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There are a lot of questions posted which ask about what mainstream physics says about something, but imply that the OP has a completely different opinion. For example:


I don't like answering any of these questions, because they feel fundamentally unproductive. The OP is just using the question as a soapbox for promoting their own opinion, or as an opening to argue with people posting answers. They can't learn anything from the answers because they already have their own. And half the time the OP drags answerers in long and unproductive debates in the comments.

However, there's no close reason that directly addresses this kind of question. I believe all of these questions should be closed, but all close reasons above are incorrect. For example, one might try to close as 'non mainstream' or 'opinion based', but neither of those are true. The actual questions have clear, non-opinion-based, mainstream answers.

Sometimes, people try to use the 'unclear what you're asking' close reason, because this is also incorrect, because there is a well-defined question in each of these. I think people use this reason because it looks like OP really has another, completely different question (e.g. "is my theory correct") in mind, but this takes some reading between the lines.

How should these types of questions be handled?

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you make a very valid and useful point. And I can understand you because as you said, answering someone who doesn't want to hear your answer is a waste of time. That being said, I think closing those questions achieves next to nothing as usually it's already too late. I do not know what could help, though, and am hoping for others to have good ideas :| $\endgroup$ – Sanya Sep 5 '16 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding requests for peer review, the non-mainstream policy explicitly kicks off with that. I explained my views here, and I think there was a pretty strong consensus that the arguments there do apply. (That thread also links to similar posts on MO and MSE.) Similar upvoted sentiments are here. We don't have a specific close reason for that case because there's a limited number of slots, but there is a strong consensus on the subject. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Sep 5 '16 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ While I get your point, can I just point out that 3 out of the four questions you list have been closed for various reasons? It doesn't seem like its a huge problem. If it is a terrible question, it is closed. If it is a legitimate question, it is answered, and even if the OP disagrees/promotes their own theory, your answer can help future users. And, if it gets really bad, you can always flag to delete the "I don't believe you" comments with a custom moderator reason or whatever. $\endgroup$ – heather Sep 5 '16 at 23:02
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    $\begingroup$ "How should these types of questions be handled?" - I vote for a deafening silence. I suppose that is too much to hope for though. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri Sep 7 '16 at 0:50
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If the question itself is mainstream and merely appears to be asked "in bad faith", this is not a reason for closure. We judge questions, not their askers.

However, many of these questions trot out questions asked before. The usual duplicate policies apply, and should be stringently enforced. Unless a specific question is asked that distinguishes the new question from older ones, these questions should be closed as duplicates.

If the question is otherwise on-topic, that means that the "ulterior motive" itself cannot be a relevant part of it. References to personal theories or "alternative viewpoints" should be removed by editing, especially if they are of a promotional nature. In the cases where the non-standard material cannot be removed without making the question non-sensical, then you've found the close reason:

It's "non-mainstream", because it then is asking about the evaluation of non-mainstream theories instead of asking about accepted physics. It might also be too broad, or off-topic by the part of the "non-mainstream" policy against requests for review, because removing the material the asker wanted to have validated might turn the question into a request for redoing that entire analysis (correctly). Either way, there's your close reason perfectly within the already established close reasons.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 Example: The third example question was apparently completely rewritten so that its contents changed* once the first answer came, which is against the rules of this site. That's a symptom of "an ulterior motive". But the when it comes to the question's usefulness for this site, the problem is that the question changed after it was answered, not the reason why the question changed. (*I didn't read the current or the original version closely, so correct me if I'm wrong and the huge edits were just a clarification.) $\endgroup$ – JiK Sep 13 '16 at 8:48
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One thing that I might suggest we keep in mind is that an answer is in general not intended only for the OP of a question, but anyone else who is interested. The "What is a photon" question is an extreme example of this- whatever you may think of the OP, there were obviously plenty of other readers who were interested in the responses and not satisfied with those given to the previous versions of the question. I think they were generally well served by the answers that it got.

As a lower-profile example, I answered a question some time ago before realizing that the OP was asking a question about his own paper, and certainly wasn't going to accept my answer that critiqued it. But the question itself was of sufficiently broad interest and worded reasonably enough by the OP that I don't feel like it was a waste of time to answer it even though I stood no chance of having the answer accepted.

In some of the cases you give, the questions themselves were not good in addition to promoting an agenda. That's a separate issue. But when the question would be worthwhile in a vacuum, it should be kept and answered for the broader benefit if nothing else.

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Aren't these questions easily ignored? Its not like a conversation where some-one interrupting is taking up valuable talking time. If you don't like the headline question then don't click on it; and if you do decide to click on it, and then don't like the body of the question then again ignore it.

However, one problem that can occur is that it encourages more posts of a similar nature - but given that there is a certain level of sobriety in physics; and that there are enough physicists grounded in mainstream physics that are participating this shouldn't be a huge problem as it is for sites struggling to increase participation.

Non-mainstream positions are an index of healthy curiousity - so long as they don't get out of hand; simply by being what they are they're unlikely to attract expert attention - this is why they're non-mainstream.

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    $\begingroup$ Good point Mozibur. I find myself ignoring questions. Some of them are obviously by interested youngsters, and I don't want to hurt their feelings and make them think ill of physics by downvoting and closevoting or making hostile comments. So I move on. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Sep 9 '16 at 7:16
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    $\begingroup$ Why is this answer downvoted? (I just cancelled the downvote with an upvote.) I only respond to questions I'm interested in. I don't understand the mentality of those self-appointed guardians of the true orthodoxy who feel it is their duty to shoot down quacks. Get a life. $\endgroup$ – Marty Green Sep 9 '16 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is downvoted because its argument could be used against any closure of questions at all - if questions are easily ignored, why close them at all? The answer fundamentally misunderstands that the SE model depends on a high perceived signal-to-noise ratio, and that even if posts do no "harm", they contribute to noise - questions no one is interested in but has to scroll through; but also questions others might answer. Ignoring questions one believes to be noise means that one would allow other people to freely generate noise (while gaining reputation), which is not desirable. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Sep 10 '16 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ @curiousmind: In what way 'fundamentally'? I do say that 'one problem that can occur is that it encourages more posts of a similar nature'; so I do acknowledge it - no? Or did you 'scroll' through what I wrote without reading it thinking it to be merely 'noise'? $\endgroup$ – Mozibur Ullah Sep 10 '16 at 20:05
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If you think the person is only pretending to ask to get an audience, then downvote and say so. It may be that you misjudged, but if enough people agree with you, the questioner might get the message.

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with downvoting based on an impression of the person who asked the question. Down vote bad questions. Up vote good ones. $\endgroup$ – DanielSank Sep 14 '16 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like the OP considered it a bad question. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Sep 14 '16 at 19:31
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How should these types of questions be handled?

You should answer them. If you can't answer them, so be it. Don't carp and complain and make up all sort of fatuous reasons why such questions should be closed because you can't answer them.

By the way, I do not have "extremely strong and non-mainstream opinions on what a photon is." I refer to peer-reviewed papers and robust scientific evidence in my questions and answers. However some people reject it all as "non-mainstream" because it doesn't square with some popscience lies-to-children they've accepted unquestioningly. For example they reject aether out of hand despite what Einstein said, despite what Robert Laughlin said, and despite all the papers on the arXiv. Because they think they know better, when they don't.

Questions with an ulterior motive

I detect a certain irony here.

The OP is just using the question as a soapbox for promoting their own opinion

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I am using this question to promote my own opinion, because that's exactly what meta is for. In this place, we argue about what we think the direction of the site should be. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Sep 5 '16 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ I'm against questions on the main site that promote opinions and are 'unanswerable'. In particular, I can't think of a single time you've accepted an answer, or even expressed agreement with one. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Sep 5 '16 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ Funny, I seem to remember a question explicitly asking for the mathematical foundations of some of the theories about the photon that have been advanced on this site, but no solid QFT references were forthcoming. It is a shame that that thread was deleted; I really do wish it hadn't been. (And, by the way, if you still have the link, I'm happy to cast an undelete vote.) That said, while I don't completely disagree with this question, its willful embrace of any and all questions, no matter how obviously pernicious or ill-posed, does earn it a downvote from me. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Sep 5 '16 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, you can use the word 'ether' to describe quantum fields. But linguistically, the common meaning of 'ether' is the pre-relativistic notion of an absolute reference frame, which is absolutely rejected. And almost all questions about ether mean the latter, and are a veiled rejection of SR. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Sep 5 '16 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ @knzhou : they aren't. Einstein referred to space as the aether of GR. He didn't reject SR. He just said it was nowhere precisely realized in the real world. And you might want to read ghoppe's answer here about the CMBR reference frame. It's the reference frame of the universe, and that's as "absolute" as it gets. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Sep 5 '16 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ I was about to reply to this, but realized that this is exactly what I was talking about in my question. I'm not going to get dragged into another long and unproductive debate in the comments. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Sep 5 '16 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ If you want a reply, you can ask in chat, or ask a question on the main site. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Sep 5 '16 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ Just to be explicitly clear, any further contributions following from the above comments need to be made in chat or in a question on the main site. $\endgroup$ – David Z Sep 8 '16 at 8:19

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