’ll bring up some of Jerry’s posts from 2011 explaining the whole thing.

  94. Posted January 30, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m atheist and proud.

    Excellent points raised. It’s cowardly to attack someone from the back.

    Keep up the great work, Dr. C. I feel so privileged to be able to hang out here with fellow atheists.

  95. cornbread_r2
    Posted January 30, 2013 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Prof. Coyne has my real name in my email address. I don’t use it in comments because I fear repercussions for myself; I fear repercussions for members of my family who are Catholic clerics.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

      I’m curious about this situation. I can understand how Catholic clerics would be fearful of repercussions if _they_ were closeted atheists. But how does it cause them problems if they have a non-believing family member?

      • cornbread_r2
        Posted February 1, 2013 at 12:21 am | Permalink

        Guilt by association. I’m rather more outspoken in other online venues than I am here. We also live in a area where Catholics are a tolerated minority. I don’t want to give the fundamentalists here any more excuse to give them grief than they already endure.

  96. Posted January 31, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    A fine example of the civility that a real names policy produces on Facebook. Jerry, I must ask again for evidence, not just feelings, of your assertion that real names have any connection to civility in practice. Because it’s completely absent where I stand.

  97. Posted February 2, 2013 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    “There is a reason that every atheist or secular website I pay attention to—from Richard Dawkins to Sam Harris to P. Z. Myers—has an author that uses his or her real name.”

    As if using his real name has ever stopped Myers from behaving like an utter bully.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 2, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      I don’t spend as much time over at PZ’s place as I do here but I think your comment is just plain wrong.

      • Posted February 2, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        If you’d spent much time around Pharyngula, you’d find PZ Myers on a pretty nasty tear toward anybody who doesn’t share his particular set of political priorities, plus shamelessly playing to a commentariat audience that strikes me as the virtual equivalent of the worst kind of mob behavior. Really ugly stuff, and it’s made me have doubts as to whether “movement atheism” in general is a worthwhile project.

        • gbjames
          Posted February 2, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          Actually, I’ve spent plenty of time around Pharyngula. Not so much time in the comments section, but I read many or most posts PZ makes. I agree with him most of the time, but not always. That is the same here. I don’t agree with Jerry all of the time, but almost always. I don’t find either one shameless. And neither is an “utter bully” as far as I’m concerned.

          So does that make me part of a “commentariat audience” engaged in the worst kind of mob behavior?

          • Posted February 2, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

            Why are you trying to tie an assessment of Coyne and this blog together with Myers and Pharyngula? They’re two different people and two different blogs.

            Also, Coyne is a far better science blogger, and the blogging/commenting culture here is much different, so I have no beef with this place, its author, or its commentators. To make just one example, you have not called me a “misogynist piece of filth” for merely disagreeing with you (nor do I think you’re going to), while that would be pretty typical of the Pharyngula/FTB crowd. I think you’ll also find that Coyne is not exactly popular with said commentariat due to the fact that he doesn’t blog about feminism every other post and takes an insufficiently hard line against evolutionary psychology.

            • gbjames
              Posted February 3, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

              Two different people? Well blow me over!

              I’m not “tying them together”. I was not the commenter who introduced PZ Myers as evidence in the discussion of “On pseudonymity”, you were. You made a claim, that PZ’s blogs were evidence that using one’s real name didn’t prevent one from being an “utter bully”. That comment is what our little thread-let is about.

              I do not know what particular exchange between you and PZ was so offensive, nor do I particularly care to learn. But it seems that you are confusing comment-section interactions with the blogger himself. And that is wrong, IMO.

              As I note to infiniteimprobabilit below, I prefer to hang out in this comment section and it is due to the commenting roolz. I just dispute that you have provided any useful evidence against the “real name” argument.

              • Posted February 4, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

                I make no secret of the fact that I think Myers is more than a little bit of an jerk. I think he clearly sets the tone for the commenting culture at Pharyngula and the combative and “us vs them” tone of Freethoughtblogs more generally. You want a good example of PZ’s personality, check out this group discussion he took part in on YouTube:

                I find the guy toxic, and I don’t think his influence on secularist politics has been a good one. And he does this all under his real name, the same one he teaches and writes under.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 4, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

                Remind me, Iamcuriousblue, not to take your advice again. I spent an hour and 20 minutes watching that video with the expectation that I’d see something that supported your assertion. Epic fail, and a waste of time. And nothing close to bullying on display.

                In any case, I’m going to drop from this particular thread. I believe it is off topic and in violation of our host’s roolz to spend time here talking about a PZ and his blog.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted February 3, 2013 at 2:13 am | Permalink

            gbjames, most of the posts PZ makes are okay (IMO). But his comments section (where you don’t spend much time so you may not have noticed) tends to exhibit the worst aspects of Internet mob behaviour. That’s why I gave up bothering with Pharyngula, anyway.

            • gbjames
              Posted February 3, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

              I agree. Jerry polices WEIT’s commenting protocol much better and that results in a a more pleasant comment-section experience. Consequently I spend a lot of time here. But the nature of Phyringula’s comments section wasn’t the part of Iamcuriousblue’s original statement I was responding to.

              • Scote
                Posted February 3, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

                Agreed. WEIT is a pleasant place to visit and read about and discuss skeptical issues (plus cats) openly and on the merits without the mob behavior condoned over at Phyrangula. Mob behavior is antithetical to reasoned discussion, and it is why I rarely read Phyrangula anymore, though it was my favorite skeptical blog before it devolved into self-important fight club.

                The difference is the host and the culture the host encourages and enforces through the behavior-based comment policy. Yea WEIT :-)

              • Posted February 3, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

                I don’t find the comments on Pharyngula very interesting on the whole (though I do comment there from time to time), but I still subscribe for the posts. On WEIT I always subscribe to the comments when commenting.

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 3, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

                Agreed. WEIT is a pleasant place to visit and read about and discuss skeptical issues (plus cats) openly and on the merits without the mob behavior condoned over at Phyrangula. Mob behavior is antithetical to reasoned discussion, and it is why I rarely read Phyrangula anymore, though it was my favorite skeptical blog before it devolved into self-important fight club.

                I could have written that myself!

                Wow, imagine the field day they’re having over there with these comments, eh?

              • Posted February 4, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

                I think it’s somewhat of a false distinction. Myers clearly sets the tone and plays to that mob. It’s why I don’t read him unless he’s part of a discussion/argument with a blogger that I do respect, and need to read Myers’ posting for background.

          • Dave
            Posted February 4, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

            I agree with IamCuriousBlue on the comments at Pharyngula. Some of the regulars there are disgraceful and are fully encouraged to be so by Myers, in sharp contrast to his public (e.g., giving talks) persona.

  98. Dave
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Probably not much point adding this at this late date but, go have a look at the intro to the comments section on this blog: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/11/hey-bloomberg-the-data-shows-gses-did-not-cause-financial-meltdown/

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 4, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Funny! (And too true, tho I think after our disposition here that the anonymity phenomenon is a bit more nuanced.)


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