scholarly kitchen logoFirst rule of the internet: Never read the comments.

Since its inception, The Scholarly Kitchen has moderated the comments left by readers. Every now and again, we are accused of “censorship” by an aggrieved commenter, and that means it’s probably time to once again reiterate our policy.

Having comments on a blog can be a mixed bag. It has become commonplace for news outlets, blogs and other websites to hide comments, to move them away from the articles themselves, or to eliminate them altogether. This is a growing trend, partially caused by the conversation moving elsewhere, to other outlets like Twitter, Facebook, etc. For others, moderating comments is simply too much work. There is a body of evidence showing that comments are only read by a small minority of visitors to a site, and made by an even smaller population. Some feel they simply add nothing constructive, and a common refrain is that if you have something important to say, start your own blog and say it there. Others maintain that, despite the hassle, comments add something valuable to a blog.

We have a very active (though fairly small) group of commenters on The Scholarly Kitchen. The majority of comments come from our bloggers, or from a handful of regulars. There are frequent internal debates among our authors as to the value of those comments. As with nearly every issue we discuss, there’s no unanimous consensus — some of our authors would prefer to do away with comments altogether, some would like much more strict moderation, some are happy where things are, and some would prefer a lighter hand.

As the Editor of the site, moderation of comments generally falls to me (although some of our bloggers moderate their own posts). I try to find a happy, middle ground. Let’s be clear though, our comments are moderated. One notion upon which all of our bloggers agree is that there is value in editorial oversight and curation. This blog reflects that belief. While we don’t have hard and fast rules, our practice aims to follow that of The New York Times:

We are interested in articulate, well-informed remarks that are relevant to the article…Our standards for taste are reflected in the articles we publish…we expect your comments to follow that example. A few things we won’t tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity…commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence and SHOUTING…

Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we have created a space where readers can exchange intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information. While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can.

Some reasons your comment may not show up on our site:

  • It may simply be that the Editor (or the post’s author) hasn’t gotten to approving it yet. Moderation takes place on a variable schedule, depending on how busy we are on a given day. If the moderator is on an airplane or in an odd time zone or away from the internet, this may take a while. Please bear with us, we generally get everything up in a few hours, other than comments that are left overnight.
  • You may have been caught in our spam filter — WordPress seems to particularly dislike comments with lots of links in them. If your comment doesn’t turn up, please feel free to email us at scholarlykitchen@sspnet.org and we’ll dig it out of the spam filter for you.
  • Advertising: we do not allow comments that are blatant bits of self-promotion, selling one’s products or services.
  • Tone: we moderate heavily for tone, and try our best to avoid posting any abusive or insulting comments. This is a bit of a gray area, and we do our best, and as the editor, I personally take the blame for any point where we have failed in this regard.
  • Off-topic or non-productive comments: We try to keep the discussions here on topic as much as is possible, and we want all comments to add useful information to the discussion. We’re always a bit torn as to what to do with “nice article” comments (or their polar opposite). We want comments to bring something new or to provide (or ask for) clarification.
  • Special circumstances: there are particular subject areas where we take a stricter approach. One example would be a recent post on science communication around the issue of Climate Change. It’s far too easy for any such post to go down the rabbit hole of “climate change is fake” versus “oil companies are evil” when the subject of the post was a look at public outreach by the scientific community. This isn’t an environmental science blog, so we try to keep things on topic.
  • Beating a dead horse: Arguments on the internet are usually won by the most persistent person, rather than the person who is actually right. Very often, comment threads will reach a point where two participants have said everything they’re going to say and have reached an impasse. Once each participant starts into an endless repetitive cycle, we try to draw those threads to a close, often suggesting they take it to email. One sign that this has happened is when we start receiving emails from readers asking how they can unsubscribe from the comments.

We never moderate comments based on dissent. Differing opinions, corrections, clarifications are all welcome. If you’ve spent any time at all reading our comments, it should be pretty clear that this is the case (though it is likely that your opinion will be challenged).

All moderation is subjective. It’s an imperfect system, one that’s always being refined, and I appreciate your patience as we continue to figure things out. If you find yourself on the receiving end of moderation you disagree with, please do contact us at scholarlykitchen@sspnet.org and let’s talk about it. Perhaps we can find a way to make your point that will be more productive.

Is this censorship? That’s for you to decide. This is not, and has never been a 100% open forum. The Scholarly Kitchen makes no bones about being “objective” — this is an editorial page, a home to analysis and opinion, not a neutral news outlet or bulletin board. Our regular bloggers and guest authors are carefully selected and each article goes through editorial review. Our comments reflect this set of standards and approaches. We don’t ever stop someone from voicing their opinion, you just may have to do it somewhere else. We encourage all to start your own blog or to find your own medium that gets your voice heard.

One additional point: our commenters do not necessarily reflect the opinions of our authors. As always, there is no individual “The Scholarly Kitchen”, each author’s writing is solely their own opinion and does not reflect that of their fellow authors, their employers or the Society for Scholarly Publishing. This goes double for our commenters, and we request that any attribution go to those individuals, not the blog as a whole.

Thanks, and keep the comments coming!

 

 

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He serves on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.

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Discussion

9 Thoughts on "On Comment Moderation (or, Why Has My Manifesto Disappeared Into the Ether?)"

I find that deleting comments that respond to direct questions from blog-owners in prior questions somewhat odd. It makes it look like the responder has abandoned the discussion, with reasons left to the imagination of the reader.

Keep the comments coming. Readers can choose whether or not they want to read them!

The problem is, editors can also choose whether or not readers want to read them.

And that is the role of the editor/moderator, whether at The Scholarly Kitchen, Nature, PeerJ or arXiv.

Yes; though, happily, not at Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week.

This is one of the arguments for the “start your own blog and say it there” school.

There may be something inherently different about a niche blog where only readers closely engaged in the niche bother to follow it, rather than a general news site. The latter seems to get a lot of uninformative comments, where the comments on SK articles usually expand on the article, and on controversial topics give alternate views of the controversy.

A mechanical question: when the commenters happen to be SK authors themselves, links appear as nice, unobtrusive inline hypertext. When external readers such as yours truly chime in using the “Leave a reply” field, inline hypertext seems to get stripped out if the text is pasted in, or allows no option for inserting a link if typing in the field, requiring clunky full links to be shown. Is there a simple trick, or is that the difference between the chefs and the table bussers?

This is something that has always bothered me. When I use HTML and embed a link in the text of an SK comment, the style sheet styles the link in dark blue with the same weigh and font as unlinked text and it’s difficult, for me at least, to discern it’s actually linked text. It’s too subtle. Perhaps a more prominent color or some other tweak in your style sheet would make embedded links more obvious.

Thanks Tony, We are just beginning a big Kitchen renovation project, hopefully completed some time in the fall, and I will raise this with our designers.

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