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I have been suspended from skeptics recently for "rudeness". I have written the following on physics regarding rudeness rules and rudeness in general:

In any human society, whenever a person isn't following natural rules of etiquette, this person is shooting himself or herself in the foot, since people will tend not to listen to something that sounds rude. Nobody in the history of the world has ever achieved better results by being impolitic, so it is not in anyone's self-interest to behave contrary to etiquette. You don't have to keep people from doing something which is against their best interest, they'll do that all by themselves. This is why etiquette is a fixture of all human societies, and this is why it is taught to young children.

My position is that this fixture of human society makes science impossible. Therefore one must violate etiquette at all times, suck it up, and take the blows. You aren't doing yourself a favor, but if enough people do it, the discourse improves, and science becomes possible.

The reason science is incompatible with etiquette is because of the first rule of politics: "when you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all". Applying this maxim led to Aristotlism, geocentric model and phlogiston, and meant that nobody was willing to criticize these. So you need to violate this rule of etiquette in order to do science, you have to call out nonsense as you see it.

Now the thing is, etiquette is etiquette, and if you violate one rule, in the eyes of the etiquette brigade, you violated them all. So the people who get targeted by etiquette rules are those who speak bluntly and challenge a position. Further, you only apply the rules when somebody is listening, because nobody bothers to enforce rules against people who are being ignored anyway. So you only end up applying etiquette rules in situations where they are censoring somebody.

I challenge someone to come up with one example of a user who violated an etiquette rule anywhere who was punished for it and the result was harmony. I can give many examples of users who did nothing of the sort who were accused of violating etiquette, because people didn't like what they were saying, and wanted to shut them up.

The general pattern of the use of etiquette rules means that science is incompatible with etiquette rules. More generally, any academic discourse is harmed by enforcing etiquette, and some, like philosophy, end up damaged beyond repair. All discourse is improved by throwing out the etiquette book altogether, and having absolutely no rules regarding how you say things (other than requiring legibility and prohibiting spam). People who wish to say "You are stupid, and your arguments sound like they were written in poop on toilet paper on an insane asylum, and oh yeah, you're ugly!" are not doing anyone else any damage--- nobody listens to them anyway. But these people don't really exist, except as imaginary straw-men brought up when you want to set up your etiquette rules.

... (irrelevant stuff deleted) This kind of politics destroyed Wikipedia around 2008-2010, where nearly all the major long-term contributors were purged, and article writing/editing dramatically halted. For example, I got banned from Wikipedia after I was told by the administrators that I could no longer speak in favor of unbanning Brews Ohare, a retired engineering professor who was having long (in my opinion misguided) discussions about the speed of light. It is important to make sure that this doesn't happen here.

The only way to do that is to take a firm stand against any sort of [etiquette] rules, and to make sure people aren't doing politics at all, but only looking at content. It is easiest to be sure of this when people are rude, since you can be darn sure a rude person isn't doing politics.

I firmly believe this, and I hope to bring this to the attention of people higher up. There is nothing to be gained from formal etiquette rules on a site with voting, rude people are downvoted anyway, and the system naturally rewards cooperation. What rudeness rules are used for is to shut people up, to censor them, and this damages the usefulness of stackexchange beyond repair.

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Any response to this I can think of is rude. Well played! ;) –  Yannis Oct 27 '12 at 22:09
"But these people don't really exist, brought up as imaginary straw-men" ... you should serve as a Stack Overflow moderator for a day. I think you'll find those people do exist, but they get censored quickly. And thank goodness for that! :) –  Pëkka Oct 27 '12 at 22:22
"It is easiest to be sure of this when people are rude, since you can be darn sure a rude person isn't doing politics." Just to be clear: you're saying that rudeness is never, ever found in political arguments? –  David Robinson Oct 28 '12 at 1:40
@DavidRobinson: Yes, I am. Direct rudeness is extremely rare in political arguments, it is something that costs you support. This is why you never hear honest debate in political squabbles, rather you get push on minor-issues on the margin of current status quo, rather than principled discussions of deep issues. This is ok for politics, it's not ok for science. –  Ron Maimon Oct 28 '12 at 15:06
It's not OK for politics either, but whatever... I personally prefer the truth, but one doesn't have to be nasty while dishing it out. –  Robert Harvey Oct 28 '12 at 22:02
How on earth is "rudeness" being defined here, and why would an "honest" debate in "political squabbles" require it? When I think of rudeness, I think of attacks that get personal or that use crude language, yet I see no reason why that is required in politics (where the focus of the debate is on policies) or science (where the focus of the debate is on theories and models of the world). –  mike4ty4 Jun 25 at 0:39

8 Answers 8

In 3 years on Stack Overflow, almost all rudeness I have observed was of the destructive sort, with very few exceptions - one of them a user in the PHP tag who always knew his stuff, and was a godsend on a professional level, but also was so exceedingly abrasive that he was a net negative influence: where people started quabbling with him, any chance of reaching actual results was lost in the turmoil of emotion.

Rudeness, in my online experience, is toxic to the athmosphere, the community, and the business of calmly answering questions based on facts. I kinda see where your theory is coming from and in a way, I also kinda agree (yes, etiquette can be used as a tool of oppression, preserving the status quo, etc. and that needs fighting against), but it's not a sane basis for the interactions of a community of human beings. At least not a community that I want to be a part of, thank you very much.

I'm entirely happy with the way rudeness is moderated on the SE network, and wouldn't want to see it change. I can not remember an instance where I felt a serious, important viewpoint was suppressed during the enforcing of politeness.

If you want to be active in a largely unmoderated forum that tolerates and even welcomes rudeness, you can always resort to YouTube and its comments section.

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Was he a Colonel? –  jmort253 Oct 27 '12 at 22:17
@jmort yessir! --- –  Pëkka Oct 27 '12 at 22:18
@Ron - for what it's worth, I'm totally convinced you are for real and arguing all this in good faith and not for trolling or anything. I'd like to see you stick around on these sites. But you'll have to pay at least some attention to the consensuses that have been worked out on these sites, otherwise it won't work. –  Pëkka Oct 27 '12 at 22:22
@Pekka: Unfortunately, I must opt-out of any place where rudeness rules are actually enforced, and this limits me to physics, mathematics and biblical hermeneutics stack-exchanges, where moderators do not enforce these rules at all. On physics, this is de-factor policy, since Motl, myself, and many others believe in rudeness deeply, as a principle. Anywhere rudeness rules are enforced by sanctions, they are censorious, and they damage the answers beyond repair. This is not something I will change my mind on, I will continue to advocate for this, without wavering. –  Ron Maimon Oct 28 '12 at 15:03
@Ron fair enough. I think you are being too extreme on this; civility does absolutely not have to damage answers beyond repair. But I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. –  Pëkka Oct 28 '12 at 15:07
@Pekka: No, I will not agree to disagree, I will forcefully demand that you, and everyone else, change your mind, and hopefully sooner rather than later. –  Ron Maimon Oct 28 '12 at 21:00
@Ron you're not really presenting much of a compelling case for it IMO. If you had examples of how enforcing civility destroys valuable content... I think you're failing to appreciate that the vast majority of people uses rudeness just to be dicks and to get to other people, not to find truth. That's not propaganda, that's everyday reality. –  Pëkka Oct 28 '12 at 22:17
@Pekka: I think the case is presented well by the pattern of deletion of nietzsche answers on philosophy: I asked the question "Is Nietzsche a Racist?" (it was phrased very tactfully--- but he is a racist, there is no doubt), and it was eventually deleted, and rudeness rules were used to attack me personally, as I was accused of calling others racists (I only accused n.). With rudeness rules you are giving a gun to censorious forces, you can basically accuse anyone whose discourse doesn't match the upper class, or who makes enemies. This is basically all the people you want to have around. –  Ron Maimon Oct 29 '12 at 2:07

The problem with the firmly held belief that the Earth was the center of the universe was not one related to etiquette, but instead one related to oppression and control.

The people who lived during those times were not disallowed from being rude. Instead, they were completely silenced, as the ideas they presented were a threat to the religious status-quo.

Galileo had no option to politely disagree. He was completely shut down. In some societies, even today, people are put to death for simply disagreeing.

Disagreeing and rudeness is not the same thing. If you disagree with something I've said, it's possible that you and I can be utterly frank with each other in expressing our opinions. You're also more likely to convince me to see things from your point of view with facts, evidence, and compelling data to support your case.

But if our conversation degrades into me calling you stupid and telling you to shut up, then that's when the learning stops. There's no longer a debate about what is right; instead, the message you're trying to convey is lost.

Note that I couldn't see what you wrote that the Skeptics mods deemed offensive. I am assuming they deleted the comments, so I'm not saying you called anyone stupid; I'm just using the above scenario as an example.

When getting into a heated debate with someone, there is no rule here that says you can't disagree with them, but try to do your best to stick to constructive arguments and avoid personal accusations. From looking at most of your activity on Skeptics, your contributions overall appear to be pretty positive.

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what if used my intelligence (which is not especially high but i think i'm pretty normal, not below averate) to make it seem that everything you wrote in answer, was at least arguable, if not downright wrong? and what if i then blithely ignored every fact and every logical deduction you made trying to teach me about the whatever, and instead used your every remark as a level to add further insinuations and negative associations, all the time in an apparently polite way? then, i'd organize a bunch of people over at reddit or wherever, to downvote your (correct) answer, and upvote my comments? –  Alf P. Steinbach Oct 27 '12 at 22:54
@Alf that would be rather rude. Did that actually happen? In the context of this discussion? –  Pëkka Oct 27 '12 at 22:58
it's happened a few times (i think 3) to me, on SO. and i've seen it happen to others. the worst case of reddit-based downvoting on SO that I know was to a posting by Hans Passant. people have attempted this in Usenet forum where I'm a moderator, but generally there it's been stopped before it escalated. it's less common in such forums, i believe because with support for real discussion, it's much more difficult (intellectually challenging) to put over an impression that is contrary to the facts. –  Alf P. Steinbach Oct 27 '12 at 23:01
@Alf that totally sucks, I remember when it happened to Hans Passant and was outraged. But I'm not sure I see how it relates to jmort's answer, are you supporting or refuting his argument? I'm sure we can categorize that kind of activity in the "calling someone stupid and telling them to shut up" department no matter how politely things may be put –  Pëkka Oct 27 '12 at 23:05
@Pekka: You don't call someone stupid, you call their answer stupid. You don't tell them to shut up, you ask them to delete their answer, because it is wrong. These two activities are required to keep discourse honest, and they are not tolerated on philosophy, skeptics, christianity, because they are considered rude. I don't care if they are rude, they are essential for an internet forum to function honestly. –  Ron Maimon Oct 28 '12 at 20:58
No, we don't ask someone to delete his or her answer because it is wrong. We downvote it. This won't always find truth, but who ever said that these sites were an appropriate forum or format for finding the truth? –  Rosinante Oct 29 '12 at 2:31
@Rosinante: I say that. All you need to do is not give guns to the censors, and then you get truth. It's the first law of the internet. –  Ron Maimon Oct 29 '12 at 2:43
If it's not a forum for finding truth, then what is? And what is SE? a forum for consensus? –  Milind R Apr 27 at 18:18
@Ron Maimon: Saying someone's answer is wrong is not "rude" to me. It's honesty. Though I think "stupid" may be pushing it a little bit, but I don't see why the terms "wrong" and "false" are rudeness in the way I think of it. –  mike4ty4 Jun 25 at 0:43
@mike4ty4: The way you think of it makes no difference at all. What matters is how people with power think of it. The way it works is that you get "vibes" associated to you, and the more you criticize, whether correctly or incorrectly, it doesn't matter, the more negative the vibes get. Your vibe-score is generally the sum of the times you were flagged for rudeness, and anything with blunt language criticizing a position is flagged by someone, not you, because having your wrong ideas challenged is offensive. This is the mechanism by which criticism is silenced. The easiest fix: no power. –  Ron Maimon Sep 26 at 23:50
@Ron Maimon: Yet that opens the door to intentional insults and other forms of petty "debate" that are not valid criticism but just plain childishness. This results in a degradation of the quality of discussion, and turns the site into yet another juvenile craphole and nothing productive comes out of it. In your case, I cannot say, as I have not been able to see any of the posts of yours which were flagged as "rude" nor any of the situations in which such flaggings occurred. –  mike4ty4 Sep 27 at 5:45
@Ron Maimon: Also, someone getting "butthurt" because their idea was shown wrong does NOT have a valid etiquette complaint, nor is it a violation of "etiquette" to show someone's idea wrong. Rather, their hurt shows a thin skin and too much emotional attachment on their part to the challenged idea(s). So, contrary to your OP, there is no need to "violate etiquette all the time". It is a violation of etiquette if you specifically intend your post to hurt their feelings, or to attack them as a person and not their views, and in those cases I have no sympathy for such behavior. –  mike4ty4 Sep 27 at 5:51

Every community/society has rudeness rules. They have to exist. We teach our children that certain behaviours are not considered polite - this is no different in any community and is part of what defines it.

You live in a larger world now.

What is acceptable in your society may not be acceptable in another, or the larger world as such.

If you wish to be part of this other/larger world, you need to adapt your behaviour or accept being branded an outcast (at least until you have changed the opinions of the majority).

In other words - grow up (or am I being rude?).

My point of view is very personal - having moved to England from Israel (Hi Ron, perhaps we were neighbours once?), I had to adjust. I am now married to a Brit, who firmly believes that 99.9% of Israeli are rude... Different standards.

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I don't mind being rude, and, unfortunately, my faith in science does not allow me to grow up in this way. I just ask that rudeness be socially enforced by kind suggestions to shape up, not by banning and sanctions and the like. –  Ron Maimon Oct 28 '12 at 14:59
@Ron Maimon: I see no reason why science requires "rudeness". Though I see you define using the term "wrong" to refer to an answer as a form of rudeness, so if you want to define it that way I suppose you can say it "requires rudeness". But that's not how I think of the term when I hear it. If you can say an argument or answer is wrong and back that up with logic, that's not rudeness, that's rational debate. –  mike4ty4 Jun 25 at 0:44
@Ron Maimon: In other words, I cannot see any reason why "science" and "rudeness" would have anything whatsoever to even do with each other. Science is about QUESTIONING things, not about being mean to people. Saying an argument is wrong + backed up with logic is not intended to be mean -- if the person gets upset that their view was challenged then that's their problem. –  mike4ty4 Jun 25 at 0:45
@mike4ty4: Your view sounds reasonable, but you are hopelessly naive regarding power. When there's somebody with censorship power, the moment you start criticizing something that this person believes, and you do so bluntly, this person is tempted to use the rudeness rules to get rid of you. Yes, there are also lots of people who are surprised that the rudeness is being applied to what is ultimately abstract criticism, but you have to understand that abstract criticism is all you find on a site like this. Shutting up critics is all that rudeness rules are for. They must be abolished. –  Ron Maimon Sep 26 at 23:47
@Ron Maimon: If a person is using rudeness rules against criticism of THEMSELVES that is not in clear and blatant violation, then that should be considered problematic by the community. By "clear and blatant violation" I mean something like if you had called them a "little idiot lemming monkey" or something like that -- if you or anyone else called them that and they censored that "criticism" of themselves, I would be totally behind them and you would have no sympathy. But if what you said were not so clear-cut, censoring it would be problematic. This is how it is on Wikipedia. –  mike4ty4 Sep 27 at 5:42
(or should be, at least) –  mike4ty4 Sep 27 at 5:43

I might accept your argument as applied to scientific discourse. I might not. I'm not a member of any of the science communities here, and it's not for me to tell them how to operate.

Stackoverflow.com, on the other hand, isn't science. It's engineering. How Java works is not a theoretical question. It's a practical one. By definition of the venue, any question that belongs on stackoverflow is not looking for an answer about a theory. There's no Schumpeterian creative destruction to do. There's no Thomas S. Kuhn-ian revolution that takes place from time to time that changes the right answer to the questions. The community can deal with the moral equivalent of bizarre ideas about gravity without having to be rude to anyone.

So, as I see it, your argument, to use your chosen tone, is bullshit.

Reverting to my usual preferred tone, I just don't buy it. There's always room for civil discourse. We have a moderation system so that disruptive or crazy stuff can be pushed aside; there's no need to call someone stupid to accomplish that task. I note that you don't cite any evidence that skeptics has a problem that only rudeness can cure, or, indeed, that skeptics has any problem at all. So you're entire tirade is just floating in the air.

Rudeness is just bullying, if you ask me, and if you can't make a functional intellectual discourse without it, either the venue is broken or the subject is broken. In the case of philosophy, I'd pick the subject, but I doubt anyone here wants to read an extended discussion of that question.

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That's a fair argument regarding the Stackoverflow site, where the questions are engineering. But even in engineering there are poitical forces, for example, Dijkstra's "goto statement considered harmful", the 1970s paper against parallel computing, and Tannenbaum's position in the Tannebaum Torvalds debate come to mind. It is essential to allow the creative destruction to take place. It is more essential on science sites in the network, and it is especially essential on skeptics, where the whole point is to challenge dogmatic claims that have insufficient evidence. –  Ron Maimon Oct 28 '12 at 20:52
Well, we've decided that these fora are not the place for arguments about gotos and the like. As for skeptics, ok, fine, there are sacred cows to barbecue, but I'm not buying the argument that inhumane slaughter is called for. –  Rosinante Oct 28 '12 at 20:54
Any form of slaughter is percieved as inhumane by the cow, just as all dissent is percieved as rudeness where political dogma holds sway. –  Ron Maimon Oct 28 '12 at 20:57
You seem to me to have converted this from an argument about civil discourse to an argument about the meaning of the word 'rude'. If you think that your postings are civil and they are being dinged for rudeness, I'd advise you to contact the team. Something tells me, however, that you're not going to agree. –  Rosinante Oct 28 '12 at 21:01
I am saying that all blunt criticism is dinged for rudeness, no matter how it is phrased. The point of rudeness rules is censorship. They are never used to get rid of cussing cranks, they are used to censor knowledgable people who rub the community the wrong way, and create "negative vibes", like quoting the above: "one of them a user in the PHP tag who always knew his stuff, and was a godsend on a professional level, but also was so exceedingly abrasive that he was a net negative influence..." These people are your most valuable resource, protect them from censorship. –  Ron Maimon Oct 28 '12 at 21:08
I disagree. We have plenty of people who bring exactly the same value as the aforementioned user, but who hardly ever rub anyone the wrong way. The user in question was an outlier in affect but not in value. Several of us made an effort to help him cope with his frustration with the parade of cargo-cultists asking PHP questions, but in the end he decided to fade out, I think, to improve his own blood pressure -- not because we 'censored' him. –  Rosinante Oct 28 '12 at 21:14
Sorry @RonMaimon, that Colonel guy was just a jerk. He could have said the things he did without being nasty about it. He attacked people right out of the gate with no provocation... I've made the same points with people and had them leaving feeling good instead. –  jmort253 Oct 28 '12 at 21:15
I think the only way to convert this from a discussion of semantics to a discussion of substance would be to discuss an actual example. @jmort253 and I might claim that some posting of yours could be 'civilized' without damage. You might disagree. On the other hand, we might agree with you that it was already civil and that the community was acting as you claim. However, I'm just not interested enough to wade into such a dispute on skeptics, and I don't believe that one exists on SO. –  Rosinante Oct 28 '12 at 21:17
And I don't participate on the sites Ron does, so I really have no educated opinion on them. Some sites are rougher than others though due to the audience... so that is likely where people run into issues. –  jmort253 Oct 28 '12 at 21:19
@jmort253: The issue is universal to all human organization, and people are always under the delusion that the rudeness and jerky behavior is "unnecessary". It is most necessary, as it serves as an automatic test of whether politics is allowed to censor discussions on the site. One must be a jerk, if only in order to see if other jerks are tolerated. There is no nice way to say "This answer is wrong", tactfulness is a sell-out to the high-class folks, and tactfulness is against certain people's religion, including my own. This is enshrined by Pauli as a principle of physics discourse. –  Ron Maimon Oct 29 '12 at 2:11
Well, I hope you enjoy your life amongst the intellectual Laestrygonians. My religion is quite to the contrary. –  Rosinante Oct 29 '12 at 2:27
@Rosinante: Well then, I request that you change your religion. –  Ron Maimon Oct 29 '12 at 3:45
@Ron maybe the real discussion that needs to be had here is "what is rudeness?" - I don't think you'll find anyone here who thinks that "this answer is wrong" is rude. –  Pëkka Oct 29 '12 at 7:37
@Pekka: You are totally wrong. Each statement to this effect has a cumulative effect of producing one more enemy, and each enemy will interpret blunt forceful disagreement as rudeness, and each other enemy will agree and reinforce this, leading to ostracizing the critic and shutting out experts. This is exactly why rudeness rules are put in place--- to allow collective censorship of unpopular ideas. It is a trick of the demons, who want to shut blunt-speaking up. –  Ron Maimon Oct 29 '12 at 12:32
@Ron Maimon: I am sure not going to change mine. | "allow collective censorship of unpopular ideas" This complaint would better be used to argue how the rules are used, not the rules themselves. In that case what is called for is greater wisdom and discretion on the part of the moderator. It's just that those are, unfortunately, hard to come by. –  mike4ty4 Jun 25 at 1:04

I'm going to waste everyone's time with a second answer here, because I had a moment of inspiration about this soggy mess overnight.

When the trilogy started out, it was entirely about computers. People who work with computers are certainly capable of heated arguments, but, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever been burned at the stake over an argument about the relative merits of teco and vi.

Then we got area51, and proposals for sites on topics which have far lower combustion threshold temperatures. (In the case of Physics, we perhaps also got a site owned by a community that has a widespread norm of very blunt speaking.)

The people who set out to set up Christianity were faced with a daunting problem: how do you operate a 'QA' site on a topic over which any number of wars have been fought. The literal, people get dead, kind of wars.

Note that these are QA sites. There are not discussion forums to seek philosophical truth, or the modern equivalent of medieval 'disputations' between Christians and Jews in which the Jews lost either way. They are intended to be forums in which experts answer questions from non-experts. Of course, experts will disagree on some things, but for a site to be successful in this format, those cases have to be the minority.

In any case, the initial moderators and such of some of these site on hot-button topics decided to adopt a very conservative approach to dealing with controversial topics: very tight moderation. Call it censorship? OK, if you want, call it censorship. I'd call it an experiment to see if you can do a QA site, at all, on the subject.

Ron Maimon, the OP here, finds this approach deeply disturbing and offensive. In his own words, it's 'against his religion.' Well, OK, Ron, then the sites that adopt this approach are not for you.

Ron goes on to try to generalize his point of view to argue that his point of view -- that all attempts to moderate for civility are inevitably bad, and that any site, on any topic, that does anything of the kind, is doomed to failure.

Well, stackoverflow.com is a funny kind of a failure.

It is interesting to me that the management has chosen to allow the entire spectrum from the sites he objects to on the one extreme to the physics site on the other. (Always taking his descriptions at face value.) Most sites here, of course, are in the middle; and most of the commentary here has been from people who spend their time curating the middle and who aren't too interested in being told that they are committing some sort of crime.

In any case, the bottom line here is that "the management" has chosen to allow sites to operate with the rules of engagement that Ron objects to. Maybe those site's will fail by his criteria of failure, and maybe they'll fail by the management's criteria.

I think that there are two clear things here: (1) the management is terminally disinterested in hosting sites that consist of a food-fight about a topic like Christianity. That's not a path to commercial success. If Ron or anyone else things that such a venue should exist, pardon the expression, God bless them in their endeavour to set it up elsewhere. (2) The communities of the many middle-of-the-road sites are not interested in being told that their moderation of incivility is evil or doomed to failure.

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I have to upvote this +1. The problem is not that the site is a total failure--- it is the closest thing to realizing the promise of usenet that we have. But it has difficulties of censorship that are easily circumvented by avoiding rudeness rules. The perception that rudeness harms a site like Christianity is possibly justified by the historical pattern of killing, but on a site like skeptics, to enforce the rudeness rules leads to unpopular true ideas getting censored. This whole skeptics bruhaha started when I tried to explain the abiogenic theory of oil, a Soviet theory lost in the fall. –  Ron Maimon Oct 29 '12 at 15:03
I am not persuaded that cussing cranks are a problem. Physics is full of foulmouthed cranks (and foulmouthed experts), but the site has dealt with this through downvoting (without deletion) and suggestions about altering tone that seem to work quickly. The censorship of unpopular views through accusation of incivility is very unfortunate, there are many marginal suppressed theories in many fields (Marlovian authorship, abiogenic oil, cold fusion, Regge theory, RNA memory, Piraha non-recursion, anti-nietzsche sentiment, Solovay model, t'Hooft style determinism) which I sometimes support... –  Ron Maimon Oct 29 '12 at 15:08
... although others are free to oppose. The internet has the incredible, unprecendented, potential to allow these positions to finally get a politics free fair hearing, and to do this requires as much freedom in the questions/answers as possible, to avoid censorship. The political censorship is the one legitimate thing that has driven expert users away from open-membership sites (also, the lack of barrier to entry, which I don't find a legitimate reason), and the thing that draws experts is counterintuitive. It's freedom of speech, not freedom from rudeness. –  Ron Maimon Oct 29 '12 at 15:10
@RonMaimon: It's difficult to see how you can make this absolutist argument without also legitimizing clearly unproductive practices such as ad-homineum attacks. Insisting that such practices remain unchallenged stifles the free speech of those who seek to keep discussions productive. While you and I are civil and intelligent enough to keep such discussions productive without a referee, I'm not sure everyone is so capable. Some people only succeed in generating noise. –  Robert Harvey Oct 30 '12 at 19:14
@RobertHarvey: I am not civil or intelligent, I am just afraid of censorship, and it happens here. I don't see any need for explicit rules to do this, you just tell the person doing it point blank to stop doing it, and they usually do. You can also delete the comments if they are profane and abusive. But you don't need explicit rudeness rules or sanctions to do it. I have been banished from 3 sites on the network for rudeness, and I'm not particularly rude, but I do explicitly get on people's nerves, on purpose, because it's necessary where there are dogmatic politically unchallenged claims. –  Ron Maimon Oct 31 '12 at 6:40

I agree with the thrust of your arguments. And without knowing the specifics of the case you're referencing, it sounds pretty ludicrous for self-described skeptics, of all people, to be banning contributors for "rudeness". Maybe next they'll start banning people for corrupting the youth.

For people who care deeply about the truth, one of the most fundamental things to learn is, the "facts" everyone "just knows to be true", are guaranteed to be wrong. Furthermore, people have hidden assumptions that are fundamentally, perniciously wrong, and, if you directly, effectively challenge those assumptions, they will get extremely upset.

The historical figures most effective in speaking uncomfortable truths are often targeted for persecution. Naturally, the persecutors don't have the courage to explain their true motives -- you're exposing me as a fraud -- but couch their reasoning in terms of sanctimonious bullshit, or etiquette, or respect for authority. Ordinary people, too ignorant, or gullible, or cowed, or apathetic, silently assent to the persecution.

So all that's to say, I agree that rudeness is good. I'm disappointed in the response here (minus 28? really?), and I would have expected better. The down-voters here are lame if you ask me; although, in their defense, they maybe have not really understood your argument. This site is Stack Overflow-centric, where the issues you raise are probably less pertinent than on Physics or Skeptics; there's not much politics in the kinds of specific programming questions that SO traffics in.

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My first question on stackexchange was "Is compiler generated code more efficient than hand-written assembly?" This is a stupid political thing people who have never written assembly from scratch say. Compiler generated code is generally extremely inefficient (although C is much faster to write, much more portable and maintainable blah blah, it's 2-10 times slower than good hand-crafted assembly, depending on whether you are allowed to use GNU extensions). I asked this as a test of the politics on the site, it was closed and I became a downvote magnet for "generating conflict". –  Ron Maimon Nov 2 '12 at 13:55

It is interesting that even as an answer is effectively censored, the argument is made by a 47K rep meta user that "there is plenty of discussion in here", illustrating an almost unbelievable capacity for expressing two mutually exclusive ideas at the same time. The answer is completely wrong about free discussions not occurring on SO, so let's censor it. This insanity is nothing new on SO meta.

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Your other answer is neither deleted nor locked. And comments are still open to be posted on it. Downvotes are never censorship –  random Oct 28 '12 at 23:05
How can you claim such a thing while your answer (which has nothing to do with the question, btw) and all the comments on it are still visible to everyone and open for further comments? That's insane. –  Pëkka Oct 29 '12 at 0:13
I agree with you, you are right. But downvoting by itself is not censorship, it just expressed disagreement. Downvoting plus deletion based on downvotes (as happens on Skeptics and Christianity) is censorship, but downvoting just means you aren't preaching to the choir. –  Ron Maimon Oct 29 '12 at 2:13

I think that due to the policy against discussion and the active discouragement of discussion, SO has long ago crossed the point of no return into actual Herbert Schildt'ness where more than half of answers are subtly and fundamentally wrong.

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i'm pretty sure that readers will prove me right, by downvoting this observation into oblivion –  Alf P. Steinbach Oct 27 '12 at 22:56
You can still leave a comment explaining where an answer is (subtly or fundamentally) flawed, can't you? –  Bart Oct 27 '12 at 22:59
I'm afraid I don't see the link between your answer and Ron's question. Maybe you could go into more detail on that. Whatever you feel about the appropriateness of discussions (in various contexts) on SO, must discussions be rude? –  Michael Petrotta Oct 27 '12 at 23:07
@Bart: e.g., at stackoverflow.com/questions/13013442/…, all six answers were originally technically wrong, one was however corrected, and one was deleted. It pertains directly to a discussion about suppressing discussion on SO, because that question was first closed, then deleted, by folks who had already form an opinon -- based on incompetence -- that it was trivial. Thus preventing any correct answer. –  Alf P. Steinbach Oct 27 '12 at 23:09
@Michael: it's possible that those who form the policy of SO think that discussions must necessarily be rude. otherwise it's difficult to understand the active suppression of discussion. i take it that you, as I, disagree with that POV –  Alf P. Steinbach Oct 27 '12 at 23:12
That question does seem to have quite an unfortunate history indeed. I by no means regard SO as perfect. But on the other hand, I personally don't have a good idea on how discussions can be allowed without them diverging into an uncontrollable mess. If you, from your experience, do have an idea of how they can be allowed without them becoming problematic, I'd love to hear about it. I don't see it, but I might just be a pessimist. –  Bart Oct 27 '12 at 23:15
I think it's possible, @Alf, but, in my opinion, unlikely. I believe that discussions are discouraged in some contexts because they're generally neither questions, nor answers. Answers, we preserve, because of that whole "improve the Internet" thing. Questions, because they're good Google-juice, and are generally required for answers. Discussion is good if it leads to improvement of either, but not if it doesn't. You may have a point about discussions getting shut down prematurely, but that doesn't really relate to this question. –  Michael Petrotta Oct 27 '12 at 23:18
@Bart: in my experience, the pre-moderation we do for the Usenet group [comp.lang.c++.moderated] (that's one of them old groups, predating SO by a great many years) works pretty well. ;-) i'm not saying that SO in general should be pre-moderated, because another aspect is a rather long turn-around time. but, discussions could be actively supported, with pre-moderation, or possibly with post-moderation. the possibilities are different when something is actively supported. –  Alf P. Steinbach Oct 27 '12 at 23:19
(I do think that the question-delete trigger gets pulled awfully fast, sometimes) –  Michael Petrotta Oct 27 '12 at 23:24
@AlfP.Steinbach, I've seen some posts where there were discussions in comments. The FAQ doesn't discourage all discussions, just extended discussions that don't eventually lead to Q&A. (A question with one or more factual and easily visible answers). –  jmort253 Oct 27 '12 at 23:27
In other words: "Stack Overflow and its users suck. This will now probably be downvoted, which is further confirmation of my theory." –  Pëkka Oct 28 '12 at 0:16
Alf - I think I attacked your statement sbove, not your personality. Re discussion - there is plenty of discussion in here, is there not? The problem in the example you link to, to me, is neither the absence of discussion nor the down-votes - it's simply that more people don't get it than there are people that do. you could discuss all the live long day but nobody would bother to read it. It's a different problem IMO. And it's not as widespread as you claim - dumb herd voting does occur, especially in more expert topics, –  Pëkka Oct 28 '12 at 0:40
but I maintain that rthe voting system still largely correct: bad stuff tends to get downvoted, and good stuff upvoted, more often than not. As the saying goes - it's a terrible system, but better than all the others... –  Pëkka Oct 28 '12 at 0:42
So, you have found congenial communities on some sites, and uncongenial communities on others. Such is life on the internet. The Management, let alone us peanut gallery members, aren't going to fix this for you. –  Rosinante Oct 29 '12 at 2:34
@Rosinante: I expect that they will, or this site will die and be replaced by one that works. –  Ron Maimon Oct 29 '12 at 3:46

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