As Michael Balter asked about a similarly unfactual kind of post some time back: Do we want the list archives to show that SftP willingly invites such activities by rarely, if ever, speaking out against them?
There are two problems with doing this. First, public silence on the issue is ambiguous. It's an absence of data: if no one points out irrational, irrelevant, hostile, and/or politically self-serving prejudice, it can later or privately (as happens) be claimed that it was recognized as such. But it can equally be claimed as tacit agreement. The fact is usually that saying nothing leads to continuation, if not escalation, of aggression and delusive crap. Silence ultimately supports the status quo. The status quo on SftP with regard to
Second is the problem of people saying to someone who objects to personal vitriol or unfactuality, "well, if you don't like it, quit the list, hit delete, or start filtering all of notoriously raving person X's posts to the trash." This in effect privatizes the burden of unpleasant posts onto the individual. Rather than the list collectively agreeing what topics, goals, processes, etc., are supportive of SftP's principles, we default to agreement that anything goes. This doesn't just contradict the purpose of SftP, it contradicts the purpose of a "list serve," because it makes the list a universal posting site for anything anyone wants to throw up, which the individual members must then use their time and computer to filter it down to the actual SftP reading list they hoped for.
It's long struck me as ironic that a list with socialist aims is nonetheless willing to privatize the toll of hostile postings from people who disagree with those aims onto those of its members who are willing to measure the difference. The public message this sends is - at the least - that socialist scientists are quite careless of theory. Or perhaps, more fundamentally, don't agree what a "list" is, or what SftP is.
The long continuation of the posting of misogyny (or other uninformed and vitriolic bigotry) without much challenge, however, makes it seem equally likely that a substantial number of the list members simply don't mind it at all, so long as it's directed against subordinate or minority groups they don't belong to - like women. Perhaps they think SftP really might be compatible with hostile oppression against women. After all, socialism has been, often enough.
Or maybe many list members are simply so accustomed to the rampant misogyny of the blogosphere - which simply follows the lead long set in other mass media, even if it's dialled it up to nuclear levels, in which the most racist, misogynist, classist and homophobic use the mantra of "free speech" as cover for overtly hostile and even threatening posts. The problem of this growing incivility, and its particular assault on women and political minorities, is admitted by every commenter on mass media or the cyber-world (eg, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/09/technology/09blog.html
The interpretation of "free speech" as "everyone can say whatever they want, and those derogated and threatened can just leave" is exactly the one offered by the very people who either want to make those threatening and derogatory remarks. It's easy to agree with, especially if you aren't in the targeted groups, or ethically alert to its consequences.
The consequences of laissez faire public speech policies are the same as those of unfettered "free market capitalism" - the most aggressively, obsessively, and unethically self-serving win. The more restrained, balanced, moderate, and collectively-minded are told to just go away, get offline, segregate themselves away somewhere, or be flattened -- or be debased into like-minded hostility. This does not further SftP's goals, either for science or for socially just society. It is rule by those most willing to be unjust. It re-segregates the world into a place where those who aren't willing to be loud, to rant endlessly, to batter and bully others, are pushed aside and trodden upon. (As a woman who rarely joins mixed-gender list-serves outside of academic ones moderated by a list-maintainer or the social checks of academia, I well understand the anger of many feminists [yes, this includes many men - and on this list] about this sad lowering of the cybersphere's potential.)
Surely these outcomes are contrary to SftP's goals -- as Herb pointed out.
After all, if the rule is "anything goes - caveat lector", why not also encourage posts advocating institutional oppression of non-white people, or the poor, or disabled? Or privatizing and consuming the entirety of the planet's resources, including water? We could similarly tell those who find such discourse (a) contrary to SftP goals, and (b) constructive of a hostile list environment, that it's up to them to read and delete, or filter out, all such crap.
Better yet, SftP could simply invite every right-wing totalitarian capitalist, racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-environmentalist, etc., etc. to flood the list with their irrational ideas and hostile politics - and force EVERY member to view and delete the garbage. That would be more democratic. Instead, at present, we simply force the burden onto those scientists and other members who recognize the irrationality of misogyny. Are they a minority? If so, why is a theoretically socialist list privatizing the cost of the hostility onto this minority?
Perhaps it is a substantial majority of the list who finds blatant, irrational, and offensive misogyny inconsistent with the goals of SftP. In that case, Herb's request should find support and lead to the actions he suggests, or something similar. There is no good reason for the list to invite its use as a free messaging service for moral mayhem.
On Sun, Aug 24, 2008 at 12:57 PM, Michael H Goldhaber <[log in to unmask]>
I myself have filtered out all of RM's posts for years. I only learn of one when someone else copies it. If everyone would refrain from copying or responding to the visibly misogynist ones, that would help. If RN would refrain from posting such things, that would help even more. If he would only recognize that misogyny invalidates any good he might accomplish, that would be better yet.
On Aug 24, 2008, at 12:23 PM, herb fox wrote:
That Rob Mann is a misogynist is not news to those who have been reading his stuff off and on. This serious flaw in his character and politics does not deny that he has also contributed well-informed critiques of GM and other stuff. Racism, misogyny and homophobia are contradictory to the stand and tradition of Science for the People. Since we (or rather Mike G) do not have the resources to examine his every contribution in order to filter out his destructive and insulting trash, it would be appropriate to invite him to remain on the list only if he suppresses his in-your-face misogyny.
Robert should examine how he himself does exactly the opposite of that for which he commends Kendall. He has used unscientifically gathered correlations to determine cause. That the growth of interstate highways and divorce examined as time series beginning in the 50s through the 70s show strong correlation is hardly the basis to conclude that highways cause divorce. That there is a marked correlation between the misogynist trash appearing on this list serve and communications from New Zealand is hardly the basis for concluding that New Zealand scientists tend to be misogynists. Calling attention to the necessity that critics of GM including SftP maintain high credibility by well founded and documented science is a positive contribution. Maintaining our credibility as a progressive, critical voice based on sound science is indeed essential For that reason we must deal firmly with insulting, unscientific misogyny.
I recommend that one racist, misogynist or homophobic post earns a warning to the poster. Repeated racist, misogynist or homophobic posts is an adequate basis to remove the poster from the list.