Pharyngula

A suggestion for the comments

The comment section at Pharyngula is becoming a bit too wild west lately. I am all for vigorous, unhindered language and the expression of strong opinions, and I think dumb ideas need to be dealt with harshly, but we also need to allow opportunities for those ideas to be fully expressed. Too often, the conversations are beginning to go like this:

Stranger: I think…
Old hand: [Pulls out six-gun, shoots stranger down]I do believe I didn’t like your accent, stranger, and you were a bit cross-eyed.

I’m not at all keen on this. It makes the comments a very hostile place to new people (I like seeing new people here, don’t you?) and if it keeps up all we’re going to have left are the twitchiest, most psychopathic contributors. To encourage a little more restraint, I’m going to ask everyone to voluntarily impose a 3 comment rule on themselves. What that means is that if someone comes along and says something, no matter how outrageous, engage them in polite conversation first, give them a chance to clarify and expand on the idea, and then if it’s still utterly insane, you can cut loose.

For example:

Stranger:1I think all women are chattel.
Old hand: Pardon me, friend, but are you using humor, irony, sarcasm, or satire? Are you perhaps about to expand on a deeper philosophical point?
Stranger: 2No, I just think women are meant to serve my needs.
Old hand: This sounds like a most unfortunate and disagreeable belief. Why should you hold such a demeaning attitude?
Stranger: 3Because the Bible, which is the literal word of God, tells me so.
Old hand: [Smashes whiskey bottle over stranger's head. General brawl commences.]

See? Isn’t that much better? You can still have your fun in the general melee, but let’s just slow the onset down a little, hold fire for a few minutes, and see if we can get a few words through the macho murk first.

I will also add that, aside from a few persistent trolls, most of the regular commenters here share at least some of our goals, although there are of course routine differences of opinion on subsidiary matters, and it isn’t in our best interests to reflexively knife one of your fellow commenters because he is a Christian or opposes abortion or once voted for a Republican city council member. You certainly can argue about that stuff, but treating it as good cause to spit in their eye gets a little tiresome.

Note to metaphor-challenged literalists: there aren’t actually any Colt pistols or broken beer bottles in the comments threads here. It’s a metaphor (look it up.) I do, however, have the power to throw individuals out of the saloon through plate glass windows.

Comments

  1. #1 No One of Consequence
    August 25, 2006

    Well I have to admit, I once thought Republicans were the party of small/non-intrusive government and fiscal responsibility.
    [walks blindfolded to gallows]

    She turned you into a Republican?

    …I got better.

  2. #2 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    August 25, 2006

    Are you sir trying to suggest that voting for Republican’s is somehow stupid?

  3. #3 Brian Spence
    August 25, 2006

    Wow, social ettiquette for blog commenters? Good luck with that… lol

  4. #4 spork_incident
    August 25, 2006

    I just had the image of Sheriff Myers cleaning up the town.

    Heh.

    But where exactly would Deputy Squid pin his star?

    .

  5. #5 DouglasG
    August 25, 2006

    I voted for Republican Norm Coleman. For mayor of St Paul. I didn’t vote for him to become rubber stamp for the Bush administration though. I am sorry pardners. I was young. And he was a decent mayor.

  6. #6 Diego
    August 25, 2006

    John

    Tarring and feathering is a messy, albeit attractive, alternative. I’m sure you can collect shed feathers from free-range chickens in a very humane manner. But the tar remains a sticky point. To make this option truly viable we need to minimize the environmental impact of tar. That’s why I prefer the rail option: less mess and it’s reusable.

    P.S. If you use rail feathers (i.e. Rallus longirostris), can that be an effective combination of the alternative approaches?

  7. #7 HP
    August 25, 2006

    It’s a metaphor (look it up).

    Not to derail, but this reminds me of something that’s been bugging me for a while: Has anyone else noticed that there’s a near-perfect congruence between anti-science types and people who are completely deaf to metaphor and irony? I’m not saying that all pro-science types necessarily have a good ear for metaphor and irony, but its the rare anti who can comprehend even the most basic figures of speech, let alone deal with a non-humorous satire or an extended metaphor.

    It seems to me that this is an important part of understanding Fundamentalism, ID, creationism, etc. as we witness the collapse of the Enlightenment. I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like to see Swift given the same iconic status as Darwin.

    I’m not an educator, though, and I’m not sure to what extent we can teach this stuff. I wonder what a humanities guy like Michael Berube would have to add.

  8. #8 fusilier
    August 25, 2006


    what kind of pantywaist librul drinks at a saloon with pLATE gLASS wINDOWS?!?!?!?!?!?!

    {surfacing from lurk mode}
    fusilier, paleoconservative
    James 2:24

  9. #9 Sanguinity
    August 25, 2006

    Holographic plate glass windows. Like in Firefly. Environmentally sound, and you don’t have to replace them as often.

    Although what the point is of having a hologram of something that’s invisible, I don’t know.

  10. #10 RobW
    August 25, 2006

    A stand-up comedian of my acquaintance tells me the “give three chances then unleash hell” rule also applies to hecklers.

  11. #11 Scott Hatfield
    August 25, 2006

    My army of zombie creationist squirrels chitters sneeringly at your attempts to throw ME through the window of the saloon. Bwa ha ha ha ha!

    Cordially…Scott

  12. #12 Keith Douglas
    August 25, 2006

    AndyS: You have listed one of many reasons that I feel we desperately need new educational mechanisms about computing. My high school CS teacher did stress some of it, but it sort of got lost in the shuffle.

  13. #13 David Harmon
    August 25, 2006

    Thank you PZ!

  14. #14 Stogoe
    August 25, 2006

    Re: No One of Consequence’s first post (intra-thread topic necromancy!) about small government conservatives:

    It is my belief that conservatives never really wanted small government at all, merely that they have spun the PR that way so convincingly that that assertation has been pretty seamlessly woven into their narrative of identity.

  15. #15 Steve_C
    August 25, 2006

    Conservatives don’t want small government… they just want to privatize it and pocket the profits.

  16. #16 stogoe
    August 25, 2006

    As for Pluto, the official vote classified 8 planets, shoved Ceres, Pluto/Charon, and ‘Xena’ (plus all the Kuiper Belt sphericals we’re going to discover eventually) into the dwarf planet category, and only deals with objects in our own personal solar system.

    A planet has to orbit the sun, have compressed itself in to a near-sphere, and cleared its neighborhood of debris. A lot of talk on the internets about this decision deal with ‘technically’s’ and ‘I don’t wanna’s’ as to whether the 8 we know and love (My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Noodles) are actually planets, because “Neptune hasn’t cleared Pluto, then now it’s not a planet, myeeeah, Glaven.”

  17. #17 Ktesibios FCD
    August 25, 2006

    Please don’t smash the whisky bottle over the stranger’s head if it isn’t empty (the bottle, that is).

    I can’t abide wastefulness.

  18. #18 Steve Watson
    August 25, 2006

    In reply to my respondents re Pluto: Of course I’m joking. As a (at best) very casual amateur astronomer, I really have no opinion on what the official definition of “planet” should be. I was, however, amused by the apparent intra-IAU soap opera this issue seems to have created (see the linked article), particularly in the context of a call for civility here.

  19. #19 Monado
    August 25, 2006

    What *I* love is those people who say, “I’m against abortion but I don’t think we should stop people from having them.” I tell them, “That, friend, is a pro-choice position.”

    I must dig up that picture of myself dressed as a pirate at age three, complete with wooden cutlass.

  20. #20 stogoe
    August 25, 2006

    It has nothing to do with size (at least, size only matters if you’re too small to collapse yourself, or big enough to have fusion and become a star). Europa orbits Jupiter, and is a satellite. That’s it.

  21. #21 junk science
    August 25, 2006

    Has anyone else noticed that there’s a near-perfect congruence between anti-science types and people who are completely deaf to metaphor and irony?

    The really bad ones don’t even understand fiction. To them, everything is either true or a lie.

  22. #22 Warren
    August 25, 2006

    Note to metaphor-challenged literalists: there aren’t actually any Colt pistols or broken beer bottles in the comments threads here.

    Hmph, just what I’d expect from a bleedin’ heart lib’rul: Gun control. Bet you’re a drugged-out pinko Commie hom’sexshul too.

  23. #23 AndyS
    August 25, 2006

    Keith,

    AndyS: You have listed one of many reasons that I feel we desperately need new educational mechanisms about computing. My high school CS teacher did stress some of it, but it sort of got lost in the shuffle.

    It does get lost in the shuffle. I would generalize your idea and suggest schools could help by offering or even requiring a course in effective communication. Not a speech or debate class, but a class directed at skillful, civil dialog that would teach how to talk about emotionally loaded, difficult topics without being insulting or sarcastic and without backing down from your own position.

    Commerical TV, radio, and the web are filled with examples of how to shout, needle, jab, and trade talking points under the guise of a “fair and balanced” discussion of important issues. Where are young people getting examples of people with serious disagreements actually discussing issues in a meaningful way? Public radio does a pretty good job but I doubt there are many young people its audience.

  24. #24 Chris
    August 25, 2006

    But isn’t Evolution the foundation of an immoral world-view?

    No. Empirical investigation and evidence can only describe how the universe *is*, not how it *should* be. Morality has to come from a mind; reality doesn’t.

    It can be argued based on this that morality is therefore always a subjective illusion founded on nothing, but that’s not a necessary consequence of evolution or any other description of the physical universe; it’s a completely logically separate (and, AFAIK, unsolved) problem in the epistemology of ethics.

    Life evolved whether we want it to or not, and whether we approve of its methods or not.

    P.S. Yes, I realize this was quite possibly a fake post, given the post name. I’m trying to demonstrate how we ought to (now) respond to such posts if they are made in earnest, according to the new rules as posted by PZ “Ruling with an Iron Tentacle” Myers.

  25. #25 Squeaky
    August 25, 2006

    AndyS,
    I was reflecting on just the things you speak of last night on my way home. I had just read someone’s less than positive comment towards me. It occurred to me that had I been in an actual, face-to-face conversation with that person, s/he probably would not have made that comment (although, s/he may certainly have thought it). As I got into my car, I reflected on the fact that we easily throw negative comments towards other drivers when they do something stupid, and I realized there is an interesting parallel between the information highway and the actual highway. We yell at stupid drivers because we don’t see them as people–they are nameless, faceless entities who have no feelings to hurt, and dang it, get off the road when I’m on it! Same is true here on the information highway. It’s easy to insult someone we will almost certainly never see, and whose name, in many cases, we will never know. I doubt very much that many here (not all) who resort to insults would ever actually express those same insults in a face-to-face conversation. This is a very impersonal environment and it is easy to fall into the trap of dehumanizing those who express opinions contrary to our own.

  26. #26 Craig Ewert
    August 25, 2006

    Steve_C wrote:

    I think conservatives are a little confused.

    I agree. It depends on what they want to conserve, I suppose. One set look back to a time when the government was almost completely uninvolved with individual welfare. Another set looks back to another time when the government and especially all your neighbors were all over your personal life. And those people who want to conserve the welfare state as is would be “conservative” by any proper dictionary, but you can’t call them that in America.

    I think we should date-stamp conservatives, and “conservative”, so you can tell what they really stand for. “1970 conservative” wants the New Deal and the War on Poverty. “1840 (southern) conservative” wants chattel slavery and hoop skirts. “10,000BC conservative” want hunter-gathering and mammoth hunting, if I may stretch a point beyond all reason.

  27. #27 PZ Myers
    August 25, 2006

    Don’t worry about bad Jason. He gets disemvowelled on sight now.

    It’s also not a nice commenting policy. I encourage vigorous replies to demonstrable idiots. I would just like everyone to reef those sails and hold off on the broadsides until the target actually flies its colors (yes, I can bobble between cowboy and nautical metaphors…at will.)

  28. #28 Steve_C
    August 25, 2006

    I think conservative has been refined down to “hate taxes and hate fags”.

    I think that’s what alot of people think when they call themselves conservative.

  29. #29 suezboo
    August 25, 2006

    Thank you very much, PZ. I so enjoy this site and what I learn here but the regular commenters DO intimidate one from asking questions.

  30. #30 Owlmirror
    August 25, 2006

    And maybe throw some punctuation in the range as well.

    Alternatively, for the (0/\/\pl337 1337-$73><7, rather than deletion, there are some amusing possibilities with substitution.

    tr \!-\~ \?

  31. #31 Owlmirror
    August 25, 2006

    Looks like the Autodisemvoweler is pretty clever already.

    I guess the only way around it is to post in one of those already nearly vowelless Eastern European languages.

    Srps? zdrvnsy! pzhlst. dzvdny! yb tvy mt!

  32. #32 Jason
    August 25, 2006

    PZ v J&s*n

    Pstd by: Kn Cp | Agst 25, 2006 03:38 PM

    I’m Cls (snc I’m s bldy tll s hm!).

  33. #33 Steve_C
    August 25, 2006

    Is that a fish in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

  34. #34 Ichthyic
    August 25, 2006

    I’m Cleese (since I’m as bloody tall as him!).

    >>Master Tang: Pay no attention to Wimp Lo, we purposely trained him wrong… as a joke.

    >>Ling: You think losing is winning.

    How many quotes from Kung Pow can you find that fit Jason perfectly:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0240468/quotes

  35. #35 Ichthyic
    August 25, 2006

    oh, and hat tip to “scaryfacts” over on PT for the suggestion.

  36. #36 JackGoff
    August 25, 2006

    I think I know Jason’s favorite movie.

  37. #37 j
    August 25, 2006

    Pluto is not a planet.

    I like this polite-comments suggestion a lot; I’m one of those people who still believes in civility.

  38. #38 Steviepinhead
    August 25, 2006

    the regular commenters DO intimidate one from asking questions

    Don’t know why. Not sure I qualify as a “regular commenter,” but I ask stupid questions all the time (see further up almost any thread).

    Maybe you just need to grab a “handle” like mine, that makes it clear from the get-go that, should it turn out that you have the faintest clue, it’s purely by chance.

  39. #39 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 25, 2006

    What??? No early joking allowed? But a good joke can hurt more than smashing a whiskey bottle over a … Um, never mind.

  40. #40 AndyS
    August 25, 2006

    Squeaky,

    … As I got into my car, I reflected on the fact that we easily throw negative comments towards other drivers when they do something stupid, and I realized there is an interesting parallel between the information highway and the actual highway. … It’s easy to insult someone we will almost certainly never see, and whose name, in many cases, we will never know. I doubt very much that many here (not all) who resort to insults would ever actually express those same insults in a face-to-face conversation. This is a very impersonal environment and it is easy to fall into the trap of dehumanizing those who express opinions contrary to our own.

    I think your analogy fits all too well. And since the opportunity to communicate annonymously (blogs, message boards, etc.) is growing I think it’s important for people who run popular blogs to make some attempt to establish a civil tone among their commentors — like PZ has done with this post.

    Like other people have mentioned, I often get as much from the comments as from the post itself, but, if I have to wade through pages of snide and snarky comments, I tend to stay away. I’m looking for comments that contribute something valuable: clarification, elucidation, reasoned disagreement, etc. — or just an interesting story. A snarky putdown is at best just a signal of “I strongly disagree” with no intellectual content or even entertainment value for those of us beyond our teens. It also seems to be mostly a male behavior.

    Now, if we could just eliminate the prevalent idea that showing concern for others or seeking understanding for “the other point of view” is a sign of weakness, …

  41. #41 Ichthyic
    August 25, 2006

    It’s easy to insult someone we will almost certainly never see, and whose name, in many cases, we will never know. I doubt very much that many here (not all) who resort to insults would ever actually express those same insults in a face-to-face conversation.

    ahhh, but the big difference is, others can easily see you when you pick your nose on the internet; and they hear you when you cuss out the driver next to you.

    It’s like driving on a highway in invisible cars, where everybody has a microphone on and the stereos are all on so loud everybody can hear.

    My point, of course, is that there ARE repercussions, it’s just that there are a lot of folks who simply don’t care.

  42. #42 AndyS
    August 25, 2006

    that there ARE repercussions, it’s just that there are a lot of folks who simply don’t care.

    We can hope PZ’s post has some positive effect as well as the disemvoweling. A bit of directly applied peer pressure might help too.

  43. #43 JackGoff
    August 25, 2006

    FSM will make sure their mouths burn like hell by slipping habaneros into the sauce.

  44. #44 junk science
    August 26, 2006

    Now, if we could just eliminate the prevalent idea that showing concern for others or seeking understanding for “the other point of view” is a sign of weakness, …

    I don’t know. I think the mocking in the death penalty thread was a bit extreme, but there’s usually little value in trying to reason with the majority of deliberate idiots. Far better to at least get some entertainment out of them, at the blog owner’s discretion.

  45. #45 MikeM
    August 26, 2006

    My suggestion: Check out The Comics Curmudgeon’s “Cockpit.”

    That is all.

    I’m in Maui! Until tomorrow. It is HOT here.

  46. #46 Keith Douglas
    August 26, 2006

    AndyS: That was one possibility. I was thinking more on the lines of a technology class which would, inter alia discuss communication online, how to avoid getting scammed and phished, computer security, basics of using a computer for research in other areas, etc.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!