Notes on comments

By Razib Khan | October 30, 2011 2:59 am

I dislike cluttering this site with administrative notes, but I want to put this post up as a reference for the future. It’s not really aimed at regular readers/commenters, who know the explicit and implicit norms.

1) If you use quotation marks, make sure that you’re actually quoting something your interlocutor said, rather than adding them for effect (yes, believe it or not, people have quoted me, where the “quotes” were actually their own interpretation of what I intended)

2) It is generally not best to paraphrase someone else’s argument in your own words as a prologue to your own comment. Just quote the appropriate sections of text in your reply if you want it to frame your response. If you are engaging in paraphrasing to distill the argument of your interlocutor down to a pith, understand that subconscious tendencies are such that you’ll reshape that argument to better suit your response. In other words, you’re probably arguing with your own conception of their argument, not their argument as such. More maliciously some people just paraphrase because it makes setting up a straw man so much easier. That’s not nice. I have wasted a fair amount of time rereading posts to try and figure out how commenters came to a particular perception of my argument. I don’t take kindly to people telling me what I obviously really think, when I point out that their perception was wrong.

3) From that you can gather that inferring “between the lines” isn’t appropriate in most cases. It is part of normal human cognition, and you can’t help it to some extent. But being too liberal about the practice means that you’ll just distort the argument of the other person, who then has to waste their time correcting your misunderstandings. This gums up the exchanges because people have only a finite amount of time. Read as plainly as possible.

4) There’s no presumption here of symmetry. If the host asks you a direct question, answer and don’t evade. If the host tells you to drop a topic, don’t make the case for why you shouldn’t drop the topic. Wasting time trying to argue these issues is a banning offense.

5) I’m busy, and getting busier. I don’t respond well to people wasting my time. Some of the other commenters are busy too. It’s important to make exchanges “count.” Excessive posturing, and an obvious fixation on “winning” arguments with clever ripostes, are bannable offensives.

I’m not taking comments on this post, because as I said this post is more a placeholder so I don’t have to have the same stale argument over & over.

Note: See this companion post.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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