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The following is a "digest" version of the 2011 Moderator Election Town Hall Chat. The format, as described on Meta Stack Overflow, is one answer to this question for every question asked in the Town Hall, containing all the candidate's answers to that question.

To view the digest chronologically, please sort the answers by "oldest".

If you have questions or comments about this, please do not answer this question as the answers are designed to be used for the questions from the Town hall itself. Instead, please ask on the parent question or in the Town Hall Discussion Room.

If you see any corrections which need to be made to this digest, or if you were a candidate who was unable to attend the town hall and would like your answers included, please add your replies to the chat room and comment here so they can be added.

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  • $\begingroup$ Finally! Thanks Rebecca :-) $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Apr 9 '11 at 9:37
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Rebecca! Sorry I was too busy to handle this one :-( $\endgroup$ – Josh Apr 9 '11 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ How do I upvote individual candidate's comments. If not, why just upvote a question and not the answers offered? $\endgroup$ – yayu Apr 10 '11 at 2:07
  • $\begingroup$ @yayu your upvote indicates how important the respective question is for this site in your opinion. Your "upvote" of the candidate's comments is ultimately your vote at the election $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Apr 10 '11 at 8:06

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Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: What do y'all see as the biggest challenge when it comes to moderating Physics-SE?


Sklivvz Sklivvz answered: @RebeccaChernoff It seems that there are some tensions in the community regarding people behaving "like bullies". Also, it seems that some basic discussions weren't completed during Beta, like "what should go in our FAQ", and that is making it difficult to know when to close questions. I think that this should be a happy community, but at the moment it looks the mood could improve. I'd like to help.

dmckee dmckee answered: Biggest challenge: Well two: Big, strong personalities who are used to being Right, and strongly held, very much off the mainstream, ideas (i.e. those which might get labeled as crank or crackpot).

David Zaslavsky David Zaslavsky answered: @RebeccaChernoff Hmm... well, from what I've seen on the site so far, I think keeping arguments under control is the most challenging part of the job. As physicists we have a tendency to be pretty stubborn when our views are challenged (some people more than others) so it's easy for a simple disagreement to blow up and turn into insults being traded back and forth.

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  • $\begingroup$ Quickly identifying and closing questions that look like Physics on the surface only. And, as the others already mention, stopping potential comment wars before they even rise $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Apr 10 '11 at 8:10
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Edward Edward asked:* What do you consider the purpose of the 'comments' section (what will you encourage / discourage)?


dmckee dmckee answered: @Edward Comments on Physics.SE provide a place to discuss the limits, exceptions, special cases, and requirements that afflict most statements you can make in physics. It is rare that any of us write an absolutely true statement. Done well, this can clarify without generating conflict. Done badly it makes bruised egos.

Sklivvz Sklivvz answered: @Edward Comments are second class citizens in the SE network. They should be used only for minor discussions related to the post. They should not be used as a forum. I think that physics needs to address this, as we are not using the tools we have in the best possible way.

David Zaslavsky David Zaslavsky answered: @Edward Good question :-) The primary purpose of comments on questions should be to ask for clarification, and comments on answers should be used to point out or ask about inconsistencies or errors in the answer posted. In both cases they basically function as a way to point out ways for the OP to improve the post through edits.

dmckee dmckee replied: @Sklivvz I'd like to say "Hear! Hear!" to Sklivvz's line on the comments.

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  • $\begingroup$ For questions: asking for clarification or improvements (e.g. to turn the question on-topic). For answsers: severe doubts. for obvious typos and errors the edit/suggestion function can be used (but please only if errors are double-checked, otherwise comment) $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Apr 10 '11 at 8:20
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Rebecca Chernoff http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/d8c43bb4c449d8054aebdd4ad98c6f6c?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Rebecca Chernoff asked: What can be done to bring more people to the community? Do you feel that's part of your responsibility as a moderator?


Sklivvz http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/3fd9e5b2c59170ec3d74dde30d233fa4?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Sklivvz answered: @RebeccaChernoff It's absolutely part of the job of a moderator. I can only say that, as a moderator, I managed to get Skeptics linked by Phil Plait (Bad Astronomer) and successfully posted more than one question on HackerNews, bringing over 10,000 visitors in 2 days. See: https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/1700/does-more-monitor-real-estate-increase-productivity

David Zaslavsky http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/8b925a470b95b97bf25240f7a274d611?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG David Zaslavsky answered: @RebeccaChernoff This was a major concern of mine at the beginning of the beta period. I think we have less of a problem with publicity now, but it's still something to think about. The best thing we can do in general, IMO, is build a reputation of giving people accurate answers. More short-term, we should be sharing interesting questions with influential bloggers and other "trendsetters" in the physics community. (TBC)

David Zaslavsky http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/8b925a470b95b97bf25240f7a274d611?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG David Zaslavsky continued: @RebeccaChernoff (cont.) I believe that the moderators can play a part in spurring this sort of action on, but it's not exclusively their responsibility. Site promotion is a project that the whole community can/should get involved in.

Sklivvz http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/3fd9e5b2c59170ec3d74dde30d233fa4?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Sklivvz continued: @RebeccaChernoff As a moderator you also need to be able to ask great questions, setting the standard. I have a couple of very very popular questions on StackOverflow. Here on physics my best one is Could gravity be an emergent property of nature?

Sklivvz http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/3fd9e5b2c59170ec3d74dde30d233fa4?s=16&d=identicon&r=PG Sklivvz answered: A last thing. Moderators are the only users with direct access to stats. They must therefore play a major role in promotion.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think every user of this site is responsible to get more people here, but of course the moderators are the ones to set an example. David basically states my thought here already $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Apr 10 '11 at 8:12
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dmckee dmckee asked: Official false modesty meter calibration query for all candidates: What do you believe is or will be your biggest weakness as a moderator?


Sklivvz Sklivvz answered: @dmckee Tough one. I am not a professional physicist, grad level only -- I think there should be some other moderator with me with me with more physics knowledge. My strengths are in "moderation art" and I can also help with lower level question (I have 3000+ rep here)

dmckee dmckee answered: I have a temper that occasionally shows through. Just yesterday @Sklivvz had to cleanup some too-strongly-state comments I left on Skeptics. I know better, and I usually walk away from the computer when that happens, but evidently not every time. That can't be allowed to happen whilst wielding the Power of the Diamond (tm).

David Zaslavsky David Zaslavsky answered: @dmckee Ah, well I was thinking about a good way to say this and then Sklivvz popped up with the perfect wording: I've had the feeling my biggest weakness is "moderation art," i.e. defusing debates, the ability to enforce boundaries without angering people. In practice, this often means I'll let things go (e.g. rude comments) when they should perhaps be deleted or dealt with.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm trying to be nice to everyone, so I guess my biggest weakness will be avoiding to ban anyone as long as possible. $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Apr 10 '11 at 8:15
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Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: Do you think the Physics-SE community generally gets the SE engine? What is something you think the community still needs education on, and how can you help improve this?


Sklivvz Sklivvz answered: @RebeccaChernoff I think that the community could use some help. I've been involved in the SE network for 2 years 6 months now, and I believe I can say I've lived through the many changes, errors and corrections of the platform. I know how it should work, and that when it works it's possibly the best community platform available today. As how to make it happen, is through community building (continued)

Sklivvz Sklivvz continued: @RebeccaChernoff I can bring as an example, the Skeptics site I am moderating. It's a very tough gig, because our questions are on the extreme side of subjective. Similarly to Physics we attract "eccentrics" pretty much every other day and we have to deal with them while keeping the community in a happy place.

Sklivvz Sklivvz continued: @RebeccaChernoff I believe the most commonly used term here is "crackpots" but it's possibly too evil :-)

David Zaslavsky David Zaslavsky answered: @RebeccaChernoff Not quite. One issue is that the quality of an answer on a hard science site needs to be judged by its correctness (that is, after all, why we call it hard science) and people don't always use that criterion. Another issue is that we tend to overuse the comment system, but then again questions in physics are often more discussion-intensive (or one could say argument-prone) than other topic areas.

Sklivvz Sklivvz continued again: @RebeccaChernoff I think that down votes should also be used to judge the quality of the answers (not only the correctness). But I believe that the community should set a standard and follow it, not the moderators. We facilitate.

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Edward Edward asked: As a follow up then: If responses are to remain associated with a question, where do you feel 'non-minor' discussion of possible errors or follow up to an answer should go? Sometimes the most educationally useful stuff I've seen is when there are conflicting answers, and learning why a particular answer turned out to be wrong. But previous answers regarding comments seem to want non-minor back and forth discussion reduced in comments.


David Zaslavsky David Zaslavsky answered: @Edward If it's going to be an extended discussion, the chat room can be good for that. But in many cases, I envision a cycle of "comment, edit, delete the comment" to improve the posts without cluttering up the comment section.

Sklivvz Sklivvz answered: @Edward There are other better ways. First: post a better answer instead. Second: use tools like the chat that work way better than the comments. If the discussion is of a more general nature, bring it to meta. I know physicists are tough people with 150IQ! But believe me, nerdy programmers are just as tough - and the platform is built around helping community of opinionated geeks be happy and productive.

Sklivvz Sklivvz continued: @Edward In 99% of the cases it's only necessary to point out why an answer is wrong once. You also have to remember that the answer might be wrong, but also the comment. So, surely you can point out things in comments if it's helpful. Remember that our AIM here is NOT to win a right-or-wrong contest, but it's to get the best possible answers, so don't point out errors in an unfriendly way but BE NICE and help improve the answer

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  • $\begingroup$ I think chat is good for that, and later on one could link to the transcript for everyone interested in the whole discussion. That's definitely an advantage to comments which, once deleted, are lost forever (unless Jeff diggs deep, I guess) $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Apr 10 '11 at 8:23
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David Zaslavsky David Zaslavsky asked: I have one that I guess only Sklivvz will be able to answer right now: For candidates who are also moderators of other SE sites, how do you expect your duties on the other site to affect your ability to moderate physics.SE?


Sklivvz Sklivvz answered: @DavidZaslavsky Actually, I think it is a great advantage. First of all, moderators keep an eye most of the time. So it's a matter of being always present. Obviously I am already around because of Skeptics, so it's easy for me. Secondly, I think that seeing two different communities gives a great deal of experience that you can't have with a single site.

dmckee dmckee answered: @DavidZaslavsky I'm a pro tem mod on CodeGolf right now. It's a easy gig, and I intend to give it up when they get around to elections right now. It means I've had a look at the tools.

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Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?


Sklivvz Sklivvz answered: @RebeccaChernoff Great question. I can point out this question here that was closed last night on Skeptics. I opter for closing, and the other mod present disagreed. So this is what we did. We posted a question on meta, to let the community decide. In the meanwhile (continued)

Sklivvz Sklivvz continued: The question was quickly becoming problematic - a flame war. So to expedite the decision we went in Teacher's Lounge (a special chat room for all the moderators) and we asked for advice there. After some discussion we all agreed on closing. I believe that we avoided a bad flame war and pointless question without making the community unhappy.

David Zaslavsky David Zaslavsky answered: @RebeccaChernoff I'd bring it up with the other moderator in the mods' chat room (or perhaps by email if that didn't work for some reason). If other people also shared my opinion, I would encourage them to bring it up on meta so the community can decide. But I wouldn't reverse another moderator's action unless they asked me to.

David Zaslavsky David Zaslavsky answered: @RebeccaChernoff I think this answer I posted on physics meta might be relevant to that

dmckee dmckee answered: @RebeccaChernoff I think mods have to talk to one another in cases like that. Meta or chat should do. Teachers' Lounge is a secure place if the site's meta or general chat isn't appropriate.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd probably first discuss this in private (email or the Teacher's Lounge) and in the event of good points on both sites start a meta threat for further discussion $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Apr 10 '11 at 8:26
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Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: Perhaps some final thoughts from the candidates?


Sklivvz Sklivvz answered: I really want to help here. I love physics. I come from a family of scientists, so I know them. On the other hand I am a community builder, I've been helping here but I also do it in my real life job. I help maintain an open source project, again, community. Here I can join two things I love :-) And, Bacon Waffles.

David Zaslavsky David Zaslavsky answered: @RebeccaChernoff I think the questions covered it pretty well. This is not an easy site to moderate but I think we're doing a pretty good job of propagating good information despite the challenges.

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Rebecca Chernoff Rebecca Chernoff asked: How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?


dmckee dmckee answered: @RebeccaChernoff Hardest possible scenario, huh? If they contribute to the comment noise, then cleaning up after them can be a warning. If that fails, a private email after consulting with other mods. The sin bin for a short time if they persist, but I'm thinking of Rich B. levels of persistent conflict generation.

Sklivvz Sklivvz answered: @RebeccaChernoff First of all, I would be present on the site and nuke flame wars from orbit. This is not where you come to fight. Aside, I would approach the user in chat first (using the new @@ tool, possibly) and try to reason. I would explain that the community is more important than any single user, etc.

Sklivvz Sklivvz continued: @RebeccaChernoff If that fails, and the behaviour continues, then I would use a formal warning, and then repeated suspensions. The main point here is that one user can spoil everybody's fun. Even if they are high rep... Actually, especially if the are high rep, they should set the golden standard.

David Zaslavsky David Zaslavsky answered: @RebeccaChernoff First reaction: just reply to the comments asking everyone involved to keep a level head and avoid saying rude things. I might delete comments if they seem excessively bad and/or irrelevant to the question. If that fails after a few instances, then send an official warning (moderator message), then after that, suspensions of increasing length, starting with a day or two, until it's no longer a problem.

David Zaslavsky David Zaslavsky continued: @RebeccaChernoff (continued) Contributing good answers can earn a user some leniency in the "disciplinary" process, but it's not an excuse to be rude and get away with it.

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  • $\begingroup$ there's no point in repeating dmckee's answer here, since that's exactly my opinion $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Apr 10 '11 at 8:17

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