The Perfect Example For Why I Moderate My Comment SectionsBy Collin Maessen on comment
For both my website and YouTube channel I have some very strict moderation rules. For both the rules say you need to stay civil, you answer questions when asked, provide citations (or give them when asked), don’t make claims that are demonstrably wrong, don’t spam, and the comment has to be on-topic. If the comment you place doesn’t abide by those rules you will either get a warning from me or if it crosses the line too much I’ll just remove it.
Repeated violations will lead to me banning you on my YouTube channel or my website. With the intermediate step on my website that all comments from you will go into my moderation queue before they appear. These rules are quite strict compared to what is the norm on most websites, but I’ve found them to be necessary.
When I just had started writing for this website and creating my videos I was very lenient towards commenters. Everyone could say anything in whichever way they wanted. This almost always resulted in very unpleasant and unproductive exchanges. My frustration with people not engaging me in an honest and civil way was what lead to me creating the rules that I now have.
Of course I still get the odd commenter that doesn’t want to play within those rules, and it’s they that complain almost exclusively about my moderation. But most commenters like the environment that I create with this strict policy. It’s common that they defend my policies because in my comment sections you can discuss freely without all the vitriol that’s so common.
I’m bringing all this up because of what happened after Wotts said the following in his blog post ‘Why it must be frustrating‘:
There are many aspects of the climate change/global warming debate that are clearly frustrating for many of those involved, but one might think that fundamentally everyone is interested in the same thing: understanding the science associated with climate change. It may not be true, but it’s possible. Given this, maybe one should expect climate scientists to hide their frustrations and try and engage openly and decently with “skeptics”.
The problem I have with the possibility that deep down everyone is interested in the same thing, is that I regularly encounter things that make me seriously doubt that some really have any actual interest in understanding the science.
The point is, some things are just wrong and should be acknowledged as wrong. […] I think engaging in discussions about climate science and global warming is fascinating. There is much we can all learn. However, I do find it incredibly frustrating engaging with those who seem willing to consider ideas that are trivially shown to be incorrect. If I’m frustrated imagine how actual climate scientists feel. Maybe we should give more credence to those willing to engage without letting their frustrations show. On the other hand, maybe showing a little more frustration may help some people to realise that some of what they think has merit really doesn’t.
Wotts seems to be where I was a couple of years ago when I started to realize that there are those that can’t be reasoned with, or won’t stay civil no matter how nicely you ask. So far Wotts has rarely intervened in his comment sections, and when he did it was very light handed.
Because of that his comment section has the tendency to derail badly, as happened in the comment section in the blog post that I just mentioned. The person responsible for this was Shub Niggurath who first dismissed the scientific consensus about global warming with the reasoning that experts can be wrong and have been wrong in the past. Which then started a discussion on what a scientific consensus is and if you can trust experts. This already frustrated many commenters as Shub often danced around questions and points made by them.
But it really turned ugly when Shub started defending claims made by Murry Salby, some commenters actually started asking for Wotts to ban Shub. What happened was that Shub defended a point made by Murry Salby that the rise in CO2 might not (all) be anthropogenic. Shub argued that Salby might have a point. But it’s something we know is wrong and is laughably easy to find out for yourself.
Because of this a lot of commenters tried to get Shub to answers the question if he thinks the rise in CO2 levels is natural or not, and eventually Shub answered the question “Do you think that the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations since the mid 1800s could be natural?”:
Short answer: I don’t know.
Slightly longer answer, following up with Salby’s talk: If Salby is correct, it is possible.
For the purposes of your browbeating, you can take the “I don’t know” as a “Yes”, I don’t mind. They are both equivalent in that I have not accepted the anthropogenic rise of CO2 as offered by the IPCC et al, as gospel.
In other words Shub doesn’t know enough on the subject to pass judgement on the veracity of Salby’s claims and he rejects what experts say that do have the necessary knowledge. He also didn’t bother trying to learn more when others pointed out that what Salby was saying isn’t correct.
I hadn’t engaged yet in those two discussions but after reading that comment I did. With me stating my amazement that Shub isn’t aware about what underpins our knowledge about the cause for the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels. And of course Shub responded by defending Salby again, which led to me saying this:
Shub, you don’t understand the topic and make a point of not correctly understanding questions.
The question Wotts asked you was about the rise in CO2 being anthropogenic or not. This is not about claims Salby makes in his presentation. It’s about if you understand the science behind the cause of the rise of CO2. When you said “I don’t know” you admitted that you don’t have the knowledge to check if Salby’s claims are correct.
In other words what you’ve been doing is just dance around this issue and give us only rhetoric. That’s why I can’t take you serious because [you] show a lack of interest in checking if you have a point. To quote myself from one of my videos:
scepticism doesn’t start with the viewpoints and claims of others, and being sceptical about those does not make you a sceptic. Being a sceptic starts with examining your own viewpoints, the positions you hold, the claims you make and the quality of evidence you use for those. If you are not doing that […] you can’t call yourself a true sceptic.
You aren’t a true sceptic and the only thing you’ve been doing here is frustrating exchanges. As such I’ll move on to more interesting exchanges where people actually care about getting the correct answer.
Which nicely sums up my opinion of Shub after the behaviour that I’ve seen.
The derailment Shub caused was quite sad to see, as a lot of interesting folks comment on Wotts’ blog. It tends to be a fun place where you get judged on the merits of your arguments and the evidence you use for them. Wotts often uses those exchanges as inspiration for blog posts and as a tool to learn more about the science behind anthropogenic global warming. But this didn’t happen here as Shub completely derailed the exchange.
With the frustration Wotts was already showing I wasn’t surprised that after a couple of days he published this:
This is really just a post to say that I’m clearly going to have to introduce some new rules with regards to comments. There are a couple of recent comments threads that I’ve moderated badly and that have ended up completely off topic and in which the discussion has been far from constructive. I haven’t quite decided on precisely what I should do. I also think I may take a few days to think a bit more about what I hope to achieve with this blog. It really wasn’t intended to be anything other than a place for me to simply express my thoughts with regards to climate science. It has attracted more attention than I had anticipated.
As I said, I haven’t quite decided precisely what I should do. You can expect a slightly harder line and a bit more snipping of comments. I’m going to expect more evidence from commenters if they wish to discuss more controversial aspects of the debate. I’m also going to explicitly acknowledge a bias. I’ve been doing this long enough to have a good idea of who understands the science and is able to make constructive comments, and who doesn’t. I also understand the science quite well. It is much more settled than many would like us to think. So if you’re going to take the standard “skeptical” line, expect me to be harder on you than on others. You might think that lacks balance. I disagree. Being allowed to present scientific ideas for which you have no real evidence is not balance.
[…] If you think I’m going too far with this, also let me know. At the end of the day, though, this is my blog and I get to decide what I think is appropriate. As usual, relevant – and constructive – comments welcome.
Wotts nailed it with this. Comment sections are there for constructive criticism and valid points, not about providing a platform to factually incorrect statements. Or allowing those that are unwilling to understand the science involved to derail discussions.
But I think that what Wotts is doing doesn’t go far enough. He should use stricter rules than the ones he said he’s going to use now, and write those rules down. I have my rules spelled out in my Community and Discussion Guidelines and Site Terms and Conditions of Use. He also should keep records of original comments if he snips parts from them or if he removes the entire comment. Although it’s up to him to figure out what works for him and his website.
I have no doubt that Wotts will figure this out, and when he does his comment sections will remain a joy to read and engage others on. I just wish more websites would do this. As it is one of the things we need to do to prevent misinformation from spreading so that ideology doesn’t defeat reason.
I try very hard not to be judgmental. However, it becomes very hard not to become suspicious of motives, when confronted with someone who has clearly been exposed to enough information and clearly has the intellectual capacity to process it. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to avoid concluding that they are actually being paid to confuse others, when such a person explains their position by branding the vast majority of peer-reviewed science as ‘AGW propaganda’. I am afraid that, with such people, I probably break my own moderation rules. I would, however, be interested to know what people make the anonymous ‘Oakwood’ – someone who claims to have similar qualifications and experience as me – who claims to be so dismissive of the vast majority of relevantly-qualified experts.
Well motivation is something that is often hard to trace, as you can’t look in someone’s head. So I tend to intervene when that’s done without some good evidence showing that suspicions at the very least have some merit.
Funding can be a reason why someone might be dismissive about the evidence behind anthropogenic global warming. But this can easily be a consequence of them being dismissive. But you can’t dismiss someone based on their funding. It can be an indicator for the need to take a good look at what is being said, but you have to deal with the merits of what is being said separately.
So far the most reliable indicator I’ve seen for someone rejecting certain scientific findings is their political leanings/ideology. Which also makes it very hard to reason someone out of a position they haven’t reasoned themselves into.
This is also part of what you’re wondering with someone who “has clearly been exposed to enough information and clearly has the intellectual capacity to process it” doesn’t adjust their views based on that. What scientists are finding is those that are good at using reasoning skill are also very good at what’s called motivational reasoning. Meaning they can be very good keeping their position intact despite mountains of evidence saying their position isn’t correct. It’s what I talked about with my blog post ‘The Ideological Armour Of ‘Climate Sceptics’‘.
Which could very well explain what Oakwood does.
The only advice that I can give you is keep yourself to rules you’ve set out for your website. If you break them yourself, there’s no reason for others to keep themselves also to those rules. But if you notices something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to adjust the rules you have to what you’ve learned.
Thanks Collin. I don’t think I seriously infringe my own rules (most people tell me I am far too patient – like ‘Wotts’ used to be) but trolls do love to feign indignation at the slightest expression of frustration). The problem, in this instance at least, was that this post started with a video saying you should not jump to conclusions.
Martin, I read your post a while ago. Maybe all I can really say is that I find (as you seem to as well) people like Oakwood quite interesting. They appear quite intelligent and there’s no reason to think that they aren’t. They appear to have qualifications that might suggest that they should understand the subject. However, the discussion seems to go nowhere. It’s not so much that you can’t reach agreement, but that the discussion doesn’t even follow some kind of sensible pattern. I’ve gone through a phase of finding such discussions interesting to simply now finding them frustrating.
Thanks. The discussion goes nowhere because Oakwood does not want it to and/or because s/he does not take on board anything I say.
Sad to say, blogging tools are not yet what they should be, in some cases not even as good as the late 1980s USENET, where KILLFILEs were actually useful.
My favorite wish would for:
1) Instead of just accept/delete, moderator gets a 3rd choice: “hide with (optional) code, as in off-topic, repetitive, blatant troll, sock-puppetry, strong claim with no backup, OK reply, but to a hidden comment, (that might be automatic).. Ideally, there would be a standard set of 5-10 of these that everybody used. Any ideas of list of reasons?:
2) The comment would be hidden, except for the header, followed by the reason, and an icon to click on to see the comment. Readers who trust the moderator can ignore such. Some software has this kind of mechanism, but usually driven by gameable voting.
However, this keeps the history in-context, which is actually valuable information about behavior patterns, as when someone asks the same questions again and again.
3) Readers might have a cookie to see all the comments if they want, or (modulo difficult identity problems) list commenters they don’t want to bother with, ever.
WordPress has its equivalent of a killfile. You can set words, IP addresses, and emails so that any comments containing those will either get placed in the moderation queue or gets marked as spam (WordPress as a lot more for helping with moderation). It’s this functionality that I use for holding comments from certain users for moderation. Although this a functionality that only users with the administrator roles can use and is applied to all users.
For moderation I’ve only added functionality to my WordPress installation that gives me the option to add notes, a publicly visible moderation remark, and a field to store the original comment in if I edit the comment. All the code for this functionality is just over 30 lines long. Adding some extra moderation functionality isn’t that hard. It’s just a shame that something as simple as this isn’t available by default.
The functionality you’re proposing requires a lot more code to make it possible. Plus I wouldn’t recommend it as it still has the potential to derail discussions and spread misinformation.
1). USENET KILLFILES allowed individual readers the choice to unsee more commenters.
2) Moderators differ greatly in how tough they want to be, and for many accept/reject is too binary, and that loses the value of recording comments that show foolishness… Ie people like being able to see what someone has said without normally having to see it and having conversations derailed. There are definitely cases where the only way to quickly tell whether someone was legitimately asking questions or whether acting as a polite troll was to dig around in history and see they’d asked the same questions in other threads.
I did say it was an equivalent with one very important caveat: “Although this a functionality that only users with the administrator roles can use and is applied to all users.”
I don’t allow users to see comments I remove for two very important reasons:
1) It’s too much code I have to write and maintain for a functionality that undermines the very principle of this blog: having rational and polite exchanges that users support with evidence
2) Like mentioned earlier hidden comments can still derail exchanges or undermine the goal of this blog. Please read this link that I included at the end of this blog post for a detailed explanation.
Also please note that I don’t always remove comments if they violate the rules for this website. I tend to give people a chance to correct behaviour (an example of that is present in this very comment section).
It’s not up to users to decide if a comment has to be removed or not. What happened on Wott’s site is a good example as to why not. If the moderation team of a website is consistent and fair in how they do this, and appeal procedures are clearly defined, this should give the best results.
It is well known that “Shub Niggarath” (a Cthulu monster) is a political ideologue with fixed beliefs about AGW, no interest in learning the truth independent of his ideology, and involves himself in climate discussions solely to “troll” … to disrupt them. He is truly a “septic”, as William Connolley puts it.
This post is libelous. It does not represent my position accurately. It derives its locus of argument from the misrepresentation.
The purpose of my comments was to persuade commenters to examine Salby’s arguments for their own sake, and, within the limits of their assumptions and claims. This is how science is carried out. Fundamental assumptions can be questioned, pored over, and re-confirmed. Undertaking such a process does not make you ignorant, or a ‘denier’.
You misrepresent my encouragement to carry out such a process as “Shub isn’t aware about what underpins our knowledge about the cause for the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels”
Retract the post, or rewrite it.
In the above article I’ve linked to the comment section I quoted you from. It’s very easy to verify that what I’m saying is a correct representation.
As you very clearly state “I don’t know” when directly asked if you know the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations is caused by us or not. Considering the mountains of evidence that we have that shows that the cause is anthropogenic this shows at least a lack of subject knowledge.
When people pointed this out to you your responses were quite hostile and showed an unwillingness to learn. Before trying to challenge any established ideas you should at the very least understand what they’re based on. If you don’t do that you’re either wilfully ignorant or are rejecting valid science.
Both of those are behaviours a sceptic shouldn’t display.
Collin, once again, and as before, you have misunderstood me.
You say: “Before trying to challenge any established ideas you should at the very least understand what they’re based on. ”
Who is trying to challenge ‘established ideas’? Is it me, or Salby?
I defend Salby’s right for his argument to be considered fairly before being dismissed or accepted. I am interested in his arguments. Neither of the above implies I agree or disagree with him. Is this hard to understand?
You say: “In the above article I’ve linked to the comment section I quoted you from. It’s very easy to verify that what I’m saying is a correct representation.”
Is it? This is a stream of comments. Comments are not stand-alone articles.They have to be understood in context.
Did you do this? Did you provide context? Let us see:
When the comment was posted, eliciting similar surprises from commenters who read carelessly. You asked a question, excerpting my comment.
These comments were written about 15 min and 30 min following the original. These are the same points I make above in this thread.
These points which frame your quoted passage and provide explanation are omitted by you. By leaving these out, you are able to mis-characterize what I wrote. When I understood my comment being taken to mean I don’t accept anthropogenic origins for atmospheric CO2, I provided an explanation. You actively chose to ignore it.
Consider a mathematical reductio ad absurdum proof of 2+1=3 by a professor for kindergarten children. He starts:
You rip the first line and present it as proof the professor does not understand ‘basic mathematics’?
My own beliefs of whether or not the rise in CO2 is anthropogenic is immaterial to considering Salby’s argument. So should yours be. That is science.
In the comment thread, you clearly indicate you thinking I was not answering the question (you thought) was being asked of me. You expressed frustration (emphasis mine):
Yet, you came back, wrote up my comment as though it were an answer to the question you thought was being asked, and proceeded to elaborate and criticize.
This is misrepresentation. Criticize arguments by misrepresentation – it causes less harm. Don’t do it to people. Change the article to reflect.
My comment about moving on to more interesting exchanges was aimed at that particular exchange in that comment section. It doesn’t mean I won’t follow it up with me reflecting on what happened. Which is what the above article is all about.
You also accuse me of not understanding you, but I do. There seems to be a problem with understanding what I and several other folks are trying to convey to you. I don’t know if this is a failure on our side to be clear about what we’re saying, but I doubt that. Especially when ATTP (back then Wotts) also explained here that people did judge Salby on the merits of his argument:
This is why we took issue with you saying that you don’t know if the rise in CO2 could be natural or not. Or with one of your follow up responses:
Facts matter in a discussion on science, that’s what people judge you on. If you then display a lack of subject matter knowledge it means people can’t take you serious in such discussions. Yes, you were asking for people to ask Salby to judge him on the merits of his arguments. But that was done. Which people pointed out to you, but you kept demanding this. While at the same time you confessed to a lack of knowledge which meant you wouldn’t be able to judge the merits of Salby’s arguments.
This is what frustrated people when they engaged you in the comment section I talked about. You’re doing the same thing here again. What you’re doing isn’t about judging arguments on their merits or learning. If it was you would have already understood the objections people have about what Salby is saying and why his claims are wrong.
So far I’ve allowed you to respond as this article does talk about you. But technically you were already in violation of several of my discussions rules. If you continue to comment as is without any substantive content about why we should take Salby serious, don’t take into account responses from other commenters, and continue with demands of retractions, rewrites, and libel accusations I’ll consider you a bad faith actor and escort you off the premises.
This is no more libel than preventing you from commenting on my blog is censorship. Someone choosing to interpret what you say in a way you don’t like isn’t libellous.
Who made you the arbitrer of scientific best practice? Also, why was that an acceptable way to behave on my blog? As far as I’m concerned, if you engage in a scientific discussion you behave honestly, in good faith, and present your arguments as well as listen to those of others. Simply examining/probing the arguments of others without presenting any of your own is – IMO – a bad faith way of engaging.
Plus, we had examined Salby’s arguments. They fail in all ways possible. I can go through all the arguments again, but there doesn’t seem much point. Suggesting that we hadn’t is disingenuous.
You didn’t undertake such a process, though. That’s what everyone else was doing.