As most of you know by now, there's been a conflict recently between Rebecca Watson, founder of Skepchick and panel member on The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, and DJ Grothe, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. We’re not going to go into detail here; suffice to say that the result as of this writing is that Rebecca has announced that she will not be attending TAM, the JREF's annual convention, this year.
The skeptic world is no stranger to internal conflicts. But this one was different for two reasons:
1) It was the first one after we rescinded the "don't diss the SGU Panel members" informal rule on the SGU forums.
2) It was the first time the the SGU forums got mentioned negatively by Rebecca herself.
The resulting discussions on the board rapidly acquired some very negative aspects, and the general tone of the debate suffered. This went beyond what the moderation team was prepared for. The full emotional load of a long-running debate about misogyny in the skeptical community came barreling down on us from many directions. This was reinforced by a heating-up of the arguments on both of the main sides in that debate - and exacerbated by some of the resulting, more egregious posts.
In the heat of the debate, we as moderators lost sight of our objectivity and of our responsibilities with regards to setting the tone on this forum. As individuals, we hold our own opinions and sympathies, and we allowed ourselves to become participants in the debate, rather than moderators of that debate. We are unreservedly sorry about this.
Another symptom of our unpreparedness was that we didn't give out warnings in a timely manner. We are addressing this issue. We are in the process of going back, re-examining the worst of the threads, and giving out warnings as appropriate in accordance with the forum rules. As it is our fault that warnings were delayed, no one will be muted or banned for multiple warnings as a direct result of warnings received for the posts we are now reviewing; however, they will count towards muting or banning in the near future.
But these are drops in the bucket compared to the real issue.
The real issue is that our forum is perceived as misogynistic, not only by Rebecca, but by many people in the skeptical world. This is obviously not the tone we wish to set. We think that there are many reasons behind that perception, but we choose to focus on the question of what should be done about it.
We've received some really useful suggestions, but most of them boil down to "get more moderators" and "be more transparent with moderator actions". We hesitate to do either of these things because of one simple reason: it would lessen the amount of cooperation between the moderators and the members. By keeping the moderating staff small, we effectively empower the members to police themselves, and to report to us the issues they see. It reduces the feeling of "us vs. them" and keeps us from becoming too heavy-handed in our moderating efforts.
There's no mandate to allow misogyny, or any sort of bigotry, in the mission-statement of this board ("to provide an intellectually-challenging environment for rational, polite discussion"), and there are steps we can take to reduce bigotry while not interfering with The Rules. We think the most obvious one is a re-examination of the role the Explicit section of the forum plays in its overall tone. Another one is for the mods to be less tolerant of sexual/racial/etc. harassment on the board.
As we redouble our efforts to make this forum a better place for our members, we ask for your help. Let us know what you think. Let us know what else can be done. We're committed to keeping this forum the place where you can discuss and promote skepticism, where you can argue over politics, post silly pictures of cats, write about that awesome book you read, and where you can make new friends. . We have duties and responsibilities towards you, our members, which we take just as seriously as our duties and responsibilities towards the SGU Rogues.
The SGU forum Moderation Team