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Skeptical Science housekeeping: Comments Policy

Posted on 10 November 2009 by John Cook

The development of Skeptical Science is an ongoing process so here is an accounting of some of the latest developments. Nothing particularly major but I should explain changes to how I handle comments. In the past, I've been fairly tolerant with comments. Now, I delete comments if I feel they add nothing to the scientific discussion. I have no problems with comments expressing a skeptic view on global warming. In fact, I welcome them - the discussion that ensues is often educational for myself and other readers. However, I now delete any comments containing the following:

  • Rants about politics, ideology or one world governments. Keep it to the science.
  • Use of ALL CAPS. You can't have a civil, constructive discussion if you're shouting.
  • Off topic comments. Stick to the subject at hand. If you have something to say about some other topic, use the Search form in the left margin to find the appropriate page then have your say there.
  • Personal insults of other commenters.
  • Ad hominem attacks of any sort.
  • Copying and pasting content from your own earlier 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.
  • And yes, I am aware that there are past comments that break these rules. As time permits, I will be going through old comments deleting inappropriate comments - from both sides of the debate.

The general point of all these rules is to keep discussion about science. Hopefully we can treat each other with respect and learn from each other. That won't occur if we're shouting, insulting or trying to score debate points.

What else has changed? Occasionally, I post direct responses to comments. Previously, they were differentiated from the original comment by text colour. But after one commenter mistook my response as part of the original comment, I thought I should make it more obvious that my response was not part of the comment. So now my responses appear in green boxes. Of course, now the web design is becoming a bit of a box-fest which my graphic designer wife would probably disapprove of.

Lastly, the skeptic arguments are now also sorted by taxonomy. I've divided all skeptic arguments into three main categories: "It's Not Happening", "It's Not Us" and "It's Not Bad". The arguments are then subdivided into various categories. Yes, it's a nerdy thing to do. But I'm a nerd. It's in my nature.

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Comments 1 to 11:

  1. Crying against supposed censorship when one is not able to follow a few simple rules unfortunately happens way too often. Clearly those people have no idea at all on what censorship is. One question to John Cook the nerd :) I agree with you that reading comments is often very instructive, but unfortunately there no way for readers to know about new comments on old posts. Could it be possible to show the latest comments on the main page? I noticed that many blog softwares have this functionality, it would be nice to implement it here.
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    Response: I've been meaning to create an RSS feed for comments for a while - another on the to-do list :-) In the meantime, here is a webpage of the latest comments.
  2. It is clear that personal attacks and ill mannered tone do nothing but weaken one's own position. That said, it can be just as damaging, if not more destructive, to ignore sound counterpoint and reasoning. This seems to happen quite often. What you refer to as "science" is a paradigm that has its origin in Greek philosophy some 3000 years ago. This trend started as a questioning of religion or myths that were originally in place to explain workings of the natural world. In those days, many arguments and even physical fights ensued as a result of disagreement. Socrates was sentenced to death. Much later, the Inquisition formalized this process, etc. Over time, certain branches of philosophy led to the hard sciences we now know as Physics and Chemistry, and given that philosophy included subjects that couldnt always be proven, the term Philosophy has become disparaged and in many circles, at worst, equated with esoterism. But this is normally due to an ignorance of what philosophy is and its relation to the origin of science. The point is, if you cannot take a philosophical approach to discovery and learning, your "science" is in danger of becoming a religion. We can make up whatever definitions we like, but there is a big difference between scientific laws and theories (that are based on observation), and theories that leave the scientific community searching ad infinitum for observations to substantiate specific theories, and we all know which ones these are. Given that the name and stated charter of this website implies the opportunity for skepticism about science (or perhaps more precisely "science in progress"), it is generally inconsistent and circular to be countering critique with hyperlinks to irrefutable sources. What is the point of opening a forum for discussion if the irrefutable source has already established so well all there is to say? And where is the room for being skeptical? And where is the recognition for any counterpoint? The only scale that is provided is one that orders arguments from being bad to worst. How exactly does that demonstrate objectivity?
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    Response: The original 'charter' of this website was "getting skeptical about global warming skepticism". I have since taken a slightly different approach upon clarifying in my own mind the difference between "scientific skepticism" and "global warming skepticism". The approach of scientific skepticism is, as I see it, to avoid drawing any conclusions until you've reviewed all the data. Global warming skepticism is, again as I see it, to decide on the conclusion then find any data or arguments that back up that conclusion. Global warming skepticism is the antithesis of genuine scientific skepticism.

    What is the most common technique in global warming skepticism? In all my research into the many skeptic arguments, I've noticed a common pattern of focusing on a narrow piece of the puzzle while neglecting the whole picture. So generally, my goal with Skeptical Science is to educate by giving the broader picture. Show what the data and research says. Once you've perused all the peer reviewed scientific literature, you see how focusing on a single piece can lead to erroneous conclusions.

    Re a scale from bad to worst, are you refering to the taxonomical categories? There's no value judgement on which of "It's not happening", "It's not us", etc are better or worse. They just are what they are. If anything, it's more a logical progression - kind of like the steps in breaking an addiction (admitting you have a problem, etc). Eg - first you have to admit there's a problem, then you have to admit you're causing the problem, then you have to admit the problem is serious.
  3. I agree with everything by RSVP. If you delete too much and too quickly you will soon find yourself just talking to the people who already agree with you. What is the point about that?
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    Response: No point at all. The last thing I want is an echo chamber. I'm deleting comments, not based on whether they agree with me or not, but based on behaviour. If you're rude, off-topic, repetitive, ideological or shouting, I'll delete your comment. My main priority is to have constructive, educational, readable and civil discussion threads.

    I've already started going through old discussion threads deleting what I deem inappropriate comments (this is not a big priority though, expect slow progress). This has included comments from both sides of the debate.
  4. RSVP, I don't see how posting a link to a reference is suggesting that reference is irrefutable. Citing references is valuable in at least two ways. The first is to avoid repetition. The second is to give credit to someone's data, discovery, or thoughts.
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  5. Even if RSVP comment is a very educated one, the practical effects of keeping civility among posters are usually very positive. The debate becomes deeper and less stressing. And, again in practical terms, the difference between science and politics or ideology is usually easily spotted.
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  6. FWIW, I think it's fine to carry out the new policy on new threads, but I would that it is a disservice to retroactively apply changes to old threads. This is partly selfish on my part, because I would much rather that John work on new posts rather than spend time editing old ones. But I also think that old threads with bad comments can serve a function in that, for example, they can be pointed to in showing what not to do, they can be searched for information on who is debating (is somebody just wasting your time), they may serve as data for someone who wants to understand how the global warming "debate" occurs in public forums, terrible comments may have a nugget of something interesting in them, etc. Of course, John is free to do what he likes and I'm sure I'll keep coming back regardless. RSVP -- I think you are referring to the list of the hottest arguments. I don't think that's a ranking of the quality of the arguments; I believe it's a ranking of how popular they are.
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    Response: My priority is still and always will be writing new posts. Culling dodgy old comments is more like a leisure activity - something I do in an idle moment. Sometimes there'll be an off-topic comment that merely repeats common skeptic arguments - I sometimes use those as a teachable moment, linking to the appropriate page that debunks the skeptic argument. I mainly delete comments that contribute nothing to the discussion.
  7. Seems like a welcome change, although those likely to break certain rules, such as ranting about one-world government or scientific conspiracy, are the ones likely to view the action of their comments being deleted as supporting their conspiracy theory. Warmists stifle dissent and won't debate!
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    Response: To be honest, I've gotten to the point where I don't really care what conspiracy theorists think. You can never have a good faith discussion with them as they will dismiss any data that contradicts their position as the product of conspiracies. Removing that kind of attitude can only improve the signal to noise ratio.
  8. How do you set up hyperlinks?
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    Response: A HTML hyperlink is set up like this:

    <a href="">Hyperlink Text</a>
  9. @OP I all friendly manner I like to give some criticism to this post and the site in general. To be skeptical is not to prove everyone else wrong with "conclusions" from "data", it is to ask oneself the question "What if *I* am wrong?" and try to interpret data in a new set of ideas – which is knows as formulating a theory about data. Refuting everyone else is not to be skeptic, but is the definition on believing in a dogma. In this respect I think this site fails a mission of being skeptical. Its focus seams to be to prove any skeptic argument wrong as the "science is settled" and thus no alternative theories can be correct.
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    Response: Thanks for your comments. Personally, I like the Oxford Dictionary definition of skeptic:
    ‘A seeker after truth; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite conclusions’
    Eg - a true skeptic doesn't let their preconceived notions influence how they interpret data and science. My observation is that by this definition, global warming skepticism is anything but skeptical. The antithesis of genuine skepticism is to decide your beliefs, then use cognitive dissonance to do away with any evidence that contradicts your beliefs.

    The common pattern with global warming skeptic arguments is that they focus on a narrow piece of the puzzle while ignoring the broader picture. This is textbook cognitive dissonance. The antidote to this approach is simple - present the broader picture. The goal of this website is simple - attempt to present the broader picture by explaining what the peer reviewed science says.
  10. While I often disagree with you I applaud your even handed approach to comments and consider such housekeeping fair. There has been far too much mud slinging in this debate across all the sites I read - I wish they would all adopt such policies.
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  11. My intention was not to define skepticism. I wanted to define what a dogmatic view was in contrast to skepticism, and did so by pointed out a method that skeptics uses. This method is more or less equal with the quotation you give above in the first part. Then in the second part when you write, "The antithesis of genuine skepticism is to decide your beliefs, then use cognitive dissonance to do away with any evidence that contradicts your beliefs.” Makes me even more puzzled, as this is only a reformulation of my definition of a dogmatic viewpoint. Basically your long replay can be condensed into “I agree”. However after all these words you still avoided to address the point I made, namely that this site fails it mission. So, it is utterly unclear to me what you actually are trying to tell me in you replay as you seams to only repeat what I already have said.
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