Educated trolls

By virtue of being white, male, middle-aged, and tenured, I get a much smaller dose of online abuse than many less privileged colleagues. Having a slightly overzealous spam filter also helps.

However, back when the world and I were younger, and near-universal Internet penetration sounded like a crazy idea (at least in Germany), I would get the occasional physical piece of fan mail delivered to my pigeonhole.

Invariably, these letters – handwritten in spidery script or lovingly composed on mechanical typewriters – were from elderly, well-educated men: retired doctors, lawyers, or school principals. Sometimes, these guys were simply very conservative and disagreed with something that I had said or written. More often than not, it was difficult to say what they were, because they made some point, then quickly went off-piste.

But without fail, my correspondents were utterly, if often coldly, polite. In a world of slipping standards, it was important for them to address me with the full set of academic titles and outdated phrases they had learned in Grammar school to express the full weight of their disapproval.

Most of them must be dead by now, and for a while, I thought the type may have died. But sometimes, an email slips through which shows that their type is indeed alive and well.

Here is a (google translated) specimen that arrived just this morning in response to our article on the transformation of the AfD’s electorate. It is from a member of said electorate (as an aside, do physicists ever have to bother with a particle they are studying talking back?) who is a bona fide MD or PhD (something that we show in the article to become less and less likely).

Carl and I are awarded the full contingent of academic honours (thankfully, nobody else does that any more), and the most outrageous thing about the whole epistle is the gratuitous use of scare quotes. This lame pronoun joke must have felt seriously transgressive. While I’m not sure if he is who he claims to be, he ends the mail with his full address and even his mobile number. The man is not (obviously) hiding behind some silly social media handle. A throwback to a time when political enemies had manners etc. and were reasonably coherent.

Dear Mr. Prof. Arzheimer,

dear Dr. berning,

Were you able – as is usual in science – to respond to the content and methodological criticism of your “study”, or do I have to continue to assume that it is – as is the case in times of fake news and disinformation at “chairs” for social and political “science” is almost exclusively the case – your “study” is again just content-free, green-leftist propaganda nonsense?

With patriotic-conservative-liberal regards


Pronoun: “Your Serene Highness”

from my inbox

Or is it? The “were you able” business is a bit confusing. Below the sign-off, he quotes a previous email detailing his concerns with our “study”. I have no recollection of this mail, and there is a good chance that it ended up in my spam folder, because the author CCed half the staff at Mainz U as well as dozens of other folks at various institutions in Germany and abroad, including Cas Mudde, who is apparently a notorious producer of “vague nonsense”.

And that email quotes another email originally directed to an MEP and two academics who wrote something else he did not like. Somewhere in between, the whole thing turns into a (still relatively restrained) rant about (female) ministers and (gay) officials, who allegedly fail to stand up against Muslims threatening women and homosexuals. Nice piece of homo-/femonationalism, and even if it were true, I fail to see how any of this is possibly my fault.

And then, a few lines from the bottom of all this quoting, there is the inevitable kicker:

Mr. Gauland at length expressed his contempt for the Nazis and spoke at length about the achievements of German Jews in the German economy, culture and science, before he spoke of the fact that German history was not only made up of these 12 years (“bird shit”).

more stuff from my inbox

Ah, that’s settled then. I may not get many trolls, but I get all the best trolls.

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