Pseudonymity And Criticism Of One's Profession

November 8, 2008

There is a very interesting discussion going on right now at Denialism blog concerning pseudonymity/anonymity and the ethics of “outing” the pseudonymous/anonymous. I don’t want to get into that directly here. Rather I want to address a related point.
It seems that there is an idea floating around that harsh public criticism of aspects of a profession necessarily constitutes hatred of that profession and its practitioners and acolytes, and is tantamount to personal insult and libel of individual members of that profession. It has been asserted that this rises to the level of an “outable” offense when such criticism is made pseudonymously or anonymously.
This pernicious idea needs to be brought out into the open and debunked. Having and expressing strong feelings that a profession, its training system, and even its acolytes and practitioners have flaws is absolutely not inconsistent with devoted, expert, careful participation in that profession and its training system.
The idea that the opposite must be true–that those that point out flaws hate the profession, are illegitimate infiltrators, and must be expelled and/or destroyed–is classical authoritarian follower thinking in its purest and most destructive form. It is exactly the same–and just as absurdly false–as “those who criticize the war in Iraq hate America, are traitors, and should be killed”.

No Responses Yet to “Pseudonymity And Criticism Of One's Profession”

  1. sockittome Says:

    don’t see where there are sane points being made. This guy on denialism sounds positively deranged. He’s going to use any means necessary to hint down or injure anyone he disagrees with? Off kilter man, off kilter…


  2. S. Rivlin Says:

    The anonymity of bloggers is their choice and should be respected and protected. I wish that such would be the case where whistleblowers’ anonymity is concerned. Unfortunately, whistleblowers cannot choose to remain anonymous, a fact that frequently scares potential whistleblowers from blowing the whistle or, if they do, their exposed identity frequently comes at a very high price.
    I suspect that those who attempt to expose a blogger’s identity are driven by the same impulses that drive those who aim at smearing a whistleblower – a punishment for disagreeing with the blogger’s opinion.


  3. I can’t believe that I am about to say this, but I agree with Sol.


  4. Moreover, one could argue that fervent opposition to a cultural segment of a group to which one is dedicated is representative of commitment, rather than aspersion, albeit under the “tough love” category.
    For example, many physicians are absolutely disgusted by and vocally opposed to fellow MDs who have co-opted alternative medicine into academic medical centers of Research I universities (just as I am appalled by natural products chemistry and pharmacology being co-opted by dietary supplement hucksters who have terminal degrees similar to mine.). I find it admirable, and even a professional responsibility, to call out the bastardization of medicine and natural products pharmacology by those who follow and promote non-science-based modalities under the sacred trust a professional degree is intended to confer.


  5. Dr J Says:

    Completely agreed. The whole idea is extremely pernicious. In my experience those that criticize academia from within are doing so not because they hate the profession per se but because they are deeply frustrated at the damage its faults are doing to the profession.
    Myself, I am quite happy to make my criticism of academia in my own name (and have done), but through my blog as a whole this will be done pseudonymously because 1) that is my right and 2) an honest conversation cannot take place if one fears that potential future referees are going to take exception to something or other. What is interesting about the efforts of journals to allow free comments on articles is that very few comments are ever left there – much more can be found on (often anonymous) blogs.
    The other point that people who think that nobody should comment on the inadequacies of this profession miss is that biologists are trained to critically evaluate systems. It is no good complaining when those skills are used to look at the profession (as one must because it is the life to which one is expending much energy).


  6. sockittome Says:

    The third principle of the HONcode (which certifies denialism blog) is:

    Confidentiality of data relating to individual patients and visitors to a medical/health Web site, including their identity, is respected by this Web site. The Web site owners undertake to honour or exceed the legal requirements of medical/health information privacy that apply in the country and state where the Web site and mirror sites are located.

    That doesn’t seem to leave any room for the exceptions MarkH is carving out for himself, does it? Confidentiality regarding the identity of visitors “is respected”. period.


  7. Fred Says:

    Speaking of one’s profession … Drugmonkey, can you elaborate a bit about your position as a nih-funded biomedical research scientist and how you perceive it to be compared to a tenure-track position.


  8. DrugMonkey Says:

    Fred there is considerable overlap between those descriptions so you are going to have to be more specific.


  9. Well written argument, DM.
    Loving your profession means constructively critiquing it and actively seeking out ways in which to make it better.


  10. greg laden Says:

    If you love something, then set it free. If it does not return ….
    … then hint it down and kill it!!!!


  11. DrugMonkey Says:

    Candid that one was PP. You can always tell.
    Cogent, coherent = PP
    rambling impenetrable spaghetti = YHN


  12. D. C. Sessions Says:

    He’s going to use any means necessary to hint down

    I know it’s a typo, but considering that most of what’s under discussion is in cyberspace I love it anyway.


  13. S. Rivlin Says:

    You almost sound like Karl Rove when he realized, while on FIX News contemplating how McCain could win the presidential elections, when he was told that Obama has just won it 😉


  14. Dr. Isis Says:

    I know, Sol. I know. It has completely revolutionized the way I see the world. That and the insight that the Earth is round. Seriously, I had no idea.


  15. S. Rivlin Says:

    You, Isis the Godess, had no idea? Nevertheless, you have no idea how good you have made me feel knowing that you agree with me.


  16. Dr. Isis Says:

    Don’t get comfortable or too cocky, Sol. I’m sure we’ll have occasion to go back to scrappin’ again in the future.


  17. S. Rivlin Says:

    Looking forward to that, my dear!


  18. Nat Says:

    Yeah, this is utter garbage. Most often the people railing against the system do it because in their hearts they love it and want what’s best for it. That doesn’t seem so hard to understand.


  19. Becca Says:

    DM- actually, I mistook this post for yours at first too. The conspicuous lack of swearing and all. Well except the gratuitiously political bit at the end- that part is very CPP.
    Mark Twain said-


  20. DSKS Says:

    From the link,
    “If a blogger is spewing hate-filled white-supremecist rhetoric, I won’t feel so bad about outing him.”
    One ought to feel bad about giving such a person the time of day, let alone legitimizing their crazy ravings by responding, somewhat ironically in this example, like a true technician of Room 101.
    Outing an anon blogger should be a 24-karat no-no, without further discussion required. To take such a line is to guarantee being guilty of one of two things: either cynically defaming a person for no other reason than that one finds their arguments objectionable, or dignifying an internet troll with unearned attention and reducing oneself to like caliber in the process. There’s no win in taking the low road.


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