[Molvis-list] To the moderator (and list admin)

Eric Martz emartz at microbio.umass.edu
Sun Nov 21 12:21:02 EST 2004

At 11/20/04, you wrote:

>Can I ask why this list is moderated?
>In the spirit of "This makes the discussion more interesting"
>(http://bioinformatics.org/mailman/listinfo/molvis-list) I don't see why
>this should be necessary.

Presently this list is moderated by Eric Martz or Tim Driscoll.

"Moderating" an email list means that a moderator must approve each message 
before it is broadcast to the list. The moderator may refuse to broadcast 
inappropriate messages. The RasMol-list subscribers have been quite civil 
during the 9-year history of this list. However, were a disrespectful, 
name-calling, or inflammatory message to be sent, the moderators could 
request that such messages be rephrased, or reject them. In some cases the 
moderator may choose to edit messages before they are broadcast, but the 
mailman software running molvis-list does not provide this option.

I chose to moderate the new molvis-list, at least for an initial period, to 
preclude the broadcasting of spam. Messages are accepted only from 
subscribers, but it is easy for spammers to "spoof" a message as being 
"From" a sender, fooling this safeguard. A handful of spam messages were 
broadcast on the old list because I chose not to moderate it for most of 
its history.

Moderation also enables me to respond to "unsubscribe" requests that are 
inappropriately sent to the entire list, without broadcasting them. There 
has already been one of those.

The present mechanism for moderation in mailman does not allow me to edit 
messages before broadcasting. I have found no need for such editing, but 
sometimes it would be useful to add a comment before broadcasting (which 
mailman does not enable me to do at present). Bioinformatics.org plans to 
upgrade to a new version of mailman which may have more flexibility.

The old listproc mechanism enabled me to get a little information about new 
subscribers, which helped me to refuse subscriptions to dozens of clearly 
bogus requests received over the years. The present mailman mechanism gives 
me only the email address for subscription requests, so I have no basis for 
refusing a subscription request. This made me a little more nervous about 
the possibility of vandals subscribing to broadcast spam. So far it hasn't 
happened, but it has only been one month. The list is more visible than it 
used to be because of its presence in a large group of lists at 

The only downside of moderation that I can see is the sometime delay of up 
to a day (rarely more) before Tim or I get around to checking and approving 
new messages. Tim Driscoll has just today been added as co-administrator. 
This should reduce the lag time on average.

The lag occurs in part because the mechanism provided by mailman, to alert 
the list administrators when a message has been sent, also displays the 
admininstrators' email addresses plainly on the main list web page. Tim and 
I did not want this because it makes it easy for email address harvesting 
worms to spam us. So I displayed the admin addresses in an alternate 
format. However, doing so obviates the mechanism mailman has for alerting 
us of new messages.

If the subscribership prefers that the list not be moderated, I don't mind 
turning moderation off. There is a slight risk that all 600-some of us will 
be bombarded with molvis-list spam one of these days. Dan, if you wish to 
propose to the list subscribers that it not be moderated, go ahead. I have 
no convenient mechanism for taking a vote of all subscribers, but we can 
see if there are any objections. I would not object to trying it unmoderated.

Otherwise, I plan to continue moderating the list for a couple more months 
until I see how it goes. Then I expect I'll turn off moderation if it seems 


Eric Martz, Professor Emeritus, Dept Microbiology
University of Massachusetts, Amherst MA US

More information about the Molvis-list mailing list