A question was asked in a recent chat whether the Physics SE was getting ruder and/or unfriendlier. My immediate reaction was that it wasn't but then I was surprised to be criticised (in a constructive way) for being unfriendly in a comment. I had suggested I thought the question was a homework problem when it turned out not to be, but I didn't realise I'd given offence. Anyhow I'd be interested in whether people feel the site is welcoming or not, and if not whether we need to do something about it.

I suspect the people most likely to feel intimidated are new members, many of whom won't read the meta so it may be the people I really need to hear from won't see this question. Still, I would be interested in people's overall impression.

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    $\begingroup$ I removed an off-topic comment discussion. $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 19 '12 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ As for me, PSE is less friendlier than MathSE. I don't know the dynamics of "friendliness" inside PSE, I precieve it to be stabely not very high. $\endgroup$ – Yrogirg Dec 21 '12 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Yrogirg that may be because MSE allows a lot more types of posts than PSE (a lot of the types of questions, like "make a list" questions, would be closed as NC here). It's a policy thing, not a friendliness thing. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Dec 31 '12 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Yrogirg Really? I felt PSE was nicer. Generally, the smaller sites are always nicer than the bigger ones! $\endgroup$ – Pritt Balagopal Aug 21 '17 at 1:05

Your question resonates. When I first joined this forum I felt that people were not considerate enough of the young. I usually make a point of checking the profile and am much more lenient with the young and wish that others would be too. Maybe newbies should be encouraged to give their age in the profiles and old hands encouraged to read the profile if they intent to jump on somebody or downvote with a strict comment.

Now that you have brought this up I will mention that I am wondering why there are so few women physicists joining our questions and answers. I know that in some countries a large percentage of physicists are women. So this could be one of the reasons, since women take things more to heart, so to speak, even in this virtual reality. Of course there are other reasons too for the gender difference : children and grandchildren occupy women's extra curricular time very much. If my grandchildren lived close by I would have much rather spent my time teaching them physics and playing scientific games , as a woman colleague, also retired, does with her grandson.

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    $\begingroup$ Relevant: quantcast.com/… . The sample space for that is a small percentage of our community (I'm not exactly sure how it works), so it's not exactly accurate, but a good enough approximation. Less females on this site isn't necessarily a problem due to us--it is a problem of the whole Internet. There probably are ways for us to improve on this, though, some brainstorming on this may help :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Dec 19 '12 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ I completely agree with annaV and if you really want to attract more women (or younger students), stop crushing questions with drive-by down-votes! $\endgroup$ – Antillar Maximus Dec 23 '12 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @anna-v Did you see this? sciencenews.org/article/… $\endgroup$ – gravityboy Feb 22 '16 at 6:10
  • $\begingroup$ @gravityboy No, I had not. Thanks for alerting me. $\endgroup$ – anna v Feb 22 '16 at 6:23

I was a professor (of computer science). I also have children and grandchildren. Because of this, I take the function of tutelage and encouragement very seriously. The name of the site is "physics", not "physics for experts only". When someone asks a question, it is because they want to learn something. When I ask a question, it is because I want to learn something.

Because of this, I almost never downvote. All it does is discourage someone, and I only want to encourage. If someone gives an answer that I disagree with or I think is wrong, I try to enlighten them, while also telling them where I think they are right, and never in a discouraging tone. There was an aphorism posted in my son's high school: "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can really hurt me."

StackExchange is a marvelous invention, full of remarkable people. I consider it a privilege to be able to learn and contribute here.

  • $\begingroup$ ^ Doing it right ✨ $\endgroup$ – Rubellite Fae May 2 '18 at 12:49

I think the whole Larian vs Ron fiasco highlighted something about this community as well. While Ron was a fantastic contributor for physics, his personality can be seen as abrasive by some, and others have said he is incredibly rude to them. Because of his high reputation, it seemed that the community tolerated him, and then even coddled him, letting him continue to get away with behavior that just isn't socially acceptable.

As time progressed, I think his kind of behavior started to get viewed as acceptable by other members, and it devolved from there. Tone is actually a very important aspect of any community, and he was setting it for you. I think that is one of the reasons I have really stopped coming here.

This criticism aside, the StackExchange sites are a damn sight better than any Q&A sites I have ever seen. The quality of questions and answers here are great. However, there is a risk of becoming cliquish. Having a clear FAQ for new users to become familiar with a site, as well as ensuring everyone on the site is held to the same rules should make it at least understandable to new folks.

Also, mods could perhaps be community welcomers.

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    $\begingroup$ Is it possible that you could remove the personal attack in this post? It is slightly out of place here, maybe you could phrase it in a more constructive manner? See meta.physics.stackexchange.com/a/2876/7433 $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Dec 22 '12 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth, Brightblades is a personal friend of mine and tends not to filter things. Let me know if the edit is acceptable. $\endgroup$ – Larian LeQuella Dec 23 '12 at 0:16
  • $\begingroup$ @LarianLeQuella: Yeah, thanks :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Dec 23 '12 at 8:43
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    $\begingroup$ Dear Brightblades. You do not say if you are a physicist in your profile and the web page you link there is synonymous with your name here, which leads me to think that you are not. The physicists in this forum treat it as a forum for physicists. Ron's behavior is within the "colleague" treatment one gets and gives in physics fights. You see we take physics seriously, and our aggressions come out not in martial games but in physics arguments. I can accept that there are people, not physicists, who might find the discord unsupportable, as I would find martial games. Physics is not tame. $\endgroup$ – anna v Dec 23 '12 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ cotinued: and Ron got his high reputation because of his great physics answers in hard questions, that is why he is respected even by physicists who disagree with him, because of the physics, not the reputation. You are putting the cart before the horse. $\endgroup$ – anna v Dec 23 '12 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ @annav this is not a forum--it's a different beast. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 23 '12 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Sklivvz I am using forum in the generic sense, of "a place for open discussion". $\endgroup$ – anna v Dec 23 '12 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ @annav it's still not a forum, in that sense either. It's collectively edited Q&A site. It's not a place for discussion at all. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 23 '12 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Sklivvz and what do you think we are doing in the comments and chat? $\endgroup$ – anna v Dec 23 '12 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @annav Physics Chat please. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 23 '12 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ @annav also: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/a/914/66 $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 23 '12 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @annav: Computer Science isn't tame either, but when I witness the disputes, they just look stupid. (Oops, I said something negative!) They are engaged in by people seemingly more interested in showing off how bright they are than in rubbing ideas together. $\endgroup$ – Mike Dunlavey Dec 23 '12 at 17:27

Well, some of us definitely try to be friendly. But it's never possible to phrase a comment about a question closing/etc in a manner that you can be 100% sure that nobody will take offence to. The SE system isn't like normal forums, and it takes some time getting used to it. Something that's not really a serious issue on SE may be interpreted as one elsewhere (eg closing--on a traditional forum, closing means the death of a question. On SE, it's a temporary state for many posts.). So I wouldn't be too worried if some of my comments rubbed people the wrong way, though I certainly wouldn't like it. And of course I try to tailor my comments so that newbies can understand them better.

Let me share my experience when I joined Phys.SE: I had recently gotten disillusioned with Wikipedia; there had been some pretty brutal meta-discussion on some policies1. Quite a few of the users I'd admired were participating in it, some were being constructive, some...not so constructive. I was disheartened by the whole episode, and I started (subconsciously, I didn't know it at the time) distancing myself from the 'pedia -- meta discussion and writing userscripts was what I mainly did, and seeing that side of meta discussion hit me hard. Of course, it didn't help that I had a lot of other commitments at that time, mainly academics. Nowadays I poke around sometimes2.

Anyway, I had come across physics.SE a few months later after a suggestion on the science reference desk that I ask my question here (I couldn't get any satisfactory answers then). So I did, and after browsing around, I got hooked :) Part of the reason behind this was that the community here (or what I had experienced of it at the time), was pretty helpful and nice. I became quite active here after that.

Now, if the community hadn't been friendly and had instead been rather rude), then I would have not stayed on after my question got answered. Maybe it's because I'm not a physicist. Maybe the Wikipedia issues had made me sensitive. Maybe I am sensitive in general. Either way, I'm pretty sure that I would have been scared off by this.

Now, I'm not saying that I am a valuable member of the community. Nor am I saying that my contributions are any good. I am saying objectively that if, at the time, I got , you would have lost one user, who has gained 5k+ rep with 200+ answers.

From this, I make two conclusions:

  1. Friendliness is a must-have for our site. Lack of civility can scare users off. Not everyone has a thick skin, and more importantly, people without thick skins are prospective contributors as well.

  2. We seem to be a by-and-large friendly lot. Most of the comments I see on flagged/closevoted posts are pretty OK (though they could be better). The improvements we ought to make are to tailor our comments/etc so that new users have little chance to feel offended.

1. I was not a direct participant in these (except maybe a few comments here and there), just a fly on the wall. Quite a few people had gone into semi-retirement because of it. Looking back, I can't even remenber the specific issues--but there was a variety of them, being discussed more or less simultaneously.

2. A year ago (or was it two?) I did participate extensively in the cleanup of the Wikipedia India Education program fiasco, though. I still love Wikipedia--its goal and its community--but I have just moved on to what I feel is a "better" place for me personally to learn and grow. I


I personally don't think this community is as friendly as it could be. I have been a high rep user in the initial period of the site, but became disenfranchised with the site after about a year.

The reasons are various:

  • Lengthy, pointless, sometimes rude, but always annoying discussions in comments. Moderators do not care at all about cleaning them, and actually sometimes become a major part of the problem with them. I did not come to SE to have a chat in the comments. Comments are solely to discuss how to improve answers.
    Random example, another random example, big list here

  • At times, I've spent considerable time answering a question, with some research behind it, and presented a comprehensive answer based on objective facts, just to be dissed and down voted by people who favour academic qualifications over factual correctness and would down vote anything they don't like or sounds wrong to them. Such episodes of fanboi-ism are quite jarring.
    Random example

  • General ineffectiveness of the community and its moderators to, well, moderate. Questions which are obviously off topic do not get closed, flags are handled in days and happily refused, even the Ron fiasco was... telling.
    Random example, another random example....

This said, I'd love to come back and help this community rebuild, but not unless there is some understanding of the problems and commitment to improve :-)

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    $\begingroup$ I blame high-rep users and lack of flagging for some of this. I recently earned the Deputy badge; as of right now, there are only four other users with that badge. I also see a lot of users commenting on posts when they should be voting to close, or flagging. $\endgroup$ – Colin McFaul Dec 22 '12 at 20:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Sklivvz To a large extent, I would like to see these things change so that people like you would feel welcome returning. However: on point #1, we (mods) used to clean comment discussions, but then the community objected and Shog9 told me to stop. On point #2, you're right, but I'm not sure what to do about it since we can't exactly force people to vote a certain way; besides, the example you linked to was never downvoted so I'm not sure what point you meant to make by linking to it. (cont.) $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 22 '12 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ (cont.) On point #3, again, I'm not sure what point you were trying to make by linking to those examples. I can only speak for the moderators, and say that sometimes we leave flags unhandled for some time to see what the community response is, and/or while we decide what to do with them. $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 22 '12 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZaslavsky regarding point 2, I don't think it can be fixed by moderators, but it's a problem in this community. It was not meant to be directed at mods. You only need to look at the comments on this answer to see another example... $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 22 '12 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding point 3, I was just trying to show questions that should be closed but aren't. It's just an example - I flagged two other questions today and Manishearth (I think) handled the flags. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 22 '12 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ OK, well, for your examples on point #3: the first of those is a special case that we are leaving open as part of our book recommendation series. It shouldn't have been closed. Book recommendations are actively curated here, not like on a place like SO. The second one was probably never closed because nobody flagged it and none of the moderators at the time saw it. $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 22 '12 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ It is certainly the case that we sometimes don't close questions based on, shall we say, questionable physics. For my part that is because I feel that a firm downvoting by the community speaks more strongly than a premptory closing by a single moderator. Further, when the questions poke around the more esoteric limits of theoretical cosmology or field theory I may not know what is and is not good physics. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Dec 23 '12 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee I was not referring to those. Just bad questions (NARQ, etc.) - I don't see a case for keeping them open - as moderators you shouldn't feel that you are preventing the community to vote with your close votes: you are setting the example. If you don't close questions, the community won't, either. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 23 '12 at 3:34
  • $\begingroup$ Our experience has been that if we do close questions, the community doesn't. $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 23 '12 at 7:08
  • $\begingroup$ At least someone would... $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 23 '12 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ Your second point has been the biggest source of my frustrations across SE. The act of writing a well thought out and downvoting it shouldn't be so asymmetric. I know no perfect solution, but some potential ones are: ► Require a comment for a downvote; ► Require the downvoter to at least highlight the area which they disagree with and alert them when that area has been changed; ► Make voting transparent; ► Increase the reputation loss and/or raise the minimum rep for downvoting; ► Require the downvoter to respond anonymously to poster... $\endgroup$ – Rubellite Fae May 2 '18 at 12:57

This is one of the rudest and most cynical boards I have ever been a part of.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd be interested to hear what features of the community here feel that way to you. The day-to-day business of asking and answering questions, the policy making process on meta, some particular set of interactions or something else? By itself that sentence is not very helpful. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Dec 23 '12 at 2:38
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    $\begingroup$ My only concern is with how new members are treated. I disagree with the policy of drive by -1's. It is stupid, childish and does not motivate people to stick around. Also, people need to get off their high horses when answering questions. It is quite obvious that some questions posted are naive and may come from a younger membership. Why not cut them some slack and help them improve the question? If you don't want to do that at least have the decency to leave a comment while down-voting. I know people have cited "paperwork", which, in my view, is a poor excuse for being lazy. $\endgroup$ – Antillar Maximus Dec 23 '12 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ The thing about driveby down votes is that there isn't a "policy" of doing it. There can't be because such votes are always in the gift of individual users. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Dec 23 '12 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ Ok man, I'm not going to argue semantics. If you really want to improve the perception of this site, then as a moderator you can certainly nudge people against driveby downvoting. All it takes is a simple "hey guys, I'd request you not to driveby downvote". I don't know what is so hard about making a request? $\endgroup$ – Antillar Maximus Dec 23 '12 at 16:58

As a rank amateur, I can safely state from experience that even a question that could have been answered by one's own self with some effort (I lied when I said that I could not find the answer myself) is not laughed out of court on sight. Helpful people -- experts -- are on hand to patiently give explanations and clarify upon request.

What I do find troubling is vicious commentary such as here with no action taken by moderators. I am also troubled by the personal attack on this page directed at a currently suspended contributor who has no means of responding to set the record straight (again, no action taken by moderators).

Then again, I could feel comfortable with a general hands-off approach from moderators and staff... if it were applied fairly and evenhandedly.

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    $\begingroup$ I've removed the offensive comment and warned Chris, next time--flag such things. Regarding the personal attack above, I'm reluctant to do something about that, because the recent meta discussion has centered around Ron's level of civility. While that discussion is over and Ron's civility shouldn't be brought up randomly (which constitutes a personal attack), here it has been used as a key point of that meta post, and is kept in a pretty constructive manner (I'll still ask him to tone it down). You have to let us know if you are disturbed by something on main or meta, we're not omnipresent. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Dec 22 '12 at 8:08

This is a Q&A site and isn't meant to be used to socialise with people, so I don't think there is a need to be friendly, nor rude for that matter. There is also a hierachy defined by the community which is sensitive to attention seekers hogging the resource in a negative way. But that aside, I think the moderators are very generous when it comes to allowing people to make personal comments in the comments section, despite them not being there for that purpose.

So I think the "unfriendliness" comes from people familiar with the running of this site, using chat and the comments in a strictly cold Q&A format which is very different to other forums. There you can set up a profile which can display public messages received such as thanks and general small talk, to say nothing of the answers becoming a social discussion.

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    $\begingroup$ Not being a social network is orthoganal to being naughty or nice. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Dec 21 '12 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ Many of us hereabouts have worked as teachers, at least in the sense that we have supervised students if not actually as school teachers. Any teacher will tell you that how you answer a question is exceedingly important if you want to encourage people to learn. You don't have to be outright rude, as even an air of superiority or disinterest will quickly put people off. I would guess that most people who go to the quite considerable effort of providing answers want to share their enthusiasm for physics and encourage people's interest in it. That means how we answer is important. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Dec 22 '12 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your thought-out response. I might have some insight that can help. Personally, I don't agree with your answer, but do think that many users across SE do... and that is part of the problem. As geeks and nerds many of us tend to have social ineptitudes. This can blind us to how harsh matter-of-fact statements, especially replies, can feel to users—all the more to new, apprehensive users. Cordiality wasn't invented in a vacuum or for its own sake. It developed as a necessary response to this sort of thing. It acts as a kind of buffer; a spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down $\endgroup$ – Rubellite Fae May 2 '18 at 13:05

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