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A Comment on Comments:
Do you occassionally think that a VC blogger has missed the boat? Do you sometimes feel that a post is based on a factual error or a misreading of the law, and has therefore reached a wrong conclusion? Do you want to leave a comment explaining the error?

  If so, here's a bit of advice: When you write your comment, assume that the blogger has made an inadvertent error and would very much appreciate your correction. Don't assume that the blogger is intentionally trying to mislead people. Don't assume that you are bravely speaking truth to power, exposing the lies of corrupt wrongdoers. Instead, think of us VC bloggers as busy people with a wide range of interests who do their best but are only human and occasionally make mistakes. Then write your comment as a friendly suggestion that will help everyone benefit from your your expertise or knowledge (or just good googling skills). Your comment will be more appreciated, more carefully considered, and more effective.
SamV:
I can't believe you would post this. You are obviously a lying, corrupt wrongdoer. It's a good thing I was here to point this out.
1.30.2006 12:25pm
KenB (mail):
Yeah, typical wingnut strategy -- when someone sees through their attempts to spread disinformation and advance their extremist agenda and has the temerity to call them on it, they cry intolerance and incivility. Nice try Prof. Kerr, we see through your little trick.
1.30.2006 12:45pm
Roger (mail):
This is strange, since most VC bloggers have rather narrow topics that they post about (or at least can be considered expert in). You, for example, are well-known in 4th-amendment issues and you seem to have a good handle on internal DOJ issues. Volokh seems to have a good handle on 1st amendment issues. With regard to the rest of them, I am unclear how their expertise separates them from non-lawyers, but I am sure that they are experts on something and it is only because of inadvertent errors that their posts seem like political rants.
1.30.2006 12:46pm
VC Reader:
A lot of the commentors on this blog seem hostile and angry and often express viewpoints well outside the mainstream. To be honest, I am not sure the "comment feature" is a positive attribute of this blog.
1.30.2006 1:02pm
Houston Lawyer:
from hell's heart, I stab at thee...for hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee
1.30.2006 1:06pm
Roger (mail):
I am unsure whether declaring a comment to be "outside the mainstream" makes it any better or worse. After all, the very notion that black people could wed white people was outside the mainstream a few years back, and now it is accepted. Same with women voting.

But, a lot of posts to the blog seem quite hostile, too. So what?
1.30.2006 1:06pm
A. Nonymous (mail):
I always say: Never attribute to animosity what can be explained away by stupidity.

VC modified: Never attribute on VC animosity in a post that can be explained away by the poster's human fallibility.
1.30.2006 1:06pm
VC Reader:
Roger--That's a good point about "outside the mainstream" comments. I guess I picked the wrong phrase, because I certainly did not mean that unpopular opinions were not valuable to the the discussion of the day. What I am referring to are the comments like this one, where I feel annoyed that I wasted my time reading it. The posters who rely on unsubstantiated information to make ridiculous claims or, as the poster I just linked to did, completely disregarded the importance of "the truth."
1.30.2006 1:10pm
Joel B. (mail):
One sad, and somewhat inherent problem with comments in general, is that I think most people only tend to speak up when they take issue with something. These leaves the comment section probably more confrontational than most readers generally feel about the topic at hand.

I very much enjoy reading the blog, and think all of you are a pleasure to read. I also know, that I tend to pipe up, when I feel like there's something I disagree. It's just too bad that most comments then end up being disagreeable. Of course, "right on!" "nice post X" don't really add much either.

(Kind of like this comment)
1.30.2006 1:15pm
VC Reader:
Joel B--Actually I think that is rather insightful. Your point is related to the reason why self-selecting surveys (like internet polls) don't provide valuable statistical information: only the people who feel passionately about the survey topic will take the time to respond.
1.30.2006 1:32pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Sometimes I say things that probably sound more angry than they're intended to. My apologies. I would point out, though, that some Conspirators blog in a very provocative manner. They make statements that, by all appearances, are meant to incite. So it doesn't seem it should be too big of a surprise that some will be offended and respond indignantly.

I like the blog, though, so I probably shouldn't be so critical...
1.30.2006 1:59pm
Medis:
Hmmm ... I think that one of the interesting things about readings blogs is that over time, one can get to know something about a particular blogger--his or her methods, temperament, biases, reliability, and so on. So, I'm not sure asking commentators to make generic assumptions about the VC bloggers--as opposed to letting commentators make more individualized assessments--is in keeping with the very idea of blogging.
1.30.2006 2:05pm
Gordo:
Are you reading this, Greedy Clerk? :)
1.30.2006 2:06pm
RK:
I find that the nature of the comments on a blog is usually set by the tone set by the host. Of the 30-odd blogs I bounce through each morning, there are only a half-dozen where I routinely check the comments. I've generally found the comment section at VC to be one of the more high minded forums, particularly when the original post focused on legal arcana rather than guns/politics/torture/etc.
1.30.2006 2:14pm
Passing By:
Is this sort of an extension of the eggshell skull rule into blogging? Over at my place, I rather enjoy the commenters who choose to be confrontational. Is this a reflection of the type of personality who becomes a practicing lawyer, as opposed to one who chooses academe?
1.30.2006 2:21pm
William Grosso (mail) (www):
Wow. Maybe I'm in a minority here, but when I read "VC Blogger" I think of Venture Capitalists who blog, not "Volokh Conspiracy" bloggers.

Even though this is the Volokh Conspiracy, and you have a right to the acronym, it's momentarily jarring for those of use in the tech industry when you refer to "VC Bloggers"
1.30.2006 2:26pm
AF:
I assume this post is referring to "objective" errors. In which case it makes a lot of sense. It would be a little condescending, though, don't you think, to pretend that a poster with whom you disagree on more substantive issues has made an "inadvertent error and would very much appreciate your correction"?
1.30.2006 2:26pm
Eric Muller (www):
Orin, I think Medis has an important point. If the VC itself had something approaching a uniform tone to its posts, I think there'd be some sense in asking its readers to respond with something like a uniform tone, or at least a uniform set of assumptions about what individual posts say and what they imply.

But the VC has no such tone, and the quality, tone, substantiveness, and subject of its posts vary--increasingly widely, I'd say.

I think those of us who are regular readers here come to understand the unique personalities and contributions of each of the contributors here--or at least the frequent ones.

If you're going to run a highly popular group blog that features bloggers with widely divergent (and sometimes quite provocative) styles, and you're going to host comments, I think you need to be prepared for the notion that your readers will not feel obliged to adopt a uniform tone in responding to all of them.
1.30.2006 2:35pm
Eric Muller (www):
Or, on reflection, perhaps I am reading your post too broadly, Orin.

If you are really speaking only of claimed factual errors, then I agree that a gentle correction (or even a privately emailed correction) is generally good form.
1.30.2006 2:52pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
I love the commenters on this site.

OK: Hey, guys, be polite.
Commenter1: How DARE you ask us to be polite.
Commenter2: What do you mean? We are polite. Jerk.
Commenter3: We're just being nasty because you are (or sometimes your fellow posters are) a nasty, lying, mean, secondhand, electric donkey-bottom biting, partisan hack(s).
1.30.2006 2:55pm
Taeyoung (mail):

I think you need to be prepared for the notion that your readers will not feel obliged to adopt a uniform tone in responding to all of them.

This doesn't seem a particularly exceptionable expectation on Orin Kerr's part, though -- the assumption that the other side is arguing in good faith, rather than from base motives or out of a deliberate attempt to deceive, seems to me more like a sinequanon of polite discourse.
1.30.2006 3:01pm
dk35 (mail):
Poor VC Reader, who gets annoyed reading my comments, may be surprised, but I have a lot of sympathy with Orin's post.

I'm reading it to be a comment on what happens specifically when you think that a certain factual assumption or misreading of the law by the poster is inaccurate.

FWIW, I think Orin is right in that there is no need to get all riled up over that. If you have a source that goes against the factual assumption/reading of the law, simply point it out. There is no need to get into making statements about the person's motives.

These kinds of situations, however, seem distinct from expressions of opinion/worldview, etc. (Of course, I understand that lines here may be blurry). When a blogger puts up a post that is expressing an opinion or promoting a certain worldview, and allows comments, he/she should expect comments expressing divergent opinions. No need to be rude, of course, but strong disagreements may arise. That's when we all remind ourselves that healthy debate is a good thing. But I didn't think that Orin was referring to this kind of situation specifically in his post.
1.30.2006 3:14pm
VC Reader:
dk35--Why even bother politely correcting factually inaccurate information if truth and accuracy is irrelevant? Your comments today don't seem to add up into a coherent philosophy.
1.30.2006 3:24pm
Mylar Thomson (mail):
Roger,
I find offensive that you would bring up that old canard of faux progressivism -- interracial marriage -- which really is just an opportunity to ridicule the very idea. If you were a sincere believer in the normalcy of such relationships, you would post some links to some consummations of them, you racist.
1.30.2006 3:29pm
dk35 (mail):
I know you think so, VC Reader. That's what makes healthy debate so great.

Maybe we'll discuss it over beers sometime.
1.30.2006 3:39pm
VC Reader:

Maybe we'll discuss it over beers sometime.

Or frozen vodka.
1.30.2006 4:04pm
Paul Sherman:
There's a theory that explains all this:
Click!
1.30.2006 4:07pm
Splunge (mail):
It is axiomatic that those with power wish that those without would address them more respectfully. But the wisest of the former recognize that tolerating rudeness in the hoi polloi is part of the payment required to sustain the underlying inequities.
1.30.2006 4:42pm
magoo (mail):
Maybe it would help if you gave out a weekly award for the most civil commenter. Personally, I think you're all just swell.
1.30.2006 5:24pm
George Gregg (mail):
RE: incivil conduct, maybe it's all the frozen vodka talking?

Or, as I like to call it, "frodka".
1.30.2006 5:53pm
Perseus:
This post puzzles me. The central sentence of Prof. Kerr's nine-sentence post is: Don't assume that the blogger is intentionally trying to mislead people. Yet this blog is called the Volokh Conspiracy. So either the Volokh Conspiracy is not really a member of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" or the central sentence is intended to be ironic.
1.30.2006 6:09pm
Wintermute (www):
I've been more discouraged with hostility from a conspirator or two, cutting off comments or threatening to ban a commenter. If such is necessary, it is a test of one's self to be just, using the best in judicial temperament; then one's occasional brief and hopefully not extreme lapses are humanly forgivable.

I think Orin was talking about pounces and gotchas that lack manners and/or are ideology-driven troll habits.
1.30.2006 9:24pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
What bothers me -- and I think this is broader than Orin's comment, because it applies both to true posts (such as Eugene's rape statistics one) and error-ridden ones -- is when people attack the motives of the poster, instead of the contents of the post.
1.31.2006 12:00am
Defending the Indefensible:
Prof. Kerr:
When you write your comment, assume that the blogger has made an inadvertent error and would very much appreciate your correction. Don't assume that the blogger is intentionally trying to mislead people.
An excellent default assumption, but like all assumptions it isn't necessarily correct. I would venture to say that almost everyone participating here is expressing honest opinion, and the differences which exist are not only fair but desirable, in that all perspectives help to inform and broaden the discussion.

On the other hand, I think that there are some participants who demonstrate a consistent pattern of behavior which removes them from a similar presumption. There are those who misquote authorities, misrepresent facts, and pretend not to have said or done what they have repeatedly done. At some point the presumption of good faith is necessarily lost.

The Volokh Conspiracy has a lot of good going for it. Without question your own posts have been generally thought provoking and worthy of discussion, and I enjoy reading the back and forth which ensues. There is more balanced argument here than in many forums. But there are also a few partisans whose credibility needs to be called into question with demonstrable cause to keep things from turning into an unproductive political spin zone.
1.31.2006 12:18am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Prof. Kerr,

IMO, your decision to honor O'Connor stood on its own. I'm not sure others' decision whether or not to do the same thing can be ascribed to maturity, though I saw little of the thread. In the future, you may try EV's method of saying "If you have something critical to say here, please save it." Just a thought.
1.31.2006 1:42pm
Uninvited Guest:
This is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard. I think we all know why you are proposing it. If you had any respect for your readers, you wouldn't even think of spouting your fascist opinions. You really need to be more tolerant.
1.31.2006 3:40pm