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NASA is quite a transparent organization with extensive public outreach and is therefore exposed to all kinds of things. To our great advantage as a Stack Exchange community we have many users (and some moderators) associated with the spaceflight industry, as well as some associated with/connected to government space agencies including NASA. I understand there can be an element of protectiveness and caution as SE is also open to the entire internet.

I feel a certain sense of protectiveness as well. Out of my currently 2,345 question posts here, 221 are tagged . Except for some gentle ribbing about a certain Rocket Racing League team, I think they demonstrate a consistently high level of appropriateness, pride in and respect for this amazing organization.

I've asked or answered several questions relating to the potential, unintended transport of life from one solar system body to another with one of them being Earth. The two generally accepted concerns are that

  1. an inadvertent contamination of a body with life from Earth could lead to propagation, which could a) impact existing life there, b) inadvertently seed a previously lifeless body, or c) foul or confound scientific searches for novel forms of life either from the past or present.
  2. an inadvertent contamination of Earth with life from another solar system body could lead to serious problems here.

These topics are serious and require careful and serious exploration by both government and private organizations capable of spaceflight (primarily) beyond cis-lunar space.

In Space Exploration SE they also require careful and serious treatment in questions and in answers.

Recently, under a few of my posts I have been accused of making a "doxing request" and of harboring certain thoughts and motives that have not been expressed explicitly. They have become repetitive and are getting personal. I have flagged two such personally directed accusations as harassment and the flags were denied and I think that was done hastily and should be reviewed, reconsidered and perhaps clarified, otherwise those flag dismissals may inadvertently set precedent and going after users for suspected thoughts could be seen by some users to be tacitly endorsed by the moderation team.

  • We don't go after Stack Exchange users because we suspect they might be thinking something, right?
  • We DO express what we see as potential problems with posts and recommend changes that could address them in a positive and productive way, right?

Question: How extensively should we interrogate/pursue post authors about suspected ulterior motives or suspected thoughts or beliefs?

I won't quote individual comments but instead point to chains of them below the following posts:

Currently I think that my efforts to write as objectively as possible, ask simple point-blank questions and write fact-based answers is what's triggering suspicions in some readers, especially those that cherry pick isolated phrases as "evidence". I think this should stop. In a fact-based site like Space Exploration SE what we suspect others of thinking should be off-limits and when folks focus too much of this on a single user moderators should take action and not rapidly dismiss flags on it.

In my opinion "I suspect that you think that..."-class comments should be quickly removed when flagged.

What do others think?


When it comes to bringing Martian samples back to Earth I did begin a question with my only ever "bias disclaimer" statement and cited examples why felt that way. A NASA sample return mission did crash and open up, potentially exposing its contents to the environment. So far that question has received 600+ views, +8/-1 votes and no pushback in comments.

The "update #1" in that question links to the August 2020 NASA page NASA Establishes Board to Initially Review Mars Sample Return Plans

Apparently NASA has boards and is above-board about their boards, asking about "...a specific panel of experts or group of ethicists and legal scholars..." is not a "doxing request" and calling it that then going on to answer the question anyway seems to be 1) wrong, the comment should be removed, and 2) wanting to have it both ways.

Serious topics need and deserve serious SE discussions unencumbered by personal attacks on individual SE users.

enter image description here

Source: Wikimedia's Genesis crash site scenery

NASA's transparency is laudable!

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  • $\begingroup$ Interestingly, NASA's cleanest clean room is the lab where the Genesis samples are being examined. This is an ISO 4 or Class 10 clean room. (The old clean room standard has been retracted but is still widely used.) A Class 10 clean room has at most ten small particles per cubic foot of air. The huge clean rooms where JPL assembles and tests their interplanetary probes are ISO 7 or Class 10000 clean rooms: up to ten thousand small particles per cubic foot of air. Some of those small particles are going to be bacterial spores, and some of those spores will land on and stick to the vehicle. $\endgroup$ Jul 29 at 11:30
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    $\begingroup$ BTW, your item #5, which I downvoted, is what started this whole chain. NASA does not sterilize its vehicles anymore. It does sterilize key parts such as the containers used to collect samples by the Perseverance rover. A much more severe protocol will to be used when some future mission returns those collected samples to Earth. The return samples are intended to be analyzed in a BSL-4 facility. $\endgroup$ Jul 29 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen since you have repeated the same thing twice on one page, I will respond twice on the page: $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 29 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ There is no claim. You have imagined it. Item #5 states a challenge just like items #1 through #4 do. All are challenges. I point out in that statement: "To my knowledge there is not yet documented capability that spacecraft can be absolutely sterilized and yet still functional." The logical conclusion is that since there's no way to do that, minimizing the likelihood of inadvertently introducing life into a new world is a challenge. If you could, then it wouldn't be. It's that simple. I never said it had to be 100%. That's your invention, your claim that what's not there is actually there $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 29 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ At this point we appear to be having a pissing content, so let's stop. $\endgroup$ Jul 29 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen In ten different comments in the four linked comment chains and in two separate places on this page you've continued to misrepresent "This is impossible" as saying "This is necessary". Each time you ignore my reply and then repeat the mischaracterization again. In these 12 instances, did you ever consider stopping and asking for clarification or an adjustment of wording? Will you do it another dozen times? Do you think that blowing a whistle over and over is better than stopping for a moment and listening to the other person? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 29 at 12:44
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You won't name names, so I will. I'm the culprit. In my opinion, you exposed your opinion in your item #5 on your answer to Why aren't there any robotic missions on Europa or Enceladus? NASA gave up on the idea of "absolutely completely 100% certain sterile" (emphasis yours) over 55 years ago. I have tried, multiple times, with comments, to get you to back down from that claim. Comments are intended to be used to improve questions and answers -- and that was my intent. Unfornately, my attempts have not been successful.

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  • $\begingroup$ There is no claim. You have imagined it. Item #5 states a challenge just like items #1 through #4 do. All are challenges. I point out in that statement: "To my knowledge there is not yet documented capability that spacecraft can be absolutely sterilized and yet still functional." The logical conclusion is that since there's no way to do that, minimizing the likelihood of inadvertently introducing life into a new world is a challenge. If you could, then it wouldn't be. It's that simple. I never said it had to be 100%. That's your invention, your claim that what's not there is actually there $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 29 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh You used italics and bold in a claim that no space agency currently follows. This is your challenge, and it is an entirely unreasonable challenge. $\endgroup$ Jul 29 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ Dowsing the fonts for hidden meanings? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 29 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ Re I never said it had to be 100%. You most certainly have. It's right there, in your own writing. $\endgroup$ Jul 29 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ It says that it can't be 100%. It does not say that it has to be. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 29 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Have you stopped for a second to consider that what people are referring to is not your intent, but how your words read? And if you don't think they read that way, then perhaps you should consider that so many people continue to interpret them that way. You certainly don't have to edit your posts, and I have and will continue to remove comments from either side that cross a line. What I reject is your characterization of the entire exchange as a personal attack. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Jul 29 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage my question here is about users focusing on "suspected thoughts or beliefs" and if that's the right way to go about things. I've gone back over comments from DH and another user and the ones that stand out focus on what I seem to believe or think or know or my "bias" rather than what is written. I'm hoping that someone will address that head-on because if not new users will start getting the idea that this is a place where we do that and it's okay. I've seen enough SE sites where focusing on the rather than on each other is the absolute norm to know it's possible and doable. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 29 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I don't think that is the case here. I do think some people in the heat of trying to communicate a point overstated some things, but that doesn't change that the underlying issue here is not one of suspected thoughts and beliefs but the actual words that were written. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Jul 29 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Then we might differ on what we would say is "the actual issue here". It's late in UTC +8 so I'll check back in the morning. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 29 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I was trying to get you to back off from the claim that spacecraft must be "absolutely completely 100% certain sterile" because while that was a concept initially held by NASA, that concept was discarded over 55 years ago. Even with that concept, NASA realized that the probability had to be non-zero. So what is the right value? The one in ten thousand value you appear to dislike as "good enough for government work" (your words in a comment) is far too strict. $\endgroup$ Jul 29 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Once again, we're having a pissing contest. I did not like "absolutely completely 100% certain sterile". I disliked that statement so much that I downvoted your answer (something I don't often do) just on the basis of that one statement, and then I commented on why I downvoted (something I do try to do when I do downvote an answer). This is not NASA policy. $\endgroup$ Jul 29 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh So backtrack. It's not that hard. To quote a shoe manufacturer, Just do it. I am not going to backtrack for you; I hate it when others change one of my answers to something exactly opposite of what I wrote. $\endgroup$ Jul 29 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Let's give it a break. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Jul 29 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh It's fairly good, but I personally wouldn't even say "currently". I would say 100% is quite obviously physically impossible. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Jul 29 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ Storm in a teacup? Personally, when I feel that somebody is using ad hominem in a discussion, I just stop the discussion. $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Jul 30 at 17:33
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How extensively should we interrogate/pursue post authors about suspected ulterior motives or suspected thoughts or beliefs?

We shouldn't, that's not how StackExchange is supposed to operate. Every question should be taken at face value, with zero regard as to who is asking it. People finding the question in the future on Google have don't want to go through discussions of who's right or wrong, they just want an answer to their question. Similarly people listening to Mozart usually don't care too much about his feud with Salieri.

That being said... I think its generally good practice for answers on StackExchange to try and give a bit of room to every viewpoint, not just OPs viewpoint. I.e. if discussing the ethics of sending someone on a one-way trip to Mars, its good to point out that some groups of people think its ethical, even if you personally think its deeply unethical (or vice versa). Or if you think that we should be insanely careful around life contamination from/to Earth, it would be nice to also specify that some groups of people think that its not a big deal (if such groups exist in academia, of course).

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  • $\begingroup$ In this answer my preference was to avoid giving voice to any viewpoint. I stated unequivocally that complete sterilization was impossible. This posed the fifth of five enumerated challenges. I was hounded by folks insisting I was taking the position that it was a requirement and believing things that weren't stated. What I said was that it was impossible. What people then insisted I said was that it was a requirement. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 29 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ As mentioned in the question above: "Currently I think that my efforts to write as objectively as possible, ask simple point-blank questions and write fact-based answers is what's triggering suspicions in some readers, especially those that cherry pick isolated phrases as 'evidence'." I've since modified the answer by adding a "note added in proof" to try to stop folks from attributing things to me that aren't there. I feel that this pressure to take a position or to voice multiple positions comes from people getting used to social media forms. I don't think we need to do it here. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 29 at 22:09
  • $\begingroup$ Not only we should give zero regard to who is asking it, we should be agnostic to who the person claims he is. But let's face it, not all questions are innocent, especially the interesting (often short) ones. In my opinion, there is no harm in probing for the motives, in generalizing, in putting the question (and its answers) in the appropriate context. Otherwise, it can be a sterile exercise. Of course, the author of the question can decide to accept only sterile answers. It is his right. $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Jul 30 at 18:08

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