Sunday, October 20, 2013

Time to cut NPR?

The media landscape in the United States is not what it could be.

Often there is a lack of perspectives shared. People often share a desire for "balanced" reporting.

Then there is an issue of basic facts, often lost in the search for something approximating equal time for minds already made up on an issue.

Sometimes an organization known as NPR provides a good example of how reporting should be done. It is seen by many as being without bias, or at least less biased than major television networks.

However it seems that at least on some issues, NPR is just as prone to skewed, anxiety-filled reporting without facts.

The issue here: circumcision.

Round #1: Shoddy reporting


Here's how NPR has covered this story, through the past several years of original reporting.

In 2010, NPR's All Things Considered reports "Study: Circumcision Rates Falling Fast In U.S.".

Instead of "balance" the audio of the story audibly giggles mentioning the word "intactivists" and the single doctor interviewed is presents a completely one sided report:

"About 10 years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a policy statement that was fairly neutral on whether circumcisions should be recommended for newborns or not," says Diekema. "And that probably changed the way physicians were talking to their families."
[...]
"It's also worth pointing out that our population is becoming increasingly Hispanic," says Diekema, "And that's a population that has not traditionally circumcised their babies." 
[...]
"Their arguments are largely emotional," says Diekema. "Just the fact that they insist on referring to this as 'genital mutilation' tells you that they're refusing to recognize whether there may be any medical benefit to the procedure."
"There is a fairly substantial, important reduction in the risk of contracting many sexually transmitted infections," says Diekema. "In newborns, there is a decreased likelihood of getting a urinary tract infection, which for a newborn baby can be a very significant illness."

Missing facts: what is the expected incidence of UTI in newborn babies?

And, he says, "at least three well-done, randomized control trials in Africa show a substantial decrease in the transmission of HIV [due to circumcision]."

Missing challenge: can we then expect increased HIV infections among the Hispanic population in the United States?
Ultimately, in spite of arguments on both sides of the issue, Diekema says that male circumcision is a decision that families should make on their own. He says a doctor's role is to make sure the family is aware of the risks and benefits of the procedure.
But, he says, "the risks of circumcision are considerably lower in the newborn population than they are if that child is older."

More missing items:

  1. What are the risks in the first place?
  2. What risks increase with age?
  3. What is the other side (that was not interviewed)?
  4. Why was the 2005 AAP report "neutral" on the issue?

Fast forward NPR's coverage to August 27, 2012. Morning Edition reports "Pediatricians Decide Boys Are Better Off Circumcised Than Not":

The article is mostly a victory lap for AAP adopting a more pro-circumcision stance. The organization still does not strongly recommend the practice, but it has changed its message considerably.

The usual health benefits line is parroted out:

"The health benefits of male circumcision include a drop in the risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life by up to 90 percent," [Susan Blank] says.
But there's a much bigger reason to do it, Blank said. Circumcised males are far less likely to get infected with a long list of sexually transmitted diseases.
"It drops the risk of heterosexual HIV acquisition by about 60 percent. It drops the risk of human papillomavirus [HPV], herpes virus and other infectious genital ulcers," she says.
It also reduces the chances that men will spread HPV to their wives and girlfriends, protecting them from getting cervical cancer.
"We've reviewed the data and, you know, we have gone through them with a fine-tooth comb, and the data are pretty convincing," she says.

Missing facts: Gardasil. The HPV vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2006, six years before NPR and the AAP feed us these lines that attempt to convince us that circumcision lowers HPV transmission rates and would then lower cervical cancer rates.

The vaccine applies to both sexes - boys and girls can receive the vaccine and then prevent spreading HPV.

It is interesting that NPR and AAP neglect to mention that HPV as we know it now might not exist by the time a baby born today reaches sexual maturity.

Perhaps the pro-circumcision crowd can better inform the public by doing more studies.

Circumcision could prevent transmission of:

  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Polio
  • Smallpox

The appropriate studies should be undertaken immediately so media outlets have something to publish tomorrow!

The article to some extent makes up for NPR's fumbling of the issue in 2010, by quoting anti-circumcision groups:

Chapin and other critics argue that the scientific evidence is questionable. For one thing, the studies about HIV have only been done in Africa, where AIDS is much more common among heterosexuals.
"They're cherry-picking their evidence," she says. "They act as though there's this huge body of literature. It's all the same couple of studies that have been regurgitated and reprogrammed. Over the past 150 years, all kinds of medical benefits have been proposed as resulting from cutting off the foreskin, and they have all been disproven."
Critics also question the safety of the procedure, saying too many boys are damaged for life by botched circumcisions.

But then quickly goes back to insane rhetoric:

"I think that all healthy newborn babies should be circumcised," says Edgar Schoen, a professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco. "I feel about newborn circumcision the way I do about immunization: It's a potent preventive health procedure that gives you a health advantage."

It's a mix of hilarious, sad and ironic that circumcision is being compared to the usefulness of vaccines in an article that so willfully ignored their existence a few paragraphs earlier.

The article presents another angle of absurdity when one realizes that it's authored by a one "Rob Stein" and quotes a one "Edgar Schoen" that happens to think everybody ought to be circumcised.

It seems that every day we can expect objective reporting on NPR.

  • Today, two people with Ashkenazi Jewish names tell us that circumcision is a cure-all
  • Tomorrow, two people with Māori names tell us that tattooing is great
  • The day after, our intrepid reporters Horace Smith & Dan Wesson explain the importance of the Second Amendment

The Stein article links to another NPR article, which is possibly even more ridiculous.


Round #2: HIV and HPV distortions


From the "Shots" health blog on August 21, 2012 comes a report - "Decline In Circumcisions Could Prove Costly".

The article says that many insurance providers, Medicaid included, are dumping coverage of routine infant cirumcision. Good for them.

But yet again, the same narrative about sexually transmitted infections comes up:

Yet three separate studies have found that circumcision reduces the risks of infection with HIV, leading the World Health Organization to recommend it in places where HIV risk runs high. Kenya, for one, is turning to circumcision of adult men to curb the spread of the virus there.

Circumcision also reduces the risk of infection with genital herpes virus and human papillomavirus. The practice can also reduce urinary tract infections in young boys. Later on, men's female sex partners are less likely to develop some infections if the guys are circumcised.

Missing facts: Gardasil (the HPV vaccine) is again not mentioned by NPR's coverage of this topic.

Onto the rest of the absurdities:

Johns Hopkins researchers analyzed how declines in circumcision would affect future health care costs, including what would happen if the rate fell to 10 percent, which is the average in Europe. The change — up or down — in HIV infections is the biggest factor.
So what's the tab? If the circumcision rate fell to 10 percent, the annual net increase in health care costs would be about a half-billion dollars a year. The findings appear in the latest issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Of course, everyone knows that if the United States became more like Europe in a number of ways, overall health costs would fall through the floor.

However ridiculous the premise is, let's continue with what the study says.

The Hopkins researchers make some several big bets:

Among males in a birth cohort of 4 million, cases of infant male UTIs increased by 26 876 (211.8%), HIV infections increased by 4843 (12.2%), HPV infections increased by 57 124 (29.1%), and HSV-2 infections increased by 124 767 (19.8%) under a 10% MC rate (Table 3). Among females, cases of BV increased by 538 865 (51.2%), trichomonas infections increased by 64 585 (51.2%), HR-HPV infections increased by 33 148 (18.3%), and LR-HPV infections increased by 25 837 (12.9%).

And they make the following comparisons:

Univariate sensitivity analysis indicated that cost savings associated with increased MC coverage would persist while the cost of HIV treatment is greater than $120 000 to $125 000 and while the cost of the MC procedure is less than $640 to $660.

An interesting take on Aaron Tobian's research shows up in the comments:

George Hill
Circumcising 54 percent of American newborn boys costs $1.25 billion annually. Circumcising 100 percent of newborn boys would cost $2.3 billion annually. How would that save up money?

Tobian is spewing out pro-circumcision nonsense, which is what he is paid to do.


Using this data:
A total of 3,953,590 births were registered in the United States in 2011, down 1 percent from 2010.
Let's say exactly half are born with a penis.

1,976,795 penis havers. Taking $650 from Tobian as ballpark, it would cost $1.3 billion a year to circumcise each and every one of these penises.

Maybe Hill's estimated cost is wrong, or perhaps Tobian's estimated cost is wrong. Let's use the $1.3 billion figure just to use some of the pro-circumcision base assumptions.

Pop quiz: What are the issues with this study saying decreasing circumcision rates will increase medical costs in the United States?

It is nearly entirely based on expenses related to three infections and ignores vaccines

The three infections that show up most in their cost model:
  • HIV
  • HPV
  • Trichomoniasis
Laughably, the study links to a study of the HPV vaccine seemingly only to establish costs for cervical cancer caused by HPV. No discussion is granted to the very likely reality that HPV vaccine will greatly reduce any effects routine male circumcision will have on cervical cancer rates.

Why these three infections? Because they're the ones they could find some study showing some relationship between infection rates and circumcision.

Interestingly enough, the linked study that investigated costs of Trichomoniasis put the cost at $101 dollars per episode. Of course, there might be related costs (complications regarding births, etc) however this is how we've also itemized the cost of circumcision - about $650 per cut.

The last dragon in the room is HIV. It's ridiculously expensive to treat. The central claim of this study is essentially that HIV infection rates in the United States go up as circumcision rates go down. In the next paragraphs we'll see why that is questionable.


It does not estimate the savings (or expense) of the first drop.

The study realizes that circumcision rates have dropped from 79% to around 50% in the United States. It reads:
During the past 20 years, MC rates have declined from 79% to 55%, alongside reduced insurance coverage.
It does not get into what this may have already cost the United States. Of course, the time span does not allow one to watch the trend line for correlations.

Yet it is conceivable that these researchers could follow infection rates in the US and correlate them with circumcision rates through the past decades.

The researchers could specifically zero in on HIV, and tell us how large the infected population in the United States would have been had circumcision rates been even higher.

But that sounds like work.

It does not estimate the savings (or expense) of a 100% circumcision rate.

The Tobian paper on the web only itemizes expenditures at particular increments from 79% to 0%.

There is no reason why Tobian could not present us a chart that would show parents what would happen if we put the $1.3 billion a year down (as we estimated earlier) to circumcise all newborns.

Could it be these datapoints are hidden because an honest cost model would show diminishing returns?

While we have data to suggest that it is wrong, if we can assume Tobian's model of infectious disease plays out just as how he expects, the paper would then be telling Europe to raise their circumcision rate. Nothing in the paper suggests that the United States has anything much to gain from moving the sky-high circumcision rates in the US even higher.

It mangles up health data across three continents.

The heart of the paper takes a circumcision rate from Europe, an HIV study in Africa, and then attempts to inform North American health policy.

No effort is made to establish the relationship of circumcision and infection rates broadly within similar populations.

The reality is United States has high infection rates and high circumcision rates. Europe has lower circumcision rates and lower infection rates. How is this possible?

A handful of studies were done in Uganda that made a connection between HIV transmission and circumcision. In this context, the studies were done with a small sample and early results transformed into fiery crisis management.

Somehow, the numbers acquired in Africa can be projected upon populations in Europe and America by filling in a few cells in a spreadsheet and calling it close enough.

It is authored with preconceived notions about the seriousness of the procedure.

From the NPR article:

Critics of circumcision dispute the benefits and say it can lead to sexual problems. "There's no hard evidence circumcision is causing problems with sexual function or satisfaction," Tobian says.

If this were true, one could circumcise an adult male this very moment and have him report no ill effects on his sex life whatsoever.

Obviously Tobian speaks to routine infant circumcision in a dismissive manner, as the mentality that underlines his philosophy is "what they don't know won't hurt them".

The mind is able to compensate for a great many things - it might be possible to take a scalpel to many parts of the body and still find the capacity to report a satisfying sex life. 

However this does not mean that circumcision has no negative effects, and the "hard evidence" for this is the millions of males that do not elect to have the procedure in adulthood. 

Why is that? Can we survey these uncircumcised people and publish a study, so the smart people at John Hopkins can cite it?


Round #3: More health care cost hysterics

NPR continues its weird circumcision reporting in its coverage of the "health care cost" melodrama. Reporting first in All Things Considered "Doctors Stop Circumcisions After Finding Out What They Cost" and then copied again on hits Shots blog, "An Alaska-Sized Price Difference For Circumcisions".

The reporting is similar to any progressive-left media brouhaha about health care costs that one has read elsewhere.

The difference here is that the core sob story comes from the expense of a cosmetic procedure - circumcision.

NPR's Shots blog explains:

Two groups of pediatricians are taking a stand in Anchorage, Alaska, after learning that Alaska Regional Hospital is charging $2,110 for a circumcision — almost 10 times more than the $235 that Providence Hospital, the city's other major health facility, charges. Those prices are on top of a doctor's bill.
Ryan now performs the procedure in his office for $700, the same as he charged in the hospital.
[...]
"Health care dollars are limited, and we like to see them spent in ways that really provide good health care for people and necessary health care for people," Ryan says. "And when the health care dollar is being milked off by charges ... those are dollars that can't be used for more essential things."
Yet, even doctors can have difficulty finding out what hospital care costs, says Dr. Jack Percelay, a New Jersey pediatrician who also chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on hospital care. Doctors are speaking up when they think a hospital is charging too much, he says, although most talk to hospital administrators behind closed doors.
"Oh, I'm sure there are many private discussions in terms of setting what seems to be reasonable fees," Percelay adds. "I have not heard of people boycotting services at one hospital based on charges previously."
Ryan says the incident has convinced him he needs to at least try to be better informed on hospital prices for all kinds of procedures. "Neither hospital is out there trying to put that information right in front of us," he says. "And sometimes it's hard information to get if you ask."


Note that the "cheap" version of the procedure in this story is still $40 more than Tobian's highest estimate. Perhaps an anomaly because it is Alaska, but interesting nonetheless.

Back to the story at hand - this is how NPR covers the story:

"Good ol' Dr Ryan. He's keeping the profiteering hospitals honest!"

However the story closer to reality:

"Parents still stupidly wasting money on costly elective procedures."

Dr Ryan is not doing charity or saving the rainforest here. He's pocketing $700 and performing an medically unnecessary procedure. Ryan himself describes the procedure as not "essential".

The bit veers into the absurd when it's the hospital that is the bogeyman for taking everywhere from $235 to $2110 for what amounts to a facilities fee.

Any way you slice it, (ouch) parents in Alaska are wasting about $935 on the total cost of an in-hospital circumcision performed by an MD. On a good day.

The idea that they might be taken to the cleaners for another thousand dollars merely changes the story from crazy to absolutely preposterous. 


The story of circumcision.

It has everything:
  • Bad superstitions
  • Shoddy reporting
  • Shaky science
  • Terrible economics
What is it about the circumcision issue that makes everyone lose their minds?

Why do people dilute medical science by trying to justify the procedure in a post-hoc manner?

Let us be honest about circumcision.

It is done primarily for cosmetic or religious reasons.

The relentless idea that we might want to keep cutting in order to support some secondary health indicators smells of a desperate need to always frame one's own choices in terms of the greater good or some bizarre objective superiority. 

Perhaps questionable conclusions regarding sexually transmitted infections run far in the pro-circumcision crowd as it gives certain groups the opportunity to very literally wave their dick in the air and claim that it is safer than a Volvo.

Here's an idea - NPR and the crew at Johns Hopkins University can place the topic in proper context, do things like mention HPV vaccines

The organizations might also feel the need to mention that Europe exists and is not currently falling into the ocean due to the weight of all that extra foreskin.

Meanwhile, parents can own their decision acting under the assumption that it is a completely unnecessary procedure. If they can't live with the possibility that the procedure is not glued to rates of infection, then they're playing with fire.


A good default is to leave some skin in the game.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Google it, PZ

PZ Myers has a particular posting style.

There's the type of post where he hates by proxy.

For example, one of his latest posts is titled "Who the hell is @Becky_Garrison?"

The post quickly links to his fellow FreeThoughtBlogger, Stephanie Zvan, who has documented practically everything Becky has said on Storify. Storify is now a tool for women's rights now that the Atheism+ crowd has figured out what it's used for instead of merely yelling an screaming about how @ElevatorGATE used it.

Interestingly enough in the hands of the Zvan, it does the same thing - meticulously documents the opinions of men and women she disagrees with.

In any case, PZ Myers is happy to hate Becky, and by the fifth sentence answers his own question:

"I have no idea who she is, nor do I care. But I did learn something from her ill-founded accusations and weird evasions, I think."

PZ then launches into a bizarre rant where he says that if he were added to the Atheism+ Twitter block bot "haters" list, he wouldn't mind and wouldn't say a word. He goes on to say that he has criticized other groups because he loves them so much.

So the block_bot is of zero concern to me. I could be put on it, and I’d shrug my shoulders and bravely soldier on. I don’t use it, so I’m doubly unconcerned.

Of course, PZ blogs about the most asinine stuff, why wouldn't he blog about his addition to the Block Bot if it were to happen?

Surely his addition would have been a huge deal. However what has changed is that David Silverman, President of American Atheists, was added to the A+ Block Bot list and it caused a huge kerfuffle.

If Silverman qualified for addition, surely Myers would. It's now clearly not if Myers will be added to the bot, but when.

To save some face, Myers is preemptively sharing the falsehood that he would not care if it were to happen. The theme is "I support you anyways!" as a message to his fans that they should not find themselves enraged by the ridiculous decisions made by Atheism+, the mind-virus meme created by this fellow bloggers.


The second type of post is the one where PZ performs a drive-by on the reputation by glibly name-dropping while making ridiculous comparisons.

For example, the new go-to name for racism PZ uses is Pat Condell.

In a blog post about something else entirely, PZ drops his name:

For some strange reason, this tirade by a guy laying out his criteria for a girlfriend reminds me of Pat Condell and his friends.

This is in a post labelled "How can you call him a racist? He says he isn’t!". The shot at Condell is in reference to PZ Myers' earlier post about Condell, in which he accuses Condell of using feminism as a cover for hatred of immigrants.

The argument made in the earlier post is that Condell puts too much blame on immigrants by citing statistics that cannot truly be compared. It's a valid point.

While it's true that Condell needs to be more careful about hyperbole and statistics, it's funny to hear who is definitively racist from a professor from a place by many accounts is one of the whitest states in America.

While Condell may be a showing a racist bias by misreading statistics and trying to blame the problems on immigrant muslims, perhaps PZ Myers has a cleverly hidden racist bias from his choice of location. PZ Myers covers this and boosts his own profile by labeling other old white men that would take his internet crown racists before they could even think about doing the same.

Further, PZ Myers' host desecration could be a simmering prejudice against Catholics that is merely a manifestation of his swelling hatred of the growing latino population in the United States.

Or we could just avoid dropping the "racist" label on people willy-nilly.

Moving on from racism and name dropping...

The final type of post that stands out as interesting at this time is the article in which PZ Myers has failed to any sort of fact-checking and basic research.

One example of this is the Hobby Lobby nonsense, in which PZ Myers hate-reblogs a post about a Hobby Lobby excluding Jewish customers: (titled "You People")

My values involve never setting foot inside a Hobby Lobby store.

The funny item in all this is PZ Myers wrote his post on October 1, 2013 while what could be said to be Hobby Lobby's  "anti-Semitic incident" was already over by many accounts the day before - September 30, 2013.

It's merely curious that an atheist would care that a store is purposefully excluding Hanukkah merchandise. However it is downright negligent to post outdated information based on reports that would so readily seem to be an isolated incident to be immediately dealt with by corporate public relations fixers.

As it turns out, the employee of some random Hobby Lobby store in New Jersey was not actually in charge of company policy in this regard. Fancy that.

But it gets worse. PZ Myers turns out to be even more naive than he appears.

In a post titled "Justine", PZ Myers attempts to cover the recent treatment of a woman's account of her sexual assault. The comments on the woman's blog were quite awful.

As PZ Myers puts it:

Do not read the comments on Justine’s post unless you really want to lose all faith in humanity. I repeat, do not read the comments. They are the true horror here.

This part is accurate. The comments were horrendous.

But then PZ Myers promptly screws up in his description of the comments:


Weirdly, Richard Stallman shows up to lecture everyone on how to properly refer to GNU/Linux.

What? 

Weirdly?

No shit! Richard Stallman showing up in a thread about sexual assault to explain "GNU/Linux" terminology would be weird, to say the least!

Let's look at what Stallman said, lifted from the thread:

RICHARD M STALLMAN says:
I’d just like to interject for a moment. What you’re refering to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/LInux, or as I’ve recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux. Linux is not an operating system unto itself, but rather another free component of a fully functioning GNU system made useful by the GNU corelibs, shell utilities and vital system components comprising a full OS as defined by POSIX. 
Many computer users run a modified version of the GNU system every day, without realizing it. Through a peculiar turn of events, the version of GNU which is widely used today is often called “Linux”, and many of its users are not aware that it is basically the GNU system, developed by the GNU Project. 
There really is a Linux, and these people are using it, but it is just a part of the system they use. Linux is the kernel: the program in the system that allocates the machine’s resources to the other programs that you run. The kernel is an essential part of an operating system, but useless by itself; it can only function in the context of a complete operating system. Linux is normally used in combination with the GNU operating system: the whole system is basically GNU with Linux added, or GNU/Linux. All the so-called “Linux” distributions are really distributions of GNU/Linux. 
OCTOBER 12, 2013 AT 8:00 AM
Then later, "Stallman" adds:

R.STALLMAN says:
>Someone looks in my general direction
>OMG, halp!! I’m being raped!!!!1 
OCTOBER 12, 2013 AT 9:03 AM
A concerned "Nat" responds:

NAT says:
Not that I’ve had much interest in what you had to say the past decade or so but I’ll be sure to no platform you should you appear at any conferences I happen to attend. After reading the comments on here I’m amazed Justine left them open but it does flush people out of the woodwork. 
OCTOBER 12, 2013 AT 9:14 AM

To which this "Stallman" adds:

R.STALLMAN says:
Shut up bitch, we as men must liberate all the pussy. You might think your body belongs to yourself, but it belongs to the community, to everybody, otherwise we don’t live in true freedom. Stop being a selfish cunt. 
OCTOBER 12, 2013 AT 9:47 AM

Back at Pharyngula (PZ Myer's blog) the a comment shares Nat's disgust:

Kevin (#4)
Shouldn’t he be called Richard Lippman-Stallman if he’s going to bang on like that?

Of course, the comments were not made by Richard Stallman.

This is so painfully obvious that even some Pharyngula commenters try to remedy the issue:

Vicar (#13)
The “GNU/Linux” reference shows that at least some of the people who are posting those comments think it’s all a game. (I am not excusing them, they are awful people who deserve all the excoriation they get and then some.) Stallman’s little mini-rant on how Linux should be called GNU/Linux because Linux distributions usually contain the GNU toolchain is something that people of that ilk toss in to show to amuse each other.
soegija nirwan (#77)
“Richard Stallman” posting that lecture on GNU/Linux was a popular meme a few years ago; it’s not really him.

It's straightforward for everyone with basic research skills to see through "Stallman"'s comments.

Searching the web for the first sentence in this "GNU/Linux" lecture:


I’d just like to interject for a moment. What you’re refering to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/LInux, or as I’ve recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux.

This bizarrely specific sentence yields tens of thousands of hits, with the paragraph being shared by people who are obviously not Richard Stallman.

Not only is it clear that Richard Stallman is not the one sharing this body of text, there is little evidence immediately available that he actually made such a statement to begin with. There happens to be a fairly elaborate Wikiquote entry on Richard Stallman, with a related discussion page mentioning that the text lacks a reliable source.

The troll in the comments on Justine's post cannot even be said to be putting effort in trying to adequately impersonate Richard Stallman. The comments made are a plain copy paste of a rather bizarre meme.

When the founder of the Free Software Foundation is telling one to "liberate the pussy" in any given comment thread, perhaps it is time to be skeptical about the identity of the authors participating in the discussion!

It is entirely possible that PZ Myers' reference to Stallman's comments was in jest, but that more than one social justice warrior fell for this ruse allows us to consider that PZ Myers actually thinks Richard Stallman could be asshole enough to share his opinions in this manner.


Putting the Stallman fiasco on pause and returning to PZ Myers' earlier rage about Becky Garrison for a moment. At the end of the post about Becky Garrison, PZ writes:

So please, stop trying to fit a complex set of diverse voices into your pathetic, simplistic narrative. And if you find something we say bruises your fragile ego, just stop reading us. We won’t mind. Actually, we’d prefer it if you freaking narcissists would take a hike and leave us alone.

This has to be the most nonsensical "poor me" statement PZ Myers has ever crafted.

What is Myers' ask of Becky Garrison, Pat Condell and Richard Stallman?

Essentially:
"Stop reading my posts and leave me alone"

It would seem that PZ Myers is allowed to write posts that routinely skirt the definition of outright character assassination and those involved can be expected to somehow forget all about it.

It speaks to the sorry state of American education that a professor that claims to be from the internet ultimately fails to lift a finger to do a trivial amount of research using the internet and routinely fails to realize that he's writing daily open letters to the very same people he claims to want nothing to do with.

It's a true statement to say that there is an old man in Minnesota that thinks a national chain of hobby stores is run by Nazis and that notable names in computer science like to show up in blog comments to correct women in their use of computer terminology before espousing their desire to "liberate" their genitalia.

Maybe the most unhinged person in Minnesota is not Michelle Bachmann...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Steph Guthrie trolls TED

Steph Guthrie gave a talk at TEDxToronto:





It was quite provocative. So it's probably trolling! Right?

It's a short video, but here's the rundown to prime discussion.

0:09 - "I have a folder on my desktop called 'death threats' - it's sad to say this can be par for the course when you're a woman with an opinion on the internet"

1:22 - "Tell me why I shouldn't take these kinds of things seriously"

Things that show up on screen:

  • A jibe about how much she might spend on hair products
  • Testimony that someone was called a bitch, ugly, and told to go make dinner
  • An insult along the lines of "you're so stupid you must be drunk"
  • An invitation to perform a blowjob
  • A statement about how the subject may be "bed hopping" (i.e. promiscuous) 
  • Three statements either threatening or indicating happiness about beatings or rapes
So a few things came out of the "death threats" folder. However a few came out of the general "jerks" folder.

2:18 - "There's something else that really bothers me about using the word "troll" to describe garden variety misogyny. It suggests that it's an internet problem rather than a society problem. [...] Why qualify it with a word like 'trolling' when really it's misogyny?"

2:47 - "I'll talk about some of the features of online communication that have allowed misogyny to flourish"

3:00ish - Talking about a game created where the player can beat up Anita Sarkeesian.

3:50 - "What is it about the internet that encouraged this guy to publish this game and put that out there?"

Reasons presented:
  • "Social distance" - creator didn't have to "look Anita in the face"
  • "Performance" - creator had an audience to share the game with
  • "No consequences" - doing things on the internet is not viewed as having consequences, law enforcement is behind, no perceived social consequences

6:00ish - Describes the process of tracking down the game creator after the game was deleted.

6:21 - Tweets game creator and advertises his existence - "do you punch women in the face IRL, or just on the internet? (This guy made the Anita Sarkeesian facepunch game). Others, RT."

6:41 - Tweets the local paper of the game creator : "Sault Ste Marie employers, if you get a resume from <creator>, he made a woman facepunching game"

7:10 - Screencaps of how she used ElevatorGATE's favorite tool, Storify, to bring justice down upon the game creator

7:40 - How internet can apparently cure misogyny:
  • "Performance" - People can participate in shaming creator as much like others participate in the game
  • "Visibility" - creator's "misogynist views" were on "permanent record" rather than "he said, she said"
  • "Virality" - popularity of the "anti-misogyny" campaign can be as viral as the "hate" campaign
From this point on, it's an endorsement of the usual "aggregators" of of daily bigotry, as it's said to be somehow useful for everyone to digest examples of people being awful to one another without context.

The finale:

"Strike 'Don't feed the trolls' from your lexicon if you're talking about a misogynist. We feed bigots by meeting their hatred with collective silence."

First things first.

A quick transition from death threats

It's interesting how the talk began speaking about a folder full of death threats and then launched into a very lengthy discussion about a woman-punching video game.

Interestingly enough, the game focused on a single online spat. Not a word was said about another woman-punching video game, Grand Theft Auto V, which seems to be one of the highest grossing video games to date.

Perhaps it's Sarkeesian's department to speak about GTA V, while it's Guthrie's to speak about Sarkeesian's opponents.

It is interesting to consider that both games will allow one to find entertainment to violence.

What sets the Sarkeesian-punching game apart?

Is it that the violence is against an identifiable person instead of a persona? Is it that the violence depicted is not fictional enough to be on HBO? Is it perhaps too interactive?

Whatever the differences, we've lost the connection to this folder of threats. Guthrie has muddied the waters enough to convince the audience that they are related entities in what could be said to be a war on feminism, however no effort is made to connect the dots in a convincing manner.

The reference to death threats set the tone, and then the audience is quickly led into judgment of the punch-Sarkeesian developer after their pitchforks were sharpened and the torches were well lit.




Is trolling misogyny?

When someone says the c-word or tells a woman to "get back in the kitchen" - is it misogyny?

It is definitely misogynist weaponry. But it doesn't mean that the heart of the feedback is part of a misogynist campaign.

Trolls can send racist, sexist, homophobic, fat-shaming messages. But this does not mean that trolling is any of those things.

For example, if one were to find someone online sending messages calling Paula Deen a "big fat nasty c-word", the conclusion one really cannot make is that the participants in this trolling are effectively fat-shaming misogynists. Such an answer makes a mockery of the entire situation.

When the context of debate is a particular "feminist" group's activism, then perhaps it's much simpler to present trolling as misogyny. As whatever negative things happen to a "feminist" group will be defined after the fact as misogyny by definition.

Luckily the internet is much larger than a flame war with "feminist" groups.

Accepting that fact, calling trolling misogyny is simply inaccurate. Even when sexist language is used.




Is the internet allowing people to unleash their inner misogynist?

What an evil place! It seems the internet is a place unencumbered by rules, where people can abuse others at will and get away with it. We'd all get along if not for the misogynists... right?

Oddly enough, Guthrie begins her talk saying that trolling is a form of "garden variety misogyny", then continues to talk about what makes the internet a special case and how people behave differently in real life (IRL).

The internet is different.

It is true that people can be, in some sense, more misogynist. More bigoted. More awful to one another.

However it is also true that people can be more obtuse. More irrational. More dismissive. More vengeful.

One way to be dismissive and vengeful is to create a game where the player can assault an effigy of the person you dislike.

Another way to be dismissive and vengeful is to insert yourself into a pissing contest about video games, sleuth out details about a perceived enemy and attempt to end their career.

Maybe the actions are not equivalent, but they speak to the internet's capability to amplify everything.

Before the internet, one could give a speech to an audience in Toronto and in all likelihood begin and end in Toronto. The audience in the room might be the only participants and the only potential critics.

Now, as Guthrie points out, the internet allows the contents of the speech to be put on a "permanent record". The video would act as a sort of global flypaper for people that vehemently disagree. Heated debates that had little opportunity to materialize live in the room after the speech are almost guaranteed to happen online as every sentence is pondered.

For the first time, people are presented with an endless rain of "feminist" theories readily indexed for easy consumption. Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook present the concepts not in 100 page research papers but as bite-size focused critiques of the behavior of specific people. Things get about as deep as the rage-fest that was donglegate.

While we may be learning the true opinions of the so-called misogynists, we are also learning the true opinions of the self-appointed speakers for all women everywhere.

And everyone seems to be quite awful to one another. The secular movement discovered this quite some time ago, and attempted to do something about it - the leaders of various groups suggested choosing different methods of communication.

Internet "feminists" essentially told these leaders of several large non-profit organizations to STFU. (They love f-bombs)

That'll help matters.



Everyday sexism

But to put in concrete terms of "every day" sexism that "feminists" adore talking about, the situation simplifies.

Women will receive sexist messages online. In their "real life" daily lives, as Guthrie mentions several times, women will be also hear sexist insults and slurs. Maybe the person using these slurs are their brother, sister, spouse or boss.

Can they be deemed misogynists for life? It does not happen. It would be a ridiculous result.

But it's what Guthrie is essentially advocating for online. It's just another variation of the positioning one's own political group against the evildoers that lack a conscience.

Where does all this leave us with a solution to end trolling?

It isn't absolutely clear.

What is clear - if we rely on Guthrie, Watson, Criado-Perez, or McCreight to teach the world what conflict resolution looks like, we're in deep trouble.

It would not be if World War III will happen, but simply when.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Miseducation Indeed

Lauryn Hill was released from prison October 4 after serving a sentence that was part of a conviction for tax evasion. Hill has released a song on the same day, perhaps to commemorate the occasion.

Hill by some reports online has paid a complete amount of $970,000 in taxes owed.

Related to this are some interesting statements Hill made about a year ago:

For the past several years, I have remained what others would consider underground. I did this in order to build a community of people, like-minded in their desire for freedom and the right to pursue their goals and lives without being manipulated and controlled by a media protected military industrial complex with a completely different agenda.
[...]
During this period of crisis, much was said about me, both slanted and inaccurate, by those who had become dependent on my creative force
[...]
As my potential to work, and therefore earn freely, was being threatened, I did whatever needed to be done in order to insulate my family from the climate of hostility, false entitlement, manipulation, racial prejudice, sexism and ageism that I was surrounded by. This was absolutely critical while trying to find and establish a new and very necessary community of healthy people, and also heal and detoxify myself and my family while raising my young children.
[...]

My intention has always been to get this situation rectified. When I was working consistently without being affected by the interferences mentioned above, I filed and paid my taxes. This only stopped when it was necessary to withdraw from society, in order to guarantee the safety and well-being of myself and my family.
As this, and other areas of issue are resolved and set straight, I am able to get back to doing what I should be doing, the way it should be done. This is part of that process. To those supporters who were told that I abandoned them, that is untrue. I abandoned greed, corruption, and compromise, never you, and never the artistic gifts and abilities that sustained me.

Further, in a statement to the court, Hill said:

"I am a child of former slaves who had a system imposed on them," Hill said in court. "I had an economic system imposed on me."
Yikes.

In Lauryn Land, it would seem following things are true:
  1. One can "abandon greed" by pocketing close to a million dollars
  2. Key to "withdrawing from society" is not filing a correct tax return
  3. Income tax is just another component of a coercive economic system that is rooted in racism
It is apparent that Hill is either terrible at explaining her actions or an incredibly paranoid person.

For all this talk about needing to "withdraw from society", one wonders how it is that we haven't heard of Thomas Pynchon getting in trouble for tax evasion. Maybe, just maybe, the IRS is not a privacy-exploding, family-destroying agent of Lucifer.

Further it is strange that income tax is nearly a universal among nations with functional governments. Modern income tax rates do not seem to have any correlation to a nation's history of slavery or lack thereof. 

Truly, it is a puzzle.

But this rather strange "family defense" narrative has done Hill some favors. Hill owed the state about a million bucks and three months. Three months might not be all that bad, all things considered. Our "friends" Kent Hovind and Wesley Snipes might be a little jealous right now.

Now that Hill is out, hopefully she'll pay her taxes on time from now on.

Tax. That thing nobody likes. Deal with it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Please feed the trolls

Recently Skepchick helpfully posted a transcript of the SkepchickCon 2013's "Fight the Trolls" panel.

The panel in title and members differs little from SkepchickCon 2012's "Don't Feed The Trolls" talk.

This fact and the central point of Skepchick's criticism of the "Don't Feed The Trolls" mantra is reiterated almost immediately in this year's panel:

RW: I’ll start just by pointing out last year we had a panel similar to this called “Don’t Feed the Trolls,” and it was sort of an ironic title that I chose because people tell me that all the time whenever I respond to somebody who’s trying to bully me. Inevitably I’ll have someone watching on the sidelines say, “Don’t feed the trolls,” meaning that by giving the trolls attention, they’re only going to be worse. And that’s absolutely wrong.
I do think that there are some people who could fall into that category, people who just want any kind of attention, and when they get it, that makes them worse. I do think that person exists. But by and large the people who bully me online, bully other women online, I don’t think they necessarily want attention. I think what they want is silence. They want you to shut up and go away and stop talking about women’s rights. 
[...]
RW: I want to briefly highlight the point you just made about how real-life bullying is often done out of sight. So is cyber-bullying. It’s only made public because we are “feeding the trolls.” If it were up to the trolls, it would by and large be a private experience and that’s what it was for me and for many other women for a very long time before you snap, and you start publishing the e-mails you get, re-tweeting the tweets you get. Your followers don’t see the trolls sending you tweets unless you’re pointing them out. And that’s what it means when you tell someone “Don’t feed the trolls.” It means, “I want you to suffer in silence so I don’t have to see the bullying that is happening.”

Skepchick has for quite some time hosted a page explaining their perspective on "Don't Feed The Trolls":


What you think ["don't feed the trolls"] means: Just don’t reply to people or publicize their insults and they’ll go away! All they want is attention.
What it actually means: Suffer in silence. Read those emails about what a fucking cunt you are and then quietly delete them. Go lay in bed and cry until you don’t necessarily feel better but can at least pretend like you feel better so that we can all continue our lives blissfully ignorant of anything bad ever happening. The abuse will continue to come, because they don’t want attention – they are bullies. They want power over you. They want your silence, and they got it.

It is plain to see that this is critique of "Don't Feed The Trolls" is quite baked into Skepchick culture. 

By itself, this doesn't mean a great deal. Skepchick merely disagrees with the often-cited rule that engaging with critics is nearly always bad.

This similar in some sense to stating that there are exceptions to Rule 34 and it may not be in fact a fundamental law of the universe.

However two factors here are interesting:
  1. The idea that "Don't Feed The Trolls" (DFTT) is bad advice is spreading
  2. The behavior of those engaging in this advocacy is suspect
To illustrate these two items, we'll continue to a recent vocal critic of DFTT is one Caroline Criado-Perez.

Caroline Criado-Perez is a 'feminist' advocate that is most famous (even Wikipedia famous now) for a recent ruckus over the presence of women (or lack thereof) on banknotes in the United Kingdom.

Criado-Perez had to deal with several "trolls" in her campaign to change the banknotes, the majority of comments coming from Twitter users.

Of course, use of the word "trolls" to describe the people interacting with Criado-Perez is quite inadequate as the messages ranged from mildly displeased incredulity to definitely illegal bomb threats.

Criado-Perez has since deactivated her Twitter account and gave a speech in which this was said:

If there’s one thing I want to come out of what happened to me, it’s for the phrase “don’t feed the trolls” to be scrubbed from the annals of received wisdom. Not feeding the trolls doesn’t magically scrub out the image in your head of being told you’ll be gang-raped till you die. What are victims meant to do with that image, the rage and the horror that it conjures up? We’re meant to internalise it until it consumes us? Well I’m sorry, but I’m not having that.

To anyone with a few neurons firing, it is quite plain that "don't feed the trolls" is advice altogether different from "don't phone in that bomb/rape/murder threat to the police".

Naturally, Criado-Perez did contact the police several times. Unfortunately police departments have difficultly keeping up with Twitter, as there are technical as well as jurisdiction issues. The legal issues in play here do not need enumerating - all that we need to continue is the realization that no rational actor is honestly advocating that one should ignore bomb threats.

To get a better picture of how Criado-Perez did "feed the trolls" in the usual sense, consider the following exchanges between Criado-Perez and those that would dare @mention her alias on Twitter.

A "Nicky Clarke" attempts to give Criado-Perez some advice about corralling her fans:




Presumably some overzealous fans were busy shouting down those that would suggest Caroline Criado Perez not "feed the trolls".


Nicky Clark continues:





How did Caroline Criado-Perez respond?

She tweeted the following -

First tweet from Caroline Criado-Perez:

Second tweet from Caroline Criado-Perez:

Here Criado-Perez has plainly assumed that Nicky Clark did something worthy of legal action. Criado-Perez threatened lodging harassment charges against Clark if Clark dared continue an exchange that Clark had already left.

Coupled with these statements was a signal to all the followers of Criado-Perez that Nicky Clark was by Criado-Perez's measure a harasser.

Here are some of Criado-Perez's other greatest hits:






Caroline Criado-Perez is not merely "feeding a troll". 

Caroline Criado-Perez IS a troll.

Worse, Criado-Perez seems to be frighteningly unbalanced in a very transparent manner.

There should be no objections in stating that dropping f-bombs on everyone that voices minor criticisms of your behavior is not good public relations.

Supporters of Criado-Perez might say that what Criado-Perez needs is solidarity, understanding, and friendship. It is however precisely the intent of those offering 'solutions' that Criado-Perez no longer has to deal with what she faced previously.

For this constructive criticism, these helpful souls received profanity laced tweets and threats of legal action.

Let's traverse back to Skepchick's formula for troll-feeding success and find some general rules.

Within the Skepchick video, one thing that surfaces is the need to feed the "trolls" but to not put them on "equal footing". One must clearly communicate to the audience the troll will be presented to that one does not view the troll's opinions as having any merit whatsoever. That is to first communicate that the troll exists and is horrible, but not necessarily engage ideas.

In practice, this roughly translates into being as dismissive as possible. Skepchicks take time to share their favorite ways to provoke a troll and publicize the troll's message in humorous ways.

The problem is this only really pans out for the most absurd of messages.

In fact, it is quite telling the sort of "trolls" these "feminists" choose to "feed".

Bait that "social justice warriors" like

Wondering how to get a reaction out of "feminists"?

The majority of messages that receive responses are of the following types:

  • Insults based on appearance
  • Insults based on intelligence
  • Suggestions that the recipient deserves physical abuse
  • Threats of rape
  • Threats of murder
  • Slurs that are said to be sexist/gendered (e.g. the c-word)
  • Criticism of tactics (i.e. suggestions of "seek to educate" or "don't feed the trolls")
There is a very short list of things that 'feminists' online will choose to respond to. Of course, there are those that get so much feedback that responding to everything is nearly impossible.

Yet there remains a pattern of responses such that we can easily tell what is going to provoke a response. We can create a set of rules that determines how they prioritize the messages they receive. 

First, 'feminists' would deal with threats any sane person would. Police. This step is ultimately rational.

Of the remaining messages, 'feminists' will respond to the most anti-social, hateful and psychotic tweets (that are not threats) with an amazing reaction time. This is nearly guaranteed. The message will either be re-published in some form or indexed for later retrieval. It will inevitably make an appearance the next time 'social justice' activists wish to cast their opponents as psychopaths.

Then we comb through messages that insult a female's looks or intelligence. These messages are often matched with snarky comments about male sexual performance and desirability.

The fourth step of the response algorithm will hunt for opportunities to spread dirt, ignite long held grudges, enlist the support of Twitter in some fake scandal or manufacture controversy involving celebrities.

Soon after this comes the call-outs of the till-now supposed allies of the beleaguered activist. This is where anybody remotely suggesting that things are not uniquely horrible for Team Twitter feminism is outed as a hater. Donglegate is one instance in time where this happened several times - discussing the behavior of Adria Richards served as a casual litmus test for just who qualified as "true believers" in the ill-defined pseudo-progressive wasteland that is embodied by Atheism Plus

The troll-feeding frenzy typically ends here. It is curious as to why exactly, but we can present some examples of items that aren't so appetizing for the self-identified feeders of trolls.

Posts that Twitter feminism ignores


Criticisms of their friends (or fans)
With few exceptions, the Atheism Plus types will ignore criticisms that skips them as subjects in favor of their friends.

For example, when a fellow 'feminist' loses it on Twitter and later chooses to sit in a protected account cocoon for an indefinite period of time, it's quite certain that no riveting defense of their character will be written by one of their "social justice" pals. 

In the social justice wing of Twitter, there have been at least four separate instances of people rage deactivating their accounts in the past year. 

Most of the time, blog-everything troll-fighter faction know precisely who they are. Moreover, they often speak of this sort of event being precisely what is wrong with either:
  1. The internet
  2. Some subset of the internet (Twitter, Reddit)
  3. Their activist movement of choice (atheism, skepticism, etc - provided it has already been branded as significantly male)
  4. Video gaming
It qualifies as the "bullying" that many say should be eradicated. Given this it's difficult to imagine why more people aren't documenting the treatment of people similar to Caroline Criado-Perez.

One may say that there is simply too many examples to be able to step back and speak to each incident.

However Occam's razor may lead us to conclude that many would rather spend time speaking about an issue than trying to address incidents more directly.

Also it might be that many of these so-called activists realize that their comrades are hardly figures evoking sympathy - in fact, much of the movement of only has lukewarm feelings about the contributions of many of its supporters. Someone out there might want to be in Criado-Perez's corner, but find her affection towards sending angry tweets a difficult pill to swallow.

Further, it is often that these social justice bloggers actually enjoy watching people being fed to the wolves online.

A recent example comes from Chris Clarke's departure from Pharyngula:

OK, so it’s no secret that I’ve left Pharyngula. Not because of any falling out with PZ, whom I still adore, but because of the tenor of the commentariat. There are a number of regulars there who are fine people, and a number who are deliberate jerks in situations that do not call for deliberate jerkery, and a Venn diagram of those two sets would overlap considerably.
[In their writings, the commentariat was] remarkably dismissive, casting me as PZ’s “assistant” and belittling my work except where it took part in the petty shitfights the commentariat find important.

Of course the other author of Pharyngula, PZ Myers, largely did not care. There was a half-hearted attempt to change commenting policy - the laughable effort to solve the problem of the commentariat was outsourced to the commentariat in an open thread of ideas. 

This was to be expected, as PZ actually loves his crowd of assholes. Criticizing the commentariat on Pharyngula is a complete non-starter. If Clarke made it a simple choice between his involvement and removing comment forms, Clarke would be asked to leave.

Similarly, when Skepchicks respond to a "troll" on Twitter or even go as far as naming names of people existing in the same building as they are within, they rely on the internet hate machine eviscerating their opponents.

This mode of operation makes sense under the assumption that notions of "solidarity" do not truly exist in the land of vocal bloggers and tweeters.

Nobody truly cares if Chris never writes another blog post or Caroline never writes another tweet.

At the end of the day, what is paying the bills (or at least driving one's ego) is the horde of gushing fans.

The horde is not interested in hearing about how Caroline's story is complicated and maybe they should have been kinder to Chris.

The horde just wants the next hate-read.


Criticisms longer than 140 characters
There is some correlation between criticism that lives past a few paragraphs and criticism is not composed entirely of insults.

This correlation might mean that one simply does not find cause to respond to a criticism that does not seem as adversarial as others.

That is to say that the critic that is dropping f-bombs in your Twitter mentions is more likely to find your wrath more frequently than the critic writing verbose dissections of minutia.

It is understandable that many "busy" activists would choose the "too long, didn't read" route and engage with those that do not need as much investment of time.

But let's go over what happens to the lengthy criticisms.

If one harassing evildoer chose to write a lengthy critical comment on the online property of those with a conscience, chances are it simply result in a ban. It won't be indexed for all eternity as evidence of hate. It will simply be deleted.

Obviously the next course of action is to post content to a blog or forum not directly under the control of the subject of the criticism.

What happens next is two things:

The wall of words is merely just more "harassment" from "the haters" who are in some way all responsible for one another. Whatever snippets make the rounds through the social justice land only serve to remind the players that they are the beleaguered saviors of the voiceless.

To appreciate the attention span problem this movement has, consider that they also have a brevity issue with things they agree with. For the most popular pastime of Twitter activists is taking photos of people holding a half dozen word statements scrawled on a whiteboard.



Records of their own statements
Perhaps the most famous villain in this saga remains a character using the alias ElevatorGATE.

The crime ElevatorGATE was most often cited for was described as "harassing" and "stalking". This comes from ElevatorGATE's frequent use of a tool called Storify to document their interactions on Twitter.

One can read about how everyone reacted to Storify in an earlier post.

All we need to establish here is that these people are not at all ready to discuss what they may have said on Twitter.

Of course, when a rich old white guy says something on Twitter, they circle like vultures hoping to "call him out" in their perverse "call out culture".

Meanwhile, if ElevatorGATE happens to use Storify to document their hypocrisy and ridiculousness, they would rather to never feel obligated to respond to their own statements. It would be much easier of Twitter/Storify and related services simply expelled the "harasser" that had the nerve to mirror what they said.


Feeding trolls and breeding trolls

This is not a complete list of critiques that die on the vine waiting to be fed by the empowered equality ensemble.

Perhaps the problem viewed concisely would be the realization that many "activists" really don't act truly insulted until one drops a few magic words on them.

This presents a very specific set of choices for those that feel the need to spread their displeasure to the person they see as the cause of their foul mood.

Perhaps some concepts from evolution can be borrowed to help understand what is happening here.

Let's say you have a population of a few thousand critics.

Why do critics exist? Maybe one is voicing controversial opinions and making provocative statements online. Just a guess.

It might sound like victim blaming, if it wasn't already so obvious that politics is a voluntary bloodsport.

Welcome to activism. One doesn't "just have an opinion" online. If Twitter "feminism" truly believed that opinions are "just" opinions, they wouldn't be so exasperated about perspectives (and people) they abhor.

Back to our population of critics. How does one deal with them? They have different messages and motivations. The choice of extreme responses would be to ignore them all or to "feed" them all.

The response from "social justice" Twitter advocates has been a selective feeding program. But it's more of a selective breeding campaign, created from a morphing of goals based on the environment so-called "trolls" are placed in.

For the motivations of "trolls" could broadly be a mix of two factors: the desire to point out your errors, and the desire to make you feel bad about them.

The audience and end goals could be very different - one may want to make your ideas look ridiculous, while another simply wants you to jump off a bridge.

The question becomes whether or not choosing to address only the most deranged of one's critics leads to an expansion of their numbers.

Of course, it's done on purpose - it casts a sympathetic light on the "activist" that is allegedly being bullied. The other activists share this in a "see how bad it is for us" manner and the subject of the trolling acquires a higher profile.

In this sympathy fest, the message sent to the critics as a whole is that this group is deeply unserious about addressing perceived problems as it is only interrupted by truly antisocial behavior.

One has "fed" a troll only to potentially create another, if others in the audience choose to exchange a mildly judgmental comments for an expedient rage-tweet and 15 minutes of troll fame.

Thankfully there appear to be other choices available.

The first change would be relatively simple. People like Caroline Criado-Perez would engage people as they would normally, except in the future simply avoiding being the first person in any given exchange to drop profanity or insults on people.

Then perhaps there is a more balanced approach to criticism generally. Simple admissions of imperfect judgments of people would perhaps be better than applying labels of "misogynist" and "racist" liberally.

Finally publicizing participation in friendly disagreements may save discussion from the gutter.

What could be the slogan for this effort to engage with a more diverse set of opponents?

Please feed the trolls... equitably.