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PhysicsOverflow at the 5th Offtopicarium

Since Wednesday lat evening, I am back happy and still a bit tired from the 5th Offtopicarium in Wegierska Gorka, Poland.  As the Offtopicarium is organized by science nerds for nerds ;-), it was a lot of fun to be together with the very nice small (about 30 people) group of young people. The program was rather interdisciplinary, ranging from biology, history, constructed languages, space projects of students, science communication and education, and many more things. I hope all talks will be accessible soon from the official homepage. In particular the talk about Opening Science  could be worthwhile to consider in some detail, as there is some overlap to what we want to achieve by the Reviews section. Getting to Wegierska Gorka from Bad Doberan (Germany) was a bit cumbersome and time-consuming.  From Katowice I still had to take another train for 2 hours. Considering different means of public transportation, proper time of the trip can not be reduced to less than 14h+  which is therefore the global minimum. route Therefore I was not able to arrive before Saturday afternoon. The meeting had begun on Thursday already and missed therefore about the first half of the talks. All talks have been very good and impressive generally, here you can see  for example Piotr Migdal giving a talk about how often the best and most innovative things are done by people with greatest passion and motivation in their free time, even though (or because) they do not get paid for it. As PhysicsOverflow for example …  😉 IMAG0284 My talk about PhysicsOverflow Happily, my talk about PhysicsOverflow was soon enough ready as you can see below. And surprisingly I realised that I did not even have to take notes about what I’m going to say (as for other talks related to my work) but I could just go on blathering  without effort … ! When bragging about PhysicsOverflow, I am obviously unstoppable 😛 Unfortunately, my laptop refused to connect to the WLAN in the meeting room, so I could not show a live demonstration :-/. You can find the slides of my talk here (the quality was better in PPT than it now is in PDF)  🙂 IMAG0290 In the introduction, I first explained why a new higher-level physics site was urgently needed, how PhysicsOverflow is organised in different parts such as Reviews, Q&A, Meta, etc as well as our most important principles and characteristics. On the next slides, I introduced the Q&A part as a physics analog of MathOverflow and explained the most basic things about how it works, scope, etc … To introduce the Reviews section I ranted a bit about how present journal peer-reviewing sucks ;-), then explained how paper reviewing is done on PhysicsOverflow, and showed two examples of a negatively and a positively reviewed paper. I also got a very good discussion to my talk (nicely supported by Piotr Migdal) , the following issues have been discussed (not in exactly the order listed here):

  • Why did we have to creat something new instead of using something that already exists, such as for example the SE platform?

To answer this, I had prepared in advance a slide (22) that summarises a bit why the goals of the SE company IMO clash with the intentions of a high-level academic community. Somebody mentioned that there are academic sites in the network too which is true but works only  for exceptional cases (I only know MO and CST) … Piotr helped by explaining that very high-level questions are not really high-lighted on SE for example. Also, conversely to the time when MathOverflow was created almost exactly 5 years ago (congratulations!) , SE does no longer give away its software today. There have also been

  • Some discussion about partitioning the site instead of supporting other communities in starting their own site (for example PhysicsUnderflow) to build an Overflow network

This is in principle doable as we have categories in addition to tags,  as for example explained on slide 20  about the differences between the PO and SE software.

  • Of course, I also called for a second developer

which resulted in the suggestion to upload the code on Github for other people to help us with the development and debugging, but as Polarkernel said we are not yet ready to do this … There have also been some

  • Questions about how many people we have, how many papers are submitted, etc :

About 250 newly registered, not all are active at the same time of course … The Reviews section (Reviews I) went online later than the Q&A section, so it is natural for it to have less content  (48 papers at present) than the Q&A section. Another questions was about

  • What could endanger the success of the site?

Here I said that at  the beginning, I and probably others were too enthusiastic about the Reviews section finally getting started, so we were too permissive about accepting submissions. But this is fixed now by our “reject to review policy”. There was also

  • Some discussions about the formula to calculate the final score of submissions:

Strong nonlinearity, the effect of additional points for one unit  accuracy and originality depends in  not plain obvious way on the votes the paper already has… As the accuracy determines the sign of the final score, crackpots who make unfounded “revolutionary” claims are punished which is a good feature. Does this formula really what we want to achieve in all cases? Final remarks The meeting was really fun, and there have been many cool nice people  :-). I am very happy about the positive response I got to my introduction of PhysicsOverflow and will also reconsider some of the other great talks I have seen. And I really liked it to meet Piotr Migdal in person 🙂 BTW he has now submitted his PhD thesis, congratulations ! Only the mud (literally!) sucked on our trip to the mountains because it was rainy the days before …  😀 P1110416 Joking … The trip was fun too 🙂

A long step towards the adult PhysicsOverflow

Today, the new category system, which allows an unrestricted number of category-levels, has been installed on PhysicsOverflow. This system was required to enable the categorization of submissions beyond the four levels provided by the actual Question2Answer (Q2A) framework. This new system is almost invisible for the user, but has the important function to make a (future) large number of submissions searchable by the user. About two and a half months have been required to develop this system, you had to wait for a long time. Therefore I like to give you some insights.

The original category system of the Q2A framework is a hierarchical database model. Every node (a category) is linked to its parent by the ID of the parent node. Such a model enables a fast writing of new nodes (you just create the node and link it to its parent), while queries through the tree are usually slow. Q2A solved this issue by a fixed number of 4 category levels. To be able to find parents in a short time, the path to the parent is hard-coded in every post. This means that every post contains four indices storing the way back through the tree. This is a clever and fast solution. However, it can not be extended to an unrestricted number of categories, it even gets slow if extended to 8 levels for instance. The category system is written in the core code of Q2A and spread over a large part of the system.

Another issue arising when we increase the number of category levels is the user interface. Actually, when the user asks a question, he has to select the category for this post. The user interface uses select tags like:


It is clear that for instance for eight categories, the place on the page is too small to display all these tags side by side. Therefore also the user interface had to be changed. The new user interface take much less room and looks like this:


For the new category system, I have implemented another database model, called nested set model. It allows for an unrestricted number of category levels. While queries through the categories become very fast, the insertion of nodes is slow, because all indices of the whole tree have to be changed. However, changes on the categories will be used much less frequent than for instance to display the tree. Like this, it is well adapted to our needs.

As already mentioned, the original category system is placed in the core code of Q2A and is active in almost all pages provided by the framework (even in pages I never expected this). I had to replace 9 files completely, all select specifications for database accesses to the category system had to be renewed and, naturally, the code for the nested set model had to be written. To give you an impression on the size of the task, here some numbers: The original Question2Answer framework consists of about 36’000 lines of code. Until today, I have written 18’100 new lines of code for PhysicsOverflow in form of plugins, layers, overrides and changes in the core code, about half of the size of the system. The new system required 5’800 additional lines of code, which explains, why it took that long to realize it. I hope now that I was able to test all use-cases so that there remain eventually only minor bugs.

The next development step will be a surprise, stay tuned!


We have a talk at the 5th Offtopicarium :-) !

A few weeks ago, Piotr Migdal made me aware of the Offtopicarium (he is among the organizers), which is a mixture of scientific conference, workshop, and geek gathering ;-). Its purpose is to discuss topics and ideas, which are usually off-topic  to “regular” events and meetings, but nevertheless interesting and exciting.  The Offtopicarium welcomes (rather geeky 😉 …) people, who have a good idea and are passionate about it, such as scientists, entrepreneurs, people involved in startups, NGOs, and such.

So, after nice discussions and kind encouragement by Piotr Migdal, I finally submitted an abstract. It got just accepted, such that we will have  a (20 min + 20 min discussion)  talk  about PhysicsOverflow at the

5th Offtopicarium (26-28.09.2014, Węgierska Górka, Poland)

(Click the title for more information!)

Of course, I will shamelessly use this opportunity to introduce and advertise PhysicsOverflow:

The Q&A part as a revival of  Theoretical Physics SE and a physics analogue of MathOverflow, whereas the Reviews section should take the role of an overdue competitor of the (outdated and flawed in many ways) journal peer-reviewing process.

And who knows, maybe we will also find a second system developer there, to help and unburden Polarkernel …?

Anyway, summer holidays are mostly over (at least in Germany …) and members of PhysicsOverflow are heartily encouraged to make PhysicsOverflow look as awesome  as possible by nice contributions 😉 !

Even though I already have some ideas of course ;-), I would be happy to consider suggestions concerning the talk, they can be mentioned for example in the comments here.

Cheers !

We Have Liftoff!


PhysicsOverflow public beta is online now since 17 days. After a turbulent start with some database issues on our host and spam attacks, now the site is stable and working fine. After an ongoing and continuous improvement of details, the section with Q&A on physics takes now the main part of activity on the site. Since we have gone online at 4th April, more than 150 new users have registered on the site and many of them are already quite active. The number of visits per day exceeded the number of visits on Theoretic Physics on SE since the first day, as can be seen in the following graphics:


This is great, since we aren’t even part of a huge network! Our questions per day is about 5.6 (excluding imported posts), which is a lot more than TP.SEs. However, as already stated, the site does not depend on these figures, there is no deadline, as it was on TP. Also the term beta does not mean that the site will go away, it means only that we have still much more ideas to obtain the full-fledged version of PhysicsOverflow.

Please Contribute

Now is the time where the site gets shaped. If you participate now with your votes, ideas, opinions, questions and answers, you contribute to build a site with contours as you like them. Don’t stay outside, have a look at PhysicsOverflow, register there if you like it, or contribute here on this blog.

Review Section

We are still a small team. However, we are working with full power to be able to leave the beta state and to complete the site, as intended. The main part for this will be the Review Section, as already announced in this blog. This is not only a reconfiguration of the site, it requires a considerable part of new development, because such a feature is not foreseen in the Question2Answer framework. In detail, the following main functionalities have to be developed:

  • Integration of new pages, called Submission and Review.
  • Two voting criterias, one for originality and one for accuracy.
  • New page design, enabling display of a score value from the votings.
  • Add feature to add multiple authors.
  • Redesign of voting mechanism, distributing votes to multiple authors.
  • Integration in the rep update and recount system.
  • Adding and managing the required database tables.
  • Increasing the category depth to realize hierarchical tagging system.
  • Integration of score as new sorting criterion.
  • Software for mass import from ArXiV.
  • Software for daily import from ArXiV.

We are on the way with all that and look forward to realize these steps within a reasonable time. Stay tuned!


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 😀 !


Admin Dashboard Settings: Part 3 – Permissions (and first thoughts about community moderation in Q2A)

In this post I’d like to explain the privilege system Q2A offers, and then motivate a discussion about what is the best way to set up moderation. At the beginning we will have to deal with the handicap that there is not yet a  large community (or  promotion of the site will have to work exceptionally well) and many or most of us will not yet have the rep corresponding to their knowledge and expertise, which makes community moderation based on rep dependent privileges a bit difficult.

The settings concerning the privilege system of Q2A can be accessed under the menu point Admins/Permissions .

There is the following hierarchy of roles, users of the site can take, I’ll list them starting with the ones which should be the least powerful:

  • Unregistered users ( := anybody)
  • Registered users
  • Registered users with enough points
  • Editors
  • Experts (technically created by Moderators and Admins)
  • Moderators (technically created by Admins)
  • Admins (technically created by the Super Administrator)
  • Super Administrator (created during the process of initializing the database as far as I understand it)

The permissions for the following moderation actions are fixed in Q2A and can not be changed (without the help of a good hacker 😉 …)

  • Blocking or unblocking user or IPs: Moderators and Admins
  • Approving registered users: Moderators and Admins
  • Creating experts: Moderators and Admins
  • Viewing user email addresses: Administrators
  • Deleting users: Administrators
  • Creating editors and moderators: Administrators
  • Creating administrators: Super Administrators

These are some kind of Super-Powers that should really be only accessible to people the community fully trusts, if that privileges should be used unilaterally at all (?) … And of course there is nothing that prevents us from deciding in a community driven procedure who should be the experts, moderators, admins, if and when users should be blocked, etc by discussing, polling, or other means in the appropriate Meta (sub) category.

For other privileges, the permissions can more or less flexibly be customized (the / means or):

  • Viewing question pages: Anybody / Registered users
  • Asking questions: Anybody / Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Answering questions: Anybody / Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Adding comments: Anybody / Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Voting on questions: Registered users / Registered users with enough points
  • Voting on answers: Registered users / Registered users with enough points
  • Voting posts down: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Recategorizing any question: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Editing any question: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Editing any answer: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Editing any comment: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Editing posts silently: Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins / Admins
  • Closing any question: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Selecting answer for any question: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Viewing IPs of anonymous posts: Anybody/Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Viewing who voted or flagged posts: Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins / Admins/ Super Admins /
  • Flagging posts: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins
  • Approving or rejecting posts: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Hiding or showing any post: Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins
  • Deleting hidden posts: Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins / Admins
  • Posting on user walls: Registered users / Registered users with enough points
  • Vote on comments: Anybody / Registered users / Registered users with enough points / Experts, Editors, Moderators, Admins / Editors, Moderators, Admins /Moderators, Admins / Admins

As you can see, some privileges can be made rep dependent similar to how it works on Stack Exchange. We already said that accepting answers is probably not needed, and indeed it seems that in Q2A this feature would give people the power to accept answers to not only their own questions (will have to check this). The yellow features and privileges are not known in Stack Exchange.

A possible way to initialize a rep dependent privilege system is what SE does, to make only viewing questions, asking, and answering possible for free, whereas  allowing other things dependent on rep (or points). One has to be careful, because some privileges do not behave in the way known from Stack Exchange. For example as it stands, there seems to be no possibility to roll back edits, I am not sure if this is due to some still open issues with the edit history or if we will have to find another solution for this. Closing and reopening questions is unilateral, such that the action immediately kicks in if users, who have the power to, push the button. Approving or rejecting posts I do not yet fully understand …  Hiding and showing posts seems to be some kind of “soft deletion” which you can do on SE with your own answers for example. But again, in Q2A the people who are given the power to do it can not only “soft delete” their own posts, but any questions and answers. Hidden posts can obviously get “hard deleted” to getting rid of them. I am not sure about the technical difference between hard and soft deletion, what effects the two things have on the underlying database etc (maybe Polarkernel knows …  😉 ?)

As already mentioned, setting up a good fair community moderation  might be a bit a challenge at the beginning, when the community is still small and there are not yet enough highly reputed users who can efficiently make use of a rep dependent privilege system. A possible (potentially stupid 😉 …) workaround that comes to my mind is to make heavy use of the possibility to poll in meta “list questions” ;-P  about higher order moderator actions such as closing / reopening /deleting / etc. In fact, Dimension10 was faster than me LOL 😀 and has just written an article about community moderation by meta posts  here
To this I basically like to add that we can steal the Requests for Reopen Votes thread from MathOverflow (and Maths SE) and make a similar one for Requests for Close Votes, too. The idea is that if you think a question should be reopened you can say so in an answer and shortly explain why. Other people can then vote on this answers and discuss the issue in the comments below. If the score of the answer passes a critical positive number X we agree on, say for example +5, somebody who has the power to reopen can do it and edit the notation [reopened] into the first line of the answer to say that it is done. A request for close votes thread could work in the same way, such that a question mentioned in an answer gets closed, as soon as the score of the answer passes for example +5, too.  The other things suggested in Dimension10’s post ( tag synonyms, “burnination” what silly word is this, it is NOT in the dictionary …? Should int not rather be burnication …? of tags,  FAQ questions, suggesting categories, etc) could work in a similar way. Not sure, if we would need some kind of “Request for Delete Vote” meta thread too …? Obviously bad things such as spam, offensive and insulting stuff, crack, etc should probably be deleted faster (?) by handling the flags, otherwise for non-bad things I think we do not want to get infected by the Stack Exchange deletism 😉 and rather preserve things including comments and “robust” discussions which are allowed (!), as they do on MathOverflow .

How to promote Physics Overflow?

I admit that this may look a bit premature, as we do not yet have a site online (however we are testing offline) … 😉

But to quickly get a viable and large enough community right from the start when we go online, it can help to think about in advance how the site can be made known to people who could be interested in it. As I have just learned, it is indeed important to attract the right people to the site right from the start.

In addition, among the interested people there might be some who would like to help with getting the site started, such as taking part in important discussions and polls, give advice about what additionaly has to be considered, help with technical issues, etc …, too.  A notorious still open problem is for example where we can find hosting. 

So to increase the number of participants in the start-up discussions here, it can be a good idea to even promote the fact that we are starting a new higher-level physics site and are serious about it, before actually having it  🙂

So this post is meant to gather promotion ideas, names of potentially interested contributors or places where we can look for them, etc  in the comments.

I compilation of lists of potentially interested people who can be noted explicitly, has already been started by Dimension10 . So I’ll put them down here and complement them a bit in the course of time.

People pingable at Physics SE

– user12811
– Urs Schreiber
– Trimok
– Trung Phan
– Idear
– user26143
– Michael Brown
– David Bar Moshe
– Philip Gibbs
– Jerry Schrimer
– John Rennie
– joshphysics
– Joe Fitzmons
– annav
– user23660
– user6818
– Drake
– user27494
A friendly helper
– Pratuysh
– Prahar
– user10001
– Dushya
– John McVirgo
– Federico Carta
– Matt Reece
– Vibert
– Twistor59
– Wet Savaanna Animal aka Rod Vance
– User 1504
– innisfree
– Danu
– ungerade
– levitopher
– Jonathan Gleason
– Sebastien Palcoux
– dbrane
– lurscher
– Ryan Thorngren
– Peter Morgan
– Heidar
– QuantumDot
– Ivan Velenik
– truebeliever1234
– Mitchell Porter
– Olof
– jose-figueroa-ofarrill
– piotr warchol
– zohar-ko
– user12345
– piotr migdal
– Peter Shor
– Magpie
– Oaoa
– Pavel Safranov
– Arivero
– ramanujan-dirac

– Frederic Brünner
– shouldknowbetter
– BebopButUnsteady
– K-boy
– Edward Hughes
– greg-graviton
– Axion
– user1708
– Bru
– Peter Kravchuk
– knives (the n here should be a \eta)
– gidom-mera
– user12103
– loony-physics-crank

– Neuneck
– natanael
– Pulsar
– Craig Thone
– Anthonny
– jdm
– toot
– lionelbrits
– nowyougettolearnwhataheadis
– dingo-d
– dj-mummy
– Art Brown
– B. Y
– nivalth
– stan-liou
– Michael
– user40276

People no longer active on Physics SE

– Moshe (user566)
– Deepak Vaid/space_cadet (user346)
– Ben Crowell
– Ron Maimon
– Arnold Neumaier
– Lawrence B. Crowell

– Pratik Dioghare
– Marek

People outside Physics SE

– Arvind Rajaraman (Lubos mentioned he started sci.phys.strings with him and Urs Schreiber)
– Hendrik van Hees

– Xiao (the CMT/String Net person)

– Terry Tao (appears to be quite active on various other physics q and a sites and forums.)

– All the great people at TRF
– Suresh Govindarajan (

– Bernd Sonne
– MathOverflow people active in the nice physics tags  they have there
– All the (non-trolling 😉 !) physics bloggers listed in Knemo’s Uduality blog ?
– People who have comitted to the Area51 TP proposal

When it is time, we should also try to unfreeze this chat room to alert TP people

Things that should be done better on the new site than on Physics SE

As discussed in the comments to previous posts, the general Stack Exchange concept of running a Q&A site works well and the features available are mostly useful,  so things should not unnecessarily be changed too much.

However, on Physics SE there are certain things that are handled in a way which is rather counterproductive to building up a free academic community, which should therefore be avoided / done differently on the new site.

Here is a poll to identify what exactly these things are:

This list is most probably not exhaustive (and not too well-organized either) …

So everybody is welcome to point out in the comments what is missing or not formulated accurately enough, such that the list can be completed and improved.

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 … 😀

What are the most important features our Q&A software should have ?

The two most indispensable things that should work with the Q&A software the new physics site will use are that LaTex / Mathjax can be implemented and that the Theoretical Physics Stack Exchange data dump can be completely imported. Both things seem to be (with more or less effort)  technically feasible for a number of SE clones, which is good. In addition, for those who are accustomed to what a Stack Exchange site looks like, it would probably be good if the design of the new site would be not too different.

This discussion is intended to evaluate and discuss in some detail, what features and functionalities, known from SE or elsewhere are important for us to have.


So here are again some polls:



At some Stack Exchanges clones we have already looked in some more detail:

1. Q2A

Q2A looks quite similar to Stack Exchange, there is a good manual how to install the software on a laptop, and people on Stack Overflow find it easy to install. However, hosting is not free.

It allows for several administrators / moderators, there is a quite flexible rep dependent privilege system. At least at present, closing and reopening questions works only unilateral.

There is a support Q&A site, where it is quite easy to obtain answers.


QSQA looks quite similar to Stack Exchange too, however people on Stack Overflow find it difficult to install.

To obtain answers at the support Q&A site seems to take its time at times.

3.  Askbot

Askbot seems to have a good privilege system and good moderation tools. However, hosting is not free and the prize to pay depends on the expected number of users that will join the community. A support Q&A site is available.

4. Shapado

Shapado does not look like Stack Exchange, it has no voting / reputation system, hosting is not free. Close and reopen of questions seems not to be possible. Even though there is a support Q&A site, it seems not to be very active as I obtained no answer when asking about importing SE data dumps and installing LaTex.

5. Answerhub

They have a very nice and friendly support site, LaTex is not installed at present, but importing SE data dumps should work.