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.
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.
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.