Re: [asa] Occult crankery and the vitality of our email list

From: Vernon Jenkins <>
Date: Mon Dec 15 2008 - 15:41:10 EST


The last time I came across the word 'troll' was in connection with my reading the famous Norwegian fairy tale "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" ( to my granddaughter; but that was many years ago. On this occasion, it would seem appropriate that we play out the story together.

Of course, it is possible that you use the term 'troll', more benignly, to refer to a serious-minded supernaturalist and Bible believer who, clearly, has old-fashioned expectations of what it means to be a scientist. If that is the case then I gladly accept your nomination!


----- Original Message -----
From: "George Murphy" <>
To: <>
Sent: Saturday, December 13, 2008 11:24 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] Occult crankery and the vitality of our email list

>I agree but there's a weak point in this plan. It requires all the
> relatively sensible people on the list to ignore the troll. Unfortunately
> not all list participants recognize the damage that the loony stuff does &
> sometimes new participants come on who aren't aware of the history. & as
> long as a troll can get an occasional trollee, he/she will keep at it.
> Shalom
> George
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "David Opderbeck" <>
> To: "Stephen Matheson" <>
> Cc: <>
> Sent: Friday, December 12, 2008 11:06 PM
> Subject: Re: [asa] Occult crankery and the vitality of our email list
>> The best way to handle a troll is to ignore it. They get stronger
>> with attention. This truth, BTW, is revealed in the fifth Harry
>> Potter movie.
>> David W. Opderbeck
>> Associate Professor of Law
>> Seton Hall University Law School
>> Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
>> On Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 10:36 PM, Stephen Matheson <>
>> wrote:
>>> Well, it seems to me that this is an opportunity to discuss the
>>> guidelines
>>> we do and don't have for behavior on the email list.
>>> Right now, a person can be removed from the list (for a time, at least)
>>> for
>>> various kinds of obnoxious behavior. A committee of three excellent
>>> people
>>> is responsible for making such a decision, and I think that every
>>> expulsion
>>> is announced along with a brief rationale.
>>> Now as far as I know, the infractions that can get a person removed all
>>> involve rudeness or aggression or other inappropriate behavior that is
>>> deemed counterproductive to discussion and dialogue -- but the
>>> advancement
>>> of the occult or the advocacy of various forms of divination are
>>> apparently
>>> tolerated. So we've had, over the years, George Hammond's ravings and
>>> Vernon Jenkins' occult numerology. Now we have Mr. McCray advancing the
>>> "ideas" of a sci-fi cult that has concocted fantastical tales with
>>> plainly
>>> racist (and sexist) overtones, built on mid-20th-century crackpot
>>> pseudoscience.
>>> I wonder: what should we do? I'm personally undecided: on principle, I'm
>>> opposed to banning anyone for anything other than malicious disruption of
>>> our discourse. Ideally, we would discourage such crankery by creating an
>>> unfruitful environment for its propagation; specifically, we would ignore
>>> Vernon and his ilk, and only limit participation if it came to resemble
>>> spamming. But that's not how things tend to go, and I think we might be
>>> underestimating the damage that engagement with nonsense can do to the
>>> quality and level of participation of our list. In othe words, visitors
>>> who
>>> see a post by Mr. McCray could reasonably conclude that our forum is just
>>> another mosh-pit of vague supernaturalism. Ongoing interaction with
>>> bizarre
>>> cultic lunacy is surely as unhealthy as regular spasms of name-calling or
>>> crass insults.
>>> And yet the banning of unusual ideas, or even the impression of such, is
>>> not
>>> a good thing either.
>>> Can we talk?
>>> Steve Matheson

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Received on Mon Dec 15 15:42:00 2008

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