Field of Science

New York Times, You Can't Handle the Truth.

Earlier today I wrote about the research behind an opinion article at the New York Times. When I looked at the sources cited, I was unable to find any information supporting the claims made in the article. In fact, what I found directly contradicted those claims. I finished by saying that while I was willing to believe these claims, I'd like to know what data support them. In passing, I mentioned that I had submitted an abbreviated version of this analysis as a comment on the Times website.

That comment was not published. I figured maybe there had been a computer error, so I submitted another one later in the day. That one was also not published. Finally, at 6:13pm, I submitted an innocuous and useless comment under an assumed name:
I agree with Pat N. It's nice to hear from someone who has some optimism (@ Dr. Q).
This comment was published almost immediately.

The Times states that "comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive."Since the moderators didn't publish the comment, we can conclude one of two things:

1) Discussion of the empirical claims made in a New York Times article is not "on topic."
2) Pointing out a mistake made in a New York Times article is a kind of abuse.


Bob Carpenter said...

I love the experimental control of sending a nearly content-free followup.

Like other newspapers (and Google), The Times is in the advertising business, not the news business. The news is just there to attract eyeballs, which are then sold to advertisers. Unfortunately, this means articles like the one you link to that stir up controversy and attract more links may be viewed as effective given their business. I pretty much only read the features in the Times these days.

Another explanation, though, is that your previous comments were too "hard" to moderate, whereas the later comment was "easy". Along those lines, I bet they delete any comment not in English. You could try posting a technical comment similar in tone to the ones that were rejected, but that an astute reader would gauge as positive, and see how they mod it.

Tristram Brelstaff said...

Is it worth submitting to Scott Rosenberg's MediaBugs?

GamesWithWords said...

@Tristram: Maybe. Babcock has now responded. I'm not convinced his data actually support his position, but at least I now understand what his argument was. It's not as obviously wrong as I thought, though neither is it clearly right. That doesn't deserve a correction ... but it does deserve a comment. So the comment moderation thing seems worthy of attention.

@Bob. I take your point, but their policy is not to moderate comments for truthfulness, only for being on topic and not abusive. So whether what I wrote was technical or not shouldn't matter, unless they're worried that I'm somehow using fancy words they don't understand in order to be abusive...