To Swedish blogger John Nerst, online flame wars reveal a fundamental shift in how people debate public issues. Nerst and a nascent movement of other commentators online believe that the dynamics of today’s debates—especially the misunderstandings and bad-faith arguments that lead to the online flame wars—deserve to be studied on their own terms. “More and less sophisticated arguments and argumenters are mixed and with plenty of idea exchange between them,” Nerst explained in an email. “Add anonymity, and knowing people’s intentions becomes harder, knowing what they mean becomes harder.” Treating other people’s views with charity becomes harder, too, he said.
Inspired by this rapid disruption to the way disagreement used to work, Nerst, who describes himself as a “thirty-something sociotechnical systems engineer with math, philosophy, history, computer science, economics, law, psychology, geography and social science under a shapeless academic belt,” first laid out what he calls “erisology,” or the study of disagreement itself. Here’s how he defines it:
Erisology is the study of disagreement [theatlantic.com], specifically the study of unsuccessful disagreement. An unsuccessful disagreement is an exchange where people are no closer in understanding at the end than they were at the beginning, meaning the exchange has been mostly about talking past each other and/or hurling insults. A really unsuccessful one is where people actually push each other apart, and this seems disturbingly common.
...political scientists who study disagreement, unsurprisingly, disagree. Though Nerst has claimed that “no one needs to be convinced” of the needlessly adversarial quality of online discourse, Syracuse University political scientist Emily Thorson isn’t buying it. “I actually do need to be convinced about this,” she said in an email, “or at least about the larger implication that ‘uncivil online discourse’ is a problem so critical that we need to invent a new discipline to solve it. I’d argue that much of the dysfunction we see in online interactions is just a symptom of much larger and older social problems, including but not limited to racism and misogyny.
So, old political scientists think they've already identified the root cause of "bad behavior" and that online argument isn't a significant factor, or at least that's the argument they put forth in their e-mail vs the younger blogger... Dismissive, much ;-)