Climate change deniers booted from Reddit Science

Comment moderation is becoming a force for good, science that is. I’m all for it.

Reddit’s science forum banned climate deniers. Why don’t all newspapers do the same? | Grist.

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 

Comment Policy

  12 comments for “Climate change deniers booted from Reddit Science

  1. spookyparadigm
    December 17, 2013 at 7:25 PM

    Did you see that new article today that suggests the “warming pause” denialists go on about is based on faulty data? It won’t matter of course, GW denialism is about identity, not science. But if that article holds up, they don’t have much left except conspiracy theory

  2. J
    December 17, 2013 at 7:34 PM

    Perhaps once these deniers regroup and start disagreeing with each other some’ll come crawling back to the science-based evidence they’ve been attacking all this time? I mean, people try to belong somewhere…
    I also like the idea of brutal moderation, so long as you moderate your own brutality, too.

  3. Chris Howard
    December 17, 2013 at 8:47 PM

    So, do they deny creationists, evolution deniers, or young earthers as well?

    My guess is no, because religion excuses damn near everything.

    It’s a good start, though.

    • December 17, 2013 at 10:56 PM

      Creationists, evolution deniers, young earthers, anti-vaxxers, and a whole host of nonscientific content is routinely removed.

      “/r/science is not a free-speech subreddit” has been explained many times, it isn’t a place to preach your dogma, it’s the science journal club, we talk about recent peer-reviewed science in the context of the peer-reviewed science world.

      • Chris Howard
        December 18, 2013 at 9:46 AM

        THAT IS AWESOME! I’m glad to see the consistency.

  4. December 18, 2013 at 1:58 AM

    The reverse is true too. I mentioned “Darwin” on a group that is hosted by a Creationist, and was immediately put on moderation. He told me he really, really did not want anyone mentioning “Darwinism” on his site. So while I agree in principle, and my experience is that most of the “deniers” are knee-jerk folks … how does one come up with a standard that prevents the biases of the moderator from interfering with the free flow of ideas?

    - “Linking to references” doesn’t really work, since there is a LOT of published garbage about both sides of any debate.

    - Banning ad-hominem remarks: easier, and I find the attack comments also kind of boring.

    - Banning “what we know to be not true” doesn’t work either, historically. Some of the *weirdest* ideas have turned out to be accurate.

    Mostly I worry more about us going into knowledge gulags. Everyone who believes one thing, goes to one place, and ignores everyone else. The witch trials worked best in small communities with no outside influence … if the witch hunters of the era have to face some actual facts, maybe that will help in the long run.

    • December 18, 2013 at 7:58 AM

      Not all sites are meant to host a “free flow of ideas”. This is, not going to hide it, has an agenda as well, to promote SOUND information, not more crap. The internet is a bastion of free speech, to restrict what you wish on your own website is just as much an expression of speech.

      I do not worry we will end up in knowledge prisons. In a way, people already can choose where they get their info from and completely ignore the rest. Opening up a free for all isn’t going to help that.

    • spookyparadigm
      December 18, 2013 at 9:21 AM

      What on earth can they talk about without mentioning Darwinism. The whole point of Creationism is to reject the mainstream. Unless they’re there talking about the Ica stones all day …

  5. SmOakley
    December 18, 2013 at 7:19 AM

    Having two sides to an argument does not make them equally valid.

  6. Chris Howard
    December 18, 2013 at 10:04 AM

    And to be fair, much of the internet is an echo-chamber.

    People rarely challenge their ideas, but actively seek to reinforce the beliefs they already have.

    At the end of the day the Internet is just a means of information distribution. The pen, typewriter, and computer don’t write Shakespearesque sonnets. Humans do.

    So if your society is scientifically illiterate, willfully ignorant, and obsessed with pop culture that’s the content (information) that will be published, and distributed. Because that’s what people want.

    So when you mention Darwin on a creationist board, you’re disrupting the desired programming. People aren’t going there to have an honest debate. They are going there to buttress their faith/beliefs.

    Being challenged (intellectually) is not a feeling that most people enjoy. That’s why truth is no match for wishful thinking. A false sense of certainty wins every time.

    In that context (buttressing ideology) Spooky’s comment about denialism being an identity is spot on.

  7. Frederick
    December 18, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    I’m totally behind you on this, brutal moderation FTW. I’m not totaly against letting deniers of climate, vaccine or sCAM fan comment, because it is always interesting to read and you can learn a lot about how NOT to argue and what is NOT a proof. But after a while when you see those people are just blinded by belief, yeah. when what you think is proven to be false by hundred even thousand of scientific proof, by logic etc. it is Not a opinion it is belief or a lie. so deleting them are not censorship, it is cleaning the trash.

  8. December 22, 2013 at 11:49 PM

    Clicking on the link in the OP doesn’t work – quick analysis shows a colon left out after the http. This link should work:
    http://grist.org/climate-energy/reddits-science-forum-banned-climate-deniers-why-dont-all-newspapers-do-the-same/

    I took a gander at /r/science and I like what I see (I won’t even complain that they consider mathematics a subset of science instead of a separate study), which is a DELIGHTFUL change from other forums I’ve seen on Reddit, or even read about in the news.

    Regardless, it’s good to see some mods on Reddit that actually moderate. I’ve been rather disappointed in the lack of or inconsistent moderation in many online forums, even some skeptical ones. I learned from my Usenet days it’s better to ignore jerks, and if the forum has too many of them, vote with my feet – there’s too many good places on the Internet to hang out, rather than being around mean-spirited people.

    I recall the XKCD cartoon “There’s something WRONG on The Internet.” Life is easier when you let wrongness be wrong and go to bed. Woops, it’s getting late.

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