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Yesterday I’ve run into a post and decided to give a pretty long answer to it.

My purpose was to post a thorough answer that could attract attention of many people who are not otherwise generally interested in physics . I was very glad for the question becoming hot network post, but today, about 3 hours ago, a moderator removed the post from hot network questions

  • It doesn’t appear to be off-topic or duplicate, since it wasn’t closed
  • Both the question and my answer got some upvotes and no downvotes

May I kindly ask, why should that post have been removed from HNQ?

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    $\begingroup$ Companion question on the network-wide Meta. $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Apr 2 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ From Math Meta, which also curates their HNQ: “[Q]uestions on the HNQ should reflect content as we want it, rather as picked by an algorithm … [T]he natural state of a question is that it is not on the HNQ list. Most questions will never get there.” $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Apr 2 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ For background, this SEDE query lists all threads manually removed from the HNQ list by moderators. By and large, there have been very few instances of complaints about removals, and (to my recollection) there has yet to be a case where a community consensus arises that the removal was wrong. As such, the existing list of removals can largely be treated as the community consensus of the types of questions (note: questions, not threads) that warrant manual removal from HNQ. $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Note also this query listing removed and not-removed HNQs together, which might be useful for analyzing our in-practice exclusion criteria. $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Apr 4 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ As a bit of a cynic about the current state of academic physics, it would appear that this post is about a topic too real and concrete to be considered proper by some. $\endgroup$
    – John Doty
    Apr 7 at 16:48

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I agree with the points previously made in the existing two answers, but I also recognize that you had useful and important motivations that should be given the right place to help the site grow.

Specifically, what is one to do when one sees...

  • a question that just got on the HNQ list,
  • which is on-topic, though maybe a bit marginally so,
  • which is low-quality and liable to rub a large fraction of site users the wrong way, but which nevertheless
  • offers a nice opportunity to write a clear and useful answer that will be a useful resource for the wider audience of the HNQ list?

The answer is simple: fix the question. If there are close-votes on it, edit it to address them and remove the concerns, and similarly so if there are problems voiced in the comments. If it looks low-grade, or homework-y, or engineering-y, or too "thin", or too poorly researched by the OP themselves, then fix those problems.

This is sometimes tricky, as it can end up requiring significant edits that could end up changing the original intent of the OP, or (more often) removing parts of it. This is ultimately a judgement call, but particularly when the parts that you are removing are the parts that make the question liable to downvotes or close-votes (which for the question at hand includes the engingeering-y parts with explicit code, and so on), I would say it is justified.

When doing this kind of surgery, it is often good to leave a courtesy comment explaining to OP that you have edited the post in ways that change the meaning, that they have the option to roll-back, and including a justified recommendation of why your version is better.

But, ultimately, looking at your posted answer, it certainly looks to have consumed quite a significant chunk of time and effort. For a low-quality starter question like the current one, I think it is reasonable to expect you to spend at least a small fraction of that effort on improving the question if you want to champion it, and particularly if you want to argue that it should act as a representative of the site to the wider SE audience that sees the HNQ listings.

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    $\begingroup$ This sounds legit. Thank you! I'll take your advice and will keep it in mind the next time I post. $\endgroup$
    – nicael
    Apr 6 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ @nicael glad to help! $\endgroup$ Apr 6 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ "liable to rub a large fraction of site users the wrong way" where is this objective rubometer and how can I get one? But seriously, how does one allow for rubbing of thousands of different community members when writing a post? If something can't be measured nor anticipated, how does the moderation team make these "rubbing" calls? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 7 at 5:26
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Homework-like questions are "liable to rub a large fraction of site users the wrong way." This site has an explicit close rule regarding homework-like questions. Questions that have been asked many times over in one form or another are also "liable to rub a large fraction of site users the wrong way." The question of concern falls into the latter camp. I saw the question of concern and decided to not comment, downvote, or even to vote to close. I knew it would be closed in short order (and it was). $\endgroup$ Apr 7 at 10:10
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen questions that have close reasons don’t require a “rub detector” at all, and perhaps don’t even require long discussions in meta. Since there is such a big discussion here, it seems there’s something bigger than a simple close reason being discussed. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 7 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh I don't think the removal of such a low-quality question from HNQ is at all controversial, and I don't think anybody here is arguing that it (i.e. the question itself) was low-quality. There is some level to which one only develops an intuition for what might to badly (and badly enough to require kicking off of HNQ) over time and experience on the site. But the core message remains: if you want to target HNQ, and you perceive any issues with the question, it is important to fix them at the same time as answering. $\endgroup$ Apr 7 at 14:34
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The “Hot Network Questions” system is an automated algorithm based on views, votes, and perhaps some other secret sauces. From this chatbot output you can see that most HNQs on Physics are first promoted when they have just a couple of upvotes. Students of physics and statistics will recognize that the timing of the first few upvotes will be susceptible to shot noise, and may not accurately predict the timing of upvotes as a question is viewed by more people.

The effect of the HNQ is therefore to show questions on the site quasi-randomly to two different audiences. The “hot” questions are shown to everyone who browses the SE network, while the much larger volume of “cold” questions is shown to users who choose to visit Physics specifically. These two groups of users have different ideas about what sorts of questions best represent the character of our community. We have the ability to remove questions from the “hot” list in order to privilege the opinions of our regular users.

The question you have linked here is okay. When the first accelerometer-equipped laptops appeared, the condition $|a|\approx0$ was used as a trigger to move the read heads away from the hard disks, which made them much more likely to survive being dropped than laptops without accelerometers. That application is kind of an “aha” moment the first time you see it; it might have warranted a patent. It’s less important now that solid-state storage is more affordable, because phones and laptops now have fewer moving parts to break when they suddenly decelerate upon hitting the floor, but it’s still interesting.

But your linked question isn’t a great question. A person who has spent a month in a physics class should have learned that an object in free-fall has zero acceleration. We get a lot of questions on our site from people who have been studying physics for about a month and are working through the process of kinematics. And that takes us to the difference between the two communities.

What makes our community work are its regular users: people who are interested in browsing the list of new questions, recognizing questions where they have some unique insight, and writing great answers. We have a great community here, with frequent and prolific contributors who have deep knowledge in their domains and a knack for explaining their deep knowledge clearly. But like any community, there is some amount of churn. People have life changes and move on. New people find the site and get interested enough to join. And if a new user with deep domain knowledge were to happen upon our site and see a front page full of freshman-physics questions, they might reasonably decide to move on past us. Teaching freshman physics is an interesting and valuable experience, but doing freshman physics homework is an experience with diminishing returns.

Your linked answer is a good one. It represents a lot of work, and has a lot of upvotes. Compare with the score distributions for our prolific answerers: our users who write more than a dozen answers per month tend to average a score of +2 or +3. The decision to exclude your post from our partially-curated list of “hot” questions is about the question, not about the answer. The question of “hotness” is different from the question of on-topic-ness (addressed by closure) and also different from the question of usefulness (addressed by votes). You shouldn’t interpret it as a criticism.

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  • $\begingroup$ "The decision to exclude your post from our partially-curated list of “hot” questions is about the question, not about the answer. The question of “hotness” is different from the question of on-topic-ness (addressed by closure) and also different from the question of usefulness (addressed by votes). You shouldn’t interpret it as a criticism." I feel like this is a really key point that should be at the top of your answer here. $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ Looks like it's better for this site to be excluded from HNQ and be done with it. It does not feel good or welcoming to get kicked of the HNQ, after you enter it. It's like getting some shiny prize, just to see it taken away brutally, without any reason given. Not a great motivation for new users. $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ @ShadowWizardSaysNoMoreWar I respectfully disagree. First, plenty of questions stay on the HNQ until they age out naturally. Second, even questions without any intervention will blip on and off of the HNQ as their relative “hotness” evolves. To feature a question for a definite period of time, set a bounty. The featuring provided by the HNQ is fickle by nature: more like noticing a rainbow than like finding a pot of gold. $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Apr 2 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ @rob how does it make a valid point in this specific scenario? my aim was to provide an answer to interest a broad audience, which is only possible when the question is in HNQ. Removing the post from HNQ essentially invalidates my efforts as almost nobody would read the post then $\endgroup$
    – nicael
    Apr 2 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ @nicael Nothing has been invalidated. Your answer is still there for anyone to see. $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ @nicael, you are using “valid” and “invalidates” in ways that seem inconsistent to me. But it sounds to me like you may have been writing for the “hot” community instead of the core of the site. That happens to all of us, and the results can be quite uneven. I’ve certainly submitted an answer, thought, “well! my magnum opus! a genius example of science communication!”, only to have the post earn two upvotes, a downvote, and a comment that says “lol wut.” Meanwhile my current top-scoring answer is a toss-off about how a drying puddle is like a pan of brownies. C’est la vie. $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Apr 2 at 20:38
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I removed it from the HNQ queue because the post seems like a hybrid between 2 (admittedly commonly asked) questions on Phys.SE:

  1. A technical hardware/software question about how to use an electronic device to measure acceleration.

  2. A homework-like question about elementary kinematics/projectile motion.

This does not seem like the kind of post that should be promoted in the HNQ queue. At the time of my action the post had already attracted 2 close-votes from the community.

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    $\begingroup$ The question itself is pretty basic, but I doubt that such answers are provided every day to this kind of questions. I mean, in terms of physics they were all answered a ton of times, but how about popular explanations? This is the answer which can attract interest to physics of people even though they are by no mean physicists $\endgroup$
    – nicael
    Apr 2 at 10:54
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    $\begingroup$ I must misunderstand HNQ, but how doesn’t that qualify for HNQ queue? The Stack Exchange network lists multiple sites, there people who’re interested in programming, linguistics, cooking and so on. I believe that the question about elementary physics and a popular answer are the most appropriate for HNQ as it can attract interest of larger audience, compared to more complex questions, that could interest just a narrow group people. Doesn’t it work this way? $\endgroup$
    – nicael
    Apr 2 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ It's hardly homework if the OP already knows what to do (the phone is falling when the value falls bellow 2). They just want an explanation of the physics of the phenomena to which they already have an answer. $\endgroup$
    – user400188
    Apr 3 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ @user400188 On PSE something being "homework" goes beyond only things assigned as homework or only questions the OP does not know how to solve. $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist How does the homework policy apply beyond questions the OP does not know how to solve? That sounds like everything, since an OP would only ask a question if they didn’t know how to solve it. $\endgroup$
    – user400188
    Apr 4 at 5:32
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    $\begingroup$ @user400188 I'm just going off of what you said. "It's hardly homework if the OP already knows what to do". So it seems like you think a necessary condition for something here to be homework is that the OP needs to not know "what to do". I was just saying that isn't a necessary condition on PSE. Sorry for the confusion! $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist " homework goes beyond only things assigned as homework or only questions the OP does not know how to solve." Where's the upper limit for describing something as homework question? $\endgroup$ Apr 15 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ @AdilMohammed You can start with the tag description. There are also many meta posts about it $\endgroup$ Apr 15 at 17:32
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@rob's and Qmechanic's answers highlight an important issue, how to best keep who happy?


I wrote the following comment under @EmilioPisanty's answer before deleting it seeing the other answers and seeing that educational accelerometry is persona non grata here because it might scare away "the good users"

Also, a large fraction of the planet is not rich with fancy laboratory equipment and can benefit from teaching physics with cell phones whenever possible. See for example ProfRob's How come a mobile phone signal is blocked by aluminium foil, but Wi-Fi gets through? (thought that's not because Prof.R is poor) I fear catering to the potentially vocal rubbable few at the expense of less rich people benefitting from a great physics teaching opportunity might be revisited, i.e. I think the question is on-topic and should not have been closed.

I love physics and though I love Stack Exchange, have asked 5,000+ questions among a variety of sites and have 500+ HNQ's and have no problem asking Physics-related questions in sites like Chemistry, Astronomy, and Matter Modeling SE. But I find Physics SE's ambience (for lack of a better word) just too oppressive, and I think I know the reason why this has happened and was probably deemed necessary at the moment:

Physics SE is too big!

See this answer to How to Help the Physics.SE grow (member-wise)? Qualitatively as well as Quantitatively.

The reason there is constant hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth is that there are too many extremes that folks here are trying to keep happy at the same time.

I'm convinced there is a optimum range of sizes of Stack Exchange sites (measured by question rate, site scope and user base volume) and sites like Stack Overflow and Physics SE are substantially larger than the optimum size for site happiness.

It's time to stop thinking that bigger = better always, and this site needs to grow to improve.

Instead I recommend that some serious consideration be made to splitting the site and opening that discussion up to the community by the moderation team posting an exploratory question.

There are several axes along which the cleavage can take place, and an exploratory question in meta by the moderation team can ask the community to think about that.

Don't be scared; please consider giving it a try!

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    $\begingroup$ My participation at physics.SE and at Stack Overflow have dropped off precisely because I too perceive those sites as "too big". The question I was thinking about answering several hours ago (but was too busy at the time) is almost impossible to find when I do have the time to answer the question. $\endgroup$ Apr 7 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen To save interesting questions for later, click the ribbon-with-star symbol below the voting buttons for a question. The question will be saved to your profile in the section “Bookmarks.”. $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Apr 7 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ @rob I'm pretty sure DH knows how SE works. "Here's a cardboard box; put everything potentially important into it, and then you'll always know where everything is." In practice, for many of us, that scheme doesn't work well. It would be great if bookmarks had tabs like "tomorrow", "next week", "some day" and "for future reference" just for example, perhaps even with the ability to add timed reminders. But right now it's like trying to organize your desk by moving everything into a big cardboard box - not much improvement. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 7 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @rob Anyway, what makes the site too big to me is the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth that comes from trying to do balance making it look nice for the "big fish" the site hopes to retain to write quality answers while at the same time not wanting to alienate question askers and also at the same time maintain a ~70 question (3 pages) per day question rate. It's that absurdly high Q rate that's "why we can't have nice things" in my opinion. Split it up and calmer, more happy communities can form. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 7 at 19:00

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