Comments: The Crackdown

I’m sure you all knew this was coming. I enabled comments on Universe Today about 6 months ago, and it was great to have everyone’s feedback. But now people are abusing the system, being rude to each other and advertising their personal theories, so it’s time to crack down. I’m going to implement some new policies that should keep things cleaner. This is a shortened version, inspired by the powerful (but fair) rules over at the Bad Astronomy/Universe Today forum.

The writers and I will be deleting any posts that break the following rules:

  • Be nice – Don’t abuse other readers, the writers, or the Universe in general. Don’t swear, make racist or sexist comments, etc. I think you know when you’re being rude. Stop it.
  • Be brief – Don’t write a long rambling comment that’s longer than the original article.
  • Don’t advertise – Don’t use the site to promote your product, service, or your own website. If you’d like to promote your stuff, buy advertising.
  • Don’t promote your personal, alternative physics theories – This is the same as advertising. You’ve got an idea and you want the world to know about it, then start up your own website, and blog away, but don’t do it here.

I’m also going to make commenters register with the website shortly, so you have to create an account to be able to comment.

59 Replies to “Comments: The Crackdown”

  1. From my point of view, this is the best thing I’ve heard for months. Too many times have our articles become the forum for rudeness, insane theories and comment box flaming.

    Yes, you can disagree with the article, that’s one of the points of including comment boxes. But debating the facts of the article is completely different from inventing your own theory.

    For example:
    An article may say: “This observation could indicate the presence of a black hole.”

    An appropriate comment could be: “The researcher mentioned this could be signature of a black hole, could it be something less massive, such as a neutron star? There is no indication about mass, perhaps Chandra might be…”

    An inappropriate comment could be: “Actually, according to Joe Bloggs () that’s not a black hole at all, black holes are completely wrong! They don’t exist! That’s evidence that the universe is caving in…”

    There’s a big difference between debate and promoting outright disinformation through crackpot theories.

    So don’t worry, you can still debate the validity of 2012 theories, even question the rights and wrongs of global warming facts and figures. But don’t attack the writers, don’t attack other people’s opinions, don’t try to sell a non-science theory and certainly do not post a list of links or a comment longer than the article itself.

    As for the advertising on the site, Fraser has already got that one covered:

  2. I do hope that a ban for sexist comments or somefink do not mean GOCE satellite goes without further mention.

    In other respects sounds good.

  3. Hmm…no personal alternative theories. I laugh at the irony. What about the ridiculous December 21, 2012 ad that smears itself all over the site? Yes, I know it’s paid-for advertising, but gee, don’t you guys have any standards?

  4. “Don’t promote your personal, alternative physics theories.”

    While I agree that this forum is for the discussion of scientific topics we’re not all scientists. Don’t be too draconian when it comes to scientifically valid (even if they’re wacky) alternative theories.

    Rules a good way to keep order but sometimes then can be used to oppress/suppress as well.

    For example I may not agree with the global warming deniers but on occasion they may have a point.

  5. OK, while I love this site, and agree with most of the rules, this one makes no sense for this site:

    — Don’t promote your personal, alternative physics theories —

    I am therefore am not allowed to disagree with every global warming story? GW is a theory, ask any real scientist. I can produce volumes of scientific data supporting an opposing view. If I can’t do this, you shouldn’t either…..

  6. Thank you, Mr. Cain. >>
    I got hooked on this website a while back, and I liked to read comments on the articles- the ones that weren’t hostile, that is.
    With the recent bout of disagreement between several parties (And I never could quite decipher their stances- it may have been gravity versus electromagnetism- not that it really matters) that got out of hand, i’ve just been sticking to the articles.

    These rules are a good idea- i’m speaking to everyone here- if you’re here, it’s probably because you’re interested in what this website has to offer and enjoy the articles. Why spoil the experience by fighting?

  7. Boundaries and limits are important. Without them someone could get hurt.. The Without the “Crackdown”, credibility would be in question. Thanks for establishing boundaries and limits. “Open File” does make a good point about standards though… where do you draw the line on advertisements. What would you not post for the modest ‘going rate advertisement’ contrasted to say … $1,000,000?

  8. This is fair enough, as all other websites, blogs and forums have usernames and passwords. It is a shame they’re needed, but we are part of the real universe, and otherwise abuse will happen.

    I would suggest behind relaxed on the other alternative physics theories though. As a non-scientist (but amateur astronomer), I don’t think I’ll be offering many myself (!), but I do understand that some of the greatest advances made in science have been due to folks thinking “out of the box” – General Relativity, Newtonian/Galilean Mechanics, Copernican Revolution etc.

  9. I as well agree with most these standards of conduct on the website.
    I did not realized it was out of control to the point of needing to register but that must because typically I just read the articles.

    Again as many others have pointed out what was written about alternative theories seem quite harsh and I think only stifles creativity.

  10. Hiya Editers, Bozo here,my names not calling anyone a clown,i’m the clown,hope i’m accepted here, i’m realist an see into things pretty easy,own a telescope i use religiously,an film rocket launchs from the Cape..Thanks for this site, Very Imforitive!!!
    (quickest updates on the net i’ve found)

  11. This has been long overdue. I remember a time when I had to log in, my posts were tallied, and I had a title associated with the number of posts. So I guess we have gone back to the good old days. Unfortunately what happened says something about human nature that is not encouraging. Considering what happened when the Fed decided to deregulate the economy and let financial instututions police themselves via the honor system, this result is not at all surprising.

  12. While looking up the definition of ‘transpermia” at the Wiki site (which redirected me to the panspermia page), I noticed a warning at the top of the page that the following article contains ‘weasel words’. Being curious as to exact meaning, I followed the link here: .Although this relates to their writing guidelines, I found many sensible statements and examples (along the lines of Ian’s post above) regarding arguments and statements, and how to avoid ‘weasel words’ in general. As stated on the page “This page in a nutshell: Avoid using phrases such as “some people say” without providing sources.” Makes for sensible reading. Thanks for the improvements, Fraiser, as UT is a favorite site of mine and I really appreciate all the time and hard work that goes into creating (and maintaining) it.

  13. Says:
    While I agree that this forum is for the discussion of scientific topics we’re not all scientists. Don’t be too draconian when it comes to scientifically valid (even if they’re wacky) alternative theories.

    MGmirkin responds:
    Agreed. Please let it not be quite as draconian as BAUT where stepping out of line with the current “consensus” “hand count agreement” science gets you immediately banned for a year with no appeal rights and nobody to even appeal TO, should you feel unfairly treated. Says:
    Rules a good way to keep order but sometimes then can be used to oppress/suppress as well.

    MGmirkin responds:
    Yes, the main rule should regard decorum and avoiding interpersonal rancor, NOT censorship of personal opinions. A friendly debate between opposite-minded individuals can be quite enlightening. Suppressing such conversations altogether is generally a bad thing.

    Censorship is bad, m’kay? Says:
    For example I may not agree with the global warming deniers but on occasion they may have a point.

    MGmirkin responds:
    Quite right. Alternative insights, while not always correct can in fact add to a discussion, not strictly detract from it.

    Again, a light hand is better than a heavy hand.

  14. Just checking out the registration – all seems to work! Looking forward to enjoying prodictive and informative discourse without having to wade through reams of silly comments

  15. Limiting the length of a comment is good. Prohibiting offensive or abusive comments is good. But sitting in judgement of whether a theory is accepted or whacky, for the purposes of censoring a comment, is just wrong. I happen not to agree with many “theories” I’ve seen pushed here, but it’s not up some self-appointed group to sit in judgement. Censorship of ideas – a sad day for the freedoms that America stands for.

  16. Thankyou Admins, my IQ just went up ten points and I didn’t feel a thing 😉
    Seriously, thanks for returning the facility to usefulness.

  17. I’m not exactly a fan of registering for sites (as I prefer open commenting systems as anyone else–hence the reason I love Blogger and WordPress) but if you are getting overwhelmed with flamers and spammers, I can sympathize with the reason behind it.

    My only suggestion would be to allow OpenID, Facebookers, etc. to post their thoughts without requiring them to register with your site itself (I’d recommend RPX plugin as it has helped me out).

    Anyways, take care!


  18. Hey Darnell, that’s the plan. I’m going to be incorporating OpenID, Blogger, etc. I hate the idea of forcing people to register for another website, remember another password, etc.

  19. My apologies, I’m sure my conduct was involved in this policy change.

    I’ll comport my comments to the policy.

    “Don’t promote your personal, alternative physics theories…”

    I’m a little vague on what that phrase means.

    “It is a place to discuss the Universe Today news and also to ask space-related questions and discuss alternate theories.” — Wikipedia entry for Universe Today.

    Should I consider the Wikipedia entry to be obsolete?

    Does mention of electromagnetism, a Fundamental Force, constitute a “personal, alternative physics theory”?

    Anyway, I’m sorry for my part in causing the hassle to the other commenters.

  20. Dear Frasier,

    I’m sure everyone can see why you’d like to make these changes, and while they may or may not help, I would seriously urge you to reconsider.

    There is a growing body of evidence that content-driven sites like yours quickly wither when draconian posting policies are implemented.

    The Internet is inherently free and open, and people understand this. So when I come to this site and read the attacks and garbage, it doesn’t make me think less of Universe Today, it just reinforces the already accepted notion that garbage comes with open posting policies. This is why almost all large blogs have stopped censoring comments, even the most offensive comments.

    We understand and accept this as part of humanity, but what we don’t accept is selective censorship, which is what you are proposing ( even though you have the best intentions, it doesn’t always work out this way).

    Think really hard about your decision, because I for one will probably drop the RSS feed if this is the case. You want growth and activity on your site, and you have to learn to accept this, warts and all. Please do not censor your blog. Do you really think your site will grow and add more users by stifling activity on the site? Open open open, this is the Internet. Don’t be close-minded and ignore what your users are saying in here, we are your bread and butter, your daily readers, your fans, and sometimes we post irrational things, but don’t forget we are still feeding you, don’t bite this hand.

    Good luck!


  21. Warning: I had to fish the confirmation email out of Gmail’s spam folder. This might be happening to other people as well.

  22. Now, on the issue at hand. I do not favour this kind of pre-registering requisite. Frankly, I think it stinks.


    Having seen what can happen in UT’s comment boxes, I most certainly understand why this has been implemented. And I’m not referring to the crackpots who love dropping by to stir controversy (often with such insistence, stubburness and blindness to those little things called “facts” that they prompt other people to hit them perhaps too hard). I’m referring to stuff like some idiot using the comment boxes to produce a flood of insulting comments, targeting the writers and other commenters. Nothing subtle or elaborate. The most basic and childish “U’re a fag” stuff.

    I’ve seen this happening. In fact, I was the one who alerted Nancy, through twitter, to one such instance.

    Of course, all those comments were deleted, as they should. And if I, someone with a life that isn’t constantly monitoring Universe Today, saw this happening once, I can only guess how often this kind of thing happens without me noticing. It probably happens A LOT. Probably there’s a whole load of this kind of crap falling on UT personnel every day without us noticing it.

    And if that’s the case, this move is just about inevitable, I’m afraid.

  23. I followed the articles for some time but never posted here. Still, I like to view the comments too, but that has been rather tedious lately. So I heartily welcome the updated policy.

    And I think calling the rule about alternative theories “censorship” is missing the point. It’s not about censorship, but about staying on topic. This site features articles on scientific issues worked on by scientists which share a common ground
    for the fundamental physics of the universe,
    however many controversies there exists with
    respect to the current research issues. The comments are intended to discuss these articles. If you do not share the common ground, *any* article will contain some statement which contradicts your world view, and *any* comment which makes this point will inevitable turn into a discussion which has absolutely no relevance to the specific topic of the article.

    That is not to say that Universe Today could not be the right place for such discussions, after all the crowd is here already. Maybe a dedicated forum for discussing various scientific issues but also
    alternate theories could be hosted here. Just keep it out of the article comments.

    The flat-earthers seem to do it quite unobtrusively, they even have a forum for queer round-earth-proponent visitors 😉 where such discussions can take place.

  24. Thank you, Fraser.

    I look forward to reading the comments again on a daily basis, and to commenting myself from time to time.

  25. This seems to be a good thing: the comments at Universe Today were increasingly becoming unreadable because of the incessant promotion of fringe theories that really had nothing to do with the articles in question.

  26. I’m a fan of the content. I know of very few other sites that offer the same depth. I assume there is much more than we are aware in terms of managing the blog content. I also assume you are turning a profit on the ad banners. I’ve observed the occasional bad form, rudeness, idiotic ideas, etc. I’ve also observed the many regular bloggers generally keep all this in check. In fact, this blog is tame compared to many others. I can’t see too many reasons to take the time, log in, then review your rules and wonder whether my comments will make the cut. I’m particularly bothered by your censoring “alternative physics theories.” Your lack of clarity essentially leaves even an opinion as fair game for censorship. So, I’m signing off. I’m certain there’s a forum out there that is open to discussing ideas. You’ve inspired me to take the time and look for the content on my own…

  27. Thank you Fraser, that was much needed. That should clean things up a fair bit.

    Keep up the good work!

  28. I am pleased with you decision to moderate Universe Today, and support your move to remove “alternative theory” which has predominated this site for last five months or so.
    Hopefully, some of the irrelevancies by several here might encourage other to have an opportunity to ask questions and not be intimidated by the fringe elements.
    Regarding conforming to the rules, it might be advisable to point out issues in comments for a week or two and then start implementing immediate deletions.
    Anyway, hopefully the “out there” comments will now settle down.

  29. We’ve been administrating people posting alternative theories over at BAUT for years and years now and we’ve gotten really good at it. I’ve also written many paragraphs about my personal opinion on the subject.

    Here’s an example:

    I’m all for alternative theories. I think it’s great for people to brainstorm and question established scientific thinking. In fact, we can almost guarantee that most current theories have holes, need to be rethought, and will be challenged in the future. But the way to do that is through evidence and the scientific method.

    What people are doing is using the Internet as a marketing channel, hoping that whoever yells loudest will get credibility. Since Universe Today’s comments give people the free ability to say whatever they like, some people will use that channel to YELL REALLY LOUD.

    That’s marketing, and if you do that, you’re not welcome. Your posts will be deleted and your time is wasted here.

    If you’re challenging, questioning and trying to learn more – you have nothing to fear.

    If you’re *marketing* your point of view, your comments will disappear.

  30. Nice one – thanks a lot!

    It would have been nice, though, if I had been able to use my Google log-in details – which I can do on many other blogs. Having to register scares me…. because of the spam problem. My coolest emil addie ([email protected], how many people can have that?) became unusable over the years – ah, well, fingers crossed…

  31. Fraser: I have been enjoying your site for some years. Having recently made my first comment posts at one particular article, it is curious and unfortunate this change of policy. While I have not seen much of the other dialogue over time, I will apologize if my remarks in some way factored.
    There have been some excellent remarks above, addressing concern about this ‘crackdown’ so I will not add much more to it.
    You’ve offered some great articles and some that are well within the speculative range as well. Tks! That said, I find it unfortunate that you guys don’t embrace the kind of momentum that can come from general dialogue in Comments of a Blog. That’s what gets you ‘noticed’, when an article’s, underpinning comments sky rocket. 😉
    Things feel ‘sterilized now, so I will likely join the many and just be passive observers.

  32. What is up with human nature that we need guidelines on how to be nice to each other?
    It’s very simple. Treat others with the same respect that you would like to receive yourself. The golden rule and all that. Stuff we learned as kids but somehow many have forgotten as adults.

    As for alternative theories, just ignore them if you don’t agree with them. It’s that simple. Or at least be respectful in that regard, or in pointing out the flaws.
    One of the greatest aspects of the internet is the free exchange of thoughts, feelings and ideas with people across the globe.

    Personally, I always question authority. I always think outside the box. I’ve even received a couple of awards for original ideas and designs.

    I promise to play nice and to be more concise when presenting alternative theories. 🙂

  33. Will there be the ability to preview before submitting? That might would be helpful, imo.

  34. Fraser, I think you’re doing a great job. I wish we didn’t have to register but I see the need for it.

  35. I just wrote a whole lot and it disappeared.

    I like alternative theories.

    Can’t do that.

    I like comments that illustrate your point.

    Can’t do that.

    Don’t go off topic to possibly make a point.

    I didn’t care if my website was linked or not.

    That ain’t gonna happen now and I don’t care.

    I take this set of rules personally, so i guess i am probably an offender of these things.

    I don’t like attacks. It happens everywhere and on everysite. I don’t think i did that.

    But I am basically not allowed to comment on my beliefs and views.

    So I comment no longer. Bye All.


  36. If you’ve got some alternative ideas – wrt astronomy, astrophysics, or cosmology – why not write them up, as a paper, and submit them to arXiv (for example)?

    That way your ideas – should they ever get developed to the point of being theories – will be both in the public domain and have your name permanently attached.

    On the other hand, if you merely blurt out your ideas in an open forum, such as in the comments section of UT, anyone who recognises their merits can take them, develop them into something robust, write their own paper, and bingo! Your ideas now have someone else’s name permanently registered as the original author!

    Three cheers for the new policy.

  37. My work is based on many things coming together to a greater means and I choose to explore them on my own. I have a tool that unlocked Riemann Hypothesis and I am not about to share that with anyone until I have fully explored it. It is having implications as far as string theory and my exploration will not end.

    i understand your proposal. I have been told this before. If you read any of my posts, I said that I am not one to usually put my self out there for attack.

    People always scoff at me. I don’t mind.

    Anyway, I will remain silent.


  38. You have “a tool that unlocked Riemann Hypothesis”?

    And you have chosen not to publish this?!?

    The leading mathematical puzzle that has withstood over a century of attempts to solve it?!?!?

    If so, then no doubt you’d be among the first to appreciate why people always scoff at you!

    I mean, if you’re under 40, you’ve passed up the opportunity to win the Fields (and be recognised as among the best mathematicians to do so); if not, you’d still rank among the top ten mathematicians of the past ~100 years.

    Todd, something doesn’t add up … what are you doing writing comments in UT, when you could be basking in glory?

  39. In 2007, I was over 40. I have talked to doctors but no one here east coast Canada can evaluate it, not to be well you know arogant or underscore the first class talent here. I have contacted Dr. Sarnak in Princeton with no response and I am definitely not going to bug the guy to death in respect for the amount of crackpots he probably has to deal with. Who else… Dr. Andrew Odlyzko…. A doctor from DAL gave me a contact of someone in BC. Fat lot a good that does. i might as well try my luck in Princeton. I’m not a rich man who can travel around all the time.

    But the good thing about it has been the further exploration I have done.

    Anyway, I’m taking up space here and this is not about me. It is about trying to resolve the blatant attacks of some commentors.

    I just wanted you to know where I am coming from. A million dollars. YEAH. WOW. I’d love to get that, but it has been such a long and arduous road to talk to someone about my work, I try to keep the frustation away by just keeping busy with my work when I get a chance from other obligations.

    I am eventually going to get a second degree and more directed in the math field so I can get my chance to be taken seriously.

    Until then… I am just crunching along.


  40. Dude, that’s just not how science works. “Talking to people” won’t do you any good.

    Get yourself to ArXiv, download some papers, learn, if you don’t know already, how they are done, use them as templates, try to find as many as you can about your thing and take your time to actually read them, then write up your stuff, framing it into previous research, and submit it to some peer-reviewed publication relevant to that field of study. Or to arXiv directly.

    “Talking to people”, strolling around comment boxes in science blogs, setting up promotional websites and the like can only discredit you.

  41. Thanks for the advise. I am not unfamiliar with the ArXiv.

    My website is not promotional — it is personal.

    I’ll get through to someone someday. It is a high profile hypothesis.

    The math realm is a hard society to ‘break’ into.

    I have said all I’m going to.

    Thanks again and Good Day to you and Nereid.

  42. If we can’t promote our personal theories then whose theories are we supposed to promote?

  43. Fraser,

    I’m not sure how to express myself about these changes, maybe just disappointed.

    Up to now when I read an article I would usually look to see how many comments there were, if the article was not interesting enough to have a lot of responses, it was not likely interesting enough for me to spend much time on.

    I enjoyed the controversial debates and often learned more from the debate than the article, my supposition now is that the site will become bland, sterile, a polite agreement between established PHD’s, with few meaningful comments.

    My expectation is that I will be one of the former readers that just quietly drifted away.

    It was fun while it lasted, thank you.

  44. It’s sad that it had to come to this… But necessary. Thanks for running a great site, Fraser (and everyone else!!). I always enjoy reading/posting here. 🙂

  45. Hi Fraser,
    I’m all in favor of the rules, especially number four. Please hold your ground on this one, I support you. I’ve virtually stopped reading comments on any science site because the first few are usually dead-on-arrival.

  46. Furthermore, I leave astrophysics to those qualified to do it. They seem to have done a darn good job so far. I trust the peer-review process to separate the true from the false. Of course scientists have theories, but they must prove them with observation. I come here to learn from the experts. This is a hard science site, and I comment Fraser for working to keep it that way.

  47. @Timber: would you mind mentioning a few (say three) of the most memorable things you’ve learned from the debates (rather than the articles)?

    This idea – that through discussions which include some non-standard (shall we say) ideas one can often learn something both quickly and valuable – is not uncommon, and I’m interested to understand it in more detail.

  48. About time. I’ve grown tired of the commentssection lately.

    And as usual some people seem to miss the definition of censorship. It’s right up there:

    You’ve got an idea and you want the world to know about it, then start up your own website, and blog away, but don’t do it here.

    Noöne’s asking you to keep schtumm. You can rant all you want in Hyde Park, but this is Cain’s living room, and here the conversation follows his rules.

  49. Wow – how much can change over the weekend!

    In the end, this can only be a good thing. I’ve been commenting on this site since comments were first introduced, and reading it since it began. During that time, it has become a joy to come on here, and has been great to chat and share ideas with all of the amazing people on the site. I always prided myself on writing respectful comments and helping out those with questions. I limited attacking other commenters to those who were rude, inflammatory, aggressive or those who wore ignorance like a crown. Recently, this sort of activity has picked up to the point where I had found myself, all to often, being rude, inflammatory and aggressive. Sometimes I actually enjoyed it. It was a disappointing realisation.

    I had mixed feelings about this state of affairs, because on the one hand robust debate is a fun aspect of this site. On the other hand, most of the robust debate had little to do with the articles themselves, and there was certainly elements of blatant marketing. Almost every post of late was hijacked (either by ATMers or those who would oppose them) in the first few comments – it was ruining the site for everyone. Hence, I think this moderation was needed desperately to set some limits. UT was at serious risk of degenerating into an irrelevant free-for-all.

    Some have said that they are concerned that this will diminish the quality of debate. To those people I say check out the BAUT forums – they have debates that can only be described as rigorous, passionate, always enlightening; but they are all RESPECTFUL. It is refreshing, not stultifying.

    Bring on the scientific debate, keep the passion, get rid of the attitude, and give marketing the flick. Sounds great! Sounds like what science should be about.

    That goes for you too Astrofiend!

  50. I thought the whole idea of comments was so that people could share their thoughts and ideas about things. I’m all for getting rid of sexist and racist comments, but why can’t someone say what they think about certain theories? Or is there a forum for that because why would they want to start up their own website if they only have one or two ideas about a certain thing?

  51. And I don’t mean if they have an alternative physics theory but if the article is about man going to mars and they have an idea that might actually help out in the matter then why shouldn’t they be allowed to post it?

  52. ” I don’t mean if they have an alternative physics theory ”

    Then you’re good, of course!

    The policy says “alternative physics theories.” Basically I’m guessing they just don’t want to hear it if your theory says all other scientists are dogmatic blahs such-and-such blah blah blah read my blog.

  53. A question for the Admins and Moderators

    I signed up for UT a while ago and had to re-regester with the new changes

    can I change my password?

    Cheers Laintal

  54. My comment is on the Planet X or the 2012 article. There is no reason to ridicule the possibilities of those scenarios, or the people who believe. As far as there being no scientific proof of a Planet X, think of this, there is no scientific proof of the miracles that Jesus performed but millions upon millions believe he did, and no scientific proof will ever make them stop believing. So therefore why are you trying so hard to convince otherwise of a Planet X or anything along the lines of 2012. If you think it’s silly then you shouldn’t waste your time. If you don’t believe it then just look at it as an incredibly great story.

  55. I am not one for conspiracies, but I don’t have availability to 100% genuine paperwork, that has been passed through the highest of authorities hands, on such matters as this, so I like to keep my mind open to the possibilities. I know that there is “word of mouth scientific proof” of no Planet X. But unless you work for government agencies or NASA, how can you be 100% certain that information you recieve is genuine.

Comments are closed.