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I have just read this blog post with much dismay:

Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming. It’s Time for That to Change.

If anybody here knows Vox Day's Rules for SJW's (and I imagine many do, as he is a popular, if controversial, scifi author), that blog post is a word-for-word article with his parody SJW article in his book.

First, a caveat: I'm all for being nice and respectful. Name-calling and such should never be allowed on our site. But this article goes far beyond requiring being nice: It makes nonsensical observations about motives which are unprovable.

For example:

Too many people experience Stack Overflow¹ as a hostile or elitist place, especially newer coders, women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups.

Considering that the vast majority of users here are anonymous, how in the world would the author of the article know what color they are? Moreover how would the so-called elitists act racist to users they do not know the colors of? And although some users may be elitist, the vast majority of elitism on the sites stems from expertise - the main reason I turn to SE and not quora in the first place. I want experts, not random schmos, to answer my questions. I find that if you have expertise, you will not feel elitism.

They get downvoted, but don’t know why, or called lazy for not speaking English fluently.

I think I speak for most users here that if you don't know a passable English, then don't post. This is an English-language site.

It was hard to accept some of the (valid) criticism, especially the idea that women and people of color felt particularly unwelcome.

Why would they feel unwelcome? Can you please provide us examples - real concrete examples - when someone was made to feel unwelcome? (I do not want examples where someone felt unwelcome. I'm sure there's many. I WANT EXAMPLES WHERE THEY WERE MADE TO FEEL UNWELCOME!)

There’s a weird paradox with bias. Those of us who have privilege, but care deeply about reducing bias should be uniquely positioned to help, but we struggle the hardest to recognize that we are (unintentionally) biased ourselves.²

This is pure SJWness. Again, speak for yourself. I personally am not biased. I don't have a racist bone in my body. I also don't have privilege. But I don't like being told what negative traits I have by someone who has never met me.

Also, please provide concrete examples that we're unintentionally biased.

As it happens, making people feel left out is a deep personal fear of mine. (There is probably a seriously repressed playground kickball thing in my past somewhere.)

So, why take it out on us? Go to a therapist. My goal on this site is to fill it with quality, well written info. I want the people who only want to ask 'Who's Stronger, Dumbledore or Gandalf' not to feel welcome - unless, of course, there's a canon answer.

Ironically, that made it harder for me to accept the possibility that something I work on could make outsiders feel unwanted.

Again, HOW are we making them feel unwanted? Concrete examples please.

So I focused on what we were proud of: We are one of the only large sites where it’s practically impossible to find a single slur – our community takes them down in minutes. We don’t tolerate our female users being called “sweetie” or getting hit on.

That's great - because we don't tolerate racists or sexists here. Like we shouldn't.

Many people, especially those in marginalized groups do feel less welcome. We know because they tell us.

SO what? Why would they feel less welcome? We take care of all racist comments. And it's hard to believe that people are being intentionally racist to them, as most users are anonymous! So if they feel less-welcome, it's their problem, not ours! (Maybe feeling left out is a deep personal thing of theirs. Especially since the content on the site is not causing the problem, as already has been established.)

In fact, there is no evidence that racial or other minorities who post quality content are being discriminated against. More likely, perhaps some people posted poor content, and when it was downvoted, blamed it on racism. If you're leveling such serious accusations as bigotry, that requires serious proof.

There are opportunities to work on things like reviewing site copy for inclusive language.

What the heck is inclusive language? It's coding (or in our case sci-fi.)How can computer coding or scifi be exclusive? I'm merely discussing my work. I have no plans to insult anyone. But if everytime I give an example, I have to make sure to write 'he or she' instead of 'he', and triple check anything for microagressions, that will cut down on the quality of my content. And if I have to use 'xir', fuhgeddaboutit.

Maybe it’s time we re-visited things like our “no pleases or thank yous’” rule.

ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!! I don't care if the main site makes this change, I sure hope scifi.se doesn't, because this is one of the best rules on the site. It clears away clutter and stops your inbox from being filled with meaningless crap. There's no reason to exchange that just in case someone may be insulted if he or she or xir didn't get thanked. The upvotes are more than enough of a thank you.

Users aren’t “too lazy” to search; searching takes less work than posting.

This is demonstrably untrue.

But a larger, more diverse community produces better artifacts, not worse ones.

Diverse in what way? If you mean diversity in race, by all means. We already have a diverse crowd. Considering that this is an expert online forum, we don't care what color you are as long as you know your stuff. But if you mean diverse in skill level, in no means does having an influx of knowledgeless noobs increase the quality of the site. (For evidence, see: Quora.)

So, is SciFi.SE going to become a SJW safe space where no one's feelings are hurt, where badly-phrased questions become the norm, and where 'Thank you' comments fill up your inbox; or are we going to stay a quality site where expertise matters far more than making sure your language is sufficiently inclusive?

In other words

Why would we let bad policies that lower the quality of the site just because someone's feelings may be hurt unintentionally?

  • This is more a statement than anything else, but I’ll try to address it. – Adamant May 1 '18 at 12:49
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    Anything that applies to SE as a whole will be applied to SFF. We won't get piecemeal exceptions to community (company) policy. – Z. Cochrane May 1 '18 at 13:55
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    This has been discussed at large on SO meta and likely mother meta as well. Is there any reason to bring this here too where less people will see it? – TheLethalCarrot May 1 '18 at 14:48
  • @TheLethalCarrot This is where I'm active. So I posted here. If this can be migrated to mother meta, I'm all for it. I did not see the posts there, can you link? – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 15:14
  • @TheAsh I've mostly seen the ones on SO meta, look there for any recent post >100 score and it's likely about the blog post. There's nothing wrong with posting this here too I was just wondering what you're reasoning was to have it here as well as other places. – TheLethalCarrot May 1 '18 at 15:16
  • @Lethal Carrot I still might want to migrate it so more people can hear my rant ;-) – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 15:29
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    SJW isn't a phrase that even people who fit the profile want to be called. – Valorum May 1 '18 at 16:42
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    @Valorum english.stackexchange.com/questions/202080/… At one point they most certainly did. But their actions caused the term to have negative connotations. (Sort of like how every few months we need a new euphemism for disabled people.) – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 16:45
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    I was "knowledgless noob" at one point, and had half the questions I asked closed at dupes, but since I was met with a welcoming attitude ( evidence ) I decided to stick around.... and look at me now! – Skooba May 1 '18 at 17:39
  • @Skooba so was I. But I researched the site before posting meaningless one paragraph questions awfully spelled – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 17:40
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    All the complaining about "SJWs" is much more annoying than the people being complained about... – Stormblessed Mar 17 at 2:50
  • This may be someone's opinion/experience of/with StackExchange. You can't just say, "Oh, that's not even true!" to someone's opinion article. First of all, that's just not polite. Second of all, it might be true! Just because you haven't faced it doesn't mean that it's not there, at all... -1 – voldemortswrath--inp.repl.co Sep 10 at 2:34
  • Additionally, now that I'm reading this properly, some of what you said in response to this article is just plain rude. "I want the people who only want to ask 'Who's Stronger, Dumbledore or Gandalf' not to feel welcome..." "But if you mean diverse in skill level, in no means does having an influx of knowledgeless noobs increase the quality of the site." These "knowledgeless noobs" (as you so elegantly put it) are here to ask questions and to learn. Why should we discourage that? breath Finally, I want to say that my experiences also haven't been perfect. There have been times that (cont'd) – voldemortswrath--inp.repl.co Sep 10 at 2:39
  • (cont'd) I didn't feel great about something someone had said or something of the sort. So, really, we should be trying to help these people out on the site, not kick them off of it for not having a perfect knowledge of SE when they first join. </rant> – voldemortswrath--inp.repl.co Sep 10 at 2:40
  • I just want to point out how prescient I was, in the wake of Monica's firing. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 7:02
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So ... there's a lot to unpack here. Parts of your question read like direct responses to Jay Hanlon in his blog post, which neither I nor any other SFF.SE regular can really reply to. But you also raise a few issues which are worth discussing for our community. Let me address them up front, and then go through your post in more detail.

We don't need to sacrifice quality in order to be more friendly.

In fact, I don't think that's what the SE blog post is arguing for either. We still need to act against (e.g.) bad and off-topic questions, including using the moderation tools provided to us such as downvotes and close-votes. But we don't have to be unkind while doing so. Downvotes and close-votes aren't unkind in themselves, even if some people less familiar with the SE model think they are. Where unkindness usually appears is in comments. It's possible to explain a question's off-topicness in comments in VERY different ways, ranging from "welcome, we're happy to have you here, but unfortunately this particular question is off-topic because XYZ; hope you stick around and post more" to "don't ask questions like this". Neither of those violates the Be Nice policy, but one is much kinder, more welcoming, and more conducive to a friendly community than the other.

At the risk of self-promotion, let me recommend my essay on being more friendly in comments:

When you leave a comment on someone's question or answer, bear in mind the preferred goal of doing so: usually, you want the person to stay on the site and make more high-quality posts, so you should provide useful feedback (even if it's critical) but also make the user feel welcome. It's helpful to remind ourselves on occasion that being friendly doesn't have to be at odds with being right - it's possible to tell someone what's wrong with their answer while still being positive and welcoming.

From a strictly utilitarian point of view, this doesn't matter: the important thing is to provide appropriate feedback, not what spin you put on it. But we're dealing with people here, and they're less likely to stay on the site if they feel like they're being constantly carped at than if they feel like we're genuinely trying to help them improve their posts. [...]

This is not to say "don't be critical" - sometimes you have to be critical to maintain quality standards - but when you are, try to be nice about it. If you like, think of it in terms of Emrakul Zyera's three gates: criticising someone's post might be true and necessary, but if possible it should also be kind.

The best advice I can offer on how to do this (as someone who's prided myself for years on my niceness to new users, and refused to succumb to the all-too-common urge to get fed up and lapse into apathy and cynicism) is to focus on the positives. If you're just making a minor criticism of an otherwise good answer, say, "Nice answer, but ..." If you can't honestly say the answer is nice, but the answerer has clearly put effort into it, say, "You're clearly keen and enthusiastic about the subject, but ..." If you can find anything positive to say, say it. This even applies to answers which need to be deleted: e.g. if someone posts a comment as an answer, you can compliment them on an interesting comment while pointing to the Tour and flagging their answer.

Naturally, this is especially important for new users and those who aren't invested in the site. If you leave a harshly worded comment on one of my answers, I won't really care; if you do it to a newbie, they might never come back. (Also, it doesn't apply to spammers and purely disruptive posts, but that's obvious and is the exception to "If you can find anything positive to say" above.)

On real-world politics and bias

I don't want to say much about this - I'm not much into politics, and oftentimes it's impossible to say anything on certain issues without offending someone. I do think the SE blog post shouldn't have conflated the two separate issues of new users and real-life underprivileged groups, but I kind of understand why they did.

You ask whether this site will or should be a "safe space for SJWs". Without knowing exactly what you mean by "safe space", I can answer this in two ways. First, every person should be welcome here, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or political views. Set against that, however, let's remember that this site isn't for politics. You can be a member here regardless of your political views, but there's no need to express those views here. SFF is luckier than e.g. Politics or Interpersonal Skills in that we don't need to worry about real-world politics. We can leave all that baggage at the door and get on with talking about fiction.

In short: we should be a "safe space" for <insert political group here> in the sense that those people should feel welcome and able to talk about SFF just like everyone else, but not in the sense that we're providing them with a platform for soapboxing. I hope that's not too far off the mark of what you were asking about.

As for the accusations of bias, I personally intend to keep on participating as I always have: be nice and welcoming to everyone, and treat them the same regardless of what gender or ethnicity they might have.


OK, now lemme try to respond to some of your individual points.

I think I speak for most users here that if you don't know a passable English, then don't post. This is an English-language site.

No, let's not make people feel unwelcome for having poor English. If they can't speak English at all, and post in a foreign language, then sure, we can delete those posts. If they have less-than-perfect English, that can usually be fixed by an edit. Personal comments about users' poor English skills will be deleted with prejudice.

  • Why would they feel unwelcome? Can you please provide us examples - real concrete examples - when someone was made to feel unwelcome? (I do not want examples where someone felt unwelcome. I'm sure there's many. I WANT EXAMPLES WHERE THEY WERE MADE TO FEEL UNWELCOME!)

  • Also, please provide concrete examples that we're unintentionally biased.

  • Again, HOW are we making them feel unwanted? Concrete examples please.

These are questions for Jaydles and the SE team, not us. Please direct these questions to the people who made the claims, rather than expecting SFF meta to have concrete examples. (Actually, people have already done this on Meta.SE and Meta.SO, so no need to re-ask again.)

I want the people who only want to ask 'Who's Stronger, Dumbledore or Gandalf' not to feel welcome - unless, of course, there's a canon answer.

Again, no, we don't want those people not to feel welcome. Bad posts can be unwelcome, but the authors of those posts can always be educated to make better ones. If someone asks an off-topic question, explain to them nicely how to improve it or write better ones; don't chase them off the site.

Users aren’t “too lazy” to search; searching takes less work than posting.

This is demonstrably untrue.

What do you mean? To paraphrase you yourself, concrete evidence please :-)

Diverse in what way? If you mean diversity in race, by all means. We already have a diverse crowd. Considering that this is an expert online forum, we don't care what color you are as long as you know your stuff. But if you mean diverse in skill level, in no means does having an influx of knowledgeless noobs increase the quality of the site. (For evidence, see: Quora.)

Actually it might. Let's not forget that answers need questions, and questions need lack of knowledge. If everyone knew everything, the site could simply shut down. What you call "knowledgeless noobs" (and I hope you wouldn't call anyone that to their face!) could be the next you and me: asking a lot of thoughtful questions which enable others to share their expertise in answers, and eventually gathering enough knowledge to start posting answers themselves.

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    Thank you for addressing my concerns instead of merely going on a tangent on which authors are popular. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 17:07
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    Quote: "Downvotes and close-votes aren't unkind in themselves, even if some people less familiar with the SE model think they are." I guess you didn't see the original blogpost, where downvotes are explicitly called out as being unkind. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 17:16
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    @TheAsh I did see the blog post - doesn't mean I agree with all of it :-) But as it happens, the disapproval of downvoting duplicates is something I agree with. Duplicates are useful, and a dupe of a good question is often a good question in its own right. IIRC, dupe closures are even coded differently from other closures in certain parts of the system. – Rand al'Thor May 1 '18 at 17:21
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    If its not an obvious dupe, then no problem (I'll even upvote it, especially in story ID). But if its an autosuggested obvious dupe, and was merely reasked in poor form due to the questioners' laziness, than I downvote. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 17:24
  • @TheAsh That's fair enough. I'm not saying "don't downvote any dupe", only "don't downvote just for being a dupe". Of course a dupe of a good question can sometimes be a bad question. – Rand al'Thor May 1 '18 at 17:34
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    Nicely done. Been gone a while. It's good to know you are all still working on being kinder, gentler and more humane. Vox Day doesn't deserve all the words you spent refuting his lazy and specious writing. – Thaddeus Howze May 5 '18 at 0:33
  • I just want to point out how prescient my original post was after Monica's firing. @Randal'Thor, you've been amazing moderator on SF and I really appreciate your work. I only saw this whole kerfuffle today and I want to express dismay that we're missing you. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 7:04
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Stack Exchange is not currently any kind of “safe place,” and doesn’t have any plans to be one. Many users (including the employees), however, hope that it becomes more welcoming to many groups that currently feel excluded on the basis of gender, race, etc.

I’ll address your points individually.

  1. Vox Day is not a popular science fiction author. He is mainly able to sell books by virtue of having his own vanity press, Castalia House. While I can’t seem to find information on how many copies they have published, the fact that it’s only four years old suggests to me that it’s not very successful. Vox is also a bigot in various respect. I do not use this word lightly. His racist and sexist comments are well-attested, and I find the invocation of him as an authority on any such matter to be extremely peculiar.
  2. You ask how anyone would know the race, gender, and other characteristics of Stack Exchange users? First, many users, at one time or another, have simply said as much. Some people even mention such things on their profiles. And of course, never underestimate the power of assumptions. Is “Kate Mulgrew” male or female? People don’t act based on accurate information, but on assumptions, and whether those assumptions are accurate or not has little bearing on exclusionism.

    There’s also another factor: prejudice doesn’t need to be aimed at anyone to be exclusionary. If someone declaims on the evils of Islam on Stack Exchange, that’s going to drive Muslims away, regardless of whether the declaimer has any idea who’s listening.

  3. You seem to think this is a personal attack on you.

    I don’t know who ‘we’ is. Speak for yourself. I haven’t done anything wrong.

    It’s not. The article you mentioned was talking about problems with many Stack Exchange users. It’s natural to use “we” under such circumstances. It doesn’t mean that every single user is responsible for every single problem.

  4. You wonder what inclusive language is, and how sci-fi or coding can be exclusive?

    People have different definitions of inclusive language, some of which you yourself mentioned. But. Indeed, not using inclusive language is one way that even questions about science fiction and fantasy can be “exclusive.”

    But how else? The fact that questions about contentious social issues often receive a hail of downvotes. The fact that the overwhelming majority of our questions are about a handful of series with male protagonists. The fact that questions about YA fiction often are poorly received, thus excluding a genre with a disproportionate share of female readers and authors. None of these is, perhaps, as severe as some of what people see on Interpersonal Skills or Politics, but it’s not ignorable, either.

  5. You wanted concrete examples of a variety of things.

    • There are concrete examples of people feeling unwelcome. Here, here, and so forth. Even here, at least one of our users drastically reduced their activity on the site because they perceived that they were being targeted for downvotes on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Related issues were also partly involved in the long-ago closure of our original chat room, Mos Eisley.

    • And concrete examples of unintentional bias. I gave a few for this site in particular, already, but there are some general ones.

Stack Exchange has some problems with being welcoming, both to new users in general, and to various marginalized groups. This is something that can and should be fixed. The blog post you mentioned shows that the SE team is interested in changing it. There will, of course, be disagreement on how best to do it, but it is not an effort to “turn sci-fi into a safe space for SJWs,” whatever that may mean.

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    "Vox Day is not a popular science fiction author." This has nothing to due with the crux of the question. I reference him because on this issue he seems correct. His other views have no bearing on this subject and should be ignored. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 13:30
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    @TheAsh - To claim that Vox Day’s views on women, black people, and other groups have nothing to do with his views on “SJWs” is to fundamentally misunderstand the man, if not the issue, – Adamant May 1 '18 at 13:31
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    "The fact that the overwhelming majority of our questions are about a handful of series with male protagonists." That's because the majority of SciFi fans are male. That's not bigotry, it's nature. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 13:32
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    "The fact that questions about YA fiction often are poorly received, thus excluding a genre with a disproportionate share of female readers and authors." Do you really think they're poorly received due to sexism? More likely those series aren't well written. Harry Potter, written by a woman, seems quite well received.. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 13:38
  • You also haven't addressed the main point, which is 'Why would we let bad policies that lower the quality of the site just because someone's feelings may be hurt unintentionally'? Please address the 'english' and 'no thank you's aspects as well. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 13:40
  • None of the examples show how the person in question was MADE to feel unwanted, It just shows they felt unwanted. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 14:10
  • "You seem to think this is a personal attack on you." If the blog said, "we are murderers", would you not feel insulted? I would, even if 'We' isn't fully inclusive. I don't like being accused of racism or bigotry, even subconscious. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica May 1 '18 at 14:19
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    @Adamant - here's the problem. NOBODY EVER was criticized on SFF for liking "female" literature (OK, people were ribbed for liking "Twilight", but that's because Twilight objectively sucks). Yet, you feel perfectly happy criticizing people for liking "male" literature and blame them for it. So... who's being exclusionary here? Yes, I do feel unwelcome on the site if I am publicly assumed to be at fault just because I don't share fandom of some less-known author. Or, 99% of you'all need to be booted off the site for anti-Russian bias because you don't like Russian language SciFi – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 2 '18 at 14:33
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    And no, it is not natural to use "we" to include people who haven't done anything wrong to describe doing something wrong. We have a word for it: "profiling". And people like you tend to think it's a bad thing when applied to categories of people you don't dislike. It'd be nice if it was considered universally bad. – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 2 '18 at 14:41
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    You're not assumed to be at fault if you don't share some fandom . The problems that come from these preferences are large scale, statistical, and only partly based on people who are biased against female authors or characters. No one individual is at fault for their individual preferences, if those preferences aren't based on disliking female (or male) authors or characters, regardless of how many of their favorite authors are male or female. Just as no couple is at fault for how they divide childcare, even if disparate division of childcare is a large problem societally. – Adamant May 2 '18 at 19:22
  • And, yes, it's tricky. Some people are going to be made to feel unwelcome by any strategy. I think we don't have to be outright hostile to any users, but I think, in the course of trying to make as many people as possible feel comfortable, some people are going to feel uncomfortable. I think we can try to minimize that, but I'm not sure it can be totally avoided. But that said, I do apologize. – Adamant May 2 '18 at 19:29
  • <comments deleted> Let's not make anything personal here, please. Discuss ideas, not people. The extended discussion of Vox Day is also kind of beside the point. – Rand al'Thor May 3 '18 at 14:38
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    @Adamant I just want to go on the record that you were correct: Vox Day is indeed an antisemite and racist. (I came across a few crazy post of his recently). As a right-winger, I often see liberals call people names unfoundedly, and I just assumed this was the case here. But I was wrong. – TheAsh says Reinstate Monica Apr 7 at 18:00

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