Editing Waiting

Road-testing my brave new world with a guest blog from Richard Murphy is a great way to flush out the bits of this project I have not thought through thought through insufficiently. One of the less attractive aspects of the tax debate – and I have touched upon it here – is how intelligent and thoughtful commentators so readily move from enthusiastic disagreement with one another’s views to enthusiastic criticism of one another’s personal qualities. This tendency does not illuminate discussions of policy issues: indeed, it makes sensible debate harder.

But what to do?

I could simply reject comments that attack the author – but that would be a pity because those comments often also contain intelligent points alongside the ad hominem attacks.

I could assume that such is a normal and healthy function of politically charged debate. But I don’t think it is.

Or I could edit the comment to remove the personal criticisms (excepting the unusual situation where the attack is clearly relevant to an assessment of the point made by the commentator).

I’m inclined to do the latter and to indicate with the words “[edited]” that I have done so. But I’d be very grateful for your views?

A further question is what to do about anonymous posters. These I am inclined to allow because there will be many – those engaged by large professional services firms or Govt departments – who will otherwise be unable to participate. But, again, what do you think?

29 thoughts on “Editing Waiting

  1. Ad hominem attacks often reveal to readers the weakness or bankruptcy of the offending author’s case. Descending to personal comments generally indicates a weak intellectual case and a stubborn adherence to it, whatever the evidence or arguments against. For this reason, it may be better to let the insults stand so as to inform discerning readers. Or perhaps to append a comment to direct attention to below the belt remarks.

    I post under a “nom de plume”. If I was was not able to do this, I would be inhibited from thinking and expressing ideas from “outside the box”.(to the extent I do) due to embarrassment that can arise from putting forward ideas that turn out to be very stupid. I value anonymity for this reason.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to reply. Very kind of you.

    Yours is the sort of anonymity I often yearn for, I can tell you.

  3. On ad hominem attacks mixed with valid points, my mother would always say ‘take the higher path, even if it’s harder’ – which I guess would mean editing out the attacks and keeping the valid points – at the cost of more work for you. But if you take a very robust ‘complete deletion’ policy if there’s too much invective, then people will presumably learn over time not to waste their (and your) time, and things will ease up a bit. There may be useful tips in here too:

  4. Thanks Nicholas. Very kind of you to take the time to reply. Not presently anticipating editing (in practice, just removing ad hominem bits) will involve much more work than reading which I have to do before I accept anyway…

  5. Whilst I completely agree that Ad Hominems are to be avoided, are you sure there really was an Ad Hominem attack? I’ve re read the comment and cannot see it. Unfortunately, it is sometimes too easy to simply rebut constructive criticism with accusations.

  6. Suggest that you edit ad hominem attacks by adding a “smiley” at the end of the post.

  7. Like this:

    You are such a fool Worstall


  8. You could take a middle path: you could enclose what you consider to be objectionable material in square brackets with a note as to why you consider it to be objectionable. That way you separate it out from the useful parts, making the comment easier to read, but you still allow readers to make up their own minds about the author.

    I am generally not in favour of editing comments, though: I think that by doing so you risk being seen to have endorsed the material you let through, and that could be a risk on several levels.

  9. Yes… at the very least I need to be crystal clear about what editing I do.

  10. The only reason you are having this discussion is that no one wanted to engage with the reality of the points I had to make: they wanted to play any other issue they could find.

    Unless you keep those who want to do so out of the comments section serious people will not want to engage in debate on this site.

  11. You’ll allow that it’s at least possible that similar editorial issues will arise with others.

  12. I doubt whether any editorial policy will cover every situation. However, I would urge caution before resorting to the proverbial red pen or the delete button.

    Overuse of such tools, particularly to comments that disagree or oppose, could give the impression that you only want to hear from sycophants. This impression increases if opponents are labelled “trolls” or other such overused terms.

    Put it this way, there’s certain tax related blogs I cannot be bothered to read anymore, as attempting to participate, no matter how rational or civil I (and others) remain, the contribution is met with needlessly unpleasant hostility and dismissiveness.

    That said, your gaff your rules.

  13. Thanks Neil. Absolutely that’s a problem I’d like to avoid. Hence my desire to have a policy. But for the avoidance of doubt, the only thing I presently plan to delete is irrelevant personal attacks.

  14. It seems to me Jolyon that serious points based very firmly in the reality people see around them every day have been made in response to Richard’s article and dealt specifically with the issue raised.

    I am sure that if any similarly reasoned posts in support of Richard has been made you would have posted them.

  15. Thanks for your comment.

    I can absolutely say that I have not rejected any comments except for those clearly spam. Where I have accepted comments and edited, I have only edited to remove what I regard as personal attacks – and where I have done so I have specifically indicated (with the words “[edited]”) that fact. Transparency is absolutely critical if this project is to work – and I will absolutely do my best to achieve it.

  16. From a technical perspective, you might get higher-quality comments if you were to move the text box to below the existing comments. This would nudge commenters into reading others’ responses before composing their own, and thus avoid repeated points.

    Alongside that you would need to list comments in chronological order, ensuring that the text box comes directly after the last comment.

  17. Martin Hearson of the LSE – soon to feature here – made that point yesterday (although your solution wouldn’t have avoided the problem – because he made it to me on Twitter). I tried to fix it but failed. Will try again. Thanks for the helpful suggestion.

  18. ok. have now laughed an embarrassing number of times at that reply.

  19. I found the discussion interesting, both of itself and what it says about debates around tax.

    People were engaging with two of Richard’s points in particular: (1) that you are wrong to say mainstream economics assumes individuals maximise their income; (2) that there seems clear evidence (not least from the welter of anti-avoidance legislation) that a significant number of employers and/or employees are motivated by tax (and NI in particular) in their decision as to how to structure their arrangements. In many cases the decision is made by employers and forced on employees.

    Some of the commentators were approaching this from the Left (i.e., that Richard was under-estimating tax avoidance by employers and employees) and some from the Right. It would be interesting to see Richard’s response.

    He is course free to disagree with these points, or to ignore them; but it’s disappointing to see him dismiss them out of hand, and suggest they shouldn’t even be aired.

  20. I think in general that editing comments is unhelpful, both because it’s a time sink and also because there is the element of endorsement then present in the remaining material. Two examples you might follow: for seriously objectionable comments the Guardian “comment is free” site includes the name/handle of the poster and a comment that “This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our community standards. Replies may also be deleted. For more detail see our FAQs.” which I think works quite well. An alternative you might consider (from the “Making Light” blog) is disemvowelment… the objectionable comment remains, but its vowels are removed so that you have to work to read it, should you desire to do so! (They even have an app for that: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/006871.html )

  21. Joiyon

    Am I aIIowed to open a book on the number of days before you become a fuII time comment moderator?

    More seriousIy:

    1 – I think that deIeting anything undermines the audit traiI.
    2 – Ieaving embarrassing expIosions in pIace rather than removed may work to encourage offenders to be Iess troII-Iike next time, and wiII save your Iunchtimes for you to be out to Iunch.
    3 – Perhaps have a Iook at moderation schemes where comments you censure are simpIy hidden untiI readers cIick “reveaI”. That hides the offenders and Ieaves it open to peopIe interested to read them without you needing to edit the fIounces of accountants and tax professionaIs.

    Such schemes are around, but I can’t point you to one directIy.


    Matt Wardman

  22. (btw: My eI key is dead and I await my new ‘puter.

  23. Thanks Matt. You are allowed to open a book – but only if you tell me what the odds are.

    More seriously I do plainly need to give more thought to how to make this sustainable…

  24. Please continue to allow anonymous posters. As one of those who would not be able to participate otherwise, I very much appreciate it.

  25. Thanks for writing. It is, I think, clearly the right course. The difficulty will come if someone wants to guest blog anonymously. I can see circumstances where I’d find that acceptable.

  26. I think I would make two observations.

    First allowing anonymous usernames will improve the honesty of commentary and the candid nature of our thoughts on what is often a controversial subject.

    Second, I would not be in favour of editing posts because this is an often controversial subject. I may not agree with many of Richard Murphy’s views or his arithmetic but he has an obvious passionate belief in both and expresses it. Denying or moderating the views of those who have equally passionate beliefs that his views are right/wrong/fair/unfair, is to skew the debate.

  27. Thanks for observation.

    Am only proposing to edit to remove personal attacks. Not merely of those who disagree with Richard, but of Richard himself (and I have already done both).

  28. Indeed. You might even consider inviting Richard Murphy to submit another piece under a pseudonym. Any brickbats directed at such a follow-up contribution would be directed at the argument rather than the man and so cause less offence.

  29. I suspect scholars of these things may detect The Murph’s house style… but I’ll suggest it. But not sure whether he would be keen to submit another piece. I think he thinks I got the Crowd Control wrong.

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