Request for Comment on Provisional Changes to the Forum

Some have noticed and begun asking about some changes to the forum. We are provisionally testing out several changes to the forum, in preparation for an overhaul that makes them permanent.

  1. We’ve changed and simplified the category organization of the forum, making some important changes. You can get a good overview in category view (Categories - Peaceful Science).

  2. Some categories are now on the front page (#conversation, #peaceful, #public, #hours), and require moderator approval for posting. Everyone can post in these categories, but this requires approval on a post-by-post basis.

  3. One category (#conversation:side) does not require moderator approval. This category is publicly accessible, but it is muted for new users, and will not appear on their front page. New users can bring topics in this category to their front page by unmuting the category in their preference page. You can see what the forum looks like to new users by adding #conversation:side to your muted categories, or by looking at the forum in chrome’s incognito mode.

Why Moderator Approval?

No one is being singled out. The purpose of moderator approval is:

  1. To ensure that only high quality, professional content is on the front page, where most people will see it.

  2. To give a way for all users to comment on front page posts, as long as their posts are high quality.

  3. To make space for minority positions and voices to be heard and carefully engaged.

  4. To raise the standards of the forum without singling any one out.

Our goal is not censorship, and we are committed to hearing out people with whom we disagree. Instead, we believe this may help us create the environment where minority views can be heard. To protect quality conversations from being disrupted by off topics or trollish posting, and to push us all to adopt the highest level of professionalism.

If you would like to post without moderator approval, the #conversation is public, will not require moderator approval, but will not be on the front page.

Our Mission and Values

I recently posted Our Mission and Values. These changes are being considered in their ability to align this forum with this mission and these values.

We take a trust-based approach to engaging the public. For this reason we expect those aligned with mainstream science, especially scientists, to follow the highest standards of professional conduct. There are many other forums to thump creationists, thump religious people, and thump atheists and mainstream science. We want to do better here, by engaging the public in a way that builds trust.

Request for Input

These changes are provisional. If they do not work, we will adjust. At this time, we would like to hear from the forum what they think about these changes.

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@swamidass

I am reading through this relatively quickly, so I may have missed some points.

For those familiar with my earlier postings on moderating certain topics (or NOT moderating them), what will the usual process for handling these two “tropes” that drive me nuts:

[ONE]
Creationist creates thread (or hijacks one) with the claim that this or that complicated evolutionary event could not have happened in the absence of God’s participation. The usual response is by an Atheistic science academic who spends the next 300 postings trying to show how Evolution can function without divine participation.

Why it drives me crazy: because it is literally one of the two most divisive topics in the Evolutionary/Creationist discourse … where PeacefulScience.Org is trying to UNIFY the views of both believers in God and supporters of Evolutionary processes.

The synthesis is that anything Evolutionary is made possible with God’s participation, and there is no reason to think that God rejects Evolutionary processes any more than the idea that God rejects evaporation and condensation for the purpose of making rain.

[TWO]
The second most divisive topic in the repertoire is turning any conversation about God’s involvement in Evolution into an automatic endorsement of “Intelligent Design”. The current synthesis of this problem is to point out that Science is not able to test for the Presence or Action of God, and so as much as we encourage the idea that God participates in the design/creation of Evolution - - it is not the same thing as saying Science can PROVE God designed anything.

[RESOLUTION]
I have always seen the resolution for handling these two topics by having a Conversation room where no holds were barred… anyone could discuss these topics as much as they want… but that the room was SOUND PROOF, meaning a person had to ENTER to room to read what topics were trending.

This would minimize the distraction to the UNIFYING posts and threads OUTSIDE the conversation room.

Joshua, what exactly does the CURRENT plan have in mind for handling these two “tar baby” topics?

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I love it, and I love the motivation I perceive behind it. I have become quite disappointed with the adversarial tribalism (on both sides) that some of the newer members have brought to the forums. To be honest I no longer spend much time on there because of that. I’m not saying that people who enjoy endless philosophical arguments trying to score “points” off the opposing team should not be allowed an arena to indulge themselves. But it doesn’t interest me personally. I’d rather build bridges than throw stones, possibly because I often feel like I have a foot in both teams and get confused about who I should be throwing my stones at! :rofl:

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If these topics are conducted on the front page, all posts require approval from moderators. We will reject posts that do not meet high professional standards, without censoring points of view.

Off the front page, conversations can continue, but one has to enter the thread to see it appear on your front page, unless you unmute the category.

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That’s the trade off @DarrenG. We want quality posters such as yourself to be protected from disruption. With these changes, we hope to see you here more in future.

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@swamidass

I think you will find Atheistic Scientists perfectly capable of submitting very professional posts saying why God is not necessary for Evolution. But, as I mentioned before, this is NOT what I would consider helpful to the goals of a group like Peaceful Science. We aren’t trying to prove evolution doesn’t use God to work…

I wonder if it would be better to have a PRO-ACTIVE description of what topics need to be discussed where … based on the question of polarizing or divisive discussions that interfere with building bridges of trust and communication between traditionally opposed viewpoints!

We also will throttle posts for keeping minority positions from being overwhelmed with too many posts disputing them. We also can move threads off the front page as needed to keep posts from distracting from our mission, especially for newcomers, even as we allow them to continue in less visible ways.

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I see these changes as very positive. I was pretty much at the point of abandoning these forums as they have become mostly about people shouting past each other, rather than seeking to understand each other. Peaceful conversation had pretty much disappeared.

I think the changes you are making will be positive for those within the scientific community. I’m less clear that those outside the scientific community will have a place they will be comfortable to engage with this community.

For much of the public who (like myself) have little scientific literacy, there is no inviting door into this community where one can engage despite their lack of knowledge. The challenge is that the public often believes they do have knowledge, but in reality that knowledge is incorrect. Only a conversation will allow them to learn and understand. There can be no hint that their motives aren’t right, and no assumptions that scientists or the scientific process are somehow automatically truthful. That has to be demonstrated over time.

I think this requires it’s own forum (category), moderated, but focused on the public, not the scientific community.

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@cdods, I hope this emboldens you to start bringing your questions as a curious member of the public, and give syou the confidence to bring more people here.

Our commitment is to prioritize the concerns you’ve just stated over the stale old circular debates of the past. We want to find a better way. We’ve encouraged people towards it in the past. Going forward, we are taking steps to ensure that it is just impossible for individuals to bomb what we are building here.

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These are potentially very helpful changes. Keeping a place for free-wheeling and unmoderated discussion while curating/moderating the main content is smart. It will be more work, and certainly will require tweaking, but it’s smart. Way back in the day, Panda’s Thumb had a mechanism for shunting off silly or tendentious discussion to something called the Bathroom Wall. This plan here at PS seems more intentional but is similar, and avoids the many problems/troubles with deletion and consequent use of the loaded term “censorship.” I think this will work well!

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@swamidass could you define “professional” as you use it above? Thanks.

@cdods (& @swamidass):

Doesnt the CONVERSATION section provide the solution you are seeking?

Thanks, and I think you are heading in the right direction.

There is a second thought I probably didn’t express well which is unrelated to the tone of the conversation, but more related to the level of scientific literacy required to even enter the conversation.

The content of many of the articles & scientific discussion is very academic in nature and difficult to even follow for those outside of the academic scientific community. If the goal is to attract conversation with the general public, an entry point that they can understand is required. Conversations that use less academic terminology and informal language, and topics of interest to the public. For example and article on “What is a virus?” while perhaps boring to many here is actually pretty fascinating to the public, and act as an entry way to more indepth engagement.

I have learnt a pile of biology & genetics here over the last year or so, but there is still a significant amount of the conversation that goes over my head. Part of this is simply the language of academia that is often used, but only used in academia.

Just a couple thoughts from the peanut gallary.

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I don’t think so as the CONVERSATION section as I understand it is un-moderated. Given the tone of unmoderated conversation recently on this site, I don’t think it’s at all welcoming to the general public.

I think specifically of my many YEC friends who are YEC because they honestly believe both science and the Bible support this conclusion. They are not dumb, or dishonest, but given the evidence they have seen, that is a reasonable conclusion. The only way they will change their viewpoint is being exposed in a very respectful way to new evidence, that understands that in many cases this new evidence will call into question many deeply help beliefs. None of us easily abandon those kinds of beliefs, so peaceful discussion is essential.

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I’m noticing already a change in my own reading of the forum, probably because this conversation has directed my attention to the redesign of the forum. The change is that I am seeing the “Conversation” posts differently, and by this I mean that I’ve demoted them in my mind. Maybe this is exactly what we want, but I would suggest that we keep an eye on this, since one risk IMO is that the forum will become stratified into a section for the adults and a section for the screamers and trolls. That’s an extreme way to put it, but I hope my concern is clear. I don’t think such an outcome is inevitable but I do think it’s a risk.

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@cdods

I have to say, I think you are asking for too much.

Your Creationist friends who are NOT dumb, should read Joshua’s GAE book… and read what the academically sound people are writing.

How do we “vet” the difference between a completely UN-MODERATED area (like Peaceful Science used to be!) … while operating at the very same time a “High-Concept” tool for academics to exchange views?

Do we call it the Purgatory Group?

I think you MIGHT be suffering a hangover from these two (USELESS?) categories of discussion:

A) Those discussions where Atheistic scientists are trying to convince you that God isn’t needed to get primate evolution. << This is just more of the same stuff for the last 50 years… we don’t need it.

and

B) Those discussions where Christian enthusiasts flood the bandwidth with the idea that Science can somehow prove God designed humans and other creatures. << This is just more of the same stuff for decades… we don’t need that either.

Both of these ||HIGH HEAT//LOW LIGHT|| thread topics provide very little value to the bridge building operation that PeacefulScience hopes to work on. The more vigorous the debate on these two topics, the further away the two sides become.

How about THIS idea?: (@swamidass, have a look below!) -

A more-or-less unmoderated section that focuses on the BRIDGE and nothing else!

It would be called God-Guided Evolution (or maybe EGG?, aka Evolution: God-Guided). And nobody at any time can hijack the postings with ANY discussion of Evolution-with-Gods-Guidance… period.

As soon as someone starts talking about Evolution doesn’t require God… he or she is warned and then the second offense the post (or posts) are deleted. And conversely, as soon as someone starts suggesting that science can prove Design … that is ALSO off topic (because it is divisive for obvious political reasons). Same warning; some penalty.

If you, or your Creationist colleagues have “agita” or “heart burn” over a section with these kinds of limitations - - I would suggest that the reason for the heartburn is obvious - - they want to talk about THEIR favorite topics… and not the favorite topics of Peaceful Science.

Thoughts, @cdods?

Excellent idea!

Lets focus on bidding and play and banish those who are only interested in the social side of the game.

Oh. :cry:

Won’t this produce a safe haven for false claims that evolution can’t produce this/that/other?

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My hope is that it will create a safer place for anyone to come in and ask a question, even on a publicly visible thread.

I entirely agree.

That is not likely. Trolls love attention. Posts off the front page are inherently deflating. Poor behavior there risks them being excluded from more public threads. So at least now the incentives are set up correctly.

One important thing about this change is that now anyone can post on public threads if their post is professional and quality. That opens up the most visible parts of the forum for people who were not scholar and are new.

A better approach will be creating solid content at the blog level, published in the literature, and in public threads. We can make such content very visible.

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You will have better information than I do, if you are running good analytics. But I wonder how many people access the site via the front page rather than directly to the forums (once they have access to the forums). Personally I forget the front page even exists. Content on the front page, shows up in the forum, so I don’t need to access the front page.

Just something to keep in mind. It may not be front page visibility that drives “trolls” but simply visibility within the community on the forum.

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