ASA and Evolution Lists and noise

James Mahaffy (
Wed, 22 Sep 1999 23:00:45 -0500


While I quit subscribing to the evolution list several years ago, I
took a look at the archives recently and noticed an interesting
discussion about why the thinkers had left the list. Apparently the
discussion was stimulated by one person suggesting (in a private post -
that was made public) that a particular person had driven away the
"thinkers" when he joined the list.

I thought the question interesting enough since I purposefully (while
not classifying myself as one of the powerful thinkers) had left the
list. The main reason I left that list and now read the ASA list only
via the archives on the web was because of noise on the lists. Noise of
course means that lot of the posts are of little interest to you. Early
on I had found the evolution list very stimulating. It was then a
private list of Phil Johnson's with a bunch of ID thinkers who were
offering new and somewhat different ways of looking at creation. I
even appreciated their engagements with folks like Terry Gray, who
disagreed but gave very good arguments for his position (and gave me a
better respect for some TE's). But as time went on I thought the list
became dominated by some TEers and most Iders left soon after it went
public. So even though, as an evangelical biologist of reformed
persuasion, who is very interested in questions of origin, I was not
finding enough gems among the many posts and I left.

Anyway, I think lists like the evolution list and ASA list have the
potential to have more of an impact on the academic community and
perhaps could become a valuable forum for sharing ideas among
evangelical scholars - but in part, noise is a factor that keeps many of
us away.

Being an empirical scientist, I decided not to go just by my gut feeling
but study the patterns of posting on the evolution list, ASA list and
compare them to a third active list of very low noise, paleonet. What
follows are the results of my study followed by some suggestions of
things that could be done to improve the effectiveness of the lists.

Analysis of posts from three lists.

Graph for evolution list at url:
Graph for asa list at url:
Graph for Paleonet list at url:

Evolution ASA Paleonet

Days 26 28 31
total posts 242 318 120
Posts/day 9.31 11.36 3.87
posters 33 59 58

50-60 1
30-40 3 1
20-30 1 1
10-20 3 2 3
0-10 26 59 55

Greater Breakdown of numbers.

Evolution list
30-40 = 3 (37,36,31)
20-30 = 1 (26)
10-20 = 3 (16,12,11)
1-10 = 25 (9,8,7,6,4,4,4,4,4,2,2,2,2,2,2,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1)

ASA list
50-60 = 1 (67)
40-50 = 1 (46)
30-40 = 1 (30)
20-30 = 1 (24)
10-20 = 2 (15,10)
5-10 = 5 (9,8,6,5,5)
4 = 4
3 = 7
2 = 18
1 = 20

Paleonet List
10-20 = 3 (12,12,12)
6 = 1
4 = 3
3 = 3
2 = 8
1 = 40


1. At 9 and 11 posts per day both evolution and ASA have a lot of
traffic. This number makes it a busy list (paleonet had about 4 posts a
day - and I consider it an active list). I don't think in itself this
number is high enough to usually prevent folks from joining the list. I
don't know exactly what the number is where it just becomes too much but
for me, if you start getting more than 15 messages per day from a list
it becomes too much even if most are useful. But if a number of the
posts repeat the same people's ideas or offer nothing nothing new, then
the noise gets bothersome quickly on a busy list.

2. What I found most interesting was 4 people produced more than half
the messages on both evolution and ASA (see graphs or data). On
evolution four people averaged between 1 and 1.5 posts a day and while
again it was four folks who really posted a lot one averaged 2.4 posts
during this period.

3. Another figure that may be significant is the number of posters. In
this regard ASA is right up there with Paleonet at almost 60 and
evolution is at about half at 33. That is one healthy sign for the ASA


1. While much of my comments will focus on the folks who are posting a
lot, let me strongly say that you need to have some folks that like to
post and respond. There is nothing worse than someone throwing out an
idea and no one responding. This is especially true of lists where you
want discussion to continue.

2. While the above is true, I think both lists would do better if the
people who post a lot could cut down their posts by perhaps a half to a
third. At least one of the busy folks is someone who I respect for an
excellent mind and good ideas but when you see a post from this
individual almost every day you know many of his ideas and they can
become noise. Now if some frequent posters have little to say - then
their posts are noisy. So frequent posters, we need you but if you can
just think twice before you post on whether we have heard your idea on
that topic or if it is really of general interest and not an "I agree
too" - the list would be stronger in my opinion.

3. Sometimes I think both evolution and ASA suffer from lack of new
ideas or posts that stimulate me to think and see insight. I suspect
the evolution list is worse in that regard. Are there ways we can
stimulate new ideas and encourage folks that do not post much or new
folks to contribute? One thing that we had on the ASA list once, was
a thoughtful secular person. Perhaps we could do more in inviting into
our forums someone who has different or new ideas. But then we would
have to treat them civilly and that hasn't always been the case on the
ASA list (I don't know enough about the evolution list to comment on it,
but I suspect it is just as bad.)

I don't know if this study helps but I thought it interesting. Now if
anyone has ideas on how we can improve the lists reputations as sources
of good and thoughtful ideas, I think their impact could be increased.

Now I know I am slow but working up this post took a LOT of time - which
may be part of the problem with making a list better. How would these
lists be if we shared ideas we had worked on for at least several days?
But then maybe a list of its nature just does not provide the forum for
good thinking to develop and we have to go to the Christian Journals.

Comments anyone?

James and Florence Mahaffy    712 722-0381 (Home)
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