# Concern about question deletion: Science can look after itself and repudiate “offensive” questions by rational repudiation and evidence

I refer to this deleted question and my question is this:

Why was this question deleted rather than migrated to History of Science and Mathematics SE?

To summarize the deleted question: cites this book "How Einstein Ruined Physics" by Roger Schlafly, one of whose main premises seems to be the notion that Einstein was a fraud because Poincaré, Lorentz (not to mention, unwittingly, Maxwell himself) and others made important contributions to STR that were unacknowledged by Einstein at the time. The OP asked for an opinion as to how valid this viewpoint is.

Now the question was probably against the rules of this site owing to its opinion-dependent nature, but I was rather concerned that it was deleted as "Offensive" instead of being migrated to History of Science and Mathematics SE.

In deleting the question, we lost the chance to describe an important aspect of the scientific method. That is, science is a culture and we all benefit from the ideas of our forerunners. Hopefully we cite these other ideas, but sometimes they become deeply enmeshed in the culture and body of knowledge that we forget that there was a time before them. Add to this Einstein's odd, intense, somewhat isolated personality that lead to his being e.g. stuck in his building's elevator many cycles lost in his thoughts before realizing it was time to get off, you have someone who was perhaps a little less adept at citation than he might have been. Einstein - crucially - lived in a world where communication was very different from today and it was not as easy to keep abreast of ideas. I recall a sign in my faculty library in the 1980s advertising a course in Dialog (an ancient forerunner to the WWW) bearing the slogan "Information Revolution Got You Down?" In those days I certainly felt this way, much more so than now where, thanks to the WWW and decent search engines, I do not feel overwhelmed by information.

So science is a culture that shares ideas that everyone benefits from. Einstein was no different from any other scientist in this way. Does that make Einstein a fraud? Absolutely not: without the protagonists, including Einstein, there is NO culture and there is NO science. The author of the book in question as a professional geometer liked Poincaré's insights into special relativity and the geometric / group theoretic description more than Einstein's. If the truth be known, probably I do too. So what. We all think differently. My understanding of the history is that Einstein was first to uniquely take time dilation as just that: a real effect on time itself rather than arising from Lorentz's "local time" which was not taken as being "true" or "real": Poincaré himself described it as having no meaning by itself and resulting only from convention. Moreover, as one commenter pithily put it, Einstein's contribution was hardly only special relativity, or even only GTR and STR put together.

I can understand the viewpoint that the question was not a good fit for this site. I disagree that challenges such as the OP's to mainstream viewpoints can be offensive. He/She attacked no-one personally on this site. I disagree with the question's deletion and believe that it should have been migrated to History of Science and Mathematics SE.

I've banged on enough, so could someone please give any further insight into why this question was deleted rather than migrated?

• As far as I know we don't have to migrate questions - it's something the mods may do as a courtesy - so I don't see that anyone can be criticised for the question being deleted rather than migrated. The OP can always repost on HSM if they want. I'm a bit surprised it got flagged as offensive because I'm not sure who would be offended. However I would have voted to delete had I seen it because it's wholly inappropriate for this site. – John Rennie Jun 6 '15 at 6:12
• Would it be possible to get a screenshot of the deleted post? Us non-10k users can't see :\ – Danu Jun 6 '15 at 9:43
• @JohnRennie It sounds (I can't see the actual post) like the question should have been put on-hold rather than deleted, to me. – Danu Jun 6 '15 at 9:47
• @JohnRennie Thanks for hosting the link. It appears the discussion should be about the earlier question the OP mentions in the post. Perhaps some comments by a moderator on the reasoning behind the initial deletion will clear everything up :) – Danu Jun 6 '15 at 10:03
• The deletion and locking by Community rather than a mod together with the spam notice seems to indicate to me that this post was automatically closed, deleted and locked because there were sufficiently many spam (or offensive) flags cast on it, so this deletion and locking were not a conscious decision of an single person. So the actual question here has to be: Why were there spam/offensive flags cast on it, which only the specific users who cast them could answer. – ACuriousMind Jun 6 '15 at 11:19
• @ACuriousMind That's an interesting comment, I didn't know Community did that. – Selene Routley Jun 6 '15 at 12:04
• I am the guy who actually deleted those posts, and I did it (deleting rather than just closing) because of the unsavory connection to bigoted material. I think I owe Rod an apology for being slow to follow up on the second question---giving him time to write an answer---but I was interrupted in the "real" world. Individual claims from the book could presumably be treated on HSM. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jun 6 '15 at 14:46
• @dmckee Thank you so much for that comment. Most honorable behavior indeed. I found out about the links to some of the material yesterday researching the author of the book in question. Again, many thanks. – Selene Routley Jun 6 '15 at 23:17
• @dmckee Can you comment on why the second post appears as closed by Community? Is ACuriousMind incorrect in their deduction? – Emilio Pisanty Jun 8 '15 at 13:56
• @EmilioPisanty The timeline helps here. Looks like I used a offensive flag to effect the close. I've been told that this initiates more record keeping in the event of a network-wide abuser. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jun 8 '15 at 14:00
• @dmckee that's bizarre - it gives me a 404 :(. (I usually get timelines like this, as per this, but it's also 404.) I'm not completely convinced this is great reporting (to 10k+) of what happened - it would be good if we could tell whether it was automated or mod-initiated or flag-plus-mod without needing to scale all the way to meta. – Emilio Pisanty Jun 8 '15 at 14:16
• @EmilioPisanty After checking to make sure that you are properly logged in I would report the inaccessibility of timelines to meta.stackexchange. There is no recent activity on that tag and this may be a regression. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jun 8 '15 at 14:19
• @dmckee It seems it's only deleted questions that do that - I can see other timelines just fine. I'll post in MSE in a bit. – Emilio Pisanty Jun 8 '15 at 14:24
• @EmilioPisanty: FWIW, I also get 404s on the timelines, the issue is not limited to you. – ACuriousMind Jun 8 '15 at 14:37
• @dmckee It also seems, as per this comment, that when you and I talk about post timelines we're likely talking about rather different beasts. Or rather yours is a beast and ours is more of a concise summary. Which explains the URL difference. – Emilio Pisanty Jun 8 '15 at 14:41

The question was asked before by the same user, in mostly the same form.

It contained references to the "Jewish Media". This is a common phrase slung about in anti-semitic contexts, and is a marker for bigotry and other such things.

So, the post is:

• About a likely anti-semitic book
• Completely off topic
• Open ended anyway ("What do you think of this book")

Totally inappropriate for any Stack Exchange site. Perhaps okay for HSM, but the first and third points still sort of apply. And we are under no obligation to migrate; the user can repost to that site if they want. Migrations should not be used as a way to shovel garbage (or non-garbage mediocre stuff) off the site; only use it if the other site really wants the question. We don't think they will, so we won't migrate. The OP can repost if they want.

• Thanks Maishearth: I didn't know about the "Jewish Media" bit but I did kind of glean this researching Roger Schlafler today. One could argue, though, that this is perhaps more of a reason to repudiate such rubbish, and many of the users of this site as well as HSM can give very good, reasoned repudiations of this viewpoint, particularly as there seems to be a rash of books over the last few years on this theme. In the context of HSM, I think there could be some very high quality answers given. – Selene Routley Jun 6 '15 at 13:36
• Would you say an aggressive edit to shorten the question to just "I heard that Einstein did X, Y, and Z, is this a true or fair claim?" without all the other junk would make the question potentially undelete-worthy on this site or HSM? Or maybe that @WetSavannaAnimalakaRodVance could ask and self-answer that improved version over on HSM? – Ixrec Jun 6 '15 at 13:36
• @WetSavannaAnimalakaRodVance perhaps, but at the same time such things are prone to a kind of discourse we don't want here. But yes, the premise of the question could be asked over on HSM in a better way and it would be on topic. But it's not our problem as Physics SE moderators. – Manishearth Jun 6 '15 at 13:45
• @Ixrec Yes, that would make sense. It's still off topic for this site, but HSM might be okay. – Manishearth Jun 6 '15 at 13:45
• Seriously? Simultaneously "Totally inappropriate for any Stack Exchange site", as well as "Perhaps okay for HSM"! You don't seem to have very high regards for the HSM site :P – 299792458 Jun 6 '15 at 13:45
• @TheDarkSide Nah, the perhaps was a caveat to the previous sentence, because if we give the post the benefit of the doubt on antisemetism and given that HSM is sometimes okay about open ended stuff (by nature of the site), and that it's actually on topic there, it might just work. Maybe. – Manishearth Jun 6 '15 at 13:47
• I know this thread is ancient, but I can't help pointing out that the masthead of the website the original question linked to is "White Identity, Interests, and Culture". It's not clear that the OP actually read the book, because contrary to OP's claims, it doesn't refer to "Jewish media"; only the bigoted review on that website did. As much as I disagree with Schlafly, I don't see any support for lumping him in with such white supremacists — although he certainly is anti-elitist, anti-intellectual, maybe even anti-fact, and generally demonstrates little capacity for critical thinking. – Mike Jan 30 '18 at 3:11

Physics Stack Exchange isn't the place to ask questions about the history or sociology of physics. A question about a priority dispute in special relativity is definitely off-topic, even if we could, as you suggest, demonstrate "the scientific method" by rebutting claims in the question. Science can indeed (usually) look after itself, but this just isn't a question about science.

Having said that, it doesn't sound offensive, though I haven't read the original question, only your description. I think that the question was rightly deleted but for the wrong reason. The OP is free to ask his question elsewhere, including on other SE sites (let's hope that the history of science is equally adept at looking after itself ;)).

I just don't see much here to be particularly concerned about - we recorded the wrong reason for closing a question, and that's it.

I might as well follow up on the possibility of a migration to HSM.

Looking at the version provided by John Rennie, and considering Manishearth's three points, I'll say . . . it would be okay for HSM. Posting it, even just to see what the reaction would be, probably wouldn't harm anyone.

Applying Manishearth's ideas to HSM

1. The book may be anti-Semitic. That is not okay, as has been established. Not. At. All. However, the question doesn't seem to be based off of anti-Semitism. I had to dig a bit deeper to see that Schlafly does seem to be a wee bit biased against Judaism. The fact that I couldn't tell that just by reading the question, though - and was surprised to learn - indicates that the question itself isn't anti-Semitic. Perhaps - and this is speculation - the idea was based firmly on anti-Semitism, courtesy of Schlafly. But a solid answer wouldn't have to venture anywhere near that.

So point number one isn't a killer here.

2. I won't go into whether or not that's on-topic for Physics, but I'll talk about HSM.

If we boil it down to "Could Schlafly's point about Einstein not responsible for the majority of relativity theory accurate?", then I think it's okay. Is there some opinion in there? Perhaps. But a good answer would analyze the historical background behind the theory - talking about Poincare and any others. That works. We have answers that have gone into depths like that.

3. I don't think it's too open-ended, but I am concerned by

If you read the book what do you think of Schlafly's claims, and was Einstein a fraud?

This indicates that the question is purely about the book. That is not good. The best answers on HSM use many sources; it's our unofficial policy to back things up as much as possible. Have I seen good ones that use only a few, or even one? Yes. But more sources generally indicates reliability. Schlafly is probably biased, meaning that he could be a terrible source to use.

Why was this question deleted rather than migrated to History of Science and Mathematics SE?

I appreciate that the question was not migrated directly to HSM without any warning. Generally, moderators on STEM sites communicate with us if there is the possibility of a migration, given that there are many sites - the vast majority, in fact, or probably all of them - on which is not explicitly off topic. So they ask for the opinions of HSM mods. This is very helpful.

Given that the question was a bit iffy for reasons exceeding scope, chucking it to HSM could have violated a soft version of the "Don't Migrate Crap" policy, as Manishearth indicated. Now, could they have talked to us and then possibly migrated? Sure. But it's not their obligation, as has been said.

If the user wants it on HSM, s/he can re-post it there, and the community there will take a look at it. No harm done, I would think. It's fine for one community to deal with an issue without bringing another community in. It can be helpful to notify the other community, but it's not mandatory.

After some more thinking, I'm seriously reconsidering my original position. I've done some reading, and Schlafly is not someone I would want to cite in, say, anything. The guy's biased, to say the least. In order to have a good question, one would have to assume that the information it is based off is accurate and neutral. I wouldn't feel safe making that assumption.

• I actually suspect that the OP was genuine in his question and, like me, was a bit naive to the antisemitic undertones. That explains the rash of "anti-Einstein" books in the last few years (my nephew, whose a teenage physics nerd, has read quite a few). I don't think it was a "crap" question for HSE because there's a great deal of history to refer to, especially to refute the "Einstein was a fraud" claim. – Selene Routley Jun 8 '15 at 0:34
• @WetSavannaAnimalakaRodVance I was just using the basis of the policy: Don't migrate something if it's not a good question. It's by no means a "crap" question; it's just that if its merit was dubious, then the mods have no reason to want to offload it somewhere else. In other words, if they thought it was a poor question, then policy would have dictated that a migration wouldn't be a good idea. – HDE 226868 Jun 8 '15 at 0:36
• @WetSavannaAnimalakaRodVance The OP provided a link to the book through the Amazon site. Even the briefest glance at that link would have revealed the kind of blatantly anti-semitic material that "Other customers bought" or "Other customers viewed" along with this book. That and the completely needless use of the adjective "Jewish" in the original question was sufficient for me to flag it. The interesting thing is when I try to search for the book from the UK - none of those anti-semitic titles appear?? amazon.com/How-Einstein-Ruined-Physics-Revolution-ebook/dp/… – ProfRob Jun 9 '15 at 14:12
• Keep in mind who Roger Schlafly is. The only SE site in which it makes sense to discuss any of his writings is skeptics.SE, and then only to debunk it. His writings are not appropriate for this site, and most likely not for HSM (for one thing, its not history). Even skeptics.SE is a bit dubious. – David Hammen Jun 9 '15 at 16:57
• @DavidHammen Exactly. That's why I would only want the question if it focused on other writings. I didn't like the implication that Schlafly's book was the only usable source. – HDE 226868 Jun 9 '15 at 21:04
• @RobJeffries You're quite right. In hindsight it's clear but, believe it or not, I was oblivious to this stuff. Arguments that "Einstein was a fraud" are quite fashionable in some circles, and they do get my back up as to me they bespeak laziness on the part of someone who hasn't taken the time, or put the hard work in, to look closely at the history or what the respective contributions of Poincaré, Lorentz and Einstein are: they also bespeak an unwillingness to think outside one's own being and try to imagine what communication might have been like in those times ... – Selene Routley Jun 10 '15 at 1:23
• @RobJeffries ... so I guess I miss the antisemitic stuff - I'm mad even before I get to that. Somehow, though, I think that makes it even more important to refute this stuff without giving the Schlaflys of the world too much oxygen. My nephew is a teenage physics nerd who's full of this stuff about Einstein's being a fraud and not needing to learn relativity - I don't know whether his friends are typical but this does seem to be a significant teenage subculture at the moment. – Selene Routley Jun 10 '15 at 1:28
• @WetSavannaAnimalakaRodVance That's horrifying to hear. I didn't know that that sort of thing was prevalent. – HDE 226868 Jun 10 '15 at 2:00
• Yes, quite aside from it's being utterly unjust, think of the damage that attitude would be to one's science education. Hopefully it's a kind of teenage rebellion. I can't believe that Einstein is still spoken of, 110 years after the fact and notwithstanding experimental evidence, as being abstract and at the theoretical fringe. The idea of its being at the "boffin" or "egghead" theoretical fringe is like the attitude "maths is hard" - in contrast, one needs to learn relativity as a centerpiece of any physics education and as an expression of the most basic symmetries of the everyday World. – Selene Routley Jun 10 '15 at 2:23
• I' actually concerned that now my Amazon history shows up some of this crap. I guess the link provided by the OP reflected their interests... – ProfRob Jun 17 '15 at 22:02