2012-02-20 14:13:50Goodbye
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey
yooper49855@hotmail...
97.83.150.37

In anticipation of John's affirmation of the existing Comments Policy (note: I fully support his decison):

As an addendum to my statement here, I just wanted to state for the record that I enjoyed the time I invested into SkS; my hope is that I helped make it a place more conducive to learning about climate change and the denial of it for the end user and a hospitable arena for the various participants of the forum to exchange ideas & share learnings.

Been a pleasure.

2012-02-20 14:43:53
Albatross
Julian Brimelow
stomatalaperture@gmail...
23.17.186.57

Daniel and John C.,

I'm really sad to read this.  SkS is losing one of its greatest assests IMHO, you will be missed in more ways that one.  

I will be quite candid, I am not at all happy with the amendments to the moderation policy and I think SkS ought to seriously reconsider the intended path   [of reinstating banned posters]-- especially if it means alienating people like Daniel, bit there are other legitimate reasons to.  

No disrespect whatsover intended to other moderators, the absence of Daniel in moderating of late has been painfully obvious.  One of the great things that SkS has (or perhaps had) going for it is that it is a very pleasant and constructive and focussed place to discuss climate science and for the most part void of trolls.  That Camburn and Ken and Adam and God knows who else are now being permitted to once agin troll the threads and obfuscate completely undermines the the ability of SkS to be a constructive, foscussed and pleasant environment to discuss climate sicence.

Again Daniel, thank you for everything, but saying "thank you" alone seems hopelessly inadequate. I wish I could more eloquently express my gratitude.

PS: Part of the problem as i see it is that SkS is engaing in some very ambitious and labour intensive endeavors and as great as that is I feel that we are spreading ourselves too thin.  We either need to get more people actively involved or scale down our efforts.

2012-02-20 14:56:20Albatross
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.173.31

Just so I am quite clear what you are saying, are you unhappy with these proposed ammendments to the comments policy?

I will not yet say goodbye to Daniel.  I hope this current impasse will be resolved in a satisfactory manner for all, and that he will resume moderation in the style that has made commenting at SkS such a pleasure for all of us.

2012-02-20 15:44:12
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
130.102.158.12

I'll actually be meeting Ken Lambert tomorrow night - I'm giving a talk and he emailed me saying he's going to be there. I couldn't help imagining how he'd respond if I informed him that SkS moderation is fracturing and falling apart, with me restoring his account being one of the contributing factors. My guess is he would be very happy to hear of SkS's woes and proud of his contribution (P.S. - I'm not telling him any of that).

My main concern with the moderation issue is it requires consistency and not be vulnerable to subjectiveness.

For example, someone said trolls were playing on my emotions by guilt tripping me into reinstating their user accounts. I think that's a fair comment. My actions there were subjective - there should be strict, well defined rules so that how we (including myself) approach moderation is objective and consistent.

So when someone is "trolling", there needs to be clearly defined rules so that we can consistently moderate and also our approach is defendable (so that when a Canadian radio stations confronts me about SkS moderation, I can answer with confidence and conviction that what we are doing is not only appropriate but desirable - which I did).

So obviously a situation where trolls keep posting "2nd law" comments is undesirable. Either the "off topic" policy deals with that or we adopt a new policy "Comments that repeat myths already debunked at SkS will be deleted". That way, it's black and white, it's objective and defendable. If they post "it's cooling", we have a cooling rebuttal and there's no subjectiveness.

I'm just as keen as others to keep the comments threads constructive and troll free but to do so, we need to adopt policies that are objective and defendable.

2012-02-20 16:17:16
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

JC:

With all due respect, the "Forces of Evil" are not playing by the same rules that you apparently hold so near a dear. If they prevail, will your children and grandchildren praise you for being "the most honorable combatant" in this battle? 

Unless you are prepared to resume maintaining the SkS website by yourelf, you simply must be willing to accept collective decision-making. If you do not, your excellent team of volunteers will eventually move on.

PS - Please read the feedback from SkS users to the question that I posed in this weekend's Weekly Digest (#7).  

2012-02-20 16:48:13
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
130.102.158.12

John, I'm all on board with collective decision making. I'm not into dictatorship and I'd like to think I'm not that much of a control freak. However, I'm also the one who has to defend SkS when it gets attacked for its conduct. In my first morning in Canada, I did a radio interview with a local radio station at 7am and the first thing they threw at me was "your site has been accused of modifying your website content and deleting comments - how do you respond to that?" Now I was happy to answer that question because updating our content with the latest science and moderating comments to keep the discussion constructive are both appropriate and desirable actions. I don't want to be the one imperiously dictating what we do but as the person who has to front the public, I'm responsible for the actions of every SkS moderator. The buck stops with me. So I do have an interest in how we conduct ourselves.

I'm not so dewy eyed that I think everyone on both sides are playing fair and acting in good faith, quite the contrary (well, okay, I was a little dewy eyed when I reinstated some of those troll user accounts). But how SkS conducts itself is important. It's not just about being honorable (that's just a bonus) - it's about strategy. Our target audience is not the trolls or the deniers but the undecided majority and to that audience, it's imperative that SkS conducts itself in a calm, dispassionate, non-partisan manner. Let the other side become unhinged and enraged - but we must always be in control of our emotions when debating the science. Especially when posting as a representative of SkS.

So all I ask in our collective decision making process is that we come up with a solution to trolling that is objective, consistent and transparent, and not subject to the subjective passions of a moderator as they get frustrated by trolls (which happens to us all, we're only human). How we do that is come up with a clearly defined comments policy that encompasses the trolling behaviour. Hijacking a comments thread runs pretty close to "off-topic". Do we need to expand that definition, include language about hijacking in the "off topic" comments policy? Do we add "no debunked myths" as a new policy? Between the two of them, will "off-topic" and "no debunked myths" cover most trolling attempts?

2012-02-20 17:03:09
John Mason

johntherock@btopenworld...
86.133.202.150

Dan, I am saddened by this development.

 

John C, "Comments that repeat myths already debunked at SkS will be deleted" is along the right lines. What we need to do is thrash out a strict definition of trolling that helps make moderation straightforward and that prospective posters can immediately grasp. If SkS comment-threads get over-run by trolls then they become of relatively little merit to anybody with a genuine interest. As John H states, these guys do not play by the same rules, so you need to base everything on "if they think they can get away with iot they will try it". This is a good rule across the board: never present them with any 'denier-fodder' because if you do they will snap it up immediately.

 

I would ask Dan to hang fire to see if we can thrash out a better policy WRT this. Moderating's a hell of a task - time-consuming in the extreme - and the more straightforward and clearly defined the goalposts the better.

 

Cheers - John

2012-02-20 17:33:38Albatross
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.173.31

John, I do not beieve Adam would be covered by either of those rules.  The original post in the Monckton Mish Mash thread leads of with a discussion of Abraham's interactions with Monckton, so his discussion has certainly been on topic, even though there does exist a more appropriate thread.  Second, while some of the discussion comes under debunked myths (MWP) some does not SFAIK (Al Gores comments on sea level).  Further, a strict adherence to a no discussion of debunked myths can reasonably be regarded as censorship.  That is why I prefer restrictions based on behaviour rather than on topic of discussion, ie, requiring that disputants actually support their claims as a condition of participation.

That approach has, to my mind, several benefits.  First, trolling works by requiring minimum effort for maximum disruption.  If trolls are required to support their claims, the effort level goes up for them, reducing the reward for effort ratio in trolling.  Second, for most troll, attempting to back up their sources just reveals how weak and unreliable their sources are.  Third, sometimes if a troll does attempt to back up their claims, the result is an actually interesting and informative discussion, ie, what debates should be.

However, as I know you have indicated that you do not like that approach, perhaps the minimalist provision that:

 

"Extensive discussion of issues for which there is a more relevant article should be carried out at that article.  To that end, if the moderator directs you to carry a dicussion to another article you must do so or have future posts treated as off topic and be deleted."

 

Such a policy means discussion can be directed not just to myth rebutals, but also to more relevant blog posts.  Such a policy would greatly limit thread jacking, but not trolling.  Trolling, unfortunately, can only be limited by requiring that comments be both supported and candid IMO.

A further policy could be that:

"In the interests of civility and to enable people to properly express their opinions, we discourage 'piling on'.  If a comment already has a response, consider carefully whether you are adding anything interesting before also responding.  If a participant appears to be being 'dog piled', the moderator may designate one or two people from each side of the debate as the primary disputants and require that no other people respond until further notified."

That would certainly be a usefull policy on the Monckton Mish Mash thread (and several others) and again help avoid thread jacking by putting the denier in the position where they must respond to just one or two posts, or make it clear that they are being non-responsive.  (The later only helps in moderation terms if we in fact have a policy that comments be responsive, ie, that they support their positions with evidence.  However, even with out that it would still be helpful in debate terms.)

Enough from me.  What I would particularly like to hear at the moment is the feature Daniel would like in the comments policy.  As he has been both the primary moderator, and I believe the best modertor I have encountered in AGW debates, I want to know what he thinks he needs in a comments policy to do the job he has been doing so well.

2012-02-20 17:39:07
Alex C

coultera@umich...
67.194.43.171

The way that Adam took over the thread was by immediately referencing a topic that was completely unrelated to the article and by not commenting on the article as well.  It didn't help that he made it accusatory: "John, why aren't you pandering to my needs?" or something of that tired toon.  The trick was that it had to do with Monckton and was in "response" to the anti-Monckton tone of the article, and thus had the facade of relevance.

To suggest several basic guidelines which can be incorporated and nuanced as necessary:

- No demanding responses to articles/arguments not directly related to (i.e. named in) the posts;

- Statements such as "see this argument" (link to Gish Gallop or like) without reference to specific points made will not be allowed;

- Ongoing discussions of topics not directly related to the post will not be allowed;

 

I think that saying "referencing a topic we have debunked" has to be handled carefully, as there could be bitching about how it's worded, as if they would think we want to stifle dissent.  What actually constitutes debunked, and would this differ at all from off topic commenting which is already not allowed?  Perhaps a non-exhaustive list would be a good start, "It's cooling" or "Greenhouse gases are not rising because of humans" or "2nd Law" could all be arguments we include in such a list.  Codification would allow moderation, and making the point that it is non-exhaustive and up to moderators' discretion will help to give leeway in cases we didn't yet think of and can incorporate later.

2012-02-20 17:41:36
Alex C

coultera@umich...
67.194.43.171

>>>"In the interests of civility and to enable people to properly express their opinions, we discourage 'piling on'

I like that.

2012-02-20 17:43:39
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.173.31

Alex C, a restricted no go list is of marginal utility.  It also would have to not apply on the relevant rebutal thread.  Ie, you should always be able to try and support the 2nd Law argument on the 2nd law thread (unfortunately).  If that is not the case, the charge that we are censoring debate will be made, and will be at least partially true.

2012-02-20 17:51:03
Alex C

coultera@umich...
67.194.43.171

Such problems would exist with a general policy of "no addressing debunked myths" then.  Perhaps just better, more inclusive definitions of what constitutes off topic comments would be the way to go.

2012-02-20 20:20:23
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.175.176
Tom, what you are suggesting is exactly what I had in mind. Not censoring comments that are already debunked but redirecting them to the appropriate debunking. This could be either rebuttals or myths.

Re the rule "back up your assertions", is that practical? You can't apply that rule to every comment that doesn't back up its assertions. So practically how would you objectively apply that guideline? If we can come up with a policy that is objective and consistent while dealing Witt trolls like Adam, I'd be very happy with that.

What about if rather than delete off-topic or debunked comments, they get moved to the appropriate page?

2012-02-20 20:48:29
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.93.201.176

What about if rather than delete off-topic or debunked comments, they get moved to the appropriate page?

But that requires much more effort on the part of the moderator, than the offending troll. And it really doesn't provide any disincentive to trolling.

2012-02-20 21:01:57Moving effort
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.175.176
I would program it so under each comment would be a MOVE hyperlink. Clicking on it would present two drop downs - all the rebuttals or all the blog posts. You select the appropriate page, the comment is automatically moved to that page and perhaps a message left on the original thread "this comment has been moved to the appropriate page ...."

It removes all incentive for trolling because the comment gets shunted to a dark, old corner of SkS instead of the busy highway of a new post.

But if it simply repeats the myth, I wouldn't even honor it with a relocate, I'd just delete it.

2012-02-20 21:41:41
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.173.31

John, you don't need to apply the rule to every example that violates it in order for the application to be objective.  What you need is a public rule that allows the moderators to do what they need to do, and a private rule or guideline that they must follow.  Because that is a rule that could be abused, you can make the private guidelines very restrictive such as:

"1)  In the normal course of events, only apply the rule if another commentator asks for a comment to be backed up, and the original commentor continues commenting without doing so;

2) Penalties arising form the rule, ie, deletion of further posts, should only be applied after a warning is given and the commentor continues to post without backing up their original assertion;

3)  For people who are repeat offendors, and only for repeat offendors, the rule can be applied immediately without the request of another commentator;

4)  For repeat offendors who have at least three times ignored warnings in prior incidents, no warning need be given prior to deletion of comments, although deletion must always be accompanied by an explanation;

5) For repeat repeat offendors who in three seperate incidents in a one month period have their comments deleted under rule 4, banning automatically follows.

6)  A list of repeat offendors should be kept in the moderation section of the forum with suggestions of repeat offendors being makable by any moderator, but names only addable to the list by John Cook or the senior Moderator (Daniel Bailey if we can keep him)." 

The idea is that moderation should always be an iron fist in a velvet glove.  It should be as light and unobrusive as it can get away with (velvet glove) but should be able to come down very hard if it needs to.  But to come down hard, the reason for coming down hard has clearly and publicly stated.  Consequently, and inevitably, in an ideal moderation situation most rules will not be enforced at every breach.  Rather they should exist to give authority to the moderator when they warn that a paticular sort of behaviour is unacceptable.  

I should note that IMO the six part private guideline is far more complicated than it needs to be. I only ran the full six parts to show you that consistency can be achieved even on rules that are normally moderated very lightly (as this one should be).  I believe you should not allow just anybody on the authors forum to sign up as a moderator (no matter how convenient I find it to sign up to edit my posts then sign of).  I think the decision to allow moderation privileges should always be conscious, and that you should then trust your moderators.  They are intelligent and they have good judgement.  If they need a private rule, tell them WWDD (What Would Danial Do).

You can also achieve consistency if you wish by only allowing moderators to issue warnings, and hard programing a function that after x number of warnings, the post that attracts a warning is automatically deleted.  Alternatively, and more easilly, you can program in a warnings log, so that for each user you can bring up a complete list of warnings and deletions.  Then if you recieve a complaint, you can just bring up the log.  If a person has been treated unfairly it will leap out at you how few warnings they have recieved.  On the other hand, I think what will leap out at you in most places is how patient the moderators have been.

 

Anyway, to stop my rambling, the first decision you need to make is whether to have the iron fist in the velvet glove approach; or to have an algorithmic apporach in which every offense is warned or deleted and their is little room for moderators to apply their judgement.  

If the later, the "must back up statements" rule and the "no endless repitition rule" have no place in your comments policy.  Applied without discernment they are too harsh and stiffling.  But you then have to accept that clever trolls such as Camburn and Ken Lambert can dance endlessly around within the constraints of your comment policy without consequences. 

If the former, you can include those rules which will force Camburn and Lambert towards genuine discussion, because only by genuine discussion will they avoid both not backing up their assertions, and not being endlessly repetive.  

2012-02-20 21:51:22Moving Effort
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.173.31

I highly recommend such a system (with the blissful confidence that comes from complete ignorance of the programing required).  However, I would strongly recommend against simple deletions of repetitions of the myth as it is censorship.  If somebody who has commented frequently on SkS simply repeats myths they have previously  repeated ad nauseum, then we delete, if we have the policy authorizing it (no endless repetition).  Otherwise we should let it stand.  Again, if we have the no unsubstantiated assertions policy, one of the regulars can then drop a comment behind it saying, "I notice you have just repeated the myth above with no attempt to justify that belief.  In SkS you are required to back up your assertions (link to policy).  Would you please do so."

They are then shown to either not be able to do so, or in fact attempt to do so in which case we have an opportunity to persuade them, or interested readers who are persuaded by, but not convinced by the myth.  The key here is that there is minimal effort for both moderators and regulars, who don't  even have to engage their brain for the initial response.  It is only when the intelocuter gets serious that we need to.  And then, if they can't endlessly circle back (no repitition rule) or simply assert facts by fiat (back up your assertion rule) it is we who have hooked them, not the other way round.

2012-02-20 22:22:09
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley
gcc@cmp.uea.ac...
139.222.14.107

The problem with an objective scheme is that human beings are very good at sailing arbitrarily close to the wind, and some subjective view is always ging to be necessary to decide where legitimate discussion turns into trolling.  I agree that Adam's comment did not violate the comments policy as it currently stand, yet it is quite unambiguously true that his behaviour on the thread was unacceptable and that he was trolling.

Unfortunately when there are articles like the Monckton one, then ANYTHING that Monckton and Abraham actually discussed is pretty much by definition on-topic.  The only way trolling can be prevented by the "on-topic" clause in the comments policy is by keeping the articles tightly focssed on the scientific issues and avoid discussing personalities or institutions altogether and leave it to other blogs.

Basically what I am saying is that while SkS ventures into the interface with politics or discussion of rhetorical debates (e.g. Monckton) then as far as I can see an objective comments policy is fundamentally impossible.

This is not an attack on anyone, everybody has performed admirably throughout as far as I can see, and everybody concerned has been an unalloyed force for good in the climate debate.

I am very sad to hear that Dan is saying goodbye. he has been an excellent moderator.  I do hope he continues to post here and also that he eventually returns as a moderator, SkS needs him.

2012-02-21 04:10:49
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

JC:

Yooper's decision to move on was triggered by your decision to Monday Morning Quarterback his decision to ban Camburn.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Yooper made the right call in banning Camburn -- and it was not made in the spur of the moment.

You made a bad call by reinstating Camburn.  [You should have discussed this matter directly with Yooper in a private email exchange prior to deciding whether or not to reinstate Camburn. Yooper did not deserve to laern about your decision after the fact and via a public post. By doing so, you discounted all of the blodd, sweat, and tears that he has donated to SkS.]

You cannat delegate the responsibility for moderating the SkS website to others and then override their deliberative decisions because someone complains directly to you.

In terms of responding to questions about moderation, your stock response should be: "We do the best job we can in keeping the discussion focued on the issues at hand and not letting individuals use our comment thread for propoaganda purposes."

2012-02-21 04:32:03
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley
gcc@cmp.uea.ac...
139.222.14.107

You could always ask critics of the moderation policy to specify changes to the comments policy that would remove the subjectivity whilst still preventing trolling and hijacking as we have seen by Ken, Elsa, Adam etc.  I can't see how this can be done, and I very much doubt they would be able to either (though I wouldn't rule it out and would welcome constructive input, regardless where it came from).  If they can't do better, it is a tacit admission that their complaint is unreasonable.

At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with an element of subjectivity in the moderation, the real issue is whether it is just, and we shouldn't sacrifice just moderation to pander to game playing from those who are not happy with the moderation.

2012-02-21 06:03:46
logicman

logicman_alf@yahoo.co...
86.183.238.167

I hope that Daniel comes back.  He has made many valuable contributions to this site and has - mostly - managed to deal with comment spammers in a light-hearted and humorous fashion.

 

There is a concerted global campaign to undermine the authoritative voice of science through the use of propaganda, of that I am convinced.

There is no single 'book of propaganda' from which we may learn how to erect defences, and it is still as true now as it was in the Third Reich that we cannot look to psychology to draw up a rule book.  That simple scientific fact cuts both ways, meaning that is scientifically impossible to draw up a list of what you would call violations of site policy and which I would call propagandist sloganeering.

 

Perhaps it might help to focus on comments which merely echo what has gone before but do not add any new point for scientific examination.  For example, a mere statement of 'it's the sun' or 'it hasn't warmed since whenever' is propagandist sloganeering.  However, asking if the effects of a varying solar output have been accounted for in a particular domain of climate science is, imo, true skepticism, as also a question about a lack of warming in a specific global region or time frame.

 

The sqeptics - quasi-skeptics - are using propaganda tactics straight out of Third Reich propaganda instruction books.  One of those tactics, actually the most widely employed, is to assume that the masses will not understand logical and scientific explanations but can be reached by appeals to emotions and by constant repetition of slogans.

"[The propagandist's] greatest triumph is when his thoughts and words are repeated by his hearers who have made his words their own, because they think that they are expressing their own thoughts in using the words of the speaker." - Alfred Frauenfeld.

 

"Creative language in political propaganda uses phrases and slogans to establish control. This is not new. The campaign slogans of a movement are and always have been the best propaganda."

"propaganda ... must repeat the same thing over and over again to have any effect, since actual experiences are so poorly and imperfectly remembered. Its secret is simplicity and perseverance.
Eugen Hadamovsky

 

To reiterate: a comment which consists solely of a simple repetition of a long-debunked myth is blatant propaganda, hence it should, imo, be deleted.  A genuine question, however, should attract a polite response, and the opportunity should be taken to engage in truth as counter-propaganda - however long the thread becomes.

Truth is the only sure weapon against the propagandist, and it is sure to prevail.

2012-02-21 06:42:32
John Mason

johntherock@btopenworld...
86.133.202.150

We could have a simple "no bullshit" rule - as Tamino and Deepclimate operate - or as The Bore Hole on RC absorbs!

 

Let us compare for a moment: Watts has a track record of not only banning commentators but also deleting all of their posts. For what? Often, simply asking awkward questions. John C, remember that these buggers play by a completely different rulebook. They insinuate, malign and generally slag off anyone within range and then curl up in shock and mention references to the Holocaust when somebody out of exasperation calls them out as a denier. In general, in other words, they are devoid of conscience.

The people we need to reach out to are not like that. They are discombobulated by conflicting media information, and where SkS scores is that it excels in explaining the reality. On that basis, I would say in general: do not give the trolls an inch - in fact not a micron!

Cheers - John

2012-02-21 07:49:59
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.175.176

Lots to comment on but can I once more try to dispel the myth that I'm trying to play nice, do the honorable thing. I know as much as anyone that we're in a street fight, a bare knuckled brawl for our children's future. The denialosphere play by a different rulebook, for sure. The reason why we need to be objective, consistent and unimpeachable is for strategic reasons (I still think we need to do the right thing but even if you take away the moral reasons, the strategic reasons remain). We must never forget our target audience, the undecided majority, and that in our outreach to this group, how we act is just as important as what we say. We all act for climate out of a deep passion. I've devoted my whole life to this issue because I have a fierce, unrelenting fire in the belly about it. But I try not to let my passions take control when I engage deniers but instead attempt to channel the passion into making the most strategic, effective approach.

That said, I'm also human and make mistakes. So playing the Monday morning quarterback (a phrase I had to google), I can see that it was a mistake to reinstate camburn and Ken. And that underscores my point - we need an objective framework so we're (I'm) not vulnerable to subjective decisions. An objective rule like "when a user is banned, they don't get reinstated without a moderator consensus" would've avoided much (or all) of this problem. 

Tom, re the idea of a "back up your assertions" rule, I could see how that might work if the rule is "activated" whenever a commenter requests the assertion is substantiated. The rule still makes me a little uncomfortable but it's workable so long as all the conditions and caveats don't make it too complicated.

Re the choice between manual versus automatic algorithm, I think it should be largely manual. Making it automatic makes it too rigid and gameable. I can create code that flags certain situations (eg - multiple warnings or multiple deletions of the one person) but you do need people at the helm. But you need those people working within a well defined framework.

This is a thorny problem because as its been pointed out, a clever troll can skillfully navigate their way through the rules and obey the letter of the law while violating the spirit. So there will be no such thing as a foolproof system. But what we can do is put as much roadblocks up as possible and make the amount of effort they have to expend to make a splash as large as possible.

A few key rules that could help this, which still require some subjectivity but create a more structured environment:

  • Have a rule that X number of comment deletions flags the user for banning. A troll will sail close to the wind but inevitably tip over it every now and then. Let's say it takes 3 comments to be deleted and they're flagged for banning, at the discretion of the moderators. So our official rule will be "if you violate the comments policy 3 times, you are eligible for banning" (although there are some comments that will lead to instant banning like spamming or particularly virulent comments). So even the clever troll will have to be uber-careful all of the time to avoid banning.
  • A reinstated troll (if that ever happens again) has a "1 strike and you're out" rule - they're on parole. Just one violation of the comments policy and they're banned again.
  • Add a rule "no repetition of debunked myths". Moderators distinguish whether it's a repetition of a slogan (which earns instant deletion) or a possibly genuine questioning in which case the comment can be moved to the appropriate page.
2012-02-21 08:49:45Let slip the bowels of stupid
Doug Mackie
Doug Mackie
dougmackie68@gmail...
202.154.155.191

I suggest probation.

I have missed all this trouble brewing because I have been staying away. I have been staying away b/c I didn't like the comments policy. I once wrote up a long essay about deniers and commenting. An edited version follows.

The personae of trolls are important to them. Once established (after a period of tone trolling) the Regulars at a blog find they have made an emotional investment in saving the soul of the troll. It is now time for the troll to cry no warming since 1998 and let slip the bowels of stupid.

Since the regulars have made an investment, they are unwilling to cut the revealed troll lose and ignore them. So they continue to correspond with the troll. A casual reader sees questions and answers followed up by more questions. Casual reader leaves thinking ‘by golly there <i>is</i> debate’ <b>and</b> the sockpuppet troll has wasted the time of half-dozen genuine-people (TM).

So, I suggest probation. For new users that ask questions <b>insist</b> that they pick <b>one</b> issue and then LOCK their discussion to that issue. That is they can only participate in discussion about their one issue (e.g. no warming since 1998). If they are unwilling to accept the science on that issue then they are banned <b>forever</b>as a troll.

This means we break the emotional connection to frequent trolls and force them to go through the process of establishing a new persona again.

This takes great discipline. Trolls will go away for a few days and then jump straight back in to a new thread. When you see them then politely remind them of their unanswered question. Make sure you link to it. Anyone looking (and I know it won’t be very many people) will see a trail of evasiveness.

2012-02-21 09:04:21
scaddenp

p.scadden@gns.cri...
161.65.53.59

I like the idea of being able to move comments (badly needed) but at moment it is more work for moderators who have to decide where it goes.

An alternative might be a no-reply email address. From that comment is deleted and sent back to author with stock response (eg "repost in an appropriate thread", "Edit for inflammatory language" etc.) So for moderator you have button which is "reject" (starts the email) and then choose reason. Because it is a no-reply (mails to that address to black hole), you cant get email discussions going. It puts onus on posters to edit their own work for compliance instead of the moderator and find the right place.

2012-02-21 09:13:53
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley
gcc@cmp.uea.ac...
88.108.208.125

Doug, I have done something similar via moderator comments a couple of times and found that it was pretty effective.  Essentially what I did was to walk the troll step by step through the particular issue in such a way that it would make them look stupid not to agree with each step (which were all very small) until they were at the point of not being able to defend their position anymore.  However, this isn't really sanctioned by the comments policy as it stands, and have only done it as a last resort.

Doing this via moderator comments makes it unavoidable for the troll.

The comments policy should not permit disruptive behviour.  Perhaps the way to deal with this would be to allow the moderators to take them to a sub-thread where only the moderator and troll could discuss the issue until the moderator was happy with the responses.  At that point the troll would be released back into the community.  This would make the process transparent but would still prevent disruptive behaviour.

It is a shame we have to do something like this, it isn't how we want it to be.

2012-02-21 10:17:22
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

The easist way to deal with trolls would be to incorporate a "no littering" prohibition into the guidelines.

I also support using progressive discipline to keep the trolls in check. (Something that the Yooper was quite good at.)

Speaking of the Yooper, I suspect that he is suffering from battle fatique. Perhaps once he's had a chance to recharge his batteries, we can coax him back.

2012-02-21 10:25:43
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

JC:

For the record, I hold you in high esteem and have great respect for all that have done, are doing, and will do in the future.  

Having said that, I do believe you are a tad green when it comes to "supervising" others.  There are some good lessons to be learned from this particular episode. I sense that you have learned them.

2012-02-21 11:35:37Supervising others
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.175.176

I'll be the first to admit that, John. As I said to Dikran in an email this morning, as a leader of a team, I make a great blogger.

This community has just sprung out of nowhere spontaneously and been working amazingly well. But as I often say, we're playing a long game and need to set up structures that will last long-term. So if anyone feels the need to offer unsolicited advice on how I can be managing SkS better, please, I'm sure I need the advice - my email is john@skepticalscience.com

2012-02-21 14:26:33
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
134.153.162.53

yikes... only just stumbled on this. I will be sad to see DB go. He was always one of the more active users. I think that it's important to be consistant in how rules are applied and as such I can see why there is an impasse. I wonder if there are any solutions to this?

2012-02-21 15:39:21Scaddenp's Brilliant idea
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.180.137

Very short on time at the moment, but I would like to emphasize that I think scaddenp's idea at 9:04 am above is excellent, and should be incorporated.  It removes the possibilty of reasonable accusations of censorship in that we are inviting the poster to resubmit, and making it easier for them by returning the original post for their edting or resubmission.  It also firmly puts the onus and workload on the trolls rather than on the moderators.  

2012-02-21 16:01:11
Alex C

coultera@umich...
67.194.33.98

I like that idea as well.

2012-02-22 10:07:55
skywatcher

andycasely@hotmail...
122.107.164.176

Not too happy to read that DB is leaving, I think that's a big loss to SkS.  Much as I respect that he feels he has good reasons, I hope that he'll return one day, he's done a quite amazing job in the time I've been commenting at SkS, whether in comments, moderation or posting.

2012-02-22 16:36:35
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.92.90.117

Not too happy to read that DB is leaving

Me not happy either. The comments threads seem to be going down the shitter already.

Personally, threads which end up endlessly debating garbage with deniers is a turn-off for me. I believe it is for many readers too, but have no evidence to back this up. 

2012-02-22 20:20:18
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley
gcc@cmp.uea.ac...
88.108.208.125

Rob, I agree, but at the moment am a bit hesitant to moderate posts unless they are a clear violation of the comments policy as it stands (although I have been trying to monitor things a bit more in DBs absence).  Adam/Elsa/Ken/Camburn etc are trolling pretty effectively at the moment, but are staying within the word of the comments policy.

2012-02-22 20:55:07To the current primary Moderators
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.180.137

- that is, to Dikran, Rob Painting, Muoncounter, and John Hartz - who appear to have taken up most of the moderation load since Daniel took his leave, do you think the moderation policy proposed here is adequate for you to do the job preventing trolls from clogging up discussion threads?  As the people with the primary work load, your opinion on the issue is most important after John's (and Daniel's, who even if he won't return still has a great deal of expertise to contribute).

 

It has now been four months since I first posted a concrete proposal for revision of the comments policy, and there was significant discussion of the need for revision before then.  That is too long a time for this sort of issue to drag on, so it needs to be settled.  Primarilly, it needs to be setttled between the moderators, who must enforce the policy, and use the policy to keep SkS a pleasant and informative place to discuss AGW; and John Cook, whose website it is.  Therefore the question is, are you happy with the proposal, and is John happy? 

 

My typing up drafts and being a gadfly will do nothing, in the end, to resolve this issue unless you speak up one way or the other.

2012-02-22 23:47:40
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley
gcc@cmp.uea.ac...
139.222.2.90

Tom, your typing/gadfly efforts are appreciated, and some of the suggestions you made are a real improvement (e.g. dogpiling rule).  I have updated it a bit and added some comments and would recommend the other moderators wade in as well.

2012-02-23 05:07:07
Sphaerica

Bob@Lacatena...
72.74.77.39

John,

If I may make a few suggestions... lightening the load on the moderators, by making moderation an easy read-and-click affair, should be a major goal.  A simple way to migrate off-topic comments is one way.

I would also suggest another approach (in addition to easy migratation and flat-out deletion): "embargoing".  Have an "embargo" button with a way to enter reasons similar to deletion ("Off topic", "too long", "contains an unsupported assertion", "contains a repetition of a climate myth", "obfuscation").  Leave the comment in place with text that is only visible to the author of the comment and to moderators, but hilighted so the author and moderators can see that the comment is embargoed.

Such comments will also have an "unembargo" button for moderators if the author can properly state his case with an ammending comment.

The point here is that the moderation policy can then be both a little more subjective and take less effort.  Since you aren't permanently deleting a comment, you don't have to hesitate as much and keep giving trolls rope to hang themselves with.  If it rubs you at all wrong, just embargo the comment.  If they complain and make a valid argument, it can be un-embargoed.

At the same time, because they are getting feedback and not being banned or having the comment entirely deleted (even though others can't see it), perhaps they can ammend their behavior to reduce the number of embargoed comments they create.  The trolls get better feedback, rather than simply seeing their comments disappear.  And visitors can then see the trail of troll droppings, with some explanation as to why, and can then see if the troll rectified the problem or just left when called out.

Separately, instead of a drop down menu for migrating comments, I'd suggest tying it to the search functionality.  A drop down lengthy menu might be too cumbersome to navigate.

2012-02-23 05:20:43
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley
gcc@cmp.uea.ac...
139.222.14.107

Sphaerica's suggestion sounds like a good idea, certainly worth considering.

2012-02-23 08:17:06
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

We've got too many parallel chat threads going on this matter. Can we fous on one?

2012-02-23 09:32:10
Albatross
Julian Brimelow
stomatalaperture@gmail...
23.17.186.57

Hi Tom,

Sorry for taking so long to reply to you question @20 Feb 2012, 2:56 PM, I have being making a determined (yet unsuccessful) attempt to limit my acticities here so as to focus on more pressing personal and work issues.

I should set the record straight and clarify my position.  I erred when I said "I am not at all happy with the amendments to the moderation policy"  [I have struck out the erroneous comment in that post].  I think that the suggestions are good ones, and I am pleased to read that there is a determined effort to update the comments policy and deal with the troll and thread hijacking issues. 

With that said, my concern at the time of writing that post was the recent reinstatement of Ken Lambert and Camburn-- that is what I was referring to when I made reference to the "intended path".  Most of us seem equally frustrated and annoyed by that-- especially those people who are in the trenches have to play whack-a-mole with their trolling.

Unfortunately, losing Daniel is a great loss and he has left a big hole to fill.  He might have made mistakes (who doesn't) and his moderating style may have not always been inconsistent with the comments policy at times, but in the end his moderating was very successful at dealing with trolls and thread hijacking. So I can only begin to imagine his frustration at having Lambert reinstated after all the time he spent moderating him and BP and others. As someone who briefly had a very brief go at moderating it is bloody difficult and stressful and time consuming, and even with the guidelines, it remains subjective.

You (and others) have cleary invested a lot of thought and time into updating the mdoerating policy, so I am confident that in the end it will be better and hopefully designed in such a way as to make the moderators' job easier. Hopefully it can be implemented soon.

2012-02-23 11:02:02
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.180.137

Sphaerica, I very much like your idea of an embargo function.  If it is possible, however, it should be coupled with the ability of to allow the author to edit the embargoed comment so that it complies with the comments policy, and for moderators to make notes.  The later is so that moderators can (but do not need to) guide posters through the issues so that they can make their comment compliant.  This would require a clear flag so moderators can see that a comment has been edited without having to read through it each time.

This could further be extended by allowing moderators to highlight the specific text that results in the post being embargoed.  If this is done, posts which are currently snipped can be highlighted and embargoed to allow the original commentors to do their own editing.  (The snipping of comments is subject to much criticism in deniersville.  I do not think that criticism is valid, but do think allowing authors to bring their own comments into compliance is a superior system.)

Finally, if we do introduce this system, a drop down menu of an authors posts currently embargoed would be handy (prefereably placed next to the comments menu).  For moderators, the same menu could show all currently embargoed comments for convenience.

Having said that, I do not know the programing load involved in various proposals.  If it comes to a choice, I think it is more important to include the function that returns deleted posts to commentors than to embargo function, and more important to include the embargo function than to include my suggested bells and whistles.

With relation to the drop down menu, I think it would be handy to have a drop down function, and to always move comments to a related myth rebutal where one exists rather than to a blog post.  However, I have been thinking that because the number of basic myths is getting so long, it would be good to have a new page showing the myths grouped by subject matter.  Ideally this would have a treed structure to make searching logical and easy.  If the drop down function for the moderators had that structure, that would make life easier for them.  We could also include a search function for posts that do not fit easilly in any particular myth rebutal. 

2012-02-23 11:02:22
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.180.137

Albatross, thankyou for the clarrification.

2012-02-23 11:36:42
scaddenp

p.scadden@gns.cri...
161.65.53.59

Well the embargo idea seems like a lot of work for moderators. I still reckon it should thrown back to the commentator to figure it.

2012-02-23 12:08:17
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey
yooper49855@hotmail...
97.83.150.37

I was not going to venture anything further because I didn't want to sway any unduly, but...

One of the big bugaboos is transparency...or more properly, the lack of it, in the moderation/comments process.  Any revisions to the Comments Policy should keep that in mind. 

  1. Thus bouncing rejected comments back to the originator to "correct their work" is a good thing. 
  2. Also, the Deleted Comments bin MUST be made public.  All of it, not just the most recent 50-60 comments.  If that turns the Deleted Comments bin into a "Wall of Shame" or a "Bore Hole" then so be it.
  3. Users should be able to search for all of their, or any else's, comments.  And not just the first 40-60.  And these should also include comments that were removed/deleted.  This will also aid the moderators as well.
  4. Moderators need to be able to query/search by IP address.  This will root out those "Seemingly-paid" by the likes of HI to spam threads under multiple user names.
  5. Moderators need a function to reassign comments more easily to the appropriate threads, leaving a placeholder redirect sign/stub in its wake.  I know how to do this but it's a real PITA (very labour-intensive).  This needs to include the Deleted Comments bin, as sometimes...sh*t happens and comments get accidentally deleted (I can workaround/fix this too but it's a bigger PITA than anything else).
  6. When a moderator opens up a comment for moderation, there needs to be the equivalent of a "moderation dashboard" or command palette.  This would include a 1-2-3 set of indicators showing if a user had received moderation (recently) and how many times.  A second set of indicators would show how many official warnings the user had received, if any (only two would be needed, at most, as an egregious comment being moderated already possessing 2 official warnings would then be a candidate for the boot).  I guess that would mean the 3rd strike is the out, as 3 warnings mandate a chance for strike 4 being the coup de grace...(this is a negotiable point).  And the really bad ones can still warrant banishment at the moderator's discretion.
  7. Both the standard moderator's window AND the Comment Preview box need to be WYSIWYG boxes.  It would ease the moderation workload to not have to hand-code urls using html tags when you could just apply the tag directly to the text.  Same with images.  And ditto for the user (but they don't need the full WYSIWYG functionality, just Bold, Italic, Underline, Indent, Hyperlink Text and Image Insert [with a max width limiter pre-built in]).
  8. The cases of users banished by the moderators would be reviewed by a small team of moderators/arbiters to ensure due process.  Basically, that comment (and the context in which it was made) by that user precipitating banishment (and any subsequent comments made by that user before their case being reviewed) would be reviewed to ensure proper due process had been achieved.  Best two out of 3 consigns the offender to oblivion or reinstatement.  If oblivion, then the commenting privileges revocation becomes official & their IP's (all of them) are banned (and the hard-coding/soft-coding of IP's bottleneck needs to be surgically excised; too many spammers are getting back in to quickly).

My 2.4 cents.

2012-02-23 14:16:17
logicman

logicman_alf@yahoo.co...
86.183.238.167

Daniel: good to see that you are still here.

The only reason that I don't put myself forward as a moderator is that I am already snowed under and can't put in a lot of time due to illness.  That said, I have moderated elsewhere, so I have a little experience.

I like your list of 8 points: I think that it is something well worth discussing.

 

May I add a principle from law that is all too often overlooked by over-officious law enforcement officers:

every law which requires or forbids something shall be taken to be breached only if the breach was done without reasonable cause.

All too often a police officer will refuse to engage in discussion about reasonable cause.  But consider a banned or unlicensed driver who drives someone to a hospital in order to save their life.  Most people would call that reasonable cause to break the law.

My point is that all moderators should have a degree of discretion to decide, not if a rule was breached according to an over-rigid application of the rule, but was breached without reasonable cause.

I think that trolling, dog-piling, personal insults and such would come under the 'unreasonable' heading.

 

None of the above is intended as a criticism of any SkS contributor or of site policy - it's just me suggesting that what is good when properly applied in common law might be worthy of consideration here.

 

Not being a lawyer I am not entitled to charge 2 cents, even though you may value my contribution to that exact amount.  ;-)

2012-02-23 14:31:57
scaddenp

p.scadden@gns.cri...
161.65.53.59

"Moderators need a function to reassign comments more easily to the appropriate threads, leaving a placeholder redirect sign/stub in its wake. "

If commentor get back a deleted comment, with message "Off-topic put in appropriate thread", then you are offloading that work to the commentator where it belongs. If standard response includes clues like "use the search button", then someone who wants their opinion published can find a way to do so.

2012-02-23 15:27:34
Andy S

skucea@telus...
209.121.15.232
I have only just stumbled on this thread and I was very sad to read that Daniel is planning to leave us. I haven't been following the moderation policy closely (obviously) but reading through this thread, I have to wonder why passions are running so high on what seem to me to be small details of policy. I would make a really crappy moderator and I take my hat off to everyone who takes on this unpleasant, thankless but essential job. Daniel, may I suggest, plead actually, that you take a few months off the moderation task, don't even read the comment threads (I rarely do) and devote yourself to writing and editing blog posts; you're a very good writer and I have always valued your editing comments.
2012-02-24 03:02:05
Sphaerica

Bob@Lacatena...
72.74.77.39

As an FYI, many of these suggestions are good, and my exerience of following a career of software-engineering-design-principles says that we must "remember the goal."  In this case the goal is to make moderation simpler, so that more people can do it, and the people who do do it spend less time doing it. (And the task of moderation is certainly doo-doo).

So ideas like counting past moderation requirements, easy migration/embargo, feedback to users (to help them to conform to the policy and thus reduce the actual need for moderation), WYSIWYG functionality, and more are also good.

I'd also suggest a "report comments violation" link that can be clicked by anyone.  That way all sorts of regulars who don't want the awesome power and responsibility of moderation can still help by flagging possible offenses.  That would really help, if everyone in the forum took on the task of pointing out comments that might be moderation violations, so the moderators can focus on those rather than tediously reading every comment posted to find the violations.

But with all that said...

All of this is a lot of programming work.  John and I are working on getting the infrastructure of the site to the point where someone other than John can work on things like this.  Once we get there, we can get some volunteers to start fleshing out functionality like we're describing, but... it is a lot of work, and sometimes the easy-looking things are really hard (like any functionality at all for finding the post/myth/page to which to move a comment) and the hard-looking things are easy (like actually moving the comment, or incorporating WYSIWYG onto the moderation page).

I think what we will need eventually is a separate thread of "moderation system enhancement suggestions".  With that, we will need to prioritize the suggestions according to what will really help meet the original goal, which is to reduce the effort needed for moderation, combined with the effort each suggestion witll take.  Suggestions must be granular enough to separate the things that are easy from the things that are hard (e.g. a "migrate" facility with a plain-but-hard-to-use drop-down menu is way, way easier than the same functionality with a well organized browse-tree or a search function).

Along those lines, I would strongly suggest:

1) The "report abuse" link for all users, so moderators can easily focus on the chaff and skip the wheat.

2) Transparency (e.g. replace deleted/migrated/embargoed comments with text that says "Removed/Moved for this reason...") so that violators get some feedback and start to police themselves.

3) The things that Daniel, due to his experience, feel are important (like better comment searching, IP reporting, counting of moderation complaints, WYSIWYG).

4) Everything else.

2012-02-24 10:59:21
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.180.137

Sphaerica, what you say makes good sense.  I recognize that the effort in programming is large, and often counter intuiitive.  Consequently any coded changes to how moderation is done are going to have to be done on the basis of as, and when those doing the coding have the time to do the work.

 

However, in terms of what needs doing, I am wary of a "report abuse" button.  The simple fact is that our commentors and readers are dominated by people who are pro-climate science.  The consequence is that abuses by deniers will be reported with alacrity (and multiple times).  In contrast, abuses by pro-climate scientists may well be passed over. If moderators become reliant on a report abuse function as a substitute for actually reading the posts, the consequence will be to biase the moderation - one of the things we are trying to avoid.

 

If you want something along those lines, it may be better to sign up some regulars including deniers/sketpics who are not inclined towards trolling such as eric (skeptic), and non-forum regulars such as actually thoughtfull as moderator assistants.  Moderator assistants can then be given the ability to report abuses but also the clear direction to do so even handedly.  That ability can then be withdrawn from people who abuse it, or from people who show consistent bias in the reporting of abuses.

 

That, of course, undoubtedly involves more coding than your suggestion, for which I apologize.   

2012-02-25 01:24:22
Sphaerica

Bob@Lacatena...
72.74.77.39

Tom,

Good points.  Certainly, the report abuse link/button could be made available only to forum members, and invisible to others.

Alternately, it could be used in and in conjunction with the "profiling" that Dan mentioned (i.e. tracking how often a user is moderated).

That is, by tracking how often a user's comments are moderated/deleted/migrated/embargoed, we will begin to have a numerical evaluation of who is and is not trolling.  This could even be turned into a hard-and-fast points system, where a user who goes over a certain point total (or points-per-month) is automatically banished.  This takes away the human factor in deciding when to ban someone, and how quickly to re-ban them if they are re-instated.

But this can also easily be applied to filter the "report abuse" link (i.e. if they themselves are on the shit-list, then ignore their reports).

But as far as simplicity goes, the easiest solution would be to add the "report abuse" link for forum members only.