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Many moderators, former moderators, and community curators (regular users who vote on, comment on, edit, flag, and close content) are on strike across the Stack Exchange network as of June 5, 2023. Why is this happening, and how will Biology.SE specifically be affected?

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First off, info about the strike, with links to why AI-generated content is not trustworthy or welcome on the network:


This is my personal opinion, and is not intended to be representative or on behalf of all moderators, community curators, and others on strike.

I am not an elected moderator, but I am on strike for the duration. What does that mean? Well, my participation on all Stack Exchange platforms, including Stack Overflow (SO) and Biology.SE, is effectively curtailed. I will no longer be voting or commenting on, flagging, editing, or otherwise interacting with content, both new and existing, except in regard to Meta discussions regarding the issues at hand.

Just to be absolutely clear: it really upsets me to have to do this, seeing how things have come this far between the Stack Exchange, Inc. (SE) corporate entity and the community-elected, volunteer moderators. Through means I am not going to discuss publicly, I have seen relevant portions of the mod-only communication that the company sent on Memorial Day dictating the new policy and how mods should act, and they are significantly different. Both the original public company announcement of the policy and the statement from them I linked above are completely misleading, if not downright deceitful, when talking about mods' actions and methods before issuing suspensions, although the recent statement does try to walk that smear job back a bit. They have shown zero evidence of any of their claims, either to mods or the general public. They've broken their own agreement with the moderators on how policy announcements should be rolled out - i.e., with plenty of warning and taking mod and public comments into consideration. There was no discussion of this new policy. It also directly contradicts overwhelming mod and public sentiment, that the current generation of generative AIs like ChatGPT are directly harmful to the Stack Exchange model of community-reviewed, expert-generated content. I could go on and on, but my sentiments are reflected in many of the links I gave above as well as resources they link to.

I'm not a moderator here and don't yet have access to some of the moderation tools that come with 20k+ rep, so I can't give a full answer to the question of how this will impact this site specifically. What I can say, if all four of our moderators agree to strike, is that you should expect to see numerous low-quality answers, often from new 1-rep users, appearing everywhere, on new and older questions alike. Flags won't get handled, or will be delayed. Low-quality and off-topic questions won't get closed quickly. Once the strike is over this garbage will be taken care of, but until then it'll remain. Feel free to contact SE if this becomes a problem for you - the more complaints they get about the lack of moderator actions on your favorite site(s), the more pressure they'll be under. Please be polite!

What can you do to help? If you sign up for a free Stack Overflow account (or already have one), you can sign the open letter. You can change your username (remember you can only change it once every 30 days), preferably putting some information in the About section for those interested. You can choose to not participate in some or all of the community curation actions you might otherwise do. You can contact SE directly. You can participate in this and other Meta discussions. Our mods do so much for our sites - the success of the business and the SE websites relies immensely on their volunteer work, and they are being treated horribly. This is absolutely not a one-time occurrence.

What should you not do? Don't deface or vandalize your own or other posts. Don't harass SE employees. This is not about individuals, but about the corporate entity. State your opinion, but be nice.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for all this. I'll make sure to familiarize myself with your links. Quite frankly, however, I don't think it is realistic to keep AI from SE, let alone on StackOverflow given the coding abilities of ChatGTP. I'm afraid it will boil down to how AI is implemented into SE and controlled by the mods. In a way, Google with its algorithms contains AI that changes the way we all dig up our resources online. Are you on strike because of the decision to use ChatGTP, or because of the decision making behind it by SE corp? I get the impression people are disagreeing for various reasons. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD Mod
    Jun 7, 2023 at 6:34
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD coding abilities of ChatGPT That's the big problem, at least on SO - CGPT is designed to create plausible human-sounding text, not programs, so a lot of the copy-paste answers we get include code that's just wrong. I don't think many of the people on strike are against AI in general - if it can improve someday to actually be useful on SE sites, that's great. It's just not there yet. The bigger issue for me is the 180° turnaround SE, Inc. has made on the issue, without public consultation, in the face of overwhelming disagreement from the mods and the user base as a whole. [...] $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Jun 7, 2023 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ [...] The untenable position they've put the mods in and the way they've treated them going way back is terrible, and I'm striking to support the mods. Yes, I disagree with the policy, but the way it was rolled out, the differences between what they've said in private vs in public, the way they've made the mods look like biased idiots who throw around suspensions at random, the way they've completely ignored any feedback, and all the rest is the main reason I'm doing this. SE, Inc. just doesn't seem to get that the mods and community curators are why their sites are so popular and [...] $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Jun 7, 2023 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ [...] high-quality, which directly translates to revenue for them. If the sites begin to fill up with crap and the only answers new users are getting are AI-generated instead of by SMEs, then people will leave and directly use the AIs instead (which is already happening). However, my (strong) disagreement with the policy is not why I'm striking - that can and should be resolved through the normal process on Meta.SE. That's not a reason in and of itself to strike. The long-standing poor treatment and ignoring of the mods, and community curators to a lesser extent, is why I'm doing this. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Jun 7, 2023 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't it make more sense to step down? If you can create enough support I think that would be a more impactful thing to do. Personally, I would definitely support Bryan if he wants to come back at Bio and Psy eventually. I mean, coming back after making a strong statement by quitting is not a permanent thing I guess. But by the looks of it you're pretty fed up, so a somewhat stronger statement is needed. It will also help if more mods would support this initiative for a starters. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD Mod
    Jun 8, 2023 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD I don't want to completely step away from SE permanently. A lot of good things go on here, and many of the problems we're experiencing on SO just aren't that big a deal on the smaller sites I frequent. If this strike brings SE to the table and talks about meaningful change can begin, it will have served its purpose, and I will gladly go back to doing what I've been doing for the last 11 years - trying to make these sites more high-quality. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Jun 8, 2023 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ Now, if some mods step down I won't be surprised, but I think most are still very dedicated to their sites, and want to see the strike end. I think they knew what they were getting into when they took the job in the first place, although there is some turnover, for various reasons. There's a lot of dissatisfaction with SE Inc, but not the critical mass for resignations like there was after the Monica affair. At least, not yet. This strike is born out of care for the quality of the sites, not for the mistreatment of anyone, and most want to stay to maintain that quality. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Jun 8, 2023 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD Over 50% of SO moderators, including all of the most active ones, are participating. 100% participation on Academia.SE and MedicalSciences.SE where I mod, as well as on several other sites. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 8, 2023 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ I do think the policy has far less effect on Biology.SE than some other sites, because our referencing requirements make it easy to target AI-generated answers for other reasons besides being AI-generated, but I do worry there will be spillover effects in the volume if it is allowed elsewhere on the network, as well as the overall reputation of these sites. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 8, 2023 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ openletter.mousetail.nl currently lists 109 moderators and 1080 total users participating. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 8, 2023 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ I have only just seen this and I am prepared to trust the judgement of @BryanKrauseisonstrike and the other moderators even if the problem is less severe here. On various other individual matters I have taken the view that the company pays for the site, so they can make the rules. However, as I understand it, the company makes money from the traffic to this site, which depends on it being moderated properly, so the moderators and anyone else who helps the running of the site can exert pressure to have their views properly considered. I will refrain from posting etc. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jun 9, 2023 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidstrikingagainstAI Indeed, I very much agree with you that the company owns this place and gets to set the rules. It annoys me when people are entitled and forget that. But of course, people who volunteer here as moderators as well as all the other users who curate and vote on content also get to make their own decisions about whether they want to participate at all. We're communicating to them that this is something important enough that many of us will stop contributing over, with a hope that they'll reconsider. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 9, 2023 at 14:33
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I for one will not answer questions, edit questions to improve them, comment on questions or answers to improve them or request further information, vote on or flag questions or answers.

I encourage others to do likewise.

Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange is a commercial enterprise that pays for this list, so if they want to impose rules of conduct that annoy me I have to grin and bear it. However their business model relies on volunteers moderating the sites for free, so if they adopt policies of modification that over half moderators disagree with, strike action is justified and has a chance of being effective. I am not a moderator, but try to maintain high standards of this site as I think it can play a role in science education. The least I can do is support the moderators on this. The alternative is a site that will not be worth contributing to anyway.

Update: Aug 9th

As the strike is now over (or at least the recommendation is for this: GPT on the platform: Data, actions, and outcomes) I will resume participation in this site, including general community duties.

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