Revised Ethics Alarms Comments Policies


Ethics Alarms has now been active for seven full years, and there have been more than 160,000 comments on the 7000+ posts here. It is time—past time, really— to revise the Comment Policies based on what I have learned, and based on what the blog has become and what I want it to accomplish.

This site exists to encourage an ongoing, rigorous and engaging inquiry about ethics, from the perspective of events large and small, in the United States and the world. Ethics evolves as societal standards and norms evolve. We accomplish that evolution, usually in enlightened directions, through advocacy, disagreement and debate, using logic, values, principles, systems and facts. The comment section has evolved as moderated colloquy among intelligent, articulate and open-minded readers, and me, as the author/ ethicist/host and moderator. I have learned a great deal from the site’s readers, and hope to continue to do so.

Ethics Alarms offers the following 20 guidelines and rules to advance this mission:

1. Before you comment for the first time, check the terms and concepts page if you can. It will avoid misunderstandings

2. I prefer full names attached to comments.. If you want to use a screen name, I have to know who you are. You can e-mail me your name at, and it will not be divulged. You must enter an e-mail address, and it must be real. If you use a fake e-mail address, your comment will be deleted. No comment signed “anonymous” will be posted. Ever. (Well, hardly ever) If you use a URL as your screen name, I will treat the comment as spam no matter how trenchant your observations are.

3. I have to approve every first time commenter, and as with bar associations and Harvard College, the standards used to screen applicants are tougher than the standards applied once you pass. If your initial foray here is gratuitously disrespectful, nasty, snotty, disparaging,  obnoxious, or just plain stupid, your comment won’t make it out of  moderation. Similarly, non-substantive comments expressing approval or disapproval without more are worthless, and I’ll reject them.  Initiating your relationship on Ethics Alarms with snark, sarcasm, nastiness or ridicule is a bad strategy–as I noted above, you have to earn the privilege of talking to me like that. You may not get a second chance.

4. Regular commenters have special privileges. They can engage in tough rhetoric bordering on insult, as well as brief comments that would not pass muster with a first-timer. But always remember that you are a guest here. Guests are obligated to prove their trustworthiness and good will before they are extended special privileges, and even those privileges have their limits.

5. Political rants are not welcome.  In addition, efforts to muddle genuine objective ethical analysis by pressing ideological talking points and bombarding me with links are not appreciated, and won’t be tolerated for long, if at all..

6. Keep comments as civil as possible. Ethics Alarms does, at its discretion, permit vulgarity and profanity for style and emphasis. I will show limited tolerance for rude and abusive comments and commenters, depending on the combatants. At my sole discretion, I may extend special dispensation for regular, substantive commenters here who have accumulated good will and trust, even when they cross lines that I would not permit to be crossed by a less-credentialed visitor [See below]. While a verdict of “you are an idiot,” may occasionally be justified, I may ding comments that include gross personal attacks, subject to the exceptions noted above, unless it has an extremely impressive substantive argument accompanying it. In the heat of debate, Ethics Alarms will tolerate the  occasional insult  If commenters become overly nasty and personal in their exchanges with each other or habitually so, I will intervene.

7. Ethics Alarms discourages text jargon and abbreviations. “LOL”,  in particular, is guaranteed to annoy me. Also disfavored are popular slang words designed to denigrate a belief, an individual or political groups, like “Repugs,” or juvenile name-calling like “The New York Slimes” or “The Washington Compost.”

8. I’m very likely to respond to your comments. Don’t try hit-and-run tactics here, and don’t think you can get away with an unsupported, badly-reasoned or purely emotional argument and not get called on it. On the other hand, if I don’t respond, don’t take it personally.

9. Re Links: Relevant links are appreciated. Irrelevant links will cause a comment to be deleted as spam.( Remember that if you include more than one link, your comment gets automatically stalled in moderation.)Links to your related blog posts must be supported by a substantive comment on the topic as well: this isn’t your bulletin board. Similarly, the URL of your blog is not going to make it into the comment, and if you persist in trying to slip it through, I will start marking the comments as spam. I am happy to plug, including a link to  your blog, if you write me first and explain why it is relevant and useful to Ethics Alarms readers, and I concur. Your comment, however, is not a vehicle for spreading your blog information around the web…not here, anyway.

10. Typos: I regret that WordPress has yet to install a good editing function for comments. Please proof yours. I will endeavor to fix obvious typos, and if you e-mail me a request to delete or otherwise repair a mis-typed section of a legitimate comment, I will try to reply. I will respect style choices like eccentric punctuation, capitalization, syntax or spelling, but comments that are careless and difficult to read or understand risk being rejected.

11. Me: I reserve the right to sharply express my annoyance with comments that I regard as careless, poorly argued, based on partisan hackery, stupid, unethical  or ignorant. I am prone to be testy at comments that fall into any of the following categories:

1) Those that say I should be writing about “more important things.” I do. But I don’t have to write every post about the earth-shattering, and trivial incidents can still teach important lessons.

2) Comments that include “lighten up,” “calm down,” “get a life,” or anything similar. Please don’t presume to gauge my emotional state or dictate it.

3) Comments that accuse me of ignoring topics or not making arguments when in fact other posts on the site covered those topics and did make those arguments. I don’t require that you read everything, but do not make allegations when a simple key word search on the site would disprove them.

4) Putting words in my mouth, or ascribing  opinions to me that I have not stated. I hate that.

5) Being snotty about typos. I make mistakes, and appreciate being told about them. Nicely.

6) Mockery without substance.

7) Racist, misogynist and otherwise bigoted rants.

12. On occasion my annoyance may cause my reply to seem excessively severe. In such cases, please point this out, and I may well apologize. I may not, too. If a comment is especially ignorant or dumb, I have been known to bluntly describe it as such. I will continue to do so. This is part of my effort to elevate the discussion through negative reinforcement. This is not a site where you can just dash off a barely considered shot and get away with it.

13. DO NOT accuse me of an ad hominem attack if I judge your intellectual prowess or ethical proclivities based on the quality your post, and state that judgment. That’s not what an ad hominem attack is, and I’m sick of explaining it.

14. If and when I break my own rules, please call me on it. Politely. I reserve the right to break my rules, but I don’t want to do it unintentionally.

15:  Ethics Alarms Discipline: Discipline for inappropriate comments is meted out in several ways. If you cross a line, you will usually be warned not to do it again. Occasionally I will insist on an apology to avoid some form of discipline.

16. Banning: If you obliterate a standard here, you may be banned. If you are banned, you can apply for reinstatement by contacting me off-site and sincerely apologizing. Again, I reserve the right to decide who is banned and when. Am I entirely consistent? No, not always. Since the blog launched in 2009, the following offenses have resulted in commenters being banned:

….Repeating the same arguments over and over again while not acknowledging or rebutting counter arguments from others.

…Relying on partisan talking points

…Exhibiting racism or other bias

…Insulting me, in particular by questioning my integrity, honesty, objectivity, intentions, motives, qualifications, or credentials

…Denying the assumptions of the blog, which are that there are ethical standards, that we all have an obligation to help define them, and that right and wrong is usually not situational and subjective.

…Violating the Stupidity Rule, which holds that some people are just too ignorant or stupid to take part in the discussion here, and interfere with the orderly exchange of opinions and ideas.

…Ignoring warnings

…Lying, or using fake authorities and sources.

17. Other Penalties: Ethics Alarms also has more limited punishments. If it is clear that a commenter is obsessed or over-heated on a certain topic, indicated by repeated re-statements of the same points, I may ban them from posting any more comments on that topic. This is a “time out.” I am also, with this revision, instituting a suspension policy. A suspension of commenting privileges, usually for 30 days, will be issued when I deem a comment from a regular commenter so disrespectful and outrageous that my head explodes.

18. Three Strike Rule for Regulars: Occasionally an esteemed commenter will make a comment that embarrasses him or her with uncharacteristic excess. Their status here earns them three such mistakes, unless it is so egregious that I feel it requires immediate redress. This usually occurs when the comment insults me.

19. Grandstanding: If you make grand and indignant exit, and announce your permanent withdrawal from the blog, you are gone for good. An e-mail to me with an appropriate apology and a request to be reinstated will occasionally work if you change your mind. Maybe. Don’t count on it.

20. The Comment of the Day: Especially excellent or provocative comments are sometimes re-published  as a “Comment of the Day.”  Whether such a comment is actually awarded this distinction is somewhat arbitrary and dependent on too many factors to list. Many wonderful comments do not get selected. Again, if yours is one of them, don’t take it personally.

81 thoughts on “Revised Ethics Alarms Comments Policies

  1. Ethics Alarms discourages text jargon and abbreviations. “LOL”, in particular, is guaranteed to annoy me. Also disfavored are popular slang words designed to denigrate a belief, an individual or political groups, like “Repugs,” or juvenile name-calling like “The New York Slimes” or “The Washington Compost.”

    This is so my favorite one. I wish I could let my relatives (particularly the young) look inside my head and see what I’m thinking when they use that loathsome, ignorant abbreviation. I used to occasionally ban readers at my former blog when they obsessively used it and wouldn’t stop.

    Grandstanding: If you make grand and indignant exit, and announce your permanent withdrawal from the blog, you are gone for good. An e-mail to me with an appropriate apology and a request to be reinstated will occasionally work if you change your mind. Maybe. Don’t count on it.

    This is another favorite. I wish I had used this when I was moderating. It would’ve saved me a lot of grief.

    I will also observe, for the record and without judgment, that the three strikes and suspension policies require an inordinate amount of time to police. I tried those things, and found that they were too distracting, and took time away from actual writing. My policy was simply to issue a correction via email (or in the comments if warranted) and then, if I eventually found that they were continuing to annoy me, I’d ban them. I’d always consider reinstatement, but to be honest, I can count the number of people who were reinstated and not later banned for the same egregious behavior on the fingers of one hand. So good luck with that. 🙂

  2. Wow! This makes me wonder how I survived to comment here. I appreciate your forbearance. I also appreciate all the work you do here. This is my first place to look every day. I almost always learn about something that comes up during the day.

  3. At the risk of violating rule 3, I will just say: Congratulations on the completion of seven years and over 7 thousand posts. It is obvious that you put a lot of effort to make it interesting and useful reading. I don’t always agree with everything you or other guests write, but I usually find the posts and the back and forth debate interesting. Sometimes, I may even change my mind on various topics in spite of earlier deeply entrenched beliefs.

  4. I have no recollection of how I came across this blog. In fact, there was about a 4-year period around that time that I have almost no recollection of, due to a horrible prescribed med that left me in a state of delirium that I’m STILL recovering from. I know I was very impressed, but I can’t even imagine the inane babbling I left here. Very sorry about that. To this day, my wife tells me about things I said and did over those years that horrify me.

    • Did you have a different commenter name during those 4 years you refer to? (If so, I want to know it – I want to go read that stuff!) I thought you came along in your current name in the time since I started commenting. I have had some medicinally induced variations in my prose, too (still do).

      • I’m almost certain it was the same one. Yes, I’ve been emerging from the fog for a while now. It was really, really bad. At one point, it was such a toxic stew that I became convinced that I had brain tumors. By that time, I was almost psychotic, and not a pleasant person to be around. I was doing crazy things. Just one example; I had this HUGE locomotive horn that I had put on my tractor/trailer for safety reasons (I’d lost my brakes in the Smoky Mountains, and other incidents where I’d needed to get attention quickly), and when I stopped driving, I decided it would be cool to permanently mount it on my car, compressors, air tanks, and all, just so I could take it out to a quarry and deafen every living creature for miles with it. Yeah, lots of really bizarre behavior, but considering how wonked I was, I actually did a pretty good job of going about my day-to-day stuff for the most part.

          • I won’t use the abbreviation, but that horn video made me Laugh. Out. Loud! I am convinced that you and I are much more alike than unalike. We ain’t as bad or “off” as some might think we are.

            • I’d agree that we probably are. Yeah, I don’t waste too much time worrying about that. Death is going to make fools of us all in no time.

        • Do you live in the Pacific Northwest? We used to have aneighbor that installed a train horn in his car. We all knew when he was cut off by some idiot within a range of a few miles.

          • I live in Connecticut. Oh no, I NEVER blew that horn on the road. This thing is so loud, it can be heard for up to 4 miles. It’s the loudest train horn ever used. This thing is terrifying at close range, like being electrocuted in the face; instant pile up. People that use these for pranks should do some time. I bought it for my tractor/trailer after an incident in North Carolina, where my brakes caught on fire, and I almost tipped it over and plunged about 150 feet down a cliff into a river, doing around 45 mph, fully-loaded, through a 3-way intersection. Imagine I’m going “up” this T, but downhill, and that river is just beyond the top of the T. I was convinced I wasn’t going to make it, and this was the end, but worse, I’m going to take a bunch of other vehicles with me who don’t know something’s wrong. After that and other similar near-catastrophes, I was determined to have a means of getting people’s attention toot-sweet. I fell in love with this stupid thing, sinking untold thousands of dollars into it as it evolved. But anyway, no, never on the road. I even sought out our chief of police to assure him I wouldn’t be a nuisance or a hazard with it. Hard to explain, but it seems like these things have a niche following. This particular one (each individual is singularly unique in it’s sound) had a haunting, slightly discordant and mournful sound that was absolutely beautiful at a distance. Here’s a link to a bunch of recordings, then no more links and tangents from me, sorry Jack 🙂

            • My poor, saintly, infinitely-patient wife had to drive it to work one day. The whole way, people doing the “blow it!” gesture. I can’t even imagine how embarrassed she was. That night, she finally said “Joe, it’s had a good run.” It broke my silly heart, but she so seldom puts her foot down with me, that I know when she does, the only right thing to do is listen, so a very lucky guy got it for under $2k on ebay. (sniff, sniff…) 😦

        • Well, if your cognitive functional capacity is cyclical, you are more Lucky than me. I’m at a point where I could be tempted to give up half my brain, just to be cyclical. But I don’t want to do that, because that would mean I am most likely a stroke patient just like my Dad became. While his post-stroke personality was delightful, his many debilitations were hard on him.

  5. Re #9 Please post something tomorrow about Trump so I can dump my Trump satire here (now in draft form on Medium, waiting to be accepted on The Weekly Knob… hint, this week’s prompt is “bird cage”). I think I hit a homer (or maybe I made a boner).

  6. Jack: do you mind if I continue, until a real crisis challenges him in office,* to refer to the POTUS-elect as “[T]he Apprentice?”

    *Seriously (i.e., I mean this without a smidgen of sarcasm), I am still doubtful that he is going to actually be able to take the job; I _still_ expect him to blow his opportunity to take office before he is sworn in. But then, “Eeyore” would not belong in my name on par with “Lucky,” if I didn’t think like that.

    I will try harder not to refer to a particular former POTUS and his…spouse, using the correct spellings – that is, the spellings with no “li”es in them (forward or backward). I would rather not refer to them at all, for any reason. But, they have so embraced, defined, exemplified, and proliferated ethics rot and corruption in our lifetimes, they truly are the penultimate definers and “thought leaders” of current American culture (such as it is). Note, I said “penultimate,” reserving for the potential ultimate to be the Apprentice.

    You might have to suspend me for continuing to refer to a particular political party as the emocrats. I guess they deserve at least the grade I got in my law courses – “D.” But, they are SO…”emo,” and SO not-“demo-” (in the classical Greek sense at least). But then, since “demo” also fits with “demolish” and “demolition,” which are used to refer to “tearing down,” as they have done to a great and good America so thoroughly, I suppose I could resume typing “democrat” while biting the inside of my cheek.

    You know, Jack, irony is eventually going to catch up with you. You’ll have to call it moral luck. Expect a future POTUS in our lifetimes to have the initials LOL. (Wouldn’t that be a kick in the head to all of us, but especially, to users of “LOL?”)

  7. I literally read these new rules while listening to Weird Al’s “Dare to be Stupid.” Good on you for further clarifying, but I think it would be entertaining and educational if you occasionally did a ‘mailbag’ post of rejected comments – “Unethical Comments of the Month”, or such.

    • My local AM talk radio station would play the voicemails left for them excoriating Rush, Mark Levin, etc.. The loonier the better. Many were quite amusing.

      They did say that their message prior to the “beep” did notify the caller that any message may be played over the air so it wasn’t too unethical.

  8. For new readers – Jack tries to hold himself to higher standards than his commentariat. He also realises everyone is human, and minor blemishes won’t attract innapropriately harsh punishment.

    Or I wouldn’t be here.

    You want to win an argument with him? All you need is to carefully marshal your facts and logic into a coherent whole, and for him to be incorrect (rare, but it happens). Be polite, respectful.

    In a pithy phrase, don’t be a Dick.

    Also, don’t sweat the small stuff if debate gets heated. If the heat gets too much, quietly remark on it if it gets repeated too often. I think I’ve done this exactly once in 5 years or so. Commenters here are a good bunch.

    We’re guests here. Please remember that.

  9. Unless I missed it, I saw nothing about hawking products or services.

    That said, anyone interested in hearing about the vast opportunities in the emerging markets of Tupperware, Amway, or Herbalife sales?

    No? Welp, rumor has it aluminum siding is poised for a comeback…

    Get in on the ground floor with no money down!

  10. I was also moved to do the update after noticing that 2016 had about 1 thousand fewer comments than last year,, though the blog traffic increased quite a bit. I don’t know why this would be. One theory is that the site has gotten tougher, and scares off commenters…I don’t think so, but that may be the perception. I banned fewer commenters than in 2015, so it isn’t that. Stephen Pilling vanished, and he could have added a thousand comments or more all by himself. Also missing, mostly, was Curmie, whom I gather is very busy.

    • Actually for me, there were a number of oft repeated themes that I thought positions of the regulars had ossified and discussions for me, pro or con were pointless. Everything essential has been said, and we’re preaching to the choir.
      Example is the recent three posts on journalism failure. I remember when they managed to appear middle of the road, and I miss that. But repetition and reasoned essays won’t make them change, it cannot happen from the outside. Like a LOT of the current uproars they require someone of influence and reputation to repudiate current trends. But justified harsh criticism and kabooms are too likely to chase away moderates we want to emerge.

      I really don’t see a way to reduce the hyperpartisanship, and there are SO many balls in the air, dropping any of the major wrecks would be tragic. I agree with most, and the ones I disagree on my reasons are opaque even to me. Maybe I’ll figure out why as I read. Thanks for all your efforts!

      • I don’t see the hyperpartanship here. It is tame compared to just about any other place I know on the web.

        I’m not seeing Trumpists here. I don’t know if it is because they are so inane that they never pass the initial screening or if they just never try.

        I see far more irrational left leaning folks, but they don’t last long until the ban hammer falls.

        • Hyperpartisanship in journalism, race, immigration, enforcement, gender, orientation, etc. I think as a society we’d be okay if there was only one or two hotbutton issues, but too many right now are in orbit. People are running around in circles trying to solve them all completely THIS INSTANT.

    • Personally, I have just enough time to keep up with reading new posts and the comments of others. If I’m going to say something here, it probably deserves more consideration than I am currently able to devote. Enough views are already covered, so there is often not much I could add. Much thanks to the regulars.

      • Yup, this here. This site deserves meaningful contributions. It’s truly epic, and has undoubtedly enriched countless lives. I’ve learned and grown over the years just being a spectator for the most part.

    • Stephen Pilling vanished, and he could have added a thousand comments or more all by himself.

      Glad to see he wasn’t banned. Mixed feelings about him vanishing. Generally a good bloke. One area where he and I had irreconcilable differences.
      I hope he’s in good health.

    • I’ll tell you what it is. Over the years, natural selection (with a few obvious exceptions, ahem..) has purged this site of any but the most committed and cerebral commentators. It is downright intimidating. I find myself writing “how do you figure that…” no, no, not pertinent. “Well I think that….” No, Jack just said that. “Well, contrary to popular belief…” Yeah, that will get cut to ribbons, and then I’ll have to cry and kick the dog. Oh balls! I give up! Maybe I’ll just shoe-horn this stupid joke in and get back to looking at these fireworks and drooling.

      • Well said, Joe; what you say is eerily similar to how I would describe my own experience here, if I could ever write consistently with any clarity. That’s what I like about this blog. It’s a little like a good small-church community: a strong “pastor” leading the way who is liberal, but not too liberal; generous voluntary support from a core of regular and conscientious attendees; edifying (now, THERE is a church-y term!) exchanges between congregants, sometimes even when differences between them are alarmingly fractious; and folks who are sublimely kind to the occasionally (and even less occasionally) quirky, eccentric, obtuse, exasperatingly inscrutable, and even incoherent and obnoxious.

    • Don’t let the comment changes bother you. This is the natural evolution of how the medium works. Traffic is far more important.

      What happens when a blog gets busy is the comment threads get longer and more complex. Because WordPress doesn’t have a proper mechanism for navigating this (collapsing sub-threads, highlighting new comments since last visit, and so forth) a long comment thread will make people feel like they are too late to offer anything. I’ve let this stop me from commenting any number of times, and I ran a very busy site for eight and a half years.

      So what you are seeing, to a major degree, is a platform-driven limitation. Given what you are doing here, I doubt there is much you can do to make it go away. A one-man show gets to the point of diminishing returns pretty quickly when it comes to the technical aspects of it all.

      The bottom line: Focus on content, not on comments. Your content is what drives traffic, readers, and results. Comments are important, and it’s especially important for you to engage your readers in the comments, but don’t sweat the numbers of them. As anyone will tell you who has done this for a living, the Ten Commandments of a successful site are:

      1. Thou shalt always produce good content.
      2-10. See commandment number 1.

      • I just want to add that the tone of the site is unlikely to drive many people away. You can tell when your tone is out of control when you have to ban a bunch of drive-by idiots who just want to mix it up in the comments. 🙂

        • I’ll second that. It can get a little heated at times, but very rarely in a non-constructive way. I can say that I’ve never felt any genuine, personal animosity here. (“I. I. I. I.” God, I really gotta try harder to not sound so self-absorbed)

  11. Don’t sweat fewer comments. I, for one, would like to post more but due to time differences, other commitments, and the need for me to spend excessive time composing anything I say, my thoughts either end up as moot or just plain redundant!

    Your page is my jumping off point for grazing the web and I almost always find it a worthwhile exercise. To be honest, I am trying to condition myself not to come here until the end of the day – too distracting! I also follow several other blogs I picked up from your list but, as I say start here every time.

    I want to say that I find your format one of the best. Clear, logical layout, and easy to navigate. Furthermore, you have done an excellent job of weeding out the lame brains who just shout insults; SUCCESS!

    Lang may yer lum reek.

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