Another cautionary tale

August 28, 2011

(Doing some distracting writing before the writing I need, personally, to do.)

This time, I’ve reason to believe the cautionee isn’t a PhD student, but is already graduated. I’ve no definite evidence, but there were some web pages wherein their name is prefixed with “Dr.” which is pretty reasonable.

Yucong Duan posted a message to very old thread that started out unpromising (“I think that there is usually a misunderstanding on the meaning of CWA vs. OWA”…starting with such a broadside puts me, personally, on my guard for kookdom) and descended into what I called “gibberish” (though, in the “nice” way).

Probably the highlight of malpractice was the accusation against me of having been inconsistent and the generalization from the alleged sample of one to my whole corpus. (Note, I totally understand the latter move — I’m sorely tempted to dismiss without reading their publications because I cannot see how someone so confused could produce anything reasonable…but, of course, I can so see: they might be more careful in print, they have helpful coauthors, they might be ok in their own field, etc. Hence, no comment on the rest without reading them. Which is totally not worth my time.) Slightly reformatted for clarity:

Firstly please check piceces of your reply which i have copied as below:

(1)”…My mind reading capabilities failed to detect that you are a student(***)…”

(2)”…you mobilized was used in any standard or reasonable sense. (E.g., “notation”, “CWA”, “OWA”, “semantics”, “ontological”, “negation”). This is characteristic of naive students(***) …”

Can you see the contradiction in your expression?! I am not imagine how many similar cases could be counterred in those more than 100 papers published by you in the past five years?!

Obviously, there’s no even prima facie contradiction (they had to selectively quote to even get as far as they did). I pointed this out (with some snark) and they doubled down.

Doubling down here was clearly a really bad move. While I think that one can make a case against my use of the term “gibberish” (see the discussion on Feminist Philosophers) as being provocative, I will point out that they did not express agitation until I refuted them again and they started not getting as straightforwardly refuted by others. They spiralled into insinuations against me and my competence (e.g., challenging my authority, as if I made a claim to authority to buttress my points; however, I do have pretty good claim to authority on these issues, which makes the whole thing weird).

In the end, as far as I can tell, Yucong Duan left the conversation still not knowing how much they didn’t understand, but largely happy with the result. This was fairly predictable from the start, alas.

Look, I could be a grump or nuts in spite of my expertise or just wrong on some point. It’s good to challenge the basics on occasion. But there’s often important signals in what you might perceive as noise. It’s important to know what criticisms to dismiss, but it’s also important to recognize what criticisms not to dismiss.

That being said, per usual, and per the Feminist Philosophers thread, I have to reflect again on my still. Snark, and bluntness, and teasing can be effective and even fun for all, but obviously have the obvious downsides. I sometimes worry that my clinging to them (however tempered over the years) is like someone clinging to racist or sexist jokes and language. I can hear the similarities, which worry me.

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