Moderation on LtU

I thought more about the issue of moderation of LtU. I think a reasonable compromise would be to let me moderate the topics I created myself -- this means mostly removing posts I find insulting or otherwise unfit for a polite, constructive discussion. This is both less work than trying to moderate a whole website, less opportunities for making bad choices (those that strongly dislike moderation can think of it as restricted damage), and it makes a kind of sense (if you think of LtU as a distributed blog, as it purported to be at the beginning, letting authors moderate their own blog posts is something reasonable).

Would the LtU community agree with this compromise?
(If so, I can try to find what are the technical buttons that need to be pushed to provide a Drupal-98 moderation interface.)

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I agree that it is a

I agree that it is a reasonable compromise. That being said, I think it is a bad idea. I am simply not convinced that the things complained about rise to the level of requiring moderation. I think conversation is better than moderation. Seems to me that most issues boil down to one or two individuals who are not playing nice, and they can either be ignored or --if nothing else works-- kicked out. Just my 2 cents. Others may feel differently, of course.


The problem of the "if nothing else works" is that it requires a consensus that, by nature, does not particularly depend on the sensitivities of anyone. I don't want insulting comments on my submissions (and I won't submit new material until I get guarantees I won't have them "on average"), but I know that what I consider unacceptable is okay with many other people, and thus that it probably doesn't constitute a case for throwing people out. (I would totally remove marco's insulting or passive-aggressive-ironic comments, that does not mean I am confident he should be banned.). Kicking has a much higher decision cost, and before that happens many people can be unsatisfied for a long time.

Yes, my main goal is to

Yes, my main goal is to convince you that some of the things you consider insulting you can live with. But of course sensitivities are different and cross-cultural written communication is often not the best medium to overcome such differences. I think discussing these issues is a helpful process. Hopefully by the time the discussion ends draconian measures such as moderation become unnecessary. (BTW: as you can see I regard moderation as much more draconian than kicking a single individual out, and upvoting even worse than moderation.)

Living with

Yes, my main goal is to convince you that some of the things you consider insulting you can live with.

I can personally live with many insults, but that does not work for LtU contributions: we post about the work of other people, and cannot judge which insult of their work they can or cannot live with.

First, I should have written

First, I should have written that is is my *hope* to convince you. Sorry.

I have yet to encounter serious people who are unable to live with the type of mild insults you mentioned. Some people say that can't when they mean that in a particular case they don't /want to/ for other reasons altogether. Which is fine and totally up to them, but I am not going to change what I think works fairly well because this happens one or twice a decade nor would I conclude the insult was graver than what I would otherwise have considered it to be. Your appreciation of the situation is different, and maybe more correct of course.

I have yet to encounter

I have yet to encounter serious people who are unable to live with the type of mild insults you mentioned.

I think the first impressions of authors who haven't posted here before are more important than you seem to imply. I agree mild rudeness is fine if LtU is already widely known in academia as a place for serious discussion, and so skepticism couched in rude dismissiveness is a sort of challenge to defend a work. I don't think that's the case though, and LtU would just as likely simply be written off by busy authors as simply another 4chan/digg/etc. that isn't worth engaging.

This isn't a problem if we're discussing a blog post, since such authors are already engaging criticisms in the social networking sphere (like some of the posts we've had here discussing Will Cook's work). Since most LtU posts are for academic work, it's engaging the academic authors that's of more interest.

I'm not sure moderation is the answer either, but I am sure that the status quo is far from ideal.

Can you give three examples

Can you give three examples of this rudeness you (plural) keep talking about?


I'll try to create three good examples for you. Give me a week.


The exemplar case that convinced me that the current state of LtU affairs is unsatisfying is the Composite Replicated Data Types thread, where marco was repeatedly insulting both before and after I explicitly brought up the form problem -- I generally believe in "soft moderation", that is users making remarks about behaviors they don't like, assuming that in most case that is enough to steer the discussion to a consensual course.

marco kept behaving in a defensive way, including in threads that had not been initiated by myself. My sarcasm detector clearly flags this post as negative irony in this context (but because the form was not insulting, someone unfamiliar with the context of the previous discussion would not have minded; that is, this post is harmless in itself). It is interesting that I would never had dared to post this paper on LtU myself, partly because I would be wary of this kind of reactions.

The former discussion that made me more sensitive to the problem of immoderate discussions on LtU was in the Pycket thread, where Josh Scholar had a rather startling way to present Racket, including in a discussion with one of the people working with Racket. That said, I did not engage then and would not have used moderation powers if I had had access to them on this thread. I think Josh Scholar's intervention was too rough and insensitive, I believe it is partly wrong and uninformed (we already discussed it in other recent threads), but it's mostly just odd.

Samuel Johnson on criticism

"He that writes may be considered as a kind of general challenger, whom every one has a right to attack; since he quits the common rank of life, steps forward beyond the lists, and offers his merit to the public judgement. To commence author is to claim praise, and no man can justly aspire to honour, but at the hazard of disgrace."
Johnson: Rambler #93 (February 5, 1751)

"The diversion of baiting an author has the sanction of all ages and nations, and is more lawful than the sport of teasing other animals, because, for the most part, he comes voluntarily to the stake, furnished, as he imagines, by the patron powers of literature, with resistless weapons, and impenetrable armour, with the mail of the boar of Erymanth, and the paws of the lion of Nemea."."
Johnson: Rambler #176 (November 23, 1751)

Is Johnson relevant?

Johnson writes about a medium of discourse that is nothing like today's forum posts. And from a different time, when "the sport of teasing other animals" was perhaps not quite so disreputable as to be a poor contrast to any sort of critique of what a writer wrote.

Today's forums are more like debates in a bar. You don't know the others, their names, their educations, their professions, the sort of manners they are accustomed to, their preexisting agendas, except as they unfold in front of you. Your antagonist did not have to be proven worthy by any process. This environment means that speakers/writers are not necessarily opening themselves to your harshest replies, while at the same time they are not necessarily well prepared with evidence or rhetorical skills.

I'm no historian, but I imagine if Johnson had been the subject of a published critique he might have thought to himself, "I'll pamphlet that guy's behind so hard ..." Probably in a different vernacular. The two writers probably had both been "liberally" educated specifically for engaging in and winning debates, and might have had a way to become personally acquainted if they chose to. In any case, this is the context I think that second quote might come from.

Of course, the bar room debate analogy doesn't work perfectly. For example, this post has a topic paragraph.


(I wasn't sure whether it would be appropriate to elaborate on I thought of that quote, so thanks for this interesting engagement.)

Furthermore, the context of criticizing the authors of a cited reference is again different for another reason. If this is an academic work, it would be wrong to assume that their authors published it from the sheer pleasure of exposing their writing to the world. For example, they may be students that feel unsafe about their work, but are encouraged (and, in fact, obliged) to do so as part of their formation.

(You hinted at this, but they may also be used to cultural norms that are fairly different from some of the LtU members; the world of research and programming language design today is probably more diverse than english eigtheen's century literary circles.)

18C = 21C

I cannot agree with you, Sir or Madam. The 18C was remarkably like the 21C: the anonymity (half or more of Johnson's works are known to be his solely from internal evidence, as he neither signed nor acknowledged them), the scurrility (of two poets: "Sir, there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea"), and the sharp-witted insults ("Johnson having argued for some time with a pertinacious gentleman; his opponent, who had talked in a very puzzling manner, happened to say, 'I don't understand you, Sir;' upon which Johnson observed, 'Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.'") I scarcely think you will find the like of this on LtU: as the Internet goes, we are fairly civil.

Johnson himself, however, belonged to the all-publicity-is-good-publicity school of thought: "Why now, these fellows are only advertising my book (he would say); it is surely better a man should be abused than forgotten."

I scarcely think you will

I scarcely think you will find the like of this on LtU: as the Internet goes, we are fairly civil.

I agree we are generally more civil. That doesn't mean we couldn't be more civil still. ALso, scathing critique from your peers is to be expected. What evidence does an author first encountering LtU have that members are peers, and not just another ignorant group ranting against something of which they know little?

Only past LtU threads, a context that such authors don't have, which is why the politeness that isn't always necessary amongst peers, is more important on LtU.

Evidence & rhetorical skills

We scholars must have both evidence and ability to defend it — that's what you need to write a paper that convinces reviewers; Johnson is spot on for that. Producing that evidence is a necessary part of your research; learning those communication skills is (or should be) part of your training, at least to some extent.

But you learn to do all that in a professional and civil context. Most of us couldn't deal, say, with Reddit's aggressions, or with actual political debates.

The question, hence, is what context should LtU be like.


Thanks for providing your input on these questions.

I do not know why you are so strongly opposed to moderation. Tou are the only person that answered my question in this thread directly, and other indirect opinions seemed lukewarm to negative as well. I will assume that it sets the consensus: LtU people do not wish to have some threads moderated.

The alternative you proposed is to kick people out. Given that marco seems unwilling to change his habit of rudeness (even on my posts only), will you kick him out -- or "put him on probabation"? Can I trust that, if people were to behave in a manner I find similarly unacceptable in future posts, you will do it again, reliably enough to discourage such behavior?

Symptoms of anti-intellectualism

FWIW, I'd be fine with mild moderation. But ultimately, that is just addressing the symptoms. The underlying problem is the rise of anti-intellectualism: almost all discussions on LtU these days are dominated by a handful of people, they tend to have their personal agenda, and they tend to not value academic research, or make the effort to understand it, despite the fact that that is what was supposed to be LtU's topic. To some degree, that seems to be the kind of fate that all Internet communities share as they grow. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of an example where such a process has ever been reverted successfully.


I am generally optimistic, and I believe that with a bit of effort we could have conversation standards that are acceptable to everyone (including future members). (I don't think we could achieve this without an actual mean to enforce that those standards are broadly respected, when "soft moderation from the people" fails.)

Besides, there are several sides to LtU: it also has value as a radio transmitter of interesting links, not only as a discussion place. Throwing both away would be a waste, I think; I see value in LtU discussions, but I would also be content if I could have "just sane enough" discussions to reasonably dare transmitting links.

I think if it was just about the forum I would have moved to another place by now, but there is an inertia, and a synergy between both aspects, that makes it hard to replace -- without at least trying to get a workable compromise.

I don't know about reverting the process, but I know it can be prevented: the r/haskell subreddit has a mix of very academic content and non-academic content, and it managed to remain a welcome place for both kind of contents, discussions, and members. It also has strong values of respectful discussion (and some moderation, but it mostly isn't necessary), much better than what I am surprised to realize that LtU has today.

Like Andreas, I'd be fine

Like Andreas, I'd be fine with some moderation as well. I don't think we need very much. What I most certainly wouldn't be fine with, though, is what you suggested in your original post, which is frankly ridiculous.

If someone posts something in response to one of my posts that I find offensive, I am one of the two people least capable of performing moderation in a reasonable way. And that's assuming good faith on my part - if we assume bad faith, that I am pushing an agenda, what is to stop me from "moderating" all other viewpoints out of existence?

Any other volunteers?

Your objection is reasonable and in general I would agree. Of course, I assume I am not in bad faith, and able to actually distinguish things I disagree with and things that are problematic on the form (which are, in most cases, not answered to me directly).

I would be happy to let someone else moderate my own topics, provided they are effective enough to discourage the behaviours I find unacceptable. The reason I proposed to do the job myself is pragmatic: this is (a bit of) work, and I don't know who would voluntarily do it, so I'm offering to do it.

Would you like to propose yourself as a moderator (of my threads only)? You don't post much on LtU, so I don't have a mental picture of your own assessment of discussions in general, but the few intervention I remember are extremely reasonable¹. I would happily take you on probation. Or Matt M, dmbarbour, or John Shutt, to name a few of the frequent posters.

(This is of course quite hypothetical given than Ehud seems strongly opposed to moderation and has, of course, the legitimity to decide.)

¹: And this is how we should judge other LtU members, by looking at what they wrote on the website.

Another point of

Another point of information: Since we have users on probation we also have a few members with permissions to moderate these posts. If anyone wants to join them, you know the drill. As for my views on moderation: that's not the issue, I think. If there is consensus that it is a good thing, let that consensus reveal itself. Changing constitutions is not meant to be easy.

I am still waiting for more examples of problematic behavior, as was promised. I must say that perhaps because of the academic discipline I currently inhibit (philosophy) is very confrontational I think the messages from marco that you singled out to be not very concerning. I simply don't see them as egregious as you do, and I think discussing this may be helpful. Reasonable people may disagree. I think this sort of thing can get very personal and people have different sensibilities. For example, I personally find Hewitt way more of a problem but I refrain from putting him on probation.

A little less conversation, a little more action please

Suggestion for policy:

- If someone posts something rude, particularly in response to a third party article, it should be called out in a subsequent post, possibly with [moderation] in the title.

- In extreme cases, the [moderation] post should call for non-response from the community until the rudeness is remedied. Of course without tooling this requires community cooperation.

- Obvious trolling behavior (for example in response to [moderation] posts) should result in user probation.

Would this satisfy everyone?

Isn't this essentially the

Isn't this essentially the norms codified in the policies document? I agree that more enforcement by the community is a good thing.


The policies document has this passage:

We encourage regular and respected members to let other posters know when their posts violate the policies or spirit of LtU. Such posts should be polite, pointing out the relevant site policy if appropriate. Avoid engaging in argument, and in particular, don't try to use policy enforcement to win arguments. If you, as an LtU regular, are unsure about your objection, it is best to mention it publicly. Publicly stating such objections helps us all to get a better sense of what kinds of posts are eliciting negative reactions, and if necessary, discuss the issues and perhaps refine the written policies. Note that not every minor infraction requires a response — rather, it is a consistent pattern of infractions that require attention.

I think this was the right approach. Regulars just need to be reminded to speak up.

Blind trust

I like this policy and I think it is the best thing to use when it works (I gave the example of r/haskell, where I think this works very well.) This is the approach I followed when I was unhappy with marco's post (except I formulated by message in term of my own unsatisfaction with the form, instead of "policy" which feels a bit like invoking authority), and I think it failed miserably: there was little or no support from other LtU members, marco continued to act as before.

What you are saying is basically: "but trust us, it will work next time... or next next time". I could give it a try, but I'm a bit sceptical. Do you think that the fuss made about moderation would be enough to remind the value of making the "soft moderation" model work better?

My personal assessment of the situation would rather be that most of the current LtU members do not value "civility" or shun "bashing" highly enough to invest time and effort into enforcing this policy.

My personal assessment of

My personal assessment of the situation would rather be that most of the current LtU members do not value "civility" or shun "bashing" highly enough to invest time and effort into enforcing this policy.

If that is the case, we are doomed either way.

My impression is that the discussion is helpful and that many agree to the age old norms on LtU. I suspect (based on the silence) that the specific remarks by marco that initiated this were judged by other in addition to myself to be less severe than you took them to be. I think it is good to clear that up.

I also think that anyone who visits an online forum (as well as any other venue) knows that some members of the audience may not be as civil as the rest. That's life, and we know how to deal with it for the most part. So some level of noise is reasonable and not really a cause of concern. Judging whether a threshold is crossed is not easy, for sure.


I'll take the optimistic route and follow Matt M's advice: post links, and hope for the best. That does not mean I lowered my personal standards of which forms of conversation I find acceptable.

I suspect (based on the silence) that the specific remarks by marco that initiated this were judged by other in addition to myself to be less severe than you took them to be.

I think you are correct. It is a bit frustrating that the "soft-moderation only" option is so inflexible to difference in appreciation. If it turns out that the community repeatedly considers acceptable things I do not, I will stop participating to LtU.

There's a spectrum of

There's a spectrum of acceptability. Given the recent exchange, I'm confident that there will be some things the community finds more acceptable than you do. I'm hopeful that the things you find intolerable will rise to the level that most members of the community will be OK with enforcement, though. I do think it's reasonable to require a higher standard for comments addressing a third party work. But I think soft moderation should probably work fine.

"One or two individuals"

Isn't there enough experience elsewhere contradicting you? That is, few disruptive users are enough to kill a community. (I certainly have that feeling).

Though I might be biased because I read too much from Jeff Atwood, Discourse's inventor, and many people here dislike that philosophy.

I see three kinds of

I see three kinds of problems that have sometimes arisen in recent discussions here.

  • Straightforward rudeness. Not as widespread or problematic as you might think. Positive measures — interpreting in a positive light, not responding in kind to negativity (or perceived negativity), occasionally alluding to what one is doing in allowing for differences of perspective, etc. — are likely to suffice in many cases. Simply shunning subthreads that go really sour also helps to keep such things from getting out of hand.
  • Spamming of fringe ideas. I'm not talking about merely advocating fringe ideas. Spamming them is something different: starting new topics and injecting non-sequitur references into other discussions, treating criticism as a sign somebody has failed to read your talking points so you should repeat some of them. Although there is some shortfall of consideration for others, and for the forum, in this behavior, this is most likely to get out of hand when combined with the third item on my list.
  • Contrasting cognitive strategies. I'd read about this many years ago, but rarely if ever seen such a vivid demonstration of the effect (possibly I've been selective about the cognitive strategies of the company I've kept). Based on the cognitive skills a person is and isn't naturally good at, they tend to adopt a cognitive strategy that exploits their strengths and compensates for their weaknesses. People with opposite cognitive skills (each is strong on what the other is weak on) tend to adopt cognitive strategies that clash painfully with each other. Case in point: Foundations of mathematics tends to attract people who are strong on picking up mathematical structure and the flaws in mathematical arguments, and people of that sort tend to favor critiquing a mathematical argument purely on its own immediate merits (cutting to the chase, as it were). A clashing strategy emphasizes massive historical investigation of writings on a topic; very effective and highly valuable in some settings, this may present a problem when applied to foundations of mathematics, because if the researcher has the immediate-critique skills they're less likely to resort to massive historical background search, while if they don't have the immediate-critique skills their understanding may not be helped by studying historical background because the critique-deficit will apply as well to their interpretation of the historical material. You can perhaps see what's likely to happen when you throw some of this second type of researcher into an environment dominated by the first: the first group will find fault in immediate reasoning, the second group will cite historical sources and accuse the first group of ignorance of the historical material, the two groups don't "speak the same language", and anyone in either group who tries altruistically to explain to those of the other group will only make things worse, causing a proliferation of unproductive discussion that can be hard to distinguish from "spam".

It seems to me the most problematic effects here recently have been due to a liberal admixture of the second and third of these. I don't think moderation of a discussion by its creator would help; my best guess is it'd just foster resentments. The only thing I can think of that might help is better understanding of where the problems are coming from (certainly not a cure-all, but perhaps some help).

Consider that giving the

Consider that giving the poster moderation powers also gives them the responsibility to moderate. I would personally not want to get the responsibility to delete or not delete other people's comments, because it puts you in the situation where one person is angry for not deleting a comment, and then if you do delete it the person who wrote the comment gets angry.

I think community based moderation would work better. Perhaps not the reddit upvote/downvote, but the kind where users can flag inappropriate comments.


I'm not asking that anyone creating a post be given moderation power&responsability on its discussion. I'm just asking this in the special case of my posts (also I don't believe LtU can technically give localized moderation rights, so I would assume that would mean making me moderator, with a non-technical agreement to only use it in my own topics.)

(I would agree of course to let other people make the same choice for their posts, but the point is that it would be on a on-demand basis, not imposing this to everyone.)

I would personally not want to get the responsibility to delete or not delete other people's comments, because it puts you in the situation where one person is angry for not deleting a comment, and then if you do delete it the person who wrote the comment gets angry.

I have been moderator on the internet before and in my experience it works just fine. (It's a bit better when the website is technically able to help transparency of moderation, by giving a way for people to see the moderated messages in the history or something; otherwise you have to trust moderators a bit more, but obviously I trust myself, right?)

Real Names

LtU accounts are supposed to registered with full real names. I don't think moderator privileges should be given to pseudonymous accounts. I think we would get better behaviour if this policy were to be more rigorously enforced.

A contributor to LtU should register under their own name

A contributor to LtU should register under their own name.

Many of the worse abuses on Wikipedia and other sites are directly a result of anonymous censorship.

The worst abuses on Wikipedia

are not usually to do with anonymity, but to do with Wikipedia being a toxic hellhole with rules that encourage, if they don't outright guarantee, those abuses. Very few of the worst offenders are even trying to be anonymous.

Most of the Administrators (censors) on Wikipedia are anonymous

Most of the Administrators (censors) on Wikipedia are anonymous :-(

Examples of anonymous censorship on Wikipedia

A good example of the perils of anonymous censorship is some Wikipedia administrator who hides behind "CBM". For example, see
* censorship of suggestion to include reference to newly published "Inconsistency Robustness" book
* similar censorship in Wikipedia article on Actor Model
* similar censorship in Wikipedia article on Incompleteness Theorem

You can try putting in references to the published book and see how far you get ;-)

Carl Hewitt is banned from

Carl Hewitt is banned from editing wikipedia, both while logged in and as an IP editor

It's not censorship, it's blind following of the rules. That's how Wikipedia works. It's a game, with rules that are used to beat "outsiders" over the head. Wikipedia isn't about creating an encyclopædia, it's about maintaining an illusion of power within the "wikipedian" hierarchy.

Just look at the number of "wikipedians" who auto-diagnose as suffering from autistic spectrum disorders. It's a badge of honour over there, for the love of all that's holy.

I wouldn't be able to reinstate your edits either, because I am also a non-person.

Constructive approach

Why not fix your homepage? Currently links to a page of Chinese script. Wikipedia will not let you insert the information that you want on that page because it violates their rules. It is also their page, so they get to make up whatever rules they want.

On your own homepage you can do whatever you want. There are links to your official site and twitter account from within the wiki article. That is quite good free visibility for whatever content you want on your own site.

If your URL has changed and they will not let you update the link then tell me the new address and I will login to my ancient wiki account to update it for you.

Carl Hewitt Wikipedia article: totally out of date and censored

The Carl Hewitt Wikipedia article is totally out of date and censored so that it cannot be updated :-( As a public charity, Wikipedia should be run for the public benefit.

If you want to do something constructive to help users of Wikipedia, see if you can get in a reference to our book Inconsistency Robustness into the Carl Hewitt Wikipedia article and into the article on the Actor Model. (You will have to click on View history to get see information that was censored.)

PS. Unfortunately, links rapidly get out of date so now I share information on Google Drive with links from my Google+ account :-)

Not what I offered

Asking for donations does not make them a charity. It makes them annoying quite often, but that is a different subject.

I will update your homepage link if you provide an up to date url.

The link that would be most useful to Wikipedia users

The link that would be most useful to Wikipedia users is the following: Inconsistency Robustness.
This is a much more useful link for Wikipedia users than a link to my publicly available information on Google+ and Google Drive.

It is important to keep the goal in mind: Wikipedia is a tax-exempt charity that should be for the public good.

It *is* used for the public good

Look at all the antisocial misfits and other assorted wierdos it keeps busy and off the streets.

Censorship by anon Wikipedia admin CBM is slowing progress :-(

Censorship by anonymous Wikipedia admininistrator CBM is slowing scientific progress :-(

Not a homepage link

But that not a link that anyone would recognise as your official homepage.

It is an advert for your book. I can see a difference between the two. Again, this is not what I offered to fix for you.

It is important to keep the goal in mind: Wikipedia is a tax-exempt charity that should be for the public good.

It is important to keep in mind that your goals do not necessarily overlap with wikipedia's goals. There is more than one way of serving the public good, and I don't think that you get to choose how they do it. But if you really believe that you should define how it serves the public good, then feel free to do so using the following recipe:

  • Start your own encyclopaedia.
  • Host it on a web server at a publicly accessible url [This step is vital]
  • Register it as a non-profit charity and seek donations [This step is optional]
  • Tell me the url and I will update your homepage link [As I offered]

But, slipping a link into your bio for your book is not what I offered to do, and it is not something I will offer to do. :P

Maybe some brave soul will counter Wikipedia PL censorship

Wikipedia lacks accountability:
* Of course, anonymous administrators are publicly unaccountable
* The Foundation that runs Wikipedia dodges its responsibilities

A system relying on censorship can require ever more severe measures to suppress information :-(

Maybe some brave soul will will counter CBM's Wikipedia censorship of programming language research by putting references to our newly published book in the censored article on Carl Hewitt and the censored article on the Actor Model.
According to Wikipedia's own rules, it should be possible to easily put in the reference to Inconsistency Robustness into the articles without fuss. Anonymous Wikipedia administrator CBM has used spurious excuses (whose hypocrisy you can easily test) to censor the articles.

If you are intent on slipping in a link on what passes for a home page for me, then I suggest the following: CarlHewitt.

However, it is much more relevant to LtU that Wikipedia administrator CBM censored mentioning a book on advanced programming languages concepts from Wikipedia.

In response to the censorship below by Ehud Lamm, I have a established the following new community: Actors + Inconsistency Robust Logic
You can apply there for membership if you would like to contribute.

Because of further censorship by Ehud Lamm, I will no longer contribute to LtU. Please see discussions at here. (added on Sept. 22, 2015)

Edit: clarified that Wikipedia censored mentioning a book on advanced programming language concepts is more relevant to LtU than censoring mentioning of my personal website.


While I think I have been overly lenient, this is getting ridiculous. LtU does not exist for the discussion of these topics. Please refrain from posting on LtU unless directly related to programming language theory and according to the site policies. If you find this impossible, do leave. Thanks.

Your posting from now on will be moderated and published only when approved. Expect posting delays.


If you want to know who gasche is, you could try google. It took me several seconds to figure out, years ago. The real name policy is presumably intended to discourage anonymity, which he doesn't have.

Not opposing real names?

It seems you agree with me, as you havent argued that people should not use real names. If its easy to google peoples identities, what is the point in not using your name clearly, as you would on a published paper? It is not hard to register your real name, and it means that posts can be linked back to published academic work, or companies people represent. I could Google, but that's not the point. I think we should all follow Ehud's example.

Disagree with you, not the policy

I don't agree with your simplified "we should all use real names", but the actual policy is this:

User names: Many of us here post with our real, full names. Anonymity and the use of pseudonyms is discouraged. We recognize that there can be legitimate reasons for wishing to post under a pseudonym. If you do not register using your real name, then if possible, please include identifying information in your user profile, such as your real name or a link to a personal home page or blog. Using a pseudonym by which you are known elsewhere can also help.

I don't know why gasche uses a psuedonym. Maybe he felt it would be more easily recognized from other internet forums. My point is that he isn't anonymous, which would seem to be the primary motivation for the policy. I personally have a good reason not to use my full name in a publicly visible way, though a dozen or so members here know my full name privately. Not that it's meaningful to any of them, as I'm not published in this field. When I start publishing or releasing things, I'll make sure it's linked in my profile.

I don't know why gasche uses

I don't know why gasche uses a psuedonym. Maybe he felt it would be more easily recognized from other internet forums.

That's exactly why I registed with the same pseudonym I've been using online since the 90s. The first result on a google shows my real name on github and my blog for anyone who's actually interested, but most of my online activities have been tied to "naasking".


Okay, well if I can use my real name, I am sure other people can too. I don't mind what people post as on other sites, but generally sites with pseudonyms have much worse behaviour than sites that insist on real names, and I would be surprised if anyone can produce evidence to the contrary.

While the general issue is

While the general issue is debatable, I know of at least a couple of examples of people who use their real name on LtU and are detrimental to the community, and several of our best members (in all respects: civility, content, helpfulness) who use pseudonyms. So I think this issue is not the main thing to be too concerned about /at the moment/.

You may need to get out a bit more

Go and have a chat with Mike and the crew at TechDirt about that. I have seen them reference various studies and reviews that say policies that require real names do NOT slow down the abusive uncivil attacks by people.

I myself have have been the target of such attacks. I find that there are many times that I would like to make a comment anonymously just to correct a particular statement and I don't simply because of the registration process required.

This is one of the very few sites that I have used my real name, the rest I used pseudonyms that state a particular view to go with my comments.

There are many reasons for being anonymous when posting even if you, yourself, can't think of any.

Real Names and Suspending Accounts

The problem with anonymity is you don't know who is responsible. All you can do is remove the post. This is a bit like painting over graffiti, it does nothing to stop people doing it in the first place

If people have to login, then you can suspend or ban them for bad behaviour. They could of course create a new account and continue, but if you have a way of enforcing real names, then they cannot.

So if we can enforce real names, we suspend people for bad behaviour, it is going to slow down attacks because they won't be able to post.


This is not true. Most people care about their online identity, even if it is built around a pseudonym rather than a name.

In any case, the advantage you describe would only hold for website that have the means to actually check that the identity provided is valid (eg. AirBnB will require you to upload a scan of your passport). This is a prohibitively painful process to manage.

Finally, LtU is not "under attack" for the time being and this is not the scenario that we are discussing here.

(Also let me point out, even if Bruce Rennie did it better above, that "If I can use my real name, I am sure other people can too" is a terrible, terrible argument -- the absolute absence of relativism.)

Not all my arguments are great.

I take your point about that argument, its clearly weak. Not all my arguments are great, and sometimes articulating why you think something takes time to find the best arguments.

I am not sure which bit you are saying is not true? Clearly if we have real identity, then suspension and banning will reduce bad posts. I don't see how you can argue against that as it is how we deal with these things in the physical world.

However I think the point is, I enguage with individuals and want to have a dialogue with each of them, not opine to a croud.

Certainly pseudonyms are better than anonymity and I can understand why people might want to hide their identity in extreme circumstances (like witness protection). However if big-brother and serious stalkers can find out who you are anyway is there any point in hiding your identity. It just means those of us who don't dig around don't really know who we are talking to. You might be speaking at some conference, and I might make time to listen, if I knew it was you. I am have no problem with a nickname, if its linked to a real name in your profile.

In any case I am okay with pseudonymous posts I just have a preference for real names, but I think a higher standard is required if you are going to be a moderator. Who watches the watchmen?

Edit: I also think their are forums where anonymity might be appropriate, like a whisle-blowers forum, but I don't think that's what LtU is for.

Personal preference is fine

Reading your post again, it is not strictly "not true": you say that *anonymous* posts are hard to control because there is no link between several posts of the same author. I point out that *pseudonymous* identities do not have this property (well in the limit they do, as one could conceivably create one account per post, but this is not how most people use them, and in particular this limit behaviour is unheard of on LtU).

I see we disagree on pseudonymity, and I don't particularly want to engage in an argument over this (not because I think it's not an important question).

Let me just point out that over many place over the internet (a majority of places, I'm afraid), revealing a *female* real name can suffice to get reactions that, in a professional context, would be considered sexual harassment. (And that a person creating an account in a new website cannot be expected to know whether it is one of those places or not.) Also, most children are strongly recommended never to publish their real identity when interacting with unknown people on the internet. (This recommendation comes in large part from irrational fears, but I still think it is reasonable, and it is out of that habit of not giving more identity details than necessary that I subscribed to LtU years ago.)

Your point on the fact that you don't want to read about patented technologies is interesting, but I think it should be separated from the identity question, and just be general recommendation. Given that patents are public, anyone (pseudonymous or not) could talk about their content, and in fact there are so many frivolous patents that we probably discuss them daily on LtU -- Microsoft has a 2008 patent application for "immutable objects".

Frankly I think requiring real names of a moderator is silly, but if that was the only requirement I would be happy to oblige. There are clearly deeper (better ?) reasons for the LtU community not to want active moderation.

(Note that I'm not strongly opposed to the LtU policy. It says that real names are to be preferred, but explicitly leaves the door open for other options.)


Well, I did say I am okay with pseudonyms, I can prefer real names, and still be okay with pseudonyms. I can even make arguments that real names are better, but that doesn't suddenly make me not okay with pseudonyms.

I certainly accept your points about the problems of the real world, and sometimes I can be a bit too idealistic. The real world is not black an white.

I think someone that prefers anonynimity, but is okay with pseudononynimity, and someone who prefers real names but is also okay with pseudononynimity can easily get along in a pseudononymous forum, but they may have the occasional disagreement about anonynimity vs real names :-)

Is not knowing who the real problem?

One aspect that doesn't seem to have been mentioned (though I haven't read all posts yet) is that we need to be dealing with the message and not the messenger. There are many times when a specific point of view will not even be looked at if a specifically known person articulates it. Generally due to the specific person having a "bad" or "disliked" reputation.

Having a level of anonymity, it becomes (in many cases) more likely that the specific message will be looked at. Though the glasses of dogma can interfere.

The converse can also be true, the reputation of the person may well give more credence to the message than it is worth. Reputation can cause a community bias that is actually detrimental.

The definition of "Bad Behaviour" is a matter of personal view. What one may consider as an attack, another may consider as a robust debate.

If we can't defend our position in the face of robust disagreement without getting offended then maybe we have a problem.

Anonymous censorship can be a big problem

Anonymous censorship can be a big problem, e.g., the disaster on Wikipedia.

I second flag-based moderation.

We can start with the assumption that we’re all basically trying to contribute meaningfully, and flag the occasional thing that doesn’t meet our high standards of discourse.

We can also avoid “feeding the trolls”, which means not just abstaining from comment on inflammatory posts, but also refusing to humour the frankly outlandish posts by people who are clearly not serious theoreticians or practitioners.

Try better organization before imposing censorship on LtU

It would be better to try better organizing the site before imposing censorship on LtU so that noise would not be such a big issue.

What better organization

What better organization would you suggest?

Suggestions for better LtU organization

Many contributors here have already made many excellent suggestions for better LtU organization.

In addition to the ones already made, it would be helpful to have "recent comments" organized by forum topic.

Working links

This suggestion would improve navigation on the site. In addition I would like the links to multi-page discussions to work correctly. Currently a link to a post after the first page goes to a non-existent anchor on the first page, instead of a url for the correct page. This makes it quite troublesome to track down the new post.

Are all the suggestions excellent?

I am reminded of my experience using a mailing list via Google mail. A few of the ones I use have a strong, socially-enforced rule against top-posting.

When I read such a list via Google mail, the threads are presented as a purely vertical stack. There is no indentation of titles or bodies. The messages I have read before are collapsed into a band above the unread messages. Since there is no top-posting, writers usually quote the pieces of messages they are responding to, so there is plenty of context.

However, redesigning this site would be no easy task. I read other forums where the interface is not so much a topic for discussion, and their interfaces are actually worse.


By the way, I appreciate that we should be very, very cautious in life about censorship. I've been 'censored' a few times on the 'net, so I am not speaking utterly cluelessly. But I do not agree with how I see you applying the term around the 'net. Asking people to modify behaviour out of politeness is not in and of itself censorship. Nor do I think the original idea here is censorship in that the original poster started the thread. Whoever got booted would be fine to start their own thread. Etc.

A most excellent game

This does suggest a most excellent game, in which the original poster has the power that you suggest to boot people that they disagree with, but in addition there is a proviso that should the number of participants drop back to one at any point the thread is closed and locked. I doubt this game would help in any serious way with promoting discussion, but it does sound fun to play.

Sincere question

Instead of heavy handed technological solutions, marco would you agree not to participate in threads opened by gasche or at least to be more gentle, in the interest of keeping the peace (and without admitting any wrong doing, of course!)?



Sincere question to everybody else?

Not a solution but a small attempt to stem bleeding: Then if e.g. I, or marco, or H, or anybody else posts something looks like a less than ideal thing, everybody can try not to feed that subthread?

re sincere question to everybody else

Not a solution but a small attempt to stem bleeding: Then if e.g. I, or marco, or H, or anybody else posts something looks like a less than ideal thing, everybody can try not to feed that subthread?

There are some problems that I see with that.

1. Historically, I think it is safe to say, some people come to LtU without much knowledge, or even knowledge of how little they know - but with a good attitude to learn. Sometimes their clumsy remarks are accidentally insulting, or otherwise problematic. And it can pay to engage with them up to a point because (since "good attitude") they get better. Shunning (which you suggest) easily locks out good learners.

2. The shunning rule makes it easy for one person using mulitple identities, or a few people of similar mind, to hijack a forum and post in response to themselves and to one another, endlessly -- creating a false impression in the record of their status.

3. Persistent bad examples unchallenged stand unchallenged as bad examples.

Meta-discussions should be

Meta-discussions should be held in a different (hyper-linked) thread. I find them far more distracting than the comments initiating them.

Meta-discussions are one thing StackExchange got right

...and IMO should be "implemented" here to at least separate noise from signal. That implementation could be as simple as a linked IRC channel.


Stack exchange is way overmoderated.

2/3 of the useful questions, discussions and answers I find on Stack Exchange have been closed by moderators.

different things

I think the "mini comments" meta-discussion on stack overflow could be nice here. That's different than allowing people to kill things off.

Mini comments/topics

Oh I see.
I thought you were talking about forcing people to make new topics (which is a bit hard since it pollutes the space of what is a topic, and there are guidelines for what can be a topic).

I like mini/topics but I have a slight problem which is that it seems kind of arbitrary what goes in a mini-topic and what goes in a direct response. On Stack Overflow there isn't as much difference as you'd think.

Note: bugs
I hit return and posted earlier than I meant to.
Then it wouldn't let me edit and finish, nor did my comment appear

re meta to hyper-linked threads

Meta-discussions should be held in a different (hyper-linked) thread.

Makes sense. I'll try that in the future.

not much sign of bad faith posting lately

I haven't noticed self-conversation happens much. (Just once in memory, when an identical writing style reply appeared under a pseudonym.) On occasion I have suspected an account was a multi-person shared collective with a common agenda, with a small style footprint, but there's no way to test that idea. With such low traffic, there's little incentive to do this.

...and post in response to themselves and to one another,

So shunning may not have the intended effect for a bad faith poster. (For what it's worth, I only use one account online myself -- this one. I actually don't post anywhere else at all, under another name. If LtU changes a lot, I may just go off the grid.)

Point of information

In case some don't know: for several years now we have an option of moderating specific users, we refer to this as putting the user on probation. We have used this sporadically, and typically users on probation simply stop posting.

Authenticate with real name + email (to be kept private)

A contributor to LtU should authenticate with their real name + their email (to be kept private). In some exceptional cases, the name of the contributor could also be kept private.

recognizing trolling

One of the hallmarks of the age of 4chan and astroturfing for fun and profit is the abuse of forums premised on good will by the inappropriately argumentative invocation of faux "legalisms".

A popular trolling behavior is to insist that the troller's anti-social actions must be tolerated because it says so in the site policy.

I think this is a good example:

"I am not, technically, allowed to create a purely speculative topic as a separate thread.

So you'll have to put up with people who want to have useful discussions within other topics."

I can not reconcile such a statement with the idea of someone who has come to LtU with at least a modicum of good will.


The rules say that the topics have to be about existing works.

Therefor if we are to have discussions on programming language matters that speculate about turning ideas that arise into not-yet existent systems or papers, they have to be part of existing threads.

You are temperamentally opposed to such discussions, but I suspect that many people are not.

It is your over-the top opposition to some sorts of useful discussion that makes them seem "trolling" to you

After all, the topic you were objecting to was that of suggesting a turn from a merely reading and analyzing the actor model as it is, to taking the core ideas that are useful to programming and expanding or altering them on them on their own.

Suggesting that we take ideas from some papers and find out best to apply them and turn them into new works is the definition of "useful" which some folks would find the opposite of trolling.

I think you'd be right if

I think you'd be right if the same poster made many comments like that. Until then, other people (say, you) should assume good will from the poster.
Anecdotically, I know personally people who make such comments in perfectly good faith. One of them is actually a son of a lawyer, which is enough to explain the legalistic attitude.

I took it

because I'm not an academic, I don't fit in here perfectly.

I expect that if I just post topics whenever I have an idea, I'm not using the forum the way it has existed and that will step on more toes than having discussions on the ideas that come up within the existing topics.

Go back through the history, there are lots of digressions within topics over the years. Thomas Lord, apparently, wants to ban that.

And making up posts with no academic work or existing software behind them is not, I think how this forum has tended to work, and I don't write in the same sort of vocabulary as most of the people here anyway.

I don't think that Thomas Lord cares about the sort of topics I care about. I don't think he really wants me making a topic, I don't think he wants those discussions, I think he wants me to go away.


Front page stories tend to be centered around a reference to academic work or existing software. Forum topics are much more free-form, and I don't think people refrain from creating those. If you feel that the topic you are considering would be of interest to other members of the LtU community, you should not hesitate to create it.

(I also think it would be nice to humor Thomas' wish if he says he would prefer you to create a separate topic. It is a bit ironic to have actor-related topics complaining about digressions caused by not-quite-actor discussions given the recent reverse situation, but that may be the sign of a good progression in the state/maturity/productivity of those discussions?)

I do understand why some people are irritated by long digressions, but you are right that they have been the norm for a while. We could consider trying to more easily create other topics (than unrelated sub-threads) in the future.

Ok, then I'll feel more free to make forum topics

Since I haven't been around here that long, I'm not all that aware of these things.

Maybe when I have time I'll start one.

I suddenly became more interested in actors as a model today when it occurred to me that it's a solution to the lock problem at least in some cases, because AFAIK actors can't deadlock.

It also occurred to me that "what SHOULD distributed systems (based on actors) do about late or missing messages" is a more interesting problem than "what did Hewitt write into his actor papers about delivery guarantees and are they possible in the most pedantic sense"

Also, I got a little more interested in Actors when I read claims that Alan Kay originally intended Smalltalk to be more like actors, but that he was told that it would be too inefficient. It makes me wonder what a Smalltalk built from the ground up on actors rather than objects would be like.

Another point is this. Right now I can buy an AMD processor with 512 stream processors and 4 x86 cores on it for $100. Perhaps in the near future, message passing will be a good way to program "way too many processors on a chip"


Similar ideas are around in various languages in various forms, but if you are interested in the "message passing" movement with a somewhat practical bent, you might be interested in Erlang. (And Erlang does use actors, at least according to Wikipedia — see

Actor deadlock

"because AFAIK actors can't deadlock."

Actors can absolutely deadlock. The condition required for deadlock is a "cycle of ungranted requests". Or, in more informal English, "a bunch of computational processes all waiting on each other". It's certainly harder to create an Actor system that will deadlock, simply because eliminating shared state (protected by mutexes) and only performing asynchronous message passing reduces the likelihood that you'll create a design in which several Actors are waiting on each other. But it's not impossible. If you doubt me, just wait for my next comment in this thread before you post a response.

Guessing the root cause

I'm not sure what to do, or who's at fault (I don't care), but I suspect this isn't about OT posts but about Hewitt-related topics and the associated heat.

Hewitt-related topics are heated. As stated in the past, some (me included) are annoyed by Hewitt's style because it's too hard to interpret, and Thomas wrote that is annoyed at this annoyance, and believes we're just too lazy and we should try harder to figure out what Hewitt means. (I hope I'm not misrepresenting).

So, the OP (not Thomas) created a topic exactly to figure out what Hewitt meant — I'm sure Thomas was happy about that! Now, in that thread, you start a post by saying
"Instead of arguing over what what Hewitt intended it would be more useful to just come up with useful semantics that are similar and embed them in a language."

As you'll have figured, I agree with you. But hopefully we can see why that'd annoy Thomas in that context. And even I found that title odd.
So, this isn't about semi-OT discussions in general.

On academics: I think there are fewer academics here than you think. We just tend to agree that academic research does have a point. So, if (purely hypothetically) somebody said that current PL research should be abolished altogether, that somebody wouldn't win a popularity context.

re I think you'd be right if

I think you'd be right if the same poster made many comments like that

Note that the immediate response was a doubling down, coupled to false assertions about what I believe and a series of ad hominems.

Note also that the comment I flagged begins by proposing to ignore the topic of the post and talk about something else entirely.

Note also that the comment

Note also that the comment I flagged begins by proposing to ignore the topic of the post and talk about something else entirely.

Yes, I noticed that too. I still believe that Josh is in good faith about the rules, but I agree that title is going to cause heat.

Personally, I believe these are the situations were *not* having a moderator is more harm than good. Not that posts should be deleted right away — but having somebody with the authority to post "this is OT" (and able to do that fairly) seems better than all of us fighting about it.

I think lax moderation worked well without conflicts when the community agreed on what is OT and what isn't, but I'm not sure we have such a strong agreement anymore. (OTOH, moderating out of a disagreement seems also a problem).

Moderation - why and who

The problem with moderation per se is that the individual doing the moderating controls the discussion in ways that are not necessarily of benefit to the community as whole.

If you want to see (what I consider an excellent solution to this problem) how to allow community moderation without letting the actual posts be removed totally see what is done on the TechDirt site.

They provide the community the ability to not only vote on whether a specific post should be hidden but also allow anyone to see the post in question if they decide they want to see and respond.

Lastly, off topic posts may actually lead to the opening of further interesting discussions. If such could be turned into a new topic then this would be an advantageous feature to add to LTU.

They also have a diverse community of Anonymous Cowards who contribute well to the discussions. Pseudonymous names are also allowed and you can register if you want. If a particular poster is spam, they have means to deal with this as well. Their definition of spam is quite narrow from what I have seen.

Part of their processes includes weekly round-ups of the funniest and the most insightful comments for the week. These are voted on by the community and by the editors. In the case of LTU, there may be other criteria in which or by which the LTU community might wish to vote.

Robust conversations are a regular event, as well as some pointless conversations.

I note that this also appears to be a characteristic of LTU at times. I think that there is a reasonable community here that would allow anonymous posters to be an effective part of the conversation.

I am sure that there are people who would like to participate but due to various constraints (including work or research environments) do not contribute to any conversation, as it would be politically inadvisable to do so. But having the ability to post anonymously, they would be much more likely to contribute in an effective and insightful way.

I seriously suggest that the editors on LTU look long and hard at TechDirt for this mode of operation. The one addition that I would also recommend is that TOR and its ilk not be excluded from the above process.

Anonymous Posting

I generally don't post on sites that allow anonymous posting, so if LtU went that way it would definitely put some people off. Personally I don't mind if some people don't post because of company rules. It is important that the information here is in the public domain. I don't like when people post about patented technologies, and people posting things they should not due to contractual obligations is not what I would want either.

Each to his/her own

But I am interested as to why you don't want to post on sites that allow anonymous posting?

To get to know people and understand their opinions.

Because you don't know who you are talking to. Anonymous cowards (i dont mean that in a bad way, its what slashdot calls them) are likely to post once, and if you respond, the next reply could be from someone else. It promotes a discourse where people tend to make statements rather than enguage in discussion. I am not here to post an opinion, I am here to discuss with people. To get to know people and understand their opinions.

Anonymous Cowards

I post on various sites that allow AC's. If I comment and a discussion starts, I have no problems continuing that conversation. Until it becomes obvious that the glasses of dogma have arisen or we agree to disagree after all has been laid down.

I also don't agree with your premise that a conversation cannot be held with a group of AC's. I see the contrary to this often. One Ac may make a statement, another AC contributes further info to the discussion and so on. It really depends on the community of posters and readers.

Like I said elsewhere, I like TechDirt's way of allowing the community to handle the flagging or otherwise of responses. If you want to see it, you can see any response whether flagged or not.

But you do have to incorporate a sense of community. In there case the weekly round-up of insightful and funny comments. Both sets chosen by the community and the editors.

On LTU, I have seen opposite ends of various spectrum's, some that interest me, some that don't. I have picked up various areas worth my time to study because of practical application possibilities.

I have seen various arguments (pro and con) for specific subjects in which I have taken away something practical from both sides. I not interested in who the specific individuals are generally.

Finally, getting to know people means you want to have a relationship with them, which is good and well. But for some of us, we want to know the viewpoint espoused and discuss that. Getting to know the person is not really going to happen.

Funny Comments

I think witty responses and funny comments tend to be more common on sites that allow anonymous posting. I wouldn't really like LtU to have a funniest comment of the week or anything like that.

I also think that people cannot help expressing their personality in their posts, so the idea that they are dry, and purely factual seems a bit idealistic.

Many sites have real life meet-ups, so you do get to know people. I met people through the Haskell mailing list, collaborated with them on a paper which was published, and then met them at conferences workshops to present the paper. I do not treat my online self as a separate entity from my physical world self. I am the same me whether you meet me online or offline.

This is not a bar

I don't understand why we take such a laissez-faire attitude to online forums when it would never be accepted in, say, the letters page of a journal or newspaper. As already observed, the tone of comments on a site absolutely can turn people off participating, especially newcomers.

So yes, please to moderation. With a light touch, if that's the current consensus, although I'd be perfectly fine with editors summarily dropping comments that are off-topic, unsubstantiated, or plain rude; with cooling-off periods for excessive posters; and banning for the worst abusers.

A letter to a journal or

A letter to a journal or newspaper is a relatively formal medium. To enjoy the benefits of a less formal venue one has to be more forgiving. It then becomes a problem to determine just what sort of standards are to be enforced. A classic example of how moderation can go wrong is Wikipedia, where users are supposed to be civil and assume good faith — which has resulted, over the years, in a gradual accumulation of users who are skilled at being vicious without explicitly stepping outside the bounds, defending themselves from objections by requiring others to assume good faith about them, and ultimately using the guidelines as an offensive weapon by provoking others until their victims react with an outburst which is then penalized.