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7 Important questions we have to clarify

On the new Astronomy SE site, I have seen a blog post promoted that gives some advice about what important meta questions have to be considered by an upraising new site. My plan for this post is to steal and adapt these ideas for our purpose and to evaluate what has already been clarified, and start some new discussions as needed. It is clear that there are things that can only be done as soon as we actually have  a site up and running  … 😉

So here we go!

1. What should be on or off topic ?

Some polling about what topics will be welcome has already been done here. Up to now it seems, that all of the suggested broad fields

  • Theoretical Physics
  • Fundamental Physics
  •  Phenomenology
  •  Experimental Physics
  • Mathematics / Mathematical Physics
  •  Astrophysics

are almost equally welcome (the votes currently vary between 8 and 10). Concerning the off topics

  • Engineering
  • Non Mainstream Physics
  • Applied Physics

it looks like the first two will rather be off topic indeed, whereas concerning Applied Physics, which has presently only 3 votes to be off topic things are slightly less clear.

An aside: These two and all of the other polls in this blog are still ongoing …. if I have done it right 😉

2. Do we need an FAQ and what should it say?

As I read it from the SE blog post, this is mostly used to define the scope of the site, what kind of questions are welcome and what questions are no good.  In addition, it would maybe be an idea to shortly outline there the purpose and targeted audience, goal of the site, what will be allowed  and what not, etc (?) …

We already have started to gather example questions.

3. What kind of tags should we have?

Just recently it was said in some comments to this blog, that it could be an idea to subdivide our site a bit into categories, such as for example into the broad on topics theoretical physics, experimental physics etc… If this should be done, right from the start or only later when the site has become large enough needs to be discussed. Maybe it is enough to keep this written here and in mind for now.

Concerning the subfield tags, I often enough complained about the (increasing in number and application) terrible and blatantly dilettante / unprofessional looking ones (such as food, aircraft, and other everyday life and man-made things) on Physics SE… As I understand it, meaningful physics or mathematics tags should either denote subfields or other keywords, useful to and applied by physicists.

Another, for a professional site rather appropriate suggestion from a comment would be to apply Arxiv nomenclature.

4. Who should the moderators be?

We obviously only need moderators as soon as we have the site up and running. Are moderators even needed, or could good community moderation be enough too ?

In my opinion moderators should be the most knowledgeable and trusted by the community users, who are willing to do the job. The SE point of view that anybody can moderate a site even if he is lacking the appropriate knowledge about the topic of the site, is in my personal opinion just nonsense …

5. A slogan or motto  (on SE called “elevator pitch”)

As I understand it this should be a short slogan characterizing the site, which can the be artistically and graphically visualized on the site. I am not sure, if this is really needed ?

However, if somebody can come up with something that is cool and contains a nice portion of physics humor, it could be fun  … 😀

The domain name or name of the site  could be used as some kind of slogan / motto too, and from the discussions on TRF the name of the new site seems to equilibrate to PhysicsOverflow. This I would like because of  the nice analogy to MathOverflow, which is a nice research-level math site …

To be sure and just for the fun, it maybe does not hurt to do another short poll for the name (and domain name) of the site here:

The first three names have already been mentioned on TRF. I added “The Hidden Sector”, because I always like to think about the new physics site as a  refuge or hiding place, where all mainstream physics topics can be discussed seriously and reasonably, without having to deal with uninformed trolling about certain topics, as it is observed too often in most other online physics discussions (including Physics SE unfortunately) …

6. What should our site design (including a logo) look like?

This will strongly depend on the corresponding degrees of freedom the Q&A software we use  (probably Q2A) has I guess. Maybe some screenshots can be posted on this blog while testing the software on a laptop …

7. How to promote the site?

This will be most important once the site is up and running, but it probably does not hurt to already note some people, that something is seriously going on concerning a new physics site to have good discussions here.

For this, the direct feed of posts from here into a Physics SE chat room  (which will probably also prevent it from getting frozen for inactivity) is rather fun, thanks to Dimension10 … 😀

Now I have talked or written enough for the moment, somebody on Physics Meta once even said that I  write a lot of text faster than he can read … 😀


  1. Ok, I’m planning to write a longer comment soon, but for now, could you add “Stack Brane” to the title poll?

  2. 1. Concerning Applied Physics, what applications of Research-level/Graduate-level Physics would be *so* important to discuss?

    2. Yes, it is certainly necessary. I have added a little proposed faq at the bottom of this comment…

    3. I propose that the tags be really something like specific versions of catergories.

    I.e. “Heterotic String Theory” or “Spin Foam” is a valid tag but “Polyakov Action” or “Ashtekhar Variables” is not.

    Of course, just a proposal.

    4. I agree with you. The moderators should be people like Lubos, Ron, etc. Of course, there is the option of creating “Experts” on Q2A, but if we are deciding to make the experts moderators, then “experts” could be totally non-existrent.

    5. I like Stacked Brane and BPS Overflow… : ) The issue with “Physics Overflow” is that :

    a. It is boring.
    b. Stack Overflow is more famous than Math Overflow, so people may not realise the analogy.
    c. As John McVirgo said, it isn’t relevant.

    And the “Hidden Sector” is very confusing. I initially thought it was something to with the R/NS sectors of the RNS formalism and so may others. The “hidden” sector thing may make them think it is just another place for cracks to discuss : )

    So, I think that Stacked Brane and BPS Overflow is better…

    6. Proposed Logo: (we could also use the Math Overflyoow logo but with a “pho” instead.)

    As for the rest, Q2A allows a lot of customisation, and as you said somewhere, it is probably better to carry out the test first.

    7. I’ll spam a little on Stack Exchange, first of all : )

    Including the chat room “Physics Overflow”,

    Of course, that’s not enough,…


    Ok, I’ll post this later.

    • First Important question in the FAQ…

      Am I allowed to discuss non-mainstream theories?


      –What is a non-mainstream theory–

      A non-mainstream theory is basically an idea which has not been published in a reputable journal or ArXiV.

      –Can I ask why a non-mainstream theory is considered crackpot?–


      –Why can’t I ask non-mainstream questions or post non-mainstream answers?–

      Because they may very often be crackpot.


    • Dilaton says:

      Ok I see, the idea behind the Hidden Sector thing was rather that is should be one of the rare crackpot and troll free zones, it was probably too confusing…

    • Second proposed question in the FAQ…

      What questions are allowed here?


      Basically, Graduate level Physics and beyond.

      That certainly includes:

      – Beyond the Standard Model (BSM) Physics = TOEs and QGs and GUTs.
      – Solid State Physics, Condensed Matter and String Net Theory.
      – Probably some Quantum Information ?
      – Advanced General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory
      – Experimental Techniques
      – Experimental Results and other experimental stuff.
      – Phenomenology
      – Mathematics and Mathematical Physics
      – What else?

      Note that books and other slightly broad-question s are on-topic.

  3. ngc6720 says:

    Just some thoughts:

    As I already stated in other comments, I think we should try to blinldy mimic SE as much as possible, because it is proven to work. We just want to tweak some details that we don’t like.

    Ok, we have to decide a name and a logo, but let’s keep the FAQs and topics as close as possible to SE. The polls should be in the following direction: “What do you think it is not working in physics SE?”. Once it is clear, we should try to introduce the least amount of changes to the SE system. Just whatever minimal adjusts are needed to achieve the critical improvements.

    If we are now to decide everything from scratch (Should we have a faq? Should there be moderators? and so on) then chances are that we never get to see the new site working, or maybe it will see the light, but it might be a ruin in no time. See what has happened to Vixra. It departed from whatever seemed a good idea, but now it is a huge repository of crap. Let’s KISS and introduce the least amount of improvisation. We just want to tweak the issue of the moderators closing questions based on “be a good boy and don’t hit your schoolmates” thing, and perhaps a couple of additional details.

    Having said that, this is the list of tweaks I propose (apart from the elimination of the “be nice” rule):

    – As suggested in the Dilaton post, there is a mess in SE tags. I think it is too late for them to introduce any changes about it, because they have already thousands of question labelled. For our site, I think it is a FANTASTIC idea that we allow only tags from the Arxiv classification: astro-ph for Astrophysics, gr-qc for General Relativity and Cosmology and so on.

    If the last step before posting a question is being forced to choose one of the arxiv tags before proceeding, then it will be much easier to moderators to close off-topic questions.

    – I think that the reason SE gives for closing bibliography questions is childish (“Closed as subjective”, “Poll”, etc) and that they probably have different reasons (commercial or copyright problems or something in that direction). For instance, I don’t understand why I cannot ask for comments on Becker&Becker&Schwarz versus Polchinksi before deciding to invest time and efforts in one of that books. Yes, it is a poll and there will be subjective comments, so what?

    To sum up, let’s focus on “What do you think it is NOT working in physics SE?” on the polls, and leave the rest as unchanged as possible.

    • m says:

      I believe that you was capable of summarizing everything that I could agree! 😉

      Now, about Question #1, I am not sure about the existence of “Non-Mainstream physics” as a subsection (or sub-field, tag or whatever). I fear that it can give not only an excuse for well-known crackpots to promote their ideas as it would not be very efficient anyway. The members of the “Anti-Lorentz League” (can I use this very funny term, Dimension10?), for instance, are very proud of their mistakes and some of them really believe that what they are doing is mainstream. And I do believe that, if we manage to construct a community with good physicists and mathematicians, we can deal with these non-mainstream issues easily.

      Finally, an issue that always bother me is to see good and surely legitimate advanced questions being down-voted in SE. Naturally, if the members of the new site are to be researches, advanced students and cleaver outsiders, this problem may reduce. Another possibility is to show who down-voted or up-voted something, like in the TRF, but I am not sure if this will work anyway.

      • m says:

        But if we are going to use a “Non-Mainstream physics” as a subsection, we will need of course to rely on moderators to move the non-standard topics correctly. Lubos may be “sufficient and necessary” to this. 😉

        • Dilaton says:

          LOL the list containing Non-Mainstream physics, Engineering, and Applied phyisics whas rather meant to denote things that should rather be off topic than sections to have … :-D. However having a section to redirect non-standard topics to is an interesting idea too …

        • Dilaton says:

          Yep the at times even hostile treatement (by downvote or even closing) of legitimate or even good advanced questions on Physics SE (new ones are only sporatically coming in anyway) is what saddens and annoys me too since quite some time. And many of them get simply ignored… For example about this question (of a user coming from MathOverflow) I was worried because it got neither votes, nor views, nor comments or even an answer. In such cases, one single troll coming along who downvotes is enough for getting such questions automatically deleted, if they otherwise keep being ignored by the current community :-/. Happily it finally has an upvote now …

    • Dilaton says:

      Thanks again for this nice and wise comment 🙂

      You could write a post here too to poll about what is not wroking on SE and should therefore be changed if possible … 😉


    • Some Stuff that is not working on SE:

      – Accepting Answers
      – Vote caps
      – Losing reputation when downvoting answers
      – “Be Nice”
      – Broad Scope of “All Physics”
      – No categories

  4. […] are some more specific meta questions (compared to the fundamental ones) I  think we should have, from lessons on the Meta of Physics Stack […]

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