# How do we revive PhysicsOverflow?

+ 6 like - 0 dislike
5738 views

My name is Roger Cattin (but for consistency if prefer to stay polarkernel on this site), I am 65 years old and I live in Germany. I am a former professor for Computer Perception and Medical Image Processing. I lectured and researched at a University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland. I had to retire there two years ago due to my age. I am completely independent, I don’t care about any reputation and I will never again in my life have to search for a job. As I always declared in my profile, I am not a physicist.

Instead of cultivating my garden, as pensioners usually are expected to do, I decided to invest my knowledge and a large part of my time to create and support PhysicOverflow. I have been impressed by the level and the culture of discussion I have found on SE.TP. I have been convinced by Dilaton that it could be worth to setup a free site for physicists. I am not related to Dilaton and we are not the same person (this stupid idea made me laugh, seen that our styles to write are really completely different).

I have prepared a plant for you in the hope that it gets cultivated to a beautiful garden, where flowers and other plants may grow, even those that get cut on other sites. But what I see today is a desert. The site got an arena of politics, where gladiators and self-proclaimed prosecutors produce an abominable mud-wrestling, in order to get power over the site. It makes me sick to see how you try to undermine and pervert fundamental rights, as privacy and anonymity.

@RonMaimon You say I do not talk to you? Well, I have once searched in my mail archive. The last time I have been in the recipients list of your emails was in a response to my Christmas wishes. Then I have to go back to September 2014, where you complained about a database connect error. So, who does not talk to whom? You are right, I do not trust you. You appear to me as a very destructive person, an egoist, absolutely unable to work in a constructive way within a team. Your capitalized words in your emails (forwarded to me by the co-founders) do not impress me at all, although you call them arguments, I can’t respect such a tone. As I am not physicist, I also can’t understand how you got such a halo, as you seem to have. You do not trust me? Well, I don’t care.

I am Swiss and you may be sure that I know how democracy works. The first part, demos, means people. But who is "people" on the actual PhysicsOverflow? Today, PhysicsOverflow has fewer users than in private beta. There was a time at the beginning, where more than 200 users contributed to PO, at least by voting. Almost all of them have gone. This is a number that I consider as "people". Would I follow their votes, I could immediately close the site. But as Ron said in his emails several times, he doesn’t care. Politics seems to be much more important than physics. The Q&A category is dried up, there is almost nobody on the site that is able to give answers and nobody anymore writes reviews. We are near to have more moderators than users.

Now who is guilty? I would say, we all, me included. We have lost track of the initial goal of PO. It is now time to stop this mud-wrestling immediately. I propose that the corresponding threads get closed (not deleted) now and I would like to see constructive ideas on how to change the situation. The most important issue of PhysicsOverflow is the lack of users. Should once a moderator be elected by 20 votes I would be impressed. On demand of such a moderator, I would even be willing to publish my code. I am waiting for your constructive propositions.

Be sure that I may invest my time and knowledge in projects that are more fruitful.

recategorized Apr 2, 2015

I have moved all off-topic or tangential discussions to a new thread in chat, please continue the discussion there.

It's possible I was too liberal with the moving, please tell me if there were any comments that are actually relevant to the revival of PhysicsOverflow.

However, if your issue is that the comments are no longer as prominent as before, and tell him to capitalise this comment, make it red, bold, italic, underline, highlighted yellow, or whatever, then don't expect me to respond.

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

In my opinion, to get the site back on track, we need to work on the following:

• Post reviews of papers you've reviewed - Many here would have been a reviewer for a peer-reviewed journal. So create a submission for the papers that you've reviewed in the past, and post your review here! That's what open reviewing is all about, isn't it?
• Promotion - This can't be mentioned enough. There seems to be too little promotion of the site. Sites like this thrive on free, word-of-mouth advertising, so please, help out! Please, if you like PhysicsOverflow, you can (see Help Promote PhysicsOverflow for some resources)
• Place a banner of the site on your blog or webpage
• Distribute some pamphlets at a conference
• Post about the site on social networks
• Tell people around you about the site!
• Self-answered questions - The biggest problem we have now is not a lack of questions, a lack of views, or even a lack of users, but a lack of answers. Answers are eventually the backbone of any Q&A site, because there's no incentive to ask or visit the site, if you will not be getting answers. Often, answering your own questions also encourages other people to answer it themselves. By asking questions you know the answer to, and then answering them, you can not only help add content to the site, but also fuel further discussion on the site.
• A clear comment deletion policy - The delete review queues are not as often used for comments as they should be. The issue is that if an off-topic comment is placed in the delete review queue, by the time there is consensus on deleting it, more comments would have appeared in reply to the original, and to delete the original, these comments need to be deleted first (because or else, they would look out of context), and the cycle continues. This leads to comment deletion being unilateral de facto, which needs to be stopped. I propose that for comments, one should be able to vote to delete a number of comments together. A clear policy could help avoid similiar conflicts in future.

In terms of revival, I would recommend focusing only on the Q&A and Reviews sections, although I am actually of the opinion that the Open problems section is an underused gem with great potential.

answered Jan 30, 2015 by (1,975 points)
edited Feb 1, 2015
Regarding "open problems", I am willing to offer money bounties on both of them, and if we did allowed people to put money bounties, it would get attention. I have proposed this before.

The judgement that

The biggest problem we have now is [...] a lack of answers.

seems very true to me.

More promotion might help a little, though maybe not. I announce most every question or answer that I send to PO also on g+, but I am unsure if this has any noticable effect regarding user activity here.

From experience I expect that the only way to eventually succeed is to, somehow,  get a small core group of active users that set a precedent. If only there were two or three more of the kin of, say,  conformal_gk, Arnold Neumaier, regularly active here, having actual exchanges with each other (answering each other's questions) then people would see this and by seeing this that would become convinced to join in.

+ 2 like - 0 dislike

Its a strange thing, One year ago the this site was just starting, Now there is talk about how to revive It.

Personally, The questions on this site are too hard for me to answer. Stack exchange had a lot of questions which I could answer. Perhaps one day I can contribute good answers to some of the questions on this site.

What I like about this site is there are some experts on this site, which makes it completely worth it, on the rare occation that I asked a question I got excellent answers.

It doesn't matter how many question are asked, so long as good question are being asked(and bad questions are understood for why they are bad), it always counts as progress.

However It seems to me that, there are several other issues that need to be sorted, the kind that really will kill the site. I have absolutely no idea, what when on, why so many and nearly hostile comments exchanged. I hope you can sort it out between yourselfs, I will only say a place where research happens, requires a warm and forgiving environment.

answered Feb 24, 2015 by (700 points)
edited Feb 24, 2015

Hi Prathyush,

thanks for your important and valuable feedback, we would be happy if more people would speak up in meta, than the always same about 5 most meta active people ...

I exactly agree with you that maintaining a high-level but welcoming and helpful academic atmosphere (even while discussing or sorting out serious important issues on meta the tone should stay reasonably professional and by no means turn outright hostile...!) is very important for a high-level physics site.

So I will try my best to do better in help contributing to a nice wellcoming atmosphere on PhysicsOverflow.

I've also felt the "too hard to answer" thing. This is of course great, as it means that PO is higher-level on average than we had expected it to be, but this of course reduces the answered rates.

@Diliaton: Tell me something, Ill ask you this honestly, why would any one be interested in the meta in its current state? I haven't visited the meta page for a very long time, I was quite shocked to see what was happening here.

All I see is broken hearts scattered everywhere. If the few people who post in the meta cannot resolve differences, why do you expect someone else to do it for you? Going thought such long posts in the meta is also quite a burden you see...

I would say @Polarkernel did a great job with the site, as a frame work for discussion. Now I don't know how you find you will find a way out of this mess. I would suggest, a clear understanding of what the problem is where you start. (If you wish to you can mail me, I guess you know how to find me.)

@Prathyush, "All I see is broken hearts scattered everywhere." what are you referring to？

@JiaYiyang I went through some posts that were exchanged here recently. I would prefer not to take names here, but I general I was refering to the hostile exchanges, what polarkernel referred to as "Mud Wrestling".

@Prathyush Come on, this stuff is already resolved, and there are no "broken hearts scattered around everywhere".

Your comments here are a classic example of the bad side of "mud wrestling" - when uninvolved users view the discussion, it looks like a warzone, or an arena of dissatisfaction. They take every accusation as a gospel truth, and are led into believing that the site has been struck by some evil misuse of moderator powers.

Fortunately, none of that is true. There was exactly one "misuse" of moderator powers (editing out insults from a users' comments), and it was a genuine misconception on Dilaton's side (he didn't correctly understand the user rights document), and he's been forced to step down for this, as well.

@dimension10 If you say its resolved I'll take your word for it.

Personally I don't see anything wrong with Dilaton editing out the insults(If it was only insults he removed and not scientific content) from a users comments, But I will not involve myself in this any further.

@Prathyush Well the real problem is that comments don't yet have edit histories, it would have been perfectly fine had he done it with questions or answers. But that's exactly why it was a genuine mistake from his side, and I still wish he could have been excused.

@dimension10 So what is the correct way to deal with spam in comments? Has that been discussed?

@Prathyush spam is never past of a larger comment. A comment is either not spam or only spam. Only speak comments can be deleted. I did try to discuss a full comment deletion policy on meta, but nothing really gained traction.

@Dimension10 this is not true, nothing prevents that people post spam/direct name callings/other very bad low-level things + some physics keywords/phrases in the same single comment, so it is not true that a comment can not contain partially spam.

@Dilaton Huh? If a comment isn't relevant for the thread, it would be deleted anyway. What are you even saying?

@Dimension10 that a comment can contain both, irrelevant/off-topic/low-level spam or attacks AND some physics keywords or phrases. You can not always strictly separate comments into relevant or spam/irrelevant.

@dimension10 @diliton @polarkernel @jiayiyang @ronmaimon

I don't feel like writing a full meta post maybe if one of you likes the idea, you can write one.

I think a self-correcting mechanism must be implemented at the moderator level itself. So each of the moderators actions are independently verified by the other moderators.  So that incidents like this can be checked, and rectified immediately, and before blowing out of proportion.

I can still smell the blood on PSE when Ron Maimon got into a fight over censorship with the mods, leading to his suspension, and one academic leaving in protest to this day. This was before you joined. Even on MSE they have their political infighting. The site was created so that guys like Ron could be rude and direct, without getting banned, even if it puts off other people from joining who can't handle the atmosphere.

@dimension10 @diliton @polarkernel @jiayiyang @ronmaimon @physicsnewbie

Ofcourse this site was not created so that Ron could be rude(I hope the founders will agree with me). Rudeness has absolutely nothing to do with science, Infact anything, and its a worthless cancer.

This site was created so that discussion can take place without censorship of content. By content my understanding is It means scientific content and nothing else.

From what I understand, rudeness is not any reason to ban a person from the site, and physics overflow should live upto that reasonable expectation. That does not imply that It allows for anything and everything to happen.

I would still suggest that any non-scientific content should be allowed to be removed freely by moderators, if they find it to be necessary.

@Prathyush, The question seems to be where exactly to draw the line: "no ban for rudeness" or "no censorship for rudeness"? I think we are currently operating in favor of the latter(to be accurate @Dilaton disagrees with this). The only censorships that are being carried out are toward the ones with absolutely no scientific content/off-topic to the whole Physicsoverflow site. (BTW the @ function is case sensitive, so for example to notify me you would need to enter "@JiaYiyang")

@Prathyush I don't know if rudeness is a "cancer" in anyway, but deleting posts for rudeness, definitely is harmful, as it removes scientific content.

It's not about protecting rudeness, it's about protecting legitimately scientific content, that might or might not be rude, who cares. If something has zero, null, no scientific content, then it's worthless, and can be deleted whether or not it's offensive.

@Physicsnewbie The purpose of PhysicsOverflow is certainly not "rudeness", but high-level up to research-level physics. It is meant to be some kind of a lowered in level (to graduate-level and above) and broadend in topic revival of Theoretical Physics SE and physics analog of MathOverflow.

To achieve this, even though it is ok for physics discussions to become passionate and heated at times, the general atmosphere of the site (including meta discussions) should be reasonably professional, high-level, and welcoming too such that the mostly (but not exclusively) academic targetted audience feels welcome and at home.

@Yiyang  s remark is exactly to the point: most of the recent issues were due to the difference between no bans for rudeness and no "censorship" (I personally think the word censorship got often overused in this context) for rudeness.

We probably all agree about the first, namely as it is normal for physics discussions to get very lively at times, it would be ridiculous for a professional physics site with members consisting of highly qualified people and very advanced students, to ban people for rude or even insulting words spoken in such a context.

But Yiyang is right again that PhysicsOverflow implemented the second, no touching of even the worst far below the level of PO personal attacks and name-callings that could easily be removed or reformulated without changing the scientific/physics content of the post.

In my personal opinion, this could be one of the reasons for PhysicsOverflow s long standing (strictly speaking since its existance) problem with user retention, in particular of users who can answer high-level questions about all on-topics. I personally think to successfully revive PhysicsOverflow and make it take off in a sustainable way, it would help a lot if we could keep doing the first (no bans for rudeness) but also improve the general atmosphereof the site by keeping things professional and agreeing that at least very low-level direct personal insults, name-calling, and outright trolling is dispensensible and can be removed or reformulated without changing the scientific content (at best by the OP himself after talking to him and cooling down, but also by moderators if needed).

@Dilaton Huh? So if a valuable review of a submission, "personally attacks" the author, you would want to delete that review? This has never been a policy of PhysicsOverflow. You can't make up policies unilaterally this way!

@Dimension10 please read more carfully what I say, namely that if a valuable review (or other post) contains a personal attack on the author (like YOU MORON, YOU BRAINDEAD IDIOT, YOU ASSHOLE, and things at the same lowest absolutely unprofessional level) apart from the physics argumentation, it would be good if only this attack (and nothing else!) could be removed or reformulated without changing the meaning at best by the OP himself or by a moderator if needed. Such beyond the pale low-level personal attacks and insults are not physics and they are not needed to make any physics argument.

@Dilaton Do I understand you correctly, that a post with both physics content and offensive material can be edited?

1.  For comments, that would need a comment history recording feature. This is on the roadmap, so OK.
2. Propose a change to user rights on meta, for the proper functioning of this.

@Dimension10 yes this is what I mean, and what you say is probably what would be needed to realize it.

@JiaYiyang Thank you for pointing out the correct way to use the @ function, I will repeat some points so that @RonMaimon @dimension10 @physicsnewbie @polarkernel and @Dilaton will see. Again If you like any of the things I suggest please turn them into a meta post.

There are 2 separate issues here one is how can the moderation be more effective. For that I suggest that any moderator action must be independently verified by other moderators(and possibly even trusted members of the community). That way any bad moderator decision(which seem rare) can be immediately rectified by the other moderators, without significant turbulence in the meta.

If the entire group of moderators make a mistake, then It can be brought up in the meta and that is a serious issue.

The next is as Jia pointed out, where do we draw the line about rudeness. And he indicated that the the current line is, So long as a comment has some scientific content, Its fine for it to contain personal attacks and so on. And in that pretext anything else can be written along with some scientific content.

@dimension10 A comment with a personal attack can be easily edited removing the personal attack part of it, with compromising on its scientific content.

Why does anyone visit this site? I visit it for its scientific content, I have absolutely no interest in personal attacks, rude comments, or "who is what" type of things. I suspect the same will be true about anyone interested in science and not gossip.

For that reason I think rudeness, personal attacks must be actively discouraged, as they have no scientific value. It also has a negative impact on the site because It can drive people mad, distracted(you may not like it,  but its true, you've seen it happen right here).

Saying that sometimes people get aggressive for what ever reason, and they should be excused for their aggression. Which is why It is a good thing that Physics overflow does not ban people for personal aggression.

Please It is important that the site is not recognized as the one which allows for personal attacks to happen freely and without check. People will simply not participate.

@Prathyush, The exact line is indeed hard to draw since the degrees of aggressiveness form a continuous spectrum, but I assume here you are talking about the worst kind(though the definitions of "worst" may vary from person to person), and fear that it might hurt the site. I think most of the name-callings are spur-of-the-moment(genuinely planned malicious acts must be quite rare), which the authors probably will voluntarily remove after talked to. In the worst of the worst case, which can hardly happen, surely moderation might intervene. However, right now I strongly discourage "edit part of the comment" kind of behavior, since we haven't developed a log system for editions of comments, therefore a mistake can hardly be rectified. The recent episode made me very conservative on any edition of comments.

Ideally, when the log system is ready, an author of the comments should be able to see exactly how his/her comments are edited, and can protest on meta if he/she feels unfairly treated. When that time comes I might become less conservative.

BTW I'm almost certain the recent lack of activity is not due to the "hostility" you are spotting, it's simply that we have never gained a critical mass of experts, who probably never bothered to visit meta.

@JiaYiyang @RonMaimon @dimension10 @physicsnewbie @polarkernel and @Dilaton

Yes I understand we are waiting for a log system to be implemented, until then I guess it is fine enough to wait, unless its an extreme situation.

Soon enough I think this site will have a log system.Dimension10 mentioned it as a part of the future plans.

I understand that most often it fine and rarely things do go out of hand. The one time It did go out of hand it may have damaged the site to some extent.

But the moderator must have the provision to modify if he feels that it is necessary.(once the system is implemented) To have all user content as protected in the policy does not make any sense. Only his scientific content must be protected.

Ofcourse moderation must be done intuitively using ones own sense for judgement about what is acceptable and what is not. It hard to define precise rules, but hard rule must be that the integrity of the scientific content must be left untouched.

I also read that this incident cause some people to leave the site.(correct me if I am wrong)

This is not true - it was simply Dilaton ranting that it were so. Dilaton thinks that users left the site because they thought it was ridiculous for people to be outraged over a comment's deletion. Ron thinks that users left the site because of the comment's deletion. Dilaton thinks that users left the site because of the comment. And so on.

However, both the hypotheses are invalidated by the site's statistics. We've basically been at around the same level of activity since a long time.

@dimension10 @JiaYiyang lets not get sidetracked by what we can do about activity and why it is so low. Activity will take time. Even 2-3 questions a day is probably just about fine, given they are difficult, and often quite good question. Thats different topic altogether.

If it helps the community to solve the comment edit/delete issue, I will give priority to the development of point 5 of our roadmap. However, this will take some time, it isn't that simple as it may appear.

@polarkernel Thank you. That would be useful. I also suggested this to @Dilaton, It would be enough to prioritize the keeping track of all the comments moderator modifies and notify other moderators and the user about it. The other aspects of of Revision history can proceed as you planned.

@polarkernel, thank you very much.

The issue was resolved already, more or less. Moderators are not supposed to go against the authors desire, period. They are not there to impose things using power. They are there to facilitate the discussions, move material, and do things with informed consent, not against people's will.

There is simply no need to ever do something against someone's will, not on a site like this. Nobody ever says anything really insulting on a site with voting, as it attract downvotes, and it costs you credibility. There is no need to regulate an actiivity which is against self-interest, you don't need a law against eating your own poo.

The _reason_ people want moderators to intervene is because they want to have a method to get rid of the "wrong people", the "bad people", the "ignorant people", i.e., their political opponents. This mechanism must be suppressed. The point of moderation is to get rid of spammers, of crazy people, not sincere people, even those with wrong minority opinions.

When you do see an insult, it is extremely veiled and very indirect, for example VK using the word "conformist", and it is a rhetorical flourish as part of a post. Moderators must not touch it.

Moderators MUST NOT TOUCH OTHER PEOPLE'S WRITING.

You MUST NOT TOUCH OTHER PEOPLE'S WRITING. You didn't write it, DON'T TOUCH IT. Don't edit it, don't delete it, don't do ANYTHING. It's not YOURS. It's extremely annoying when people edit your writing, it can change your meaning entirely, it is contrary to every academic principle, and it is ethically wrong. Don't do it. Ever ever.

If you do have to edit something, for example, if it is a deanonymization, DISCUSS, and get PERMISSION, and then allow reversion. You must not edit other people's posts. Do not edit other people's posts. No, no, no, not under any circumstances. You are not competent to know what the writer meant.

There has never been a case where editing other people's writing is required. Let's see what that would look like:

... this field theory action contains ghosts in the scalar sector, hold it, a word from the sponsors: buy toasters at toastercities.com, more toasters than you can shake a stick at, toastercities.com!!, anyway, the ghosts are resolved in the formalism of Hassan and Rosen, where the scalars are more constrained that here...

Is this ever going to happen? You must not make rules for things that never happen. You make rules for things that do happen.

Moderators are itching to do something, and usually that something is stepping on someone else's toes. There is no reason to do anything against anybody's will, never exercise power over another person. That's the first principle of moderation, and it happens to coincides with the first principle of anarchism, and the first principle of academic freedom.

@RonMaimon I agree with that except for deanonymisation - there's no way a deanonymiser would agree to have the deanonymisation edited out.

By the way, could you change the URL of the toaster website to something that doesn't exist (it would have been ironic had I changed it)?

@dimension10: LOL, "toastercity.com" exists, oh boy, should have checked it first.

@RonMaimon @Dimension10 @Dilaton @JiaYiyang @physicsnewbie

There is scientific content and there is everything else. Everything else is not what this site is meant for(Including toasters).

If you have anything else to say to a someone, do it in your personal space.

There is a provision in the site for that, use it.

@RonMaimon @Dimension10 @Dilaton @JiaYiyang @physicsnewbie @polarkernel

Ofcourse, It is not that all editing is allowed. All actions of the moderators in regard to editing of content is allowed to be questioned in the meta. If the community does not agree with the moderators, some one new can take their place.

Now we even have revision history, to track such changes.

Well I interpreted Ron's comment above to state that moderators shouldn't enforce their (or anyone else's) edit against the OP's revertion (which is now possible now that we have revision histories for comments) in any way. This is written in the user rights, and if there's any issue with it, the only meaningful way to try and change that is through a meta post (otherwise, we're just arguing without any scope for making changes, and that isn't helping your stance much).

Actually, "not enforcing opinions" is pretty much obvious, because the moderators can't "lock" posts preventing editing, and thus the text is merely a precautionary measure. The only way to "enforce" an opinion on a post is through blocking a user, and that's a terrible idea in such a scenario. Thus if you want to change the user rights to reflect a "moderator's final opinion", then you'll also have to change the block log. And the principle of PhysicsOverflow. But that can't be changed, so any such discussion is going to be useless finally.

@dimension10

Yes, there will be a meta post about this. What do you mean "The principle of Physicsover". All I want is to allow is for moderators to keep junk away. Scientific viewpoint is what must be protected by user rights and nothing else.

@pratyush: There has been no junk, and there usually isn't any junk on a high level site. The stuff that gets labelled "junk" is usually not crazy content, rather just ornary stuff that people disagree with, whether right or wrong, and therefore, a "junk" label and editing is nearly universally used as a political tool to silence people. You don't need to silence people. Junk is in the eye of the beholder, and voting is what gets rid of "junk", or at least keeps it at a low level of attention. The voting sites uniformly do a good job with the voting, as long as moderators don't use their extra powers to put the thumb on the scale. Even when they are right about the science, this is not appropriate, as it squelches the discussion and suppresses the academic freedom.

Moderators do not usually need to edit comments, the moderators are NOT what gets rid of the junk. The junk is gotten rid of by informed correction, debate, and voting. The junk gets downvoted without any censorship. The very rare cases where the junk needs to be gotten rid of by moderators is when it is spam, or duplicative, or deanonymizing, a small specific list of things.

There is a delusion among those inexperienced with the internet that the moderators are what 'gets rid of junk'. This is due to the fact that people see moderated forums don't have junk, and unmoderated forums do have junk, so they assume the moderators got rid of the junk on the moderated forum. This is not exactly true.

What moderators do is get rid of spammy junk, and nonsense like multiple postings of crazy material, deanonymization, off-topic nonsense. But they do not need to do any content review. Once the gross abuse is taken care of, the real content police is not the moderators, but the ordinary users, who control the content through voting and responding, and sometimes saying "you are completely wrong here" and "this is absurd", "come on! An undergrad wouldn't make that mistake" and other things which are sometimes considered abusive. This is how open discussions stay accurate. There is no moderator action required, beyond taking care of gross abuse.

The reason unmoderated places degenerate is not because of sincere discussions, internet communities, even if unmoderated, get to a high level quickly if they are on-topic and spam free. The reason unmoderated forums degenerate is that they fill up with spam and with repeated and off-topic content, and this drives away sincere users, leaving insufficient attention for community review, and then you get well-meaning nonsense. When the content stays on-topic, the spam is deleted, the community by itself is self-correcting, and gets rid of wrong stuff without any moderator decisions on disputes.

The moderation is especially not there to protect certain recieved ideas from challenge, even if the recieved ideas are correct and the challenge is insipid, as it often is. If the challenge is really meritless, it can be refuted by common users in the community, and usually this is done once in a localized place, and any other reference is referred to the original discussion. The moderators' role is to make sure that spam is removed, off topic stuff is quarantined, things don't get repeated a bazillion times, users don't sock-puppet, nobody deanonymizes anyone else, things like this, gross abuse.

It's really like the police--- you don't expect the police to come if someone takes your parking spot before you pull in, but if they pull out a gun and threaten you, that's a different story. There's a certain level of abuse that is required to go over the threshhold for moderator action, and it is really never reached by any sincere honest user. The worry about abusive insults is simply a pretext used to harass people politically, as we actually saw on this site, when one users comments were edited by a moderator. This position is born of long experience, the moderator edits are imposing power on users, they drive people away, they mae the site useless, and no, you simply must not edit out what you consider insults, because as a moderator, you have no idea what you are doing, and the community already has voting to get rid of insulting behavior by itself.

The community takes care of scientific accuracy, through voting. This method works, and having moderators concerned with accuracy does not work, because then they impose their will (unintentionally) not through voting, but by editing things out, harassing users (unintentionally), banning people, getting into fights. The imbalance of power makes it that whatever they believe is imposed on others. This is absolutely never necessary to make sure content is accurate, this is best done with everyone on an equal footing, discussing and voting, without special powers to censor.

This is different from previous more traditional organization of scientific publication, where the editors exercize editorial judgement, so it might strike some people as counterintuitive. It is counterintuitive perhaps (I am used to it for 20 years), but this is what the internet allows--- open anarchic review without top-down authority mucking it up. This has never been seen before anywhere in any publishing context.

If you don't have this, there is no point to being online, you might as well go to a traditional publisher and have a traditional journal. The only reason the internet is better is because it allows this freedom.

+1000!

@RonMaimon

I think at some level we are on the same page here in reguard to the scope of a moderators action.

However, I think a change in user-rights is needed, This discussion is partly to take all opinion into consideration before drafting a change.(@VladimirKalitvianski, What do you think about the possible change to the user rights, "Scientific viewpoint will be protected")

"What moderators do is get rid of spammy junk, and nonsense like multiple postings of crazy material, deanonymization, off-topic nonsense."

As I see it this is in direct conflict, with the user rights policy which clearly states "The final say on the text always belongs with the original author, and there is no imposition of content change without reversion."

Moderators allowing a moderator to edit, is not so that they can express their views by editing out someone else's content. I see this as a serious breach of a moderators responsibility. If someone says "I have designed an experiment that allows me to measure the value of the vector potential". Its not the moderators job to remove it. It is the responsibility of the community to handle such things, clarify, close whatever they want to do.

The statements "you are completely wrong here" and "this is absurd", "come on! An undergrad wouldn't make that mistake" and "Conformist" are all expressed views about a conversation. If a moderators edits such statements he is answerable to the community.

I propose a change that goes as "Scientific Viewpoint will be protected by the User right Policy". Which excludes everything else, especially deanonymization attacks, among other things.

Technocratic moderators: comprehending administration section in the user rights will be left untouched.

@Prathyush: I agree with Ron. Academic freedom does not need a moderation. We do not write here an ultimate truth encyclopedia, we discuss physical problems, like in a laboratory or on a seminar.

@VladimirKalitvianski You missed the point, we are not talking about suppressing academic freedom. On the contrary, Academic freedom(Scientific Viewpoint), will be protected by the user right policy. We are talking about what does not belong in an academic institution.

@Prathyush: I miss nothing. Do not touch discussions, that's it. (If you want, I can tell you privately what has happened to me here before and under what pretext.)

@Prathyush: You do not understand that any moderator intervention spoils the academic discussion. Instead of scientific argumentation, you will be immediately talking about other things. Let people be concentrated on science and breathe.

@VladimirKalitvianski You missed the whole point of the discussion. The user rights policy does not allow any editing of text, Including spam.

We want to change that to say Scientific viewpoint will be protected.

I understand in your case scientific viewpoint was suppressed, and that was wrong, there is no denying that.

I do not even want to discuss how scientific viewpoint will be separated from anything else.

I said, I agree with Ron who has rights to vote. I do not have such rights, if you want to know, I have been made "special" on PO.

"I do not even want to discuss how scientific viewpoint will be separated from anything else."

Intuitively obviously. I can give you clear examples of what is not scientific, if you wish. I would prefer not do that here.

I have no idea what you mean about right to vote. Vote for what?

It was decided so on PO. People with negative reputation do not have rights to vote.

I do not want to bring it up on Meta. There was already enough about me here.

@Prathyush A user needs a minimum of 15, 25 and 50 reputation points to vote on comments, questions, and answers respectively. I do not see anything wrong with this. As for suppression of scientifc viewpoint, it wasn't Vladimir's scientific viewpoint that was suppressed, but some "personal attack" (albeit, his unpopular scientific viewpoint might have had some influence on the decision) that was edited out. This was wrong, has been reverted, apologised for, and so on.

@VladimirKalitvianski @Prathyush Please do not go on a tangent to the discussion. If you want to discuss Vladimir's personal issues, tell me to move the comments above to chat and continue the discussion there.

@prathyush: You are talking nonsense--- the user rights alows you to delete spam, and to move off topic content elsewhere. It simply doesn't allow you to change any author's text if the author insists that it must be as they said it. The spammers have yet to come up to us and say "what about the user rights?" If they do, you just say "screw you!" You don't need to modify the user rights, as these clearly and obviously apply to sincere users of the site.

The reason you don't impose content changes is because the author knows better than the moderator, they really do. The moderators on other sites have alienated users by editing their text, often. I had this happen to me on a half dozen stackexchange sites, most annoyingly on philosophy.stackexchange regarding Neitzsche. When criticizing Neitzche, I would point out his Nazi followers, and that was too insulting for the community! Historical facts be damned.

Moderators edited my posts, they didn't allow me to rip Nietzsche's heart out and stomp on it, and ripping the heart out of wrong shit is what the internet is made for, for example, Marco Frasca's nonsense. This is the whole point of negative peer review--- it is always rude, it is always hostile, and allowing free reviews is the only way to ensure accuracy anywhere.

Despite having had my posts edited, I also did this once here myself while I was moderator--- I edited the very first question posted on this site to "make it clearer" (I didn't, I just erased that half the question which I thought was nonsense), I am ashamed to say this about myself, but it is true, I completely destroyed someone's well meaning question. The user left, never commented, and never came back. I wrote the user rights immediately after, as I realized how easy it is to do this, and how wrong it is. There is NEVER ANY NEED to edit any well-meaning text by moderators, only to delete spam, and move off topic material elsewhere. Authors need to be in control of their writing.

If there ever arises a case where there is a need for an edit, like a deanonymization, you don't need a special rule, just BREAK THE RULES! Discuss why you felt the need to break the rules on meta, say it was an emergency, and talk to the person and the community, and don't pretend like you were doing something that would normally be ok, because it's not ok. It's an emergency power thing, and it needs to be always an unwritten exception to a general rule, so that it would normally get you kicked out (the communtiy will surely forgive you and not kick you out if it really was a deanonymization attack). The person who did the deanonymization will probably will not insist on reversion, they probably did it by accident, not knowing what the impact of their words is. If they do know, if they are maliciously doing it, THEN make a well-crafted exception to the rules, don't make them ahead of time in response to things that never happen. Chances are 10 to 1 that the need will never arise.

The point of the user rights is to ensure that moderators do not use power to harass. It is important not to go around making up ficitious episodes when discussing moderation, but to only talk about what ACTUALLY HAPPENS. It is very easy to use fiction scenarios to produce oppressive rules, like the "ticking bomb" examples used to justify torture laws in Israel and the US. You don't make policy based on hypothetical cases, but based on real cases. The torture was never used on any ticking bombs, these simply don't exist. They are just straw men used to pass bad policy. Similarly, the hypothetical half-physicist half-spammer doesn't exist, and neither does the long physics post with a deanonymization attack buried inside. These things are anomalies, but moderator abuse is not an anomaly, it is the rule.

Please give specific examples of where you think there is a problem, and since I already know you have none, please change your mind. You really have no idea how easy it is to wreck communities like this by overzealous moderation, and how unimportant and unimpactful downvoted wrong silly material is in comparison.

Regarding "the community", it is important that the community not have power to censor. You can always get a local majority to support censorship in any case where the moderator does, for sure all my Neitzsche answers had community consensus on philosophy that they were not appropriate. That doesn't matter--- they get downvoted at first, and then, as Neitzsche's authority disappears (due to me being right), they get upvoted, until finally the consensus swings. The ability to challenge consensus is what the internet is for, and if you allow censorship, you just busted the whole deal, and there is no point to being on this site.

@RonMaimon

"The spammers have yet to come up to us and say "what about the user rights?" If they do, you just say "screw you!" "

I am afraid you cannot do that, You have to mean what you write in the user rights. Did you discuss it with anyone before the user rights was written, was there a poll?

Yes, I don't have any examples off hand, But I have been in these kind of sites long enough to know a bit about what happens. I have seem moderation done wrong, even in cases involving me.

If you would like to be constructive here, Help me draft a better user rights.

Just because you pooped on someone's post is not any reason for having such a badly written user rights.

Again I told you, your Scientific viewpoint will be protected. Which includes your answer about Nietzche in that context. Please understand this is not a rudeness,or lack of popularity policy. Its simply about a badly written user rights policy.

Regarding you point about me being pre-emptive in the drafting of the policy. Perhaps that would be correct. But I would like a mechanism to deal with severe abuses, drafted before they happen rather than after they happen.

I don't know why you mix this up with censorship of a disagreeable viewpoint, Clearly that is not my point.

I did not discuss. I wrote it in 20 minutes, it's all necessary stuff, it was accepted by vote, now it's policy. It was guaranteed to previous contributors, it must always stay.

SPAMMERS DON'T HAVE RIGHTS! They come, leave a message and leave. If someone sincere leaves "spam", it by definition isn't spam, and it must stay in the comment if the user insists. If you want to move the comment, move it as a whole, keeping the text intact. If you don't want to move the comments don't.

In the real world, you don't make policy the way you want, like a theorist. You do it the way I did, using empirical data of what behavior a certain policy will prevent. The point of the user rights is to limit moderators, not users.

+1000!

@Prathyush: "Scientific viewpoint" is already protected. No need to repeat it.

@RonMaimon You have misunderstood my intentions. This is not for the sake of power. I will be going ahead and redrafting the user-rights and putting it up for vote. Clearly you don't want to help here.

@Prathyush I'd be curious to see how you'd draft it. Till then, I still don't think it's possible to objectively protect the OP's rights on his contribution's style and content, while removing noisy text.

@dimension10: You see, we may start arguing what is relevant, what is scientific, etc., etc., which is not what PO is meant for. I would like to avoid any such arguments.

@Pratyush: I guarantee a downvote on your proposal, sight-unseen. When I say you are "power mad", I mean that you are seeking to increase authority of a certain group of people to modify other's writing. That can't be allowed. The reason you ask for this is because you assume that the psychology of the moderators will match yours, and they will remove stuff very much like you would remove stuff. Guess what? You are probably right about that--- people tend to agree on what kind of stuff is inappropriate. That's because people are incredibly stupid. They remove anything that sounds new to them, if it contradicts something they think they know. That's not a disease confined to others, I have the same disease too. That's why you need to limit the power of people over other people with a guarantee of rights, so that when there is a good new idea, you give it a chance to prove itself over a long period of time. This is why academic freedom is instituted, to allow people to say stupid things, because occasionally these things are not stupid, it's just everyone else who is stupid.

You are welcome to suggest improvements to policy, just as I am also welcome to criticize them preemptively as absurd and wrong-headed, without having seen them. I might change my mind right after you draft your proposal, just as it might snow in July. I know what kind of mentality motivates attempts to roll back these primitive rights, and it's not a healthy one.

There is no change required to any policy whatsoever, especially not the user-rights, which is the absolute only thing which blocked moderator abuse here. A similar guarantee would block abuse on other sites. You should stop trying to get it changed.

@RonMaimon I admit I have doubts. Not because I see the user rights as being well drafted. It is a horribly written document, with little foresight. You simply don't write user rights, with an implict assumption that it can be broken at any time. And please, "Screw you" is not an argument if someone asks for his rights.

I do understand the circumstances for its writing.

My doubts mostly originate from the possibility of policy change being misused. It could be used to edit things that one might find uncomfortable(I assure you my intentions are not to edit out such things).

After reading comments you posted and stories of various kind of abuses of moderation powers, I think it is important to explictly mention that all Scientific viewpoint will be preserved in a form of the author's choice.

PS: You make a lot of assumptions.(often wrong ones)

Yeah, you're probably right about that. I'm totally cool now that you've explained yourself better, and maybe the user rights are written crappy, sorry. Excuse my paranoia, but this is like playing whack-a-mole with abuse, you stop one kind, and then another comes up again, and it's incredibly frustrating. If you have a better written document, and it still is able to guarantee the rights intended, no problem.

When I said "screw you", I didn't mean one should violate rights, simply that there is no possible way any spammer would ever come up to you and say: