This has to do with this question


I raised my main concerns in the comments there. To summarize:

  1. the question as stated is too argumentative.

  2. it is easily seen to have no real content and the answer need not be much longer than "your question doesn't make sense because it's based on wrong assumptions". Namely, assumptions that science journalist know what they are writing about. In general you'll be on the safe side if you assume they don't.

Of course, this is not to say that there is no relevant physics going on. Just that the question completely misses the point. So what to do with them? Just close them or else encourage OP to rewrite them so that they ask for some real physics?


I already wrote this in a comment on the question in question, but I actually prefer to do both. Questions can be edited after they are closed, so I think we get the best of both worlds by closing the question temporarily and asking the OP to edit it into a more precise form. (Alternatively, 2k+ users and mods could edit it themselves if it is clear what needs to be done to fix it up... though I'm generally wary of making major changes to other peoples' posts without their consent).

  • $\begingroup$ Sounds fine to me. And yeah, I am also reluctant to edit anything besides formatting and typos. $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ good, practical solution :) $\endgroup$ – Robert Filter Dec 20 '10 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ @David, Marek: In my opinion you shoudn't restraint yourself so much when it comes to edit other people posts. Fortunately, Physics provides a fair amount of leeway in objective changes you can make safely. Besides it's always possible to go back to the unchanged version of the post if the need arises. $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Dec 20 '10 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Robert: perhaps. Do you think there might be some SE guidelines about DOs and DON'Ts of editing? I guess something like that should exist. I'll try to look for them in the meantime. $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ For the moment this MSO question is best I found: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/11474/… $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Marek: Actually, I think that if you follow common sense rules (as the ones you found out in MSO), you would be ok. In part the reason of gaining the privilege of modifying somebody else's post is because when you're at that point, you are trusted by the community. If a mistake is made, then the post is rolled back. $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Dec 20 '10 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Robert: being trusted by the community is one thing and not knowing what I should and shouldn't do is another :-) But I guess you'll right. $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 19:35

I think we should encourage people to ask specific questions with specific answers and to try to avoid questions that are designed to lead to "lively discussion." In my experience you can't have a productive discussion of an advanced physics topic (like string theory) in this kind of format. I would really like to avoid dragging this site into the String Wars and it seems this question is designed to do precisely that.


Dear Marek,

I think that such questions can be a very nice starting point for a lively discussion. One should not assume that any person interested in physics has a (scientific) background giving him the chance to actually raise questions interesting for the community.

We should give those people the chance to see what is wrong with the question and correct the (maybe hidden) wrong assumptions as you mentioned. I remember that the question concerning common false beliefs was really popular and I guess one can still give very nice and clear answers to questions that might be somehow conceptually wrong. Since those questions might arise often from the general public, they are, to my mind, welcome here.

You see, I believe in the "There is no stupid question, only stupid answers"-paradigm :) Sincerely


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your insight, Robert. I don't subscribe to that paradigm though :-) $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ Are there examples of productive questions of this type on the site so far? Generally, I find those conversations fruitless. Once I tell people I studied physics, they hit me with so many "Doesn't Schrodinger's cat prove the existence of free will?" and "Didn't that surfer dude guy solve all the problems with string theory and stuff?" questions that I politely beg off from answering. If I try to answer, the ensuing discussion usually just leads to dissatisfaction on the part of the asker because I'm "not explaining it well enough" and impatience on my part because they're "not listening". $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Dec 20 '10 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark: Good point, of course. Nevertheless I am thinking of people outside from this site trying to answer a similar question on their own using google. They will have the possibility to see a high quality answer to their question. And, further, I think there are other people asking such questions as those you described :) $\endgroup$ – Robert Filter Dec 20 '10 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ I totally agree that a good resource should exist. The question is: Is this forum's goal to be that resource, and if so, is it effective at accomplishing that goal? We would need a couple of examples of places where someone has come in with a vague question based on pop-physics exposure, gets strong, clear responses, and indicates that they've come away having learned something meaningful about the problem. $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Dec 20 '10 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark: Thank you for your further explanations. It might indeed be better for the site to stick to a somehow strict policy. Later on, it might also be a good idea to loosen it a little if our community is somehow big enough to handle such questions effectively. $\endgroup$ – Robert Filter Dec 20 '10 at 9:30

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