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Women in Biology: a proposal

Megan Brown mbrown at fred.fhcrc.org
Fri May 15 11:19:14 EST 1998

S L Forsburg (forsburg at nospamsalk.edu) wrote:
: 12 May 1998

: Dear Colleagues:
: The women in biology group has been essentially inactive, presumably
:  due to posting problems, for over a month now.  I for one miss
: our community very much.  The problem appears to correlate
: with the activation of the "antispam" software filter at Bionet.  If
: this is indeed the problem (comments, Bionet staffers?), I propose 
: that we delete the filter and go either to  moderation,
: or simply live with the spam.  In any event, if we do not deal with
: this problem, the group will be effectively dead, if it isn't
: already.  

Susan and others,
I was unable to post beginning about the middle of December until about a
month a go. This corresponded with the implementation of the anti-spam
filter at Bionet.  It was very frustrating because I enjoy participating
in this group. Finally, I decided to do something about it. I corresponded
with Cassandra Smith, Serge Taylor, and Dave Mack at Bionet, who helped me
get things straightened out. Dave Mack  was the nuts-and-bolts guy who
made it happen (thanks! thanks! thanks!). I was extremely motivated to
get the newsgroup working for me again and exchanged at least half a
dozen e-mails with the Bionet folks before things got straightened out. 
The problem turned out to be that when the group changed from being an
unmoderated to an auto-moderated (the antispam filter) one, my news-server
did not receive  the message about the change (even though it was sent).
So every time I tried to post, my posts were going to the wrong place (as
if for direct posting) instead of to the auto-moderator's address. So, 
they never made it to the newsgroup because direct posts were no longer

I worry that many people who may be interested in our group might have
similar problems and just not have the time or energy to sort it all out
with the Bionet folks. This took quite a bit of my time and theirs.
Especially new readers would just not be motivated to do this for a group
they have no investment in.

Last week I took a look at posting before and after the auto-moderation
went into effect (in the middle of December of 1997). I looked at about 6
months spread throughout 1997, and found that the posts per month ranged
between 150-250. Since the auto-moderation began, posts are less than 50
per month. I then looked at the archives for 4 months in 1997 and counted
by hand the spam messages to get a spam frequency estimate. Spam frequency
ranged from 10-20% of postings, perhaps increasing a bit as 97 wore on.
The absolute number of spams per month did not increase overly much--the
spam frequency varied more due to the variation in total number of
monthly posts to the group.  So just the elimination of spam cannot 
explain the huge drop in the number posts to the group. Many of the "lost"
posts must be due to people like me, who could no longer post because of
the auto-moderator.

My own preference for the group would be to return to unmoderated status.
The spam frequency was only 20% during the worst month. Also, I hate how
the moderation  slows down the appearance of posts on the group. They seem
to take at least 24 hours before they appear (I have monitored this by
tracking how long it takes my posts to appear at the BIOSCI web site),
and this discourages lively discussions. In the other newsgroup I hang
out on (sci.research.careers, an unmoderated group), I have been involved
in a few discussions in which partipants could respond back and forth to
each other multiple times within the same day, like a conversation. In
the current women-in-bio, such a discussion would take at least a week and
lose its dynamic character. I expect going to a live moderator would have
much the same problems (increased post time and many people's posts still
would not get to the moderator). Another weird observation is that after
I regained posting ability, my posts do not always become archived at
DejaNews (I noticed this with one of Susan's posts too).

What to do about spam? I know some people on this group read the posts
through a listserv. It gets really annoying to get all that junk mail in
your e-mail box. I would recommend as many people as possible switch to
reading the group as a typical USENET newsgroup using a news-server and a
news-reader (most universities and ISPs provide access to USENET NEWS) or
through a web site. For example, you can access thousands of newsgroups
through DejaNews (www.dejanews.com), and their interface is quite nice.
Also, you can access all the Bionet groups at the Stanford BIOSCI site,
which houses the archives (sorry, I don't have the URL handy). If you are
reading the group through NEWS or the web, you can easily just skip over
the spam posts. They don't bother me at all because I never read them.
You can also set kill-files, etc. For the people who do not have NEWS or
Web access, but only e-mail, then I guess they would have to stick with
the listserv and continue to get that annoying spam if we go back to an
unmoderated system.

Well, those are my observations and one vote for a return to unmoderated
status.  I do not see the live-moderator as being any better than the

mbrown at fred.fhcrc.org

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