# Why is a question about gravity from a charged capacitor and its answers so much better received than one about gravity from virtual photons?

An example:

Why does Gravitational field from virtual photons; does $\rho c^2 = \frac{1}{2} \epsilon_0 |E|^2$? ~230 views have zero votes (+0/-0), and both good answers have only my single upvote, while the question If I suddenly store a lot of energy in a small space, this induces spacetime curvature. Does that create gravitational potential energy? gets +7 votes and two highly upvoted answers?

(A charged capacitor with an electric field inside might be seen as similar to a volume filled with an excess of virtual photons)

The above is one example, but I often see that questions of the class "Why is there momentum?" answerable with multi-pargraph prose explanataions are far better received and answered than those requiring the use of math to answer.

Are wordy questions and wordy answers more appreciated here in Physics Stack Exchange than those that use (and need) equations?

• My personal feeling is that questions that let us "sound smart" when answering tend to be the most welcome, but am I just being cynical?
– uhoh
Feb 26 at 10:25
• I have to agree with you. As well, experiments and demonstrations tend to fare not so well. Example: my answer to the question of whether purple, as a mixture of red and blue, can be separated by a prism: physics.stackexchange.com/a/754027/313612. I am still scratching my head about the comment, under the higher upvoted answer, that pure purple is 380 nm. I am certain I cannot see that near UV wavelength and there is no pure purple anyway. ;-(
– Ed V
Mar 10 at 1:58
• @EdV for that, I think a new SE site, something like "Optics and Photonics SE" would be quite helpful.
– uhoh
Mar 10 at 2:01

1. Asked about the writing process of A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking famously recounted that one of his editors had told him that he should assume that every equation would halve the number of sales. Hawking ended up using no equations at all.

While this is just an anecdote, there is of course a very real effect that questions about specific equations or mathematical results start out with a smaller potential audience than those who do not directly involve mathematics, since there are certainly users here proficient in the English language but not proficient in understanding mathematics.

2. Of the two questions you link, the more successful one became a Hot Network Question ("HNQ", as visible in the post history), so comparing the views and votes between the two questions is essentially pointless: One of them has been exposed to a far larger potential audience than the other, and the HNQ audience also consists mostly of non-physicists and non-regular users of physics.SE. The votes and views of HNQ questions arguably do not in any real sense reflect the appreciation "Physics Stack Exchange" has for that question.

See this meta post for more discussion of the effect HNQ has on our site specifically and also note that your own question was never eligible to become HNQ because it contains MathJax in the title.

• As an aside: I do think the HNQ question is actually better than the question about "virtual photons" (the misunderstood notion of virtual particles seems to me to be completely irrelevant to the actual question) and so deservedly more popular, but in order for this meta question to be useful I don't think we should focus on comparing the specific merits of the questions.
– ACuriousMind Mod
Feb 26 at 10:57
• as an aside to your aside there's a moderator who edited my title and inserted MathJax where I had built the equation using normal characters. This blocked my question from participating in HNQ, as was done in this question (see in the main meta: In 2022, what actually happens to a candidate question for the HNQ when MathJax is in the title? (e.g. edit changing n=25 to "$n=25$")) addressing the aside directly I think capacitors to be complete irrelevant to the actual question, but that's me.
– uhoh
Feb 26 at 11:45
• @uhoh Surely what matters is that you are satisfied with the quality of the question and the quality of answers posted thus far. You can always offer a bounty of you want to increase visibility. Feb 26 at 13:03
• @ZeroTheHero " Surely what matters is that you are satisfied..." there are several things that matter at the same time, not just one. Yes one might be something like the product of the answer quality and visibility, but suggesting the onus should be on the OP to be bountying answers willy-nilly to get there seems sort-of backwards to me.
– uhoh
Feb 26 at 14:02
• @uhoh sorry possibly I was not so clear. There are 1000s of questions on the site, and visibility depends on a number of quasi-random factors, such as how many people are on the site at the precise time when you post, how quickly other questions are posted etc. You can’t control that. In the end, you are either satisfied or not with the answers you have. If you are not satisfied the point of bounties is precisely to break through the regular hub-hub and provide one week of visibility through exclusivity. Feb 26 at 14:23
• @ZeroTheHero I'm trying to find out "Why... a question about gravity from a charged capacitor and its answers (is) so much better received than one about gravity from virtual photons?" Any thoughts on that? If I can understand the underlying principle it will be helpful.
– uhoh
Feb 26 at 14:48
• @uhoh I'm not sure what you expect here: There is no "underlying principle" to the way votes are cast on SE sites; every user is free to cast up- and downvotes on questions and answers as they see fit. Additionally, there is no mechanism that would guarantee a particular set of users sees any particular question: You can have two almost identical questions and one of them upvoted to +X and the other without any upvote at all simply because the X people who upvoted the one question didn't see the other by pure chance.
– ACuriousMind Mod
Feb 26 at 14:55
• @ACuriousMind there certainly could be an underlying principe to why question pairs that address the same underlying physics might experience very different levels of attention. There could be more than one. And things don't become simple just by invoking the word "simply" in a comment. Anyway I think capacitors are more popular here than virtual photons. Let's see how others answer.
– uhoh
Feb 26 at 14:59