Open Thread, 8/4/2013

By Razib Khan | August 4, 2013 1:00 pm

I thought it might be useful for new readers to understand a bit about my comments policy and how I’ve come this stance. Let me give you an example of one individual who occasionally left comments on my blog, often combative, though just on the legitimate side of the trolling boundary. One of the major tactics of argument of this individual was to impute upon me particular life experiences which he thought I must have had, and so shaped my opinions. Though I do not share much about my personal life online, I do go by my “real name,” and over 11+ years of writing on the internet one can construct a rough narrative from stray anecdotes. The key is though that this picture is rough. After one exchange where my interlocutor made an inference based on his own perception of various likelihoods about me, I tired of the one sided game (he was anonymous), and looked him upon on Facebook. I left a quick comment to that effect, and asserted now the scales were somewhat balanced. He never left a comment after that incident.

This brought home to me the reality that many commenters have a very different set of motivations than I do. Once I could inverse my commenter’s tendency to make personal insinuations he fled the scene, because he was not invested in fair play in the first place. And why should he have been? I could have banned or deleted his comments at any moment, so it was natural that he operated differently. Many bloggers let comment threads to develop organically. This often results in the proliferation of “weeds.” I take proactive and aggressive measure to make sure that weeds do not take root. It is easy to ban and remove obvious trolls, but it takes more information to identify and prune self-important blowhards. But it isn’t as if I don’t give warning, if I state that you are leaving ‘low quality’ comments that is a good clue that you are liable to be banned at some point in the future if my warnings persist. There is a difference between marginal quality comments, and low quality. The former are short missives which do not perturb the ecosystem. The latter are longer ruminations which tend to bog down the discussion in their turgid obliviousness.

MORE ABOUT: Open Thread
  • TheBrett

    I’m just happy that you go to all that work in pruning comments and commentators. Active moderation is one of the best things for blogs and forums in terms of keeping good discussions.

    Per the open thread-

    Whenever I hear about implants, I immediately start thinking about the “rejection” issue these days. What’s the progress on that? Presumably it’s not too bad, since we implant a ton of replacement odds and ends (like replacement hips and knees).

    I also re-read some arguments for subsidizing the costs of clinical trials for new drugs. Aside from the cost issue, I wonder how you would set it up so that it couldn’t be too easily gamed by pharmaceutical companies. Maximum number of trial rounds claimable for tax purposes? Limit on the credit size?

  • Robert Ford

    I do that to people on reddit – they’ll try to troll and, almost without exception, their comment history reveals that they enjoy spending their life playing Starcraft, smoking weed and talking about orcs and wizard powers or something close to that. Once you remind them of how pathetic that is they have nothing more to say.
    Anyway, I have a food-for-thought suggestion/request for future posts. I was reading this:
    about gene-gene interactions and it reminded me that I still don’t really know what to visualize when they write that genes “interact.” Yeah, I’ve read all the basic stuff about the protein going here and there but it always turns into some insanely complicated pathway and nothing “sticks” from the article. I don’t know how to simplify this or what I should be paying attention to in these explanations.
    When something like this is shown I usually just go “Oh, right.” and pretend I get it. Is there any hope for “normal” people to grasp some of this?

    • Odoacer

      Apropos this, I recently attended a course where David Botstein gave the senior lecture, as well as the final lecture. He emphasized two things in the final lecture*:

      1) Biologists really need to learn math (he mentioned some specific concepts, e.g. Bayes theorem) and how to program. Knowledge of facts is good, but not sufficient in a world where huge databases are at our fingertips, or on our benches. Also, understanding stats and linear algebra is a good start to determining what is and isn’t important, but knowing programming is the way to use that math and make sense of large data sets without having to rely completely on outside statisticians and computer programmers, i.e. those that might not be familiar with bio/genetics.

      2) Big data sets need to be presented in ways that are comprehensible to the human mind. He called out fig. 1 in this paper as a good example, in that there’s a huge amount of data in there, but they are grouped in ways that make sense.

      *I believe Razib has also emphasized the first point in this blog.

  • Thomas Bridgeland

    I appreciate your comment policy, even though I can’t really add much, so have not commented recently. Good comment quality defines the blogs I read regularly.

  • Florida_resident

    Dear Mr. Khan:
    1. Standard and sincere best wishes to your family.
    2. My Abridged paperback edition of
    “The History and Geography of Human Genes”
    by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza , Paolo Menozzi , Alberto Piazza
    contains the claim by New York Times (on the back cover)
    that the book “flattened ‘The Bell Curve’ “.
    I was reading “The History … ” pretty long ago and rather superficially, and do not recollect any anti-HBD claims there.
    Any comments on Cavalli-Sforza ?

  • Lookatthat Boat

    Quick question:

    What is the prognosis on artificial wombs? I seem to recall some very knowledgeable person in the area of genetics claiming that we could see a child that is biologically from a same-sex couple (maybe yourself?) I mean, an artificial womb seems to be a fair bit less technical than creating a child that is the genetic combination of same sex individuals.

    I ask this because I frequently encounter people whose philosophy rests on the notion that the highest human good is “equal autonomy”, i.e. they want a political regime to ensure that all givenness of difference is eliminated. Completely artificial child bearing and birth seems a logical continuation of that thinking.

  • Karl Zimmerman


    I recently read you were an old web-acquaintance of Jonathan Edelstien. I wonder if you’re aware of his most recent work, Male Rising. While you might disagree with his premise in part (it’s pretty much a what if colonial Africa is better, which eventually veers into an ambiguous utopia), it’s far and away the best alternate history work I have ever read. Even puts Decades of Darkness to shame.

    • razibkhan

      interesting. so this is where soc.history.what-if has moved to??? yeah, i will check it out.

      • Karl Zimmerman

        Yeah, I’ve been active on the site since 2004. I abandoned Usenet when it was largely taken over by spammers in…1999? I know soc.history.what-if was going strong for a bit longer though.

        The forum used to be a lot better years back. It now suffers from having a much larger proportion of very young participants who don’t actually know much about history. Some posters, like Jonathan and Jared (who has an excellent TL about an agricultural Australia) still make the site worth visiting however.

        • razibkhan

          i see. makes sense. i left usenet mostly in ’99 as well.


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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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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