IMPORTANT: How to prevent future newsgroup voting problems?!?

David Kristofferson kristoff at
Mon Jun 27 18:02:35 EST 1994

Dave K>>>Assuming that there are no further posts in violation of our
Dave K>>>policies, I will abide by the outcome of the vote. ...
Una S>> 
Una S>>	These are not "our" policies, these are David Kristofferson's
Una S>>	dicta.  Here, David threatens to abandon them, to suit himself.
Una S>> Note, he has *not* said he will throw out the vote (and thus
Una S>>	keep the status quo of voting for all new newsgroups);  instead,
Una S>>	he threatens to go against the expressed voter preference.
Una S>>
Fote M>
Fote M>The bionet voting policy and bionetiquette concerning solicitation
Fote M>of votes in other hierarchies was discussed at length in 1992, until
Fote M>consensus was reached and a vote on the voting policy was taken.  That
Fote M>policy and associated bionetiquette has remained in effect since then.


Thanks for pointing this out.  Una obviously wanted to justify her
actions in violation of our voting procedures by distorting the facts,
and making the policies appear to be my personal dictates which are
therefore, by her logic, open for easy dismissal.  I was tempted to
reply earlier, but I did not want to post further comments to Una's
flames until after the voting period on the
proposal was ended.  The voting results will be posted shortly on

Your quotation of Una (not included above) from your use of the
biosci.src index was most effective in driving your point home.

BIOFORUM/bionet.general readers,

I am left, however, with a more important question.  Given the
continuing growth of the number of posts on the net, it is becoming
increasingly difficult to enforce our current policy, because
violations such as broadcast of bionet CFD/Vs in non-bionet newsgroups
might go unnoticed.

This policy of not posting outside of BIOSCI/bionet unless the
postings are approved by us in advance was not adopted to keep things
"secret" as one person implied in a private message to me.  During our
original voting policy discussions, the problem that we tried to
resolve was the following: (1) we didn't want to impose the stringent
voting limits used in the USENET mainstream because legitimate
technical fora in biology might not get established simply due to lack
of numbers, but (2) given our lower approval limits we had to limit
the amount of lobbying for votes.  In particular, we had one case in
which a BIOSCI/bionet proposal was broadcast all over USENET to groups
which had nothing to do with biology and then, of course passed by a
large margin.  However, the group subsequently had virtually no
traffic, and probably would not have passed without the non-bionet
lobbying effort (e.g., on groups such as soc.culture.vietnamese).  I
should note that no advance request to advertise a CFV has ever been
turned down as long as the advertisement was directed at biologists.

Given this history, I have been thinking about reviewing this policy
once again.  As it currently stands, a single individual has the power
to influence the voting process at any time, by broadcasting the CFV
for any proposal that he/she wants to influence one way or another.
Our low voting limits make it possible to "stuff the ballot box."  We
need to guard against this kind of interference, but, at the same
time, not set voting limits so high that only the broad areas of
biology, e.g., cell biology, ecology, microbiology, molecular biology,
etc., can garner enough votes to pass.

The important point to remember is that BIOSCI/bionet is here *to
serve biologists first*; it has *absolutely no need to conform to the
USENET mainstream procedures* despite Una'a lengthy arguments in favor
of doing so.  Also note that arguments about resource waste by bionet
groups are absolutely absurd if anyone takes the time to look at what
goes on in other parts of USENET.

I should note that we did not even vote to create the original bionet
USENET groups back in 1987.  These were just set up directly as USENET
analogs of the groups already in existence on the BIONET National
Computer Resource for Molecular Biology and at SEQNET in the U.K.  The
BIOSCI staff decided on the use of the original voting policy way back
when (i.e., the original voting policy used *before* the one mentioned
above was discussed and adopted) and decided singlehandedly that only
30 YES votes were needed.  Voting was begun merely as a means of
testing reader interest in a newsgroup proposal, *NOT* because of any
inherent requirement that all USENET newsgroups in the bionet domain
had to be voted upon.  The staff simply did not want to spend time
creating newsgroups that were not going to be used - this was the real
motivation behind starting to vote on BIOSCI/bionet newsgroups.

NOTE!! - This does not mean that I necessarily favor canceling voting
for bionet groups (which I am sure would send several readers on the
war path 8-), but that I want people to be aware that we are *not
constrained* in our choices on how to approve the creation of new
newsgroups.  If we so desired, we, the BIOSCI staff, had the
"authority" to simply create the groups without
going through the process of voting on the policy change first.
However, we chose not to do so and instead abided by our current
reader-approved policy.

So, my question to all of you is this: it may be time to rethink how
newsgroups are created.  I believe that most BIOSCI readers (except
possibly for Una Smith and the very small numbers who support her
positions as evidenced by the outcome in all relevant votes to date)
would support the following principals:

1) Any legitimate area of biology should be allowed to have an
electronic forum.  Artificially high voting restrictions should not
-----------------  ------------------------------------------------
prohibit formation of legitimate scientific newsgroups.

   If usage and readership is very small, a mailing list may be the most
   appropriate means (hence our "prototype newsgroup" idea), but at some
   level (currently 80 YES votes) a USENET newsgroup is justifiable.
   Note that no site is forced to take bionet USENET groups (it is not a
   USENET mainstream hierarchy) and biology discussions are legitimate
   uses of the net as compared to many other illegitmate uses, so
   resource arguments are non-issues.  On the other hand, how can one
   tell in advance what research areas will actually *use* a newsgroup once
   it has been established???

2) One person should not be able to interfere with the voting process.

   This is virtually a tautology.  Current policy tries to keep the lower
   approval limits from being overwhelmed by non-biologist votes by
   limiting broadcast of info about CFDs and CFVs.  This is not very
   strong protection and is increasingly vulnerable as the number of
   posts to the net increases.  Something needs to be done to render
   the policing of such violations unnecessary.

Needless to say, I have some ideas on the above, but I'd like to
solicit other viewpoints first.


				Dave Kristofferson
				BIOSCI/bionet Manager

				biosci-help at

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