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  Discussion regarding the necessity (or lack thereof) of protecting bad manners

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

Since dimension10 started censoring the discussion in http://www.physicsoverflow.org/28188/ for being irrelevant to the topic I create here a new topic to make sure that my contribution is relevant. But it refers to the discussion there.

@RonMaimon: You defend your actions (to press dilaton to resign as a moderator) here:

[...] why such psychological pressure was applied. The moderator in question went about editing VK's posts, and didn't tell the other moderators about it, and left us to think that VK was crazy for claiming his material was vanishing. The result was very abusive, and abusive in a similar, but worse, way as moderation in stackexchange was abusive.
his comments were secretly edited by the moderator in question, who 
then deliberately hid this from the other moderators.
When you edit one person's comments and no one else's, when you don't tell anyone about it, it is not a theoretical issue.

and here:

I didn't think Dilaton needs to step down until Drake told me what it feels like to see such abuse as a user, that it feels like user contributions are not valued. Drake was adamant that Dilaton needs to step down immediately, and I came to agree with him

but I say (@RonMaimon @JiaYiyang @drake), citing my boss in heaven (Matthew 23:24 King James Version):

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

You protect the bad manners of members (whose effects are visible to the whole world) but are merciless concerning mistakes of a hardworking and dedicated moderator (without whom PO wouldn't even exist).  

asked Mar 19, 2015 in Conflict Resolution by Arnold Neumaier (15,787 points) [ revision history ]
recategorized Apr 2, 2015 by dimension10

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" (G. Orwell).

@VladimirKalitvianski: At present you are the most equal animal.


Please don't claim that your comments felt threatened because I "started to censor the discussion" - I stopped immediately after Dilaton reshowed everything (besides a comment by Ron which I later reverted the edit to, but Ron claims otherwise, I need to look into that later), and I made my reasons clear - it wasn't actually about the discussion being off-topic, it was in my opinion, but nevertheless, my motivation was to "try and expose Dilaton's political motivations". On hindsight I know this was a ridiculous idea on my part, and I shouldn't have done "pointy" behaviour, sorry, and Dilaton probably didn't have any political motivations as such.

3 Answers

+ 2 like - 2 dislike

I hate to bring this up and stir the muddy water again, but to make a readable answer, I have to do this recap, and I must apologize in advance to Dilaton for this recap that I never thought I had to bring up again in public:

Dilaton's edit of  VK's comment per se wasn't a big deal, the big deal was that even at the point where almost everyone(including Ron) was thinking VK was a lunatic and making things up, he/she still remained silent and just watched(it's really not that Dilaton didn't know what VK was referring to, Dilaton admitted himself/herself later that he/she didn't dare to take the responsibility in the beginning, but I'll concede that it could be partly due to Ron's aggressiveness), it was only after VK convinced Ron with screenshot and when all evidences pointed to him/her did he/she stand out and admitted the mistake. 

I think nobody would deny this is among the worst atrocities moderating crimes a moderator can possibly commit, you can't say the outcome is unjust. Of course, if there later established a unanimous mercy, then yes Dilaton wouldn't have had to resign, and this is the direction I tried to push to at the beginning, I think even Dilaton can't deny my such effort. However, once I realized this unanimous mercy was impossible, I had to push it to the other direction, i.e. the just direction instead of the merciful direction.

As for

You protect the bad manners of members (whose effects are visible to the whole world) but are merciless concerning mistakes of a hardworking and dedicated moderator (without whom PO wouldn't even exist).       

this is a unfair comparison, if you are talking about Ron, I have never liked it when he got the rude tone, but this is nothing atrocious compared to what Dilaton did. But yes I should at least try to remind him of manner(I remember doing so at some point during the “war” period, when urging for a peaceful resolution, but perhaps I should do it more often.); If you are talking about VK, he got very much the punishment(fairly or unfairly, I don't know, I never had the patience to thoroughly read through his theory) from the inbuilt mechanism: he got constant downvotes, and movement of his material to chat.

Nobody would deny the foundership and the absolutely important contribution from Dilaton, I often stressed it from time to time(publicly or in email exchanges, I don't remember). PO will be a shining trophy for Dilaton, and of course also for polarkernel and dimension10. And Dilaton still has the right to be re-elected after this stepdown, but after a period of time of course. I see no point of revoking the stepdown.

answered Mar 19, 2015 by Jia Yiyang (2,640 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 22, 2015 by Jia Yiyang
Most voted comments show all comments

Its not my coinage but a quote from a standard dictionary; I had given the link to my source.

Thanks for making the change. Not that I never disputed that your action was just (assuming the accusations you make were true - I have no intention to investigate this closely).

My point was and is that justice should never be an end it itself and if it gets out of proportion to the effect it has on the community, it is bad. In real life, there is a corrective that is not present at PO: People sentenced always have the right to appeal at a higher level, and even in grave matters, legal conflicts are preferably solved by settlements. Even in case of watergate this would have been best, too, but the factions didn't want to.

My main goal

It takes patient and continuous effort to work for unanimous mercy, if one is serious about it. I spent many, many hours in the last 10 days to work for unanimous mercy, and I expect that I'll succeed. 

was expressed here. The proposal you refer to was explicitly expressed to be the last resort should I fail:

In this spirit I propose that if a majority here still feels the continued need to punish that dilaton committed what appears to some as the worst atrocities moderator crimes a moderator can possibly commit, he should be reelected as moderator after a symbolic period of 1 day. 

@ArnoldNeumaier, that clarifies, thanks. 


 But you didn't consider it to be shameful to be teamed up with someone who did all the things so abominable in your view, at a time where he still had the strength to resist the mobbing of his peers to force him to resign? I am surprised about your wavering standards. So, yes, please step down from being a moderator!  By the way, where is the record that you were actually elected moderator, and by which margin?

You mean Ron? I dislike the rudeness, but rudeness is quite far away from offending my border line, as I claimed long time ago here. I am not inconsistent. OK, you mean Dilaton, I don't remember the exact timeline, but that probably happened when I thought when a unanimous mercy can be reached, and before I was convinced establishing moderator accountablity is very worthwhile.

Basically that comment resulted from a (perhaps miserable) attempt to build a bridge for peaceful communication. I got the nomination requests from both sides for several times(privately from dimension10 and openly from Ron) and refused for several times before that comment you quote. It was really an emergency measure, and I don't consider myself very good at this business. I'd be perfectly happy to resign if you mean it. 

Don't hurry. Even resigning should be done with care.

Most recent comments show all comments

@ArnoldNeumaier, I've posted the resignation claim.

I meant with unanimous just unanimous among the moderators, since it is these who must work together most closely. A divided leadership is disastrous. Having moderators with somewhat competing political interests is important for checking the power of moderators.

Given my observation during my short stay on the the moderator team, the moderation is working very well on a relatively decentralized structure. And it's strange to consider moderators as leaders of the site, their primary function should be more like janitors and technicians,  making the site organized instead of giving orders.

And I'd rather see moderators treat each other as colleagues instead of friends. 

@JiaYiyang: You are not counting my vote, in nominating you. You are also ignoring Prathyush's new support, and the support of others. You made a miracle of reconciliation happen by making a resignation promise from Dilaton, it healed the bad feelings on the site. As for "I wouldn't work with Dilaton", when you joined, it was not clear what would happen, and Dilaton agreed to step down for a symblic period, this was good enough to get by. But when there is backpeddling, it's wasn't a serious proposal, it was just a gimmick. Gimmicks are not what is expected from a moderator (or a user), you need to mean what you say.

The moderation is working well, because it is in balance. Every time someone steps up or steps down, the balance changes, and there is no guarantee it will work well in the future. Please don't spoil it, we have good new policies, and solid consensus on these, and the problems of the past can be healed completely if everything just goes as before, with a symbolic resignation, even if it is one day, so that it doesn't transpire that we have one person who is a single permanent moderator. 

+ 1 like - 1 dislike

Arnold, do you honestly think I didn't consider this? Do you honestly think anyone was after retribution? Are we a bunch of shylocks in your eyes? I personally initially just thought Dilaton should apologize, say ok, sorry, and move on. That's more or less what happened. I really didn't care about anything else, so long as the harrassment didn't happen again and the policy was still ok going forward.

But I was a moderator, and this is a moderator perspective on forgiving your friends. I had no user perspective on this, and Drake pointed out that the position was self-centered and moderator-centered, because it enshrines no-accountabiltiy at the highest level. He has a point about this. If Nixon does something bad, Nixon needs to resign. Drake also harbors no bad-feelings toward Dilaton (I really, honestly, don't either), but wanted a uniform policy of accountability in moderator actions. I couldn't disagree with this.

But you can't apply rules retroactively, so any accountability policy would not cover the period. So I thought it through. I came up with the best solution I could think of by thinking what would  we-both-know-who do? I thought, why not resign myself first? Even though I did nothing wrong in this instance. You know, take on the burden on myself first for any sins of the site. I figured, enough is enough, we moderators are an incestuous bunch. If I resign, ask to implement rotating modship like we talked about, others will take over, the problem will disappear, and accountability will happen.

This isn't really punitive, it's not retributive, and only my resignation was my idea, Drake thought it was madness. Now that people tell me about all the crappy stuff I did, I realize that it was the best thing I could have done, because I don't think I would hear about all the alienating stuff I did if I didn't resign.

I was following Drake's suggestion to enshrine moderator accountability, to make it clear to people like Drake that rules are not just things that only apply to ordinary users, that moderators aren't above the law. The rules should limit the people with extra powers more than ordinary users, not less. Removing modship shouldn't be that big a deal anyway, it's not like it's banishment, or shunning, and we all pretty much agreed to reelect Dilaton as mod after a symbolic period, because we knew there was no real ill intent in the actions, even Drake. Drake is not retributive either, he just wanted to make sure a good precedent of accountability was set up.

answered Mar 19, 2015 by Ron Maimon (7,730 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 19, 2015 by Ron Maimon
Most voted comments show all comments

Arnold, do you honestly think I didn't consider this? Do you honestly think anyone was after retribution? Are we a bunch of shylocks in your eyes?

No. I honestly think what I expressed in my OP - that when justice and mercy get out of proportion it is the justice that is to be blamed.

@Dilaton: These scares are shared by more than half of the users here, and by you too when we started. These fears have been justified by events at every single such site, they are not just my personal opinion, and you will find full agreement on these fears from any user that went through the experience of some months back.

this site was founded by a minority who fled from stackexchange, and within this minority, the opinion I gave was accepted. 

In spite of what you say here, this site was founded by dilaton, dimension10, and polarkernel. (Only the first two came from SE.) 

Most relevant is the fact that the founding document that expresses their goals and interests is the PO blog accessible from every PO page on the top right, and not the blog discussion you referred to. As already commented here

The site was made to be a continuation of SE-Theoretical-Physics, but moderated by physicists only. 

and the PO blog makes it quite clear that there were the only high priority goals. All other issues were peripheral in comparison.

@Arnold Neumaier the site was also founded on the principle of rudeness being allowed, and misunderstood geniuses like Ron allowed to be rude, without being oppressed by the wicked moderators at PSE putting politics before talent.

@anonymous: Freedom of speech is not an exception granted to those who have good ideas, it is something that needs to be granted to everyone, so that the good ideas percolate up, and are properly credited. Having good ideas in the past is not a good predictor for having good ideas in the future, because everything is different. The goal is to protect everyone's right to speak, not mine. If only my speech is protected, that is incredibly offensive to me. There's nothing special about me, it's demeaning and humiliating, because it is saying that I am defective in a certain way and need special consideration, like an autistic child with tourette's syndrome.

In India, they had a caste of untouchables. I guess you weren't allowed to touch the untouchables if you weren't yourself untouchable. But then they noticed that holy Hindu theologens, the wisest religious people, would regularly go out of their way to break this rule, and not discriminate against the untouchables. What was the response of the secular leaders? Did they say "hey, perhaps we should scrap this odious caste system?" Not at first, no. The consensus developed for a new rule: you can't touch the untouchables, unless you're an untouchable, or a holy Hindu person! They made a special exception. So you had to wait for Gandhi and Nehru to obliterate the caste sytem.

I am not a special exception, the tolerance of speech is a universal principle, for everyone. For academic physicists, anyone who is not an academic is untouchable in a discussion about physics, and this is no more justified than the Hindu caste system.

Most recent comments show all comments

The assumption that everybody agrees with you is completely unbased and unfounded. In fact, even though you always speak in a very intimidating and authoritative tone, this does not make you entitled to unilaterally (re)define the goals of the site, unilaterally enforce how the site should be run, or represent the official take of the site on important issues. What you so forcefully repeat everywhere, is just your personal opinion and point of view, not more and not less.

The overall purpose and goal of PhysicsOverflow (in short to be a revival of TP.SE and a physics analog of MathOverflow with a new reviewing feature included ) is stated for example in the official announcement on MathOverflow:


This has always been the mission of PhysicsOverflow, even though some people on the site always vigorously tried and still do try to redifine the purpose of the site to be something else.

+ 1 like - 1 dislike

Ron Maimon wrote in his answer that

Drake pointed out that the position was self-centered and moderator-centered,

Most people are self-centered and most groups that efficiently work together (as moderators should do) are group-centered. This is natural and not worth a complaint.

Apart from that, the only right position for PO-moderators is to be centered on the goals and the good of PO. 

we all pretty much agreed to reelect Dilaton as mod after a symbolic period, 

Famous old building and other things that are really priceless are often sold for the symbolic price of 1 Dollar or 1 Euro. In this spirit I propose that if a majority here still feels the continued need to punish that dilaton committed what appears to some as

the worst atrocities moderator crimes a moderator can possibly commit,

he should be reelected as moderator after a symbolic period of 1 day. Then both justice and mercy have had their right, and we all learnt from this unpleasant episode of PO which I hope will never recur.

answered Mar 20, 2015 by Arnold Neumaier (15,787 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 22, 2015 by Arnold Neumaier
Most voted comments show all comments

It is essential to have freedom of speech.

 Freedom of speech is already firmly implemented through the history feature, and my proposals do not change this. This means that there is no longer any strong reason not to pardon past transgressions now.

Insistence on justice for its own sake will only continue to strain the relations between those currently active on meta, without having any compensating constructive effect.

It is more essential than having Edward Witten or Gerard 't Hooft here.

This would be the case if the site were Freedom Overflow. But it is Physics Overflow, where freedom of speech is subordinate; quality and growth of PO doesn't depend on the precise extent of this freedom. 

Note that  we had already Gerard 't Hooft here and lost him almost immediately.

I don't know why you think he was driven away.

I only said that we lost him immediately. I hope that he didn't browse the site and read your Dynin review, or he'll never come back. 

 It wasn't discussed previously, I didn't break any rules,

This is the reason why we need guidelines for everything. No hard rules but guidelines that are expected to be kept by all, so that all can trust that things will bee handled in a way agreeable for everyone.

@RonMaimon (for the last few comments)

we can't legislate hurt feelings, 

yes, but one can appeal to both sides -  to the critics that they choose their language to minimize the danger of hurting, and to the criticized that they take the critique in a factual way and forgive any perceived verbal violence (whether intended or unintended).

but I would still write such a letter in private, except, as Abraham Lincoln recommended, I would not send it, I would trash it and start again with a polite expression of the same sentiment.

 This is an excellent idea.

A thief also covers up his actions until it is discovered that he was the thief - and it would be foolish to behave otherwise -, and it makes no difference to the crime.

But it's the cover up itself that was considered as the crime, we have repeated the point many times.

As for your comments on hurting feelings, wouldn't that imply it's always beneficial for every user to be a louder crying baby? There just has to be a boarder line beyond which feelings become secondary concerns. 

And what if the feelings are still hurt even the tones were polite? Again it's not hypothetical, in the email exchanges with Dilaton, at some point it was clear from his/her reply that I hurt his/her feeling by exerting pressure to him/her to urge the resignation to happen, and to agree with Ron, and I was not rude at all. Even today he/she still thinks what I did should count as inappropriate exhortation, and shall I start claiming that my feelings are hurt for being misunderstood? Just don't initiate this kind of game, it can easily go endless. 

Most recent comments show all comments

@ArnoldNeumaier: Regarding the moderator mailing list, and inter-moderator communications, I always assumed these are not private, because they are simply an extension of meta, to boring nitpicking details. If they are discussing sockpuppet investigation, or sensitive coding details, obviously they are private. But if they are discussing general issues of moderation, they are no more private in my eyes than a post on my wall or a private message here.

For this reason, I didn't consider messages of Dilaton and Dim10 as private, until Dim10 started prefacing every message with "this is private", and it got on my nerves. We don't have secret trials here and private moderator discussions often turn into secret behind the scenes trials. I don't see any need for this type of communication between moderators to stay secret. But as I understood that this was an anomalous position, and that there was an expectation of privacy, I hid the message, and apologized for it. It wasn't discussed previously, I didn't break any rules, nor was I in any way dishonest, despite Dimension10's claim. His complaint was that I didn't publish my previous rude emails too, which I would have been more than willing to do, as I wasn't ashamed of them. Now, considering hurt feelings, I would not repeat this, but I would still write such a letter in private, except, as Abraham Lincoln recommended, I would not send it, I would trash it and start again with a polite expression of the same sentiment.

Hurt feelings is something that happens whenever there is conflict, it's not something you can call "misconduct", as it cannot be the basis of any sort of uniform rule that can be enforced. It is a social compact, which is important in a different, soft, way. You know very well we can't legislate hurt feelings, and it is important to have honesty in moderator discussions, and allow diverging opinion, and without allowing some degree of hurt feelings, it is easy to self-censor any criticism away and produce barbaric consensus even when 8 out of 10 people would disagree with the consensus, just none of the eight want to hurt the feeling of the other 2.

The idea that moderation is supposed to be harmonious is offensive to my sensibilities, and hurts my feelings, because there are cases where moderators do things with extra power against users, and then saying that the moderators feeling are important is ignoring the users' feeling in far greater measure. Dilaton's feelings were not hurt as much as VK's feelings were hurt by the censorship. There was a choice of whose feelings to take into consideration, and when there is such a choice, I always choose the feelings of the side with less power. Generally, by default, everyone else on such sites chooses the opposite way, leading to abuse never getting corrected.

 But if they are discussing general issues of moderation, they are no more private in my eyes than a post on my wall or a private message here.

A wall post is public but a private message must be private (it is visible only to the writer and the recipient), else it is misleading the user.  

 I always assumed these are not private, because they are simply an extension of meta

You should check your assumptions - which are not always correct - with those affected. I don't know how moderator community is organized on PO, but if there is a moderator-internal public communication medium then it is clear that, in contrast, private messages about moderation issues are still private - the whole point of changing from public to private is to be able to discuss something without involving all.

And of course, moderation issues even when public among moderators must remain internal to the moderator community, and never quoted on meta. Only the final outcomes are for meta.

This is necessary to have the same options as one has in real life. It must be protected more carefully since unlike in real life, electronic communication is much more permanent than verbal communication.

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