Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Moderator Problem

As the #3 ranked contributor on http://programmers.stackexchange.com, I've provided my share of advice.  554 Answers to be factual about it.

The moderators, however, have decided that I'm no longer welcome.  It was simply shocking to be firmly (but politely) shown the door.

The issue was Python.  Specifically, the fact that Python uses whitespace instead of C-style {}'s or some other notation for an enclosed block of code.  The question -- closed by the moderators -- asked about convincing a reluctant boss to use Python instead of PHP for web development.  The question stated that the boss liked his curly braces.

My answer pointed out several things, two of which became issues.

Python doesn't use {}'s.  That means that {}'s aren't essential.  That means the boss's preference for {}'s is a silly personal preference.  Generally, there's no way to convince someone to change their personal preference.

According to a moderator, Python not using {}'s does not make {}'s non-essential.  Even though Python does not use them, they're still -- somehow -- essential.  This means that the boss referenced in the question is not expressing a personal preference. My claim that {}'s are not essential is merely opinion, I'm being too aggressive in stating my opinions, and Python's syntax is not a sufficient factual basis for my claim that {}'s are not essential.

Wow.

Python doesn't use {}'s.  But I'm flat-out wrong to claim that liking {}'s is a preference.

Second.  And weirder.  I claimed that people mess up punctuation frequently, but they very rarely indent incorrectly.  I've spend hours looking at C code that was indented nicely but omitted a closing }.  I've seen hundreds of Stack Overflow questions that amount to missing punctuation.

The hundreds of Stack Overflow questions where punctuation was messed up were deemed not factual.

Not factual?  Denied four separate ways.  Note that we're way beyond any emotional response here.  I'm being told that my facts are not facts.

Denial One.  The moderator stated that they have never messed up punctuation like {}'s.  While this may be true, it doesn't make other people's problems fanciful.

Denial Two.  Those users were "dumb" for messing up punctuation.  While this may also be true, it doesn't make other people's problems a matter of my opinion.

Denial Three.  There are more questions with proper punctuation than messed up punctuation.  This, too, my be true, but doesn't magically make the other questions go away.  They still seem to exist as stubborn irrefutable facts.  People mess up punctuation.  Perhaps they're dumb, but they mess up.

Denial Four.  The moderator simply disputed the SO evidence.  I was simply wrong to present it.

Wow again.

Other folks in the Programmers Chat said we we're not seeing "eye-to-eye".  Wait, what?

A moderator says my responses about {}'s being non-essential and people messing up {}'s were not factual.  I thought I provided facts.  The moderator then simply refuted the facts saying that the facts were not facts.  This is a purely emotional response preventing any rational presentation of evidence.

I'm not sure that's an "eye-to-eye" issue.  That's more of a "I don't like you" issue.

["You're just being a drama queen."  Okay.  I was told that I had a "history" of being "aggressive".  If my history is the basis for refuting the facts, that means this was merely personal.  As in "you're not welcome."]

The Moderator Problem is that there's no recourse.  I have the third-highest reputation, but that carries no actual weight.  My answer was edited in a shockingly heavy-handed way.  The question was closed as "Not Constructive" presumably because the boss's understanding of programming languages (e.g., {}'s are essential) is somehow "correct" and hardly worth responding to.  And I was told that there's no reason to argue with the moderators, I should just "move on".

[I was also told to simply roll-back the edits and see what happens next.  That's being equally heavy-handed; a wikipedia edit war wouldn't address the "I deny your facts" problem.]

The design of the stack exchange sites allows flagging questions for moderator attention.  This is pure genius.

But there's no way to flag moderators for further attention.  Perhaps a "revote this answer" kind of process where the up voters and down voters would be notified of a change to an answer.  But that seems complex.  And if the original voters didn't feel like revoting after a change, the results would be indeterminate.

It was suggested that I take the issue up on Programmer's Meta (http://meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/).  I'm not sure what would happen.  The question is closed.  The heavy-handed edits and refutation of facts are invisible and therefore irrelevant.  All that's left is a "don't see eye-to-eye" situation that no one needs to care about since the question was closed.

It's hard to get over such a blatant refutation of stubborn facts.

It's hard to get over a moderator simply refusing to moderate but instead taking the time to repeatedly refute simple facts.