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New CosmoCoffee membership rule
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CoffeePot
Site Admin


Joined: 24 Sep 2004
Posts: 146
Affiliation: Site Administrators

PostPosted: May 22 2007  Reply with quote

Following a suggestion, as from today the administrators have decided to limit CosmoCoffee participation to people affiliated with academic institutions. Apologies to the few people who can no longer use the site.
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Anonymous






PostPosted: May 22 2007  Reply with quote

Words like violence
Break the silence
Come crashing in
Into my little world
Painful to me
Pierce right through me
Cant you understand
Oh my little girl

- Depeche Mode, Enjoy the Silence
(& a puzzled ex user)
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Anonymous






PostPosted: May 24 2007  Reply with quote

So, according to this new rule it is intended that a college porter with a college email account can participate whereas a retired academic who no longer retains the affiliation cannot?
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Thomas Dent



Joined: 14 Nov 2006
Posts: 28
Affiliation: ITP Heidelberg

PostPosted: May 24 2007  Reply with quote

I would like to know who made this 'suggestion', and why the administrators decided to follow it. To quote from an email I have just sent to 'coffeepot':

Quote:
I cannot see any valid reason for this action, which from my point
of view definitely diminishes the value of the website as a place for open
debate or exchange of ideas between qualified people. To put it another
way: if someone's conduct in a forum is neither offensive, nor irrelevant,
nor excessively ignorant, I do not think anything can be gained by
removing them.


In my institution we have cosmology coffee discussions, but we don't have someone at the door checking if everyone has their university matriculation certificate or employment contract.

At every decent sized conference I have been to there have been people from the press and industry and other organisations and I don't recall anyone requiring them to keep quiet during discussions.

Moreover, the rule is impossible to police correctly, it encourages people to give false or inflated affiliations if their current position is not 'academic' enough, and is quite easy to evade with perfect legitimacy since anyone who is even halfway intelligent can just write to a well-disposed professor and become an unpaid visiting researcher for the purpose of establishing an affiliation.

Yes, there ought to be some restriction on membership. Hopefully, it should be strongly correlated to the person's ability to discuss cosmology. An 'academic affiliation' rule is, obviously, extremely suboptimal. I suggest that the best way to judge if someone is worthy of membership is to see whether they can actually discuss cosmology in a meaningful way. If not, it should soon become obvious and the administrators then have clear and legitimate grounds for denying membership.
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Anze Slosar



Joined: 24 Sep 2004
Posts: 205
Affiliation: Brookhaven National Laboratory

PostPosted: May 25 2007  Reply with quote

Ok, I sent an e-mail to Antony a day earlier that might have been what he referred to as "suggestion", so I better say something now. The verbatim of e-mail is actually as follows:

Quote:

Hi Antony,

Hope this e-mail finds you well. I hear a lot of rumors recently in
Oxford about how cosmocoffee has been taken over by crackpots and
similar... I know I was against it, but I think that it would actually
be timely to think again about restricting access to people with
institutional e-mail and limit it to others unless they have 2 or more
articles published in journal with citation index >2 or some rule like
that... What do you think?


So, to my defence, I never argued for complete closure, just setting a fence. It is true that that an average PhD student wouldn't fulfil the above criteria for outsiders, but I don't think this is a problem. Outside academia it is much easier to get confused about things as there are no constant reality checks with your colleagues and so it is ok to ask for more. I also know that this sounds arrogant given that I am the author of quite a few posts on this forum that are actually wrong, but the fact remains that I did hear from several people in Oxford that they do not follow cosmocoffee any more, "because it has been taken over by crackpots". And I am sure that moderators would be more than happy to make an exception in some cases...
( Incidentally, Antony never replied. :) )
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Anonymous






PostPosted: May 26 2007  Reply with quote

Let me get this straight. A postdoc at Oxford, home to Roger "strings & inflation are bunk" Penrose, Subir "dark energy does not exist" Sarkar, Roberto "the anthropic principle is nonsense" Trotta and Nick "living in the Matrix" Bostrom, writes to Antony Lewis in Cambridge and complains about "crackpots" on CosmoCoffee... and Antony Lewis promptly takes action by disabling the accounts of unaffiliated users?

What can I say, more than "Oxford vs. Cambridge: 1−0"?
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Patrick McDonald



Joined: 06 Nov 2004
Posts: 17
Affiliation: CITA

PostPosted: May 26 2007  Reply with quote

It does seem bad on principle to ban people who take an alternative career path. Wasn't it once fairly common for "amateur" scientists to make big contributions?
Pat
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Thomas Dent



Joined: 14 Nov 2006
Posts: 28
Affiliation: ITP Heidelberg

PostPosted: June 01 2007  Reply with quote

Anze Slosar wrote:
I did hear from several people in Oxford that they do not follow cosmocoffee any more, "because it has been taken over by crackpots". And I am sure that moderators would be more than happy to make an exception in some cases...
( Incidentally, Antony never replied. :) )


I appreciate Anze's honesty, but I still don't think this is any good way to go about administrating a discussion forum. It also looks likely to me that the decision to exclude a small minority of people, based on an unclear and impossible-to-police rule, could have been taken for personal or political reasons. Without a meaningful explanation from the administrators (which has not appeared) the decision looks suspect.

We don't know who these complaining people in Oxford are, why they are so intolerant, whom they are calling a 'crackpot', and by what criteria they detect crackpottery (-as distinct from plausible rubbish published by academics?). Nor do we have any reason to believe that their complaints have substance, or should be acted upon. The claim that discussion is being 'taken over' by any group of users is a priori absurd. It is impossible for anyone to 'take over' a discussion forum - unless they use their power to silence other people. Hmmm.

It says right at the top of the FAQ that the administrators have the power to remove any 'inappropriate' post or user. That is surely the correct remedy if it happens that one particular user is posting in an excessively off-topic or ignorant way: either remove the offending posts, or if persistent remove the user. Not banning a whole group of users, most of whom have very few postings anyway.

Will any of the administrators crawl out from under their rocks to explain why the unaffiliated members who were perfectly happily accepted for three years here suddenly became 'inappropriate'? Can anyone point to posts by unaffiliated members which were clearly 'inappropriate'?

Members here ought to seriously consider if they want to be part of a 'community' in which throwing out small minorities for no clearly defined reason, based on anonymous suggestions relayed from influential institutions, is routine.

What kind of a discussion forum is it when we have to watch what we say in case someone behind the scenes in Oxford (or indeed anywhere) gets the idea that we are a crackpot and goes on the grapevine to the administrators to have us chucked out?
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Syksy Rasanen



Joined: 02 Mar 2005
Posts: 128
Affiliation: University of Helsinki

PostPosted: June 01 2007  Reply with quote

At the level of principle, I think the community should be open to outside voices - at least reasonable ones. (This could also be phrased as: membership in the community ought not to be determined solely by institutional affiliation.)

However, in the case of email lists or web fora, it is clear that some definition of the community has to be adopted in order to maintain some sort of focus for the discussion. (I am certain that I am not the only one with unfortunate experiences of open email lists, where everybody can join, which have been meant for serious discussion of a given topic, but which have been consumed by pointless asides due to a small number of vocal people.)

As a practical matter, I have found CosmoCoffee comments by people without institutional affiliation to have mostly been (to adopt Thomas' terms) irrelevant and excessively ignorant. They have contributed much noise but little anything useful. When deciding how to formalise the usually only implicitly defined notion of the cosmologists' community, I think it is meaningful to take this into account.

I have to say, though, that the way the membership rules are formalised should be unequivocal and not subject to arbitrary exceptions by the moderators. For a scientific web forum with hundreds of people, it is much better to have rigorous and fair rules, rather than vague rules which are subject to personal interpretation and action on a case-by-case basis (no matter who is doing the interpreting)!

However, institutional affiliation is probably not the ideal criterion. For example, it excludes people with previous academic experience who have retired or who are simply currently unemployed by academia. Perhaps something like current or past academic affiliation, or 2+ papers published in appropriate journals?
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Joe Zuntz



Joined: 22 Oct 2004
Posts: 9
Affiliation: UCL

PostPosted: June 04 2007  Reply with quote

Quote:
Perhaps something like current or past academic affiliation, or 2+ papers published in appropriate journals?


The latter is not a good idea - it would exclude new PhD students.
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Syksy Rasanen



Joined: 02 Mar 2005
Posts: 128
Affiliation: University of Helsinki

PostPosted: June 04 2007  Reply with quote

I was unclear: I meant that someone who satisfies either of the criteria would be eligible. (I think this was also Anze's suggestion.) If the paper criterion is included, the one of past academic affiliation is probably superfluous.
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CoffeePot
Site Admin


Joined: 24 Sep 2004
Posts: 146
Affiliation: Site Administrators

PostPosted: June 04 2007  Reply with quote

The administrators agree the basing membership purely on affiliation is not ideal. We intend to also allow retired/unemployed people with two or more publications in relevant refereed journals (ApJ, PRD, NJP, PRL, Phys Lett, MNRAS, JCAP..) and obviously relevant outsiders (e.g. Nature journalists, Arxiv administrators).
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Anonymous






PostPosted: June 07 2007  Reply with quote

CoffeePot wrote:
The administrators agree the basing membership purely on affiliation is not ideal. We intend to also allow retired/unemployed people with two or more publications in relevant refereed journals (ApJ, PRD, NJP, PRL, Phys Lett, MNRAS, JCAP..) and obviously relevant outsiders (e.g. Nature journalists, Arxiv administrators).
Have these new criteria been implemented, or if not when will they be?
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Thomas Dent



Joined: 14 Nov 2006
Posts: 28
Affiliation: ITP Heidelberg

PostPosted: June 26 2007  Reply with quote

Antony Lewis has sent me an email disclaiming the Oxford / crackpot theory and saying that the motivation for the decision was the amount of nonsensical posts that were having to be removed.

This would be a good reason to ban individual users who try to post nonsense - but not to act against a largish group of users, many of whom have not posted anything inappropriate at all.

It sounds as if admin is a little swamped by the task of sorting the sheep from the goats. (Not an easy one seeing as Brian Josephson and Frank Tipler have academic posts whereas Kenneth Nordtvedt usually gives his affiliation as a private company.)

I could take over a small part of it, as follows: if any user has a concise and constructive comment on a discussion (the mail quoted in discussion of 0706.1703 was a case of how *not* to do it!) but is unable to post it, I can quote it, with a statement that this was a comment I received by email. As for attribution, people would just have to trust me not to steal their ideas...
T
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Anonymous






PostPosted: August 25 2007  Reply with quote

CoffeePot wrote:
We intend to also allow retired/unemployed people with two or more publications in relevant refereed journals (ApJ, PRD, NJP, PRL, Phys Lett, MNRAS, JCAP..) and obviously relevant outsiders (e.g. Nature journalists, Arxiv administrators).

What's Plan B?
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