Adventures in Ethics and Science

I’m not looking for a general theory of what sets up the right room for dialogue as opposed to an argument, nor even for a fine grained analysis of whether dialogue or argument is what most blog readers and commenters are looking for.

If you’re reading this post, I’m interested in knowing what you prefer.

First, a quick poll (where you can choose all the answers that apply):


What puts you off of commenting on a blog? What conditions make you feel welcome to comment — indeed, set up an irresistible urge to jump in and participate?

Or, is your commenting more tied to your own stuff (e.g., how busy you are, how much you want to procrastinate, how nice it is outside, etc.) than the conditions set up by any given blog and its regular commentariat?

Tell me more (please?) in the comments … assuming I or the commenters who chime in before you haven’t set up conditions that totally put you off leaving a comment.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave Munger
    February 13, 2010

    I’m unlikely to comment when registration is required, when the commenting system is awkward or doesn’t work, when lots of spam is present in the comments, and (perhaps most of all) when the other commenters seem to be making lots of thoughtless, ignorant comments (not the same as using profanity!).

  2. #2 Kim
    February 13, 2010

    I am more likely to comment when I feel like I know the blogger, or when the blogger is a person I would like to talk to, or when the other commenters seem like pleasant and interesting people. I’m less likely to comment when I feel like I would annoy the other commenters.

    (All this assumes that I’m interested enough in the topic to have something to say about it. There are plenty of fantastic blog posts that I don’t comment on, simply because I don’t have anything to add.)

  3. #3 Mark Dominus
    February 13, 2010

    The thing that is most likely to inhibit me from posting is if the other posters seem like a bunch of cretins. If the other posters seem thoughtful and well-mannered, I want to join in. If they appear to be loudmouthed ignoramuses, I will avoid from posting because I don’t want to be associated with loudmouthed ignoramuses.

    Arguing with idiots only makes one look like an idiot, so I try to avoid it.

  4. #4 steffi suhr
    February 13, 2010

    My answer is pretty much the same as Kim’s (2).

    There are several options in your poll that might prevent me from commenting (a lot of those in combination), depending on the topic, situation, and many other things. All of this is of course very subjective…

    Whether I’ll comment more than once on a blog depends on whether the author interacts with their commenters at all, and also on whether the regular commenters seem to be welcoming or not.

  5. #5 Matt Platte
    February 13, 2010

    I often wish I could be transported to a planet where I’m the dumbest one in the room (hat-tip to Mark D., above).

    There are sites/blogs that I no longer read because my comments there poisoned the pool – for me: Once I actually type out my position or opinion, I can no longer tolerate being in the presence the other cretins. I guess that’s my narcissistic cretinsim reaction. Or something.

  6. #6 Janet D. Stemwedel
    February 13, 2010

    I really should have included comment registration and burdensome commenting interfaces among the choices, shouldn’t I? (Especially as they’re the kind of thing that puts me off from commenting.)

    Also, personally, having nothing to add to a brilliant post or the conversation in the comments, I won’t post (since what value would it add). And I like to avoid cretins and ignoramuses (ignorami?).

    But I also find myself less likely to comment — even in an environment with other commenters who are smart and engaging, where I plausibly have something to add — if there are already a few hundred comments in the thread (even if I’ve taken the time to read them all carefully, which I figure is my responsibility if I’m then going to comment). In that kind of blog environment, if I don’t get into the conversation in the first hundred posts, chances are good I won’t get into it at all.

  7. #7 Grant
    February 13, 2010

    I took registration off my blog (as opposed to the other blogs at sciblogs.co.nz), thinking that might be holding back people from commenting.

    FWIW, I replied “other”. While a number of things put me off commenting (registration, to difficult to contribute/converse as there are too many comments in different directions, loud-mouthed idiots, etc.), things that encourage to to comment are more along the lines of:

    The topic at hand that the discussion is engaging the topic; this is, in part, set by the tone and nature of the blogger’s article.

    Put another way, I think your survey—for me—more related to the reasons I might not comment, as to why I might be encouraged to comment.

    I’m being a nit-picky twit, aren’t I? :-)

  8. #8 Mylasticus
    February 13, 2010

    If I honestly think that I’ve something to add to the conversation I’ll post. I would have preferred that the internet provided, for the first time, something truly capable of stripping out the person and leaving the ideas to stand on their own merit. But I no longer think this is necessarily desirable, let alone possible.

  9. #9 Gaythia
    February 13, 2010

    Janet, I agree with your reaction in #6 to posts with long comment threads. But I wonder, psychologically is this something akin to the reaction of crowds, where people are less likely to help if they are in a group than alone? Are larger conversations less worthy?

  10. #10 Janet D. Stemwedel
    February 13, 2010

    Grant @7, it’s a fair point. I guess my idea was that people might have an easier time pinpointing barriers to commenting, and then move on to identifying what draws them in. But I’m not sure that was a plausible plan on my part — just subtracting the barriers doesn’t necessarily make a comment thread inviting.

    Gaythia @9, for me, it’s not so much that I judge a larger conversation less worthy, but that I’m more likely to doubt my ability to contribute something valuable to it (and worried that anything I might contribute is already there and on display for the careful readers). But maybe that’s the driving impulse behind the reaction of crowds …

    Hmm. I need to think about this some more to figure out what my deal is!

  11. #11 MolecularFossils
    February 13, 2010

    I agree with some of the above posts that I am unlikely to comment if there are already 100+ comments, or if people are looking for a fight. I rarely go back to see if people have responded to my comment, and I rarely subscribe to comments if its likely to yield hundreds of comments.

    I write my own blog, and do appreciate when people give me feedback. I would like it to happen more, but I don’t really know how to encourage it without begging. Blogs like blaghag or skepchick seem to have a nice balance: dozens of interesting comments, most of which are constructive or interesting (not hundreds of anonymous trolls like pharyngula).

  12. #12 Isis the Sockpuppet
    February 13, 2010

    How does one woman be so hilarious?

  13. #13 Coturnix
    February 13, 2010

    Technical barriers to commenting are important. I will go through the hoops only when I am very highly motivated to post a comment.

    As a non-pseudonymous blogger myself, being required to post under my own name is not a barrier to posting, but a blog that makes such a requirement is automatically suspect. I usually don’t even notice if others are anonymous or pseudonymous or using some names that appear to be just like real names, but an explicit no-pseud policy is a big red flag in my book (we don’t even ask it for commenting on PLoS papers – we have real e-mail addresses if needed to contact the commenters).

    I am not put off by comment threads where most comments are long, multi-paragraph ones. This suggests that the conversation may be (though not 100% certainly) substantive. I need to read in order to figure that out. On the other hand, a place where all comments are very brief one-liners is a put-off – there is guaranteed no substance there.

    Profanity is not a problem. Commenters itching for fight? Depends on the susbtance of their comments. Every blog, no matter what the “tone” of the comments, I need to read for a while in order to decide if it is worth posting there long-term. Some pleasantly civil blogs are not conducive to discussion, while some of the raunchiest and bloodiest are actually populated by intelligent people who will engage with you intelligently (even if using harsh language and tone) – the best example being Pharyngula: a tough crowd, but smart and it has its own unwritten rules of conduct which include giving new commenters a benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

    Comment moderation is a mild deterrent. Depends on the blog. I don’t mind it here, on your blog. I mind it in some other places where I perceive that the blogger is misusing it for censorship.

    Editing my comments by blog-owner or other commenters is usually impossible, or at least extremely rare. I cannot now remember an example of a blog where that can happen (or happens regularly). Do you have an example? If so, that would definitely be a big deterrent.

    Publishing e-mail addresses and IP is just foul. While I personally don’t care about my own, I will not like a blogger who does this, and will unlikely go back there to read, let alone comment.

    Finally, if I comment on a blog a few times over a period of time, and the blogger appears never to show up in the comment threads of his/her own blog – that is a huge deterrent to me. We have discussed that a little bit in the comments of this post some time ago. Perhaps it’s time to revisit that topic from the point of view of commenters (that post was mostly from the point of view of the blog owner).

  14. #14 John McKay
    February 14, 2010

    Registration is a big turn off for me, so is a nasty tone among the commenters. My turn ons include world peace, kittens, and long walks on the beach.

    I’m another one who thinks twice before joining long threads. The bad ones are just white noise, lots of short comments with nothing much to say. The good ones are interesting to read, but anything I have to say has already been said before I get there.

    I think most bloggers want to create some sort of community on their sites, but that can have two effects on new commenters. We usually use “community” as a positive descriptor, but being a newcomer can be be intimidating. During l’affaire civility, I noticed many of the commenters over at Henry’s place saying they disliked SciBlogs because it is a clannish and unwelcoming place. Even if most of those comments were cheap shots, sour grapes, or some other form of silliness, it’s still something to be considered. How do you invite people into the discussion.

  15. #15 Grant
    February 14, 2010

    Coturnix @13:

    Editing my comments by blog-owner or other commenters is usually impossible, or at least extremely rare. I cannot now remember an example of a blog where that can happen (or happens regularly). Do you have an example? If so, that would definitely be a big deterrent.

    I know of only one, that of a Catholic priest!

    Publishing e-mail addresses and IP is just foul.

    In a similar way, I feel strongly that people should honour people’s choosing to use a pseudonym and use it in reply, even if they happen to know their real name. My post here is a example! :-)

    I get a few too many twits commenting on my blog at present, but that’ll in part be the “fault” of choosing to write a few short posts on topics others “pull” to their own interest, which is a nuisance from my point of view. It’s a pain as the same topics deserve serious thought, which I’d much prefer. Us academics are such a dull lot :-/ (I’m kidding, I’m kidding.)

  16. #16 Lassi Hippeläinen
    February 14, 2010

    You don’t define the context. I have different expectations about blogs that focus on science, feed news, or limit themselves to the local sports club.

  17. #17 yogi-one
    February 14, 2010

    Warning: long comment follows.

    First, you are asking the commenters their own opinion about their own commenting practices, which, of course, may not yield the same information as an actual objective study of the commenters’ online habits.

    Second, it’s very broad, and I just read DrugMonkey’s post and the comments on the subject of pseudonymous blogging.

    Third, IMHO, this is an endless discussion that has been going on since the early days of message boards on the internet, and its very unresolvability may be what draws people to be fascinated with the topic, plus they get to share their own opinionss about commenting, so it’s a bona-fide traffic enhancer.

    My own opinion of my preferences?
    I don’t care about pseudonymity, but a blog that requires using your real name raises flags. Why do they want my real name? How are they planning to verify whether the name I give them is my real name? What are they planning to do with that information about me? There’s a lot of issues with requiring commenters to use their real names.

    Blogs that seem like inane collections of bumper-sticker sloganeering are a no-pass. Also I have never, either in real life or online, understood why some folks think using the “f” word improves the quality of their post or gives them cred. It doesn’t. Nuff said on that.

    I have a pseudonym, but I use it all the time, on every blog I post a comment on. Thus, it could be said I have an “online” identity.

    I stopped posting inane screeds long ago because I actually read back what I had written when some others pointed out to me the flaws with my comments. I kind of self-censored because, even under a pseudonym, I don’t want to be considered a blithering idiot. That’s entirely a personal preference that says nothing about any other commenter.

    Nowadays, if I post a screed, I still read it back a couple of times and spell-check it and scan for grammar errors. That makes me decide at least two or three times whether I really want to post it, then I usually add in “warning: screed follows” to let the others know before they read it.

    Very long comments make me pause – do I really want to read the whole thing? Usually I give the commenter two or three sentences to see if s/he has enough real interesting stuff to deserve to use up all that space. Most often, they don’t, so I move on.

    By the way, what are you planning to do with all this feedback, in terms of how it might affect the way you do the blog? Just wondering.

    Finally, if I don’t feel qualified in certain ways, but still want to comment, I say so. For example, sometimes on SB I preface my comments with “not a scientst here, just a lay person” because I think that the discussion may value from having the viewpoint of a non-scientist, for example, discussions about science outreach to the general public.

    P.S – re spell-checking…I just got a spelling error for using “spellcheck” (a single compound word) not spell-check (hyphenated) or spell check (two words). Then Windows popped up the box that said “spellcheck complete”. Go figure. I still don’t know which spelling is actually correct.

  18. #18 cicely
    February 14, 2010

    I generally won’t comment when someone else has already covered the points that I would have made, especially if they’ve done it more succinctly than I would have done. The more pre-existing comments there are, the likelier that someone else had already taken care of it.

    OTOH, if it’s a blog with a strong sense of familiarity, a relaxed atmosphere, I might weigh in anyway just to BS on whatever the subject is.

  19. #19 cicely
    February 14, 2010

    I should have added, and/or if someone leaves an exposed pun-receptor just lying around. :D

  20. #20 jim
    February 15, 2010

    I’ve been enjoying your blog consistently for at least a couple of years – and thank you for keeping it up – but I’m not sure whether I’ve commented here before. I generally won’t comment unless I have something new to add to the discussion, am prepared to read the thread-so-far, and follow the thread afterwards. This is a fairly high bar.

    Alas, I have nothing new to add here. :-)

    If that bar is met, then any of registration, a consistently uncivil tone among commenters or a confused discussion is enough to dissuade me.

  21. #21 Pat Cahalan
    February 15, 2010

    You realize your poll results will be highly contaminated with selection bias, right? :p

  22. #22 bill
    February 16, 2010

    I try not to say anything unless I can make a funny or add something new to the conversation. So long threads with quality comments make it less likely that I’ll speak up, but who cares? The good conversation is already there.

    Registration doesn’t have to be a problem, just accept Google logins and OpenID.

    Exposing email/IP is, as Bora says, vile. I won’t bother reading a blogger who does that, much less commenting. I won’t comment if someone is going to edit my comments, either — delete ‘em or post ‘em as-is, kthx.

    I like places that allow pseudo/anonymity, even though I use my own “real” name; *requiring* meatspace IDs is for douchebags, and I would be unlikely to comment on a doucheblog.

    Finally, even though I didn’t check this option in the poll, after reading comments upthread I realise that I usually won’t keep coming back if the blogger doesn’t take part in the conversation. It’s probably their brain that interests me, given that I’m commenting on their site, so that’s the interaction I want (not that I want them to respond directly to me, but that I want to see more of their thinking as the conversation progresses).

  23. #23 Eva
    February 16, 2010

    One of the bloggers at nature network is currently polling (silent) readers about what makes them not comment. Registration requirements are in first place at the moment, followed by the mysterious “another reason”, so I’m curious to hear what the other reasons were, and whether they overlap with anything from your poll!

  24. #24 Grant
    April 3, 2010

    Belatedly here’s another approach (linked on my name), don’t moderate people off, moderate them to “another room”, as it were. Like shooing the kids off to another room in an adults party, leaving the men talking about football in kitchen, etc.