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Qmechanic just raised on chat the need to take some more action on the tag, and I think it's about right: the tag, despite some loud all-caps in the tag wiki excerpt, gets misused all the time, by people who simply have no idea that mathematical physics is a discipline unto its own and that the term should not be used to describe posts just because they have a bit of highschool algebra in them.

For the more data-minded, this query finds all the posts which were originally posted with the tag, at a current count of 1175 over the site's history and there's plenty of clonkers in there.

Now, Qmechanic proposed some manipulations with the tags that I rather strongly disagree with, but I agree that there's a need and I think there's a better solution to the problem.

Let's have a review queue for this.

Here's how I think this could work:

  • If a new user posts a question with the tagged mathematical-physics (or some pre-defined set of tags, such as e.g. mathematics), then it gets sent to the First Posts review queue.

  • There the review, instead of being described with the usual tagline

    This is the first question asked by a new user. Help them learn to use the site by reviewing their post.

    it gets the header

    This question by a new user has the frequently-misused tag mathematical physics. Please check that the tag has been used correctly and remove it if it hasn't.

    or some similar wording.

  • After enough time (say, the user has three positive-score posts on the tag, or 1500 rep, or some linear combination of the two), users' posts no longer get sent to this queue.

  • We could additionally impose a similar experience requirement on reviewers, so that users with 500 rep will only be shown these reviews if they've got three positive-score posts with the tag, knocking off one of those per extra 500 rep.

(All numerical thresholds obviously subject to adjustment, particularly if we find data sources about the existing misuses that are more than me pulling numbers out of thin air.)

Now, once you divide those 1200 posts over the six years of the site's existence you get something like one post every few days, which is a bit sparse but non-negligible, but mostly, Qmechanic does the bulk of the re-tagging around here, and if s/he says it's getting out of hand, then I believe it, period. I think this is enough to show that the problem is real.

It does involve some nontrivial coding and changes to the UI, but I don't think they are too radical, and they can essentially ride piggyback on the existing queues. And, if the queue system does get an overhaul at some point, this could be brought out into its own branch if so required.

Moreover, I think this kind of mechanism would be useful in the wider SE arena: there are tag warnings for misused tags (which is something we should also implement) and those have been seen with interest by other sites (example, example), so presumably the sites that implement tag warnings might also be interested in a review queue along these lines.

I'm asking it here first, though, because it's probably easier to test the mechanism in a site where it's less likely to break things before scaling it up to full-SE-network availability.


Also, for clarity, there's several other tags that probably need this kind of additional scrutiny, including , , , , and .

For the moment, I've set up a dedicated chatroom: Tag review for misused tags, with feeds from those tags, as an ersatz review queue, and as an experiment to see how well that works. (If you do edit tags from feeds in that room, leave a message saying that you've done so, to help track how useful it is.) Hopefully this will help get a sense of the scale of the problem and its available solutions.

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    $\begingroup$ I foresee the objection from SE being "try tag warnings first and see if they work" $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 21 '17 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ So, let's implement them anyway. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 21 '17 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, well,we have this meta post for it. Let's make a renewed effort to get some answers on that. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 21 '17 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ I should point out (if it was not clear) that besides the math-phys tag, I have a handful or two other tags in mind as well. $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Jul 21 '17 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ +1000, great idea. $\endgroup$ – heather Jul 22 '17 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ There is always the option of removing frequently misused tags altogether. Yes, it is a bit extreme, but if a tag is prone to misuse it's gonna do more harm then good and removing it could be considered a "necessary evil". $\endgroup$ – valerio Jul 23 '17 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ @valerio For some of those tags I agree (general-physics being the most obvious example) but mathematical physics is too important in its legitimate uses to remove. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 23 '17 at 10:51
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    $\begingroup$ Notes for later: (besides mathematical-physics, laws-of-physics, equations-of-motion), $~$ other candidates for misused tags are: $~$ specific-reference; resource-recommendations; differential-equations; models; nature; kinetic-theory gets confused with kinematics; $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Aug 3 '17 at 8:52
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FYI: Here is some feed-back of what has happened. In the period July 21-30, 2017, I conducted the experiment outlined in my hbar chat message here:

Hello h Bar: Perhaps you can help develop a half-baked idea of mine. A handful of tags are prone to misuse and overuse, most notoriously perhaps the tag. Idea: "Protect", say, the tag with, say, a plus in the end. (I put the word "protect" in quotation since there are no actual reputation restrictions on the use of tags.) All appropriate mathematical-physics question should be tagged with this new "protected plus" tag.

No questions should be tagged with the old "unprotected" tag. Next let the "unprotected" tag be a synonym of a master tag, say, . The idea is that experienced users will soon learn to add the plus to "protected" tags (it is suggested from the pop-up menu), while questions with tag may need attention from editors. See also this meta post.

In detail, both tags & were suggested to the asker from a pop-up menu if he started to type "math..." in the tag line, ordered by the number of corresponding questions. There were 1440 questions with the tag and 1 question with the tag.

The outcome of the experiment was as follows:

  1. As far as I can tell, all askers picked the tag over the tag within the 5 minutes grace period.

  2. A hbar feed to report tags were never activated. Presumable because there were none or because they were removed quickly.

So in conclusion, the experiment appears to be a failure, as it did not reduce the misuse of the math. phys. tag.

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Another idea would be to add, say, a plus at the end of a handful of problematic tags, e.g. instead of , and so forth. The plus signals to editors and the community that the tag is often misused, and might need editing.

(This proposal should not be confused with my earlier July 21 2017 proposal. The reason why both proposals use the plus character, is that only very few special characters are allowed in a tag.)

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