October 2016 note: This entire page will need a top-to-bottom rewrite to reflect move from lists.johnshopkins.edu to linuxmafia.com that is underway at this writing. The new mailing list is at http://linuxmafia.com/mailman/listinfo/skeptic.
This is not a list of paranormal-related questions and skeptical answers; for that, consult Taner Edis's SKEPTIC Annotated Bibliography [being reconstructed a/o 2010-06-17 — RM], or the sci.skeptic FAQ. Here are answers to some common questions about using the SKEPTIC mailing list.
For any other questions, bother your friendly list owner at firstname.lastname@example.org. That might provide an occasion to include another item in this FAQ. (N.B.: This iteration of the FAQ is maintained on the mailing list owner's behalf by Rick Moen, so blame any deficiencies on him.)
SKEPTIC is an unmoderated mailing list. The list owner will, however, butt in when it looks like the discussion is spinning out of control. Anyone may subscribe, but the list owner will throw off anyone who makes a major pest of him/herself, beyond the usual amount of flaming and irrelevancies.
Usually, courtesy and some common sense will prevent you from getting into hot water, either with others on the mailing list or with the list owner. After all, we are all mainly interested in a free, informative discussion of paranormal and fringe-science ideas, preferably without having to wade through tons of irrelevant and boring postings in the process.
These rough guidelines might help you:
Try to keep on-topic. SKEPTIC is about paranormal and fringe-science issues, and the scientific and philosophical matters that arise in debating these. We try not to be too rigid in drawing boundaries; in the past, we have gone into urban legends, Marxist and libertarian politics, feminism and anti-feminism, conspiracy theories, meta-ethics, the merits of vegetarianism, religion, educational questions, weird philosophy, math, and a whole host of topics besides the standard paranormal fare. As long as there is a clear connection to skepticism, and the discussion does not become a firestorm that drowns out our primary concerns, things usually work out fine.
Avoid making skepticism an ideology. Yes, "skepticism" is a vague notion, but we still have a rough idea what we are interested in criticizing, and what we are content to leave to other mailing lists. You might be convinced the ideology you despise is the epitome of irrationality, and that the duty of every True Skeptic is to combat it unto his or her last breath. Too bad. We don't mind the occasional foray into politics or religion here, but, if you find yourself evangelizing, it's time to slow down and move onto something else.
Don't waste bandwidth. This can be a busy list in the heat of a debate. When you're receiving a hundred messages a day, it can be rather irritating if many of these are just one- to three-line messages that don't say much besides expressing agreement, disagreement, or making some less-than-crucial comment. These are best done by private e-mail sent to the original poster. This doesn't mean you should act like a stuffy academic and stamp out all humor or personal chattiness wherever you see it. Just use your judgement — keep in mind that hundreds of people will read what you post, so try to say something worthwhile.
First of all, bookmark this FAQ. When it doesn't help, send all questions related to the list to email@example.com. This includes requests for help, and any and all complaints. Please do not post such material to SKEPTIC (firstname.lastname@example.org) itself, unless there is a good reason. Another address to avoid is email@example.com; that is reserved for automatic error messages alone.
If you can't deal with the volume this list generates every day, but would like to look at what's going on periodically, you might consider subscribing in digest mode. This means you will get everything bundled together as MIME-encoded attachments, and bundled as one piece of mail about once every 24 hours, instead of Sympa mailing you every posting individually. Send
SET skeptic DIGEST
Digests can be convenient for deleting all the day's message traffic at once, if you feel disinclined to read it, or if the number of messages received in a day is a problem for you.
Sending message body text "SET skeptic MAIL" to firstname.lastname@example.org reverts to the usual operation: individual mail received as posted.
If you're going to be away for a while, and would like to stop receiving SKEPTIC mail during that time (suspend delivery), send:
SET skeptic NOMAIL
to email@example.com. This'll suspend your mail, while keeping you on the list. This is safer than signing off and rejoining later. When you want to start receiving mail again, use:
SET skeptic MAIL
(or "SET skeptic DIGEST"), sent, as usual, as body text to firstname.lastname@example.org. Note that you needn't include your name or anything else in the commands; they're perfectly fine exactly as written.
If you want to leave SKEPTIC, send:
SIGNOFF skeptic [EMAIL]
The EMAIL field is optional (thus the brackets), being useful if you're sending the request from somewhere other than your subscribed address. (You'll be sent a confirmation request at your subscribed address, in any event.)
(Sending "SIGNOFF * [EMAIL]" tells Sympa to unsubscribe you from all mailing lists hosted on lists.johnshopkins.edu.)
Since SKEPTIC is a fairly active list, it will be unusual to have one day where you receive nothing, let alone a few in a row. In this case, chances are that the list has had trouble sending mail to you. You have either been auto-deleted from the list, or Sympa has suspended your mail.
The way to check if you're still subscribed is to send
to email@example.com. If you find you're not subscribed, you have to rejoin the list. If you suspect your mail might be set to "suspend" (i.e., delivery status NOMAIL), sending
SET skeptic MAIL
(or "SET skeptic DIGEST") to firstname.lastname@example.org will restart your list mail.
If you get no reply at all, this probably means the list server is down. In that case, all you can do is wait. The list owner will be aware of the problem, and is probably working to get things going again.
SKEPTIC is archived by Sympa, with each month in a separate file. Anyone may request Sympa archives via e-mail, by sending a line of e-mail body text like
GET skeptic YYYY-MM
to email@example.com, the YYYY-MM being a year and month, like "2009-07" for July 2009.
It appears that Johns Hopkins's installation of Sympa archives and offers all postings going back the most recent two years on a rolling basis. Be forewarned that any archive file you retrieve will be large. To determine what exact monthly archives Sympa has, send the line
to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you'll receive a catalogue.
From April 29, 1998 to July 9, 2000, eGroups (now Yahoo Groups) operated a publicly accessible Web archive of SKEPTIC, but then ceased to do so. (However, old postings are still viewable there.). There are no other known public archives, other than the Johns Hopkins Sympa one and the two years' worth of traffic on Yahoo/eGroups.
You can send Sympa a variety of other commands via e-mail (and, by the way, can send as many commands per e-mail as you wish, one per line):
to email@example.com will fetch a short summary of Sympa's commands.
Appending special command "QUIT" will prevent Sympa from generating errors by misinterpreting as Sympa commands any subsequent message body content, such as your signature block. Example:
GET skeptic 2009-07
GET skeptic 2009-08
The "INFO" command fetches from Sympa a short description of the specified mailing list.
Commands to Sympa can be in either your message's Subject header or message body text: The latter's a lot more convenient. (Some Web pages elsewhere imply Sympa commands must be in your Subject header. Nope.)
"DIGEST", "MAIL", and "NOMAIL" (mentioned elsewhere on this page) are the most common delivery options, but you can instead elect the following delivery statuses, via e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org:
There are also several message format status options:
Command "LAST skeptic" might also be useful: It asks Sympa for a copy of the most recent post.
You might be tempted to try sending the command
to email@example.com, to see who your fellow subscribers are, but Len the listowner has disabled use of that command by subscribers. Accordingly, the "SET skeptic CONCEAL" and "SET skeptic UNCONCEAL" commands would also be pointless, because you can't hide from Len. :-)
Likewise, the "INVITE skeptic EMAIL [FULLNAME]" command to make Sympa send a friend (reachable as per the EMAIL field) an invitation to subscribe to SKEPTIC has been restricted to the listowner, ditto "STATS skeptic" to fetch list statistics.
The "Reply-To:" mail header on SKEPTIC mail is munged (forced) in an attempt to force most replies back to the mailing list, itself. The result with most mail clients is that the 'r' (or similar) reply-to-sender command is persuaded to send mail back to the mailing list only. If you desire to send offlist private mail to a fellow participant, be warned that you may need to manually overcome this forced reply semantics (substituting the desired recipient's private e-mail address before sending); else you may find that you have accidentally sent a private communication to the entire mailing list.
Conversely, it may be the case that you're replying to a poster and attempting to include in your post header "Reply-To:" for its standards-specified purpose of indicating an alternate address for replies. Be warned that Sympa will auto-discard your header in the act of forcing in its munged "Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org" header. So, unfortunately your use of the header will be foiled by Sympa's munging activity.
The SKEPTIC list is managed by:
This page has been lightly modified by Rick Moen from Taner's original, which covered details of the prior mailing list manager software, ListProc, which ran on now-defunct host listproc.hcf.jhu.edu. That host in turn was, functionally speaking, a replacement for the very first SKEPTIC mailing list, on the Internet-gated BITNET service: Norman R. Gall's SKEPTIC@YORKVM1.BITNET, run out of an IBM VM mainframe at York University, Toronto, where he worked in the Dept. of Philosophy. Taner set up the ListProc mailing list at Johns Hopkins's Homewood Computing Facility (thus "listproc.hcf.jhu.edu"), not long after which Gall's BITNET mailing list vanished.
People interested in the SKEPTIC list may also be interested in Garrison Hilliard's similarly named Skeptix list, which unlike SKEPTIC is Web-archived.
Please correct obsolete references elsewhere on the Internet to the SKEPTIC's mailing list's former incarnation on listproc.hcf.jhu.edu, which like the ListProc software is long gone.