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I find it antithetical to the spirit of learning that many questions on this forum are approached by the regular users with an air of intellectual arrogance.

I wanted to leave my comment in response to the unwarranted animosity towards an admitted layperson for their question on why relative velocity causes time dilation, but was halted by yet another example of exclusion in the form of not having the required "reputation points". So I must gain some reputation before I'm allowed to share ideas? Interesting approach.

If someone, learned or otherwise, has come to a forum of this nature asking questions, they obviously have some desire to understand, and your regular users are doing humanity a disservice by scoffing at requests to simplify things.

Is a person not allowed to be curious without needing to take a university physics course just to receive respect?

I highly expect this comment to be removed, but maybe some admin will actually hear what I'm saying and not censor criticism.

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    $\begingroup$ The age-old wisdom from tpg2114 applies once more. If you don't like it here, then why are you here? $\endgroup$ – Danu Sep 27 '15 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ It really shouldn't be difficult to gain the 50 rep points needed to comment. You can do this by asking, answering, or editing. As is shown every day, this is not hard to do. Why complain that it's some monster hurdle that you can't pass over? It's there to keep out spammers, vandals, and those who want to ruin the site. Anyone who cares about Stack Exchange can vault the barrier. Those who don't care can't. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Sep 27 '15 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ This isn't a forum, it's a question & answer site. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Sep 27 '15 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ Also, it could be useful to include a link to the post you think is showing "unwarranted animosity" towards a layperson. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Sep 27 '15 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ I have clearly mistaken this for an open forum, as I was able to post a question. I did not realize this was a physics graduate studies class disguised as a forum. I wasn't screened on my level of knowledge on entry, so for some weird reason I didn't notice I'm not allowed to be here. $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ Just know that there is a space between not knowing and knowing, which will never be filled if the knowers just tell the laymen that they should just know, or not bother asking and wasting their time. Your time means as little to me as mine does to you, so who decides which one matters? $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ @RigelStewart: this is not a forum in disguise and you're allowed here. We only ask to abide by the rules. As regards time, sorry to hear ours means nothing to you! $\endgroup$ – Gert Sep 27 '15 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ if it helps at all its an SE wide phenomenon. see "stackexchange summer of love" $\endgroup$ – vzn Sep 27 '15 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ Rigel : I'm afraid there are some internet trolls who hang around here, and their arrogance is only exceeded by their ignorance. It is't a physics issue, it's an internet issue. Persevere. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Sep 28 '15 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ I don't approach you with arrogance, nor do any other users of this site. The threshold of 50 rep is there for a good reason: to keep spammers away. I voted up your question about time dilation. Welcome! $\endgroup$ – Prof. Legolasov Sep 29 '15 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ The more interesting question is why laypeople often see arrogance. $\endgroup$ – MBN Oct 1 '15 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Danu, that logic "don't try to change the sandbox" essentially says that nobody should ever try to improve anything. Surely you agree that this is not "wisdom". $\endgroup$ – DanielSank Oct 1 '15 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ @RigelStewart, I sympathize with your view. Arrogance is never a good thing. However, please note that attempts to maintain the quality of the question-answer process on this site is occasionally misconstrued as arrogance. The site has rules and quality standards which all participants are expected to uphold. For example, posts asking to solve particular physics problems without asking a specific conceptual question are simply considered off topic under the (unfortunately mis-named) homework policy. $\endgroup$ – DanielSank Oct 1 '15 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielSank surely you understand that that is not the correct way to interpret the quote. $\endgroup$ – Danu Oct 2 '15 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Danu Actually no, I am not being intentionally obtuse. When I first came to this site I identified a few issues I though needed improvement and was rather vocal about it. I would not take that back (although I did need to learn to adjust my tone). I have no idea how to interpret that quote in a way other than "don't try to change how things work in a pre-existing community". $\endgroup$ – DanielSank Oct 2 '15 at 17:37
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User X joins Physics Stack Exchange, creates an account, and starts perusing the site. Unbeknownst to everyone else, User X is a spammer, and will do everything he can to add spam links, rude language, and offensive messages wherever he goes.

Without the 50 reputation barrier for posting comments, it's fair to say that User X has the ability to completely ruin a good portion of the site in about 30 minutes, especially if one of the moderators isn't around.

User Y joins Physics Stack Exchange. User Y cares about physics and about helping people. He's also curious, and wants to ask questions. Yet when User Y begins exploring, he sees the work of User X and other spammers everywhere. Saddened that Physics Stack Exchange has become one more crappy Internet forum, User Y leaves forever.


Let's try that again.

User X joins Physics Stack Exchange, creates an account, and starts perusing the site. Unbeknownst to everyone else, User X is a spammer, and will do everything he can to add spam links, rude language, and offensive messages wherever he goes.

User X tries to comment, but quickly learns that he must first gain 50 rep. He decides to start asking and answering questions with lots of spam. It is harder for him to do so because high-rep users can delete posts that are offensive/spam/not-made-in-good-will[1],[2] (the same is not true for comments). User X is frustrated and soon leaves.

User Y joins Physics Stack Exchange. User Y cares about physics and about helping people. He's also curious, and wants to ask questions. He realizes that he needs to gain 50 rep to comment, and so he asks and answers questions, like he planned. Within a day, he has gained that amount and much more.

See the difference?

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your reasonable response. $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ @RigelStewart Indeed, this answer gets right to the heart of the matter. Stack Exchange sits are unique in their amazing quality of content compared with other forum-type sites. I hope that as you continue to use Physics Stack Exchange and other Stack Exchange sites you'll appreciate how the reputation system contributes to that quality. $\endgroup$ – DanielSank Oct 1 '15 at 19:06
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You don't have a claim on the time and effort of the community here unless and until you are willing and able to follow the group norms.

It's really that simple.

The fact that you would like an answer to something that has been bothering you doesn't empower you to demand that a particular gathering of people give their time to providing that answer.

Internet sites have cultures and mores every bit as much as gathering in physical space.

Ours are laid out in the tour and especially in the help center pages about what to ask and what not to ask.

You wouldn't barge into a church and demand that people doing advanced bible study tale time out to recount to you the story of the flood, would you? Nor storm into the lunch room at a major nuclear physics lab walk up to a table and ask the people there to do your homework.

Right?

Same thing.

Of course, if you approach nicely, when other things are not going on, you might get a positive response.

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  • $\begingroup$ The example I gave of the post which prompted this was one where the layman OP asked perfectly nicely and got talked down to because he was given the extremely counter-intuitive explanations normally used to explain the phenomena and didn't understand them, asking for clarification. $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ Furthermore, the fact that an open forum where physics questions may be asked exists implies the founders intended such an exchange to take place. So yes, if a question is bothering me I would expect to find answers on a forum whose purpose is to provide them. $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ You haven't given an example. You've given us your interpretation of an example that you haven't linked or identified. If you want someone to address that you have to identify it. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Sep 27 '15 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ @RigelStewart Stack Exchange is not a forum. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Sep 27 '15 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ As for the founders of the site, many have moved on because they find the way the site developed to be too friendly and accepting of basic level questions. I'm not kidding about that. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Sep 27 '15 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ Clearly I have wandered into an ivory tower and mistakenly misunderstood the treatment of outsiders when it is to be expected. I bid you good day, have fun discouraging curiosity some more. $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 22:23
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    $\begingroup$ @RigelStewart the help pages for this site includes a Tour of the site, which calls out very clearly that this is a "site for active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy". If your physics knowledge does not rise to at least that level, you will find your experience on this site less than rewarding. It just means this is not the site your were looking for. $\endgroup$ – KutuluMike Sep 27 '15 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ @RigelStewart: 'meanwhile in the ivory tower'. You're funny. $\endgroup$ – Gert Sep 27 '15 at 23:37
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It's not a site for beginners, it's just not. When people who don't know what they're talking about try to ask big questions which clearly don't have any real basis in knowledge it makes them very difficult to answer. It also often makes the person who's trying to help come off as arrogant.

In terms of vouching for the positive impact of the community here, I'm a Maths undergrad who recently moved to do a placement in reasonably involved nuclear physics. My physics when I started was slim on the ground, and still is. Many of my posts, I'm sure, were viewed as reasonably basic. However, in basically every occasion I got a good answer and, also, good reading material with it.

If someone trots up to a Mathematician and says "What's a group?" When they only did algebra up to GCSE, they're going to have a tough time. That doesn't mean that I'm saying that beginners should not ask questions. You should just ask reasonable questions for your level of knowledge I guess. The point to note however is that if beginners have questions, the answers are almost always out there already.

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    $\begingroup$ Allow me to clarify. A site than beginners can use, but not specifically for beginners. $\endgroup$ – Matt Sep 27 '15 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I see I misunderstood. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Sep 27 '15 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ I definitely see the value of the reputation system when you put it like that, and so criticism withdrawn. I also see the logic behind suggesting people try to not bite off more than they can chew, but if a person has a question which is relevant to the subject matter if the forum, their lack of knowledge on the subject should not be a barrier to gaining the very knowledge which would enlighten them on the subject. $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ What I mean is, someone who is asking a question is obviously lacking the knowledge they need to answer that question, so how will they gain the knowledge if not by asking? And how is everyone expected to know exactly which forum to visit based on their level of understanding? $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ @RigelStewart To gain that knowledge, they can always ask a question - after all, that's what we're here for! $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Sep 27 '15 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure if you have read the rest of this thread, but apparently if someone doesn't have a certain level of understanding already, they are wasting your time by asking here because this site is apparently intended for graduate students, despite not mentioning that apparent fact. You personally have come off as reasonable in your responses, and I was incorrect if I implied all members of this site act in the same manner. $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 22:37
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    $\begingroup$ The more I read back on this the less sense it makes; "you should just ask reasonable questions for your level of knowledge I guess". So, you must already know what you don't know in order to ask the right questions? $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ (Late edit) So I must understand theoretical physics before I can ask questions about it? Where do I start then if not a forum (meaning a place for discussion in this context) in which these questions are discussed? $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ @RigelStewart that's an odd way of defining "reasonable questions for your level of knowledge" ;-) You should ask questions for which you're prepared to understand the answers, or for which you're willing to do the research needed to understand the answers. If you don't have the required background knowledge, you can get it using classes, textbooks, other physics forums and Q&A sites that cater to laypeople, etc. $\endgroup$ – David Z Sep 27 '15 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ @RigelStewart: there are plenty beginners here that ask questions that get both upvoted AND get useful answers. I know because I provide some of the answers. $\endgroup$ – Gert Sep 27 '15 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ The responses I'm getting are repeating the same perplexing notion. How could one know before they ask a question whether or not they're "prepared to understand" the information of which they are not aware yet? That would require some extraordinary insight into ones intellectual capacity, especially prior to being presented with concepts one had not encountered. $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps I was too early to blanket all users with my initial statement, I was merely taken aback by the particular dialogue I first came across, and just wanted to present the notion that it's contrary to the spirit of learning to turn people away because their questions aren't at the level you understand things at. I understand the concepts are very complex and agree that they can be as hard to explain as to understand, but where is it you believe you're sending these people? Do you not consider that being met with condescension may discourage some from asking questions? $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ physics.stackexchange.com/questions/82767/… not all responses are negative but if you intend on denying anything there was condescending, this conversation can't continue, as that would be a delusion. $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 27 '15 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ I guess there a better answers the further you go down, but I know for a fact that intelligent people can find ways to explain things in relatable terms, see Richard Feynman interviews. I suppose I looked at the condescending answers and saw what I've seen so many times in an unwillingness to explain things to less knowledgeable people. You may all view this thread as a waste of time, but if that was the case I guess it was your own volition that kept you here. $\endgroup$ – Rigel Stewart Sep 28 '15 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Rigel Steward Having read your example thread I really don't understand what you mean. The main problem with the question is that OP hasn't explained what the actual detail of his problem is. He's basically stated "I don't understand this and xyz hasn't helped" in a long winded way. Nobody wants to risk wasting their time on a big explanation without being able to help tackle the user's actual problem. A question like that should say "I don't understand x. Here's why it's a problem. Here's what I've read in trying to understand. Here's what I don't understand within that. $\endgroup$ – Matt Sep 28 '15 at 11:36
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It isn't acceptable to be discourteous in an answer or a comment, but it's something we're all prey to for two reasons.

Firstly answering a layman's question is much, much harder than answering a question from another physicist. With another physicist we can answer using maths and that's clear and unambiguous. With a layman we have to find some way of converting really hard concepts (like proper time in this case) to something a layman can understand. This requires a lot of thought and a lot of time.

Secondly, every layman asking yet another question about time dilation is asking that question for the first time. But for us long time site members we're seeing the question for the thousandth time, and a certain degree of frustration is inevitable.

The combination of these two means that when we see yet another minor variant of a question that's a lot of effort to answer it's hard not to get frustrated. If we all had the patience of an angel our answers would always be sweetness and light, but angels tend not to become physicists.

So I have a lot of sympathy with your position. But you also need to have sympathy with ours. We put a great deal of effort into this site for no material reward. It's true that we need to consider the feelings of the laymen, but the laymen also need to consider our feelings.

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    $\begingroup$ If it's harder perhaps physicists should be re-evaluating their own assumptions about what they understand - the layman has an excuse for not being able to articulate core physics, what is the physicists excuse for that? $\endgroup$ – Magpie Oct 2 '15 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Magpie: physicists are paid to do physics. There is a lot of interest within the science community in outreach to laymen, but you need to understand that this is not the prime goal. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Oct 2 '15 at 10:11
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    $\begingroup$ This site is not a place for research, it's for answering physics questions and for people who want to engage in physics, so it is (in my view) non constructive that members treat those who are starting out as being invalid members of the 'community'. For the record I have not found any other community on stack exchange that treats newcomers the way they are treated on this one. $\endgroup$ – Magpie Oct 2 '15 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Magpie: this site is, and I quote from the tour, Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy. Most of us welcome the chance to spread the gospel of physics, and among my answers you'll find many at layman level. Nevertherless, this is not a site aimed at layman. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Oct 2 '15 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ Students are "laypeople" until they've learned enough to not be that; unless by students you mean registered post grads and honours students, that is. $\endgroup$ – Magpie Oct 2 '15 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Magpie: my definition of a layman is someone who does not understand the basic maths used in physics e.g. someone who doesn't know what calculus is. So for example I would not regard an A level physics student as a layman but I would probably put someone with only GCSE pysics in that category. I use an understanding of basic maths as a cutoff point because it's having to explain things without using maths that makes answers time consuming. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Oct 2 '15 at 14:45

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