Posted by: Jeremy Fox | March 12, 2012

A note on comment moderation

One of the things I’m proudest of about the Oikos Blog so far is the quality of our comments section. Our community comprises a relatively small number of regular commenters (many of whom are folks with blogs of their own), and a larger number of folks who comment less often. Most posts draw at least a few comments, and sometimes we manage to post something that sparks an extended conversation. Comments are almost always smart and thoughtful, and often very funny.

Well, almost always smart and thoughtful. Just now I got an anonymous one-sentence comment characterizing a recent post of mine as an “anti-MacArthur rant”, and thanking another commenter for “ending” the rant (never mind that the other commenter actually thought my post was interesting, and recognized that the post wasn’t actually “anti-MacArthur”, and so didn’t see themselves as “ending” a “rant”).

As regular readers will know, I welcome pushback, and indeed I go out of my way to invite it and engage with it (see, for instance, my debates with Karl Cottenie, Chris Klausmeier, and others in the “zombie ideas” posts, and my debates with Brian McGill in the “macroecology vs. microecology” posts). But I don’t welcome comments like the one I just mentioned, which simply state or imply, without evidence or argument, that I, or anyone, is ranting or ignorant or a jerk or whatever. Such comments do nothing to further the conversation. Accordingly, I have blocked the comment.

In the past, when I have blocked a comment (and this has literally only happened once before), I have emailed the commenter privately, politely explained my reasons for not posting the comment, and suggested ways in which the comment might be modified to make it suitable for approval. I would have done the same in this case, but the commenter provided no name or email address. If you are the commenter in question, I invite you to contact me privately so that I can extend the same courtesy. Or, if you prefer to remain anonymous, you may submit another comment elaborating your criticisms of the post, which I will duly consider. Seriously–I will consider it. My writings for the Oikos Blog often are intentionally provocative; I doubt many people would read the blog if it were written in a dry and measured style, or expressed only uncontroversial opinions. That style of writing necessarily carries some risk that I’ll cross a line. I don’t claim to be perfect, and so if I write something that you think crosses a line that shouldn’t be crossed, you are welcome and encouraged to comment and explain why you think so. But you do need to include the explanation, because if I post something it means I have already thought about it carefully and decided it’s ok, and so it’s not obvious (at least not to me) why the post crosses a line.

I follow a fair number of blogs, in various subject areas including some quite controversial ones relating to politics and economics. These blogs vary widely in how they handle comments. The ones with the best comment sections (e.g., Crooked Timber, Worthwhile Canadian Initiative) are the ones that take the same approach I try to take: the posters engage with the comments (especially reasoned criticisms), they block comments that don’t further the conversation, and as necessary they explain (both privately to problematic commenters, and publicly), their reasons for blocking the comments they’ve blocked.

As I said, the Oikos Blog is blessed with such good commenters that no matter what our comment policy was, we’d hardly ever have to block any comments. Nevertheless, consider this a chance to discuss the issue. In the comments, please share any thoughts you have on comments policies (ours specifically, or more generally).

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Responses

  1. Your comment policy in general is amongst the very best I’ve seen, in particular the responses to comments. It’s one of the things that makes this blog as good as it is.

    • Thanks! Although I’m not sure that “respond to comments” amounts to much of a “policy”. Which probably just illustrates the limitations of formal comment policies. There are lots of areas of life in which formal policies are a poor substitute for reasonable, intelligent, goodwilled people just doing the things that such people do.

      • practice would have been a better word choice

      • No worries, I actually meant my remark about “policy” to be self-effacing. It felt a little funny to write a lengthy post about my comment moderation policy, which effectively boils down to “my policy is to do whatever seems sensible.”


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