As noted elsewhere, I have personally discontinued use of Physics.SE, since it seems to me that it no longer acts as a forum for research based physics Q&A. Over the past 12 months there has in my opinion been an ongoing deterioration, to the point that the site has almost been taken over by interested amateurs, semi-cranks, and overzealous moderators, that appear to prioritize forceful administration and control over intellectual inquiry.

This stands in contrast to MathOverflow, which continues to grow, with very active participation from leading researchers across most branches of mathematics. On MO you will see leading researchers, sometimes even Fields medalists, ask questions at the edge of human knowledge, almost always quickly receiving highly qualified answers. This simply does not happen on Physics.SE.

Quoting Physics.SE/About: "Physics [.SE] is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy". As I see it, this mission statement is no longer being fulfilled.

Please answer with recommendations for concrete measures to significantly improve Physics.SE as a Q&A forum for researchers, academics and students of physics.

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    $\begingroup$ I am not really sure what you want this community to address. What is your question? $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Mar 8 '13 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Sklivvz: There is a question in the title. $\endgroup$ – user1504 Mar 8 '13 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ Very good, this question speaks out of my heart, +1 $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 8 '13 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ Dear downvoters of this question, do your negative votes mean that you do not want Physics SE to be a site for active researchers, academics, and students of Physics and Astronomy? There is no other reasonable interpretation of downvotes of a question that asks about how this can be achieved. If you disagree with this mission statement in the "About", it is of course legitimate for you to downvote, but an altenative more constructive possibility would be to think about if this site is really where you want to be if you so strongly disagree with the stated purpose of this site ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 8 '13 at 23:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: There are other reasonable interpretations. (a) Folks don't agree with the tone of the post (looks a bit ranty). (b) Folks disagree with "As I see it, this mission statement is no longer being fulfilled." and "Over the past 12 months there has in my opinion been an ongoing deterioration[...]". $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 9 '13 at 4:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth not every post that says things you personally dont like or disagree with is a rant, not constructive, or something like that per definition. With this question, Halftan Faber has finally (!) seriously adressed a problem of this site that is standing since quite some time now. It should have been adressed much earlier, for example as the overwhelming part of the new incoming questions started to be homeworky and very very basic. Now probably nothing can be done about this, since people asking these questions are in the majority, upvote each other of course, gain rep to $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 9 '13 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ moderate things of other people who are more knowledgable but post not frequently enough, etc. This is how the system is expected to function, but it means too, that the digress can probably not be rewerted. The transition to the lower level state the site now has was irreversible and in good agreement with the secod law of thermodynamics. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 9 '13 at 6:55
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    $\begingroup$ @dilaton I didn't call it a rant, I said it looks like one. Big difference. I only disagree with part of it (see part b of my comment above). I don't think it's a rant, just dangerously close to being one due to the tone (and sounds like one at first glance) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 9 '13 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth just an additional thing concerning downvotes of questions that ask how the level of the site could be improved such that it fullfills the mission statement in the About: In the past people agreed that the site should have a high enough level and similar questions as the one Halfdan Faber asked got highly upvoted, whereas today, statements that say the site should be improved get downvoted by the crowd that has taken over. This is another clear sign of the irreversibility of the recent phase transition that has occured here. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 9 '13 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: Point b, point b, point b. The question is in two parts. The one you link to has only one part. You're comparing apples and oranges here. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 9 '13 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ Just wanted to note that I didn't expect to see such many constructive and insightful points and observations, both in comments and answers. Will aim to contribute to the discussion in a day or two. $\endgroup$ – Halfdan Faber Mar 10 '13 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ @dilaton btw, our comment discussion here is rather irrelevant, care if I clear it up? $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 10 '13 at 5:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth hm, I want not care it irrelevant, because I still think the reception of a post asking how the site can be improved (which it badly needs) is strange and the discussion clears this a little bit. So I would appreciate it if you could leave it $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 10 '13 at 6:00
  • $\begingroup$ @dilaton yeah, it's not entirely irrelevant. And technically it suggests a way to improve the post (namely, separate out the two halves). However, the post has gotten a largely good, constructive response in the answers (I would post one myself, except that dmckee and user1504's posts already take care of ehat I want to say), so no need for any improvements :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 10 '13 at 6:04
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    $\begingroup$ The tone is n't a good downvote reason, and anyone who disbelieves that there are questions against this statement, is living in an other consistent history. A better one, perhaps . Or not (say, there were 10 World wars in that consistent history, but Phys.SE is not overrun by nonsense.) . $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Jul 28 '13 at 9:42

As long as users reward simple questions, simple questions will continue to be asked. It's as simple as that.

Right now the user base is rewarding physics 101 questions and ill-informed speculations from a pop-sci foundation. Give me a consensus that those question don't belong and I'd be happy to close many of them.1 Personally I am bored to tears by people by the pure number of people who believe that they have discovered a erstwhile unnoticed inconsistency in special relativity.

A particularly pernicious (and unsolved) problem on Stack Exchange sites is established users answering duplicate questions because this is simply easier than finding the duplicates and the rep system rewards them for it; my unscientific observation is that this occurs most on very basic questions. Getting these questions closed without answers would go some way to convincing users that it was worth their while to search first.

Math Overflow has had a strong ethic for research level question from the beginning. Math.StackExchange did not (and in fact exists explicitly to be a place for lower-level math questions). They are both healthy, active sites.

There is no fundamental reason why a site (or this one in particular) needs to function at a highly esoteric level to be successful as a site.2

Things any particular user can do include

  • Open a discussion on meta to try and reach a new consensus on what types of questions are off topic.
  • Vote uniformed speculation down, and cote to close if there is a plausible reason under the current rules.
  • Ask some good questions. That is harder then it sounds, but the only way to make people believe that there are good questions here is to get some good questions on the site.
  • Put some time and effort into providing good answer to good questions. To make it worth other peoples time to post good questions here.

1 In the mean time, I'm a little confused that I seem to be accused simultaneously of over-moderating and of letting all the crap in. (I agree that we field a lot of very basic questions and that quite of few of them are crap---but when I vote those down people write comments about how unfair that is and, it seems, up vote just to counter.)

2 And in fact our analytics continue to look good. We are getting steadily stronger on page views, questions per day, answers per day, new users and so on and retaining our answers to questions ratio. In particular I note that there is no detectible change about December 2012 or Jan 2013. In terms of quantity that brewhaha was a non-issue.

As a site with a future we are doing fine. It just may not be the site you want it to be.

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    $\begingroup$ "Ask some good questions. That is harder then it sounds..." Indeed, this is the main problem of theoretical physics. $\endgroup$ – user1504 Mar 8 '13 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ @dmckee What do you exactly mean by "uninformed speculation"? Everything that can be addressed by mainstream theories that are accepted by the larger part of the physics community actually involed in the corresponding research, should certainly not fall under this term? I remember that there was some disquietness about some questions whose answers (by Qmechanic) involved F-theory, which has two infinitesimal dimensions which can both be timelike but is nevertheless a valid and from a phenomenological point of view very interesting part of ST ... Clearly off base things should not be allowd. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 8 '13 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Saying that something "can be addressed by mainstream theories" doesn't mean that the asker knows enough to ask a sensible question about it. Therein lie the key difference between informed and uninformed speculation. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 8 '13 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @dmckee no I see what you mean. Of course I prefer much the good and informed questions (the others sometimes annoy me), but then again I have seen it happen several times that the uninformedness of the OP was overcompensated by immensely good and interesting answers. So my thinking about it is a bit ambivalent, how do you see this? By the way I agree that the bruhaha was probably not an issue in terms of quantity, but in terms of quality it is ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 8 '13 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ I am one of the users who often counter-votes when a "physics 101" question is voted down. The reason I do it is that the FAQ very explicitly states "we welcome questions on all levels", and I feel it's deeply unfair to say that and not follow through. If the site had a policy that questions below a certain level of knowledge were off topic then I would have no problem with that and would stop counter-voting (though I still wouldn't down-vote much myself). $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Mar 9 '13 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel I vote for a lot of physics 101 questions: the good ones. We also get some stinkers of the very worst kind. I hope you are not voting those up out of sympathy for users who can't be arsed to write a good question. In the end your votes are your business, but encouraging that kind of stuff will not make the site a better place. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 9 '13 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee no, I don't vote up questions where no effort has been put in, just ones where it seems like they were down voted because they were at a very basic level of understanding of physics. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Mar 9 '13 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ @nathaniel In that case you would have edited anyway, no? :) Try not to let post score and author affect your vote. (See also ) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 9 '13 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel what Manishearth said, and also remember that this is fundamentally an expert-level site, which means it should capture the interest of experts, which in turn means questions need to be interesting, not students trying to take the easy way out of their homework. When we say "we welcome questions on all levels," it means that a question will not be turned away solely because it is about a simple topic, but that doesn't mean that intro-level questions are automatically worth upvoting. It's definitely much harder to ask a good question on an intro-level topic. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 10 '13 at 5:40
  • $\begingroup$ @David I already said I don't upvote questions where no effort has been put in, which obviously includes "students trying to take the easy way out of their homework". If this is "fundamentally an expert-level site" then it should say so in the FAQ. Also, that's three of you now who have told me what I should or should not be voting on, and I really don't appreciate that. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Mar 10 '13 at 5:50
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    $\begingroup$ @nathaniel sorry about that, just that we're slightly concerned that you're voting for bad posts. Voting is up to you (unless you take part in vote fraud, of course), and we're only making suggestions (as normal users, not as moderators) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 10 '13 at 5:58
  • $\begingroup$ I have no obligation to explain this but: To be clear, we're talking about something that happens once a week or less. I'm not going around voting up incoherent questions or ones that are obviously duplicates or direct copies of homework assignments. What I am doing is counter-voting if I think someone down-voted because it was a high-school (or below) level question. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Mar 10 '13 at 6:02
  • $\begingroup$ @nat ah, got it, carry on :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 10 '13 at 6:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth: Sorry, somehow I missed your comment to me. I agree, there's absolutely nothing wrong with closing as a duplicate. I was instead cynically suggesting that the site owners don't mind dups since they increase traffic. $\endgroup$ – Art Brown Mar 10 '13 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ "no detectible change about December 2012 or Jan 2013. In terms of quantity that brewhaha was a non-issue." The conclusions that I would draw from that (obviously, other people may come to different conclusions) are (1) the user who received the draconian one-month suspension had not been as negative an influence as his detractors claimed, otherwise numbers would have gone up in his absence, and (2) the drop in quality caused by the resignation of that user and another high-profile user is undeniable. $\endgroup$ – Eugene Seidel Mar 29 '13 at 7:54

I think the OP has a point. Many of the questions we get here about advanced topics (say, late undergrad and higher) are pretty low quality. Some of the could be answered by a simple google search, some of them ask the reader to fill in elementary steps in research papers, some of them are so full of muddled thinking that one wonders if the person asking the question has a prayer of understanding the answer, some of them come from crackpots wanting attention,... Really nice conceptual questions about high level physics seem to be few and far between. This is unfortunate, because it means that people looking for a good place to ask & answer the kind of questions we (I, at least) want may not think that this looks like a good place to do it.

So, I agree, the signal to noise ratio could be better.

With that said: I don't agree that the moderators are imposing an unpleasant atmosphere. It looks to me like they are generally doing the right thing, by closing lousy questions. (If anything, I think they are too lenient about leaving bad questions open. I'd be happier if the standard was "would it be embarassing to ask this question at department tea?".) What we need are more and better questions. If you have any, please ask them.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree, the homework-to-conceptual ratio has been deteriorating. I guess it's down to us to start the ball rolling by generating more high quality questions. $\endgroup$ – twistor59 Mar 8 '13 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I wish I had more to ask. My own questions have mostly been pretty lousy. $\endgroup$ – user1504 Mar 8 '13 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ I largely agree with this answer, but I disagree that everything what some moderators do, since say about the elections, is helpful in raising the level of the site again and attracting new and keeping the original (keeping good long term users is important too !) good users. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 8 '13 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: Yes, we all know you think that. You're completely wrong about what attracts competent theoretical physicists to these sorts of fora. $\endgroup$ – user1504 Mar 8 '13 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ @user1504 do you know how MO manages to keep the level that high? Their level will probably drastically sink too as they have agreed on entering the SE network. Moderation will soon be taken over by MSO rules and culture there too. Maybe it will not happen immediatelly, but I guess in the course of the first new moderator elections at the latest, they will lose their ability to determine what is good for their research community themself. BTW I agree with you that it is painful (for theoretical physicists and everybody) to see bad questions about topics one cares for, I experienced this too... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 8 '13 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: Anton has displayed superb judgement so far in guiding MO. I don't worry about its fate. $\endgroup$ – user1504 Mar 8 '13 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ @user1504 So Anton is doing a very nice and good job. But since they have decidet to enter the SE network, the site is doomed because it is only a matter of time until Anton's obviously good and wise judgment will be replaced by SE policies and rules that care only about quantity and not quality of any site, let alon research level content. People from other parts of the SE network (who are not at all experts in the high level topics discussed on MO) will want to have their say too on how MO as an SE site should be moderated, force them to be welcoming to basic level users from all over $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 8 '13 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ the SE network and even every low level user from other parts of the SE network will have the right to codetermine the policy of the MO.SE site. I am worried that this will make the research-level they now have decay sooner or later and that the decision to enter the SE network was a big mistake for them to do. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 8 '13 at 23:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: MSO discussions rarely are applied network-wide, generally it's opt-in. There are a few networkwide policies (which have been tweaked over the years), but IIRC MO need not follow them. The agreement is that MO keeps on functioning as it does, with no externally induced change in policies. They basically get a software update and are integrated into the network, that's all. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 9 '13 at 4:35
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    $\begingroup$ "would it be embarassing to ask this question at department tea?" is a nice rule of thumb :) It doesn't cover NC questions, and of course it doesn't apply to basic level stuff, but otherwise it's something that I'll test against the next few questions I see. Might come to something.. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 9 '13 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth that is good for MO, if what you say really is the case and will pan out ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 9 '13 at 6:41
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    $\begingroup$ @twistor59 I like your questions :-), you should ask more! And user1504 too ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 9 '13 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ @dilaton the FAQ at MO makes very clear that it's a research level oriented Q&A, whereas math and physics stack exchange aren't. Spend a few hours at math stack exchange looking at the questions, users etc, and you'll find it operates identically here, but with 54k users compared to 15k here. $\endgroup$ – Physiks lover Mar 12 '13 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Physikslover, ok but the About says, Physics SE should be for active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy. But since a few months ago it has rather become a site for homework, very basic, and popular Q&A. The transition happend quite abruptly: I remember that I one day opend the site and thought: "Oh my God, what has happend?", as the site was suddenly flooded with homeworky and very basic question of below 50 rep and betwen 101 and 150 rep users. People told me then it was because of exams etc, but in fact the site did not change much since this sudden transition. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 12 '13 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: And besides, exams aren't going to increase POPULAR questions, which are the most frequent (HW question problem seems to be much better now.) $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Jul 28 '13 at 9:47

Excellent question and I think the downvotes speak volumes. I see several issues here. One is that sometimes, posters either do not or cannot discern when the question they have asked has been answered. Here is a superb example:

Parallel circuits - Overall resistance decreases with additional resistor

The poster accepted an "answer" that did nothing more than restate the question in mathematical terms. There is at least one other really correct answer but no other was marked as accepted. (Disclaimer: I know one of the other answerers VERY well. LOL)

I strongly suspect that one (of many) reason for this is that users see reputation as the end all to authority. It isn't, but I've seen other examples of people saying things that while not technically wrong, are misleading and yet those answers are selected as the correct ones while other, more enlightening answers, are sometimes even downvoted. These people collect more reputation, and the cycle repeats.

Another problem here I've seen is that certain questions are closed as being off topic except when a moderator chooses to declare it on topic even if it's off topic. One supposed reason is that the closed question is "likely to solicit debate." Well, if that's true then most EVERY question must be closed for the very same reason. Correct answers do exist, you know. Every answer that isn't identical to someone (everyone?) else's must be considered a matter of "debate" and therefore the question MUST be closed. Silly? Yep. It speaks great volumes when "experts" can't agree on trivially simple answers.

Another problem I see here is that too many students have the say so on what gets closed. That shouldn't happen. Students are....students.

I'm trying very hard to like this site but there are too many inconsistencies in how it works for me to completely trust it or to recommend it to anyone else, especially my own students.

  • $\begingroup$ While we're at it, it's not appropriate that downvoting an incorrect or inappropriate answer lowers MY reputation wile not lowering the owner of the incorrect or inappropriate answer. That's pure nonsense. $\endgroup$ – user11266 Mar 10 '13 at 22:18

It seems to me this site can fulfil two roles. Firstly it can encourage collaboration between active researchers (postgrads, postdocs and academic staff) and secondly it can educate we lowly ones (undergrads, interested amateurs and the general public).

I think both roles are laudable, but the first role on its own is not going to sustain the site, as the closure of the Theoretical Physics SE shows. The majority of the activity is going to be educational.

Assuming you accept this, I don't see why the educational role should be restricted to undergraduates. If the Physics SE had been available when I was a schoolchild I would have used it enthusiastically. I'd probably have asked some silly questions but that would have stemmed from over-enthusiasm not indolence, and surely this is forgivable as long as it doesn't become excessive.

I also find great curiosity about physics from non-physicist friends of mine. At dinner parties I'm frequently asked about some aspect of physics that has been on the news, a Horizon programme or Brian Cox's latest broadcast. Since I get invited back I assume the interest is real :-)

We do get excessive numbers of frivolous and lazy questions (as defined here) but I think the best way to deal with these is more active participation by site members. I very rarely see a question that is closed due to five votes to close by site members. Typically two to three of us can be bothered to VTC and we leave it to the poor old moderators to close the question. I would like site members to be able to vote to delete more easily, but that's out of our hands.

So to summarise, I agree with the OP that it would be nice to make the forum better for researchers and students, but the way to do this is not to discourage Physics 101 questions from people who don't fall into these categories.

  • $\begingroup$ Physics SE was mostly a site for active researchers, academics and students of Physics and Astronomy before the elections. It worked well for almost two years, so it is not true that such a sight would not be sustainable in the long run. TP.SE really wanted to deal exclusively only with research-level things, not even an advanced grad student could ask there which is very different from what is intended here by the statement in the About. Since the elections, Physics SE is almost exclusively a site for popular, homeworky, and very basic questions, $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 20 '13 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ Ok but what is stopping students asking questions? If it's homework questions we need to be better at deleting them. If it's valid but simple questions we need to be better at tagging them and allowing students to filter out tags they don't want. If, as I suspect, it's just that the novelty has worn off then I don't know what to suggest. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Mar 20 '13 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ whereas things questions with a level higher than this are fading out. So I see only two solutions to resolve this. Either the About gets changed to say that Physics SE should be a site for popular and very basic Q&A, which it actually is since the elections and a new site for for academics, active researchers and serious students of Physics and Astronomy gets started, or we really try the level of the site to what is said in the About, and a new site for popular Physics Q&A should be started. If neither the first nor the last thing is done, ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 20 '13 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ ...,Physics SE will stay just a site for popular and very basic questions and any higher level things will disappear completely, whereas no site for academics, active researchers, and students will exist in the long run. This is just too but I fear it is exactly this what will happen. In fact it is already happening ... :-/ $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 20 '13 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ What I can think of what is stopping students from asking questions is that most people that are here now are just happy with and prefer popular and very basic questions and answers. So higher level things are no longer properly taken not of today. Such questions do no longer get enough attention and traffic. They do not get enough upvotes, views, good answers etc, ... That was different before the elections. So I dont see what can be done apart from starting a new site, maybe outside the SE network such that the criteria for a site to be successful that killed TP.SE can not get applied to it. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 20 '13 at 11:30
  • $\begingroup$ However, a more efficient way to filter out could help to, but for this at list one additional intermediate "level-tag", apart from the research-level tag, would be needed and people are not willing to allow this. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 20 '13 at 11:36
  • $\begingroup$ Physics.SE may have been envisioned as a researcher-oriented site from the get-go, but that has not been the case on the ground. We're doing a pretty steady traffic in post-baccalaureate level question right now, but they are still the minority by a long shot. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 20 '13 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee So Physics SE has failed in being a site for the audience discribed in the About. Can and should the About then not be adapted accordingly, if we are giving up on making the site (again) what was originally intended? Reading what is written in the about and then looking at the first 5 pages (sorted by activity or newest) seems like a bad joke ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 20 '13 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton The pop-sciness of physics.se started with question 2. And while 1, 7 and 8 are a bit better than that they are still very general. Question 3 isn't that focused either. But, and this is important, the site is alive and growing and it is serving the post-graduate community. It is just not serving them exclusively. If you want to bring the level up, then ask high level questions and provide high level answers. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 20 '13 at 14:11

below a list of (more or less motivated) possible improvements.

As a starting tautology, if you want more research-inspired question, attract more researchers ! When I read some of you claiming they want pure theoretical discussion, I'm horrified. Physics is a science, and science means models AND experiments. Could be really fine to discuss more about experiments. I don't know how to do that, but restraining to pure theory of course restrain to less than the half of the physics community ! Note that attracting more experimental discussion may oblige experimentalist to discuss about their setups, and may resolve a lot of problem associated with this main-stream envy to publish only Science and Nature papers which usually do not contain enough materials for an experiment to be reproducible.

PS: The next two paragraphs have been edited, after discussions with Dilaton who pointed their excessive (even insulting) character that I apologize for.

I've the feeling that some of the answers are not at the level of the questions. It seems to me -- especially in the field of QFT that I don't know well but I'm trying to learn more -- that the answers are sometimes too technical. I'm a condensed matter physicist interested in quantum field theory, and most of the time the answer I read about QFT sounds inconclusive and of pure semantic polemics. The questions I read in quantum information and condensed matter topic (topics that I know better indeed), looks for me much more friendly and pedagogical. Still the level of the question is not amazingly high in average. Maybe a good point to have better question is first to have better answer.

Still regarding the different topics related to different communities: I've the feeling that the level of the questions crucially depends on the topic. For instance (and this might well be once again because I'm poorly knwoledged in QFT) it sounds for me that some post in condensed matter are really good, instructive and well documented. In few words, the condensed matter topic might well be still preserved from the deseases mentionned in the above question. The question still remains on how to get higher standard of course.

Maybe the modo should be a little bit less stringent regarding the rules at the beginning of a new question (examples: "you should add this in your answer, not as a post", "this is not a new answer, this is a comment of the previous one", "this is not a new question" ..., which sounds time consuming for them and not really helpful I believe). A perfect (and pedagogical) method for me would be to let people answering the way they want at the beginning (in post, answer, comment or whatever, just sending a reference or starting calculating from scratch, stopping a calculation, coming back latter for improvement, etc... well in a messy way, as almost all physicist desks are, isn't it ?). When the author of the question understands the point, HE / SHE writes HIMSELF / HERSELF the answer. It obliges to 1) know better how the site works technically (i.e. how long and boring it is to write on a small 10-lines box a long answer :-), 2) be responsible for getting the answer, 3) improve the presentation and pedagogy of the site, since the author's answer can be displayed at the beginning of all the answer. Also, this method helps in cleaning the post. Of course it is not perfect.

I'm not sure I understand what you want. Do you want open problem question ? Sure, I can do that. It will take me an entire afternoon each time to write correct presentation of the problem(s), to type all the maths and correct them. But sure I can do that ! Will result long unanswered posts for sure. Is that what you want ?

I prefer for myself discuss with colleagues around me first, then discuss with friends in conferences, then think hard for years before saying I can not resolve a problem. I will always use this web-site for question that I know some of you can answer better than what I found so far in non-specific literature, to clarify a specific point, ... well, I'm using Physics.SE for pedagogical reason, to discover a new subject for instance.

  • $\begingroup$ The proplem is exactly that good theoretical questions appear only sporadically and certain topics in fundamental and high energy physics are disappearing if they have not already gone comparede to what we had last year on this site. So I think this anwer largely misses the point or the problem, which makes me leave a disagreeing -1 $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 25 '13 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ BTW I strongly disagree with the claim that explaining things from a high energy physics point of view is not pedagogical. People educated in this discipline have often an amazingly clear way of thinking and explaining many physics topics, talking about things in a consistant and well structured manner, focusing on the fundamental ideas behind concepts etc, that I often miss elsewhere. There are many topics, ideas, concepts etc I really understood for the first time after people with this particular way of clear thinking explained it to me, here on Physics SE or elsewhere. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 25 '13 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ So claming that the site is spoiled by high energy physicists is not only very insulting (this sentence on its own is at least worth a downvote), but it is blatantly wrong too. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 25 '13 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton I once again apologize if I've been insulting. I edited my answer, in order to better fit my mind. Tell me if it's still too severe remarks. $\endgroup$ – FraSchelle Mar 25 '13 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ Hi @Oaoa, thanks for the edit, I have no removed my downvote since I think the post is no longer insulting. I still feel different about certain things, since I enjoy it a lot learning more about theoretical physics and like it a lot if corresponding questions and answers appeare here. But the level is to low I think, you are right that experimental physics is underrepresented, however according to my feeling when browsing the last 5-10 pages on the main site good high level theoretical questions have become too sparse too. Cheers $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Mar 25 '13 at 19:28

If you are a user who just want to read good posts without having to sift through poor posts, read on.

  1. With the current traffic (November 2017), it only takes in average 5 hours for a post to disappear from the front page. Hence it is easy to miss the quality posts.

  2. However, if you e.g. instead use the search feature closed:no score:1 with the options 'newest' and '50 per page', you only see the latest 50 open questions with score bigger than zero. It currently takes 2 days for a quality post to disappear from this search. So it is harder to miss the good stuff.

    This is just a suggestion. You can of course further limit the search by using certain keywords or tags.


I’m willing to tolerate some number of “non-research-grade” and generally lower level questions because I make excellent use of answers to less specialized questions on other SE sites. I’m not a professional mathematician, an expert at LaTeX or Mathematica, but I still extensively use these sites because good answers to rather mundane questions are often very useful (to me at least). I can only hope that users from other sites also find many of the answers to our less specialized questions equally useful.

This does not mean we should not strive to eliminate truly terrible questions. I seriously doubt if pictures of handwritten questions, or pictures of book questions, can generate insightful answers useful to anyone except the specific OP and a few other lucky users with the same textbook. Such questions should IMO be systematically downvoted and rooted out as promptly as feasible: if a person cannot take a few minutes to properly typeset (or learn to typeset) a question, one can wonder aloud if this question is acceptable for this (or any other) SE site. I would even suggest that we have an explicit Vote-To-Close item for such types of questions. This could be one step towards raising the quality of questions, the quality of answers, and the interest of posters.

Another practical step would be to have, like MathSE, a landing page of “interesting” rather just “newest” questions. I don’t know how a question is deemed “interesting”, and these disappear within hours (possibly due to the overall amount of questions on the site), but this could highlight some of the better questions when they are posted.

  • $\begingroup$ "Another practical step would be to have, like MathSE, a landing page of “interesting” rather just “newest” questions." You are aware of the five tab choices on physics.stackexchange.com and the six on physics.stackexchange.com/questions, right? And that these seem to be the same as those available on math.stackexchange.com? Or am I missing something obvious? $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Nov 27 '17 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee physics.stackexchange.com lands on "active" whereas math.stackexchange.com lands on "interesting". I don't know if their "interesting" is just a way of subbing for "active" or if they actually have someone decide if a question is actually interesting. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Nov 28 '17 at 0:20
  • $\begingroup$ Ah ... I'm missing something. The relevant links to see what is going on are math.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9249/… which points at stackoverflow.blog/2010/11/09/stack-overflow-homepage-changes. You're welcome to make a suggestion of that in a post but I don't know that we have the volume of questions. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Nov 28 '17 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee MathSE has 8x our number of questions so the pitch to implement this cannot be on numbers of questions alone. For now it’s enough to be aware that such an option exists. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Nov 28 '17 at 1:17

I would like to elaborate on the forceful moderation, as this is my main problem with this site, and what drove me away from it.

Specifically: Too many times I have seen an honest, well formulated question, being closed as duplicate.

This is perfectly fine when the linked question is practically a clone, with a quality answer. But in many cases a question asked at a beginner undergraduate level is closed because there is a duplicate with a advanced undergraduate level. Technically, it answers the question, but it's probably not the answer the poster was looking for.

What attracted me to to the site, was the pleasure of participating in an active community of experts and amateurs, willing to help each other out. I enjoy scratching my head and reformulate a concept to answer a fellow curious being. Does Physics SE want to become a collection of answered questions or be a Q&A site?

I stopped participating on this site because of excessive moderation, and I think I belong to the group of people this site needs.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Interesting comment. Although I agree that very similar questions are often asked at different levels, I also have the very clear impression that too many users do not make even a modicum of due diligence before posting a question to which there are already many valid and closely related answers. The onus surely is on the OP to clarify how her/his question differs from the existing ones. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Nov 25 '17 at 6:53
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    $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero I absolutely agree with you, and I would argue that in the case of these "low diligence questions", the moderator action of descending on the question to close it as duplicate is not very constructive. Rather, the moderator/reviewer could point the OP to a duplicate, and ask if and why that thread does not answer their doubt. This is to encourage critical thinking and intelligent discourse, and does not require much more effort than simply flagging. $\endgroup$ – Andrea Nov 25 '17 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ IMO, lower level but same question is still the same question & should be closed as a dupe. Since we're not restricted in answering at any level, feel free to write higher or lower level answers to any question you see. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 25 '17 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreaDiBiagio I would submit that the constructive steps you suggests are for the OP to take, rather than for the moderators to initiate. Comments can still be posted on closed questions, and a poster really interested in clarifying or otherwise improving a question can certainly do so and ask feedbacks in that matter. Unfortunately I’m afraid the large number closed questions abandoned without improvement suggests that no amount of constructive criticism on the part of anyone will prevent some from posting duplicates in the hope for a quick answer to their specific question. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Nov 29 '17 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I strongly disagree with what you imply here. Answers should be correct and satisfy the OP. As an extreme case, the question "Why is $(10+2) + 3 = 10 + (2+3)$?" would need radically different answers if asked by a 10 year old, or by a seasoned researcher. $\endgroup$ – Andrea Nov 29 '17 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreaDiBiagio you're assuming that the answer is strictly for OP. This is not the intent of SE sites as the founders envisioned: the Q&A are for the hundreds of people who wonder the same thing and visit later. Answers should only be correct. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 29 '17 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I'm not assuming it's strictly for op, but op and the hundreds of people who share the same question at a similar level. $\endgroup$ – Andrea Nov 29 '17 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero I haven't collected examples to judge past this point. I'm only left with my feeling of frustration at my question being closed as duplicate before giving me a chance to defend it, or seeing that a question was while I was crafting a good answer to it. These kinds of experiences pushed me away from the site, and I posit others might feel the same. $\endgroup$ – Andrea Nov 29 '17 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreaDiBiagio so basically what you're saying is an answer that isn't on level specific to the OP should be deleted? Why be so restrictive on answers? For what reason do you discount the advanced Q-lower A or lower Q-dvanced A? $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 29 '17 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I'm not advocating that, I am actually contrary to strong moderation. But I think part of answering a question is matching the level at which it's asked, so that the individual asking the question is satisfied. Say an undergraduate asks a question and receives a satisfying answer, which he accepts. Now say that a researcher comes along and has the same question, but the accepted answer is too general, or handwavy for her necessity. What should she do? $\endgroup$ – Andrea Nov 30 '17 at 0:39
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreaDiBiagio so basically you lied when you said you don't think it's strictly for OP, great. Then you move the goal posts and posit another situation, awesome. Good luck getting anywhere in life. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 30 '17 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos this has escalated to the point I think your intention is to troll. I did not "lie" and my question was meant to render explicit a situation where similar questions, asked by different people have a place on this site. That's all. $\endgroup$ – Andrea Nov 30 '17 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreaDiBiagio no, I was not trolling; I was ending the conversation because your lies and goalpost shifting aren't worth the effort. I think you fundamentally misunderstand the point of SE sites & am willing to leave it at that. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 30 '17 at 13:37

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