Yesterday I asked a question which was based on a conceptual confusion, as was revealed by the excellent answers I received.

It made me think that it would be nice if that fact was visible straight away for anyone coming to the page. There would be a second line of tags, relating to the nature of the question, and in my case one could see in that line the tag "misconception" (that I would have added after having read the answers).

Some of the tags that come to mind would be:

  • "technical" for the discussion of a technical point
  • "perspective" for open questions such as this one
  • "common-misconception" for questions such as the ones listed here
  • "reference" for well-posed questions with good answers
  • "canonical" for even better-posed questions with even better answers
  • "speculative" for questions found to be not quite in line with mainstream physics
  • "basic", "conceptual", "experimental", "thought-experiment", "factual", etc.

Having such a set of tags would make the site even more useful. For example I would love to browse the "experimental" collection in "quantum-mechanics", or the "reference" one in "electromagnetism".

Respectively, coming to a page and be able to see right away that the question is a "misconception" puts you in the right mindset for better understanding the answers.

Now who would be allowed to set those tags? Probably the OP (although I can easily see how the OP would find very tempting to remove a not too glorious tag), the author of an accepted or upvoted answer, and also anyone with a large enough reputation.

In a nutshell this proposal would give a qualitative dimension to the question metric currently based on votes that would also take the answers into account.


No, we should not introduce such meta-tags. If you are not convinced of the general uselessness of meta-tags, let me address your proposals specifically:

  • "technical" is hopelessly subjective. What's technical to one user is pretty straightforward and easy to see to another. This is already apparent in the non-meta tag mathematical-physics, which is often misused for questions that just include math, and would only get worse with such a pure meta tag.

  • "perspective"...what makes a question "open"? Is a question "open" simply because it is vague and imprecise? Should questions not be edited and clarified instead of staying vague? This tag sounds like another variant of the already existing soft-question, which is already a pretty bad tag.

  • I have already rejected the misconception tag here. As for "common", who decides what is "common"? Does it suffice if the misconception is common among non-physicists (we are supposedly a site primarily for physicists, after all)? Do "misconceptions" count that are really more lies-to-children? What would a question gain from being tagged as being about a misconception?

  • The idea of tagging "well-posed questions and answers" with special tags serves no purpose because there already is a mechanism in place to promote well-posed questions and well-written answers: Voting. Good content is highly upvoted, bad content is downvoted. If you see a need to tag questions with regard to their quality because the votes are not a good indicator of quality, then I would rather say we need to change our voting behaviour (I wrote that almost a year ago, but I would not say the situation has changed), not introduce tags for quality, as that would just lead to needless drama over who has the power to add or remove those tags and which questions should receive them.

  • Non-mainstream questions get closed, not tagged as "speculative". Speculative question without firm grounding in physics also get closed as too broad or primarily opinion-based, I don't see many questions that can be on-topic that would deserve this tag, or of what use it would be to tag them such.

  • "basic" is again as subjective as "technical", every question should be "conceptual", we already have an experimental-physics tag (which is fine as it actually tells you something about the topic opf the question), there is already a thought-experiment tag and its content looks rather random to me and not deserving of a common tag,

  • $\begingroup$ About "perspective": I was thinking of "Why?"-type questions, where the answer provides a background/overview on a specific topic. $\endgroup$ – Stéphane Rollandin Mar 17 '16 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ "technical": does not mean that the question is difficult as opposed to trivial, not that is only about the math; it just means that there is no misconception, the question is well-posed in a non-confused technical frame. $\endgroup$ – Stéphane Rollandin Mar 17 '16 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ @StéphaneRollandin: Ah, but how is the tagger supposed to know that? Many questions I would characterize as "technical" are really based on "misconceptions" because the asker didn't understand the mathematical construction correctly. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Mar 17 '16 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ You obviously have much more experience than me on these topics so I trust you that there is some ambiguity. I would tend to think that the distinction is clear though. $\endgroup$ – Stéphane Rollandin Mar 17 '16 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ Or maybe not :) $\endgroup$ – Stéphane Rollandin Mar 17 '16 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ The accent in my proposal is on its usefulness for browsing PSE as a database of Q&A. If it is not useful because the amount of ambiguity blurs all interest in such distinctions, then indeed there is no point. I just have the feeling this could be done right, but I may be dead wrong here. $\endgroup$ – Stéphane Rollandin Mar 17 '16 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ Ugh. This post makes my post look totally lame & barely motivated. Thanks a lot! $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Mar 17 '16 at 17:29

No, they would all be meta-tags1 which are strongly discouraged.

1. Tags that, by themselves, are meaningless/vacuous/useless, and can only have meaning if added in addition to other tags.

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    $\begingroup$ I see your point, but I don't think I am proposing meta-tags because I am asking for a different set of tags altogether, in addition to the current tags. That's why I illustrated their possible usage by cross-searching for "reference" in "electromagnetism". I am proposing an extra line of tags. $\endgroup$ – Stéphane Rollandin Mar 17 '16 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ I understand, but that "extra line of tags" would still be a set of meta-tags. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Mar 17 '16 at 10:29
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    $\begingroup$ Yes. But would it lead to the same problems as meta-tags mixed along the non-meta ones? I have no idea actually... $\endgroup$ – Stéphane Rollandin Mar 17 '16 at 10:30
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    $\begingroup$ Thinking more, this would be something that would have to be asked on Meta.stackexchange and not here, as it would require a changed in the code (something we dinner have the power over). $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Mar 17 '16 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ Stupid autocorrect: dinner should be "don't" $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Mar 17 '16 at 11:48

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