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January 25, 2006


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The moderated blog is the best in technical topics such as this one. I visit to learn. Sometimes, contribute. You might try comparing policies such as used at improving blogs elsewhere: the Balkin blog at Yale scours and purges the profane, while giving some visitors instant posting based on recognized worth of posts; the SCOTUSblog has a similar policy of cleaning up the spurious posts. Both those sites yield a net result after their processes, of a high quality experience which invites a cerebral contribution. In the realm of politics, there are two interesting sites which I heartily suggest, though definitely outside the realm of suitable comparisons with your law faculty's site: the EMTedKennedy moderated blog which utilizes a host as well as a cleanup crew, as the sponsor does not contribute himself; Another interesting paradigm is being explored at Crooked Timber blog, where its sociologist has a separate blog from which posts are replicated; the private sociology blog is not communal, i.e., it accepts only its author's journal entries; but the replica at CT lets the contributions happen; much of the CT content is law-based.
There is a new site at UCLA, a law professors group but which invites discussion of civilized norms, more of a social assessment of law; the discussions can be pithy.
The greatest assets of the U of Chi law faculty site are its theoretical articles; but there is going to be advocacy in riposte; and sometimes and with some authors the U of Chicago law faculty site actually involves debate.
Blogging itself is a difficult medium for other reasons. The interchange of condensed erudite comments can border on the ephemeral. Yet, to take the time to produce a scholarly reply for some visitors might represent an evening's work, or more.
One debate occurring recently in the abstract, for example, is the article II, article III debates raging; it takes site hopping to view the latest insights, and, sadly, some very old and known historical reasons why this is an old argument cast in beguiling new terms. We are going to be seeing lots about presidential prerogative, and matters like court stripping, in the future. Your proposition is a difficult conundrum.
It would be rewarding for all involved if the U of Chi Law faculty site strengthens the depth and merit of its core authors and lets the site dwell most on that.
Another interesting idea has currency at the excellent UCLA electionlaw blog site; at some times the professor turns off replies; and even the most trusted visitors all have their comments pre-screened; there is too much soapbox speech involving election law to treat the site management otherwise.
Personally, I have found faculty sites better than the open law journal sites, as the faculty sites are deep.
I encourage you in the quest to raise the tenor and enhance the clarity of the discussions which you sponsor.

Dennis J. Tuchler

I have enjoyed the blogs and comments very much. It lies in the nature of the contributions by the UCLS faculty that there will be passionate and at times intemperate comments. The topics are important; the contributions insightful and hence provocative.

The comments that seem to cross the line of acceptability do so within a few lines and are easily passed by. I would simply leave things as they are.

The Law Fairy

I agree with Mr. Tuchler. The idea of moderating comments makes me mildly squeamish. There are one or two here who have made inappropriate and rude comments, but such is the nature of debate. If no one devolved into childishness, we'd have no one to think ourselves better than! That's a joke, to be clear :)

I think a perusal of the last several posts -- those that seem to have garnered the most attention and comments -- will show that most people give everyone a chance to raise a valid argument, but continuous immaturity and abuse are ignored. I think most of the commenters here are intelligent enough that, in the aggregate, censorship would be unnecessary and, at worst, a reason for criticism.

My worry is that if we attempt to moderate such that "inappropriate" comments are censored or deleted, meritorious posts that appear inappropriate could disappear -- or, even worse, a highly unpopular viewpoint could be silenced if the moderators in charge deem the person "unworthy" of posting.

At most, perhaps it would be appropriate to limit comments to those with valid email addresses?

Deborah Spaeth

Let me get this straight: Are you suggesting that Professors and commenters are allowed to use this forum to smear "liberals" with well-known canards and debunked scripts, but when liberals react with righteous indignation and call those writers on their baloney each and every time the baloney is proferred, that behavior is "uncivil"?

Please revisit Professor Alschuler's posts here, for example, and note how many of his statements were shown to be either (1) false or (2) based on complete ignorance of the subject matter of which Professor Alschuler spoke.

Then tell me how many of those statements were retracted by Professor Alschuler or how many apologies were issued by Professor Alschuler.

Then explain to me what makes Professor Alschuler's behavior more "civilized" than the behavior of those who pleaded with the Professor to acknowledge his errors.

The same could be said for Professor Epstein's post on the (un)constitutionality of Florida's school vouchers, wherein he unnecessarily targeted "liberals" and dropped not-too-subtle and plainly bogus references "Soviet-style" schemes.

Reap the whirlwind, I say.

All this talk about "civility" is simply an excuse to censor the voices of the outraged. And funny that it should happen here so soon after we saw the same garbage excuse trotted out by the Washington Post when their own shilling was exposed.

Instead of worrying about "incivility," take the opportunity to pay attention to the unchecked myths and scripts that are recited unquestioningly by the allegedly "civil" commenters here as if they are gospel. Then ask yourself where those scripts come from and what is likely to happen in this country if those scripts fail to be challenged whenever they are recited. Here's a news flash: those scripts aren't being challenged in newspapers and on TV.

But they're being challenged here.

Scott Scheule

Moderation seems to be the only viable way of cleaning up commentary, and I would advise against that since it allows for charges (founded or unfounded) of censorship that are difficult to disprove.

Generally speaking, I've found it better to suffer the trolls. If things get too colorful, perhaps post a comment policy somewhere on the blog, though not a mandatory one. Learning to ignore garbage is a valuable skill, and allowing such garbage in allows for that skill's perfection.

Deborah Spaeth


"Learning to ignore garbage is a valuable skill, and allowing such garbage in allows for that skill's perfection."

Beautifully said.


A once-a-day policy eliminates the possibility of conversation. A counterintuitive suggestion: faculty should engage the productive posts in the comments and ignore the unproductive/uncivil/etc.


Perhaps the heading of the comment box should guide more than "Post a comment".
What do you seek beyond facts, evidence and justice?

Ed Felten

On my blog (freedom-to-tinker.com) I've tried various approaches to this problem.

Moderating all comments is a real chore and imposes a time delay on productive comments, which degrades the kinds of conversations you want to see. Zapping unwanted comments after the fact seems better.

Off-topic or offensive comments should be zapped as quickly as possible. But going beyond that to zap (say) ill-informed or non-constructive comments draws you into a line-drawing exercise that is best avoided. If you try this, people will accuse you of censorship, and you'll see comments attacking you for improperly zapping previous comments. They'll cause the very clutter you're trying to fight, and you'll look even worse zapping the "why did you zap my comment" comments.

You're better off declaring the comments a marketplace of ideas, with everything that implies.

Kimball Corson

If this is a market place of sorts for ideas, everyone should be able to bring their ideas to the table. If they wish to sell them, civility helps, but to assure quality ideas or to permit only so many ideas per unit of time or to control expression – all by administrative fiat, the analogy to governmental control -- is decidedly most unChicagoan and unnecessary.

Deborah, for example, is the rankest and most uncivil among us so far but we have learned to ignore her when she goes off the deep end and address her when she doesn’t. Besides, sorting wheat from chafe is a reading and thinking skill. As Milton Friedman used to put it, a key purpose of education is to learn how to separate good ideas “from BS” -- his words. Deborah has contributed good ideas and has engaged us in useful, interesting and sometimes colorful debate. To curb her unduly could well comprise or chill her contribution, her interest and who she wishes to project herself to be.

However, if any regulation of competition has to occur here I would limit it to the “excessive” use of profanity (some, for emphasis and expression should be allowed) and the preclusion of naked, vile and freestanding ad hominem slurs or attacks. Otherwise, anything should go, especially in this quarter. After all, this IS the University of Chicago. We should not care about how we look to the world, only about how well we are doing at a substantive level. By that test, we do very well at times, thank you.

Kimball Corson

And the profanity allowable should not have to be dressed down with xxx's either.

Posts with freestanding, vile and naked ad hominem slurs, removed from a sentence or phrase of argument, should just be deleted without comment.

The judgments suggested here are easily enough to make.

Kimball Corson

". . .made" that is.


I agree with Deborah's point that the quality of the original post and of the poster's involvement with commentary has much to do with the volume and quality of commentary. I too would instance Prof. Alschuler on Anti-scientific Religiosity (and very tangentially Kitzmiller).

Michael Froomkin

The three best systems I've seen in the wild are:

1. Open season, but delete the vile -- pursuant to a written policy.

2. Open season, but disemvowel the offenders after a warning. (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disemvowelling)

3. Slash-style user moderation, cf. Part V.D of http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=363840

Raw Data

This is probably too cumbersom but maybe a system which sent back the comment to the commenter's email with a note such "Do you really want to say it this way?"

The commenter could then toggle to post or delete.

The idea is to design-in a 'cooling off' period.

The Other Roach

(1) I believe that restricting to 1 post in a 24 hour period (if technically feasible) is a good idea. It will (i) encourage more thoughtful posts; (ii) reduce the "and another thing" type posts; and (iii) give people a "cooling off" period (assuming they have recently posted) before they can reply to any further posts.

(2) My view on the blog is that it is an extension of the Law School and thus should be subject to the same restrictions we would expect in any classroom discussion. Interesting, contrary, and divergent views are absolutely welcome. Personal, vindictive, sarcastic comments should not be. There are plenty of other places where bomb-throwers can post on the Internet. If you cannot abide by this standard, you should be banned. I would suggest a 2 strikes system - one public warning and thereafter banishment.


Lately, when the conversation turns in this direction, I recommend that participants read Clay Shirky's short piece "Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software":


"The user of a piece of social software is not just a collection of individuals, but a group. Individual users take on roles that only make sense in groups: leader, follower, peacemaker, process nazi, and so on. There are also behaviors that can only occur in groups, from consensus building to social climbing. And yet, despite these obvious differences between personal and social behaviors, we have very little design practice that treats the group as an entity to be designed for."


as in any enterprise, decide what the objective is. if it's popularity, "keep on keepin' on" - some recent posts generate lots of comments because they are at a level of generality that offers everyone the opportunity to have an opinion.

on the other hand, if it's quality, make the posts more technical. anybody can argue at the sound bite level ("alito's for strip-searching ten-year old girls"), but a detailed analysis of specific opinions/dissents would necessitate at least reading them, which would reduce the number but hopefully increase the quality of the comments. (whatever the groody opinion's legal merits/shortcomings, it certainly falls short in voyeuristic appeal).

and I second ToR's suggestion no. 2 re standards of decorum appropriate to the "venue". I also view this as an extension of the classroom and expect behavior appropriate to that venue (altho at my age, I may have a seriously dated view of what that currently is).

The Law Fairy

I disagree with the commenters who have stated they believe this blog to be an extension of the classroom, at least to the extent that this insinuates the propriety of censorship. In a classroom, there are professors and there are students. The students aren't to speak unless called upon by the professor. If the student becomes unruly, or talks about something off-topic, the professor interrupts and moves on to someone else, or guides the student back to the appropriate discussion.

If the professors here are acting as though in a classroom, then we, the commenters, are the students. Is such a heirarchical approach appropriate to this venue? I was under the impression that this blog existed to provoke thought and commentary among *peers*. We are not graded on our posts. We are not given reading assignments to discuss the post. And, most importantly, the notable absence of professor comments makes the classroom analogy wholly inapt. I understand that professors are busy people who may not have time to comment as frequently as those of us who use downtime at work to visit the blog; but to record controversial thoughts and "invite commentary" but limit commenters to one comment a day is disingenuous and frustrating.

Michael Martin

Not to be too clever or cute, but the classic Chicago school answer to a tragedy of the commons is to centralize decisionmaking. Moderation of comments is for most blogs that I read an effective way of keeping the level of discussion high. Putting aside the issues of profanity (which, unfortunately, surprise you less the longer you spend on the Internet), I think it's useful in many cases to remove obviously off-topic comments in order to make the blog more reader-friendly. Busy readers don't have time to waste scrolling through dozens of comments that are unrelated to the original topic.

Bottom line: I've seen it done well both ways, but I find I spend more time on the blogs that do moderate comments.

One thing that is different about this blog, however, is that it isn't clear who would be doing the moderation. I think it would be nice if the moderator or moderators identified themselves, or at least posted their policy on moderation.


I agree that something could and should be done to encourage a more -- yeah I'll say it -- academic tone in comments here.

A limit of 1 post per day (note: per alias? per ip#?), if implementable, would provide the incentive for thoughtfull comprehensive commentary in each post and also lead to a presentation of a pallette of issues for discussion before threads can degenerate into narrow tit-for-tat exchanges between two or three parties.

In my experience active moderation just invites fights about moderation standards, but in the short term substantial gains might be acheived passively by running all commments through a spellchecker and automatically excluding posts that don't spell "professor" correctly.

Deborah Spaeth


"Deborah, for example, is the rankest and most uncivil among us"

I guess it depends on which you find worse: dissembling, quote-mining, willful distortion and exaggeration of facts, the repetitive recitation of stale, debunked claims as viable "alternate views," and the refusal to acknowledge error *OR* the use of naughty words to express one's frustration.

Folks, some arguments are so specious that they don't deserve a ten paragraph response. Some arguments are simply insulting to intelligent people, especially when the arguments are repeated over and over and over again AFTER the flaws in the arguments have been demonstrated.

There is a strange culture that has evolved where the "high ground" when one side is shown to be wrong and the other side correct is for the two parties to "agree to disagree." Of course, this serves only the individual who is wrong, whose intent may be simply to create the impression that there is "confusion" about the issue.

For example, was this morning's interview of Howard Dean by Katie Couric an example of "civil discourse" by Ms. Couric?

Ms. Couric repeated a claim that is utterly false and has been known to be false for WEEKS: that our sleaze artist du jour Mr. Abramoff gave money to Democrat leaders.

Mr. Dean told Ms. Couric that was false. Ms. Couric replied that she'd "have to look into that" to see if the "viewers" needed a correction. Recall that Ms. Couric and her fellow "journalists" spent a great deal of time in the past representing Mr. Dean as a borderline psychotic who was unfit to lead this country. How many viewers does Ms. Couric have? I suspect a few million.

There is nothing -- NOTHING -- that is "civil" about this kind of behavior. Given the fact that Ms. Couric's statement was nothing but the pure shilling of a Republican-pleasing falsehood, the appropriate response from Mr. Dean would be to tell Ms. Couric to shove her microphone where the sun doesn't shine until Ms. Couric finds her brain and a her conscience.

Of course, if Mr. Dean did that, the same right-wing machine would gear up and we'd hear NOTHING on the news for the next week about Mr. Dean's insane commment.

Meanwhile, "liberals" are accused by the same media pundits on a daily basis helping Osama bin Laden, hoping that U.S. troops are killed, engaging in "treason," "comforting the enemy," defending "murderous fascists," advocating that "babies" be murdered, etc.

It's disgusting.

Eventually this situation is going to change and in the course of that change, certain folks are going to be shedding a lot of crocodile tears over "civility." Those folks need to look in the mirror.

Nobody likes to be called a liar or a dissembling moron when they recite a false claim and the false claim is thrown back in their face. Nobody likes to be laughed at for floating a totally bogus argument.

So here's my advice: don't recite false claims. Don't recite debunked Republican (or creationist) talking points. Don't make specious arguments to pad your thesis so it looks more impressive. And don't create strawmen and attack them over and over and over again.


I've read a lot of blogs and other online forums over the years, and I have to say that the comments here are among the most civil and substantive I've seen at any high-traffic blog. I would say: don't fix what ain't broken. There's no great harm from the occasional uncivil comment, and many of us enjoy and appreciate the open-ended, free-wheeling debate a forum like this allows.

I would be particularly unhappy about a 24-hour posting restriction, because often legitimate conversations happen much more rapidly than that. I might have an insightful point to make in response to a previous commenter, but by the time my 24-hour window has elapsed, I'm likely to have forgotten it.

Deborah Spaeth


"Deborah is the rankest and most uncivil amongst us"

Hmmm. What about "Dave"? Do you recall these gems?

"I only care about being and staying rich, which means keeping the majority poor. I can only do that by keeping them from a good education ... I am NOT being sarcastic. I meant every word I have said on this blog." "I also think that selfishness is a good character trait. Selflessness is evil."

I would like to see what comments I have made that you consider more "rank" than Dave's comments, Kimball.

You'll note that I didn't whine and cry to the powers-that-be that I was "forced to read" Dave's disturbing garbage, nor did I tell Dave to shut up because he was hurting the "anti-voucher cause."

Why? Because Dave is a gaping you-know-what. Even Dave knows that. If I thought anyone was confused, I might strive to help that confused person out but thus far I think we're all on the same page about Dave and his "strategy."

Wit H. Held

Don't let Geoffrey Stone post anything.

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