As a retired forum software developer and regular user of forums since they first appeared on the Internuts I have way too many opinions about this, so I thought I’d afflict you with a few….
This is a forum for free inquiry. One of the hallmarks of humanism and skepticism is free inquiry.
Free inquiry does not require that pretty much anyone be allowed to say pretty much anything. As example, the rest of your website beyond the forum limits participation to those writers considered to be qualified to address the focus of this site.
Forum software does not require that pretty much anyone be allowed to say pretty much anything. That publishing model can be applauded for it’s democratic inclusiveness, but it’s also spelled the creeping death of forum culture. “Free inquiry” as typically conceived within forum culture is really a synonym for “low quality”, “declining participation”, “going nowhere” and the typical conclusion of the process is that the forum owner becomes fatally bored with their own forum and pulls the plug.
Here’s a solution that can be considered by any forum owner who wants to create a forum that isn’t pretty much exactly like every other forum on the net.
The Magazine Model
Instead of the water cooler publishing model (almost anybody can say almost anything) consider the magazine model.
With the magazine model anybody can submit an “article” for publication, but only those writings which reach some standard set by the editors get published. In forum culture this publishing model is seen to be some kind of wacko criminal anti-free speech absurdity but it is in fact the way the vast majority of media has been managed for hundreds of years.
The magazine model is essential if a website wants to attract and engage the best thinkers and writers on the subject of the site. Such quality folks are not going to waste their time endlessly scrolling through petty personality conflict ego battles and the like.
The water cooler model and magazine model could be combined on a single forum. A magazine model section could be created at the top of the forum as a coveted prestige area. Members are invited to raise their game and submit their best work, and if they succeed in meeting high standards they earn greater prominence and credibility. Lower sections of the forum can keep the water cooler model, which is perhaps gradually phased out over time.
Or, a probably better solution would be to keep the existing forum as it is, and start a new forum dedicated to quality using the magazine model. This would give a better chance of attracting and keeping the kind of writers who could make such a project a success.
Forum software is one thing. Publishing models are another. There’s nothing about forum software which requires an admin to use the exact same publishing model as every other forum on the Net. If a site owner wants to stand out from the crowd and rise above the norm, they have to do something different than everybody else. On intellectual type topics, that something else should be a relentless focus on quality thinking and writing.