Request For Comment: Possible Changes to Forum

Periodically, we revisit rules, organization, and policy of the forum to adapt to changes and improve the quality for everyone. Now is a good time to consider some changes. I want to know what you think of these changes:

What is High Value…

With this, I do wonder if we need better guidelines to define our aims in changing the rules. Currently, we see different sorts of engagements on the forum:

These are the valuable activities I want to encourage and increase visibility:

  1. Experts in mainstream science and experts in non-mainstream science in dialogue
  2. Post-publication review of articles/blogs by legitimate experts.
  3. Experts learning from each other.
  4. Non-experts asking good-faith questions and learning from experts.
  5. Microblogging on interesting ideas, by both experts and non-experts

These are negative activities I want to discourage and, ideally, eliminate:

  1. Non-experts debating with experts (functioning like a denial-of-service attack)
  2. Microblogging on non-so-interesting ideas, often by non-experts.

Better Education

We may need an intro guide the orient new users to the purpose and rules of the forum, and some basic actions like quoting, starting new topics, and forking topics. We are constantly having to educate people about this, and it’s pretty annoying.

Time Limiting New Topics

We are contemplating making it so all topics will automatically close 1 month after the last reply. Perhaps we might consider other time limits based on your feedback. This follows the practice of several very large forums.

Closing Old Topics

We are contemplating closing all topics with last replies over 2 months ago. This will prevent stale topics from coming to the front page with late additions. To continue old discussions, you could start a linked topic or ask @moderators to open the topic (which we may or may not do).

New Moderators?

With several new people here, are we adequately representing our community in the moderator team. Should we consider adding new moderators? What views do we want represented?

New Rules

Looking at other forums, and how they have maintained quality while growing far larger than us, there are some rules I’ve seen we should consider. One example is Ask Science (see rules: https://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/wiki/rules). Here are a few that may be appropriate or adapted for our forum. What are your thoughts on them?

Top level comments (direct replies to a question, not a reply to another user’s comment) must be an answer to the question posed, or a follow-up question to the post.

  • No medical advice, speculation, or personal anecdotes. See more here.
  • Answers should be supported by reputable sources and scientific research. Do not cite yourself as a source.
  • Comments must be civil and on topic. No memes, jokes, or comments consisting solely of a link.
  • No abusive, harassing, offensive or spam comments.
  • Moderators reserve the right to enforce these rules by removing offending comments, or issuing temporary or permanent bans as needed in their sole discretion.*

Stronger Enforcement Against Off-Topics

In particular, I’m concerned about how quality degrades when comments on a topic start to look more like a “chat” and we see lots of off topics. It can be freewheeling fun, but it also makes topics less valuable in the long run. In general, most of that should be moved to PM.

To satisfy that need to chat off topic, perhaps we could create a chat room sort of category that is purged of posts on a regular basis.

#conversation:side Require Login?

Most the topics in #conversation:side are not high value. For several reasons, I think we should consider taking them off the public site, so that they require login to view. They would no longer be visible to search engines.

Some important topics in the past were high quality, and we could move them to #conversation on a case by case bases.

Trust-Level vs. Category-Level

Right now, approval is required on a per-category basis. For example, all posts into #conversation require approval, and none are required in #conversation:side. In general this has worked in a positive way, often to slow down conversations and giving @moderators a sensible way to keep things from spiraling.

We can consider another option…

  1. Users with TL3 and above can post without approval, but TL0/1/2 and require approval for each post.

  2. A hard rule that after a certain number of violations, TL3 users will be demoted to TL2.

Of course that cutoff could be changed to TL2, instead of TL3. The downside of this is that moderators would be stuck approving all comments for <TL3 in all categories, likewise it does create a differential set of rules. On the positive side, moderating at the individual level has been effective, and so far approval burden has not been impossible.

Requesting Input

With all this, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Which of these changes are worth exploring?

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Generally speaking, I like the goals. But I’m not sure how to achieve them. The problem, as always, has to do with human psychology.

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I strongly agree with all the proposed specific changes. Some other comments:

  1. I hope everyone knows that you aren’t suggesting that there is value in conversation with “non-mainstream science.” Perhaps reword that phrase.
  2. Better education would be great, even some “rules” about how to quote and tag and so on. I’m not sure how to accomplish it. One idea is to make it a moderation criterion but I don’t know if that is realistic. And heck, I didn’t know I had the ability to fork a topic.
  3. Time limiting and closing old topics is overdue.
  4. I don’t care about the views of moderators, only that they act on community norms.
  5. Getting Side Conversations off the main page is a great idea. One benefit is that more people will thus be motivated to maintain the quality of a conversation.
  6. The question about moderation based on trust level is a question best left for the moderators, who know better than I do about the pros and cons of that. It sounds good to me but I’m not a moderator.
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I’m sorry to be responding to my own comment but I think it was inappropriate for me to speak on behalf of @swamidass here. I don’t personally think there is value in “dialogue” with an “expert in non-mainstream science” but think there is great value in dialogue with experts in fields other than mainstream science (philosophy, religion, the arts, etc.). I don’t know which thing Joshua had in mind and I’m sorry for claiming otherwise.

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This might simplify the task of splitting threads, simply selecting “comment and all replies” and removing orphan comments. We likely still need to scan for orphaned comments anyway, so maybe there isn’t much time saved.

I like the idea that top level comments should lead with an answer to the question posed. I am not opposed to some additional content, anecdotes, speculation, etc., but that ought to be in the second paragraph or later (or in replies to top level comments). Sometimes an interesting discussion evolves from secondary discussion, and we don’t want to squelch creativity. I really don’t want to squelch @AllenWitmerMiller anecdotes either, they always make my day. :slight_smile:

This would make for a simple understanding of how we operate: HERE are the guidelines the moderators will use, HERE is how you can bend the rules a little (less relevant content in replies or 2nd paragraph).

One problem I see is that (unlike Reddit) it’s not always clear what is a top level comment.

Yes. Maybe they can approve posts too (but not reject? Is that possible?).

I’m like to see this added: “Your opinion should be clearly stated as opinions, separate from the facts.”

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I like this.

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My two-penn’orth:

  1. Decide on an objective.
  2. Consider what might work towards that objective.

Re 1, I’m not sure what the objective is but let me assume it is to promote understanding and learning between religious and scientific viewpoints. Openness and honesty and acknowledging when others attempt openness and honesty works as I have seen here and condescension and dismissal doesn’t. But structuring that objective into rules might be self-defeating. Better to be reactive than proactive.

Which brings me to 2. The rules.

If there is going to be a distinction regarding expertise, it would be simpler to have two separate forums. Let experts (scholars) meet in the virtual faculty common room. Make those conversations visible if you want but set a threshold of competence. Keep the hoi polloi out.

The non-specialist forum should be egalitarian and no deference should be given to experts (scholars) who join in. Rules should be simple, minimal, fair and clear.

People will stop by, read and comment as the mood takes them. Making things so complex even regulars are confused may be discouraging to potential posters.

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I can see two forums - a Specialist forum and a non-Specialist forum developing in a bad way.

  1. The Specialists discuss things at their level among themselves (so far so good), but there is little or no opportunity for non-Specialists to ask honest questions (I don’t think this is good).
  2. The non-Specialist forum becomes a place where vocal non-Specialists seek to debate/refute any Specialists. This is not so good.

I think there should be more of a middle ground where Specialists can post and discuss relevant topics and non-experts can ask questions but without non-experts trying to argue with the experts.

That is a good point. I am not a scientist so I wouldn’t feel comfortable arguing with a scientist but I would like be able to ask questions to check my understanding and to learn more.

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Yeah there’s not much need to discuss that. There were some specific operational/organizational ideas to consider in the OP. The goals were laid out in the same post, and while they are necessarily ambiguous in some cases, they are there. I encourage us to stay focused on those goals and the changes proposed.

Thanks for the deference here.

Don’t you think there is value in threads like these?

  1. Winston Ewert: The Dependency Graph of Life

  2. Darwin Devolves: The End of Evolution?

That’s in dialogue with ID, which is not mainstream science. We could also find threads involving YEC. I think there is value in engaging some of these arguments directly with ones who prominently champion them. In contrast, I’m not sure the value of debating them endlessly with non-experts parrots that don’t even know the best versions of the argument.

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Darwin Devolves wasn’t science, nor do I suspect it was ID. (I read the QRB article but not the book.) That silly “law” was a pitiful attempt to discredit real science by misrepresenting what it claims. I haven’t read the Ewert thing but I suspect that we’re not thinking of the same thing when we say “non-mainstream science.” If it’s anything like Behe’s work, it’s misuse of real science to create doubt about reality. I guess if that’s what you mean by “non-mainstream science” then okay, but once we’re talking about YEC stuff, it will be offensive to many people to refer to these puddles of falsehood as “science.” Some will argue, and I’d likely agree, that talking about “mainstream science” in “dialogue” with “experts in non-mainstream science” is an example of one of the great falsehoods of our age: that those who dispute reality or deny facts are just the “other side” of a legitimate debate.

“Non-mainstream science” is not a phrase I’ll tend to respect. Dialogue about science–or about any of the many things that should interest humans–is another thing entirely, to me.

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Well, one way to look at it is as scientific analysis of their claims. :slight_smile:

Some people call it “bad” science, but I tend to call out “outside the mainstream.” My observation is that engaging it carefully and directly make it clear why exactly mainstream scientists reject these ideas; that’s valuable. Every now and then, we learn something too. That’s valuable too.

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I’ve often heard people say that engaging creationists publicly is bad, because it confers legitimacy on them and a “both sides are equally valid” perception. But is that really true? Has there been any scientific study on how public perception of (mainstream) science changes in response to publicly engaging creationists? Perhaps certain kinds of engagement (focused, only experts, moderated) are more beneficial than others.

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It would be great if there were a way to highlight who is a specialist vs non specialist. Most specialists here state their speciality in their description of themselves, which is very helpful. Maybe also give scholar badges. Could also encourage people to fill out a bit more on their bio to clarify the field and their belief system.

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I agree with @AlanFox that the objective is important.

Is your objective to end up like a newsletter with an option for experts to publish articles, discuss with each other on it and answer questions from “non-experts”?

Just my $0.02.

I would most likely not engage any longer if my input were reduced to “not legitimate because of lack of specialist credentials.” Maybe I would with lesser interest. I think that a positive quality of this site is that the engagement between experts and non-experts produces unique conversations. I learn just as much from non-experts (at times) as I do from experts, and find that most experts of science are not experts of theology. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, some clearly have both, but the scientist evidentiary based mentality operates counter to theology. Then you have the issue of where to draw the line of “expert”, difficult when you are discussing theology in concert with science and where the two meet.

Perhaps a moderator ability to bounce a post back prior to approval with simple editing instruction like “soften the language” or “stay on topic” or “provide reference”…thinking out loud here, not sure if that’s a possible function for the site.

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When I read these posts I replace the words specialist and expert with “ELITE”. It makes more sense to me
Just my two cents

I’ve not kept current with all of the discussions about the evolving standards for improving Peaceful Science—but I am assuming that these changes are part of an effort to create different kinds of environments for different kinds of discussions. For example, PS has always had instances where most of us are interested spectators learning from just two or three specialists discussing a topic important to their field of research. (So the rest of us may only post when asking questions.) On the other hand, most of the time most threads are far more “come one, come all” than that—but that can sometimes leads to a few people with very limited knowledge repeatedly derailing the thread with irrelevant tangents or claims that 2+2=5 and that anyone who doesn’t agree is either a bad Christian or an atheist. (Yes, I’m being hyperbolic but not by as much as I might wish.)

And I think we all hope to preserve those opportunities as much as is practical.

@Michelle make a series of good points. PS has never tried to “standardize” member descriptions and labels. We probably need to brainstorm in the areas you’ve mentioned.

Welcome, @Robertm. Good to have you with us!

A standard definition of elite is “a select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.” Isn’t elite a good thing? Would you agree, for example, that a group of PhD 's in geology is a select group whose training, knowledge, and experience are probably (but perhaps not 100.00% of all possible instances of comparison) superior to those without PhD’s? I think I have something like 6 credit hours of university training in geology, so I’m not anything remotely close to being considered an expert or specialist. Therefore, I’m very interested in what the “elite” geologists of the academy can teach me. Meanwhile, my opinions on geological technicalities will probably be of little value to those specialists.

Let’s not risk equivocation. The word elite has a lot of negative connotations, especially from political science and sociology theory, because “the elite” are often derided as the small group of wealthy and/or powerful people in a society who may exert excessive and unfair influence to favor themselves and harm others. That’s hardly the same thing as being an elite scholar and/or scientist, such as a Nobel Prize winner. In that regard, I would consider it a great advantage if Peaceful Science attracted many elite scientists, and not-at-all-elite people like me could learn from them in these forums.

It’s also worth mentioning that well-designed community standards can not only make a discussion forum a more informative and pleasant place, they can greatly ease the workload of the volunteer moderators. (Keep in mind that many participants on these forums—moderators included—are multitasking their work duties and publishing projects while participating here.)

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