Moderation in all things

The Evolutionary Psychology list used to be one of the most [“interesting”:http://dir.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/08/30/evpsych/index.html?pn=2] places on the Internet. It was thoughtful, disciplined, multi-disciplined, and wide-ranging. There was seldom time to read all of it, but it was necessary to skim if you wanted to keep up with the world. The real glory was the fact that most of the postings were not from members. They came from the moderator, Ian Pitchford, pointing out interesting areas of new research.

In retrospect, now that we know what blogs are, it worked more like a blog than a mailing list. In fact most successful blogs have a ratio of comments to posts much higher than 40/60, if they allow comments at all.

But the founder got his PhD and moved to the States. At first this showed in a loss of focus: articles about the horrors of American life and foreign policy started to appear. Then it showed in a loss of interest or simply a loss of time. In any case, it seemed to me that less and less was posted on cutting-edge science. A co-moderator appeared, a man called Robert Karl Stonjek. The journalistic function of the list, where Pitchford read vast quantities of crap so we wouldn’t have to, fell behind. More and more it became a place for people to talk to each other.

Amid the waffle, something nastier began to appear. Some of the “scientific racists” like “JP Rushton”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Philippe_Rushton had always been members of the list. But their remarks had been moderated, and their view opposed. Now they began to flourish: the last straw for me was a long discussion in which Rushton claimed that Black African mean IQs are somewhere around 70; that this represents a genetically established and ineradicable difference, and that anyone who claims that the test results can be explained by poverty or racism is unscientific. Comment on the list seems to be running about 75-25 in favour of this crap. One man[1] has posted a detailed and comprehensive refutation. Almost everyone else is either silent or claiming to be persecuted by the politically correct.

“Marek Kohn,”:http://homepage.ntlworld.com/marek.kohn/ who left the list six months ago, when there was the last outbreak of this kind of argument, sent me the perfect epitaph. %(sane)“I suspect we may be seeing a game theory lesson: any sociobiological internet group will be invaded by scientific racism, which is an ESS.”%

fn1. I can’t link to it because the list is closed; but his name is Jason Malloy.

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2 Responses to Moderation in all things

  1. Emma says:

    As a fellow member of the evo-psych list I couldn’t agree with you more, Andrew.

    When I first discovered the list a few years back it was a fantastic experience, like having a personalised psychology newsletter AND being a fly on the wall in a seminar with some prominent researchers (I was a student at the time and it was thrilling to see a post by an academic whose paper I had just read for class). I had my email filters set up so that all of Ian’s posts would go straight into one folder, and that bunch of readings would set me up each day with the knowledge that I was getting a pretty good overview of ‘hot off the press’ psychological research and news of relevance to psychologists. His broad definition of relevance meant that there was also plenty in there for someone like me whose principal area of research isn’t evopsych.

    Ian’s work inspired me to set up my own list to disseminate news, research and other snippets on psychology and crime (my principal area of research). It is modelled entirely on Ian’s approach (eclectic, broad definition of relevance, items posted without comment so readers can make up their own mind). It is humble compared to Ian’s effort, but subscribers seem to appreciate the news service without the often pointless ‘conversation’ that goes on in other crime-related lists.

    However, running my own list has made me realise what a mammoth task it must have been for Ian to have done all this on his own. I’m not surprised he shared and now seems to have handed over the moderation, but how we now miss him. Keeping a moderated list like this going is a tough job, and it is, presumably, unpaid, so I won’t knock RKS, except perhaps to note that he does spend a large amount of time replying to other posts – something that Ian very rarely did. I have to agree with you about the ‘discussion’ part of the list too, Andrew, I often delete huge threads without reading – just by glancing at the contributors to the thread you can often tell exactly what’s going to be in there, and experience has taught me that it’s not usually worth it.

    Sorry so long – but you commented on something that has saddened and bothered me for a long time. Are there any constructive solutions? The only ones I can think of involve finding another ‘Ian’ – someone who is prepared to do the vast amount of news sifting each day in order to find the nuggets of gold, without feeling the need to comment themselves on everything that gets posted – or finding some funding to pay someone (an RA? a keen postgrad?) to spend a couple of hours a day keeping the list going to the same high standards that Ian set. The UK Crime and Justice weblog, for instance, is funded by a charitable trust (http://www.ukcjweblog.org.uk/).

  2. acb says:

    No. That’s why journalists are worth all the money we’re paid. Ian P was, essentially, doing what a good edtior does. It’s skilled, time-consuming work, for which there needs to be some incentive; and it demands talent, as well as a capacity for hard work. What made his efforts interesting was that most editing involves dealng with people, and inspiring them. He had, so far as I know, no problems with people or with money. He simply had to select and arrange his material, which he did superbly. We learn from his departure how difficult even that part of an editor’s job is.

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