Ignorance is bliss

“Ignorance is bliss” is a reference to easy assumption that a site has free discussion. Even when it starts to become obvious that this is not so, it’s easy to make up excuses that allow us to think that everything is cool, moderation is a difficult job, nothing need be done, etc. All of that may be somewhat true, but it allows situations to fester and grow. After all, the community must support it, because if they didn’t….

If they didn’t, what? Why, they would just go away! Which may leave no visible sign of any problem. A site may be far less successful than possible, but who will know?

Most people, as well, will be afraid to “rock the boat.” After all, they might be next ….

So, we like to discuss stuff on a public web forum, which seems to allow very open discussion with easy registration.

But a moderator uses his tools to support his own opinions by modifying the comments of others, commenting within them, demanding that they stop expressing their opinions, blanking them and sometimes completely deleting them, without notice, and by banning a user who disagrees with this.

But if we ignore him, maybe he will stop.

We use this approach in many areas of our lives. Well, my trainer used to say, “How’s it working for ya?”

So just when I think things might be quieting down on lenr-forum.com, we have this mess, all in the Rossi v. Darden developments thread, where it’s totally off-topic. It began with this relatively innocuous interchange, wherein

Alan Smith (“Super moderator”) responded:

oldguy wrote:
Univ. records show Fulvio Fabiani paid Levi $75k for “pinball consulting work” from 2013 to 2015.

As you say, this was duly recorded as an official payment to Bologna University, taxed and deposited in the Uni’s bank a/c. It was never touched by Levi personally but was donated to a software engineering course that he supervises. The money was to pay for 2 postgraduate students to study and develop software systems for pinball machines and pinball machine simulators. There was nothing underhand or secret about any of it, his name was mentioned as recipient since he is head of the appropriate course.

While this was off-topic, it was a good response (as shown by upvotes, I’d have upvoted it if not banned). There was more discussion of this off-topic issue, including by Alan Smith, who had been so dramatic recently in deleting off-topic posts.

Then a response came that was tendentious, perhaps. Nothing unusual for lenr-forum. But Alan edited the post:

Jack Cole wrote:

Alan Smith wrote:

There was nothing underhand or secret about any of it, his name was mentioned as recipient since he is head of the appropriate course.

Alan,
I know you are probably just reporting what you heard. Even if it was done through proper channels and nothing was dodgy in the university’s eyes, it smacks strongly of funding to keep Levi happy so he didn’t get too suspicious about Lugano and come out against AR. I don’t see this as a problem per se on Levi’s side (other than maybe falling prey to AR’s skillful maneuvers). It does not create the appearance of being an indipendent [sic] third party.

It probably also necessitated an ongoing relationship and contact between Fabiani and Levi (to plan and monitor the project), while giving AR an influence and monitoring channel for Levi. Imagine Fabiani saying to Levi, “It’s truly incredible. You would not believe how amazing this stuff is. It is going to change the world. My gosh, it is working so well. We’re going to change the world. P.S., AR speaks so well of your skills as a researcher and scientists. He is learning a ton from your isotopic results.”

Jack

I am reporting a fact which is on the public record. You are inferring skullduggery where none exists except in your imagination. No more please.

“Green ink” is the common moderator tool on lenr-forum to deprecate text while leaving it readable. What is something I’ve not seen before, here, is the use of it to suppress a users “imagination,” where “skullduggery” is inferred (by Alan), not actually alleged. Jack is suggesting a possible conflict of interest for Levi, and it’s plausible, even though it’s weak and may be overwhelmed by other facts and issues. This is moderator abuse. Notice that Alan does not sign his comment (but we can see that he edited the post, that is displayed). It gets worse.

To emphasize this: my opinion is that Alan is basically right, and he did point to the public record, but…. what is in the public record is what Jack was responding to, already. Jack is looking at possible implications of a known event, and that, in fact, is what we all do, all the time. We imagine what something might mean.

Jack Cole responded:

Alan Smith wrote:

I am reporting a fact which is on the public record. You are inferring skullduggery where none exists except in your imagination. No more please.

I am inferring and imagining skulduggery on the part of AR to use Fabiani against Levi and others (quite possibly without Fabiani being aware). Possibly (or probably) both Levi and Fabiani are victims IMO. Levi has never struck me as having bad intentions in all of this. He’s just human like everyone else–potentially prone to bias and manipulation by clever manipulators. If he was manipulated and used, that means he probably has the best of intentions and presumes the same in others (e.g., AR). Objectivity is an ongoing battle, which I am probably failing at during this very moment. ;)

 

Notice that Jack modified the normal quotation link to show Alan Smith as the author of what he quotes, the normal software there would give Jack Cole as the quoted author.

Shane D. wrote:

When that $75,000 donation was first reported it raised a few eyebrows. Understandable. At best it looks inappropriate.

Rossi was only able to carry this on as long as he did because of Levi’s “successful” tests of the Hotcat at both Ferrara and Lugano. In their counter-suit, IH explains how they were troubled by Rossi’s peculiar behavior prior to the VT, and were reassured when Rossi handed them an early copy of the Ferrara results right when they showed up for the VT. What timing…coincidence? I am sure the Lugano results also placated IH at a time when their doubts were even more serious.

Sorry Alan, but Levi is fair game until we get more info. Yes, I understand you know him and like him…he seems like a nice guy to me too, but the facts look very suspicious. In particular that donation by Rossi’s confidant Fabiani. If he wants to clear the air, protect his reputation from the fallout to come, he is free to do so. In his shoes, were I duped as he may have been, I would be talking.

I would remind you that Lugano was a team. Not one person. Any more grubby little libels will be deleted.

Again, Alan does not sign his comment. While we can see him as the last one to edit Shane’s post, if Shane then edits it, that information will disappear for us.

This is Alan Smith POV-pushing, using his tools to bully users, threatening deletion for what is normal discussion. Because this was off-topic, it would have been appropriate to move the posts to an appropriate thread. All of them on this point.

Smith was uncivil in his unsigned comment. “Grubby little libel” is highly opinionated and hostile. Not what we would expect from an experienced moderator, whose job is to moderate, not bully, inflame, and anger.

Shane’s speculations are reasonable, were not libelous (in context) and Alan has lost his balance, badly, now providing a weak argument, but not under his own name, rather as his comment within Shane’s.

I was libelled, on LF, many times, and nothing was done. Apparently it depends on whose ox is being gored.

THHuxley wrote:

I would remind you that Lugano was a team. Not one person. Any more grubby little libels will be deleted.

It is an undeniable fact that the Lugano report analysis was wrong (theoretically) in a way that explains both the COP=3 and the acceleration in COP – the two things highlighted in the report as being inexplicable without some new to science heat source.

The physics behind this is not that complex, but equally, for somone not highly expert in the field, it would take some effort and independent thinking to get your head round.

In a team you don’t expect this effort to be done by more than one person. Others then, relying on the one who has done the work, can check it seems superficially OK and agree.

That is how you get these errors: not every member of the team investigates independently every bit of the analysis.

So: Alan – while I agree with you that there is no evidence for skullduggery – the fact that the Lugano report was a team would not prevent one person from influencing the result. And the fact of the team does not validate the results in the way it would if every line of the report was independently vouched for by every member of the team.

Shane D. wrote:

So what is the difference between libel, and “grubby little libels”…Loyalty to a person, and not the facts perhaps?

I won’t say anything more on the topic, but I think this is an unnecessary censorship. The issue is germane to LENR, and could be discussed without smearing certain reputations, but I guess that is not to be.

It may however, present itself again if further developments warrant.

Alan Smith replied:

Anyone can Troll from behind an Avatar. You might regard it as inconvenient, but don’t forget, the trial in Miami is not over. After that, things may change.

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Shane D. replied:

That is not an avatar, it is my real name. I went by my full last name on ECNs and other sites before shortening it a bit for brevity sake. But anyone can look a little to see who I am. And I am not a troll.

Moderators are not supposed to pick fights BTW.

He is correct. Now, who is Shane? His LF profile has:

Member since Jan 26th 2015

Location Pensacola Beach, Fl.

Occupation: Recently retired American Airlines Capt. USN flight instructor. CG C-130 pilot.

Gravitas, visible in his comments. However, anyone can say what Shane has said. “Anyone can look a little.” Okay, I looked a little. Not obvious.

This is clear, though, he’s not a troll, no trolling was shown here, and calling him a troll was unecessarily uncivil, and would normally earn some green ink if not more.

This is what LF administration is defending. Alan was the only active moderator for a while, cleaning up spam. I suggested LF needed more moderators (there should always be a moderator on duty), and, as I have done that job many times, even more deeply as a WikiMedia Foundation administrator, I volunteered. It met with a pocket veto, and this was before conflict became more open.

I have seen this again and again, “volunteers” make themselves indispensable (even when sometimes they create the disruption that they then “handle”) and they are considered “valuable contributors” and any critique of them is considered an attack on the site itself. This is largely how Wikipedia fell into certain holes. This is all widely known in the Wikipedia community. A failure to understand when to recuse commonly leads to loss of admin privileges on Wikipedia, or used to. More and more, people just go away when they see that tolerated, filing an Arbitration Committee claim can be wiki-suicide. Even if one wins!

bob wrote:

Alan Smith wrote:

but don’t forget, the trial in Miami is not over. After that, things may change.

Are you stating that you believe Rossi is telling the truth and has a working plant? That the “Wabbit” exists and is yet to be released?

Alan Smith replied:

Bob wrote:

Are you stating that you believe Rossi is telling the truth and has a working plant? That the “Wabbit” exists and is yet to be released?

No. I am saying this forum is not the most important judge of who is right and who is wrong. That judge sits in a Miami court and not on the web.

Alan’s message is “Shut up and don’t discuss things that I don’t like.” Who claimed that “this forum” is “the most important judge”? LF is a discussion forum, and has no decision-making mechanisms other than ad hoc moderator actions. When an attempt was made to consult the community, well, here it was, February 4, 2016.

admin wrote:

[IMPORTANT] Trolling and insulting users / Forum rules

We should democratically set up a few forum rules which we will publish afterwards, so everyone has knowledge of them and we can take decisive action on the specific user profiles.

There were 96 posts in that thread. It is still open, but there has been no comment since February 18.

I will point out that genuine democratic process requires known and trusted facilitators. In face-to-face meetings, following centuries of precedent, this is the chairperson, who will also, if the chair’s decisions are challenged, immediately present them to the group for decision. The chair is only a servant, but is always a known person. How can one trust someone unknown and with no history (“admin” has three posts to LF … but is an admin, which probably requires Owner authorization, I suspect, unless this has been delegated, so why not just say that ‘admin” represents the Owner? Whatever is actually true!)

On February 8, 2:04 PM, after four days of discussion, admin posted:

Forum Rules

… a fairly detailed set of rules, which the community and the moderators proceeded to almost entirely ignore. When I was first banned, the banning admin, explaining it, said I had violated not the “forum rules,” but the Terms of Service. I pointed out that the TOS had been ignored and was not followed. In particular, I had not been clearly warned (and Forum mods are totally naive about how warnings should be issued, and the site software doesn’t make it obvious, but it could be done, and there are procedures that work, which … having no experience with this, site administrators have no clue about. And, again my experience, in such a situation, if someone comes in who has experience in how to empower a community and create genuine consensus, the existing powers-that-be become highly offended and defensive, and reactive. They do not respect the community. If the Owner is not attentive and does not act as the responsible adult, we end up with Lord of the Flies.

(In fact, most children know better, but common organizational structures bring out the worst in people, and being on-line magnifies this, because many of the cues (body language, tone of voice) that function socially as glues and lubricants are missing, and then toss in anonymous accounts …. you can get the idea.)

The Forum Rules post was immediately locked so that no non-admin (or non-mod?) could comment on it.

The Terms of Service page shows “(Last update: Feb 8th 2016, 4:07pm).” It was apparently copied from the Forum Rules post but without the red ink.

The discussion thread on rules contains no proposed decision, no reference to any draft rules and no attempt to determine consensus, no summary, and this is common totally-naive process. As a community broadens, this approach is bound to fail, unless the Owner is quite sophisticated or the site is sitting at a crossroads where, even if it is horrible, it will get substantial traffic.

Quora.com had community moderators, but decided to go to (paid) staff moderation. They are burning through hundreds of millions of dollars as a result, and moderators are overworked, and so must make snap decisions, and while they are usually sound decisions, the exceptions can be doozies! They are quite vulnerable to trolls who register accounts and then file many complaints about target users. If only one mistake is made out of dozens of complaints, perhaps based on some superficial appearance, trolls win! So then a good faith user is warned (which nobody else will know about unless the user announces it) …. and three warnings and a user will normally be edit-locked, sometimes site-banned. Edit locks and bans are visible. They must be! (and that is something that LF has completely failed to understand. That a user who has posts on the site is unable to edit it — or read conversations someone might start (and thus cannot read any notification of ban and the reason)– but a person replying to them does not know this — creates misunderstandings and waste of time for users. But who cares about the users?

This was the last post to the Rules discussion thread before the Rules were put up. By Mary Yugo.

There was no announcement in the Rules discussion that actual Rules had been put up. So suggestions continued ….

This comment by the apparent site owner is indicative of administrative naivete:

David Nygren wrote:

Thanks for feedback @Thomas Clarke ! We will discuss this and come back with an answer. I think the ban MY was an automatic action in the forum software (after a number of warnings).

It is insane to set up software to automatically ban a user after N warnings. Rules may provide that a user may be banned after so many warnings. (and then with escalating ban times, and voluntary bans should also be considered, another topic. Voluntary bans are far friendlier than the log-in freeze that LF has.

The multiple warning process  has not been followed, at least it was not in my case, with either ban. I have not received any warnings that would qualify, properly put me on notice, never mind three. Any active user on a forum is likely to end up doing something that can result in a warning, and over time, this can easily become three, which might be serious and it might be fluff. Human judgment is needed. Warnings should actually be easily issued, but a mod issuing a warning should not have to fear that this, in itself, could create a ban. Rather, a ban will properly require a review to determine that it is necessary, that the user was adequately warned and disregarded warnings, etc. From recent behavior cited above, were those warnings?

Then there should be, for open governance that will maintain community consensus, appeal process. How to do all this with efficiency and without creating more disruption is known.

About that Rules discussion: many years ago, I developed decision-making process for mailing lists, that created structures that created focus. In doing this, I needed to consider how long something should be visible for it to be considered consensus “without objection.” I came up with 10 days. People often, with work schedules, etc., only will check a forum — or read their email — once a week, and then three days or more for them to maybe think about it. It made for what seemed like slow process, but it also allowed something generally prohibited with in-person deliberative process: more than one”motion” could be on the floor at the same time. When this was considered, this was all quite efficient.

I intend to review that Rules discussion to create a consensus report, which would be the first step in converting a discussion like that to consensus. An initial consensus report will show what consensus exists, and what remains to be negotiated. To actually come up with consensus Rules for the site could take months, but it is not an investment of “months of discussion,” like 30 times 5 hours, each month, because a consensus report doesn’t care much about repetition, the goal is total consensus, which is generally attainable with good-faith participants, given adequate patience and skilled facilitation. In discussions like that, once a point has been made, users cannot be stopped from saying “me too,” but it does little but complicate the discussion. Polls can be used to collect that kind of opinion.

I have no idea right now what that consensus report will show. I found, years ago, that my impression of conversations, later, was different from the actual conversations, this is a well-known effect that people must be aware of to move into transformative realms. What we think of our “memory,” as “fact,” because we experienced it, often is not fact at all, but merely reactivity.

Author: Abd ulRahman Lomax

See http://coldfusioncommunity.net/biography-abd-ul-rahman-lomax/

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