Recently, Noldorin has closed three questions that I've noticed:

They are a question about using household devices to experiment with electromagnetism , econophysics, and whether a certain definable quantity has a physical importance.

In each case, the asker of the question believed the question was appropriate for the site. None of these were trolling, spam, or other flagrant violations of the site's purpose. As David Zaslavsky and mbq have pointed out to me, moderators cannot "vote to close", they can only close questions or leave them, and so their decisions are important.

The econophysics question was reopened, but the other two are still closed as of right now. We should be working to decide communally what the scope of the site is, and what questions are off-topic. Instead, we have posters whose questions are being quickly shut down, even when there are a number of people here who believe they are relevant questions, and want to either provide an answer or at least follow the discussion.

At this early stage of the site, moderators should only close questions that are advertisements ("Why haven't you purchased my self-published pamphlet?", clear trolling ("Why are all physicists so full of themselves?"), or egregiously off-topic, ("Who is your favorite Rainbow Brite character?").

When moderators want to close questions that don't fall into these categories, I request they first post a comment explaining their desire to close, then wait twelve hours or so to hear if there are objections before closing, at least at this early stage of the site when we are not finished defining the site's scope.

Edit After hearing comments from Robert and David, it seems appropriate for moderators to close questions quickly due to the "broken window" effect. My request becomes one that I'm sure the moderators are already doing - just to stay abreast of the discussions on meta about which sorts of questions are appropriate and back of the consensus of the community.

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    $\begingroup$ Moderators don't have the option to vote to close. If we cast a close vote, it's binding, period. $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 16 '10 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ @David Thanks for clarifying that. I will edit the question. $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Dec 16 '10 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ Technically, they are voting to close from a system perspective, it's just that their vote is binding, but it is still registered as a close vote none-the-less. $\endgroup$ – casperOne Dec 9 '12 at 15:42

First, moderator votes are always binding. There's no "vote to close."

Moderators have a difficult task, particularly early in the site's development. Philosophically speaking, they are asked to act with great restraint, acting only as the human exception handler for egregious problems.

On the other hand  — particularly early on — moderators are asked to act quickly and decisively (as a sort of community self-moderation by proxy) when there are not enough members to perform routine policing and cleanup duties. I try — as best as I am able to determine these things — to pick users who have an above-average understanding of the philosophy that drives these sites. Most often moderators have to act decisively in the interest of keeping the site from going off in the wrong direction; fixing broken windows quickly:

Broken Window: It’s pretty clear now that the broken windows theory applies to community sites as well. The theory is that minor forms of bad behavior encourage worse ones: that a neighborhood with lots of graffiti and broken windows becomes one where robberies occur. I was living in New York when Giuliani introduced the reforms that made the broken windows theory famous, and the transformation was miraculous. And I was a Reddit user when the opposite happened there, and the transformation was equally dramatic.

But moderators are not perfect; they can make mistakes, misread the situation, or simply be on the minority side of an opinion. If a binding vote does not seem in the best interest of the site, raise the issue in meta. That is one of the primary purposes of meta. But be considerate and be respectful. Some issues simply have no wide-spread consensus, and sometimes you simply have to concede and agree to disagree.

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    $\begingroup$ Good post, Robert. We have several meta conversations on which questions are appropriate on Physics in progress, and we'll continue to post them as new issues arise. Thank you for summarizing the situation accurately and helpfully. $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Dec 16 '10 at 21:33

I've also seen a couple of questions closed today that I found quite thought provoking. They could have drawn interesting answers.

They were "Weight of earth" and "The vjazanka draw problem"

Admittedly there were some problems in the English of the questions but those could have been fixed easily. The questions might have drawn answers about mass and energy in relativity, especially general relativity that would have been quite interesting and led to some nice insights for the question askers, but the moderators closed them very quickly.

Frankly, I wonder if the moderators know enough physics to understand the subtleties in those questions.

I think they should at least wait for a few up/down votes before closing. It is very off-putting when you are thinking up an interesting answer and then the question is just closed without the moderators even giving an explanation about why they closed it other than "not a proper question". Without an explanation it is difficult to dispute the closure.

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    $\begingroup$ In the case of "the vjazanka draw problem" it was not a matter of not knowing enough physics, it was a matter of not knowing enough Russian. Hopefully that isn't a requirement for being a moderator ;-) anyway now that Kostya pointed out what the question really meant, I reopened it. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jan 21 '11 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ Also, if a question is closed without a reason being given, you can always post a comment asking for further explanation, or go to the chat room and try to track down the moderator who closed it. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jan 21 '11 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for reopening that question. $\endgroup$ – Philip Gibbs - inactive Jan 22 '11 at 13:50

This is something I've been particularly concerned about so here are my 2 cents from the peanut gallery :)

Consider this question by @andrea on the "linearity of quantum mechanics". One of the comments is by @Peter Shor - who I'm sure (no pun intended) doesn't need introduction. He says:

What's wrong with this question? (Aside from being really difficult to answer properly.) – Peter Shor Nov 22 at 21:21

When questions such as @Andrea's are closed right away you are doing a disservice to the community, by cutting off any chance people have of expressing their views on it. Some will say that such questions belong to metaphysics or philosophy. However, physics is NOT mathematics. The word "physics" comes from the latin for "Natural Philosophy" - a point that most physicists seem to be unaware of! In physics the most intriguing and important questions often have some philosophical content and cannot be framed according to some algorithm or be answered by one.

This site has the potential for becoming an invaluable tool for the physics community. Its revolutionary potential for encouraging contact among students and researchers around the world is self-evident. By adopting far too rigid a criterion for when a question should be closed we are keeping physics.se from fulfilling its potential.

In order to turn this more into an answer than a rant, here are some guidelines I'd suggest moderators use when deciding to close questions:

  1. Err on the side of caution: If you're not sure if you should close a question, don't close it. Instead note your objections in a comment and wait for a response from either another moderator or the questioner.

  2. Be generous: You are a moderator presumably because you have a good understanding of the basic notions of physics. This, by itself and barring any evidence to the contrary, puts you above most other users in terms of credibility and competence. Therefore use your position of power magnanimously. The question might sound nonsensical, but sometimes that is because the questioner is not able to frame the words correctly. And English is by no means native to the majority of physicists. Your duty is not to keep out "the huddled masses yearning to break free" (from the chains of official dogma), but to provide guidance to those in need of it.

  3. Be Humble: For every smart person in this world, there is someone smarter out there. Always be aware that your own understanding can never be complete. Always be aware of the limits of your knowledge and the depths of your ignorance. There is no such thing as a question that is "too dumb" to ask.

  4. Be Brave: Sometimes the best of us ask the worst of questions. Do not base your decision to close on the reputation of the questioner. If having given the question the benefit of doubt according to guidelines #1,#2 and #3, if you still feel it should be closed, then do so regardless of the questioner's standing.

  5. Be professional: Nobody is immune to feeling slighted or being taken for granted. Physicists in particular are know to have large and sensitive egos. Do not base a decision to close on any personal feelings you might have about the questioner or the question. As Voltaire said: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"

To summarize, in judging any question use exercise restraint, generosity, humility, courage and professionalism. Is that too much to ask :-)

  • $\begingroup$ "...you are doing a disservice to the community, by cutting off any chance people have of expressing their views on it" - not true. That's what comments are for. Also re: guideline #1, it kind of defeats the point of closing if we just leave a comment and wait. But you make some good points. (I know I've closed the last three questions to be asked on the main site, but I think those were all justified, and one of them will hopefully be edited and reopened as soon as we hear from the OP. I don't expect to be normally closing many questions.) $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 21 '10 at 4:46
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    $\begingroup$ Hi @David. Thanks for the feedback. #1 probably should just be "If you're not sure if you should close a question, don't close it." The comment-and-wait part is self-defeating as you say. $\endgroup$ – Deepak Vaid Dec 21 '10 at 5:37
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    $\begingroup$ @space_cadet: these are nice principles to have in mind in general (so even for non-moderators and general discussion). And it's all too easy to forget about them sometimes. +1 $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 21 '10 at 9:38
  • $\begingroup$ thanks @marek ..... $\endgroup$ – Deepak Vaid Dec 22 '10 at 6:51

This can't be done -- mods have only supervotes that close instantly. We have asked to give us normal votes also, but this was rejected by the SE team.

If you disagree with the moderator decision, flag it! Then we would all try to settle such case.

  • $\begingroup$ Okay, thanks for that information. $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Dec 16 '10 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ Did they give any reason for rejecting your proposal? $\endgroup$ – Deepak Vaid Dec 21 '10 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ @space It was not mine, credit goes to other mods. Apparently the reason was that mixing normal and super capabilities would decrease our impact on other users. $\endgroup$ – user68 Jan 23 '11 at 9:25

When moderators want to close questions that don't fall into these categories, I request they first post a comment explaining their desire to close, then wait twelve hours or so to hear if there are objections before closing, at least at this early stage of the site when we are not finished defining the site's scope.

I don't think this is practical. If a question should be closed, it's best to close it immediately so that everyone knows this is not the kind of question that goes on the site. Otherwise, people will answer it and discuss it and it'll start to look more legitimate than it really is. I'd rather have us define the scope of the site in advance, then moderators will know what questions can be closed as off-topic without stirring up so much controversy.

  • $\begingroup$ Okay, in light of the role of moderators laid out by Robert Cartaino, I agree with you. I guess then my request is just that mods stay abreast of the various meta discussions about what posts are appropriate (which I'm sure all mods are doing already). $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Dec 17 '10 at 6:02
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, I always keep an eye on these discussions. I think it's great that we're getting all these questions about what's appropriate, otherwise I'd feel pretty clueless (even more than I do now, I mean) about what should get closed and what shouldn't. If anything I wish we'd gotten into this subject more actively earlier. $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 17 '10 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ Well, the "if a question should be closed" is the problematic part, no? And I think it depends on one's view of what the site should be like. Questions by nonphysicists who are confused might be perfectly legitimate, if they offer a chance to give an informative answer. But if the goal of the site is to have higher-level discussion, one might want to close them. Noldorin seems to me to be particularly ruthless about this, but it's not clear to me that there's a clear community consensus about where to draw the line. $\endgroup$ – Matt Reece Jan 21 '11 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ If people are answering it, then it would appear that it is legitimate. $\endgroup$ – Carl Brannen Feb 9 '11 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Carl: Actually, in my experience most questions will collect answers regardless of whether they're appropriate for the site or not. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 9 '11 at 7:35

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