We sometimes get questions about how we moderate all the comments that are posted by SOT students. Currently there are over 40,000 comments posted on our school.
In SOT we are not trying to promote agreement or disagreement but thinking. It is not important whether students agree or disagree with the lessons. What is important is that they go away and think about them. That’s all.
So, which of your many thousands of comments do we post? Which ones do we leave out? Why don’t we reply to each comment? What is our policy for moderating comments?
For example, we received the following excellent question from one of the SOT students today:
From John: I appreciate your regular newsletters, Mr. Hewitt Gleason, and particularly the opportunity to comment on the various thinkers you feature in them. I am wondering, however, why so many of my own comments have been censored. It has come to seem that there is a pattern to this: You don’t like to post comments that disagree too strongly with your own views. If this is true, it seems to run counter to the most fundamental principles of your School of Thinking. I would be interested to hear what you have to say about this.
We replied to John:
Thanks for your message and question about how we moderate the comments for School of Thinking. There are a number of factors involved in how we currently do this.
First, SOT is a school not a chat room. Therefore, we don’t undertake to post every comment from every person. We are selective towards the aim of the lessons but are not censorious. This means we are biased towards comments that assist in the pedagogy of the lessons and biased against comments that distract from this aim. It doesn’t matter whether the comments agree or disagree with the lessons as long as they are relevant and supported by evidence.
Some of the SOT lessons, for some people, may be quite provocative but they are always supported by evidence that can be independently checked out by the students.
We tend to leave out comments that are just peeved, irritated or even angry about the lesson unless they make a point that is supported by evidence. When they do this we check out the evidence and if it’s valid we leave the comment in. When necessary we may change or correct our lesson to update to the new evidence. We do this many times.
We don’t promote debate or streams of abuse or endless I-am-right-you-are-wrong interchanges. These can be found elsewhere all over the internet.
We are also mindful of the amount of time students have for the lessons, which are already time-consumng,Â so we are forced to be selective in the comments we post. We also make choices regarding quality, diversity, participation and fairness. Having said that we do have biases of our own, limited resources and don’t always do everything to please everybody all of the time. We also make mistakes.
In your case John, we have posted 66 of your comments to date and we do value the quality of your work and the thought you put into them. However, for example, we did not post your comment below on the Hawking article:
John: “The idea that there is no afterlife of any kind is one of those theories for which there is no possible evidence, nothing which could support the concept. If you want to believe this, you just have to accept it on faith, which makes it a curious notion for a scientist to put forward with such confidence!”
The reason this comment was not posted is because, as far as we can tell, the claim of an afterlife is not a scientific claim. Since this idea of the afterlife is not one that has been put forward by science, it is not a scientific theory, so it is not one that is required to be supported by scientific evidence. Evidence of an afterlife must be supplied by whomever puts forward the theory of an afterlife. In your comment if you could provide the evidence that supports the theory then your comment would be considered for inclusion. It is commonly accepted that the burden of evidence lies with the one who initiates the positive theory. All Hawking is doing is making that point. Should any individual like yourself, or a scientist or group claim the existence of an afterlife of some kind and support that claim with evidence that can be tested independently then I would expect Hawking to change his view as would many other thinkers.
Again, because of the lack of resources, a limitation of SOT (which must be frustrating to students) is the lack of commentary we can make on all their contributions. Many students wish they could get more personalised feedback on their comments. When we tried this in earlier years each comment on a comment would lead to a further comment which would need yet another comment and that sets off chains of time-consuming commentary which seemed equally frustrating so we have limited the system to what we currently have. Should Bill Gates or some other well-heeled and generous philanthropist provide resources for SOT one day then we could expand the pro bono services we provide to our students.
Thanks again for your interest and support John,