TSZ – The Future

Dr Elizabeth Liddle conceived, created and grew this website to the success it is today. It was a new idea. Many other sites can be found where a particular worldview is being promoted or a particular sphere of interest draws people of like interest. TSZ was intended to address the problem that Lizzie saw first-hand at other sites I and many others watched her participate in. Her being turfed from one well-known ID blog was partly the catalyst to trigger this venture.

However Lizzie’s inclusiveness, readiness to put all her energy into taking all at face value in an attempt to achieve real understanding must have sapped her enthusiasm and she has been an elusive figure her in recent times. A huge distraction, I believe is that some participants don’t share her optimism that listening can be as effective as talking when promoting ideas. Dialogue has always been Lizzie’s aim; attempting to see and understand a different viewpoint.

To that end she framed a mission statement, supported by rules of engagement to facilitate productive discussion between people of widely differing opinion. She decided to be a benevolent dictator, inviting participation from anyone with an opinion to voice, news to bring for discussion, scientific discoveries to announce and explain, philosophical arguments to popularize, even religion to promote or criticise. Personally, I think this was a brave and worthwhile effort in view of the increasing polarisation that pervades modern politics and that entrains extremism, insult and ad hominem rather than reasoned argument.

During Lizzie’s absence there has been some dilution of these ideals and the signal to noise ratio has declined. I hope that Lizzie returns soon to reaffirm the ideals she set out originally. I suspect that the wrangles over moderation, argument over moderating decisions, enforcement and non-enforcement of rules don’t encourage her return. So I’m proposing a solution.

I invite ideas from anyone who shares Lizzie’s ideals on dialogue (or who doesn’t) to propose in the comments any suggestions that they think would help to improve how TSZ operates. The rules could possibly benefit from being collated in one place, as later amendments are scattered over several threads. What about a competition for the most concise and elegant summary of the aims, rules and guidelines? On her return, Lizzie could pick a winner, or she could cherry-pick from the best efforts and this would also save her time and hassle that she could better spend setting the World to rights.

So, ideas please!

My first plagiaristic attempt at a rules summary:

Attack ideas and not the people who hold them!

Another idea that Neil has suggested is to add a forum format. I also think this would be good to try. In fact I already did set up a forum using the Elkarte template to act as a demonstration. I invite all interested members to play around with the functionality. Anyone wanting to tweak it, just PM me for the permissions.

Edited 26/01/2018 17.41 CET to add an on-line poll:

Is it a good idea to have a poll...
  • occasionally? 33%, 3 votes
    3 votes 33%
    3 votes - 33% of all votes
  • on other issues? 33%, 3 votes
    3 votes 33%
    3 votes - 33% of all votes
  • on making changes at TSZ? 33%, 3 votes
    3 votes 33%
    3 votes - 33% of all votes
  • never? 0%, 0 votes
    0 votes
    0 votes - 0% of all votes
Total Votes: 9
Voters: 3
January 26, 2018 - February 28, 2018
Voting is closed

This is an example of the "Democracy poll" plugin in action.

380 thoughts on “TSZ – The Future

  1. ALurker:
    On my way out the door, here are the new rules I recommend:

    Remove Alan and Neil as moderators.

    Hold the new moderators to a higher standard.

    Have consequences for not supporting claims.

    Have consequences for repeating bullshit after people point out that it’s bullshit.

    Encourage participation by high quality commenters.

    Discourage participation by low quality commenters.

    (If you say you can’t tell the difference or that it’s all subjective, you’re in the low quality group and probably dishonest to boot.See the rule about repeating bullshit.)

    Buh-Bye again.

  2. John, to fifth:

    No, I have no clear idea what you’re talking about. Here you drop a few vague and disconnected hints, and I wonder if that’s on purpose. Do you not want me to know what you’re doing?

    For those like John who are curious about fifth’s latest secretive attempt at design detection, here is an amusing clue.

  3. Alan,

    To bring things back on track, let me try and clarify what I am asking.

    There are two questions: “what if?” and “what next?” and the second is contingent upon the first.

    You are not here to dictate or control the discussion. We are talking about the future of TSZ, and it’s not “off track” to talk about moderator abuses and how to prevent or mitigate them in the future.

    Your “straw poll” was an abuse of moderator privileges.

    You and Neil guanoed comments that were perfectly on-topic for this thread. That was an abuse of moderator privileges.

    You, Alan, closed the Moderation Issues (4) thread. That was yet another abuse of moderator privileges. You had disgraced yourself, and you were hoping, by closing the thread, that people would be less likely to learn of your misconduct and the humiliating apology you were forced to offer.

    The abuses have been rampant. It couldn’t be more obvious that if we are to have a scheme in which moderators exercise significant power, then we need moderators who can be trusted with that power. You and Neil have shown us that you are not worthy of that trust.

    We can’t simply ask for volunteers and hand them the keys. That approach has proven to be disastrous.

    That’s why I am in favor of schemes that strictly limit moderator powers. There’s simply no good reason to give moderators the amount of power they currently have. The evidence shows that it was a terrible mistake.

  4. Some people here have expressed the view that guanoing is somehow vital to TSZ, preventing us from descending into a chaos of flame wars. I haven’t seen any evidence for that claim. It seems to be an article of faith.

    I would like to draw their attention to some facts:

    1. Alan Noyau-ized my FMM/Bus thread. It did not descend into chaos, but rather continued just fine for a couple of weeks before petering out.

    2. Alan Noyau-ized ALurker’s “Do Atheists Exist?” thread. It, too, is proceeding just fine, with a vigorous discussion but no chaos.

    3. When Alan and Neil are absent, TSZ does just fine. Alan’s recent trip to England demonstrated that.

    4. The experiment in which guanoing was dramatically reduced, being done only at the request of the “injured” party, was a success, as Alan himself acknowledged.

    Given all the evidence, why cling to the notion that guanoing is somehow vital?

    Why, at a site called The Skeptical Zone, should we ignore the evidence and hew to an article of faith?

  5. Alan,

    You have got to be kidding. You’ve disgraced yourself through dishonesty and abusive moderation, and now you expect the readers to believe what you’re telling them about the “straw poll”?

    You’re the same guy who got caught closing the Moderation Issues (4) thread to hide your disgrace, and you expect everyone to believe you when you report the poll results?

    You actually expect them to believe that the poll results were wonderful for you, but you simply declined to mention it at the time? Or at any point thereafter, when your fitness as a moderator was question? Simply because no one asked you? Come on, Alan.

    Or that after selfishly imposing yourself on the entire readership, shoving the straw poll in their faces in hopes of assuaging your personal insecurity, you declined to mention the results because you thought that no one would be interested? That’s absolutely ridiculous.

    Do you really believe the readers are stupid enough to buy all of that, or is this just a desperate Hail Mary pass on your part?

  6. And let’s talk about the poll itself.

    First, it was irrelevant, because a moderator’s job is to enforce the rules, not to win popularity contests or to be swayed by public opinion. Second, it was an abuse of moderator privileges for personal benefit.

    Third, it was about as fair as a North Korean election. Consider:

    1. The announcement was made by Alan himself, and the replies were to go to him directly.

    2. Alan himself would tally the results. (No conflict of interest there! No, sir! Just a Fox in the henhouse.)

    3. The people receiving the “straw poll” had already seen Alan abusing his moderator privileges, not just in the sending of the announcement, but in the events leading up to it. The following exchange had occurred that same day:

    keiths:

    What is your justification for moving that comment to Guano? Be specific.

    Alan:

    Because I can, Keiths.

    4. So this guy, who had just shown himself to be a vengeful and spiteful idiot, and who had the power to screw the readers the way he had screwed me, was now asking them “Do you think I’m unfit to be a moderator?” And their replies were going to be personally identifiable. Gee, no pressure there. I’m sure everyone felt absolutely free to reply honestly.

    The whole thing was a sham, and for Alan to claim now that the results were favorable, but that he just neglected to mention them at the time (or at any time thereafter, until now) stretches credulity beyond the breaking point.

  7. Alan Fox,

    Thank you for setting up the experimental forum TheSkepticalForum.org. Whether it prospers, only time will tell.

    Just to clarify matters, I presume you are the owner of that forum, and you are experimenting with ways to run and invite discussion.

    UD was an advocacy blog, it wasn’t an environment that invited dissenting views. I found that out the hard way. Panda’s Thumb is an advocacy blog as well, imho, but doesn’t have thought policing like UD. TSZ on the other hand is more a debate venue that invites conflicting views to argue their case. That is highly valuable, and that is the niche it fills on the internet landscape. The people here have advanced a lot of my personal knowledge and clarified my understanding of the topics.

    A blog however, with the posts being on the front page for a limited time isn’t amenable to issues that take a long time to explore. For example, it may take days to get a data run or find a literature reference, and then days more to pursue it. That just isn’t mechanically compatible with a blog format as it would be with a forum format. Also forum formats allow more branching off into to other topics without being disruptive to the front page (since there really isn’t much of a front page).

    I would like to make it possible for people to criticize (and thus clean up technical mistakes) in my published work. On the other hand, I don’t want to clog up the TSZ blog with my editorial sessions.

    Your moderation has been excellent, and I especially welcome criticism from people like Allan Miller, Rumraket, John Harshman, Tom English, Joe Felsenstein, Faded_glory, etc. That sort of criticism won’t be easy to solicit if I have my own creationist forum, whereas I’ll at least have a chance to do so by using TheSkepticalForum. I may advertise (like say in Sandbox) any topics I’m actively trying to get comments on.

    One of the most successful discussion for me personally at TSZ was the Nylonase discussion. Another was the Drifting Weasel project that went through several incarnations over a few months.

    I’m mentioning that here since I will be migrating some of my discussion at TSZ over there.

    I can’t thank you enough for your tireless efforts, Alan. Thanks for all of your efforts. I hope you will find some interesting reading in TheSkepticalForum. God bless you.

  8. stcordova,
    Regarding the forum, I agree with you regarding the advantages and disadvantages of blog and forum formats. Ideally they could complement each other. I am still hoping that Lizzie will soon find time to rejoin TSZ and that she might consider incorporating the forum into TSZ.

    In the meantime feel free to try the forum out.

    Regarding ownership, the forum is hosted on some spare webspace that is on an annual contract till June. The domain name registration cost me 1€ for the first year.

  9. newton,

    I think the likehood of the plan is pretty low, but if it was implemented I was serious about the options.

    You’re telling us you were actually serious about the following?

    Perhaps each tag color coordinated for different rules violations , not that any actual rule would be need to be violated to tag a comment because that would stifle the free and honest ability to comment by moderation.

    Choosing different moderators could radically change the content of the thread so I suggest being able to choose a specific moderator per thread to customize each thread.

    And of course ease of switching moderation.

    Moderation as an art form,I like it.

    With a few tweaks this may make blogs great again

    Tags color-coded to represent which rule was violated, according to the particular citizen-moderator who flagged it? Seriously?

  10. keiths, to DNA_Jock:

    Heh. What “deranged assessment”? Be specific — this oughta be good.

    Jock:

    This assessment:

    You’re nursing a grudge — it’s obvious — but that doesn’t entitle you to flout Lizzie’s rules and abuse your moderator privileges. You’ve shown us again and again that you cannot muster the minimal self discipline required to manage your emotions and do your assigned job… You’ve got the power, and that’s all the justification you think you need. Lizzie’s rules go out the window and you abuse your privileges in service of your personal grievances. It’s a pitiful display.

    You are unfit to be a moderator, Alan.

    Want to guess what DNA_Jock carefully excised from that quote? Here’s the full quote, with the part he omitted in bold:

    Alan,

    You’re nursing a grudge — it’s obvious — but that doesn’t entitle you to flout Lizzie’s rules and abuse your moderator privileges. You’ve shown us again and again that you cannot muster the minimal self discipline required to manage your emotions and do your assigned job.

    This exchange was far more revealing than you intended:

    keiths:

    What is your justification for moving that comment to Guano? Be specific.

    Alan:

    Because I can, Keiths

    .

    That’s the problem, in a nutshell. You’ve got the power, and that’s all the justification you think you need. Lizzie’s rules go out the window and you abuse your privileges in service of your personal grievances. It’s a pitiful display.

    You are unfit to be a moderator, Alan.

    Gee, I wonder why Jock cut those parts out of the quote.

  11. Think about that, Jock. You sank to a Mung-like level of quote mining in a (failed) attempt at saving face and hiding your mistake.

    Grab yourself by the shoulders, give them a good shake, and ask yourself: Is that the kind of person you want to be?

  12. You know, Jock, it would have been a lot smarter to simply admit your mistake rather than stooping to quote mining.

  13. Okay, if I tilt my head to one side and squint reeeally hard, I can somehow see how poor keiths thinks I quote-mined him, given that I obviously did not distort his meaning.
    Of the four definitions of quote-mining that keiths helpfully provided here, there’s only one that could conceivably apply, the RationalWiki one:

    Quote mining (also contextomy) is the fallacious tactic of taking quotes out of context in order to make them seemingly agree with the quote miner’s viewpoint or to make the comments of an opponent seem more extreme or hold positions they don’t in order to make their positions easier to refute or demonize.]

    It is true that when, responding to his specific “this oughta be good” request, I quoted his “deranged assessment”, I snipped the “Because I can, keiths” bit. Why did I do that? To be concise, or because it wasn’t actually part of his deranged assessment, or to paint keiths in a more extreme light? Dunno, maybe a bit of all three, although the final motivation seems a mite, er, redundant. Dishonest bugger that I am, I provided both ellipsis to denote the edit, and a link to the original.
    I’m still having difficulty squinting enough to see the “taking quotes out of context” aspect, though. I think the context was pretty clear. If that’s the keiths-approved definition of a quote-mine, so be it. But in that case, I’m having a hard time finding an instance of keiths quoting someone that ISN’T a quotemine. For example, the comment I was replying to when I originally incurred the Almighty’s ire: definitely quoting Alan without context in order to make him seem more extreme. And, naughty boy, no link to the original provided — I had to supply that.

    What, specifically was my “mistake” this time? My claim that no-one supported you on that thread. Or my comment that your assessment was deranged?
    ET fix link

  14. Christ, Jock.

    You accused me of making a “deranged assessment” of Alan, and then you excised precisely the part of my comment that showed otherwise. (And of course you failed to mention any of the other evidence that Alan was abusing his powers in the service of a personal grudge.)

    You clearly have a chip on your shoulder, like Mung, and you’re clearly willing to resort to sleazy tactics, like Mung.

    Here’s a hint: If you want to be respected, don’t model yourself after Mung.

  15. Reminder, this thread is intended to discuss ideas and contingencies for the future of TSZ.

    We have the Moderation Issues thread for specific complaints about moderating decisions, we have Sandbox for anything under the sun, Noyau for flaming and the option is open for any member to start a new thread on any subject they think will be of interest.

    ETA “of TSZ” (though solutions that might bring about World peace and universal understanding would be welcome, too!)

  16. After a spectacle like that, the no-guano proposal looks even better than before.

    And there’s additional evidence to consider. Recall that Alan has declared two threads to be extensions of Noyau, with no guanoing. One of them was my FMM/Bus thread, back in September. The other was ALurker’s Do Atheists Exist? thread, on January 11th.

    Both were contentious threads; Alan’s hope was that they would descend into chaos, thus demonstrating how important guanoing is to TSZ. It didn’t happen.

    My FMM/Bus thread went on for a couple of weeks and 300+ comments. No chaos. (Alan neglected to mention that, since the results weren’t what he was hoping for. That’s why he was so eager to repeat the experiment on ALurker’s thread.)

    ALurker’s thread has continued for a couple of weeks, and is still going. 450+ comments have been posted since the Noyau-ization. Is there chaos? Nope. Substantive discussion continues.

    It’s a beautiful demonstration of karma. Alan abused his moderator privileges, hoping to prove a point about the necessity of guanoing. The experiments backfired on him, showing the opposite of what he was hoping for.

    And we have even more evidence, as I mentioned above:

    3. When Alan and Neil are absent, TSZ does just fine. Alan’s recent trip to England demonstrated that.

    4. The experiment in which guanoing was dramatically reduced, being done only at the request of the “injured” party, was a success, as Alan himself acknowledged.

    The no-guano proposal has wide benefits:

    1. It benefits Lizzie, who has complained about the difficulty of recruiting moderators. Under the no-guano scheme, she only needs admins, not moderators. Because the duties are far less onerous, admins should be much easier to find.

    2. It benefits commenters, who no longer have to suffer abuses at the hands of Alan and Neil.

    3. It benefits readers by keeping discussions flowing smoothly and dramatically reducing the amount of moderation meta-discussion, leaving the focus on content, which is what TSZ is about in the first place.

    4. It also benefits them by maintaining the continuity of discussion. Awkward gaps won’t appear in threads, and readers won’t have to go to Guano to get the full story. They also won’t have to guess exactly where each guanoed comment came from.

    5. It even benefits Alan and Neil, who have been endlessly complaining about their workload. Under a no-guano scheme, they’d only need to perform admin duties. No need to read threads, guano comments, and respond to moderation issues and complaints.

    6. It requires no software changes.

    7. And of course it’s in line with Lizzie’s desire to avoid censorship, not controlling what people read or write.

    Given the evidence, I think it’s worth a sitewide trial. All it would take is Lizzie’s approval. As I wrote earlier, to ALurker:

    Just to be absolutely clear, I am not suggesting the elimination of all rules. Just those relating to the guanoing of comments.

    Second, I am not claiming that it’s an “optimal solution.” We don’t know what the optimal solution is.

    What I am claiming is that judging by the evidence to date, it looks far better than the current scheme and is worth a try. Moderation has always evolved at TSZ, and I doubt that anyone thinks that the next scheme we settle on will be the final one.

    If a no-guano approach actually turned out to be worse than the current approach, we could reverse it. If it turned out to be better, but with room for further improvement, we could tweak it.

  17. keiths:

    All it would take is Lizzie’s approval.

    Alan:

    That is a statement of the obvious.

    …says Alan, who turned two threads into extensions of Noyau, against their owners’ wishes — and without seeking Lizzie’s approval, of course.

    The same guy who says this…

    But Neil and I are the stewards of Gondor. Whilst we could, in principle, make policy changes we cannot (should we even wish to, a separate point) make such changes without agreement from Lizzie…

    But we are stuck with what we have and neither I (nor Neil I assume) are authorised or prepared to make major changes until the King should come again.

    …but will completely contradict that when he thinks it’s to his advantage:

    Lizzie is an absolute monarch, and she has delegated that absolute power, in her absence, to Neil and myself.

    No principle, no consistency. Just whatever’s convenient for Alan at the moment.

    Yet more evidence that “no-guano” is worth a try.

  18. I love this fight. May it go on forever. I mean, there really neither is, nor could be anything more important than this guano biz. If Lizzie isn’t available, I wonder if we could get somebody at The Hague to take it up.

  19. walto,

    I love this fight. May it go on forever. I mean, there really neither is, nor could be anything more important than this guano biz.

    Speak for yourself. I think guanoing is a huge distraction. If we get rid of it, the focus will be back on the thread topics, where it belongs.

  20. Alan,

    I’m on board with the idea of obtaining Lizzie’s approval to any changes.

    That’s an interesting circumlocution. But as you know, I was asking whether you were on board with a sitewide trial of my “no-guano” proposal.

    You and Neil have both stated a desire to get out from under the time demands of moderation duty. Neil has even gone so far as to say this:

    ALurker:

    Remove Alan and Neil as moderators.

    I would be okay with that. And I expect that Alan would, too. We would be happy to get our lives back.

    The “no-guano” proposal would give you and Neil your time back.

    Are you on board with a trial run, Alan? Neil?

  21. Alan,

    And any idea how to obtain that?

    Again, yes.

    Now answer the question. Are you on board with my proposal?

  22. keiths:
    Alan,

    Yes.Are you on board with my proposal?

    If it involves changes here, without Lizzie’s approval, no. You, I, anyone – we are all free and able to establish a venue more in line with our own preferences. I still like Lizzie’s original idea of a venue that encourages understanding across wide differences of view.

  23. Alan,

    If it involves changes here, without Lizzie’s approval, no.

    What part of this…

    All it would take is Lizzie’s approval.

    …are you pretending not to understand? You responded to it — twice.

    You know perfectly well what I’m proposing: a trial run of the “no-guano” proposal, with Lizzie’s approval.

    Are you on board with that? Neil?

  24. keiths: You know perfectly well what I’m proposing: a trial run of the “no-guano” proposal, with Lizzie’s approval.

    If Lizzie wants to go with that, there is no need for my input.

  25. Alan:

    If Lizzie wants to go with that, there is no need for my input.

    I am asking for your input. Why are you afraid to say?

    You and Neil say you want your time back. This proposal gives it back to you.

    Are you on board with it?

  26. keiths:
    Alan:

    I am asking for your input.

    It’s a trap!

    Why are you afraid to say?

    When did you stop beating your wife. I’ve written plenty here to make clear my own views on how TSZ functions. Above all, it functions best when Lizzie is here.

    You and Neil say you want your time back. This proposal gives it back to you.

    I begrudge the time wasted with you in endless arguments over moderation. I don’t begrudge it otherwise.

    Are you on board with it?

    It doesn’t matter. No changes without Lizzie’s say-so on this blog. I’ve listed above the practical alternatives I see, depending on what Lizzie decides. I don’t think that we can continue as we are indefinitely.

  27. Alan,

    It’s a trap!

    What are you talking about? I simply asked you whether you were on board with my proposal.

    You started this thread to talk about the future of TSZ. I am proposing that we test the “no-guano” scheme.

    Are you on board with my proposal?

  28. Neil,

    We’re talking about how to improve TSZ.

    You said you’d “be happy to get your life back.” Are you on board with my proposal?

  29. Quite amusing that in a thread about the future of TSZ — one that Alan started himself — neither he nor Neil is willing to say whether they are in agreement with my proposal for the future of TSZ: a trial of the “no-guano” scheme.

    Why the hesitation, guys? My proposal gives you what you say you want.

  30. I’ve determined what you say you want by reading what you say you want.

    Now, be brave and answer the question. Are you on board with my proposal?

  31. Alan,

    If you already know, why ask?

    I don’t already know. You’re a disgraced moderator with a record of dishonesty and a penchant for contradicting yourself. Your past statements cannot be trusted.

    I am asking you whether you’re on board with my proposal, in a context where it is more difficult for you to lie.

    The fact that you’re wriggling and squirming to avoid my question isn’t exactly helping your reputation for trustworthiness.

  32. Keiths,

    Not that you asked, but : No, I am not on board with your no-guano proposal.

    But not to worry old chap, you don’t need to get Lizzie’s, or anyone else’s approval:
    Just find a youtube video and start commenting on it.

  33. keiths: The whole thing was a sham, and for Alan to claim now that the results were favorable, but that he just neglected to mention them at the time (or at any time thereafter, until now) stretches credulity beyond the breaking point.

    Why? Nobody expressed the least curiosity till TomMueller mentioned it in passing. I’ve shared the count of responses and the fact that nobody who replied agreed with your statement. I agree with your criticism that it was not a poll, (not even a straw poll) but I didn’t intend it to be.

    But, no matter! I’ve installed a plugin called “democracy” which is an on-line poll. It’s quite flexible, allowing all logged-in members to agree to a list of questions, and responses are not restricted to a single choice. Members can also write-in a response of their own.

    Whilst I’m still hoping and fairly confident that Lizzie will return at some point, i see no harm in conducting a little market research. Would you like to suggest some questions to submit to the membership?

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