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Things have changed in the past few days and I think it's about time it's being discussed.

While it's great that we have lots of new people here (including few well-knows physicists) and to attract attention of the general public was naturally the goal from the very beginning, I couldn't help but to notice a great increase of bullshit (pardon my French ladies) answers left all over. Perhaps this is inevitable but I still don't like it (and other pages like MO do avoid it somehow).

Now, I am not sure whether I have a concrete question here (besides trying to stir up a discussion) but if there were one it would be

What can we do to stop this site degenerating into another crackpot forum? Perhaps appointing more moderators might help?

I am not sure. All I can say is that I don't like the site very much in the past few days (beside there being few very great questions and also few answers that I was happy to read) and it seems that also lots of other usual suspects (top 10--20 users, say) stopped contributing (me included). Perhaps this is natural and it's good that the site will pass into the hands of the community. All I fear is what kind of community that might become and whether we don't want to shape it a little.

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    $\begingroup$ @Marek: What kind of questions did you dislike? $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Jan 19 '11 at 1:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert: Actually, I haven't mentioned questions in the body at all, only in the title; sorry for the confusion. Quality-wise, questions are about the same as they used to be and they are also more technical (lots of questions from GR, QFT and strings). Which is a good thing I suppose. But somehow I still don't enjoy the site nearly as much as I used to. Perhaps it's just because of the sheer amount of those questions I feel like I am being overwhelmed. I'll have to get used to it and follow just a few tags I guess :) $\endgroup$ – Marek Jan 19 '11 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Marek: I understand. But what about the situation with crackpots? It's extremely hard for them to proliferate in this kind of site, but you say in a comment that there are people who only increase the noise. If that's deliberate, we should know who they are. If that's incidental, we should put the SE system at work. Maybe the problem is not people who post bad answers but people who upvote those answers. However, that's an entirely different issue. $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Jan 19 '11 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Robert: I do have few people in mind but I don't want to point the finger here (though I've raised my concerns already in comments under the specific answers, so one can track them down if they wish). I also noticed one person that has been polluting other blogs but again I don't want to point finger yet. Right now the situation is not overwhelmingly bad and we (meaning community and mods) can probably deal with the situation if someone's answers become huge consistent stream of nonsense. $\endgroup$ – Marek Jan 19 '11 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Marek: I will read your comments to identify those persons. Since the situation is not overwhelmingly bad, this could be a good moment to take actions. $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Jan 19 '11 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Marek: Sorry, but I couldn't find any comments of yours replying to bad answers (the site doesn't help to track down recent comments or downvotes). $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Jan 19 '11 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Robert: okay, let it be then. If the things turn out for the worse we'll address it then. $\endgroup$ – Marek Jan 19 '11 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Marek your fears are unfounded and I'm sure you only speak for yourself when you that "the usual suspects stopped contributing". As for "pointing fingers" well you might as well quit beating around the bush and draw up a list of violators and post it on meta if that's how strongly you feel about it. Personally I do not want to turn physics.SE into a country club for a select few so -1 for this question. $\endgroup$ – Deepak Vaid Jan 20 '11 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ @space_cadet: naturally I spoke only for myself but other answers show that I am not alone who feels this way; so don't forget that you speak only for yourself too ;) I don't feel particularly strongly about it. I am addressing the questions I think are bad with down-votes and comments. Personally, I do want to turn physics.SE into a country club for a selected few (namely the genuinely interested physics students and researchers and no crackpots). $\endgroup$ – Marek Jan 20 '11 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Marek: I understand your point, and sympathise. In particular, I've noticed one or two users that you've not been having a good experience with. (You're not the only one.) Just know that we moderators have noticed the issue and are currently working/thinking on it. We hope to sort out the problem soon - don't be too discouraged in the meanwhile! $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Jan 23 '11 at 2:05
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What can we do to stop this site degenerating into another crackpot forum? Perhaps appointing more moderators might help?

Downvote bad answers, that's how the system works. If it doesn't work with us, than that probably means that the intended model for this site wasn't meant for the SE network anyway.

More moderators can certainly help. Ultimately though, the Mods can't (nor should) close every crap answer, they can only teach the community to downvote.

(beside there being few very great questions and also few answers that I was happy to read)

This is natural. Look at other successful SE sites. You won't see many great questions lying around the front page.

and it seems that also lots of other usual suspects (top 10--20 users, say) stopped contributing

True. I guess the influx of traffic has been overwhelming, and people will likely loose interest in keeping up with it. To be fair, it has been only a few days.


In conclusion, I think the questions and answers really have gone down in quality here, and the reason is that we got a lot of new users in very little time. If the community grew more slowly, people would be more motivated to keep up and to educate new users.
However, I don't think that's a bad thing. In the most recent stats, quality of answers was abundant, it was traffic that we lacked. Right now we have all the traffic, we just need to keep it in by teaching users how to give better answers.

More moderators is probably a good idea, but the most important is that everyone downvotes bad answers and leave comments saying why they're bad.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good answer, thank you Bruce. So I guess everything boils down to teaching the community to down-vote (with reason of course). How do we do that? $\endgroup$ – Marek Jan 18 '11 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Marek Good question :-) $\endgroup$ – Malabarba Jan 19 '11 at 1:54
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    $\begingroup$ +1 I agree that downvoting is the key here. I don't think having more moderators is necessary - I can't speak for the rest of the mods, but I don't actually do that much, so us being overwhelmed isn't the problem. The thing is, when I tried to close all the marginally off-topic questions in the past, there was a severe backlash from the community (certain members in particular) so I've had to relax my criteria for closing. I can be a little more strict about it if people want, but I do think something's wrong if we're closing a majority of questions. That's what downvoting is for. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jan 19 '11 at 6:51
  • $\begingroup$ (cont'd) And in any case, it's a lot easier to justify closing a question with a negative vote total, and/or with a comment or two explaining why it's BS. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jan 19 '11 at 6:51
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I agree, there's a real drop in signal-to-noise, after a brief period when the site seemed to be doing well. I think part of the problem is not so much the crackpots (although some of them are producing prodigious amounts of text) as with other people who seem to vote them up whenever they write anything that looks vaguely technical, apparently under the presumption that mathematical symbols imply competence. It's disappointing to see utter gibberish get upvotes.

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    $\begingroup$ One option would be to point out those "crackpots", down vote them and comment to let other people know that his/her answer is not right. Of course, the second thing to do would be don't respond to provocations. $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Jan 19 '11 at 3:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert: This site might feed my unfortunate internet-mediated procrastination tendencies, but engaging with crackpots is unambiguously more painful than any other task I would be putting off. $\endgroup$ – Matt Reece Jan 19 '11 at 3:59
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that's part of what I meant. By warning other people about those crackpots, we avoid to upvote posts that don't deserve it and crackpots don't get rewarded. By the way, why don't you award yourself while doing an unpleasant task ("Self-control management by setting small positive effects to compensate for the big negative effect... with a delayed... big positive effect in the end") [trialx.com/curetalk/2010/09/cure-hero-dan-ariely/] $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Jan 19 '11 at 4:20
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What you should do if you see a bad answer, is to vote it down, post a comment explaining why its wrong, but most importantly post a good answer and see it getting massively upvoted, that is how the system is meant to work, and it works well for all the other SE sites! I have a huge doubt that any trolls or crackpots will have any higher chances of success at this site then any other. Also ofcourse like you do, raise any concerncs at all on meta !

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  • $\begingroup$ I know what I should do. But I am not sure the rest of the people know (or care). E.g., how many people are actually following meta? I doubt it's more than you can count on the tentacles of a few octopi :) Except for old users of SE sites, I suppose most of the people don't know what they should do. Especially the new ones that came in the past few days. But perhaps they'll learn soon, so we can just wait and see what happens (I don't have any better idea anyway). $\endgroup$ – Marek Jan 19 '11 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Marek: Lead by example. 4000+ of reputation also provides a sense of authority. $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Jan 19 '11 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Robert: I am not sure what I should do (besides the things I always do) and moreover I never wanted that kind of authority. I'm generally satisfied with just stirring up a discussion and letting other people think (because they have ideas I could've never come up with by myself). Perhaps if I'd become a mod I'd try harder but that's irrelevant at this point. $\endgroup$ – Marek Jan 19 '11 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Marek: If you downvote bad answers and comment about what make them bad, there is not much else that we (as a community) can ask for. As for the authority issue, sorry but that's implicit in sites with rating system. $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Jan 19 '11 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Robert: you are of course completely right. Thanks for the talk, it helps putting things into perspective :) $\endgroup$ – Marek Jan 19 '11 at 19:16
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The basic problem with obtaining good moderation is that the people who have the knowledge and skill have more productive ways to spend their time. The best you can hope for is to find people who understand enough about physics to eliminate obvious errors. But you have to ask yourself, "why does someone who's so smart have so much time on their hands?" Whatever you come up with as an answer for that question, if you're being realistic, it's not going to be very pretty.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, I am not going into an in-depth research of every contributor's circumstances. It's not important as long as what they contribute is useful. But if you'd like to know the answer for that question in my case, it would be that sometimes I am just too lazy to do anything else :) $\endgroup$ – Marek Jan 20 '11 at 7:25
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It is interesting to see if the community vote system SE is based upon is robust enough to avoid this forum to degenerate into what some refer to as 'crackpot forum'. If it isn't, something is wrong in the system, and 'more moderators' is not going to repair such a system flaw.

I am relatively new here, and also this is my first experience with SE, but it seems to me that the up/down-vote bonus/malus is skewed to the extent that karma becomes a cumulative system. In other words, Karma seems to be dominated by quantity rather than quality.

Is it indeed the case that someone who receives as many downvotes as upvotes, if active enough, will bypass a person who only receives upvotes?

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, it is true. What is more of a concern to me at the moment, though, is that the wrong answers are being upvoted. Answers which are either incorrect but sound authoritative or contain widely believed misconceptions are often rising to the top. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Jan 22 '11 at 20:54
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I don't think its fair to ask people to come here to participate and then call them crackpots. There are a number of mechanisms that are available to close questions, but I would distinguish between people who geniunely try to learn about physics through exchanges and those who want to simply increase the noise. I for one admit to not being the best in physics, but that doesn't mean I don't take it seriously and try to improve my level of knowledge on a continuous basis.

Although I think there is an element of this discussion that is legitimate, I feel there is another element that is immature selfishness. I am sorry to say so, but that is how I see it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I also distinguish between people who are trying to learn physics (and they are most welcome here) and those who just increase noise. My question specifically addresses the latter group (which is of course much smaller, but also much noisier by definition), so your comment, while certainly valid, is beside the point here. $\endgroup$ – Marek Jan 19 '11 at 13:20

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