Did you see the reports of my scandalous behavior on the Internet? The headlines say "Scott Adams Caught Defending Himself Anonymously on Metafilter!" The stories go on to explain that I was posting under the name PlannedChaos and pretending to be the only person in the world who doesn't hate me. According to the wise and fair denizens of the Internet, this behavior is proof that I am a thin-skinned, troll, asshole, dick, fame-whore, ego maniac, douche nozzle, misogynist. That list might sound bad to you, but keep in mind that I was starting from a pretty low base, so I think my reputation is trending up.

You might have questions about this story. So I asked my Internet alter-ego, PlannedChaos, to interview me and get to the bottom of it.

PlannedChaos: Mr. Adams, do you mind if I call you Douche Nozzle?

Scott: This interview is over! You really are a dick!

Let's try this the old-fashioned way. I'll give you all of the facts about this scandal, and some proper context, and you can assume every word of it is bullshit. And that leads me to my first point about context: As a general rule, you can't trust anyone who has a conflict of interest. Conflict of interest is like a prison that locks in both the truth and the lies. One workaround for that problem is to change the messenger. That's where an alias comes in handy. When you remove the appearance of conflict of interest, it allows others to listen to the evidence without judging.

Obviously an alias can be used for evil just as easily as it can be used to clear up simple factual matters. A hammer can be used to build a porch or it can be used to crush your neighbor's skull. Don't hate the tool.

The next thing to consider is that in my line of work, some types of rumors can cause economic damage to hundreds of people in the so-called value chain. The stakes are high. I know from experience that when a rumor flares up that says, for example, I'm affiliated with one particular interest group or another, the people who hate that group will stop reading Dilbert comics. And they will aggressively warn everyone who will listen to do the same. This was a small problem in the pre-Internet age. Today, a rumor will send an army of advocates to vote down your products on Amazon.com and defame you on every blog and web site that allows comments. It happens in hours, not days.

This week for example, I'm the target of Men's Rights advocates, Feminists, and one bearded taint who is leading an anti-creationist movement. What do those folks have in common? In each case they are using the same strategy. They take out of context something I've written, present it to the lazy Internet media who doesn't check context, and use it to demonize me to gain publicity for their respective causes. That's how advocates get free publicity. They find a celebrity to target.

The same thing is happening today  with a Republican official who emailed some friends a humorous photo of President Obama's face on a chimp and a punch line about his birth certificate. If your only context is what the Internet says about this story, you assume it's a typical racist act by a Republican who is already guilty by association. But if I add the context that Googling "George Bush monkey" gives you over 3 million hits, and most of them are jokes where President Bush's face is transposed on a monkey, you see what's really going on. Democrats and advocates of civil rights are using the media to further an agenda at the expense of a woman who was probably so non-racist that the photo in question didn't set off her alarms as being a career-ending risk.

In my book The Dilbert Future, published in 1997, I predicted that in the future the media would start killing celebrities to generate demand for their so-called news. That seemed like a stretch when the worst part of the media was the tabloids. Now the Internet has given media power to the likes of Gawker, Metafilter, and any other cesspool with an IP address. When the low end of the media conspired with unscrupulous advocates to label the aforementioned Republican woman a racist, they probably killed her career, and they might end up killing her too.

There's no sheriff on the Internet. It's like the Wild West. So for the past ten years or so I've handled things in the masked vigilante-style whenever the economic stakes are high and there's a rumor that needs managing. Usually I do it for reasons of safety or economics, but sometimes it's just because I don't like sadists and bullies.

Some time ago, I learned the hard way that posting messages with my own identity turns any discussion into an orgy of name-calling. When I'm personally involved, people speculate that I'm being defensive, or back pedaling, or being a douche nozzle, or trying to weasel my way out of something. Speaking with my true identity also draws too much attention to the very rumors I'm trying to extinguish. In contrast, when my spunky alter ego weighs in, people generally focus on the facts presented, including checking the source material to see my writing in context. The masked vigilante strategy worked well until recently. And I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun.

Most of the inaccurate information about me on the Internet is harmless. And negative opinions about the quality of my work are always legitimate. The trouble starts when advocates for one cause or another use me as a whipping boy to promote their agendas. As I mentioned, the way that works is that they take out of context something I've written, paraphrase it incorrectly, and market me as a perfect example of the thought-criminal that they've been warning everyone about. I don't think any of this is an organized conspiracy. I think it's a combination of zealotry, bad reading comprehension, opportunism, and some herd behavior.

[If you're new to this, the paragraph above is the part that will be taken out of context and paraphrased to show that I'm paranoid and delusional, claiming that organized groups are out to get me.]

The best example of the rumor problem involves the topic of evolution. I've often stated publicly that evolution meets the scientific standard of "fact." But when I write an article or a comic on any unrelated topic that sparks discussion on other sites, a commenter suspiciously appears each time to say, "Adams has no credibility because he doesn't believe in evolution." Dilbert readers don't expect all of their opinions to line up with mine, but evolution is probably the hottest of hot buttons for the technology crowd. If you're rumored to be anti-science, you're dead to them, and so is your product. That's a rumor with economic consequences.

If you wonder how the evolution rumor started, it's partly because I made the following argument: The evidence for evolution, by its nature, seems fishy to the average non-scientist independent of the underlying truth. That's a statement about human perceptions, not the objective reality of the theory. The suggestion here is that if scientists could do a better job of packaging the evidence for evolution it might help convert the doubters. Malevolent posters often quote me out of context as saying, "The evidence for evolution smells like bullshit." Out of context it means nearly the opposite of what it means within context.

I've also famously predicted that the theory of evolution will be debunked in my lifetime. That sounds like crazy Creationist talk, and a direct contradiction to my statement that evolution is a scientific fact. The context for that prediction is the notion that a future Einstein might someday demonstrate that our common sense understanding of the passage of time is flawed. If that happens, every part of our observed reality will be debunked, sort of. Instead of focusing on evolution, I could have predicted that the history of your daily commute to work will be debunked. It's the same point but less catchy.

By now you are probably thinking that my prediction has nearly zero chance of being right. I'll let you in on an industry secret: You're correct. You know all of those books on the market that predict various economic bubbles, social upheavals, and disasters of all kinds? Most of those authors don't believe their predictions are likely to pan out. They're making calculated bets that in the unlikely event they guessed right, they will become famous. That's worth a fortune in future speaking gigs and book deals.

My contrarian prediction about evolution being debunked in my lifetime was the same sort of bet. It's unlikely that I'll be right. But if I get lucky, I'll be the one person who predicted it. And because of the "in my lifetime" condition, I can't be wrong until I'm too dead to care. This is the sort of thing I do that really, really, really pisses off some people, especially the anti-creationist bearded taint guy.

Keep in mind that Einstein debunked humanity's common sense understanding of gravity, and no one saw that coming. Your great grandfather probably thought the planet was exerting an invisible sucking force called gravity to keep him from floating away. But Einstein figured out that mass curves spacetime. That sounds different than an invisible sucking force. I'm just saying anything can happen.

Let's take a moment to call back the discussion of how the messenger changes the message. A large number of you are reading my explanation of the evolution rumor and dismissing it as my pathetic attempt at revisionist history. I'm back pedaling! I got caught being a moron and now I'm trying to save face!

See how this works? The messenger with a strong self-interest is automatically non-credible, and should be. There are some types of information that can only be communicated by an unbiased messenger. And the most unbiased messenger in the world is one that is imaginary, such as my invisible friend, PlannedChaos. Speaking of him, let's get back to my interview to mop up some lingering questions.

PlannedChaos: Isn't it fundamentally dishonest, and therefore immoral, to debate under an assumed name?

Scott: Yes. On the scale of immoral behavior, where genocide is at the top, and wearing Spanx is near the bottom, posting comments under an alias to clear up harmful misconceptions is about one level worse than Spanx.

PlannedChaos: Are you saying the ends justify the means?

Scott: Yes, sometimes. The types of people who act solely on principle are the ones who burn Korans and wonder why something went wrong.

PlannedChaos: How do we know this whole scheme isn't a Dogbertian prank. You have a dark history of doing exactly this sort of thing.

Scott: There's no way for you to know if it's a prank. The only person who knows the answer to that question is me, and I'm not credible. But for the record, my non-credible answer is that the entertainment value of this endeavor was only a side benefit.  With that said, I have to confess that giving verbal wedgies to people who desperately deserve them, in a public forum, is a lot more fun than you imagine.

PlannedChaos: Didn't you once wear a professional disguise, including a wig and mustache, and pass yourself off as a famous consultant named Ray Mebert?

Scott: Yes, several years ago at Logitech's meeting of top management. I led them through a Mission Statement workshop that I manipulated to create the world's worst Mission Statement. The president of Logitech was in on the prank, and the San Jose Mercury sponsored the whole thing.

PlannedChaos: So you've been a douche for quite some time?

Scott: Apparently.

PlannedChaos: Are you a fame whore?

Scott: Yes, but I have ambitions to become a high-priced fame prostitute. In my job, fame is just one of the tools. The main reason you've heard of Dilbert is that I'm a tireless self-promoter and I've been able to work with some of the best PR professionals in the industry. (I'm off the leash at the moment. You might have noticed.)

PlannedChaos: Are you just a troll?

Scott: If I understand the term, trolling involves off-topic comments with no purpose other than to get people worked up. My main purpose is generally to add context to the stuff that trolls and issue advocates have posted online about me. My primary motivation is economic as opposed to evil. But I do have a twitchy trigger finger when I run into sadists and bullies online. So while I generally enter an online conversation with the intent of suppressing damaging misunderstandings, I've been known to empty my clip once I'm there. I'm not proud of that. I'm also not proud that my personal hero is the bigger kid in this video. I'll own that.

PlannedChaos: I called you a genius on Metafilter. Is that proof that you are an ego-maniac?

Scott: No, that is not proof. But as circumstantial evidence goes, it's pretty good. The proof that I'm an ego-maniac is that I'm interviewing myself in my own blog. I don't think I can be any clearer on that point.

I will add some context though. Keep in mind that creating the hapless Dilbert character largely in my own image launched a twenty year career of daily self-deprecation. Likewise, about half of what I write outside of the comic is unambiguously self-deprecating. I'm a short, near-sighted, bald, over-the-hill guy with a bad sense of direction and an astonishing lack of competence at 99% of life's challenges. It is also objectively true that I sometimes have good days. That last part is a thing called arrogance.

Another bit of context is that most of what I write outside of the comic is meant to be entertainment for a certain type of reader who likes to be exposed to a wide variety of viewpoints no matter how ridiculous. With the blog in particular, the explicit model is that I write down whatever dumbass theory pops into my head and try to sell it as God's final word. Then my readers shred it in the comment section, or sometimes say it's an old idea that's already been done. Taken out of context, many of my blog posts and even my Wall Street Journal articles would look like the crazy rantings of a guy who thinks he has all the answers to fix the entire world. At best, that's only half true.

And the last piece of context is that I created you, PlannedChaos, specifically to say things that are relevant to the debate but would be grossly inappropriate for me to say about myself. By analogy, if critics of President Obama start calling him stupid, it wouldn't be appropriate for him to whip out his SAT scores. But if one of his spokespeople reminds the public that the President has a law degree from Harvard, which by any objective measure puts him in the genius category, that's a legitimate response. Context is everything.

PlannedChaos: Are you going to go full-Sheen or is this mental breakdown more of a temporary thing that you can fix with rehab?

Scott: No promises, but I think I'll be okay if I lay off the crack pipe for a few days.

PlannedChaos: Why wouldn't it be better to just defend yourself online using your real name?

Scott: You're not a good listener. Watch what happens now that I have. Every part of this post will be taken out of context and twisted to its opposite meaning.

PlannedChaos: Are you going to smugly claim that you orchestrated everything that happened, including getting caught, and it is all part of your oh-so-clever plan? You do that sometimes.

Scott: Not this time. My plan came off the rails when I learned the hard way that Metafilter doesn't have a privacy policy. I assumed, incorrectly, that the worst thing that would happen is that I'd correct some rumors online, amuse myself, and get discreetly booted off the system by the administrators.  Instead, the moderators acted on a tip, probably because I left bread crumbs in my comments the size of tractors, snooped into my not-so-private sign-up information, and threatened to make my identity public unless I did so myself. On the scale of immoral behavior, I think everyone involved scored about the same that day, unless one of us was also wearing Spanx. And if the moderators of Metafilter think the ends justified the means, for business or other purposes, I support that choice.

PlannedChaos: What's the point of trying to correct inaccurate rumors online when you often say no one is persuaded by new information?

Scott: That's a brilliant question. Are you a genius?

PlannedChaos: Just having a good day.

Scott: Rarely is anyone persuaded by new information once a strong opinion has been formed. But I like to think that some people haven't yet formed opinions on the question of whether I am a Holocaust Denier, to pick just one example. That's an actual rumor floating around the Internet.  I hope to influence the undecided.

The second benefit of joining a debate that I might prefer had never happened is that once inside I can shift the conversation from something awful to something less so. We humans are wired to think that the most important fact is the one that gets repeated and discussed the most. This scandal started when I went to Metafilter to kill the rumor that I'm anti-science. But after I stirred up things, what are people discussing most often now?

PlannedChaos: They're mostly appalled that you invented a fake identity to call yourself a genius.

Scott: Wait for it...

PlannedChaos: Damn it! You're doing it again! You arrogant bastard!
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +263
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
+29 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2011
I meant to note: Isn't "Planned Chaos" pretty much a dead giveaway?
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2011
I don't know why publishing anonymous comments scares the media so much. Most of the required source reading for any course on the formation of the united states was initially published as anonymously.
the federalist papers
common sense
Apr 18, 2011
There might be an entreprenurial opportunity here for those who want to hide their identity on MetaFilter. If a new site (3MusketeersOfThe1stAmendment.com?) were to broker a paypal triangle-of-accounts so that A used B and B used C and C used A, then idiots like mathowie would be completely befuddled the next time he was tempted to subvert customer privacy.

Worst case, if A pointed to Karl Rove, B pointed to Rachel Maddow, and C pointed to Ron Paul, most likely mathowie's head would explode.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2011
Scott, despite your claims, you are a troll.
You just happen to be a troll with an agenda for personal gain.
That said, I approve, and support you.
If this indeed pans out as you hope it will, then you will prove yourself the sort of troll I aspire to be.
Apr 18, 2011
I am curious about something:

Mathowie's comment below (currently at 23) like. Is that lots of people from MF are here pumping up their leader, or lots of people here are agreeing that Scott's comment in response is spot on? I like to think the later, but probably just because I know it will piss off the former.

[We have lots of visitors today. -- Scott]
Apr 18, 2011
I've been a fan and a subscriber to this blog and the old DNRC newsletter for many years. I've read most of your books and probably put hundreds of dollars into your pockets over the years. However, recent events have made it harder and harder to defend your words and actions. I would have accepted a simple mea culpa on this matter, but your delusional self-defensiveness has really gone one step too far. I've unsubscribed from the mailing list and will be removing this blog from my feeds. I hope you get better, Scott.

[I'll see you on some other site, I hope. But you might not know it's me. -- Scott]
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2011
I've followed the Pharyngulites attacks on you in the past as I regularly read both sites, and attempted to explain to a few of them the idea of a 'thought experiment' to no avail. I disagree with much of what you write in these experiments, but I'm reasonably sure that you do as well. They make me think, though, and that's the important part.

I'm unthrilled that MF was willing to just not say anything about it if you stopped (not out of any butthurt over what you did, I really don't see anything wrong with it and can't seem to work up any sense of outrage over something so trivial). Would they have done the same thing if it were a non-celebrity? If not then that's a double standard and I have a special distaste for those. If they would've done the same thing for anyone, well that's stupid but at least it's fair.
Apr 18, 2011
I am enjoying the heck out of how you're handling the whole situation, and I hope that you will always keep your sense of humor like this whenever you feel the need to breakdown an internet 'flare-up'! You provided a great deal of entertainment before, during and after this particular situation, and cannot express my admiration of what I perceive as fairness throughout your explanation. My comment may get rated down if my nose turns any darker shade of brown, so I'll end with saying your approach to this has its own Sui Generis.
Apr 18, 2011
Oh noes! Someone on the internet is using an alias!!!

I guess I should I should boycott the Metafilter jerks; only problem being I have never heard of them until this blog post.

I hope your post doesn't drive more traffic their way. As for myself, I don't believe I will be buying any less of your products. In fact if you add Planned Chaos as a character to Dilbert, I might buy a stuffed version of him.
-4 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2011
When I read the mess yesterday I was wondering when you'll post a response on your blog or if there'll be any follow-up act. I think you did a pretty good job in "trolling" them.
+36 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2011
I was not expecting to be convinced by this post at all, but after reading it, I actually sympathize with your motivations for arguing with commenters on other websites. Your explanation makes sense, and I agree that on the scale of moral offenses, it's pretty low and not a big deal. I still think you are unfair to many of your critics. But, if thousands of people were writing negative comments about me, I don't know that I'd handle it any better.

It's clear from the discussion on Metafilter, and from Matt's e-mail linked in these comments, that walking away was an option -- you didn't have to make your identity public. I thought the Metafilter moderators handled it pretty well, and even erred on the side of protecting your privacy even if it meant allowing comments that violated their policies to remain on the site. They threatened to make your identity public IF you kept posting in violation of the policy, which is very different from "threatened to make my identity public unless I did so myself."

[Celebrity physics is different. Once the conversation started about whether or not my identity would be revealed, it was only a matter of time, through one channel or another. They've said at least four of them were in the conversation, and I'm guessing at least one of them has a friend outside of work. -- Scott]
Apr 18, 2011
This is great!


I don't think your a genius quite yet, but keep up the good work, Scott.
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2011
This has been an interesting and illuminating example of how rhetoric works and how different people spin a debate, but it's getting old. Your original posts are great. Your posts about people's responses are interesting once in a great while, but they're really easy to overdo. Please get back to doing what you do best and quit arguing on the internet.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2011
This might be the best post ever.
Now if I can just keep this website from forgetting my login and pass even tho I check 'remember,' that would be keen, too.
Apr 18, 2011
If I understand your posting correctly: some people on another blog are upset that you didn't use your real name when posting a comment.

What a shock.

I'm sure until this happened, everyone else on earth has always been scrupulously honest about their identity when posting a comment anywhere on the internet. Now look what you've done. I'm sure it's just a matter of time before someone else starts using a fake name and who knows what that will lead to.
Apr 18, 2011
I have been reading your blog for about a year or so now and I am really enjoying your writing. I thought you were just a great cartoonist. I've been tempted to register for ages to comment on one of your blog posts but it was THIS ONE that finally pushed me over the top.

So for any fan you may have lost you got me to make up for it!

Please continue being you.
Apr 18, 2011
Scott Adams is a Holocaust Denier! <point> <point>

There are just too many people who take too much pleasure in someone being "caught."
+21 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2011
> [You must be new here. -- Scott]

Well done, identifying a new account as someone who's new here. This must be some of that certified genius thinking I've heard^W^Wyou talk so much about.
Apr 18, 2011
Keep up the good fight Scott. Seriously we need people like you. The internet has devolved into a billion idiots shouting at each other, with very few saying anything worthwhile listening to. I’ve pretty much plugged out of most of it except for a few islands of interestingness like your blog.
Apr 18, 2011
Scott: You're not a good listener. Watch what happens now that I have. Every part of this post will be taken out of context and twisted to its opposite meaning.

So what you're saying is that everyone who disagrees with you, or who quotes from your post without providing the entirety of the long rambling post, which nobody would read through, is a bad listener? Everyone who disagrees with you misunderstands you? This is arrogance that only a self-proclaimed genius can hope to achieve. Do you practice being arrogant in a mirror? You must, to think that the craven hordes of Dilbert-haters and self-promoting trolls and economics professors will dissect your self-serving treatise that attempts to justify how you manipulate and insult the world at large.

I can see right through your latest thought experiment. I'm just kidding about all that crap above. You da man. I wanted to take your "out of context" statement out of context and see if I could get you going. Did it work?

[That was scary good. Apparently this isn't your first day on the Internet. -- Scott]
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog