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SkepticBlog Comment Policy

by Steven Novella, Nov 03 2008

Blogs are a great form of communication, which is why I think they are one of the more successful Web 2.0 experiments. They allow for an author or group of authors to quickly convey news, information, or editorial to a self-selective audience. The format is rather open, so blog entries can be as short or as long as necessary. They easily include links to references or further reading.

I also find them a great balance between casual communication and formal articles. They tend to be more structured and thorough than, say, a long e-mail you might write to a friend. But they don’t require the time and attention to detail that a print article would (I typically spend 10-20 times as long to write an article meant for print as a blog entry). I find this a good balance in terms of quality and quantity of output.

But perhaps the best feature of blogs is that they are interactive. Blogs are asymetrical in terms of the direction of information flow (as opposed to message boards, for example) – the authors get to decide on topics and provide the bulk of information. But readers (on most blogs) are able to leave comments. This gives them the opportunity to add further information, to bring up points missed in the original blog, to askfor clarification, and to correct errors.

The result is a communication between the author and the readers, as well as among readers, and in the end the issue is dealt with in a much more thorough and accurate manner than a lone author could accomplish. In fact I and others have learned to use the efforts and feedback of blog commenters to fashion later better articles for print, lectures, book chapters, or other purposes.

For the most part the commenters on the various blogs I write for are excellent – they are interested in the topics, thoughtful in their feedback, and generally courteous. But of course there are exceptions, and those exceptions create the need for any active blog to have some policy regarding comments.

Background

Our policy is based upon some basic principles. First – this blog is a private entity. It is owned collectively by the authors. It is not publicly funded and it is not affiliated with any governmental agency or organization. It is, in fact, a creative work protected by copyright. We therefore reserve the right to do whatever we want with it.

We choose to allow comments on our blogs because we are dedicated not only to spreading appreciation for and understanding of science and skepticism, but because we understand that science is a dynamic community effort. Science is, in a way, just an ongoing conversation. And we want our blog to reflect that. We also appreciate all that our readers have to offer.

We further believe in the power and value of freedom of expression, and so we choose to allow our blog to be a venue in which our readers can freely express their opinions.

But no freedom is absolute, and all systems need rules and parameters. And so we reserve the right to restrict comments that are destructive or counteproductive. Below I have separated out the guidlines for comments into two categories – those things that we request from commenters, and those that we require from commenters.

What We Request from Commenters

These are really just guidelines for effective commenting, not things that are likely to get you banned from the comments.

Please be polite. We want this blog to be a collegial environment where people will feel comfortable coming not only to read our blog entries but to partake in conversation. It is also partly a represenation of the skeptical movement. We therefore ask our readers to display common courtesy to others while here.

This does not mean that criticism should be curtailed in any way. Science requires sharp no-nonsense criticism of error and bad ideas. But there is no need for personal attacks.

Please also keep vulgarity to a minimum. We do not want to pre-judge any specific use of foul language (sometimes it’s even justified), but gratuitious use of graphic or vulgar language is likely to distract from the conversation.

Please read the entire blog post (or comment) that you are commenting on before posting your comment. This avoids raising points that have already been addressed.

Avoid copying and pasting large amounts of text into your comments. This is generally considered rude, and is often used as a way of abusing blog comments to spread pre-written propaganda. Keep comments brief and to the point. Using short quotes is, of course, acceptable. Generally speaking, if your comment is longer than the blog post on which you are commenting, it is probably too long.

Don’t be a troll. Trolls lurk on blog comments, sniping at phrases or points taken out of context. They try to be provocative just to stir emotion, rather than sincerely engaging in conversation or trying to understand the actual points raised by the author or other commenters. Most savvy blog readers have come to recognize trolls, and will try to ignore them. But there always seems to be enough new readers to suck in that trolls can effectively disrupt meaningful conversation.

Don’t hog the comments. It is rude to dominate all conversation by posting numerous comments, or multiple comments in a row without giving others a chance to respond.

Try to stay on topic. Avoid using a comment to bring up an entirely new topic that has nothing to do with the blog post or the conversation that is going on.

What we Require from Commenters

Engaging in any of the behavior below is likely to earn you a warning, followed by banning from the comments (either temporary or permanent).

Do not use the comments to spread SPAM. We will block any attempt to place thinly veiled advertisments in our comments, or to place links on our website.

Do not use the comments to commit libel. We will immediate remove any blatant libel from the comments and likely ban the commenter.

Do not publish or reproduce copyrighted material that you do not own in the comments.

Do not use the comments to make direct threats against others, incite others to violence, or to spread hate speech.

Don’t piss us off. This basically covers anything I did not think to specifically include. We will decide on a case-by-case basis what we consider to be appropriate and what is over-the-line. Most people will be able to figure out with simple common sense what is likely to be considered inappropriate.

Conclusion

We welcome and even encourage feedback and discussion (even on this entry). The purpose of having such guidelines and rules is to make the comments and this blog as effective as possible as a means for spreading critical thinking and the exchange of ideas.

Welcome, and thank you in advance for your courtesy.

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38 Responses to “SkepticBlog Comment Policy”

  1. SJC says:

    I am really tempted to just write “FIRST” to this…

    Thanks for this article. There’s very little out there that actually explains web etiquette and the like to newcomers, and it was tricky to know what was appropriate and what was not when I first got involved. This is a good outline that applies pretty much everywhere, regardless of topic or format.

  2. Andrew says:

    Looks like you’ve covered all your bases Steven. My favourite requirement was “don’t piss us off.” Can’t go wrong with that one.

    Something you wrote really hit home with me. We the commenters represent the skeptical community as much, if not more than the actual bloggers. Come one guys, lets keep it cool and rational. On more sensitive issues like politics, stick to the evidence, and if there isn’t any clear evidence stay clear of commenting, because chances are you’ll offend the sensibilities of another, and the conversation will degenerate into a never-ending brawl of value judgements.

  3. Peter says:

    haha “troll” thats a funny way to describe them I’ve actually never heard that term before, but then again I am new to blogging. Since I am new to blogging this is actually a really helpful post so thank you Mr. Novella :)

  4. Wintermute says:

    I love the “don’t piss us off” requirement. Though I’d consider it an unspoken rule on most blogs, it’s refreshing to see it explicitly stated.

  5. ‘Common sense is neither common nor always makes sense’ …or however the quip goes. This is especially, sadly true for the internet. Well, lets see how “whack-a-troll” plays out here; hopefully it will be an infrequent game.

  6. Patrik says:

    I long for a time when such obvious rules don’t have to be written. But until common sense is common, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  7. Old Geezer says:

    If I may, let me suggest that commenters refrain from shouting “Troll” at anyone who simply posts an opinion that deviates from that of the majority. Skepticism should include a rational consideration of opposing views.

  8. Skepdude says:

    “Don’t piss us off!”

    Love that. I hope “The Skeptologists” has a tiny bit of that in there somewhere! That’s actually a good subtitle for the show.

    The Skeptologists-Don’t piss them off!

  9. ejdalise says:

    Some of us are rather new to this. Even while trying hard not to “piss you guys off”, we may still violate some portions of the “request” section (the “require” is very straight forward, obvious, and not likely to be unknowingly violated).

    Things like “be polite” and “does not mean criticism should be curtailed in any way” leave a fine line that is rather vague and subject to moods, perception, and the inexact way humans transcribe their thoughts into written form, and other humans interpret them.

    Plus, many subject dear to skeptics are per force provocative. I often don’t recognize any but the most obvious trolls, so I’ll engage almost everyone based on the assumption they are decent, honorable, and salt-of-the-earth human beings. Hey, maybe that makes me a troll without even knowing it!

    That said, I’ll do my best not to violate what is a rather nebulous etiquette. Unfortunately, I’ve already blown it by posting a lengthy response, and quoting previous posts. . . . . I’ll shut up now.

  10. yes – requests like “be polite” are vague, deliberately so. There is no way to be specific and inclusive regarding something as varied and chaotic as human communication. These are vague guidelines only. They depend upon the commenter having some social ability. Lacking that, there are no set of rules so specific and inclusive to prevent the socially inept from breaking them.

    The goal, really, it to help new commenters realize that this is a social community (not some abstract virtual ether) and that they should engage their normal social graces when participating in the comments. It also helps newbies get up to speed on the specific etiquettes of this new technology. New technologies often require new etiquette – like the comfort distance when standing behind someone at an ATM.

    But we don’t want to straightjacket free expression. So there is a balance. Balance requires judgment. There are no hard and fast rules.

  11. Skepticat says:

    I am also grateful for the clarification and guidelines. When I first entered the skeptical community, I was terrified to post anything because I’d seen firsthand how condescending and rude the regulars could be. While it’s true that trolls and jerks should be called out for what they are, it’s also true that there are many newbies just trying to learn. Many (like I was) are struggling with their own irrational beliefs and are sincerely looking for answers. I think we do well to keep the skeptical community a very open and welcome one – especially for these people.

  12. Mike says:

    Thanks for posting the rules – in particular use of foul or offensive language. I have too often read comments with expletives that are unnecessary and merely betray the writers inability to articulate themselves.
    Apropos being ‘polite’ – I suppose I would say that it should be the same as if you are having a face to face conversation with someone – attack the argument not the person (unless it is justified). In the long run, I am sure that considered and ‘polite’ comments will get your point across much better than ‘rude’ ones. As my mum says ‘Toujours la Politesse’

  13. As an avid commenter (and in general not so good blogger), I hope to contribute to this community. I do tend to inject humour into my posts, and I am merciless in mocking fundamental religiosity. However, that said, I do try to at the very least not attack the person, but rather the idea (if it’s flawed and in need of attacking). :)

    Figured I’d just do a swoop in post to say hello and let you know what I’m about.

  14. Frank Paulson says:

    “They depend upon the commenter having some social ability”

    Steven,
    You do realize that you are talking (figuratively) to group of nerds? As a self-confessed nerd, I’m not sure that my social skills are always up to the task. But I’ll give it a try. ;)

  15. Mike says:

    Hey Frank! Speak for yourself! I am definitely not a Nerd! I like women, opera, ballet as well as the science and sceptic stuff. I like to think I am a Renaissance Man? ;-)

  16. Matt Snodgrass says:

    There are a couple things that I noticed, having just checked out the site for the first time, which are not easily accessible. The first is that once I drilled down into a post to read the entire thing there was no button to get back to the main page readily accessible. The second is that there does not seem to be a place to leave general posts, like this one, unless they are added as comments onto a posting. These are minor nit-picky things, but also nice additions to any blog, in my opinion. Other than this of course, it’s a wonderful site and the only other thing I’d bitch about is that you guys are putting up too many blogs for me to keep up. Thank you, and please keep up the good work.

  17. pantone204 says:

    Misspelling….

    But no freedom is absolute, and all systems need rules and parameters. And so we reserve the right to restrict comments that are destructive or >> counteproductive <<.

    Sorry, that was bugging me. Carry on!

  18. Dennis Hastings says:

    Wow, I think that you’ve about covered it all. And in mute testimony to all that came before, the comments left so far are just the type of blog content that beckons to those who are being discouraged from posting… you can almost sense everyone trying to avoid being ‘troll-ish’ as they opine on the merits of a logical discourse. You’ve got to love the challenge of being a polite skeptic. Thanks for making space available to the public for the exchange of thoughts.

  19. Paul D. Wilson says:

    Maybe some of the vagueness of the comments policy could be relieved by giving us some examples of what is not allowed. It would be both instructive and entertaining. Oh Please. What could be better?

  20. Feralboy says:

    I have noticed my comments disappearing more than once despite not violating any rules. This has left me very skeptical regarding the worth of your website. Goodbye.

  21. Kavi says:

    OK, so, Feralboy (post #20) is a troll, right? The name kind of gives it away. HobbitEater would have been better.

  22. tmac57 says:

    There have been several times now that when I include a link to another website (usually neurologica or science based medicine),that the comment either takes an extremely long time to show up, or never shows up at all. Am I doing something wrnog? I see comments all over the blog with links, so I can’t see where that would be an issue.Also, this did not use to happen, this has been a fairly recent development.

  23. Okay, I’m trying to post a comment in another thread, and keep getting flagged as spam (it’s not). Testing here with a very short link-free post to see if maybe it’s the username that gets me flagged…

  24. And apparently it was, because the comment didn’t go through here either… unless I spelled my username backwards. O… kay then.

    Judging by the “spam-catching” message, you’re using WP-SpamFree, aren’t you? Hate that thing with a passion. There’s something about my writing style that makes it mistake many of my posts for spam (on other sites; haven’t posted here before), and it’s sometimes like pulling teeth for me to get a comment through. Not sure what it is about my comments that sets it off… Ah well.

  25. Dale Nielsen says:

    I’m sincerely impressed by the language skills, application of reason and relatively polite tone on these blogs. I may hang around awhile.

  26. andrew ronson says:

    Having read through these guidelines and the responses it surprised me that no one seemed to consider the term “Piss off” vulgar or inappropriate. Only In recent months have I come to accept it.

    More important, after being advised to read these guidelines I wonder if I will now find my comments have been accepted, and if not when might I accept them to be,(in days or hours)? and do they get “edited” or just omitted?

  27. According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of 1231 societies noted:
    Number Percent Practice
    186 15.1% Monogamy
    453 36.8% Occasional polygyny
    588 47.8% Frequent polygyny
    4 0.3% Polyandry

    1045 84.9% Non Monogamous

    http://eclectic.ss.uci.edu/~drwhite/worldcul/Codebook4EthnoAtlas.pdf

  28. Bobby Friend says:

    Can anyone recommend some good
    books for a beginning (skeptic) to
    read?

  29. JOHN YOCKACHONIS says:

    I wonder if that arse gave them their money back. Lying charlatan.

  30. Alan says:

    This is an extremely disappointing essay for someone who considers himself a libertarian and a rational, evidence-based skeptic. You have not addressed the question of whether or not the semi-automatic nature of weapon used was even relevant to the issue, you have not addressed the question of whether or not banning this kind of weapon will be in any way effective in preventing criminal violence (or even be counter-productive for that), and you have not considered whether doing as you suggest might result in inevitable unintended consequences that are just as bad or worse. Instead, you have simply jumped to a conclusion without empirical, factual or logical basis — a conclusion which happens to be suspiciously similar to the illogical, counter-productive, purely emotional one favored by those who habitually assume that laws work magic and government agents are somehow superior to the rest of us. Why don’t we just outlaw mental illness and psychopathy (government agents NOT exempted) instead?

  31. eaesadam100 says:

    Great info! 74000 is yesterday!This can explain so much, aboriginies in Aus @ 45000 yrs ago. Suggests how small populations of athropoids could have vanished. I recently had the pleasure to hold casts of brain cases of “hobbit” and neanderthal in each hand. Please can some one tell me where to get info on A bomb types, times,builders etc.? Also where is there info on the REASONS for the space race, it appears self evident to me that it was to place datum points on the moon for missile guidence systems( all the dewline radars,and B52 planes were retired almost immediatly after. pretty obvious really ( the B52s were worn out anyway) so can any one tell me of a book maybe? royrbruce@gmail.com

    • markx says:

      Reasons for space race? Surely just domestic and international politics. Technology at the time certainly was not likely to make much use of markers on the moon.

      Re B52s: Still flying today:

      The B-52 has been in active service with the USAF since 1955. ….The B-52 marked its 50th anniversary of continuous service with its original operator in 2005 and after being upgraded between 2013 and 2015 it will serve into the 2040s.(Wikipedia)

      Abombs?: this is interesting: A Time-Lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLCF7vPanrY

  32. Canman says:

    This is in regards to the deleting of Markx’s comments in this thread:

    http://www.skepticblog.org/2012/12/19/shifting-baselines-and-dying-oceans/

    It is your blog and you have the right to run it as you wish. This was an AGW related thread and I know they can get long (usually two to three hundred comments). Long AGW threads will often involve debate with Markx and a few other commenters (usually Tmac57, Max and Somite). Since these are threaded comments, subthreads can be skipped over.

    I find Markx’s comments to be articulate, polite and supported with a lot of research. I usually find his debates interesting. I can see where a lot of the readers here would disagree with him, but I don’t understand why any of his comments would be deleted (of course, I didn’t see them, since they were deleted). He pretty much stays on topic. He quotes a lot of passages from articles, but they always seem relevent. IMO they are not too long.

    I did ask him about this episode in another forum (WUWT News and Tips). From what I’ve seen, I don’t think deleting his comments was justified, but that’s just my opinion. This is your blog and you have a right to run it as you wish.

    One big criticism I have is that this episode was very confusing. When comments just disappear, it makes it very hard to understand what’s going on. Markx left a reply to a snarky comment I had left, saying he felt unwelcome and was leaving. It breifly left me wondering if it was MY snarkiness that had offended him.

    Here’s a couple of suggestions. You could issue warnings and note when comments or portions of them are snipped. RealClimate has a cleverly named borehole to deposit snipped comments. I think this is an excellent way to offer transparency.

    • markx says:

      Hey Canman – Appreciate this and so sorry about the appearance of that goodbye comment.

      There was in fact another comment of mine prior to my goodbye, replying to you and agreeing that indeed genetic manipulation was a possible (if very unlikely) solution, given its track record in speeding ahead of natural selection. (Back to the old adapt as well as prevent approach). …. however – that got deleted too!

      “Trolling” has become a much mis-understood term. It is very obvious (to this long ago fisherman) that it involves trailing bait on a line from a moving boat and simply waiting for the fish to bite. The parallel in online discussions is obvious.

      However, it has now come to mean “disagreeing with the status quo/author/commentator or expressing and supporting an opposing viewpoint”. Presenting an opposing viewpoint naturally enough attracts discussion.

      If discussion on a topic is not desired, it is obvious the authors are simply desiring a platform from which to pontificate.

      And I suppose it is naive of me to think even a site named “Skeptic Blog” would necessarily have any aim other that that.

      Anyway, it was all a bit funny really, and then I decided latecomer Mal did not deserve a free shot at me (whereas tmac probably does) so had to come back and slap him around a bit! No worries, I think there are only you, me and a couple of others who read this stuff, and if you ever have need to email me, please do: xmarkwe at yahoo.com

      • tmac57 says:

        I will have to say that I was surprised that your comments were deleted with what appeared to be no warning (unless you were privately warned).I do not know the specific circumstances or comment that tipped the scales against you,but I did not see anything different than your previous contrarian (what I would term denialist) comments that you have been able to freely post in the past.
        I will say that you do exhibit some signs of intellectual dishonesty at times that causes me to question whether you are genuinely dissenting from mainstream climate science,or have some other agenda.Maybe whomever deleted your comments saw the same red flags.

      • markx says:

        tmac …you probably should not be wasting your time here. Get back and read the melting shells story again, with an open mind.

        If you get that sorted, go back an read about super storm Sandy. Same Logic.

        Here is one you may have missed. Last week a koala bear accidentally got locked in a freezer at the koala sanctuary. Died. We modeled it and proved that all koalas will die if the earth cools to the level of the freezer.

        Thus we feel this is solid proof of global cooling.

        See? All quite logical, really.

      • Canman says:

        “exhibit some signs of intellectual dishonesty ”

        I think leftwing, progessive liberals or whatever you want to call them, make up most of the skeptical community. The rest are mostly libertarians. IMO liberals are too quick to make charges of intellectual dishonesty and I think I know the reason for this. While I am a big critic of Chris Mooney, I absolutely agree with what he has termed the “Smart Idiot Effect”. This is the counterintuitive notion, identified by Dan Kahan’s Yale Cognition Project, That the more someone learns about a subject, the more strongly one will defend their previously determined position. Chris Mooney agree’s with an assymetry hypothesis between liberals and conservatives and to his chagrin, later studies are not showing a really strong correlation:

        http://reason.com/archives/2012/12/04/often-wrong-never-in-doubt

        I think Noam Chomsky is a brilliant idiot! Whenever anything bad happens in the world, he can explain why it’s the United State’s fault.

        I am not so naive as to beleive that intellectually dishonest debate does not occur. My favorite example of it is pathologist Cyril Wecht, a consultant on Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK”, in his talk show debates with Gerald Posner, back when Posner’s excellent book, “Case Closed”, came out. Of course, Posner was later caught engaging in plagerism! This does not change my opinion of Cyril Wecht or the book “Case Closed”. Am I being a smart idiot? You be the judge.

    • Canman says:

      Just out of curiosity, I’d be very interested to know who exactly deleted Markx’s comments and why.