I was going to write a brief piece tonight on my new board game “Earth: Our Home” I created for the the Richard Dawkins Science Writing Contest. I test played it with Luke, Kev and Tom tonight, and we had a wonderful time slaughtering each other species and fighting for control of this pale blue dot. 500 million years passed in two hours, and at the end it was incredibly close, but I won. 🙂
Unfortunately I popped over to RD.net to see what was going on, and found that an announcement had been made that the forum is to close. It will remain live for 30 days to allow us to retrieve anything we want to save: given I had written over 10,000 posts (7,000+ remain after an earlier purge) and I guess many million words as I am not known for my brevity, that will prove immensely difficult. Given that the search has not worked for months, in order to protect other parts of the website and keep the bandwidth manageable, well it will be next to impossible. I have tried waybackmachine: no good. 😦
I had a hilarious exchange on this blog once before with someone who had a rather bizarre view of the history of RD.net: the details don’t matter, but I will briefly now discuss the matter. A few years ago the great man Dawkins0 became aware that there were forum posts which were rather er, colourful (“What does sperm taste like? was the infamous example always cited) and suddenly over night a large part of the forum was just deleted. The bit which went comprised the chatty silly areas – I lost about 20% of my posts, as i tended ot post mainly in the Faith & Religion and General Science areas anyway. This led to a major row, with a number of atheist who saw this as censorship buggering off to create their own communities: it was not really the imposition of community standards which did it, but the clunky way it was handled. We lost the original admins (OBC, Kevin Ronayne) about that point, and by 2009 a new set of mods had taken over. It was still a great site though, though I miss the early days – but nostalgia ain’t what it used to be… 🙂
Tonight the proverbial has really hit the fan. Again the closure of the forum may NOT be all it seems: a new kind of heavily moderated discussion area will exist, and approved topic can be discussed. What it does mean is the death of the forum community, and like the end of the Living TV Most Haunted forum dozens of new forums will spring up, but I’lll lose touch with most of the friends I made in my years over there since December 2006. We can’t even talk about iot now – I tried to log back in and found a message telling me “Sorry but this board is currently unavailable.”
It is such a blasted shame: to try and name them all would be impossible, but my thoughts really go out to all those who worked so hard to make it a success – firstly Sciwoman, so long a mod, then an admin, and a good friend. We shared a lot of laughs and a lot of misery, and she has been a good friend to me. Then there is the excellent CJ – no not me, CJ was an admin or possibly just a mod I think and was one of the best, and used to welcome every new poster. In the great purge he was demoted to ordinary member status for something that had nothing to do with his work as a mod: the backstairs politics of the forum was always machiavellian, but CJ happened ot have publicly discussed things which were considered verboten from his own personal life – ironically things this CJ discusses just as openly. Who else? The Old Farts were all great, and much missed – they were a loose collective of posters who had a great time. JimC was always one of my faves, a wonderful Australian biologist with a sharp sense of humour.
My life will be poorer for not hearing from the splendid Aussie atheist Goldenmane: I’ll miss Hackenslash, Ilovelucy, Durro, MedGen, Mechtheist, MacDoc, FlyingScot, Natselrox, and me and Tim O’ Neil had a wonderful time together fighting Jesus Mythers and the terminally ill informed. Mercer is a thoroughly fine fellow: and my companions in faith Imperiatorium and of course my good mate Grahbudd, plus the really decent Jewish engineering student whose name I just can;’t for the life of me recollect right now.
There are SO many others – Darren from Canada, whose profanity was always laced with awesome humour; Mazille, who brought me back to the forum with the science writing contest I have invested so much time on, Thwoth the brilliant artist and sharp wit, Hyrax a truly lovely guy and great mod, Campermom who was always great on science, the simply awesome FedupwithFaith, and one of the sharpest minds of all Spaghettisawus who is a really top bloke.
So I’m sad: rather than carry on with the litany of names, which is so difficult as i’m missing dozens of really great people out (Topmum?- I just can’t recollect user names right now) I’ll make a few general comments… (but not forget Jerome Serpenti, Homo Economicus, Matalnifesto, Dave C, Pdavid…) The sad thing about the death of an internet forum is in some sense all these people become part of your life, and they touch you. I really got to care about people I only ever knew as words on a screen. Sad? Maybe, but its a part of life in the 21st century – some of our friendships are with people we may never physcialy meet. (I was lucky enough to meet three members – sadly the accounts of our meetings were lsot in the first great purge.)
I enjoyed being Jerome (a contraction of Jensen Romer), the Anglican who always had something controversial to say. I enjoyed my arguments with the great and the good, my ill fated challenge to Richard Dawkins to a debate on the history of Science, my fun debates on the rationality of theism and on life after death. Most of all though I enjoyed the people, the new ideas, the constant challenge to my beliefs, and the ability to ask others to question theirs.
Apparently the new website to replace the forum will only allow posts clearly in the areas of Reason and Science, and that is in itself interesting. I wonder what that means? Will Atheism cease to be a major plank of the new website? Will religious believers like me now be officially banned? In my more more egotistical twat moments I’d like to think my success at arguing for actual history over myths may have hastened the demise of the old forum, and this is a ridiculous attempt at censorship — but I VERY much doubt it: in fact it’s absurd. What I doubt will ever happen on the new website is that someone will win the say writing contest with an essay ripping to shreds the nonsense about the conflict of religion and science, or we will have a sensible discussion about parapsychology, or the evidence for the historical Jesus, or any of the things I spent so much time writing about on the forum.
That’s a damned shame. Reason and Science were furthered by those discussions I think: people came to examine their personal beliefs (I certainly did) and were exposed to opinions sharply divergent from there own. I learned a helluva lot, but above all I learned tolerance and respect for my opponents, even if I still disagreed with them after all the shouting. 🙂
So why has it happened? No one actually knows. The mods have been dismissed, or rather given notice, and the website administrators made a unilateral decision to withdraw the forum for the new website. My utterly cynical guess is simple: it comes down to money. I have no idea how well offf the Richard Dawkins Foundation is, though it’s a registered charity so the accounts are public domain I think: but ultimately the forum must have eaten a hug amount of resources and bandwidth. I have no idea if the Rational Response Squad is till going after their troubles in 2008 , but running an atheist forum is probbaly a license to lose money. People loved the forum, but did they buy from the shop, read the main pages and support the RDF? I don’t know, but I suspect most forum users went staright to the forum and ignored all that stuff.
And so I appreciate this may have well been a sound commercial decision: to support the RDF, more traffic needs to be routed through the main site. Looking at ALEXA the site had continued to grow slowly in popularity, and was ranked 14,799 in the world (top 2000 in New Zealand and South Africa, top 4,000 in the UK, top 9,000 in the USA) – a tremendous success. Yet the search function had gone, and as always the forum often fell over through sheer weight of numbers. It desperately needed investment in servers and infrastructure: instead it has been decided to kill the forum, and create a new streamlined website. I can see why — but it does not help those of us who invested so much in making the site what it is.
Ultimately the decision is one man’s: Richard Dawkins. I never really got to know the bloke in all my time on the forum, as he posted less and less, and when he did it was often after something like this, when he gets the stick. The Great Purge was necessary to protect his reputation and that of the rDF when it was going for charitable status: some of the stuffon the site might have upset the Charity Commissioners, but I think they could differentiate between what the RDF stood for and the opinions voiced on an internet forum – but maybe not. Still, if he is digging deep in to his own pockets to support the forum, and would rather spend his money on “God probably does not exist” adverts on the side on buses who are we to complain. Ultimately it’s Richard’s site – and Richard calls the shots.
Still, I think a lot of people are as usual not so much upset that it has happened but at the usual complete lack of communication that have left us with thirty days to save what we can and make our escape plans. And that si really not something i can forgive lightly. Oh well, so be it…
I returned to the forum to say my good byes and found I could not actually post any more. What I found was a hilarious piece of craven cowardice and stupidity. A notice appended to the previous announcement, which reads —
Update: We had intended to leave the forum fully-funtioning (sic) for 30 days, but due to the inappropriate posts by some users and moderators, we have decided to leave the forum in a read-only state. You can still download and archive your posts and private messages, but the ability to enter new posts has been disabled. It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this. We know that change can be difficult and sometimes frightening, but we are all very excited about the direction of the website and the future.
I’m not, and I suspect over 85,000 other forum users will join me in calling on Richard Dawkins to sack those responsible for what has been a lousy piece of absolutely moronic administration, and boycotting the new website entirely. I don’t mean the decision to close the forum – I can understand if that is necessary – I mean the appalling, insensitive and now frankly ridiculous way it has been done. I wait with interest to see what Dawkins himself makes of all this. To be honest it is a particular kick in the teeth for everyone who has worked so hard on their entries for the Science Writing Contest — voting was due to start tomorrow.
If any one from the old forum reads this, please do comment, I want to stay in touch!
I’ll end with a public service announcement
Atheist forums you might want to try
(a forum specifically set by poster Life up for ex-RD.net folks, where I also happen to be a mod)
and forums that are intelligent fun and atheists may enjoy, but which are NOT atheist forums
have fun guys, and may your gods go with you… 😉
UPDATE: Former mod Darkchilde’s blog offers inside perspective on this extraordinary mess: http://tenebra98.blogspot.com/2010/02/death-of-forum-death-of-rdnet-forum.html
UPDATE: Hackenslash rallys the refugees! – Good on you man… (YouTube link) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyLnxu19DM8&feature=player_embedded
UPDATE: Several mods deleted, along with all their posts.. Mazille, CJ (the other one), Valden, kiki and Darwinsbulldog — about a 30.000 posts gone in this most peculiar purge.
UPDATE: Former mod Peter Harrison blogs on events at the forum –
Update: Richard Dawkins responds
As I have engaged in no such vitriolic attacks i will not be apologizing: they are ridiculously over the top, and i’d love to know where they were posted and take the idiots who said it to task. I will apologise I personally villified Richard Dawkins in anyway. Yet I stand by EVERY WORD I wrote: this whol ematter was dealt with dreadfully, and the deletion of the mods posts was shameful.
J x (who is an Anglican: prejudice declared!)
Thank you, Jerome.
I, for one, am absolutely gutted. Not only was the forum one of the premier learning resources in the internet for critical thinking and science, but I have made many friends there and, like you, I think it likely that I will lose touch with many of them. With a forum boasting over 80,000 members, it is going to be difficult to marshall all of them, to say the least.
Further, the direction the site is going, by all acounts, being heavily moderated and with very tightly confined areas of discussion, is hardly the epitome of a clear-thinking oasis. The way this has been handled, moreover, demonstrates anything but clear thinking.
For any members who get to read this, I will be found at rationalia, as cited above, and at http://www.leagueofreason.co.uk
I would like to extend my hearty thanks to all the members, and particularly to the moderating staff who, in probably the most contentious forum I’ve been a member of, were the absolute model of what moderation should be about.
The end of an era indeed.
BTW, in the interest of getting the word out to as many members as possible, please share the following video with all your youtube contacts, and mirror it if you can.
Hey, Jerome, it’s some guy from the RD Forum. Good of you to direct everyone to those other meeting places. I post at Ratz as ‘Cunt’, and am happy to see that you joined…I hope you stay. I hope I wasn’t one of the fundy atheists who was harassing you.
-Cunt (a.k.a. Darren8306)
Hey Darren, great you found my blog, yeah I mention you in my piece, and your legendary profanity 🙂 I just could not recall the numbers. See you over at Rationalia! 🙂 Course not you twat, it was — hey it doens’t matter – there were only two of them, and neither stuck around long. lol! Everyone expects some crap on forums from time to time – especially when you wander in to the lions den. You wer ealways one of the good guys, and i think you have my MSN anyway?
Of course the Rational Response Squad forums are still around. They are like in the top 5 most visited atheist forums. I think they made a promise a while ago that the forums are never going anywhere. Something about Sapient being upset when he lost all of his posts on a forum that went away, he promised to never let that happen at RRS.
That’s real good news Vic and thanks for sharing, and for once I have respect fro Brian – anyone interested can find the forum at http://www.rationalresponders.com/forums Good on the RRS. 🙂 (not often you haer me say that!)
And that my friend is why Usenet is still the best forum for open discussions.
Of course, there was a period when it became annoying to use thanks to spam etc. but now that nobody knows what Usenet is any more the spammers have all gone away and there are just a few trolls that are easy enough to killfile.
Jerome, I have a feeling that this was more Josh’s decision than Richard’s. Most of the actions Josh has taken, like deleting dissenting threads, banning dissenting opinions and making the forum read only, looks a lot like attempts to keep the bad feeling away from Richard. Josh and Chalkers are two tech heads with no regard or knowledge for the social infrastructure that they just axed in its prime. They just want to wheel out their baby, their pretty looking website that will look so fierce in their CVs. My advice to everyone is to kick up a visible stink. Richard will find out the extent of the anger that has been caused, he probably had a better grasp of what the forum was about than Josh did.
I strongly suspect you are correct. I will wait to see what RD himself says on the matter with interest. Good to see you by the way!
ILoveLucy, I was thinking of doing a few things…
1. Stop buying stuff from RDF, as it seems to support Josh’s website/business (there was a link at the bottom saying something about it, but I don’t remember the site name…’upper branch’ or some crap)
2. Encourage others (in the appropriate jurisdictions) to investigate the foundation to the extent they are able (as I think the general public can do this when it comes to charitable organizations). Not to create havoc, I hasten to add, but because if the management are capable of being this selfish in this case…
3. Stop visiting the Richard Dawkins website.
You seem to have a bit more level-headed approach, but what specifically can we do to bring this to Mr. D’s attention? I mean if you were trying to be as helpful and respectful as possible.
To me, his silence suggests it wouldn’t do much good, but I hope I am wrong.
Has Richard Dawkins’ name been bastardized by that fucker? Poor old Richard!
Hello Jerome, and thanks for this post. I ranted at my blog too, and everyone is welcome there to rant as well.
Now ranting over at rationalia, and after the latest from Josh, even if they opened it up again, I wouldn’t go back. Josh deleted Mazille’s account and all of his posts! We are talking about 5000 posts from Mazille alone!
Thanks Darkchilde, I have linked to your blog now in my latest update. I am so sorry all your hard wok over there has been treated like this.
Not to play the martyr here, but I feel like I should inform you people:
Until yesterday I was a moderator at RDF going by the name of Mazille. Since I voiced my discontent in a very clear manner (Along with all the other mods and users, but especially CJ, who received the same treatment I did) my account was completely deleted from the forum, along with all my posts and everything I have ever done in the almost two years I spent there. There is no trace left of me (or CJ, I hear, but for obvious reasons I can’t take a look myself). A sad day for me…
Mazille, the treatment of you and (the other CJ) is nothing less than disgusting. I do hope the Science Writing contest will continue at Rationalia? I think everyone involved feels nothing but sorrow at how you were treated, and contempt for those who did this…
Thanks, CJ, I appreciate it. By the way, apart from the other CJ and me you can add Valden, kiki and Darwinsbulldog to the list of deleted members. We’re talking about a good 30.000 posts here, many of which were incredibly full of knowledge and wisdom (I’m thinking of CJ and DB especially here…)
As for the competition: I’ll see what I can do, once the storm has calmed down a bit. I am told that several people archived the articles that were submitted so far, so not all is lost.
I think, however, that someone else is going to have to host the competition over there, as I am not a mod any longer. (It’s not necessary to be one to keep it going, now that I think of it, but it sure helps.)
See you over at rationalia.
Thanks for the info. I was not sure what was going on until reading this. I am now also over at Rationalia so I’ll see you there. 🙂
Good to see you Lazar, and look forward to chatting at Rationalia! cj x
Thanks for linking us, Jerome. Folks also welcome at TAF, excepting proponents of bumper-sticker atheism.
TAF is a great forum, and it’s always good to have an intelligent discussion with War Arrow. I’m a member over there too. 🙂
I would like to extend my gratitude in connection with WA’s.
Being activ on both TAF and HOC I am looking foreward to interacting with some of the people from RDF.
Was a member of RDF myself, but has not been active there (apart from maybe 10 posts) since the first purge that cause the other fora to spring up.
Hi Jerome… I always genuinely enjoyed your posts even when I thought they were absolute bullshit!! 😀
For my part I am truly sad that the community has died, and that people have been treated so poorly… but the thing that incenses me most and seems even more contradictory, if possible, than censorship and authoritarianism to the aims of the foundation is the deletion of the entire website’s content in 30 days. This is a wantonly barbaric act when it is not even remotely possible for volunteers to archive that content, or even pick particularly valuable content given the lack of search function.
I am going to squeeze all the hyperbole I may from this farce of a situation and relabel it: Library of Alexandria 2010.
Richard Dawkins needs to make some kind of statement – if he’s worried about the content of his site for PR reasons, this is going to cause a lot more problems.
Cheers Jerome, and all the best to you!
>>”Richard Dawkins needs to make some kind of statement – if he’s worried about the content of his site for PR reasons, this is going to cause a lot more problems.”
No sir, this is not correct. There will not be any problems. This is not the experience that atheist organizations have had. Decades ago, Madalyn Murray O’Hair shut down every chapter of American Atheists, alienating thousands of people, but doing no long-term harm to herself or the group. No problem there.
In 2007, the Internet Infidels Inc, a nonprofit educational group, shut down their extremely popular “IIDB” Internet Infidels Discussion Board, driving away thousands of people, many of whom had donated money to the group for both its regular operations and the upkeep of the forums. When the II, Inc. began banning and silencing its forum users, it lost very little real revenue, as the major donors who supported the organization did not care one bit about the teeming masses on the message board. The II, Inc. did not lose any real income or its reputation amongst the atheist elite. It sold the IIDB to a woman from New Zealand, who changed the forum name and continued to silence all dissidents. The II, Inc. did not suffer any loss or long-term damage after divesting itself of its forum. No problem there, either.
The management of the Richard Dawkins Foundation is a major player in the upper echelon of atheists that none of you are part of. Unless your individual cash donations are five figures or more, you mean nothing to any of these atheist organizations. If you utilize their websites without paying your way, you are little more than a leech. You do not matter, and you never did. Your posts on the forums do not matter. Your feelings do not matter.
This is just business as usual for atheist organizations, why are you all so surprised? This is how it is done. Richard Dawkins will not lose any face. He will not suffer a publicity backlash. As far as his staff is concerned, you are all ungrateful for complaining about not being able to use the forums any more. Guess what? They do not care. They will make new websites, write new books, and speak at new conventions. Where thousands of you dare not tread, thousands more unsuspecting atheists will fill the seats you won’t occupy, and buy the books you won’t read, and visit the websites you won’t support. No problems.
There are millions and millions of atheists worldwide and no major atheist group has ever lost any money by not accommodating all of them. For every hundred of you who leave in disgust, two hundred more will take your place. For every post that is deleted… the same. The outcry of atheists who are offended by being silenced is not a problem in the grand scheme of organized atheist groups.
These groups operate in a realm that none of you occupy. It is a world in which *you* do not exist, and none of them (on the national or international level) are focused on “atheist community” or “the needs of nonbelievers.” They are money-making operations supporting authors, lecturers, philosophers, and publicity hounds, all in the name of atheism, and all for naught.
If you are operating a large atheist organization, shutting the internet out of your atheist group will not hurt you in the long run. This is demonstrably true, and the RDF staff certainly knows it. Now you all know it too. Visit this page again in 2 years, when Dawkins’ books are selling like hotcakes, his lectures are standing-room-only, and his new website discussion area is busy and bustling with passionate atheist activity. All of this complaining is not going to change anything.
There will be no problem for the RDF. Atheist herd migration will not disrupt the activities of any major atheist group, certainly not the biggest moneymaker of them all.
I’m not an atheist, and that is a very bleak perspective, but full of good sense and historically absolutely true. I personally recall the IIDB debacle. I think your comment really does get to the heart of this whole miserble business – well said.
You are a Steely-eyed missile man!
A sad day for us all.
Some users are working hard to archive the content from the forum, although clearly those users who hav e been deleted with all their content can’t be saved. This is, to me, the height of irrationality, and smacks of those book-burning episodes we rant about so often. The content provided by those users, especially DB with almost 12,000 posts, is a serious loss to the world of reason.
Anyhoo, if anybody has any good ideas on how to save more of the forum content before it goes down, let me know and I’ll do whatever it takes.
A good night’s work in the cause of unreason has been done here, and the cretinists are laughing their bollocks off at us.
Surely that deleted content remains available to the administrators of the RDF? I think that pressure should be brought to bear: the General Scienc3e & Evolution posts should be restored, or made available to their original posters 😦
We will make sure that as much content is freely available as possible. If all goes according to plan, a torrent will be available of the whole forum.
Chris Jensen Romer, you may want to include the Rational Response Squad to that list of alternative forums, because it still is alive and kicking and I think the community would be more than happy to have any share of the refugees -if they can stand it.
HI Thomathy – I already have, it’s in the comments above?
Haha. So it is. I missed it.
Hey man, nice to know you’re still hanging around the interwebz. I havent posted on RDF since the purge of ’08, so this whole s—storm didnt really affect me, but I’m still sad to see the forum go down, especially like this. I find it ironic that the reason Josh gave for killing the forum was it’s increased popularity. That sure isnt gonna be a problem after this. But hey, maybe that’s what Dawkins wants; just a place for atheists to back-slap each other and laugh at those silly, deluded theists without actually having to talk to them.
Anyway, why dont you come over to TAF and say hi some time? It’s mostly a new crowd over there, but I cant see anyone not liking you. By the way, that game you put together looks pretty awesome, from the quick glance I gave it.
Hey Jerome. Thanks. You’ve been an online voice for many of us.
I just said what I felt: a deep sense of betrayal and frustration. It’s quite ironic an Atheist forum Christian should be so bloody cut up about the whole thing, but we had great times, and it was a great community = not so much because of RD or Josh, though obviously they were vital to the it, but because of the members, and the fantastic mods. I’m going to post in TAF and Rationalia, and hope that from these ashes something great emerges again. Us Christians believe in resurrection y’know 😉
The Jewish engineering student was Wonkey wasn’t it?
Yes it was, thanks so much Ashley. I really like wonkey, and would love to hear from him again. If anyone has contact details please do encourage him to drop me a line. Ditto impy…
Hi Jerome (well, that’s the name I knew you by, and I’m sticking by it! :D),
As this is a really old post, I don’t know if you’ll ever see this, but I just came across it now.
My name in real life is Steven (or Shalom, depending on who I’m talking to) Weinberg (no relation to that stinking heathen (:P) Steven Weinberg).
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
It would be good to hear from you, or any of the other great posters at RD.net, though I haven’t been frequenting any atheist discussion sites lately…
This is awful. I think Dawkins himself needs to be notified of this. Deleting posts and banning mods is pretty childish. Anyway, the TAF community is always open, we’ve received many RDF refugees.
Yes indeed: thinkingaloudforum.com/ for those who have not checked it out yet…
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FYI to (ex)RDF-ers…
We have set up a new forum for all those who had to flee the sinking ship of RDF and delve into the great unknown of the internet.
Many old mods have returned to their posts there and the forum is rapidly expanding with old faces. Its starting to become business…s as usual.
Also just to recognise a big thank you to Rationalia who have so graciously weathered the storm of refugees that brought their system to a crashing halt yesterday and still had a smile on their face and open arms.
I urge everyone to keep up their contributions to Rationalia and to let your appreciation be known by supporting their safe haven for forsaken heathens like us!
I would like to recommend Freethought Forum, which despite the name is not an atheists-only site. It was an offshoot from the Internet Infidels website, but went in a surprising and excellent direction. (In fact, this Dawkins debacle reminds me quite strongly of a similar meltdown that afflicted Internet Infidels.) It’s also hacked so heavily by the admins that it’s possibly the best-looking message board I’ve ever seen.
No one will ever be banned for anything there other than commercial spam, illegal activity, or posting members’ personal information without permission.
http://freethought-forum.com (sorry, I didn’t check to see whether this comments system auto-parses or allows html).
Thanks Sock Puppet! I’ll add a link in the main article..
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Well that is a lovely tribute, J. Well done.
Very nice forum
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Hey Jerome, I go away for a short while, and come back to my old stomping ground to discover this? I thought you’d look after the place in my absence.
To be honest, I’m quite sad that this happened. I understand why. Josh and co made an absolute dog’s dinner of the implementation. There should have been a splitting of the way, allowing the creation of a new forum, under a new group distinct from RDF. This would have kept all the goodwill, and would have avoided all the hassle. Oh well, spilt milk and all that.
Drop me a line old buddy.
cormac? I missed you! (i was Darren8306) come find me!