I gave a controversial answer to a recent question. In all response, in the comments, I have been:

  • called a douchebag
  • been insulted for being a SE employee
  • been called out as "admitting I don't know the answer" whereas I clearly do not think that

and so on, in addition to various other not very constructive, but at least not openly provocative comments.

The commenters are long time Skeptics users.

I would not normally not call this out, but unfortunately it has become apparently a trend. I could give more examples by other users on other posts.

I am not concerned about myself in particular, but about the community in general, and especially the experience our new users will have here.

Is this behavior acceptable, even if you don't agree or like my answer? Are we becoming an insular community?

  • Actually the insults were about the answer and your reasoning for not addressing the actual question asked, not about you. That you as an SE employee are willing to post that way is another issue. I apologize if you felt I was insulting your person.
    – Chad
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 15:22
  • 4
    I'm confused: is posting insults ok as long as they refer to posts? And, you just posted another ad hominem, bless you.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 15:32
  • The language used may have been inappropriate, and I have been properly chastised for using it. My opinion remains that you chose to attack a belief system held by many in an answer that can not reasonably be argued attempted to answer the question asked. This appeared to be a promotion of a personal agenda on your part and your avoidance of addressing that issue did not come any where near reaching a bar that I would expect of an employee representing my company to achieve. I guess I expected that SE would have a similar expectation.
    – Chad
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 15:41
  • 3
    "may" have been inappropriate? You are perfectly allowed to have an opinion on my answer. That said, your last comment is just another low attempt to discredit me. I suggest you read the ad hominem wikipedia page, maybe it will help you not get into irrelevant arguments of mockery in the future. :-)
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 16:00
  • I am not trying to discredit you... I am not sure what makes you think that.
    – Chad
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 16:01
  • 4
    Yeah, we're not going to do this again. Let this go, there are more rewarding things all involved could be doing.
    – Tim Post
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 16:17

5 Answers 5


Well, there are three problems here:

  1. That is not an answerable question. It's based on a claim that claims nothing (yes of course they may - just as dentists may stroke out and drive the pick through your tongue and jaw during a routine cleaning, it is well within the range of possibilities) and instead of using that claim to support a stronger and more specific question, it embraces that weakness and puts the burden upon the answerer to identify and justify a specific claim.

  2. Rather than recognizing this problem in the question - which should have been obvious from the start, but was definitely clear after your answer was posted - folks here dove into debating whether or not your answer addressed the question.

  3. The criticisms devolved into ad hominem attacks almost immediately.

Don't get me wrong - #3 is never good. But it really doesn't bother me nearly as much as #1 or #2 - as Paul notes, this sort of response is a tacit admission of defeat (or, at least, of a complete inability to compose a real critique).

I'm not saying that the question which sparked this should definitely have been closed - but if no one was willing to edit it into something more specific, something better able to be answered, then I don't see any good alternative. I find it depressing that the folks involved there, some of whom are very familiar with this site and its goals, would allow that question to fester for so long without either correction or closure. (I've now closed it myself, as I don't see any signs that it will be edited to correct the problems and I don't feel able to do so myself)

Rudeness should never be tolerated. But it isn't enough to just dutifully remove attacks and ugliness when it appears; we must do our best to create an environment that actively discourages it from growing in the first place.

  • 2
    One problem is that we seem to read the "may" in the question in fundamentally different ways. I read it as a bit of a weasel word, but mostly as qualifiying that this is not something that always happens. Every one of those claims on the site is prefaced with a "may". I would personally read the claim as "it has happened at least once in such a center" on the weak end to "this is a common tactic in such centers". To me this is a reasonable claim that we can deal with.
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 17:47
  • I guess there's just disagreement as to whether or not the question is answerable. For example, Sklivvz gave an answer that I find acceptable. I agree with Fabian that it comes down to a lenient (but within reason) interpretation of the word "may". I don't think the high rep users and mods here were being negligent in leaving this question open as is.
    – user5582
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 17:52
  • 3
    While I disagree with Sklivvz interpretation of what "may" means in this case, I still think that his answer is a valid one, though pretty much the weakest possible way to answer this question. Demonstrating that they have spread false medical information is supporting evidence, but it can't actually answer the specific claim. In cases where no ideal information is available, such indirect answers are acceptable in my opinion.
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 17:55
  • @Fabian: it's the combination of those two things that is damning, IMHO: the question seeking credibility for a weak claim, and the answer that seeks to establish credibility for the source of the weak claim. If the question was, "Is Planned Parenthood a credible source for information on CPCs?" then this might fly, and perhaps this is a reasonably interpretation... But the way it is worded implies something else: that the claim in question is the actual use of a specific tactic.
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 18:06
  • 1
    It's not uncommon for published 'claims' to use weasel words like 'may'. Shedding some light even on such weasel-worded claims is what this site is for. The question as currently worded is now on-topic: a) reference and quote the claim b) ask whether that claim is true. As @Fabian said in the comment above mine, Sklivvz's answer is one way, one approach, to answering this question. So IMO the question is on-topic (given this site's rule), and the answer is (not perfectly but) sufficiently on-topic given this question. An answer or comment which merely jeers at the way in which the OP claim ...
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 18:22
  • ... is worded ends up (IMO) being less satisfactory/informative than an attempt (like Sklivvs') to find some evidence/information that's at least related to the topic.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 18:23
  • I have voted to reopen.
    – user5582
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 18:46
  • 6
    Don't say, "we can always edit..." @Articuno. Edit. Make it a good question. Potential is useless with no one willing to realize it.
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 19:40
  • 2
    @Sklivvz I disagree, there is a definite claim there. The site states " They have a history of giving women wrong, biased information to scare them into not having abortions." and directly afterwards is the list where this specific claim is from. That pretty much implies that they have done all those things in that list.
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 19:48
  • 3
    Because, @Articuno, if you're arguing the question is answerable because it could be edited to make it answerable then the burden of proof is on you: if it's possible, why didn't you do it? If the question shouldn't be closed because it could be fixed, then why wouldn't you fix it before voting to re-open? I highly doubt you want a site full of crappy questions that could in theory not suck... right?
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 20:01
  • 1
    There we go. I've added context, now the OP doesn't like it anymore... Can't do the right thing on this one, it should stay closed, imo.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 20:50
  • 3
    @Sklivvz Your failure to please the OP doesn't prove that the question should be closed.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 21:50
  • 2
    The answerable version of a question not being the one the OP wanted to ask is a pretty good reason to close it though, @ChrisW. Doesn't mean someone else couldn't ask the answerable form, but unless there's a different answerable version that does capture the OP's intent... It's pretty much DIA.
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 21:52
  • 1
    @Sklivvz According to the New York Times (and Wikipedia) they 'may' provide misinformation about the type of pregnancy test they offer. Because OTC tests are fairly prone to false negative readings, IMO that is some more evidence or justification for the claim, that "they may tell you that you are not pregnant even if you are".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 22:25
  • 1
    On this site, when there's a reference to a notable claim, it can be relatively unimportant what the rest of the question is, how the OP phrases their question, or whether the OP likes the answer. We want to make it easy/easier to ask question, so we try to be as un-strict with questioners as possible. So long as they reference a claim, an answer can address whether that claim is true (more-or-less ignoring the rest of the OP's question). We want to write for the long tail of readers not just please the OP.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 10:13

An old latin name for this combination of name calling and being told you don't know the answer is argumentum ad hominem

From Wikipedia:ad hominem:

An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument

In short: rudeness and name calling are admissions of defeat.

Otherwise, material relevant to the question would be posted instead of an attack.

I would not be surprised if high rep users were involved from time to time, even though they should "know better". However, if high rep users have genuine criticism of a moderator, it is important that gets some kind of a hearing in the community. Otherwise it will drive the high rep users away and one would be left to wonder what part of governance was broken.

It seems the Skeptics model is that a collection of content is being curated and things that don't fit are routinely deleted. That's fine. And there are discussions of the comments-as-answers and deletion policies as other meta questions. But deletion might be partially incompatible with community, where occasionally something like the following might happen:

Here, a very high rep user (>40K), whose ID I have redacted, left a comment that consisted of a few sentences of calling the other poster names, and then a somewhat relevant argument. As a 3rd party, I flagged it rude. We can't see the deleted comment, but what follows is interesting -- the comment author wonders where his comment went and his tone is oh so polite and professional instead of abusive -- and now they get an answer that is also polite and professional but also a well deserved public reprimand.

public shaming of high rep user for personal attack

If a community is desirable, and not merely a collection of pristine content, then these kinds of interactions might need to be left on the site for a while.

  • 4
    if high rep users have genuine criticism of a moderator, it is important that gets some kind of a hearing in the community - Yes, and that kind of comment or discussion should be welcomed and discussed on Chat, or here on Meta. But comments on the main site aren't the right location, format, longevity, or visibility for such topics.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 12:41

The examples you give are unacceptable behaviour.

We should re-affirm the position of Robert Cartaino given here: https://skeptics.meta.stackexchange.com/a/15/5582

Be nice.

Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you. We’re all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know.


I saw the comment about your being an SE employee and thought it was out of place.

I didn't criticize the comment, because I was busy and hadn't the time to compose a reply to it. I'm sorry it hurt you.

IMO moderators help the community, and shouldn't be singled out for negative treatment because of that: you should enjoy the same freedom to post to your own questions and answers, as other users enjoy doing themselves. If people don't like your answer they should criticize and/or vote on your answer as if you were any other user.

Can we stop being rude?

We should, but probably can't: i.e. expect to see this kind of comment again, and have a plan for it.

Regular user or community members can flag offensive comments; and criticize them in a comment, like:

@username Don't be rude.

Up-voting such a comment, as Paul suggested, might make it clear that it's not you being an autocrat but is a community consensus.

Be nice was upvoted 89 times and applies no less to comments than in does to answers.


I'm going to step in here as presumably the person that the third bullet point is aimed at. Let me explain my side of the debate.

When I posted the comment, the original question was entirely about falsifying pregnancy test results. Sklivvz answer contained a lot of analysis of other inaccuracies Crisis Centres are supposed to propagate, but none about falsifying pregnancy test results. This was called out in another comment, and Sklivvz commented that he didn't know about that, and added a sentence to his answer "Whether they do lie about this particular often, we can only speculate".

I then added a comment pointing out that what he wrote wasn't an answer to the question. In my opinion it wasn't, and Sklivvz did in fact make a comment admitting that he didn't know the answer. My expression of approval for his admitting that was genuine. It doesn't change the fact that, when I posted the comment, his answer did not address the question. I appreciate that Sklivvz may not agree with my view, but that doesn't of itself make me rude for expressing it.

By the way, my wife works at a crisis pregnancy centre where none of the unethical practices described here take place. (There are interesting stories, some just as shocking, from clients that went to Planned Parenthood, before coming to her centre, But we won't get into that now) I would be obliged if people would lay off insults.

  • Your answer seems not to address the question, which is about mocking people, not debating whether my answer was good. Even when one thinks they are right, this doesn't give them the right to mock me.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 23:53
  • 2
    I'm sorry, maybe I wasn't the person you were talking about then. Because I'm pretty sure I didn't mock you. If you took it as mocking then I apologize. If this isn't relevant to what you asked I'll delete it. Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 2:39
  • 1
    @Sklivvz I found the phrasing of your comment rude or potentially offensive. IMO you needn't have found fault with DJClayworth's answer (this is meta where users' POVs should be welcomed), I've learned that daycare teachers for example are taught to 'criticize the behaviour not criticize the child': e.g. "that behaviour is hurtful" not "you are a bad boy". Using "you" three times in your comment seems to me inflammatory. +1 to DJClayworth's polite reply.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 10:57
  • @ChrisW addressed. It wasn't meant to be inflammatory, but I can see it how it could be read that way (use of impersonal you...), sorry DJ if it seemed the wrong way. I've edited it.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 11:02
  • @EbenezerSklivvze - I have had my answer on PoliticsSE deleted by SE personnell (Robert, I think) for "not answering the question". It was a perfectly valid answer (when I reposted its content on Skeptics for related Q, it generated plenty upvotes for its quality). Somehow your answer wasn't deleted, despite your agreeing here that it didn't answer the question. Personally, I blame political bias (in general, I never see awful left-bbiased questions or answers closed or deleted). But I can see how some people may see this as being due to your being SE employee, validly or not. Optics.
    – user5341
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 17:13
  • @EbenezerSklivvze - to rephrase my last statement - while it may be unfair, your being an SE employee puts an unequal burden on you as far as expected quality, since any unpunished deviation from that quality may be interpreted as "nepotism". I'm not saying it was, just explaining the optics of the situation. That aside, it was a very weak answer. You committed several logical fallacies in it. But most importantly, you did what you always refused to condone on Skeptics, and answered affirmatively to a question about motivation, with no proof of motivation.
    – user5341
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 17:18
  • Let's agree to disagree on this - I can't agree on basically any point that was just raised, but I am not interested in debating my position further. Have a happy new year!
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 18:48

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