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In this question, the OP asks about a statement concerning a particle physics topics, taken from a certain well known website. The answer nicely clarifies why this statement is wrong from a physics point of view, so far so good.

In addition, the owner of this website is not an expert in the funtamental physics topics by training or education (particle physics, some cosmology, and reltated things), he often writes about, even though he often manages to pose as an expert in popular media such as newspagers, magazines, etc by deluding too gulible science journalists which lets him successfully negatively biase the view and percetption of fundamental physics in the public. Prof. Strassler for example continuisly has to correct the from a physics point of view wrong, exagerated, biased, and otherwise inappropriate claims this blogger is cited for in popular mass media.

Real experts who actually work on the topics the website cited in the question often talks (or more appropriately rants) about, know that the aim of this site is not to deliver correct reliable physics information (it is even explicitely stated on that site in the text that describes what kind of comments are welcome, that its purpose is not to discuss physics!), but the owner has an agenda to harm research he dislikes and obviously does not properly understand not only by instigating flame wars in the internet, but to prevent that it gets properly funded in the real world too by making himself seen and heard in the media.

So my question is:

Why are all comments pointing out that there is a general problem with the credibility and appropriateness of such websites for exctracting correct physics informations, repeatedly deleted by I moderator? Why is it generally not allowed to judge the credibility of sources people take the information from to ask questions on physics SE?

To physicists, it is well known that not all sources where one can find information about physics, are equally good and reliable and if certain sources mentioned are systematically problematic it should not only be allowed to point this out, Physics SE should even "feel obliged" to uncover these issues, if being a good place to learn about correct physics is still among its main goals.

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    $\begingroup$ Of course I expect fans of the website cited in the question that triggered this meta post to downvote ;-) $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 29 '13 at 9:28
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    $\begingroup$ The downvote was mine, because I disagree with the premise here. I care a damn about the website. You keep making assumptions about people: The moderators, the downvoters, other posters, etc. There's little point to doing this, please stop. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 9:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I suspected that the downvote was yours and that is was you who deleted my (the first ones even upvoted) comments ;-). That is the difference between Physics SE and the formar TP.SE. On TP.SE they never ever accepted or even defended such sources whose purpose is nothing but to harm physics, and never have tollerated or even allowed trolling about mainstream physics. I guess this difference stems from the fact that the moderators on TP.SE have all been physicists themself. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 29 '13 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ Because like I mentioned before, that's not trolling, not in itself. Again, how would you feel if someone made those sweeping statements about Susskind? You would probably want those comments deleted. In this case there were comments disagreeing with you, too. Libel aside, are we supposed to go read the blog ourselves an check its correctness? There is a reason we don't judge correct from wrong. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 10:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth what do you mean "There is a reason we don't judge correct from wrong". The person answering is responsible for the rightness or wrongness of his/her answer and the persons reading downvote or upvote. If there is no four letter language why should a moderator interfere? I would like to have the information if a link given for a Big Bang question is a "creation site". It saves me the effort of finding it out. Why would it be considered libelous to call it unreliable for a physics answer? $\endgroup$ – anna v Jun 29 '13 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ @annav It's OK to call the contents of a link unreliable. Not the entire blog, especially when coupled with personal attacks. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ What I mean by "judge correct from wrong" is that moderators will not judge if an answer is correct or wrong or if a link is unreliable/reliable. If someone wrote the same comments about, say, Ed Witten or Lenny Susskind, they would be deleted too. We don't distinguish when it comes to using mod powers. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth this is not true: for example the work of Lenny Susskind, Brian Greene, M. Kaku, Gordon Kane, L. Motl, etc. is explicitely called pseudo science (which implicitely means that they are pseody scientists too) in the previous version (v2) of this and comments and flags pointing out that this is insulting have been ignored. Nothing has been done by the moderators about it, before I edited these most insulting parts out. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 29 '13 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton No, that post may say something wrong and then misquoting. The "boltzmann brain" part could have been removed though. The psuedoscience bit too. But it was not libel, it was not directly calling anyone a psuedoscientist. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ Also, your flag was after you edited stuff out. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth nope, the correct succession of events was: I flagged the post in its version (v2), got annoyed that my flag did not have any impact and therefore posted on meta, and since that did not help at all either, I decided to edit at least the most insulting bits out to make it look less bad that this post got upvoted. Anybody skillful and powerful enough can confirm that this is the correct succession of events. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 29 '13 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Ah, OK, the first offensive flag (didn't notice that, sorry). Don't use that for non-obvious cases. In this case the offensiveness was hidden away in the last sentence and could have been edited out. Unless a post is obviously offensive, don't use that flag and resort to a custom flag. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 16:07
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A certain population of this site has taken to writing

"not mainstream physics"

as if those words were a magic wand that entitles the wielder to demand actions from the moderator and to ignore the (already very loose) civility requirements on Physics.SE.

It is true that kooks, cranks, wannabes and other species of attention seekers do try to use Physics.SE as a platform to further their views, but the way to indicate to the public what we think of those views is not by asking a privileged minority to silence them but by voting them into oblivion.

The application of moderator powers to remove kooky content will not make the kooks go away and it will not leave a trail that says "we as a community have judged this to be nonsense".

The moderation team is not (and is not expected to be) expert in all sub-fields and corners of physics. Our job is not to sort the wheat from the chaff: that is what the voting mechanism is for. Vote. Vote. Vote! Both up and down.


The particular comments were deleted because, by attributing motives to another poster (and later to the moderators, again!) they

  • Took the focus off of physics and onto people.
  • Invited personal response and further conflict of personalities instead of ideas

The moderators job does include moderating the discussion, which means removing exactly that sort of content.

You will notice that other comments disputing the physics and not maligning the person were left.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for showing up and posting this answer. What if the voting system breaks down and kooky and/or attacking /insulting content gets even upvoted by the crowd? If this happens, comments speaking up against such posts should certainly not get deleted ...?! $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 29 '13 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton If you say "this post is wrong", it is OK. If you say "the linked blog post" is mistaken, that is OK. If you say "this entire blog is utter nonsense and the author is just ranting and trying to destroy physics research", that is libel. It's quite a serious offence in the States and we don't want that kind of stuff on Physics.SE $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton You took the focus off the physics and placed it, instead, on a person. And then you seem to have turned it to the moderators as a group: attributing certain beliefs to us. I know that when your dander is up these distinction can seem trifling, but they do make a difference in the tone and heat of discussions. Please chose the less personal in future. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Jun 29 '13 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Secondly, comments are not "posts" in Stack Exchange-ese. They are not permanent. They don't have protection against deletion. Anything that you want to be part of the permanent record should go into question or and answer. In this instance you could have written an answer dissecting where the blog goes wrong. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Jun 29 '13 at 16:05
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Why are you so concerned with the deletion of comments?

Comments are deleted at will. They are fifth class citizens. Disposable. Nuke-able. Here today, gone tomorrow!

There is no FSM-given right of any comment to live, at a fundamental level. Comments are only meant for discussing a post and how to improve it, and are typically deleted after they are addressed.

Did you know, for example, that originally there were no comments?

So, the morale is: don't put anything in there you wouldn't want deleted.

  • If a comment answers the question, make it an answer
  • If it's a faux-answer, or a meta-answer: Physics SE is not the place to discuss this.

That is, these kinds of discussions have a place and a value, but not here on SE.

In other words:

  • This is a QUESTION and ANSWERS site. <-- i.e. we like QUESTIONS and ANSWERS.
  • This is NOT a forum <-- i.e. we don't like comments.

If one person contributes to the site mainly with comments, they are not helping the site grow that much.

People come here with questions and want answers. If a question is valid, they don't want to be engaged in comments, they want an answer.

Furthermore, future visitors will typically come from a search engine, with a similar question. They really, really won't care about a debate (or even less, a rant) on how appropriate an external link is in general. They simply want to know an answer to the question.

The recipe of Stack Exchange, and the reason why we are reasonably successful, is to let the community focus on that by making everything else less important.

We realize it's a recipe, an opinion. However, that's how we roll - there are plenty of forums, other Q&A sites, blogs and wikis if one wants to contribute differently.

I totally understand that in other places the law of the land is different, but you have been on this site for long enough to know how this site works.

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    $\begingroup$ Side note: we ask community moderators to be janitors. To clean the site. This includes old/inappropriate comments. They are completely supported on this by SE. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Jun 29 '13 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ This is not an answer to the question,. $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Jun 29 '13 at 10:23
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    $\begingroup$ @dimension10 Why not? Meta is for discussion on issues, and this addresses the issue. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ @dimension10 it answers "Why are all comments pointing out that there is a general problem with the credibility and appropriateness of such websites for exctracting correct physics informations, repeatedly deleted by I moderator?" $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Jun 29 '13 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth, Sklizvv: Because "Who cares about comments" is not an answer to "Why were the comments deleted?". $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Jun 29 '13 at 10:28
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    $\begingroup$ @dimension10 It is. "We don't care about comments" \implies "They can be deleted at will without reason". I.e., it says that there doesn't need to be a reason for comment deletion. And again, on meta, it's OK if you don't answer the question as long as you address the issue. This isn't main. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 10:30
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    $\begingroup$ Can we kindly nuke this thread already? It's gone totally useless. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Jun 29 '13 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ Sklivvz I'd like to see the opinion of some other physics moderators such as Qmechanic, Dmckee, David Z, for example. So can we wait a bit with nuking this meta question? $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 29 '13 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton, you misunderstand me! I meant keep the question, but nuke this thread of comments! $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Jun 29 '13 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Sklivvz aah I see $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 29 '13 at 10:38
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Firstly, comments are for improvements and possible clarifications of a post. Commenting "The link you use is not reliable" doesn't fit in to these.

Secondly, the statements you were making were libelous. That's not allowed here. Unless the post is effectively promoting a crank blog, we don't care about the reliability of the sources there. It's OK to say that "the blog is wrong in this case" -- that's fine. It's not OK to:

  • Call the entire blog "unreliable"
  • Make sweeping, libelous assumptions about "the only purpose of his blog, book, maybe his life"

Imagine what you would say if you saw similar comments directed towards Lenny Susskind or Terry Tao (Or even Motl for that matter) or some other great contemporary scientist with an Internet presence. It's safe to say that you'd want it removed. (And someone did take offence to your comments and ask for removal via a flag)

We don't judge the correctness of anything, including external resources. Thus, any such comments will be deleted. I don't care if it's correct or wrong, libel is libel.

I understand that you feel that "The laypeople reading physics SE should properly be warned to not put any trust into this website". However, this is not a platform for your views against a blog. If you wish to broadcast your views on this blog, do it elsewhere. Libel will not be tolerated.


A note: If you feel that the source in an answer is not too reliable, you are free to ask for a different source, saying that you personally (or many people) don't trust it. This happend with w3schools links on SO.

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    $\begingroup$ I will repeat my statement. Would you delete a comment pointing out that the link given in the question comes from a "creation website" and is not to be relied for physics answers? Why would it be libelous? It is an opinion shared by many physicists in the case of the link in the question above, and by all physicists in my example. $\endgroup$ – anna v Jun 29 '13 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ @annav Dilaton's comments were not only attacking the blog, they were attacking the user behind it as well. If Dilaton wishes I can make the comments public. These are not nice comments, even if there is no four letter language. These comments are libelous. We don't want that here. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ I have nothing against my comments being public, they just strongly disagree with the actions and personal attitudes of the owner of that website (which are obvious everybody who reads that blog or the corresponding book and cited statements in popular media). As @annav said, many physicists share my assessment of this blog. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 29 '13 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Fine, but don't use Physics.SE as your mouthpiece to broadcast your disagreements. I don't care how many physicists share your assessment. Libel is libel. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I think you should care a bit about what and how physicists think, since as I understand it Physics SE is still meant to be a place where physicists should feel welcome and at home and therefore their needs, opinion, way of thinking, etc should be taken seriously and be supported by the moderation. Of course this is just my opinion. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 29 '13 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton I personally do care. However, libel is libel, and rules are rules. I am not going to bend the civility rules (yes, libel is an example of incivility). There's a limit to everything. If you wish, post on Meta Stack Exchange and ask for the policy on community-supported libel. We both can guess what the official response will be. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Again, all this could have been avoided if you simply posted (in a comment or answer, if the answer would be addressing the question) "The post you link to is wrong, because <reasons>". You can omit the reasons too if you're using a comment, though such a comment is rarely helpful. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton However, using the comments section as a mouthpiece for libel is not allowed. Even if people feel that the site is unreliable, you only address the post linked to in the question and not the whole site. Again, we are not here to serve your needs as a mouthpiece for your opinions on blogs/etc. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth yeah, I meant it would be good if you could care a bit about what is important for the community of physicists here or in the real world, take their opinions, point of view, and needs seriously not mine ;-). Even though it may happen by chance that sporadically my opinion or point of view coincides with what more or less well known physicists think ... Thats all. Cheers $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 29 '13 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Again, just to clarify: I care. Of course I care. I wish to join this same community in the future, how could I not? However, as a moderator, just like I cannot go around suspending everyone, I similarly cannot let certain things stay on the site when explicitly brought to my attention. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ This is a privately owned website. There is no freedom of speech here. Management, staff and moderators can do as they see fit, and that is entirely proper. In particular, they can say what kind of comments will be tolerated and what kind won't be. That said, Manishearth, you may want to be more careful before you make legal pronouncements. Whether or not a particular expression is libel is not cut and dried. People go to law school for years to study such matters. And speaking somewhat facetiously, someone might even accuse you of libel for saying that they libeled someone else ;) $\endgroup$ – Eugene Seidel Jun 29 '13 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @EugeneSeidel This isn't a country, so disallowing certain forms of speech doesn't impinge on any rights (For that matter, in any professional setting, the sort of language you are allowed to use is restricted. I can't go to a physics conference and say anything I want about a physicist on the microphone). $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not making a cut-and-dry legal pronouncement here. I'm not using "libel" in whatever complicated definition the US court gives. I'm using it in the general sense, without an exact definition. Dilaton here made broad statements about the purpose of Woit's work, blog, and life. That's a personal attack (already disallowed), and potentially libelous. Good enough to delete. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 29 '13 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ To be clear: we don't like discussion in comments in all cases. There's no arbitrary judgement call. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Jun 30 '13 at 9:30

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