Soapbox April 05 – 06

Welcome to “The Soapbox” – this is the old SciScoop announcements page.

 This posting used to be a permanent “letter to the editor” page where you could make your thoughts about SciScoop known to the editors and your fellow users. You still could if you liked or you could email us.

I’ve totally rebuilt the site now (April 2009, having taken it over and run it under the scoophost system for several years) Please be patient while I tweak and finetune the site, if you get any errors or find important pages missing, do let me know.

Join in with the discussions and let me know if you’d like to join as a contributor.

Previous Soapbox comments:  
The Soapbox: May 2003

The Soapbox: June – Dec 2003

The Soapbox: Jan – Apr 2004

The Soapbox: Apr – Jul 2004

The Soapbox: Jul – Oct 2004

The Soapbox: Oct 2004 – Apr 2005

124 thoughts on “Soapbox April 05 – 06”

  1. Hi apsmith, congratulations on your new vehicle! I have a question I’ve been dying to find out. When I was at the LA Auto Fair and I climbed into one, I wondered what the “B” function on the gear stick does! No one else in the crowd gathered around knew, and there wasn’t a Toyota person handy. I couldn’t find anything about it on the website.

    How are you liking it so far?

    Here’s another question, not just for apsmith this time! — as he says, “It may be as important for the way it adjusts behavior as for the actual fuel economy of the car itself.” So why doesn’t some manufacturer produce a little car (I’m thinking Ford Fiesta and that size) that has those cheap bells and whistles like the instantaneous mileage readout and whatnot, and market it as the frugal green car? Why should I feel that I have to buy a car with two engines, essentially, to be green? Does the gas savings really, truly, recoup the cost (greenhouse gasses in manufacture as well as consumer $) of the electric portion of the engine?

    Here’s another question, probably an idiot question which I could find in The Idiot’s Guide to Global Warming (hee hee, they’ll write an idiot’s guide to anything, won’t they?!) — why is a hydrogen car better than an electric car? Electric cars seem to work fine, and I could “refuel” it at home, right? What is the advantage to a car that needs a whole new infrastructure for refueling?

    (Not sure if this is off topic for the Soapbox, sorry if so! I didn’t want to reply to the comment in the story because it is pretty old and he might have missed it.)

  2. The “B” is for engine braking – since the car doesn’t have down-shift positions (it’s a continuously variable transmission) you need that to avoid riding the brakes on steep downhill descents. I think engine braking here actually means running the electric motor in reverse to charge up the hybrid battery, though it does that anyway under normal braking conditions unless you brake hard. Think of it as the “1” position for an automatic transmission.

    By the way, it’s averaged 52.0 mpg since I refilled it (7 gallons, yippee!) this morning.

    What I meant on the behavior change is the Prius display, which will show you dynamically how your foot on the gas or brake is causing the two different motors to trade off – I don’t think just a readout of current mpg level would be a big help, though maybe something that did their little 5-minute-chart thing would help.

    The Prius is probably going to cost me an additional $2000-3000 above what I would have spent keeping my old Saturn running (and waiting for an even better model a few years down the road) – but I felt it was worth it for the fun of a new car with all the fancy Japanese gadgets :-) And if gas goes over $4/gallon it might actually pay for itself. It definitely provides net environmental benefit – almost anything to conserve energy does that (energy is only about 10% of the economy, so you’d have to be off by a factor of 10, in rough monetary terms, to be actually wasting more energy from the manufacture than you conserve in use).

    And yes, most informed people I know seem to think the hydrogen car is a boondoggle (promoted by oil and gas and companies like GM) and the future is very likely electric.

  3. Just something I thought of last night…The SciScoop RSS feed currently has the article title followed by the first 75 characters or so. Personally I’d up that to the first paragraph. That’s enough to get people’s interest, but not enough to stop them coming to the site, I’d think. Even with the title, 75 characters often isn’t enough to get a sense of what the article’s about. Just a thought :-)

  4. We must be kindred spirits! — I have an older Saturn as well and in February I began seriously lusting after a Prius. I even told my husband that I wanted to buy one in September of this year and I was planning a trip in the next week or two to the Toyota dealer to see if I had to get on a waiting list. But then I read an article about the iPod Shuffle that mentioned that some auto manufacturers will be including iPod ports as an option in next year’s model. So now my lust is for a Prius that comes with an iPod port and I have resigned myself to waiting another year or two. After all, the ’94 Saturn is holding out pretty well.

    (When I told this story to a friend who works for Microsoft, he went on a little rant about how Bill Gates just isn’t taking the whole MP3 player thing seriously and isn’t hip to how people love them — here is someone making their car buying decisions based on her iPod Shuffle! Hee hee.)

  5. I suspect you are being diplomatic in having no conclusion or final statement to make here. But editing someone else’s story to change the intent of what they were saying is plain wrong. Like most Scoop-based sites, this is a community-driven forum. If someone doesn’t like something in your story, they can voice that concern as a comment in the submission queue and vote the story down. Or they can simply state their concern in a comment afterwards if the story posts, which would probably spark an interesting debate.

    If the new ethics policy here is that this type of editing is going to be the norm, then it should be explicity stated as such. But if so, I fear this forum will lose its appeal to many users, myself included. Hopefully this was just an honest mistake made without considering the larger implications.

  6. It is currently set to cut off after 10 words. That can be easily increased, as it’s one of many parameters, but it can’t be set to display by number of paragraphs – only by number of words. (Or it can be turned off and the entire introtext can be included in the RSS feed.)

  7. Well, I recieved a very nice private explanation about the edit in question saying that I must not have received the prior notice that was sent out letting me know it was coming and that the reason for it was to preclude any potential legal trouble for SciScoop from Wal-Mart by my making what was effectively a snide remark.  I consider that a polite explanation and I appreciate it.  No offense taken.

    My real reason for bringing this up was not to throw stones or start some kind of witchhunt.  I strongly support the changes underway at SciScoop on a variety of fronts.  I strongly believe that any new administration deserves a chance to get on their feet and establish a record before they are pilloried – so hold your fire for at least a little while and think honeymoon.  

    However, this is a good time, I think, to publically air just what the rules are for submissions and highlight any legitimate changes in those rules that are being made.  SciScoop has always been kind of an oddball Scoop site.  It has never really gelled as a community.  It has primarily been seen as a news source, almost a science magazine.  Under my tenure I tried to have it both ways, so if a spotlight should be shone on anybody it’s me – I’m the one with a record to scrutinize, and I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes.

    I tried to run SciScoop for years as a take-all-submissions-and-say-whatever-you-want kind of place.  And to be honest, we got a lot of crap and drivel in that time and not much in the way of a solid, continuing community.  At the same time, I was always lobbying to recieve significant respect and a feeling of legitimacy from others – pushing for things like a Webby award and acceptance by GoogleNews as a legitimate newsfeed source (which they gave and then recended before we got it back as I recall).    

    Can you have it both ways?  Can you have public  submissions and community spirit and political rants and newsroom quality and journalistic integrity all at the same time?  I dunno.  I never succeeded in running a site that had all that simultaneously.  But I tried, and I came up with a pretty interesting site anyway.

    Now the question is what do we want SciScoop to become in the future.  I think moving towards WikiNews collaboration is a great idea – but a Wiki license is not a Scoop license and neither one is what would draw professional science journalists to contribute here regularly on the invitation of one of their own, which would make us a GoogleNews / Drudge Report style powerhouse.

    Basically, SciScoop is currently at a transition point where it could become any number of things besides the ongoing gumbo it was under me.  Each of those potential directions is a valid direction and the specific one choosen by SciScoop leadership is by definition the appropriate one for this site.  There are different editorial and editing policies that are required for each of those directions.  I suspect some percolation time is desirable to ponder the alternatives and options and figure all of that out.  So, patience.

    In the meantime, my only reason for posting my original comment was to open some relevant discussion on editing.  Here we go.    


  8. Hi

    There was no hidden agenda in my editing the final remark Ricky added to his news item other than to protect him and the site. From a UK perspective, I saw what I thought was a potentially legally hazardous comment at the end of Ricky’s story. Admittedly, it was used in what he describes as a throwaway manner, but it’s often throwaway remarks that land journalists in the deepest of legal waters, and I didn’t want to see that happen. Apologies if I over-reacted. The site’s policy has always been and will remain that copyright of submitted articles is held by the author, but we need to have some kind of protection in place if expect the editors not to edit text where legal issues might arise. As such, I will insert a disclaimer at an appropriate place: “Opinions expressed in articles are those of the author submitter and not necessarily those of the SciScoop Community, its individual members, nor the owner and site administrators.”

    Would having such a disclaimer make sense? Any further thoughts?

  9. I think the disclaimer you listed is indeed appropriate – but may very well not be all that is needed or required to achieve your goals.  My own preference, and I suspect your own, is to beef up SciScoop’s journalistic integrity so it becomes an accepted news standard like WikiNews or GoogleNews.  How you integrate such “science-writing” with the “community” implied by a Scoop site, I dunno.  I am watching with great interest to see how you pull it off.

    In the meantime, welcome to the new edition of Soapbox!  We’re glad you’re here, that’s what it’s for!

    An aside: How Do You feel About Standardizing On All-Caps Headlines Like Slashdot Does?

  10. Hi

    When you used the phrase “serious violation” in the initial posting about this issue it set my teeth on edge, raised my hackles, and generally put me in editorial alert mode. I wasn’t quite sure how an edit made by the editor of a piece submitted to a “publication” could be a serious violation of any code, standard practice I thought and can save the author and the editor much embarassment. I realised, however, that there is an implicit understanding that SciScoop has a community-led approach to content and I do believe that should remain. However, I think this community approach should not preclude common sense editing by an editor that protects both the author and the site. I hope that’s not censorship, but good sense. I understand that authors require some kind of reassurance that their work is not going to be edited beyond recognition, hence the new footnote disclaimer, but I also want to ensure that the site does not propagate material that might result in problems for the community and its members.

    As to beefing up the site in terms of journalistic content, I have invited a few of my contacts (a retired professor of chemistry, a wouldbe science journalist, and a couple of others) to submit articles, so far I have not invited any professional science writers to join in the fun. I may well do but anticipate a mixed reception.

    Regarding the new “title” for the site, which some people have commented on (i.e. SciScoop – Science Writing Community), this was done simply to boost traffic to the site. People search for keywords like science, writing, and community and combinations of the three, so hopefully our average daily visitor numbers and consequently membership will start to rise as such tweaks kick in with the search engines.

    Anyway, that’s enough from me for now. I am slowly but surely developing some ideas for the site (I nearly said a long-term vision, but they’re hardly that) and will keep you informed of major changes afoot.

  11. David, I never intended this thread in general or the words “serious violation” in particular to cause the edging of teeth or the raising of hackles, so in that sense the apology is mine – I’m truly sorry for getting your blood pressure up.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head about the issue at hand – is SciScoop a community forum that is intended to be self policing or a publication that is meant to be edited by an editor?  My belief is that it has been ideally meant to be the former but in reality is actually much closer to the latter.  How to balance that, and where to put the fulcrum, is your primary task as editor.  It isn’t an easy task, I know, but I believe if anybody can do that, you can.  Keep plugging away.

    Something good has indeed changed – traffic is apparently at double normal levels or above today, and I can only hope the trouble I had getting on the site just now is due to overloads.  Onward to ever greater heights.

  12. Hi

    I upped the number of words in the RSS intro’s, but as janra explained it’s impossible to choose the number of words to display with the scoop system and I’d certainly not want to give away the whole article intro to sites that scrape our rss feed. Hopefully, there are enough words now to attract visitors.


  13. I’ve posted a poll to gauge visitor opinion regarding the advertising on SciScoop. Obviously, there’s got to be something here to help me cover costs, and to “monetize” the site, as those in marketing might say. Personally, I’d rather not have any, except maybe the odd amazon link for a favorite book.

    Anyway, let me know what you think through the poll. The amazon ads don’t pay very well, but other schemes might be worth keeping. What do you think about the Google banner right at the top (easy to access, even easier to hide)? What about having a pertinent amazon ad with each story? A no go, or great news?

    I’m hoping to add a new shopping channel soon, which might preclude the need for amazon and Google or Yahoo ads, but then again if you like ’em, I’ll keep ’em!

    Your views, as always, greatly appreciated!

  14. I think the amazon ads are fine – but they should be closely tied to the subject of the article. Some of the connections have been a bit loose, I think…

  15. Yes, I’ve eased off posting amazon ads with each story. They’re just not attracting buyers, and that’s possibly because some of them have not been too closely aligned with the story in question, as you say.

    Thanks for the comment


    PS Don’t forget to vote in our Ad Poll

  16. We’re fast approaching article 2000 on SciScoop. So now’s a good time to start writing your story if you want to stand a chance of being the 2000th item featured. Let’s make it a biggy! Submit now!

    Check out the Eurekalert Newsfeeds (and any other press release sources of course such as Newswise) to get an idea of the kinds of stories we’re after and don’t forget to create your own enticing headline, put a bit of personal spin on it and add in some interesting links.

    If you have access to the embargoed materials on press sites, please make sure you post after the embargo release.



  17. A recent Business Week article says “… the gasoline engine doesn’t kick in until you reach 10 or 15 mph. That means pedestrians in parking lots can’t hear you coming.” Is this really an issue? (I’m picturing myself driving with a bicycle bell attached to the steering wheel… “CH-CHING! CH-CHING!!”)

  18. it’s definitely true it’s very quiet – it’s quiet even with the gasoline engine running, but really quiet without it. More of a concern is probably going backwards where you can’t see as well – but there the car beeps loudly at you the whole time you’re in reverse. It’s just internal to the car though. If you’re worried, you might want to just turn up the radio loud when you’re starting, or something…

  19. I want to link to you posts?
    Sheesh…I went in to look at the first 250 new comments, and they were all from jie, and useless. I can only hope that way down there where the new posts ended yesterday (somewhere under 300)there is not some REAL new comment that I would have liked. I don’t go back and reread articles, I just click on new comments to find what someone else has added to what I’ve already read. Bah! I’m ranting because I’m disgusted, sorry.

  20. Hi

    I’ve been away and so only discovered that this guy is spamming us thanks to a note from Wayne Goode (thanks, Wayne). I’ll talk to the admin team about sorting this problem.

  21. Hi

    Still working on the spam issue. I’ve barred the perpetrator so he cannot post with the same username ever again.

    I’ve also blocked the html anchor tag in comments. Sorry about that, but we have several hundred spam posts to clear out and if the spammers see that they cannot post text links they won’t bother us again. I am afraid commentators will have to simply display the URL of any pages they want to refer to and visitors will have to cut and paste into their browser address bar. If I can find another way around this I will reinstate href in comments again.



  22. I’m helping clear out some of this guys comments too. Did Janra ever set up that special box for us?

  23. Should html be turned off in sigs too?

    I notice I can still click to the National Space Society from apsmith’s post!

  24. I’m expecting to receive “the spiking box” code from janra soon, which will allow me to kill this b*st*rd’s comments. I re-enabled href in comments as it seemed to block href in stories at the same time, that’s either a bug or my ignorance of scoop, I cannot tell. So, if someone can tell me how to disable the anchor html in comments and not stories I’d be very grateful.

  25. I hope we’ve finally got the spam licked (urrgghhh!). The perpetrator was barred and deleted and we’ve blocked href from comments (sorry about that! A necessary evil). If he finds a new exploit we will close that loophole too until he is thoroughly bored and the SciScoop Science News Forum can get back to work proper. Thanks for your patience.

  26. You can block and allow tags for particular user groups and for particular ‘contexts’ – comments, stories, prefs. The description for the allowed_html site control should explain how to use them.

  27. Along with the anti-spam measures, I’ve tweaked a few things in the header menu, as you may have noticed. I think it’s worth advertising the site’s newsfeed more promimently. I also made the invitation to submit and join more prominent as you can see, although I may have to do an IF/THEN for that so that the link is inactive for anyone already signed in.

    There is a great tranche of spam messages with the subject line “here is good website” posted anonymously, I’ve asked janra for a method to delete en masse, so if they’re annoying you please be patient, or delete them if you have privs to do so


  28. Okay…I think it’s all been digested. If anyone knows of any comment spam associated with older SciScoop entries can they let me know.



  29. What initially appeared to be an announcement for a course turns out to be spam. I searched the phrase “The pogram has to be finished in a max of 6 years” and found dozens of other forums where the exact same text has appeared. To what end I do not know. Presumably my blocking href blocked whatever text links the spammer was hoping to place.

    Anyway, I will be posting a poll soon asking whether SciScoop readers would like to see a job/course ad section…watch this space (well actually watch the homepage, that’s where it will appear!)



  30. Hi

    It was easier than I thought to control access to the anchor tag for comments to certain groups. If you still have problems using the anchor tag please let me know.

  31. It always seems to say “1 Anonymous(es)” are on – in the past we’ve usually had 20-30 at a time, at least. Bug in a software upgrade? If this will stay broken, we should remove the entry in the box.

  32. Hi Arthur

    It’s showing 16 anonymice, chas, and 1 cloak to me at the moment (it’s 12pm UK time). It could have been a spillover glitch from the recent server changeover (similarly, the full site stats are not visible to visitors yet).

    We had days last week with more than 5000 visitors so there must have been times when there were several tens of anons on the site at peak times.

  33. Just FYI: I’ve made a few tweaks to homepage and login box. Submit Story is now Post Story. I’ve removed the enticement line, it’s obviously not working to get people to submit. And, I’ve added an enticement in the login box.

    Any comments from the regulars would be appreciated. Just so you know (while Stats are down), we’re getting well over 4000 visitors a day now and some days well over 5000!

  34. Just to clarify, that “site changeover” I mentioned was a scoophost upgrade to bigger servers and stuff, not something I instigated but definitely something I appreciate.

  35. In case anyone missed it, there’s another new Star Wars movie out – "Revelations – Begin the Rebellion". Sciencebase is acting as one of the mirror sites

    It’s 47 minutes long and amounts to about 250 Mb in WMV format. Other formats are available from that page too.

    I’d be happy to publish a review should any SciScoopers which to check it out and offer an opinion or two…

  36. Hi

    Just tidied up the menu a little, “Stats” has been offline for a while now, so pointless it being there. Other cosmetic changes made.


  37. Ricky et al used amazon and online shopping to try and monetize SciScoop to cover costs. Well I’ve taken a different tack, as many of you will realise. This has now been extended to an online discounts section on SciScoop that has been running for a few weeks now. You can access here: Online Discount Shopping. I hope you will find it useful. By working in this way it reduces to almost zero the need to have lots of ads on the main site itself, but still provides a revenue trickle, or dare I say stream, to help support the ongoing maintenance of SciScoop.


  38. Hi

    Good and Bad News

    We had another spam attack, and it’s taking up far too much of my time deleting each spam post, so I’ve barred anonymous users from posting comments altogether. Sorry. You’ll just have to register if you want to chip in (it’s easy enough to anonymize yourself when you register, so legit users shouldn’t find that a problem). It means I can delete all users who abuse rather than use.

    The flip side of this is that logged in users can once again use href! Anyone abusing this will be Vap-o-Rized(TM), which means slices of spam can be blasted into oblivion at the push of a button.

    I hope everyone’s happy with this, I certainly wasn’t happy with spending my time frying spam slice by slice. I know this approach has limitations, but what I’ve taken away on one side, I’ve given back to those who register, which should improve things considerably.


  39. Hi

    Good and Bad News

    We had another spam attack, and it’s taking up far too much of my time deleting each spam post, so I’ve barred anonymous users from posting comments altogether. Sorry. You’ll just have to register if you want to chip in (it’s easy enough to anonymize yourself when you register, so legit users shouldn’t find that a problem). It means I can delete all users who abuse rather than use.

    The flip side of this is that logged in users can once again use href! Anyone abusing this will be Vap-o-Rized(TM), which means slices of spam can be blasted into oblivion at the push of a button.

    I hope everyone’s happy with this, I certainly wasn’t happy with spending my time frying spam slice by slice. I know this approach has limitations, but what I’ve taken away on one side, I’ve given back to those who register, which should improve things considerably.


  40. In case you suddenly miss it, I’ve also deleted rickyjames’ note about my editing one of his items some months ago, I think we resolved the issue at the time and the posting was simply cluttering up this page!


  41. I was going to poll users to see whether they’d prefer no links and anonymous comments or vice versa, but I just don’t fancy deleting dozens and dozens of spam comments one by one again, so it’s links and no anons, I’m afraid. I hope the vast majority of users won’t mind having to register to pass comment.


  42. I’m sure somebody’s already mentioned this, but what happened to the big long list of sites that used to run down the left side of the homepage? I Never bothered to bookmark any of my favs cause ‘they were always there’.

    I looked at the links section but only a few sites listed. Where are the rest?

  43. I’ve been having a bit of a problem where I down-moderate an article and then the submission is edited such that it becomes acceptable. But I can’t change my moderation from negative to positive (or at least I don’t know how). I would like the ability to undo or change a moderation. Is this something that’ll hard to implement?

  44. Hi

    When I took over SciScoop in April, I made a few “subtle” and not so subtle changes. I ditched that long list of links, sorry. Some of them were dead, many were redundant, and most were (I felt) just taking up space I wanted to use for other stuff.

    Anyone who would like to grab the list can do so using the web archive of SciScoop.

    Hope that’s of help!


  45. I’m not sure how to implement that or whether it can be done. Perhaps if you have doubts about a particularly dodgy submission you could hold off voting to give me (or anyone else on the team) a chance to give it the once over and beat it into shape.



  46. The sciscoop help desk just received a press release about the wonders of a new mould-removing product. So irritating was the press release that I’ve taken a pop at it in my personal science blog over at if anyone wants to take a look.


  47. Actually……

    I could create a new box with all those old links in that would be visible only to those who are logged in. Would that be a feature people would be interested in?

    Let me know, I don’t want to spend time on it to find that everyone toggles it off!

  48. This is why Scoop separates its voting and editing queues – it doesn’t make sense to allow voting on a story that may change for exactly the reasons you mention here.

    We could try to promote use of the editing queue, which would give the author some time to work on the article and take into account feedback before people vote on it.

  49. I would be! I want the list, but I don’t know how I would save it on my computer unless I went to every site and then bookmarked it. That’ll take forever.

    I would like to have them reinstated and making them toggle-able (??) sounds like a great idea. But I’ll yield to a vote among the members. You know my vote!

  50. I would be! I want the list, but I don’t know how I would save it on my computer unless I went to every site and then bookmarked it. That’ll take forever. I would like to have them reinstated and making them toggle-able (??) sounds like a great idea. But I’ll yield to a vote among the members. You know my vote!

  51. Like I say, you could visit the web archive and save the SciScoop homepage from a time when the list was still there, scroll down the left-hand side and you’ll find the pre-bradley list. It wouldn’t be impossible to edit out all the sundry information and save that list as a file on your hard drive, add a bookmark to that file and you’ve got instant access to your list.

    Old SciScoop

    Anyway, the way the voting is going, it looks like the majority would like to see its return, so I will more than likely create a new box for it that will be visible only once you log in.



  52. I’ve been tinkering with toggles on some of the boxes, janra having explained to me (thanks) how to make a box appear only to logged in users.

    So now logged in users get the complete sciscoop news sources listing of old (it displaces my abbreviated list when you log in). Lots of you voted for the return of this feature and it’s right there in the left-hand column. Because of that, I’ve shoved some of the stuff that was on the left over to the right, to try and balance the homepage a little better. So, you might have to hunt around a bit to find your old favourites.

    You’ll also notice that when you log in the Google Ads and the Serenity box disappear. There was a general feeling that losing the ads on login was a good idea, please correct me if I’m wrong as I’d hate to deprive you of those juicy Goooooooogles.


  53. For anyone who is interested in this sort of thing the SciScoop homepage has got a new Google Pagerank, jumping from a PR6 to a PR7. This should mean we’ll show up nearer the top more often for various searches, which will hopefully mean more readers/members/posters/commenters. It is also likely to mean more spam directed at the email help desk, but hopefully we can cope…


  54. When one clicks “Science Topics” at the top of the page, the Potpourri topic is not shown. Can somebody fix this? Thx!

  55. Is there any way to modify the RSS feed (which, aside from the moderation queue, is my main method of accessing SciScoop) such that it would show the total number of comments for each topic? They do it at (RSS), and I find it quite helpful. Currently I’m pretty much ignorant of new comments posted on topics that move out of the moderation queue, unless I pay special attention to them.

    It could be something simple like a number in parenthesis after the title. For example:

      When Planets Collide? (3)

    I’m hoping the existing SciScoop code allows for this and it’s only a matter of configuration.

  56. If anyone has strong feelings against a 100 word max on story intros let me know. I’m happy to change it to more, just checking out the effect…

  57. Here’s my intro text that is being rejected right now:

    There are few enough songs about science, and I’ve been wracking my brain recently trying to think if I’d heard any songs about scientists themselves. The only one I could think of was Raffi’s ode to Dame Jane Goodall, “Jane, Jane”,
    from his album
    Let’s Play!.
    (No, Tom Lehrer’s “Lobachevsky”
    doesn’t count!) So imagine my happiness at finding a whole album full of songs about
    scientists! A local band here in the Los Angeles area has attacked the project alphabetically,
    and produced thirteen songs about scientists whose names start with the letters
    A through M. It’s an alternative rock sound with a scientific mindset which delighted
    me from start to finish. So read on for my review of Artichoke’s
    latest album, 26 Scientists, Volume One Anning-Malthus.

    I think it’s just the right size for an intro! How about 250 for the limit? Does the counter know not to count HTML?

  58. …not sure if it counts href as a word or not. I suspect it does. I just wanted to make the intros to articles a more standard size so that a long intro doesn’t push the second story below the fold…

  59. When submitting a new article, the ‘style’ attribute is flagged as an error when used with the ‘P’ HTML tag (and maybe other tags as well). Yet when editing existing articles, the ‘style’ attribute is okay.

    Why not allow the ‘style’ attribute for all of the permitted HTML tags. It comes in quite handy.

  60. I’ve done some research into Scoop, and there are several ways to implement this. I recommend method #1 for its simplicity, but #2 is more elegant. Because I’m not running Scoop, I was unable to actually test these modifications, but the change is simple enough that testing may not be absolutely necessary. Note that methods #1 and #2 will require either command-line or ftp access to the SciScoop server.

    Method #1: Direct modification of existing code, # comments in title

    1. Find the source file X\lib\Scoop\, where “X” is the Scoop installation directory.
    2. Create a backup copy of the file.
    3. Open the file with a text editor.
    4. Find the subroutine cron_rdf().
    5. Towards the end of the subroutine, find this line of code:
        title => $S->strip_invalid($story->{title}),
    6. Replace it with this line:
        title => $S->strip_invalid($story->{title} || '(' || $story->{commentcount} || ')'),
    7. Save the file.
    8. Terminate and restart Scoop. (Not positive if this is necessary, but it could be.)

    Method #2: Direct modification of existing code, # comments in description

      Repeat steps for method #1, except replace this line
      description => $S->strip_invalid($story->{introtext})

    with this line

      description => $S->strip_invalid('(' || $story->{commentcount} || ' comments)<br />' || $story->{introtext})

    Be sure to use the &lt; and &gt; entities instead of ‘<‘ and ‘>’. Note that this will cause the description to exceed its length limit by a small amount.

    Method #3: Add a box

    1. Instead of modifying the file in methods 1 and 2, copy the cron_rdf() subroutine, modify it, and save it in Scoop as a box. I don’t really know how to create boxes, so I can’t help much on this one.
    2. Modify the existing cron setup to not schedule cron_rdf. This could get more complicated if cron_rdf is already not scheduled. Talk to me if this is the case.
    3. Add the new box to the cron list. Or alternately it can be triggered by the addition of a story. Talk to me if you want to do the trigger method.

    To make life simpler, you can email me the file. I’ll modify it and return it to you.

  61. …modifying the source code is not the way to go because it will be wiped whenever Scoop is upgraded. So it looks like option #3 is in. I’ll do some research on boxes, unless someone else here is proficient in their use (Anyone? Buehler?). It shouldn’t be too difficult, since the Scoop site has a demo installation that I can play with.

    So if you’re proficient with Scoop boxes, drop me a line, otherwise I’ll post here when I’ve got it figured out.

  62. I’ve figured out how to implement it. Essentially we need to add a box (i.e., a Scoop extension), ensure it gets scheduled, and disable the existing cron_rdf task. I have the code for the box but can’t test it on the demo system at because they’ve wisely disable boxes (a box will run arbitrary code on the server without the protection you get from things like Java).

    There are several options for how we can proceed, depending upon how well you administrator types know Scoop. This task would be hard to explain via email, so you can either

    • Make the change yourself
    • Get someone else who knows Scoop well to make the change
    • Make the change while on the phone with me
    • Temporarily give me administrator access so I can make the change

    I await your decision.

  63. Hi

    Apologies for the various outages and problems users have been facing this last week or so. I have been on vacation and am only just catching up, but the Scoophost team have endeavoring to do the necessary fixes (something to do with database compatibility issues). They’ve carried out a quick fix for now and will do the full fix later today, which will mean a short period (about 20 mins) of additional downtime. Hopefully after that everything will be fine and the various editing problems and missing page problems will be resolved.

    Thanks for your patience, your dedication to SciScoop is, as always, much appreciated.

  64. I noticed the thresholds for the moderation queue have been changed recently, making it harder to be accepted or rejected. Any particular reason for that?

  65. I’ve also changed the editorial feedback timeout to 2h from 24h. This means posters and mods have just 2h to edit their article. Again, if anyone foresees problems with this let me know.

  66. I’ve just updated my bird flu article. My intention is to keep the article up-to-date, and I recommend that anyone interested in the topic should add it to his/her hotlist—there will be a “new” comment whenever I make an update.

  67. In some areas SciScoop is growing – visitor numbers are up and membership is up.

    In other areas it’s shrunk – postings are down and comments have fallen.

    There is a dedicated core of people regularly posting and discussing, which is great. But, the perennial issue is how to persuade casual visitors and lurkers to join in.

    The posting process is quite unwieldy and is no longer deterring spammers as we’ve seen in recent days. I’m going to simplify the intro to the posting page (again) to make it more obvious what’s happening and to remove the “preview” mode, which catches people out and may be losing us submissions when the poster doesn’t follow through to full submission, I also think that it’s time we expanded the remit so that we’re not just asking people for news but offer them (more obviously) the chance to express opinions…

    If anyone has any comments or ideas on this please let me know.

  68. On the posting process, the simplified instructions are nice. I do, however, have the following comments:

    • Can we change the default type from HTML to Auto Format?
    • I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen anyone use editorial feedback mode (well, I did once a long time ago…). Can we just get rid of it completely? It’s confusing at best.
  69. Hi

    User “chronosphere” suggested that despite SciScoop being an “awesome” site, one thing he feels it lacks are images to accompany news stories. If anyone wishes to included a picture with their postings it should be possible and they can email me if they have problems uploading them or making them format properly.

  70. This sounds like a useful idea, but how do we include images? Via the HTML <img> tag? Is there a mechanism other than email to upload images to SciScoop?

  71. Until I cleaned up the posting form t’other day, there was an upload function, I guess if we’re going to include images then I probably need to reinstate it. The only problem of course will be the old copyright issue…

    If any regular contributors want to include a graphic with their postings perhaps they could email me.



  72. That oft ignored column on the lower left-hand side of the first page would be a good source of news except all the links are not to the sources themselves but to archives of the sources as they appeared in November of last year. Why?

  73. Not deliberate…when I reinstated the column I had to use a webarchive version of the page. I’ll fix it – it’s only a case of taking off the webarchive URL. Thanks for pointing that out!


  74. Could we implement a time limit on how long a submission stays in the moderation queue? It’s getting sort of silly, with one submission now being 4 months old. How about one month, then make an editorial decision on whether to delete or post it?

  75. Good idea.

    I reckon if an item has been in the mod queue for more than a month and has fewer voters who actually voted for it than against or didn’t care then we should dump it. If it’s t’other way round then we can post it.

    I’m applying this principle to those in the queue that have been there since the summer. Apologies to any authors if they feel hard done by, but most people who are going to vote will have done so by now.

    I also reckon if an author has posted anonymously, been asked to revised, and totally ignored us they ought to be spiked.



  76. If somebody posts anonymously, they will never see the comments asking them to revise, because they can’t see queued stories.

  77. Ah, yes, you’re right…never thought of that.

    I reckon it makes sense to force people to register before posting, I never understood why it wasn’t like that from the start, although I suppose there could be good reasons.

  78. Hi

    I’ve disabled anons, we might lose a few of the wilder submissions, but serious posters will sign up, hopefully.



  79. The current policy of still posing articles that were voted against (to “Section Stories. The stories that didn’t quite make it to the Front Page…”) is being abused:
    It’s wrong to make these articles public because it encourages more abuse. All these spamers want is to link-spam.
    The loss is not in just letting site visitors see this spam, but also in damaging sciscoop’s page rank with google. Sciscoop turns into spamer’s link farm.

  80. I’ve deleted the two stories you reference, along with a few others. Someone has been consistently spamming the site, and I’ve been deleting them as I find them, but (as you noted) some got down-moderated too quickly and didn’t get deleted. I’ve deleted at least 12 of these posts in the past week or two.

    One solution is to have the editors delete these types of messages as soon as they appear, and to educate users so that they don’t moderate them.

  81. Hi

    Happy New Year to you all! And, thanks to everyone who has cleared out spam, commented on comments, posted stories etc while I’ve been away. Much appreciated as always.

    I’ve got a button to delete comment spammers in one fell-swoop so that last tranche is now history.

    All the best for 2006


  82. How about automatically deleting the stories that get 0 votes in their favour? If the story gets 5 ‘dump it’ with zero other votes then it is proven bogus beyond reasonable doubt, right?

    Another solution would be to patch scoop for automatically rejecting articles with too many URLs in them. The limit can be set very high, like 30, so it does not interfere with legitimate posts.

  83. How about creating multilevel rejected categories.

    If voted out from first list it should go to votedout list, from that list with further negative vote the post goes to dumped list, then thrashed list, then deleted list, then banned list etc etc.

    With the possibility of getting back with new positive votes in to the main forum.

  84. The current thresholds seem to be too high:

    • Post threshold: 9
    • Hide threshold: -5

    The story can get the +9 only if it gets a unanimous vote. Essentially it gives every voter a veto power which does not seem right. Same goes for -5. The number of voting users does not seem to justify such high thresholds.

  85. I’ve been rather a fan of Peter Gabriel for longer than I care to remember (first year high school at least and that’s long while back). Anyway, I just received a mailing from his mailing list offering subscribers a couple of great music downloads in exchange for a quid (that’s less than $2) all of which will be given to the Asia Earthquake Appeal.

    As such, I’ve displaced the Dell newsletter ad for the time being and encourage SciScoop visitors to follow the appeal banner, make their donation, and get some fantastic music into the bargain!

    Just my little bit for chariddeee

  86. What if threshold is reduced to 3 positive points but infinite negative points, so someone posts a stupid comment or advertising we can hide that comment. But has a chance to comeback with 3 points with more voters ?

  87. Hi

    Your comment suddenly made me think, that maybe it was a bug that had led to SciScoop being so quiet these last couple of weeks…if no one else but I was able to post then that would explain it. So, I logged in under my non-superuser alter ego to test, but it seemed to work okay…

    …would you kindly try again and see if we can get things kickstarted again on SC

    Your continued support is much appreciated


  88. Hi, the submission failed again in Internet Explorer (6.0.28 for windows), but I tried it in Mozilla and then it worked. I am behind a firewall at work at the moment (shhh don’t tell the boss!) so that may have something to do with it. But I always used IE before (except at home when I use Safari).

  89. Hi

    I’ve commented out the long, boring list of science news sources that no one seems to use for SciScoop stories anyway. If anyone has any strong objections I may create a new special page to carry it and allow logged in users to see that page in the menu.

    I’ve also hacked out the SciScoop Scoop box so that you only see it if you’re logged in and reinstated Google Adsense on the homepage in the hope of covering costs!

    Thanks for your continued support, please feel free to post science news stories any time!!!


  90. This is the same list that was removed last summer and then reinstated?

    Also, I think I’ve asked before, but can there be a RSS feed for submitted stories? I follow the site through Bloglines, and I only see stories to vote on if I happen to come to the site to read something else.

  91. It is indeed the same list. But to be frank I’m sick of seeing it…I think most visitors have enough of their own science bookmarks to source additional stories, so it’s gone!

    I’m not sure how an RSS feed of articles to vote on would work? One has to be logged in to vote, so it would mean somehow scraping a feed together the links to which could only be accessed by logged in users. I will ask scoop support whether this is somehow possible…

  92. Why not put the links on the links page? Then people can get to them but they won’t be an eyesore.

    I like having the links because there’s some sites I forget about that I can fall back on for research.

  93. Since stories in the queue are only available to logged-in users, I’ve never been a fan of having an RSS feed for those stories.

    What I did on my site, however, was to whip up a variant of the story digest code that would email people any stories in the queue that had been added in the last 24 hours. Combined with a new pref item to allow people to choose to receive this queue digest, it lets those users who want it to be notified of new queued stories, without making the list available to people who don’t have the permission to see the stories.

    If you want this, I’m just about to put it on the Scoop Box Exchange and you can grab it from there.

  94. Okay. I’ve created a new page which contains the links to more than 300 science news sources. If anyone fancies checking they all still work, feel free, just let me know if there are any cobWebs and I’ll remove them. The list is now available to everyone whether they’re logged in or not. I’ve added a link to it on the links page, which is accessible from the upper menu bar, by clicking the word Links (obviously, hah!).



  95. With janra’s (much appreciated) assistance, we’ve now got a new user option that allows you to choose to receive a summary of the voting queue by email.

    To enable the queue digest login in and visit the user interface page

    and check the box  “Queue Digest”

    If enough people suggest this should be enabled by default then I’ll toggle it so that you have to opt out not to receive the voting queue by email.

    Let me know how it works out



  96. Personally I think that email should never be opt out. That’s just downright obnoxious.

    Now, to get the word out but not be too obnoxious, you could make it default-on for only a day or two, get a couple of mailings out with a special notice in the header that this is temporary and that to keep receiving it you have to go to your prefs, then switch it back to default-off and remove the special temporary notice.

    Just a thought :-)

  97. I didn’t intend to do what janra says is obnoxious, no one has been receiving stuff from SciScoop they didn’t want have they? There hasn’t been anything in the queue, so I assume even if I had set it up incorrectly no one would have been affected anyway!

    I’m now wondering what kind of incentives we could offer to try and boost postings. Any thoughts…cash, prizes, advertising shares, what?


  98. An effective method used by rickyjames was to make a general plea to get commitments for one story per week.

    Making monetary rewards would be something as well.

    I try to post regularly, although the last few weeks have been bad for me—so no stories. I do wish we had more committed posters.

  99. Hi

    Chad’s right, Ricky’s pleas often worked. We’ve had some great regulars over the years, but everyone has other commitments and if they don’t feel their articles are being read then presumably they feel it’s not worth bother, especially as sites like Slashdot get far more readers.

    Well…I’m not sure we can compete with them, but SciScoop does represent a nice community (doesn’t it?) and at a peak point in October last years was being visited by 60 out of every million people searching the web and that doesn’t count visitors who come to the site direct, which is pretty good going. The majority of sites are an order of magnitude lower than that if not two orders and beyond. As of March 9, we were averaging 5000 unique visitors a day to the Sciscoop pages (not including the shopping channel).

    Today, I tweaked the site’s title block, which might help us compete on the phrase science blog more effectively and hopefully pull in a few more people from search engines who might be inclined to contribute. I’m also going to put a note on my personal blog (which will show up at the top of the SciScoop homepage, of course) as a call to arms.

    Among the regular subscribed readers I wonder whether anyone could commit to a story a week, just three or four people doing that would give us a nice steady flow and would really reinvigorate the site so that we might start to compete with those other science blog sites a little more.

    I’ve wondered about whether some kind of reward system could be put in place, but the trouble is Google Ads are only just covering hosting costs, individual postings often produce zero revenue and so there isn’t really a pot of cash to draw from…

    I’ve been “running” SciScoop for a year now, and while I managed to get us higher ranking in the search engines and more traffic I don’t seem to have persuaded people to post any more than Ricky did, indeed, as you know things have tailed off…which is a real shame.

    Any thoughts on how we might turn things around would be most welcome.



  100. This Edition Of Soapbox Is Hereby Closed

    I’ve kind of let this one overrun a little, but AP prompted me a week or so ago and I finally dug out Ricky’s instructions on how to do this, so here we go. Fingers crossed and all that.

    You will want to do a few things to keep up with us:

    Go to the top of this very page and click the -Hotlist link (visible to you if you are a SciScoop member)

    Click on Site News on the main menu bar to get to the new Soapbox

    Click on the +Hotlist link on the new Soapbox page (visible to you if you are a SciScoop member) and we’ll see you there!

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