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Is a reputation driven privilege system appropriate to implement community moderation on Physics Overflow?

On Physics SE, community moderation is implemented by means of a reputations dependent privilege system, which means that the more reputation a user obtains, the more power he gets to take part in the moderation of the site. However, a necessary precondition for this approach to work properly is a strong positive correlation between the (physics) knowledge of (in moderation issues interested) users and their reputation.

On Physics SE, this indispensable correlation is not as strong as it should be, and the site is at present mostly governed and moderated by people who are not well-respected and achieved physicists themself. Too many high rep (>3000) users (and even moderators) are not knowledgeable enough about advanced physics topics at a deeper technical level,  but represent vigorously the Stack Exchange guidelines, and hyperactively take part in moderation issues in the (higher level) review queues.

This has the detrimental effect that too many good and from a physics point of view legitimate and very interesting questions get closed based on Stack Exchange political reasons. In addition, recent discussions revolving around tightening up the anti-homework policy on Physics SE, initially intended to improve the level of the site and the experience for experts who do not like to be bothered with bad basic homework questions (which is good), is now implemented in a way that by abusing the way too broad notion of  “homework-like”,  not only bad effortless low-level homework gets closed but  high-level technical (and sometimes even conceptual) questions about advanced physics topics, get persecuted  too. Due to the dominance of the bad reviewers mentioned above in the close and reopen review queues, it is then for example almost impossible to get any good question that should not have been closed to start with or after an improvement, reopened.

To return to the intended topic of the post after this detailed rant ;-), from my long-term observations I think the violation of the necessary condition for community moderation by a reputation driven privilege system is to blame for the bad shape of Physics SE at present: A year ago, an explicit externally driven symmetry breaking (about the details I talked enough here 😉 …) took place,  which triggered a transition of the site from its unstable academic in spirit high-level phase to its lower-level SE politically overmoderated present state. (The question, if the present state is another false vacuum which could decay further to a still lower level, is subject of ongoing research … ;-P). After the phase transition, the number of popular, very basic, and bad homework questions ramped up. This brought (by means of the reputation based privilege system) too many people, who are not knowledgeable enough about advanced physics topics, but SE politically very active, into positions to determine the scope of the site (> 3000 rep). It is them who are dominating for example the close/reopen queues at present, which is not good as explained above.

The only way to prevent such a thing to happen to our Physics Overflow when using a points based privilege system, is first of all to set it up outside the Stack Exchange network … ;-). Second, the intended graduate upward level of the content has to be vigorously maintained and defended, such that people not knowledgeable enough about advanced topics but interested in power games or what ever, never get into a position which allows them to influence the scope and moderation of the site.

An alternative to relying on a points based reputation system for community moderation too heavily, is to maintain meta review lists for the community to decide about important issues (taking the request for reopen list of Maths SE and MO as a role model), and let then execute predetermined trust worthy members the moderation actions agreed upon by the community. This would also solve the issue that in Q2A moderation actions such as closing, reopening, deleting, etc are implemented to work only unilaterally. David Z would just love this … ;-P

The community review threads could for example be put down in a subcategory  “community moderation” in meta. Basically we would need such meta lists at least to do the following things:

  • reopen questions (review queue for reopen votes)
  • closing questions (review queue for close votes)
  • deleting posts (low quality review queue)
  • undeleting posts
  • import specific questions from Physics SE or another SE site (Polarkernel is working on this)


For example, the meta list taking the role of the reopen queue would  look like this


The basic idea to is that the question itself serves as some kind of an introduction to the particular review queue, and in the answers question can then be nominated (linked to) for reopening. The community can up/down vote each answer, and as soon as an answer attains say, a net score of 5, an appropriately empowered user can reopen the question on the main page. The other review lists will work in the same way.

The nice thing in Q2A is that it is possible to put additional links into the navigation bar, such that we can some kind of spread out the review queues (meta lists) we know from Stack Exchange there 🙂

Navigation Bar 2

When we want to do community moderation by using such meta threads, this would also have some implications on the settings of the permissions, which have already been discussed before:

So I would suggest to set the permissions such that on Physics Overflow

  • closing
  • reopening
  • deleting
  • undeleting

can only be done by Experts, Editors, Moderators, and Administrators, whereas everybody who has the power to vote (users with 15 points as on SE), can take part in deciding what should be closed, reopened, deleted, or undeleted, by voting and discussing in the corresponding meta threads. A question to clarify is, if everything should be done exclusively by means of these review meta lists, or if obvious spam, abusive things, etc can for example be deleted directly and unilaterally by the people who have the appropriate permissions, etc

Suggesting and reviewing edits can be done on the Mathematics and Physics Wikia as suggested by Dimension10 (the link could be added to the navigation bar too), such that the permissions to

  • Approve or reject posts
  • Recategorize questions
  • Edit any (!) questions
  • Edit any (!) answer
  • Edit any (!) comment

can be set to Experts, Editors, Moderators, and Administrators too, who will then make the approved edits. It seems a bit annoying that Q2A  seems not to discern between edits on ones own posts (which everybody should be a able to do directly without review) and editing other people’s stuff.

An important follow-up question, which is beyond the scope of this already “too broad” ;-P post is, who should be our Experts, Editors, Moderators, and Administrators, how will they be chosen, etc …

Concerning choosing moderators, Dushya had the very nice idea of mailing to university professors when the time is near to go online and ask them, if they would like to help us by being moderators for PhysicsOverflow. Getting back some TP.SE moderators would be nice too I think … 😉

Tag wikis do now work by implementing the corresponding plugin to, such that for example a short description of the tag, a link to a more comprehensive Wikipedia article on the Mathematics and Physics Wikia, and even a funny icon describing the tag, can be assigned to each tag. For example when clicking the string theory tag, you see the short description and the list of questions with this tag (don’t shoot me, it is not the final string theory description but a simple example 😉 …)

String tag wiki

Now I wish all of us a Happy New Year 😀 !




  1. dushya says:

    Good question!
    Also the screenshots of PO are really looking nice !
    I am not sure how appropriate is the reputation based moderation, so won’t comment on it; but, anyway for now it would perhaps be a good idea to just copy MO as much as possible.
    A very Happy new year to you too ! 🙂

  2. PolarKernel told me here that you’ve been hospitalised. Hope you will be fine soon.

    A very minor (and sort of off-topic) comment
    * Is it possible to display only one (dropdown) label, “Review”, in the navigation bar, such that the entire list only appears when one hovers over the link ? .

    Also, I also think it is a good idea to let users suggest edits on comments, too, as you said.

    Happy very late new year, too.

  3. By the way, I think that “Allow voting only on question page” in the admin/viewing should be unchecked, since I have encountered it a lot of times, that I would want to vote on a question, but have forgotten, and think that I have already voted on it. If voting is allowed on the main page, then such problems could be solved .

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