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  Who are the Physics Overflow moderators, and what is their exact role and powers?

+ 2 like - 2 dislike

I looked for this information but I couldn't find it in a publicly accessible page. Apologies in advance if it is and I didn't see it (in which case please take this as feedback on the ease of finding this information).

Who are the moderators and administrators of PhysicsOverflow, and what is their role?


  • which PhysicsOverflow users have site privileges which cannot be obtained simply by earning points? (For clarity and transparency, please provide a concise list of the users at each privilege level.)
  • what categories of such users are there, and what privileges does each one have? (This is explained in the Permissions section of the FAQ: there exist Experts and Editors, Moderators, Administrators, Super-Administrators, and a System Developer, with increasing powers.)
  • how do users get to those categories? (which obviously includes things like 'volunteering to start and run the site')
  • what is the general ethos for performing those duties?

I am aware of the existence of a question Who wants to help us to be a moderator? but I am unable to access it either signed in or as an incognito visitor (screenshot). This is an issue with transparency, and it should be (reasonably) easy to find an explicit (publicly available) list of moderators and administrators, up to date and with a clear and visible history.

asked Aug 14, 2014 in Support by SaddlePoint (0 points) [ revision history ]
edited Aug 15, 2014 by SaddlePoint
Most voted comments show all comments

Sorry, you need 500 rep to view the post. 

I didn't say they need to vote, just to see the deliberations.

@RonMaimon What?! "He banned me on StackExchange", seriously? Where has this been said? The decision is among the "community of users", 500 rep is a pretty low bar, which is necessary to stop people from attacking us with fake nominations (of themselves, etc.). I don't know if it's possible to make "read-only threads", we're not hiding anything from anybody:


@SaddlePoint Sorry about the link, here's the right one. Should work: Screenshot.

@RonMaimon No, Ben Crowell was not a moderator on Stack Exchange. I only feared that Ben Crowell could be (while a very good contributor) a (slightly?) biased moderator. He didn't ban anyone, anywhere, as far as I know.

Most recent comments show all comments

@dimension10: He was active in the discussion regarding blocking me, and he was supportive of the action. I do not wish to restrict his freedom to write text on PO, or anywhere else, or anyone else's freedom, but of course I voted against his moderatorship, as I can see from experience that he is not committed to freedom. But it's still gossip, ultimately.

By "gossip", I meant talking about people and their actions, and their personalities, rather than technical content. It's unfortunately all that happens on moderator election pages. It's not like there's anything else to talk about, though.

2 Answers

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

You can see the question: http://physicsoverflow.org/6197/who-wants-to-help-us-as-should-be-a-moderator?show=6197#q6197 . We are looking for technical moderators (you need to know the physics), who are committed to openness (no punitive measures for politically unpopular activity), inclusion and protection of text (as little censorship as possible), and complete disinclination/inability to exert power over others.

I am personally a moderator, but I have only used the moderating features lackadaisically here and there on rare occasions (sorry Dilaton, dim10). The basic thing moderators do is hide spam comments (they used to come often, less now), trace spam attacks to servers, import arxiv and other papers (this cannot yet be done by users), import stackexchange questions (import of these can cause conflicts), and some other duties I forgot (because I never do them, sorry). Unlike at stackexchange, we do not form a political elite, and our opinions carry zero extra weight, because we cannot impose punitive measures on users neither unilaterally nor through a consensus of moderators. The community decides about punitive measures, and we really try to always err on the side of openness (at least I am fanatically comitted to complete openness, and took the moderator position only to defend openness blindly like a rabid dog).

There are additional features which come with moderation, some of which I consider unethical to use for purposes other than tracking spam or identifying sock-puppetting, because they can destroy some of the anonymity protections we have firmly committed to:

1. The ability to see exactly who up/down voted a post.

2. The ability to track IP addresses of logins.

I never look at IPs (aside from a few spam attacks), I have never checked who voted on what, and I promise I won't do so in the future (except if I am needed to trace sockpuppeting or spam), as I contribute content to the physics parts, and I don't want to know more than anyone else.

But you shouldn't trust me. In the future, I suppose we should confine the potential anonymity busting features to a special class of admins who aren't involved in any academic text, or perhaps make the voting on answers publically available. We shouldn't show IPs, because these can be used to deanonymize academic contributions (how many experts on supernova collapse are there in Brussels anyway?)

We don't separate these tasks or priviledges right now, because we don't have enough people. We have had a few brush-ins with anonymity issues, and I think they are all sorted out. All of the admins are on the same page regarding no IP peeking.

Users do not get in the admin category by a Wikipedia style election, these elections generally produce a class of politicians, who don't contribute content, whose only goal in life is to acquire power over others. Wikipedia ended in an orgy of banning and blocking, and stackexchange is ending much the same way. We must never have this political disorder on this site. The moderator positions are not designed to give users power over others, and they are filled right now simply according to need and desire of the selected users to do the job, with some comments and voting on the linked question. In my opinion, in the future it should just come automatically with a sufficiently large number of academic credit points for the importing text parts, and it should be done by non-academics for the spam-tracing anonymity-busting IP-peeking parts.

The point of moderation here is never to censor, or block, users. There are fundamental rights we guarantee the users: http://physicsoverflow.org/user-rights . If we block a user, it will be for spam, for incomprehensible gibberish, for off-topic stuff, and never for taking the politically unpopular side in a debate.

But we don't want long off-topic low-level nonsense either, so we restrict the level and topic of comments. This is not specifically aimed at any user, low-level and off-topic are pretty clear calls. It seems also that the community agreed that negative reputation users will have limited commenting rights, they will only be allowed to comment on their own questions and answers. This is not to punish anyone, but to avoid off-topic or irrelevant comments. This should be the entire extent of censorship here.

answered Aug 14, 2014 by Ron Maimon (7,730 points) [ revision history ]
edited Aug 14, 2014 by Ron Maimon

I can't see the question you linked to in your answer

Since you answered on the page with the text starting with: Realistically, I don't think anyone of repute will moderate if asked, simply because they're either not interested, have little time, or see the site as too undeveloped and amateurish... you've already seen the page. It hasn't budged in the last months, so you know what it looks like.

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

In addition (and maybe also a bit complementary) to what Ron already said, I'd like to ad some general remarks.

The purpose of PhysicsOverflow is to be some kind of a revival of TP.SE and a little physics brother of MathOverflow in the long run, as for example explained in this announcement.  In order to work towards to long-time goal, we have to keep up the level and keep the worst spam, crap, and nonsense out. Here is the way how this works on PhysicsOverflow

  • The task of administrators is mostly to help people log in and get access to their imported content, merge accounts as requested, import SE questions as requested, and help the members of PhysicsOverflow with other technical support issues. They can also deal with obvious spam.
  • The level of PhysicsOverflow is graduate-level upward, and in the context of this general idea, decisions about what posts are appropriate and on-topic on PhysicsOverflow, should be taken by community moderation. This works similar as the review queues on StackExchange, but is done by means of appropriate meta threads (as in the requests for reopen votes on Math.SE and MO) where users with > 500 rep can vote to close, reopen, delete, etc
  • If community moderation works well and enough people take part in this, moderators do not have to decide much on their own, but can mostly execute the will and needs of the community. In the long run, moderators should be by the community elected and for their knowledge and achievements also in the "real-world" physics community  appreciated people, as this has been the case on TP.SE and still is on MathOverflow. Optimally, moderators have a good enough knowledge and experience to recognise crap and nonsense, are empathic and can help dissolving disagreements, and help keeping up a professional academic atmosphere by gently calming things down, if things get a bit too excited. Generally, moderators should always listen to the community, take other experts serious, and help making the site agreeable for the targeted audience of advanced students, researchers, and serious and knowledgeable enough enthusiasts to make them feel at home. We have not yet found enough such good moderators who are willing to help us, there are still some open positions.

As I see it, the general guideline should be that what the community  likes and appreciates is allowed and on-topic, there should be no closing of appreciated and upvoted questions for superficial, formal, language, or other non-physics reasons for example.

Also, as community moderation is intended to play a leading part on PhysicsOverflow, I would like to heartily encourage our nice members, to help with this and take part in discussions as this one for example too. Please feel free to speak up in meta if something troubles you, something should be different or changed, etc ... Please see also this entry in the FAQ.

answered Aug 15, 2014 by Dilaton (6,240 points) [ revision history ]

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