Post I’d like to write: trolls by discipline

I noted in both my qualitative study(pdf) of science blogging and my social network analysis study (pdf) that there are more trolls in some areas of science blogs than others, and they’re pretty detectable by looking at the patterns of links.

Anyhoo, seems like although some fields get more trolls than others, each field has a unique set of trolls with different approaches. Now I’m not talking about people who actually have substantive arguments that further the conversation, I’m talking about obnoxious people who hijack the conversation.

Actually, with that said, it would be kind of interesting to have a typology of the various flavors of pseudo science activists and what not who cause hate and discontent in blog comments. You have the anti-feminists, the anti vaxxers, etc.

Not really a troll, but this post about the sorts of e-mail meteorologists get got me started on this. Sigh.

11 responses so far

  • rknop says:

    There is one form of trolling that comes from within the science blogging community, or at least the regular commenters who are considered part of the regular community. If you're a science blogger who's a theist and actually says something about it from time to time, there are legions of the convinced philosophical materialists out there who will come and troll you with the same dogmatic assertions that it's intellectually dishonest, childish, or stupid to be a scientist without being an atheist.

    • Christina Pikas says:

      After going back and forth with some physics folks, I was wondering if their trolls were just the same crackpots they had been getting letters and e-mails from for years. What you describe sounds like it's new to the blogosphere and not related to discipline. Kinda sucks when we troll each other 🙁

      • rknop says:

        Re: the Physics trolls, some of them are. Truth to tell, though, I don't get much in the way of trolls, except when I troll them. (Some of the "plasma cosmology" people came out of the woodwork when I posted how plasma cosmology was bunk, but you have to expect that.)

        I suspect the main reason I don't get trolls is that I have a very low profile blog....

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Now I’m not talking about people who actually have substantive arguments that further the conversation, I’m talking about obnoxious people who hijack the conversation

    I am all aquiver to hear how you have managed to distinguish these phenotypes accurately.

    • Christina Pikas says:

      there's a typology of social roles in this: Golder, S. A., & Donath, J. (2004). Social Roles in Electronic Communities. Paper presented at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) Conference Internet Research 5.0, Brighton, England. Retrieved from

      there's a section in that on flamers, trolls, and ranters. Troll can be anyone who's disruptive or more narrowly defined as someone who pretends to be helpful but hijacks the thread.

  • Christina Pikas says:

    From Steve Lawson,,

    "Provocation without accountability is trolling"

  • HCP says:

    Won't those varied troll commentators mostly fall under the umbrella of true believers suffering from (and spreading) cognitive dissonance to justify their opinions? I.e., they'll always be anti-accepted-science for a given topic? Thus, trolls in the sense Golder and Donath mentioned -- fomenting disagreement, albeit in order to undermine a consensus they are against, not merely for entertainment.

    If that's not the largest (ill-defined) group, I'd hazard a guess that the largest troll type that spans disciplines would be, as you say, the pseudo-scientist. Specifically, those with the agenda of advancing their own theory. In un-moderated fora they can spread their notions; instead of less tolerant refereed journals.

    You might need to rule it out for other reasons, but I'll suggest data mining places like the comments section of Physorg, in addition to blogs proper. It's still new tech and the public reaction thereto, hopefully that still qualifies under your research.

    • Christina Pikas says:

      There is a large category that spans disciplines, but I think physics and math have also moved their special crackpots into the online age.

      FWIW- posts that start with posts I'd like to write will most likely never become real posts or real research projects. Too much other stuff to work on.

    • Ed says:

      I agree -- there does need to be a differentiation between trollers who troll for the thrill of it (4chan, etc.), and "true believers" that want to advance an agenda of some sort (comments from any politics blog you care to mention). The end results may be similar, but I think mitigation strategies would have to be different...

      • HCP says:

        One more species -- I'm frequently guilty of Devil's Advocacy, being the platonic gadfly. This leaves me open to charges of trolling, since it's impossible to spot motivation from across the internet. I hope it's not so bad in Academia, but a lot of people get upset when you expect them to think.

  • Joe Hourclé says:

    Not quite trolling, but do a search for 'ufo disclosure stereo' ... it used to be that we got the space weather (high compressed, but near real time) data replaced with the full resolution images before people noticed ... then there was a rather long DSN (Deep Space Network) outage ... and some blob lookng artifacts ... and then the DSN finally caught up on its replay, and we replaced the images from the uncompressed data stream.

    And you wouldn't believe how much bitching we had, and people calling us liars when we tried to explain what had happened, as they tried claiming we were covering up evidence of alien life. I guess now people are more actively looking for the compression artifacts, so they can be outraged when we remove 'em. I get fewer e-mails these days, as I was declared 'not a sysadmin', so adjusted the 404 pages ... but my ATR seems to still get them enough.