Guardian closes comments on three topics

In a post by the Guardian‘s “readers’ editor” Stephen Pritchard, it’s been announced that the website will no longer open articles to readers’ comments when they are about certain issues:

But more concerning is the ever-rising level of abuse, trolling and “astroturfing” (propaganda posting – an artificial version of a grassroots campaign) currently polluting what are often illuminating and stimulating discussions.

In response to this menace, some news sites, including Reuters, CNN and theChicago Sun-Times, have abandoned comments altogether or heavily restricted them; others, such as the New York Times, pre-moderate every post. That’s not going to happen here, but things are about to change.

The three topics are then named (I’m not naming them quite yet), and the new policy announced:

As a result, it had been decided that comments would not be opened on pieces on those three topics unless the moderators knew they had the capacity to support the conversation and that they believed a positive debate was possible.

Can you guess what the topics are? I bet you can get at least two out of the three. Think before scrolling down.

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Here they are (my emphasis):

Certain subjects – race, immigration and Islam in particular – attract an unacceptable level of toxic commentary, believes Mary Hamilton, our executive editor, audience. “The overwhelming majority of these comments tend towards racism, abuse of vulnerable subjects, author abuse and trolling, and the resulting conversations below the line bring very little value but cause consternation and concern among both our readers and our journalists,” she said last week.

Now I myself don’t like invective and name-calling on my site: in fact, people are banned for it after a warning. It doesn’t advance discussion to call other commenters names. But I wonder exactly what the Guardian means by “toxic commentary.” Hamilton’s explanation isn’t sufficient, since “racism” can mean “criticism of Islam” and “abuse of vulnerable subjects” could mean “criticism of authors’ views.” Given that the site has editorial positions to the left, it looks as if they’re trying to ban strong opinions that run counter to the site’s own narrative.

Given the Guardian‘s history, I don’t trust their explanation that they don’t have enough people to monitor the comments. That’s ridiculous. They can hold all comments for an hour or so; getting someone to then go through them to eliminate the TRULY toxic ones is a relatively quick process. Or, like some bloggers do, they can do a quick run through the published comments and delete the nasty ones. It dosn’t take long.

In fact, I suspect that the Guardian is trying to quash opinions counter to their own. Why does Islam get a benefit and Catholicism (or any other faith) not? Whether the answer to that is acceptable depends on what the Guardian means by “toxic commentary.”

At any rate, the latest three commenters had takes on the issue that I consider more sensible than the paper’s:

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97 Comments

  1. Geoff Toscano
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    The Guardian is still my favourite of the more considered newspaper media in the UK but I notice it has become increasingly unsure of itself in recent years. The comments area is always, for me, the best part of the types of ‘debate’ it now intends restricting.

    I wonder as to this website? Is there much in the way of moderated comment that we don’t see?

  2. GM
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I used to comment a lot on the Guardian in the past, and it has been really disturbing to watch it slide towards the same sort of censorship one expects to see on a creationist website — it was a gradual transition, no a sudden shift of policy, but it was nevertheless quite quick, i.e. until 2 or 3 years ago it was possible for one to have a reasoned debate without taboo topics.

    But especially once the migrant crisis started, it has all gone to hell. Try, for example, to post a comment about how there is no solution to the migrant crisis without addressing the problem of the already existing state of overpopulation and still exploding populations in the MENA region and Sub-Saharan Africa, and that while there was a million migrants last year, which might indeed be handled, the remorseless logic of the exponential function clearly tells us that the future is very grim, and see what happens — it will be deleted almost immediately, even though there is absolutely nothing hateful in it.

    Try also to make a reasoned argument against some of the feminism craziness that they post every day in their opinion section (nothing hateful again, just facts and logic) and watch what happens — they will put on the “Your comments are currently being premoderated” list or even outright ban you.

    I was actually really surprised the list was “race, immigration and Islam” — I expected it to be “feminism, immigration and Islam”, because many of the moderators seem to be mostly rabid feminists with trigger-happy fingers ready to hit the “ban” button.

    It really comes to show how little difference there is between the left and the right — the left might proclaim to be pro-science and pro-reason, but is anything but, the only differences are the choice of topics that the two sides act completely irrationally about and their entrenched ideological positions. FTB seems to have been a prelude to the Orwellian future we’re entering, not simply a bunch of crazy SJW hypocrites touting how much they value “free though” while spitting on it every 10 minutes.

    Which is really really depressing — there is simply no hope for this world.

    • allison
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      I agree, I thought feminism would be one of the three topics. The radical feminist left simply will not tolerate any dissent from their orthodoxy.

    • Geoffrey Howe
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      It’s not that there are no differences, so much. It’s that whatever someones views, authoritarianism tends to trump everything else.

      There’s a huge difference between Islamists and Feminists. But those differences are oftentimes less important than their desire to silence their critics.

    • KD33
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      I have little useful to say wrt the Guardian, But I strongly disagree with your last two paragraphs. I generally find the left/progressive discussions to be more rational and open than anything right of center, with some exceptions of course. For every Guardian there are two WEITs.

    • nightglare
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      What you say is not really borne out by the fact that most feminist articles, especially the ones by the likes of Jessica Valenti (who attracts the most ire), are followed by a ton of comments, very often the vast majority, which are critical of the article.

      • GM
        Posted February 1, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        Critical to what extent?

        I have very concrete memories of really absurd situations, where, for example, I asked whether if whatever particular “discrimination” by the “patriarchy” they were complaining about, was to happen to some males rather than females, they would protest against it too (it was more than a proper occasion to ask that question as it was a blatant case of “It’s a problem only when it concerns females” even though it was just as likely to affect males). Deleted immediately. That sort of thing.

        Some critical comments do get through, but that does not mean that all do, and it tends to be the milder criticisms that you see.

        • Cindy
          Posted February 1, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          I have very concrete memories of really absurd situations, where, for example, I asked whether if whatever particular “discrimination” by the “patriarchy” they were complaining about, was to happen to some males rather than females, they would protest against it too

          Speaking of that…I just read on a popular Patheos blog (Love Joy Feminism, PCC has linked to it before), that voting for a less competent female politician over a more competent male politician was totes legit because women need more ‘representation’.

          So I guess that answers your question.

          Oh, and yes, not only did the blog owner 1) blame CH for their own murders (those cartoons were racist, but she 2) ultimately blamed the Cologne attacks on white men! (If we don’t teach white men not to rape, then Muslim men won’t know any better).

          I still want to consider myself a feminist, but it is getting harder and harder these days, what with all the bs they keep shoveling.

          • GM
            Posted February 1, 2016 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

            Representation is why I was put on the premoderation list — I dared point out that the two sexes make a differential investment in raising the offspring due to objective biological factors and therefore any field that is extremely competitive (such as STEM fields) would be expected to include more men than women among the winners all else (such as innate ability) being equal — because in the end if all else is equal, the outcome is determined by how much effort you put in. If you claim it should be otherwise, then you are either proposing that less qualified people should get the positions or that females have greater innate ability than men (which would make up for the less time they invest into the work). And the latter, of course, would be just as sexist as claiming that males have greater innate ability than females. But no, it is not possible to be sexist against males, because sexism is prejudice plus power.

            I don’t comment on gender issues anymore because as a result.

            • Cindy
              Posted February 1, 2016 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

              Wow.

              So I just checked the comments on LJF and only two people are arguing that it is sexist to choose a woman over a man just because of gender.

              And people are saying that it is *not* sexist, because the woman is as-qualified if not more-so because of her gender! Because ‘we need more female representation’ ergo it cannot be sexist to choose her even though she is less qualified.

              My head is spinning right now!

          • Rose Somer
            Posted February 2, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

            Too many feminists are “feminists” and/or completely unrealistic about technological/social/economic conditions that make it possible to have a more gender equal society than has probably ever existed anywhere in the past

  3. eric
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    At any rate, the latest three commenters had takes on the issue that I consider more sensible than the paper’s

    Those comments are interesting and I also agree they’re very sensible. ‘Official’ articles often give a median view on a topic, while an open public comments will often give the reader access to both the “more reflective/educated” and “less reflective/educated” tails of the distribution. I’m not sure why we need to censor the latter. If you don’t like those sorts of comments, well, the scroll wheel is your friend.

    I only had two guesses for topics and only got one right…the wrong guess probably reflects my US background. They were Climate Change and Islam.

    • Geoffrey Howe
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      You know what would convince me there is a racism problem? Not an article telling me about it. But by checking out the comments section and finding a bunch of racists.

      Freedom of speech isn’t just about making sure the best ideas are heard. It’s also about making sure people see the worst ideas for the garbage they are. Silencing them only allows them to fester for longer.

      • Jason Sutton
        Posted February 1, 2016 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        Yes! It’s only an argument heard that can be countered. This silencing of CiF is in the long tradition – left and right – of smug, hubristic patronage. We know what’s good for you… children.

  4. Rose Somer
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I think this is shocking. The Guardian has gone downhill – especially on articles related to these topics, tho it still has some good articles (though viable) on other topics. Its openness to genuine diversity of views in comment was its big strong point – and now the pin is being pulled on this in its most contentious area and I’m sure theres one unifying factor here – fear of any criticism of Islam – or honest discussion of issues muslims face beyond the ridiculous modern critical theory approach that has evolved in the humanities for these things. This comes just as Isis issues a video threat to attack Britain simply because it is non Muslim majority country of Kufr (Unbelief)
    by Shiraz Maher
    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/01/latest-video-islamic-state-was-its-most-menacing-warning-britain-yet
    whilst the father of a young woman convicted for going abroad and joining ISIS – who never denied it – says he is enraged at the “Islamophobia” the police have shown and vows his daughter will prove how much more she can do as a devout muslim whatever that means.

    Maajid Nawaz is right. If you shut down any genuine two way dialogue on a really important issue – when people who have good reason to be concerned you encourage extremism on both sides which feeds into each other. Mark the recent rise of the extreme right in Europe. And in the past year in Australia we have had extremist groups going public. This action by the Guardians is the last word in irresponsibility. When are they going to be able to see beyond their ivory tower critical theory/post modern bubble???

    • Rose Somer
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      correction – I meant to say that Guardian articles on the three topics of race, immigration and Islam are usually flawed because they always give a free pass to Islamic issues in favour of Islamists or blaming the west entirely for any problem with this. The other topics are good but fairly variable (not viable!)

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I avoid reading the comments of many news sites because the interesting ones are soon overwhelmed by the idiotic ones. Take a look at science articles on CBC and you’ll see the most asinine of remarks and not just out of ignorance but out of trying to push an agenda (like creationism for example).

    If news agencies can’t properly monitor their comments sections then they should shut them down. And by monitoring, sending them to a third party doesn’t count because those don’t seem to be very effective either.

    • GM
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      This has nothing to do with moronic posts flooding the comments section.

      The Guardian has had absolutely no problem dealing with those for many many years (I say this as a decade+-long reader) — its comments sections have been clear of those.

      This is pure censorship of inconvenient opinions, which, in fact, happen to be shared by the majority of its readers — the people concerned about immigration have outnumbered those pro-immigration by a factor of between 5 and 10 when the comments sections were open, and this was without counting the deleted posts, which were numerous and we all know on which side they leaned.

    • eric
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Diana, I’m not sure how your first paragraph leads to your second. I.e., if readers like you easily avoid the idiotic sections, why do you think they need to be shut down?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        Because me and others like me would participate. Most thoughtful commentors are quickly driven away and the comments become useless troll fights instead of debate or discussion.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

          Because I – what language did I think I was speaking?

          • Diane G.
            Posted February 2, 2016 at 12:33 am | Permalink

            Canadian?

        • eric
          Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

          But in terms of your participation, the ‘open’ system and shutting down comments are effectively the same, because you will not participate either way. So why shut it down for others? Isn’t calling for a shutdown kind of like calling for a shutdown of a bar because you find it too lowbrow for your tastes?

          I’m fairly ambivalent towards what system the paper uses. Its their choice. We certainly lived happily in the ‘paper’ days where comments consisted of talking to our neighbors about the article. But I don’t think ‘idiotic’ comments is a good reason to shut down such a section. I am far more empathetic towards the problem of advertisers larding up the space with ads than the problem of idiots.

          And don’t worry about your grammar, it was perfectly cromulent.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:42 am | Permalink

            The other option I gave is to affective you monitor comments. I would prefer no comments because it gives voice to harmful remarks and a forum to spew racist, sex St, anti science garbage. Frankly, providing such a forum isn’t what I’d want from a respectable newspaper.

            • Posted February 1, 2016 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

              “The other option I gave is to affective you monitor comments.”

              What language do you think you are speaking?

              😉

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 1, 2016 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

                Yeah. It is my iPad; it has its own idea of what I should write. I figured I’d just leave you all wondering if it were iPad or stroke.

            • rose somer
              Posted February 1, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

              Guardian articles have become more and more one eyed on the topics they now want to stop comments on. Of course many comments aren’t sensible but overall they tend to react against consistently biased articles, and some of the comments are actually very well informed.

              The comments were a handle on reality. Also some of the people the on line-Guardian use for articles are questionable For example: David Shariatmadari – someone with a high probability that his uncle – who he refers to fondly – was in charge of shutting down intellectuals after the revolution. Shariatmadari refuses to criticise the Iranian regime
              http://www.azarmehr.info/2015/08/david-shariatmadaris-links-with-iranian.html
              Shariatmadari wrote a hatchet job on Maajid Nawaz (maajid’s response below) https://www.facebook.com/MaajidNawazFanPage/posts/899607663439833
              and an article supporting Mariam Namazie being banned by University of Warwick
              http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/01/university-of-warwick-maryam-namazie-activist

            • Posted February 1, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

              “I would prefer no comments because it gives voice to harmful remarks and a forum to spew racist, sex St, anti science garbage.”

              I’m certain you’re an intelligent discerning viewer of comments, but I’ve been accused of racism for simply asking questions about affirmative action, and a sexist for pointing out problems with the 76 cents to the dollar pay gap.
              My problem is that I suspect many sites disallow comments under the guise of preventing toxic speech when it’s speech like my examples above are what they are actually trying to stop. People will generally ignore the obvious hateful speech, it’s the reasoned arguments that those sites find to be the most dangerous.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 1, 2016 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

                But my point remains. Page new site provides a forum for comments. It is responsible for what happens on it.

          • gluonspring
            Posted February 1, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

            I think the bar analogy is apropos. There are bars I do not frequent because the clientele are too rough for my taste. I prefer not to have bar fights with my drink. Bars enforce standards. At the bars I frequent, shouting loudly or groping the servers will get you removed. If an otherwise high class bar stops enforcing their standards, it won’t be a high class bar for long.

            I see no reason not to expect online venus to similarly enforce standards for their “patrons”. If I go to the New York Times comment section, I expect that the New York Times will enforce some minimum standards of behavior that ensures that the comments are in line with the reputation of the paper, both in terms of the quality of the comments and in terms of the appropriateness, vulgarity, and inflammatory level of the comments. I can go to some crap site, WND say, if I want to see the equivalent of a bar fight. When otherwise reputable sites allow vile comments, they cheapen their venue.

            That said, I think The Guardian’s approach of trying to declare topics off limits is not the right way to enforce their standards. I think that they need a comments editor, and if they really can’t afford one, they should not have comments at all.

    • Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      “I avoid reading the comments of many news sites because the interesting ones are soon overwhelmed by the idiotic ones.”

      You can tell a lot by what side the idiots come down on.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 2, 2016 at 12:39 am | Permalink

      “If news agencies can’t properly monitor their comments sections…”

      Agree. It seems to work quite well at the NYT. Of course there is some worry about what gets banned, but some amazingly thoughtful comments are available for all this way. It’s rather like the WEIT effect–it selects for intelligent, well-reasoning commenters.

  6. Dean
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I understand the concern, but I’ve delved into the comment sections of articles on these subjects before and, trust me, the commentary does not tend to your brand of reasoned criticism of Islam.

    Still, I think a moderation policy would be preferable to outright closure. But despite your argument that it shouldn’t be onerous, in the modern economy newspapers can ill afford additional expenses that don’t generate revenue.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 2, 2016 at 12:40 am | Permalink

      I think that’s exactly the problem!

  7. Scott Draper
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Not much of a loss, IMO. The comments on the typical news sites rapidly degenerate into flame wars.

    In general, I think the comments section serves only to generate more ad revenue for the site and doesn’t serve to educate the readers.

  8. TJR
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    The first rule of the internet is, and always has been, “Do Not Feed The Trolls”.

    It is as true now as it was 20-25 years ago on usenet groups etc.

    Now they’ve decided that the only way to keep out the worst elements among the commenters is to keep out all commenters.

    Hmm, can’t help feeling there’s a bit of irony here somewhere but I can’t quite put my finger on it…..

    • Posted February 1, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      The problem is that it used to be that Usenet and such were small enough communities in many cases that trolls could be ignored or dealt with. Now everyone’s website has a comments section and a billion people are online. So the old traditions are not communicated, are simply impossible to use or are based on obsolete knowledge. (Sound familiar? :))

  9. Cindy
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    To regressive leftists, toxic commentary = mere, and oftrn minor, disagreement.

  10. Rose Somer
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Our humanities culture needs to open up because this is driving the increasing polarisation of media. The following is what I believe has taken over the humanities gradually and then totally since the early 60s. Sure we need criticism of the West but we also need to realise all human civilisations are flawed and people have to live on territory and material means, not Plato’s grand ideas or Derrida’s obscurantism. In a recent Oz TV debate called Q&A featuring Maajid Nawaz and various others, a young woman in hijab kept deploying Critical Theory and Post Modern tropes with assumptions explained below to argue that theocracy is at least morally on a par with, and probably preferable to secularism. She was described as a “Human rights activist” in the introduction to the show. She’s an Australian Human Rights Law graduate who volunteers work for a refugee charity and I think her motivations are innocent – she genuinely believes she’s defending the oppressed – because the language of blame is so one way in the humanities these days.

    So as a political science post graduate, my feeling is the entrenched humanities assumptions students are all exposed to are:
    A. CRITICAL THEORY ASSUMPTIONS 1. Western capitalism is the greatest form of oppression and imperialism theres ever been 2. Other cultures are essentially superior to the West. Modern technological culture is an offshoot of capitalism. If we can’t reign in the excesses of “global capitalism” with an idealised pastoral service based economy with no industry in sight economy or we can’t please the first two groups of no. 3, we would be better off returning to the pre capitalist medieval era. 3. Politics needs to be about giving voice to the voiceless who are presumed to be (i)– minorities in Western countries (esp if aggrieved by the West), (ii)– peoples in non-Western countries who are opposed to the West or oppressed by capitalism or something which can be seen as capitalism, or, further down the list (iii)– women, gays and the working class. 4. By extension liberalism has come to be equated with consumerist economic liberalism and even religion is preferable to the supposedly more consumerist nature of current secularism.
    This normally goes Hand in Hand with POMO assumptions below
    B. POST MODERN ASSUMPTIONS.
    There is no such thing as fact. Every argument is as good as any other because empiricism is objectifying. “objective” fact is too often used to “objectify” vulnerable groups and to “punch down”. Language is just a tool of oppression unless the underlying oppression of minorities and excluded groups is brought to the fore …..

    • GM
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Very good points.

      But then there is the question why has PoMo been allowed to run rampant in the humanities for so long?

      There was a time when some scientists would fight it, but that time is long gone.

      • Richard
        Posted February 1, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        I would like to see one of these PoMo types walk off a cliff (*) whilst chanting the mantra “There is no such thing as fact”.

        Perhaps gravity really would remain in abeyance, Wile E. Coyote style, for as long as they kept chanting and believing.

        (*) a very low cliff – I’m not really that cruel.

        • GM
          Posted February 1, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

          I prefer the upright -80 freezer with a transparent door — you put one of them inside and get to watch zer/xer (!) face while telling them “Thermodynamics is a social construct thus you should be perfectly fine inside for a few hours — just create a new social construct where it’s 100K warmer inside”.

          Anyway, there is a very real and very serious problem here and I will go as far as saying that it is worse than creationism. Creationism tries to discredit the scientific way of knowing by elevating faith, revelation and dogma to the same level of epistemic reliability. We all know where that takes you.

          PoMo is equally bad — it also discredits science as a way of knowing by declaring that there is no objective truth.

          The main difference is that creationism is the domain of the hillbillies in Alabama while Pomo is firmly entrenched in all major universities and its proponents are considered respectable thinkers.

          And that is a lot more dangerous.

          BTW, there is another parallel that just has to be drawn, even if it has nothing to do with why feminists unite with the islamists (they are too ignorant of history to know it). Apparently, the reason the Islamic world abandoned reason and killed the nascent science it was developing in the Middle Ages was that there was a theological dispute inside it and the fraction that won was the one that rejected causality as a philosophical foundation of its worldview. In other words, Allah is so great and the world is recreated every moment by him that anything can happen if he wishes so, therefore there are no causal relationships between anything (thus the infamous “inshallah” actually has a very deep and important meaning). Which, of course, means that there is no point in doing science, after all science only makes sense under the assumption that there are causal relationships to be discovered and understood.

          PoMo strikes me as a slightly different version of the same — I don’t know if they deny the existence of causality, I would guess there probably are some radical thinkers within its ranks that have gone in that direction, but in general it does reject the existence of objective truth. Which has the same effect as the effect that particular interpretation of Islam had on the medieval world – after all, science only makes sense under the assumption that objective truth exists, if we reject that assumption, there is no point bothering with it. And the consequences might well be the same if this is left to go on unchecked.

          • Richard
            Posted February 1, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

            And yet they no doubt use their mobile phones, and laptops, and DVD players, and TVs… Does it ever occur to them to wonder how they work, and how they were designed and manufactured?

            According to the ‘Salem hypothesis’, engineers are more prone to creationism because they are accustomed to design, and tend to see it in nature. I wonder if, conversely, they are less prone to PoMo because they are grounded in empirical observation?

          • Posted February 1, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

            The “god only causes” is actually found momentarily outside of Islam as well. (Malebranche’s occasionalism, for example.) Leibniz, for one, felt he needed to tackle this question to make science possible within his own high-brow theology. One thing I do not know is how the “right side” won here. I think it is because of a failure to see that the “sustaining god” view of mainstream Christianity is actually the same view, just at sort of one remove.

          • peepuk
            Posted February 1, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

            “And that is a lot more dangerous…”

            I think post modernism is quite harmless. Relativism leads in general to more tolerance.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted February 1, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

              I don’t know about “harmless,” but a relatively minor problem, for sure.

              On a scale of one to ten, with ten being all-out nuclear Armageddon and one being an itchy shirt collar, I’d make postmodernism a two, maybe two-and-a-half.

              • peepuk
                Posted February 2, 2016 at 5:26 am | Permalink

                seems fair

          • Posted February 2, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

            I got interested in the causes of demise of Islamic science, and I’d wish to read more. Could you please provide some key words for easy search, such as the names of the two sides in the theological dispute or some of their most important representatives? (I’d ask for a link, but I doubt that someone has explained it tidily in one Web page.)
            I liked the idea about the freezer.

            • GM
              Posted February 2, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

              Al Ghazali was the decisive philosopher in the battle

              The two schools were the Ash’arites and Mutazilites.

              There is a book titled “The Closing of the Muslim Mind” that describes it quite well, if you can find it, read it

    • GM
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      One more thing regarding PoMo, which I am not sure many realize.

      We can laugh at its absurdities and differentiate ourselves as rational scientists doing real work as opposed to the lunatics in the humanities departments.

      But that is not how it looks to the outside world.

      The “outside world” perceives it as “crazy academics”, and does not differentiate between the physicists and the biologists on one side and the race and gender studies professors on the other. They assumption is that it’s all the same absurd insanity everywhere. And you easily see what impacts that will have no science in the future.

      • Posted February 1, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        I think that, to earn respect, universities must do away with race and gender studies.

        • Posted February 1, 2016 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          “I think that, to earn respect, universities must do away with race and gender studies.”

          I read recently that the number of Universities offering gender studies programs has tripled over the last 20 years. And that they all have almost identical curriculums. So we have incredible numbers of people being trained to do little more than propagate questionable ideas as facts, like 1 in 4 women being raped on campus, 70 cents to the dollar wage gap, and pushing the idea of equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity.

          • Rose somer
            Posted February 2, 2016 at 2:47 am | Permalink

            Agreed – if we were all had identical experiences we would all live in a test tube. Equality of opportunity is what matters, and attacking people for not being absolutely PC is bad. If we severely stress a society and severely undermine its ability to provide reasonable material standards and opportunities for the majority and freedom from severe oppression for significant minorities – then equality for any group becomes impossible except for a current ruling elite.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 1, 2016 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

          … must do away with …

          Must, really? And “do away with” … as in completely?

          So long as race and gender exist, there will be academics who want to study them. You wanna prohibit them from doing so?

          Even if they are speaking complete nonsense, what is the societal threat that would justify such a ban — that too many students are leaving university with undergraduate degrees that equip them for nothing but blogging?

          • Diane G.
            Posted February 2, 2016 at 12:53 am | Permalink

            I agree that these subjects shouldn’t be banned, but we can certainly hope that PoMo will run its course after enough of its graduates end up with no job skills and nothing but debt to show for their university experience.

            It wouldn’t hurt if some of the insiders themselves–surely not all humanities faculty are idiots?–made a stand against the worst of the bullshit being taught by their departments.

            • Rose Somer
              Posted February 2, 2016 at 4:11 am | Permalink

              Just my personal opinion but I think the problem is more exposure of almost all graduates to Some humanities units when almost all humanities units these days have some of or some permutation of the critical theory or/and post modern attitudes mentioned. They may accept science and accept highly likely fact in humanities areas whenever it suits them re the other criteria but they are a bit suspicious of an assessment of likelihood approach to the humanities (which is Not, Not the same as assuming some deterministic mathematics like governing law with no exceptions)citing good sources, consistent despite various motivations or disinterested etc etc. and where the explanation makes sense in the light of other things with good evidence. During and since the 20C we are supposed to have ideology that applies in all circumstances

              • Rose Somer
                Posted February 2, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

                what Im getting at is the humanities have never moved beyond ideology, nor moved between it has to be spiritual woo of Plato’s absolute Ideal and the POMO successor to that. So its between faith in metaphysical philosophy (not as natural philosophy come physics but as metaphysics, ethics, language phrase based logic etc).
                versus empiricist determinist absolute fact (and frankly that is metaphysics as no fact can be presumed to be true for all time especially regarding social matters and science moves by probability and theory, nothing is absolute singular Truth for all time – it has to be verified and nor is science entirely “material” – mass can be energy altho this change has a rigorously defined relationship.) But discovering the proper relationship to give desired outcomes can only be understood when the nature of the specific context it is in is understood. Context changes what is required and philosophy is about absolutes.

                In the humanities an assessment of likelihood approach to explaining social phenomena is required that asks – what is most likely to be the answer and what provides the most humane outcome given whats possible in this circumstance?. This needs to have surveyed many fields and refer to many and diverse sources, media,historical, archival, archaeological, anthropological, paleological, be consistent with science. The argument needs to be internally consistent and explain many things with the most straightforward explanation, after relevant factors surveyed

                I don’t believe human matters can approach the certainty of science – they have no natural spatial quantitive dimensions of physics. In physics also theres plenty of indication that there are factors that are simply not mathematical that we will have to deduce some other way (see Godel’s finding)Certainly there are many things outside the standard model of particle physics that are weird. And surely also only some sciences use high levels of maths – once you move beyond molecular/chemical/cellular level to macro level in biology – get less maths. Human thoughts and decisions – and human social interactions so diverse with so many social and environmental interactions impossible to predict.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 2, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

                I suggest you get more direct experience with the Humanities.

            • Posted February 3, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

              Many philosophers did this, as did a handful in sociology (Cole) and English (Crews) and a few others. Didn’t seem to work completely, though did partially.

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 3, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

                Well, and I should have expected so, and not spoken so broadly.

                Like any of the other annoying isms we face, the lunatic fringe gathers the most attention and the press pays little attention to the calmer heads.

                And I suppose departmental politics can be…most interesting in the affected (infected?) LA disciplines these days!

          • Posted February 2, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

            They can study these subjects in social sciences, but I don’t think there is a need of separate departments and academic disciplines. My country is somewhat backward, and we haven’t (yet) such departments. What was the rationale to create them in the first place?

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted February 2, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

              What was the rationale for studying gender and race? They’ve played fundamental roles in the structure and history of societies. They play fundamental roles in the structure of society still.

              • Posted February 3, 2016 at 5:15 am | Permalink

                This is a rationale for studying gender and race, but I still cannot see a rationale for creating academic departments and specialties of “Gender studies” and “Race studies”.

    • Martin Levin
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      There’s an unanswerable response to extreme POMOism. “If every argument or opinion is as good as any other, there is therefore no reason whatever to think your view is correct. It is simply one claim competing against every other”

      • GM
        Posted February 1, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Another version:

        “If you claim that there is no objective truth, then the statement that there is no objective truth is not true either”

        • gluonspring
          Posted February 1, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

          I have always been fond of the phrase: “There is exactly one absolute.”

      • peepuk
        Posted February 1, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        I’ve no doubt this is true for most views.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 2, 2016 at 12:47 am | Permalink

      Very good post, Rose, thank you!

  11. Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    This is depressing but not surprising.

    The Guardian has really struggled when faced with events(such as Cologne) which pose difficult questions for its editorial line.

    This recent article by Gaby Hinsliff is a case in point:-

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/08/cologne-attacks-hard-questions-new-years-eve

    The author implores liberals to ask “hard questions” and then (of course) fails to do so, an opportunity not missed however by a great many of the commenters below the line.

    No doubt some of those commenting are trolls and fascists but a great many make reasonable points.

    The public, it seems, cannot be trusted to speak on certain topics….

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      …and of course even trolls and fascists have a democratic right to vote, and therefore shouldn’t be dismissed for not agreeing with the Guardian groupthink. An uncomfortable truth that the Guardian would prefer to ‘disappear’ rather than engage with.

      I’ve known the whole comments section for a particularly ill-thought article to vanish, with no explanation.

  12. Tom
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I have placed comments on the Guardian site and I have noticed how quickly certain topics are “closed” after just a few comments and just by coincidence these are the ones mentioned above.
    How strange life is!
    However comments lambasting the UK’s present government run on forever, especially if these suggest the PM or the Chancellor ought to be hung drawn and quartered.
    Now there’s a thought…….

  13. Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I think it would be better and more honest to have no comment section altogether, like other leftist news sources such as Vox. Meanwhile, the public debate, as well as political trends and actions, will inevitably move further and further right.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      … political trends and actions, will inevitably move further and further right …

      You do know where that type of univocal ratchet leads, right?

      Take a good look at the far right in the West — the National Front, Christian Dominionists, the John Birch Society, neo-Nazis, nativists: it’s hate and misery and xenophobia; racism and anti-Semitism and bigotry as far as the eye can see.

      Not a place any reasonable person wants to go.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 2, 2016 at 12:55 am | Permalink

        + 1

      • Posted February 2, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        Muslim domination is not a place any reasonable person wants to go, either. (And we have been there, for the record, but the “normal” way, by failing to stop an armed invasion.) As for anti-Semitism, many Jews are now moving from Europe to Israel because of “having no future in Europe”, but this is not because of right-wingers.

      • Posted February 2, 2016 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        Traditionally, if you don’t want uncontrolled immigration, you vote for a center-right party. Last year, the worst migration crisis in recent decades was precipitated by center-right elected readers. Voters feel betrayed. They think that the concept of democracy has been made void. They know that nothing good can come out of uncontrolled immigration, at least not for the host population. They see that they are silenced and harassed when they try to speak about this. Currently, the only parties in Old Europe promising to stop uncontrolled immigration are the far-right ones. In this situation, I don’t see it as unreasonable for Western and Northern Europeans to support far-right parties. After all, many nations have had right-wing dictatorships and have recovered, but I don’t know a single nation to have recovered after being Islamized.

        To have a country, there are 2 minimum requirements: (1) economy to feed the population; (2) guarded borders to protect the population from being invaded by hostile outsiders. The leftists of Europe, many of whom tried for decades to impose socialism that would destroy (1), then attacked (2) by insisting on open borders. The center-right parties joined them in this insanity, and now have only themselves to blame if voters turn far-right.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 2, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

          … many nations have had right-wing dictatorships and have recovered …

          The toll for the last such wide-scale recovery in 1945 was over 60 million dead.

          Many of the “Good Germans” — those who were not Nazis themselves, who indeed found Nazi philosophy abhorrent — nonetheless believed that Hitler and his henchmen were a reasonable temporary price to pay to overcome the existential threats facing Germany in the 1930s, one that would restore the Fatherland to its rightful glory. They were wrong.

          A rightwing dictatorship now as the cure to rid a nation of the Muslim menace? No thanks.

          • Posted February 3, 2016 at 5:25 am | Permalink

            Communism had a similar death toll. In fact, Stalin had carried out the Holodomor before Hitler had even begun the Holocaust. This didn’t prevent USA and Britain from making an alliance with the USSR. And I think they did the right thing. Under the circumstances, the USSR was the lesser evil. In international politics, tactical alliances with bizarre entities are often necessity or least evil.
            I also think that Finland did the right thing by allying herself with Nazi Germany. This was the lesser evil.
            I used to blame Kurdish fighters for being far-left, but I stopped long ago. They are told by everyone to submit to different butchers and shut up. Instead, they manage to resist. If they feel that communism works for them, let them embrace it, for the time being.
            I admit that the choice to Western Europeans is very, very difficult. I am happy that it does not stand for me.

  14. Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I was expecting feminism to be the third with race, and Islam.

    • Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Oh, and yes it’s intent is to stifle debate. Because they believe any commentary contrary to their position is by definition toxic.

      • Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        I wanted to add one more comment. Hopefully policies like these will result in more people doing what I do. The first thing I do before I even read a story is check if it can be commented on. If not I search for someplace where it’s been reposted, and read it there.
        Also now that I know more, and more what sites tend not to allow comments I avoid them altogether when clicking on a google news story.

        • DiscoveredJoys
          Posted February 1, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

          As a further consequence of their policies I now employ an ad-blocker to avoid funding the articles which appear to be click-bait (i.e. most of them).

          The Guardian has noticed this and ask me to pay a monthly ‘club fee’ instead. No chance – unless they start producing more informed and better balanced articles.

  15. jay
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I used to read CNN , and found the comments fascinating. Even the ones I disagree with. Watching sides banter about abortion or gun control etc was lot informative often than the article.

    Don’t bother with CNN much anymore (and I HATE their autoplay videos)

  16. nightglare
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    The comments under articles on race, immigration and Islam are generally vile. Of course, the most blatantly racist stuff is removed by the moderators, but much of what remains is layers of innuendo or irony to get round moderation.

    There is no point on having comments open on stories like these. The comments section gets completely dominated by bigots, who swarm to these pieces. It’s always the same. There is little or no actual debate or insight to be had.

    And I think it’s unfair of you to accuse the paper of lying about the resources available for moderating comments, as you obviously have no evidence to back that up. They sometimes do pre-moderate articles for particularly sensitive articles, but that is bound to eat up resources, especially as they have a vast amount of articles you can comment on every day.

    • GM
      Posted February 1, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      1) I’ve never seen blatantly racist stuff on immigration articles there. You can argue that this is because it was deleted before I saw it, but I have had my own comments deleted too and I am most definitely not a racist or a bigot, thus I highly doubt everything that gets deleted is “blatantly racist”

      2) If there are no comments, and the party line that immigration is all good, that all Muslims are innocent saints, that this crisis is entirely a Western creation, and the Islam cannot be criticized for the gigantic collection of stupidities it is, is strictly adhered to above the line, then who is ever going to express the opposite views? It was the people below the line who served as a corrective, now they’re gone and all that’s left is the propaganda. Sure, there will be plenty of other venues to do that (until YouTube, Facebook, etc. begin to censor such opinions too) but the visibility is not the same — the fact is that there are a handful of news sources that get most of the traffic and most people read. Also, on other topics the Guardian is still a very good, if not the best source of information and very much worth reading, which kind of forces people to read it in general.

      • nightglare
        Posted February 1, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        I’m not saying that everything that gets deleted is blatantly racist. Sometimes things are deleted for legal reasons. Sometimes, I suspect, moderators simply misinterpret the comment — I think that’s a likely explanation for some of the inexplicable moderations.

        As you say, there are plenty of other places for people to comment beside the Guardian. I think people get huffy about not being able to comment there because it’s such a popular platform, and they like to get all those ‘recommends’. It’s an ego thing. At the end of the day, the Guardian doesn’t want to give a platform to certain viewpoints, and they are completely within their rights not to do so.

        • Posted February 1, 2016 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          You are right that there are plenty of other places for people to comment. However, when they go to far-right platforms to comment after being ordered away from places like the Guardian, the same leftists that have used the levers at their disposal to silence every disagreeing opinion will complain how far-right ordinary people have become, and what should be done about this.
          The more time passes, the more I wonder how “Old Europe” reached a state where the elite regards the majority of citizens as Untermenschen, a substrate to be molded, reformed, lied to, silenced, harassed and eventually, if possible, replaced.

          • nightglare
            Posted February 1, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

            The idea that the left are silencing contrary opinions just doesn’t stack up. The left have very little power to silence anything. Most of our media is right-wing, and people have more opportunity to have their say than at any time in history, with the advent of the internet.

            Sorry, but I just don’t see the Guardian stopping comments on certain issues (or Student Unions banning pop songs and satirical magazines, for that matter) as matters of any importance in the grand scheme of things. It’s time to get worried when the government stops you saying certain things, not when a newspaper changes it’s comment policy.

            • Posted February 1, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

              In many European countries, there is a policy not to report crime per ethnicity and religion of perpetrators. In Great Britain, the government put an umbrella over the Rotherham pedophile ring for years. According to far-right sources, in Sweden a neo-Nazi named Bjorn Bjorkqvist was imprisoned for two months for writing, “I don’t think I am alone in feeling sick when reading about how Swedish girls are raped by immigrant hordes.” In Germany, the Cologne events were covered up for days, and Merkel is censoring social media.

              • nightglare
                Posted February 1, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

                I was specifically talking about the UK context. I don’t disagree that there are issues around censorship in some European countries (and of course, many other countries worldwide). I don’t disagree there are issues regarding free speech in the UK, I just don’t think the left have much to do with it. (I don’t interpret Student Unions no-platforming certain speakers as an attack on their freedom of speech. No one has the right to a platform at any venue.)

                It wasn’t the UK government that was culpable in the Rotherham case, but the local council, police, and other agencies. It was complex situation, but many people only see it as a bunch of lefties not wanting to be seen to be racist. I’m not denying there was some of that, but there was also the matter of people not believing the abused girls, and seeing them as complicit in their abuse. Interestingly, radical feminist Julie Bindel was the first (or one of the first) to write about the Rotherham case, whilst the rest of the media (right and left) were ignoring it.

  17. Victoria
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Mike Paps makes the most important observation I have seen: the Graun did not include feminism in its policy. Feminist articles generate massive backlash on forums. Even with intense moderation, most comments on a Jessica Valenti article at CiF, for example, are usually starkly negative. It shows the Guardian is not just out to silence dissent, per se.

    It’s my conclusion that the Guardian represents an insidious marriage of neoliberal economic policy and divisive identity politics. Whom does neoliberalism most benefit? A class of educated elites that have separated themselves, almost as their life’s mission, from the working-class, whom they fear and despise, i.e. the typical Guardian Reader. What are the ‘acceptable’ objects of hatred for Western elites: Western culture and peoples.

    In this contexts, non-Western peoples and religions are perfect instruments of division. Whatever lip service to Blank Slate fantasies, even most sanctimoniously orthodox Guardian type probably recognises tribalism as an innate impulse.

    Free trade can be imposed because its effects are hard for ordinary people to grasp until its too late. Immigration, a.k.a the free movement of labour, is very readily grasped as a visible change. The Guardian’s trinity of protected topics are all about protecting labour mobility in the end to feed neoliberal globalisation. The populist surge has them deeply frightened, yet the elite remain blind overall to how they feed political reaction by making topics off-limit.

    This is why we get the peculiar disconnect between gender equality being very much negotiable in the face of Islam, but a zero-tolerance zealotry on perceived racism. Women are ultimately expendable at the margins as long as women in the elite enjoy equal opportunity. As a passionate feminist I find this insupportable, and its why I remain so critically-minded, I believe, about the real agenda.

    • Jessy Navell
      Posted February 2, 2016 at 12:49 am | Permalink

      If not for free trade many women in third world countries would not have jobs available to work and would not be getting the economic freedom those jobs bring. They would be stuck with the age old job of getting married and pushing out baby after baby.

      Free trade has caused problems for first world countries, but it’s brought economic prosperity to more people in the world than ever before in the history of the world.

      • Posted February 2, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        I think free trade benefits everybody. Unfortunately, the ruling elite of Europe blackmailed nations by first imposing barriers on trade and travel and then removing them in exchange for uncontrolled power. Now, they can deprive poor people of cheap food and force them to support stray dogs.

  18. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted February 1, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Reading the Grauniad regularly, I can’t say that I’m surprised. But the contention that they could “hold” comments for an hour and “quickly” go through them is … rather optimistic. Comments pile up on some of those pages at tens per minute, and some of the most unpleasant stuff is actually buried in mounds of verbiage with a distinct absence of “dog whistle” key words. I suspect that, in the past, the Grauniad has had keyword flagging (“you cannot fay that fucking sort of shit here you goddamned muthafukka”), and people have learned to substitute.
    Moderating a major website is expensive. And advertising revenues are falling. If they struggle to justify investigative journalism over clickbait and fluff, then they’re also going to be struggling over the cost of a room full of nerds to monitor the comment sections.
    And I must admit that through uBlock (son of AdBlock) and NoScript, I contribute to their problems of generating the revenue necessary to run the operation. I notice that the Grauniad notices my blocking, and is offering me the option to some sort of subscriotion, while the corresponding problem on the Lebedev Pravda (formerly the Indescribablyboring) simply disable even reading the comments. I’m considering my options on that.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 2, 2016 at 1:05 am | Permalink

      You’re at least the second to mention that the G notices ad-blocking.

      Funny, I’ve always said I’d be happy to pay for ad-free content. For as much as I enjoy journalism and rely on it to tell me what’s going on, I’d be happy to pay for it. No one should expect that news organs operate cost-free, but if we all insist on it anyway the only recourse the media have is to rely on ad revenue.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 2, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        I understand the economics of newspaper production (and it’s contrast with tax-funded broadcasting). While I’ve been a Lebedev Pravda reader since before Lebedev brought it, I have to say that the Grauniad is making it’s “support me” case much better than LP

  19. Posted February 1, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I was expecting one of the topics to be Richard Dawkins!


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