Saturday, January 23, 2010


Well I had it out yesterday - and I do not even want to think about how many hours I spent on this - with a mob on the science blog Pharyngula. It was silly of me to think that the level of discourse would be superior on this blog, just because it's a science blog. Blog comment tribes are the same everywhere.

I stopped commenting on the blog "I Blame the Patriarchy" in spite of that blog owner's brilliance because there is an established group of insiders who enforce conformity. If you tried to argue something that you might believe was uncontroversial - say you suggested that not all men are violent jerks - you would kick up a shit-storm of abusive comments by the in-crowd.

Pharyngula has a well-established blog comment tribe and as I discovered, demonstrating you have any "accommodationist" sympathies - that is you believe that it is an acceptable fact of life that some scientists might also hold religious beliefs - you will be trashed as savagely as anybody with pro-male sympathies on "I Blame the Patriarchy."

It's truly fascinating and there is almost nothing online, at least, that addresses the nature of blog comment tribes groupthink. Somebody should do a study. It would certainly be cheaper and easier than most studies - simply review comment threads and analyze the behavior: who insults whom and why, who agrees with whom, what are the unspoken rules that guide the behavior of group insiders, that kind of thing.

There's a wiki on Groupthink but it's not extensive. It's worth considering though:
Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness, as are the advantages of reasonable balance in choice and thought that might normally be obtained by making decisions as a group.[1] During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight.
One issue I would really like to see a study for: do the dynamics of Groupthink change based on whether the blog is dedicated to science, or politics, or art, etc. My hunch is there is no difference - the group dynamics displayed by commenters on Pharyngula will be shown to be exactly the same as the group dynamics of, for example, Free Republic, a right-wing political blog.