The Stack Exchange model does not work well for "big list" questions, and these are banned network-wide for good reason. However, many of the other stack exchange sites allow or even encourage list questions that do not fall under the "big list" category.

On the other hand, Physics.SE currently has a de facto policy against list questions of any kind, even if they are quite limited in scope and technical in nature. I know I'm not the only user who finds this frustrating, and so I would like to open this policy up for discussion. In particular, I would like to propose that we make a distinction between unhelpful "big list" questions and more productive "good list" questions that should be allowed on the site.

A good starting point for this is the "good subjective, bad subjective" post on the Stack Exchange blog. Although it doesn't mention lists specifically, it makes the helpful point that subjectivity in itself does not make a question unsuitable for the Stack Exchange model, and if a subjective question follows an appropriate set of guidelines then it can be productive. I believe the same to be true of list questions. In fact many of the guidelines for subjective questions in general could be carried over to list questions in particular.

The "good subjective, bad subjective" blog post gives the following set of guidelines for subjective posts. I think this will need some modification beyond just replacing "subjective" with "list", but it gives us a start in coming up with a suitable set of guidelines for list questions.

  1. Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”
  2. Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers
  3. Great subjective questions have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone
  4. Great subjective questions invite sharing experiences over opinions
  5. Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references
  6. Great subjective questions are more than just mindless social fun

For list questions on physics I think the most important requirements should be that they are based on facts and not opinions, and that they be sufficiently limited in scope, i.e. not likely to produce and endless string of answers, none of which is any better than the others. Of course, the latter is a judgement call, and we need to discuss the criteria used to make it.

Good list questions could include (for example) lists of applications of a particular theory; references to support a particular claim; or ways to determine a particular empirical quantity. In each case we have to be careful about scope ("What are some applications of Newton's second law?" would be a bad list question), but appropriately restrictive list questions of these kinds could be a useful and productive thing to have on the site.

I would be very grateful if anyone would like to update this question with some links to examples. Here is a recent one that sparked some discussion, but I know there have been many other good examples over the years.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for posting it, it's good to have the discussion formally. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Jul 15 '13 at 5:28
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    $\begingroup$ +1 Great. Just yesterday I was thinking of posting something similar to this asking for a reevaluation of our policy (after reading some meta posts it occurred to me that we can safely tweak it a bit) :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed (with @tpg2114). So far we've disallowed list questions because generally speaking, the SE model is not suitable for them (e.g. voting is worse than useless for such questions because there are no correct or incorrect answers), but if we can identify specific categories of list questions that will work on the site, I'd have no problem with them. We've never managed to complete that discussion as a community though. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 15 '13 at 5:33
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZaslavsky my take on that is that if the scope is limited enough then there are correct and incorrect answers: an answer is either one of the relatively few items that should be on the list, or it isn't. There are also cases where the scope is sufficiently limited that the ideal answer could simply enumerate the entire list. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 15 '13 at 5:41
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I could get behind that. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 15 '13 at 5:43
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    $\begingroup$ I agree, there are very, very good list questions, such as this one from the top-voted questions with several great answers that add up to a good picture, noone would have been able to provide on his own. $\endgroup$ – Neuneck Jul 15 '13 at 7:07
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this nice post, I exactly agree with you. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ I'm always up for some grey in a black-and-white picture. So it's good to have this discussion. $\endgroup$ – Wouter Jul 15 '13 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Wouter Yep. It's taking some time but I think I may be able to strike a good balance in my answer. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 9:21
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    $\begingroup$ An example of "good list" and proof that they don't get closed just because it's a list: physics.stackexchange.com/q/52970 $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Jul 16 '13 at 1:03
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    $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 I'm quite shocked that wasn't closed actually - not only does it ask for a list but it's tagged with "soft-question", both of which would usually make it a candidate for immediate closing by the mods. Was there any discussion about this question at the time? $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 16 '13 at 2:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel Not that I'm aware of. But, it does fit the criteria of "good list" that I outlined -- finite set of answers which could easily be put in a single answer that is relatively static with time. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Jul 16 '13 at 2:19
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 the finite-ness seems rather hard to judge in this case. From the question it seems a priori that it could have run to dozens of answers, each giving a user's own favorite tip. Perhaps it would have if it didn't have a good accepted answer from you. In fact it seems quite a good example of "a single answer is unlikely to be complete on its own", which I might demonstrate if I have time by adding an additional answer. I struggle to see where the plasma physics question differs in this respect, as it seems obvious that there will be a finite number of unsolved problems in that field. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 16 '13 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 just to be clear, I do think the question you linked to is a "good list" question (in addition to being a good "soft question", which is another thing), it's just that I'm less sure about the criteria needed to make that judgement. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 16 '13 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ I hadn't seen that question before. Although as currently phrased it sounds like a list question, I don't think it is, because it could just be slightly rephrased as "How can I gain physical insight from a complex mathematical formula?" That's just an ordinary question which has answers, not a request for a list. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 16 '13 at 6:39

See also: Why are "shopping list" questions bad?, http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/08/the-future-of-community-wiki/


I do feel that our book/list policy can be revised. Not removed, but loosened up considerably. For book questions, this can be done by making sure that answers include a sketch of the book -- what prerequisites are assumed, the style of the book, etc.

I'll first start out by listing the problems that can occur with such questions. If we can fix most of these, we may have a chance. Note that by "fix", I'm talking about formulating a policy that effectively mitigates these issues. I'm quite certain that SE wont implement any features specifically to

The problems

There are a couple of things that irk me about list questions in general:

  • This is a Q&A site, and as such a list item is not an "answer"
  • They tend to be less conceptual. One of the reasons why I like Physics.SE over Quora and PhysicsForums is that questions here are invariably about concepts.
  • They may attract a lower-level crowd (like "list of Physics jokes", etc). Quora has this problem -- it's got a lot of list questions and very few high level ones.
  • A single answer is almost never complete. This gets to me a lot, because it's so different in nature from other Q&As here. I can very well read the top or top 2 answers of a Q&A and learn enough. That doesn't work on list questions.
  • Thy end up as a popularity contest. It's not "best answer gets voted to the top", it's "most popular answer gets voted to the top". Voting doesn't indicate the best answer, it indicates:
    • The oldest answer
    • The most popular answer

Point #3 and partially point #4 don't really apply to book recommendations, not always.

However, book recommendation questions are unmoderatable. Unlike conceptual answers, which can be easily checked for non mainstreamness and pitching, book recommendations are hotbeds for people pitching their own publications. And also pitching irrelevant or non-mainstream books. It's not easy to moderate this, because, as moderators, we would have to read the book.

Also, note that the following problems do not occur with book recommendations on Physics (which do occur with shopping recs):

  • Price issues: From what I've seen, nobody cares about price with book recommendations on Physics.
  • Outdatedness: Griffiths has been used ever since Man discovered fire. Same goes for Resnick-Halliday-* and Kreyzig and the rest. While new physics books come up all the time, existing ones don't get outdated, not really. There are exceptions, though.

More about book questions, and a proposed policy to allow them

One thing that happens with book questions is that the real question being asked is "Please teach me about X". Whenever a question is narrow enough such that the topic X can be reasonably explained in a single post with links to additional reading, I feel that we should convert the post with an edit (with or without the OPs consent -- currently we have done this but only if the OP consents).

In the case of broader topics, here's what I propose:

  • Only allow descriptive answers. There are lots of Physics books on a topic that can be found by an Amazon search. The question is, which one is appropriate to read? When trying to learn GTR on my own, I went ahead and borrowed Misner-Thorne-Wheeler. Big mistake. It is one of the best books in the field, but it's more of a reference -- there are better books to study from if you want to teach yourself. Thing is, you need to know what a book covers, and, more importantly, how it covers it. Does it explain tensor calculus or does it simply expect you to know it? These sorts of things are important. I've heard people talk for more than 15 minutes on the merits/demerits, style, et cetera of a physics book, so I'm sure that it's not unreasonable to ask for this. This actually makes the post really, really useful -- the reader knows his/her needs better than we do, and giving information on the style of books is a better way for the reader to determine which book to finally use. Information is always better than advice.
  • The question should mention the level of understanding of the student. The topic should not be too broad, either. Also, we ought to edit in a mention of the previous point.
  • We place a boilerplate banner on each question linking to a book policy and mentioning (in short) what is to be expected of answers.
  • We will need the community to actively help curate book questions and enforce these policies. This is important.
  • These should be made CW. Reasons? See Chris' comment
  • This is an optional point: We maintain a single Community Wiki answer per question, and all other answers are incorporated and deleted as they come in.

If these policies are in place, the major problems with books questions are reduced. They're much more relevant and useful now. They also are less "all answers are equally valid"-y. They're still not conceptual, though, but this isn't so important if the answers are explanatory. I guess we could find a way to work in the non mainstream policy without forcing mods to read each book. Or just use downvotes for bad books.

List questions

I'm not really sure how to make these work. As such many of these can be improved by tweaking the language -- the language is important because changing it attracts different types of answers. A question asking for a "List of ways to measure the weight of one's head sans decapitation" will attract one-line or list-like answers with little to no explanation. When asked for a list, one's mind is focused on generating as many points as possible, without expanding on the individual points (horizontal thinking). When asked "how can I measure the weight of my head", one's mind will focus on getting a single complete solution, and post that (vertical thinking).

Some of these can't be "fixed". "List of unsolved problems in plasma Physics" -- somehow I feel that this is more suitable for a Wikipedia page. You don't learn anything from this and as such it's not conceptual.

I do see scope for improvement in the list question policy, but I'm not yet sure how to codify this. I'll mull over it and update this post when I figure something out (I'll probably have a look at past list questions etc.).

  • $\begingroup$ Concerning the books I quite agree with what you say, even as the community consensus was still respected, the questions asking for a book or good reading always had to be well specified enough by topic, level, targetted audience, etc and the answer should of course not contain a link but contain some "beaf" as you explain. However concerning the lists I think Nathanial has made a very good start to define the allowed ones in a very reasonable and practical manner. So I refrain from pushing the vote button at the moment ... :-) $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Which is why I haven't put forward any stance on list questions yet -- I'm quite certain that there's a way to make them work, but not yet sure on how. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 11:06
  • $\begingroup$ If you wish to vote now I don't mind pinging you when I update this to include my list stance. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 11:07
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    $\begingroup$ There's many reasonable points in this answer, though it of course fails to address the actual question at hand :) However you seem to have a clear view on these things, so I look forward to reading what you propose for the lists issue. $\endgroup$ – Wouter Jul 15 '13 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Wouter There is no actual question (read it again), it's just a discussion-starter :P. Also, I felt that since the book policy has been the main bone of contention on meta and is a subset of the list issue (FWIW I feel that book questions, while a type of list question, are quite different from other list questions). I look forward to figuring out what to write for the list issue. Not yet clear there, and atm too busy to get clear :P $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ I would be in favour of changing posts without the OP's consent, both for book and for list questions. I think it should be a case of editing the question, with a comment to the effect that the OP is welcome to change it back if they don't like the edit, but that the question as it currently stands is likely to be closed. The reason I think this is simply that closed questions often don't get edited by the OP. I'm not sure why this is but it seems to be the case. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 15 '13 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ For example, perhaps the plasma physics question could simply be changed to "are there any significant unsolved problems in plasma physics, other than turbulence?" This is essentially the same question but not phrased in list language, and it's one I'd quite like to know the answer to. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 15 '13 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel re:closedquestionediting: The recent changes to the close system were put in place to help fix that, and it's working to a degree. Maybe not enough, though. Re:plasma:Sure, however it still does have many answers. Not sure how I feel about that. My point here was that there are not-that-broad questions phrased as lists (fixable), and broad questions phrased as lists (which will get many answers even if "fixed"). Not sure if the latter is a problem, and if so, if it can be fixed. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I agree, the changes to the close system were sorely needed and are definitely a Good Thing. Thinking about it further, I think another argument for editing rather than closing is that many users (especially new ones) don't have the experience to know what they can change to have it re-opened. Often it's just a fairly minor change in language (with "what are some" becoming "are there any" or "what is the most [insert something objective here]"), but we don't have any easily accessible documentation that explains this. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 16 '13 at 4:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel The "on hold" wording is what serves to indicate that the question can be fixed. If you look at the "fixable" close reasons (everything but "primarily opinion based", "non-mainstream", and "engineering"). they mention that the OP should fix the post somehow. Also, when I feel that a question has a chance of getting fixed, I leave a comment to that effect explaining how this can be done. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 16 '13 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel Just like we codified two policies (engineering and non mainstream) recently on meta, I guess we could easily do the same for the list policy if we ever get one. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 16 '13 at 4:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth right, but saying the question can be fixed somehow can make it sound like a difficult job, whereas in some cases it can be fixed by changing a few specific words - and if you're going to point out what those specific words are, you might as well just change them yourself. I've done this a couple times in the past with list questions that could easily be made into non-list questions, and the OP didn't complain in those cases. I think we're broadly in agreement though - with a precisely codified policy this wouldn't be necessary. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 16 '13 at 6:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel That's what I mean, we explain how. But yeah, fixing it yourself is good whenever possible. In the case of broad/unclear/HW, though, it's not really possible as you need to crystal-ball the OPs intentions $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 16 '13 at 6:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I agree with Nathaniel that it would be more natural, efficient, and helpful if people who see how a question can be fixed just do it and leave a comment in the edit message that the OP can roll back if he does not like it. I am sure most of the OPs would rather prefer their questions fixed by someone than closed. If a question is closed once, it is very hard to get it reopend, as this needs 5 community reopen votes and I have observe that if moderators peek into the reopen queue, they rather take quetions the community tries to reopen out of the queue, than casting an additional $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 16 '13 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I somehow disagree concerning the reopen policy. I had a discussion with Anna Lear, and she said she checked the reopen vote history to see if the community indeed disagrees with some of the current policies. So if the community frequently enough wants to get questions reopend that are not in agreement with current policies, I would rather see this as a sign that these policies should be adapted such that they better fit the needs of the community. Happily adapting policies is what we actually do here. But I still think that the moderators should not prevent any community reopen. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 16 '13 at 11:49

Since my comment may have been part of sparking this I should probably say a few more words.

I am sympathetic to the position that carefully limited, actively curated, reasonably objective list questions can be a good thing (tm) for the site. I really am. But I don't believe that those conditions can be reliably met and I know from bitter experience that allowing list questions to proliferate pollutes a good Q&A.

So my opinion---personal not speaking ex cathedra here---is to shut them all down with extreme prejudice. Kill them with fire kind of thing.

None-the-less I will stand by a community decision--like I did during the period when was on-topic.

But let me register my pleas that if you will have these

  • that limits be set and enforced that keep us from having an endless procession of make-a-list-like-that-other-list-question-but-with-one-more-adjective-or-restriction questions
  • that subjective ideas like "important" be kicked to the side of the road (and yes this means kill that stupid important-plasma-problems-not-including-the-most-important-plasma-problem question not just with fire, but with bolt after bold of highly ionized gas)
  • that we not accept every list question that someone who has read a couple of pop-sci books can think up, nor even those that will occur to an average undergrad: those things are very well covered in endless books and will be treated in any course of study

So there you have my list of fun-hating conditions, and now you can all get off my lawn.

  • $\begingroup$ I understand your points. Both current answers (yours and tpg's) touch on some important qualifiers. Who knows, perhaps it's not realistic to try and make a good/bad distinction while maintaining those qualifiers. In particular I think about new users who stumbled upon PSE via a (good) list question and decide to register in order to ask a list question of their own. Only they haven't read the FAQ etc. (which happens quite often I think) So their list question doesn't fall under the "good" category. Before you know it, such questions could become an important 24/7 task for the moderators. $\endgroup$ – Wouter Jul 15 '13 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ But I do still think the possibility must be considered. (sort of talking to myself here, since I'm sure you agree) Who knows, perhaps it is realistic to try and make a good/bad distinction while maintaining those qualifiers. The discussion is necessary and it's important to reach some sort of reasonable consensus - about what constitutes a good question and whether or not it is realistic to expect people to respect the qualifiers in their enthusiasm to ask their question and if it will not unload a massive amount of (semi-)bad list questions onto the moderators (and the front page). $\endgroup$ – Wouter Jul 15 '13 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ "In particular I think about new users who stumbled upon PSE via a (good) list question" We saw a lot of Stack Overflow user who found the site though a serach to a technical question, who then joined, looked at the highest voted page and tried asking make-a-list question because those were what the site "valued". The bike-shed affect makes it impossible to keep their scores on a level with those of technical questions. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jul 15 '13 at 11:55
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    $\begingroup$ I see, that's another (even worse) consequence. Perhaps the "how do I weigh my own head" question that was mentioned in the discussion under tpg's answer is sort of an example of the bike-shed effect on PSE? Especially when you look at the top answer, which - while funny - shouldn't have that many upvotes if you asked me. You don't really want to send the message that such answers are the most appreciated on this site (short and funny). I do appreciate them from time to time, but it's the big, clear, epiphany kind of answers that should be the pride of and examplar for this community. $\endgroup$ – Wouter Jul 15 '13 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ Just to be clear by the way, that sentence of mine you quoted wasn't meant to argue that list questions are good for drawing in new users. It was merely intended to sketch a possible situation in which people think list-questions are what this site is mostly about, which is dangerous. (but I think you gathered that) $\endgroup$ – Wouter Jul 15 '13 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ Can I add my own plea for if this goes through? Please make any list question CW, no exceptions. All too often, both on this site and others across the network, users get enormous boosts of quite frankly undeserved rep from asking/answering these questions. Now the reputation system isn't perfect, but these people completely break its functionality in discriminating between trusted answerers/insightful askers vs. random posters. $\endgroup$ – user10851 Jul 15 '13 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisWhite I agree. I probably should add that to my answer too. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for posting this. Although I still don't agree with your hard-line stance against all list questions, I understand the reasons for it quite a bit better now. I do agree that we should set the bar very high for list questions - we definitely don't want any noise-generating ones that accumulate answers indefinitely. It's just that I feel the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater if we disallow the kind of research-level list question that Dilaton has mentioned in several of his comments. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 16 '13 at 2:34
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    $\begingroup$ Although it surely isn't a great question, the plasma physics one does seem like a case in point here. What are the unsolved problems in plasma physics besides turbulence? I'm vaguely curious to know the answer and (assuming I can't find a good review paper or web article) the only real way to find out is to ask a plasma physicist. If I did, I'd hope they would give a reasonably self-contained and definitive answer. If such an exchange could happen on this site it would be a benefit to others as well. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 16 '13 at 3:15
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    $\begingroup$ (That's not an argument for re-opening that particular question, just motivation for the view that even fairly subjective list questions are not necessarily bad.) $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 16 '13 at 3:16
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisWhite (5 comments up) But how much sense does it make to exempt questions from the reputation system on a site which is based on reputation? Consider this argument: answers which are undeserving of reputation are, almost by definition, not good answers. And if a question is incapable of generating good answers, it's not a good question. Questions which are not good should be downvoted, closed, or otherwise discouraged here; I don't like maintaining CW mode as a loophole allowing those questions to stick around. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 16 '13 at 6:49
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZaslavsky While that's similar in spirit with the original death of CW blog post, I find that it's not so much CW being used as a loophole to allow these as it is CW being used to make helpful questions not break the rep system. IMO usefulness>rep system in such cases. I held a similar view as yours in the past about this, but after thinking over it (and recently, discussing with other site mods on the origin of the no-book-rec policy), I realized that this may work pretty well if done carefully. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 16 '13 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth Well my point was not that the rep system is all-important, it was that questions which supposedly should be made CW are actually not good questions (for us). $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 16 '13 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ Another reason to make them CW: Similar to Chris White's but also about the downvotes (just because you liked a book and others didn't, there's no reason to lose rep and priveleges. . . It's just like how you don't lose rep from downvotes on meta.) $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Jul 27 '13 at 2:37

My take on this, and I'll expand it some more when I think about it more, is that there is a very clear good list/bad list distinction. But most of the questions people argue are good lists, I don't agree are.

Here's what makes a bad list:

  1. A single answer is unlikely to be complete on its own. The question you cited that prompted this post also falls on the bad subjective side -- what one considers an "important problem" in the field may not be what others consider.
  2. An answer must be continually updated. Again, the cited question falls in this category. Even if somehow we determined a complete list of "important problems," that could change tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year.

Lists of things that fall outside of those two primary issues I think would be good lists. But I'm a bit hard-pressed to come up with what those would be, and I don't recall any questions that I think would fall in that category, but that's not to say they aren't out there.

Just as we discussed with finding journals with the tag, I think questions like the one you cited are best posed in chat or on meta to indicate the tag-wiki needs to be updated to reflect the answer. For instance, the tag-wiki on could be updated to reflect current research areas, including key papers, journals, and reviews.

There is no need for a question/answer, that's what the tag wiki's should be used to communicate!

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    $\begingroup$ I debated with myself whether to use that question as the example, for exactly those two reasons. (I agree it also has problems with subjectivity.) But I realised I don't think either of those things is a problem in itself as long as the scope is sufficiently limited. If there are (for example) exactly four correct answers to a question then I don't think it's a huge problem for the Stack Exchange model. The only difficulty is that the green tick can only go next to one of them, and I consider this rather minor. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 15 '13 at 5:48
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    $\begingroup$ And with the second point, again I don't think it's a huge deal if the scope is sufficiently limited. In this case, if the question gets a new answer because there's been a result in plasma physics that opens up new problems that people weren't aware of before, then that's great, isn't it? $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 15 '13 at 5:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel That is great, but if a new problem opens up without closing old ones then do we edit the existing answer to add it? Do we create a new answer with only that topic and let it sit there? Do we make a new answer that includes the old? What if the original author doesn't change the green tick mark? For all these reasons, the tag wiki makes more sense to me. It's more fluid, it's more cohesive, and since it's attached to every single question on the topic, it's more pervasive and educational. Everybody sees it who looks at those questions. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Jul 15 '13 at 5:55
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    $\begingroup$ To be honest, I've never clicked on a tag wiki in my life, apart from just now when I was writing this question and wanted to know the definition of a big list. The tag wikis are useful for brief summaries, but they are among the quiet little back streets of the internet and can't really be used for public discussion. Also, in this particular case the plasma-physics tag seems like it might be appropriate, but for many other lists this won't be the case. On which tag should we put the list of ways to weigh a human head, for example? $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 15 '13 at 6:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel The weighing a head problem has some clever answer that are non-the-less not good answers. The gravinometric survey, for example, is nice in principle but probably technologically impossible today, not to mention cost prohibitive. A good answer to that question is one that is simple, feasible, reliable and---I'm an experimenter---above all cheap. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jul 15 '13 at 7:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel I exactly agree that the community wike thing does absolutely not work for references and study material, as I already said and explained why here for example. Again I think Physics SE should model itself on other sites targetted at researchers in the network, who have absolutely no problems with allowing these questions. It would be nice and helpful if you could find the time write a similar nice meta post concerning these issues, because there has never been a community agreement on changing the long standing consensus which has $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel been respected until the end of last year. The "new standard" as some people called it in the corresponding meta discussion, is just getting enforced since quite some time now without in particular many of the contriuters of high-level content on the main page agreeing on this. They often not even look at meta and chat and therefefore it might well be that people like Matt Reece for example have just missed the past meta discussions that have taken place this year. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 10:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel for example Matt Reece said: "What is a good review on topic X?" is the sort of question that occurs all the time in research when people are trying to learn a new field or subfield and which really can only be answered by asking experts. It's great if you have a colleague or acquaintance to ask, but if not it seems like the sort of thing Stack Exchange is well suited for. I don't understand why it's viewed as problematic. – Matt Reece 2 days ago and there are good main page contributors who agree with this but they never look on meta or chat because they are exclusively $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ interested in doing physics and not so much in how the site is run, discussing site policies, etc ... Of course in my opinion they should at least to some minimal degree be interested in these things too to ensure that their opinion is heard and needs are taken seriously ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 10:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Yes, because it was basically an extension of network policy (blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/08/the-future-of-community-wiki). Please keep your political blatherings off this site. They don't contribute constructively to meta discussion. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth are meta posts and comments not exactly intended to discuss policies? And David Zaslavsky said in chat too, that people should bring the issue up on meta as you can see from this discussion. So there is nothing wrong with me asking Nathaniel if he has time to do this, as I know that he is among the people who disagrees with these policies as they are currently applied. I thinks it is not fair to call my point of view uncosntructive just because you disagree ... :-/ $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Hmm, sorry, I misread your last comment as you repeating your statements about "SE and MSO people not interested in physics controlling the site". Sorry about that. I don't disallow stuff because I disagree -- otherwise a lot of posts on meta would have been deleted :P Just ... don't bring politics and random accusations into your comments, anywhere. You didn't do that here, and I'm sorry about the misunderstanding, though :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Note that saying that "many of the high level contributors don't agree with these policies" is slightly political. Please, can we stick to discussing why somethng may be appropriate and not worry about who agrees/disagrees? $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth ok, peace now ;-) $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Great, I'm happy you understand :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 11:17

I exactly agree with Nathaniel that good lists reasonably defined as has started doing it in this meta question should be allowed on Physics SE, as it is done on other sites in the network.

In addition to the good points already made, when considering if a list is too big or good and reasonably narrowed in scope it would be appropriate to judge things from a physics point of view too, instead of focusing on some language issues that could hint (if one wants to interpret the question like this) to a too big list. To give an example for what I mean, this question got first closed as a (big) list question because of such language issues, even though when looking at and thinking about it from a physics point of view, it is clear that there simply can not be an infinite or big number of ways the uncertainty principle can be modified in accordance with the the current experimental and theoretical physics knowledge.

In my opinion the two points brought up in tpg2114's answer constitute no obstruction to allow good list questions as defined in Nathaniel's question:

Concerning point 1, even many conceptual and technical questions can have more than one answer for good reasons, for example there exist complementary ways to look at or understand a physics issue. Looking at things from different points of view is not a bad thing in physics, on the contrary as many well known physicists agree it furthers a deeper understanding of the problem at hand and is therefore a good thing.

Concerning point 2, I think Physics SE should model itself on other sites in the network, which are targetted exclusively or inclusively at an audience of researchers. For example on Mathoverflow, CS Theory, and the former Theoretical Physics SE, questions about the current state or actual problems of a well defined enough topic or subject have always been allowed and never deemed problematic, they are even supported and appreciated by the communities of researchers there. So this second point should not constitute an obstruction to allow good list questions either.

So in summary I am all for an adjustment of the current list question policy as suggested by Nathaniel's nice post.

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    $\begingroup$ It would be nice if people could judge the content of this answer from an independent and not biased by the fact that it is me who posted it point of view. Pressing the vote button should express (dis)agreement with the content of this answer, and not be triggered by personal general judgment of the user who posted it ... ;-) $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ I downvoted. I agree that we can considerably relax the policies without much problems (see my answer). I disagree with the arguments made here. Language issues are important, they change the type of answers a question invites. Point 1: "Can have more than one" is very different from "Will have at least 5" Point 2: We're not targeted exclusively for researchers. Those sites have high entry barriers, we don't. This can cause a problem. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 10:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth the language issues can easily be corrected by edits. So why not edit the question instead of closing (close voting)?. Concerning the entry barrier I disagree that this should make any difference, since researchers are still among the targetted audience of the site (or not?) so things that are useful and needed by them and which have shown to not cause any problems on other sites which include researchers into the targetted audience too, should be allowed here too. I really think we should learn from the hign-level sites in the network how good content can be maintained. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ The cycle is always close -> edit -> reopen. And currently, such fixes require the consent of the OP. I don't mind changing that. || By "entry barrier" I mean that low level posts aren't allowed. This means that the community is strictly amongst the high level people, and the list questions there are still conceptual and constructive, from what I've seen. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 10:56
  • $\begingroup$ Basically, we're not going to discriminate between the level of posts. If that's the case, we must ensure that any policy we write works well for low level questions too. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth your really want to disallow questions highly useful for people interested in higher level physics just because there could be low level list questions be asked too ?! I think to deal with this issue, we can just close the low-level inappropriate joke only things for example and still allow the high-level conceptual once by wisely deciding case by case. There is no rule that says it is not allowed to apply some good and reasonable case by case judgement too if needed. On the contrary I somehow expect people who have the power to decide thing to be able to apply it. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ No, not disallow, but I'm saying that we need to be much more careful than MO or TCS when discussing the appropriateness of these questions -- which is why I disagree with the points here (tpg's point can be mitigated fi there's a good policy proposed, and I don't see one here). Sure, case by case judgement is there, but in this case we're talking about a general policy. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth yeah, I think we can take some time to formulate the policy appropriately, such that higher-level rather listy questions, as they have them on MO and TCS, can pass here too but low-level/not useful lists are prevented. This meta question is only 6h old and it would be good to leave the discussion open for some time in order that as many people as possible (even the ones on the main page) can take note of it ... Cheers $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 15 '13 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not closing any discussion here :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 15 '13 at 11:38

Can we please keep it to one-resource-per-answer?

Several of the answers referenced in our recent policy for resource recommendations have long answers that include multiple resources, such as this one. While this keeps things compact in a way, it makes it difficult for people to upvote specific resources. This substantially under-uses the capabilities of our platform, which is great for good answers to float up and OK ones to stay further down in the page.

So: can we make it policy that answers to resource recommendations include only one resource per answer? This involves, of course, the possibility of as many answers per user as necessary on each thread.

Two thoughts on dealing with the consequences. First, doing this opens the door to huge reputation farming. This would make a bit of an argument for making all answers community wiki - though if you come up with multiple good books and provide good reviews of them, why should you not have some rep? Secondly, it would add some initial and long-term curatorial stress in separating multi-resource answers, but I don't think this is unreasonable.

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    $\begingroup$ Do we really need the ability to upvote specific resources? Since the posts are substantiated it makes more sense for the user to judge for themselves (from the book description in the post) and the votes can be reserved for the quality (and correctness) of the answer. Also, usually such poll questions don't work too well on this platform. He who answers first gets the most upvotes, and many times it becomes a popularity contest (i.e. everyone votes up the book they used even if they've not tried the others). Better not go there.. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Nov 15 '13 at 21:49

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