Mailing List Quality (Was: Certainty, Experiments & Facts)

Robin Hanson (
Sun, 29 Sep 96 12:44:07 PDT

Sarah Marr wrote:
>My experience of this list is that people always speak out if the disagree
>with something, but don't if they simply agree. So I would have interpreted a
>lack of responses to my original mail as agreement by the list, not
>disagreement (and hence disagreement with you).

I wrote to Sarah privately, saying:
>I think this is a mistake. I often don't reply to things I disagree
>with. Replying depends on having time, thinking the othe discussants
>are worth talking with, and thinking email is a good forum for that
>sort of discussion.

Sarah posted again:
>However, in the light of Robin Hanson's corroborative post I must say it
>seems I was wrong. In some ways I think that's a shame: if people disagree
>with me I'd like to know. For instance, Robin and I had a short discussion
>some time ago which showed me flaws in my thinking and allowed me to revise
>my ideas on gender very productively. I'd hate to think I might have missed
>that chance.

The quality of a mailing list is a fragile thing. If just takes a few
"bad apples" willing to post enough junk, and then people will stop
bothering to post a reply to every post they think is below par. And
it goes down from there.

I think the net is in great need of some innovate alternatives to the
stark alternatives of open vs. moderated lists. One idea I've played
with is a list pair, one open and one closed (to posting, but readable
by all). To apply for membership in the closed list, you submit five
of your recent posts to the open list, which are forwarded to three
random closed list members for consideration.

The personal filter concept that this list used to have doesn't work I
think. It is important to have a common sense of what some community
is seeing.

Robin D. Hanson