8
$\begingroup$

From time to time, I've written up substantial answers to naive questions about special relativity, sometimes illustrating them with space-time diagrams and explaining how to read them. Apparently some novices have found these answers helpful.

At least one novice, though, has apparently found these answers infuriating, because they contradict his naive intuitions. Following a chat session today in which he informed me that a single event can have a velocity, that a single event can have a reference frame, and that in a given reference frame it is not true that distance equals rate times time, this poster seems to have gone on a little vendetta, downvoting several of my posts and leaving bizarre comments on them.

Here, for example, is a good example, where his objection to the (perfectly correct) answer is "I don't think that makes sense". Here is another, where readers can inspect the diagram for themselves and judge the quality of the comment from the same user. Note once again that he has absolutely no objection to any of the reasoning (not even a mistaken objection); he just doesn't like relativity, so therefore relativity must be wrong. This was a follow-on to his comments on my accepted answer here, which he also downvoted.

There are another half dozen or so equally bizarre and ignorant comments, and accompanying downvotes, on my other answers. (They still seem to be coming in every few minutes, so I'm not sure of the current total.)

The downvotes are of course mildly infuriating. The attitude and the wilful ignorance are of course substantially more infuriating. What I'm not sure of is whether this calls for any action (and in particular whether this meta post of mine is out of line). I do think that the wrong and misleading comments on my answers threaten to mislead novice users who might really benefit from those answers, so I wish something could be done to remove those comments, but I'm not sure whether there's any mechanism for that.

Responding to the comments would of course violate the admonition against feeding trolls. I made the mistake of responding to a few, but I think I should not repeat that mistake. Is there anything else I should be doing?

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @user36790: Your edit deletes the name of the problem user. I can see why you might want to do this, but it also makes it more difficult for others to identify his comments and form their own opinions about the merits of those comments. Do you object if I put the name back in? $\endgroup$ – WillO Mar 17 '16 at 4:13
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ The name of the user should not appear. We're not in the judging user's business here; we judge content and we set policy in a non-personal way. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Mar 17 '16 at 4:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Our usual suggestion if another user is angering you is to stop engaging, and if you wish flag it for moderator attention. It's not your responsibility to fix another user's behavior. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Mar 17 '16 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee: Understood. $\endgroup$ – WillO Mar 17 '16 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to reddit! $\endgroup$ – user56903 Apr 10 '16 at 16:59
5
$\begingroup$

I do think that the wrong and misleading comments on my answers threaten to mislead novice users who might really benefit from those answers, so I wish something could be done to remove those comments, but I'm not sure whether there's any mechanism for that.

There is: wait a few days and flag them as obsolete, and we'll go through and purge the comment threads completely. Before doing so, make sure that you've checked the comments for suggestions for improvement and implemented any suggestions you want to, and if there's anything you do want to save from the comments, copy it into a text file or something. (You should always be doing this within a week or so of comments being posted on your questions and answers.)

Note that we don't delete comments for being wrong, because moderator powers shouldn't be used to distinguish correct from incorrect posts. That's what voting is for, or in the case of comments, posting followup comments.

Actually, come to think of it, there is another roundabout way to get wrong comments deleted: just keep responding until either the OP gives up, or there are so many comments that we can justify moving them to a chat room. That's not something I would really recommend with a commenter who is being argumentative and persistent, but it does get the comments off the post quicker than would otherwise be the case (or at least it lets you get the last word in).

Is there anything else I should be doing?

Just the usual, watch the comments and flag anything that becomes outright rude or inappropriate. Otherwise, don't worry about it. There will always be some people who will downvote without good reason.

It is good to make the moderators aware of this sort of thing, which you did via this meta post but ordinarily can be done with a flag. We'll keep an eye on any voting trends. Any significant spurt of targeted downvotes should be caught and reversed by an automatic script within 24-48 hours; if that doesn't happen in this case, we'll follow up on it.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

From time to time, I've written up substantial answers to naive questions about special relativity, sometimes illustrating them with space-time diagrams and explaining how to read them. Apparently some novices have found these answers helpful.

That's the general idea!

At least one novice, though, has apparently found these answers infuriating, because they contradict his naive intuitions. Following a chat session today in which he informed me that a single event can have a velocity, that a single event can have a reference frame, and that in a given reference frame it is not true that distance equals rate times time, this poster seems to have gone on a little vendetta, downvoting several of my posts and leaving bizarre comments on them.

I took a look at your examples, and to be honest I think you're making too big a deal out of this. He's being a bit critical, which is not good. But you've ended up dismissing him and calling him names. That's not good either.

Here, for example, is a good example, where his objection to the (perfectly correct) answer is "I don't think that makes sense".

I'm sorry Will, but I think he's right about that.

Here is another, where readers can inspect the diagram for themselves and judge the quality of the comment from the same user.

I'm afraid he does have a point when he said if you start out 8 light years away and get closer, you'll never be 13.33 light years away.

Note once again that he has absolutely no objection to any of the reasoning (not even a mistaken objection); he just doesn't like relativity, so therefore relativity must be wrong. This was a follow-on to his comments on my accepted answer here, which he also downvoted.

Can your provide examples please? The two examples so far are not enough.

There are another half dozen or so equally bizarre and ignorant comments, and accompanying downvotes, on my other answers. (They still seem to be coming in every few minutes, so I'm not sure of the current total.)

Again, please can you provide examples?

The downvotes are of course mildly infuriating. The attitude and the wilful ignorance are of course substantially more infuriating. What I'm not sure of is whether this calls for any action (and in particular whether this meta post of mine is out of line). I do think that the wrong and misleading comments on my answers threaten to mislead novice users who might really benefit from those answers, so I wish something could be done to remove those comments, but I'm not sure whether there's any mechanism for that. Responding to the comments would of course violate the admonition against feeding trolls. I made the mistake of responding to a few, but I think I should not repeat that mistake. Is there anything else I should be doing?

I think you should respond to comments that you think are incorrect or misguided, and/or you should flag them. Not responding, and then making a fuss here and calling the guy a troll is not the right approach.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "I'm afraid he does have a point when he said if you start out 8 light years away and get closer, you'll never be 13.33 light years away." The claim is that you can be 8 light years away in one frame, but 13.33 light years away in another. Does that really seem to you to be wrong? $\endgroup$ – WillO Mar 18 '16 at 15:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "I'm sorry Will, but I think he's right about that." Here's what you're saying he's right about: He says it "makes no sense" that if you change velocity, you will change your mind about the time at which a distant event took place, and if you change your velocity very quickly, you will very quickly change your mind about the time at which a distant event took place. Does that really seem to you to make no sense? $\endgroup$ – WillO Mar 18 '16 at 15:33
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ This isn't the place to determine the merits of the physics. Remember, the question is about how to respond to a series of downvotes and comments that illustrate basic misunderstanding, let's not get too far from that. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 18 '16 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ WillO : what seems to be wrong is starting off with an 8ly distance between the other planet and Earth, then accelerating to 0.8c and saying Earth is 13.33ly away. And I'm sorry, but if you change your speed you don't really change your mind about the time the distant event occurred, because you know about time dilation. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Mar 19 '16 at 13:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @David Z : if you don't determine the merits of the physics, you can't justifiably say the comments "illustrate basic misunderstanding". $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Mar 19 '16 at 13:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JohnDuffield: There is no claim that the observer says the earth is 13.33 light years away. Instead, the claim is that (according to this observer) the earth was 13.33 years away at some time in the past when a certain light signal was sent. In accordance with DavidZ's request, I will not respond here to any more questions about the physics, but in general, I think you can find clarification by reading the original answers a little more carefully. $\endgroup$ – WillO Mar 19 '16 at 14:59
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @JohnDuffield Yes, that's the point. It doesn't matter whether these specific comments illustrate basic misunderstandings; the point here is to determine what to do with such comments once you have them, generically. If you guys want to determine the merits of the physics, please don't do it here. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 20 '16 at 13:35

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .