As the moderator election 2012 is in progress, users (above 300 rep.) are invited to nominate themselves in the election. So, some users will ask themselves, "Could I become a moderator?"

I strongly believe that these four lines don't necessarily answer their questions...

A moderator

  • is patient and fair
  • leads by example
  • shows respect for their fellow community members in their actions and words
  • is open to some light but firm moderation to keep the community on track and resolve (hopefully) uncommon disputes and exceptions

What exactly are the basic needs for physics users to become moderators?

  1. Should they be experts in at least one of the fields of Physics (could be determined easily by reputation & badges)?

  2. Could a 300 rep. user (who helps the community through meta) participate & be elected as a moderator?

  3. Why does "moderator attention flags", "participation in meta" (along with its Q&A votes), etc. count during an election? (Do they sort you by ranking ?)

I read all the answers. All are amazing. I got some new facts. Thanks to all, guys. I believe that the moderator cheat sheet would be very useful for a new moderator...


5 Answers 5


A good moderator will be someone who does the behind-the-scenes tasks like editing, flagging, and leaving helpful comments, even when it gets in the way of answering.

A good moderator knows the community well enough to know who is knowledgeable and who isn't, and use the former people's comments (along with input from other moderators) to guide decisions. You can often read the response to a post to get a pretty good idea of whether it's on topic/appropriate or not, even without necessarily knowing the topic of the post itself.

A good moderator recognizes the importance of rules, and has the self-control not to go around breaking them even when it seems like the right thing to do in the moment. (At least not unilaterally.)

A good moderator cares about stopping or preventing disruptive behavior, not punishing it.

A good moderator is a good communicator and knows how to be non-confrontational at all times (in public at least).

A good moderator tries to make their own job unnecessary - as in teaching the community how to moderate itself (here I mean editing etc. not just dealing with disruptive behavior).

While anyone with 300 reputation can nominate themselves, I don't know that a user with 300 reputation would know the community well enough to be effective.

Also, the statistics presented like flags and meta participation show whether any individual user has a history of taking the kinds of actions that most of the moderation job consists of.


Meta participation and flag counts are there for informational purposes.

Believe it or not, moderating a Q&A site on The Internet is not a particularly glamorous job. You don't get money for nothing, or chicks for free. You might get a branded Sharpie. You'll probably get insulted by folks who don't see 90% of what you do and think you're hanging around just to pick on them.

Flags are, for the most part, invisible. Meta participation is only visible to folks who bother reading meta. Both represent the sort of dirty, boring janitorial work that makes up most of what moderators spend their time doing: responding to cries for assistance and providing help and support to others in the community.

Chances are, when you go to vote you'll vote for the folks with a big Reputation number next to their name. This is understandable. It's also somewhat misguided: why would you ask someone who's doing a great job answering questions to drop that and spend their time settling squabbles?

Flags and meta posts give you some other numbers... You might also be interested in: http://elections.stackexchange.com/#physics.stackexchange

  • $\begingroup$ Hello Shog, That link was indeed beautiful. Thank you $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ I get chicks for free. Or at least I have been since all these chickens moved in $\endgroup$
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 22:05

I was in a similar position during the time of the Chemistry pro tem moderator appointments. I clearly stated my unease with not having more than an advanced high-school level understanding of Chemistry, and I was told (repeatedly) that it wouldn't matter much.

As far as my experience moderating Chem goes, not being familiar with the ins and outs of Chem doesn't harm my effectiveness as a moderator. It's never really needed. In cases where there's a question that I don't understand at all and have no clue what to do with (happened once or twice), I just ask the other two mods. But generally, even if I don't know enough chemistry to understand the question fully, I can still determine whether or not it's a good fit for the site. The other moderator tasks (flagging, etc) require even less knowledge of the topic, so no troubles there.

But, Chemistry is a much smaller site. So there may be a need to have a good enough level of Physics to be effective as a moderator here. Since the moderators here don't unilaterally close questions as much, not much Physics knowledge is required on the "closing" front. While resolving content disputes, one may need to have an expert-level understanding of the topic involved. The few content disputes I've seen here that require mod attention were of a pretty esoteric topic--there's a low probability any moderator would be proficient in that zone. So, my conclusion is still that we don't need experts to be moderators--just people familiar enough with the topic.

What's more important is that the users are familiar with the site policies and have been around for a while.

Should they be an expert in atleast one of the fields in Physics (could be determined easily by reputation & badges)

Answered above. Also, rep/badges!=expertise, rep is a rough measure of community trust and participation. Which is actually what I feel we need in moderators -- but this doesn't mean that you should vote by rep (Remember, rep is a rough measure).

Could a 300 rep. user (who helps the community through meta) participate & be elected as a mod. ?

Iffy. If the user is active on meta, that's pretty good. If the user has been active (>2k) on some other sites (not including SO), then the user is probably knowledgeable of SE policies. So, a 300 rep user can make a good mod, as long as s/he is familiar enough with the SE model and policies. Though <1k rep generally does mean that the user is probably not that familiar with the local site rules and community.

Why does "moderator attention flags", "participation in meta" (along with its Q&A votes), etc. count during an election? (Do they sort you by ranking ?)

For the purposes of sorting:no. During nomination, the users are sorted by "time nominated", most recent at the top. During the next two phases, the posts are sorted randomly on reload.

These stats are there to help voters rank the nominees at a glance. Meta participation and flags show the user's participation in community building and cleanup, which is pretty essential for a mod. A more robust version of these stats can be found here

  • $\begingroup$ How do you determine if a question belongs on the site if you have no clue what the OP is asking about? In such a case it can be very easy to make a wrong decision which everyody who knows the topic of the site disagrees with. For example it would not be an idea to shoot down questions (for example about fundamental physics) just because one does not understand them and call them esoteric and off topic ... $\endgroup$
    – Dilaton
    Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: Trust me, it's pretty easy to tell if something is Chemistry or not (when it comes to site overlap, then it becomes harder--"Is this question better on Physics or Chem?"). I do know what the OP is talking about. Just not enough to answer the question (and sometimes not enough to fully comprehend it). I do not shoot down questions because they are esoteric. In fact, esoteric questions are generally of the this-is-definitely-chemistry type. Also, when in doubt, I ask fellow mods. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ The key is to never make snap decisions when you're unsure. That's all. And, again, generally it's not hard to determine whether or not something belongs to <topic>, as long as you have an idea of what subtopics exist, and what they are basically about. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 18:06

Being a moderator of another SE site I might be able to tell from my experience.

A moderator has to make some difficult decisions that cannot be handled by the community:

  • find users who are trying to cheat the system (multiple accounts, voting rings)
  • handle flags
  • contact users privately if there are any problems that cannot be solved otherwise

The most important part is understanding the informal rules of the system and put them into practice.

Knowing physics (or whatever the topic of the site is) is not that important. Sure, it helps, but the decision if a question is on topic should be made by the community anyway via close votes, not primarily by moderators.

The meta participation and the flag count are indeed good indicators for that. They show how much the users cares already about the site and how familiar s/he is with the rules.

Recommended reading

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    $\begingroup$ Hi Toscho, Welcome to Physics.SE :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree that knowledge about the topic the site is about is unimportant. And sure, the rules must be put into practices, but I find it at least equally important that the moderators try to be helpful to the local community. And on a science site, certain standards from the scientific point of view have to be hold up too. This my be different or less important on SE sites about different topics... $\endgroup$
    – Dilaton
    Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton They are not unimportant, just less important than other skills: patience, the ability to endure the accusation of “mod abuse” from angry users or to learn. I was surprised how much I had to learn (I still do). My knowledge about our site topic (WordPress, mostly very specialized programming questions) is rarely needed. I didn’t expect that, so I thought it might be helpful to share that experience. $\endgroup$
    – fuxia
    Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: Moderator of a science site here. I know not much more than advanced high school chemistry, and that's never gotten in my way while moderating Chemistry.SE :) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ Don't underestimate knowledge of the subject matter. While moderating Arqade I've found out multiple times that some games have such specialized and dense lingo, basic knowledge of general "gamer" terminology doesn't let you understand what the hell people are going on in their posts. This gets in the way of e.g. trying to distinguish between an answer and a comment posted as an answer. I don't see how this is any different for any other subject matter. You need to be able to understand what people are talking about. $\endgroup$
    – badp
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 18:51

If I were a mathematician, I would say that the pre-conditions stated in the grey box are neccessary but not sufficient.

On a science site, such as Physics SE for example, I think that it is important too that the moderators are knowledgable enough in the topic the site is about. The moderator team as a whole should be able to reasonably and in accordance with the current state of the mainstream art decide about what questions fit to the desirable content of the site, what is too fringe or even crackpot stuff, etc ...

In addition, moderators should have a good enough intuition for what the community likes and needs.

That is just how I see it :-)

  • $\begingroup$ Hey Dilaton, New users are indeed arriving at Physics.SE today. I believe this is due to moderator election. Isn't it? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ @CrazyBuddy yes I think it is because the upcoming election, but I'm not sure what the ones who have never been active on Physics SE are up to. To choose our additional new moderators should primarly be the responsibility of the Physics SE commonity, we should choose the people we physicists and physics fans like and trust ... $\endgroup$
    – Dilaton
    Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 14:41

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