Saturday, July 16, 2011

Where are the citations?

In a previous post, I spent some time complaining about people who don't provide examples of the things they are criticizing... and yet I did not provide any examples myself!  Savor the ironic hypocrisy for a moment.  I know I'm savoring it.

Anyway, I did have some examples in mind from some time ago, which I would probably not bring up except for aforementioned hypocrisy.

The example is the asexual blogosphere, which, as much as it pains me to generalize, has a habit of not citing the things it criticizes.  We'll begin with Sciatrix.
So in the wake of the shitstorm that’s been happening on Tumblr this week I’ve seen one thing over and over again, and it bugs the shit out of me.
No links or quotes of even one of those times you saw it?  And though I may know which shitstorm is being referenced, not everyone does, and hardly anyone knows which part of the shitstorm it was.

There were lots of other examples (found through Sciatrix' excellent linkspams) about the same drama which similarly failed to provide links or quotes:
Where the fuck is all this ‘heteroromantic aces can’t call themselves queer’ BS coming from? [The title of this post. The question remains unanswered, since no links are provided.]

So there is a situation I’ve ran in to quite a few times that I find rather ironic, and I noticed it just recently from some of the bullies/trolls on tumblr.
[From here.  No links provided when there is a clear opportunity.]

...there's been some massive awfulness directed at asexuals on tumblr and some big livejournal communities I shall not name over the past few weeks...
[Kaz at least has some conviction about not linking drama]

Sooo I know some of you saw that debacle. In sf_d. A lot of you probably didn't? But that's alright because I'm pretty sure the things I want to say here can stand completely separate from that, but I do have a few words to say on that first, as to why I'm now writing a post on it;
[From here.  I think a link still couldn't hurt.]

Another big misconception is the idea that groups are ordered from most privileged to least privileged.
[The worst example.  The drama that inspired it isn't even mentioned.  From Skeptic's Play.]
There are plenty more, not all having to do with the same drama, but that's probably enough--I already feel like a blogging-etiquette nazi.  Hell, let's throw in one more recent example for good measure.

But yeah, providing specific examples of the views being criticized is generally a good thing.  To rehash, this gives opponents a chance to respond, gives allies a chance to join in, shows that you are not making straw men, and reduces confusion over what views are being criticized.

It's jarring to see so many bloggers deliberately missing out on opportunities for citations.  In contrast, I have not seen a single post on elevatorgate in the skeptical blogosphere which did not link to relevant posts.  However, there is still lots of confusion over who is criticizing whom... so yeah.

Since this is an inherently belligerent post, I should remind you of my comment policy: Anything but spam.

23 comments:

SlightlyMetaphysical said...

I've never particularly liked posting just to say 'I agree', but I get the impression you're worried about some backlast from this post from the asexual blogosphere. So I agree.

(I think there are certain things about the tumblr debarcles, the size of them, the fact that it was the constant harrassment that distinguished them rather than any one post, the fact that people didn't want to trawl through a load of painful tumblr posts a second time and then, in linking back to them, alert the trolls and make their posts seem like a direct reaction to any one of them, which would increase hostility, etc. But we should still aim to make citing the default.)

miller said...

Anything that criticizes bloggers is inherently belligerent, since bloggers usually won't lurk.

miller said...

I should add that the tumblr drama did not offer the only examples, it simply offered the clearest examples. There are lots and lots of times when these bloggers criticize a view without offering examples of that view, but for all I know they just couldn't come up with a good example. But in these cases, it is clear that the bloggers have examples, and just refuse to show them.

SlightlyMetaphysical said...

I agree. Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in saying that I think the asexosphere should generally cite things more, I think you're bang on when you say we often don't, but (as a side-note) there were some specific things about the tumblr stuff that made it feel less citable.

childfreeace said...

I'm definitely guilty of not citing the arguments I'm criticizing.

But just from my blog, there are better examples of when I failed at this. In the example you cited, I didn't want to send the other blog a pingback. They are denialists, not legitimate opponents. They could bring up some interesting points but I'd say there's a 99% chance they will troll me or remain in denial. You can call me "oversensitive" if you want, but I don't want to get trolled, so I'm not linking them or any similar "opponents". Too bad.

But perhaps I could link them without a pingback...

Also, I write some responses to things people tell me offline. If there is no citation, that's often the case.

And as for giving opponents an opportunity to respond, they have to actually see your post first. This post for e.g. did not send me a pingback so I only found your post by chance. Other people might not even know you replied to them.

I agree in principle, but I don't know how to implement this. I definitely agree though.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

In the example you cited, I didn't want to send the other blog a pingback.

I don't buy that excuse. What could be better for your point than an inept or dishonest attempt to make the opposite point? We should, I think, want bad arguments to have as much currency as possible.

If we are dedicated to the truth for its own sake, then the truth itself should be paramount over raw popularity.

If the truth -- the whole truth and nothing but the truth -- is on our side, we should fear not. If not, we should change sides.

childfreeace said...

"What could be better for your point than an inept or dishonest attempt to make the opposite point?"

I don't want to be personally attacked, let alone on my own blog.

I would like people to evaluate the strength of my arguments, and make legitimate counterarguments -- of course.

But again, that's not what I'm worried about. I'm avoiding being personally attacked by the members of that blog.

"If we are dedicated to the truth for its own sake, then the truth itself should be paramount over raw popularity."

I'm confused as to how "popularity" is relevant at all.

"If the truth -- the whole truth and nothing but the truth -- is on our side, we should fear not. If not, we should change sides."

I don't "fear" being wrong and taking on the opposite view, but I do fear being attacked personally. Attacking arguments is quite different, as you seem to understand.

miller said...

Childfreeace,
If you have site statistics, you should be able to see posts that link you. I'm not sure if the tumblr bloggers can see incoming links. Pretty much I have no good way of getting the attention of tumblr, since they don't have comments.

Useful tip: you can use the nofollow tag so that the site you link won't get the boost in google-rankings. Won't prevent pingbacks though. I'm more or less of the same opinion as Larry that pingbacks are not such a bad thing. Comment moderation seems like a better way to prevent trolling.

childfreeace said...

If I use comment moderation, I can be accused of "censoring" arguments when I try to shut down trolls. The only way to be sure I'm allowing valuable input is to let them have free run of my blog. I'm not being sarcastic or anything. I really have no good reason stop others from trolling. Other than "I don't like it" and "not on my blog" which aren't really reasons.

Of course I have an "Incoming Links" section in Wordpress, but it has never loaded anything, even though others have linked to me. I can see referrals, but for that, someone would have to click the link first.

I'm (somewhat) aware of nofollow but I don't care too much about others' search engine rankings.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

Other than "I don't like it" and "not on my blog" which aren't really reasons.

They are reasons. They are reasons however, you don't seem to find persuasive.

It really is your blog, and if you don't want to link to posts you're criticizing, you don't have to. On the other hand, skeptics are typically going to find arguments that don't link to the opposition to be unpersuasive. Of course, you have no obligation to persuade anyone.

Sciatrix said...

When you asked why I hadn't linked to those posts on a later linkspam, I explained why I had left them out initially--because collecting them and citing specific sources would have been detrimental to my mental health. (In fact even just collecting them the second time ended up being pretty problematic for me; I spent something like two hours seriously upset and trying to make myself close the tags after I collected the links for you the second time.) I decided a looooooong time ago that my mental health took priority over my blog, and that still stands now.

Another factor in my decision not to link to negative posts in that particular post was that I was responding to a general trend I had seen, not a specific post. In that situation, I tend not to think to link to people espousing the general trend I've seen because I'm talking about a general and not a specific, and I tend to only link when I want to deconstruct something specific. That tendency is something I should work on, but I consider this a very different beast from the lack of citations on my post responding to the ontd_feminism/tumblr incident. Tl;dr: I think you're correct in the general, but in the specific I do stand by my choice not to provide links on that post.

Sciatrix said...

Okay, what the hell, Blogger--it's telling me parts of this comment have gone through but not posting them? This part was meant to go before the previous one.


Tried to post most of this last night, but Blogger ate it.

Honestly? In the case of that particular incident, I didn't provide links out of a combination of my not wanting to revisit sites I knew very well were going to trigger me (the reason I didn't link the relevant Livejournal posts) and Tumblr being completely and utterly confusing as a system. Sam's not kidding when he says there are some mitigating factors with this particular imbroglio that made it especially likely that links were left out.

I also did assume that most people reading my blog knew what was going on, which I probably shouldn't have done. Notes for the future on that.

Blog etiquette isn't always the same across all communities, either. It's actually not uncommon in some circles to avoid sending traffic to negative locales, especially if the post one is responding to can be easily Googled. Admittedly, I should have included more identifying factors in the history of the particular imbroglio I was responding to in order to make it easier to find if I wasn't going to link it.

Sciatrix said...

Also, speaking just for myself--I really, really wish Tumblr had not become such a hub of asexual discussion. It is the crappiest, most miserable format I have ever seen when it comes to linking posts and archiving things. People change their URLs and delete blogs all the time. There is no search function either across the site or on specific blogs, and the site doesn't show up on general blog search indexes like Blogpulse either. If you don't grab the link of a given post quickly, it's gone into the depths and you're stuck reading through either everything that person has ever posted or everything on your feed. Add that to the fact that Tumblr encourages a high number of short posts in a relatively short time and navigating something like the sexual privilege fiasco is nearly impossible. I recently did attempt to diagram the layout of a recent, much smaller imbroglio as part of a rhetorical point and that took me two hours to assemble a total of five links because finding them was so difficult.

Seriously, Tumblr makes things ridiculously difficult to cite because of how decentralized and poorly designed the site is. I suspect that just the fact that so many people are using that platform as their primary blogging platform is a major reason that citations may be uncommon.

Sciatrix said...

Regarding Larry's discussions re: "objective truth", I think Larry fails to realize that not all discussions have an objective truth that can be discerned by measuring and quantifying the data. In the case of the arguments I am generally making about asexuality, arguments may win or fall based on their strength, but science and quantitative data measuring usually can't even remotely enter the picture. For instance, "is asexuality queer?" "Queer" is a social category with a variety of meanings. How exactly do you think we should come to an objective truth on that? Instead, what we can do is decide whether specific arguments are stronger or weaker, but that's inherently subjective to some degree.

The arguments a person makes when discussing skepticism, which says something about how the universe is set up--something that can be objectively tested--are very different, I think, than the arguments a person makes when discussing queer and asexual issues. When I'm discussing asexuality, objective truth is not actually my goal. My goal is usually to try to make the world a slightly safer or better place for asexuals. I think that asking for objective truth in a queerness space is a fundamental misunderstanding of the different goals that different types of activism have.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

Regarding Larry's discussions re: "objective truth"...

You don't care what I think, one way or the other, so why are you talking to me?

miller said...

I think you must not be very familiar with skeptical bloggers if you think it's all science and quantitative data. In particular, my point of comparison, elevatorgate, was not about skepticism at all, but about feminism within the skeptical community. It was about a guy who made a pass at a girl in an elevator, and the recursive cascade of disagreements that followed. I am sure that some people in the skeptical community felt triggered over it, but I'm not sure how they resolved that.

In any case, failing to cite opponents slightly damages one's credibility (not to mention creates an obstacle to allies joining in), and I do not feel that this effect is mitigated by having reasons not to cite opponents, no matter how good those reasons are.

As a skeptic, the first example that comes to mind of a community that systematically fails to link its opponents is the Creationist community. It is not a favorable comparison!

Sciatrix said...

Well, yeah, but I'm not sure I'd call that purely objective. I tend to assume "objectivity" is something that can be, well, objectively proven and quantified. I don't view social rules (such as "whether it is okay to treat women as always accessible for dates") as inherently objective things, for example.

My point isn't that skeptic blogging is always objective, it's that skepticism as a movement focuses around a question that can be approached objectively: is there or is there not a god? I'm not saying that skeptic blogging talks about nothing else, because that's demonstrably false. I am saying that discussions like Elevatorgate, centering on the skepticism movement itself and the level of misogyny contained therein, are tangential to that central question. On the other hand, asexual blogging--at least, my asexual blogging--focuses around an entirely different kind of question: how can we make the world a better place for asexual people? That's not a question that has a single answer. It's not a question that is as easy to approach objectively, either, because different people will have very different answers, many of which may be correct.

*shrugs* From a purely functional viewpoint--if I had unlimited energy and time to put into my blog--I agree with you, as I mentioned earlier. From a personal standpoint, as someone who's actually putting about as much emotional and mental energy into my blog as I have to spare, there are occasionally times when I sacrifice blog quality in order to take care of myself. I need my own mental health to be my highest priority when I work with my blog. I'm really not going to apologize for that.

(The other option I could take is not to cite all the time and be perfect about linking to things even when I find them triggering. The other option is in fact to not write at all. Perfectly citing everything I comment on is probably never going to be a reality for me--even if I think that citing more often, when triggering things like ontd_feminism are not involved, is a realistic and reasonable goal.)

I should note that in my experience, people who are triggered in a given discussion tend to simply vanish from the conversation. I haven't been following Elevatorgate as closely as I could have, but I am guessing that the people who are suffering the most emotional harm from the discussion have simply chosen to disengage and focus on self care.

There's also a variety of reasons that people who are triggered by particular discussions tend not to discuss that reaction, especially publicly, even if they choose not to disengage. Sharing pain like that can feel like exposing vulnerability, which is not something you do to someone who may have just hurt you. That may be why you haven't seen much discussion of people who are having strongly unpleasant emotional responses to the discussion.

Captain Heartless said...

So I have to say, despite being one of your examples, I generally agree. I've written quite a bit and this might take two posts (sorry! I'm terrible at editing, especially in such a tiny comment box).

The thing is that on tumblr I usually don't end up citing my opponents for a few reasons. The first is that it's tumblr, where it is a pain to find old posts and link to them. Other times I'm just thinking of friends and family that I know offline, at which point I can't cite other than to effectively say "some people I know".

The second point is that, with most of the tumblr debacles, my audience is never the trolls- it's the people who I'm assuming are reading my blog, and usually my goal is just to go over a possible dialectic they might run in to when talking about asexuality. A few times I tried re-blogging the trolls and responding point by point in an argument form (regarding my linked article here, I was reacting to a small point in a long post I reblogged two or three days before, which I had assumed everyone had read). But they rarely ever responded, and never wanted to actually argue or debate. Which made me realize that the discussions on tumblr are not areas for arguments- even if I'd love for them to be that way. The fact is that I will usually find more professional arguments at a bar than I will on tumblr, so I'm usually incredibly lazy regarding tumblr posts now. If someone responds and challenges something, I'll gladly start being more professional, but otherwise my blog will just be random musings and not at all professional.

Finally, the last thing is that I'm rarely arguing against specific people- I'm arguing against abstract ideas. If graftversushost or partysoft wanted to respond, that's great. But I don't want people to read that my argument is directed at just two people and then immediately assume it doesn't apply to anyone else or that they can't step in and try to argue against me- because after all, offline I tend to get the same responses over and over again, so it's rare that it's just one person who is saying something wrong. Yet people almost always assume that their new argument against asexuality isn't the exact same as the one I just responded to (and yes, this is mostly people offline who I can't cite- most of my experience with asexuality is not from the internet).

Captain Heartless said...

Anyways, I should probably do a more thorough analysis of your post rather than just explaining myself:

An opinion essay that criticizes a belief no one holds doesn't necessarily fail. It could be arguing that no one ever should hold that belief, or it could be set up so that if someone does come to decide to hold that belief in the future then it will be arguing with them, or it could just be using the position they are against as a starting point for building their own position. For example, I could write an essay that starts off by responding to a solipsist (or perhaps someone who is skeptical of the existence of the physical world), and then goes in to developing my own theory. Whether or not such a solipsist exists would be irrelevant because that's not the point- the point is to flesh out a new idea, often in contrast to the starting position. Rather, pieces that don't cite opponents only fail when their main purpose is to attack a specific opponent.

Regarding wondering whether or not something is criticizing you: this shouldn't be a concern. If something is trying to straw man you and pin a belief you don't hold on you, it is worthless and should be ignored (unless you really want to spend the time to respond). If it is really attacking that belief system which is inferior to yours, then it's not attacking you so who cares (but of course you could respond and say, "but what if they changed their position to ____", which is what I would usually do in such a situation).

And if you are on the same side as the critic: why should the prevalence of such beliefs matter? If the critic has addressed them well and defeated them, no more criticism is necessary. If there is a possible flaw in the criticism, then more criticism is necessary. Whether or not a belief is widely held doesn't matter for critics or arguments- it matters for politics, but if one's intent is theoretical that doesn't matter. If one's intent is political, that's another story- but then all of the rules regarding arguments change, and it's no longer about truth or good argumentation as much as it is about tactics and persuasion- which, sadly, rarely line up with truth and good arguments. But navigating how to combine theory and politics is a tricky subject that I could write quite a lot about and still not get anywhere.

Anyways, that's not to say I disagree. I don't think citing opponents hurts- at the very least it makes for a better post- and I should do that more often. But ultimately I'm rarely writing for the purpose of good argumentation and more often just to get people thinking or to record and reflect upon my own experiences. Of course, should I end up in an argument, I would definitely want to act differently.

Anyways, that's my best attempt at a response, although like I said I think you are right here (but I still wanted to throw some thoughts in and be contrary for the sake of being contrary, and for fun).

miller said...

Sci,
The point I was making is that elevatorgate concerned things which are potentially triggering and not objective, and yet people still linked their opponents. However, I agree that people who were triggered probably simply decided not to participate. I also admit this option is more viable in the skeptical blogosphere, where there is no shortage of other voices.

Captain Heartless,
A comparison comes to mind from atheist discourse. It's very common for religious people to object to atheist arguments by saying that they're attacking a religion that no one believes in. Usually the best response is not to say you're attacking a hypothetical opponent, but to show the existence of people with such strange beliefs. In asexual discourse, similar statements are made expressing incredulity that anyone would have a problem with people who don't have sex. I would suggest similar responses are called for.

Captain Heartless said...

Ah, yeah, that makes sense. I guess that's the whole "asexuals don't face oppression" bit, to which citations are definitely the best response.

childfreeace said...

Ok then. Last response. I won't link to content so long as I think I'll get trolled or otherwise baselessly attacked for it. I will link to it as long as there's no good reason not to. I realize that my reasons don't matter -- as long as the content is not linked, my post won't be taken seriously. That's fine by me.

miller said...

Oh god, I just found out Sciatrix had some comments trapped in the spam filter for two months. I'm really sorry about that. It happens infrequently enough that I rarely check the spam filter.

I let through one non-duplicate comment, which is the second one at 7:25 AM. I strongly agree that Tumblr is a terrible format. I already knew that Tumblr is a drama factory, and that people without accounts can't comment, but I did not know that it did not even have a search function. This is likely a contributing factor. I have never read a skeptical or atheist tumblr.