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Why I no longer contribute to Racket (beautifulracket.com)
441 points by velcrovan on June 16, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 227 comments

My first job out of college was at a magazine. The two editors there were in their 70s and notorious for being bullies (although for what it's worth, one of them mellowed out after their editorial assistant committed suicide). There wasn't a day when I wasn't yelled at repeatedly, and the taint seeped down, with everybody lower down the rung yelling at anybody below them. It was easily the most toxic environment that I've ever experienced, and I've worked in academia! People were breaking down in tears all the time. Ex editorial assistants would send in letters written in crayon from insane asylums. The funny thing was that instead of resenting their tormenters, most people adopted a very protective stance towards these editors, as if they were children. Sadly, the impression that I got was that a lot of other publications had similar problems--smart but extremely neurotic bosses who regularly demeaned their employees. This was in 2000, around the time when "The Devil Wears Prada" came out. The one upside was that it permanently scared me out of publishing, which turned out to be an excellent career choice.

> for what it's worth, one of them mellowed out after their editorial assistant committed suicide

Maybe it's just me, but I don't think "used to be super-toxic but once they tormented someone into suicide they got better" is worth shit.

so then no real reason for the terrible person to improve? Now that they've goaded someone into a suicide they're unforgivable, regardless of their remorse/regret/introspective consideration?

i'd rather live in a society that gives bad people a motivation to improve, rather than one that condemns all people who commit bad actions as tainted forever by their previous regretted action.

a terrible person who has improved through introspection and societal nudging into a decent human being is society's trophy for a job well done. It's exactly the desired outcome; to continue to condemn the apologetic and rehabilitated individual is useful for nothing except for petty vengeance between the victim's social network and the perpetrating individual - it serves little to no societal good.

My first job was also in publishing, I was hired as a "website designer / developer" to help them transition print magazines to digital.

My experience was pretty much exactly as bad as you are saying, Constant bullying, people would be in tears every few days, several court cases and even had one of the editors take a swing at me because he thought I told the MD that he didn't clean up his desk (I didn't) and was fearing retribution from him.

Hit a period of depression after 6 months of working there, I still remember how happy I was when I got my next gig, felt like the world was back in colour.

I'm very sorry to hear that Matthew Butterick had some bad experiences. He's been a brilliant and energetic contributor to the Racket community. Clearly, something went wrong.

For what it's worth (looking at some of the comments from people not very familiar), my own experiences with Matthias Felleisen have been positive. (I started contributing to what was then called PLT Scheme around 2000, have had lunch with him twice, and a few times over the years have had some mutually-candid conversations with him, about concerns affecting the project/community.)

While I might describe Matthias as a freethinker and straight-talker, everything I'm aware of that he's said or done in the two decades I've been around seems to come from altruistic intentions.

I know Matthias cares about the community. (He was very welcoming when I started, and we've discussed it over the years.) I think he'll want to personally investigate and consider what happened that resulted in alienating Matthew B., and try to correct any problems that he can.

This isn't just about Matthew B., but also about constantly seeing how we can be the best community for everyone. That's not a solved problem, and I suggest it's best approached as an ongoing process of humility, honesty, and support -- everyone feeling safe to raise concerns/problems, and everyone feeling safe to examine how we can improve.

> I think he'll want to personally investigate and consider what happened that resulted in alienating Matthew B., and try to correct any problems that he can.

Given MB's level of investment in Racket and its community, you'd expect that it would have been addressed in January, when he told the Racket team he was out. Whatever you think about Felleisen it seems pretty likely that he was aware before now and had already made up his mind not to address it.

If it clarifies anything, I suspect that, when he says "core team", he means something like the inner-circle of a few university researchers.

> In January 2020, I told two members of Racket’s core team t [...] They were always witnessed by others on the Racket core team.*

The inner-circle set is similar to that of Matthias and his grad students who started Racket (PLT Scheme).

Though the inner-circle is actively involved with the community, there's always been a definite separation.

So, the community would be oblivious to some things in the inner circle, and vice versa.

(BTW, that organizational dynamic might be evolving, including learning from Rust's evolution. Aaron Turon's talk at RacketCon, about Rust governance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1t4zGJYUuY )

I was at Aaron’s talk. I recall Matthias took particular offense to it. There doesn’t seem to have been any movement on governance for Racket in the intervening two years.

I think for all the innovation that gets attributed to Rust, the governance model is even more profound and will have longer term impacts in society. There really should be a documentary about Rust.

It does not matter one bit how he behaves towards you. What matters is how he behaves towards MB. Bullies are perfectly capable of treating you nicely while being nasty to somebody else. The serial killer next door might be a great neighbour to you. That doesn’t change the facts of what he is.

Most if not all responses here appear to target Matthias, however, it seems to me that author is also blaming Racket community for witnessing first hand the bullying and doing nothing. Tolerating Matthias alleged behavior is in a way condoning his abusive streak.

Speaking as someone was bullied throughout their entire chilohood: the part where everyone knows someone is a bully, knows that the other is the asshole but just shrugs off your suffering and tells you to endure it instead of trying to intervene, especially if these are people in a position of power, that part is much, much more hurtful and corrosive to being able to trust other humans than the actions of the bullies themselves.

I still get disproportionally upset by people in authority positions not taking responsibility due to lacking the basic decency to take responsibility. Because at the end of the day that's all it is, and all talk of this being a "complex" problem is lazy justification after the fact by cowards quieting their own small consciences.

Although not the same thing as adult bullying, adolescent bullying generally occurs in the presence of an audience (known as bystanders), and youths tend to rate bullies as more socially desirable than the bullied; even those who are bullied may think that bullies are more desirable.

That's a wonderful bit of trivia, but it also doesn't in any way excuse the spineless teachers who rather tell victims to endure daily abuse than confront a group of ten-year-olds

Perhaps the author was speaking of not wanting to be one of the people who he thought were aware of abusive behavior but weren't confronting it?

Or do you think the author thought that the community in general was aware of abusive behavior, and implicitly condoning it?

This evening, on this HN post, was the first I recall hearing of abusive behavior from MF, so I was surprised. I'd guess that the community would also be surprised, though I suppose the community might've changed in the couple years since I mostly left, or something relevant might've happened publicly there that I'm unaware of. (I left, or went on hiatus, for other reasons, nothing due to MF.)

I've followed Racket and the OP's work from a distance for some time. This post rang bells for me, based on similar interactions with a few bad apples over about twenty years in the field of physics.

I applaud the poster for the clear and measured language of his post, for his bravery in calling out this kind of behavior, and for taking steps needed to remove himself from the situation. I hope the Racket community takes steps to eliminate the problem at the root.

Felleisen is an academic, and his behaviour is very common in academia. It's trivial for college professors to get away with bullying people. In comparison, the software industry is relatively friendly and rewarding.

I can assure you that while it certainly is easy for faculty to get away with this behavior (Matthias himself being evidence of that fact), his behavior is well outside of the range of what could reasonably be considered normal, at least within computing academia in general.

I suppose it depends on your definition of "normal." Just reading a couple of anecdotes about Matthias pattern-matches well against more than one faculty member I've encountered; if, say, 5% of faculty openly act this way with near zero repercussions, is it really "abnormal?"

Agreed. One of the many (and there were many) reasons that left me to leave academia was the huge egos and bullying of the famous professors. Getting chewed out by a cantankerous member of your academic community was just a cost of being an academic when I was in academia.

Hopefully this isn't what you meant, but behavior like that isn't acceptable regardless of how common it is.

I don’t think this is actually more common on academia than elsewhere, really - but I do think that once you have reached a certain level in academic career, there are few consequences for it. This makes it stand out.

I think that's probably true. Without the freedom/protection afforded them by their positions, they would have to disguise their behaviors more.

Matthias is a special case, who just needs to be ignored sometimes on conferences. Much better not to take him too seriously on certain topics. Esp. types.

This is exactly how bullies flourish.

He _wants_ to be ignored by reasonable people sometimes. So he can continue being an asshole to some individuals whenever he wants.

What he _needs_ is to be uninvited to conferences, and pushed out of leadership positions in projects.

"Uninvited": this sounds like cancel cuture.

I don't think it matters. Do you? Abusive people who are enabled by their privilege need to have that privilege restricted. I believe they deserve such restriction as a form of punishment, a moral consequence of their abusive behavior. But even if you reject that moral analysis—and there are reasonable arguments for doing so—putting or keeping abusive people in power harms the community, and keeping community members from being harmed by an abusive person is more than enough justification for restricting the privilege of that person.

If by "cancel culture" you mean, as is often the case, "bad actions having consequences", then yes.

A fuckwit in a profession full of fuckwits - is still a fuckwit.

(And Linus circa 1990 thru 2018 or so is a counterexample to your second sentence...)

If Linus can do it, anyone can.

I see that Matthias has responded and issued an apology on his website: https://felleisen.org/matthias/Thoughts/Apology.html

Although weirdly he only apologized for the single incident Matthew described in detail, even though Matthew explained that it was just one example from years of bad behavior.

HN discussion about response: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27544797 although very low quality comments so far.

https://lobste.rs/s/6rnyn9/why_i_no_longer_contribute_racket has some good quality discussion on this topic.

I think it's a bit dangerous to pass judgment without having first-hand account of the facts. Having said that, a lot of people are in the wrong here if this account is accurate.

If volunteers are invited to teach, then everybody needs to be onboard and agree beforehand, and no considerations regarding previously known qualifications can be raised after this process is over.

Boundaries need to be clearly set so these situations cannot arise.

OTOH taking unwarranted criticism is also not a good thing. If you see something like this you need to tell the big honcho to STFU, esp. when it's volunteer work anyway. Perhaps not in everybody's character to do this but once one has had some experience of this sort (I have) and given it some thought, it should come naturally.

> Perhaps not in everybody's character to do this but once one has had some experience of this sort (I have) and given it some thought, it should come naturally.

And if your abuser is influential in your field, it will come naturally to _them_ to hinder or destroy your career.

Your advice assumes the abused is in a position secure enough to call out their abuser. In real life, abusers specifically choose targets who cannot easily resist.

leaving aside your completely fictional assumptions vs this case, bullies actually thrive on fear and silence - if you make their aggression visible to all, they cower

Sounds like the Racket project badly needs a Code of Conduct and a governing body to enforce it. Many FOSS projects have already done this, I believe.


racketcon 2018 had a "Friendly Environment" policy: https://con.racket-lang.org/2018/

so did 2017. i can't find anything for 2019. didn't look for 2020.

the project as a whole has https://racket-lang.org/friendly.html

> a governing body to enforce it.

here's the project management team


At this point, it's sad that people would need a CoC just to follow the most elementary of courtesies.

Everyone can have a bad day and jump at the throat of someone for no reason at all; but basic politeness would require them to flatly apologize later on.

I wonder if it's linked to the current social trend of "being the greater person" and "not escalating the argument", but it's regrettable in any case.

The problem is that “later on” often means “never” — and doesn't do anything to help with the damage before it happens. Abusive people are also commonly adept at finding ways to imply they did that without really doing so sincerely, as well as pushing boundaries so there's more chaff for them to hide behind (“<other person> joked about x, why is y worse?”).

What a CoC does is give clear expectations for everyone in the community. It makes the discussion easier because it's a simple “Don't do this, rule #3” rather than having to lawyer about whether something is a problem after things have already become heated. This doesn't solve everything, of course, but setting a baseline cuts out a lot of tedious lower-level stuff and helps set a climate which discourages bad behaviour by removing the lower level stuff which can encourage it. That guy who infamously used a porn image in a conference slide probably didn't just wake up one morning and decide to do that but was in a subgroup where sexualized comments & humor was normalized.

> What a CoC does is give clear expectations for everyone in the community.

That's my whole point; that CoCs might be a necessary step for social changes that quite many people don't understand and/or master yet (e.g. custom pronouns) is understandable. But apologize after you hurt someone is something I (and, I assume, most people) was taught when I was 4 y.o. and should be widely applied. What will be next, a little panel reminding you to say "hello" and "goodbye" when you come in and leave, or "don't forget to say thank you" next to the cashier?

The world is a much less friendly place than most kindergartens. Saying sorry both acknowledges culpability and results in losing face. An adult issuing a true apology to another adult is very rare.

> The world is a much less friendly place than most kindergartens. Saying sorry both acknowledges culpability and results in losing face. An adult issuing a true apology to another adult is very rare.

If that's your experience I feel bad for the toxic environments in which you must be immersed.

Just this week I witnessed one of my co-workers apologize to another, publicly, in front of a number of their fellow colleagues, for behaviour they regretted.

And yes, it was a genuine apology. And no there was nothing to be gained for this individual, personally, by delivering that apology.

I myself have both given and received many apologies in my professional career. If that's rare, it's only because most people, most of the time, don't behave in a way that warrants apologizing later.

It's precisely the kind of fatalism you express, here, that leads to bad behaviour going unaddressed.

Misplaced pity is an odd thing to add to your comment.

We try, for ourselves and with our children, to make a distinction between "I'm sorry" and "please forgive me" -- saying "I'm sorry" is an expression that you wish that something hadn't happened, or had happened differently. It's not (or at least it shouldn't be) an admission of a moral failing.

Asking for forgiveness, on the other hand, is admitting that what I did was wrong. That's not necessarily the same thing that I'm sorry about -- as an example, "I'm sorry that ball hit you on the head, please would you forgive me for not being careful enough?". This separates my actions from their consequences in a way that acknowledges their affect on other people.

And I'm quite glad that in most situations I find myself, someone being willing to admit when they are wrong is considered a positive. It builds trust, and shouldn't result in losing face.

> Saying sorry both acknowledges culpability and results in losing face.

That sounds awfully weird for me coming from an environment where accepting your errors and apologizing is seen as the only honorable option; "noblesse oblige" and catholicism-impregnated traditions I assume.

My point was simply that these aren't necessarily as universal as people might think, especially in a large multi-national community like open source. There's a fair amount of cultural variation on what's considered worthy of an apology and a CoC can be helpful simply by getting people to think about that up front rather than after something happens.

> At this point, it's sad that people would need a CoC just to follow the most elementary of courtesies.

If the body tasked with enforcing the CoC is the same one being an abusive penis, its not going to change things.

However, I agree that its pretty shocking that people seem to struggle with the basics of human interaction. Yes social conditions are indeed real(the autism spectrum et al), but that's not a cover for being a weapons grade tool.

more importantly the is no excuse to indulging these behaviours. If you see it, call it the fuck out. I don't mean "be the ally" pussy footing around. Empathise with the belittled party and redress the person(s) being a shit. Yes it will be touch and go, but unless you set boundaries, "founders" and "thought leaders" will continue to be obnoxious shits who chase the fun out of everything.

Personally, I think trying to understand why the dynamic is occurring is more helpful. Sure, sometimes people are just assholes and need a dressing down, but more often things are a bit more complex - they should still be confronted about their behaviour, but just giving them a lashing may not help the situation compared to talking through why they are acting that way.

> compared to talking through why they are acting that way.

I agree empathy must be deployed to everyone here. However there are some things that must be stopped at source. I leave that judgement to the reader.

Stopping at source can be more effective if done with empathy.

I'm all for taking the high road and not escalating but sometimes, with people like this person appears to be, you have to get in their face when they attack you. They perversely respect that.

Edit: Ignore what I posted as it clearly highlights I was wrong

I removed the analysis as I contributed effort to the wrong person, which invalidates my argument.

The person you've highlighted as doing everything is Matthew Flatt, a professor at the University of Utah, not Matthias Felleisen, whose contribution in code is not the reason he is indispensable to the project.

Shit my BAD! I'll update my post to correct things.


Is it really doxxing? I made what was publicly available and it wasn't slanderous, it just invalidates my argument.

For what it's worth, if you wanted to make the argument that Racket the programming language would not exist without Matthew Flatt, you'd be undoubtably correct. He is more-or-less the sole maintainer of the compiler, but fortunately for everyone involved is a very nice guy.

Who is Matthias Felleisen to Racket?

Matthias was the PhD advisor of Matthew Flatt and Shriram Krishnamurthi at the time where (what would eventually become) the Racket project started. Virtually all of the core contributors are either his PhD students over the years, or students of his former PhD students after they became professors. He's the project's steward, being the person primarily responsible for securing grant funding for the work that goes into Racket, and the project's "visionary" (as much as such a thing can really exist), being the one who has most explicitly philosophized the concept of "language-oriented programming" (though there are plenty of other researchers now interested in the subject, including independently from Matthias' lineage). It'd be difficult not to understate the importance he has had to the careers of his former students (both in terms of the research they've done and in terms of his support in doing the politics necessary to have a successful career in academia).

Are you aware of any studies that find a CoC to improve or change the behavior in a community? I'm probably overly skeptical, but a CoC to me always seems useless since it's not legally binding in any sense and no open source community can afford to formally judge accusations to begin with. I had a sudden urge to read up and see what all evidence exists, so I figured I'd ask you - no worries if nothing comes to mind.

In many community forums I have seen this dynamics: New member says something rude but factual or just misrepresents what another member had said; Moderator says something along the lines of "please be more polite or restrict bikesheding/flamewars to the appropriate subforum"; The new member starts litigating how come the moderator can demand that if it is not in the "official rules".

Codes of conduct deal with these self-absorbed members (they are not trolls necessarily). CoC probably help with many other things, but taking care of this low hanging fruit is already an incredible improvement.

It is sad that we need to make rules like "do not be a jerk", but sometime ago I was disillusioned from the idea that such rules are self-evident. They mean very different things to different people, so defining them ends up being useful.

> It is sad that we need to make rules like "do not be a jerk", but sometime ago I was disillusioned from the idea that such rules are self-evident.

It's not about the _rule_ being non-self-evident, it's about enforcement being uneven. Most humans will tend to perceive lower negativity and rule-breaking behavior in viewpoints they agree with than in viewpoints they don't. A formal statement of rules allows a community to try to do away with this bias. A documented set of rules also allows a community to reflect on their own norms and allows them to make changes to their norms as the viewpoints of the community change.

>A formal statement of rules allows a community to try to do away with this bias

I'm not sure I would state it as trying to do away with bias. Bias is inescapable. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that bias is a good thing, insofar as we want communities to be biased towards things that they prioritize and biased away from things that they don't. What a code of conduct does, in the best case, is allow a community to be explicit about its biases, allowing prospective contributors to see up-front exactly what kind of community they're joining.

Of course, there are plenty of cases communities implement codes of conduct poorly, usually in response to some crisis.

> Bias is inescapable


> I'd go so far as to say that bias is a good thing, insofar as we want communities to be biased towards things that they prioritize and biased away from things that they don't

I'd argue that this depends on the community. For some communities, sure, but for others not necessarily. A discussion/debate club or a book club is probably more interested in plural viewpoints. A game discussion site probably much less so, and a support group probably has a very narrow set of allowed viewpoints. But it depends.

> What a code of conduct does, in the best case, is allow a community to be explicit about its biases, allowing prospective contributors to see up-front exactly what kind of community they're joining.

Indeed. But also, communities aren't unified or static things. Different members of a community, even founding members (as we can see with TFA), will have different viewpoints on what the community means for them. A formal statement of rules lets everyone agree on an explicit, documented set of common rules that they feel accurately represent their community.

When I was younger I ran or helped run many small and medium size organizations and I've never been in one with unanimous opinions, even among very friendly founding members. Creating explicit rules has always been an improvement in pretty much any community I've been in with over 10 members. Leaving rules and procedures undocumented always resulted in games of shadow politics where there were tacit holders of power and tacit power groups and frustrated newcomers.

CoCs have a bad reputation because many of them are written without a clear set of rules, often intentionally so that the authors have leeway to adapt the vague rules for new behaviors they want to ban. This can be considered a good thing (don't need to amend the CoC for what is "obviously" bad behavior that the original didn't account for) or a bad thing ("it's not obviously bad behavior, you just made it up so you can ban me via the CoC because you disagree with me").

If you think those rules are vague and unclear, it's even worse when there is no code of conduct and the project's entire policy is "we do whatever the moderators feel that day."

>Codes of conduct deal with these self-absorbed members

Do they? It seems to me that a Code of Conduct just gives these sorts of people an entirely new set of rules to litigate/bikeshed. If the Code of Conduct prohibits personal attacks, for example, the sorts of people who will harangue mods for admonishing them to be nice will, instead, harangue the mods about how their statement wasn't actually a personal attack.

>It is sad that we need to make rules like "do not be a jerk"

I don't think the problem is in the rules or lack thereof. I think the problem is there in the (lack of) enforcement. Many internet communities are allergic to anything that smacks of "censorship", and thus find themselves at a loss whenever someone comes along and willfully violates community norms. We should remember that "well kept gardens die by pacifism" [1], and no matter how detailed and elaborate the rules, someone needs to be willing to actually enforce them. A Code of Conduct (or some other formalized set of rules) can help here insofar as it allows the moderator to point to something outside their own thoughts as a justification for why they're taking action against a transgressive community member.

However, it's possible to go too far. Wikipedia is a great example of what happens when rules become too elaborate. There are many trolls on Wikipedia who are around simply because they've mastered the arcana of the various rules and procedures Wikipedia has built up in its efforts to create an "objective" standard of community behavior. Whenever they're brought up for discipline, they can point to some previous case where superficially similar behavior was excused.

[1]: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/tscc3e5eujrsEeFN4/well-ke...

>the sorts of people who will harangue mods for admonishing them to be nice will, instead, harangue the mods about how their statement wasn't actually a personal attack.

The solution there would be to make clear what constitutes a personal attack. No reason to bikeshed over it.

You can learn to push situations (using your behaviour) to obfuscate "what's actually a personal attack" greatly. Wrap your attack and words in the political language du jour, play to the biases of the moderator, there's a million ways to do it.

It seems it's pretty easy for an unbiased observer to spot that. In cases where a moderator is too biased, that's why there are multiple moderators that would all collectively make decisions about the code of conduct.

The sorts of people who choose to be moderators- especially of a project with a politically tilted code of conduct - are wont to engage in political consensus-building. Shifting and shrinking the overton window till they all know what the acceptable views are and an orthodoxy is built. This'll happen unless the moderators are mentally diverse. However, as the expansion of moderator teams and moderation generally is usually politically driven, this doesn't tend to be the case.

It's easy to spot! Not that there are unbiased observers. Just ones that are and aren't biased against you in particular. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Sums up Linus Torvalds perfectly.

The rules being defined would attempt to be useful, I'm sure. I'm curious if they actually are. So many things are done socially with good intentions that people just assume are working. Society is complicated though. As I understand it, well meaning, reasonable actions don't always have the intended outcomes.

Now I'm certainly not claiming a CoC has unintended outcomes, but surely as often as I see them recommended (and at times even demanded), I would hope there exists decent evidence of their usefulness.

I think like many formalisation, they are a tool that is useful within the right culture, but are useless in the absence of that culture. The Rust Community is an excellent example of a community with an effective and well-enforced CoC that has contributed towards creating a community that is renowned for being welcoming. But I suspect that has at least as much the attitude of early community leaders (Graydon Hoare, Brian Anderson, Huon Wilson, Aaron Turon, etc) on these issues and ongoing excellent moderation of community platforms from a dedicated team of moderators.

So, "No."

CoCs are just a form of explicit rule documentation. You can call these Bylaws or a Constitution, but they serve the purpose of making rules clear and clean.

The problem is they are also most often adopted by highly informal organizations. In this environment CoCs are most often tools to for the project leaders to carry out personal vendettas rather than equal enforcement of the code.

Sure, CoCs aren't panaceas (nothing is when humans organize), they're just tools to help increase transparency and get alignment. Much like a nation's constitution is useless if the de facto ruling structure doesn't actually listen to the rules in its own constitution; we shouldn't abandon codified rule of law because some polities refuse to respect their own codified rules.

In this particular case I agree, a CoC would be too-little-too-late. But if there had been a CoC it would be easy grounds for dismissing Felleisen (assuming the allegations are true) with little (but still some, since power abusers die hard) fanfare. Now there will be a whole bunch of witch hunt politics and the community will suffer the more for it.

I wasn’t able to find any papers or studies on your exact question.

One[0] short overview paper outlines the roles CoCs play in open source. Perhaps some of the works that cite it[1] could be of use to you.

0: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Alexander_Serebrenik/pu...

1: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=6026298708957212914...

I also haven't been able to find anything yet, thanks for the links, I guess the first study at least implies there isn't much (any?) research on the effectiveness yet.

> no open source community can afford to formally judge accusations to begin with

Some communities do have formal "moderation teams" with this responsibility.

One major advantage of this is that such a moderation team doesn't have to be reserved for egregious cases; that team can also step in when things get somewhat heated and provide lighter feedback to keep things from escalating.

> it's not legally binding

It's not intended to be. The goal of a CoC is to state community norms and serve as a point of reference to reduce relitigation of those norms. It's also to help people feel that a community cares about those norms and will actually enforce them. (This stops holding true if a community has a CoC on paper but refuses to enforce it, which unfortunately does happen sometimes. But on balance, it's a useful signal.)

So, delegating both responsibility and power to people with an agenda (because those are the only ones to step up when they get formal power, in addition to or rather than just informal responsibility), rather than adopting practices of de-escalation that everyone is responsible for? Paring down non-constructive and non-called for should be the responsibility of everyone in the room and not a special distinct set of people.

I'm all for training project members (i.e. people who are involved in organizing conferences or summer schools) in practical techniques for better organizing the community, and I think holding everybody responsible leads to better results than having activists with an agenda write the rules and just delegating authority to them.

A CoC should formalize what the leadership already believes, so it would be backwards and pointless here.

This story at face value is so far beyond what is necessary for a code of conduct to address. From the author's description, nobody is defending Felleisen, the project has just decided that they are better off with him regardless of his assholeness than they are without him. Whether that is true or not is up for debate.

This is not a CoC issue, this is an issue of enforcement, and in the absence of enforcement a CoC isn't worth the paper its written on.

This is absolutely the key point, and the one that all the discussion here is missing. Nobody defends Matthias' behavior, they just suggest that you should tolerate or ignore it. The reason is clear when you realize that "the Racket community" is more-or-less analogous with "Matthias' academic descendants." The people who are working on Racket as a language owe immense professional debts to Matthias.

> "the Racket community" is more-or-less analogous with "Matthias' academic descendants."

For people who don't know, the Racket project was started by Matthias Felleisen in the early '90s. The next people on the project were all his PhD students:

- Matthew Flatt

- Robby Findler

- Shriram Krishnamurthi

- Cormac Flanagan

Later additions who are top contributors to github.com/racket/racket:

- Sam Tobin-Hochstadt (Felleisen's student)

- Jay McCarthy (Krishnamurthi's student)

- Vincent St-Amour (Felleisen's student)

- Ryan Culpepper (Felleisen's student)

- Asumu Takikawa (Felleisen's student)

- Eric Dobson (Krishnamurthi's undergraduate student)

In the top 10 contributors listed on GitHub, only 2 are not academic descendants of Felleisen:

- Eli Barzilay

- Matthias Felleisen

EDIT: I originally listed Eric Dobson as "not an academic descendant of Felleisen" because I hadn't been able to find information on a dissertation or the like, but a comment informed me that they were an undergraduate student of Krishnamurthi so I have updated the comment to reflect this.

> In the top 10 contributors listed on GitHub, only 3 are not academic descendants of Felleisen:

Eric Dobson and I were undergrads studying under Shriram. I don't contribute to Racket, but it has nothing to do with Felleisen being an asshole.

Ah, apologies for the misinformation. I had tried to find information on Dobson's academic background and came up blank, so I assumed they weren't in academia (and, thus, no direct connection to Felleisen). Thank you for the correction!

And the last remaining not-Matthias person on your list, while not an academic descendent of his, (to the best of my knowledge) owes their current employment to Matthias' politicking.

Codes of conduct are good for more nuanced cases; if you’ve got behavior that would fall under a very generic “don’t be an asshole” type rule, the problem you’ve got is an enforcement issue not a documenation issue.

> the project has just decided that they are better off with him regardless of his assholeness than they are without him.

A CoC is at least in theory a commitment to not make such a decision.

Sure, but the core team already knows about this, and already knows that it's bad. If they had signed a pledge to not tolerate bad things back in 2019 when CoCs were cool I'm not sure how that would change anything. More ways for people to play at rules lawyering?

Indeed, soviet russia had the freedom of speech in its constitution.

Absolutely wrong idea. This would create infighting and destroy the community. Just ignore the raging bull, when he talks nonsense.

A CoC already destroyed many other communities.

I seems to be a modern idea that if you can just write down rules for everyone to follow everything will be ok. This guy knows his behaviour is unacceptable and no code of conduct will change that. What's needed is more people prepared to call out this kind of behaviour

Several years ago, I worked on some open source projects that involved Racket. The community and Matthew Felleisen in particular were very helpful, and it sticks with me that the project founder took time to teach me idiomatic/correct ways to write Racket code and tests.

Not condoning Matthew Felleisen's behavior towards Matthew Butterick - people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect - but there does seem to be a side to M.F that enjoys teaching and evangelizing Racket.

Felleisen's entire goal with the Racket project has been teaching-focused from the beginning. I don't think anybody in the community doubts that he cares about teaching and evangelizing Racket.

The problem is that he has a very... how to put it. Matthias seems to believe that you must fight and struggle your way through academia and prove your worth to earn respect at even the most basic level. He is known for verbally abusing his students regularly. As I wrote elsewhere, I was explicitly discouraged from applying to Northeastern if I didn't feel I could withstand certain kinds of regular verbal abuse at his hands. That's unacceptable behavior, regardless of the "true intent" underlying it.

Beautiful Racket was one of the sites that helped me learn the language/toolset, along with HTDP, by Felleisen. This is troubling, but the lack of detail and context is also troubling. I would wager most of us in the CS community have experienced personalities that deliver harsh criticism. The types of people that often don't realize how vicious their tone comes across. I also have no doubt that I on occasion have been more abrasive than I intended to. There's many in this community that are "on the spectrum", but there's an even broader spectrum that exists in programmers of people that are too in their own heads, or just not properly socially adjusted, with no medical definition. I don't wish to make excuses for bad behavior, but there's also the potential cultural differences of Felleisen being German, and the stress involved with trying to organize a convention. Even after being degraded by Felleisen, Butterick received a high rating for his teaching by Felleisen? This sounds like a stereotypically "cold" German personality and and a soft kind American personality just generating friction. I've seen it other times within my teams (without the specifically German cultural aspect); instances where one abrasive person doesn't realize how much they've affected one softer, kinder person. And instances where a sensitive person (not even overly-so) feels personally slighted by what was just a bad mood or an bad moment.

I'm disappointed to hear that a great Racket contributor feels wronged and slighted, especially to the point of reducing his passion for contributing to the project. But the linked post doesn't give me enough to go to my pitchfork closet either. I guess it's something to keep an eye on for other signs

Firstly, the high rating that Butterick received for his teaching (the highest of all the instructors) was given by the students, not Matthias.

Secondly, Matthias has lived in the United States for virtually his entire adult life. Longer than probably the majority of the posters here have been alive. The issue is not one of cultural differences or a misunderstanding. Matthias behaves this way consistently, is unapologetic for it, and when pressed will explain that his "challenging behavior" (i.e. abuse) is some kind of test of your ideas, your willpower, or your capacity for success.

>Matthias behaves this way consistently, is unapologetic for it, and when pressed will explain that his "challenging behavior" (i.e. abuse) is some kind of test of your ideas, your willpower, or your capacity for success.

This would also change the context, but I haven't heard anything else about this, which again is why I'm deciding to pay more attention, but not quite ready to demand any sort of community uprising against him.

Frankly, if you haven't heard anything about it, it's because you are not a part of the community that Matthias is in (whether that be Racket or Academic Programming Languages). It's very far from a secret, though obviously people's individual tolerance for his behavior varies.

Yeah I just started picking up Lisp with SICP during the lockdown. AFAIK this is the first time it's hit the front of HN or any other pages I follow

So, you know nothing about the situation, but are confident to claim that it is all misunderstanding, that Matthew Butterick is essentially not understanding situation and so on.

It is unfair to Matthew Butterick and to anyone in his situation.

No, my entire post was that I wasn't confident about anything, getting just one viewpoint. I rather dislike the implication you're making here. I'm not going to crucify Felleisen over a single blog post, even from a source I respect. I'm also not letting it go, committing to paying more attention to the racket community.

I mean, I was in the Haskell community for many years and have stepped away many years ago, have never attended anything related to RacketCon, and only recently found Pollen from Butterick. I still had already heard about Matthias and his "teaching style" well before any of this, from merely being in the general functional programming community atmosphere. I've seen rumblings about it on HN more than once too.

Like, I think the thrust of the claim here isn't that you're necessarily arguing in bad faith or something. It's more likely a sense of frustration that something which is so relatively out in the open and obvious is even being "contested" at all (not to shove words in your mouth but just for lack of a better one.) And to be fair to you, this dynamic of "open secret" is very common with abusers, for the literal exact reasons Butterick outlined in the post. So it's not like an original sin or anything...

You dont express uncertainity nor ask questions. You as much as you make claims about it all being (paraphrasing) "just normal harsh" or "cold German personality". Those are statements.

No one asks you to crucify anyone. Nor to pay attention to that community. If it is pit od way for you that is perfectly fine.

What I took issue with is that reflexive impulse to assume that if someone complains about bad treatment, that person much be wrong, weak or some such.

The thing is, you know nothing for sure, everything you say is pure speculation, and you are confidently commenting about the situation. If you know nothing, why make up speculation out of thin air?

> Even after being degraded by Felleisen, Butterick received a high rating for his teaching by Felleisen?

I believe you've misunderstood a sentence from the article. The author meant he received higher ratings than all other teachers, including Felleisen, from students, not that Felleisen himself rated the author's teaching highly.

Ah, you're right, thank you. That does change the context a bit.

> Even after being degraded by Felleisen, Butterick received a high rating for his teaching by Felleisen?

I think you may have misread this part: "At the end, the students gave me the best eval­u­a­tion scores of all the instruc­tors—Felleisen included."

> I would wager most of us in the CS community have experienced personalities that deliver harsh criticism. The types of people that often don't realize how vicious their tone comes across.

Often it is actually content that is bad and not just tone. Also, not every aggressive jerk has autism.

Many autists do put a lot of work into not be assholes. Where they fail, they also do comparatively much less harm then neurotypocal person who takes pleasure in mistreating you.

Yes, agreed, for the most part, but it's also kind of painting with broad strokes. Those of us on the spectrum do not approach social interactions with the same mental framework as people without ASD. But from that rather large group one could easily divide groups of "I realize I am different and I must put an effort into pleasing others" personalities, and "I realize I am different but it does not matter as long as I am correct" personalities, among many others. ASD being described as a spectrum is accurate - the point where I don't think it should even all fall under one umbrella.

My point was only that there's a statistically notable number of ASD people in the computation fields, and there's a lot of anti-social personalities in the world, inlcuding CS, without ASD.

Apologies if it came off as painting people with autism as not caring.

I don't know either of the two people involved so I have no judgment of either person, but it is in any case a sad story.

I went to the yearly Racket (virtual) get together about 6 weeks ago - it was great! No sign of anything but nice people sharing their projects.

Yep, same! That event was organized by a community member (https://racketfest.com/). Matthias was not involved in that event… and Matthew Butterick was a sponsor.

My experience with the community has been 100% positive. But I’ve also never had to deal with Felleisen. We’re worse off if good people who invest a lot more of their time and money in Racket are going to be subject to pointless abuse by the project’s founder.

Wasn't there a similar post by another former contributor expressing the same thing last year?

You're probably thinking about this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wY7FBtr7_c

Leandro submitted it to HN but it didn't get any traction: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25620711

I think this is the first time I'm seeing Felleisen mentioned in the main post. Some comments here mentioned him, but the main post kept his name out.

That's terrible - I wonder if it's just a lack of empathy from Matthias site. That's no excuse to behave like that in public and especially ridiculing you in front of a group.

Maybe nobody tells him about his personality flaw. Or at least in a way that he comprehends it.

Interestingly, from a review on ratemyprofessors.com:

>I hated his guts while in his class, but in retrospect he's almost certainly the best teacher I've ever had. As somebody said above, this guy is absolutely brilliant. He will kick your butt, but it's all for your own good in the end. He seems to really care about teaching, and it shows.

I've had a professor like that and it takes a while to realize that those people are needed. For lazy students it may be a proper wake up call to the real world.

>I've had a professor like that and it takes a while to realize that those people are needed. For lazy students it may be a proper wake up call to the real world.

I'm sure we can aspire to better approaches that are not bullying.

Yes, reading the comment you comment on feels not right.

In my opinion, I'd love to have a teacher like Simon Peyton Jones. I'm sure SPJ have bad days, but he feels like a person that would actually tell me about it instead of starting to throw around mean comments to test the alpha male hierarchy.

And imagine being the kind of person that have a good day and throw around mean comments? I don't think anyone should "learn" to tolerate such a person. They can go be brilliant alone somewhere, IMHO. If it really is brilliant, we'll see the fruits of it somehow anyway.

Someone as enthusiastic as SPJ could teach me anything, I'm sure.

Maybe? But the ironic thing is - if the prof let the lazy student be lazy and silently condemn them to mediocrity, nobody would raise a peep and everyone would be fine. It's only when the prof cares about to go take a personal risk to try to get through to the student (which they would only care to do because they care about the student) can someone complain.

So I think your comment is mainly unhelpful. The people you're responding to are making the bold point that the unpopular approach WORKED, HELPED and possibly CHANGED THEIR LIFE. Which is probably not in line with the traditional definition of bullying which is bothering someone out of malice, which sounds like is NOT what is happening.

It worked, but at what cost? How many brilliant people quit because they were bullied? It's shortsighted, and morally wrong.

Again there's a fundamental difference between call it "bullying" which does not have a good intention behind it and "tough love" which does.

I am not familiar with this case, I am just saying these are two clearly distinct ideas.

I like your comment. To me, this is a very sad story because it sounds like Matthias has an issue beyond his control, and his victim is unable to find compassion. Mathias is the chef who pushes the boundaries - and sometimes fails spectacularly. Sometimes there's even a poop in the dish - and no matter how well made, no-one is going to accept poop in the dish. He knows it, they know it. Some people pick the poop out and eat it anyway, but it sucks to have to do that.

Its a sad situation for all involved, even, maybe especially, the bully who is brilliant and well-meaning and has contributed a lot to the world. And yet his moments of weakness can and do obliterate all of it in a heartbeat. And on the victim side we see the victim coming close to closure, and then, because of the people reaching out and sharing their own stories of abuse, reopens the wounds, sparks the fire of hatred and anger again.... It's not clear that there's a way out, really, for anyone in this situation. Matthias can say he'll change, but he won't be believed. In fact, his abject and total apology will be seen as weakness, and admission against interest, and more allegations will come. And that will give rise to more anger, now there is social proof; the victims have found power in their fear and helplessness. They have a status now as brave survivors, and so justified in anything they say or do. THEY are the aggrieved party! But far more evil is done in this world by victims drunk on unfamiliar power over those they've judged evil, amoral, wrong, surrounded by similarly bloody-minded individuals, pitchforks in one hand and righteous rage in their hearts. It's horrible, all of it.

> I've had a professor like that and it takes a while to realize that those people are needed. For lazy students it may be a proper wake up call to the real world

Though it should be mentioned that just as frequently (if not more) such behavior can cause "lazy" students to feel even more discouraged, if their discouragement is what is demotivating them. I would question the premise that to motivate "lazy" students one should give them "tough love." Of course, there are some cases where it might be helpful, but even then it should never be the kind of behavior described in the article, IMO.

This reads to me as a textbook case for how not to handle conflict. It doesn't appear as though the author ever discussed this issue with the Racket core team or informed this Matthias Felleisen person, whom I don't know, how their outburst had been received. The author never explicitly states they had done this other than stating the facts are not in dispute and these events were witnessed by members of the Racket core team, who are going to be reluctant to resolve the conflict on the author's behalf without solicitation (that's human nature - conflict avoidance). If that wasn't done and instead the issue was taken public then it's likely to be perceived as an ambush. Now you're in a state where both parties are aggrieved and so effecting a reconciliation at this point is nigh impossible.

Seeing a lot of "no evidence" and such from comments and just putting it out there that I had heard of behavior like this over ten years ago living in Boston and meeting former students of Felleisen. I've been a lisp person for many years and worked right down the street from NEU. I use racket, and use tools that are built on Racket fwiw.

good luck to matthew

there's a lot to say about these situations

- principles are not enough, investing in FOSS may bite you later if you feel hurt by the destination.. be sure to only stay where you're happy right now and don't assume an ideal won't be bad (not a judgement, just sharing a late realization)

- 'show must go on' seems to be a deep reflex in humans.. should we teach stronger sense of respect ? what if matthew or anybody had stepped in vocally during that session and asked M.F. to tone it down or apologize right away ? (my 2cts: it should be a mandatory school lesson for most of us)

- how can one form a side group to keep enjoying his time on whatever topic without having to deal with corrosive people ?

As an aside: I'd _really like_ to purchase Beautiful Racket in dead-tree form. I much prefer having a book open on my work bench to follow along to, than a website. Monitors are tiring to look at for long periods.

About 80% of my university professors (CS and otherwise) were similar to this. I don't know what's wrong with this profession.

FWIW, Matthias is known for being especially egregious in this respect even among other academics. But you absolutely have a point about there being a problem endemic throughout the profession.

I think it may be because of the teacher / student power dynamic. I expect you get used to treating everyone like they're much younger than you and that you can treat them disrespectfully without any major consequences.

My limited experience with academia is that professors are thrust into a position of power with very little management training, experience, or support. Additionally, research professors may have no pedagogical skill and yet they are expected to both research and teach to some degree. This is a recipe for dysfunctional organizations and relationships.

Big Fish / Small Pond rules may also apply.

And as the professor ages their best research may be behind them, and the ones who can't take a bitter pill like that may start punching down on people below them.

I'm shocked that I was able to stay in academia long enough to finish my thesis. You're right, so many professors are just completely abusive, with absolutely no checks on the power they mismanage.

It's the classic cycle of abuse.

This matches the experience I had during my university studies. I saw that professors are often highly "educated" but lack very basic emotional intelligence. This is really sad to see, as it shows how our education system lacks when we can only teach people to do rational thinking to solve rational problems in the outside world but do not provide them means to conduct themselves and others in a graceful manner. This is so poor, made me really sad. When I saw this more in more in my professors I became more and more despised when I saw the blind awe that my fellow students had towards these professors when I saw them more and more like pitiful "rational intelligence" heaps that have never learned methods to become peaceful, joyful and loving on the inside...

Not saying that all professors are like that though, I also had two professors whom I greatly appreciated for their philanthropy!

being emotionally smart, being good at teaching and being smart at <something> are three different skills. Academia is just a place where it shows highly.

huh, felleisen didn't strike me as any pricklier than your average college professor when i met him. certainly wouldn't have been in the top 10 racket contributors i'd expect to drive anyone away.

I think you must not have interacted with him much, or have not talked with people who know him more closely.

I was explicitly advised to avoid applying for my PhD at Northeastern unless I had incredibly thick skin to withstand the way he berates his students. So I didn't apply — I'm not signing up for that.

I had pretty uniformly positive experiences with him as both a student and a TA for one of his classes, but the very important bit of context there is I was a student who did well enough in his class to be asked to TA. In retrospect I can remember him being pretty awful to some of the other students.

Matthias is virtually always the prickliest person in the room at academic programming languages conferences, by quite a bit.

I remember seeing a talk about typed racket (by samth? Probably...) and he expresses a very personal view, something like "I think types are an important tool to enforce correctness of code" and someone in the audience said "I think you're full of shit!". Everybody sighed a short sigh and everything continued as usual.

This is sad to read, as Felleisen has done some great research (I'm thinking of A-Normal Form). However, this doesn't excuse the conduct outlined here.

There are two types of comments here: 1. Bullying is bad (which I completely agree) 2. I saw Matthias a mile away and he was rude.

But it seems like only a few of you met him. Yet, you feel free to come and talk about him based on what you hear.

If you talked to Matthias for more than 10 minutes, you'd know that he spends 5 times more on his lectures compared to your "cool professors" every single year. You'd know that he goes out of his way to help any academic who asked for his help. You'd know that all he talks about is "the community" and how he can make things better for everyone.

I'm in sciences for a little over 10 years and my experience is that people like Matthias are extremely rare. I can't speak to his science because it's really not my field, but he most certainly gets out of his way to help junior people (like myself). Especially those who wouldn't be heard otherwise (like myself, an international woman in sciences). He listened to me complain about my work environment so many times, encouraged me to continue. He helped me to make important career and personal decisions. On multiple occasions. I think my PhD experience would be drastically different without his help and I know that I'm not the only one!

Now, Matthias can be opinionated and intense. I argued with him about science, politics and many other topics, but he never makes it about you! You can discuss literally anything with him and he never passes judgement. He's actually really open to criticism (as evident from his apology).

I'm not belittling MB's experience. I just thought that I'm one of the many people Matthias helped and he has an extremely compassionate side that people should know before they label him as "bully"!

Edited to fix a couple typos.

That’s quite disappointing. It’s unfortunate that bullies continue to thrive in society and many communities.

They will only thrive if their cohort agrees to do nothing or encourages them in response to the bullying

In case OP shows up, we believe you and support you! Speaking out like this is hard but it's the best way to help the community you love.

> we believe you and support you!

Not that I think he's lying, but... why?

I don't know who any of these people are but I don't like the idea of hearing one person's account and automatically assuming it's true. At least not in the case of assertions that are potentially career-ruining.

> I don't know who any of these people are

That's the key point right there. The target audience is the Racket community, who do know who these people are. No one is out to ruin Felleisen's career, he will be fine no matter what. But the Racket community has an interest in his effect on that community. We are much worse off without Butterick's involvement.

>No one is out to ruin Felleisen's career, he will be fine no matter what

I mean, why do you assume that? I don't know the Racket community, but if he is "the self-styled leader of the Racket project" being potentially forced to step down/ousted seems like it would very much impact him personally.

You're apparently walking into this with zero knowledge, so any of this would be assumption for you until you learned more. I am assuming nothing. I'm telling you the facts as I am aware of them. Feel free to do your own verification, for sure.

Felleisen is very secure in an academic career and his status on the Rackt development team does not affect his position or his paycheck in the slightest. You can google him and look up his wikipedia entry.

No, I'm not walking into this with zero knowledge - I'm familiar with some of his (old) papers and know that he's been working on Racket/PLT Scheme for quite a long time, though my knowledge of Racket is mostly limited to some gradual typing/DSL papers and I'm not aware of what the dynamics of the Racket organization or community are.

And yes, he won't lose his job or end up destitute, but I find the insinuation that this means "he will be fine no matter" quite strange. If it prevents him from continuing his current research work (I don't know whether that's the case), I'd very much count that as impacting him personally.

> If it prevents him from continuing his current research work (I don't know whether that's the case)

So zero knowledge then.

Felleisen is an ACM Fellow with a senior tenured position at Rice. American, white, middle-aged. Doesn't have a presence in social media. He'll be fine.

He is a tenured professor, and his work on Racket is only tangentially related to what he's actually paid for. His research work doesn't rely on him leading the project or even being involved in it. He would presumably be very unhappy about being forced out of a leadership position, but that's about it.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'his work on Racket being only tangentially related to what's he actually paid for", as far as I know all his research for like the past two decades has been on Racket, though I'm not familiar with what he's been doing exactly. Now, it could be that his involvement with the project isn't necessary for his research to continue without issue, but I at least don't think that's a given and would depend on what research he's been doing specifically.

Am I being naive? I think it would be pretty absurd to lie about this.

I don't think anybody want this to be career ruining. It is really hard to check assholes with authority. The least we can do is take this person's complaint seriously.

So I went over and looked around this Felleisen person's personal website, and... how do I put this, he is one unpleasant insufferable dude. Enter the rabbit hole: http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/matthias/

> → personal site

> Warning You are about to leave campus and visit a web site

> with centrist views that may offend readers used to safe spaces.

I followed the link, and felt too much cringe to be able detect offense per se.

Personally I am avoiding Racket so long as this man is anywhere near it. Luckily I didn't invest any significant time in it before. I feel deeply sorry for his grad students and underlings, despite knowing none. It must've been an ordeal for each and every one of them.

The link to the personal site was a byproduct of what he described as a "social experiment" in which he published the James Damore memo on his office door, and was offended that students reported him to the dean for acting to create a hostile work environment, rather than engage with him directly about the scientific merits of Damore's memo.

He describes this himself here: https://felleisen.org/matthias/Thoughts/Free_Speech.html

Seems like a strange course of action. What if someone just wants to come and see you and not debate the scientific merits of Damore's memo? The man is a computer science professor, after all. I don't know about "hostile work environment" but it seems needlessly antagonistic to me.

needlessly antagonistic is a fair characterization of his approach to the world at large

It is not needless. It is self serving. It expresses his privilege and power in the explicit environment where they matter most. It amplifies them.

> What if someone just wants to come and see you and not debate the scientific merits of Damore's memo?

How about ignore it and not report it to the dean?

The observations made in Damore's memo are rather anodyne (and essentially correct). The folks making a scene about it are contributing to a hostile environment.

In what world is posting the memo on your office door not “making a scene about it”?

The asymmetry here is really quite simple. On the one hand, you have an academic sharing a set of views that, while intellectually unfashionable, are well within the scientific mainstream. On the other hand you have people trying to get him fired, rather than ignore him or politely try to change his mind.

Did he expect the kind of response he received? Sure, though I think hoped for better. But that's not making a scene. That's just not being completely acquiescent to unreasonable people.

Nobody tried to get him fired. They wanted him to not post inane and sexist bullshit on his office door.

An academic sharing a set of views that are unrelated to the subject matter he teaches, posted on part of his teaching environment.

Make it sound like a noble stand all you want but he was being needlessly provocative in an attempt to get the exact reaction he got and stir up controversy. It’s deeply tiresome.

If a left leaning English professor put up a lengthy memo on racial justice it would be dismissed by many as virtue signalling, as a distraction from their teaching, as a sign of an oppressive environment, etc etc. Yet when this is done by someone on the right the exact same people consider it the pursuit of some grand noble cause. Give me a break.

If you want scientific debate, you seek studies and seek people who study same area.

Manifest on doors (no matter what manifest) to me sound like a statement of conviction and thus pointless to debate. Partly as dont feed the trolls and partly that it is unreasonable to expect such person to listen.

1) It's not a manifesto.

2) Damore's memo does cite scientific research

3) at least some experts in the fields of psychometrics and sex differences believed the memo to be substantively correct

4) Trying to get someone fired for holding beliefs that are well within the scientific mainstream is the antithesis of a good academic environment.

So he was offended and needed a safe space for his logorrhoea, I see...

I did read the entire website (didn't mean to, it was an accident, one that I resent). The guy's basically full of himself and bordering on alt-right if not just that.

If you hover his photo on his homepage, it has a quote from a climate change denier. The whole thing is like a red flag wholesaler shop.

My litmus test is climate change denial - for some reason truly insufferable people consistently have this one thing in common.

Sure enough among the quotes is an excerpt form a 1974 Time magazine article about global cooling, which is a dog whistle for "the science is not settled".

My sister had to suffer through a few courses with a professor who gave such enlightened opinions as "men should be paid more, because they eat more than women".

Fortunately the students managed to make him lose his position as a lecturer on the grounds that he ranted instead of actually giving the lecture.

The link on centrist views wasn't that bad although the other link leads to a site without HTTPS. Bad stuff indeed.

I wouldn't read too much into people's personal sites tbh. People are multifaceted. BTW the site does seem a bit unnecessarily political, but this is far from rare these days.

"Unnecessarily political" is a nice abbreviation of "his politics are hurtful, hateful, and part objectively wrong".

nope I didn't mean that at all

I'd say the same about Stallman's page for instance, or Torvalds', and their politics are drastically different

entering in value judgments on the specific politics is a fool's errand - I think he's doing good work, and thus the politics are counterproductive as they take nearly all the attention away from their work

he seems to have many faces, most of them suck tho.

I believe this sort of thing is what happens when children are not taught to stand up for themselves: based on the post, the author never had a conversation with his attacker, asked for an apology, or did anything other than meekly tuck his tail. Then years later he posts this.

Being a bully is not good, but neither is being a needless victim.

You know what's really not good? Victim blaming. We know, beyond a doubt, that when people are victimized out of nowhere, they often are too shaken by the experience to defend themselves properly. Expecting everyone to have the defense mechanisms of a Special Forces soldier is not helpful.

What you call victim blaming here, I call expecting a certain amount of accountability for oneself. And yes, I do expect everyone to have, or to cultivate, the ability to handle themselves in social situations. I believe this expectation to be infinitely more helpful for society at large than the sympathy on tap commonly seen instead. Perhaps he was shaken in the moment, but the author apparently had at least a full year to handle this.

Were this post written after he failed to diffuse the situation, after standing up for himself, and the bully just kept being an asshole, then a post like this would be warranted to warn the community at large. As it stands, the tone reads much more childishly to me than it could have.

Just 2 comments.

Life has taught me that no matter how noble, pure, well-intended or just a cause is you will find exactly the same interpersonal dynamics that you will find in most organizations, including many despicable ones. Our extremely thin varnish of civilization is not strong enough to stop millions of years of evolution fine-tuning us to be hierarchical tribal apes living in small groups.Remember that every time you join a movement, you will have to deal with the same bullshit than in everywhere else.

The second one, quoting the author: ". I’ve navi­gated plenty of diffi­cult people—LA lawyers, SF venture capi­tal­ists, et al." I would say that the author must have experienced a very narrow window of human types if those are the examples he came up with. I just found it funny, no need to make a drama about it.

If you've dealt with VC's or lawyers before you'll understand this example. Of course many probably worse examples from Academia or restaurants or military or whatever but if you're a software entrepreneur these are very good examples.

I guess I agree, with the caveat that this applies to white middle-class Americans.Otherwise those VC/lawyers are not even on the top half of "dificult people" you can face on earth.


Another commenter asks, "have you ever punched someone in the face?" Well, I have, and on more than one occasion (no, I don't advocate it, either). This would not have been one of those occasions. It's not going to take him down a notch, it's not going to make him rethink his position. At best, your hand will hurt more than you thought it would, and you might even get arrested. But, hey, you won't have to worry about contributing to Racket anymore.

In this instance, I would have told Professor Ivory Tower to piss off until he wants to climb down to do some real work with the rest of us. Because some of us don't have all day to sit on our ass and pontificate about the failings of others. But that's me. Because all that stuff Professor Asshole said is stuff he's afraid people are saying about him. And that's going to sting more than a fist to the face.

I mean, have you ever punched somebody in the face? I'll admit the thought occurred to me as well but in practice, I think most people have a strong aversion to violence, not to mention the potential criminal liability.

I've punched many people in the face many times, and been punched in the face and in other body parts many times, too. Hard-contact martial arts was once one of my favorite hobbies, and I owned a martial arts studio for some years.

Like other commenters, I do not generally advocate punching someone in the face for saying something rude or cruel, especially if you're well-adapted to fights and they aren't. It's probably unethical and definitely likely to cause you legal grief.

I will say this, though: in twenty years or more of a hobby that involved punching people in the face, kicking them hard enough to knock outlines of their bodies into the drywall, and choking them to the edge of unconsciousness, I never saw the kind of thoughtless cruelty and bullying that is described here. Mostly I saw a lot of mutual courtesy and respect, with exceptions on rare occasions.

I will say that people who like to punch down seem to lose their enthusiasm when they discover unexpectedly that they're actually punching up. Perhaps it will amuse you, as it did me, to hear about a fellow I know who is large and strong and skilled who dropped by to visit in person someone who had been bullying and abusing him online. No violence ensued, but the bully experienced an epiphany about the value of courtesy and discretion.

Not to mention the fact that you might also end up getting beaten up by the person you assaulted, which would make you even worse off.

That would have been deeply silly and accomplished nothing.

And what is the moral wisdom in contemplating this scenario if you've already rejected the means as unworthy?

> And what is the moral wisdom in contemplating this scenario if you've already rejected the means as unworthy?

A fair question. I guess there are several answers:

(1) I was concerned that just because I mentioned being curious how that approach would play out, some readers would assume that I was advocating violence, and respond accordingly. I wanted to be very clear that that's not the case, because that would end all discussion.

(2) I was mostly just wondering aloud how that would play out, because I'd like to understand human behavior better. I.e., I was doing a thought experiment, and realized that I didn't have any good guess for what the actual aftermath would be. So I was hoping to get other people's thoughts on the matter.

EDIT: It seems I chose the wrong forum for the question, or made some other error. I'll delete the post, as it seems to not be contributing to meaningful discussion.

> No facts were disputed. The inci­dents were numerous, happening over a period of years. They were always witnessed by others on the Racket core team. For that reason, there’s no need to enumerate the details now.

This is the software world's equivalent of vaguebooking. Please provide quotes or precise anecdotes which can be confirmed or denied by witnesses and Felleisen.

There can only be 1 Linus. Copy cats need not apply.

"The only work­able tactic was to distance your­self"

No. You stand up for yourself and call out the dick. He attacks you and you haven't even presented yet. When you are right, don't let bullies bully.

> No. You stand up for yourself

Do you feel this is an acceptable way to respond to someone who's telling you they feel bullied? Shouting 'no' at them and telling them what they should have done instead, when presumably they felt they couldn't do that because they felt intimidated?

That's the ideal, but is often not workable, for instance if you're a kid who is not good at violence, or if the dick is surrounded by people who are already determined to tolerate his dickishness. They already know.

When I imagine this scenario, and imagine the two options of a) walking away, or b) giving the guy a terse piece of my mind and walking away, I feel like in the case of picking a) when b) wouldn't have hurt me I would feel spiritually diminished.

Standing up to someone bullying you is the right thing to do, spiritually speaking. You also have to stop them from bullying you, of course, and the easiest way to accomplish that is often to walk away.

This is only going to end negatively if the bully has the tacit approval of all their peers. It's made clear by Matthew that the bully's behaviour was tolerated, so all likelihood is that he would be criticised for rocking the boat, potentially ostracised. At best he would get approval for it, but only in private with a "I will deny this if you say it out loud" disclaimer.

Ultimately this would reflect worse on Racket's leadership team than it does on Matthias alone. They're all okay with it. If this was operated as an organisation then there would be some accountability.

This is all innocent until proven guilty, of course, so it boils down to how the racket team responds, if they do.

Well, that might work when talking about a situation where power is about equal, but when it's someone higher up in the chain, it's going to be much much harder.

Good lord. Why not hash things out with Mathias forceably and directly right then and there? Why this victim pantomime? Mathew is a grown men, surely he can find more direct ways to stand up for himself instead of obliquely trying to cancel the guy to whom we owe racket.

You might be surprised to learn some people aren’t comfortable “hashing it out forcibly and directly right then and there.” I would venture to guess most of the people here would not do that, especially when caught completely off guard and in a group of their peers who aren’t sticking up for them.

Perhaps we all could recognize courage is a virtue and strive to demonstrate it? Much of the sickness in our culture would instantly be cured if we valued and demonstrated genuine bravery instead of replacing it with victimhood signaling.

War is a continuation of politics by other means. But diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means. And now verbal bullying is a continuation of violence by other means.

By the principle of explosion, I think we're on the precipice of everything being a continuation of everything by other means.

Well, drive-by downvoting, effectively censoring comments one doesn't like, is certainly a continuation of bullying by other means. Of course, cleverness is frowned upon 'round here.

Is there any proof to this?

Not that I'm in disbelief, but I guess I just wonder why nothing has been done if it's as intense and awful as the claims.

Either way, it's repulsive to hear about bad behaviors like these in beautiful scheme communities.

I hope everybody involved heals and flourishes.

Edit: to be clear, obviously I believe the guy. It just seems crazy that such an amount of responsible, educated people would let this happen in any kind of professional or educational setting. If someone spoke that way to anybody at my work, they'd be absolutely brutalized and more than likely terminated that same day.

Because it can be difficult to approach cruel people about their cruelty, would be my guess.

Kind of a weird instance of The Bystander Effect

It's usually called "missing stair": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_stair

I think verbal abuse, when done a certain way, is tolerated in a way that other forms of bullying aren't. Unless there are threats or sexual harassment, people in power will usually get away with being a complete ass with no consequence (and even then!). Good to know that your workplace isn't like this, at least that's your perception, but some places allow people like this to thrive. This has to change.

> why nothing has been done

Felleisen is a project founder. People often feel extremely uncomfortable holding open source founders to task for their behavior.

> why nothing has been done

Probably because without Felleisen there is no Racket. He's obviously not the only team member, but he's been working on it for decades. If you censure him, the whole thing might fall apart.

And, of course, confronting people is uncomfortable. The article's author even arranged himself with it: "The rest, I ignore. For me so far, that compro­mise has sufficed."

human groups are really not optimal for these. I've now witnessed (and my radar is not wide) at various degrees insane amount of silence.. if people have a solution, or hints, I want to hear/read about it

I don't think it's easy to get proof for this kind of things. Basicaly you have to wear a recorder (or keeping a recorder app open all the time) whenever you meent with him. Doable but still, PIA.

What would the author have to gain from fabricating it?

For the record, I believe the author.

But asking what the author would gain from fabricating it is a terrible reason to believe something. Pathological liars exist and they prey on people with such low bars for belief.

I think it's exceedingly rare for an outstanding technical contributor like Matthew Butterick to also be a pathological liar, especially in ways that would hurt their own career.

Both of these are great questions, I wish situations like these were resolved with a recorded conversation between at least the accuser and someone who attempts to be unbiased that was involved.

I recently had an acquaintance get cancelled who held pretty troubling religious opinions, but outwardly the way he treated everyone was better than the vast majority of people treated others in that community. I feel like a conversation would've resolved that issue without him losing 3 positions, one of which being his job.

I don't know enough about this particular situation to have an educated opinion.

But in my experience with these kinds of situations, people often misconstrue and sometimes even knowingly misrepresent them not because a rational reason to fabricate them, but just because of one or the other irrational psychological reason to do so. People are not rational, and the mere fact that they wouldn't get anything doesn't mean that they would do it.

Maybe you misunderstood my post, I don't disbelieve him. I'm raising concerns that there's apparently brazen abuse happening amongst many accomplished adults with nobody being held accountable for it.

I been around Matthias a long time and don't really see it. Perhaps Matthew can identify some examples that prove he's not the fragile flower he says he isn't?

Perhaps you can use language that doesn’t belittle others to make your point?

I am using matt's own words, didn't realize that was belittling someone

> language that doesn't belittle others

Whether you agree with them or not, they are literally quoting TFA there.

> Why? It's not because I'm a fragile flower. I've navi­gated plenty of diffi­cult people - LA lawyers, SF venture capi­tal­ists, et al.


> What I don't understand is why they are asking for examples... that are literally in TFA.

Beats me, I'm just complaining about the spurious "belittling others" accusation.

> If the author was a 'fragile flower', would that make this described behaviour then acceptable?

Why are you asking me that and not moocowtruck? They're the one who implied it would.

Say for a moment that the events happen as described:

> "Felleisen even­tu­ally swiveled his rage in my direc­tion, verbally impugning my skills and qual­i­fi­ca­tions, and suggesting that however bad things were, I would only make it worse. [...] Felleisen clearly took plea­sure in demeaning and belit­tling me in front of this group."

If the author was a 'fragile flower', would that make this described behaviour then acceptable? Parent commentor is not asking "prove that there was an outburst of insults directed at you", they're asking "prove that you didn't fall apart because you are weak", and that seems pretty irrelevant - weak or strong people should be able to attend a conference by invite without being told by the organisers they are incompetent and will make everything worse, right?

(The use of the author's words in that context doesn't change much; imagine author: "before you say I'm a moron, I have built XYZ" going to commentor: "prove you aren't a moron?" - it's an insult, because the author used it in an insulting context while disclaiming its applicability)

What I don't understand is why they are asking for examples…that are literally in TFA.

where? i see general statements

Try reading paragraphs 3-7. Whatever else you may feel about them, they are clearly quite specific about the behavior experienced.

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