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A while back, we had this discussion in which we tried to measure quantitatively whether the site was gaining or losing non-novice users. Since then, I've had the distinct subjective impression that the quality of discussion on the site has gone down markedly. I went through some of my own questions to which I'd accepted an answer, figuring that the people who wrote those answers would be the kind of competent and knowledgeable users who would make my own experience here better. We do seem to have lost some, including Cristi Stoica (inactive) and Luboš Motl (very low activity).

I tried using some database queries to test this:

  1. This is Manishearth's query that he formed as part of the previous discussion. It attempts to measure the number of users who are not novices, based on whether they post multiple times in a month in certain tagged areas. Re-running the query now shows that the level of such users seems to have been stagnant for about the last year or more.

  2. This is the number of users posting in homework. It shows strong growth over the last year.

  3. This is the total number of active users. It also shows a strong, steady trend of growth.

The reason I'm using the term "critical mass" in the title of this question is that the critical mass of, say, uranium-235 depends on concentration. If you take a given number of 235U atoms and dilute them, you can make a critical mass into something that's not a critical mass.

Subjectively, I'm finding that I've been spending my time on the site in unenjoyable activities like arguing with angry and belligerent beginners about friction and Newton's third law. I've decided to become inactive on the site.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry to hear your decision. But I agree that the site's level seems to be lower. $\endgroup$ – jinawee Oct 27 '13 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ If the concern is about critical mass not existing, then isn't removing yourself from participation exasperating the issue? The motivation should be to a) stop arguing about beginner things while b) bringing friends or colleagues onto the site to promote healthy Q&A. That's just my take -- quitting only makes the problem worse. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Oct 27 '13 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ Why not just not do the unenjoyable activities? The choice between arguing with angry and belligerent beginners and quitting the site is a false dichotomy. $\endgroup$ – user31346 Oct 27 '13 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ Incidentally, I'm not sure the number of users posting answers to homework questions is such a useful metric. I think it just follows the number of homework questions that aren't closed quickly, which is something that we can control. $\endgroup$ – David Z Oct 27 '13 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ FWIW I think most of the mods have been refraining from quickly closing questions since early this year, so that can explain the trend too. If the community wants we could get back to that, I guess, at least for posts tagged homework (there's a convenient filter-by-tag option for the review queues). In addition, we could delete , closed HW in maybe 2 days (using /tools to find the posts) to mitigate the broken windows problem. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 27 '13 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think that we (that is the mods) should be in the business of closing a lot of questions with our super-powers anymore. There are enough 3k users (81) that they should be able to carry the bulk of the load. My impression, however, is that a relatively small fraction of the eligible users apply their power with any regularity. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Oct 27 '13 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ I've been a casual observer on the site for a long time, and I absolutely agree that the quality of questions in recent months has declined significantly, whether it's elementary homework questions, or downright asinine philosophizing about misunderstood concepts. I can see how actual experts wouldn't have much incentive to stay on the site. $\endgroup$ – Dmitry Brant Oct 28 '13 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee That is a well-defined-enough metric that it is amenable to testing. Is that type of data available in the data explorer? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Oct 28 '13 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty In a sense, yes (The PostHistory table has entries for closes), though it would be a bit tough to extract (might need some clever LIKE queries to make it fast). Unfortunately the Votes table is scrubbed of close votes. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 28 '13 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ This is off topic, but if retaining good physicists is so important on this site, why were relatively high-ranking users such Dimension10 and Dilaton suspended? $\endgroup$ – shortstheory Oct 28 '13 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ @shortstheory - they were suspended because they broke the rules in some way. Being an expert doesn't mean that they can break the rules and do what they like on the site. I can't say why they were suspended (even if I knew) as moderators are not allowed to reveal why they suspend someone. It's up to the user to do that (and yes I do realise how difficult that would be to do on a site where you are suspended). $\endgroup$ – ChrisF Oct 28 '13 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ I posted this on Math.SE to gather their thoughts. $\endgroup$ – user10851 Oct 29 '13 at 5:46
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    $\begingroup$ To all: please don't feed the divas. $\endgroup$ – user215721 Oct 30 '13 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ I have to wonder, as per my meta post, where experimental physicists fit in all this. $\endgroup$ – user29350 Oct 30 '13 at 23:07
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    $\begingroup$ Is situation with stackoverflow similar to Physics SE? If not, it might be usefull to understand why it is not. Programming is actively developing field. Maybe physics is not? Programmers are interested in new developments in their field. Maybe physicists are not? And so on, and so on... $\endgroup$ – Murod Abdukhakimov Nov 7 '13 at 7:04
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While I'm no professional or expert, I think what's working against Physics SE is, ironically, what makes it so effective.

People are being spoonfed all the time here. Like Google, Q&A websites have become magical 'wishing fountains' to millions of people. Stupid questions about Newton's Laws and classical mechanics are being asked by people all the time here. Why? Because the internet is neutering the intellect and common sense of millions (mostly of school kids), while giving them access to vasts stores of knowledge.

I notice that many experts, Ben in particular, end up answering loads of duplicates. Improving the Physics SE's search engine for questions will take a lot of the load off experts and moderators.

I predict that the number of Homework questions will explode in coming years. At some point, 9 out of every 10 questions asked daily will be duplicates. So finding an effective way of dealing with duplicates is really the main hurdle facing this site. It will also lower the amount of spoonfeeding.

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    $\begingroup$ I would disagree with the prediction. Have a look at Mathematics; they allow homework and still manage to keep a good level of expert users and posts. I think the current explosion can be handled if the mods step back into the review queue -- something we stopped interfering with because of too many complaints of unilateral mod action, and to encourage the community to start handling part of the moderation as the current model was unsustainable. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 28 '13 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ Your first two paragraphs remind me of why Stack Overflow is so effective. It's full of what we call homework, but it's successful for the same reason. Of course, their FAQ more or less states that they want such questions. As someone who reads Phy.SE regularly (and has non-contributing friends who read), I don't think that we're on that stage, or will ever reach it. We close too many homework questions to be viewed as a place for spoonfeeding. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 28 '13 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ However, good conceptual answers generally involve a lot of spoonfeeding, which is IMO OK -- many people do not have access to the resources to read up on these things themselves, and part of what we're doing here is making the concepts of physics more widely available. I think that's great. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 28 '13 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I never said homework questions are bad. But you guys need to crack down harder on duplicates. I cannot blame people for posting duplicates. If people are more encouraged to take the effort to search through the database for related questions before asking, it will lessen the adverse effects of spoonfeeding . $\endgroup$ – dj_mummy Oct 28 '13 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, I assumed by spoonfeeding you meant the response received on certain HW. However, cracking down on dupes is not what the mods can do -- there are very few of us and many questions per day (though Qmechanic is pretty good at it). The community needs to do its part and look out for these things and flag accordingly (feel free to open another meta post on this topic, urging the community to be wary of dupes) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 28 '13 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ Good observation: "what's working against Physics SE is what makes it so effective". People come and hope the wishing fountain is not yet dry. Why not make it work to the advantage of Phys.SE. What I mean is to make HW questions more open, not less, but set a loop so an asker must jump through, like showing where exactly where it got stuck. Also it helps to show potential answerers some guidelines, so they wouldn't fall into some common pitfalls, like how to avoid being dragged into squabbling. $\endgroup$ – Chin Yeh Oct 28 '13 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ @ChinYeh We already have that, HW questions can and do get opened if the OP puts effort. But this is like once every 30-40 HW posts, and the ratio has been even less lately. Most people want fast help. Good for them, but then their post isn't appropriate here. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 30 '13 at 13:40
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Subjectively, I'm finding that I've been spending my time on the site in unenjoyable activities like arguing with angry and belligerent beginners about friction and Newton's third law. I've decided to become inactive on the site.

With all due respect, and you've earned a lot of it here, I don't see that your decision logically follows.

Given the first sentence, the first question I have is "Why? Why engage in such unenjoyable activities?"

As I see it, this site offers an opportunity to trade value for value. If you spot an interesting question and you take the time to work up an answer, either you gained a value from doing so or you didn't period.

If you didn't gain any value, you shouldn't have answered the question in the first place.

If you did, then why bother arguing with imbeciles if they disagree with your answer?

Let it go unless, and once again, you believe there is value in arguing a point with someone, i.e., that you both may profit from the exchange.

At any rate, I do value your contributions and if your decision is final, I respect that.

But, if you find value in simply composing your thoughts to answer an interesting question then please consider continuing that and simply ignore the unteachable that frequent here.

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    $\begingroup$ "the unteachable" I am suddenly envisioning an academic caste system... $\endgroup$ – dmckee Oct 27 '13 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ Some people enjoy teaching, and helping someone who doesn't understand to figure it out/ see the light. I personally don't think I'd get much out of it over the internet, but I have no doubt that others may. What I do know is that when teaching someone in person, it's often the ones who were so wrong and so sure aobut their answer that gain the most when you remove their blindness. $\endgroup$ – Flint72 Apr 12 '14 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for talking reason. $\endgroup$ – DanielSank Sep 27 '14 at 8:49
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Nobody has mentioned yet the core reason for the sad loss of quality of this site. You can do whatever statistical analysis you want to do, based on the number of new users, fraction of homework question, analogies with Uranium...

Face it. Don't avoid mentioning it. Please, let's honestly face the truth. It is written with "R" like "Ron" and "M" like "Maimon".

Ron Maimon left the site in december 2012 after being banned and censored. After him, others followed, both professionals and simple readers who had enjoyed the site mainly because of Ron's posts, or simply because that incident revealed a level of moderators control they don't want to accept.

Now you can downvote this, some moderator can say for the nth time "oh, no, nothing is happening, this is normal", and you can even do Bayesian inference with the number of new users, their eye color or whatever.

This site had a golden age that ended abruptly in December 2012. In plain words, that's it, period. Neumeier and others quickly lost interest after Ron's departure. Hey, even Gerard 't Hooft himself was here!. Now Lubos is probably getting bored because he is almost alone here. When he is eventually gone, we'd better rename this site as "Physics Homework StackExchange" and change the Hut Potential of the logo into some diagram from an Elementary School textbook. (Edit: Qmechanic is another valuable member I should acknowledge, still active, but one always forgets him, probably because he is anonymous, always humble and he doesn't usually take part in comment discussions)

In a research institution, people are free to communicate with each other in the way they desire to, because they are mature adults. Only if things become really really bad in a discussion, would a third person try to calm them down. In elementary school it is just the opposite: teachers urge the children to behave nicely towards others, and punish any rude words or behaviour. Well, which of the two examples does moderation resemble here, a research institution or an elementary school? There you have it. Now, don't complain if the site resembles more and more everyday a repository of elementary school homework questions. You get what you pay for.

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    $\begingroup$ Ron Maimon left the site in december 2012 after being banned and censored. This is false. He left because he was told that he was not allowed to vandalize his own posts by adding irrelevant material that libeled another user. That is neither "censorship" nor "banning." $\endgroup$ – Colin McFaul Oct 28 '13 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ But to your larger point, if the community is so dependent on one user that his departure causes it to collapse (and it's possible that's the case here), then it isn't much of a community. $\endgroup$ – Colin McFaul Oct 28 '13 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ What I can't understand is that those members posted great answers, but not many questions. And the current problem is about low quality questions, not answers. So I don't see direct causality. Although there could be other factors, like good askers who left after the suspension. $\endgroup$ – jinawee Oct 29 '13 at 1:20
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    $\begingroup$ @ColinMcFaul Many Ron's comment were deleted (that is called censorship were I live). His account was suspended during months, showing 1 point reputation. That was ridiculous and ungrateful to somebody that had done so numerous and brilliant contributions to the site. $\endgroup$ – Eduardo Guerras Valera Oct 29 '13 at 2:52
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    $\begingroup$ @jinawee When you see that there are not many high level answers in the site, you are less likely to want to post a high level question. There may be the casuality you say you don't see. $\endgroup$ – Eduardo Guerras Valera Oct 29 '13 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ Many of us explicitely asked the moderators to end that weird ban and restore Ron's reputation as soon as possible. Look for the stuff, it must be still here in meta. That didn't happen. $\endgroup$ – Eduardo Guerras Valera Oct 29 '13 at 3:01
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    $\begingroup$ You cannot expect mature adults to feel comfortable in a place were they have been punished for "not being nice" to other users, like if they were children in high school. They simply abandon that place. It is as simple as that. $\endgroup$ – Eduardo Guerras Valera Oct 29 '13 at 3:07
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    $\begingroup$ Lubos has been a professor in Harvard, and 't Hooft is a Nobel laureate and a living legende. Now, if one of them said tomorrow a rude word here, who is going to "punish" them? - It is ridiculous. And for the rest of us it feels ridiculous too. That idea became evident in dec 2012 and disuaded many from participating here any more. $\endgroup$ – Eduardo Guerras Valera Oct 29 '13 at 3:16
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    $\begingroup$ Rules are here being used to satisfy a few rather mediocre moderators. If you want this site to succeed I it is not enough to stop banning people and deleting comments. To succeed it is time to lift all suspensions $\endgroup$ – user12811 Oct 29 '13 at 3:17
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    $\begingroup$ I am not a physicist. I only have occasionally answered questions and not to gain points usually only -like now - when avoiding work. So I also chose not to use the same identity always. My day job is lawyer. I $\endgroup$ – user12811 Oct 29 '13 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ I subscribe word-for-word this answer. By the way, Eduardo, 't Hooft called another user "stupid idiot" in one of his first comments. He wasn't punished. Moreover, David Z deleted hundreds of comments by Ron Maimon because discussions were not allowed in comments. Now that he is gone, I see lengthy discussions in comments. My opinion is that it was a matter of envy. Ron Maimon provided great answers. How could be that allowed if he didn't have even a PhD degree? $\endgroup$ – Diego Mazón Feb 6 '14 at 0:40
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I am repeating Eduardo's last paragraph here because it is an insightful observation, separable from suspensions.

In a research institution, people are free to communicate with each other in the way they desire to, because they are mature adults. Only if things become really really bad in a discussion, would a third person try to calm them down. In elementary school it is just the opposite: teachers urge the children to behave nicely towards others, and punish any rude words or behaviour. Well, which of the two examples does moderation resemble here, a research institution or an elementary school? There you have it. Now, don't complain if the site resembles more and more everyday a repository of elementary school homework questions. You get what you pay for.

This is an interactive forum, not a conference, where fights would be unacceptable, or a lecture. If you want to keep high level people involved it should be treated as a working group where confrontations can get out of hand sometimes, if people feel strongly. If the message is "children play nice-nice" it will become a bland forum, because it will not keep the interest of high level people : they can discuss in their own blogs where they can thunder and throw lightning as they like.

There is also the element of the attention span of people, which I have found tends to focus for a while and then gets removed to new more exciting offerings. That is natural, and people will always be leaving and new ones coming. A nice-nice playground though will not attract new ones to replace them at that level. Physics is not about "nice", it is about "correct", and I can understand people blasting away at misunderstandings.

"Correct" should be a necessary and sufficient condition in physics discussions, imo. "Nice" is mixing apples and oranges.

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    $\begingroup$ I love that "thunder and throw lightning" expression, that somehow suggests a picture of Zeus. That is your greek subconscious mind in action! $\endgroup$ – Eduardo Guerras Valera Oct 29 '13 at 12:26
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Interesting thread. I read all the answers and comments and want to formulate something which is maybe implied by other comments but which I haven't seen put like that: I'd say the amount of low level questions just directly correlates with the fact that the SE portal is more known now.

I hang around in a hackerspace sometimes, which is filled with hobbyists and professional programmers, non-academics, people who do Khan academy and the Euler project, know how to build microcontrolers but which have never heard about the lambda calculus, the arXiv or the Gamma function. And now - as opposed to 2 years ago - these kind of communities know about StackExchange. People now know that there are "forums" on the internet, which pretty accurately can be described as "like google, but you can also ask a question if you don't get the answer the first time".

The StackOverflow sites started as a programming site. I came to know StackExchange via the first spin of MathOverflow as a late physics undergrad as "hey, check this out! There is a Q&A site on the web where you can get TERRENCE TAO, the cute fields medalist, to answer your math questions!". Today the existence of the StackExchange sites are "public" and you must consider that every one of the 200 different engineering degrees have bad introductory physics courses, where they force people to learn 200 years of physics insights in two times 4 months. Of course they will come here, and of course, they will not check beforehand if their questions have already been formulated here in some similar way. (I'd even say they are rational in not doing the latter - there isn't a global community moral, where you put your interests last, just to not disturb the efficiency of a commercial website. People want their questions cleared and it's without consequences if they piss off the virtual community circle of others.)

So my conclusion is, if you don't want the indian engineers to take over the physics site (disclaimer: that's not supposed to be any offence in any way! It's just a huge bulk of people), then you can't display SE Physics as a web site where they will get their second semester answers.

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    $\begingroup$ By the degree I'm pursuing (and the country I live in, though not by nationality), I am an Indian Engineer :P (Well, Engineering Physics) But by passion and the courses/projects I'm doing I'm more of a physicist-in-training :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 30 '13 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth: I see. What's your point though? $\endgroup$ – Nikolaj-K Oct 30 '13 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ None, just that I chuckled when I read that line. I'll clear up the comments if you wish. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 30 '13 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth: When reading OPs comment about tiresome discussions about friction, I was thinking about my back and forth with the new user "rijul gupta" I had recently (who happens to be the indian engineer type). I can relate to Ben Crowell: You go on the front page and click a question with a title on a topic you though about in your past. You see the question arises because of a fundamental misinterpretation of the involved concepts, or physics itself. Thinking you can give a short and sweet answer to settle the issue at once - it doesn't work at you get into a debate about babby math... $\endgroup$ – Nikolaj-K Oct 30 '13 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ Ah. Don't worry, I didn't take offence or anything, no need to justify that bit. I see what you mean though, and I've been in similar annoying discussions with new users (I sometimes just step out), though not always of the same type. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 30 '13 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth: Don't worry, I didn't worry about insulting to you ;) No, to put it short: I really do see a problem with where Physics StackExchange is heading. I find myself not wanting to brows through the bulk of questions on the main side and (and I know you're somewhat personally involved, but please forgive me to say this) Ron Maimon was indeed a big factor in why SE was interesting. He's extremely excentric, but the merrit was essentially that he's the guy who spend his life in a library, reading millions and papers, and so he provided the non-textbook answers here. $\endgroup$ – Nikolaj-K Oct 30 '13 at 13:39
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Honestly, I don't think we ever had a critical mass of professional physicists. I do seem to have noticed that several of the well-qualified people who used to post regularly don't do so any more, but that's natural over time. Some of them will come back, and we'll also get new well-qualified posters over time. Of course we can always do more with actively recruiting new people to contribute.

Subjectively, I'm finding that I've been spending my time on the site in unenjoyable activities like arguing with angry and belligerent beginners about friction and Newton's third law.

That's kind of a separate issue, and one that the moderators are here to help with. A contributor getting angry and belligerent should never be tolerated on this site. As a moderator I get the sense that this is happening much more than we hear about it, i.e. people aren't casting enough flags. So my point would be, whenever you start to see an argument like this emerge, it will probably make things a lot easier on you if you just flag the comment and back out. It's not worth your time to get involved in that sort of thing, as you know, but that's what we (mods) are here for.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that not all argumentative folks are flaggable; I've been in icky discussions with people who keep misinterpreting things. Also ones who take offence and then lash back (eg this one) without getting rude. Both cases aren't always flaggable; the best thing to do is to just step back. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 27 '13 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ I'd say in a case like that, or in general whenever there's any doubt, it doesn't hurt to cast a flag. Not all flags require action, after all. If nothing else, a moderator can step in as a third party to just remind everyone to keep the discussion civil. $\endgroup$ – David Z Oct 27 '13 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, of course. By "flaggable" I mean actionable :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 27 '13 at 19:57
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I'm really sorry to hear your decision; I've enjoyed reading many of your answers here and would have loved to read new ones as they come along. I hope you reconsider your decision.

You may wish to avoid beginners by ignoring the tags they tend to post in; or just stepping out when a novice gets argumentative. I've done that more than once myself. Argumentative users can just be ignored, you are never under any obligation to reply. As tpg mentioned, your decision to leave the site exacerbates the problem; while it's entirely your decision to leave (obviously), I hope you take that into account :)

If you still with to leave, good luck on whatever you decide to spend your time on! It's been good having you here.

The queries

Regarding the queries, to me the active users and homework graph are actually displaying almost the same trend. The thing with homework questions is that most get closed, and later deleted (we currently have almost 2000 deleted homework posts). Deleted posts don't turn up in the queries, so there is an apparent increase in posts.

So, the trends from April to now are more or less the same (the HW trend is still more stark), and there's a steady drop in the HW posts as we go back (which is not there in the higher level tags because stuff there rarely gets deleted.). The recent Oct-Nov increase in HW is due to the slowly approaching exams.

I agree that there's still been an increase in HW and a drop of quality, not that drastic, but still could be a problem. I'm open to ideas to bolster up the quality.

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Like the others I am very saddened to hear that you will scale back you activity. Permit me to hope that this is a hiatus rather than an end.

I can sympathize with your complaint about belligerent beginners, as I also feel we've had more of them of late; as well as another uptick in the number of people who want to ask high level questions from a preparation that appears to consist almost solely of pop-sci reading (or for that matter pop-sci youtubing).

As I said in the comments, however, I think that more intensive moderator intervention is not the answer. We have to have a more active and demanding community that is willing to say "Here is the line, meet this level or go do some reading before you ask." (in the nicest possible tones and phrasing, of course) or we will be forever mired in homework, personal theories and vague pop-sci hand-waving.

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    $\begingroup$ I very much agree that we need more community involvement in the sense you say, and that more moderator intervention is not The Answer. But I wouldn't rule out the possibility that it could be part of the answer. Perhaps if moderators can be more active in demonstrating to people that certain kinds of questions should be put on hold and/or downvoted - not that I really have anything specific in mind, I'm just musing out loud. $\endgroup$ – David Z Oct 28 '13 at 0:05
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Like many others I am saddened to see Ben leave, and I hope it is a temporary hiatus, but I certainly understand his decision. I haven't been very active either lately, and there are several reasons for this:

  • The lack of high-quality questions. I don't know why this is happening, but for some reason we're seeing an increase in low-level questions. Perhaps it is simply the case that the best questions have already been asked, and that the quality inevitably goes downhill after a while. But the decline seems to be too sudden for this explanation.
  • The amount of duplicate questions. This is related to the first remark: the most obvious questions have already been asked. And it's quite irritating when new users can't seem to be bothered to use the search function. These little irritations build up over time.
  • The Astronomy SE site. This really bothers me. I wouldn't mind the existence of that site if it was only meant for amateur astronomy. But they also accept astrophysics and cosmology questions. I just cannot understand why SE allows this. First of all, Physics SE is too small to be split up into smaller categories. This is drawing people away from our site, while Astronomy SE will never obtain a critical mass themselves: this fragmentation is damaging everyone. Second, they don't have enough experts (yet) to address those questions, resulting in low-quality answers. Also, they're reinventing the wheel, because the astrophysicists on this site already have built a very useful database of answers. But most importantly, I find this very disrespectful to the astrophysicists here. It feels like our work is just being dismissed.
  • The lack of social interaction. By design, SE is not a forum. And I think this is a mistake. SE doesn't have the tools for interaction between long-term members (no, the chat function is no substitute). This makes the participation on this site impersonal, which makes it harder for people to stay motivated enough to come back. When you have a community, like a forum does, it's much easier to keep people interested and get through times when the activity is temporarily less. More importantly, it's just more fun. The whole reputation system can be entertaining for a while, but I feel much more satisfied to hear a "thank you" than get an anonymous upvote. We are human beings, after all.
  • Finally, and directly related to my previous point, we've seen some animosity between several members. This is a direct consequence of the lack of a forum. We don't really have the tools to settle disputes, or to talk to members when we feel they're not behaving as we'd like.

Our work here is purely voluntary. That means that this site can only survive if we feel that our work is being appreciated and worth the time we put into it, and that we enjoy doing it. Well, I haven't been enjoying myself lately. But despite this, I am determined to stick around, and hope for better times.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not bother by the cross-site duplication represented by the astronomy site. Or at least I wasn't bother about it the first time around. I am a little bothered by the fact that I have to distinguish between the first time around (which I put some effort into helping get started, but never got going and was closed and it's questions folded in here where they created a fair number of duplicates), and this new version which doesn't seem to be any different. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Oct 29 '13 at 22:34

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