Cornflakes and Birdsong

3 Conversations

Here's version 0.5.

If you're reading in an official capacity as part of the BBC, please go away and do something more productive with your work time than reading this drivel. This ain't version 0.0, let alone 1.0, and there's no indication it's ever going to get that far anyway. Shoo! Don't you have smileys1 to be adding? Why, when I was your age, I... (Continued on Entry 94).

It might seem odd that the twice winner of the prize for Researcher Most Likely to Be Banned from h2g22 is suggesting changes to crime4 and punishment on h2g2. People might think this is self5-serving. I blame the parents, myself. I'm going to deal with this valid and entirely justified criticism by covering my ears and shouting 'la la la - I can't hear you'.

La La La - I can't hear you6

*ahem* We now return you to your regularly scheduled entry. You'll excuse the wide use of smiley-less7 humour, but I just had a Magnum ice cream, and it went straight to my head...

For the exiting transgressions policy, see the bottom of the House Rules. This entry proposes a couple of minor changes to this policy, to fix various things.

Possibly Perceived Potential Problems, Perhaps?8

The infinite human capacity for change9

People change over time. The thirteen year old tearaway may grow up to a life of drugs (Caffeine) and crime (breaking the speed limit) in a despised career (politician) with no promotion prospects (president). But let's not get bogged down in the bad stuff - they might equally grow up to be a productive member of society, and a potentially useful researcher for h2g2.

It could therefore be considered that lifetime bans are a little harsh. They allow no possibility for reform on the part of the banned researcher. Researchers might like to speculate whether there was any period in their real or virtual life when they'd have been risking banishment from h2g2. It could also be noted that the rules of h2g2 have changed over time and may continue to change. Someone who could not (or would not) conform to the rules of h2g2 in 2000 might be able to conform to the rules of h2g2 in 205010.

Counter arguments include curiosity as to the exact probability that large jungle-dwelling cats will change the nature of their camoflage11.

Transgressions per month12

Suppose a researcher has been on h2g2 for three years, and she has made three large-ish mistakes in that time. Suppose a second researcher has been on h2g2 for two days, and he has already transgressed twice. One might consider that the second researcher poses a greater risk to the delicate sensitivities of h2g2 readers13. It is somewhat odd that under the present regime the former researcher would be given the greater punishment, of a month14-long suspension from h2g2.

On the other hand, one might think that someone who has been on h2g2 for three years ought to jolly well know what is and is not acceptable by now. Evidence15 has shown that this isn't entirely true. But it is a factor that should be considered, nonetheless.

The Sword of Damocles16

Suppose that some hypothetical researcher, after making three large errors in the first two weeks, then proceeded to live a wondeful h2g2 life, being nice and fluffy17, writing cool entries18, volunteering, and generally being a froody19 guy. Yet those three initial transgressions will still count against them. They may be ultra-cautious about some borderline activities20, to the detriment of them and to h2g2. They may find it very uncomfortable to have that threat of lifetime suspension continually aimed at them for a simple slip of the keyboard, even if they are nowhere near doing such a slip.


There are basically two options here. Discretion, or discretion with guidelines.. I'll offer both here. First off, though, I need to explain why this is worth it. It could be argued that those who get suspended from h2g2 are only a small minority22 of the researchers on h2g2, so their treatment isn't worth being concerned about. That attention might be better spent on those who stick to the house rules, after all.

Myself, I feel that by treating all researchers fairly and with respect, h2g2 can increase people's sense of belonging to a site that cares about them, rather than a site which treats them as expendable raw material. There is also the sense that people will often think along the lines of 'Gosh - even Alice Briggs23 was given a fair chance to defend herself - how much less likely is it for me to be treated badly? On both an ethical and a pragmatic basis, it seems a reasonable thing to think about - if not now, then perhaps later on in h2g2's history.


The simplest solution is to rely on the wonderful Editors of this site to use the better part of their valour and judge each case on its merits, and take into account all the issues mentioned above along with anything else they feel like. It's that simple.

Benefits: Simple to implement as policy, simple to carry out in practice, totally flexible, can change as circumstances change. It deals adequately with issues of the number of Transgressions over time. Clear benefits, all of them.

Drawbacks: May appear arbitrary and lead to thoughts25 of favoritism or cronyism26 or sycophancy27 or nepotism or similar. May make newer researchers feel that old-times are being given special treatment. May make those who have been at h2g2 for some time feel they have a lot of leeway, and abuse it. May make it harder for researchers to figure what is and what is not an offence worthy of a warning or suspension. Doesn't really deal with the Sword of Damocles issue, or banned researchers who may have changed. The time immediately after an offence is perhaps not the best time for any fallible human to try and weigh up past behaviour impartially28.

Discretion plus Guidelines

The other solution is more complicated, but may have benefits that outweigh the downsides. It relies on a system similar to that in real law, but much simpler. Another critical difference with real law is that those who run the site would maintain control and would not be bound by the guidelines, and discretion remains a very important part. All times are purely illustrative for the purposes of discussion. The essence would be as follows:

If a suspended or warned researcher behaves well for some continuous period of time, they are given a clean slate. The times required are as follows: warning - one month good behaviour; week suspension - two months good behaviour; month suspension - six months good behaviour. The following factors may be taken into account and result in an earlier clean slate: Apologies to the Editors and those hurt; acts of contrition; acceptance that the punishment was correct; acceptance that the behaviour they were suspended for was indeed against the house rules; other evidence that the researcher has genuinely changed; any other factors. Clean slates do not mean Editorial amnesia: further repetition of the offences that caused the original warnings or suspension may still be dealt with slightly more severely than offences of a different nature. Clean slates are non-negotiable - attempts to argue for an early granting of a clean slate, or to appeal against a decision to withhold one, will be judged as poor behaviour and will reset the clock.

Life bans are more complicated. Suppose that Damian has been banned for 'life' from h2g2. If he behaves well for a minimum of one continuous year, then he may be let back on to h2g2. If Damian had been banned for something particularly horrific, then a longer time period may be in order, at the discretion of the Editors. Good behaviour while banned from h2g2 includes not breaching the terms of the ban, not sending nasty emails, phone calls, letters to BBC staff, offering an apology to those who have been offended by his behaviour, accepting that what he did was wrong and against the house rules, and promising never to make the same mistake(s) again. Bad behaviour includes breaching the terms and conditions of other sites or ISPs (even if they are more restrictive than h2g2), and threatening and abusive behaviour towards h2g2 researchers.

If the Editors feel that Damian could be given parole, they put the matter for discussion by the ACEs, and then (if the ACEs generally approve) by the entire community. If Damian has sent abusive emails to Gabriella, she may forward them to the Editors now, and Damian will not be allowed onto h2g2. If Damian is allowed back on h2g2, any further transgressions will normally result in a ban. In addition, the Editors may impose additional requirements on Damien, above those in the House Rules. They may require that he not post in the same threads as some other people who he has had problems with in the past. They may require that he stay away from certain areas of the guide, such as Peer Review, or from certain subject areas, such as religion. All this is entirely discretionary and non-negotiable. After a further year of good behaviour, Damian may be given a mostly clean slate, and such restrictions may be lifted.

Benefits: Clear rules. Fewer special cases. May be perceived as fairer. Less concerns of arbitrary judgements or favoritism. Less need for policy to be made up on the fly. Includes elements of mercy as well as justice. Deals with all three issues at the start of the entry. Gives victims a chance to have their say. Because warnings are no longer permanent marks they can be given slightly more frequently, so Researchers will know sooner when they have crossed the line, before greater damage is done. The non-permanent nature of the warnings reduces the desire of rules-abiding researchers to protest warnings they feel are unjust.

Drawbacks: More complicated to draft up. More complicated to implement. Requires keeping better track of the records of researchers. Possibly less flexible. Banned researchers who are given another chance may turn out not to have changed at all. Supply of milk for cornflakes may run out.

Other Ideas

One idea I didn't mention above, which is possibly relevant. And possibly not. Premoderation is the practice of posts and entries being moderated *before* they are displayed. A possible idea is to temporarilly turn on premoderation for specific researchers: those who have been warned or suspended or banned or are otherwise judged to be more likely to break the house rules. This could take some time to program, though, so it's doubtful whether it's worth the effort.

The End

Over to you...

1[gratuitous in-joke removed on the grounds that I'm not quite that stupid]2This fictional prize is not awarded yearly by the Small But Vocal Minority for Services to Livening Up h2g2. Past winners include Alice "Four Fingers" Briggs and Abdul "Virtual Trainrobber" Hoskins.3.3Any similarity to any person, living or dead, is purely Chance. This footnote is brought to you in association with the Campaign for Inpenetrable Legalese.4Well, technically breaking the house rules isn't a crime as such, but if you hung around on h2g2 long enough you might think it was...5Don't start...6Actually, I wasn't going to, but some other people brought it up, so I figured what the heck...7The campaign for jokes without wink-eyes starts here... smiley - winkeye Oops.8Is this a better example of Alliteration or Cowardice? Discuss. [20]9Or 'why people get wrinkly and die'.10By which time the primary method of increasing the circulation of h2g2 won't be word of mouth anymore. It'll be cloning.11I really need to write that entry on over-expanded metaphors12Fxxk-ups per square inch13And, more importantly, lawyers14[reference to the full moon removed by stray particle of cosmic radiation]15Hands up anyone who realised that the page of 'Not Banned Yet' was a suspendable offence?16If Hoovooloo can slip in literary references...17Those who dislike the fluffy aspects of the Guide may vomit here18Likewise for those who dislike the allegations of literary merit occasionally levelled at the Guide19Those who dislike gratuitous Douglas Adams references may.... oh - I see you already have.20Foxy Manor, say21I love this bit of any entry of this nature. I proceed to explain how waving a magic wand in a certain way will make all problems magically dissapper. Then watch as the recipient of my advice turns themselves into a frog.22WHO ARE YOU CALLING SMALL!?23It's still co-incidence, alright?24Not to be confused with digression, which is what this footnote is.25I was going to say unjustified thoughts, because I genuinely think they would be unjustified, but I don't want to go down the long road of counter-factuals again, thank you very much...26What would be the equivalent of Tony's Cronies? Mark's Narks??27Makes people syc, I'm told28Heard of the 'halo effect' and 'horns effect'?

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