Over the last week or so I’ve heard privately from several very different parties with complaints about the comment section here. The general feeling is that it would be more useful and attract more serious contributions if the level of uncivil, disrespectful ad hominem attacks was much lower. One contributing factor mentioned is that anonymity allows people to behave in uncivil behavior that they would not engage in if their names were publicly attached to their words. On the other hand, the worst offender in this is someone who is not anonymous.
I’d be curious to hear thoughtful comments by others about this. My own feeling at the moment is that the criticism is accurate: the uncivil atmosphere here keeps many serious people who would have something interesting to contribute from doing so. The anonymity is probably part of this problem, although given the current unhealthy situation in particle theory, some people have very legitimate reasons for keeping their comments anonymous.
In many ways I think the comment section has been a success, but it could stand a lot of improvement. Unfortunately I don’t know of any really successful models out there to follow. Among the more active blogs by physicists, Cosmic Variance does a good job of keeping a civil discussion going, but it is rarely about physics these days. Jacques Distler’s Musings has high-level content in its postings, but no one has submitted a single comment about physics there in over a month and a half. The comments at Lubos Motl’s Reference Frame are as uneven as the blog’s proprietor.
I already delete quite a few comments on grounds of lack of civility, but tentatively plan on trying to raise that standard by deleting a larger fraction of uncivil comments, especially if they are posted anonymously. It would help if people could keep the following in mind when posting comments:
1. Please consider abandoning anonymity and posting under your real name, unless you have a good reason for not doing so.
2. Please take much greater care to keep comments civil and respectful. Ad hominem argument about the ignorance and lack of intelligence of people you disagree with has no place here.
3. Please ignore silly comments when they appear. Maybe I’ll also think they are silly and just adding to the noise and will get around to deleting them, maybe not. But in any case you’re not adding anything by submitting a comment criticizing the silliness, but instead are adding to the hostility level.
Constructive comments are welcomed. One thing to keep in mind is that I already am spending more time on this than I should, suggestions that involve a lot more work on my part are non-starters.