Back in December, when I decided to turn madinamerica.com into a webzine, I envisioned it as serving several purposes. I wanted to create a regular news report of research findings. I wanted to provide a forum for people to tell of what helped them get well and stay well. Finally, I wanted to recruit a diverse group of writers, who would write about psychiatry and ways to improve our current paradigm of care, which, as readers of Anatomy of an Epidemic know, I believe is a failed paradigm of care.
This is a big subject, one that I think should command the attention of our entire society, given how profoundly psychiatry shapes our society today. I wanted to have people with lived experience writing here, social workers, psychologists, providers of services, journalists, ethicists, psychiatrists and other physicians.
We are slowly working toward that goal. And as we do, I have become more convinced than ever that it is important that this site invite and welcome bloggers who may have quite differing opinions about current practices and how to make things better. That is the only way to stir a robust “dialogue” about this subject.
Posted comments by readers are an important, essential part of that discussion. In fact, it is an aspect of this site that I particularly like. I very much enjoy reading what people have to say in response to a blog, and in response to other people making comments.
At the outset, I decided to not screen comments. People could post their comments and they would appear instantaneously. One reason for that is that I believe in free-wheeling discussions, and, second, I hadn’t figured out, in my own mind, what sort of comments might hinder, or shut down, the discussion.
But now I think I do. We encourage readers, if they disagree with the content of a blog, to say so and to express their reasons for why they disagree. Readers should make an argument, point to facts, and tell of personal experiences (and hopefully in a calm, measured way.) All that is good. However, what shuts down discussion is when a comment attacks the person (rather than what the person has written), or seeks to personally discredit the person. This is true whether the comments are directed toward the blogger, or toward someone else commenting on the site. People commenting on the site shouldn’t worry that they will be personally attacked for their views.
And thus my conclusion: The comments’ section has a very simple goal, which is to further discussion, and if comments distract from that goal, and instead serve to stifle discussion, then they are not helpful.
So this will be our new policy. Comments will still appear instantaneously. But if we find a comment that is attacking the blogger personally, or another commenter personally, we will pull that comment, and we will do so for an easily understood reason: the comment is not serving the purpose of adding to the discussion, but rather shutting it down. And when that happens, all readers of this site lose.