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"Conventional wisdom" and the importance of dissenting opinions

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I'm citing this post: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/50856...

Carty says:
"Those of us who read ChowBos obsessively develop a notion of the board’s conventional wisdom, and that conventional wisdom reinforces itself. This is a *wonderful* resource but a bit of an echo chamber at times.

I’ve had some mediocre experiences at Neptune Oyster e.g. and this board makes be feel like I should be on medication."

"Conventional wisdom" can be self-reinforcing on many boards, and it is not a good thing.

It is crucial for hounds to (1) provide their frank opinions, especially if it runs counter to the tide and (2) be accepting of all opinions, and especially encourage posts that disagree with oneself. (Of course, posting in a friendly manner helps to get your message across.) The alternative is a sterile board dominated by groupthink, where certain opinions, by some twist of fate, get perpetuated as fact. And you get stuck with eating at the same places over and over again. That's chowhound hell (or chowhound purgatory).

It's obvious that this is bad because the diversity of opinions is reduced. I cringe everytime I read someone say "I know I'm going to flamed for this but...(insert opinion here)" -- that shouldn't be necessary. We should be able to just state our opinions and not have to go through some long debate to defend it. That's important because if hounds are afraid to speak up it deprives everyone of a source of opinion.

Also, we can't afford to be smug about the few delicious places we've been to; they may not always stay delicious; and even if they do there's always a need to find even better ones! It's counterintuitive, but trying out places that are not recommended (preferably never even mentioned) is just as if not more important than going to places that have an established record.

  1. Thanks for this insightful post.

    It is funny how "conventional wisdom" gets established on a site that purports to encourage searching out the new and the unknown. It is too easy to get into a rut.

    "It is crucial for hounds to (1) provide their frank opinions, especially if it runs counter to the tide and (2) be accepting of all opinions, and especially encourage posts that disagree with oneself. (Of course, posting in a friendly manner helps to get your message across.) "

    I really agree with this statement. Sometimes it is hard to see a post that disagrees with my personal point of view. But I am trying to see this as an opportunity to learn, and to be more tolerant of others. I agree that this is necessary to keep this board current, active and useful.

    We have a lot of very passionate, opinionated people on this board, which is both a strength and a weakness. It can lead to a lot of spirited debate. I enjoy debates, but others may be intimidated by these discussions. I suspect there are a lot of people who lurk, but don't dare post for fear of being bullied off the board if they don't buy into what they perceive as "conventional wisdom".

    Some posters are less diplomatic in their style of posting, and some posters may be more sensitive to what they perceive as criticism. I don't know how you can get rid of the jerks in the world, and I don't know how you can convince someone that a post with a contradictory point of view is not a personal attack. But your post is a nice reminder to all of us to try to be a little more understanding or each other. Thanks Limster. Eat well tonight!

    3 Replies
    1. re: moh

      Thanks for your kind words.

      Re: criticism -- It's important to remember that a criticism of a restaurant that a person likes is NOT a criticism of the person. Thus we shouldn't take it personally when someone hates a restaurant that we love. Nobody's perfect. No restaurant is perfect. Thus it's really important to agree to disagree.

      1. re: moh

        Great discussion.

        I tend to rein in my very opinionated self at times because my dislike of certain places in my home area is based on personal preferences that are of no concern to many board members.

        I'm not enough of a Chowhound to eat in a place owned by someone I consider to be bad for my community. Atmosphere is important to me and I avoid places where I can't converse with my tablemates. I've yet to eat in a food factory (chain restaurant) that I like. I will no longer go to places headed by two very popular chefs because the service is so bad in their establishments.

        I will express these opinions from time to time but I would be a tiring bore if I jumped in every time a certain chain or chef were mentioned.

        On disagreeing with critics, I will jump in when someone hasn't given a place a fair try because they ordered wrong or were in the wrong place for what they wanted. My husband is notorious for ordering things that are not a restaurant's strong point and then expressing disappointment with the restaurant.

        For example, a couple of weeks ago we joined friends at their favorite Irish pub. The place is known for Irish breakfast, fish & chips and melted cheese sandwiches. He ordered a burger and was less than pleased.

        As far as jumping on the bandwagon, I do find I like pet places discovered by our local hounds. If I don't, I'll often wait to be the dissenting voice because I respect their opinion and want to make a couple of visits to see if I missed what they found.

        1. re: BostonZest

          "I tend to rein in my very opinionated self at times because my dislike of certain places in my home area is based on personal preferences that are of no concern to many board members."

          Bostonzest, you recognize something that I have been struggling to understand myself, and you are helping me to clarify my thinking. We are all very opinionated. That's what makes this site fun! We are passionate about good food, but that passion manifests itself in many different ways. The key phrase for me is "my dislike of certain places... is based on personal preference". Thank you for that statement. I think it could cover about 90% of the posts on this and many boards of this nature.

          We all have personal preference. The more we recognize that most of our opinions are about personal preference and not some unshakeable truth or fact, the more likely we are to be accepting of different points of view.

          So bring on the differing opinions! Tell me why people disagree with me, try to convince me to see it in another way. But don't make me feel like I am mentally challenged or "should be on medication" because I can't see that others are right and I am wrong. In particular, don't imply that I couldn't possible be correct since everyone else agrees with "conventional wisdom".

          If I say that there are 51 states in the U.S., sure go ahead and let me know I'm wrong in a polite way (although some would argue that Canada is essentially a 51st state :) This is a fact. If I say "Vermont is a really great place to live" and you disagree, fine, but please avoid telling me that "Everyone expert in the field agrees with me that Ohio is way better, how could you possible think this?" Because this is not an undisputable fact.

          I'm very happy to see strong opinion. But too often, opinion is disguised as "fact" or "truth" and that if you don't agree with it, it must mean you are not "chowhoundish" enough. There is an implied inferiority. It would be nice to avoid this kind of thing. But maybe not possible....

          Still, I think it is always good to be reminded to "post in a friendly manner". Makes it less confrontational, and encourages discussion.

          I sometimes wonder what would happen if you brought all these personalities together to discuss all these topics over a nice meal. Would people be more diplomatic because they are eating together? Somehow, I think we'd just get into a huge argument about what we'd have for the nice meal. Oddly enough, this makes me smile! Sometimes you need to argue about silly little things like what to eat,and forget about all the serious problems out there. It's such a fun luxury to get into a snit because Poster X called you a moron for recommending the beef at Restaurant Y.

          Chowhound = Food = Fun

      2. Do you think that certain smugness and taking a dissenting opinion as an affront is more likely to happen in some regions than others?

        1 Reply
        1. re: three of us

          It not something overwhelming but I see it sporadically (hence I wrote "can be" rather than "is"). Nevertheless, prevention is better than cure; I doubt that there's a serious problem, but since we can foresee some of it, it's important to be immunized against the possibility.

        2. I recently recommended a place on one of the international boards (not one I frequent often). It's a restaurant I rate highly and have visited more than once.

          Almost immediately, there was a response from a regular poster on that board stating that "the locals" do not rate the place highly. As I understand it, the poster is not "a local" but is a regular visitor from America. No *evidence* was offered as to it being not rated highly, only a vague wave of the hand in the direction of ingredients not being as good as other places. Oh, and it being expensive.

          I suspect, however, the member's posting frequency and perceived knowledge/authoritywill mean her/his view will carry weight as the "conventional wisdom" and other Americans will not try my recommendation.

          Do I care? Not for one second!

          It means that American visitors will continue to go to the same small group of regularly touted places. More importantly to me, it means them staying away means I find it easier to get a table. It also means I'll pass on the next time someone asks for a similar recc. on that board.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Harters

            I totally feel your annoyance, as this has happened to me, as well. In reference to the post that limster made in regards to people getting upset about negative posts that people take too personal, I offer this: Some people question themselves if others disagree with their likes and dislikes. My brother is a perfect example. He will start out liking something, but if enough people close to him begin bashing his beliefs, he begins to also waver in his once-high opinion. Not everyone is like this, I know- but i've run into enough hyper-sensitive people in my life to know some just can't handle ANYTHING that makes them doubt themselves, or disagrees with them. *sigh* It can be very trying, to say the least.

            Being polite and well thought-out makes me consider someone's posts alot more than rabble-rousing about whatever drama of the moment is. Provacative posts ARE good (okay, the current urine one is a tad gross, but still interesting!) and can make people think. Thinking is a good thing!

          2. So true. I've seen this actually more on the Not About Food Board than any of the other boards and it can get quite ugly -- like you must be a horrible monster for tipping only 15%, or you must be a really selfish person because you save a seat, etc. I think it gets uglier when the attacks at people are not really about restaurants but about personal philosophies relating to food. I find it quite ironic how a lot of people don't use a lot of etiquette towards other posters when posting about food etiquette.

            And pertaining to the food -- yes, I've seen posters getting blasted because they didn't enjoy DiFara's -- like they must have done something wrong for not to have experienced pizza nirvana or that their taste buds must be reexamined. Dissenting opinions makes the board much more interesting and makes it more of a learning experience. Never liked Sanda Lee, but somebody posted how she overcame a lot of adversity to get to where she is (boy I'll bet that poster caught some flack for that). I still don't like her cooking style, but I can really respect her for what she's done. I wouldn't have known about it unless the poster went against the grain of Chowhounders hate Sandra Lee and posted that info.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Miss Needle

              but nobody doessn't like Sanda Lee

              1. re: wew

                He he. I know what you're saying is probably in jest -- or is it? ; )

                The thing is that there are enough people who like Sandra Lee for her to have her own show on Food Network. And I'll bet that some of the Sandra Lee lovers are lurkers (or maybe frequent posters) on this board but feel some trepidation sharing their views because of this "conventional Chowhound wisdom" that Sandra Lee is the anti-Christ.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  In jest.

                  1. re: wew

                    Maybe I've just been lucky but I've never had anyone flame or blast me for saying I like a particular place, either on my home board of Western Canada or on the SF and Bay area board which I read a lot and post on less. I have had the odd comment to the effect that certain CHers are less enamoured of the chow in a place I mentioned (eg) my love affair with Cafe de la presse in San Francisco, CA. I took no offense whatever, because a) that input may help someone else decide whether to eat there for dinner, say, as I only go for brekky and b) ain't nobody talking me out of chow I like 'cept for my own tummy/tastebuds. If I go back and things go bad, I rethink. Which leads me back to the OPs comments about not being smug about our favourites: things can change, so it's incumbent to stay current by resampling places you like while also trying out new places to expand the CH palate for all, potentially taking one for the team if you will. It's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it :-). My biggest chow problem is balancing the new with the old, oh yeah, and not breaking the bank balance while I'm at it!

            2. It is indeed important to provide opinions of all sorts - that's what makes this a treasure trove. I think that it's also important to make sure that where you're coming from is part of your write-up. It lets people understand better why you may feel the way you do. If you don't like sushi at a place that the conventional wisdom says is great, but you state that you are really a beginner to sushi, or that you've done very little omakase at high-end places, those are important differentials. And it's not necessarily a qualitative one, you are not necessarily wrong. If others with little experience are looking for a place to try, they will take away that perhaps this is not the right place to go for a newbie - even if seasoned veterans rave about it. Your viewpoint is most likely valid for those that share your perspective or your experience.

              I do feel that this whole business of conventional wisdom comes about because we are asked the same sets of questions too often, and we respond with the same answers. People should search out past threads as much has possible before asking, and we should all refrain from answering with the same answers, especially if we haven't actually been to a place or tried a recipe in a long time, and we are just repeating what we or someone else said the last time the question was asked.

              1. Excellent topic!

                I especially agree with the point about not assuming that because a place has been great that it will continue to be great. The tendency of well-regarded restaurants to start coasting on their reputations is as old as the hills. I've tried to get into the habit of qualifying my opinions with "it's been X months since I've been there, but..." I still think a slightly stale opinion can still be of more help than no perspective at all, as long as there's full disclosure on the freshness of the experience.

                I wonder how many Chowhound lurkers are intimidated into silence for fear of offending the conventional wisdom. I think the mods do a good job of crimping the most indecorous attacks on posters and industry folks, but stuff gets through or sticks around before it gets removed that is hurtful. I had one Boston chef contact me who felt personally wounded by some less-than-constructive criticisms posted (and later removed by the mods) here. (I explained to this chef that I disagreed with the attacks, but was merely a frequent poster, not some Chowhound official, and have no control over what other Hounds post.) A little tact, and a reminder of the goals of the site, goes a long way.

                12 Replies
                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  Even for great places that stay great, it's still important to find places that are better. And the only way to do that is to tear away from the safety of good meal and go explore.

                  It's hard to estimate how many don't post because they're afraid to "go against the grain." But the number of posts on threads that specifically ask for contrarian views suggests that it might be significant.

                  e.g. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/402112 and http://www.chowhound.com/topics/154917

                  Some of the opinions from these threads suggest that popular places (e.g. East Coast Grill) may not be as popular as one might think from reading the boards.

                  Unless there's a factual point of contention, I usually hold back when I encounter a contrary opinion to a place that I like, since I would have already stated my opinion in a prior post. And admittedly, I hold back out of self-interest because a more diverse board means that there's more information to be had. But it would probably be even better to acknowledge and encourage a poster who has made a dissenting post, because that's how a useful diverse information source can be built.

                  1. re: limster

                    Agreed. And judging from threads like this

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/18937

                    there are probably a lot more chain-loving chowhounders than people are willing to admit on this board. I'll bet a lot of these people are secretly chomping down on Big Macs when they think nobody is looking. And why should we feel like we're admitting anything? If you like something, you like something. One shouldn't feel any shame stating his or her views. But a lot of people are afraid of becoming the target for a lot of flaming. I think we all need to be a lot more tolerant of divergent viewpoints on this board.

                    1. re: Miss Needle

                      I find this whole business of chains to be contrarian to the desire to find new and unique. Chains are safe, not new. People can like food at chains, that's not my issue - I agree that people shouldn't feel guilty about liking chains. Nevertheless, what's new? How many reports on quarterpounders do you want to see before you understand what it is? Do you think it will change significantly over the years such that downhill alerts will be meaningful? (Yes - indeed it has gone down from the original in the early 70's - but since that first wave of efficiency? Is there much difference between a 1992 Big Mac and a 2008 model?) If we're all about discovery and open minds, chains ain't it. Let's encourage new places, new foods. Let's talk about whether a special place, like the East Coast Grill, is as good as it was 10 years ago.

                      Divergent points of view are good, but they have to be backed up to some degree. The divergent views that are most useful are the ones that say why, explain what that poster's perspective was. I don't think anyone needs to be an expert to post here, the more the merrier - but there are limits. No matter what the level of experience, there should be a desire to provide some level of detail. Like Scargod said on another thread, the number of useless opinion sites grows by the tons, full of one liners like, "this place was crap", or just a rating - 3 stars! - completely meaningless and useless to people trying to get a real feel for the place. So in our desire for more diversity and inclusion, let's not get carried away and become one of these one-liner sites.

                      1. re: applehome

                        I understand what you're saying about chains. Yeah, I don't need to read 1000 posts on how the Big Mac is the best thing in the world. However chains don't always stay the same. True, you still have a quarter pounder around but there are always new chains popping up. And in the old chains you've got new items being pumped out. And then you also have chains in countries outside the US (assuming you're from the US) opening up for the first time in America. I'm not defending chains at all; just wish some of these posters would just refrain from belittling others because they do go to a chain. And the funny thing is most of these people probably haven't been to that chain -- it's an automatic reflex action that all chains are bad. Luckily there is a separate board for Chains now. If you're not interested, you don't have to read about chains at all.

                        I totally agree with you that divergent points of view (and other views) are best when backed up by more than "This is good." Those posts don't help me at all. I appreciate it when somebody takes the time to post thoughtfully -- and many do. I just wish we would see more of these contrarian views to begin with. I feel that if more people exercise tact when disagreeing with a post we would see more points of view. Many times it's the long-time regular poster who ends up being the a** as they feel like they've got some seniority. Or maybe they're just a**es to begin with. You'd think because they've been posting for years that they would know better. Luckily, these attacks comprise a small minority of the posts and generally get moderated out. I can totally see why some posters and lurkers would be afraid of the mob mentality and keep to themselves if they have a view that's different. Chowhound should be an environment where we can freely share and exchange ideas with impunity.

                        1. re: applehome

                          Awhile back, a poster made what I thought was a really good point about chains, and the discussion of them on Chowhound. A lot of hounds live in places where there simply aren't a lot of dining options aside from chains, and so getting help finding good dishes at chains is valuable to those hounds.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Similarly, there are parts of the world about which there is minimal or zilch Chowhound information - anything posted about anywhere(good, bad or indifferent) is a welcome starting point for the hungry traveller.

                          2. re: applehome

                            Details are very important in trying in creating an accurate picture of a restaurant. And that's one way in which people use the this site -- to figure safe options that they know are going to good and will suit their taste.

                            (Nevertheless, I feel that as chowhounds, the best way to get a feel for the place is to eat there. As much as one could read about a place, there's no substitute for a meal to figure out directly whether one likes it or not.)

                            Another way of using this site is to swap tips about where to explore. In this scenario, details are not as important. Merely that a place exists and realizing that there is very little known about it, except that someone thinks its 3 stars or is crap, can provide a stimulus for chowhounds to explore the place because it identifies a gap in our knowledge.

                            Of course brief one liners will be less useful if there is already a ton known about the restaurant in question, but in that case it's time to check out another place that is less well known -- deliciousness marches on.

                            1. re: limster

                              I get your point. A mention of a place you haven't heard of is always a good thing, no matter the quality or disposition of the write-up. Someone mentioned a new Mexican place in Lowell recently, and I'm dying to try it.

                              But in another recent thread, someone recommended a Mexican chain that I have been to and could not recommend. It is what I consider to be overly Americanized (gringofied), and was not delicious food by my standards, and as it turns out, by the standards of the OP that was asking for recommendations. Our perspective was obviously different from the poster that recommended it.

                              This new place in Lowell may very well turn out to be overly gringofied, but I don't think it will be, because a) it is not a chain, and b) I have some faith in the poster that recommended it. The truth is that it doesn't matter - I'm going to try it and decide for myself anyway.

                              There are certainly times when a well written negative report from someone I trust will keep me away from a new place. This is particularly true of Chinese-American restaurant burb sushi. (Oy vey, not another one!) Actually, I would have no desire to go to such a place based on a one liner from someone I didn't know, even if that one-liner was a good report. (Best sushi in town!) In fact, only a well written positive review by a person I trusted could ever get me interested in such a place. Several such reports, and I would make it a point to put it on my must-try list.

                              So details and volume are important in some cases, and not so much in others. In any case, lurkers who have information about new places should post regardless of the details. As lurkers, they're already getting the benefit of everybody else's information - it's time they shared their knowledge!

                              On the other hand, contrarian posts to the conventional wisdom, (a place or recipe that has had enough exposure to draw a crowd), ought to be as detailed as possible. The only way to decide whether there is a real downhill situation or whether this is a matter of perspective, is to get the details. When you're going against the crowd, you need to have as much ammo as you can.

                              1. re: applehome

                                "When you're going against the crowd, you need to have as much ammo as you can."

                                While I see how that can be helpful, I don't think there should be a particular onus on a poster who disagrees with the "conventional wisdom" to explain why he or she disagrees with the "conventional wisdom". I would say that the only real way to determine for if there is a downhill situation is to go and decide whether you think it's gone downhill.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  " I would say that the only real way to determine for if there is a downhill situation is to go and decide whether you think it's gone downhill."

                                  This is certainly the gold standard for the typical CH. It would be great if I had all the time and budget to check and recheck recommendations from the board. I think I would quite enjoy it in fact! But alas, real life has a way of intervening, and so I always enjoy a detailed post about a contrary point of view. It makes me think about the restaurant in a critical way, and questions assumptions I have made about the place without realizing that was what I was doing. We can't always have the gold standard. But it is still useful to have data points.

                                  I particularly find extensive critical reports useful when considering recommendations to friends or acquaintances, or people who post questions about where to eat in my home town. I will never be in the enviable position of having recently (within the last month) tried all my recommendations. I use those contrary reports to help tailor recommendations. If Poster X asks for a rec to a resto with excellent food without pretensions, then I won't blindly send him/her to Resto Y which is getting rave reviews, but has one poster complaining about the pretentiousness of the place. I'll say "hey this place is well-liked, but I would warn you someone found it overly pretentious and made a pretty good argument for the case". Then Poster X has information, and can make a decision to spend hard-earned bucks there or not. It helps manage expectations.

                                  But I agree, there shouldn't be a particular onus on the contrarian poster to write an essay. I just find it helpful. Not as helpful as checking it out myself, but still helpful.

                                  1. re: moh

                                    Oh - I do agree with you that downhill reports are useful, particularly, as you say, because most of us don't have the budget to try out every place for ourselves.

                      2. re: MC Slim JB

                        as i've had to remind myself frequently, this forum is not for industry pros such as the sensitive boston chef who contacted MC Slim-- the forum is for diners, and industry folks are apt to get the brunt of it on these boards. even if the chef felt personally hurt by the comments, s/he probably still learned something about diners' perspectives on her/his cooking & restaurant, possibly leading to adjustments that will be beneficial for all.

                      3. As someone who lurked for years and stepped up last year to contribute to the dialogue I've felt both welcomed and ignored; deleted by Mods (right or wrong) in the beginning with great regularity. Once I "got" the gest...I started to like CH a great deal. As in "real life" I can do without snobs. I can do without been here before you posts. I can really do without mob-speak. However my do without peeves are tiny compared to the valuable insights shared here, every day. That's the reason I come back.

                        1. Great topic. I am one of those people who have become less and less inclined to participate in discussionss about the Food Network and the chefs on that show. It's the same people ranting over and over again, adding nothing new or meaningful, and everytime I see a new FN discussion, I know exactly who's going to jump into the discussion with the same old comments. Truth is, there are many "passionate" posters here, but let's also call a spade a spade and call some of them for what they are, which is "self-righteous." The attacks against chains, depicting them as the Evil Empire, are particularly hysterical.

                          So why do I continue to participate? For one, it's the price you pay for having an open forum such as this one. It's democracy at work. I may not agree with you, and I may think you're a prick based solely on your posts, but I respect your right to your opinion and to voice them. Also, I enjoy learning about restaurants I've never tried and even those I have tried, because everything changes. And of course, I love to eat.

                          Chowhound.com has not changed my life, but it is an interesting and, at times, fun diversion. In the midst of a particularly stressful day, it's nice to be able to come here and get away from it all.

                          One last note: a friend who's a comic book illustrator once showed me a forum for those who are comic book aficionados. Let's just say that after reading that site, Chowhound.com is a paragon of virtue and good manners! I don't think I've ever seen anyone as "passionate" about a particular subject as those who are into comic books. Phew!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: gloriousfood

                            "Let's call a spade a spade." -- I couldn't have said it better myself.

                            I was laughing hysterically about your comic book forum comment. They make fun of those comic book people in the Simpsons where you've got comic book guy nitpicking every single detail and talk about all the inconsistencies. I've been to one Star Trek convention (can't believe I'm admitting this here) and I definitely know what you're talking about. Luckily most of the chowhounders are still on planet Earth.

                            1. re: Miss Needle

                              Miss Needle, let me tell you, those comic book people are really vicious! I've met a few "Trekkies" and people who go to those Star Wars conventions, as well as people who dress up and reenact Civil War battles, and um, they're interesting--let's just say that.

                          2. It really does hurt when a place you really like gets hammered. Likewise you sometimes stare at the screen and ask yourself whether this poster ate at the same place when it is so highly recommended. Such is the price of quasi-free speech.

                            Jfood does not read all of the Boards and stays within is favorite 4-6 depending on his travels. But on his "home" board he seems to take things more personally (especially in his home town), and justifiably so. He does not like when people attack his favorites (but he is beginning to understand they are just wrong :-)). He sometimes questions his own opinion or whether he missed something when he is the lone dissenter and he will usually return and try the place again. Likewise after a few months you begin to view some posters with somewhere between a grain and a pound of salt and almost trust other implicitly.

                            But the site has opened his scope of restaurants and more importantly his at-home abilities (his new-found love of Zuni Chicken comes to mind) and for this he is very grateful.

                            And the Mods do a good job. Sometimes they get a little too agressive, sometimes, not enough, it's a tough balance. Their jobis to keep the car from running off the road, not planning the trip or the route.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: jfood

                              It's not that there's anything wrong with you or the restaurant you really like, or with the posts that disagree with you, it's just that people have very different tastes, and that leads to very different opinions. No restaurant can be all things to all people. Thus, for the boards to be maximally useful to the most people, we need a diversity of opinions. Agreeing to disagree is very important.

                              1. re: limster

                                Interesting in the remark about re-trying. Jfood has never changed his opinion, even after reading glowing reports from others.

                                Jfood agrees, agreeing to disagree is very healthy.

                            2. I experienced this on the San Francisco board a number of times, to the point where, even the slightest dissent of a CH favorite gets them worked into a tizzy, and half the discussion gets deleted. I have to wonder if these members have a personal stake in these establishments to actually respond as if I've made a personal attack?

                              There's one member who likes to correct my grammar, as if that somehow discredits my dissenting opinion, and then when once a number of regulars have disagreed with me, they'll start taking tallies so it's clear 4 people are for said restaurant and 1 is against. As if a score card is really needed when I'm being ganged up on. My comments are then misconstrued, once I attempt to further defend my negative opinion of the food, and then guess what, I've been baited into a back and forth conversation where I'm the bad person just for offering a dissenting opinion. It doesn't matter if I've even mentioned some highlights and what I do like about the place, or not....the hysteria ensues. I've found myself holding my tongue just to avoid such confrontational conversations, but that's not good either.

                              Mind you, once I express my displeasure with a place once or twice, I'm not going to go on a crusade in every thread.... so the positive reviews will always far outweigh my dissenting opinion, and I think that's true sitewide. So why are they treated as such a threat? Again, am I arguing with the investors or chef themselves or something? There are blogs like Eater.com which actually make fun of the Chowhound attitude stifling such dissent against anointed restaurants.

                              (I'll also mention, I post on the NY board too, and it's far less tense, even at it's most feisty)

                              18 Replies
                              1. re: sugartoof

                                It's a shame that you feel that others have ganged up on you. I wonder what the tourists think when their thread gets taken over by bickering locals.

                                Also,I've always assumed that correcting grammar is wrong. Overuse of the apostrophe (not by you, sugartoof) drives me insane, but I've restrained myself, so far. (It's pickles, not pickle's, people! There, I've got that out of my system.)

                                1. re: Glencora

                                  Oh I make tons of grammatical errors, and I'm sure you picked a few out in these posts too...but nobody seems to feel the need to correct them unless I'm speaking ill of the CH favs.

                                  I agree, it really is unfortunate for tourists checking these hotspot boards.
                                  It seems to me it would be better to just ignore the negative posts and let them get buried by all their positively fawning comments instead.

                                  1. re: Glencora

                                    Glencora, as a "tourist" who has read the SF Bay area board assiduously for the last several months and time traveled back about a year there before posting my tentative itinerary for help, I can tell you that I never felt intimidated. I did notice there was some real passion happening, and it didn't take long to recognize different posters more by their writing styles than by their avatars :-). I inadvertertently started a back-and-forth by asking about the Gourment Ghetto in Berkeley that I suppose had an element of bickering but I chose to construe it as badinage. There are many generous posters who I think truly see it as their civic duty to help out of towners avoid unhappy chow experiences and I bless their tiny cotton socks! If a few of them get carried away occasionally and wax a bit didactic, I think laughing it off is the best approach. The shoe can be so easily on the other foot: I recently got way too enthusiastic in offering help to a Hound coming to Vancouver only to find s/he had been here many times (red face) but my offer was no less well meant and s/he was very gracious.

                                  2. re: sugartoof

                                    If the "grammar hounds" start in on you just use the "Report" this function and those posts will be removed. Chowhound is a "spell free - grammar free" zone. The one place that it is okay to correct someones spelling is with the name of the restaurant as that may affect someones ability to find it in the future.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      LOL. Sugartoof, your negative posts are pretty intense, and your posts can be misconstrued as intentionally inflammatory. I thought you were a troll after one of your early Bay Area posts, and it wasn't until I read your (less inflammatory) Manhattan Board posts that I realized you just have very strong opinions.

                                      I agree with everyone on this thread that dissenting opinions are necessary for a full and accurate picture of a restaurants, but people also love their favorite restaurants with a passion. It shouldn't come as a surprise that people may take a strongly worded, negative post on a favorite restaurant as if it were a criticism of a friend, family member, or even themselves. I'll admit I had a strong emotional reaction to one of your early posts on one of my favorite restaurants (in which I do *not* have a financial stake <g>) and had to try hard to keep that from coloring the tone of my post in response.

                                      Anyway, I say dissent on - especially if you can continue to provide details as to why you dislike a place. I do think people are more likely to engage in a productive dialogue if they can keep discussion on a more intellectual and less emotional level, and that's easier to do if there are specific points of discussion, rather than a general statement "X restaurant is overrated".

                                      1. re: daveena

                                        (This isn't a direct response to daveena, but more as a general statement along this topic.)

                                        I guess there two sides to every issue. On the one hand, to make a convincing and persuasive argument, it's is definitely important to be detailed and accurate. Especially if you anticipate that many people will disagree with you. That's human nature and a little bit of honey makes the medicine go down better.

                                        On the other, many people use these boards as an information source. And the most savvy ones might consider all posts, including the inflammatory ones, while throwing out all the baggage and tone to zero in on the raw information in the post. And then decide whether it's a place/dish that they might be interested in checking out.

                                        Personally, my view is that people should be free to state their opinion about the food, and I should be free to either follow or disregard their statements. No one is here to be "right" but everyone is here to eat better.

                                        1. re: limster

                                          Limster, you have a very well reasoned and even handed / tempered approach to life it seems. The problem arises here (and on every other public forum board that I peruse) because there is a certain percentage of posters who are working out their anger (and other psychological issues that they have) on others.

                                          The moderators both have their hands full and can't be everywhere (and before you tell me to report these posts - I do so on a regular basis) and some of these folks are good at tiptoeing along the edge of being inappropriate with their comments while not quite "tipping" over that line. These folks can make, (especially new posters) one feel very, very unwelcome and uncomfortable.

                                          I have noted one type of "dissenter" on the LA board that, if you make a recommendation that is different from a place they like and champion will just not pass up a chance to again promote their favorite, and at the same time denigrate yours. They seem to thrive on putting others "in their place". So developing somewhat of a thick hide is a necessity to post on CH at times.

                                          1. re: Servorg

                                            Good point. Recently there was a relatively new poster who stated how surprised she was that there was this unwarranted semi-hostility on these boards. I'm glad she spoke up because I do feel it is an issue with some of the newer posters or to some posters who don't have thick skin. I also have learned over time to refrain from posting on certain threads because you've got these certain posters who always feel like they've got something to prove; these people can be quite annoying at times and I just don't have the patience to deal with them. So sometimes I'd rather keep my two cents to myself. And it generally turns out that the posts I keep my mouth shut on end up getting moderated or sometimes deleted in its entirety.

                                            I think it's really important to have different points of view. What I do wish is that posters would stop attacking each other if their views don't coincide with each other. You can disagree and have a debate without having it turn ugly.

                                            Looking at it objectively, one can say that 99% of the posts are fine. But people tend to remember that nasty 1%.

                                            1. re: Servorg

                                              Well, having been here for a while, it becomes more obvious what is important (eating deliciously) and what is not (being "right" about what is delicious). Unless it's over a point of fact, I tend to steer clear from debating the quality of a restaurant from those people that have the problems you state. It's a waste of time and one should never feed trolls.

                                              But it's also worth noting that sometimes, it's because of the limitations of text that makes it hard to communicate effectively. Someone could be curt or in a hurry and it's not always easy to tell the difference.

                                              BTW, re: your last point, in this context, by "dissenter," I mean people whose opinions are in the (sometimes vast) minority, not just those who disagree with a prior point. Your point is important but probably a separate issue altogether.

                                            2. re: limster

                                              "Personally, my view is that people should be free to state their opinion about the food, and I should be free to either follow or disregard their statements. No one is here to be "right" but everyone is here to eat better."

                                              Agreed - but, as sugartoof pointed out, many of the more heated discussions end up getting deleted, so in the end, you lose the balance that the dissenting post brings. Emotionally neutral, detailed dissents are more likely to be useful in the long run.

                                              1. re: daveena

                                                Absolutely agree, in fact I would even say that tactfully worded dissents are even better.

                                                The issue becomes what to do with a dissenting post that isn't emotionally neutral or detailed. Does that always necessitate a heated discussion?

                                                1. re: limster

                                                  Emotionally heated and/or broadly dismissive, negative posts shouldn't necessitate heated discussions... but I think people actually do identify closely with their favorite restaurants, and many people do feel hurt when a favorite restaurant gets slammed and they tend to instinctively attack back. This, of course, does not in any way excuse the quashing of dissenting opinions.

                                                  Applehome breaks it down nicely below - we need the ability to not take things personally, and to rebut in a clear and rational manner. It's hard - we're all here because we're passionate about food, but to optimize the utility of this site, we need to take our very personal tastes and opinions, and treat them as data points.

                                            3. re: daveena

                                              Agree with Daveena 100%, especially paragraph 3.

                                              Sugartoof, I'm genuinely very sorry that you made to feel as if your opinion was unwelcome - I can empathize as I felt just as you did when you jumped on my assenting opinion in the thread that I'm pretty sure spurred your original post above. As others have stated throughout this thread, ad hominems do not lead to better chow.

                                              As for that poster that rags on you for your grammar - he/she does that just for sh*ts and giggles and although that does not make it any way appropriate, either report it or ignore it. I got teased a lot by that poster when I was a newbie.

                                              1. re: adrienne156

                                                Adrienne,
                                                I was already being ganged up on for having dissenting opinion before you posted and 4th'd the original suggestion. If anything, your post read to me as one more trying to shut down my dissent.

                                                Not only didn't I jump on your opinion, I never even responded to you until you seemed to think I had attacked you. Check the thread again, and you'll see there was a misunderstanding.

                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                  I'm sorry my post read to you as one more person trying to shut down your dissent. I truly did not mean it as an attack on you, I was just adding that I also like the restaurant, because, well, I do. I often 'second' something or 'third' something... It's just a normal part of my vernacular.

                                                  I can't go back and check because after a few of the unfriendly posts were removed, I exchanged a few emails with the moderators and asked them to remove more. If the discussion of authenticity didn't stem from my first post saying that I thought their couscous was the best I had had outside of Morroco, I apologize for that as well.

                                                  In any case, I can't speak for the entire SF Board, but your posts are refreshing or at the very least entertaining, please do keep posting. :o)

                                                  1. re: adrienne156

                                                    Adrienne, I've had about 7 posts in this very thread deleted.

                                                    I'll just say I have no antagonism towards you, and have no problem with any of your opinions, and hope you understand the context of my replies may have been lost along the way if they read otherwise.

                                                  2. re: sugartoof

                                                    Sugartoof, I've been desperately trying to telegraph benign intent, and it doesn't seem to be working, no matter how much I edit and reword my responses to you. I think there has been a great deal of misreading of intent from multiple parties.

                                                    Honestly, I wasn't going to get involved in this thread at all, but you seemed genuinely upset at the response to some of your posts on the Bay Area Board. I jumped in because I thought it would be sad if you decided not to post on the Bay Area Board anymore. I was trying to explain how I perceived some of your posts, and only managed throw gasoline on the fire.

                                                    To put it bluntly, sometimes the colorful language you use to describe a restaurant can be interpreted as an intentional taunting of the people who like said restaurant. It's your prerogative to describe a restaurant as "a total con", but then be prepared to have people jump to defend it.

                                                    That said, I think it is true that there is a dangerous tendency toward "group-think" on the Bay Area board, and I was absolutely mortified when a recent visitor wrote up a lovely trip report, including a tactfully worded, detailed, and even apologetic negative review of Aziza and was attacked for it.

                                                    1. re: daveena

                                                      Daveena, I objected to the characterization of my posts as somehow provoking the response they got, and I still do My subsequent responses were deleted. It's hard to fully communicate in light of that.

                                                      I have no idea why describing a place as a con when I genuinely felt ripped off by the meal, or duped by media hype means I'm looking to go to battle. I recognize that the people who love the place do not share my point of view obviously....and to each there own! My feelings are my feelings, and they don't reflect on anyone else who didn't share my experience. It's curious to me why that even needs to be stated.

                                                      In my case, I think the antagonism I received was originally uncalled for, and the flame war that resulted has created undue scrutiny of everything I have posted ever since. As a result, my tone has turned blunt, because it's clear I'm not going to make any friends here, and chances are my post will be misconstrued, and deleted. I'm here to talk about food, and nothing more. My opinion of some restaurant is nothing more then just that, an opinion about food....and if someone makes into more then that, I can't be faulted for it.

                                            4. my modest take is that posters on this forum are way too polite.

                                              chowhounders should never be too thin skinned. serious dissent is a good thing.

                                              just my $0.02.

                                              7 Replies
                                              1. re: steve h.

                                                With all due respect steve h., this community is too large not to be polite to one another. Unlike conventional wisdom discussed one on one or in a controlled (meaning you know who you are talking to) environ, CH is a large community and the discussion can include hundreds of people. Being polite, choosing our words, engaging in healthy discourse is important. I believe the Mods do a good job of weeding out the worst scenarios but we should all due our part.

                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                  i am very polite.

                                                  my modest take is that moderators have trended too close to what i consider fair banter. you may differ. so be it.

                                                  moderation in all things is good. anything less is not helpful.

                                                  1. re: steve h.

                                                    here's a good example steve h. I wasn't suggesting you weren't polite. I was trying to add to your suggestion that CH is a large "room" and the idea of letting it rip so to speak would probably create more dissent and less wisdom. I picture a room full of yellers..and no one listening. Thanks.

                                                    1. re: HillJ

                                                      This may just be semantics, but I don't think that politeness has anything to do with it. Not taking things too personally, having a thick skin, and rebutting in a clear and rational manner are what's really needed. We don't need to call each other names, but we don't need to be nice to the point of deferring our own ideas and beliefs. Politeness, to me, has the ring of that kind of deference.

                                                      Sticking up for one's opinion is more about providing data, providing background, comparisons, perhaps even perspective (thank you Anton Ego). It would be nice if we were all actually egoless and could rebut without emotion - but that's hard to do, especially if it's a pile-on against you. But what we should all get good at is ignoring everybody's ego, and charging full speed ahead on sharing the data.

                                                      What do you learn from a poorly explained position, pro or con? It's only when the conversation has gone around a few times, positions have become clarified and details have emerged about where the person is coming from, that the discussion becomes really interesting and worthy of learning from.

                                                      1. re: applehome

                                                        applehome, I do believe this entire thread comes down to comfort level/what kind of wordsmith you are/samantics. Unto itself this is a lively discussion, so it's all good.

                                                        The entire community goes on and off point beautifully...NAF Boards are one example...and which Board you frequent may shape your pov about CH as a whole.

                                                        Thankfully, there is room for all of it. Polite was my word choice. There could be a discussion on words/actions/data...again, it's round and round when all we really want is great chow. Who would argue heathly exchange? Apparently CH's.

                                                        Whatever one calls it, it appears we ALL want it.

                                                        edited to add: regarding "having a thick skin" - why should an ill mannered person slamming a resto he/shes never been to be off the hook? How thick skinned must a person who loves that resto be?

                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                          "regarding "having a thick skin" - why should an ill mannered person slamming a resto he/shes never been to be off the hook? How thick skinned must a person who loves that resto be?"

                                                          Thick skinned enough to either ignore the person (because if he's never been there, he is obviously reporting out of ignorance), or to respond and ask for details - in a rational way. To simply ask, if you have never been there, what is it that made you slam this place? (and BTW, chains don't count in the "never been there" criteria - by definition, chains are the same everywhere and deserve commentary if the poster has been to anything even resembling the chain being questioned)

                                                          Ignoring a person is its own kind of commentary - if someone is flaming away out of ignorance, it is simply not worth anyone's time and effort to respond. The ignorant challenge is its own punishment - it will sit there for eternity - people surfing around the 10th generation web in the next decade will come across this ignorant comment. The poster is doomed to forever live in the permanent electronic archive of foot in mouth keyboarditis.

                                                          1. re: applehome

                                                            Most helpful, applehome.
                                                            A CH can ask all he/she wants, doesn't mean they'll always get a rational reply, or a helpful answer or any response at all. We're humans with plenty of flaws. I'm going to hop off this thread now...and focus on dinner :)

                                              2. There's an important distinction between dissenting posts and dismissive posts.

                                                Fair, well articulated critiques of beloved establishments are generally welcomed, even encouraged, as a counterpoint to popular opinions. Recommendations of unpopular establishments are often contested, questioned, and debated, but rarely attacked.

                                                But all too often, dissenting posts carry an air of superiority, a mean spiritedness even. "Why would you eat there? The food sucks! Only fools and tourists would bother with such a bad place! People on this board aren't *true* Chowhounds if they're recommending it..."

                                                These type of posts contribute nothing to the dialogue. First of all, they are uninformative. Any dissenting post that doesn't include reasons for the dissenting opinions isn't particularly valuable. Maybe the poster failed to order the restaurant's specialty. Maybe (s)he visited the food court once and missed all the good stuff. Maybe the establishment has improved since the poster's last (and only) visit five years ago. Without details backing up the opinion, we can't judge any of these criteria.

                                                More importantly such posts are offensive, because they attack the opinions and judgments of other posters in the community. That's why they get flamed. If you insult the opinions of the community, the community will respond in kind. Thankfully, these exchanges are usually deleted by the moderators (though for that reason it's difficult for me to link to an example).

                                                8 Replies
                                                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                  I'm confused why one person can't state a different opinion without being challenged to justify it with a criteria?

                                                  Why would a different opinion be perceived as "offensive", "attacking" or "insulting" ? That sounds rather personalized unless you have a stake in the establishment being bashed.

                                                  Also, flaming isn't allowed on this forum.

                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                    Tone, context, and diction are everything. A dissenting post becomes dismissive when the tone, context, and diction are offensive, attacking, and insulting. When this is combined with a complete lack of substantive information, it is trolling, and provides no value to the forum. Flaming isn't permitted, but trolling isn't either. Flaming is the response to trolling. Both will eventually be deleted.

                                                    Dissenting opinions that lack criteria will inevitable be challenged for the reasons stated above: without criteria, nobody knows if the dissenter ordered the wrong items, missed the good stuff, visited the establishment so long ago that the opinions are no longer valid, etc, etc.

                                                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                      That reads as if you advocate derailing conversations to stifle dissenting voices.

                                                      Why not just take opinions with a grain of salt, rather then treat them as personal insults, which as I understand it, you feel justifies these flame wars?

                                                      There is no standard for which we are to justify our opinions, and clearly many of us do find value in those who post dissenting viewpoints.The burden is on the community to be accepting of all opinions, without getting bent out of shape. The forum is full of adults who are secure in themselves, and fully capable of looking the other way, especially if they find the dissent to be inferior and lacking credibility.

                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                        "That reads as if you advocate derailing conversations to stifle dissenting voices."

                                                        No it doesn't, it reads as if I advocate derailing dismissive posts that are "offensive, attacking, and insulting." Particularly if said posts "lack substantive information."

                                                        "Why not just take opinions with a grain of salt, rather then treat them as personal insults"

                                                        If posts are insulting, it seems perfectly reasonable to take them as insults. Which is not to say that my feelings have ever been hurt by a post on Chowhound (or any internet forum), that would just be silly.

                                                        "The burden is on the community to be accepting of all opinions, without getting bent out of shape. "

                                                        The community should never have to accept opinions that are offensive, attacking, and insulting. Fortunately, those posts are usually deleted by moderators before flaming gets out of hand. (Which is why I'm hard-pressed to link an example).

                                                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                          Posts expressing dissenting opinions are not one in the same as posts which are "offensive, attacking and insulting". Voicing displeasure for a restaurant without detail is not a personal attack.

                                                          I don't believe the forum rules give anyone entitlement to flame wars, under any circumstance.

                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                            "Posts expressing dissenting opinions are not one in the same as posts which are "offensive, attacking and insulting"."

                                                            Exactly right, which is why I wrote:

                                                            "A dissenting post *becomes* dismissive when the tone, context, and diction are offensive, attacking, and insulting."

                                                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                              Then report those posts. Don't flame.

                                                      2. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                        If you believe a person is trolling, it's best not to feed the troll.

                                                        Not all dissenting opinions that lack criteria will be challenged. Most people ignore them -- if one considers the fraction of people who read a thread that actually respond to such a post, they're in the vast minority.

                                                        It's perfectly ok for someone to say that they ordered dish X and it was bad, even if it wasn't the restaurant's strength. That's how we know where the strengths are. We need those types of posts for the same reason we need posts telling us what the good dishes are. We don't want people only ordering "approved" dishes at "approved" restaurants. That defeats the purpose of chowhound.

                                                        Concluding whether the restaurant is good or bad based on a fraction of the dishes they make and on one or two meals is not a rigourous conclusion, and I think that is pretty evident without having someone state that.

                                                  2. In the light of day (altho kinda rainy in NJ) I take away from this encouraging and welcomed thread that what you say and how you say it in a room full of creative wordsmiths is bound to be flavorful!

                                                    My appreciation to all.

                                                    1. Great topic, thank you. This is the prime reason that I tend to avoid posting in Chowhounds much over the last year. The whole notion that dissenting opinions had damn well better be well-documented is absurd. Yes, I agree, it is more helpful to me if a review is as specific as possible - I can then decide on my own. Reviews that are just dismissive because it is the "conventional wisdom" are thing that I tend to fully ignore. I think it's critically important to remember that palates, experiences and opinions vary, thank God, and one person's great experience may be another's bad dream. We need to respect that. "I like it" and "I don't like it" are perfectly valid opinions, not very detailed, but valid. I had a great experience recently at Neptune Oyster, but I'm sorry that you've had some poor ones. Is one of us "wrong"? Hardly.
                                                      I don't get my "feelings hurt" by being criticized or disagreed-with, but it really makes me a bit angry to have my opinions mocked, and that happens too frequently at Chowhound recently. I tend to just stop posting, because it's a pain in the ass to feel like I need to justify my experience, and I won't do it.
                                                      Thanks again for your topic - I hope that it helps!

                                                      1. We think that everything there is to be said about this topic has been said, so we're going to ask everyone to return to discussing chow, instead of discussing the discussion of chow.