New Comments Policy

You may have noticed that things have been a little wild here on the blog lately, argument and comment-wise. To calm things down, we've decided that all comments from now on will be moderated. This is actually going back to the way we used to do things. If comments are not on point, respectful, and intellectually serious, they do not belong. Ad hominem attacks, etcetera, won't be allowed. The general principle is that we encourage speech here, but not speech that lowers the quality of discussion for everyone else. Furthermore, please remember that commenting on this blog is a privilege, not a right.

Thanks to you all.

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Now that caledonian is back, I favor your adoption of a brutal and suppressive moderation policy.

caynazzo: "I second MH's ideas: PZ's, or some similar version, dungeon."

The catch with a dungeon is that there is the temptation to exaggerate the reasons for putting one there. For example, PZ claimed that I did a very foolish thing several times when I only did it once. You also might be left with the impression that I said some sexist thing about his daughter, rather than using her own words--where she referred to some anonymous swath of theists as "retards"--as a knife-twisting way of putting the lie to PZ's claim that a strident atheist is merely an outspoken one.

Caledonian: "There is little point to a comments section that only contains praise."

Judging from the comments so far, there is little danger of that happening.

Dear Chris,

May I ask, will you be responding to the "on point, respectful, and intellectually serious," comments on the other threads?

Kind regards,


As a frequent reader and occasional commenter of many blogs on scienceblogs, let me just voice my (hopefully polite) disagreement with this policy, and at least give you my perspective as an anonymous commenter, that I imagine is shared by many.

I read the posts of many bloggers, and also scan through the comments. When I see a vitriolic comment that is either an ad hominem attack, or a non-substantive post, I look at the nym of the commenter. It says much much much more about the commenter than it does the commentee. I have not changed my opinion of any of the bloggers here based on some of the more passionate comments that have gone on (and yes, the overpassionate posts by some also).

I respect the varied voices of the different sciencebloggers. I can appreciate the context of the different statements and individual voices that people have (pseudonymous or identified). I think that one of the "joys" of reading blogs is that you can get a different kind of correspondence than that you receive in other media forms.

Of course, I respect your right to run your blog in whatever way you feel best suits your desires. But I just want you to know, from one anonymous commenter at least, that you may be able to trust the average readers of your posts to judge for themselves the quality of the comments.

This is Chris' and Sheril's blog and they have the right to do anything they like with it. So one cannot disagree with them any more than you can disagree with a statement of their gustatory preferences. You can dislike what they do, but it's their right to do it.

Chris has suffered a somewhat unwarranted attack on his views, in my opinion, because they failed to suit the preferences of others. I myself disagree with what he and Matt Nisbet have said some things, but I hope I have done it politely, the way I'd want others to disagree with me.

When it comes to moderating a blog, the writers must have complete freedom to do as they see fit, as the comments become an intrinsic part of the post. There are many factors that can influence moderation policy, including the effect of the comments on the intended message, and the appearance of the blog to outsiders (e.g. getting rid of profanity, etc. so that you do not seem to be tacitly endorsing it).

For my part, I think some of my commenters are bat-s**t insane, but I view the comment and response process as part of a blog, and as what differentiates it from, say, an magazine article.

Chris comes from a more traditional publishing background, and this type of policy certainly conforms with a more traditional approach to publishing.

I just put a comment moderation comment in preceding thread, but I was just thinking about an idea for scienceblogs. Perhaps the moderator will have three options: (1) approve a comment. (2) flag a comment as not "not on point, respectful, and intellectually serious" or (3) totally inappropriate (i.e. threats or extreme personal insults)

By default, readers will only see the comments in group 1 and group 3 will be completely censored. The key difference is that instead of burying group 2, readers will have the option to see them included in the comments by pressing a clearly visible checkbox that appears whenever such comments exist. This would satisfy both the desire to have clean and relevant comment threads and keep this as an open forum that allows people to know they aren't just seeing specially selected opinions.

This would be a bit of work on the coding side of scienceblogs, but it should definitely be possible and would enrich the site as a whole.

Furthermore, please remember that commenting on this blog is a privilege, not a right. is being a popular and respected science blogger.

While I can see good reasons for this policy I also ultimately feel that it has been necessitated by issues that could have been resolved in other ways.

The owner of a blog has the right to determine its content just as the owner of a newspaper does. There is no free speech issue, a blog isn't the government, if you want to say something, there are other blogs to say it on.

Chris Mooney, I wouldn't have put up with it nearly as long as you did. Good luck.

I think the best way is to either moderate nothing, or moderate everything. The latter is a lot more work, of course.

Anything in between, like flagging comments as having one characteristic or another is, I think, very messy and is going to get any conversation WAY off topic very quickly.

There is a "trusted commenter" approach as well, which is technically possible on MT, I think. But that may be even more work! Also, if you allow certain commenters through automatically and others not, the comments end up coming out in a funny order and that disrupts conversation.

It is true, though, Chris, that red blogs tend to moderate more often than blue blogs (with a great deal of overlap). I hope you are not turning into a Republican!!!!

(kidding, of course)

John Quiggin had some good comments about trolls and why he'd lost patience with them. I applaud his comments, and it is worth looking at the blog to ascertain the level of discourse.

On some blogs, including this one, the combination of Firefox, greasemonkey, and killfile at least lets one ignore specific posters, although the level of functionality is still not as a good as a USENET newsreader of the 1980s.

Unmoderated newsgroups and blogs almost inevitably become useless, in Internet-equivalent of Gresham's law (Bad X drives out good X).

There are USENET newsgroups that were useful for at least a decade, with frequent discussions by top experts, that are now filled with such junk that most experts gave up years ago. Everyone has some threshold for signal/noise ratio, and when it gets too low, they stop looking.

It doesn't take much moderation to make a huge difference in the quality, because if it becomes clear that junk disappears, people post less such.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 24 Apr 2008 #permalink

Of course commenting isn't a right. I really don't see the point of claiming it's a blogger's 'right' to moderate comments, either. That would be pretty obvious. Does anyone actually suspect someone will be disagreeing with these things? It is a sign of closing up discourse which will close out trolls, sure, but I see it as another overreaction.

For the best results (maintaining a high level of discourse and avoiding alienating people), I'd recommend actually answering the questions asked and points raised in a serious manner. They aren't as varied as one might think.

By Shirakawasuna (not verified) on 24 Apr 2008 #permalink

Yeah, Chris, you have every right to do it. I didn't agree with the comments about you looking like a creationist, or whatever it was, and I'm sorry to see that you appear hurt by some of what's gone on lately. Clearly, there's a level of exasperation around at the moment - probably on several sides of the debate - and I hope it gets resolved over a beer or something.

I don't actually think this step that you're introducing is necessary,and it will make me less inclined to comment if comments are not going up in real time. But I hope it works out. Obviously, you're not the state, armed with fire and swords, so no one can raise freedom of speech as an issue.

John, I don't think it follows from someone being within his/her rights that his/her actions are beyond rational criticism. At least on many popular conceptions of rights, there may be some things that are within my (negative) rights, in the sense that it would be wrong (by some legal or moral standard) for another party to coerce me to act otherwise, and yet I might exercise my rights in a way that is open to criticism on moral or aesthetic or prudential grounds.

OK, perhaps "disagreement" was not the right word. Of course I agree that Chris and Sheril can run their blog however they choose. But I just wanted to give them a view that perhaps they don't see expressed, which probably makes up much of their readership. And that is, that we readers can judge appropriately when someone is getting inappropriately attacked.

I don't have my own blog, so I definitely defer to those who run their own blogs (an appeal to authority, perhaps??). But from the point of view of at least this reader, I still read and appreciate Chris's and Sheril's writings and will continue to read (and occasionally comment).

Why don't you just have a Dungeon, Like PZ does? Put people whose comments you don't like in there, with a reason and explanation. That way, comments from everyone else will appear instantly, and it doesn't interrupt the flow of communication. You can give them a few warnings before doing so.

You could also put a reminder at the top of the comments section that trolls should not be fed (though in the Expelled a Box Office Success thread, there was only one troll (the one who called you a creationist), and he was ignored by everyone).

By holding comments for moderation (and baring in mind your busyness and different time-zones, they could be held for up to a day) you risk putting off people who are "on point, respectful, and intellectually serious". And if you genuinely want people to comment on your ideas, I think you'll agree that a comment policy that risks putting people off is a bad idea.

I think the best way is to either moderate nothing, or moderate everything. The latter is a lot more work, of course.

I tend to agree, which is why I basically moderate nothing, unless I see something that might get me into legal trouble, such as obvious defamation. I prefer to let the comments speak for themselves (although I must admit that the recent invasion of my blog by a guy prone to making brain-dead comments about Darwin and a Holocaust denier who seems to have a serious bug up his butt for lawyers have sorely tested my resolve in this matter). To get an idea of how free-wheeling my blog's comments are, I will point out that the only person I have ever banned is John Best, and even then I only banned him for a month or two.

I hope that at some point you'll allow this blog to be unmoderated again. Though as the election season heats up I suspect it'll be a while before you consider it. I've found both of Chris' books to be immensely useful and they have led me to the Science Blogs website (and become an avid reader of), which frankly, I think is all about 'framing' science. It's a term that has developed very negative connotations of late.

The problem, as always, is how to distinguish between 'trolls' - those that say things merely to cause trouble - and commentors who say unpopular things, who are often accused of being trolls by those who want to silence them.

I think the readers of this blog will be watching carefully, watching to see whether the comments that are removed are truly rude and inappropriate - or whether valid criticism and analysis will be screened out if it doesn't meet with the approval of the blog owner.

There is little point to a comments section that only contains praise.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 25 Apr 2008 #permalink

Being a frequent poster here at the intersection I am sorry to see this new policy. For one thing it will likely delay comments and thus hamper the "real time" interaction of posters.

As any frequent visitor knows I frequently disagree with Chris and Sheril on issues of climate and also on the whole idea of "framing". However, I make sure my posts, while sometimes sarcastic, are civil and respectful. This is how any guest should treat their hosts and we are all Chris and Sheril's guests here at the intersection.

Hopefully after things calm down this policy can be discarded and the free and open forum that existed prior to the "Expelled" flap can return.

I agree with Lance, except for the first sentence of his second paragraph.
Disagreement, perhaps, but intermixed with civility and respect for a different point of view. And was this not a major point way back when, with the Nisbet-Meyers explosion. At least, it was mine...

I second MH's ideas: PZ's, or some similar version, dungeon. Like Dante's tiers, there's an offense-based ranking system as well.

Now now Linda, can you honestly say that I have ever posted anything as offensive as some of the attacks by the recently arrived critics of Chris's "Expelled" framing policy?

I am much more frequently the target of abusive posts than the author. You seem to be conflating opposition of ideas with personal rancor.

I was NOT calling you offensive at all. I was agreeing with your sentiments this time.
If you are referring to the sentence comment, it goes to climate and framing, both of which I do agree with Chris and Sheril.

Sorry Linda.

My mistake. are succumbing to the a-PZist censorship minded well as drowning apparently in all of the sciborg venom that gets spewed at bloggers( yourself) that have insightful, but dissenting points of view. They hate dssent over here don't they.

Could you point me in the direction of the controversial posts that caused you to become a censor(oops: *moderator*)?

By the real cmf (not verified) on 25 Apr 2008 #permalink


Sorry that you've been getting ad hominem attacks over here. I get a few on my website, too. It's difficult to discern, sometimes, when people have an argument with your content vs. when they just want to argue with you.

I agree with most of your commenters that Expelled is flopping (although not as badly as we all had hoped), and I'll offer you the comparison between the numbers for Expelled and Tupac: Resurrection as fairly comparable (check it out at boxofficemojo for the numbers).

But I also agree with you that framing science is vital. We come off as a bunch of infantile squabblers instead of being an organized, cohesive force for good in this world, and we would all be better served if we worked on that.

Keep on blogging, and as someone wise once told me, don't let the bastards get you down!


First off, can even just one of you people find a website or report from an entertainment industry professional (not an angry evolutionist) that says "Expelled" has flopped at the box office? Um, no. And secondly, even if you could (but you can't), why in the world is that relevant. This movie was distributed by Premise Media, the guys who made eight bajillion dollars off the Passion of the Christ. Don't you think they said, "Let's take a few million and have some fun dumping on evolution," which they did. And lastly, the movie by most accounts cost $10 million to make and distribute. It will go over $5 million this weekend, which means that in a couple months it will probably pass $10 million, and then the home DVD sales, as Variety predicted, will be huge. They will make a bundle. How in the world does anyone find "flop" in that. Enough with the false bravado of terrified evolutionists.

By S. Berman (not verified) on 27 Apr 2008 #permalink

Well, Berman, the producers said that if it made $12-15 on its first weekend they would consider it a success. It didn't even take $3 million, so I would say that according to their own standards, it certainly wasn't a financial success.

It will probably make a profit eventually, but not while it is in the cinemas. You say that "in a couple months it will probably pass $10 million", but do you honestly expect it to still be in cinemas in a couple of months? I'd be surprised if it goes beyond a couple of weeks, total. The second Friday's takings were over 60% down on the previous week.

A question for you: leaving aside the financial success, do you deny that it has been a critical flop?

the movie by most accounts cost $10 million to make and distribute. It will go over $5 million this weekend, which means that in a couple months it will probably pass $10 million

The box office figures you are citing are grosses and are not net revenue to the producer. Box office does not just go to the producer, but also to the theatres. As I understand it, the split typically varies depending on how desirable the film is, where in the run the movie is, and a variety of other factors, but 50% of the box office is not uncommon. So even if the film makes $10 million, the producers will, under that split, only make half that. The film would have to have a $20 million box office to make back its costs.

And there is no way this film is grossing $20 million in ticket sales. I seriously doubt it will make more than $8 million in total box office gross (again, prior to the cut for the exhibitors). And, like MH, I seriously doubt that the film will be playing in more than a handful of theatres in a month. Only a masochistic theatre owner would keep a film that has 10 people per showing on a Friday, and that lost over 50% of its opening day box office.

Whatever financial life this film will have will be on DVD. You may be right that it will do well there, but the people who will buy it are already True Believers, and not a potentially skeptical general public.

S Berman asks:

"First off, can even just one of you people find a website or report from an entertainment industry professional (not an angry evolutionist) that says "Expelled" has flopped at the box office? Um, no."

Um yes actually. Comments on Expelled's opening:

"Playing in 1,052 theaters, the pic distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures earned $1.2M Friday for what should be a $3.4M weekend," penned Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily. "But the per screen average for Friday was a feeble $1,130 (that $3,000 ballyhooed on the Internet would be for the entire weekend), showing there wasn't any pent-up demand for the film despite an aggressive publicity campaign. So much for the conservative argument that people would flock to films not representing the "agenda of liberal Hollywood.'"

And comments on its marked second week fall-off from Box Office Mojo:

"Sarah Marshall subsided 38 percent to an estimated $11 million for $35.1 million in ten days. 88 Minutes ticked off 48 percent, and Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed devolved a steep 54 percent."

Of course, these movie business commentators could all be more angry evolutionists. Who knows?

It's my fault, but this is not an Expelled thread. Put other comments on that where they belong, please.