On censorship

There have been some complaints about the moderation of comments in my previous post, It’s a conspiracy! This happens every time Skeptics’ comments get moderated. Moderation is not censorship.

If I write a letter to the editor of my local paper it may or may not get published. If it doesn’t get published, is it censorship? Of course not. Newspaper editors will generally publish letters based on the quality of their arguments and their topicality. Any that fail to meet these criteria are trashed.

In the same way, comments made on people’s blogs may or may not get published. Some are edited slightly while some might get trashed completely. This is not censorship. Commenters can make their comments elsewhere. An editor or author of a blog is fully within their rights not to publish comments that are uncivil, inflammatory, defamatory, off-topic, wrong, tedious or just poor quality.

Since I am the owner of this blog, I get to choose what gets published here. If I decide not to publish a comment, it’s not censorship. I am not stifling freedom of speech or preventing anyone from expressing their views elsewhere. But I do get to choose the content on my own blog.

And if anyone comments and disagrees with me, their comment is going in the trash 🙂

43 thoughts on “On censorship

  1. As you probably know, my views about this are about the same as yours. What I find remarkable (irritating if you like) is how little effort those who complain put into trying to find some kind of common ground. I don’t mean in terms of agreeing about what’s being discussed, just finding some style that is more agreeable than maybe they’re currently using. The norm, for some at least, is to simply ramp up the rhetoric as they get more and more annoyed. It might make them feel better, but it’s unlikely to improve the dialogue.

    Also, from what I read of those comments that were moderated, most were people expressing what appeared to be opinions dressed up as facts and I don’t really see what the point of that is. Maybe more correctly, it was interpretations of facts that were themselves presented as fact. I guess saying it once is fine, but if you’re convinced that you’re right and everyone else is wrong, repeating it over and over again isn’t likely to change anything.

    1. Yes, I agree. It’s hard to have a discussion with someone when they accuse you of being politically motivated or of creating an echo chamber or some other inflammatory remark.

  2. I think Willard did an awesome job of moderating and thought it was hilarious when he deleted one of my comments….no I mean how dare he stifle debate and turn it into an echo chamber for groupthink lol.

  3. I totally agree, yours is your own blog to do with what you will – claims of censorship are inappropriate.
    we are but guests in your house – analogy

    But, what do you want your blog to be?

    Up until Willard deleted lots, nothing had been removed? nobody was aware of any problems. Then comments were removed retrospectively. [Whining. -w (2014-05-09, 11:06 EDT)]

    If you had a problem with any comments or individuals, why not just say so first?

    It seemed a perfectly civil discussion, not breaking any policy that anyone was aware of. no warnings given, no that’s off topic, just Willard starts chopping. [Whining. -w (2014-05-09, 11:06 EDT)]

    If people are not welcome, please just say so. it is your blog, and I would respect your wishes and just not bother with your blog anymore?

    I did comment a lot, but this was because I was involved very closely with the topic, and had sent you the material at your request, so I assumed you would be happy to discuss it.

    [Someone, somewhere else was wrong. -w (2014-05-09, 11:06 EDT)]

    of course it is his blog and he can do whatever he likes. just very ‘curious’ to me

    [Peddling. -w (2014-05-09, 11:06 EDT)]

    1. Barry,

      I thought Willard’s moderation was brilliant. He applies the rules to everyone equally and it doesn’t matter which side of the debate they’re on. Everyone got moderated in that thread regardless of their views. He’s also very strict: no off-topic, no whining, no playing the ref, etc.

      I realise that introducing a moderator part-way through a discussion was perhaps a bit unfair on my part and if I’d known that was what I was going to do I’d have announced it at the outset. But it wasn’t planned.

    2. Barry,
      I know we haven’t hit it off and I you haven’t hidden your disdain for those who remain anonymous (although you could always just ask Anthony Watts – he claims to know who I am), so if you want to ignore this comment feel free.

      I have no idea why GPWayne deleted that post, but I am interested in how you interpret it and why you would appear to be promoting it. From what I’ve read of the post, GPWayne is actually being quite complementary – suggesting that there are some (yourself) who have the ability to be intellectually rigorous, but somehow end up appearing to be influenced more by their emotions than by intellectual rigour. He appears to be trying to reach out and engage in a serious, good faith discussion. FWIW, I agree that you seem more than capable of being intellectually rigorous. However, in the comments, you choose to go on and on about name-calling when it’s clear that this is irritating the author of the post who is trying to make the point that ultimately name calling doesn’t matter – it might not be pleasant or nice, but our understanding of science does not depend on whether or not people choose to call others names. So, from what I read in that post and in the comments, you essentially do precisely what the author of the post is pointing out.

      There may be many reasons why he deleted the post but maybe he was just so dissappointed by a failed attempt to reach out that he decided that he’d rather delete the post and comments than leave it for others to read. If it was me, that’s how I’d feel.

      1. comments like “barry rips his shirt off. Barry whines’ [Whining. -w (2014-05-09, 11:06 EDT)] all fine with you?

      2. I’m unclear as to what that has to do with what I was saying in my comment.

        FWIW, I thought Willard’s moderation was quite funny and I say that knowing that he moderated a fair number of my comments too.

      3. AndThen,

        He might have been replying to you actually. I’m confused too! In any case, he’s got pretty much the same reply from both of us.

      4. i thought Graham post was very good, and an opportunity to talk. I tried to explain how an approach of sceptical science, and the rhetoric used, might speak well to some and alienated others. ie creating ‘sceptics’

        Looking back I probably tried to get this across too strongly and annoyed him, it was a shame that he removed it completely though..

        I think it’s in part due to communicating by text, if you meet people you hear their tone. I thought I was patiently trying to explain how the come across to some people, he seems to have read it as attacking them and criticizing them, I really thought I might help them see how they are perceived (wrongly possibly) by others by their comms style

        neither of us let it go (probably very similar minded, passionate people, with a lot in common, on any other topic, I think he is totally sincere, I just don;t think he thinks I am 😦 hence his irritation with me.

    3. > I did comment a lot […]

      Actually, Barry, this may be the first time that I realized how little you comment.

      You mostly peddled stuff that was said elsewhere (e.g. the ethics committee), copy-pasted stuff so freely it was tough to decide which words were yours and which weren’t, void of links, and repeated others’ opinions, like Markram’s, which you cited six times in three different subthreads, and Tom Curtis’, which you cited three times in three different threads. I have no idea why you think you believe this is appropriate behavior. Let others transpose that kind of peddling into your hosting analogy.

      What you believe is my bias against you should also apply to your own opinion of me. You’re again whining to Rachel on another thread. And now you’re using a bait and switch, i.e. “yes, censorship is stupid, but let’s talk about w”. These facts are independent from what I think of them.

      I mean, come on, Barry. Just take this:

      This was on 2014-05-06 at 15:50.

      A bit earlier:

      That was at 12:36. The same day.

      Do you ever stop whining? “Just curious”, as you say yourself.

      1. Brigitte (Nerlich) Ben and Paul (Paul was named in the Fury dataset, Ben Interacted with Marriott and have have commented before, I thought they would be interested. Brigitte funded the Talking Climate blog(Dr Adam Corner) so hardly a ‘sceptic!

        and yes. my perfectly civil comment at the Guardian was deleted, it had also been deleting commentsfrom Richard Tol, in an article about Richard Tol.. thus context. I also had 5-6 comments removed from the Guardian, (no trace they were ever there) on a Dana article, again, they completely were in keeping with the rules. just vanished.

        Now the Guardain can do what they like with their comment, but if you call it Comment is Free,. it is just ‘curious’

      2. I tweeted to Dr Nerlich, Dr Warren Pearce and Dr Paul Mathews about a subject that they might be interested in – ‘the horror’ oh and Ben Pile of course..

        and another tweet, about deletion at the Guardian (unrelated to anything here..) I have made 40,000 tweets, keep cherry picking for whatever purpose you think is so important.

      3. Blah blah blah blah poor me blah blah blah sniff sniff blah blah blah blah something about me blah blah me me me me sniff.

      4. Barry,

        I’d be interested to know what Richard Tol’s deleted comments said before making any judgements. He might have been accusing someone of lying for all we know.

      5. Barry Woods misplaced his answer to Rachel:

        Rachel – Tol tweeted some screenshots..

        he was responding to an article in the Guardian about himself.

        he has summarised his response to Abrahams here:

        Tol has a blog post about it here:

        The proper place is below Rachel’s question.

        Quoting Rachel’s question might have been nice too.


    1. Don’t worry, I’m not going to trash your comment. It was a joke! I’m perfectly happy for people to disagree with me…most of the time 😉

  4. I have the feeling, the derailment of the conversation in various ways is part of the system. Without good arguments that is a way to pretend there is a “debate”. Thus I see moderation as important, you can see at Climate Etc. how dysfunctional comments are with too little moderation.

    1. Without good arguments that is a way to pretend there is a “debate”.

      You could be right, Victor. It gives them something to be indignant about.

  5. I’m very happy to have had my comments heavy edited and or deleted. After the fact, the thread looked vaguely reasonable. It kept up their arguments… what ever they are.

    [Mod edit]

  6. I caught up with that thread a couple of days ago and found Willard’s moderation very entertaining, but I think that’s partly because in my view the whole Lewandowski thing has become a bit tedious. If the subject matter was a bit more interesting (to me anyway), and especially if I’d taken an active part in the discussion myself, I probably would have found the moderation a bit too intrusive for my tastes and I do think there’s a danger that by trying to enforce strict rules on blog discussions we can maybe lose what makes them interesting and fun to read and take part in. Of course for every interesting digression from the subject matter at hand there’s a “yes but climategate” so moderation can certainly be useful at times but my personal preference is for a light touch.

  7. Willard was great. I think there could be a good market for a wordpress tool to “willardize” comment threads, if it could be at least somewhat automated… 😉

    I’ve been wondering whether a better approach to comment moderation would be to figure out a way to slow things down – say, completely disallow comments for the first day or two – to let people think a bit before they post, and similarly disallow responses to any comments less than a day old, or something like that. Or just disallow comments altogether… 🙂

    1. Arthur,

      “I think there could be a good market for a wordpress tool to “willardize” comment threads …”

      What a wonderful idea, Arthur! And a great new word: Willardize.

      Slowing down comment threads is a good suggestion too. Putting people on pre-moderation can help with this. I’ve sometimes put people who make lots of comments in quick succession on moderation otherwise it’s almost impossible to keep up with them and respond.

      1. > And a great new word: Willardize.

        Actually, a word like this has been used, and it’s usually not meliorative:

        Yeah, Jeff–This is Willardism at its finest.


        To borrow Barry’s criteria, I find that judgement “curious” because all my comments there were pretty “civil”. Of course I only link to this because you “would be interested”, although the discussion, if you can call that a discussion, is somewhat related to Lew.

        The verb “willardize” has also been used, but I can’t find any instance at the moment.

    2. > I’ve been wondering whether a better approach to comment moderation would be to figure out a way to slow things down […]

      Lucia built a plug-in just for that:

      Willard’s mono-manaical thread jacks can be both long winded and confusing. It’s bad enough that I have written a plugin that limits posts of selected individuals to a small number of characters and requires a longer than usual pause between their comments. Willard is one of these people.


      The code is a bit below.

      Yes, but truly scottish moderation.

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