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"....a purely hot-air line of thinking…."
Posted: 17 February 2009 10:14 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I left these forums for a time to think about them. 

It seems that each time someone comes up with an interesting thread respondents do one of two things: they either do what one of us called “a hot-air line of thinking” (see the TIME magazine thread) which basically seems to mean that we go off at a tangent from the stated thread and provide an unreferenced opinion having little to do with the original thread, inviting all following respondents to do the same, or we choose a weakness in the discussion (use of language, weakness of argument or statement etc.,) and criticize it, sometimes with surprising meanness and nastiness.  Rarely is a discussion processed to any sort of satisfying conclusion based on the initial intention of the thread.  Respondents almost never try to support a weak argument by suggesting a different way to state it to keep the original (thought) thread expanding.  Finally, respondents often respond in surprising ways - the “discussion” of Susan Jacoby’s book: quote: “Susan Jacoby’s book “Age of American Unreason” (Merged),” [note: it is supposed to be about the book] has these responses (my comments):

“I look forward to reading her new book.  I very much enjoyed Freethinkers.” Frankly, who cares?
“I have yet to read any of her books, but I do hope to get this one.” Frankly, who cares?
“I haven’t read this yet, but I saw it posted on D.J. Grothe’s Facebook page.  I think it would be cool if the moderators created an anti-intellectualism master thread with links to this thread and all related threads.” Oh, Yes! Why?

It also includes a bunch of long discussions about European intellectualism which has nothing to do with the book.  In fact most of the respondents appear not to have picked up the book yet - so why are they responding?  My own comment was merged by one of our genius moderators in spite of the fact that it takes a particular point of view (not part of the book, specifically, but with which I was toying and about which I hoped to get thoughtful comments from other members, but that intention was screwed up.  By the way I posted a full reference to Jacoby’s book and referenced her Freethinkers book in my child abuse thread several days before DougSmith’s thread as part of a Fundamentalist Education bibliography [Posted: 09 February 2009 11:39 PM] - I say this because, as I’ve said before; no-one reads the references [not the books, just the references] that are provided by some writers on this web forum and attempts to link them, even in their own minds - everyone seems to just blunder around putting out their personal opinions [and invective] - rather like CNN and MSNBC Political Commentaries).

Frankly the more I have to do with this site, the more it becomes apparent that it is controlled, regulated, maintained and responded to by a bunch of old, tired, opinionated, hot-air farts just like me.

I had hoped, given that the forums were part of CFI, that they would stimulate “new” thoughts and, perhaps some little action.  But they don’t even stimulate logical, on-the-topic discussions.  My old fart’s mind wanders (and it does), but the CFI forums keep reminding me how easy it is to drift off permanently.

How about trying a logical discussion about how to improve the discussions on these forums by just trying to keep on topic and help each other to process threads to some sort of satisfactory conclusion?  For those of you (and it must be the majority) who have not read Susan Jacoby’s book, let me quote a quote from her Introduction (pp xi):

“One of the major virtues of liberal society in the past, was that it made possible such a variety of styles of intellectual life - one can find men notable for being passionate and rebellious, others for being elegant and sumptuous, or spare and astringent, clever and complex , patient and wise, and some equipped mainly to observe and endure.  What matters is the openness and generosity needed to comprehend the varieties of excellence that could be found even in a single rather parochial society…..It is possible, of course, that the avenues of choice are being closed, and that the culture of the future will be dominated by single-minded men of one persuasion or another.  It is possible; but in so far as the weight of one’s will is thrown onto the scales of history, one lives in the belief that it is not to be so.” From Richard Hoftstadter, (1963) ‘Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” New York, Knopf.

Right now, I suggest, we seem to be emulating a process that is “... the domination by single-minded men ....” Why not try, consciously, not to do this, and figure out how we can do otherwise?

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Posted: 18 February 2009 09:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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EL, you contradict yourself: first you list examples of people wandering away from the topic, then you complain that the discussion is “controlled, regulated, maintained and responded to by a bunch of old, tired, opinionated, hot-air farts just like me.”

Yes, the discussions here are discursive. That’s a natural and (IMO) desirable attribute of discussions among educated people. Trying to get everybody to run down the path you want to go is fine if you’re dealing with immature minds, but when you’re dealing with bright people, they’re going to take the discussion in directions you did not anticipate. And that’s what’s so educational about this kind of forum.

Let me reverse an old tale. I consider discussions here rather like plopping an elephant down among a group of blind people and asking what they think about the elephant. Sure, each one says something that’s completely at odds with my own perceptions, but by giving their perceptions due consideration, I gain a larger perspective.

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Posted: 18 February 2009 10:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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it is controlled, regulated, maintained and responded to by a bunch of old, tired, opinionated, hot-air farts just like me

LOL

Well, maybe Occam…. wink

It seems, Ecrasez, like you’re the one interested in controlling the conversation, limiting it to what you deem wortwhile responses. Creating an open, public forum means allowing people to respond with their own thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Contrary to your assertion, we don’t tolerate “meaness and nastiness,” and we do make some effort to keep threads on topic, but we deliberately allow members to converse as they sit fit within the forum guidelines, since we don’t consider it in the spirit of free inquiry to decide by fiat what is or is not a worthwhile contribution. Personally, I don’t agree that the discussions are as seldom interesting or productive as you think they are, and I feel I’ve learned a great deal here. There is plenty of what I would label “chaff,” though we might pick different conversations to exemplify that label, but that’s the nature of the beast I suspect. Occam would like posts to be shorter, I’d like them to be less dogmatic and more polite, you’d like them to be more focused and directed to some “satisfactory” conclusion, and doubtless other members have other complainst about them. A community dialogue is of necessity a compromise, which makes no one ideally happy. If you feel it worthwhile to try, I would use your own voice and argbuments to try and influence the consensus in the direction you’d like it to go. This probably won’t get you exactly what you want, but I’d bet it will get you closer than simply announcing we’re all a buch of old farts not staying true to the spirit of passionate, free inquiry.

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Posted: 18 February 2009 11:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thanks for your responses, Chris and Doctor Vet (to digress - my youngest daughter is in her final two years of clinical at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine; she got her white coat last month - am I proud!)

Each of you wants to maintain the status quo, it seems.  I admit I contradict myself, but I have no wish to control anything.  I understand what the purpose of a public forum is, but I’m suggesting that we get a little closer - perhaps leaving the discussion of the whole elephant aside, and focusing on just its toenail!). 

Isn’t there room for improvement?  Presumably, when a member starts a thread they hope that it will keep respondents on task, studying the topic offered.  By “control” I mean something like this, for example: when a newish member starts a thread the responses to it seem, too often, to be comprised of an almost joyous descent of older members onto the topic like vultures descending on a fresh kill - if they don’t tear it apart immediately, they eat it up and then disgorge the half digested remains of their own interests as digressions from the thread.  Intelligent people do tend to enjoy the process of open discussion but, I suggest that intelligent discussions also require discipline if they are to be really meaningful - and there seems to be little thoughtful discipline here most of the time.


I also think that these forums are over-moderated and that the monikers “administrator” and “moderator” are too loosely used; too often apparent in discussions making it difficult not to align them with “expert”.  Why can’t moderators and administrators have second IDs which they would use when they are being regular people, and when they use their titles we then know they are being “official”.  Moderators’ and administrators’ functions are so stringently defined as to be fully controlling and without required member input that they have become the little gods that we despise (but I may not question this, according to the regulations)?  Now, I’m just waiting for Occam….. “Damn it EL!” (quoted directly from a past response.)

Is there no room for improvement?  Can we not request that respondents try to stay on subject and on task in each thread?  Is there no room for thought about how to improve the discourse?  Perhaps we could have a permanent thread for suggestions for improvement?

Your responses do not suggest that improvements could be discussed, or need to be discussed.  Indeed, each of your responses follows my description of the ways that discussions are often carried out on these forums.  On the face of it, mckenzievmd, your suggestion that I should try to maintain some sort of direction on my own threads seems a good idea, but I’ve learned that there are two problems with this - first, one tends to get into a meaningless argument in the middle of the thread which discourages other respondents from continuing their involvement, and secondly, there are threads which are not mine which I find very compelling until the usual hot air digression begins and if I object then #1 starts again.

I’m a noxious old fart myself and I’d like to try to open this discussion further if you two don’t object.  I really would like to hear other members’ opinions about how we might improve the forums and whether they think any of my noxiousness at all here is worth thinking about.
Otherwise I will stop eating my raw vegetables, and simply be old.

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Posted: 18 February 2009 11:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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FWIW, moderators and administrators post only as individual members unless they specifically post in blue type, which distinguishes personal from official responses. I certainly don’t have the feeling anyone views me as a “little god.” grin Members frequently and vigorously disagree with me, mods and admins included, so I’m not convinced that we are somehow stifling dissent or ideas. This topic is already open to anyone who wishes to participate, and I am skeptical of the implication that somehow if people don’t, or don’t agree with your position, that it’s somehow because of the malign influence of intimidating moderation.

Certainlhy there is always room for improvement, but if you label my initial resonse as just the sort of problem post that you’re concerned with, then I don’t understand what you want. My response was on topic, not hostile, and made an attempt to suggest positive steps to advance the main idea of the OP. How is this not exactly what you seem to be saying you want? You asked for thoughts on how to improve discussions, and I gave you an honest and focused response. Was it problematic just because I didn’t agree with you?

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Posted: 18 February 2009 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I appreciate your musings on how discussion here might be more productive, and I think that the questions you raise deserve consideration. I suppose that the difference between us is that I rather quickly shrug my shoulders and say “Que sera, sera” (or, to use the darker Russian expression, “nichivo”). The suggestions you have hinted at so far do not seem likely to work, IMO. However, I’m open to other ideas, even though I am not optimistic about their chances.

I have participated in BBS discussions for more than 20 years now (no kidding!). I can easily put my finger on the things that reduce their effectiveness. The single most important factor is to keep things civil—and that’s really difficult to do. I try really hard to maintain a stiff upper lip, but there’s a Second Law of TalkDynamics that requires that the slightest slip in wording lead to a slightly pointed phrasing that leads to a mildly irritated response… all the way to screaming and yelling. I have on several occasions allowed my frustration with difficult disagreements to surface. So I know how easy it is for intelligent people of good faith to end up snarling at each other. This forum has the most mature and reasonable membership I have encountered anywhere on the Internet. I have enormous respect for the ability of this group to foster serious disagreement while preserving good will. We definitely want to do everything we can to foster and advance this group talent.

In thinking about how to do so, I am reminded of Johann Huizinga’s great classic, Homo Ludens. Perhaps its thoughts on formalized conflict might be illuminating. Hmm…. must mull…

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Posted: 18 February 2009 02:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Chris Crawford - 18 February 2009 02:18 PM

This forum has the most mature and reasonable membership I have encountered anywhere on the Internet. I have enormous respect for the ability of this group to foster serious disagreement while preserving good will. We definitely want to do everything we can to foster and advance this group talent.

Glad to hear it. FWIW, it’s not an easy task to achieve that end, but that’s one end we’re aiming for.

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Posted: 18 February 2009 02:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I do have one concrete suggestion for improvement, based on experiences at different message boards.

Allow the person starting a thread to act as a sub-moderator of thread content—not with special powers but just as a matter of the board culture.  Let that person specify the purpose of the thread and exercise judgment (in conjunction with the moderators) as to whether sub-topics run too far off topic.  The moderators supply whatever muscle is needed to support that culture.

The board often operates in this fashion, more or less.  Making it a bit more formal (as by mentioning the local custom at some point in the forum guidelines) may prevent a few of the inevitable flare-ups and off-topic comments.


I’ll admit that the idea may clash with the desire here to consolidate like topics into one massive and unified thread.  smile

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Posted: 18 February 2009 02:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Bryan - 18 February 2009 02:44 PM

I do have one concrete suggestion for improvement, based on experiences at different message boards.

Allow the person starting a thread to act as a sub-moderator of thread content—not with special powers but just as a matter of the board culture.  Let that person specify the purpose of the thread and exercise judgment (in conjunction with the moderators) as to whether sub-topics run too far off topic.  The moderators supply whatever muscle is needed to support that culture.

The board often operates in this fashion, more or less.  Making it a bit more formal (as by mentioning the local custom at some point in the forum guidelines) may prevent a few of the inevitable flare-ups and off-topic comments.


I’ll admit that the idea may clash with the desire here to consolidate like topics into one massive and unified thread.  smile

What would you suggest should happen when one of these threads are started by a ‘troll’??? blank stare I can see a few problems with your suggestion.

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Posted: 18 February 2009 02:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I don’t want this thread to wander here; I expect Ecrassez would have a problem with that. wink

I’ll just say that as an informal rule I have no (immediate) objection to it. Will discuss with the other Mods.

[ Edited: 18 February 2009 02:58 PM by dougsmith ]
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Posted: 18 February 2009 05:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Ecrasez l’infame! - 17 February 2009 10:14 PM

I left these forums for a time to think about them. 

It seems that each time someone comes up with an interesting thread respondents do one of two things: they either do what one of us called “a hot-air line of thinking” (see the TIME magazine thread) which basically seems to mean that we go off at a tangent from the stated thread and provide an unreferenced opinion having little to do with the original thread, inviting all following respondents to do the same, or we choose a weakness in the discussion (use of language, weakness of argument or statement etc.,) and criticize it, sometimes with surprising meanness and nastiness.  Rarely is a discussion processed to any sort of satisfying conclusion based on the initial intention of the thread.  Respondents almost never try to support a weak argument by suggesting a different way to state it to keep the original (thought) thread expanding.  Finally, respondents often respond in surprising ways - the “discussion” of Susan Jacoby’s book: quote: “Susan Jacoby’s book “Age of American Unreason” (Merged),” [note: it is supposed to be about the book] has these responses (my comments):

ELI,in reference to the Time Magazine thread,I hope you are not refering to any of my posts.The title being “Time Magazine:Can Faith Heal?“I’ve stayed directly on topic there.I offered my laymans opinions on the subject,which are founded in some sort of real context,(otherwise why the heck would Time magazine print it?)Perhaps you don’t like my slant,which seems to show that faith can be attributed to some “healing” effects.In any case I haven’t seen any posts to your own thread in that category since the opening.So who knows what your “problem” with the Time Magazine thread really is?

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Posted: 18 February 2009 07:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I think one of the strengths of this forum is the wide variety of approaches and ideas the posters have.  While each of us finds some problems with various of the posts, it is one of the things we have to put up with if we hope to get the benefits of the forum.  While McKenziedvm and I have different styles, and likes and dislikes, we usually agree as to content.  I believe we all have other posters we particularly enjoy reading (Chris, George, and Asanta are three I can think of off hand) and some we don’t care to read.  For example, Ecrasez, I try to avoid reading any of your posts unless those following it make me have to go back to fill in the blanks.  You may feel the same about mine.  However, it doesn’t mean that either of us should be censored.

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Posted: 18 February 2009 07:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Occam - 18 February 2009 07:13 PM

I think one of the strengths of this forum is the wide variety of approaches and ideas the posters have.  While each of us finds some problems with various of the posts, it is one of the things we have to put up with if we hope to get the benefits of the forum.  While McKenziedvm and I have different styles, and likes and dislikes, we usually agree as to content.  I believe we all have other posters we particularly enjoy reading (Chris, George, and Asanta are three I can think of off hand) and some we don’t care to read.  For example, Ecrasez, I try to avoid reading any of your posts unless those following it make me have to go back to fill in the blanks.  You may feel the same about mine.  However, it doesn’t mean that either of us should be censored.

Occam

Occam, how are you able to sound sensible and nasty in the same breath?

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Posted: 19 February 2009 08:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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dougsmith - 18 February 2009 02:53 PM

I don’t want this thread to wander here; I expect Ecrassez would have a problem with that. wink

I’ll just say that as an informal rule I have no (immediate) objection to it. Will discuss with the other Mods.

Following McKenzievmd’s (Moderator) comments such as: “FWIW, moderators and administrators post only as individual members unless they specifically post in blue type, which distinguishes personal from official responses.” and “Contrary to your assertion, we don’t tolerate “meaness and nastiness,“ and we do make some effort to keep threads on topic, but we deliberately allow members to converse as they sit fit within the forum guidelines, since we don’t consider it in the spirit of free inquiry to decide by fiat what is or is not a worthwhile contribution.” Your suggestion that you will discuss Bryan’s suggestion with other moderators/administrators - all of these comments seem to be made by moderators/administrators - or are you making them as members?  They aren’t in blue.

My meaning here is that I stand by my earlier assertion that moderator and administrator involvement in these forums is not clear-cut - they slip from one to the other without thought or consideration for participants, they are often assertive and it is unclear whether they are commenting as members or as moderators/administrators (particularly those like “damn it EL” Occam).  Even your suggestion that you will take Bryan’s suggestion to a Mods meeting is tainted and it is already clear that it has less than a chance of being accepted because of the comments (official or not - I don’t know) by moderators/administrators already made in discussion.

I would like to press my suggestion that Moderators and administrators be given “member” names under which to operate, so that when they use the one identifying themselves as Moderators or administrators they are identified as “moderating and administering”, and by the member name as being regular participants.

By the way I would recommend, Dougsmith, that you wait until the thread has served its purpose before taking Bryan’s suggestion to your meeting.  There may be other worthwhile suggestions to add to your list as you slip from your membership likenes into your likeness of administrator.  In fact perhaps i could suggest that if any member takes the trouble to make what they consider to be a serious and carefully considered suggestion for improvement of these forums, that this suggestion should automatically be taken to a next group meeting.  It should not be up to individual moderators/administrators to make decisions about the viability of such suggestions; individual bias, personal feelings, a lack of individual understanding and knowledge can all be a part of an individual’s decision to reject a suggestion - it is far better as a process and a recognition of the individual value of the member’s opinions and participation, to deal with suggestions formally in a group.  The decision of the group should then be followed by a private email to the member, thanking them for their concern and their suggestion.

[ Edited: 19 February 2009 09:30 AM by Fat Man ]
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Posted: 19 February 2009 08:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Oh, come on now, Ecrassez! Think of these forums as a nice house party thrown by the moderators. You won’t see their blue ink until you start tapping on their aquarium.  wink

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Posted: 19 February 2009 09:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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dougsmith - 18 February 2009 02:22 PM
Chris Crawford - 18 February 2009 02:18 PM

This forum has the most mature and reasonable membership I have encountered anywhere on the Internet. I have enormous respect for the ability of this group to foster serious disagreement while preserving good will. We definitely want to do everything we can to foster and advance this group talent.

Glad to hear it. FWIW, it’s not an easy task to achieve that end, but that’s one end we’re aiming for.

I have also been involved in BBS development and discussions since 1981.  I must ask, Chris, is your assessment based on any standardized assessment process or scientific reasoning, or is it simply a subjective impression?  I’ve been on this forum for only a short while and it seems to me that it depends, largely, on who is doing the debating as to whether there is a fostering of “serious disagreement while preserving good will,” as the successful application of “one end we’re aiming for”.  I’ve seen some miserable responses between members here, and have been the brunt of what I consider to be moderator group victimization, too.

As with most bureaucrats (administrators) it is very difficult to suggest that they implement changes.  They are comfortable with what they consider to be a working model and would rather not stir the pot even when improvements can and should be made.

I have a question for you, Dougsmith.  Technically, can this board develop secondary threads?  For example, if during a discussion there is a new diversion or the introduction of another, clearly different thought, can this board link the new direction to a new but branched thread so that the original thread can continue while the secondary thought is investigated by members as a new but associated thought?

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