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I thought I was being helpful, but a comment offering this advice was deleted and I don’t understand why.

The user had gotten a publication rejection, they had been ridiculed elsewhere, and their question had (correctly) been closed here as non-mainstream and strongly downvoted. In short, they were having a bad day. I thought that they should know that there is an e-print site with a liberal acceptance policy, because they want to publish ideas they’ve been working on for two years.

The whole point of viXra is to accept work rejected elsewhere: “It is inevitable that viXra will therefore contain e-prints that many scientists will consider clearly wrong and unscientific. However, it will also be a repository for new ideas that the scientific establishment is not currently willing to consider. … It is our belief that anybody who considers themselves to have done scientific work should have the right to place it in an archive in order to communicate the idea to a wide public.” What we think of the work is irrelevant.

The intended message was “We’re not the place for you, but there is another place where your unconventional ideas will be welcome.” I think this does no harm for physics, and is a personal kindness to such users, in line with our Be Kind policy.

Finally, the user explicitly asked for help on where to publish, writing “If anyone has advice on publishing, I'm all ears as well.”

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    $\begingroup$ (I'm not the mod who handled that comment) In what way exactly do you think it is helpful to tell people to publish on viXra? $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind Mod
    Commented May 29 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind I’ve edited the post to answer your question. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Commented May 29 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, vixra is not a publisher and should not be considered a substitute for peer review. It is better to think of it as a public online repository for storing documents (that, in large part, just happen to be scientific oriented) than anything else. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented May 30 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos Yes, I understand what viXra is and isn’t. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Commented May 30 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ If you understand what it is, why propose that as a place to put documents as opposed to say DropBox or even GitHub? $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented May 30 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos We don’t need to continue the discussion. I can see that there is no support for my position, so I won’t argue for it further. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Commented May 30 at 19:21

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I think I was the mod who deleted that comment. I did so based on my understanding that posting anything to viXra is likely to seriously damage someone's chance of being taken seriously in the theoretical physics community. So the comment struck me as both not comporting with what Stack Exchange comments are supposed to involve (looking for clarification or suggesting improvements to questions), which is something policed more tightly on Physics than some other stacks; and being a poor piece of as advice.

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    $\begingroup$ I share the understanding of viXra evidenced in this answer. My answer to "where should I publish?" has always been the counter-question, "where are you reading?" Folks who are reading widely will eventually find a publication where they look at the accepted papers and say, "I could write down my idea that well." That's when you look at acceptance guidelines. I once had someone tell me that their brilliant idea had come after they had read an article in Discover Magazine; they managed to talk themselves into understanding that they didn't really know the literature. $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Commented May 30 at 5:01
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    $\begingroup$ I have never recommended viXra to any user who, after I looked at their work, I believed had any chance of ever being taken seriously by the theoretical physics community. These users are having their work rejected by reputable journals for obvious reasons. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Commented May 30 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ I’m not talking about users with physics degrees who have some non-mainstream idea; I’m talking about outsiders fascinated by physics research but with no real understanding of what that involves and no awareness of what they don’t understand. They are not “reading widely” and have no interest in doing so, because they are typically too fixated on a particular idea that they’ve come up with. They should have a place where they can find other similar outsiders with the same hobby. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Commented May 30 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ Even a person with a terrible idea could benefit from exposure to better quality work. The problem with viXra is that even if they improve their understanding of physics, the article on viXra could do them harm in the future. It could damage job prospects in science or engineering fields. Many employers do web searches now for anything connected with job applicants. Better they post to a personal blog than viXra. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30 at 22:00
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    $\begingroup$ I don’t agree with this answer, but since I’m clearly out of step with the thinking of this community on how to Be Kind to non-mainstream users, I’ll stop mentioning viXra when dealing with them. Thanks to Buzz, rob, and ACuriousMind for explaining the moderators’ thinking on this. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Commented May 30 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with the reasoning here. Indeed posting to viXra can cause (sometimes permanent) damage to the poster's perception within certain communities, but this is for the poster to decide, not us. I agree that this warning needs to be delivered to the poster (and we can settle on a policy that any pointers to viXra must always include such a warning), but it is patronizing to take this decision away from our visitors. $\endgroup$ Commented May 31 at 17:34
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Just to say this out loud: the existence of viXra (and the possibility to post there) is not something that should be hidden from people.

I think it is perfectly acceptable to post comments mentioning this to new users, particularly those who (as seems to be the case here) are actively looking for venues in which to air their ideas.

As mentioned several times, indeed publication in viXra can cause (sometimes severe, sometimes permanent) damage to the career prospects and reputation of the author. However, this should not stop us from providing the information that viXra exists. Instead, it adds a responsibility on us to include such a discussion whenever viXra is mentioned (probably within the same comment). But such comments should be allowed.

To drill down a little bit: yes, indeed, viXra preprints can cause damage. But this will look very differently, e.g., to

  • an over-eager BSc student who is looking to go into research and will eventually want to take up an academic career, as opposed to
  • someone who is in their sixties, doing physics recreationally during their retirement, and simply wants somewhere to make their ideas public.

We do not know the OP's circumstances, and we should not make decisions for them. We do need to give them a complete set of information so that they can make an informed decision about their future, but the decision is for them to make.

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    $\begingroup$ I would say that, as the manager of a technical organization that hires technical folks, I would never bother to look on viXra to see if someone had ever posted anything there. So, the youthful exuberance of the over-eager BSc student will never impact my eventual consideration after they have a PhD. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 31 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ The discussion here seems to be focused mostly on reputational harm, but is that really the only kind of harm that viXra can inflict? Would it be appropriate to direct someone to a website about conspiracy theories from Politics Stack Exchange? $\endgroup$
    – user34722
    Commented Jun 2 at 3:20
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    $\begingroup$ @user34722 what other kind of harm are you thinking of? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 2 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ Directing someone to a source of substantial misinformation is, at the very least, not a neutral act. For example, a vulnerable BSc student could get derailed by Flat Earth theories and perpetual motion instead of learning true things that would serve them and others later in life. We can't actively hide the existence of viXra from people, but we shouldn't go out and tell them to go there either. $\endgroup$
    – user34722
    Commented Jun 3 at 1:03
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    $\begingroup$ @user34722 Your comment reads like you are proposing a blanket ban on any mention of viXra on this site, as a matter of policy. I would say that that is draconian and uncalled for. There is no need for policy bans because the scale does not call for it: the rate of relevant situations is probably in the single-digits-per-year, and those can be handled on a case-by-case basis. For the situation at issue here, the risk you mention is clearly not applicable to the OP (they are actively looking for somewhere to post). $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ We can settle on a set of things that should be mentioned whenever viXra is mentioned (including reputational harm, which comes with a mention of its general status and perception). But you are again taking agency away from the reader. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4 at 12:51
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Apologies for further belaboring the issue, but I want to make one more point that I don't see being discussed in the comments here; presumably the main point of Physics Stack Exchange is to point users to helpful, correct information about physics. Usually this comes in the form of writing answers to questions, but oftentimes people link to or ask for external references, and there are expectations on the quality of those sources. Presumably directing someone to a viXra posting in an answer would get that answer deleted. It doesn't seem like a leap to conclude that pointing a user to viXra in a comment is also inappropriate.

I understand why it seems kinder to direct the user to viXra than to just tell them that their ideas are incorrect and leave it at that, but I question whether the former option is really in the user's best interests in most cases. Do you really think that this does more good than harm?

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I've never been to viXra, but I imagine it's like usenet sci.physics.relativity, which the late Dr. VanFlandern correctly called "the wasteland ghetto where crackpot theories go to die."

Still, I refer both undereducated students and crazy people to the Usenet group, and there's nothing wrong with referring them to viXra either. No future physics student is going to abandon physics because they read dangerous treatises on the Flat Earth.

Let the crazy people argue their position there instead of here. The physics students will be exposed to the crazy people theories sooner or later anyway.

Finally -- though I hate to mention it and I probably wouldn't if I had actually seen viXra -- Because almost all the people who post misguided nonsense are very intelligent, there is always a non-zero chance that one of those crazy ideas is correct. No, don't pay attention to them. But there should be a place for those people to establish priority so they can receive credit many years from now.

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