Comment policy

SBM’s comment policy has historically been mostly hands-off. Moderation tended, for the most part, to be fairly light (at times even almost nonexistent), at least compared to that of many other blogs. We (mostly) relied on our community of commenters to regulate themselves. As the blog grew in prominence and traffic, we found that we could no longer be as laissez-faire about comment moderation as we had been in the past, particularly compared to the early days of the blog. Even worse, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we have periodically endured large influxes of trolls and bots into the comment sections of some posts that have at times turned the discussions there into real disasters. In addition to the increased trolling, recent changes in Google policies that penalize blogs with unmoderated comment sections have left us little choice but to institute tighter moderation policies.

Because SBM remains committed to fostering an open and inclusive environment for the civil discussion and debate of issues of science, medicine, critical thinking, and ethics, we now attempt to make our comment policy as clear as we can the behaviors and comments that will no longer be tolerated (as, unfortunately, some had been in the past). Even with these changes, the comment section here is still likely more lightly moderated than the vast majority of comment sections of blogs with traffic comparable to ours.

Also be aware that all comments from new commenters will go straight to moderation, to be published once a moderator approves them. This will last for 24 hours. We’ve discovered that a lot of the problems in the comment section often come from new commenters to the blog who encounter an SBM post somewhere on social media about a controversial topic on which they have…opinions…and then start incessantly posting offensive or combative comments to disrupt the comments after the post. If you’re really interested in commenting regularly here, we welcome you and hope that this requirement won’t keep you from sticking around.

Now, here are the three overarching principles guiding our comment policy:

  • Please be civil. We’re talking the Golden Rule here. We do realize that the subjects discussed here will inevitably lead to heated disagreement at times. Try not to take it personally when this happens, and try not to escalate. Better still, do your best encourage de-escalation whenever possible.
  • DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS (DNFTT). As tempting as it can be sometimes to do so, don’t respond to trolls. It’s what they want and how comment sections degenerate into angry chaos. DNFTT. (Also, see below for what our moderators will do to curb trolling.)
  • No one has a “right” to comment here. Comments on SBM are permitted solely at the discretion of our editors and moderators, period. We are under no obligation even to host a comment section, much less to allow commenters to say whatever they want as often as they want, particularly when what they say degenerates into insults, trolling, or other areas that disrupt rather than contribute. (See below.)

Our three overarching principles having been established, here are behaviors and speech that, admittedly and unfortunately, were too often tolerated in the past but now will no longer be permitted. It is not an exhaustive list:

  • Harassment, hate speech, or threats of violence. Depending on the severity, these sorts of comments will virtually always result in an immediate and permanent ban with extreme prejudice (and without warning). Threats that are perceived as credible (e.g., if the target thinks they’re credible) will result in our providing, when requested, the relevant Disqus account information including e-mail and IP addresses from our logs, to the target to use in a report to law enforcement.
  • Racism, antisemitism, sexism, misogyny, and anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry. Bigotry has no place at SBM, ever. If your comments exhibit any of the above, our moderator will take action. Again, there will likely be no warning.
  • Extreme incivility. In brief, if you are uncivil, insulting, and/or nasty enough that you start to get on the nerves of SBM bloggers, regular commenters, and/or our moderators, that will be more than enough justification for action to prevent further disruption. Depending on the specific situation, you might or might not receive a warning before action is taken.
  • Trolling. Trolls will be banned without warning. Our moderators and editors will be the judges of specific behaviors that constitute trolling.
  • Sock puppeting (commenting under more than one name or pseudonym, usually either to evade bans or to give the impression that more than one person is expressing the same opinion). This is one offense that, when detected, will nearly always result in immediate banning from this blog with extreme prejudice without warning. Understand that we consider it acceptable to use a pseudonym to comment. (We understand why some people use one. Dr. Gorski used one for a long time and still does, even though the true identity behind the pseudonym is one of the worst-kept secrets in medical social media.) However, it is not acceptable to keep changing your pseudonym. Pick one pseudonym and stick with it, or there will be consequences.
  • Science denial, misinformation, and disinformation. If you keep repeating science-denying and/or conspiracy theory talking points (e.g., false claims that COVID-19 vaccines “permanently alter your DNA” or that the virus SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t exist) as though they are factual (i.e., not as part of a discussion critically examining them), we will likely eventually ban you, in order to prevent our comments section from becoming a your platform for spreading misinformation and disinformation.
  • Sealioning and JAQing off. Sealioning and JAQing off, even when the commenter appears ostensibly very civil and polite, are disruptive, often intentionally so. We recognize that there is a continuum between honest concerns and these sorts of behaviors, but in general we “know them when we see them”. (If you are banned for these behaviors and think it was a mistake, you can appeal to our moderators and Dr. Gorski. We are not perfect.)
  • Threadjacking. This is a behavior in which a commenter hijacks the comment thread to steer the discussion away from the topic at hand to an unrelated topic. Note that the term “threadjacking” does not describe a thread that, as many long threads often eventually do, organically drifts towards topics unrelated to the original topic of the post. (In general the longer a comment thread continues, the greater the chance of its drifting into unrelated areas becomes.) We have no desire to stop such “drift,” as it is the nature of blog comment threads and can help build communities. In contrast, threadjacking involves perseveration whose end result is to to actively hijack the comment thread to be about a different, unrelated, or marginally related topic. A threadjacking commenter (or commenters) will keep bringing up the same unrelated topic over and over again in an obvious—sometimes comically obvious—effort to get everyone commenting about that topic, rather than about the topic of the post.
  • Flooding. Our moderators will be the final arbiter of what constitutes “flooding” a comment thread, but a large number of comments in a short period of time, particularly if they are largely repetitive, can constitute flooding. Such large numbers of comments can tend to annoy our regular readers and degrade the commenting atmosphere for all.

Behaviors that we do not ban:

  • Opinions. We do not ban commenters simply for their opinions. We welcome the comments of those who disagree with others and even the general editorial opinions of SBM regulars. We do, however, ban people for behaviors (as listed above). Moreover, facts are not opinions, and repeatedly making statements that are demonstrably false is considered spreading misinformation or disinformation. If you keep posting misinformation in comments despite being corrected, that can be grounds for banning. (See Science denial, misinformation, and disinformation, above.)
  • Asking sincere questions. We encourage questions, even if they are misinformed. A sincere questioner engages with other commenters, will respond to feedback, correct errors, and support assertions with evidence.  Endlessly asking the same questions in order to spread FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) is not asking sincere questions. (See also Sealioning and JAQing off, above.)

Actions that will be taken in response to violations of the above rules:

  • Warnings. We generally use the “three strikes and you’re out” rule for minor offenses. The more severe the offense, however, the less likely we will be to wait until three warnings before a ban will be issued. We also point out that you will not necessarily receive any warnings before being banned if we deem the offense severe enough.
  • Temporary bans. These bans can range from brief (days) to long (months).
  • Permanent bans.

Our intrepid moderator (backed up by Dr. Gorski and, if it gets far enough to require his input, Dr. Novella) will be the sole and final arbiters of what sorts of commenting and behavior constitute a violation of the rules listed above, and our tech support will help us identify sock puppeting through IP addresses and other means.

(Last updated December 1, 2022.)

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