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August 16, 2008



I had a long comment but it was flagged as spam. This is a reminder not to delete that one, but this one.

Hopefully Anonymous

Mitchell, I disagree with your analogy. These blogs are all highly engaged with and attempting to influence the world. There's something disturbingly autocratic to me about someone who doesn't want their public expressions of opinion to be marred by alternative views in that space.

mitchell porter

It's not as if there's a shortage of space elsewhere for alternative views to be expressed; it's just that commenters cannot force these views into the blogger's space (though they can always email the blogger and perhaps their remarks will be published).

I know I have certainly considered the desirability of commentless writing. Consider an area like fundamental physics. Any blog on fundamental physics is going to attract people who have their own theories to push, most of which one would not wish to spend time understanding only so as to debunk them. Switching off comments, while it makes the present sort of discussion impossible, also eliminates trolls, idiots, spam, and a host of other unwanted distractions. And other avenues for discussion and criticism remain open.

Hopefully Anonymous

Mitchell, I think your points are all widely missing the mark. Comments are in every way highly subordinated to posts in all the major blogging systems. In every open commenting system I've seen, unwanted distractions just aren't much of a problem.

[This flawed tendency in my opinion is similar to the flawed tendency of secrecy many people have towards their "original" ideas. Someone once said that most people are lucky to get their ideas stolen, the hard thing is to get people not to ignore and dismiss them.]

I think people who disable comments on their blogs just don't like to see comments that are smarter than their posts in the blog space. And those who pre-screen comments for anything other than liability just don't like to see intelligent debunking of their pet myths. I think this captures the real world spirit and motivationfor the most part of comment censorship in the blogosphere.

mitchell porter

I think people who disable comments on their blogs just don't like to see comments that are smarter than their posts in the blog space.

More likely that they don't want to see comments that are dumber than their posts, and don't want to engage in debates of dubious relevance to their personal agenda.

Hopefully Anonymous

Mitchell, I think you're wrong, and weirdly so (because you seem like a smart guy with good intuition normally).

In my experience it's posters like TGGP that really get under the skin of bloggers, because they puncture myths with intelligent criticism, not because they make dumber posts.

It seems to me to be the myth-slayers that they fear, not the strawman foils.

mitchell porter

I will concede that there is also quite possibly a vanity factor operating in an intellectual blog-without-comments. But I maintain it is unlikely that the motive is to avoid smarter comments. Again, anyone with something truly intelligent to say can mail the blogger and perhaps end up in the next post.

I would say the motive is essentially aesthetic. A blog is a body of work. As a whole, it is not necessarily enhanced by allowing the fragmentary input of others.

Hopefully Anonymous

"Again, anyone with something truly intelligent to say can mail the blogger and perhaps end up in the next post."

I think this is a naive concept, commonly promoted in various forms, and I've meant to address it generally.

barriers to energy and effort matter.

mitchell porter

Do you ever read Moldbug? Notice how his blog has evolved: he still has comments open, but he stays away and doesn't even read them for weeks at a time. And I can't say the blog's quality has suffered as a result.

A compromise convention would be to have most posts uncommentable, but then to have a weekly open-thread discussion.

Hopefully Anonymous

Mitchell, the "compromise" sounds decent but unecessary, given the visually subordinated nature of comments to posts.


I think the quality of UR really headed down, and I complained as much in the comments until I figured he wasn't going to respond, at which point I stopped commenting. There was also less dissent and more of what HA has termed circle-jerking in the comment sections later on.

mitchell porter

Some further thoughts:

1. I previously had no particular opinion about people who blog without allowing comments, but I was annoyed by people who complain about it. If I were to expand that irritation into a thesis about personality types, it would be something like: The complainants are narcissists who want every space to be open to them and who in real life probably have no respect for the privacy or choices of others.

2. There may in fact be something to H.A.'s thesis and to my counter-thesis, but the correlation is likely so weak as to actually be misleading were you to consistently apply it as a rule of thumb.

3. I gather that H.A. wants to make comments a norm for the greater good, because they are intellectually sanitizing, like peer review. But comment areas are often full of nonsense. If this blog came to the attention of the wrong people, I'm sure H.A. would quickly develop a new appreciation of the joys of moderation.

4. It is ironic that while authoritarian tendencies are being inferred, totally hypothetically, on the part of the last three bloggers listed, it's actually H.A. who wants to engage in politics and in interference with other people, by campaigning to have them shamed into opening comments. Again, they all have email addresses, why not write to them first and ask them why they don't have comments, rather than just proposing to bulldoze your way into their blogspace. The consequence of such a campaign may simply be to induce them to stop blogging (actually, I think this unlikely for the three people listed, but it is a likely consequence elsewhere).

Simfish InquilineKea

What are people's thoughts on gene expression? I've commented a few times there, but I haven't commented anything controversial there.


The reason people moderate comments is because of people who would waste their readers' time by leaving rude or off-topic comments, or who have so little perspective that they swear and get angry over a blog comment moderation policy. In other words, people like you.


It's a funny sort of irony that this post is a rare example where the comments are far more intelligent than the original post. For 99% of the blogosphere it's the opposite, and that fact is exactly what motivates many bloggers to restrict comments.

Hopefully Anonymous

You may consider it ironic, mdl, but I'd argue that if the comments are far more intelligent than the original post, it's not accidental. If I attract intelligent posters, perhaps it's in part because they know their comments won't be restricted here.

I don't know about Mitchell, but TGGP has been banned from blogs. I think it's because of intelligent, effective myth-puncturing, not because of lack of intelligence relative to the posts he's commenting on.

I'm still have not been swayed from my thesis that it's protection of their pet myths that's the primary reason otherwise intelligent, interesting bloggers restrict their comment space beyond protection from liability


If I attract intelligent posters...

I think the point was that the original post set a low bar.

On your actual point, a pretty simple model in which blogs attract comments in the vicinity of their own quality would predict the comment policies you see, without needing to postulate any desire to "protect pet myths". Lower quality blogs (e.g. Mankiw, Econlog, as opposed to MR and OB) attract much many more lower quality comments, and so have greater need for more restrictive comments policies to achieve a given signal-to-noise ratio.

I'm sure part of it is pet myth protection too. But you've actually offered very little evidence for your view that it's the primary reason. In the absence of such evidence, I have scant reason to adopt your intuitions as the standard of whether my own or Mitchell's different intuitions are any good.

Hopefully Anonymous

Feel free not to adopt my intuitions. I think you and I are operating on different approaches of how to make our models of reality. Your approach, which seem to me to be challenging a given person to come up with evidence personally before you consider changing your model of reality, seems silly to me. If I change my model on why some prominent bloggers restirct comments to match yours, or if I don't, won't rest exclusively on whether or not you as an individual provide evidence to butress your intuitions. And my response isn't going to be, "Not personally presenting evidence, Conchis? Then your model will be immediately disregarded."

It's a common approach I noticed when I inhabited the JREF forums (prior to discovering social science academic blogs). And I personally think it's a dumb approach. Updating my models to match the best evidence and analytic tools shouldn't be held hostage to one person's available time, energy, or industry.

I'm all for pissing contests, but aim with the wind, not at my leg.

Anittah Patrick

Thank you for this blog post. You have answered a question I posed a month ago:



Blah bloo, blah bloo bloo bleep: erg ug oop oop ack!
Ack erg um eebo bop boo? Bah oomo bok!


Hopefully Anonymous

Anittah, nice blog.

blah -that comment is funny enough to stay.


Gene Expression is one of my favorite blogs (vying with OB for #1), but I don't go there for the comments. They do censor "tards", but like I said, the comments aren't why I go there.

mitchell porter

Mankiw and Sullivan on why they don't have comments:



I can find no comparable statement from Anders, but the transition appears to have occurred in April 2006. Comments from before that time are preserved and are choked with spam.


"Your approach, which seem to me to be challenging a given person to come up with evidence personally before you consider changing your model of reality, seems silly to me."

I apologize if my comment gave a misleading impression of my approach/was ambiguous enough to allow you to willfully misinterpret it in the worst light.

As a result of your unsupported intuitions, I have in fact slightly updated my beliefs about the likely causes of others' comments policies. But the update has been small, particularly as you show little inclination to update your own views, and a tendency to mischaracterize and belittle others'.

Frankly, from your comments elsewhere, I had expected somewhat better of you.

P.S. If you check back at Andrew Gelman's blog, you'll find an explanation of his policy.

Hopefully Anonymous

I find it improbable that Gelman's blog is more of a spam target than Marginal Revolution.

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