Recently, Terry McGlynn closed the comments at Small Pond Science:
I’m shutting down new comments on the site, and instead, encouraging discussion to take place on twitter.
We’ve been seeing some of the same trends that led Terry to take this step, but we’ve no plans to close our comments. I don’t think there are any rights or wrongs here, just different responses to the same trends. So if you want to read a short navel-gazing post about how I think about blog vs. Twitter comments, read on. It’s probably mostly of interest to other bloggers.
I agree with Terry that the scientific conversation–including the conversation about blogs–is moving onto Twitter, though at different rates for different blogs. It’s only in the last few weeks that we’ve noticed a sudden jump in people discussing our posts on Twitter. Some of those people used to comment here instead of, or in addition to, tweeting about our posts.
But most of the substantive conversation about our posts still takes place in our comment threads. Our comment threads are less active than they used to be, but the activity level is only dropping slowly so far. We enjoy the comment threads and learn a tremendous amount from them. Twitter conversations about our posts can be valuable too. But as a broad and not-exceptionless generalization, Twitter conversations about our posts tend to be less substantive and nuanced than our comment threads. I think that’s just the nature of the platforms. Twitter is great for many purposes, but it’s not designed for substantive, nuanced conversations (though the move to 280 characters hopefully will help a bit, as will the ability to compose tweet threads before tweeting them). So even if the trend is towards conversations on Twitter, we’d rather keep our comment threads open as long as some readers want to make use of them.
In part, that’s just a matter of personal preference. Meghan is the only one of us who is on Twitter, like Terry is. Ok, I use the @dynamicecology robo-account to tweet occasionally, but mostly just to make jokes. I’ve experimented with substantive conversations on Twitter, and it hasn’t worked for me. I just find it really hard to have a good, misunderstanding-free conversation
on Twitter, especially about anything people disagree about. Brian feels the same. Different strokes for different folks, of course.
Except that it’s not quite that easy, because online conversation is a collective action problem. As Terry correctly notes, there’s a strong incentive to use the same conversational platform as others. So if current trends continue, at some point in future it’s possible that our comment threads will just die out. At which point we’ll be sad.
p.s. Terry also says that he’s moving SPS discussions to Twitter because he doesn’t want to have to moderate bad comments, doesn’t want bad comments preserved in perpetuity, and doesn’t want to share his platform with just anyone who wants to leave a comment. Which puzzles me, because I’d have thought Twitter would make all those things worse, or at least not make them any better. I’d have commented on Terry’s post to ask him to elaborate, but I can’t do that anymore. 🙂
Really appreciated you copying the tweets into the comment section in the last statistical machismo blog. More automated methods for doing that might be one route to getting the benefits of both.
Yeah, there seems to be no good automated way to do that, unfortunately. For a couple of reasons. First, we’re hosted on wordpress.com, so don’t have access to most WordPress plugins. Second, we only want to copy substantive tweets into the comment sections, not retweets or tweets that just say “agree” or whatever.
It’s a pain for me to have to copy tweets over, especially if I’m going to keep running searches to find subtweets rather than just looking at our mentions. And it informs our readers about the Twitter conversation without actually unifying the two conversations, so it’s an imperfect solution. But I’ll probably keep it up so long as there aren’t too many substantive tweets about our posts.
I really like the comments on here (apart from the amount of my time they sometimes erode). As a grad student it’s really nice to watch more established ecologists discuss the science in detail. I definitely learn a lot, even though I often don’t feel I’m quite up to taking part personally. I suspect there are quite a few silent students who get a similar experience from the blogs/comments as I do.
Yes, one can’t evaluate the value of comments just by looking at the number of comments or commenters. The vast majority of readers never comment.
For what it’s worth, I’m not closing comments on Scientist Sees Squirrel either, for the same reasons as you. My comment section isn’t as fabulous as yours (colour me green), but I learn a lot in a way that I don’t from Twitter reactions, which lean to the superficial. In fact, it’s not infrequent to see a comment on Twitter from someone who clearly didn’t read the post they’re commenting on.
Yes. We basically never get comments here from people who haven’t read the post. But a non-trivial minority of Twitter comments about our posts are from people who seem not to have read the post.
A thought: both Terry and I consider a conversation about our posts to be suboptimal if it’s split between two platforms. But I can imagine that at least a few people would consider it optimal. For instance, if you dislike a post, or dislike this blog in general, you might want your own place to talk about it. Somewhere where the blog’s authors and/or commenters who agree with those authors are less likely to try to engage with you.
Aside: Terry describes closing the comments at SPS as a temporary experiment. But I bet it ends up being permanent. Just guessing, I’m not privy to Terry’s thinking.
I hope the experiment results in Terry going back to comments-allowed. He is a smart,experienced and thoughtful chap( my own opinion), and brings a needed perspective to education and science issues. I think the opportunity to respond to his posts in detailed & nuanced fashions is important.
There is a blog I sometimes read, called UO Matters, which details education issues at the university of oregon, from a rather critical, anti-establishment, perspective. Often the discussion is the best part, as shown by this post[UO Prof calls out VP for Equity for wasting money on Implicit Bias Training], which is clearly worth the effort: see particularly the UO Law prof’s detailed discussion about meeting with fidel Casrto in 1999 to talk about race relation in cuba.
I had a twitter account when I was a political candidate. I opened it with the preconceived prejudice that it was a good way to say nothing meaningful in 140 characters. politicians and journalists love Twitter , perhaps because of rather than in spite of its fundamental vacuity. The apotheosis (or is it the nadir) of Twitter is of course the Trumpster himself. Overall, my experience with Twitter did nothing to contradict my initial prejudice against it, and while I am sure some people tweet effectively, I believe it has contributed to the general decline in public discourse. After all if a thing is worth discussing, shouldn’t it get as many characters as it needs?
I do lurk a bit on politics and economics Twitter. My impression is the same as yours: there are people who can discuss substantive topics effectively on Twitter (Noah Smith, @noahpinion, is one good example). But they’re rare, because it takes a lot of practice, and a willingness to do tweet threads that incorporate screenshots of blocks of text/figures/etc.
Noah Smith also wrote this, which I think is basically right for politics and economics Twitter: http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.ca/2017/06/the-shouting-class.html
I think that piece also applies to some extent to those bits of science Twitter concerning topics that (some) people have strong feelings about.
p.s. What public office did you run for? Drop me a line if you want to chat about doing a guest post about your experience (email@example.com).
I’m just one opinion, and probably not a majority one at that, but I hope Terry takes comments again. I have to confess, I’ve found myself a bit less inclined to read the blog since I’ve known comments are closed.
Like many people have said, I believe the main value of blogging is not as a platform for a one-way communication for my opinion. But as the modern electronic equivalent of the water cooler or lunch room – a place to have discussion and learn. And twitter on average very much lowers the quality of the discussion. Aside from the short length of tweets, as already noted twitter seems to give permission to comment without having read the original which seems to happen a lot.
Despite being around in the early days of Twitter, I stopped using it almost a decade ago. It has been strange to see scientists embrace it so much (not to mention major heads of state…), but I still don’t see much value to this. Likely this is because I rarely read many tweets, so my samples consist of almost entirely humorous memetic twists (e.g. sharing funny papers), but very little scientific knowledge transfer or debate.
Perhaps, to play devil’s advocate, someone could point me at some discussions on Twitter where substantive discussion has occurred?
“It has been strange to see scientists embrace it so much”
Well, depends what constitutes “so much”. The most recent data I saw are that about 19% of scientists are on Twitter, the same fraction as for the US adult population. Those data (to which I can’t find the link just now, sorry) are a couple of years old, but Twitter’s user base growth has been flat for almost 3 years now so I doubt that 19% number has increased much. [insert obvious caveats about what constitutes an “active” Twitter user, frequency of Twitter use, etc. here]
“Perhaps, to play devil’s advocate, someone could point me at some discussions on Twitter where substantive discussion has occurred?”
See the comment thread on this post, where I pasted in some of the Twitter commentary: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2017/12/06/poll-results-on-statistical-machismo/
Personally, I think that’s a good example of a blog comment thread being more substantive and nuanced than the parallel Twitter conversation. But your mileage may vary, I suppose.
I guess this might be true? Though anecdotally, for us lately, the people who’ve been tweeting about our posts rather than (or in addition to) commenting here are mostly white males with established careers.
Plus, tweets are public just like blog comments are, so if you tweet about our blog posts we can still see it. Even if you subtweet us, there’s a decent chance we’ll still see it. So I’m honestly unclear why anyone would feel safer tweeting about our posts (or anyone’s posts) than commenting on them. I guess maybe on Twitter your friends and allies are more likely to jump to your defense if you’re attacked, whereas in a blog comment thread you’re more likely to be on your own if you’re attacked? And on Twitter, you can mute or block anyone who attacks you, whereas on blogs you have to rely on the moderator to protect you? (which as an aside I could imagine as a point in favor of blogs. If you were subject to a Twitter pile-on you’d have to do a lot of muting or blocking, whereas on a well-moderated blog, as I like to think this one is, you’ll never be subject to a pile-on in the first place because the moderator does the blocking for you.)
Plus, you shouldn’t worry about the career consequences of publicly disagreeing with us, or with most prominent scientists (bullies and people who have formal power of you excepted): https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2016/11/01/dont-be-afraid-to-disagree-publicly-with-dr-famous-it-wont-hurt-your-career/. But see the comment thread on that post for some dissenting views.
I was waiting for someone to say this:
Which I think illustrates something I said above: there is no global optimum here. Rather, there are people who strongly prefer blog comment threads, and people who strongly prefer Twitter. And then layered on top of that is that positively frequency-dependent feedback loop giving everyone an incentive to comment in one place, to which people with less strong preferences are responsive.
This makes sense. I think a big reason I don’t use Twitter is purely historical autocorrelation; I don’t presently read much there or interact with people who tweet substantially, etc, whereas I blog a small amount and read a *lot* of blogs, and so I find myself far more interested in the latter medium. But this really just suggests that I should spend more time with less familiar media before being so quick to judge them (as I do in my previous comment 😛 ).
Contrary to what David Steen tweeted, I actually have tried Twitter out multiple times, as I said in the post. And I do lurk on econ/poli sci Twitter, and on Twitter convos about DE posts. So for me David’s comment is actually an example of why I don’t like Twitter: he seems to have misread me, and now is snarkily attributing to me views I and the commenters don’t actually hold. Somehow in his tweet, multiple people saying “I tried Twitter; it didn’t work for me” has turned into “people who are ignorant of Twitter criticizing Twitter”.
I’ll probably experiment with Twitter again in future, after lurking for a while to see if the switch to 280 characters seems to be improving things for the sorts of conversations I’d like to have.
And Terry immediately followed up by noting that Ric Charnov was a bad example:
I think this little exchange nicely illustrates the differences between “Twitter people” and “blog people”. Ric really appreciates Small Pond Science, liked reading and participating in the comment threads there, and is sorry to see them go–and yet his participation is a reason Terry’s shutting them down.
This exchange also hints at something that Terry also hinted at in his post explaining why he’s shutting down his comments: the sense that Twitter is a more democratic platform. The sense that Twitter gives equal weight to a diversity of voices, rather than privileging senior white males whose participation discourages others from participating and so degrades the quality of the conversation.
I confess I’m not sure what to think of that. I’d be very interested in a data collection exercise to see what fraction of comments on this blog come from students or postdocs, or people from less wealthy countries, or women, or etc. And then compare that to the fraction of substantive tweets about our posts (as opposed to likes or retweets) coming from students/women/people from less wealthy countries/etc.
I contend my comment accurately paraphrased many of the sentiments expressed in this thread.
Thanks for taking the time to stop by David, I appreciate it, even though we’ll have to agree to disagree.
David just because people choose not to tweet does not mean they are not well informed about Twitter.I’m sure I’ve read tens of thousands of tweets. Just in the science arena. And in the news its hards to avoid tweets as they are now repeated in online news articles. I also use it for my journal responsibilities. That is more than enough information for an informed decision.
Its quite a leap from somebody chooses not to do something to therefore by definition their choice is uninformed. That’s a great way to argue that anybody who doesn’t do what you do is uninformed.
I honestly have no idea about the permanence. I think I’m going to reevaluate in Spring (if the new public ecology blog launches, and the final edits of my book is in the hands of the publishers, and after I submit a big grant or two, and get a couple big manuscripts out the door).
Casey terHorst recently commented on one aspect of moving comments off the blog itself, that I only touched on and I’ll amplify a bit:
What I said was, “I’d like to encourage a broader set of voices to comment, instead of the usual suspects (whose perspectives I greatly appreciate, to be clear); I think a lot of people are reluctant to comment knowing the permanence and visibility of their writing on here.”
I’ve noticed that comments on my site, and I think on here (?) have a strong demographic skew. Far more men than women, and I think more senior people. Even if there are more comments from the senior folks, I think they have a disproportionate weight in the discussion. I’m not sure why that is, but I think it has to do with the fact that when you publish comments on a blog, they have as much visibility as the blog post itself, so making a comments (as this) has a lot of weight, and I think the perceived cost to junior folks of making a potential misstep when a lot of peers are reading is huge. I have noticed that comments on twitter have been more egalitarian so far, we’ll see what happens in this experiment. I think twitter still has gender issues, but I see a lot more comments from women there than I do on my own site.
As for not having to moderate out comments, here’s a bit more: If there’s a horrible comment on my post by someone else, then to some extent, I have ownership of those horrible remarks. It’s on me to delete them (or to choose to not delete them to support free exchange of ideas). I don’t own the remarks on twitter in any way though, I don’t have the option of deleting them. So this is liberating for me to not have to look at my site on a regular basis and have the cognitive load of thinking about the comments. Now, once I create a post, there’s no real reason to go back to it. That’s liberating. I’ve been concerned that the blog isn’t sustainable with all of my other professional obligations and goals, and part of maintaining it is making sure it doesn’t interrupt my workflow. As for the comments on twitter, I don’t have to check in on those if I don’t want to either. If a person says something horrible, then people can ignore it and move on, and it doesn’t have to live on the post itself.
Thanks Terry, thanks for stopping by even though I know you’d probably prefer to be on Twitter . 😉
“I’ve noticed that comments on my site, and I think on here (?) have a strong demographic skew. Far more men than women, and I think more senior people. ”
Re: it being liberating not having to be personally responsible for moderating your Twitter threads, I’m now curious how much moderation you had to do on SPS? What fraction of comments were you having to block, or seriously consider blocking? For us it’s literally 1 in 1000 at most (I tracked it for a while).
I do wonder a little if what’s liberating for you will be less liberating for the people who follow and participate in your Twitter conversations. On econ/politics Twitter, Noah Smith talks about how he does a lot of blocking in order to keep his mentions clear of bad comments on behalf of his many followers who don’t want to read those comments. Do you worry that you might have to do the same? Or not so much, because science Twitter is a very different beast than econ/politics Twitter?
For me the moderation cuts both ways. I find blog commenting to be a much safer space than the wild west anything goes twitter. Its not like I cannot survive snark and flaming tweets. I’ve got a thicker skin than average (not to mention my job is secure). But why would I want to?
I don’t really have to block anybody who is discussing a blog post. Once in a while a climate troll or Nazi will pop up, but that’s unrelated to anything on Small Pond.
I guess what I’m concerned about is that comments are a safe space for only a subset of the population. There are a lot of marginalized folks who feel safer on twitter than they do commenting on the posts themselves. Which I think is the most important reason I’m running this experiment.
In all the comments so far (30ish), every. single. one. of them is by a dude. And the majority of these people are tenured professors who are extraordinarily well established in their fields and/or have their own blogs with a substantial voice in the blogging environment.
My top 6 commenters on Small Pond are other bloggers. We usually post when we disagree with one another, but the sounds still echo.
Terry, the few I’ve seen engaging in the conversation related to this post on Twitter also are white guys, and further white guys who are at least fairly established in their careers (Casey terHorst, David Steen). And you’re a tenured white guy.
I suggest that the poll you and I discussed briefly on Twitter is a better way to study the demographics of blog commenters vs. people who comment on those same blog posts on Twitter. And in any case, I don’t think we should take one discussion that happens to mostly involve established and fairly-established white guys on both Twitter and this blog as a large enough sample from which to draw conclusions.
That’s a good point, I agree that less anecdotal data would be good for an actual comparison.
Terry – fair enough.
And I want to be clear up front that I think experimentation is important. And I don’t have a global blog>twitter viewpoint. Just a personal preference. But diversity of speech forms is good. That’s really the essence of the US 1st amendment.
Towards your comment about safer. I cannot disagree. I see it myself on DE posts. But I think it is important to recognize there are multiple dimensions of safe. The one I was referring to was the likelihood of being flamed, receiving ad hominem attacks or having mass social media pileons. I think we can agree the risks of this are higher on Twitter?
I think the dimension where you are highlighting is the safety to disagree with the original point of view. This appears to be higher on twitter and for some good reasons (you are right that a blog is home turf to the author even if a blog has a reputation for never blocking disagreement). And because you get a larger number of disagreements on twitter it is certainly more diverse. Maybe for other reasons too (e.g. I think twitter skews younger).
So I think the nub of the question is this: is 10 posts saying “I disagree” or “so wrong” (and not a lot more), and possibly from a more diverse group, but that is still to be established, have more value than one detailed constructive critique on a blog? And which kind of giving voice is more valuable to less established people?
The answer of course is that it is a poorly framed question. They both have value. And discussion about which is better is more honestly framed as personal preference. But I do think the two outcomes of the type of safety you highlight are distinct and should not be conflated.
Terry – I now am clear you disagree with me on some level. Although I don’t think I said exactly what you rebutted. I also was pretty sure you disagreed with me already. But I have no idea why you disagree with me. Which is too bad, because I respect your opinion and learn from people who disagree.
And you didn’t really address most of what I said. As is, we will just have to disagree. Which may be all you want. But I find dissatisfying.
Hi terry ( and DE); I hereby promise to never comment on any BLOG post ever again. My own experiment in reading blogs has come to an end. period.
I want to thank you terry for so much thoughtful commentary on research/teaching in non R1 universities. Your experience complements my 13 yrs at UNM, a minority serving R1 school, the only such institution in US. My home Biology dept runs 3 or 4 [ have been away for a while] special programs, externally funded , to assist underrepresented groups get a leg up towards research , science, medical careers.
Sorry we disagreed so much about the 100 ecology paper reading list.
with respect, best wishes,
Jeremy and I just finished an email exchange noting how much we value your comments and the experience behind them.
Without being mean to the twitter world, I think that tweet was inappropriately ad hominem and something I think is more likely to happen on twitter than a blog. I don’t know why tweeters think they are in a private world.
I sincerely hope you (and everybody else) continues to comment on DE!
I don’t think Terry’s comment was meant to disagree with any particular comment from you, Ric. But just to point out that it’s a tricky situation for some folks to jump into a conversation with any Dr. Famous. That’s not a strike on Dr. Famous by any means, but a comment on the effectiveness of commenting in different formats. Yes, Dr. Famous is on Twitter too, but IF Dr. Famous doesn’t engage fairly, or is mean or obnoxious, or willfully misunderstands comments, then there a lot more people who have your back on Twitter than in a blog comment. I think there are potentially bigger costs to bad behavior on Twitter than elsewhere.
I think there is something to this (and as an aside I certainly hope Terry’s tweet wasn’t meant as a criticism of the fact that Ric commented on SPS, because it did come off that way to my eyes; hopefully an example of the brevity of tweets leading to misunderstandings…). But if it’s right I confess I find it a bit sad. I’d like to think that we do a good job of moderating the comments here, which is as much as we can do. For instance, the recent kerfuffle over that “100 must read papers” paper included multiple tweets that personally attacked the authors’ motives as opposed to criticizing their methods; we’d never have let those tweets through on our comment threads. I wish it were the case that having good comment moderation would be enough to make a large and diverse range of people comfortable commenting here, but I’m sure for some people it’s not.
Fortunately for our comment threads, I’m not convinced that the worry you describe is actually a worry for all that many people. I say this not to dismiss the worries of those who have that worry–it’s a completely understandable worry–but just to put that worry in a broader context. I linked to this earlier but I’ll just summarize it here: we surveyed our readers a few years ago on why they don’t comment. Got over 400 responses, a large sample of our regular and semi-regular readers. Only 5% said they don’t comment because “don’t want to get into an argument/afraid of being criticized”. By far more common reasons were “don’t feel I have anything to add”, “not sure/no reason/never thought about it”, and “I never write anything on the internet”. And these days “it’s a pain to type on my phone” would probably be another reason. Those survey results are one reason we’re reluctant to close our comments: there’s no pleasing everyone, but it looks like, for us, that switching discussions about our posts over to Twitter would displease many more people than it pleases, including displeasing many grad students, women, etc.
I recognize of course that we surveyed blog readers (though I emphasize that we surveyed *readers*, not just *commenters*). If we’d surveyed Twitter users we might’ve gotten a different answer. But honestly, I’m not so sure we would’ve. In part because the largest group of “missing” commenters is surely people who aren’t on Twitter or other social media, or who won’t use it for purposes of engaging in discussion with strangers. Because they don’t see Twitter or other social media as a safe space. I look forward to Terry’s suggested poll on this, because I think it’s actually an open empirical question just how diverse commenters on our blog are in terms of gender/race/seniority/etc as compared to people who engage in Twitter discussions. And I’d be very curious how diverse both groups are (in terms of both personal identity and opinions) compared to the *much* larger number of ecologists who neither comment on blogs nor tweet.
As an aside, insofar as what you like about Twitter is that it features a different mix of voices than those found in other venues (blog comment threads or wherever), you’d probably prefer that I and people like me *not* become more active on Twitter! Because that would make Twitter a bit more like other venues in terms of the range of views expressed and who’s expressing them. 🙂
Hi Casey; gee, grad students disagree with me all the time [ or did, I am long retired, and mostly I fly fish cutthroat trout, who are not threatened by me at all.]….. and about the most basic of issues, like what is really cool science.
I expect it!….. believe it or not, I am used to being listened to….and ignored!
Its how science gets done . By that and being willing to make mistakes and to learn from them. I do that all the time too.
But I can still recall being thrilled the first times my major prof [ orians] or my postdoc advisor [ Holling] actually listened to me: we were all young and green once.
Casey when somebody is mentioned by name in a tweet that is clearly implying humor/laughing and there is not room for an explanation why, it tends to not go over well. Certainly there are about a dozen ways to read Terry’s tweet. While I assume Terry wasn’t meaning to be mean (it would be way too ironic otherwise and it doesn’t seem like him). But there was not the slightest tipoff to what Terry meant so its not like somebody is being difficult in assuming a negative interpretation. But my own guess is that at least 70% of the people so mentioned would react negatively.
Ric, Brian, Casey, Jeremy, and anybody else reading the comments:
I’m sorry I wasn’t tuned into comments yesterday afternoon, I had missed out on this whole conversation. I hope you don’t interpret this pause as anything other than me being busy other matters.
I want to be clear that I bear no ill well and have great respect for you all, and I think that comments in general (on here, and on twitter) are thoughtful and constructive. I think it’s fine (and great even) that we can disagree about these things.
I’ll amplify on what I’ve thought are my own concerns about commenting on my own blog. I’ve found that the comments come from a nonrandom subset of people who read the site. There are many thousands of readers, but only a small number of commenters. These commenters are far more likely to have their own blog, more likely to be senior academic, and more likely to be white guys. I haven’t run the stats (and awesome, Jeremy, that you’ve put this together a bit for DE) but on my site, it’s wholly obvious.
One of the major themes in my site is to represent the views of the marginalized. There is some irony, I realize, that this comes from white guy tenured prof such as myself (though as I’ve pointed out, there are many axes of marginalization that people experience). The comments as a whole are thoughtful, respectful, and constructive. They also are clearly predominantly coming from folks who are not marginalized. And at least with respect to SPS, there is even more discussion on twitter (and I suspect also elsewhere to some extent, though I don’t have access to those discussions) about posts. In my experience, these are as erudite, complete and sophisticated as the comments on the posts themselves, and they are coming from folks who are more marginalized.
These folks on the margin who are making comments about the posts on SPS are choosing to put them on twitter, and not putting them on the post itself by commenting on the site. I’m assuming that this is a conscious choice — that they want to share in that arena. I have grown uncomfortable with the notion that the discussion of the less marginalized folks becomes wedded in perpetuity to the content of the post itself. Whenever anybody clicks on the post, those are the comments they see. While at the same time, the discussion among marginalized folks happens on twitter and doesn’t end up on the post.
As Brian and others who have remarked that the medium of twitter is subpar for nuanced discussion, on that, I just have to say that my experience says otherwise. I’ve chosen to reply to your remarks here because that’s where y’all are reading, but I think I could have communicated these ideas there just as well, though in a different format. It also might have ended up being more of a conversation, rather than this lump of prose.
I do have concerns that powerful folks like us are in the comments, it has a disproportionate and deterring effect on folks who have ideas and might not share.(To be clear, compared to grad students we are powerful. We run journals, are on awards committees, and also can choose to blacklist people we don’t like on a whim, if we so choose, not that I do this kind of thing of course, but people don’t know that). As Casey pointed out on twitter, we can have the luxury of saying that there’s nothing to fear by commenting alongside us, but clearly that might not be true. On twitter, the cost of entering into an interaction is lower, and it’s easier to provide support for someone who is arguing for an idea in disagreement with a more powerful person. To a person who has a lot of power, the ability of more marginalized folks to disagree with you might seem like the wild west, but to the people who are not in power, this is democratizing and liberating.
If you’re trying to discuss the minutia of whether, say, we are using random effects in mixed models incorrectly, then I’ll agree that being able to write a really long comment has its benefits. But I also am conscious of the costs, that there might be a statistically minded junior scientist who feels (and is) marginalized might have have something to share, and it’s harder to do it here on the post itself than on twitter. I can’t speak to the mission and priorities of this site, and insofar as my prior comments have implied that it’s my place, I am sorry. I’m just talking about my own site now. On one hand, I think it’s amazing that someone with the history, wisdom and fame of Ric Charnov can choose to comment on my site. And what he says is of value, of course (perhaps moreso when we disagree). Simultaneously, I’m concerned that the mere fact that Ric-famous-and-powerful-Chernov comments, this ends up deterring other folks. Not by the content of the ideas or how it was said, but just the fact of identity. Of course it would be absurd of me to blame Ric for choosing to comment – it’s his right as much as anybody else! I’d like everybody to comment.
I’ve just noticed, on SPS, that comments clearly fail to reflect the broader discussion that people are having, and also fail to reflect the broader SPS community of subscribers and more casual readers. I’m not sure if I’m doing a service to readers by maintaining a platform that has equal access but inequitable representation.
On twitter, someone is more likely to disagree with you. They also might not lay out a ten-point-agenda about how and why they disagree with you. While the nature of the discourse is different, I think the identify of those disagreeing is not a secondary matter, and I would prefer a more laissez-faire environment if it means that it raises the voice of marginalized folks. I suspect when a blog grows to a certain size, and the academic community is small, then people will realize that they have to really watch what they say. I recall that someone at ESA , who I hadn’t met before, mentioned something to me about a comment I’d written on a DE post. I happen to have the luxury of bing all to take half an hour out of my time to write a comment on this blog without having to worry about a few typos, or saying something that might inadvertently offend someone, because my career isn’t at stake. But junior scientists might see things differently.
It turns out that I did write comments that inadvertently offended or annoyed folks, and so here I am trying to fix this by amplifying more. So this kind of conversation that has generated some heat will just be us folks. Meanwhile if a similar interaction was on twitter, someone might choose to chime in with an observation that might be helpful, and it could be a person who would be deterred from posting a permanent comment here. A recent paper of mine in the science communication issue of the Annals of the Ent Soc USA starts with the title “Identity Matters:” so that’s clearly a priority of mine in SPS. Unfortunately, I can’t use the comments section of my blog to ask people about how their career stage and identity affect their propensity for commenting, though maybe a poll could get at this.
I hope this clears things up, and I hope by this explanation, y’all understand that I hold what you do in high esteem, and I think by keeping comments on here is a perfectly fine choice. We’ve got different sites and different missions, and also, heck, I might be wrong.
Thank you for taking the time to comment further Terry, and certainly no apologies needed for not doing so earlier. We certainly don’t think that anybody’s ever under any obligation to comment!
I now feel like I fully understand your thinking, but let me paraphrase it to check. I’d summarize your main reason for closing your comments as “The comments are closed because the fact that the comments mostly came from people whose voices don’t need amplifying (e.g., senior white men, people with their own popular blogs) made them inconsistent with the mission of Small Pond Science. The comments themselves were fine, but the fact that they mostly came from the people they did both reflects and (in some small way) reinforces systemic inequities that it’s SPS’s mission to fight.” Is that a fair summary?
Assuming that’s right, it sounds to me like, hypothetically, you’d have closed the comments even if there weren’t any Twitter discussion about your posts?
One minor respect in which I might disagree with you (and Casey) is that I think you both may be overrating the frequency with which people decide not to comment on a blog because they don’t feel safe doing so. Again, I say that because of the DE reader survey data I linked to earlier in the thread. That’s not to disagree that the Twitter commentariat about your posts might well be more diverse on various dimensions than the blog commentariat. It’s merely to quibble about the reasons for that (and it is quibbling; no worries if you or anyone else would prefer not to quibble further about this).
Getting off on a different topic now, but if you wanted I’d be interested to hear more about any other steps you’re planning to take to amplify marginalized voices. I already know about the planned group blog of course, which as I’ve said I think is an interesting and tremendously ambitious idea. I’m curious about smaller things. For instance, do you see yourself cutting back on your reading, commenting, and social media sharing of DE and other ecology community blogs? On the grounds that those blogs are already popular, and mostly authored by established scientists whose voices don’t need additional attention and amplification?
Not trying to lure you into denying what you’ve already made completely clear, that you hold blogs like DE in high esteem. I’m just generally curious about how people who’ve set themselves a mission decide what steps to take to pursue that mission. I could certainly imagine that someone might think highly of DE, or Scientist Sees Squirrel (or SPS, or etc.), while also directing all of their own attention and social media sharing elsewhere.
I think if there wasn’t an active set of comments about Small Pond on twitter, I might not have suggested shutting them down and moving them there? That’s a hypothetical that I really don’t know the answer to, though. I definitely do not want a site that is just me saying The Way Things Are. Which might be the result of this experiment. I wonder about having all comments anonymous? hmm.
In terms of running my blog, I’m not sure I have much bigger plans to amplify voices of marginalized folks. My blog really is just my blog, and I’m done trying to chase down guest posts and contributors from different perspectives, and am not inclined to raise money to hire authors, so it’ll just go on being my blog. I don’t plan to stop reading things I already read, and I read here and other ecology community blogs because they’re worthwhile. The mission of Small Pond Science is to engage folks about scientists in teaching-focused institutions. More than I had initially considered, this has involved talking about diversity, equity and inclusion issues, and insofar as I can shape discussion, I want to make sure that it’s equitable. But really, it is what it is, I don’t see anything major changing, it’s not broken so I’m not fixing it.
When I did the experiment turning off the comments, the idea occurred to be because decided that the public blog that I’m working on won’t have a comment section (for a bunch of reasons), and I wanted to give it a spin for Small Pond. I seriously thought about it for a few minutes. So as time goes on, I’m seeing the benefits and the drawbacks.
I suppose I’m just repeating other arguments, but couldn’t help adding my two cents…
Occasionally I’m pointed to (and check out) a twitter exchange, and 99% of it is just attempted clever one-liners meant to stake a position, cheer on something you like, hack down something you don’t like, provoke, get re-tweeted, or whatever. They provoke quick emotional reactions, but only very rarely do they stimulate the intellect by provoking you to really think, unless they link to something longer. Long live slow thinking. Maybe it’s hyperbole, but I couldn’t help enjoying the quote that “Twitter is the playground for f*&$in idiots”
“but only very rarely do they stimulate the intellect by provoking you to really think, unless they link to something longer.”
One plausibly-extrapolated future of blogs vs. Twitter is one in which blogs function as broadcasts, and everybody just tweets their agreement or disagreement with blog posts. Blogs are content, Twitter and other social media are how you share content. And lengthy conversations about that content mostly happen offline (or maybe privately among friends on Facebook).
Mark, your posting a Youtube video seems almost prescient, given that post-millennials are using the site more than ever to ‘vlog’ (is there a more elegant word for this?). I wonder if this is the direction that scientific commentary will eventually take…
That’s what my statistical model suggests:
unlimited written words -> 140 written characters -> 0 written characters
Hey I could have tweeted that!
Funny anecdote: This post prompted me to browse Small Pond Science, which prompted a thought on the post topic of “Academia selects against community ties”, which prompted the realization that I had no way to make a comment since the comment section is gone.
“I wonder if this is the direction that scientific commentary will eventually take…”
If Dynamic Ecology ever “pivots to video”, you have my permission to reach through the intertubes and kill me. 🙂
(I’m kidding of course, and this is not a criticism of anyone who makes videos for any purpose. I’m just making a silly reference to how some news and commentary websites have pivoted to video recently, in a somewhat-desperate attempt to draw traffic and advertising dollars.)
Glad you’re keeping comments open here. I enjoy scientific twitter, have for a long time, but I also enjoy the comment threads here, and am glad that both have active participation. Also, I really appreciate that you frequently embed tweets back into comments; that’s a great way for people like me to catch active discussions in the other sphere I would otherwise missed. Knowing that you’re occasionally linking in those discussions like that makes it feel more like a big community and less like I’m missing what the cool kids are chatting about somewhere else.
Just reporting that I had a productive Twitter conversation with Terry McGlynn just now, only bits of which are copied into the comment thread above.
One thing I came away from that conversation with is the sense that Terry wants to hear about any and all disagreement with his posts. Even if those who disagree are just doing so very briefly via Twitter. I’m suspect he’s correct that people are more likely to register their disagreement with a post on Twitter than on a blog. Even a blog that, like SPS and DE, has good comment moderation and a good commenting culture, so that people could in fact register their disagreement here without being subject to personal attacks or a pile-on from other commenters or etc. I can appreciate that. A blog can feel like the author’s “home turf” in a way that Twitter doesn’t.
I guess I differ from him a bit in that I do value knowing about the full range of opinions about our posts, but I don’t value briefly-expressed disagreement enough to want to seek out more of it by engaging on Twitter (as opposed to merely lurking on Twitter to follow discussions of our posts, which I already do). I don’t feel like I learn much from briefly-expressed disagreement besides the fact that somebody disagreed. It’s a bit like how, if a student just gives me negative scores on teaching evaluation forms, that doesn’t really help me improve my teaching. Especially when I’m also getting lots of positive scores from other students.
Also, it seems like a substantial fraction of the disagreement with our posts that’s expressed on Twitter comes from the same few people. Which is fine, I’m happy to agree to disagree with those folks on many matters. But just as those folks (presumably) don’t think it’s worth their time to comment here to repeatedly register their disagreement with me, I don’t think it’s worth my time to go on Twitter and repeatedly register my disagreement with them. It’s fine for people who’ve understood each other’s views and don’t have anything more to say to one another to just ignore each other.
I should also note for the record that I’m happy to have a conversation about our posts that split between our comment threads and Twitter, if the alternative is the people on Twitter not commenting on our posts at all (which it probably is for most though not all Twitter-commenters).
By the same token, I doubt that if we shut down the comment threads that all or most of our commenters would switch to Twitter. So I can’t add many more voices to the Twitter conversation about our posts by shutting down the comments here. This seems like another argument in favor of letting both conversational venues just live out their natural lives.
I like how the comment thread here is up over 40 comments, far outnumbering the tweets about this post. I can’t decide if that illustrates or undermines the argument in the post. 🙂
So I decided to do a silly Twitter poll:
Hear hear. I think closing comments on blogs defeats the purpose of a blog – but it seems like many modern blogs are evolving into newsy/opinion sites where engagement with the audience is not the main goal. A lot of my regular readers, especially non-academic ones, don’t use Twitter, so leaving the comments open provides more diverse engagement.
Yes, having blog comments in addition to Twitter threads presumably doesn’t take much if anything away from those Twitter threads (leaving aside the probably-rare people who will switch to joining in a Twitter convo if the blog’s comments are closed). So the only reason to close a blog’s comment threads are that you don’t see them as valuable any more, or at least as not valuable enough to be worth the effort of moderation.
I fall into the “frequent reader, doesn’t comment” and “frequent reader, never tweeter” categories (this is officially the second DE post I have commented on).
I just want to share how much I enjoy reading the comment section here. Sometimes I find myself spending far more time reading the ensuing discussion than the original post (e.g. this thread). So…. just a big THANK YOU to everyone (authors, moderators, and commenters) for their effort, and a (selfish) hope that this continues 🙂
Thanks for the positive feedback, Adam.
Starting a new thread here, on something that came up earlier. How diverse are our commenters on various dimensions of personal identity?
I decided to compile a bit of data on this. As a starting point, I went back through the most recent 200 comments, and compiled the following data on every commenter who wasn’t me, Brian, Meghan, or a trackback: gender (m/f; evaluated by name, and photo if avail.; this is imperfect but the best I can do), employment (grad student, postdoc, pre-tenure prof, post-tenure/retired prof, rsrch prof, technician, non-academic; ID’d by googling), country (ID’d by geolocating IP addresses), and total number of comments ever made (all time, not just within the most recent 200 comments).
I emphasize right up front that this is *not* a random sample of all our commenters all time. For instance, Meghan hasn’t posted lately. Her posts tend to cover different topics and so attract a different mix of commenters than posts by me or Brian. And over the years, the demographics of our readers have shifted (e.g., now less male-skewed than they used to be), and so the demographics of our commenters may well have shifted too. If you really wanted to thoroughly sample our commenters you’d need to put in much more effort than I have, and probably use a stratified sampling scheme (e.g., sample commenters on Meghan’s posts, Brian’s posts, my posts, and guest posts). I may do that for a future post, so consider this a down payment.
Here’s a summary of the results:
-54 commenters. The demographics of those commenters are as follows:
-67% men, 26% women, 7% gender unknown
-17% grad students, 13% postdocs, 2% technician, 6% rsrch profs, 15% pre-tenure profs, 26% senior profs, 17% unknown (aside: from context, I suspect several of the unknowns are grad students)
-44% from USA, 15% Canada, 9% UK, 7% Australia, 7% Germany, 4% Brazil, 11% from one of 6 other countries
It’s useful to compare these numbers to the demographics of our regular readers (https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/reader-survey-results-3/):
-32% grad students, 26% postdocs, 26% faculty (split about evenly between pre- and post-tenure faculty)
-58% men, 42% women
-50% USA, 10% Canada, 7% UK, 20% non-UK Europe, 13% elsewhere (aside: that’s a good match for where our pageviews come from, so our regular readers are geographically representative of our entire readership).
All time, these 54 commenters have left a total of 379 comments. As you’d expect, the distribution of # of comments is highly skewed; most people who comment only ever comment once. The 7 most active commenters in this sample of 54 commenters were all men, and they’re mostly profs (4 senior profs, 1 junior prof, 1 rsrch prof, 1 unknown). Two of the seven have their own blogs (Terry McGlynn, Stephen Heard).
In summary, our commenters in this sample skew more male than our readership. Our most active commenters in this sample are all men, and include a couple of active bloggers. Our commenters also skew more towards faculty than our readership does, although I suspect I’m undercounting grad student commenters because from context they appear to be overrepresented among anonymous commenters. Our commenters in this sample are as or more geographically diverse than our readership.
I would be interested to compare these data to the demographics of people discussing our posts on Twitter (as opposed to merely liking or retweeting tweets about our posts). Anecdotally, recent commentary about our posts on Twitter has come almost exclusively from male profs, making it less diverse on dimensions of gender and employment than our recent commenters. But that’s a very small sample of Twitter commentary on our posts so I wouldn’t make much of it.
Ok, I’ve now also gone and compiled a bit of data on commenter demography for commenters on several of Meghan’s recent posts, and for commenters on a couple of posts by other authors (me, guest poster Gina Baucom) on gender and equity issues. The idea is to test the suggestions that Meghan’s posts attract more women commenters (independent of the subject matter), and that posts on gender and equity issues attract more women commenters (independent of the author).
Obviously, these are still tiny samples. Again, consider them a down payment on a more thorough compilation.
Throughout, I am counting commenters, not comments. Sorry, too much work for me right now to also count up comments by each commenter.
The demography of commenters on Meghan’s 10 most recent posts:
-47 distinct commenters, excluding me, Brian, Meghan, and trackbacks
-…most of whom commented on only 1 of the 10 posts concerned
-32% women, 57% men, 11% unidentified
-11% grad students, 13% postdocs, 6% research profs, 36% junior or senior profs, the remainder something else or unidentified
-60% USA, 15% Canada, the rest from elsewhere
So, not a significantly or substantially higher proportion of women than among the 54 recent commenters on posts by Brian and I, summarized in the previous comment. Similar skew towards comments from faculty, relative to their proportion among our regular readers. Not a substantially different geographic mix.
And here are the commenter demographics for recent and recent-ish posts on gender and equity issues. Two by Meghan (“EEB Mentor Match”, “Recognition not recall”; both included in the 10 above), one by Gina Baucom (“How I broke Twitter, part 1”), and two by me (my posts from last year and this year reporting the gender mix of newly-hired N. American TT asst. profs. of ecology). Those posts were arbitrarily chosen.
Combined data for all five posts:
-60 commenters, not including me, Brian, Meghan, or trackbacks but including Gina Baucom
-45% women, 42% men, 13% unidentified
-12% grad students, 8% postdocs, 23% junior or senior faculty, the rest other or unidentified.
-72% USA, 7% Canada, 8% Australia, rest from elsewhere
So yes, commenters on posts about gender and equity issues do include a higher proportion of women than commenters on posts about other things. But commenters on posts on gender and equity issues are not mostly women; rather they’re a roughly balanced mix of women and men. Commenters on posts on gender and equity issues skew towards profs, to a similar extent as for posts on other topics. The most striking skew is actually geographic: commenters on posts on gender and equity issues skew very heavily towards people based in the US, to a much greater extent than our regular readers or our commenters on other posts. And it looks like the effects of commenter gender and geography are independent: 47% of the US commenters on these 5 gender/equity posts were women, close to the 45% women among commenters from all geographic locations. That strong geographic skew isn’t something I’d suspected.
There were no differences in commenter demography among these 5 gender/equity posts sufficiently large to be worth noting, given the sample sizes for individual posts. So this admittedly small and non-random sample provides no suggestion that posts by women attract more women commenters than posts by men, independent of the subject matter. Rather, it looks like it’s the subject matter that drives commenter gender balance, and geographic mix.
Wow – this post is a great example of why closing comments is a bad idea 🙂 This must be a record number of comments ever for DE? Note, apropos of a previous comment by Jeremy way up the comment trail that I am a senior (heading towards retirement) white bearded male, but I love Twitter too 🙂
“This must be a record number of comments ever for DE? ”
Goodness no! We have several posts with >100 comments. I think one of Brian’s statistical machismo posts got 170 comments or something?
In case anyone thinks that it’s only people who don’t actively use Twitter who don’t like Twitter, this is by economist Noah Smith, a very active Twitter user since 2011, with 78,000 followers. It’s from last year, but he just retweeted it and said he still stands by it.
He’s only one person, of course. And the issues he raises aren’t exactly the same as the ones I raised. But I’m not linking to this as proof by authority that Twitter is a mixed bag. Rather, I link to this to establish that one can have mixed or negative feelings about Twitter while also being *very* experienced with Twitter. I confess I get a bit annoyed when somebody who’s on Twitter and likes it rolls their eyes at me and accuses me of ignorance of Twitter when I say that it doesn’t work for me because it’s not designed for substantive discussion. Noah Smith’s example illustrates why you shouldn’t infer that someone must be ignorant of Twitter just because they have mixed feelings about it.
I suppose you could argue that his mixed feelings are justified because he’s on econ/politics Twitter, which is toxic and so totally unlike science Twitter, about which mixed/negative feelings could only come from a place of ignorance. I don’t buy that argument, obviously, although I’d agree that econ/politics Twitter has a much higher frequency of toxicity than science Twitter.
Adding my thoughts belatedly to the comments here.
Depending on your numbers, I might be one of your regular and female commenters. I definitely notice there are very few times when I and another woman comment in your threads. I see more comments from my ex-office-mates (hi Eric and Dan!) than I do other (identified) women. Meghan’s posts are the exception but in those I notice the commenters are almost entirely women. It’s actually kind of horrifying. Also that’s not a call for more men to comment on Meghan’s posts.
When I use Twitter, I interact with a lot more women, POC, and LGBTQ people. It’s actually really really nice. But that depends on your followers and who you choose to follow. I don’t choose to follow many ‘senior scientists’. Sure, they might say something interesting sometimes but often they only post about their/their team’s new papers. I choose to follow people that are often shut out of scientific conversations. As expected, they are hilarious and smart.
In terms of the cultural difference in the conversation between the two mediums (media?), sometimes I don’t want to write out a long, over-thought comment. I probably spend an hour writing every time I comment on DE. Yep, I’m a super slow writer. Even then I notice all my spelling mistakes and logical inconsistencies and have to avoid looking at responses for hours out of embarrassment. It’s so much easier for me to put up a tweet and let it go into the ether. Low barrier to entry means that I’m more engaged on Twitter (and I’m possibly one of your regular commenters!). I’m assuming that I’m on the far edge of the ‘time to comment’ distribution so if one of you can get 5-10 comments/hour whereas I get 1 comment/hour, it’s just not a fair fight (that sounds too aggressive but I mean it without the aggressive connotations). Like watching a pack of wolves take on a bison (again, I mean this as less aggressive – see what I mean with the overthinking!). It means the conversation swirls around me on blogs whereas on Twitter, my speed and dexterity is up.
Also, Twitter is useful when you don’t want the original posters involved in the conversation. Tweeting about something/someone and not tagging them with their handle (aka subtweeting) is an active choice to exclude, even if you include identifying details. So if I write a tweet with “Dynamic ecology’s latest post is amazing!” and don’t include the @dynamicecology, I’m actually asking for my twitter friends to check it out and then have a conversation with me, not with DE.
So summarizing as a minority here (woman, pro-Twitter) – blog posts are good reading and detailed, often leaving me with less to respond to. Twitter is easier and more diverse. Blog posts require a high investment to comment. Twitter is funnier (including snark).
Thanks for taking the time to share your perspective, very interesting.
Yes, you’re one of the women commenters in that little dataset I just compiled. And yes, I’m sure you’re right that the commenters on Meghan’s posts skew towards women, though I wouldn’t venture to guess exactly how much without compiling the data (definitely not 100% women commenters, though). And it depends on the post topic as well as the author. When Brian and I post about gender and equity issues in science, I think we probably get more women commenters than when we post on statistical topics or pedagogy or whatever. And when Meghan posts on statistical topics or pedagogy or whatever, she probably gets fewer women commenters than when she posts on gender and equity issues.
“Also, Twitter is useful when you don’t want the original posters involved in the conversation. ”
Question: I lurk on Twitter to follow any discussion there about our posts. And I do find folks who subtweet us (typically to say “Dynamic Ecology’s latest post sucked!”, or words to that effect, rather than “Dynamic Ecology’s latest post is amazing!” 🙂 ). I sometimes happen across those subtweets via keyword searches, and sometimes because there are a few people whom I know subtweet us semi-regularly. So here’s my question: Is it ever acceptable for someone who’s been subtweeted to try to engage the subtweeter on Twitter, and if so what’s the etiquette?
I emphasize that usually I’d have no desire to engage someone who subtweeted us. But I can imagine contexts in which I might. Hypothetical and hopefully-unrealistic example: if someone subtweets me in order to insult me, am I really obliged to stay out of the conversation just because I wasn’t invited? Hypothetical and hopefully more-realistic example: if someone subtweets me to say “Dynamic Ecology’s latest post is amazing!”, is it ok to join the conversation to say “Glad you liked it!” or “Here’s another post of ours on the same topic!” After all, a subtweet is public, which to my mind means there’s some limit to how much privacy you can expect. But as a rare Twitter user, I’m not up on the etiquette of this. Or on how much Twitter users vary in their views on the etiquette of this.
“Twitter is funnier (including snark).”
My writing for this blog used to be snarkier. I’ve consciously gotten away from that. I suspect reader opinions are mixed on whether that’s a good or bad thing on balance.
I’m not a Twitter etiquette expert (they probably do exist now) but I think addressing a subtweet is kind of rude. Probably about the same rudeness as interrupting a group conversation. So if it’s a big group and you want to add something, fine. Slightly less fine to say ‘glad you liked it’ because you’re not adding anything of use to the group (also that’s what favourites are for). Going into a group to correct something? Well, you can do it but rarely, keeping in mind it might make the conversation worse. I think if you (general you) engage on Twitter often, commenting on subtweets would be more okay, but if you rarely comment, such that it’s obvious you’re googling key words rather than seeing tweets scroll by on your timeline (or whatever it’s called), that’s weirder. I’m going to ask on Twitter though because of my caveats. We’ll see if I get any replies.
I wonder if Meghan gets more woman commenters generally, even on her stats/teaching posts.
I actually think blogs don’t work when they’re snarkier. They end up being more permanent records and that means the snark sticks in a way that tweets tend not to.
Thank you Allison. That makes sense to me.
“I wonder if Meghan gets more woman commenters generally, even on her stats/teaching posts. ”
I’m planning to compile the data to find out.
Thinking about it further, the analogy to interrupting a group face-to-face conversation is interesting and suggestive. For instance, if I were at a table in a restaurant at the ESA meeting, and a group at the next table was having a conversation about me (at a loud enough volume that I couldn’t help but notice), I think it would probably be considered fine for me to turn to them and say “I couldn’t help but overhear my name…” But on the other hand, if I were to walk through a restaurant in an attempt to overhear conversations about me, and then tried to join those conversations, that would be weird and rude of me.
I guess the question is which of those is the best analogy to trying to join a conversation among people who are subtweeting you. Offhand, I guess I’d say both are imperfect analogies. I’d also say that there are probably limits to the extent to which one can use analogies to one situation to understand or justify the etiquette of another situation. Etiquette doesn’t always make logical sense, and isn’t always logically consistent across seemingly-analogous contexts.
This thread has certainly been informative to me. I feel like I have a better idea of twitter culture (and its strengths and weaknesses as tools have).
And I get why the short form and the need to not ponder before replying is appealing to many (even if its not to me).
But there is still one thing I just don’t get. It seems to me that many people tweet because they feel its more like a closed personal conversation. This is not a trivial distinction because people use it to explain different norms and behaviors (e.g. more snark, more willing to disagree, more humor, more naming names). But its open to the public, permanent and searchable (at least to the same degree as blogs – I do know you can delete things). And people say that even when they have 100s or 1000s of followers. As a result, very often from what I’ve seen at DE, when people start out subtweeting it eventually gets back to the people that it wasn’t supposed to get back to even if they’re not looking for it. In which case this doesn’t seem like a great medium to be lowering the norms of behavior and acting like its a private discussion.
Can anybody explain this to me?
Is being over 50 just too old to truly get modern social media?
The irony of all on the comments on this topic… For some topics on this blog (e.g., Friday links, sometimes social issues) and in some contexts (e.g., throwing in a short opinion on something) a tweet in response seems reasonable enough.
But I come to the blog for the more substantive posts (the rest is just gravy and I do love gravy). My favorite posts often have dozens and dozens of comments, often quite long, and if I had to read all that in twitter format I would not bother. I like being able to reference old posts and their discussions so easily.
I prefer to take it all in by scrolling through without interruption, without (too many) shortcuts in grammar, and in a generally more thought out, concise, and accurate setting.
Twitter has its uses, but I cannot see why anyone would choose it as a method of nuanced, often complex communication.
“The irony of all on the comments on this topic… ”
I was certainly not expecting this post to get as many views and comments as it’s gotten. When I was writing it, I thought of it as filler that would be of interest to only a very small number of people.
I note that it drew all this traffic even though the tweet announcing the post basically wasn’t liked or retweeted by anyone. It’s quite unusual for us for a post to draw a lot of traffic without also being widely retweeted. Not that the bulk of our traffic comes via Twitter (though a non-trivial fraction of it does), just that “lots of views” and “lots of retweets” tend to go hand-in-hand for us.
I have commented on this site only once before. On a post on Scientists in movies. That was it. Kind of my natural proclivity to avoid comment sections since I have a background in journalism and those comments sections are hate-filled, toxic wastelands. I was ruined.
But I read the blog all the time, along with many of the other blogs. In fact, DE posts have sparked conversation on our podcast (Major Revisions) a few times, as have posts on SES and Small Pond, etc.
Succinctly, I think comment sections are just too different from Twitter to be contrasted in the way they have been here. It is certainly not an either/or dichotomy that necessitates either “side” firing back and forth. If you like one or another or both . . . great!
A comment to a blog post, for me, requires me to open up a Word document, type it out, revise it, make sure the wording is reasonable, etc. Because the comment sections become these “living documents” attached to the original posts. There is an activation energy that I don’t have for Twitter. I have already built that community and expended that energy through relationship building. Comments on Twitter are more-in-the-moment, more ethereal. It’s social media, not a living document.
These blogs are vital to the community and I hope (and think) the writers realize this. There is an authority that comes with the platforms that have been created that should be exercised in such a way to foster a diverse, respectful conversation. And that mostly happens—broadly speaking here. If anything the goal should be to figure out how to be more inclusive. I think that involves changing the culture of science broadly more so than just that of comment sections.
(Emily Bernhardt’s address to the SFS is the seminal piece on this for me: https://www.freshwater-science.org/Business/Presidents/2016-Fall-Bernhardt—Being-Kind.cfm )
I enjoy reading the back-and-forth from everyone, though occasionally there is the droning, over-long post similar to when Dr. Greyhair McKnow-it-all is making a bellicose statement instead of asking a question during the Q and A portion of a seminar. Or the dismissive, derisive comment about some aspect of culture or technology one simply doesn’t “understand.” But saying this, I have routinely talked about how Big Bang Theory is terrible. We all have opinions, we all think they matter, but they really don’t. Whatever.
As far as conversation, this has been a pretty good one—and thoughtful. I appreciate the work that Jeremy, Meg, and Brian put in, along with all the other wonderful ecology blogs and the body of knowledge and discussion that has been brought forth into the world.
We as a community, given the authority commanded by these platforms, should hold you all to a high standard (respectfully, of course). That goes for TT professors and senior folk in general. If you are in these positions, you should consider this a sign of respect. If we didn’t think it mattered we wouldn’t subtweet you in the first place.
Thanks for taking the time to share such thoughtful comments Jeff. I’m learning a lot from this thread on how others think about blogs vs. Twitter.
“I have commented on this site only once before. On a post on Scientists in movies. That was it. Kind of my natural proclivity to avoid comment sections since I have a background in journalism and those comments sections are hate-filled, toxic wastelands. I was ruined.”
One thing I’ve learned (or really, been reminded of, and I did need reminding) is how many (most?) people make blanket decisions about Category of Stuff X. They don’t want to spend time and effort making lots of case by case decisions about whether instance x of Category of Stuff X is good or bad. Especially if that would involve sorting through lots of bad instances to find the few good ones. So for instance, your experiences as a journalist soured you on comment sections–all of them (and as an aside I can only imagine how awful it would be to have a professional obligation to read the comment sections on news articles…). Many respondents to our old poll asking readers why they don’t comment said something similar. Lots of people don’t comment here because they have a policy of never writing anything on the internet, and they’re not prepared to make an exception for us, or to figure out for themselves if we’re worth making an exception for. Which is completely reasonable and fine, even though selfishly I of course really appreciate it when somebody does decide to make an exception for us, as you did in commenting just now. I’m also recalling how Margaret Kosmala once related in a comment here how she lurked here for a long time before she decided this was an ok place for her to comment. All of which is a long-winded way of saying I agree with you that I don’t think there’s much that this blog, or any individual blog, can do to attract more and a more diverse mix of commenters, beyond what we’re already doing (moderating the threads, treating those who do decide to comment with respect, etc.)
I’m also realizing that people who make opposing blanket decisions about Category of Stuff X (blog comment threads, Twitter, whatever) can have a hard time not annoying each other. 🙂 I’m not quite sure what to do about this. One answer is for everybody to always just say “Here’s my own purely personal opinion on Category of Stuff X, but your mileage may vary, nobody else has any particular reason to care about my opinion much less adopt it.” I like your summary of this view as the “nobody’s opinion matters, so whatever” view. But on that “whatever” view, it’s a little hard to see why blogs are worth anyone’s time to write or read (well, unless they’re written with no expectation of being read by anyone else, I guess). I mean, this blog is mostly just the opinions of me, Meghan, Brian, and the guest posters. So why is this, or any, blog “vital to the community”, as you put it, if everyone’s got opinions and none of them really matter? Why shouldn’t the discussion community just consist entirely of people tweeting in-the-moment, casual opinions that they don’t expect or want anyone else to adopt, and that will quickly vanish? Honest questions, to which I can imagine various answers. Very interested to hear yours if you’re inclined to keep making an exception for us.
My own answer is one I first learned from a book by a former philosophy prof of mine, Sam Fleischacker’s The Ethics of Culture. Sam’s idea was that an objective universal moral Good exists but isn’t fully knowable. So the different points of view of people from different cultures comprise overlapping, partial, imperfect pictures of the Good. Meaning that, with difficulty (and he emphasized how difficult it was), we can all learn something about the Good through learning from people from other cultures. I think the same basic idea applies to learning about most things, not just ethics (and of course, the idea is far from original to Sam, as he’d be the first to admit). For me, one of the main uses of blogging (not the only use) is a way to think out loud about matters of judgment. Issues on which there isn’t a single universally agreed, obvious, objectively correct Right Answer, but nor is the answer just a matter of arbitrary personal preference like a preference for red shirts over blue ones. So yes, I do have opinions about ecology, science, and academia that I think have enough going for them that others should seriously consider them. And I want to hear others’ opinions and should take those opinions seriously. Even if, at the end of the day, there’s no expectation that we’ll all discover or agree on the One Right Answer.
Re: the importance of this blog being a venue for inclusive and respectful conversation, and having high standards, I agree. I think and hope Meghan, Brian, and I hold ourselves to high standards and do a pretty good job of living up to those standards (though I don’t think we’re perfect, of course). I’m reassured that nobody in this thread has indicated otherwise. Though of course anyone who thinks our comment threads are mostly toxic or otherwise bad wouldn’t be likely to say so here, or maybe even anywhere. If you think some stranger’s blog is terrible, why would you bother saying so, in any venue? And of course, as you point out, the very high standards we try to hold ourselves and our commenters to are one reason some people might not want to comment. If a comment needs to be somewhat thoughtful and polished, well, as you say many people might well not think it worth the effort (which is reasonable, and fine).
Thanks for the thoughtful response.
to my rather flippant comment about “whatever” . . I guess in my mind I make a distinction b/w opinion, e.g. “The Big Bang Theory is a terrible show” vs. the expression of an idea, e.g. “The Big Bang Theory is detrimental to the portrayal of scientists and science in media because of x, y, and z.”
Blogs, vlogs, podcasts, etc, are inherently born from opinions, but excel when they move beyond that. Pure opinions are akin to punditry and if either you or I did that solely, no one would listen to our show and no one would read the blog.
I am going to make a more conscious effort to comment in the future for sure and maybe part of that is my own growth as a scientist or person to be able to feel comfortable with that, in whatsoever comfortable is meaningful there. Margaret’s point is a salient one. The internet can be a nauseating place.
I actually thought you had strong opinions about the scientific theory for which the tv show is named. Your remark makes a lot more sense to me now. 😉
Yes, agree 100% that if this blog was just people expressing opinions without giving good reasons for holding them (and if it didn’t also do other things besides express opinions), most everybody would ignore it and would be right to do so.
“I am going to make a more conscious effort to comment in the future for sure”
I’ll look forward to that, and I’m sure everyone else ’round here will too.
Ha! Yeah, without clarification that would make me seem crazier than perhaps I actually am.
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