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

Foteos Macrides macrides at
Thu Jun 30 12:56:15 EST 1994

In article <2unlqb$bus at>, kristoff at (David Kristofferson) writes:
>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.

	Let's be clear on what the history is.  In the 2-1/2 years since
the "Great Reorganization and Newsgroup Creation/Cancellation Policy Debates"
only two occasions come to mind in which there was overt solicitation of
votes outside the bionet hierarchy, and in only one of those is there reason
to believe that the outcome of the vote was affected.

	Occasional aberrations of that sort were anticipated. The
"cancellation" and "second vote" components of the policy are intended
to deal with them ("in due time" 8-).

	Let's also be clear that much of what we refer to as our "policy"
is in fact a consensually validated etiquette -- a set of standards for
acceptable behavior in the bionet newsgroups.  No one associated with the
bionet hierarchy truly has a right to specify what can or cannot be posted in
other hierarchies.  The only reason someone would go outside the hierarchy
with an explicit solitication for votes (as opposed to an invitating for
potentially interested persons to join the discussion here) is an excessive
desire to be influencial within the bionet hierarchy.  Therefore, the most
effective "enforcement" is for the readership itself to make it clear that
such behavior has consequences opposite to what was intended.  Additional,
"administrative" enforcement procedures would just open a can of worms
better left closed.

>So, my question to all of you is this: it may be time to rethink how
>newsgroups are created.  [...]
>   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.
>Needless to say, I have some ideas on the above, but I'd like to
>solicit other viewpoints first.

	The so-called "prototype newsgroup" addition to the "policy" is
an excellent feature for groups of biologists with focused interests who
really want an email list, with the bionet administrators overseeing the
mechanics of subscription and message distribution to ensure it runs
smoothly, leaving the biologists free to focus on their discussions.

	I do not think it has been, or ever would be, a reliable "litmus
test" for eventual creation of newgroups within the standard hierarchy.
These groups do not get equivalent exposure, and are less likely to grow
much beyond the original creators of the group.  People "visiting" a
newsgroup via a reader, and possibly becoming an active participant,
is the most common mechanism for newsgroup growth.  It's more rare to
"visit" a purely email group via an active subscription mechanisms.

	It would be better (IMHO) to lift the time restriction for the
purely email groups, and the concept of them as "prototypes."  They should
be handled equivalently to what will be done for the "profs" groups.  If
the usage is very light, the bionet administrators should check with the
subscribers to assess whether the group is still truly desired.  If the
useage does become substantial, the subscribers themselves can seek creation
of a standard newsgroup to lift the burden off their personal mailboxes.

	The disadvantage of purely email groups, at present, is that they are
not adequately archived.  Something should be done about that, by somebody or


 Foteos Macrides           Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology
 MACRIDES at SCI.WFEB.EDU     222 Maple Avenue, Shrewsbury, MA 01545

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