How to Be a Good Commenter

One of the things I’m proud of here at Whatever is that the comment threads are usually actually worth reading, which is not always something you get with a site that has as many readers as this one does. Some of this is down to my moderation of the site, and my frequent malleting of trolls/idiots/assbags, but much of it is also down the generally high standard of commenter here. I do a lot less malleting than I might have to, because the people who frequent here do a fine job at being good commenters.

And I hear you say: Why, I would like to be a good commenter too! Not just here, but in other places where commenting occurs online! Well, of course you do. You’re a fine upstanding human being, not some feculent jackass with a keyboard, an internet connection and a blistering sense of personal inferiority that is indistinguishable from common sociopathy.

So for you, I have ten questions to ask yourself before you press the “post comment” button. Yes, ten is a lot. No one said being a good commenter was easy. But the good news is that the more you’re a good commenter, the less you’ll actually have to think about being one before you type. It becomes a habit, basically. So keep at it.

Here are your questions:

1. Do I actually have anything to say? Meaning, does what you post in the comments boil down to anything other than “yes, this,” or “WRONG AGAIN,” or even worse, “who cares”? A comment is not meant to be an upvote, downvote or a “like.” It’s meant to be an addition to, and complementary to (but not necessarily complimentary of) the original post. If your comment is not adding value, you need to ask whether you need to write it, and, alternately, why anyone should be bothered to read it. On a personal note, I find these sort of contentless comments especially irritating when the poster is expressing indifference; the sort of twit who goes out of his way to say “::yawn::” in a comment is the sort I want first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

2. Is what I have to say actually on topic? What is the subject of the original post? That’s also the subject of the comment thread, as is, to some extent, the manner in which the writer approached the subject. If you’re dropping in a comment that’s not about these things, then you’re likely working to make the comment thread suck. Likewise, if as a commenter you’re responding to a comment from someone else that’s not on topic to the original post, you’re also helping to make the comment thread suck. On a busy blog or site, there will be many opportunities to talk about many different subjects. You don’t have to talk about them in the wrong place.

3. Does what I write actually stay on topic? As a corollary to point two, if you make a perfunctory wave at the subject and then immediately use it as a jumping-off point for your own particular set of hobby horses, then you’re also making the thread suck. This is a prime derailing maneuver, which I like to dub “The Libertarian Dismount,” given the frequency with which members of that political tribe employ it — e.g., “It’s a shame that so many people are opposed to same-sex marriage, but this is just why government has no place legislating relationships between people, and why in a perfect society government steps away and blah blah blahdee blah blah.” If you can’t write a comment that isn’t ultimately a segue into topics you feel are important, ask yourself why everything has to be about you.

4. If I’m making an argument, do I actually know how to make an argument? This I believe: Most people really can’t argue their way out of a paper bag. It’s not their fault; it’s not as if, in the US at least, we spend a lot of time training people in rhetoric. Be that as it may, if you are making an argument in a comment, it will help if the argument you’re making is structurally sound. It’s not my job to teach you the basics of rhetoric, but I will at the very least point you in the direction of this list of logical fallacies, for you to peruse and consider. I will also say that in my experience the single most common bad argument is the assumption that one’s personal experience is universal rather than intensely personal and anecdotal. Sorry, folks: you are probably not actually the living avatar of What Everyone Believes and Knows.

5. If I’m making assertions, can what I say be backed up by actual fact? I know you believe what you believe, and that’s nice for you, but if you want me or others to believe what you believe, then I’d like to see the data, please. Otherwise I’m just going to assume you are talking out of your ass, and I suspect most other people will make a similar assumption. The nice thing about the Internet is that facts, backed up by trustworthy sources — complete with references and methodologies! — are reasonably easy to find and link to. Wikipedia drives me up a wall sometimes, but the one undeniably good thing it’s done is to train a generation of nerds to ask: “[citation, please]”. As the obvious corollary:

6. If I’m refuting an assertion made by others, can what I say be backed up by fact? Because often comment threads are filled with the sounds of refutation. However, refutation without substantiation is not refutation at all; it’s just adding to the noise. Don’t add to the noise. Noise is easy. Be better than mere noise.

7. Am I approaching this subject like a thoughtful human being, or like a particularly stupid fan? I originally wrote “stupid sports fan,” but that was being unfair to sports fans, who are no more likely to be stupid and irrational about their favorite sports team than gadget fans are to be irrational about their favorite bit of tech or media fans their favorite series of books/shows/movies, or politics fans to be about their favorite ideology. The problem is when these sort of folks descend on a thread and get all rah-rah for their “team,” whatever that team is, and things get dreary and sad, fast. Look, everyone has their biases and inclinations and favorites, and that’s fine. This doesn’t mean you won’t come across as a brainless plumper for your side when you, in fact, plump brainlessly for them in a comment. If your comment boils down to “WOOOO GO TEAM [insert person/thing here] HELLS YEAH” then, again, you’re the problem with the comment thread, not anyone else.

8. Am I being an asshole to others? Yes, I know you think you’re being clever when you are being snide and sarcastic about that other commenter, or about the original poster. I would remind you what the failure mode of clever is. Also, being a complete prick to others in a comment thread is an easy tell to those others that you can’t make a sufficient argument on any other ground than personal abuse. Which is not a good thing for you. Now, it’s also important to note that not everyone starts off being an asshole to others — commenters can begin responding to each other politely and then as things go on become more and more frustrated and exasperated until one or both (or more! Because comment threads aren’t always or even usually one-on-one discussions) go Full Asshole. So it’s worth keeping a tab on things. Two things here: One, assume good will on the part of others when talking to them; two, just because the other guy goes Full Asshole doesn’t mean you have to follow his shining example.

9. Do I want to have a conversation or do I want to win the thread? Some people have to be right, and can’t abide when others don’t recognize their fundamental right to be right, and will thus keep making attempts to be right long after it is clear to every other person that the conversation is going nowhere and the remaining participants are simply being tiresome. When you get two or more of those people in the same thread, well, the result can be grim. I’m not saying that you are one of those people who absolutely has to be right, but, if you would, look at this. Does that cartoon resemble you? Be honest, now. If it does, then there’s a pretty good chance you have to be right, and you have to win the comment thread. Which, to be blunt, makes you a bit of a bore to have a conversation with, and means that there’s ultimately a really good chance you’ll eventually end up being an asshole to someone because you can’t let it go. Don’t be that guy.

10. Do I know when I’m done? I’m not saying you should enter each comment thread with an exit strategy, but on the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt. It’s okay not to make a lifetime commitment to a comment thread. Likewise: If you’re having a conversation in a comment thread that’s going nowhere, it’s okay to admit it and get out. Letting the other dude have the last word will not mean you have Lost the Internets; really, quite the opposite, in fact. Similarly, if you find a comment thread is making you angry or sick or pissed off, walk away. If you find that the reason you’re still in a comment thread is to thump on someone else, go get some air. If the thread has stopped being fun and started to be something like work, seriously, man, what the hell are you doing? Go away. It’s a comment thread. In short, know when to say when, and if you don’t know, then pick a number of responses that you are going to allow yourself in a thread (five, maybe?) and then stick to it. And finally, if you announce you’re leaving a comment thread, leave and don’t come back. No one likes a bad faith flouncing.

Got it? Then comment away.

182 Comments on “How to Be a Good Commenter”

  1. I’m well aware this thread will be populated with ironic examples of bad commenting, incidentally. It’s why I started it with the “FIRST POST” bit.
    That said, actual bad commenting is still liable to be malleted.

  2. Good points all. Yeah, about 40% of my posts end up deleted due to lack of relevancy or just plain ‘me-ness’. Then, sometimes, one must let the textual flatulence fly hither and thither… And no, not saying I’m an ideal commenter/poster. But one can try.

  3. I would like to have something to add to this, but I really don’t. Therefore, I really shouldn’t comment, and yet here I am. Wheeeeee, be a good commenter!

  4. A student mentioned an article online about a “study” which claimed that the reason people are jerks online is that there is no eye contact.

    I replied that I’m as much a jerk in meat-space as I am in e-space.

    She didn’t get it. But she is a humanities major so…

  5. John – thank you for this post, which I hope will help me to be a better commenter. It has also given me some insight into the challenges with verbal “discussions” that I have with some family members. I appreciate your insightfulness!

  6. Has the new mallet been used yet? I haven’t noticed a single deletion since its inception. Hope this comment wasn’t too far off topic… or do I?

  7. I’m pretty sure I’ve broken each of these rules at some point in the recent past. Sometimes it’s very hard to keep my cool around [INSERT_GROUP_TAG_FOR_DISAGREEABLE_HUMANS] but it’s worth noting that being a liberal atheist who lives in the deep South makes me the shining avatar of perpetual asshole/infidel/heathen-ness, etc.

    But yeah, I agree–first step is “do I have something to say that will actually add to the–goddammit, I did it again, broke another rule.

  8. I find that the commenters here are, by and large, smart and funny, which makes it a pleasure to read the comments. About 90% of the time I’ll see a commenter say something I would have said and decide I don’t need to post. It happens often which is why I don’t post that much; someone has usually said what I would have said and said it better than I could have.

  9. Rule number one is why I very rarely comment, and, consequently, don’t really feel like part of the Whatever “community.” But it doesn’t mean I’m not reading every single post, and have been for many many many years.

  10. “A comment is not meant to be an upvote, downvote or a “like.””

    That’s what an upvote/downvote _function_ is good for – when we just want to add our support to a previous comment, but feel that our own sentiments have been summed up adequately. Hint, hint. Wink, wink, Nudge, nudge.

  11. This is fantastic John. Number 1 usually stops me, if I decide not to comment. I have a rule for myself as well. That is, “Is my general frustration and sometimes white hot anger with the entire steaming pile that is U.S. politics going to cause my comment on this topic to devolve into another long winded rant?” Usually the answer is yes, which is why I don’t comment on the political ones. Plus I really don’t like to argue with people online. It usually ends up going circular and pointless pretty quickly.

  12. I disagree with most of your impressionistic/aesthetic preferences regarding what makes a good commenter and comment thread, though the first 3 or so are good.

  13. Having just scanned all of the posts since the inception of the new mallet of loving correction, or actual appropriate title is called, I have found zero applications. You know the old saying: “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

  14. Scalzi: the sort of twit who goes out of his way to say “::yawn::” in a comment is the sort I want first up against the wall when the revolution comes

    The very first group against the wall? Seems a little harsh. Maybe they’re just tired.

  15. The linearized equation:
    Commenter Coefficient = (Value Added) + [Ontopicality(@t=0)] + [Ontopicality(@t+ 1 hour)] + (Nonfallaciousness) + (facticity) + (substantiationality) – ( Fannisness) – (A-holiness) + (quasihumility) + (donety) + sin(the angle of the dangle).

  16. Honest question, then: What about those of us who feel compelled, ocasionally, to comment simply to say “thank you, OP” or “yes, precisely! Thank you!”?

    While this seems to DIRECTLY contradict rule the first – “anything other than ‘yes, this,'” I can’t imagine that your intent was to eliminate positive feedback. I, for one, feel rather nourished by positive feedback in the form of a blog comment (or in person) nod.

  17. The one type of comment I just cannot abide is the advertisement disguised as a comment, comment. The, “Yes, I agree and go visit my blog/site/store and buy my book/CD/Sex Toy to prove it.: If you make a legitimate, on point comment, I am more likely to check you out than in you say, “Woo Hoo! Here’s a link.”

  18. I don’t suppose you could also ban that fake Voltaire quote that everyone insists on quoting at least once in free speech debates. I’d be indebted to you.

  19. There are many times where I’ve started to leave a comment and decided it was just better to let it go…

  20. For a long time I felt like I needed to go into some threads to fact-check folks who made assertions on the internet. Sometimes I still do..but I try to be polite and give the poster the benefit of the doubt when I do. Often I stop and analyze my motivations: is this a productive argument to have? Is it worth arguing this point with this person and if I do, what is my intention? If I’m there to correct a blatantly wrong piece of information (such as pointing out politely to a 16 year-old poster that nuclear fear was not ‘quaint’ in 1983, it was terrifying at the time for some of us), then I’ll post. If I’m there simply to defend an opinion that runs counter to another poster (Crystal Skull wasn’t as bad as you think, man!) then maybe I need to analyze what I’m saying and HOW I’m saying it.

    In the last couple of years there have been a lot of times when I just closed the window and walked away. And I’m rather proud of that, personally.

  21. weowls and others: I was thinking about this, and IMO gratitude has intrinsic value and is something you are adding to the conversation, so I think it should be acceptable. Note that “YES THIS” by itself doesn’t actually express any gratitude…it just tries to own someone else’s content.

    That said, thanks, Scalzi!

  22. John: “Similarly, if you find a comment thread is making you angry or sick or pissed off, walk away. If you find that the reason you’re still in a comment thread is to thump on someone else, go get some air. If the thread has stopped being fun and started to be something like work, seriously, man, what the hell are you doing?”

    The internets became much more fun for me when I finally figured that out. No doubt they also became a little more fun for some other folks when I finally figured that out.

  23. I read/post on a particular social media site where these rules are violated on a regular basis, much to my frustration (particularly 3,8, and 9). At a minimum, I was going to post a link here along with some kind of summary, but now I’m wondering if it would have more impact to quote it wholesale with attribution/link.

    How would our esteemed Mr. Scalzi feel about that? Or perhaps I could quote only 3, 8, and 9 with a link back here for the rest.

  24. weowls: , that comment was a Hichhiker’s Guide reference.

    Wow. I’ve read the four-book-trilogy several times, but I don’t remember that one at all. Weird. But it has been… hm… at least… um… ten years since I’ve read it. Maybe it’s time to pick it up again.

  25. I didn’t even know you could “win” a thread. You’ve opened up a whole new world for me. Thanks ever so.

    Grading previous comment on the Scalzi Scale:
    1. I had nothing to say.
    2. Not really on topic.
    3. Way off topic now.
    4. Total lack of argument.
    5. Facts conspicuous by their absence.
    6. Noisy.
    7. No thought whatsoever went into this comment.
    8. Prickish.
    9. FTL.
    10. Exit strategy as follows.

    Grading previous comment on the Stabenow Scale:
    1. Complete waste of five minutes of work time. Thanks, John!

  26. I am pleased to see that the basic tenants of your freshmen comp sequence from college stuck with you. AND I’ll be visiting later in the semester, or rather my students will be. Thank you.

  27. Greg: “the entry on the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation describes their marketing division as “a bunch of mindless jerks who will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes”, with a footnote to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent”

    I recall it from the original radio dramatization, I’m honestly not sure if it’s in the books or not; I am way more familiar with the radio dramas (the originals, not the ones done recently) than I am the novels, although I have read them all. (Except the Eoin Colfer one, which exists in my house, but I can’t bring myself to read it.)

  28. Regarding the common poor argument mentioned in point 4, “assumption that one’s personal experience is universal,” I like Vlad Taltos’ term for it from Issola: generalizing from one example.

    “Everyone generalizes from one example. At least, I do.”

  29. Your guidelines are excellent but do not cover a situation I’ve encountered several times, one just recently, and that is where I feel motivated to express support or sympathy for humane reasons, not just to agree (or disagree)intellectually. The recent case in point: Mary Doria Russell had a post on Goodreads where she mentioned the recent death of her brother’s fiance in very bizarre circumstances. Obviously it hit Mary (and, I am sure, other family members) hard. Would you recommend posting a short simple sincere expression of synpathy for her loss or not? After all, Mary herself brought it up; it seems callous not to acknowledge it.
    Along the same lines, you post some wonderful photos, and it would be nice to be able to acknowledge them so you get feedback. A Facebook-like “like” function would be handy.

  30. > I didn’t even know you could “win” a thread

    I don’t think we should accept at face value Scalzi’s assertion that it’s possible to win a thread. He didn’t, after all, back it up with a citation.

  31. Something I’ve learned from the internets, largely from this blog and the wonderful commenters therein, is that when a post evokes a strong emotional reaction in me that’s precisely when I should not post. At least not right away. Step back, take some time to process things…often do some research on what I want to say. When I do, I sometimes find the post which riled me so – didn’t actually say what I thought it said (i.e., I’ve moved the goalposts in my mind before even replying). Or, I gather my thoughts and decide it’s not really a battle I feel up to fighting that day. If I make it past these two challenges, and actually prepare myself, my response in a thread becomes much stronger and less likely to inflame things.

    I also hope you post more about logical fallacies some day. You’ve spoken on them before, mostly because sometimes folks drag them out in discussions and wield them improperly. I particularly like Snark and Insult, and Notes on Arguing.

  32. “Citation please” is one of my pet peeves, actually. Almost every time someone says “Citation please” it would be more appropriate to just do an internet search and provide the missing citation, or a counter-citation. I’m a science reporter, and I write science articles for a living, including lots of reading and citing of scientific journals, so I get very annoyed with people who want me to provide citations for widely-known, generally accepted facts. If I’m actually reference a specific scientific study, sure a citation is great. If I’m talking about catching colds, I don’t feel I should have to provide citations to prove the truth of germ theory of disease. Doing your own lookup instead of immediately arguing and asking for citations also provides insurance against looking like a fool when it turns out you are wrong. I’ve been saved many times by that strategy, when, for example, someone makes an assertion of fact in a blog post or comment, it doesn’t match what I believe, I google it and find out MY beliefs are incorrect, and no one ever knows because I didn’t leave a “citation please” type of comment. A lot of times those are just cranky people who want to win an argument by pointing out you didn’t provide a reference, thereby obligating the other party to provide one, rather than people who are sincerely curious about the science.

    As well, in a heated debate, citations never make anything better. If I make an assertion of fact based on cite-able science I am familiar with, and someone who strongly disagrees challenges me to provide a citation, and then I DO provide the citation, that person will never concede, anyway. Worst case scenario, a citation BATTLE, in which (from my perspective) the debater digs up “citations” of questionable merit to back up their flimsy case, and I struggle valiantly to provide counter-citations to back up my case, and vast amounts of time are wasted in a huge back-and-forth, and no one’s mind is actually changed.

    Which is all to say that when people ask ME for a citation, I point them at the internet and offer to retract my assertion of fact if they find something contradictory. (Diseases are caused by evil spirits, after all! Mea culpa!)

  33. Hmm… exit strategy seems rather important. The process of tapering off a heated discussion often seems to be nearly as derailing as when the back and forth reaches malletable levels. At best, the thread becomes a meta discussion about comment etiquette. At worst, one party leaves and there’s an annoying orgy of high fives all around that prods some other commenter to step in and continue the cycle.

  34. That thing with Scorpius yesterday was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, eh?

    I sometimes feel left-out of the malleting. Although you did mallet a comment I made to a troll you deleted, so I guess I’ve had the lovingly corrective experience, albeit collaterally.

    I’ve caught myself going the Full Asshole more often than I’m proud of, even when it’s aimed at someone whose logic makes less sense than dolphin Sudoku.

    Some people have to be right, and can’t abide when others don’t recognize their fundamental right to be right, and will thus keep making attempts to be right long after it is clear to every other person that the conversation is going nowhere and the remaining participants are simply being tiresome.

    It will come as no surprise to many here that I’m one of these compulsive arguers. What’s odd is that in real life I’m very easy-going and not at all bothered by letting a disagreement or even misunderstanding go. Perhaps my computer needs a bumper sticker that says: What would real-life me do?

    I’m not saying you should enter each comment thread with an exit strategy, but on the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt.

    Next you’ll want a time-table, then the trollerrorists have won!

    And finally, if you announce you’re leaving a comment thread, leave and don’t come back.



    @ Randall

    John Scalzi LITERALLY wants people who yawn to be executed!

    To be fair, it’s a matter of public health; yawning is contagious.

    @ Kilroy

    Having just scanned all of the posts since the inception of the new mallet of loving correction, or actual appropriate title is called, I have found zero applications. You know the old saying: “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

    @ weowls

    Greg, that comment was a Hichhiker’s Guide reference.

    Was Marvin really the first?

    @ Catherine Shaffer

    As well, in a heated debate, citations never make anything better.

    Must…Resist…Sarcasm Demon!

  35. How about an amusing aside, snark or parody that gently makes fun about the topic in hand without being personally insulting?

  36. So when do the “Malleted By Scalzi” tshirts come out? Some of us aren’t assnards or crazy but manage to get off topic sometimes. It would make me feel better about it to have the tshirt.

  37. StoicJim:

    It should be clear that around here we like sarcasm just fine, and I even think goodnatured joshing between commenters isn’t an issue. But I think we all generally know there’s a difference between a friendly poking and the Internet equivalent of a shoving match.

  38. “A comment is not meant to be an upvote, downvote or a “like.””

    That’s what an upvote/downvote _function_ is good for – when we just want to add our support to a previous comment, but feel that our own sentiments have been summed up adequately. Hint, hint. Wink, wink, Nudge, nudge.

    THIS!!! Sometimes people want to just chime in their agreement. Part of social interaction is people paying attention and people being aware that people are listening and agreeing or disagreeing, upset, happy and so on.

    And yes, we know that Facebook and Fark have there place. We get so much out of coming here and having civil discourse. If we could get you to give us a little bit more, we would never leave!!

    /no wait, that would be bad thing. right?

  39. Scorpius:

    There have been a few psychological studies indicating that a picture of eyes is enough to make people behave as if they’re actually being watched and can reduce instances of theft. Maybe it would have the same effect on anonymous jackasses on the internet. Is there any way we can put a glaring Scalzi photo next to the comment box and test this out?

  40. I’m a science reporter, and I write science articles for a living, including lots of reading and citing of scientific journals, so I get very annoyed with people who want me to provide citations for widely-known, generally accepted facts.

    I’ll disagree with you on this one. Almost daily, I see folks make outrageous claims who then balk when asked for proof. I don’t think I should have to prove your case for you, even if I can. If your argument depends on facts, you need to present them or be called on it. Last week, a poster claimed that D&D had lost half of it’s customers in a discussion thread I was in. He was asked for a citation not because people couldn’t look it up if they wanted, but because it was clear he was talking out of his ass and being told to prove it. People knew he was making it up because D&D’s publisher, WotC, doesn’t release their sales numbers or their marketing data and the only information publicly available was guesses based on very limited 3rd-party data collection.

    I think your objection comes from your background (specifically since citation to you may mean a more rigid reference than what Scalzi was referring to and what most people would expect). Now, I agree with you in cases of easily proven and found data and lazy investigation. But as often as not, people who are asking for proof are refuting a dramatic assertion that often requires proof. Look at the back-and-forth in many of the political threads here, various economic discussions and even historical or pop-culture discussions. When someone makes a claim like ‘in the 1960s, lemons were used to gauge the political success of the 1968 coup in LIberia’, you need to be able to back that up or sound like you’re making up your own facts.

  41. Catherine’s comments about citation battles and online arguments is pretty much the #1 reason I don’t argue on the internet about anything anymore. I don’t have the time, patience, googling skills, whatever to get into a fully-reasoned, researched argument, and I feel like anything less than that is useless.

    So, I don’t argue. Which means I let a lot of stupid stuff go un-challenged, but I often see there’s always someone willing to take up the banner. I’m just not that person.

  42. My statistics professor was always saying, “In God we trust; all others must bring data.” It’s a good rule.
    I enjoy the comments on Whatever almost as much as I enjoy the blog. There are several regular commentators that I’d like to have over for dinner. And several with which, I am certain, I would never be friends.

  43. Two comments:

    One, on the general thread, I am avoiding reading political topic comment threads here and thus am blissfully unaware of what caused this, other than brief mention above. This was intentional, though having a conference technical paper due tomorrow helped actually stick with it. I normally sort of like the political give and take, but this year’s silly season is a little less silly.

    Two, on the citation please thread, I am an avid Wikipedian (would have been “active” through six months ago, but am still semi-active) and am somewhat annoyed that this has leaked out into as wide usage as it has. That said; it’s important that there are a few of us people out here who try and balance “I know a whole lot about a whole lot of topics” with “…and I have been known to be wrong, sorry about that”. I don’t ask people for references or sources if they’re just twats. I ask them if I think there’s a chance we can mutually educate each other and set the record straight. It irritates the hell out of me when people assume I’m a twat for asking (nothing personal, Catherine). The presumption that “common knowledge” is consistent isn’t. It’s entirely domain specific, and fluctuates (I studied paleontology prior to the whole dinosaur feathers thing, for example, and though I have followed that and the cold/warm blooded research it takes effort to keep up). My undergrad degree is in a field I haven’t actively worked in for 20 years now and I am NOT up to date in it, for example, though I can run all the textbook sample problems and talk tech with the current practitioners just fine.

    It’s certainly true that a large number of people are just blustering when they say it and won’t change their minds, but I would be surprised if it’s half of them, from my experience. It seems to take less time to pull out a citation and at least be able to use that to convince others on a discussion thread even if the original requester remains obstinate. And quite a number of people will take the conversation up to a less confrontational, more intellectual and well-supported level if you do that. So, I usually will, and I encourage people to do it, and if you blow me off I will not be happy.

  44. People who insist on documentation and links to everything you say irk the hell out of me, mostly because I try to make a point of trusting others. It’s kind of a necessary assumption, IMO, that you are having a conversation with an educated, semi-intelligent human being. Otherwise what’s the point. Besides, if you don’t ask for proof and then they jam foot in mouth, you can hop all over their torsos. xD (And even then with links we have to wonder if the links themselves are accurate. “The thing about the internet is that you can never know if what you’re reading is true.”–Abraham Lincoln.)

    Anyway. #1 is why I don’t post in these comment threads very often.

    Good list, Scalzi.

  45. I get into internet discussions for two reason. The first is to learn. I am fully aware that I don’t know everything, and how can I make the right decisions if I don’t have all the information? The second is to inform. A recent poll indicated that 15% of our country either can’t properly take a poll, or thinks Mitt Romney deserves the credit for taking down Osama Bin Laden. In order to preserve my sanity, I must assume that these people just don’t have all the information they need in order to make a good decision. Therefore, I get involved in discussions on the internet to enlighten said ignorant people, and to make our world a better place. You’re welcome, America.

  46. It’s easily a point of frustration when someone casually questions you on something you consider ‘basic’ in a conversation. And considering how in depth threads on Whatever can get, the definition of ‘basic’ can seem quite broad to most.

    I’ve always felt most of that frustration stems from a feeling the other party may simply not have made sufficient effort to understand. “Citation please,” carries a subtext of, “I don’t believe you, and don’t consider your claim worthy enough to look it up.” As George says, it’s highly (over)used on Wikipedia, and I’ve seen thread ward break out just because people starting lobbing those two words back and forth.

    All of which is not to say the sentiment should never be expressed. It should just be expressed with a bit more depth. “You stated X, but I did some google searching of web sites, news articles, even blogs and couldn’t find more information on it. Could you tell me how you came about this info?”

  47. Y.T.:

    “People who insist on documentation and links to everything you say irk the hell out of me, mostly because I try to make a point of trusting others.”

    Trust but verify!

    Or more to the point: I’m personally not going to bother to ask for factual verification of every single assertion here, but I do it from time to time when I think the point needs to be made that if you make an assertion, you should be able to know where you got it from. Intelligence and education have very little to do with the ability of people to misremember things and use those misremembered things in Internet discussions — much less the (overall very few) people who are actively trying to pull a fast one.

    Beyond that, I don’t think it’s entirely beyond the pale to suggest to people that they should actually have some idea about what’s coming out of their head — or at the very least, if they can’t remember where they got a stat or fact to note something along the lines of “I remember hearing this but can’t remember where, so fair warning.”

  48. I personally believe your (actual or threatened) use of the mallat is one thing that keeps Whatever civil. If an arrogant troll/idiont/assbag is deleted often enough, said t/i/a is likely to either leave, or start behaving. In either case, they won’t bother the general population

  49. I have developed the “Three Degrees of Morons” theory which postulates that by the time you get to the third generation of comments – without regard to the prestige of the original source or author – the trolls and asshats will have taken over the thread with poorly written and spelled ad hominem attacks. The fact that this does not happen on Whatever is a monument to the Loving Mallet and its humble wielder. Have you ever thought about testing to take over for Chris Hemsworth as Thor?

  50. I was pretty sure “first up against the wall” didn’t start with Adams, but my memory of where I heard it before isn’t there. I assume it was a regular thing among lefties, I grew up in Berkeley. So googled and found the Straight Dope page. It’s older but no one seems to know how old.

    Now this doesn’t apply to a lot of discussions but if you’re in one that’s got emotions close to the surface it may help: Is it honest? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Necessary and honest are pretty good guidelines for internet debate, actually, but not enough of course. I got those from a guy in an Al-Anon meeting, don’t t know if they’re a twelve step thing or he got it somewhere else. And they work well for me in general, when I remember.

  51. I’ve been a ditch-digger, a box-shifter, an Army soldier, and a long-distance runner, and I have to say that my time doing usenet moderation was some of the most tedious bullshit I’ve ever had to endure. If there’s one golden rule on the internet, it is not, as Jon Postel might have wanted, “be conservative in what you generate and liberal in what you accept”. It was John Gabriel:

  52. @Neil Shurley — same here; #1 is why I almost never comment as well and am a perpetual lurker.

    I generally agree with this list, but I do think that “YES THIS” (or similar agreement-only) comments are in fact useful. If in response to the original post, this gives the original poster support and the acknowledgement that he’s struck a chord and isn’t just expounding into the ether. If in response to another comment, well, the same thing — that commenter knows that she’s said something that resonates with others in the community. Supporting each other is not useless; “likes” and upvotes do have value, even in comment form. (I agree that a comment that says only, “you’re wrong,” however, should be backed up with more than that, at least in general.)

    (And this leaves room for “aw, cute kitty!” in responses to pictures of cute cats, even if every other comment says the same thing, or expressions of sympathy in response to bad news, again, even if every other comment is saying the same thing.)

    Whatever has some of the best-moderated comment threads I’ve ever seen, and I think part of the reason for that is that Scalzi has us trained not to respond to trolls — when someone comes through with anything ridiculously inflammatory, regular commenters shrug and say, “Eh, the Mallet will get to it; if I respond I’ll just get deleted too” and don’t engage. In my observation this is a HUGE advantage in keeping your comment threads so readable.

  53. I’ve always found that the best strategy is to write out my whole comment. Then stop. If I’m just in a lather, writing it out usually helps get out the frustration. Then I delete it. If upon rereading I still feel it’s a good point without the anger – post!

  54. The tolerance for topic-drift is quite low here, compared to some places elseweb. This is fine; it’s part of what Teresa has called the “sitegeist,” and I like it here just fine. Sometimes I’m wistful for the conversation which, though it was clearly off-topic, was interesting; and yes, I could have it elsewhere, but not with THOSE people about what THEY were saying, and moderated by Scalzi! But them’s the breaks when you comment on someone else’s blog, and I’m not CATFOTFICing.

    Also, I will use the term Libertarian Dismount from now on. That’s great.

    [snideness at Scorpius omitted]

    I was going to comment, but then realized that I didn’t really have anything to say


    Neil: Rule number one is why I very rarely comment, and, consequently, don’t really feel like part of the Whatever “community.”

    Lurkers are important too! If nothing else, you can support us in email (joke).

    Dana: I didn’t even know you could “win” a thread.

    That’s the point. You can’t. If you’re trying, ur doin it rong.

  55. I didn’t read any of the other comments, I usually don’t… And I think that’s something is lacking on this “ten commandments”.

    See? I have something to say, and I’m on topic. And I’m staying on topic. Go me!

    I’m making the assertion that I don’t usually care about what a comment thread talks about, because I mostly stay on topic and other people don’t. I guess, not so assertive right now… Meh.

    See that? Reflecting upon my own aproach to the subject, and not been an asshole to anybody (although maybe I’m making an asshole out of myself), yet I’m willing to discuss how appropiate this comment is, because…

    Well, because I think I’m done and I don’t really think I’ve contributed in the least to this discussion, even though I think I followed the 10 Scalzi Commandments to Not Be an Internet Asshole (Commenter’s Edition).

    I guess having anything to say is not as important as having anything to contribute. Still, I’m sure I’ve proven myself wrong here…


  56. I’ve gotta say, regarding #10, when it’s about trivial things, I sometimes enjoy a good flounce. Like when someone gets upset b/c Regretsy makes fun of their hideous useless craft object. But then the purpose of that blog is to snark, so obviously their rules will differ.

    Besides these excellent rules, plus the three enumerated in the very funny video of Craig Ferguson linked above (watch it, it’s funny!), I recollect back to my days when I first started upon these here internets back in… holy crap!… the Reagan administration. We only had one rule then: DNFTT. Do Not Feed The Troll. (and, by implication, don’t be one).

  57. My personal rule is when I have truly and absolutely had it with a discussion I write my final thoughts and end it with “I’m done.” And I mean it. I cut myself off from the thread and never read another word of it. If I have any final remarks to get out, they go straight to the Shit Book where nobody sees them.

    This spares me a great deal of aggravation.

  58. I wish to register a complaint. It’s not possible for me to humorously violate all of these rules at once in my reply. In particular, number one is incompatible with several of the other options. Please try to do better in the future.

    One of the best lessons I ever learned about online discussions is–think before you click send! Sometimes, it’s just too hard to resist the urge to write a scathing reply, and tear that dumbass a new one. It’s good for the soul. And it’s harmless as long as you don’t press that send button! I write just as many flames as I did when I was a kid, but I rarely get into huge online wars anymore, because I almost never send them.

  59. This depends very much on the nature of the blog I think, how “public” in feel it is, and how many comments it gets. But I think that sometimes—only sometimes—a discussion which wanders off topic (as opposed to being derailed off topic) can be positive if it leads into new, equally interesting areas. (I’m thinking of occasional experiences on my own blog here.)

    But that has to happen by mutual consent of the parties concerned and I also think one of them probably has to be the blog owner/writer: otherwise it’s more like a group of people coming in and using the discussion space for their own purposes.

    End of useful thought. :)

  60. Addendum because WordPress doesn’t let us edit comments: by “this” at the start of my comment I meant “what I’m about to say”. It’s late and I should have written more clearly.

  61. I always thought that the first against the wall thing was a takeoff on Shakespeare’s lawyer thing, which I quote here, including a bit of context.

    God save your majesty!

    I thank you, good people—there shall be no money; all shall eat
    and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery,
    that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

    The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

    Nay, that I mean to do.

    Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78

  62. Re #6 My husband thinks this is me. It isn’t that I feel I have the right to be right. I just feel the need to get people to back up their statements. I tend to jump in when someone makes a comment, as an example: coming right out and saying it is the President’s fault that the gas prices are so high. I only wanted them to explain to me how the President of the United States –ANY President, regardless of their political party– can control the gas prices. Each time they commented on my comment telling me that I must be ignorant if I couldn’t see it, I would say, that while I may very well be ignorant, they still did not answer my question. Perhaps if they had answered my question, I would no longer be ignorant. They stopped commenting. I guess they were the bigger person to let me have the last word….

  63. > Lurkers are important too! If nothing else, you can support us in email (joke).

    In another forum, today, I yelled at someone for pulling “but the moderator supports me in email”, which seems even worse than lurkers doing it.

  64. “Two, on the citation please thread, I am an avid Wikipedian (would have been “active” through six months ago, but am still semi-active) and am somewhat annoyed that this has leaked out into as wide usage as it has.”

    Many commenters today may be copying it from Wikipedia, but “cite” was a common cry on alt.folklore.urban lo these 15 or more years ago.

  65. A very wise woman once said to me that before saying anything (and I’ll take it as given that commenting is saying something – or should be) you should ask yourself three questions:

    Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

    Oh sure, the first two are answered with a “yes” more often than you might think, but the third question… that gets me every time. I kinda hate the woman who told me this.

    Also, “feculent” is just a lovely word. Points for use of the word “feculent.”

  66. “In another forum, today, I yelled at someone for pulling “but the moderator supports me in email”, which seems even worse than lurkers doing it.”

    I used to be on a couple of gaming forums back in the day, and there was a poster who used to do that quite a bit. Then I became a mod and found out he was making it all up, the mod in question had never supported him privately or publicly, In fact, the mod hadn’t been doing much of anything, which was why he was no longer modding and I was…

    Interesting experience that…learned a lot about myself and others.


  67. The way I heard it, you test on True, Necessary, and Kind…and say it if you have two out of three. I have to say that Necessary and Kind but not True always challenges me.

  68. In case anybody needs help trolling the internet or wants to run for public office, there’s a nice discussion of logical fallacies and other kinds of improper arguments you can use to derail debates that you might otherwise lose, over at – it’s Schopenhauer with illustrations.

    I’m curious about the effects of having a new Mallet – is it like having a new toy, which you want to play with a lot, or is it like having a new car, which you’re being careful with because you don’t want it getting all dented and blood-stained?

    (And I’d interpreted “up against the wall when the revolution comes” in a 60s context, rather than a HHGTTG context. I suppose that’s rather generational?)

  69. In recent months I have taken to writing my comment/reply/rant in a separate editor and then continuing to read the comment thread. Upon finishing the thread, I go back to see if my post is as useful, well thought out, and on point as I thought at first. Often it isn’t. This has saved me from embarrassing asshatery at times.

  70. aphrael

    In another forum, today, I yelled at someone for pulling “but the moderator supports me in email”, which seems even worse than lurkers doing it.

    That’s nuthin’, Tim Berners-Lee supports me in email.

    Did I win?

  71. My biggest problem is that, while most people follow a set of rules quite similar to that naturally, in forums that lack a combination of good moderation and a strong social expectation for the nature and content of posts it tends to accumulate the posts of the least useful and desirable. Mostly I try to stick to sensible locales (Whatever, Making Light, I Would Knife Fight a Man, Slacktivist) for commenting which makes it easier since 90% of my comments have already been made (usually more eloquent and cleverly) by the time I get through reading the comments. However I find myself sometimes failing on the criteria when I’m in bad internet neighbourhoods out of a fervent desire to inject something resembling intelligence and sense into the ravings of certain comment threads because the contents are already so bad that surely making an unsourced refutation (or whichever criteria I’m breaking) isn’t so bad given the general level of nonsense already present.

    The better the atmosphere and quality of comments are the more I want to aspire to comment at that level too. So thanks for providing a place where my better commenting angels can shine.

  72. Yes, I like what you have written and I agree very much. This has given much to me to think about. It is widely reported fact that many weblogs in the internet think similar but lesser thoughts. In fact, many such places are asipring to be this but do not achieve. You are having very well accomplished many things here that others do not. In fact, you can see more of this at http:/

  73. Don’t see much of a hate-on going here Zeph. However the fact that the Libertarian Dismount is an instantly recognizable behaviour that anyone who has been on the internet (even in non-political circles) for very long is familiar with it is suggestive that the problem might be with how libertarian’s interact with the rest of the world rather than Scalzi. Overall, I suspect it has more to do with the fact that demographically libertarian’s are young, white males in college so they have underdeveloped rhetorical skills and suffer from the problem that many geeks do when they find something new that excites them and want to share it with EVERYONE without consideration to how tenuous the connection they just made is, how disruptive it is to the conversation that is already on going, and how much most people really just don’t want to hear a rant on the military-industrial complex is the immoral consequence of any taxation (to use the example of this I suffered from today) when discussing how the current republican complaints about 47% of the population freeloading is a direct consequence of the tax policies (particularly the EITC) they’ve pushed through during their last two administrations.

  74. As one of the mods on io9,com, I agree with all of what was said in the original article.

    However, I have become a big Deadspin lurker – I’m not clever enough to post, just to lurk – and it has forever instilled in me the urge to post “+1” when I see a truly clever/funny/snarky comment. It’s like a short form of applause and I find myself using it when I might say, “I find this comment to be excellent.” It’s kind of become my sincerest form of appreciation in online commenting because the community of Deadspin is pretty sparse with its praise unless its well-earned. I suppose it’s along the lines of “this” but taken in the context of the site I picked it up from, it’s completely different.

    I just about waxed on about site-specific culture in comment threads because it’s an interesting phenomenon, but then I reined it in. Phew, that was close.

  75. Zeph:

    So, your response to my observation that libertarians have a tendency to attempt to drag comment threads away from the actual topic and towards their own issues is to attempt to drag the comment thread toward your own issue (involving libertarians!) and away from the actual topic?


    I am sure there is an actual single term for “a person complaining about an alleged behavior of theirs by performing that actual behavior,” and I suspect that if there is, it is in German.

  76. Stoicjimt:

    For future reference, contextless single links are usually deletion fodder, because no one can be sure they don’t lead to a virus laden Web page. Especially when run through a url shortener.

  77. John, I’d like to object to you being able to be witty at 6:09 A.M.
    I usually haven’t finished cursing the alarm clock for its impertinance by then.

  78. I had no idea there were so many “morning people” visiting Whatever. Actually, I’m sort of surprised John is up and online, already, although I guess it is later in Ohio than in the PNW.

    Could I be less on topic?

  79. I am sure there is an actual single term for “a person complaining about an alleged behavior of theirs by performing that actual behavior,” and I suspect that if there is, it is in German.

    Todtderronpaulweltschmertz, roughly translated as “The death of the world in a comment thread by Ron Paul.”

  80. I myself think that kindness is sometimes a virtue that can be discarded or needs to be put into proper perspective: if someone’s making a victim-blaming statement about rape, say, being kind to them is being unkind to rape survivors and women who like to occasionally wear short skirts. Likewise, I think there are times when anger is justified and appropriate–when what you said pisses me off, it *should* piss me off, and not being pissed off is actually kind of insulting to a bunch of people.

    As far as the citation thing goes, I think it depends on what you’re asserting and in what context. A factual claim like “women are more emotional” or “trickle-down economics does not work” probably merits a link or two to a respectable source. And, admittedly, in the first case my asking for a citation is probably code for the fact that I think you’re full of it, and I’m not doing the work of looking it up because I really just hate you and want you to go away.

    But I am a cranky, cranky woman on the Internet.

  81. How about instead of “is it kind?” using “is it malicious?” That way you can take a victim-blamer to task without needlessly being all “go play in traffic.”

  82. Well, thanks for the opinion. But, that’s what it is – thoughts that the writer of this article had. Blogs are forums. People say what they want, and express themselves in any manner they choose. That’s fine with me. Yes, these are opinions, too. So it goes.

  83. Some things I’ve noticed elsewhere that kind of hack me off:

    – Someone creates a thread in a forum offering some sort of suggestion (in this case, a forum in a MMO game, in a subforum specifically dedicated to soliciting suggestions). Someone else responds with the one word: “No.” (As in: “your suggestion is so obviously and blatantly wrong that any explanation for why it is wrong is a waste of time”. Also, “siddown and STFU, n00b.”)

    – Someone puts up a response in a thread, and closes the response with “/thread”. As in: “what I have to say is the last word, and nothing that anyone else can think of contributing will be worthwhile.” Which, unless you happen to someone actually responsible for moderating discussions on that thread, is incredibly arrogant and high-handed.

    (It’s like someone trying to close down a thread on this very blog … well, someone other than the guy who pays the bills for hosting the site, and who owns and wields the Mallet.)

  84. @defmid6: I think “needlessly” is key there. I feel plenty of malice toward, say, Romney: I hope he eats a bee sometime in the near future. And I think that’s justified. So maybe “Is it needlessly malicious?”

    Because sometimes, people should indeed go play in traffic; it’s just important to be clear about when those times are. ;)

    Annnd I see we’ve reached “it’s just your opinion everyone can have an opinion”, because the rest of us are incapable of inductive reasoning. Thanks much, O Great Explainer.

  85. @isabel cooper: I’m taking “eats a bee” and storing it away in my file of fun euphemisms. Thanks!

  86. I half-seriously believe that nobody should be allowed on the Internet unless they’ve read The Art of Deception. This was originally meant to be a classroom text; the theory is that the best way to learn to spot deceptive arguments is to learn how to make them.

    @Catherine Shaffer, respectfully, ‘prove my citation’ is exactly backwards. If I am making an argument, it is incumbent on me to support it; it is not incumbent on others to believe me until they refute it. Sure, people abuse this principle by insisting on proof of things that really aren’t in dispute (like germ theory), or insisting on proof of things that don’t actually require it (if I dislike green beans, I don’t have to ‘prove’ that this is true). I don’t think that should mean that the burden of proving facts by default rests on everyone but the person offering those facts.

  87. @defmid: Thanks! I stole it from Sarah Bunting over at Tomato Nation, but it is pretty awesome. Painful enough to be malicious and satisfying, but not debilitating enough–in most cases–to make you feel bad about it.

  88. I have a personal blog, and most of those folks are pretty good commenters, though a few are “Like” statements. That bothers me less than those rubes in my blog in the local newspaper (not all) who seem to hijack the post to run their own agenda. It’s a good list, but the sins are unequal. #1 is more tolerable than #8 or #9, e.g.

  89. Wizardru wrote: “Almost daily, I see folks make outrageous claims who then balk when asked for proof.”

    Can you give me some examples?

  90. I would add, as a corollary (or maybe it’s just an example) of point six re: refuting assertions by others: “If I’m accusing someone else of engaging in a logical fallacy, am I actually correct about which fallacy?” It’s always a little sad when someone accuses someone else of a logic fallacy and gets it wrong. Not every personal attack is an ad hominem, for example. Most of them aren’t.

    Re: Useful/truthful, necessary, and kind: I grew up being told it had to be all three, but also that ‘kind’ was not meant in the two-dimensional sense of not hurting people’s feelings, but rather in the sense of coming from a place of empathy and compassion. Telling a friend that they’re showing their posterior in public is probably going to hurt their feelings, but that doesn’t mean it’s unkind. Not that I always succeed at adhering to either standard of kindness.

    aphrael: In another forum, today, I yelled at someone for pulling “but the moderator supports me in email”, which seems even worse than lurkers doing it.

    I actually had a moderator support me in private message once, after I called out a sexist jerk. I’m not sure why anyone would think it was a good idea to try to use that kind of private “support” to bolster their argument. Me, I took it as a sign that the moderator was bad at his job, and I quit hanging around in that space.

  91. I don’t always provide a link or a citation when I’m pretty sure that what I’m saying is (or ought to be) common knowledge. But I damn well should be prepared to offer one when challenged.

  92. Only saying things which need to be said should be the golden rule. Whenever I write a comment, anywhere on the internet, I always ask myself ‘will anyone actually benefit from reading this’ before I click on the ‘post comment’ button. I reckon about 75% of what I type as comments never makes it online as I realise it’s simply something I wish to say on the issue, rather than something anyone else needs or wants to hear. Self-moderation is essential for people to be valuable ‘commenters’.

    Indeed, I’ve just deleted the second point I was going to make here, which supports my point – if the only benefit of a post is in the writing, not the reading, then write and delete, not write and post.

  93. Fab stuff. Now, considering in the intro you mention malleting certain trolls/idiots/assbags, how do you go about doing that? Is it a softly softly “come on now, look at what you said (you fool”, or is it actually a malleting whop? I’d be interested if you have any suggestions there…

  94. WizardDru: “I’ll disagree with you on this one. Almost daily, I see folks make outrageous claims who then balk when asked for proof. I don’t think I should have to prove your case for you, even if I can. If your argument depends on facts, you need to present them or be called on it.”

    I used to feel that way, but more and more I think the burden is on the person making the disagreement to provide a reference or a citation to back it up. A statement is not automatically invalid just because it lacks a citation. Using “citation please” as shorthand for “your claim is outrageous and untrue” is sloppy and adds nothing to a conversation. It’s also a bit pretentious, as if we all spend our spare time reading the scientific literature instead of playing video games and petting our cats. We all pull our information for the most part from the swirling media cloud we are immersed in, rather than directly from published scientific data, so perhaps we should be kind, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and come up with a response that contributes facts rather than just tearing someone down or making someone look foolish. In essence, “citation please” is usually a put down, rather than a sincere request for information. If someone asks me for a citation, reference, or link, and it’s clear they really are curious and are looking for more information, I’m more than happy to provide it, even if it’s a bit more work. I will not, however, waste my time digging up citations just to prove to someone that I’m not making an outrageous claim. If someone feels that I am making an outrageous claim, they can look it up for themselves and either feel smug or learn better, depending.

  95. Catherine:
    It’s also a bit pretentious, as if we all spend our spare time reading the scientific literature instead of playing video games and petting our cats.


    I’m only being half-sarcastic; my normal scientific literature or technical read is while I have the TV on in the background, and because Cats.

    Scarily enough it works fine for most subjects, but not quantum physics, radiation hydrodynamics, or philosophy, where I have to go remove distractions.

  96. Love the advice provided here
    The best way to improve the quality of comments beyond this type of charter (that unfortunately few will read and implement) is to reward good commenting behaviors and refrain bad commenting behaviors.
    The ability for a “moderator” (usually the post owner, or some sort of automated platform level moderating mechanism) to promote/demote/delete a comment, the ability for other viewers to mark their interest (+1/like), and the ability of the plateform to weight commenters based on their track record are the real game changers.
    Back to a charter, a much shorter piece would help more as bad commenters tend not to read more than 200 words :)

  97. IMHO, mythago’s reference to The Art of Deception. is VERY much On Topic. But obsolete. My coauthors and I have spent a decade researching and writing, mostly in refereed technical papers, but also in science fiction, and dicussions on Facebook, our Mathematical Theory of Disinformation. Because, and this is valuable to deciding whether Romney was or was not “deceiving” and/or “self-deceiving” when he was overheard by a third party addressing his donors. You can read the excellent but long article at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Google for it):
    The Definition of Lying and Deception
    First published Thu Feb 21, 2008
    Questions central to the philosophical discussion of lying to others and other-deception (or interpersonal deceiving) may be divided into two kinds. Questions of the first kind are definitional. They include the questions of how lying is to be defined, and how deceiving is to be defined, and whether lying is a form of intended deception. Questions of the second kind are moral. They include the questions of whether lying and deceiving are (defeasibly) morally wrong, and whether, if either lying or deception, or both, are defeasibly morally wrong, they are ever morally obligatory, and not just merely morally permissible. In this entry, we only consider questions of the first kind.

    1. Definition of lying
    1.1. Statement condition
    1.2. Untruthfulness condition
    1.3. Addressee condition
    1.4. Intention to deceive addressee condition
    1.5. Objections to the definition of lying
    1.6. Alternative definitions of lying
    2. Definition of deception
    2.1. Objections to the definition of deception
    2.2. Alternative definition of deception
    Other Internet Resources
    Cited Resources
    Related Entries
    Copyright © 2008 by James Edwin Mahon.

  98. @mythago: Fair point–it is hard on the bees. And as I revised my previous hopes for a friend’s boss, on the grounds that not even a brown recluse should be exposed to dude’s boxers or boxer-affiliated area…

    @Cat: Well, it depends on the discussion. If it’s someone I’m talking reasonably with, yeah, I’m going to relax about citations.

    Someone making sexist/homophobic/otherwise dickish claims, on the other hand, doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt, and therefore will not get it.

    So I agree with you that “citation needed” is a put down. I’m just comfortable using it that way, I guess.

  99. Just this past Sunday I was talking with my dad about this blog and the vast community here. I mentioned the comments policy and how it instilled respectful and interesting commenters. I read some of the official comment policy out loud to him, before we got interrupted by family and had to move on. I was pleasantly surprised by the coincidence of seeing you post on this topic again.
    I have been reading your blog and the comments on many of your posts for many years now and enjoy both very much. Thank you.

  100. @Catherine Shaffer: I am now a little confused. My understanding is that, in science, the burden of proof is on the person offering a hypothesis. I do not understand the belief that “do you have support for that?” is mean and unkind, and in a better world we should smile and nod at somebody who is clearly making things up.

    Of course “[citation needed]” is snide; but “Where did you get that?” or “Could you point me to the source of that information?” are not. And unless I’m asking for evidence that gravity exists, a response of “Google it yourself” is a pretty good indicator that the person presenting the argument doesn’t have sources or doesn’t care whether their argument had any factual basis.

  101. I personally have never asked for a citation with any other intention than trying to find the OP’s source – so perhaps “Citation, please” is snarky in the eyes of the beholder, not necessarily in the intent of the questioner. As a debate judge, if a contention is made and a citation is requested, failure to produce documentation leads to an automatic loss in my rounds. I tend to apply the same rule in discussions.

    Mythago and I agree on something. I should play the lottery or something. It’s clearly a significant day in the universe.

  102. I enjoyed the post but had nothing to add to any conversation, until I read an NPR article on snakes invading Guam and the resultant explosion of spiders (the snakes eat the birds that eat the spiders), and I kid you not, this was the first (and only) comment:

    “Tragic, slimy little pests. How does one clean up a mess like that? Obama is good at cleaning up messes. Ask him. ”

    I thought maybe you had exaggerated a little in your description, but apparently not…

  103. Zeph, Beth – As a token Libertarian here, I’ll get down off my high horse and comment that one of the better things about spam was that “How to get rid of Spam” replaced “Libertarians vs. Socialists Wars” as the default topic toward which all Usenet discussions eventually sank. Socialists and other liberals were just as much at fault in those wars as Libertarians were (though sometimes they’d originally get involved intending to inject common sense and reason into a Conservatives vs. Libertarians War, naively failing to realize the amount of quicksand and other muck that they were stepping into.) (And when I say “socialists”, that’s not in the “Tea Party calling Obama a Commie” sense, it’s in the “Yes, it’s just as ugly when a Libertarian tries to “help” a discussion between Trotskyites and {your favorite other Socialist group}” sense. Go, Sparts, Go!)

    And really, it’s a lot more annoying to watch people I agree with be rude about debating people they should be trying to convince than it is watching the people who are Just Wrong doing that to us.

  104. I offer unto the multitudes my number one tip for sensible commenting: write your comment out in a Notepad (or other text editor of choice) window while you’re reading the thread.

    This has a lot of advantages. Firstly, it means your words of wisdom are recorded for posterity, even if they are not yet posted. If, as I do, you like the idea of getting your ideas out in a form where they can be wrestled into coherence, this is a Good Thing. Secondly, it means if someone else has posted pretty much what you want to say, you don’t have to say it, but you can still save it to some form of storage media, and maybe work it up into a post of your own someday. Thirdly, it means if you’re too het up and incoherent to make sense, you can get the emotional sense of what you want to convey down while the iron is hot (so to speak) and then work on editing for coherence and civility. Fourthly, if in the process of writing it all down you realise you’re talking absolute nonsense, there isn’t the risk of accidentally hitting the “send” button, and having it posted to the internet under your name.

    And of course, if you reach the end of the thread, refresh it and it still turns out that nobody has stated your point, you have a comment right there, waiting to go, all ready to be copied and pasted in. Then all you have to do is click on “post”, and Internet Enlightenment occurs.

    [I should offer a disclaimer: this doesn’t prevent 100% of my more inane and vacuous postings. That’s because sometimes I ignore my own best advice, and compose in the comment box. However, this method of writing in Notepad and deciding whether to post later has actually prevented a lot of very long-winded, highly tangential rambles from escaping onto the internet and doing their bit to ensure my online reputation resembled that of the Time Cube bloke.]

  105. Near as I can tell, jokes are excluded by the rules. Scalzi violates it in one.

    Are you sure this list is finished?

  106. Zeph: Calling people out for their faults (such as the Libertarian Dismount – which I will endeavor not to do anymore, I’ve been guilty of it once or twice) is not a “hate-on”. It’s just calling us on our faults. Thanks, John, for pointing it out.

  107. Anyone who would look to this site or any other blog site for facts, validation or the truth and expect citations is simply foolish. Its’ a blog sight, used by a science fiction author to spout his personal opinions, do some marketing for friends/those he deems worthy and keep his own marketing of self spinning by creating traffic, drama etc. I have nothing against any of it, but it is rather sad that some seem to view the site as a major source of relevant and factual information. Well, maybe sad is the wrong word. I actually LOL at many people’s comments who are basically minions of the site.

  108. Not all bloggers mind comments going off topic! Obviously here it’s a problem, but other folks (often those who don’t get 100+ comments on every post) don’t mind at all.

  109. Name (required): LOL? What are you? Twenty-four? (I was going to say twelve, but I realized that LOL is about twenty-four or older. Time flies.) Unless you laughed out loud and have the media to prove it, of course, in which case I’ll retract my scorn.

    This raises the question, should we give in to popular commentary trends? If we shouldn’t do “Agreed”, “This” or “+1”, should we do things like “I’ve corrected that for you” or “I’m just going to leave this here.” I used to think these were clever, but now I often find they make for a confrontational environment.

  110. Two questions for you John:
    If someone posted, “I am covered in butter-cream. Your argument is invalid.”
    And they attached a picture of same, with them flipping you the bird…
    Would you mallet them?
    If you did, would that not be hypocritical?

  111. SkyFisher, your argument is invalid. And not because you’re covered in buttercream or because you can’t actually post a picture.

    It’s invalid because this is Scalzi’s house and we who comment are his guests. If he wants to walk around naked in his living room, he gets to. It’s his house. If you want to walk around naked in his living room and he decides to throw you out, that doesn’t make him hypocritical. It makes him the person who doesn’t feel like having naked guests in his living room.

    Come on, this isn’t rocket surgery. It’s basic common sense. What next? That idiotic canard about “freedom of speech” and “censorship”?

  112. BW, please note:
    I am not putting forth an argument; I am asking two questions.
    This is not brain science

  113. You didn’t ask, “Would that be hypocritical?” You asked, “Would that not be hypocritical?” There is a significant difference between those two questions. ‘Nuff said.

  114. Actually, no. This sentence formation: “If you did, would that not be…” is a rhetorical device, used to corner the responder into participating in your argument. BW is correct in assessing this argument, or attempt at one, as invalid. This is “when was the last time you raped your sister” -style idiocy.

    To whit–
    Hypocritical: of the nature of hypocrisy, or pretense of having virtues, beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually possess.

    Scalzi’s principles include, basically, “my house, my rules, subject to change w/o notice, and don’t apply to me, cuz my house!” That’s not a pretense at something he doesn’t actually believe; that’s straight up, unvarnished, personal principle. That principle may not seem fair to you, but it’s not hypocritical, and we’re not children, who pound the carpet screaming “you’re so mean and unfair, wah!” Or, at least, I’m not.

  115. Consider this a warning label for the (few) conservatives reading — from a fellow traveler:

    I’ve commented at Whatever (off and on) for the better part of three years. In that time I’ve learned that a significant part of the commenting body (including the host) are all far more educated on matters of rhetoric, semantics, and verbal fencing than I will ever be. As in, these are often degreed professionals at arguing. Thus when you are a lay political conservative facing a circle of such folk — their ideological épées drawn and pointed — it’s not exactly a winning proposition.

    Put another way, the lay political conservative at Whatever is a clay pigeon.

    I’ve let myself get flung off the trap any number of times.

    The best course of action — you conservative — is to limit yourself to one post. Ergo, only give them one shot at you.

    Make your statement, and be gone. Resist the urge to get sucked into the butter churn of debate. This is a particularly steely-eyed crowd of astute and learned liberals you’re dealing with. You’re unlikely to change their minds. Likewise, you’re unlikely to be changing the host’s mind. Regardless of how much you might want to.

  116. Aw, Brad, you’re so sweet!

    On a serious note, though, I would very much like to be convinced by a conservative argument. I’ve encountered two problems in this effort:
    1. Conservatives don’t seem very clear on what their core principles are, other than they are against everything, and also, Socialism, ack!
    2. The math and/or logic behind the tactics to achieve the rather amorphous “ideal” are/is, frankly, appalling. A coherent argument, with clear logic, supported by evidence and math, that lays out a viable path to a clearly stated goal, would go far to convince me of the possible worth of said end goal.

    If this ever happens, I might very well throw that person a party, with balloons and pinatas and a big cake. I’d even make and eat a schadenfreude pie.

    Full disclosure, I have the exact same issues with my Communist friends and associates, and if anything they are even less coherent. I sort of lump the C’s together, now, as different flavors of the same brand of dip.

  117. Brad Torgersen:

    “Put another way, the lay political conservative at Whatever is a clay pigeon.”

    Actually, the lay political conservative should do just fine here, if he or she keeps in mind the questions that comprise the entry to which this comment thread is attached. I agree there are a number of commenters here who are rhetorically very sharp, and there are also some who are politically on the liberal side of US politics. So someone of the conservative political persuasion will find it a challenging place to present his or her views. However, not necessarily unyielding or unfriendly, and of course within the population of regular commenters here there are a number who are not liberal; one assumes they comment here regularly for a reason.

    “The best course of action — you conservative — is to limit yourself to one post.”

    I don’t agree that the best course is necessarily one comment and out. One, I’m not sure “changing the mind” of someone else should always be the goal of the conversation. I think sharing ideas and reminding others that rational people may have legitimate differences of opinion is valuable in itself, since it reminds people to be aware of other viewpoints and that people who do not share your views are not therefore automatically the enemy. In other words, the civil and respectful (if spirited) sharing and debate of different viewpoints is ultimately a benefit to everyone even if no one changes their mind.

    Two, it ignores the fact that the very large majority of Whatever readers aren’t commenters, they are readers. A discussion in a comment thread on a site with a visitorship the size of Whatever is a public performance, to be blunt about it. Therefore often the people who will be most persuaded by an intelligent, useful stating of a political/cultural position will not the be participants, but those who are following along at home. I mean, seriously, you don’t think political candidates debate because they’re trying to change each others’ minds, do you?

    Three, I think, Brad, that you’re (perhaps not intentionally) looking at the thread in terms of how to win it. In this case, if you can’t win it under the optional set of victory conditions (i.e., by apparently changing the mind of those with whom you converse), then you choose to operate on a more limited set of victory conditions, i.e., by stating your position and then dropping the mic, leaving others to comment to an empty room; you can’t be refuted because you’re not there to be refuted.

    But of course this is not actually how comment thread discussions work. People will still respond and people following along will read the responses, there won’t be any followup to expand on ideas or to counter responses, and the only thing you’ll really gain from it is the reputation that you’re not commenting to be part of the conversation, you’re commenting just to achieve the rhetorical equivalent of “I THINK THIS. DEAL WITH IT.”

    And that’s fine. No one who comments here has to engage other commenters, and one-off comments in a thread can still be useful and interesting (or funny, or snarky or whatever). But it’s not necessarily good advice for other people, politically conservative or otherwise, in how to deal with the comment threads on this site.

  118. Oh, boo hoo, Brad.

    Alternatively, you could:

    1) Take any rhetorical drubbings you receive as learning experiences. Takes notes on why and how you feel you’re getting out-argued, and come back with better arguments. “Better” in this case meaning different than before, not the same arguments rehashed, only louder or with more verbiage.

    2) Not attach your ego to your posts.

  119. After reading this blog, especially the “this list of logical fallacies”, and having my WP auto-correct editor inform that I know absolutely nothing about writing in the English language, I feel totally inadequate to the task of commenting here, or anywhere else, for that matter….of course, I will, anyway!

    On another note, since I have just about zero comments on my blog after posting on-and-off for 3 years, I’d welcome anything anyone has to say… hell, I even allow spam just to have something show up in the stats!! But, yes, these are definitely good rules to live by, and not just on the Net…

    Live long and prosper…

    PS I can’t resist to state the obvious conclusion to Brad’s self-defining assertion: Liberals, as a general rule, are more intelligent than conservatives….

    I think I might have broken a few of the “rules” in this post, but, hey, I’m not much of a “rules guy”….

  120. What Brad is recommending is called “drive-by” commenting, except that he seems to advocate doing it once per thread rather than once per blog.

    People will still respond and people following along will read the responses, there won’t be any followup to expand on ideas or to counter responses, and the only thing you’ll really gain from it is the reputation that you’re not commenting to be part of the conversation, you’re commenting just to achieve the rhetorical equivalent of “I THINK THIS. DEAL WITH IT.”

    And that’s really a species of trolling, only without the commitment and faux courage.

    If someone has declared that he won’t be taking part in the conversation, respond to any refutations, or answer any questions (which is how I read Brad, who is certainly welcome to correct me if that’s not what he meant), why should I offer any response? Why should I engage with ideas that are effectively just a rude scrawl on the wall? And to save my own blood pressure, why should I read them in the first place?

    There are other people here who are conservative and engage in the conversation, though some of them never, ever admit to having been refuted. Liberals are more open to having our minds changed (on a particular topic, not on basic principles) than conservatives are, as well.

  121. Brad declared quite a while back that he was going to begin limiting himself to one post per thread. He’d been getting pretty thoroughly spanked by facts, beforehand. I sometimes check in on his blog, because he will occasionally take his argument over there, where he is less likely to be fact-checked, and I get curious about what the Fox News Nation is believing that week. Brad’s blog is much less disturbing/offensive/horrifying than Fox.

    I don’t think he’s a troll or a bad person; I think he just has biases that are based on feelings rather than reason, so his arguments basically boil down to “like/dislike + this 1 person who agrees with me on Fox.” He could improve his arguments, but research and sourcing would threaten his biases, and he doesn’t want to do that. That’s his choice: le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point.

    Just a bit of context.

  122. An extended exegesis:

    1 ► I completely agree with John’s statement that there is value in the act of sharing ideas without the goal being to explicitly change minds. I would add that sometimes people are just grateful to see their ideas (or ideas similar to their own) expressed cogently in a space where such ideas are in the distinct minority. One of the more remarkable experiences I’ve had going to Worldcon as a “pro” the last two years has been having fans or even other writers lean in close to me and saying, “I saw what you wrote at Scalzi’s blog. Thank you for that.” A number of my fellow travelers simply won’t risk the Whatever “skeet line,” to use a phrase. But they appreciate it when I do. Thus I am content to “represent,” for better or for worse. I seem to have developed a bit of a reputation for it? Though where and when I “represent” in 2012 (and beyond) is greatly impacted by Item 2.

    2 ► Having repeatedly experienced the “butter churn” effect through successive threads — back and forth and back and forth, replies upon replies upon replies — I think my rule I tried to apply to myself last year was “Three strikes, I’m out!” But I discovered that beyond the “second strike” I’d still be having multiple conversations with different critics, and pretty soon I was expending many thousands of words all over again, on single comments threads — just trying to keep up with the din. A few years back I could afford to burn time in such a fashion. Lately I just don’t have it. Nor do I have the emotional energy. I don’t fault the host or the denizens of Whatever for this. It’s purely my own inability to muster resources. I suppose it’s what comes with having three paying jobs, on top of a family.

    3 ► Having thus concluded that a) it’s worth it to occasionally raise the black flag of conservative thought in an explicitly political Whatever thread, but b) there’s not a sufficient amount of time nor sufficient internal capital (on my side) for prolonged debate, my only real alternative seems to be: one-and-done. Go in, make the statement– avoiding exclamatory or directly derogatory language as much as possible — and get out. Read the responses, of course. Note where and when I could have possibly formed a better statement. Note alternative points of view that seem to be seeing things in the entrails I may not. But reserve the “follow up” effort for the next thread. Because it’s my observation that topics don’t just appear once on Whatever, and vanish. The worthwhile ones tend to come up over and over again. And because Whateverites seem to have exceptional memories, I don’t have to worry about people not having a character or historical context for what I am saying. Even the lurkers tend to keep up.

    4 ► None of this will satisfy a robustly zealous opponent. I realize that. After all, why would I make an overtly political statement if I’m not prepared to defend it? That was my logic too; for a long, long time. What changed? People remember the drubbing John gave me last year for my “buzzer” comment. One of the things I realized about that particular thread was that once I am too deep into the weeds with a protracted argument I get so emotional and fatigued that my behavior erodes. John notes in his rules for good commenting that it’s not a sin to walk away. To not have the last word. I think this is great advice. I wish I’d followed it before now. It’s hard to follow. Sometimes, enormously hard. But still great advice. So instead of waiting two or three days and burning up many hours and thousands of words on reply after reply after reply, lately I walk away immediately. I don’t stop reading, mind you. I don’t stop paying attention. I simply pull my cannon off the field and elect not to return fire. Perhaps this is a form of trolling? Perhaps it’s intellectual cowardice? I like to think of it as a compromise between what my Klingon instinct says — today is a good day to die! — and what my logical Data side says I should do, based on past experience.

    5 ►Now, how does this all apply to other commenters? Without naming names (they know who they are) I can think of at least half a dozen conservative-ish people who have, over the last 18 months or more, done the “butter churn” dance through any number of threads. Each of them will of course decide for themselves how and when and where to engage. Or not. Or to simply walk away entirely. Since this particular thread we’re in now is John’s list of directives to the gallery, I thought I’d tape up a flyer on one of the columns. I respect John’s disagreement with the points in the flyer and I appreciate his not having taken the flyer down. I do think that what works for me may work well for a few others. Because the truth is I’ve been a much happier camper since I stopped putting myself on the dunking machine over and over and over and over. Once is usually good enough. Because as John notes, simply re-stating a thing over and over isn’t necessarily good commenter behavior. So I am content to make the initial statement, observe what follows on, and leave it at that. I apparently have enough lurker people paying attention that such single statements are being noticed — and appreciated. And that’s good enough for me. I will never be able to change the zeitgeist of Whatever. Most of you are far more skilled, intelligent, and learned than I am. But I can still poke my periscope above the waves — fire the occasional ideological torpedo. Just to remind the Happy Fleet that the sea is not yours alone. I figure as long as I don’t make it personal against the host or the denizens — as long as I am making a solid effort to avoid clevertude-devolved-to-dickishness — I can’t be accused of outright trolling. Because trolling isn’t really what I’m after anyway. My objective is to say, “Hello, I exist, and I think and feel differently about this thing you’re talking about. And I can talk about it in language greater than that of an 8th grade dropout — and I am not alone.”

    6 ►Which takes me back to something I’ve touched on a couple of times, and which John touched on with his “public performance” analogy. How many Whateverites have ever witnessed a session of the British Parliament? Either live or on television? What always strikes me is when one of the MPs gets up and — knowing he or she is going to get cat-called and booed — makes his or her statement regardless. Not to change minds. Not even to push forward a policy. But to simply stamp the idea or ideas into the discourse. Or at least that’s my estimation of the usefulness of such behavior. The MP in question may be lancing at a windmill, yes. But sometimes it seems to me there is nobility in the action regardless of the statement, simply because it reminds the majority in the room that they don’t have the room all to themselves.

    7 ►Now, some might say, “Go find your own goddamned room, we like ours just fine!” In other places and other spaces on the internet this is in fact the Prime Directive: bug off, you — we don’t want your kind here. Since John’s willing to afford his space to people from the opposite side of the political tracks, yet the overwhelming majority of the dialogue is conducted from his side — not just by him, but also the commenters — I conclude (again) that there is value in being the lone MP rising to make statements which the bulk of the MPs will find objectionable. Because in terms of public spaces, Whatever is a highly notable one. Not the only one per se — if anybody wants to take a peek at the Mirror Universe version of Whatever, you might head over to Larry Correia’s blog when he gets going on politics. But notable just the same. And interesting. Which makes it a space worth visiting from time to time. And commenting in. Despite my handicaps.

    8 ► All of this is, of course, predicated on politics being the root of what’s being discussed. For explicitly non-political posts I have a different set of self-rules and I don’t mind making several comments, or continuing in a general line of friendly dialogue. Something else I’ve learned in over 20 years of BBSing and Web communication is that not everything has to be a debate. And especially here at Whatever I sometimes gratefully embrace an opportunity to display a bit of genuine humor, self-deprecation, or geekist sharedom across the aisle because the truth is I am not all that bad, folks. No, really. I’m not. Just ask some Worldcon members who confessed to me just this month that I wasn’t the asshole they were expecting! Golly! This too is motivation for “drive-by” political commentary. The less I flog the disagreement the less I (hopefully) will appear to consist of nothing but disagreement. Does that make sense?

  123. Brad, you’re under no obligations here. But:
    1) contrarian “one and done” commenting is awfully hard to distinguish from trolling;
    2) it also smacks of liking the sound of one’s own voice too much;
    3) it still seems predicated on your sense that you can’t win, which in itself implies an unhealthy need to win;
    4) it is going to give you a self-satisfied sense of having won, which is equally unhealthy;
    5) the “lurkers support me in email” bit is pretty fracking weak.

  124. @Doc:
    1 ► I agree. And my decision to go “one-and-done” was not a hasty one. I simply concluded that I could more easily take my lumps as a perceived troll than I could as someone endlessly flogging (and getting flogged in) threads through hours and days and weeks.
    2 ► Guilty as charged. I do like what I write and how I write it, otherwise I’d not write it at all. I suppose I don’t see the sin in it when we’re in the era of blogs and Twitter. Perhaps people paying me for what I write (on the fiction side) has dulled my sensibilities on this? Hopefully people can forgive me my occasional indulgences in a Whatever thread.
    3 ► I would say my evolution on the idea of “winning” has reached the point where I am not sure I’d know what “winning” even looks like because political commentary threads — not just here, but everywhere — often take on a “scorched Earth” aspect. Ergo, the “winner” is the last person standing. Not necessarily the one who is correct, nor even the one with the best arguments nor the best rhetoric. The one who can outlast the patience and stamina of every single competitor. In most cases where I have seen this occur the “winner” has seldom looked too good for it. Perhaps (s)he felt pride in having bested the bunch, but more often than not (s)he just seemed particularly bull-headed and stubborn. Having been accused of being just such a guy myself, I’ve decided to limit my strike-backs and simply not strike back at all.
    4 ► Similarly over on Facebook I’ve had to work on limiting my retort reflex because it’s seemed to me that what people want out of my comment threads is not to change my mind nor even necessarily for me to agree with them per se, they simply see something I’ve stated up top and they want the chance to say, “I disagree, and here is why.” I don’t need to tell them they’re wrong to “prove” I am right. I’m not even sure I think of it in terms of wrong and right anymore. I’ve made my statement, they’ve made theirs, and people seem to get along better (and I with them) if I don’t keep pressing the issue. I’m still struggling on this one, to be sure. But because I have a more or less 50-50 split between liberal and conservative FB friends I’ve had to conclude (for myself) that it’s better to keep friends friendly than to alienate them through “winning.”
    5 ► Well, what can I say? When a total stranger sees your Chicon 7 badge, then leans in a little bit and says, “I like what you said on so-and-so’s blog,” that’s an incentive. Or at least it is to me. Which is not necessarily the same thing as saying, “My anecdotal story proves that everyone on Whatever is wrong.” Just that a small collection of people are (apparently) reading the blog and its threads, and they like seeing a conservative piping up in an intelligent manner now and again. Simply making the conservatively-couched statement is a gesture certain people have seemed to appreciate on my part. And I like this. Not because I want to be a dick to John or the denizens of Whatever. I do not. Especially not when I’m liable to be running into John and several others at cons and I don’t want to have that awkward I was a dick to you on the internet thing hanging in space between us. I just like the fact that I am “representing” for a small portion of the Whatever audience that seems to feel underrepresented in the comments. I figure as long as I mind my Ps and Qs and don’t tip over into dickery, John and others will be (mostly) cool with it. Not in agreement. Goodness no! But cool with it.

  125. Brad:

    1. Good responses, both of them, and as you say, we have long memories, so I’m happy to report that your explanation now jibes with your reasoning then. Good job!

    2. I am a liberal who appreciates reasoned opposition viewpoints. What you might find interesting is that I have been persuaded over to “conservative” positions, but by Democrats and Socialists. These people are why I am now against pro-assisted suicide legislation. But the liberals made the argument better than the conservatives. Crazy, right?

    3. Which demonstrates that I, at least, am persuadable, in almost any forum, as long as you argue your point well. I don’t care if you drop-and-run, as long as you do it well.

    4. I agree with your self assessment. You do pretty well at first, although I’d like you to reach for the next level and be a good debater, but you devolve quickly, which is annoying.

    5. I hope you can find a middle ground between thousands of words of wasted bloviating and brief drop-ins that could–but usually don’t–feature significant content.

    I don’t know how to say this w/o possibly reading as patronizing, but thanks for playing. Really. Don’t be a stranger.

  126. @Brad: Certainly, it is a fine thing to know your limits, and to walk away from a discussion when you know it’s going to end in tears, or when you’ve just got better things to do than tell someone why they’re wrong on the Internet. But it seems as though you’re still trying to “win” comment threads; you’ve simply adjusted your internal criteria for what counts as a “win”. Instead of ‘convince others I am right’, the victory condition is ‘give everyone a piece of my mind’.

    One major problem with that approach is that, in essence, what you are telling everybody is that you are not interested in listening; you are not interested in an exchange of ideas, or whether you are right or wrong; you are interested in making sure everybody hears you, full stop. Ultimately, what you’re implying is that anyone who disagrees with you cannot be reasoned with, so there’s no point in doing anything other than signaling to other like-minded folks “Hey, I’m on your side.”

    Another problem is that, bluntly, you are not so much listening to the discussion as assigning them roles in that epic play, Me: The Story of a Hero. Here we have the Dastardly Liberals, silencing the poor conservatives with their rhetoric-glaive-guisarmes; here we have the Clay Pigeon, cut down before his time for meekly suggesting that maybe we should reconsider social programs; and there, to the swelling of the symphony, is Our Hero, the Voice of Reason, cutting through the clamor of the echo chamber to give his soliloquy, to the sounds of progressives gnashing their teeth. The oppressed conservatives in the background break into a moving chorus of “Do You Hear the People Sing” as you exit (stage right, of course).

    If that’s all that you want out of a Whatever discussion then, you know, it’s Scalzi’s pad, if he’s okay with it it’s not my place to gainsay. Just that if you want more than the satisfaction of yelling at liberals and then slamming the door before they can react, I don’t think you are taking a productive approach in that regard.

  127. Brad:

    I’d like to expressly say – as a person who has gone back and forth with you – I completely understand not having the words per day budget to expend on comment threads.

    I’d encourage you to reflect on an achievable middle ground between a SPLAT A TAT TAT post and War and Peace. Because I will also confess that if I know in advance you have no interest in engaging in a discussion on the position you’re offering, I’m not inclined to read it.

    You note that part of your plan is to read the responses and take note of the ways in which you could better make your argument. I’d suggest at the very least committing to a follow up post that indicates and acknowledges the responses you’ve received. Because, otherwise, I don’t think to many folks are inclined to yell into the abyss. You know?

  128. Hmm.

    My two cents on the last bit…

    One, I’m not conservative (in the blanket philosophy sense) but some of my beliefs in some areas fit in that description. I haven’t found this a particularly hostile venue to those beliefs, personally.

    Two, argumentative skill levels (the master-level circle of epees mentioned above) are not concentrated in a hyperliberal minority here; I have what probably amounts to significant postgraduate experience in argument from the level of persuasive editorial through applied flamewar.

    Mostly the more aggressive end of all that stays in the holster, because:

    A) I’m not in my 20s anymore and don’t need to prove anything to most people that badly,
    B) Many venues I’m making serious professional arguments, so the persuasion has to be “professional”, and that’s more of my standard style now, and,
    C) This is Whatever and Scalzi’s blog, not mine, so asshat behavior would seem just rude to the host and community. Oh, and,
    D) I am more firmly aware that the lurkers aren’t typically convinced by escalation and that the opposing arguer is even less so, even if they provoke or escalate it. Ultimately the arguments are not just rude but ineffective, which equates to complete waste of time and needless spending of community political capital…

    I’m perfectly willing to stand up for ideas I believe in here or elsewhere, conservative or not. But stand up for doesn’t mean yelling from mountaintop here or pushing an argument past the point of constructive discussion.

    I’m sure I’m still capable of being an asshat at times, but knowing it’s not helping my cause is a good inducement to not go there.

  129. Hi John, thank you very much for this. It’ll certainly help /me/ be a better commentor, and there’s a lot to think about besides. Might even help with my essays! I think I’m gonna go spread the word now.

  130. All snark aside, I want to push back against the idea that the “lay conservative” (or “lay liberal”, for that matter) stands no chance against the credentialed rhetoric-ninjas of whatever. I find that idea particularly strange coming from a successful writer, who is in the business of communicating ideas and speaking in a way that makes people interested in hearing more.

    You don’t need training, much less a degree, to be right, or to present an honest argument, or to check that your facts are right. This is not a formal debate where you give a speech and a panel of judges rates you on a point system, or a trial where you’re taking turns launching persuasive speeches to a jury. It’s a conversation. I don’t know anybody who has a degree in “conversation”.

    What training does make you good at is spotting logical fallacies, dishonest arguments and eliding facts. It also, sadly, makes you good at constructing dishonest arguments in a way that makes them more difficult to pick apart. (There’s a reason the political class consists heavily of lawyers.) So if you’re presenting bad arguments and you’re not doing so at a very high level, it’s going to be much harder for you to get away with it here – regardless of whether those arguments are “liberal” or “conservative”.

  131. Is there a need to announce that you’re leaving a thread? I find simply ignoring it is sufficient, and have always found those who announce “I’m done here” to be unnecessarily adding noise. Plus it’s easy to spot the crazies when they keep posting in response to themselves with things like, “hah, I don’t see you posting here, so I guess you figured out I was right” and “Still not posting here? Where are you? Scared to reply to me?”

  132. I seem to have every comment I leave on every e-mail address I own, including ones I’ve never used on this site, not show up. I’m pretty sure I haven’t been malleted, as I’ve never left any controversial comments here and I’ve never received any warnings from John. I’m kind of confused. What should I do?

  133. I’m pretty sure I haven’t been malleted, as I’ve never left any controversial comments here and I’ve never received any warnings from John.

  134. Of course there is always that comment that arrives last, months or years after the post, which really had nothing to do with the post itself, except this one might… as an example of a bad comment. :)

  135. Perfect your fly fishing cast before going out since it requires a touch more casting prior to deciding to land your fish. When the weather isn’t right to search fishing, then take this time for getting in some casting practice. You will be well-rewarded for ones effort so when you cast your line.

  136. The three sieves of Socrates

    One day, the old wise Socrates walks down the streets, when all of the sudden a man runs up to him “Socrates I have to tell you something about your friend who…”
    “Hold up” Socrates interrupts him “About the story you’re about to tell me, did you put it trough the three sieves?”
    “Three sieves?” The man asks “What three sieves?”
    “Let’s try it” Socrates says.
    “The first sieve is the one of truth, did you examine what you were about to tell me if it is true?” Socrates asks.
    “Well no, I just overheard it” The man says.
    “Ah, well then you have used the second sieve, the sieve of good?” Socrates asks “Is it something good what you’re about to tell me?”
    “Ehm no, on the contrary” the man answers.
    “Hmmm” The wise man says “Let’s use the third sieve then, is it necessary to tell me what you’re so exited about?”
    “No not necessary” the man says.
    “Well” Socrates says with a smile “If the story you’re about to tell me isn’t true, good or necessary, just forget it and don’t bother me with it.”

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