(When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

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sTeamTraen
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(When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by sTeamTraen » Fri Jul 10, 2020 7:01 pm

First, some background. I am somewhat involved in the debunking/exposure of a UK academic (MG) who has a ridiculously high publication rate. He will probably publish at least around 200 articles this year. I have documented how he regularly recycles entire articles and chapters without any sort of acknowledgement. With some colleagues, we suspect that he may be manipulating journal citation counts and/or bypassing normal peer review processes. In the past, when people have attempted to call him out on this, he has responded with anger, veiled threats of lawsuits, belittling e-mails (e.g. [not quite verbatim, but not far off] "what would you know, you have 40 publications, I have 750", etc).

For various reasons, including the general uselessness of academia when confronted with malpractice, this process has been discussed quite extensively on academic Twitter over the last couple of days. Now, MG researches addiction; it's in his job title. So it was perhaps not a surprise that someone tweeted this about his prolificity prolificness big numbers:
@Audav1 wrote:120 papers a year? It's like some kind of addiction.
(The 120 refers to the guy's publications *so far this year*.)

I guess one reaction to that could have been to suggest that it was ableist (qv in another thread) in a general sense, but I was slightly surprised by the actual reply that it received:
@ipanalysis wrote:It is - I think - unironically, a lot like that, so *some* degree of kindness / moderation of the usual twitter fury-shaming would be appropriate.
That got two likes and seems to have gone no further. But it got me thinking. To me, publishing 200 articles a year, some of which the author probably hasn't even read thoroughly (his main line of business is as last author on often rather poor-quality papers with little to say but which appear to be fulfilling someone's degree requirements, often accompanied by generous amounts of citations of not-obviously-related articles from a select handful of journals) is a bit unusual, but then, academics are often a bit unusual. But even with a minimum amount of work per article, this person is clearly spending a substantial proportion of every week working on adding 1 (and another 1, and another) to his publication count, when he is already a full ("distinguished") professor. So perhaps there is some kind of addiction here, despite the "hur-hur" potential of "dude is addicted to publishing research about addiction".

To be clear, this post isn't really about this professor (although I would welcome opinions about the specific situation). It's about how we judge the behaviour of others, and in particular, the behaviour that we judge to be obnoxious or harmful. As I said at the start, his behaviour is, to all intents and purposes, pretty obnoxious, both professionally and (when questioned) personally. But maybe this is the result of some kind of problem. At that point, what is fair for anyone to criticise? How much do we need to know about someone's internal states before we can call out their behaviour? Should the assortment of mostly junior academics who are dunking on this guy stop doing so because it's unfair to an addict? Or does that have to wait until he apologises and signs up for whatever 12-step programme is available for publication-obsessed professors?

And (the follow-up question), is there a solution that also takes into account the behaviour of, say, Donald Trump --- who appears to be suffering from cognitive deficiencies now, but probably wasn't the most fun person to be around 30 years ago either? Or, at a lower level of bad behaviour, Boris Johnson? Or, to take a recent tragic example, Jonty Bravery?

Whenever I try to think about these issues, I start to fall down the rabbit-hole of free will, which always makes my head spin because I like to think that I decided to post this (and I like to think that I could have decided not to). But where is the line? Where do we say "X is always being a c.nt, and could choose not to be, which makes him ever more of a c.nt", versus "Y is always being a c.nt, but he's been like that since he was born, it's a physiological thing, he'll never be able to change"? Do we think that from, say, 0 to 6 on the Being A c.nt scale people are basically free to move around and so those who are at 6 ought to just bl..dy well try to be nicer people, whereas those who get to 7 and "score" a personality disorder diagnosis are somehow no longer expected to try and improve?
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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:37 pm

On the Professor, if he’s an a..eh.le and keeps getting added as an author then he may be exploiting his junior colleagues.

In case you haven’t seen them there are defined principles of coauthorship: http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/br ... utors.html

IMHO there should be some flexibility but what you describe is taking the piss.

To answer your bigger question, if he is being routinely being added on to other people’s work without having made a substantive contribution then he should be criticized.

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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by Bewildered » Sat Jul 11, 2020 4:03 am

I would really like to make a super long post on this (edit: oh look in the end I did anyway) but I am too busy trying to get more papers out to try and stay in academia :).

What you describe is obviously a very extreme case, but people caring a lot about the metrics and trying to be as soft on themselves as possible is not uncommon and quite easy to understand. If he is really just producing garbage that ought to be cut out at the peer review stage, or by people ignoring publications in low quality journals or maybe by people not citing total crap, but other than that I am not very surprised.

I do find it quite plausible that this is an addiction and I can very much see the way academia operates and the level of metric based assessment would lead to that. The pressure to publish to get a position at every stage until permanent, to get funding for research, get your students and young postdocs their next job, maybe even just to keep your current job, is enormous. Actually add to that trying to make sure a struggling student who has nonetheless worked hard, maybe has special needs / help and/or for whom it would be devastating if they didn’t get the degree, actually gets published papers so they can get their PhD, masters or whatever. I feel like the reward pathways of seeing paper count and citation counts improving as you try measure how well you are doing in these respects are likely to create an addiction like this, so that even when you are well passed the stage where it is needed or actually helping, you keep going, chasing that reward when you see the stats tick up. Maybe it’s a cop out, but in situations like this I don’t want to attack the individual and and don’t think that’s the long term solution, I want to figure out a better system and the push for it (but I haven’t got passed step 1 really).

I think woodchopper linked the Vancouver protocol, I think it’s pretty good, but it is not really widely followed or referenced in discussions about authorship in academia and in some sense one could interpret it as allowing a lot, especially when squeezing it into fields that don’t quite fit the assumptions of the original authors (e.g. fields where there is no data). Different fields have different cultures and one major issue is that when you have funding bodies that are not fields specific you get absurd disparities that come from different cultures basically dominating how individuals are assessed (comparing publications / citations / h-index from areas with 1000+ members of an experimental collaboration where every member is on every paper vs fields where 1-5 author papers are the norm) . I think about this stuff all the time, trying to be fair to everyone (including senior people who supervised or did a lot of unseen work helping and providing real expertise), trying to make sure people who do good work get appropriate credit and there is a plan to get them enough papers to be competitive in the job market while also trying to make sure that we actually don’t lose sight of the aim which is to do some interesting science that is actually correct and worthwhile. I may have lost my mind over this.

Regarding dunking in general (not sure what dunking actually means, I assume heavily criticise, but maybe also ‘pile on’ style? I think you have to think what it will achieve. I guess if you identify a specific problem they have like addiction and there is an alternative way to stop the bad behaviour (is there?) you should do that. But I wouldn’t say that the absence of a diagnosable vulnerability is a reason to not care and think about punishing the person. IMO we are all built from genetics and environmental factors and while we do to some extent have to take responsibility for what we do, I don’t think even the people who do the most horrifying things deserve the consequences (I guess this is also where you were getting to with the free will comment) so I don’t think punishment should ever be an end in of itself. If we could change the system so people couldn’t or wouldn’t do harm I would far prefer that. Sadly there may also need to be a component of hurting that person to make them stop hurting others or maybe to change the culture so that it is pressured against. I personally can’t go very far with those when taking actions as an individual, I just don’t have the stomach or the confidence in my own judgement that I would be right. (Of course in this case I don’t see how you could be wrong, I could not referee other people’s papers at that rate even if all I did was referee every day, 7 days a week) . If you do use those methods in general please also think about what good will come from it, what the risk is if you are wrong and what the harm Inflicted would be in that case, would you be bullying them or part of a bullying mob, could you be biased in a way you are unaware or acting based on information that may be biased in that way. To be frank and personal I feel that I have been exploited at every step of my career with people putting their name on my papers when they do less work or almost no work, with no reciprocation, and I always make a significant contribution to papers I am on (though latterly I have also been on papers with large author numbers where I was not one of the main drivers). However I have actually received a couple of abusive emails from someone accusing me having done nothing (same person twice). I think their real issue was actually that in the first instance I was criticising the work and holding us up from publishing (a result i felt was wrong and very badly argued) and in the second it was sparked because I said that I didn’t like decisions about a project being made without me and then just being asked to implement it. Also I had actually done more work on the projects they complained about than they had (including not taken holiday to finish it whie they were on holiday). That person is in a more powerful position than I am, but I also have a position of some power too, and I am sure they justified it to themselves as standing up for their students against someone exploiting them**. They were confronted by a third party pointing out they plain wrong the second time (the first time I just kept it private) but then they basically changed the complaint from being that I did not contribute enough, to being that I chose to contribute to the more glory parts. I still have the same relationship with this person and it’s an ongoing issue so I may just be venting here... I think my point was this was deeply unpleasant to be on the receiving end of and it had a lot of bad consequences for me in terms of mental well being and my confidence and ability to do my daily work. So please do keep in mind that downside, especially if you may be wrong.

* I have dark suspicions that there are other more selfish influences on full professors as well, reduced teaching load if you produce enough papers etc. though in fairness teaching loads may be so high that even this is also understandable.

**Obviously I am giving one side here and I can’t easily paint the complexities of the situation that can lead to me seeing it the way I described and them genuinely disagreeing, and I don’t fully understand it myself. however somehow I can’t believe that were insincere in their claims when they made them and I actually don’t think this person is a bad person in general. I actually really respect that they are very fast at working and even as they get more senior still take on a lot of technical tasks for themselves. I just have a few issues: that they are aggressive like that when challenged and that they tend to assume and portray more expertise than they actually have. So they both create a fight with me on topic I am the expert and they just badly misunderstand and then they portray themselves as an expert on these things, even above me, to others in the wider community.

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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by Stephanie » Sat Jul 11, 2020 7:08 am

Dunking on twitter, as I understand it, usually involves quote tweeting:

https://slate.com/technology/2017/12/du ... rible.html
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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by Bewildered » Sat Jul 11, 2020 7:52 am

Thanks Stephanie, so it’s quoting someone’s tweet and responding negatively or mockingly to it. I think if that goes viral it will be pretty unpleasant to be on receiving end and it’s not the most Constructive way to challenge or criticise bad behavior really.

I think what you wrote in another thread applies, ie about people making what individually to them seems like reasoned criticism, but when it’s going viral and thousands are doing the same thing it becomes mob like behavior. I haven’t been on twitter in a long time, seems like some of the terms and ways to quote have changed, but that aspect is pretty similar. I participated in few things like that, without realising initially and then regretted it after.

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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by sTeamTraen » Sat Jul 11, 2020 1:46 pm

Stephanie wrote:
Sat Jul 11, 2020 7:08 am
Dunking on twitter, as I understand it, usually involves quote tweeting:
In this case I meant just a general sort of bashing. Most of the dunking/bashing in the case that I didn't want to become the focus of the thread (but I guess inevitably will to some extent) is not about the person's Twitter output, but rather his academic publishing record. The bashing itself, however, in indeed taking place on Twitter.
Bewildered wrote:
Sat Jul 11, 2020 4:03 am
If we could change the system so people couldn’t or wouldn’t do harm I would far prefer that. Sadly there may also need to be a component of hurting that person to make them stop hurting others or maybe to change the culture so that it is pressured against.
I really like this. The system (society in general, not just academia) isn't going to get changed, as we know from Plato and Shakespeare. And there is only so far that you can get with trying to persuade some people.

But I think that for many well-meaning people, the idea that you would call someone out for their bad behaviour, explaining in great detail what they are doing to harm others, and they then wouldn't change anything, goes against a basic belief in the goodness of humanity. Now, I don't think many of us would want to have the default attitude towards society of, say, a misanthropic cop who thinks that everyone's a toerag (because they spend all day arresting toerags). But there is a non-zero number of incorrigible toerags out there, whether that manifests itself as criminal behaviour, professional misconduct, exploitation, or general dickishness. Some have diagnosable personality disorders (but then what?), some have neurophysiological conditions, but others just appear to be... toerags, a..eholes, c.nts, whatever you want to call them. And yet, what if in some sense they "can't help it"? Where do we draw that line, and what does it mean if somebody's test score puts them just 2% either side of it?

Maybe at some point there will be a lower-level ("DSM-lite"?) category of "General a..eh.le Disorder", without the "causes the individual difficulties in living" criterion that characterises most diagnoses of personality disorders (because a lot of these people seem to experience very little distress). If someone was required to put in their social media profile that they are a Certified a..eh.le(tm), it might be easier to ignore them. I have encountered a couple of people with BPD (for borderline personality disorder) in their Twitter profile, and they went on mute pretty quickly.
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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by Stephanie » Sat Jul 11, 2020 3:04 pm

I'd rather we didn't drag BPD into it or try to medicalise this sort of thing?
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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by El Pollo Diablo » Sat Jul 11, 2020 9:52 pm

I think we have a contender for Longest Paragraph Ever.
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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by Bird on a Fire » Sat Jul 11, 2020 11:00 pm

I don't think Bewildered is a bad person.
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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by Bewildered » Sun Jul 12, 2020 3:07 am

El Pollo Diablo wrote:
Sat Jul 11, 2020 9:52 pm
I think we have a contender for Longest Paragraph Ever.
If you wish, you can abuse your powers and reinsert the footnote, so it is a thing of true beauty.

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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by Bewildered » Sun Jul 12, 2020 4:12 am

sTeamTraen wrote:
Sat Jul 11, 2020 1:46 pm
The system (society in general, not just academia) isn't going to get changed, as we know from Plato and Shakespeare. And there is only so far that you can get with trying to persuade some people.
I think have been many positive change to societal structures since the days of Plato and Shakespeare...

I think there are changes that can be made that would help.
But I think that for many well-meaning people, the idea that you would call someone out for their bad behaviour, explaining in great detail what they are doing to harm others, and they then wouldn't change anything, goes against a basic belief in the goodness of humanity. Now, I don't think many of us would want to have the default attitude towards society of, say, a misanthropic cop who thinks that everyone's a toerag (because they spend all day arresting toerags). But there is a non-zero number of incorrigible toerags out there, whether that manifests itself as criminal behaviour, professional misconduct, exploitation, or general dickishness. Some have diagnosable personality disorders (but then what?), some have neurophysiological conditions, but others just appear to be... toerags, a..eholes, c.nts, whatever you want to call them. And yet, what if in some sense they "can't help it"? Where do we draw that line, and what does it mean if somebody's test score puts them just 2% either side of it?
As I said in my long reply, people are just a product of their genes and environment, and a..eholes still suffer. That doesn’t mean no punishment, but it means punishment should not be the end in of itself. And in general when we are talking about things that have severe impacts, it’s better to have a thought out process than leave it up to spontaneous judgements of individuals, especially not when none of them individually plan or comfort the actual impact. Twitter mobs are a bad for this reason, even though it may not seem like it to each individual tweeting.

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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by bob sterman » Wed Jul 29, 2020 8:23 pm

MG has responded...

On peer review issues...
https://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com/2 ... on-part-1/

On how much he contributed to each of the hundreds of papers where he's an author...
https://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com/2 ... ion-part-2

On accusations of "self-plagiarism"...
https://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com/2 ... on-part-3/

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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by noggins » Thu Jul 30, 2020 10:28 am

I think, the unfairness is when a village idiot, instead of only facing the opprobrium of their village, becomes a (inter)nationally famous a..eh.le.

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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by sTeamTraen » Tue Aug 04, 2020 10:18 pm

An American friend of mine who is a clinical psychologist has come out and said it: Trump is clearly mentally ill. I am inclined to agree. (I'm aware of the Goldwater Rule, as I'm sure is Jim. but neither of us are psychiatrists. However, this discussion could also be continued as a hypothetical.)

Now what, though? What are the rules of engagement with someone who is clearly unwell, but who is also (a) utterly unaware, (b) surrounded more or less exclusively by people who tell him he's doing just great, and (c) never more than 200 feet from the nuclear launch codes? The 25th Amendment was designed for exactly these circumstances, but everyone who could move to invoke it has an interest in not doing so. Do we stop pointing and laughing at Trump, and start talking in hushed tones and saying how sad it is for his family?
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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by JQH » Tue Aug 04, 2020 11:04 pm

Even if it's true it doesn't excuse him from being a corrupt incompetent fascist.
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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by Woodchopper » Wed Aug 05, 2020 7:18 am

sTeamTraen wrote:
Tue Aug 04, 2020 10:18 pm
An American friend of mine who is a clinical psychologist has come out and said it: Trump is clearly mentally ill. I am inclined to agree. (I'm aware of the Goldwater Rule, as I'm sure is Jim. but neither of us are psychiatrists. However, this discussion could also be continued as a hypothetical.)

Now what, though? What are the rules of engagement with someone who is clearly unwell, but who is also (a) utterly unaware, (b) surrounded more or less exclusively by people who tell him he's doing just great, and (c) never more than 200 feet from the nuclear launch codes? The 25th Amendment was designed for exactly these circumstances, but everyone who could move to invoke it has an interest in not doing so. Do we stop pointing and laughing at Trump, and start talking in hushed tones and saying how sad it is for his family?
That's a difficult one. Other medically qualified people have taken the view that they have an ethical responsibility to warn about Trump's dangerous mental illness. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/worl ... 94316.html

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Re: (When) is it fair to dunk on bad people?

Post by jimbob » Wed Aug 05, 2020 8:13 pm

sTeamTraen wrote:
Tue Aug 04, 2020 10:18 pm
An American friend of mine who is a clinical psychologist has come out and said it: Trump is clearly mentally ill. I am inclined to agree. (I'm aware of the Goldwater Rule, as I'm sure is Jim. but neither of us are psychiatrists. However, this discussion could also be continued as a hypothetical.)

Now what, though? What are the rules of engagement with someone who is clearly unwell, but who is also (a) utterly unaware, (b) surrounded more or less exclusively by people who tell him he's doing just great, and (c) never more than 200 feet from the nuclear launch codes? The 25th Amendment was designed for exactly these circumstances, but everyone who could move to invoke it has an interest in not doing so. Do we stop pointing and laughing at Trump, and start talking in hushed tones and saying how sad it is for his family?
Have you seen the "highlights" of that Axios interview?

https://www.businessinsider.com/axios-h ... ?r=US&IR=T


He's barely able to read anymore.

https://twitter.com/axios/status/1290497186489348096
Have you considered stupidity as an explanation

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