My research area (not me specifically) sometimes gets attacked by a handful of people who don't know what they're talking about. I don't have a problem with fair criticism, but these people are just being unprofessional.

To be more specific, the abstract of a critical paper might be something like:

We use technique X. After extensive testing we find that X is completely impractical. Moreover, X fails to do Y or Z. We conclude that X is a research dead end and the researchers working on X don't understand what they are doing.

A more accurate summary of the paper would be:

We implement A - one of many techniques from area X. A is widely known to be inferior to other techniques in the literature of X, but we are unaware of more sophisticated techniques. Some basic tests confirm A's inferiority.

Due to failing to properly use A, it doesn't do Y. Moreover, A doesn't do impossible task Z. (No one claimed that A does Z.) We thereby demonstrate that we don't know what we are doing.

How does such a paper get through peer review? Simple: They publish it in a different community, where no one understands X. Unfortunately, this terrible paper then becomes one of the most visible papers on X in that community.

Most people in my area completely ignore the criticism, although some do try to rebut it. As easy as it would be to ignore the critical papers and hope that others do too, the reality is that the misinformation they spread is harmful to my area.

I was wondering whether others have similar experience and can share what worked and what didn't. Can you win by arguing with an idiot/troll?

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    Respectfully. – Kimball Feb 19 '16 at 0:31
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    I don't know of a respected journal in any field that would publish ad hominem language like "the researchers working on X don't understand what they are doing." So I have a hard time taking your question literally. Do you have a link to an abstract? – David Ketcheson Feb 19 '16 at 8:08
  • @DavidKetcheson I don't want to name names. Here is the precise quote: "Some of the examples in this section are lifted directly from the X literature, suggesting, at least in some cases, that the proponents of X do not themselves fully understand the theory." – user49405 Feb 19 '16 at 15:33
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    @user49405 that's a much more measured statement, and I guess it is not in the abstract – David Ketcheson Feb 20 '16 at 9:37
  • I think I know the paper you're talking about; I agree that it's unprofessional and the authors are not acting in good faith. However, there is no point in getting upset about it or responding in an equally unprofessional manner. If anyone asks me about the paper, I dismiss it by pointing out that it was published in a student-run journal whose title includes the phrase "Journal of Entertainment" and that's precisely what the paper is good for. – Thomas supports Monica Mar 31 '18 at 7:54

You can't change what is already published, so there is no point in trying to.

What you (and the people in your research area) can do is ask yourself why they used A instead of X. Maybe there is an easy-to-use free implementation of A, while it takes a PhD to really understand and implement X properly? In that case, you and your peers should fix the problem by releasing a tool to do X. Possibly an automated one, with a simple interface and no magic parameters to tune. Then you can recommend it to people in the other field.

Another thing you can do is collaborating with someone in that area, and publishing a benchmark paper where you test several algorithms and you show that X really works. A paper of this kind may be easier to publish in their area than in yours, where this fact is common knowledge.

If you simply call them idiots, you will never fix the problem. This is the wrong attitude; the blame can't be all on their side. You should borrow this principle from user interface research: if your users make mistakes frequently when interacting with your program/website, it is not their fault because they are idiots, but it is your fault because your interface is bad.

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    This is good advice and I try my best to follow it. However, the issue is bigger than an innocent misunderstanding. They are maliciously attacking our work. They are making false assertions and acting as if they are experts in the area, which I think is dishonest and unprofessional on their part. – user49405 Feb 18 '16 at 19:39
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    Respond with data. Respond with code. Even if you earnestly believe that they are being malicious, respond as though they are merely mistaken. Make this about the work, not about the people. – JeffE Feb 19 '16 at 10:28
  • +1 The customer is always right. Take any criticism and find a way to make it constructive, even if it isn't. – Thomas supports Monica Mar 31 '18 at 8:52

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