Expertise plugin

Some time ago, I posted the following request on the Discourse meta forum.

And sometimes prayers are answered, because now there’s a plugin that seems to do exactly what I wanted.

Maybe the mods and admins can have a look at this and see if it’s a good idea for the forum?

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linkedin

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Your post about “Encouraging expertise” puts words to what I’ve been thinking for a long time. I think this would be one of the best things this forum could do. Personally, I very much miss the input from the monastics who used to post regularly but don’t anymore.

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Really interesting discussion on the Discourse forum that you linked to, Bhante. Folks should read it.

I agree with the issues you raised, absolutely. It’s a big problem specifically around Vinaya issues. People read a chapter in BMC and their opinion appears as equal to someone who has been in robes for decades.

One thing to keep in mind is that D&D has a reputation for silencing opinions that disagree with the most active monastic voices on the forum. And to be clear: I believe this to be incorrect on an official level. (Edit: meaning that I don’t think that people are being silenced simply because they disagree) I have always seen a variety of opinions allowed. And while it’s hard as a non-moderator to know what’s really going on behind the scenes, the only posts or people I have seen silenced were ones that were sexist/racist/queerphobic etc. or harassing.

On the opposite end of things, a certain other Buddhist forum has the well deserved reputation as a comfy home for the alt-right/redpillers, etc.

I’m not really sure what my point is since I fully agree with the policies and moderation here at D&D. I guess I just wonder if there is a way to implement a policy of encouraging expertise while at the same time not re-enforcing any ideas that the forum is somehow exclusionary of appropriate contributions.

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Good, let us treasure this reputation in the hope that that all the people who believe this will stay away.

The notion that “i’m being censored” has become such a thin disguise for the worst of humanity to act out on their worst impulses. If I hear “xyz platform is censoring debate” I immediately think, “Oh good, maybe it’ll be a sane place”.

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So, I don’t disagree that people use that as an excuse. But there is still the possibility that people who are reasonable feel excluded. I’m happy to keep the bigots out. Don’t misunderstand. I’m afraid that you are only hearing about the bigots being silenced (who actually are being literally silenced, as they should be) and not the people who are self silencing even though they may have valid contributions. And those contributions may even just be in the form of questions.

There are a huge number of people who read the forum but never post. That may be unavoidable and even a good thing. Who knows. If it a binary choice between what we have now and the cesspit of other Buddhist forums, then of course I would choose what we have now. But there is an inherent power dynamic as to who feels allowed to speak in a public forum. I do believe that the policies already in place help promote the inclusion of some groups that often feel excluded.

I suppose that my point is that it would be good if implementing some kind of expertise functionality doesn’t inappropriately promote exclusion. That’s all.

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Indeed, yes, that is essential. Another issue is the rather sliding scale of who is an expert. There are lots of people here with good expertise in many fields, and even within the EBT field it’s a spectrum, some people specialize in different areas.

Anyway, many details to be thought through, so let’s just see whether those responsible think it’s worth pursuing.

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Thanks Bhante, this functionality definitely deserves some thought and, if used properly, it may be very beneficial to the forum. I have only recently started as a mod, so please take my very personal opinion with a lump of salt and “unofficially”.

Some important observations have already appeared:

So, I would have a few questions, which may help in guiding any choice about the expertise tags:

  1. Who is this forum primarily aimed to? Specifically, is this a place for users who are new to Buddhism and EBTs, or is it primarily for people with some degree of knowledge or expertise in Pali/EBTs, already? Or both? What is expected of people with expertise in other fields?
  2. Which type of posts are encouraged on the forum? How much value should be added by posts? Sometimes discussions may begin with the best of information and some detailed response, but then the contributions from people who are not so expert may dilute the original quality of a thread, without breaking explicitly any of the rules. Shall only posts which add lots of value to the discussion be encouraged, at the risk of excluding potential original contributions from less knowledgeable users, or shall Right Speech be granted to all users in the same way (with the risks already highlighted above)?
  3. What is the role of people who are not an expert in a specific field, in discussing it? In some cases, it is clear that some post in the Watercooler was aimed at bringing people from different backgrounds together. In some other cases and categories, it is less clearly so.

The main reason why I think this forum is successful is due to the competence and expertise of many of the users, especially Sangha members, as reminded above. This is a place where Sangha members and people of diverse expertise can communicate. This is surely a great reason to be here.

In summary, I believe that the forum may potentially benefit from further expertise tags, to be applied to both users and topics. This would allow for the possibility of having reserved Categories and reserved posts, where only expert people in that field can post, and other Categories where everyone may post.
Some of the main dangers of introducing these tags were already highlighted above:

  • Who decides when a person may be considered an expert? Is it going to be a binary choice, or a sliding scale? Will academic degrees count? What would be a fair policy to draw the line, so that people feel included, even without any expertise? Is there going to be a test for each of the endorsements? How to make the users, especially when new to these topics, feel welcome?
  • Should some of the Categories be devoted only to experts in the respective field, while other topics may be allowed for every user to post in? For example, currently there are some categories which specialize into EBTs and Pali (Essays, Discussion, Q&A) while the Watercooler allows for more diverse topics.

Ultimately, taking into account the caveats above (and possibly others), I believe that it may be of benefit to have these further categories, as long as they are used fairly and that there is a clear and fair policy around how to achieve an expertise endorsement. I also believe that every policy should be reviewed regularly (at least annually), to ensure that new issues and questions are captured.

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I’m very grateful for the moderation here and I disagree that it’s unwarranted censorship. There is great respect for monastics here and people aren’t silenced simply for disagreeing. I’ve seen certain users temporarily or permanently suspended and I think those actions have helped maintain a high level of decorum and cleaner speech. While any Buddhist related topic is not off-limits here, D&D is primarily concerned with EBT and I appreciate that. There are plenty of other websites where people can say whatever they want about anything and argue whatever points they wish in whatever way.

That said, I come here to separate the wheat from the chaff and the more monastic voices the better. As the Venerable @sujato said: “But it’s sometimes frustrating when a topic goes on, with inexperienced people proposing all kinds of ideas that are just silly.” If I post something and it’s off, I’d love those in robes to point me in the right direction. Perhaps another special category could be added to ask questions that only a monastic can answer.

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anyone interested to discuss and learn about EBTs.

Good question, an “expert” should only be one with expertise in EBTs. We’ve got plenty of experts in physics and sociology and other things, but we can’t assess that. I would, however, encourage people to disclose their expertise in their user bios or when relevant in threads. It’s super-helpful!

This doesn’t change what posts people add. It acts as a guide for readers so that they have some context when weighing up differing contributions.

The badge itself doesn’t change anything.

I wasn’t thinking of applying it to topics. We should look at the plugin, see what it wants us to do.

Peers, i.e. other experts.

Thinking about it some more, it seems to me the cleanest and most relevant way to define the minimum qualifications for being an expert:

  • has mature proficiency in at least one of the root languages of the early Buddhist texts (Pali, ancient Chinese, ancient Tibetan, Sanskrit)
  • has made substantive contributions to the field (essays, publications, and the like)

It’s not about restricting anyone, just letting people know when dealing with an expert, that’s all.

But it is applied per-category, so we probably wouldn’t want to add it to, say, the Watercooler.


It looks like the way the plugin works is that people endorse posts, after a certain threshold the poster comes up for review, then they can be accepted as experts. I’m not entirely sure about the review process, so I’ve asked on the Meta site about that.

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My goodness. What a big ego a person must have to think that having expertise in a field requires a tag! :slightly_smiling_face: Isn’t it so that the greatest thinkers only displayed their knowledge in a meaningful plea, not as a goal in itself?

How about a bit more expertise in courtesy and emotional well-being in this world? :grinning: Jordan Peterson is an expert in psychology, so to say, but does he represent such expertise in the way he interacts with others?

I find it an extremely patriarchal act to tag expertise, given the fact that not all people are equally able to study. More boys f.i. than girls are. And when girls attend school, they’re mostly more serious about their studies. Yet, they might not reach that level of “expertise” as the rules to achieve such recognition are defined by the boys. Does it mean we should not value expertise? Not at all. But certainly not in an exposing way, it won’t help to back off people who claim to be experts and aren’t. It might make a joke of the very meaning of being an expert which inquires moderation and wisdom, I’d say.

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As a reader I would find it extremely useful to see whether something I am reading was written by someone whose knowledge can be trusted, and a badge would do this brilliantly.

However:

It takes an expert to recognise an expert.

Who will appoint the experts? I can’t imagine how a feature of this type would work in an egalitarian community. In an authoritarian structure with a clear hierarchy it would be straightforward.

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How many people on the forum besides you and @cdpatton would qualify for that? I’m just wondering if there are enough people on the forum that could get this tag to make it worthwhile, especially since the quality and nature of their posts would normally make it apparent that they know what they are talking about.

It would be interesting to see how other forums are using the plugin.

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To you maybe, but not to Newbies. I’m not a newbie but confess to being frequently confused about the veracity/good sense of what I read here. And while I happened to bring with me to the forum a set of academic tools that could help me check, w don’t in reality have the time

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As someone who does work for the main site (as SuttaCentral’s in house Sanskrit editor-translator), I feel it would at least be transparent and helpful if people know that this is a role I hold. I would myself also like to know who is doing work for the main site (not always 100% obvious, as not every SC project has been advertised, and many people here actually contribute to the main site in some capacity).

I had opted to use the “regular” tag to convey this, but it does not really capture the level of commitment I have to the main site.

One of the concerns I had experienced about taking on the Sanskrit material was that it would be of limited public relevance. If people are actively engaging with me in that role (more likely once texts are published), it helps me to know what is useful or not. Also, people will know who they can address questions to.

Our nunnery is tiny and still developing a support base, these days I am doing SuttaCentral work mostly just for the love of it & out of gratitude to monastic friends. The more visibility there is around the work I do, the easier it is to justify spending time on it amid among other pressing needs.

#justmytwocents #yestoexperts

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Of the top of my head, Brahmali, Suvira, Vimalanyani, Dhammanando … and probably others, I’m sure. Maybe you too!

I’ll start, and then we’ll have a circle. Experts in the field know how to recognize other experts, that’s how it works. The very fact that people don’t understand how this works, and think there’s a problem with the notion of recognizing expertise, is precisely why it’s needed. And it’s why, with few exceptions, experts avoid this kind of forum.

On the contrary, the recognition of women’s achievements is one of the main reasons that expertise should be explicitly acknowledged and respected.

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Tagging expertise is actually a great way to help encourage women’s participation.

The problem is more that women’s expertise often remains untagged.

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Thank you Ayya! :pray: We talked about expertise a little bit today: how many people know your level of expertise when it comes to Buddhist languages? You deserve to be recognized, you’ve done the work, and when you give your opinion, it has the weight of many years of study and practice behind it.

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That’s what I thought, but if I’m reading them correctly, the FAQ suggests that you have to be a ‘serious practitioner’ too. Which I think maybe excludes non Buddhists?

Over time, it has evolved into a site for serious practitioners, both lay as well as monastic, to discuss their understanding of the Early Buddhist Texts (EBT) as well as their application to Life.

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That’s not prescriptive. I think it’s reasonable to assume a certain degree of serious interest in the topic, but it shouldn’t matter whether you’re a Buddhist or not.

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