From: Mark Abraham (Mark.Abraham_at_anu.edu.au)
Date: Tue Jun 13 2006 - 22:24:30 CDT
Joshua D. Moore wrote:
> Dear Mark,
> I (and I hope others) find your remark unacceptable. Many people who are
> just starting out may ask questions that you do not want to answer.
> Instead of replying in a rude way, DON'T REPLY. Many questions go
> unanswered in this "user list", some because no one knows the answer and
> some because the user may find the answer in the user manual.
People often miscommunicate in written media, and the chief burden of
effective communication rightly belongs with the person doing the
writing, who on mailing lists such as this is also asking for free
advice. There is a widely accepted discussion of protocol for posting
help requests to mailing lists (and answering them) available here
http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html. The particular
context for that protocol is analogous to that which exists here, and I
am far from alone in wanting people to follow it. I do concede that
first time requesters may be unaware of these issues, however, and
should have replied to the requester off-list in this instance.
I quote from the introduction on that site:
"Despite this, hackers have a reputation for meeting simple questions
with what looks like hostility or arrogance. It sometimes looks like
we're reflexively rude to newbies and the ignorant. But this isn't
What we are, unapologetically, is hostile to people who seem to be
unwilling to think or to do their own homework before asking questions.
People like that are time sinks — they take without giving back, and
they waste time we could have spent on another question more interesting
and another person more worthy of an answer.
If you find this attitude obnoxious, condescending, or arrogant, check
your assumptions. We're not asking you to genuflect to us — in fact,
most of us would love nothing more than to deal with you as an equal and
welcome you into our culture, if you put in the effort required to make
that possible. But it's simply not efficient for us to try to help
people who are not willing to help themselves. It's OK to be ignorant;
it's not OK to play stupid.
So, while it isn't necessary to already be technically competent to get
attention from us, it is necessary to demonstrate the kind of attitude
that leads to competence — alert, thoughtful, observant, willing to be
an active partner in developing a solution. If you can't live with this
sort of discrimination, we suggest you pay somebody for a commercial
support contract instead of asking hackers to personally donate help to
> My knowledge is that GBSA is not mentioned in the user manual. There are
> many things not mentioned in the user manual, and a simple message to the
> "user list" never hurts.
The original requester didn't demonstrate that they were capable of
reading the manual to find their own answer to their first question.
If it is true that they haven't done that, then their attitude of
expecting someone else to use their time and expertise to solve their
problem for no gain to the solver is the first problem here. Expecting
someone else to do that for them is at least as rude as any reply I
made. In fact, according to the above link
http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html#rtfm, pointing out to
someone they should read the manual "is showing [you] a rough kind of
respect simply by not ignoring [you]".
If they have looked in the manual, then they should demonstrate that -
because people are much more likely to help people who have tried to
A request to a mailing list can "hurt". There can be hundreds of people
on the list, all of whom are indirectly paying for the network traffic
generated by the email request, and all of whom then have to use their
time to read the message and filter out the requests they want to
ignore. Once this reaches a critical mass, most users who are willing to
help will give up and unsubscribe to avoid drowning in a morass of
irrelevant noise. People who wish to make requests owe it to themselves
and others not to abuse the time of others with inappropriate requests,
lest there be no response to serious requests later.
> I have only been using NAMD for approximately 1 year, but I do my best to
> answer every question that I know the answer to. I hope others continue
> to do the same.
I do give constructive help regularly - the traffic on this list is low,
but I have averaged 47 replies a month in the last three months on the
GROMACS mailing list. I do this because answering the questions teaches
me things. I don't have time to help everyone so I will filter out
people who aren't helping themselves :-)
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