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  Will there be politeness policies on physics overflow?

+ 5 like - 0 dislike

As I understood it, the site will not block folks for using what is considered inappropriate tone, but will rather look to see if the comments are low-level, or off-topic, or plagiarised, or otherwise clearly incompatible with the design of the site. This is what is spelled out in the founding documents.

As I understood the goal, it is to allow blunt discussion with no-holds-barred debate regarding technical matters. This was what I signed up for, it was why I felt this would be a good refereeing platform, because it would be easy in such a format to quickly figure out what is what regarding technical matters.

This form of review is very efficient, because it is so efficient, it is also very scary. It is very off-putting to those who are not used to it, or those who are complacent with traditional types of academic discussion. This is doubly so the first time they make a mistake, as the mistake is quickly pointed out, bluntly and repeatedly, and it is humiliating. I had to get used to it too, except I got used to it early.

Open policy superficially seems to costs you support, but it is the exact opposite in the long run. It is very valuable, because it makes accuracy, and in the long run gets you academics paying attention. This is how Wikipedia operated until 2008, when accuracy rates skyrocketed, and academics were forced to pay attention. Now that it is censored and blocked, it has declining accuracy, and it can be ignored. No-censorship policies remove politicsm and they will offend people, and people will complain, and people will say they are going to leave. But the people you gain over time are better than those who leave, and they are more numerous.

Due to complaints about my own comments in recent discussions, I have been warned several times to tone it down, and to not drive people away. Hard comments drive people to seek censorship first (whether you are right or wrong). This is why you need comprehending moderation, you have to be able to understand when a debate is legitimate, and when it is just hounding and harrassing people senselessly.

Although this site has only had active discussion in the reviews section for a relatively short time, I get the feeling that there there is an effort to make the site less scary to academic folks used to other places, and therefore that moderator action will be taken to restrict users freedom of expression.

To be blunt: I made some effort to help the site get attention, by suggesting the review section and its scoring, in a format I believe works well, and by suggesting monetization of this section which in my opinion is likely to succeed. I also wrote some reviews with some effort put into them. I have other reviews in preparation, and an original submission in preparation, which I hope is of good research quality.

But I am frankly scared of putting up the material now, mostly because of some email that I received regarding my tone in a dispute I had recently with another user. This is the same exact thing that happened on stackexchange, or anywhere else, and I am simply never going to go along with it. I'm sorry, I would rather die than be polite, or materially help a polite forum.

I want to know exactly what the banning policy here is, whether it is going to accept hard criticism without censorship, without niceness, and guarantee it firmly, or whether it is going to be the same kind of authority-based polite chatter you find in pre-internet media. If it's going to be the latter, please decide this now, before I expend too much effort here, because I don't see the point in contributing any original material to a site which is not 100% committed to internet-style openness and freedom from traditional censorship.

The pressure to restrict the discourse is enormous, and only if one is 100% committed to opposing it can one find the fortitude to resist. If there is no committment from the other moderators, I frankly expect to be first stripped of moderatorship and later banned here just as I was at stackexchange. I wasn't banned through an accident, or by misjudgement, I was banned because my behavior would be considered out of line in any academic discussion anywhere in the world, pre-internet. The internet allows a free discussion to develop, but only if it is left alone to develop as it goes, and complaints be damned!

You lose less than you gain, all academics were eventually forced to pay attention to usenet, then to Wikipedia. There is no way to stop openness, but there are ways to destroy it through politics within a site. The politics has already begun here, I want to know where people stand.

I hope I am not in a minority of one on this. If I am, it was a very quick sellout.

asked Aug 18, 2014 in Conflict Resolution by Ron Maimon (7,720 points) [ revision history ]
recategorized Apr 2, 2015 by dimension10

I guess I can comprehend your worry, but it is not justified in my opinion.

Nobody will ever be banned for rudeness or speaking their opinions out (where on-topic). The rules are explained very clearly; the principle of community moderation is a sort of a "constitution", and is supplemented by the user rights and parts of the FAQ.

There are no rudeness rules, and there will never be.

And you already do know this very well. What you doubt is whether this will actually be put into practice; what if the other users and moderators have a politeness policy in their head - what if  they care more about the names of the users than the principles of the site - what if they are insincere in interpreting this statement?

I do not have any anti-rudeness policy in my head, I don't care more about the names of the users than the principles of the site, I aren't insincere in interpreting a pretty obvious statement, up there in bold, and I'm not speaking for myself.

The question is whether you, as an administrator should be calling users morons and voters mentally retarded idiots - you can of course choose to, and no, you will not be stripped of your admin rights, nor will you be banned, or deleted, or whatever, since the rules don't change for administrators (in this case, don't become more stringent) - it's just a humble request, after all. The problem is that an abusive administrator does not look very attractive to a new user.

Coming to Dilaton's email, it was out of desperation, I suppose, and could have been slightly unnecessary, as you say, since you had already agreed to my previous email. But I guess he couldn't trust your response, so he decided to support the point about abusive administrators not making the site attractive with some statistics.

But politeness is completely optional, even for moderators, and it will always be this way, so don't worry.

I agree with you regarding calling people names, or other nonsense like this, I removed all comments you found alienating or offensive, because I agree that moderators need to keep cool, to avoid scaring people away senselessly.

But now I received email from Dilaton regarding comments and behavior which I absolutely cannot change, comments regarding the strong coupling limit of gauge theory. I can't tone it down any further regarding this, any implication that strong coupling expansion doesn't work is a pure and outright fabrication, and anyone who makes it needs to be called out on it bluntly.

If an authority is saying this, this authority is wrong. If an authority is implying it using work that doesn't establish it, this authority is doing something reprehensible. But the authority of certain authors was being used to challenge the statement that gauge theory is infrared uncorrelated, and to the extent that they imply this (none of them say this, it could just be a misinterpretation by the user in question who got offended), they are not telling the truth! And they are not telling the truth in a way that is not so simple to see, because it is obfuscated in technical details of large simulations which cannot be reproduced easily by a single person.

My comments seem to have made a user threaten to leave, and I feel pressure to stop criticizing this. I placed a question on Q&A on the issue. But I can't stop criticizing this, as I can't imagine how anyone could disagree with the statement that gauge correlators are infrared random. It's obvious in any simulation, really.

@RonMaimon No, you misinterpreted the email - it was certainly not to shut you up simply for criticising the paper, that is completely against the spirit of PhysicsOverflow and the reviews section: As far as I know, it is more of a follow-up to my earlier mail asking you to reduce the name-calling, supporting it with some statistics from the user database of PhysicsOverflow.

Ok, then I accept. I'm sorry, and please feel free to hide any comments of mine that you feel are not welcoming, I'll take that as an incentive to rephrase.

Could you make this statistics public (or semipublic to high rep users) and self-updating, so that one can check at any time how the site fares?

@ArnoldNeumaier Actually, the statistics are only available to polarkernel, and he shares it with us when there urgent issues arise, so I don't know if there is sensitive data (I mean users' email addresses, etc. - the extremely sensitive information, like the passwords, are encrypted of course) in the statistics.

Some more general statistics, basically the traffic, is available on quantcast, though. In that sense, the site is fairing fine, and I'm sure it's possible for it to succeed, but some statistics, particularly the retention rate of users, are not up to our expectations yet (although I estimate that it is better than that of Stack Exchange, after meddling with some comparisons on quantcast).

6 Answers

+ 8 like - 0 dislike

It is not necessary to be rude, and paying a little attention to one's tone is certainly better than just writing from one's gut feelings. A moderate language is one of the many facets of perfection, to be aspired even if not always attained.

On the other hand, the site lives from its scientific content, and as long as this is high, people will come and learn from it. Therefore I tolerate lack of good manners. It is easy to apply a mental filter that screens that part. Posts worthy of flagging are those that leave nothing when the filter is applied.

answered Aug 18, 2014 by Arnold Neumaier (15,787 points) [ no revision ]

Yup, I agree with this - there shouldn't be any deletion when dealing with posts containing real content. Almost of Ron's posts do contain physics content.

Personally, I wouldn't mind participating on a site where administrators are frank and blunt; but the same can't be said of most people, which is why Ron is encouraged (as an administrator, not as a user, being polite is completely optional for a normal user, no encouragement nor discouragement) to maintain a slightly polite tone on PhysicsOverflow.

+ 4 like - 0 dislike

I want to make it categorically clear, that I shall always do my best to firmly guarantee that you have full freedom of speech in this site.

I am tired of seeing you banned for rudeness. I abandoned SE and lost my interest in Quora because of that. I was happy when Dilaton and Dimension10 did the efforts of creating this site and I thought "Ah yeah, at least a sanctuary where Ron will not banned, this is going to be interesting". And also, despite the fact that I am going through, say, very special life circumstances that make it difficult for me to devote time to the site, I accepted the moderation priviledges with this thought in my mind: "Well, at least I can contribute by helping preserve Ron's freedom of speech when the moment arrives".

answered Aug 26, 2014 by Eduardo Guerras (435 points) [ revision history ]

The issue is not mostly about me this time, but thanks.

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

I hope I am not in a minority of one on this. 

I put my opinion as an answer for statistics sake. Ron's somewhat blunt speech style doesn't cross my line, except maybe for some purely emotional ones, which he removed according to the comment. I can well imagine the hard feeling if the bluntness is directed to me, but I'm prepared to swallow it. If it is a price to pay for the accuracy, I think it is well worth it. 

In fact Ron reminds me of the "millitant" atheist Richard Dawkins, if Dawkins can be tolerated by the public, I can't see why Ron can't be. This is internet, a supposedly more tolerant place than reality. 

Attractiveness to new users might be an issue, I don't know what to say about it. As I said in the beginning, this is for the sake of statistics of opinions.

answered Aug 18, 2014 by Jia Yiyang (2,640 points) [ no revision ]
+ 3 like - 0 dislike

I guess we all agree that a critical and scientific review of a comment/post is extremely useful. It is often the case that personalized attacks tend to be fruitless. It is great that the site does not have "politeness guidelines", but as I understand it does encourage matter of fact discussions, and in my opinion, it should not hesitate to remove any superfluous content. 

 Physicsnewbie, asked why I thought it was great that site had no politeness policy. Because it kills science and its free spirit. At the very moment one says, politeness is an important criterion by which one decides if a member can stay in this site or not, it turns into something that is no longer about science. Ron's story at SE is an example, perhaps not the only one.  I don't want to dwell on this discussion any further, I think I have communicated the necessary. 

answered Aug 20, 2014 by Prathyush (705 points) [ revision history ]
edited Aug 21, 2014 by Prathyush

Yes, the idea was that "You suck" is as contentless as "rock on", and both would be removed.

Why is it "great" that there are no politeness guidelines? Mathoverflow has one: "Be nice"

Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated. Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you because we’re all here to learn, together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know, and bring your sense of humor.

Please note that expletives are not allowed. If you use expletives on this site, you may be issued a warning or a suspension.

I think this goes to show that mathematicians, despite their very logical way of thinking, still understand that unnecessary rudeness can wreck a site.

Lack of rudeness wrecks a site, as it allows people to say things like "Tut, tut, consider that what you are saying is contradicted by Schwinger, Feynman, and Weinberg's argument from 1978" (90% of the time, it isn't contradicted by anything in the paper, except in the crazy misinterpretation in the critic's head), without you being able to reply "Schwinger, Feynman and Weinberg can stuff it, they're full of shit on this." Whether you are right or not, whether Schwinger, Feynman and Weinberg were saying what the critic is saying, ALL appeals to authority are destroyed by such language, it's why dictators execute comedians. Authority can't abide mocking.

Appeals to authority simply don't work when politeness is out the window. You need to review the argument, and it's relevance, from first principles, without considering who said what.

To give you an example, the one that started this whole thing: I was talking about some obvious properties of strong coupling expansion (which I did NOT read in a book, I just simulated a little, although I did read Wilson's famous 1974 lattice gauge theory paper at some point), and a fellow named JonLester came over and said "Boy are you out of date! Strong coupling? Pshaw. Read these papers..." and then pointed to a bunch of completely irrelevant (but interesting) recent simulations, and (wrongly) claimed that they contradicted what I was saying about long-distance properties of gauge theory.

Now, I didn't read these simulations, but I knew the strong coupling behavior is right. So which is a better reply?

1. You're full of crap, these don't contradict anything I said. Any author that disagrees with what I said is a blithering idiot.

2. In my opinion, these papers don't contradict anything I said, although I am happy to converse further to clear up the issues.

When you know what you are talking about from first principles (so that you are pretty sure, although of course, you can always still be wrong), and someone is arguing from authority, despite your instincts, 1 is better! You need to say 1. Why? Because 2 makes it seem that we are having a friendly polite dispute, where there is mutual respect, where authority counts for something, when, in this case, there is an objective fact of the matter that can be found by thinking alone, and authority is a hinderance. You can't expect an internet discussion to be polite, because this forces anyone with technical knowledge to argue against 100 random guys' misinterpretations of every authority out there. Rudeness makes authority useless, and this focuses the discussion on the physics, not on who said what.

Linus Torvalds said it like this: "On the internet, no one can hear you being subtle."

Now humans basically don't like to think, so that they only use technical content as a last resort, when authority doesn't work to tell them what to believe. When there is hostility, there is no authority, you need to look at the technical content only to determine accuracy. That's extremely important for a site which does refereeing of journal papers, it is extremely important to keep content accurate, and that requires constant first-principles review of everything, again and again. Having a politeness barrier allows misinterpretations or sloppy thinking to dominate.

With this type of thing, you can end up alienating some people. Mostly you alienate people who either have authority, or use authority to win arguments! I shouldn't be too rude, because I am a moderator, but the alienation is automatic, it comes when people review things from first principles, and end up contradicting some authoritative interpretation. Sometimes the authority is right, sometimes not, I think it is important for us at physicsoverflow to always check for ourselves, otherwise we are not competent to do a review of anything at all.

When you have official politeness rules, you open the door to the politicians to come in and take over, they can't be mocked and heckled, they don't care about technical content, they just want to gain political power through handshaking and schmoozing politely, and rise to the top in ways described by Dale Carnegie. This is not hypothetical, you can see it happen on all websites that are polite (mathoverflow included), Dale Carnegie would do very well, by simply quoting results verbatim taken from other people's papers and being nice to other people.

On physicsoverflow you can always say "Ron is full of shit" with no repercussions except me saying either "no, you are", or "oh yeah. Thanks." That means that Dale Carnegie would be out of luck, he would need to do some actual physics, some original thinking, to gain reputation.

@physicsnewbie MathOverflow is forced to have rudeness rules because it is in the Stack Exchange network; they don't implement it (which is good) as far as I know.

@dimension10 didn't they have a "be nice" rule before they joined the Stack Exchange network?

The "be nice" policy is old, but it never came up. Mostly the deletion of things operated by "nudge-nudge wink-wink all us serious people know that this stuff is crackpot" method. It's very cute when a site thinks it can apply such a policy, as you can fool the moderators by finding a ridiculous dogma and playing both sides. For example, you can say "all sets are measurable" in an answer, and sound like a crackpot, and get it deleted, and then repeat the answer, saying "Considering a Solvay forcing extension of a model of set theory, modulo a strengthening to a larger cardinal, one can associate a consistent Lebesgue measure to all subsets of [0,1]" and sound serious, even though you are really saying the exact same thing again. Then you get the moderators fighting about whether you are a crackpot or not. I enjoyed doing this, as it reveals the political disharmony lurking underneath the superficial polite consensus on what is crackpot.

+ 1 like - 0 dislike
Attacking the Physics ideas can indeed lead to robust discussion and development of ideas and theories. But, as soon as the attacks got to the person, then what I have found (from many years in Physics labs, societies, faculties etc is that the following happens:


- The person being attacked 'digs their heals in', and refuses to budge, and refuses to listen to the attacker, seeing them as 'protesting too much'


- namecalling will not force someone else to accept their ideas at all.


- The person being attacked sees that group as being beligerent and takes their expertise elsewhere, to benefit other places.


- One case I saw was that the person being attacked made sure the faculty lost all grants etc out of spite (which is also pretty damn pathetic).


Put it this way, no one is going to say "Oh, that user called me a retarded fool, I must follow their thinking" if people seriously think that people are going to follow their thinking with name calling, it is time to wake up to yourself.


At a conference, there was a scientist like that, crapping on and calling anyone who disagreed with his theory a 'moron' - when it came time for him to present his speech, no one turned up (we sat outside and had a beer) because basically his name calling and ranting made him lose all credibility. One of the people he called a moron was an editor of a journal he wanted to publish in - needless to say, that publisher spoke to others and well, that work remains unpublished.


I know for my case, I could be called every name under the sun and I will simply stop listening to the attacker, thinking of them akin to a religious evangelist or aggressive salesperson - as just non-credible noise and wait until they calm down to speak in a level above a 6 year old's tantrum. However, if they attack the ideas, and clearly show how the ideas, or aspects of the ideas are garbage and shows why - they have my full attention and the interaction is appreciated!
answered Jan 4, 2015 by anonymous [ no revision ]
Most voted comments show all comments


  1. Only one of your comments were erased by a moderator, and I've already explained why. I cannot verify if any other comments were erased, but if there were, as you claim, then they were erased by you (as I can see the comments deleted by moderators). Given your previous history of deleting wall posts and accusing moderators of doing so (ironically, moderators cannot delete wall posts at all), I see no reason to trust you.
  2. The comment is posted vertabim from what you had posted. The description of how you took it on a tangent is mine, and since all comments are visible, anybody can judge as to whether my description is right.
  3. The discussion was about the Higgs, not the question though. Your last comment (which was deleted on grounds of being completely off-topic) was not even about the Higgs, but about reformulation. Nobody provoked you to begin defending yourself.
  4. "There are other possibilities..." - My point is about your comment being off-topic. If there are other possibilities (there aren't, BTW), so be it. It's not the point of the question.        
  5. For the record, nobody called you paranoic, uneducated, crackpot, or ignorant in that thread. And if someone does, we don't censor. Too bad. If you'd like censorship, you already have a lot of other sites to go to (where you boast a good reputation too). As for a "renormalisation doesn't make sense" guy, don't you take pride in that? : )
  6. Extremists Physically Eliminating What? Uh... You need to find a better word.

@dimension10: Why do you respond for Dilaton who was erasing my comments? (Only the last comment was hidden.)

I do not want censorship on this forum and I do not want double standards either.

I do not lie and as far as this forum is your with Dilaton enterprise, you are ruling it as you like. In particular, without a due respect to me. I am asking you to exclude me from your users until after you bring public excuses to me.

@Dilaton: Hide it, erase it, but fulfill my request of excluding me from your users according to my explicit demand.
@VladimirKalitvianski What do you mean by "exclude me from your users list"? Are you requesting the deletion of your account?
@dimension10: Yes, I am requesting deletion of my account.
Most recent comments show all comments

@Dimension10 I agree with you, and any new potential reformulation thread could be closed as duplicate of one of the many already existing reformulation threads ...

Vladimir just a well meaning hint: you are probably not going make many friends by insulting the PhysicsOverflow community and calling people extremists, fanatics, etc ... just because we ask you to stick to the physics and stay on topic to the issues asked about in a questions instead of diverting and side-tracking discussions.

Please remember that outside meta such comments are clearly off topic and will be treated as such. Strictly speaking as Dimension10 said, you are side-tracking this meta discussion about civility rules too by the off-topic discussion you started above ...

So please refrain from diverting and side-tracking existing discussions on meta too in the future.

Can this nonsense stop? If the discussion is off topic, move it to chat, and leave a link behind. That's it! No further drama required. Also, no need for "official warnings" that don't make any sense at all. Whose the official? What the "unofficial warning?" What happens if you disregard an "official warning"? This is bureaucratic nonsense, and it is unnecessary. You should have just moved the offending comments to a chat titled "How many plausible alternatives are there to the Higgs in light of the new LHC data?"  and left it there as an experimental discussion which some people would find interesting. Also, VK's reaction is ridiculously spur-of-the-moment, and you shouldn't delete the account, as he has material here which is now without an author at all. He wrote it already, don't retroactively make it "anonymous".
+ 1 like - 2 dislike

"I agree with Jia and Arnold that no silly politeness rules are needed. We are not in kindergarten  and the members of PhysicsOverflow are all grown up enough to be able to stomach robust physics discussions and to know by themselves how they want to talk to each other."

I disagree. I am for politeness just because we have grown up and we should serve as a model in research discussions. Remember, in a research area, there must be pluralism of opinions. It is enriching. So I for respect and tolerance here, but is should be an internal imperative in each participant. Everything can be expressed in exact terms and without offensive behavior.

answered Aug 18, 2014 by Vladimir Kalitvianski (102 points) [ no revision ]
reshown Aug 21, 2014 by Ron Maimon

I think you might not be aware that your comments are currently deemed most offensive, because people interpret them to say "all other researchers who use renormalization theory are deluded".

My objections to renormalization ideology have a certain limit. I do not mind if people do renormalization in the effective (approximate) theories a la Wilson where the cutoff makes physical sense. I am just against understanding every theory as an effective one.

I have written it many times, that any theory is an approximation since it does not include "all the physics" of the world, but as a model it is not obliged to be an effective theory in the Wilsonian sense. Some models can be reformulated (exactly renormalized) so nothing from shity self-induction remains in it. My toy model and electronium model serve as indications to this direction. Note, my papers are still unknown to people, so people are in error when treat me as a crackpot.

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