By and large, it’s something I avoid. Many of the criticisms levelled against either this blog or the main Bad Archaeology website are trivial, vapid or misinformed. I tend to give a short reply to the original comment and move on: there isn’t usually anything substantial in the criticism that warrants revision of the original post or page.
That is especially true of the blog. I view blogs pretty much as opinion pieces, like the editorial in a newspaper. If I want authoritative facts, I’ll go elsewhere. This guides my writing: opinion pieces get posted here, while more factually-based pieces go on the main site, which I hope is used more as a work of reference than the blog. Blogs are effectively entertainment.
A little while ago, I switched the main site over to a content management based system, using WordPress as the software to run it (it’s simple, it does what I need and it is hugely customisable. And did I mention that it’s free?). This allows users to comment on those pages where I permit them to do so (which, actually, is just about every page on the site), in addition to which there’s a contact form. Since doing this, there has been a slow but steady stream of comments.
I am now faced with a quandary, though: most comments are from people who have not registered as users and therefore need approval, as do pingbacks from external websites. By and large, I approve all comments, no matter how ill informed, and the last thing I want to do is to censor dissent, so I will allow through comments that just disagree with what I’ve written (or what James has written). So far, so good. But what happens when I get a pingback from the forum of an extremist organisation? I won’t mention them, as I haven’t approved the two pingbacks from them, but one of their regular users has tried to rubbish what I write on the ridiculous grounds that I’m gay. Because my sexuality doesn’t fall in line with their very narrow definition of what a citizen of their country should be (and it shouldn’t be non-white, Jewish, Moslem, Roman Catholic, gay, socialist… you get the picture), the user thinks that my opinions and my handling of data are worthless. But this ad hominem attack was brought up as a reply to another user of the forum who had linked approvingly to one of the pages on the main site. Do I approve the pingback or do I delete it? I certainly don’t want to send traffic to a hate-filled extremist website.
Then there is a commenter who regularly posts largely incomprehensible statements. I’ve approved all of their comments so far, but it’s getting tedious. Their comments add nothing to the page in question. Do I block the comments on those grounds? I have been hoping that the commenter will eventually get bored and give up, but it’s been going on for some weeks now; it’s not the usual internet troll, out to pick an argument, because the comments are so far off-the-wall that there’s nothing to respond to. I really don’t know the answer.
And finally, there’s a recent criticism of the page devoted to The Turin Shroud. Rather than comment, the person who disagrees with what I wrote, a blogger called Dan Porter, has written an entire blog post, Bad Archaeology at Bad Archaeology (how I wish I could have used that title!). In his comment on Bad Archaeology, he calls it a “comprehensive response”, but it’s far from comprehensive. It cherry picks elements of the page for specific criticisms, but I found that I had to delete only two errors of fact. What Dan Porter has done has been to use the very dubious claims of Ray Rogers that the linen samples used for radiocarbon dating were contaminated, to press on with the silly notion that the image on the Shroud encodes three-dimensional data (an inexplicable miracle!) and generally disagree with what I wrote.
What his criticism did allow me to do was to test the claims about the encoding of three-dimensional data in images. I took a well known facial image and processed it with results that look fairly similar to those obtained from the Shroud. It even rendered unevennesses in the photographic print as three-dimensional! Another miracle!
In the end, I want to be reasonable. I really don’t want to upset people, but if they have wrong, silly or downright objectionable beliefs, I can’t stand by passively and let them persist. If they have raised valid objections, I’ll happily change what I’ve written: that’s how real science works. If they are wittering on incomprehensibly, I’ll tolerate them. If, on the other hand, they want to push an ideology that is hate filled, I feel that I must ignore them and not give them the dubious benefit of a link from my site.