Here’s my test for whether you’re qualified to post to Hacker News.
Pair the following five comments with their corresponding definitions:
1. “Raganwald is a blowhard whose pathetic attempts to score karma reveal him as an insecure dweeb who can’t get over being kicked around in grammar school. He and his mumblings should be should be flushed down the toilet bowl like the turds that they are.”
2. “What, raganwald is talking about beauty in code? Have you seen some of his code? Ignore him.”
3. “Raganwald sounds a lot like a Ruby fanbody, and we all know how those people think."
4. “Anyone who has spent that much time on Java clearly has no taste in software and cannot be relied upon for sound reasoning. Ignore raganwald.”
5. "Of course raganwald would say that there’s something wrong with Waterfall, he’s a Certified Scrum Master, he’s just pimping his own credentials.”
And the definitions:
A. Fallacy: Ad Hominem Abuse
B. Fallacy: Circumstantial Ad Hominem
C. Fallacy: Tu Quoque (“You Also”)
D: Fallacy: Guilt by Association
E: Not a Fallacy: Insults
Example: 1-E, This is an insult, but not fallacious.
I know people smarter than the vast majority of HN users (how can this really be judged, sure, but I'd place money on it, certainly far, far smarter than me) who wouldn't know those, and I know many, many people who are damn smart (just not fitting them into the "smarter than most people here", but definitely smart enough to belong here if they wanted to) who also wouldn't know them.
I beg your pardon, I was trying to crack a funny. It seems it is impossible to parody an extremist belief without somebody mistaking it for the general article. I was attempting to parody the fundamentalist debating pedant point of view.
Er, HN already does limit access via arbitrarily-chosen tests of user quality. They just chose different tests. :)
I don't think it'd be a 100% bad idea to implement some sort of knowledge-based testing, wire it up to varying levels of initial access/privs on a site, and see what happens, as an experiment. User privs could then evolve once the user had actually posted or commented or rated things.
I have a really dumb spam filter on my blog which simply asks that the user "Type the word 'humour', but with American spelling". I've had a couple of complaints that this request is unfair to non-native speakers. My response is that you don't have to know it, you just have to know how to look it up.
(And yes, I saw that this stuff wasn't serious, but I thought it was a worthwhile point to make in any case. CAPTCHAs don't need to be things that users can pass without outside help.)
Never mind if people are smart or stupid. The important thing for a forum is if the participants are willing and able to provide thoughtful and interesting comments. Simple quizzes like the above (joke or not) might filter out a lot of lazy trolls up front. Everybody with a genuine interest in the forum should easily be able to find the answers using Google, and might even find it fun to learn a bit.
More importantly, after having made a bit of effort to be allowed in, the users might value the forum more.
Really I think you could just get away with testing to see if the user knows the difference between an Ad Hominem and a standard insult.
There is little more annoying than someone who thinks they see logical fallacies where none exist and take the conversation from bad (real arguments intermixed with old fashioned insults) to worse (nothing but an argument from fallacy)
"I don't claim to know what an Ad Hominem is." would also be a passing response in my book...