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The level of questions (and answers) on Physics is not high enough. I'm not saying this snobbishly, but because if the answers are not high quality and accurate then the website does the community a disservice, contrary to its aims. (Perhaps, in the end, the notion of reputation will remedy the deficits that appear at start-up.)

The remedy, I think, is to attract higher-level users to the site. But this also requires that the community of users start rejecting homework-level and ill-posed questions. Unless this is done, higher-level users will not be drawn to the site. I think Math Overflow does this successfully (at least three Fields medalists figure prominently there) even though there are certainly problems of quality on that site, too. And this much was basically true from day one.

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    $\begingroup$ I do agree ! The quality is slowly going down ... $\endgroup$ – Cedric H. Nov 12 '10 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ It might help to edit some examples of what you consider good and bad (i.e. too low-level) questions into the question. $\endgroup$ – David Z Nov 12 '10 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ While there are some questions of low quality admittedly, I think that discriminating against level is a bad idea. Not only do you severely limit the audience of the site, but you just scare people off. I for one do not want to see this turn into a physics version of MathOverflow. Physics of course is very different in nature to maths, so I'm not sure that's even possible though. $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Nov 12 '10 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ Saying that, I do have one little qualm at present. See my thread over at meta.physics.stackexchange.com/questions/81/…. $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Nov 12 '10 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ Something positive seems to be happening. The quality of questions and answers appears to be going up in the last few days somewhat. Of course the site is most heavily used by a high school to graduate school audience, but that is fine and plenty interesting to me, especially given the apparent formation of the new Theoretical Physics site here at Stackexchange. Congratulations to someone, hopefully to continue. $\endgroup$ – sigoldberg1 Nov 17 '10 at 6:38
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. We already have a nice core group of high-quality folks led of course by the inimitable Lubos Motl. There are several string theorists, lqg-ers, AQFT people in the advanced category and the mid-level is well-populated with talented undergrads and grad students - David Zaslavsky, Mark Eichenlaub come to mind among others. When people of the caliber of Carlo Rovelli start joining it won't be long before the Polchinski's and Susskind's of the world start joining up too. @Robert Cartaino's answers says everything else I might want to say. $\endgroup$ – Deepak Vaid Feb 6 '11 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ I second this, I’m even more bothered by the level of answers. One issue may be the reputation ranking - it generates a silly competition, and in any event rewards quantity over quality. For example, this site has already a few very reputable individuals whose answers are almost always wrong. $\endgroup$ – user566 Feb 6 '11 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Moshe: I second (nay, third) that, too bad the SE engine doesn't allow for assisted theorem checking to justify votes... $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Feb 7 '11 at 8:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Moshe: I agree with you re the "silly competition" and "crackpoty answers". I don't necessarily disagree with the reputation ranking… but it does potentially suffer from this kind of 'perversion': tyranny of the majority. (Disclosure: have been punished for flagging clearly (to me, at least :-P) psychoceramical answers.) I wish i had any idea on how to deal with this, though… :-( $\endgroup$ – Daniel Mar 19 '11 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see what the problem is. After all, we do have a homework tag for homework-level questions. We could have(and maybe there already is)a research tag for research-level questions. That way, everyone is happy. $\endgroup$ – Joebevo Mar 10 '12 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see any reason why 1 person downnvoted this? . ! $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Jul 18 '13 at 14:31

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I don't agree and my experience bares that out: You can show your expertise, even when answering the most basic questions. You don't legislate away easy questions as if top-tier experts are just going to start filling the void. Sure, you have to ask great questions. But you also have to consistently provide awesome content with every answer, no matter how simple or mundane. That's how you will gain the respect and recognition of an expert community.

Some of the most highly-respected physicists in the world are teachers; answering Physics 201-level questions from rank-and-file students. Think about it. If you heard a seminar from someone like Einstein or Newton eloquently describing how gravity works when an apple falls to Earth, are you going to say "Nah, that's baby stuff" or do they somehow maintain that go-to source authority when it comes to areas of expertise. Be a great teacher!

In the intervening time between now and when this system is filled with world-class physicists using this site in their daily work… keep in mind that only a small percentage of the content of this site is questions. What you can offer today — right now… with the talent you have right here — are world-class, canonical answers to those questions.

Warning: Boring Anectodote— When I first started using Stack Overflow, I had 25 years of expert programming experience when I asked my first question (link). Without getting too technical, I was asking about, quite literally, one of the most basic concepts of a programming language. Surprisingly, the answer provided some deep, insightful responses I never expected. One was from a Microsoft senior developer on the team that designed the language; The other from someone who literally wrote the book on the subject. Unmatched, expert-level answers to a canonical question; That's the level of response we've come to expect from Stack Overflow.

So when someone asks "why do apples fall down to the earth," provide that world-class, canonical answer which can be improved upon indefinitely. Every time someone searches for an answer to their question, this site should have THE canonical answer on that subject — that, and every subject in physics. When an expert happens across this site, they should say, "Woah! These guys know what they are talking about. This is the site for me!"

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    $\begingroup$ I understand your point, but disagree. Most of the basic questions have been asked many times, and that is why researchers write textbooks -- edited textbooks. Honestly speaking, the reason people come to the site to ask these questions is because it is more accessible than a bookshelf, bookstore, library. The benefit of having a site for grad- or research-level questions is that there are no standard references for many of them. Now I see I am in the minority here. My lament: there are other places to find answers to undergrad-level questions of this type. Not so for the hard ones. $\endgroup$ – Eric Zaslow Nov 13 '10 at 5:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Eric: I don't think you're in the minority, however, we need to be patient since the site is young and the number of users is not enough to produce high level questions and answers at a significant rate. $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Nov 13 '10 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert Smith: I think that is entirely the wrong approach. If you want high level discussion it has to be enforced right from the start. That is what MathOverflow did and it's what the cstheory stack exchange has done, and both are extremely useful resources. I don't believe you can do this the other way around. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 13 '10 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ (continuation) Also, I'm very surprised to see people expecting to enter a site which has everything they want from the start. Precisely, BETA stage is the point in which the site is defined to serve the users' needs. $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Nov 13 '10 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert Smith: I participated in CSTheory from exactly the commitment stage, just as I have with this site, however the experience couldn't have been more different. I am actively participating in it, where as here I already have one foot out the door. This shouldn't be the case: I am a physicist after all. However appealing to the lowest common denominator makes the site all but useless for research level stuff. The idea of simply getting enough users and hoping quality content is not an approach that I think is likely to work. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 13 '10 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ (continued) There are many orders of magnitude more people who will happily try to explain the uncertainty principle or black holes than there are who can solve the Schroedinger equation or find the Schwarzschild line element. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 13 '10 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert: I think this runs counter to the guidelines on proposing sites. Everything I've read from the StackOverlords has recommended aiming at the high end first. There are any number of mathematics crackpots, and yet MathOverflow managed to avoid these problems. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 13 '10 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert: No, I don't accept that that is the case. You simply need to be explicit about the level expected from the very start, and try to attract high level users early on. While a lot of people might have a stab at answering a question on a site which comes across as a pop-sci Q and A site it does not imply that they are deluded as regards their level of knowledge. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 13 '10 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Joe: The site is being explicit about the level expected: "Physics - Stack Exchange is for active researchers, academics and students". Case I: There are enough users with high level questions and answers. Case II: There are not enough users of this kind. In case I, you only need to post a high quality question and see the response of the community. In case II, we need to come up with ideas to attract people with high level questions and answers. $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Nov 13 '10 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert: I think that is setting the bar too low. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 13 '10 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert: I think "students" can be interpreted as anything from the time you take your first physics class in school up to PhD. To be able to consistently get answers to hard questions you really need a core of users who are PhD students, postdocs or above. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 13 '10 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ I am truly dismayed by the snobbery I see here. If you want to feel good for down-trodding other people, please do it on another site. I am at the end of my undergraduate degree in physics, and probably know more than the significant majority of people on this site, but I try not to let it get in the way of anything. We should not discourage learning of any group of people! $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Nov 14 '10 at 2:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Noldorin: I really am not trying to be snobbish about this. On both CSTheory and MathOverflow you can ask a precise question about a technical aspect of a recent paper and get a very good answer, often from one of the authors themselves. For something like this to happen you need a userbase that is regularly reading new papers and keeping up to speed with progress in the area. In scientific subjects this nearly always means people doing research full time, simply because of the time commitment necessary, as well as the background knowledge required to parse a modern scientific paper. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 14 '10 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ (contd) That's not to say that a good answer cannot come from somebody else. Merely that if a large chunk of the users aren't research active, the ability to answer the kinds of questions PhD students/post-docs/faculty are interested in is likely to bymuch more patchy. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 14 '10 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ +1. This is an excellent answer in itself, especially the Stack Overflow anecdote. $\endgroup$ – Peter Mortensen Nov 14 '10 at 10:41
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I'm not sure how long I'll stick around this site. It's not analogous to MathOverflow, which has a remarkably high level of discourse. Still, this site could be useful for students, or people who have questions arising from popular books or TV shows. My worry, though, is that the average level of knowledge of the participants is quite low. People are accepting inferior answers to their questions, and in some cases better answers are getting voted down in favor of mistaken ones. In particular, just keeping up with all the questions about quantum mechanics and trying to explain the importance of decoherence for a correct understanding of what measurements are and how the classical world arises would take a significant amount of time, and if no one does it the answers will rapidly degenerate to the level of popular books (and even a lot of textbook accounts) that completely muddle the subject and make "measurement" out to be some mystical, poorly-understood, non-quantum process.

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    $\begingroup$ Couldn't agree more. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 13 '10 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ Any endeavor is only as good as the people who participate in it. So @Matt, the next time there is a question on wavefunction collapse perhaps you or someone else will provide, in @Robert Cartaino's words, the canonical answer which would do much to clear the confusion, and over the long run would become the go-to source for this problem. $\endgroup$ – Deepak Vaid Feb 6 '11 at 9:31
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    $\begingroup$ That's my problem with the questioner accepting answers on SE generally. By definition they are the least qualified - at least on SO they can run the solution and see if it solved their problem. I suppose on physics.so the answer that they understood is the 'best' by their definition $\endgroup$ – Martin Beckett Mar 21 '11 at 17:49
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My feeling is this site has become analogous to math.se rather than MathOverflow, and there is little hope of transforming it into a research level website. Most of the questions here seem to me to be either at the pop sci level (with correspondingly pop sci level answers) or basic undergraduate physics. I don't think there is much hope of making this site attractive to researchers.

The solution would then perhaps be to create a physics stack exchange which is research level only and strictly enforce this rule. Actually, I suspect a separate stackexchanges may be appropriate for research level in theoretical physics and experimental physics.

UPDATE: TP research-only stack exchange proposal here.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of the theory research proposal. There's currently a proposal for a combined theory/experiment stack exchange site for high energy physics, which seems to be having trouble getting enough people to sign on. Making a site that includes all branches of theoretical physics sounds to me like it might work better. $\endgroup$ – Matt Reece Nov 13 '10 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, there is also an AMO one. My thinking was that these are perhaps to specific to take off. MathOverflow is a pretty amazing resource, and the CSTheory one is progressing very well. With this in mind it seems like a TP site is prehaps the way to go. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 13 '10 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ There is a significant gap between pop. sci. and basic undergrad physics, let it be known! $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Nov 14 '10 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Noldorin: Yes there is. But there is also a huge gulf between these and questions that are likely to be of use to researchers. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 14 '10 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Joe: That's true; I just feel that the audience of researchers is so narrow. There is plenty of graduate-level physics that most researches may be unfamiliar with. To be honest, if I were a researcher, I'm not sure how much I'd be using a site like this anyway. $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Nov 14 '10 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Noldorin: My research is on the edge of physics and CS. I spend a lot of time on CSTheory, and find it a fantastic resource, and really would like to see a physics version of it and MathOverflow. However, this site clearly isn't heading in that direction. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 14 '10 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ I'm glad there's a proposal for advanced theoretical physics; it really belongs in a separate site. $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Nov 14 '10 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Joe: That's probably true, I'd agree. Since you're split across fields, would you actually call yourself a physicist or computer scientist? Inevitably, your knowledge/skill in one area is going to be lacking behind academics that are purely within that field. I'm just curious as to where you're coming from here. $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Nov 14 '10 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Noldorin: I usually call myself a physicist. I don't really accept the premise of your question though. My research is in an interdisciplinary area, and I consider myself competent to answer questions related to that area whether they come from physicists or computer scientists, and I have published at a high level in both fields. I am not an expert on other areas of CS or physics, but that is the nature of academia. You specialize. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 14 '10 at 18:41
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Everyone seems to set Mathoverflow/math.SE as a base example but this is not the whole story; for instance on CrossValidated.com we have both popular and research level questions and both classes gets their answers. Indeed, there wasn't even a discussion about question level.
Same holds for GIS and to some extent for E&R, not to mention StackOverflow.

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    $\begingroup$ +1, I don't think the MO/math.SE splitting is the only possible approach $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Nov 16 '10 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed, although I think there may be reasons that wouldn't work here. For one thing, I think physics tends to be "popularized" (dumbed down for the public) more than statistics or programming, which means that we'll tend to get a lot more questions from people with zero or minimal background knowledge, and they will generally be at a lower level than the popular-type questions on the stats site or SO. Also, I get the sense that the initial user group for this site didn't include enough research-level physicists (advanced undergrad and up) to be self-sustaining at that level. $\endgroup$ – David Z Nov 16 '10 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ Theoretical computer science is now its own site: cstheory.stackexchange.com. I think eventually things get to the point where researchers will want their own community $\endgroup$ – Casebash Mar 20 '12 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Casebash So it is... Whether it works well is an another topic. $\endgroup$ – user68 Mar 21 '12 at 0:39
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Stop upvoting questions and answers that you don't think are valuable.

The reason people post low end questions and answers is because they get upvotes.

The fact that I hit the rep cap on the first day with a few half-hearted answers and a bit of googling should be eye opening. Yes, I write in a style that appears authoritative, but I nearly flunked the two theoretical physics classes I had to take to get my engineering degree. Love calculus. Love physics. Just couldn't wrap my head around mixing the two together.

Stop upvoting answers that aren't truly great. That means you have to skip over posts that are interesting if that's all they have going for them.

I have, however, come to the conclusion that research X and practical X aren't simply two different levels of the same thing, they are actually fundamentally different topics. I hope people get the theoretical physics site off the ground, in addition to this one.

But even then, I hope people won't go around voting up every neat question or answer here - even low end questions and answers should have a minimum dress standard.

Voting is the primary feedback loop that tells people what the community should look like. Vote often, but vote carefully.

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My position is somewhat intermediate. I am not a research physicist; I'm applying to grad school now, and have only a general physics undergraduate knowledge.

As a result, I tend to ask fairly basic questions, but ones that are not very simple or easy to answer. These are attracting lots of bad answers (and some good ones).

A research-level site would be interesting to me, but only as an observer for the time being. I would learn what sorts of things people are thinking about, but would not be able to participate in the discussion.

On the other hand, a "pop-sci" site is not very useful because there are too many uninformed responses for each good one.

What I'm really hoping to find is an online environment to replace the one I had as an undergrad, where I could go talk to people at roughly the same level (other students) or higher level (TA's and professors) than myself, but with a focus on understanding the nuances in the more fundamental material I'm learning.

Unfortunately, it sounds like neither of the ideas being tossed around - a high-level site or researchers or a low-level site for the general public - are a place that I completely fit in.

Robert Cartaino's model, a site where experts still answer basic questions very well, is what I would like, but it looks like there are practical difficulties with implementing it because the most competent people are largely interested in research-level discussion only.

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    $\begingroup$ I think it really depends on what you mean by basic. If the answer can be found easily by googling, then people get a bit put off by it. If on the other hand you've tried all the obvious sources and are left with a concrete question then people are more willing to take the time out to answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons Nov 14 '10 at 8:02
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    $\begingroup$ +1 I actually agree with many of your thoughts. I'm in a very similar position to you with my level of education, in fact, and feel it's important there there is a core intermediate level. $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Nov 14 '10 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ After reading this a couple times I think I agree as well, something at the advanced undergrad/early grad student level would be quite useful. And if the three of us feel this way, there have got to be more people who agree, it's just a matter of finding them and bringing them together. $\endgroup$ – David Z Nov 16 '10 at 2:17
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I totally agree.

While I enjoy answering simple questions and teaching others, I joined physics.stackexchange.com hoping for 'Mathoverflow for physicists'. The proposal says clearly 'Beta Q&A site for active researchers, academics and students' - and we should cling to it.

There are plenty of good textbooks, there is wikipedia*), there is a number of other places. When there is a simple question it is easy to give an answer (it suffices to have any academician or even a good undergraduate/high-school student). Elementary questions often are good, but should go somewhere else (another stackexchange?). However, there is no place when researchers in physics can ask and answer high-end questions.

*) Some articles on wikipedia are too complicated for the beginner? Then edit them. Its much more beneficial than answering a question which has been already answered a dozen times on different fora or usenet groups.

Ah - but you need to invite your labmates, friends from conferences, active professors, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah; I would be quite happy if the core of this site was undergraduate to early graduate level, with a substantial number of upper graduate/research-level questions. As long as we have a core of decent-level, intermediary questions, the content at the extremes of level are tolerable. $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Nov 14 '10 at 15:55
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If this site aims at emulating the success of Math Overflow and CS Theory (i.e. providing a research level Q&A site, as opposed to popular/undergrad level questions), it should be kept in mind that both sites from their very start:

a) as a rule, discouraged too basic/popular questions and stayed focused on grad level and above

b) started with a "seed" core of dedicated users (in Math Overflow case, it was a group of grad students and researchers working in algebraic geometry and related fields); experts and "big shots" (Terry Tao etc.) were attracted very quickly (in CS Theory, almost from the first day of beta version!)

As for now, I see neither a clear policy as to the target level nor the seed group of dedicated users. Simply waiting for more users to get high quality material won't work (I think it's not possible to build a critical mass solely with "casual users"). Nobody will post an expert level question if he knows it's going to be swamped by stuff like basic mechanics problems.

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  • $\begingroup$ I find it interesting that you propose this sort of level why you yourself are (only a partial) undergraduate in physics - perhaps I misunderstand you? I still think that to maximise audience and usability the core user base of this site should be undergraduate to mid-graduate level, with higher and lower level tolerated too. $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Nov 14 '10 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ +1 good of you to identify what made MO and CST the way they are. I've been working on the "seed group" aspect by having an email sent out to the faculty and grad students in my department, but they don't seem to be biting. $\endgroup$ – David Z Nov 15 '10 at 7:39
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Any new thoughts on increasing the number of "research-level questions"?

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    $\begingroup$ So far I've found it fairly useful for uh, well, kind of low level research questions. They don't attract much attention, but they do get answered. And I don't think they'll be that hard to search for; if you know the search term you can find things. $\endgroup$ – Carl Brannen Mar 16 '11 at 2:19
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Open source community has this problem ages ago. They have written comprehensive how to ask question guides. At first I would redirect poor questions to this link, which are in agreement with my opinions. But then I gave it another reading and found that I could revise it to make it less computer directed. Here is my initial effort, I will be slowly working on it. Some endorsement or contribution from the community would be very welcome so it show more legitimacy.

Personally I put about the effort in the question as I saw the asker did on making his question. I would probably put more if I find the question interesting and is not answered elsewhere.

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    $\begingroup$ We definitely need a place to point people asking poor questions. I like the ideas presented in your draft, but would like to see a different execution. I think the guide should be as short as possible so that (some) people will actually read it when we link. A brief outline of the difference between good and bad questions, a few tips on what to do before and during asking a question, and then a few examples would suffice. The current document has all this, but I think it's a little redundant (although much shorter than the original you linked). $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Nov 17 '10 at 8:02
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Mathoverflow has math.stackexchange to which to send people. Maybe we could find and publicize a list of more didactic physics sites. I think I will do this with "What are some good didactic physics sites which are more appropriate for elementary misunderstandings?". Any objections to putting this question on physics.stackexchange?

That said, I also enjoy thinking about naive questions which point out my own unstated assumptions. I can see that simple ignorance will soon get tiring, however.

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    $\begingroup$ There is also the Area 51 proposal Popular Natural Science, still in the first phase (definition), though. $\endgroup$ – Peter Mortensen Nov 14 '10 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ It's an interesting point. Tobias originally proposed this site, so I'm not sure exactly what level he had in mind, though I suspect it's more of an intermediary one. i.e. Undergraduate through to Graduate level, less of high-school/research-level/pop-sci. I am quite happy to have another physics site akin to MathOverflow that is more research-level. $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Nov 14 '10 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Noldorin: I try to state my intention here. Basically what you say, some intermediary level, i.e. not as "pure" as MO but still warmly welcoming research $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Nov 15 '10 at 12:30
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How easy would it be to alter the menu for questions at the top, so people could select how many levels of questions they want to appear?

When people posted, they would have to define the level of the question, with moderators moving questions to other levels if necessary.

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    $\begingroup$ The issue is more with the level of (specifically, correctness of) answers, not questions. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 6 '11 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ If we used difficulty tags the existing tag filtering mechanism would do fine. Not that I'm a big fan of this idea. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Feb 6 '11 at 5:04
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    $\begingroup$ @David, yes, I see your point. Take the established Google groups such as sci.maths, sci.physics.relativity, sci.physics.research. Neither sci.maths nor sci.physics.relativity is moderated and some of the questions there are trivial, but... it still attracts a few quality people with a position at a universtity that answer questions of all levels - They enjoy it! And they're quite active. On the other hand, sci.physics.research is moderated and the questions and answers are of a far higher level, but it isn't as active. Physicsforums.com is a mixed bag, but extremely successful. $\endgroup$ – John McVirgooo Feb 7 '11 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ ::goes off to lay flowers on the grave of the Usenet:: $\endgroup$ – dmckee Aug 4 '11 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee physicsforums does this moderating on questions and it seems to work. Spam is killing off usenet groups like sci.physics.electromag which is a real pity. $\endgroup$ – John McVirgooo Aug 4 '11 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ It wasn't that John, it was describing them as "Google groups". Certainly the unmoderated nature of the Usenet rendered it unsustainable beyond Endless September. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Aug 4 '11 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee This is the first time I've come across "Endless september" as an alternative server to Google, nice idea though. I love Google groups because of the way it allows people to search the posts of people who know what they're talking about, just by clicking on their profile. And the new look Google would work if there was a need for it, such as displaying images, latex, handling spam etc. $\endgroup$ – John McVirgooo Aug 4 '11 at 23:22
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Remember this site isn't for you - it's for the shareholders of SE.

The aim is to maximize number of visitors X quality of visitors, to sell to advertisers. Now unless Phys Rev Letters has a higher promotional budget than I think, then a site where 3 people discuss the same paper on loop quantum gravity isn't going to bring in the ad $$$$.

Similarly a site full of UFO and hollow earth cranks, or one full of the same grade school question about paths of cannon balls (the problem with physicsforums) is also going to lack readership pretty soon.

The optimum is probably something like Scientific America/ Discovery channel.

This was also the launch model for SE. The stackoverflow site deals with relatively simple questions, then programmers.se for more 'professional' topics and cstheory for the 3 people in the world that are interested in computer science theory but aren't mathematicians.

I think the aim should be a mid-level site with a future proposal for an physics-research site if this site doesn't work for you. Remember you can use tags to filter out questions that are too simple or out of your field of interest.

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My first impression was the opposite: that the level of questions was almost to high. Granted, there are many silly questions, but there are also many daunting research-level questions. The problem is there is almost nothing in between.

There are very few university studies level questions (like what you would get as homework). These I could answer.

There are almost no questions regarding actual day-to-day physics problems, say, of a grad student or a young postdoc. These I could answer, or use.

Then consider this: An good programming question can often be answered in a few minutes, and the answer easily applied. Some of the better physics questions around here - they tend to be hardcore quantum field theory - however seem to require weeks of research to answer, and an afternoon to understand, even for someone who works in a closely related field.

What we need is more people asking real day-to-day advanced questions, that someone who came along this problem before can answer in a few minutes, rather than big research frontier questions.

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I completely agree with Robert. I would also point out that our best questions - where best is defined as highest voted - are all interesting questions which are both accessible to laypersons and interesting for specialists to answer.

https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions?sort=votes

If we want to be the reference site for physics we need to be able to communicate, we need to be able to be authoritative by the breadth, depth and quality of our answers, and not merely by limiting the topics, audience and users to some elite few who speak lingo.

In this I do think we are lacking and we could improve massively.

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    $\begingroup$ I deleted all the comments because they had really just degenerated into an argument. If there's going to be further discussion on this post, we can start fresh. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 20 '11 at 19:58
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Right, the most basic questions can be rather difficult to answer.

I'd recommend to make age a must-entry when applying for physics SE.

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    $\begingroup$ age is not necessarily a useful criterion, maybe rather something like physics experience level. And since users can ask questions without registration this would have to remain an optional field $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Mar 21 '11 at 15:14

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