Public Service Announcement

Monday’s post generated an unusually large number of comments that consisted of nothing but namecalling, directed in almost all cases at Paul Krugman (though in exactly one case at me). I’ve deleted all of these comments, in most cases before they were ever posted.

I strongly encourage spirited discussion. I understand that spirited discussion can get pretty heated, and that in heated discussion people (including me) sometimes say nasty things. I prefer to keep that to a minimum, but I still allow a fair amount of it as long as the comments advance the discussion. But if your post consists of 100% pure nastiness, with no conceivable way for anybody to learn anything from it, I will usually delete it. One exception: Being very funny can compensate for a lot of nastiness, especially if it’s the kind of funny that draws the reader’s attention to a genuine flaw in someone’s reasoning. The many posts I’ve deleted over the past 48 hours were nasty without even trying to be funny.

I also strongly encourage staying on topic. I usually interpret the latter requirement as broadly as possible, so that I usually allow comments that are (in my opinion) pretty tangential as long as there’s some connection to the topic at hand. But there’s a limit. With that in mind, I deleted some comments that addressed the pros and cons of progressive taxation with no particular relevance to the point at hand. Those same comments would have been welcome in some other thread. In general, if you’re dying to talk about something that’s entirely off-topic, please either wait till I post about it, or speed up the process by sending me an email with a request for a post on that topic. (I promise nothing of course.)

(On the other hand, don’t let the above be too discouraging. As I said, tangential relevance is not ideal, but I usually let it through.)

If you go to Paul Krugman’s blog, you’ll find that a very large percentage of the comments are either nasty, devoid of content, or both. We’ve always drawn a much higher class of comments here at The Big Questions and I aim to continue that tradition.

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14 Responses to “Public Service Announcement”


  1. 1 1 Navin Kumar

    If you go to Paul Krugman’s blog, you’ll find that a very large percentage of the comments are either nasty, devoid of content, or both.

    Tut tut.

  2. 2 2 Dave

    oh poo

  3. 3 3 Ken B

    “If you go to Paul Krugman’s blog, you’ll find that a very large percentage of the comments are either nasty, devoid of content, or both.”

    If you go to Paul Krugman’s blog, you’ll find that a very large percentage of the posts are either nasty, devoid of content, or both.

    (By which humor I mean to highlight Krugman’s procilivty, noticed by Tyler Cowen and others, to vilify his critics, and I beseech our moderator to allow it. And forgive the potential SOPA violations too.)

  4. 4 4 Super-Fly

    A priest, a rabbi, and Paul Krugman walk into a bar…

  5. 5 5 Michael

    >A priest, a rabbi, and Paul Krugman walk into a bar…

    “…and that’s how I was thrown out of the Capitol Hill Babysitting Co-op.”

  6. 6 6 RandomWords

    Hi Steven, I have always admired this blog for having very thoughtful and interesting discussions and I understand your desire to keep it that way.
    Deleting posts that have sole the purpose of attacking someone personally is quite uncontroversial (I think), but do you really plan to sift through every single post and then decide whether it is just barely enough on topic or just slightly too tangential? Is that a good allocation of your time? (Ok, being Steven Landsburg, i guess you probably had a little cost-benefit analysis and decided it is.)

  7. 7 7 Steve Landsburg

    RandomWords:

    Deleting posts that have sole the purpose of attacking someone personally is quite uncontroversial (I think), but do you really plan to sift through every single post and then decide whether it is just barely enough on topic or just slightly too tangential? Is that a good allocation of your time? (Ok, being Steven Landsburg, i guess you probably had a little cost-benefit analysis and decided it is.)

    Perhaps I should have been clearer: This is not a change in policy; it is the re-statement of an ongoing policy, and I delete almost no posts for this reason. As a rule, you have to be quite far and quite blatantly off-topic to get deleted for being off-topic. But I reserve the right to be (slightly) harsher about this from time to time, and seems appropriate.

  8. 8 8 Martin

    RandomWords:

    “do you really plan to sift through every single post and then decide whether it is just barely enough on topic or just slightly too tangential? Is that a good allocation of your time?”

    Considering that Steve already reads the comments for the purpose of replying to them I don’t see how this activity would make any marginal difference.

  9. 9 9 HispanicPundit

    Professor Landsburg,

    I’m here to discuss something only tangentially related to your post. Namely this comment: In general, if you’re dying to talk about something that’s entirely off-topic, please either wait till I post about it, or speed up the process by sending me an email with a request for a post on that topic. (I promise nothing of course.)

    What I don’t understand about bloggers, especially economics bloggers and especially especially professors of economics bloggers, is why not advertise a price for your services?

    Sometimes in the middle of a discussion with an opponent, I want to learn what the standard economic view is on something. Or the rightleaning view. Or why economists hold this view. Sometimes the stuff would be really easy for an economists to give. Sometimes it would be difficult. It’s always a luck of the draw emailing economists.

    A far better method would be for economics bloggers to put up a price for their services: say $100/hour of video chat. Or $20 per email or something like that. They have something like this for extremely famous economists like Gary Becker. I’m sure your rate would probably be very expensive as well, but a graduate student? In fact, none of the less well known bloggers do this. Why NOT? Sometimes a question doesn’t need a Gary Becker level answer. Sometimes a graduate student could easily answer it. But no avenues.

    Your thoughts?

  10. 10 10 Mike H

    @HP – there are websites where you can pose a question and state how much you’re willing to pay for the answer, then screened experts decide if your bid is worth their time, and you pick one.

  11. 11 11 Ken B

    What I don’t understand about bloggers, especially economics bloggers and especially especially professors of economics bloggers, is why not advertise a price for your services?

    Several theories
    1. Econ profs are particularly generous.
    2. The number of econ profs who blog is actually small, and a small fraction of any group is generous.
    3. They are trying out arguments and approaches as dry runs for books, courses, or talks they plan.
    4. They have fun.

    We know 1) is wrong because economists are grinchy, just ask Yoram Bauman.

  12. 12 12 Anteros

    Hi Steven,
    I read your blog fairly often but refrain from commenting because ‘tangential’ would be a euphemism for the relationship between most of your topics and where my observations would head. However, on this topic I feel my words will at least be in the ball-park.

    I’ve noticed that it is very easy (and tempting) to indulge in name-calling, so I applaud your reasonable efforts to re-enforce everyone’s self-restraint.

    I agree with the first commenter’s point – would a whole thread made up of not-so-subtle snide disparagement really be that edifying? [unless of course there were some layers of self-referential irony in your last paragraph that I missed?]

    I do have a question for you, and I’ll formulate it as rapidly as possible and email it to you [it's in the workshop at the mo', due for a re-build] – hopefully before you start charging email fees that are beyond the reach of impecunious Englishmen such as myself.

    P.S. It worries me slightly that I enjoy reading your blog irrespective of whether I understand the topic. Is that something to do with me, or the blog?

  13. 13 13 Doc Merlin

    Occasional weeding keeps the noise to signal ratio in a good range.

  14. 14 14 Mercer Tyson

    Your attempts at moderation are admirable, although they border on a private form of denying freedom of speech.

    However, it begs the question: have you ever tried to contact Krugman as to why he is as nasty as he is? While it is good for readers and commenters to walk the high road, it is difficult when the man insults people on a daily basis.

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