The Richard Dawkins Foundation net forum (RDF) self-destructs -- yet another big atheist board immolates itself - blog by Gurdur


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The Richard Dawkins Foundation net forum (RDF) self-destructs -- yet another big atheist board immolates itself
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Posted 24-Feb-2010 at 11:38 PM (23:38) by Gurdur
Updated 25-Oct-2010 at 03:12 PM (15:12) by Gurdur

In line with the incendiary blog post I just made yesterday, as well of course very much in line with my previous blog post about the problems atheists so often cause for themselves, some news about a new Wikipedia link for bonfire of the vanities bonfire of the vanities. Yet another big atheist board has self-immolated, this time the Richard Dawkins Foundation (RDF) net forum, at:

One caveat before I begin: I am well aware I do not yet have all the facts, and I can only report the facts as I see them in the context of my opinions. If I have anything wrong, please say so; and please feel very free to comment. I would be very grateful for comments and critiques; you are very welcome to disagree with me, though I ask you please to explain why in detail. Edited: guests can now comment on my blog entries.

There is a lot of arguing about proximate and immediate causes of the death of the RDF forum, but the following facts appear clear:
  1. The RDF website as a whole, including the forum (bulletin board), is run at the top by a salaried staffer, Josh Timonen, to whom Richard Dawkins dedicated his book, "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution". Also helping at the top are an unpaid volunteer, Andrew Chalkley, and a couple of other unpaid volunteers. The actual day-to-day running of the forum as such itself was under the control of a team of unpaid volunteers, admins such as Topsy (username, not real name), and a team of moderators (mods).
  2. Rather suddenly, and without any process of consultation with the forum admins and mods, it was announced that the forum would be closed, and a new one brought in.
  3. There were rumours going around the place of this before any actual announcement, and Nineberry, a member of the RDF forum, asked if the old content of the old forum could at least be saved through archiving it. The reply Nineberry received the following day from chalkers (Andrew Chalkley) was not reassuring, and reading between the lines, as well as with some supplementary information given here further on, seems to show that the decision to junk the whole board was based on three factors:
    1. one being the money necessary for running a large board (server costs and so on)
    2. an overall lack of knowledge, on the part of those making the decisions, about bulletin boards and forum cultures
    3. and related to that, a lack of knowledge and real experience in handling and organizing activism and activist communities.
  4. One day after Nineberry posted his question, it was officially announced; there was predictable dismay on the part of members of the RDF board and the admin/mods team. They questioned the decision and how it was being carried out; the response was ludicrously inept and exaggerated -- Josh Timonen deleted various posts critical of the decision, deactivated post signature lines (sigs) so members could not advertise alternative forums, hobbled the Private Message system (PM) so PM's could only be sent out at the rate of two to three an hour and only to one single recipient each, and then deleted the entire user accounts of Mazille, an RDF mod of the Science subforum, CJ, Valden, and kiki (all members, though one or two may have been mods as well), and Darwinsbulldog, another mod. This is downright amazing, since we are not talking about the deletion of a few posts, we're not talking about simple banning, we're talking instead the wholesale deletion of user accounts along with their many thousands of posts -- and deleting such accounts and their posts leads to really mucked-up threads with odd replies to no-longer existing posts and so on. Now, a very important point here is that those user accounts were not deleted and the members effectively banned for being abusive -- the action was undertaken only because those members were critical of the decision, but not abusive. All members, including mods and admins, were then warned by Josh Timonen not to post dissent, not to advertise alternative boards in any way, and not to contact Richard Dawkins at all --- on pain of immediate banning and deletion of their user accounts.
  5. The RDF forum was then locked into a read-only mode, and it was announced that a new board will be put up, with in all likelihood no archiving of all the old posts --- and here we're talking:
    Wednesday 24 2010
    Total posts 2271827 Total topics 85842 Total members 84665
    That total number of posts does not include a fair few thousand more of posts suddenly deleted by Josh Timonen.
  6. The point that those user accounts of mods and members were not deleted for abusiveness, but instead for civil criticism, is a very important point as we shall see a bit further on here.
  7. Now the how of how promising of a new board software and structure was done is one I have criticised before very recently; it seems to me that the planned structure of the replacement new forum is simply mediocre, second-rate and ill-advised (as I explained more fully elsewhere), and the decision to simply trashcan without archiving all those years of history of posts on the RDF board is to me incredible vandalism.
  8. Now Richard Dawkins himself has responded to the public dismay. The reply from Professor Richard Dawkins is far from adequate. For example, he claims that the actions in closing down the old board were necessary because of vituperative personal abuse being sent to him, but in fact the decisions and the deletion of wholesale accounts predate the personal abuse Richard Dawkins says he has received. Richard Dawkins also suggests such vituperative personal abuse was typical of "internet culture" as a whole and that the RDF board was part of that problem -- which was most certainly not the case. I know the RDF; it was a reasonably tightly modded board throughout the years, and personal abuse of the kind Dawkins alleges was simply not allowed on the board.

    This is what Dawkins said:

    Be that as it may, what this remarkable bile suggests to me is that there is something rotten in the Internet culture that can vent it. If I ever had any doubts that needs to change, and rid itself of this particular aspect of Internet culture, they are dispelled by this episode.
    That is mere excuse-making after the event. There simply was not any such abuse on the RDF board; the mod and admin team -- the same one that Josh Timonen has effectively sacked en masse and discourteously, acting for Richard Dawkins -- were the ones who ensured there was no such personal abuse. Any such abuse cannot be the reason for the closing of the board, because it simply was not a problem before the closing of the board, and also because Dawkins specifically says it was at least sent partly anonymously, i.e. not over the RDF board:
    And imagine seeing your face described, again by an anonymous poster, as "a slack jawed turd in the mouth mug if ever I saw one."
    This empty excuse-making reflects very poorly on Richard Dawkins himself, and Josh Timonen's actions reflect very badly indeed on Josh Timonen, and on Richard Dawkins, for whom Josh Timonen carried out those actions.
  9. Another clue as to the motives behind all of this is a tweet from Josh Timonen, reported by Peter Harrison, another RDF board member:

    "Using a forum as a substitute for a real website is sloppy and lazy."
    That thought reveals an incredible lack of knowledge of practical activist organization, of real web design, and of board culture. In effect, a whole lot of postively contributing members, and a whole team of board admins and mods, and a whole bunch of years of thousands upon thousands of board posts, are all being comprehensively sacked, junked and thrown away -- and being trash-talked about, to add insult to injury.

I mentioned the Wikipedia link for bonfire of the vanities bonfire of the vanities for a reason; when , when supporters of Girolamo Savonarola burnt a whole lot of books and art on 07 February 1497 in a burst of puritanical purging, in Florence, Italy (strangely enough, at the Mardi Gras festival, which oddly coincides with my previous blog post on Karneval). That puritanism is much the same attitude shown in the RDF affair. But more on that, and more on reactions in my next blog post, since I really want to get this one finished and posted immediately.

I have much more to say further on all this, and I want to discuss reactions around the net to this whole affair, but first I will get this blog post up, and do the rest in successive blog posts of mine.

Edited to add: please see my follow-up newer blog post here as well.

There is also a Times Online op-ed piece by Ruth Gledhill on the RDF affair, and a Guardian op-ed blog piece by Andrew Brown on it.

There is too an op-ed Eureka blog post by Hannah Devlin, also of Times Online, and a blog post by Chris Wilkins.

For further information:

The RDF members are all gathering over at Rationalia, and at Rational Skepticism, two other web boards.

I do add that of course all such folks are also very welcome here at and warmly invited to the Hub board. You can always be a member of more than one board!

Death of a forum: death of the forum, a blog post by Darkchilde, an RDF board member.

"And sometimes he's so nameless" : The End of an Era: Richard Dawkins forum to close, a blog post by Chris Jensen Romer, an RDF board member.

Death of the Dawkins forum The worlds busiest atheist forum closes, a blog post by Peter Harrison, an RDF board member.

And our own Fizzle of the Hub, who is also an RDF board member as well, posting on his own blog under his blog name of El Juego:

On the RDFs demise and Addendum to my RDF post.

And a video by hackenslash, another RDF board member:

Again: I am well aware I do not yet have all the facts, and I can only report the facts as I see them. If I have anything wrong, please say so; and please feel very free to comment. I would be very grateful for comments and critiques; you are very welcome to disagree with me, though I ask you please to explain why in detail. Edited: guests can now comment on my blog entries.

More on this all and so on in my next blog posts!

The Richard Dawkins Foundation net forum (RDF) self-destructs -- yet another big atheist board immolates itself (24-February-2010)

A deeper look at the RDF self-immolation and public reactions to it (25-February-2010)

Richard Dawkins Forum implosion -- more public reactions (01-March-2010)

Richard Dawkins Forums meltdown -- how it went down, in quotes (01-March-2010)

Down among the dead men -- not just a board, never just a board (02-March-2010)

The persistence of the negative stereotypes of atheists caused by New Atheist Richard Dawkins (12-August-2010)

Richard Dawkins sues, alleges Josh Timonen embezzled $375,000 from Richard Dawkins Foundation (RDF) (24-October-2010)

More details on Richard Dawkins and RDFRS suing Josh Timonen, Maureen Norton, and Upper Branch Productions (25-October-2010)
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  1. Old Comment
    From what I've learned, spot fucking on.
    Posted 25-Feb-2010 at 02:19 AM (02:19) by Fizzle Fizzle is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Oh, yeah, and Dawkins seems to have entirely forgotten about his OUT campaign. Y'know, the one about getting atheists, secular humanists, etc together.
    Posted 25-Feb-2010 at 02:40 AM (02:40) by Fizzle Fizzle is offline
  3. Old Comment

    Still reeling...

    Hey Gurdur! Great to read your blog!

    I'm glad you have a link to Peter Harrison's blog on here also, an excellent summary of what actually happened!

    With the sudden collapse of the Richard Dawkins Forum (the biggest forum of its kind on the internet), many members have banded together and started their own forum. We have all the old moderators from RDF and all of our old friends are back together;

    We encourage all to join no matter what your beliefs or outlooks are.

    Diversity is paramount to stimulating discourse!

    We are somewhat new and improved there. We are still committed to the guidelines allowing criticism of ideas but not attacks on the person. Now we have been able to rationalise the structure without the Richard Dawkins sales/fan aspect and with wider science range. On the old site there was General Science and then evolution and biology. The new site now includes Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, Geology and more. The area on religion is more comprehensive and focused as is the scope of topic areas for debunking creationism, pseudo science and other enemy of reason stuff.

    Read the full story of the collapse of the old forum and controversy with Richard Dawkins here;
    Posted 28-Feb-2010 at 01:47 AM (01:47) by Unregistered
  4. Old Comment

    the whole truth?? I think not

    It may well be true that the insulting language quoted by Prof Dawkins was all "after the event" and therefore not a reason for the closure.
    It's not true that the forum was previously abuse-free.

    I used to post regularly at one time, trying to get people to debate rationally and civilly with me on whatever threads came up - sometimes science, sometimes broader issues.
    I don't remember a single discussion during which I didn't receive gratuitous abuse, some pretty disgusting, and all absolutely unprovoked. I'm a Christian, so kneejerk disagreement of course I expected, but it was a lot more than that - the norm on the forum was to insult and hector Christians regardless of what they said or didn't say. The mods never objected, in fact they were much more likely to join in.

    So all the self-righteousness now looks a bit silly to me.
    Posted 13-Feb-2016 at 09:05 PM (21:05) by Unregistered
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There’s probably no Forum – Now relax and enjoy your Life: Richard Dawkins on changes at the forum « "And sometimes he's so nameless"

25-Feb-2010, 08:06 PM (20:06)
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