2012-02-21 18:49:12Dikran's challenge:
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.180.137

Dikran makes the challenge that:

"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."

Well, removing subjectivity is impossible, although it can be minimized.  To do so, however, you need to have specific and appropriate policies.  To that end, I will "put up" (as I have already before) .  What follows is a revised version of my proposed changes of the moderation policy with the current policy for comparison.

I believe revising the policy is a necessary task, but something we should do quickly because we all have better uses of our time.  To facilitate that I have split the policy into areas based on purpose.  I request that disussion focus on the particular areas, so that when we reach agreement, or JC makes a final decision in a given area, we can just flag the change and move on.

I also request that in the interests of resolving the issue quickly, people state for each area whether they prefer:

The current or proposed policy;

Whether they think the current or proposed policy needs minor ammendment to be acceptable, and state the ammendment they think is prefferable;

If relevant, that they state whether they think an entirely different policy is more suitable, and if so, state the explicit wording they think is preffereable; and

Only after the above, give their reasons for their views.

By focussing on particular wording, I hope the discussion will become more focussed, and more rapidly reach a conclusion. 

Finally, I have not discussed appropriate guidelines for moderators.  I believe the best thing to do is to resolve clearly what tools the moderators will have in order to keep discussion pleasant, focussed and as troll free as possible.  Having done so we can then determine the guidlines that will give the best and most consistent results from those tools.

Introductions:

 

Current:

"The main purpose of the discussion threads is that we all develop a greater understanding of the science. To that end, the following rules must be followed when posting comments:"

Proposed alternative:

"The purpose of the discussion threads is to allow notification and correction of errors in the article, and to permit clarrification of related points. Though we believe the only genuine debate on the science of Global Warming is that which occurs in the scientific literature, we welcome genuine discussion as both an aid to understanding and a means of corecting our inadvertent errors.  To facilitate genuine discussion, we have a zero tolerance approach to trolling and sloganeering To that end:"

Comment:  The expanded introduction provides a summary justification for some of the following rules, and the reason why we have such a tight moderation policy compared to other sites.  By stating the purpose of discussion, it will also allow moderators to advise commentors when they think they are not commenting in that spirit.  (Note, not commenting in the spirit of the discussion should not be a moderatible offence.  But by flagging instances, moderators can both give a soft warning that commentors are in danger of violating the comments policy, and also flag commentors as probably trolling for onlookers.)

Keeping discussions on topic:

 

Current:

"No off topic comments. Stick to the subject at hand. If you have something to say about an unrelated topic, use the Search form in the left margin to find the appropriate page."

Proposed alternative:

"All comments must be on topic. Comments are on topic if they draw attention to possible errors of fact or interpretation in the main article, of if they discuss the immediate implications of the facts discussed in the main article. However, general discussions of Global Warming not explicitly related to the details of the main article are always off topic."

"Make comments in the most appropriate thread.  Some comments, while strictly on topic, may related to issues discussed in more detail in some other thread.  Extended discussion of those points should be carried out in the more appropriate thread, with link backs to reference the discussion as needed.  Moderator's directions to move discussion to a more appropriate thread should always be followed."

Comments:  The proposed modifications simply expand the original to make explicit what is, and is not on topic; and to explicitly allow moderators to move discussion to more appropriate threads.

Anti-trolling:

 

Current: 

"No link or pic only. Links to useful resources are welcome (see HTML tips below). However, comments containing only a link will be deleted. At least provide a short summary of the content of the webpage to facilitate discussion (and show you understand the page you're linking to). Similarly, images are very welcome as they can be very useful in explaining the science. But comments with pictures in isolation without explanation will be deleted."

Proposed: 

"Comments should avoid excessive repetition. Discussions which circle back on themselves and involve endless repititions of points already discussed do not help clarrify relevant points. They are merely tiresome to participants, and a barrier to readers of the discussion. If moderators believe you to have been excessively repetitive, they will advise you as such, and any further repitition will be treated as being off topic.

Comments should be candid and well supported. Any comment which does not reflect your genuinely held opinion (except where you explicitly indicate that you are playing “devil's advocate”) are not welcome. Further, claims of fact or analysis should in general be backed up by detailed and publicly accessible sources, prefferably from the peer reviewed literature. Persistent disregard of this criterion will result in warnings, with future violations being treated as being off topic.

No sloganeering.  Comments consisting of simple assertion of a myth already debunked by one of the main articles, and which contain no relevant counter argument or evidence from the peer reviewed literature constitutes trolling rather than genuine discussion.  As such they will be deleted.  If you think our debunking of one of those myths is in error, you are welcome to discuss that on the relevant thread, provided you give substantial reasons for believing the debunking is in error.  It is asked that you do not clutter up threads by responding to comments that consist just of slogans. 

No link or picture only. Any link or picture should be accompanied by text summarizing both the content of the link or picture, and showing how it is relevant to the topic of discussion. Failure to do both of these things will result in the comment being considered off topic. "

Comments:  These clauses are explicitly designed to limit trolling, and to force the more intelligent trolls towards genuine discussion.  I do not think they can be expanded on without becoming arbitrary, even though I do not think they can eliminate all trolling.  However, they will certainly minimize it.

Politeness:

Current:

"No accusations of deception. Any accusations of deception, fraud, dishonesty or corruption will be deleted. This applies to both sides. Stick to the science. You may criticise a person's methods but not their motives.

No ad hominem attacks. Attacking other users or anyone holding a different opinion to you is common in debates but gets us no closer to understanding the science. For example, comments containing the words 'religion' and 'conspiracy' tend to get deleted. Comments using labels like 'alarmist' and 'denier' are usually skating on thin ice.

No politics. Rants about politics, religion, faith, ideology or one world governments will be deleted.

No ALL CAPS. You can't have a civil, constructive discussion if you're shouting.

No profanity or inflammatory tone. Again, constructive discussion is difficult when overheated rhetoric or profanity is flying around.

No cyber stalking. Posting personal details of another user results in your account being banned from Skeptical Science."

Proposed: 

"No accusations of deception.  Any accusations of deception, fraud, dishonesty or corruption will be deleted. This applies to both sides. Stick to the science. You may criticize a person's methods but not their motives.

No ad hominem attacksAttacking other users or anyone holding a different opinion to you is common in debates but gets us no closer to understanding the science. For example, comments containing the words 'religion' and 'conspiracy' tend to get deleted. Comments using labels like 'alarmist' and 'denier' are usually skating on thin ice.

No politics. Rants about politics, religion, faith,  ideology or one world governments will be deleted.  Occasional blogposts on Skeptical Science touch on issues intimately related to politics.  For those posts this rule may be relaxed, but only if that is explicitly stated at the end of the blogpost.

No ALL CAPSYou can't have a civil, constructive discussion if you're shouting.

 No profanity or inflammatory toneAgain, constructive discussion is difficult when overheated rhetoric or profanity is flying around.

 No cyber stalkingPosting personal details of another user results in your account being banned from Skeptical Science.

 No dogpiling.  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.  On topic comments on othe matters not being discussed by the primary disputants will still be welcome."

 

Technical issues:

Current: 

"No copying and pasting from other comments. If you wish to refer to earlier comments, you can hyperlink directly to them. To make this easier, note that with each comment, the date/time is a hyperlink. If you link to this URL, clicking on the link will take you directly to that part of the page."

Proposed:

"No multiple identities.  Posting comments at Skeptical Science should use only one registered screen name.

No copying and pasting from other comments. If you wish to refer to earlier comments, you can hyperlink

directly to them. To make this easier, note that with each comment, the date/time is a hyperlink. If you link

to this URL, clicking on the link will take you directly to that part of the page.

No spamming. " Spamming will result in deletion of comments and suspension of the account without warning."

Conclusion:

Current:

"If we all followed these guidelines in any discussion, perhaps the world would be a calmer and more constructive place."

Proposed:

"Please note that posting on Skeptical Science is a privilege, not a right. We try to avoid harsh application of the comments policy in the interests of a free flowing discussion, but expect your cooperation in return. If that cooperation is not forthcoming, moderators will resort to a very strict application of the comments policy to your posts, and if persisted with, it will result in deletion of your posts, or the suspension of your posting privileges.

If we all followed these guidelines in any discussion, perhaps the world would be a calmer and more constructive place."

Comment:  We need to state clearly somewhere in the comment policy the penalties for non-compliance.

2012-02-22 08:05:07
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

TC:

What you have proposed looks good to me.

Having said that, I would add: "One response comment per post."

2012-02-22 10:07:21
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.180.137

John, by "One response comment per post" do you mean that no person should post more than one comment in response to the OP, or to any particular comment in the thread?  I'm not sure how either would work.  However, if you draft a proposed policy on it, everyone can consider it.

2012-02-22 21:53:52
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley
gcc@cmp.uea.ac...
139.222.14.107

I would go for something like (coments/explanations in [])

 

"The main purpose of the discussion threads is to foster a greater understanding of the science of climate change by addressing the errors in some of the arguments commonly encountered in the debate in the general public and in the peer-reviewed scientific litterature. To that end, the following rules must be followed when posting comments:"

[I personally dont agree that the discussion here is not part of the science - it is, just at a lower level than the peer-reviewed litterature.  Note there are plenty of posters he more than capable of writing a peer reviewed response to papers that make incorrect claims, so science is done here]

 

"Properly understanding scientific issues requires depth as well as breadth of discussion, so the articles are generally focussed on specific scientific issues.  In order to maintain this focus, the following rules must be adhered to:

  • "All comments must be on topic. Comments are on topic if they draw attention to possible errors of fact or interpretation in the main article, or if they discuss the immediate implications of the facts discussed in the main article. However, general discussions of Global Warming not explicitly related to the issue of the main article are always off topic."
  • Comments directed at the moderators are by definition off-topic and will be deleted (after reading).  Deleted comments are still visible to the moderators, and due attention will be given to your feedback.
  • "Make comments in the most appropriate thread.  Some comments, while strictly on topic, may related to issues discussed in more detail in some other thread.  Extended discussion of those points should be carried out on the more appropriate thread, with link backs to reference the discussion as needed.  Moderator's directions to move discussion to a more appropriate thread must always be followed"

[worth putting in a comment about moderation complaints]

 

Sadly on-line discussion forums inevitably attract those whose purpose is simply to disrupt the discussion (for whatever reason) or seek attention to themselves by making contraversial, often unsupported assertions in order to attract responses from as many contributors as possible.  This sort of disruptive behaviour is not acceptable, and the following rules (though not exaustive) are intended to prevent it:

  • DNFTT - The best way to prevent disruptive behaviour is not to encourage it by responding; hence the maxim "Do Not Feed The Troll".  Please pay attention to the direction from a moderator to ignore comments made by a poster.
  • Only respond to comments made by one contributor in each post. do not write long posts that address issues raised by a number of other contributors so that individual strands of the discussion within a thread can be more easily followed.
  • No Gish gallops.  Asking questions is easy, answering them properly is difficult and requires time and energy. As a result, a common technique used to spoil a discussion is to raise many issues at once in the hopes that the other participants  will waste time and energy answering all of them.  If you want to ask a question, ask one specific question, after first setting out the background and assumptions involved.
  • "Comments should avoid excessive repetition. Discussions which circle back on themselves and involve endless repititions of points already discussed do not help clarrify relevant points. They are merely tiresome to participants, and a barrier to readers of the discussion. If moderators believe you to have been excessively repetitive, they will advise you as such, and any further repitition will be treated as being off topic.
  • Comments should be candid and well supported. Any comment which does not reflect your genuinely held opinion (except where you explicitly indicate that you are playing “devil's advocate”) are not welcome. Further, claims of fact or analysis should in general be backed up by detailed and publicly accessible sources, prefferably from the peer reviewed literature. Persistent disregard of this criterion will result in warnings, with future violations being treated as being off topic.
  • No sloganeering.  Comments consisting of simple assertion of a myth already debunked by one of the main articles, and which contain no relevant counter argument or evidence from the peer reviewed literature constitutes trolling rather than genuine discussion.  As such they will be deleted.  If you think our debunking of one of those myths is in error, you are welcome to discuss that on the relevant thread, provided you give substantial reasons for believing the debunking is in error.  It is asked that you do not clutter up threads by responding to comments that consist just of slogans. 
  • No link or picture only. Any link or picture should be accompanied by text summarizing both the content of the link or picture, and showing how it is relevant to the topic of discussion. Failure to do both of these things will result in the comment being considered off topic. "
  • Accuracy is welcome, pedantry is not.  If you think there is an ambiguity in the discussion, politely ask for clarification.   Posts making pedantic quibbles, whilst ignoring the substantive point are liklely to be deleted.

The discussion must be conducted in a reasonable and polite manner:

  • "No accusations of deception.  Any accusations of deception, fraud, dishonesty or corruption will be deleted. This applies to both sides. Stick to the science. You may criticize a person's methods but not their motives.
  • No ad hominem attacksAttacking other users or anyone holding a different opinion to you is common in debates but gets us no closer to understanding the science. For example, comments containing the words 'religion' and 'conspiracy' tend to get deleted. Comments using labels like 'alarmist' and 'denier' are usually skating on thin ice.

[These two are going to present problems if we continue to have articles that focus on individuals rather than their arguments.  If the article suggests that a skeptic is not geuniine in his beliefs, or that they are an unreliable source of information, then we can hardly expect posters not to follow suit with accusations of dishonesty or ad-hominems.  I frequently find moderating such threads, especially when there are posts from other moderators that as far as I can see are accusations of dishonesty or ad-hominems (see recently deleted post by CBDunkerson)]

No politics. Rants about politics, religion, faith,  ideology or one world governments will be deleted.  Occasional blogposts on Skeptical Science touch on issues intimately related to politics.  For those posts this rule may be relaxed, but only if that is explicitly stated at the end of the blogpost.

No ALL CAPSYou can't have a civil, constructive discussion if you're shouting.

 No profanity or inflammatory toneAgain, constructive discussion is difficult when overheated rhetoric or profanity is flying around.

 No cyber stalkingPosting personal details of another user results in your account being banned from Skeptical Science.

 No dogpiling.  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.  On topic comments on othe matters not being discussed by the primary disputants will still be welcome."

[The item on dogpiling is a really good addtion, if nothing else it helps to DNFTT and limits the responses to gish gallops by reducing duplicate responses.  The designation of disputants seems like a good approach - definitely worth a try.]

  • "No multiple identities.  Posting comments at Skeptical Science should use only one registered screen name.
  • No copying and pasting from other comments. If you wish to refer to earlier comments, you can hyperlinkdirectly to them. To make this easier, note that with each comment, the date/time is a hyperlink. If you linkto this URL, clicking on the link will take you directly to that part of the page.
  • No spamming. " Spamming will result in deletion of comments and suspension of the account without warning."

[I slightly disagree with the no copying and pasting, as limited quoting should be allowed so that specific assertions can be explicitly addressed without giving wordsmiths room to wiggle out of them and prolong the discussion]

"Please note that posting on Skeptical Science is a privilege, not a right. We try to avoid harsh application of the comments policy in the interests of a free flowing discussion, but expect your cooperation in return. If that cooperation is not forthcoming, moderators will resort to a very strict application of the comments policy to your posts, and if persisted with, it will result in deletion of your posts, or the suspension of your posting privileges.

The bottom line is that you should always follow the golden rule and behave towards other contributors in the way you would want them to behave towards you in a discussion of a topic that was important you you.

If we all followed these guidelines in any discussion, perhaps the world would be a calmer and more constructive place."

2012-02-22 23:27:54
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley
gcc@cmp.uea.ac...
139.222.2.90

Just to add, I think this is getting a bit long and needs pruning.  Also it isn't an adequate response to the challenge as there is still subjectivity required.  I don't think this is a problem, we just need to set out the principles and explicitly say that these rules are not exhaustive and that posters need to use common sense to decide if their behaviour is in accordance with the principles as well as the specific rules.

2012-02-23 08:18:48
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 08:25:42
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

Tom,

Here's what I'm getting at. Let's aussme that "Adam" posts a comment. Let us further assume, that Tom Curtis, Dikran, and Rob Painting respond to adam's post. Currently, Adam is won to post a single coimment conatining a response to Tom, a response to Dikran, and a response to Rob. My proposal would require Adam to make thress separate repsonse posts. Doing so would make it easier for everyone to follow the discussion by having a specific post # to refer to.

2012-02-23 10:37:27
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.180.137

JH, thanks for the explanation.  I believe Dikran  has covered the issue in his clause immediately after the DNFTT clause.

2012-02-28 00:47:20Daniel Bailey
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.200.254

would you peruse Dikran's suggested comments policy and let us know if it is something you would preffer to the current comments policy, and if there any aspects of it you think require ammendment?

2012-02-28 10:41:15
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey
yooper49855@hotmail...
97.83.150.37

I'll give it a shot, Tom.  Give me some time to mull it over.  My pea brain's a bit taxed right now.

2012-02-29 03:28:46
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

At some point, we have to stop gumming to death the question of how best to revise the Comments Policy and make some decisions and implement those decisions. (I am repeating this on other appropriate Moderation threads.)