A complaint we sometimes get at Evolution News & Views concerns why we do not provide a forum for comments after each post. Rather than reply to this question afresh each time it comes across my desk, I would like to state the reasons here so that, in the future, I can simply provide a link by way of an answer.
Now and then the query is posed in a polite manner by a thoughtful correspondent. For example, biologist Douglas E. Swartzendruber at Pepperdine University writes to ask:
A lot of us would like to know why your opinions are not open to comment and discussion.
More often, the question is accompanied by the abusive, insulting, not infrequently obscene language that’s typical of a certain online demographic. A life sciences teacher at a community college, for example, writes to us to angrily protest the no-comments policy — but when I asked him for permission to reproduce his words as an occasion for me to reply and explain, he curiously said no. I asked because his way of expressing himself was typical of what we’d get if we did provide an unedited forum.
A frequent critic of ours, biochemist Larry Moran at the University of Toronto, complains in his most recent post, “Klinghoffer posts on Evolution News & Views (sic) — a site that doesn’t allow comments.” The same post demands that advocates of “Intelligent Design Creationism” need to “clean up their act.”
So What’s the Answer?
Why not give critics a chance to put their beefs right under the articles they object to?
First of all, we interact with opponents here all the time. Two posts this week (by Ann Gauger and Doug Axe) reply to critics on separate points. Anyone who has a problem with intelligent design is very welcome — encouraged! — to write that up somewhere else or send it to us directly. Often, with the more cogent critiques and even with the less cogent ones, we’ll reply here. In the past, we have posted signed articles by ID critics — not comments but actual articles — something that no Darwinist news and views source would do, as far as I’m aware. We recently published a book that I edited, Debating Darwin’s Doubt, that reproduces some of our exchanges with critics following the publication of Stephen Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. We have invited debate, again and again.
Beyond that, hosting a free-for-all is impractical. Here are our options. We could allow anyone to post any comment they like to our site. We would then be inundated with abuse, obscenity — and lies.
Let’s say that Larry Moran comes along and wants to contribute a comment. In the post I referred to from his own site, he includes a blatant untruth about our colleague Casey Luskin:
Casey Luskin can’t decide how old the universe is but he leans toward Young Earth Creationism. Yet he’s a leading spokesman for the “science” of intelligent design.
This is intended as a slur, and it’s flatly false. Casey has written countless articles here about cosmic origins, biological origins, and human origins that all, without exception, take for granted the standard time table reckoned in millions and billions of years. He is no Young Earth Creationist, clearly. Yet this doesn’t stop Darwin defenders from painting us with that brush. See here for Casey’s reply to another evolutionary advocate, Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education, on the very same point. Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist and emeritus University of Chicago professor, has similarly tried to dismiss Stephen Meyer as a “young-earth creationist,” but at least Coyne then corrected himself and apologized.
A Privileged Minority
You see, when people view themselves as representing a privileged majority, there’s a tendency to play fast and loose. I’ll give another illustration. In the same post I referred to, Larry Moran also happens to publish two photos — of Casey Luskin and me, intended to denigrate us — notwithstanding that the photos are copyrighted (by Brit Colanter and Steve Shay, respectively). He has used those same photos many times. California-based Google, which owns Blogger where Moran posts, is governed by U.S. and California law. But being an evolutionary spokesman seems to make some people feel they are above standards that apply to the rest of us.
So what are we supposed to do when, under a free-for-all commenting policy, Darwinists like Moran — who is far from scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as online evolutionists go — post abusive, defamatory, and false comments on our own news site? Should we delete their comments? Edit them? But then we would be accused of “censorship.”
Not in My Living Room
Should we perhaps allow them to say whatever they like, fouling the carpet in our own living room? When they have every opportunity to write what they like where they like and receive an answer from us, if the challenge rises to the level of being worthy of a reply? Why in the world would we do that?
If we can’t accept providing a free forum for a great deal of nasty, false, and vacuous chatter, the only alternative is to devote significant time to moderating the forum, policing the sandbox, and then defending that moderation at every step as it is challenged. That would require staffing that we can’t afford.
We don’t have the resources to wade through the gallons of bilge that such a policy would invite. We currently provide an adequate forum to respond to intelligent challenges. We would be only too glad to provide more space for legitimate disputation about evolution, if substantive ID critics stepped up to join us in debate, rather than fleeing from it. Meanwhile, are we going to allow people of low caliber to decide how we spend our modest budget? Of course not.
Image credit: © creative soul / Dollar Photo Club.