A Proposal for Curated Conversations

By the way, I like how this thread is going right now after I separated out all posts but that of three people:

I think the conversation has managed to reach a level of depth and extended engagement that is nowadays not that common in this forum for theological and philosophical topics. Regardless of whether one thinks the arguments are deep or correct or whatever, it is just easier to follow and there is a greater probability that one might learn something from reading the thread from start to finish.

Does anyone else agree with me? What do the participants (@John_Harshman, @Faizal_Ali, @structureoftruth) think? How about the @moderators?

Perhaps we can occasionally use this “curated” model in the future for how to handle contentious topics (whether it’s evolution, ID, theology, biblical interpretation or others) - put a spotlight to 2-4 people who have something substantial to say about the topic (and are willing to not drift away too far from the OP), and shunt away other comments to a different thread. This helps shut away noise, off-topic distractions, and people who just congratulate each other for agreement without contributing something intellectually stimulating.


Let’s give it a try and see how it works out…

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I would comment that it seems lopsided 2 against 1 and I will make the observation that pulling @thoughtful out of the conversation (perhaps due to lack of credentials?) is odd because it was her inquisitiveness that inspired the conversation. She should remain a part of the conversation in my opinion. I would also say that if the conversation is philosophical or theological it should be equal in number of participants on each side of the theological debate (as there are obvious issues of faith evident) and that “expertise” becomes subjective and therefore is not substantive to disqualify a participant.

That said, yes, the conversation is more productive limiting the distraction of off-topic comments and pushing the “noise” to a side conversation.


@dga471 (@Mark10.45 thank you for that defense.) You’re awesome. Yes because the topic was spiraled off my comment I believe I should have been left in. Also the “YEC, non-scientist” next to my name shouldn’t prevent me from being considered as a participant in conversations which do not require technical scientific knowledge. If someone wants to interpret what’s next to my name as “dummy” then I’ll happily prove them wrong. :wink:

The example I gave was not meant to be an example of an “expert vs. expert” conversation, as the participants are not professional philosophers or theologians. Rather it’s an example of a regular conversation between people, but one where each participant has something substantial to say and can express that in longer, more thought-out posts rather than a bunch of one- or two-liners. Even though the conversation is lopsided (1 vs. 2), there are only 2 interactions going on in the thread:

Matt <-> Faizal
Matt <-> John H.

(It seems that there is not much Faizal <-> John H interaction.)

My main reason for putting off @thoughtful’s comments to a different thread is because she seemed to come to the problem from a completely different perspective (more Biblical rather than philosophical). In contrast, @structureoftruth already had written many blog posts on his thoughts on the problem. Thus while both Valerie and Matt are technically “on the same side”, they have very different approaches to the problem. Adding her to the conversation would result in more than twice possible interactions, making it harder to follow:

Matt <-> Faizal
Matt <-> John H.
Valerie <-> Faizal
Valerie <-> John H.
Valerie <-> Matt

To be clear, I am not opposed to having a curated thread for Valerie in the future to discuss the topic if she is open to it, and willing to express her thoughts in paragraphs instead of mostly one-liners (and the same with whoever is on the other side).

My point is that curated conversations are not necessarily a stamp that someone has certain credentials or expertise about a topic; rather it’s that someone has a distinct style of contribution that they can make to the discussion and we would like to spotlight that interaction (in this case, someone familiar with analytic philosophy of religion vs. two agnostic scientists).


I agree and like the idea of curated conversations. But you are pre-judging me using biblical texts, because I actually won the argument with logic. But yes, curated conversations would be fun.


I don’t think @dga471 is prejudging your use of Biblical texts, but just stating that your approach to the topic is different. Using Biblical texts is a different approach than the analytic philosophy approach. Your knowledge of the Bible is impressive.


I think the general idea of curated conversations is great. Many of the comments/suggestions seem to presuppose a “debate” with “sides” which might happen sometimes but would not IMO be a good model for such conversations. (Perhaps a curated “debate” format could be a separate conversation.) A curated conversation need not be about a contested issue, and in fact it would be very useful for the opposite, say a conversation among experts about new developments in a field or about a topic known to be of interest to non-specialists.


I’ve googled and learnt something about museums and curators but I’m not clear what a curated conversation is.

Is it restricting a thread to named participants?

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See my first post above.

I did and I read it. As I couldn’t glean from it what a “curated conversation” was in practical terms, I first googled, found nothing useful about “curated conversations” so I asked for clarification.

It’s no big deal but I’m still no wiser. It could be a great idea (depending on what the idea is). And I’m all for trying something to see if it works. Maybe that’s the way forward. Suck it and see.

In some ways it seems to be a lot what we have done for #hours, and have regularly done as it makes sense.

@dga471 are you proposing we make a new category or have clearer guidelines so it’s less ad hoc?

I’d say that if we decide to make some conversations curated, there should be a clearly designated category for that and also a clear moderated statement at the top about what the “rules” are for that particular conversation

Is the rule that only certain people are allowed to post on a curated conversation, or that it will be more aggressively moderated to stay on topic? Or something else?

Or perhaps the rules could change depending on what the curated conversation is about? In which case they should be clearly stated in the top post


I did not learn anything new from your curated conversation experiment. For instance, look back over the last two posts of the “On Euthyphro” thread. They bear the same tired old marks of a conversation that has devolved into just so much throwing of sticks and stones.

My view on this: curation is a great word for the idea that’s being tried out here. To me, “moderation” means checking posts for violations of community norms and trying to keep conversations on topic. Moderation may be light or heavy but the process is post hoc. Participants add contributions, and moderators check them after they’ve been pre-posted. Curation is a lot different: it involves proactive pursuit of content and/or organization of existing content. A moderator checks a conversation as it’s happening. A curator actively guides and gathers people or content to create something new.

So to add to what @dga471 has already described (clearly IMO): I think a curated conversation is one that is not merely moderated but actively guided, from the start.


The Office Hours category are different from what I’m thinking about, because in that case there is an assumption that 1) there is one person with some specific expertise to share, and 2) the conversation is predominantly asymmetric, with the expert providing information and the rest of the participants asking questions.

The “Curated Conversation” I’m thinking of would have several different features:

  1. There would be a limited number of participants (2-4). All other comments are shunted off to a side thread. Some occasional, insightful, on-topic contributions on the side threads may be moved to the main thread by moderators.
  2. Each participant has something distinctive to contribute to the topic being discussed, which could be through actual scholarly achievement, but could also just be good background knowledge of a specific subject. High-level scholarly exchange is a possibility, but so is also just discussing a specific idea or argument between informed laypeople of different backgrounds.
  3. Each participant commits to staying on-topic and replying with thoughtful, long-form posts which focus on content, instead of one- or two-liners and personal attacks.
  4. Moderators can monitor the thread from straying too much off-topic.
  5. The length of the conversation should have a limit - perhaps one week, or 100 posts, or a similar limit, which would make it digestible for everyone else watching.

We can also establish mechanisms for starting such a curated conversation:

  1. It can start organically: once an interesting, substantial exchange has developed on a Conversation thread, moderators can separate it out into its own thread.
  2. It can start more formally: since we have a sort of community here with varying expertise, personal beliefs and background, someone could just open a new thread with a lengthy post, invite specific people to contribute, and request moderators to monitor it as a Curated Conversation.

I don’t know if we should make a whole new forum category for this at the moment, but it could be an interesting approach to try out.

Does this somewhat illuminate things, @AlanFox?


I like the idea, either as a category or a topic flag (or both).

Could we have Curators - members with moderator privelidges with that category?

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Nah, I don’t think so. (Okay, there were maybe a couple shots fired, but barely anything compared to the length of the discussion.) I feel the conversation has been both respectful and substantive.


It sounds a bit like what someone mentioned in the first comment. :slightly_smiling_face:

But, give it a go. Nothing needs to be set in stone. I’m all for education, understanding, and the free exchange of ideas.

If thoughtful, on point short replies can make key important points, so I wouldn’t exclude short posts out of hand. Long form can sometimes be long-winded and thus of less value. Thus, quality, not length should be the focus