"cranks" on Usenet?

Lachlan Cranswick lachlan at dmp.csiro.au
Thu Aug 4 06:38:39 EST 1994

una at doliolum.biology.yale.edu (Una Smith) writes:

>Lachlan Cranswick <lachlan at dmp.csiro.au> wrote:

>>Ignoring for the moment that (thankfully) bionet is not officially
>>part of the Usenet and does not have to follow Usenet "guidelines" -
>>that effectively discourage new serious science newsgroups.

>Newsgroups on scientific topics are no more discouraged than
>those on any other topic.  In fact, I would say the opposite
>was true:  sci.* and comp.* newsgroup proposals seem to meet
>with far less resistance from the public in news.groups than
>do proposals for newsgroups in other hierarchies.

I guess it can be argued that things are relative.  Compared
to the bionet, it can be debated that the Usenet is
scientist unfriendly and "effectively" discourages new

>Regardless, I seem to recall Lachlan Cranswick was involved
>for a time in the proposal for sci.geo.oceanography, which
>has passed smoothly through the administrative steps and is
>now being voted on.  If I remember correctly, Lachlan wanted
>the name to be sci.oceanography, even though sci.geo.* exists
>and has numerous newsgroups already that are not unrelated
>to oceanography:  s.g.geology and s.g.meteorology, to name
>just two.

You archives do you wrong here Una.  I have enough experience
in this area to know that the path of "least Usenet resistance" is
best to get a serious science newsgroup going.  This usually
means going for a fairly irrelevant hiearchy that satisfies
the Usenet's fetish for nomenclature - and ignore the 
people who seem to enjoy dragging a science newsgroup
proposal down with hair splitting naming arguments.

Why do I say "irrelevant" hierarchies - because modern
disciplines in science cannot be pigeon-holed into
chem, physics, engr, geology, etc anymore as they go
over these fields.  While it is supposedly only
an administrative nicety - Usenet cranks think it
"essential that it be in the CORRECT hierarchy".
It's nice that the bionet (on the
whole) does not enforce nomenclature dogma that only
gets in the way of getting the serious scientific discussion
up and going.

>The sci.* hierarchy now faces the same problem that bionet.*
>will soon face:  hundreds of newsgroups and an ever more
>rapidly growing "namespace".  In a small namespace, like a
>small library, it doesn't matter how things are arranged,
>but when there are more than a few hundred things to keep
>track of, the organizing scheme becomes important.  In
>Usenet, for now, organization is achieved by the use of
>informative newsgroup names that are built in hiearchical

While I can find my way through these Usenet hierarchies - many
scientific colleagues are mystified by this.  Even with
modern newsreaders, it you don't know what's there - it is
effectively hidden away.

Also, I don't find order for the sake of order a good
argument.  If a messy hierarchies makes things easier -
go for the messy hierarchy.  The only semi decent
technical argument I have heard against this is
that it makes menu based systems easier.  But I
find new scientific users find the messy hierarchies
easier to find information.  If new bionet proposals
are defeated on the grounds that they are a "waste
of a valuable resource" - it doesn't look like the
bionet will have to worry about a messy hierarchy? :-)
>There are a number of mechanisms for discouraging
>individuals from imposing their pet newsgroup names at the
>expense of all (now 7 million) Usenet readers.

>It would seem that this is the source of Lachlan's sense 
>of discouragement.

What goes on inside the science newsgroup is more relevant in
my opinion than the name.  But if name wars dominate over
the central aim of the newsgroup - to use this technology
to connect like minded scientists - this is not a good

i.e., -

>>the hundered of millions of dollars spent in various countries
>>on academic and research networks (i.e., AARNet, NFSNet, JANET,
>>etc) so that it could be the playtoy of some individuals with
>>the seeming mentality of 5 year olds.

>The Internet is not an academic or research network.  And no one
>ever paid for Usenet, which is just one of many forms of traffic
>on the Internet (and off it).

On this we could probably go on arguing for quite some time.
In many parts of the world (including the USA NSF 
backbone) - academic and research "needs" were the main 
justification for spending the millions of dollars - not
trivia.  (though I will stand corrected if someone
can provide more accurate figures).

As the internet is now becoming the "information superhighway"
for commerical usage - science and non-mainstream areas
are the ones to potentially suffer from this.  If anything -
the trivia and mainstream public interests (comp, rec, alt)
will balloon as this is where the money is to be made -
not giving a small minority access to specialist newsgroups.

If the Usenet community was serious about discouraging 
commerical access and usage - I would have thought they
would be encouraging as much academic and scientific
usage of possible.  This is the main official wall 
stopping immediate "go-for-broke" commercial usage.
But on the present Usenet statistics (small number of science
newsgroups, lack of serious non-scientific academic 
newsgroups) academic and research arguments can't legitimately
be used to stop commercial access.  Unless (as stated in
the New Scientist Editorial), "stream-of-sonsciousness-drivel"
is somehow holy and deserves protection from commerical 

An interesting topic - protecting the "pure" alt
groups and talk.bizarre, etc, from commercial corruption? :-)

>>I take it the above opinions on why science newsgroups
>>should not be encouraged are only an individuals
>>opinions and in no way represent any authority implied
>>or otherwise (such as Yale Univerisity?) on the 
>>"encouraged" use of the internet.

>Who are you refering to, Lachlan?  I've seen no such opinions
>expressed here.  You certainly can't be refering to me, as I
>led the creation of many newsgroups on scientific topics, 

>		bionet.general
>		bionet.organisms.zebrafish
>		comp.soft-sys.sas
>		comp.soft-sys.spss
>		sci.bio.ecology
>		sci.bio.ethology
>		sci.bio.evolution	
>		sci.bio.herp
>		sci.stat.consult
>		sci.stat.edu
>		sci.stat.math

If you have done so well here - why discourage the creation
of more serious science newsgroups under the arguments of :-
protecting a valuable resource, there would not be enough
usage, etc?  Science is a rich and growing area - not some
down and out backwater.

>My department certainly seems to appreciate my Internet activities,
>including developing Usenet newsgroups.  I regard it as volunteer
>service to the scientific research community.

It's interesting that you are appreciated.  I get the impression 
my superiors don't really care too much about my 
activities on the newsgroups (scientific or otherwise)
as long as I get my "real work" done.
I would say that they more frown on my spending time on this
as much of the mainstream media they read describes the newsgroups by
using alt.sex and talk.bizarre as the typical Usenet newsgroups
(i.e., it is a place for telling jokes and wierd stories - not
doing science).  
This results in comments like "couldn't you be spending your time
better than using this (disreputable area) - like (for example)
tidying up your desk." :-)  This is fairly understandable as
when your high up the totem pole and stuck with project and 
grant deadlines, interest in an area for "telling jokes", etc is
not a high priority.


Lachlan Cranswick  -  CSIRO     _--_|\  lachlan at dmp.CSIRO.AU 
Division of Mineral Products   /      \ tel +61 3 647 0367 
PO Box 124, Port Melbourne     \_.--._/ fax +61 3 646 3223 
3207 AUSTRALIA                       v    

More information about the Bioforum mailing list