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I recently asked what the most precice measurement we have taken is (What is the most precise physical measurement ever measured?). With 33 views and 6 upvotes, it got mod-hammered as being a "big list," with the implication that I was asking for a long list which has no single answer.

I do believe there is a single answer, which is the measurement which has the lowest relative uncertainty. I defined it rather unambiguously. None of the answers nor comments suggested that this could be turned into a list with no clear answer. It was simply mod-hammered.

Every answer that has been given has been an improvement on the last. It started with 10^-8, then went to 10^-13, then 10^-21. Its quite clear there is going to be a best answer. Most answers pointed out that the particular level of uncertainty was accompanied by fanfare in the scientific community. Its not like this question is attracting arbitrary answers.

Or there would have been a best answer, if it were not for the mod hammer.

Why was this question marked as big list and closed without any further comment?

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    $\begingroup$ Are we supposed to upvote the answer with the most precise measurement, and downvote the rest? $\endgroup$ – AccidentalFourierTransform Aug 16 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ Regardless of whether this question is on-topic or not, it absolutely does not belong on the HNQ list. This is pure clickbait and a magnet for extremely low-quality votes. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 16 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ I can’t remember the last time I thought one of the physics questions on the HNQ list deserved to be there. $\endgroup$ – G. Smith Aug 16 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ @G.Smith Totally Agreed $\endgroup$ – StackUpPhysics Aug 16 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ @G.Smith Feel free to flag those questions for moderator attention and we can look at it and remove it if warranted. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Aug 19 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Clickbait is something deceptively trying to sound more interesting than it actually is. The existing title says exactly what the question is. It sounds interesting, because it is interesting. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Aug 21 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Unless you are defining "clickbait" as "anything interesting to people in general" -- in which case that's a rather radical thing to be arguing against. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Aug 21 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ @knzhou That's a reductive and simplistic understanding of what clickbait is. As one way to test it, look for tutorials on how to write clickbait headlines, and count how many of them list "The best X" or "The most X" as examples. (spoiler: it's the overwhelming majority.) $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 22 at 1:29
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I think the test of "a tutorial on clickbait uses that phrasing" is going to capture a lot of valid questions. Myself, I like to define "clickbait" as things trying to bait clicks. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 22 at 2:47
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon I'm glad you agree that the core test is subjective. Your question fails that subjective test, given that it tries to bait clicks. Hopefully you can understand the bias that comes from having written that title, and go beyond that? It's obviously not only my opinion. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 22 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ ... but in any case, discussion of whether the title is clickbait is utterly moot at this stage. It was relevant when the question was eligible for HNQ, which it no longer is. Unless you want to have a broader argument about how much precedent this should set for kicking clickbait out of the list, which should go on a separate thread. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 22 at 7:45
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A question of the form What is the biggest X? presumably means that an answerer should only answer if they are 100% sure that they know the unique answer (which btw may change in the future), and all other answers should be deleted. Of course that's not going to happen, so such questions in practice degenerate into What are examples of big Xs? For the latter, see e.g. other meta posts Good list, bad list and links therein.

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    $\begingroup$ Is that "they must know the unique answer" only a criteria for questions in the form of "What is the biggest X?" Questions such as "how many carbon-12 atoms are in 12kg" would, until recently not have one unique answer because it was a measured quantity (which is actually at the root of why I asked the question). Questions in fluid mechanics often do not have one unique answer because there are many approaches to solving those problems, and each approach brings in different sources of error. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 16 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ If I ammended the question to say "... as of August 16, 2019," would that remove the concern of there being better answers in the future? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 16 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon That just makes the question useless. Of what interest would it be to a future visitor to hamstring that thread with that arbitrary cutoff date? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 16 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty This leads to the fascinating question of whether any meaningful scientific question could be answered with a certainty that future scientific endeavors will not invalidate it. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 16 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ "so such questions in practice degenerate into What are examples of big Xs?" which is just speculation, because in practice the question has not degenerated into that. Regardless, it is a very good question which I believe a lot of people would like to have an answer to. Also, are answers supposed to have a fixed ideal amount of votes that they should get? Why can't answers have varying amounts of votes as time goes by and different people ascertain the value of the answers to them? (as it is what actually happens in practice). In fact, all questions' and answers' validity are bound by time. $\endgroup$ – Nico Brenner Aug 19 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon I don't see "can any meaningful scientific question be answered with certainty for all future time" to be fascinating at all. The answer is trivially "no" - unless you try to cheat by defining mathematics as a science. $\endgroup$ – alephzero Aug 20 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero Then that should raise questions as to why a question would be closed because it failed to meet said criteria. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 20 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ I'm a bit confused about what you want to imply with the link to the Good List, Bad List post. That question never did get a definitive answer, but the point of the post was exactly to point out that questions like this one - technical in nature, limited in scope, and with a clear criterion for being a correct answer - don't at all share the problems of 'big list' questions. It was intended to open a discussion about changing Physics.SE's policy of closing any list-based question at all. Although such a discussion never really emerged, the post doesn't support your argument here. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Aug 21 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ Also, if this is intended as an argument that objective "what is the most" list type questions are incompatible with the Stack Exchange format, readers might be interested in taking a look at codegolf.stackexchange.com. On that site, every question has this format, and it seems to work okay. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Aug 21 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel Trying to pretend that codegolf is equivalent to the rest of the SE sites is disingenuous and just wrong. Codegolf is a drastically different site, with different goals and a different culture. The stuff that works there does not port elsewhere automatically. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 22 at 7:51
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I wasn't trying to pretend any such thing, and accusing me of doing so seems kind of odd, if not indeed disingenuous. I raised it as a counterexample, which obviously doesn't have to imply any kind of equivalence. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Aug 22 at 11:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel Then I don't understand what your comment was meant to add to the discussion. Yes, on other sites where things are different, things are different. What does the fact that big-list questions work on codegolf add to this discussion? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 22 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I am not sure, because the answer we are commenting on is unclear, but it might be read as trying to argue that questions of this particular form - "what is the most X," where X is objectively defined - are fundamentally unfit for the Stack Exchange format and cannot be made to work at all. If that is the claim then codegolf.SE is a counterexample to it, regardless of how much it differs from this site in all other respects. Of course, if that's not the claim then it's not relevant - but if you look at my comment again you'll see it's already enclosed in the appropriate "if". $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Aug 22 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel If you absolutely insist on the use of pedantic language, then the claim is that questions of that form are fundamentally unfit for the Stack Exchange format unless the site and its community mechanisms have been explicitly designed around that idea (as CodeGolf was, and PSE wasn't). The onus is, again, on you: what does the fact that big-list questions work on codegolf add to this discussion? Please don't dodge the question again (unless you want to rightly acknowledge that, in fact, it doesn't actually add anything here). $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 22 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think the tone of these comments is terribly appropriate and don't see much value in continuing the discussion further. I would just be repeating myself in any case. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Aug 22 at 16:58
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Well.. I contributed an answer, some have contributed other (better) answers, and I’m glad the question is there: I’m happy to discover some non-obvious answers from other contributors and it’s not as if I can just read the answer in Haliday-Resnik-Krane.

Pity the question is currently closed as “too broad”: it suppose it technically is too broad but IMO it still does increase the reference value of the site.

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  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't, though - it only would add value if it were accurate, and it can't be. It's too broad to be. I agree that it does give the perception of adding value, but it's an illusion. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 21 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty 23 upvotes right now is not an illusion (although this is not necessarily a reliable indicator). Yes questions of “what is the most” type are often problematic, buy I’m still happy to read about your non-answer link your comment to an answer on the main question. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Aug 21 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ The current score is obviously not an illusion. The perception that it is an indicator of the value it adds to the site is. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 21 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ it still does increase the reference value of the site The problem is that these questions inevitably lead to follow up questions : e.g. "Is X still the biggest/best Y ?" There is no end to this cycle. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Aug 26 at 5:29
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG agreed this is most annoying aspects of such questions. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Aug 26 at 10:48
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My answer here is not about whether this is a good Physics question, or even an on-topic question for this specific SE or it's rules. I am simply giving my observation about whether or not it is a good Stack Exchange question, and to me, the answer is NO.

If I come to this question when there is one answer, I will up-vote that answer, as I believe that is the real answer of all answers. Now a second answer is given. A second person comes in and up-votes the second answer, because it is a better one (shows more precision) and up-votes it. Both answers now have one vote. and so on. Some people may come in and vote the last, best, most precise answer. Some may come in later and up-vote it, while not down-voting their first up-vote. Some may up-vote ALL the answers, to award their writers for taking the time to submit them.

So, now which one is the best? Easy, the most precise. So it gets chosen. And two weeks later a new answer is given which is even more precise. Except the OP has moved on and no longer cares (or has the time for) about this question any more and the chosen answer isn't un-selected and a new one selected. and it happens again. and again.

This IS a big-list question, it really is. The OP says it's not because there should only be one answer. That is true, for that second in time, at least until a new one is discovered. And what if, what if there are two most-precise answers that are completely different, yet happen to have the exact same precision? Now which one is the best answer? Most votes? That might be one far down the list. Most "precise"? There are two of them.

I apologize for not being more concise in my answer, but "it is what it is."

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