We moderate comments to prevent publication of all the spam that would otherwise end up cluttering every post. We very much appreciate comments, believing that if this whole endeavor isn't a conversation, there's little point. We are glad we are enough of a small, niche blog that we don't have to deal with trolls. We publish every non-spam comment.
But last week, in response to our ev psych blog, a reader wrote suggesting, among other things, that because rape and crime are universal, these behaviors must be genetic. His examples were not only the standard ones, so favored by the eugenicists of old, but also of rape by non-Europeans. The comment struck us as having more than a tinge of racism and sexism, and seemed, to us, to be a modern reprise of pro-eugenics arguments as well. We do not know the commenter, and perhaps nothing like that was in his mind, and the post itself said nothing about rape or crime! So we wondered why those examples, the usual ones that have been used by the powerful to decide who is worthy, would be mentioned. But, we published it anyway. I moderate most of the comments. I didn't consider not publishing it initially. It was in our view an ugly comment, which I thought would be easy to deal with in a reply. Ken replied. I thought his reply was a good one. He summarized the nub of the commenter's points.
Then Holly weighed in, saying she wanted it to be known publicly that she wouldn't have published the comment. Holly is a co-contributor to MT, and we respect her greatly, so we took her comment seriously. What happens here reflects on her, too. Should we delete the initial comment? Delete that, and Ken's and Holly's and pretend none of it ever happened, neither the original comment nor our censoring of it?
After a lot of thought, I pulled just the comment. Ken would have preferred to leave it, and his reply, but by the time he let me know that, the deed was done. I left Ken's response, and Holly's, because I wanted readers to know we had censored a comment. Ken's comments indicated the tenor of the initial message, so it was pretty clear what he had been responding to.
Yes, we censored a comment. To his credit, when he saw what we'd done the author emailed Ken and explained his position, as well as his dismay at our intolerance and scientific elitism. Ken wrote back, explaining why his comment struck us as so out of line. I am still uncomfortable with what we did, but I was uncomfortable with every option.
It's the only time we've ever pulled a comment. We're not averse to disagreement. Indeed, as a friend we respect very much asked, after seeing what we'd done here, "How can you have a productive conversation if you exclude particular points of view from being heard?"
But this experience has made us realize that we do have limits. When the disagreement strikes us as racist, sexist, and tainted with eugenics, that seems, to Ken and me, like a pretty good line to not cross.