as it happens, we do have a line, and it has been crossed

Wow. That discussion thread is not what we want scatterplot to be. We have closed comments on it and are turning the proverbial page on the whole matter. We have never had to close comments or have a discussion about blog civility before, but here we are.

You will not hear us make any appeals that we should always play nice and be kind. After all, crafting sassy, irreverent responses to jerky behavior or other things we disagree with is our specialty here at scatterplot.

Sassy and irreverent does not describe that discussion thread, however. We are not sure what happened to push our discussion so far off course, and we have absolutely no interest in rehashing the details or singling anyone out. What we are saying is that even though we didn’t know we had a line of what we are willing to accept in terms of civility in our comments, we now recognize that we do, and it’s one we more-or-less agree on. And that past discussion thread ends up well beyond that line.

This blog is not a democracy. We love debate, and we appreciate folks who have strong views, but we retain the right to start deleting any comments from anybody when things get inconsistent with what we feel is appropriate for blog discussions among practicing academics. Going forward, we will move to put out fires more quickly.

– Tina and Jeremy

19 thoughts on “as it happens, we do have a line, and it has been crossed”

  1. As a frequent reader who very seldom adds any comment, I wanted to add my voice here briefly. This particular thread notwithstanding, I regard this particular forum –comment threads especially– as being among the best sources of extremely literate, interesting and serious commentary I’ve ever come across. It’s been a place where I can reliably find a number of interesting and well articulated points of view expressed in respectful manner that almost always brings more light than heat to the relevant topic(s). This is NOT something I can say for most faculty meetings, conference presentations, or other gatherings of Social Scientists to which I’ve been privy in general- especially when the parochial interests of cross-disciplinary epistemological differences so often rear their ugly heads.

    I just wanted to raise the idea that this is a moment when we should celebrate the central tendency as much as we bemoan the problematic outlier(s). This is a pretty outstanding forum for the discussion of a lot of really important ideas. I humbly submit that if many of our other social institutions functioned as well as Scatterplot does, many of us would be out of our jobs ;) Cheers!

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  2. This is a questionable move, guys. The last comment in that thread (https://scatter.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/discrimination-briefly/#comment-12157) was mine. In that comment, I respond to a slew of wild, baseless accusations that one of your co-bloggers made against me and others who are critical of the ASA amicus brief. As Jeremy and Shamus know, your co-blogger has privately apologized for one of those charges but has declined to apologize publicly for any of them or to back up any of the charges. Your closing off the comments in this way and at this juncture has two effects you may not have considered: (a) it directs the reader’s attention to the last comment– i.e., mine, where s/he can expect to find something that is particularly uncivil; (b) helps to let your colleague off the hook for having to respond/apologize. My guess is that these are unintended consequences of this decision of yours, so I thought important to bring to your attention.

    More generally, your post could give the reader the impression that that thread was all heat, and no light. I would thus emphasize that there were many substantive comments made in that thread (just search on ‘janecausal’ and ignore anything I wrote) and that there is much to be learned there by anyone who would like to understand what is at issue in the Wal-Mart brief fracas.

    As for whether scatterplot is a democracy, it is a tricky question. Of course, you guys own it and can censor whatever and whomever you like whereas we participants cannot. But obviously, you need to exercise your censorship rights very judiciously if you want people to continue to participate. And I am suggesting that in wading into a contentious exchange between one of your co-bloggers and a participant, you may want to be particularly careful. Consider whether you think it would have been wise for that colleague to pull the plug instead of you.

    Last note on this: I agree with hoosierbluesman. I’m a big fan of scatterplot (and that other blog that Omar used to blog at…) and deeply appreciate the public service it provides. Thanks!

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  3. A jackknife solution:

    Tina, I know you play in an adult ice hockey league from your past posts, and so you know that there are two types of players: those who want to fight and those who don’t. This leads to lots of problems, the biggest being that enthusiasm for hockey declines and the league numbers fall because lots of people end up playing against the opposite type of player. (Another useful parallel: In Ithaca, the referees can’t effectively control the fighters because it is a small town and everyone knows everyone else.)

    We solved the problem in our league by creating two divisions. One is the A/B division where the fighters play, and one is the B/C division where the nonfighters play. Everyone then self defines as a fighter or not, manipulating their classification to fit into the division they prefer.

    So, I think you all should adopt an institutional solution: a sister blog to “scatterplot” named “jackknife.” Tukey would approve of both names, and neither is any closer to sociology than the other. When you have a topic to raise that you think is going to generate a lot of heat, as Jeremy must have known this time, then you post it on jackknife. When informative and interesting but innocuous, you post it on scatterplot. Readers will then have a clear signal and can read as they please. You can close down comments on scatterplot when you wish and perhaps let them roll forever on jackknife. The line then becomes one between scatterplot and jackknife, not your judgment on the content of comments, which you wouldn’t even then have to read.

    For my case, I play in our B/C league, after tiring of the fighters in the A/B league. But, I would probably prefer to read the jackknife blog rather than the scatterplot blog. My personal view is that scatterplot can be a real drag when a lot of very personal and narrow stuff is posted but is vibrant when important issues relevant to a lot of people are posted. The personal stuff was fun when it was Jeremy’s personal blog, but for a group blog it can seem a bit odd.

    That’s my two cents …

    Some stuff may have gone awry in your “amici” fracas (how ironic), but some important substance that is relevant to all sociologists was indeed discussed with a good deal of passion and nearly as much reason.

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    1. In general I think this is an inspired solution. However I don’t think the degree of heat is actually predictable a priori, as threads tend to drift and tangents get some people riled up.

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      1. I can’t believe that Jeremy honestly didn’t think this one was going to flare up, but I’ll let him answer.

        Anyway, since you all would control both blogs, you can always close down flare ups on scatterplot and repost then redirect on jackknife.

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    2. I find a good hockey game is rough and includes the potential of a fight. The jackknife solution seems like a lesser second option to me.

      Sounds like your league needs fair referees, players that show leadership, and the guidance of good coaches.

      I think a good discussion may be similar.

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  4. I like this solution, but why stop at scatterplot and jackknife? There could be “bootstrap,” too, the blog for people who don’t really know what they are talking about but like to post on the same topic over and over again anyway.

    The possibilities are endless!

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    1. PS. Lest anyone think I’m referring to the discrimination brief post/discussion in particular, or anyone who contributed to it: I’m not.

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  5. – Jeremy and the Scatterplot board,

    I want to start by apologizing for what has occurred on Scatterplot. When Jeremy was originally approached about posting a discussion on Scatterplot he declined, feeling too many friends and colleagues were involved on both sides. As a result my initial and subsequent posts were hosted on orgtheory. For reasons I don’t quite understand, there has been long thread on Scatterplot that at times has been heated and undiplomatic. Just want Jermy wanted to avoid has occurred. I am sorry.

    The decision to close down discussion of the ASA brief in the Walmart case seems fine given that there is the possibility of the discussion occurring on orgtheory (where for some reasons, the discourse has been much more civil). I do worry about this as a general policy.

    One of my goals with my original posting was to see if as a discipline we couldn’t learn how to have a productive discussion about a sensitive and understandably emotional topic. I think to a great degree this has occurred, particularly on orgtheory. If we are going to mature as a discipline we need to learn how to talk about important and potentially contentious topics constructively. This, however, is going to mean that at times, people cross the line. Hard to learn without making mistakes.

    I would hope that the editorial board might consider what policies they might use in the future short of totally closing down the complete discussion. This move comes close to group punishment. It also gives anyone who wants the ability to close a discussion down by being uncivil.

    There seem to me a number of possibilities:

    1. Deleting uncivil comments.
    2. Banning specific individuals from the blog for a period of time if they are uncivil.
    3. Lecturing people as to the difference between vigorous discourse and destructive comments.

    On the later a few examples might be: (1) putting words in people’s mouths; (2) attacking their intentions; (3) accusations of most types; (4) questioning a person’s moral character; (5) generally, making personal comments.
    If “fighting” is going to be allowed, it is important to know what counts as “being below the belt.”

    I should say that Laura Beth Nielsen and I have been having a very good conversation off line and are trying to figure out when we might meet in order to continue the conversation in person. I gather that Greg Mitchell and Laura Beth met earlier this week and are now good friends. So the original principals to the discussion are actually doing quite well at talking with each other.

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    1. I would urge not thinking of closing comments as “group punishment” but more like a “collective timeout.” And a specific event, rather than a general policy; any general policy shift would be from complete non-moderation (except spam and trolls) to what you propose as possibilities.

      As you note, we are not preventing the discussion from continuing, as orgtheory has multiple threads on the issue, and Jenn Lena has a post up.

      Tina and I founded Scatterplot. I can’t speak for Tina, although I think we have similar views. I have a very strong aversion to the idea of censoring colleagues, or even to being a hall monitor about about appropriate online behavior. Especially when the thread is being forth by people who have more standing to be speaking on an issue than I do, which just about every principal participant in that discussion does.

      These are balanced against what I would like Scatterplot to be and, frankly as important, what I am willing to deal with.

      I do think that discussion makes clear that this is an important issue for which people for whom I have strong intellectual respect have divergent positions, and I am happy to have contributed to those being aired. I learned quite a bit from the thread.

      As you say, hard to learn without making mistakes. Same goes for running a blog. I don’t want to rehash the thread, but obviously I could have done something other than sit on my hands regarding conduct while the thread was going on.

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  6. Can I have the hour of my time back that I spent reading through the “discrimination, briefly” postings looking for incivility? Surely, there were some strong words and some ill-advised mentions (the facebook wall posts), but there were also apologies made and what seemed to me sincere efforts to understand across the disagreement. It reminded me of an interesting sociology department faculty meeting.

    So, shutting down the discussion seems a bit thin-skinned to me. It appeared the main participants were willing to continue to engage, and if they found it had crossed a line, they could have stopped by simply not responding.

    Oh, well, now I’ve wasted an hour and a minute. Back to work.

    Like

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