Comment moderation is becoming a force for good, science that is. I’m all for it.
The forum, known as /r/science, provides a digital space for discussions about recent, peer-reviewed scientific publications. This puts us (along with /r/AskScience) on the front line of the science-public interface. On our little page, scientists and nonscientists can connect through discussions on everything from subatomic particles to interstellar astrophysics.
Given that our users are mainly academics (and all are nerds), the discussion generally resembles any scientific debate. That is, there are always numerous links to peer-reviewed science to support positions, people don’t deliberately mislead or misrepresent content, and there is a basic level of respect shared regardless of position. When a user strays from such decorum, they are kindly warned and, if necessary, the comment is removed.
Some issues, however, are particularly contentious. While evolution and vaccines do have their detractors, no topic consistently evokes such rude, uninformed, and outspoken opinions as climate change.
These people were true believers, blind to the fact that their arguments were hopelessly flawed, the result of cherry-picked data and conspiratorial thinking. They had no idea that the smart-sounding talking points from their preferred climate blog were, even to a casual climate science observer, plainly wrong. They were completely enamored by the emotionally charged and rhetoric-based arguments of pundits on talk radio and Fox News.
The end result was a disservice to science and to rational exploration, not to mention the scholarly audience we are proud to have cultivated. When 97 percent of climate scientists agree that man is changing the climate, we would hope the comments would at least acknowledge if not reflect such widespread consensus. Since that was not the case, we needed more than just an ad hoc approach to correct the situation.
The answer was found in the form of proactive moderation. About a year ago, we moderators became increasingly stringent with deniers. When a potentially controversial submission was posted, a warning would be issued stating the rules for comments (most importantly that your comment isn’t a conspiracy theory) and advising that further violations of the rules could result in the commenter being banned from the forum.
Read how the site improved. The change quickly resulted in a higher level of discussion – less ad hominem attacks and more discussion of the relevant aspects of the research.
For a good comment section and healthy debate, especially issues regarding anything related to science, comment moderation is key.
We’ve seen the same here. There is NO DOUBT that this blog would get far more traffic if we allowed drama, manufactroversy, and a free for all comment thread. But there are far too many toilets on the internet. I do not intend to own one. So, I moderate. Brutally.
There are typically a few people a week who protest about our comment policy. But once again, I keep reiterating, this is not a forum, it’s got a goal and I’d rather not see that goal get derailed. Moderation is NOT censorship. You are free to start your own blog, petition Congress, post signs in your front yard, write a book, etc. Free speech, man. Just not in my living room.
Oddly, Reddit is a forum, more or less. But each subreddit is a bit different. It’s been demonstrated over and over that good moderation can hold the topic intact and avoid sidetracks, clutter and garbage on the site. Many of us, including these subReddits, don’t want garbage, they want quality. Good for them. Set the bar high. The internet NEEDS it.
Commenting is a privilege. For more: Editorial: Please moderate your commentary