Scott Aaronson is a professor of computer science at UT Austin, where his research area is in theoretical computer science. However, he may be more well known in the broader computer science community for his popular blog Shtetl Optimized, which he began in 2005 and still updates regularly.

I found his blog back in the early 2010s when I started my journey into computer science, and I was hooked by his writing style. His blog also has a large readership, and most of his posts garner a fair amount of comments. What surprises me is that, as a busy professor like him, he still takes the time to talk to random commenters – such as myself on many occasions – to answer questions on almost any topic. There’s even a Scientific American blog post titled “Scott Aaronson Answers Every Ridiculously Big Question I Throw at Him”. My one contribution to his actual research career was providing him with some LaTeX code that he could copy and paste into a document to get a diagram to show. I hope I was able to save him some time.

Lately, his blog has attracted some vicious trolls who are attacking him and his family. It’s gotten bad enough that he’s now considering changing his commenting policy. It pains me to see people perform these actions, and I completely condemn such actions.

As a disclosure, it’s true that I often agree with him on many issues. For example, both Scott and I are strong supporters of our international colleagues, and one of my favorite posts from Scott was this one from 2017 when he defended Iranian students from America’s “travel ban.” He, like myself, seems to be careful to make the distinction between the government of Iran and students from Iran. His post was one of the reasons why I decided to write this somewhat related post a few months ago. Scott also gathered some notoriety back in 2014 when he described growing up shy and feeling isolated. When I was reading his posts, I often thought of myself since I, too, felt socially isolated growing up, though the main underlying cause (due to my hearing impairment) is different.

On the other hand, I have never met Scott personally, and from reading his blog, I can identify issues of disagreement. In fact, if I couldn’t find any areas of disagreement, I would be concerned about myself! So, I don’t want to be someone who will always defend him 100% no matter what. I just want to defend him against these specific trolls who are attacking him and his family.

I also think it is important to be consistent in my application of this belief, so if other researchers are experiencing their own ad-hominem attacks, the onus would be on me to defend those researchers as well. Please let me know if I am inconsistent in my application of this belief.

Boaz Barak, a professor at Harvard and a friend of Scott Aaronson, has a nice blog post here. I was touched by reading this and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I hope I never become that kind of person who flings vicious attacks and insults to people and their families. I also hope I will one day have the honor of meeting Scott Aaronson in person.