The Skeptical Zone and Peaceful Science

Continuing the discussion from Advice from Moderators at Skeptical Zone?:

So, I’m noting a continuing pilgrimage of TSZ contributors to Peaceful Science. This is great! Help me understand a few things.

  1. What are you all appreciating about Peaceful Science that brings you here?

  2. What are wee doing well? What could we do better?

  3. What do you think the relationship be TSZ and Peaceful Science should be in the long run? How can we be a good neighbor?

I notice also that there has been discussion on this @TSZ. Let me know how we can serve you well. One idea I just implement is to make a Skeptical Zone group that anyone can join at will.


One thing missing from TSZ at the moment (and for a while) is input from Dr Lizzie Liddle, the blog owner. One thing notable by his presence at Peaceful Science is the forum owner, Dr Swamidass.


How has her absence made things difficult?

How can I best serve you all with my presence?

1 Like

Diversity is a plus. All venues I’ve observed and participated in seem to have a life: an initial buzz, a mid-life and a decline. No idea what the secret is for sustainability other than walking that difficult line between encouraging participation and limiting troll damage. And hindsight. That helps.


I very much appreciate the amount of actual science discussion that goes on here among various experts from different fields. TSZ has plenty of that too, but there seems to be a greater effort here to ensure that the signal doesn’t get lost in the noise.


Lizzie used to post OPs, participate in comments, was indefatigably charming yet gently assertive, would deftly sort moderation arguments. She’s missed. I continue to hope that she’ll pick up the reins soon. She has been trying to retire but her university keep persuading her to stay on another year (It’s three so far).


You’re doing great. I like your way of unsettling people, including me.


As those with far more experience than this, be sure to give me advice when you can.

What is the typical timeline for this life-cycle? Have any broken the cycle?

I first developed SIWOTI syndrome say around the beginning of the millennium. I can think of a number of sites that I used to follow regularly that were buzzing and are ghost towns now. Pandas Thumb and Uncommon Descent were probably the most active. UD still staggers on but is a shadow of its former self since Dembski retired from public view. PT never recovered from transferring its site to a new platform but losing all comments. Personal blogs depend so much on the energy of the owner. PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Larry Moran have wound down though they have their followers still.

And I notice a singular lack of female voices at TSZ and at other sites I follow.


Yes, and we are working on this now. There are already some regular female contributors. We will be including more in our office hours soon. Also, demoting argumentative nonsense will help too. The fact that we also care a lot about theology and history creates a new sort on ramp for a new audience too, that is less male dominated. We are going to pursue this more in the future.

I have ideas, and any that others have should be put in the hat. In particular, I expect everyone to be welcoming of women that join the conversation here. Disagree with ideas, but always be kind.


Controversy is always popular. We could schedule a big fight? (I’m only partly joking.)

Behe has a new book coming out next year, we should plan ahead for the attention that will draw. We don’t want to just ride that wave, but have new content (major posts) ready to roll out to keep people engaged when the show to comment about Behe.


My guess is that part of this was caused by the rise of Facebook and other social media. Many dedicated internet forums in other fields also experienced declines during the last decade, as the discussion simply moved to groups in FB which are more easily created and maintained. Unfortunately FB is not easily publicly searchable so there is no public record of past conversations and insights that have been reached.


Yeah that has been my experience too. It is a shame really, because the facebook format is terrible for discussion.


I see three key differences between TSZ and PS: namely, thread splitting, OP control, “guano”.

Thread splitting: At TSZ, Dr Liddle did participate in the first few years, but only by creating OPs and by active participate in commenting. Here, the moderators also take an active role in splitting threads to separate the qualified discussants from those relegated to side threads. I think that improves the quality of discussion at PS.

OP Control: At TSZ, anyone can start a new topic. Worse, each new topic starts with a long essay. Here, there is an initial control on who can post new topics. I also suspect that once someone passes that initial test, the moderators monitor the OPs and may decide to remove that privilege. At TSZ, such action has led to a large number of comments about censorship. In fact, TSZ traffic is often dominated by such navel gazing.

Furthermore, at PS, the OPs seem limited to very brief presentations of the proposed topic. I see that as superior to the essay approach at TSZ.

Guano: At TSZ, it was decided to impose a partial-censorship role on posts, and not on posters. Posts which break the rules (eg address the post, not the poster) are not deleted but are instead moved to a “guano” thread. Worse, people are allowed to argue in a separate moderator thread.about whether this move was aligned with the rules Even worse, there is a third thread for people who want to post something they think might be guano (“noyau”). Much navel-gazing and emotion-laden, accusatory traffic results from the existence of these threads.

As best I can tell, PS has avoided the TSZ problems by management of posters rather than individual posts. It seems to me that there is careful vetting and ongoing challenging to posters with certain habits. And the community mechanism for hiding posts does not have a way for complaining about that “censorship”.

Now PS is relatively new. In its first years, TSZ also had many quality posters, OPs, and discussions. I think the above three differences contributed to TSZ’s decline.


Oh sure. I think Facebook is also on the decline at least for the younger generation. Maybe also because of my boycott since learning of their passing on personal info to third parties. Zuckerberg pleaded with me but I’m holding firm. :slight_smile:

ETA correct spelling Zuckerberg


Interesting points, Bruce.

I’d support the idea of “guano” '(and other “memory holes” and bathroom walls") as opposed to deleting unacceptable comments. I’ve been caught myself (mostly at Uncommon Descent in the past) having written a comment that may have taken some effort and research only to have it utterly disappear. It’s not censorship, or quasi-censorship to move an inappropriate comment elsewhere when it remains visible.

Regarding thread-splitting, I concede Wordpress is a poor format and TSZ would be much better as a forum. I’ve pushed this but until Lizzie decides to return, we’re stuck.

As to moderation, it certainly generated a lot of pointless and counterproductive exchanges, though somewhat lessened of late. Again, I would attribute this partly to Lizzie’s absence.

I totally agree that there should be a higher standard for OPs but, again, Lizzie will need to decide on that. Alternatively she could cede the site - but to whom?

Imagine how Peaceful Science would operate if Joshua decided to take a year or two’s sabbatical!


These issue have of course been discussed ad nauseum at TSZ, but I’ll summarize my points in case Joshua finds them helpful.

The community approach at PS to hiding posts is better than TSZ idea of moving them to guano, leading to long, endless discussion about the motives and correctness of such moves.

I say it works better to hide posts with no discussion and to deal with ongoing offenders with stronger.measures.

AFAIK, Dr. Liddle never performed the thread management that the moderators here do. I say that PS has the better idea.

My point overall is that is it not the presence/absence of Dr. Liddle, it is the policy.


At least some of this is related to TSZ using a blog format rather than a forum format. And the forum format is clearly better for discussion.

The other issue you mention about TSZ is the excessive arguing about moderation. I participate in several online forums. And the one that works best is one where there is a blanket rule – NO DISCUSSION OF MODERATION – and that rule is enforced.

I remember listening to quiz shows on the radio, as a child. This was in Australia. And the announcement at the beginning of the show always said “The judges decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into”. Roughly speaking, that’s the same as “You may think you have been treated unfairly – well the world is unfair, but you must learn to live with it.”

And, in my experience, that works best. All of the bickering just detracts from the discussion. If an Internet forum were grossly unfair, most people would abandon it. So that external “natural selection” of Internet forums is sufficient to keep them within reasonable bounds.


I hadn’t noticed that PS uses hiding rather than deleting. I agree it’s better and simpler than moving comments to another thread.

Regarding moderation complaints, I think people are entitled to know why a comment was moved or hidden. I’m ambivalent whether such discussions are best kept private.


I guess that’s true - most people vote with their feet. Is it not therefore worth allowing feedback so that unfairness or other issues can be addressed?