2010-09-06 09:05:50How Skeptical Science moderation works
John Cook


Users who have moderation abilities can delete any comments. There is a relatively small group of moderators - the hope is that with moderators across different time zones, any trolling comments are removed quickly before they start a flame war - after which it's difficult to clean out the comments thread without deleting entire discussions. The motto of the "Society of Junior Moderators" (as we like to call ourselves) is:

Operor non nutritor trolls
(Don't feed the trolls)

Eg - resist the temptation to react to trolling, provocative comments - giving them attention is what they want best. Instead, the best reaction to a trolling comment is to simply delete it. If trolls find they're not getting the attention they crave, they'll simply move onto other websites where their efforts bear more fruit.

If you wish to become a moderator, email me at john@skepticalscience.com and I'll upgrade your account. Moderation doesn't impose much of an extra obligation on a person - it's just a matter of as you read through the comments, if you happen to see a dodgy comment that violates the Comments Policy, simply delete it. The comment is removed from the comments thread and sent off to purgatory (aka the Deleted Comments page)

Which comments can you delete?

Any comments containing the following should be deleted:

  • Accusations of deception
  • Personal attacks of scientists, skeptics or fellow commenters
  • Political rants
  • Accusations that the opposition is holding 'religious beliefs'
  • ALL CAPs
  • Repeat comments (eg - copy and past of an earlier comment or comments posted across different threads)
  • Off-topic comments

Ideally avoid moderating discussions that you're directly involved with to avoid accusations of bias or skewing the discussion unfairly. So if someone you're discussing with posts inappropriate comments, leave it to someone else to judge, except for definite blatant violations of comment policy.

Posting responses to comments

You can post a direct response to a comment. This will take the form of a blue box directly beneath the comment. Here are the guidelines on what's appropriate to post in a direct response to a comment:

  • It's important to remain emotionally detached when posting a direct moderator response. Avoid using the first person singular pronoun in a moderation note. Eg- moderators act as a collective consciousness; no such thing as "I" or "me." Remember, there's no I in moderation (oh, wait, there is).
  • Responses are primarily for administrative purposes - redirect comments to more relevant pages, admonishments about repeated policy violations
  • If the moderator is the author of the blog post, they can post direct responses to questions directed at them but it's important their tone is detached and dispassionate - no flame wars!
  • If the moderator is not the author, avoid posting a direct response except for administrative responses. It's important to maintain impartiality of the moderators.
  • If moderator posts a direct response to a comment (that is not administrative), identify yourself with a [name] in the response
  • Some comments may be somewhat relevant because it's responding to something in the original article or a previous comment - however, they are off-topic because they argue a point that has been covered on another page. In this case, respond by clicking the Edit link then add your response with text like "This topic is already covered at LINK". To link to other Skeptical Science page, you can obtain HTML code here. It's recommended you select HTML Link which is better than simply pasting the URL.
  • Once you've posted a response to an off-topic comment, if there are additional comments on the same off-topic subject, feel free to delete them - they've been warned.

Editing Comments

You also have the ability to edit comments but it's strongly recommended you do this as little as possible. Eg - mainly to correct technical errors like bad HTML. If you're going to tweak your own comments, don't go too crazy rewriting past history (I've seen enough Doctor Who episodes to know that can only end badly).

Labelling Spam

There is a SPAM link beneath each comment. Clicking this disables the commenter's user account, labelling them as a 'spammer'. It also deletes every single comment they ever posted on SkS. Only use this for blatant spam! Eg - spam comments that advertise viagra or Nigerian scams. Don't use it to label a legitimate commenter as a spammer.

2010-09-06 15:28:37Accusations that the opposition is holding 'religious beliefs'
James Wight


Does this rule still apply on threads about the nature of science and/or the psychology and motivations behind climate change denial?

I ask because yesterday on the thread for the blog post “Is climate science settled?”, thingadonta posted a comment comparing climate scientists to Aztecs sacrificing humans to a Sun God. I was tempted to delete it, but instead decided to respond. Numerous other commenters have also responded to thingadonta, until CBW complained that the moderators should have just deleted the comment in the first place.

It’s probably too late to delete that discussion now, but similar situations are likely to arise again, so I want to know: should I have deleted thingadonta’s comment?

PS: Do you think we should start an “AGW is religion” thread to which we can direct all these commenters?

2010-09-06 15:43:35IDs of known "trolls"?


I'm wondering if it might help new moderators if we had a readily available list of "usual suspects" - meaning commenters who tend to have their comments deleted? IDs like thingadonta or factfinder come to mind but there might be others which moderators should be on the lookout for.

Could it perhaps also make sense to keep repeat offenders (from looking at recent comments, I'd say people like factfinder) from posting comments in the first place?



2010-09-06 22:46:10Sun god post
John Cook

Should you have deleted thingadonta's post? In a word, yes :-) it violated several policies - equating the opposition with religion, inflammatory rhetoric, political overtones. By the time I'd noticed it, a whole discussion had sprung up around it and the horse had bolted. Maybe I could post a top ten moderated users list so moderators can keep an eye out for serial offenders. Note - I do every now and then ban a user - just the other day, I banned a guy who accused me and the site of fraud. There's no possibility of good faith discussion with such a person so I banned him after deleting his comments.
2010-09-07 21:12:50Moderate comments before they show up?


I'm wondering if it could make sense to put certain "repeat offenders" on moderation so that their comments do not show up unless they have been approved by one of the moderators. That way, we wouldn't get replies to comments which should have been deleted...

This would give us the means to act instead of having to react after the fact.


2010-09-07 23:35:57Preemptive editing idea
John Cook


Interesting idea - two problems I can see. One is the screaming and complaining from those blacklisted. That's not a deal breaker for me. Of more concern is the amount of programming required. :-)

It's actually not that difficult to program so comments on this idea are welcome.

2010-09-08 05:48:50Deleted comments and reasons why


Hi John,

do you keep more than the latest 30 (or so) deleted comments we can see on the deleted comments page? I would like to better quantify which commenters have their comments deleted for which reason and how often this happens. If we had this type of information we could come up with some rules of which commenters should perhaps be put on moderation to avoid issues like the one Ned mentions in "moderation massacre" (eg. having more than 10 comments deleted due to accusation of fraud, lying and/or being inflammatory should be a very good reason to be put on moderation while "reply to deleted comment" wouldn't really be a reason for moderation). In order for such a "statistic" to be at least somewhat meaningful, I'd obviously need a lot more data than 30 entries.



2010-09-09 03:41:30Detachment


May I suggest also that moderators not use moderator boxes in comments threads as a platform for discussion?

I'm not sure who's doing the moderating, but in an entirely understandable way the moderator at this


thread has been drawn into a discussion w/Roger Pielke Sr.

This is not good.  

It's my understanding that remarks in moderator boxes should be confined to the bare minimum required for administrative necessity, such as redirecting comments to a more appropriate thread, admonishments about repeated policy violations and the like.  

2010-09-09 08:43:10Moderator reply policy
John Cook


Generally speaking, the moderator boxes are just used for pointing to an on-topic page. However, I do use the 'response box' to directly respond to people that direct questions to myself. So in this regard, one exception to the rule would be if a moderator submitted a blog post then a comment is addressed directly at them. At that point, it might be appropriate for the moderator/author to directly respond.

Of course, it's a murky area - we don't want moderators dragged into a flame war in the 'official website response' so it would be important that responses are "detached" as Doug puts it - not emotional, inflammatory or personal. Just laying out the facts in a dispassionate manner - that's the approach I always try to take.

In the case of Graham directly responding to Pielke, well, I'm a little one way or the other. In a back-and-forth discussion, probably better to post it in a comment. On the other hand, nice to get a direct response but it can be a slippery slope.

So I'd welcome thoughts on whether we should tighten up the 'moderator response policy'. At the moment, the policy is unofficially this:

  • Responses are primarily for administrative purposes - redirect comments to more relevant pages, admonishments about repeated policy violations
  • If the moderator is the author of the blog post, they can post direct responses to questions directed at them but it's important their tone is detached and dispassionate - no flame wars!
  • If moderator posts a direct response to a comment (that is not administrative), then they identify themselves with a [name] in their response
2010-09-09 23:23:13


Good point about an author being able to use a moderator box when dealing w/questions about an article. That seems entirely appropriate, especially if the convention in that case is to include the author's name in the moderator box so readers are clear that they're hearing from the author of the work.

Other than the case of authors responding to comments/questions etc. on "own" articles I don't think it's good to engage in any form of discussion via moderator boxes. Impartiality of moderator comments is an important tool in maintaining the tone of the site.

I don't think tightening in general is necessary, just that we bear in mind the inherently administrative function of moderation. As well it's good to remember that more than one person may end up moderating a thread as the globe revolves; detachment in moderator boxes makes it more practical to distribute this work.   

2010-09-09 23:59:01Updated initial post
John Cook


Thanks for bringing this up for discussion, Doug. I've added clarifying text to the guidelines in the top post.

Moderation is working fantastically well at Skeptical Science. Still, good to have these tweaks and minor adjustments of course along the way to keep things running ship shape :-)

2010-10-15 17:41:56


Will the person doing this moderation:

 I deleted cloa513's comment because it was off topic for this thread. cloa513, please peruse the "Arguments" page to find a more relevant thread.


 Since we didn't stop the off topic discussion earlier, I'll let your concise (thank you) response stay. But everybody please take further off-topic comments to other threads. 

please remember, the rest of us are not you? Please don't use "I" or "I'll," etc.  


Edit: Needless to say, JohnC's moderation is distinguishable by the color of his remarks (both literally and metaphorically) and in any case it's his site... :-) 

2010-11-06 03:51:36


Along the lines of Doug's comment above, I see someone has been adding a lot of Moderator's responses on the current page (p. 6) of the "Models are Unreliable" rebuttal (http://skepticalscience.com/argument.php?a=15&p=6#29933).

Here's one example:

Response: Albatross, obviously I don't speak for John, but I see nothing wrong with it. As a teaching tool, it may also have more value if you cross-post it over on the The value of coherence in science thread. Thanks!

I agree with Doug's point that comments from Moderators Who Are Not John Cook should avoid using "I" like this.  If we're just acting as a generic moderator, we should probably keep it impersonal and avoid using any first-person pronouns.  On the other hand, if we're speaking in our role as author of a guest post, we should identify ourselves as such:

Guest post by Ned.

[Various comments]

Response:[Ned] Thanks for the suggestion; I'll update that figure caption to show ...

Actually, my preference is for those of us who aren't John Cook to avoid using those green boxes for anything except  administrative purposes (i.e., responses to the subject content of someone's comment should preferably be posted as new comments, not as "green boxes") ... but I recognize that not everybody (almost nobody?) may agree with me on that.