FOM: New rules for postings

Solomon Feferman sf at Csli.Stanford.EDU
Tue Dec 30 17:10:43 EST 1997

I have found a number of recent postings very distressing, not least the
one of 12/22/97 at 20:48 signed by Harvey Friedman and Stephen Simpson
regarding the purposes of FOM and new rules for postings.  I assume my
professional credentials are well enough known so that I don't have to
spell them out as required by the rule for first postings after 12/22.  

The 12/22 posting on purposes and new rules [PNR in the following] was
described as "blunt, specific and constructive" in its aim; I shall try 
to proceed likewise. I believe that the true purpose for PNR was to try to
put an official cover on the uncalled-for ad hominem attacks by Friedman
on Franzen in his posting of 12/17 at 5:41 and on Thayer in his posting of
12/18 at 20:11, especially the latter.  But this very statement of
purposes has been violated as much by Friedman as by anybody, in his many
postings on questions of "general intellectual interest" and on the P=NP
problem.  Both of these led to the postings by Franzen and Thayer which
Friedman tore into.  Many if not most results in FOM of interest with
respect to FOM require appropriate technical sophistication for their
proper understanding and while one can attempt to explain them to a 
general mathematical and/or philosophical audience (as I have done on a 
number of occasions), it's stretching it to call them of general
intellectual interest.  Take the G"odel/Cohen results on the consistency
and independence of AC and CH, for example.  Correspondingly, most (99.9%) 
matters of general intellectual interest have nothing to do with FOM.  In
my opinion, the P=NP problem is one such (and Friedman in one posting
seemed to acknowledge the tenuous connection, at best).  So if the
moderator had been following his (their) own "rules", most of Friedman's
postings on what is of general intellectual interest and on the P=NP
problem should not have been admitted.  

Secondly, the emphasis in PNR on who is a "professional" and who is not,
and how "non-professionals" are going to be allowed to raise their hands,
is very disturbing to me.  I believe that if anyone qualifies to be a 
"professional" contributor to FOM, I do.  But I would by no means want to 
see postings from professionals restricted to those working in this area 
"or related areas" (PNR point 1), if one can even determine effectively who 
meets these criteria (which I doubt).  Nor would I want to have postings
expressing opinions by "non-professionals" (if somehow so determined)
rejected out of hand for that reason.  One of the things that I have found
quite exciting about the f.o.m. list is to hear considered and
provocative opinions from a variety of unexpected sources, not all of 
whom may meet the "professional" criteria.  And sometimes, in the heat
of real-time exchange, subscribers may say things that they later regret
(as, e.g., I regret having used, in one posting, the words "socially
constructed", which could so easily be misinterpreted).  But those kinds of
things can lead to interesting discussions (as "socially constructed"
elicited).  So I think no one should have to state their professional
credentials in order to post to the f.o.m. list, and that proposed
postings should be judged for acceptance or rejection on what they say and
not who they are from. 

Certainly, not everything is an appropriate posting for this list; it's
not "anything goes".  That's why there have to be occasional reminders by
the moderator as to what the general purposes are of f.o.m., and how best
to meet them.  And that's why we have to have a moderator, to screen
proposed postings that for one reason or other do not meet those purposes.
The moderator must also screen postings that may give offense.  In both
respects these are matters of judgment, and for the same list, one
moderator may be more liberal or more conservative than an other.  But
whoever gets a rejection slip ought to be informed of the reason.

I hope Messieurs Friedman and Simpson will reconsider PNR, whose effects I
fear will be deleterious in several respects, in the light of these
comments and suggestions.  

Sol Feferman

PS. PNR pointed at its conclusion to the posting of John Steel of 12/19/97
at 10:13 as being paradigmatic of the quality "even a fraction" of which 
"will be regarded as entirely acceptable". I have no quarrel with the 
assessment of either the quality or the acceptability of that particular
posting, but fear that it will be misleading to use it as a model.  Steel
there proposed a technical program for "deciding" CH, and gave some
information on the background.  Of course there should be such relatively
technical postings but there must also be considerable continued room for
less technical postings, for example those of a primarily philosophical or
historical character.  After all, when you come down to it, FOM is
concerned with questions of justification, and many of these can only be
addressed at a non-technical level.

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