Saturday, January 18, 2014

A refined comment policy

Sou | 4:12 PM Go to the first of 31 comments. Add a comment

I've thought about whether to post this article, but having received feedback from HotWhopper friends, I've decided to let people know about a couple of changes I'm making.

First of all, in the interests of everyone, I've amended the comment policy.

Very rarely HotWhopper attracts unsavoury comments that are from real people, not your regular spam.  (I'm not referring to comments from contrarians here.) Up to now I've been very liberal and, apart from rare extreme cases, I've shown where a comment has been removed, explaining the reasons.

With the growth of readership, there is the risk that more people will happen upon something quite ugly in the comments.  It happens only very rarely (barely half a dozen times since HotWhopper was born a year ago, including yesterday and today by a past transgressor), but HotWhopper now has quite a large stream of visitors each day so even a very rare comment may be seen by a lot of people.  And showing deleted comments and the reasons doesn't add any value, in fact, the reverse.

That's not the experience I want people to have when they visit here. So I've amended the comment policy and will now delete extreme comments, without explanation and leaving no record of their existence on public display. It's not pleasant to come across and there is no reason for me to make everyone suffer for the sake of being "open".

In the same manner, comments from banned people will also be deleted.  (Only three four people have been banned so far and, with around 600,000 page views to date, to my way of thinking that speaks to the high calibre of the readership overall.)

In regard to comments about science, they are more than welcome.  That's what HotWhopper is all about.

I draw the line at maligning scientists, repeated disinformation, thread-bombing, circularity of discussion and other Gish gallop techniques, persistent tone trolling and comments that are way off topic (ie deliberate thread hijacking as opposed to alerting people to something topical of interest to readers).

I hope that these small changes are viewed as a positive for everyone.



  1. Thank you. As a long-time fan of this blog, I prefer real information to useless and malicious disruption.

  2. Go you good thing! Misdirection has to be hit on the head.
    Let's face it, ideologues are more interested in maintaining their beliefs than looking at the evidence; replying to the posts by trolls is like engaging in a fight with the Gorgon Medusa - cut off one meme and another takes its place, and on and on.
    Probably off topic, but indulge me, I suspect that Wattites are moonlighting for the Chinese State Media and writing pieces like "China's Smog Has Benefits" as per http://world.time.com/2013/12/09/china-here-are-some-great-things-about-toxic-air/?hpt=hp_t3 Has a familiar ring about it?

  3. > Only three people have been banned so far

    I think you should list them (probably on your comments-policy page) in the interests of full disclosure.

    1. Do you think so William? I'm not normally in favour of naming and shaming as I can't see any benefit in it. But I'm still a newbie when it comes to blogging, so if there's good reason...

      You've been blogging for much longer than I have, so would appreciate your opinion and reasoning. (And that of anyone else for that matter.)

    2. I wouldn't list names: these idiots would treat that as a roll of honour (while, of course, complaining loudly about their victimisation). The worst thing these people fear is being invisible.

    3. Millicent nails it. The most severe punishment you can give such folks is to ignore them.

  4. I just remembered a fourth person who's no longer welcome, and have amended the article.

  5. I like your new policy. I'm doing the same myself. I'm not sure if you should list the names of those banned, but I suspect William was joking (I can't always tell to be honest :-) ).

  6. I'd prefer all comments to remain in a queue until approved for display. It just gets old seeing the same old denialist nonsense from people who need to grow up. They have their place where they can spout nonsense: and dbstealey will always intervene there if a grown up starts spanking them.

  7. Probably a step forward, however there will be screams of 'censorship'. I like the approach at RealClimate where they move inappropriate posts to their own 'Bore Hole' page.

    Ironically the free and open WUWT has silently disappeared my latest contribution, wishing Lord Monckton good luck in instructing his solicitor to use the CET as a reliable proxy for global temps back in the 1600s....

    1. We looked into moving comments on my free Wordpress blog and the problem is that it isn't possible without cutting and pasting as a new comment. It's not only extra work, but you then lose the date and time information. So, i wasn't willing to pay money just so that I could move comments I didn't really want into some kind of borehole page :-)

    2. What I'm calling "extreme" wouldn't make it into realclimate's borehole.

  8. You'll notice that since Greig was quarantined, he hasn't been back? Greig's purpose was not to engage but disrupt. I see this on unmoderated blogs for larger media outlets. It's also part of an astroturfing strategy- the complement to Serengeti strategy- make it look like there is more dispute than there really is. Hence the sock puppets and disruption.

    1. The astroturfing thing is a biggie. We know that the fossil fuel industry is spending at least a billion dollars a year on climate change denial - far too much money to finance the small band of known shills. Those missing dollars are being spent on paying otherwise unemployable clowns to create the impression of a large denialist community that does not exist. Let's not help them maintain that facade by allowing them to post their nonsense here.

    2. That strategy has been successfully applied by Albert Parker / Alberto Boretti, who submitted two comments to a paper, one as Parker and one as Boretti, making it look as if two independent scientists had essentially the same objections.

      Unfortunately for Parker/Boretti, that was found out by the authors of the criticized paper. Oddly, the journal did not really do anything about that.

    3. I shouldn't worry too much about Greig. All he achieved was to demonstrate at length that he was clueless, intellectually dishonest and rather unpleasant. Not exactly the stuff of victory parades and no advert for the contrarian cause. Non-commenting readers are unlikely to have been persuaded that they'd rather be pseudosceptics.

  9. While I can understand the need to control exceptionally adverse comments (and the subsequent comments that they generate) so that the threads are more readable. I think it is better to just delete the content of the message and substituting it for a message explaining the deletion. It reduces the charges of censorship. One problem is that I don't know if that's possible with the software that you are using... The other measure is to prevent the use of anonymous messaging. I know you have a request for folks not to use it, but I have noticed it being used of late

    1. Mike, it's not possible to remove "anonymous" from the options list without forcing people to use a registered name. I don't want to do that.

      If a person wishes to complain about a deleted comment they can do so and I may let people know the contents or the nature of the comments, at my discretion, or give a reason - also at my discretion.

      I want to make it quite clear that I *will* and *do* censor comments that are overtly and extremely racist, sexist or are making a serious threat or a false accusation or contain extremely coarse language. Replies to such comments will also be deleted (I cannot control that, it's what blogger does).

      So any accusations of censorship will be real in regard to the above. That behaviour is not tolerated here and never has been. If a person complains that their comment here has been deleted without trace and without an explanation, from now on it will almost certainly be because they have been banned or because their comment fits the above description. Otherwise I will be leaving a trace of the comment (usually with an explanation of why it was deleted, at my discretion).

      I hope that clears things up.

    2. I should add that a straight up deletion in the past was almost always because it met the same criteria. It is not to make the threads more readable, it is because such comments are not tolerated and never have been. This happens very rarely. It's not something that happens often.

      In the past I may have removed such comments but left a trace, or not, on a case by case basis. Now they will be removed without a trace.

      In other cases where I remove a comment I'll be leaving a trace, with or without an explanation, just like I have in the past.

  10. You seem pretty set in your policy - but FWIW, I think it is most effective (in the sense of being most frustrating for the person commenting) if you delete the comment and leave the name of the commenter.

    1. Thanks, Joshua. I will be making a distinction between extreme comments and others. I'll be doing the same as I pretty well always have with the "others". That is, deleting the comment but leaving a record (which has the name of the commenter) - depending on the situation - and my remembering which delete/remove button is which.

      There have been fewer than ten extreme comments in all HW's history - all from only three people. Because extremists tend to thread-bomb I've chosen to simply remove all trace of them. The feedback I've got from offenders suggests total deletion is equally frustrating for the person who posts vile comments. Plus history shows it is very effective in dissuading them from trying it on again. My own mental health status benefits as a result :)

    2. "all from only three people"

      Or four, as the case may be ;)

    3. There's overlap. Only two of the four were banned for making "extreme" comments. The other two were science deniers acting up and thread-bombing with dumb OT comments and/or telling fibs about scientists.

      To help with the arithmetic, one person who made an "extreme" comment hasn't been banned strictly speaking. That was very early on and he hasn't been back AFAIK. Just a drive by from HotCopper.

  11. Sou -

    Yes, it makes sense to distinguish between the different categories of comments that promote moderation - and accordingly, it wouldn't make sense to use a one size fits all approach. And it is a good point that the proof is in the pudding, and if deleting any record of the comment results in no further attempts to comment from that person, then you have evidence of an effective method for dealing with the problem.

    Some more thoughts on the topic...

    As someone who isn't knowledgeable about the technical issues in question, I actually learn, at some level, from reading through exchanges such as those in the thread with Greig. Sure, it gets tedious, and the learning stops at some point when someone repeatedly refuses to engage in good faith, doesn't answer or deflects legitimate questions and/or countervailing opinions, etc.

    As someone who is frequently called all sorts of names, branded as a "usual suspect," and accused of "trolling" and deserving of "banning" or moderation (and been moderated at WUWT and "threatened" with moderation at Collide-a-scape, as if it would be some kind of terrible outcome), I have a particular window onto the whole dynamic of blog moderation - and the subjective nature of how that dynamic frequently plays out.

    I know that despite a taste for snark, my exchanges are (mostly) rooted in an earnest interest in an exchange of viewpoints. Thus, I think that "moderation" is something that should be used only in extreme situations. Not that being moderated is something that actually matters in the real world (what, in the real world, is altered when someone is moderated on a blog?), and I find the cries of "censorship" to be laughable (by what definition is having blog comments snipped the equivalent of "censorship?"), but if someone is making comments that others don't like, then it seems to me that the way to deal with it is to simply not respond to those comments. If others do respond and you don't like it, just scroll past the discussions you don't like. If people are responding, then it seems to me that there is something meaningful behind the fact that the exchange develops.

    I guess the reasoning is that if a blog is filled with comments that a certain group of people don't like, they might become likely to stop reading the blog. And thus you might be read by fewer of the people you're tying to reach. But on the other hand, perhaps protracted discussions between people of differing views attracts other readers that you might want to cultivate.

    I have read many commenters at Climate etc. say that my input on that blog is of the sort that makes them less likely to read the blog. They list all sorts of attributes about my comments that not only do I think are not applicable - but which are actually, IMO, much more characteristic of many comments written by commenters who the complainers are aligned with...without the result of the complainers feeling inclined to stop reading. It seems to me that there is an overwhelming subjectivity in how people delineate and define the qualities that so disturb them. I find it kind of amusing, actually, because it is so obvious and blatant, and such a clear indication of the tribalism and motivated reasoning that runs amok in the climate wars. So the, the question for me, what does it mean that people write to Judith and ask her to ban me or else they won't want to read her blog? Are such readers interested in anything other than confirming their biases? Is attracting readers who want to confirm their biases the goal of blogging?

    1. Joshua, I agree with you about not just following what you agree with - to a point. I certainly don't waste my time reading denier blogs as such. I only read as much as I need to keep up with the latest memes so I can write about why they are wrong. There's a lot of meme recycling that goes on.

      You know, a lot of what I learn about climate comes from researching the claims made by science deniers. I honed my knowledge a lot by commenting and responding to questions from deniers at HotCopper.

      Similarly I learn a lot from researching responses to the pseudo-science and wacky claims at WUWT. To do it properly means I have to read a lot of science, often getting an understanding from scientists at places like realclimate and all the work that's done at scepticalscience and other blogs and also serious science websites. Plus now from the comments here by climate scientists and amateurs alike.

      On the other hand, I know there is research that shows that disinformation can be "sticky" and hard to shift in people's minds. Especially when they don't like the reality. And there are differing opinions in the literature about the value of stormy exchanges - from the point of view of readers, not participants. Apparently how a person reacts to disagreements and disputes depends on a person's predisposition on the issue more than anything else, if I've got the literature right. So a denier might read the Gish thread and come away with a confirmed view that "alarmists" are bullies, and not have shifted in their view that climate science is a hoax. While it's clear that people who understand science just see the gish tactics at work (and are less inclined to wonder why the gish galloper behaves like they do). Because there's no logic, rhyme or reason to it. I think it's partly because people who've been trained in science have better critical thinking skills - both innate and honed over time. They look more at what is being said and less at the behaviour or manner in which it's said. (It's not quite as simple or clear cut as that, of course.) It would be an interesting exercise to see what proportion of lawyers were deniers (ie of lawyers who have read some climate science). I know there's a mad Australian lawyer who's a raving mad denier but I doubt he's a very good lawyer. He couldn't argue his way out of a paper bag :)

      Debunking myths and ridiculing the silliness that passes for "science" at places like WUWT hopefully has some value in its own right. I learn something from it at any rate. Both getting a deeper insight into denier techniques (honing critical thinking skills) plus adding bits and pieces to deepen my understanding of the science.

      As for your question at the end, it suggests those people aren't there to learn anything, they are just there to talk and hear other people repeat back to them stuff they agree with. Could it also be that reading a different viewpoint creates cognitive dissonance? It makes people uncomfortable. So it takes a certain amount of strength to read and consider views that conflict with those you yourself hold. That's ultimately why Anthony only allows a couple of people at a time on his blog who understand science. Any more than that and he'd find it hard to keep his audience happy. And it's true. If HW was suddenly over-run by deniers, a lot of people would stop coming here. Heck, I'd stop coming here :)

      (I'm not about to let that happen.)

  12. I wouldn’t want to be a blog administrator. As a suggestion, however, consider two styles of post:

    1) Review WUWT posts, comment on errors, and highlight the amazingly weird WUWT comments.

    2) Summarize results from a recent science paper.

    (1) is most posts here. Unless they get thread-bombed, they get fairly few comments. So, turn comments off and just let the post entertain us readers and be available for linking and seen by search engines.

    (2) offers a chance for more useful knowledge exchange. Comments on, heavily moderated. Allow ignorance early; as someone said, onlookers learn from the exchange. But at some point require an act of good faith, i.e., a genuine discussion of one point before moving on.

    I read most of Greig’s stuff. He “won”, earned a beer from his buddies. I don’t think science can win out on unmoderated threads. Greig, and AGFJR, don’t intend to learn. The end (BAU) justifies the means, so “accusing” them of using all the tools in the denier’s rhetorical toolbox is a compliment to them. Yes, the threads stand as examples of deniers in practice, but it takes a scientist to recognize them as that rather than evidence of ongoing debate. And scientists get their knowledge elsewhere.

    1. You don't let them get away with it unchallenged. Ever. That's the only rule. Otherwise the lies and misinformation will drown out the truth.

    2. BBD: I agree overall. However, I'm a working scientist (I think you are too?) and don't often have the time to stay on a thread to make sure the last word is science. Unless the rules are tightened so that people like AGFJR and Grieg are forced to behave like intelligent adults (and, presumably, also be seen to be unwilling to do so), then it'll be Deltoid again. ("Going Deltoid" could be a new, useful expression.)

    3. I can see this argument, but in the end have to disagree. The worst, the most vicious and cruel, punishment you can mete out to these folks is to ignore them.

      I've thought a lot about the broader context of situations like this and in the end my position differs from BBD. Most people have a million things competing for their attention and form impressions from broad strokes. When they see exchanges between scientists and contrarian "experts" the takeaway message is often "scientists disagree."

      Remember that the guiding principle is "doubt is our product." They don't have to win, only be seen as credible players. And when scientists respond to them they gain reflected credibility.

      [Captcha says "geRola bearing." Hm.]

    4. PL

      No, I'm a layman with an interest in paleoclimate and the privileged recipient of a decent education that allows me to understand some of the science. But I'm flattered to be mistaken for a scientist, make no mistake ;-)

      Sou isn't going to let HW become Deltoid. I dislike argument from assertion as you know but this feels like safe ground. Nor will I unwittingly contribute to that by over-engaging with the polemicists, who can mainly be contained with a couple of comments. But once in a while someone a bit more tenacious comes along and a point needs to be made.

      * * *

      Don Brooks

      They don't have to win, only be seen as credible players.

      While I agree that ignoring the trolls is the ideal, sometimes they are persistent and voluable, in which case there is an argument for holding their ideas up to public and prolonged scrutiny. I don't think anyone's in any real doubt about how that worked for Greig (except perhaps Greig himself).

      When they see exchanges between scientists and contrarian "experts" the takeaway message is often "scientists disagree."

      In the current example, I'd like to think that the takeaway was "scientists disagree with contrarian nonsense".

      But points taken from both of you, and thanks for the responses.

    5. Eh, pay no attention to me. I can't even spell "voluble".


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