Saturday, August 21, 2010


Bill and I are strong believers in freedom of speech and have long since had an open comment policy, allowing anonymous comments, no moderation (except old posts for spam) and never deleting comments (again except for spam). This has allowed our blog to serve as a public forum for the community giving a place where people can express their opinions openly.

The level of nastiness has dramatically increased in the last couple of months, but we've maintained this policy believing everyone should be allowed to share their opinion, whether it be good, bad or ugly. But some seem to be purposely incendiary instead of giving a real point of view. Please keep comments civil and on topic so this blog can continue its long role where we can have fruitful discussions of the important issues and ideas in computational complexity and theoretical computer science.


  1. have fruitful discussions of the important issues and ideas in computational complexity and theoretical computer science

    Respectfully, the lack of focus of this blog on the above-mentioned topics is likely a factor in things.

  2. Interesting that this post came after the P vs NP debacle (and the pointed criticisms of Lance) and not after the Dana Moshkovitz debacle or any of the other debacles that have happened in the past.

  3. I am actually ambivalent about the number of anonymous posters on this blog. The percentage of anonymous posters seems much higher than on most blogs and it makes it somewhat less of a friendly place.

    I think there is a "tipping point" phenomena going on where once there is such a culture of anonymous posting everyone feels they should be anonymous even for innocuous comments.

  4. Anonymity is often blamed for nasty comment threads, but there are plenty of blogs out there that allow anonymous comments without moderation that don't get so out of hand. Some rely on the commenters to keep each other in line, but that doesn't seem to be happening here anymore; it seems to have become a place for people to air their resentment of the TCS elite (for whatever reason).

    But I think there are ways to "moderate" the discussion without explicitly reviewing and deleting comments. Lance and Bill could drop into the comments from time to time, replying to those that set the right tone and gently correcting those that set the wrong tone. Right now it's got a very "when the adults are away" feel to it which I suspect could be remedied if Lance and Bill interacted more directly.

  5. I think it is time for a group blog.

    After more than 8 years it is understandable to lose focus, fresh blood might liven up the place.

    It is hard for a single blogger to consistently produce very many high quality posts over many many years, especially in a technical field that can not depend on the news for headlines and post ideas.

    Most bloggers follow the same pattern: A burst of activity over the first year or two as they "get things off their chest" then a slowly dwindling production as they run out of things to say. Kind of like TV shows.

  6. i think we're doing pretty good here. apparently some people need to express their resentments using a very low class tone, and they seem to be concentrating around this blog. helps keep other blogs clean which actually do have fruitful discussions of the important issues and ideas in CC and TCS.

  7. There's already a pseudo group blog, just look at . I'm not sure who add feeds to it, but it seems pretty liberal.

  8. I have left anonymous comments on this blog from time to time and I support what Lance and Bill wrote in this post. One can express her views in a civilized manner without attacking others. Thanks to Lance and Bill.

    But I don't think that blogs can really be used as forums, and IMO we need a real forum for TCS, both for discussing ideas and issues related to community. A forum with threads and topics started by anyone not just Bill and Lance will be very different. For me this blog is like Bill and Lance's personal garden but they have left the door open intentionally and by each post they invite readers to come inside and talk. I really like the idea of having a real forum for TCS and if someone starts being nasty moderators can take care of him. I think we should try the idea at least for a short time and see what happens. It can be a nice experiment.

  9. Freedom of speech is a fine idea, but blanket anonymity doesn't work. The latter is simply graffiti. This has been established over and over again on the Internet.

  10. Thank you Lance and Bill for this sober reminder, and also for keeping your heads about you by permitting anonymous posting.

    Anonymous posting creates problems. It also creates solutions for those without power. I disagree with the suggestion that the problems created by anonymous posting (mainly, offensive and often useless comments) outweigh the benefits, particularly the ability to put a controversial but important idea in the heads of many people without having to suffer "politically" for it.

    The benefit is particularly stiking in academia where the power imbalance between different people in the community is so high, and where it is nearly impossible to "move" since there is only one single community of people who largely determine your fate. If I anger the wrong person in my field, even if they don't work at my university, it could cost me tenure if they are mentioned so often in my papers that they are certain to be asked to write a letter.

    It is of course disgusting when anonymous cowards make racist or sexist comments on this blog. But I also get upset when I see a tenured professor suggest that anyone writing without attaching their name is a coward just because they say something critical of someone else. It is very easy to be "brave" about attaching your name to your statements when you cannot be fired (even for scientific dishonesty). Other than the awkwardness of having to refer to anon's by number, why is it any more difficult to engage a person's ideas just because you do not know their name?

    Can anyone read this and still think that publicly stating one's opinion is always good advice for young researchers? (Brief summary: it is a professor explaining that Mihai Patrascu was not offered an interview because of the controversial opinions he states in his blog.) I don't agree with everything that Mihai Patrascu says. But what has he done to me personally, or to anyone else? Just talk. It literally has cost him a job, although he is an excellent scientist who will do excellent work for whomever hires him. Who the hell is any tenured professor to bloviate about the cowardice of those who post anonymously?

  11. Anon 2- Realize that the worst comments about Lance and Bill were in the comments pertaining to Dana Moshkovitz.

    If Lance and Bill really cared what people said about them on the blog they would have quit a long time ago.
    I suspect that the insults to others and the use of sexist or racist language was the tipping point for them, and not any personal attack.

  12. Hi Lance, Bill,

    Thank you for bringing this up. I also had a feeling that the quality of discourse (on this and other TCS-related blogs) has decreased over the last few months. Although I am glad I am not hallucinating, this is not a positive development. Here are some comments regarding this.

    - First, I dont think that freedom of speech is really the issue here. Newspapers typically do not publish anonymous letters, and they are nevertheless considered the pillars of the 1st Amendment. Basically, the right to speak does not imply the right of finding someone (or in this case, the whole community) to listen. Everyone can start their own blog. If no one reads it, too bad.

    - Instead, in my view, the main issue is a pragmatic one: how to design a venue where a legitimate discourse on issues related to the community can take place without being obstructed by personal insults, innuendos or worse. This is a challenging task, made even more more complex by the fact that these two types of speech are often hard or impossible to distinguish. Still, we can probably agree this is a worthy task, so let's give it a try.

    There are several ideas proposed in this thread (moderating by adding comments, group blog, etc). They all could work. Here is another suggestion though: what about having two tracks (perhaps physically implemented as two blogs), where the first track is non-anonymous and the second one is anonymous ? The tracks would be would be placed on separate pages, cross-linked, but not too much - some level of separation is the key here.

    What it would it accomplish ? The main issue with the current design is that (a) the blog discusses interesting issues, so it attracts many readers (b) trolls are attracted by the opportunity of expressing themselves in anonymity in front of a large audience (c) some readers are annoyed/disgusted, so they drop out. In the end, the system achieves some sort of equilibrium, which is unfortunately quite sub-optimal, for the individual readers and the community as a whole.

    The two-track proposal would break the above chain, since readers who are interested in legitimate discussions could participate the first track without the risk of encountering anonymous nastiness. They can still sift through the whole stuff, but this would their choice. Those who venture into the "wild track" could then raise some of the issues in the first track, hopefully in a more respectable manner.

    This does not solve all problems, of course, e.g., people can still be nasty in a non-anonymous fashion. But I think the proposal would likely reduce the problem.

    That is more or less it. Comments welcome, especially the non-anonymous ones.



  13. #12 Piotr said
    "Everyone can start their own blog. If no one reads it, too bad."

    Enfin je me rappelai le pis-aller d’une grande princesse à qui l’on disait que les paysans n’avaient pas de pain, et qui répondit : Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.

    Finally I recalled the last resort of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: "Let them eat brioche."

  14. Anon 11

    The worst comment about Lance and Bill is here


    Now Gasarch is paying his tax to be an apologist of the blog owner.

    Lance and Scott did not make TCS community proud by their recent actions.

    Say the truth Gasarch, even if Lance take you out of this blog.
    9:13 AM, August 17, 2010

  15. It also creates solutions for those without power.

    Yeah, we've all been here before so many times. Inevitably, when people begin to lose patience with anonymous comments, the argument is made that they empower the powerless. Then, inevitably, there are comments about freedom of speech. Then, eventually and equally inevitably, the forum either goes to seed entirely or freely anonymous posting disappears. You might as well skip to the last step.

    In the last forum where I saw all this, an anonymous poster had the chutzpah to complain that his comments would be less effective, if he couldn't pose as several different people. That was one of the strongest arguments against freely anonymous posting.

    That and more generally that some anonymous posters act like they own the forum: "Censor me and I will quit in protest! I demand my rights!" Or they counterfeit credibility with claims about themselves: "I was shot three times in the Vietnam War! I know what I'm talking about!" Apart from whether the comments are "rude" or "polite", eventually the forum is too fake to function.

  16. I disagree with the suggestion put forwarded by Piotr.

    Anonymous comments creates a way for those without power to question the status quo, or for anyone to ask potentially stupid questions without worrying to embarrass themselves.

    There were a number of heated discussions in the comments section related to STOC/FOCS selection process, basically all of them were initiated by anonymous comments. Yes, there were some trolls, but there were also insightful comments left by STOC/FOCS PC members, shedding light on the selection process, providing suggestions to improve the current status - which I believe end up benefit the community as a while.

    By introducing a second-class comments track, not only the trolls are punished, but also the above-mentioned groups. Do we want to end up in a state where punishing the guilty is more important than assuring no innocent gets wrongfully punished?

    Basically all trolls want is attention; the worst thing that could happen to them is we ignore them. Next time, when you see a troll, please ignore them instead of wasting your time trying to reason with them.

    An anonymous (hopefully not to be considered as a troll)

  17. Finally I recalled the last resort of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: "Let them eat brioche."

    It's an ironic quote in this discussion, because the accepted explanation is that the quote is an anonymous fabrication.

  18. The internet is full of trolls. I am surprised how anybody could be shocked by any sort of "nasty" comments. Have you looked at comments on typical news sites? On Youtube?

    One obvious way to handle the volume of comments that recent events have caused would be to have people vote on comments and to show them according to their ranking. This is the model used on several link aggregator websites (like slashdot). Trolls tend to get pushed down to the bottom. This doesn't make a lot of sense when there are 10 comments, but when you start to get 100 comments or so, it could be useful.

  19. @Greg Kuperberg - The quote is an anonymous fabrication.
    But AFAIK The French Revolution was real.

  20. Anonymity is good, trolling is bad, anonymity plus refusal to delete trolling = comment section turns into garbage.

    My preferred approach is treat this place like a classroom: yes, free speech is absolutely vital in society, so everyone is entitled to start their own blog and write what they want on it. THIS blog should not attempt to be a forum for that. So, encourage open, civil discussion, and on-topic questions (even if stupid), but delete trolling aggressively.

  21. Anonymity is good, trolling is bad, anonymity plus refusal to delete trolling = comment section turns into garbage.

    Yeah, that's always the trajectory. Eventually, moderators "refuse" to delete the trolling because they can't; there is no good place to draw the line.

  22. Yup, I agree with Greg that its hard to draw a line between the good and the bad, and to designate an axis of evil comments.

  23. Lance and GASARCH, thank you for saying this.

    It's one more outstanding post, out of many.

    For me, there is a presumption that an anonymous post should be ignored, unless it clearly states with "I am posting anonymously because ..." with a solid reason given (the reason "I am a student" is good enough, for example).

    If more folks CHOOSE to sign their names, then perhaps that will help.

  24. Thanks for the comments.

    First, I am certainly not married to the two-track idea, it is just a proposal for resolving the dilemma very nicely summarized by the previous poster:

    Anonymity is good, trolling is bad, anonymity plus refusal to delete trolling = comment section turns into garbage.

    Anonymity in itself can be good, since people can express more freely. E.g., the recommendation letters are almost always anonymous. To be fair, most of the anonymous comments on this blog seem so non-controversial that they could be as well signed. Still, perhaps not all.

    However, anonymity also enables the troll behavior. Unfortunately, there are several reasons why simply ignoring the trolls does not work. Here are some of them:

    - There is a cost of sifting through trolly stuff. There is only so much nonsense you can read before it starts getting to you. Most people are put off by jerky speech or behavior. I know a few people who stopped reading this blog for precisely this reason. At some point you need to make choices.

    - We (as in, the TCS community) are not the only ones reading this blog. E..g., let's say there is a rumor that someone proved a major theorem, and people arrive at this blog to see what this TCS thing is all about. If there are unlucky to stumble on some of the threads, the impression is that we are a pretty mean crowd. "Insular" would almost sound like a complement in comparison.

    Now, going back to the two-track proposal. It is certainly not perfect. It has some advantages though: it is relatively low-maintenance; it still enables anonymous comments, so issues can be raised; everyone can switch tracks by (literally) just signing up; it provides incentives to sign a post (which often works as well). At the very least, I think this is something to consider.



  25. It seems that is broken. Does anybody know anything about it? Thanks.

  26. Anon 14.
    The worst comment was in the Dana Moshkvitz comments. There was a comment that accused Bill and Lance of being pedophiles.

    Also note that Lance's post came after comments which called Mike Sipser an idiot.
    Mike was Lance's advisor and the comment was completely off topic.

  27. .26 :) Interesting. But there's nothing wrong with being pedophiles, IMHO.

  28. My preference would be to continue to allow anonymous comments but to moderate them much more stringently — remove or disemvowel obvious trolling, pro-pedophilia advocacy, etc. My experience is that the forums that do this (e.g. metafilter, boing boing) are much better behaved than the ones that allow anons to comment completely freely (this one, and plenty of others that are much worse). Of course, all that moderation is more work for somebody, and I'm not volunteering to do it on anyone's blog other than my own...

  29. 11011110 said...

    My prfrnc wld b t cntn t llw nnyms cmmnts bt t mdrt thm mch mr strngntly — rmv r dsmvwl bvs trllng, pr-pdphl dvccy, tc. My xprnc is tht th frms tht d ths (.g. mtfltr, bng bng) r mch bttr bhvd thn th ns tht llw nns t cmmnt cmpltly frly (ths n, nd plnty f thrs tht r mch wors). f crs, ll tht mdrtn s mr wrk fr smbdy, nd 'm nt vlntrng t d t n nyn's blg thr thn my wn...

    So this shows that 11011110's idea of disemvoweling a troll is almost as effective as disemboweling a troll physically in public. To complete the process, remove all the 0's of the troll like this: 111111.

  30. you may receive death penalty by deliberately not understanding the world logically.

  31. First death threat of Computer Science after WWII!
    Shows the ugly underbelly of CS community…

  32. Death threats should be reported to the police. Even for anonymous comments IP address would be recorded by blogger and the police can try and trace the originator of this threat.,_Wikinews_interviews_administrator_who_contacted_police

  33. This blog is a treasure and I support it completely.

    dick lipton

  34. Tempers occasionally run high in the online world as in the real world :) Should cool down soon enough. Freedom of speech is gr8!

  35. I second Richard Lipton, "This blog is a treasure and I support it completely."

    I would not be surprised if after 50 years from now some historians and TCS researchers come to this blog to see how TCS folks were thinking half a century ago.


    # Anonymous Says:
    Comment #27 August 29th, 2010 at 6:34 am

    I found the following quote on

    I tell them if they will occupy themselves with the study of mathematics they will find in it the best remedy against the lusts of the flesh.
    –Thomas Mann

    So some cultures use threats of religion to keep you from the “flesh”, while others insidiously use mathematics! Same difference! Hmm! Mathematicians are quite gullible people for all their purported smartness…

  37. Mommy Mommy I just posted a proof on the arXiv can I have my milk and cookies and an adult diaper change now? ROFL :D

  38. This work is dedicated to

    for their struggle to educate my father inspite of extreme poverty.
    This work is part of myMatru-Pitru Rin1.
    I am forever indebted to my wife for her faith during these years.
    pious Hindu regards as his obligation to repay in this

    Shoot, WHY didn't I just have an AFFAIR??!!!

  39. This work is dedicated to

    for their struggle to educate my XYZ inspite of extreme poverty.
    This work is part of myXYZ.
    I am forever indebted to my wife for her faith during these years.
    pious XYZ regards as his obligation to repay in this

    Shoot, WHY didn't I just GO have an AFFAIR??!!!

  40. Please delete 38. and 40. thanks.
    39. is unoffensive replacement to 38.

  41. For the historians of 2050 (as if they would really need our help ;))

    Here is the hidden British 007 James Bond connection to recent events:

    Columbia University (Ricci Flow GP Poincare conjecture) - setup by the British 1754

    USA - the main scene of the events - Express shipped out the British 1776

    News of GP's solution and rejection of the prize(s) arrives on July 1. Dick Lipton pulls up a British-Indian (Hardy-Ramanujan) reference on the same day.

    (Anon. 26 points out Lance is Michael's student . And Dick Lipton was a teacher of Michael's! Michael Sipser's MIT was trapped by teacher and student. Scott Aaronson is from Berkeley like Michael Sipser. So is Stephen Cook!)

    Canada is a franchise of the British queen. No wonder Canadians fear and hate Starbucks for having more global franchises!

    Stephen Cook is in Canada.
    Greg Baker (The Great) is in Canada.
    Scott Aaronson was in Canada.

    BP disaster 2010 - British Petroleum

    Vinay Deolalikar - an Indian citizen, India was a British colony for about a century until 1947. August 15, 1947. rjlipton broke the news a week before August 15th, 2010. On August 8, 2010.

    The British have obviously been going hard after the States with a World Misinformation War III!

    Hmmm. Not exactly a win for the British so far. But they’ll never give up trying to make the US a franchise again.
    Ever wondered why nobody from the University of Toronto or University of Cambridge uttered a whisper so far?
    Coz they are in the Control Center all the time, BUSY WATCHING US Silly!
    It's the London weather if you're wondering... they want California :)

  42. USA helps bankroll Israeli dominance in the middle east with impunity in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Supported by Christian Bible Prophecy and Zionism.

    OBL gets real pissed (and has a lot of oil money!) but never attacks Israel directly.

    9/11: OBL attacks the financial nerve center of the US - NY.

    The US economy tanks.
    Americans find out they're not invincible. They decide to softly ally with a "non-violent", "neutral" "democracy", India. Suddenly they are also into "green" ideology to attack the financial nerve center of OBL - oil.

    Now, the Christians (jealous Berkelites and others) and Indians (who hate the $200,000 vote of no-confidence) are back at the throats of the Jews (Michael Sipser and Scott Aaronson) again!

    I can vouch based on the words of a Muslim who has spent time in Saudi Arabia that Muslims don't want to eliminate the Jews. Hindus want to eliminate Muslims for starters. Christians want to eliminate Jews and Muslims for starters!

    Goodbye, Jean Kippelstein!

  43. I like the ideas, however, similar to Habermas’ critique of functionalist reason (his refinement of a more vaguely and globally defined ‘instrumentalist’ reason) is potent, he is often caricatured as a stool pigeon for a ‘grim,’ arrogant Enlightenment agenda. But reason isn’t somehow hostage to arrogance. Independent views, that are given rationally structured expression should not be taken as somehow exposing an inherently arrogant nature of reason. The capacity to think rationally isn’t hostage to anyone’s agenda, in particular to complex issue like this. That’s the whole point of a discursive theory of judgment. Nice blog otherwise.