Just as a most recent example (I could give many more posted by other users too), this "answer" does not answer the question, brings up confused rhetoric intended to troll about fundamental physics generally, and the only logical interpretation of the link in this "answer" is that it is meant to troll about string theory, which is not even the topic of the question. This user states in his profile, that he is a "aether wave theorist" which clearly says that he has his own by mainstream physicists not accepted personal nonsense theory, which he advertises indeed here on Physics SE as one can see when looking at his other "not a real answers" he posts to fundamental physics questions. From physics blogs, such as Prof Strassler, Resonaances, Cosmic Variance, Philip Gibbs, etc as well as from his comments below popular news articles about fundamental physics, this particular user is well known for his trolling and flaming to interrupt serious physics discussions and for his attack against mainstream physicists and their work as well as promoting his personal fringe theories.

There are other examples of questions, where people abuse the answer feature in the same way, as can for example be seen by looking at the answers with negative score of this question where the "answer" of a user who calls himself Albert Z, another troll well known in the physics blogosphere, is even upvoted!

When I flag such posts, because they do not answer the question, are trolling about accepted mainstream physics and/or advertize personal nonsense theories, or because the particular user posts such things repeatedly at different questions too, my flags are often decline by a moderator who says " A moderator has looked at it but there is no evidence " or something along these lines.

As the corresponding flags are declined, what else can I do to indicate that there is a problem with these posts and maybe even with a particular user who posts such "not a real answers" to different question about particular topics on the site?

Declining these flags and denying that there is a problem with these posts/user gives the (I really hope wrong!) impression that Physics SE tolerates and even protects (!) such a behavior. This impression is reinforced by noting that we have a not negligible number of people who even upvote such posts...

I always thought that Physics SE is for doing physics seriously, and that in contrast to some blogs, forums, discussions below popular news articles, etc where it is ok for people to rather state their personal wrong/bad informed opinions, attack mainstream physics, advertize personal fringe theories, to troll and flame, etc should be kept out from Physics SE such that people seriously interested in learning about all (!) topics of physics can do so undisturbed by such negative, nonconstructive, and disruptive behavior.

What am I getting wrong here? Is Physics SE really tolerating this bad behavior?


There are trolling questions too sometimes, but they can be flagged as not constructive, not a real question, offensive if they are really bad etc, but equivalent flagging options to point out such inappropriate behaviour in answers are missing...

  • $\begingroup$ So you flag'd the question in the first link (that is not saying anything and just a link to an XKCD comic) as "Not an Answer" and it was declined? $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Jun 8 '13 at 11:54
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 I flagged the answer (not the question) "as very low quality", "not an answer" would have been better. However, I guess the flag was not just declined because I fetched the wrong option to say that there is a problem with this "answer", or is it? After the first flag was declined I flagged that answer again for moderator attention, explicitely saying what is wrong with it, and then the second flag was declined again. Here is my flagging history, not sure if you can read it since you are not me ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ I can't say why it was declined as I'm not a moderator, nor can I see your flagging history. But I am surprised that would be declined as it doesn't seem like a real answer to me. However, I've had a flag or two declined myself so I am not the authoritative source. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Jun 8 '13 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 yep, sometimes it is not obvious why flags get declined ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114: I agree; to me while the motivation behind the flag is wrong, the ans is deletable. It's possible that the flag gave a wrong context to it. If it wasn't an NAA flag, the handling mod may not have cross-checked it with the question -- you don't need to if the flag is VLQ or about trolling. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 8 '13 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton, calling people names is childish, you should really avoid this. Also, who cares? $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Jun 10 '13 at 11:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Sklivvz the terms trolls/trolling and flaming in this context is NOT calling names. Social scientists investigating the pehaviour of groups and people in the internet use trolling/troll and flaming as technical terms to describe a certain negative and disruptive behavior observed in internet discussions but it occures in the real world too, as explained in the Wikipedia articles I linked to. As I conclude from the response I get when asking what can be done against it, if it happens $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 10 '13 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ here at Physics SE, on this site trolling and flaming (as technically defined by social scientists) is obvously allowed, sometimes even endorsed by upvoting, and such posts are protected and kept. Who cares? People who like discuss and learn about physics of the topics usually attacked by people who troll and flame probably care. I at least care if I have to tolerate trolling and flaming answers, when asking about certain topics here. I am thinking about removing tags of topics that are often targetted by such attacks and I will be very careful to avoid arousing such negative response when $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 10 '13 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ asking new questions. Maybe the "who cares" attitude is not that bad, since technical questions about these topics get almost now attention these days, so asking such things here is maybe no longer a good idea anyway. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 10 '13 at 12:11

If someone is advertising a non-mainstream theory with their posts, flag it with a custom message. While it is not the job of moderators to sift correct from wrong, we do indeed delete material that advertises pet theories as per our faq.

About the "line of thought" answer: It doesn't look like trolling to me, but it seems deletable (or converted to a comment) as not an answer. The xkcd comic is not an indication of trolling. I'll wait for input from the other mods on this one before doing anything.

Regarding Albert Z's answer, again, it's not trolling. While his point may be tongue-in-cheek, it doesn't immediately come off as an attempt to troll. Of course, if you have come across this user before and know that he is a troll, your perception will be different.

We try not to let a users behavior off-site dictate how we deal with them here.

On the same "disprove string theory question", I deleted an answer that basically said "no, because we'd need huge accelerators first". I didn't delete this because it may be wrong, but it isn't trolling.

Just because a post is against a theory that you approve of doesn't make it trolling. In this case, it's not propagating non-mainstream physics, it is simply casting doubt on String theory. Perfectly OK, as long as it doesn't start a flamewar. I recall that you had complained about another question before as trolling, just because it partially casted doubt on the framework of physics. Simply casting doubt or attempting to understand by exposing weak points is NOT trolling.

  • $\begingroup$ I'll look at the other answers of Zephir et al later, though if it's about non-mainstream physics it may take some time. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 8 '13 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ I though, here on physics, answers should be based on physics reasoning and not on personal prejudices, what one likes or dislikes, etc. I also disaprove just stating personal negative opinions, not motivated by physics reasoning, about theories belonging to mainstreem physics of which I know arguments that speak aagainst them from a physics point of view. I think just stating personal opinions, what one likes or dislikes, making fun of things, or ironic/sarcastic comments without well motivated physics reasoning should not be allowed here as answers. BTW thanks for looking into the issue. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: I don't see "personal prejudices here". Remember, string theory does have its opponents. Not as a "personal" thing, but due to its complexity and the nature of experiments required for verification. The opponents of ST oppose it for scientific reasons, not personal ones (a lot depends on the application of Occam's razor). That's besides the point; what is stated in the answers isn't what they like/dislike. He makes a valid (if possibly wrong) point -- since ST has many variations, it's much harder to disprove in bulk. It does answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 8 '13 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ We won't judge "well motivated" at this stage, until we see that the user has a history of trolling on the site. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 8 '13 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ but in science, not only physices, if arguments or points made are well founded should always judged at any stage. This is exactly what differs natural sciences from more subjective subjects such as philosophy, arts, etc were often it can not be told who is right because several points of view, opinions, etc are equally valid. In physics, it can be told what is in agreement with the current knowledge of the real world physics community and what is not; and of this possibility should be made use here on Physics SE too. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ If somebody brings up well motivated from a physics point of view arguments against string theory, LQG, certain issues in cosmology, etc in an answer that well adresses what is asked about in the question, I have absolutely no problem with this. On the contrary, to make the scientific method work such things are encouraged and even needed. But such statements should always be well motivated by physics reasoning. This given, the point made can then objectively be judged by other people reading the answer from a physics point of view too. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ If what the answerer says is considered correct by the community of physicists, it (under ideal conditions...) gets upvoted by people who know about the topic, and if there are errors in the line of thinking, they can be pointed out and the answer gets (again under ideal conditions) downvoted. In such a case there is no need for a flag, as the system works by itself as it should. But this can only be done if the arguments in questions and answers are accompanied by physics reasoning. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: Let me rephrase that; we can't judge motivation at this stage. If the person is posting many many treatises against ST or other BSM physics, then that may be an issue. But one or two posts that (to me) aren't blatant trolling are OK, only worth keeping a watch. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 8 '13 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ Also, voting is separate from flagging. You should not flag just because the vote system didn't work. In the case of wrong answers you should not flag at all. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 8 '13 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ Hm we are talking past each other again I think ... I am not talking about personal motivation (on this you are correct, it can not be judged after one or two posts), but I mean of the argument somebody brings up is accompanied by a physics explanation motivating it. If such a physics motivation is missing in a post, this is bad because questions and answers here should be about physics. The physics explanation (or motivation) can and should (!) then well be checked by the experts here. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ So I'd say answers and question, which contain no physics reasoning or thinking are a bad fit for this site per se. And if the physics reasoning is given, but the voting system breaks down because people are polling on other than physics motivation, reasoning, and thinking, this reduces the reliability with which correct information can be found of the site, of completely wrong answers get upvoted and accepted, whereas from a physics point of view correct answers get ignored or worse even downvoted. But this is another issue which, I agree, can not be resolved by flags. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, what can one do, if the voting system breaks down on noting that wrong posts are upvoted and/or correct answers are downvoted? I mean apart from countervoting, if this is not enough to correct the wrong final score? $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: About the physics explanation: While I agree with the principle, it's not something we'll enforce. And there are many legit cases where a physics explanation isn't necessary. In fact, Albert Zs answer does not need physics explanation. It would take pages of explanation to substantiate the claim. Forcing explanations is not the way to go here.About wrong answers being upvoted: Leave a comment. Downvote. Ask for review in chat. Also, note that it may not actually be wrong. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 8 '13 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ All in all, remember that it's not a big deal if an answer you don't like is not deleted: If there are well-reasoned comments against it, then the reader can decide for himself. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 8 '13 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Just occurred to me: If you see wrong answers, an awesome way to combat them is to write a better answer that counters the points in that answer (try not to explicitly target the answer or the answerer). Make sure your answer is better substantiated. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 8 '13 at 14:31

I think I should point out that one of the canned reasons for declining a flag is

flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer

You should vote wrong answers down. If this kind of nonsense is buried with net scores far into the negative range it simply doesn't matter if this guy is at all serious because no one will mistake the site for endorsing the material contained there in.

  • $\begingroup$ Ok, I think I agree with this. But what for example about this upvoted (!) post? The OP of it is just repeating two well know negative slogans thrown around in the physics blogosphere (often by people who have no knowledge about the topic of their own) on which he bases his personal "negative experience". This does not answer the question "what experiments can disprove ST". Calling string theory and related physics in the last sentence as "postmodern pseudo science" is very insulting to physicists working on these topics. This post bein upvoted to +3 makes it look as if Physics SE endorses it. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ ... I mean this post: physics.stackexchange.com/a/19089/2751 $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ That answer certainly overstates the case, but it is a significant problem for string theory that the unconstrained parameter space is very large and that the theory takes on very different characteristics in different parts of the parameters spaces. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jun 8 '13 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ yep, how to physically and mathematically constrain the large space of solutions is an open problem of ongoing research. But is it because of this allowed on physics SE, to insult all people working on ST by calling it pseudo science? On forums, blogs, etc people can say what they want, but on a serious physics site (which I initially thought Physics SE is meant to be) such bullying of certain legitimate physics topics and people working on them should not be allowed. That this outrigth trollong post has 7 upvotes and only 4 downvotes is really worrysome. If such a behavior takes $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ Over and is tolerated and even protected here, I suspect experts working on topics that are often targetted by this kind of trolls attacking fundamental physics, will lose any interest in being here if it is legitimate to insult and bully them and their work. I will be careful too when asking here, to not provoke this kind of response as "answers" to my questions. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Trolling like that is in the eye of the beholder. I personally consider things like "...on a serious physics site (which I initially thought Physics SE is meant to be)..." to be trolling. Particularly since that comes up in virtually everything I've seen you write. If you don't like a post, downvote it, vote to close (if a question), and/or flag it as appropriate and move on. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Jun 8 '13 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 so for you it is ok to insult people and their work here, fine. My question is exactly here because flagging inappropriate things does often not work, and I can not vote to close. What exactly is trolling when I say that on a site, where people want to seriously learn physics, it should not be allowed to insult physicists and/or their work which is accepted as legitimate and mainstream by the real world physics community? This should be a minimal standard everybody agrees on, but obviously this is not the case. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 8 '13 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton I didn't say that, and please don't put words in my mouth. All I said is that I disagree with some of your examples and the way in which you present and argue your case. There are other examples I agree with (as I have commented above). Have you ever presented results at a scientific conference or submitted a paper for peer review? Often you will be insulted. We should strive for civility, but we should also use the tools we have and ignore and don't validate those who don't act appropriately. People troll for attention, and that's exactly what is being given through this post. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Jun 8 '13 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ Dilaton is absolutely right, unfortunately. The example he gives in the comment above is no more a question than one to a politician by his campaign $\endgroup$ – user12811 Jun 10 '13 at 14:57

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