Arnold Kling  

Tone of Comments

Singapore: "Automatic Stabiliz... How Glen Whitman Fights Statis...

My blog is my classroom.

Some blogs may want their comments to be wide-open forums where anything goes. I don't.

Some blogs may want only sycophants and supporters to comment. Others ban comments altogether. Some bloggers have reputations for deleting critical comments, even those that are polite. I welcome criticism, but it must be thoughtful and respectful.

Many bloggers don't bother to read comments. I think Bryan reads comments less often than I do, and I believe that he is less obsessed than I am with tone issues.

My blog is my classroom. I want the tone of comments to reflect that. You would not come to class to throw insults and sarcastic put-downs at the professor. Occasionally, the professor may use a tone that would be considered inappropriate in a comment. That may or may not be wise. But the blog is my classroom.

I have asked the editor to take a more aggressive approach to deleting mean-spirited comments.

Ironically, the stimulus for doing this is not the obnoxious comments that have been posted, but the good ones. In fact, Megan McArdle recently linked here solely to quote a comment.

I think that we will have more flowers if we do more weeding.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (13 to date)
Matt writes:

Good to hear. I recently subscribed to the Reason blog and it seems that every single post that mentions Ron Paul, even in passing, rapidly accumulates pages and pages of useless comments. I'd hate for that sort of thing to happen here. Prune away!

ryan writes:

I respect this. Will you be able to elaborate on some general rules or elaborations (say, like a syllabus)?

Jim writes:

So any mean-spirited, sarcastic or aggressive remarks on this site will be deleted, unless they come from you or Bryan. Gotcha.

Unit writes:

I agree wholeheartedly, but can we also ask you questions as if we were in a classroom?

Teresa Lo writes:

People can be very rude, mostly because they are anonymous. Have you read ? There is a long except posted at the site.

William Newman writes:

It should (though unfortunately doesn't always) go without saying that I respect your right to choose the ground rules for your blog. But the way you present your choice of ground rules as obvious seems mistaken to me, and the wisdom of those ground rules seems questionable to me. A post on David Friedman's blog illustrates both those issues. (See both his point number 6 in the original post, and his response in the comments.)

If you want to impose classroom norms, fine, be my (possibly ex-)host. But please don't make it sound like you're just reminding us of the usual courtesies. Norms that give David Friedman pause in correcting politically-charged nonsense differ enormously from the usual Internet ground rules. (For anyone who doesn't recognize the name, Friedman is not a shy or intellectually insecure man who is fantasizing about classroom norms as a lame excuse for his unwillingness or inability to hold up his side of an argument; see, e.g., Usenet.) So by trying to say that classroom norms just naturally apply, you're retroactively declaring various reasonable Internet discussants to be pushy boors. It is your right to set the ground rules, it is arguably even your right to retroactively claim that they were the ground rules all along, but even if the retroactive claim is your right, that doesn't make it right.

And, if you want to impose classroom authority, you might want to acknowledge that it conventionally comes with responsibility. A kind of conservation of pain applies: you mightn't get challenged as often by your remaining students, but any pain off-site might be worse. Note, for example, the tone of people's responses to the textbook quotes from the recent _Foreign Policy_ article on economics taught in Europe. The response to someone who teaches those things as fact is not the same as the response to someone who just says those things in an argument. Someone who says a series of questionable or mistaken things as a blogger or in an academic seminar can move on (maybe in two weeks, maybe in two years, probably somewhere in between). Someone who teaches mistaken things while demanding asymmetrical student-professor respect relationships might want to make contingency plans for a long career based primarily on political correctness (very broadly defined: e.g., those whose loyalties drove them to teach the wrongness of ideas like Galileo's or Boltzmann's or Darwin's long after doing so made much technical sense).

I'm particularly reminded of one of my disrespectful posts. By ordinary Usenet standards I might be considered a boor in posting with that tone at your site. (That I question your rules doesn't mean I never wonder whether I should be less obnoxious.) In your retroactive classroom, though, I'm far beyond that, aspiring to be Borat ... which I find a disturbing notion. On the other hand, you're retroactively not just a blogger giving his analysis, but a professor teaching his respectful trusting students the textbookworthy-to-you truth that when trying to understand the high price, there are simply no restrictions on supply which are even worth mentioning ...

(I would nominate a meeting of the Lunar Society, or some kinds of modern academic seminar, as alternative models. In the area of online technical information exchange I know best, I founded a reasonably successful open-source software project, and I have presided over it for some years. After the initial face-palming, the idea of someone announcing an open-source software project to be run on the "my classroom" model does have a certain horrible fascination, enough that I'd quite like to see what would happen. But I think the Lunar Society model is likely to work better.)

Bob Knaus writes:

Hooray! Call me a Southerner, if you like... I think certain formalities are worth preserving. I'm not capable of posting erudite comments here, but I do have interesting stories to tell now and again. I'd like to be able to tell them, and not get lost in the snarky clutter.

dearieme writes:

Kling Klong!

I don't think I could disagree more.

At the start, however, I want to say that you can run your blog however you want. It's your baby.

I don't believe, though, I've ever posted a disrespectful comment on this blog. And with this post I don't think I will ever comment again on your posts. You say that your blog is your classroom. I think this is completely and totally the wrong approach to the internet. A blog is like a public speech with an open-mic question period, not a classroom. And with that format you should expect to get some annoying responces. If you want this to be like a classroom then you should have to register in order to view the blog at all.

I also find it completely confusing that you state that this new policy has nothing to do with "obnoxious comments" but rather with the excellent comments. In other words this is a preemtive strike. This seems to me to be an insult against all of your readers. Basically you scare everyone from commenting because you might find the tone to be annoying. Being the internet, where you only have text to go by, it is nearly impossible to determine tone. This, then, completely prevents any use of humor or sarcasm to make even a valid contribution to the post.

If you look around the blogosphere I think it is evident that the great blogs interact with their readers. Take Marginal Revolution for example: Tyler Cowen will often respond in the comments to particular ideas, often leading into new posts on that topic. Alex Tabarrok is especially active in the comments, debating and acknowledging critics and complementors alike. Likewise Mike Munger and Kevin Grier, in their admittedly less formal blog, consistantly reply in their comments. The Austrian Economists blog with Boettke et al. are probably the best of all continuing the discussion into the blog.

If you look at Greg Mankiw's blog by comparision you will see a markedly different blog now that he has removed commenting. Previously the dicussion would be quite engaging but now it has become nearly a forum for link posting and it has lost most of the spark it once had.

When I think of when I learned the most in school I think of seminar classes. In these you are required to engage the topic and come into debate. You seem to prefer the lecture model with limited question asking. As if it is more important to finish the lecture than discuss with students the problems and how these ideas can be applied to related issues.

It's for these reasons that I support a completely open forum. I can, however, understand the deletion of beligerent and off-topic posts, but to delete because of annoyance and tone seems to be counterproductive in terms of a real education. What makes a blog a blog is the comments and the interaction with the readers. If what you really want is merely another place to publish your thought why not convert EconLog into a website of mini-essays, then take email comments and post them as you see fit. This seems to me more what you are looking for. Since I do not have a econ Ph.D clearly my comments will not be intelligent enough to post. And since I will never be quoted by Megan McArdle I will simply refain from doing so.

Morgan writes:

You've pointed out one of the major failings of the traditional classroom setting for effective education. College professors are not use to their ideas being challenged or criticized in any way. They have come to expect a level of respect worthy of a medieval manor lord from their students who are dependent upon his goodwill for their academic future. Perhaps they come to think that their title earns them that respect and deference.

It is a poor method for teaching but due to technological limitations was the best available method at the time, perhaps the same as feudalism was once the best available technology.

The poverty of ideas and thought exhibited by university professors in all disciplines is a direct product of this environment. Intellectual thought, like an economy, flourishes in a free market. University professors can't stand a free environment, even when they are advocating free markets for others.

It's pretty sad that Bryan doesn't read the comments. Why bother having a blog if you aren't interested in feedback and criticism? It's exactly through that process that true intellectual progress is made. You have to put your ideas through the fire, refine, improve, and if necessary discard them.

It's not the blog that should become more like the classroom. It's the classroom that needs to become more like the blog.

Troy Camplin writes:

I find it interesting that this came about after some criticism about the limits of disciplinary knowledge, in light of some historically inaccurate observations. I hope that this is merely a coincidence, but I suspect otherwise. Please correct me if I'm wrong. I know those of us with Ph.D.'s aren't used to having what we say questioned (let alone be accused of not being sufficiently educated), but AS Ph.D.'s, aren't we supposed to be the lovers knowledge? Which should mean we should be the most open to correction.

Mr. Liberal writes:
You would not come to class to throw insults and sarcastic put-downs at the professor. Occasionally, the professor may use a tone that would be considered inappropriate in a comment.

Any professor who can dish it out but can't take it is a wimp. Period.

I don't have a problem with you policing civility. It is your blog. But please, if you are going to be throwing low blows yourself, you shouldn't be deleting low blows by others. Unless you are an intellectual weakling.

Michael Sullivan writes:

I'm particularly reminded of one of my disrespectful posts. By ordinary Usenet standards I might be considered a boor in posting with that tone at your site.

Really? You must think I'm a complete prick, if that sample would be considered boorish.

I certainly don't have any desire to pick fights, name-call or denigrate, but argument is argument, and Dr. Kling says a lot of things I argue with. In my universe, it's a measure of respect to argue with someone. I don't bother to argue with people unless I expect them to sometimes change my mind, or at least tell me something new and interesting.

To the author: If my tone has ever given indication that I do not respect you (and I can think of a few comments which do that, that I wish I had not written), I do apologize.

But I trust that simple questioning and disagreement is not what you are getting at here. I was never shy of disagreeing with professors in the classroom either, much to the amazement of many fellow students. I think I learned much more by treating professors as more experienced/eminent colleagues, rather than as founts of knowledge.

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