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Proposed amendment of user rights

+ 1 like - 2 dislike
642 views

The rights of users of PO are currently fixed in this document. The page was installed by dimension10 upon the suggestion of Ron Maimon, sofar without any discussion. The meta discussion in the last few months, in particular here, suggests to me that it is high time to open a public discussion of the issues and to propose certain amendments that in particular clarify how text is protected. 

I post the current version just for discussion; after the discussion subsides I'll make an updated proposal for voting; if necessary split into several parts.

Apart from the proposed changes, I'd like to suggest that the page with the user rights should have a history, and a link to all pages where they are discussed. Also, the link to the user rights is at present almost invisible at the very bottom of each page; I propose to move it (and a link to the FAQ) to the right of the Tags link at the top of each page.

The following four proposed changes are 100% compatible with the current wording of the user rights, but if accepted will significantly improve the atmosphere on the site. In parallel to these changes, I propose to  change Section 8 of the FAQ (''How do I edit a post?'') to ''Editing posts'' (with a more comprehensive discussion of editing). This will be discussed in a separate post.

Proposed changes: 


*1* add after first paragraph (... hearing.):

Suspicions about violations of these rights should be brought up on meta.

*2* replace first paragraph (''The ... reversion'') in ''Protection of text'' by:

All text a user contributed can be edited by the user. All text (except that on users' walls) can be edited by moderators and by users with enough reputation. For all edited text, a history of revisions is kept in a link so that anyone can access older versions of the text. 

Editing by others than the original contributor is restricted to matters of spelling, languange, and politeness that do not change the scientific meaning; see the editing section of the FAQ. Original contributors are notified of any change to their contribution.  

There is no imposition of content change without the possibility of reversion by the original contributor. The final say on the text always belongs with the original contributor. However, in case of a persistent value conflict between different authors, indicating by multiple edits or reversion without emerging consensus, moderators may replace the problematic text by a link to a page where the conflicting versions are stated and can be discussed. To inform the moderators, post here.

*3* Drop in ''No secret trials'' the last 9 words (''and the main goal is to avoid censoring topics politically''. Indeed, the main goal is not what is currently stated there but to have informative questions, answers and discussions about high level physics.

*4* Drop in the very last paragraph the last 6 words (''which are easy to fix online''), which are irrelevant in this context.

asked Mar 15, 2015 in Discussion by Arnold Neumaier (12,355 points) [ revision history ]

I have to read your ammendment in detail, but let me say that it's not true that the user rights weren't discussed. There was a discussion, albeit an informal one, over here, and the proposal had actually hit 4 votes when I put in the user rights from that with some polishing, but then someone reverted their upvote and transformed it into a downvote a few weeks ago.

I disagree with this, for the reasons mentioned here.

 @dimension10: I had only quoted you, including the link where you said verbatim

the "user rights" document - to be fair, that was discussed by just Ron and I (Ron proposed it, I modified it and made it official, without consulting anyone). 

@ArnoldNeumaier Yes, I was wrong in that quote, and had a hazy memory of that discussion. But I found it later.

3 Answers

+ 5 like - 0 dislike

To clarify the role of a moderator, I had suggested the following changes to the User rights.

The section "Protection of text" will be changed to

"Protection of Scientific Viewpoint"

All Scientific Viewpoint will be preserved in a form of the author's choice.

Moderators are allowed to remove what does not belong to a scientific forum.
However there will be no censorship in favour of a popular viewpoint.

Any closure/deletion of text will be for a publically stated reason, which is "off topic, spam, duplicate, plagiarism, low-level material, incomprehensible text which could not be explained by author".

I had decided against this because of the following line "Moderators are allowed to remove what does not belong to a scientific forum." Because Ron indicated that it will be subject to misinterpretation.

I am completely in favour of Jia's proposal, which is to leave a soft remainder to the users on the general tonality that is expected of them in the site.

I am absolutely against any form of forceful implementation of a rudeness polity. What some might find rude others might find as gold. It has a rather subjective interpretation, and most easily used to bias discussions.

In the event that someone brings up a renomination of Dilaton as a moderator, I will be in favour of such a thing. I would sincerely request that in the event that an incident happens where the moderator makes a mistake, It will not be dealt with in such a haphazard manner.

Most of all, I am in favour of an extremely speedy resolution of this Issue.

answered Mar 20, 2015 by Prathyush (695 points) [ no revision ]

Given the present infrastructure, please be assured no irreversible damage can happen anymore, even in the worst case that rudeness rules get passed. But right now it seems to be converging to only a guideline/suggestion. Currently it seems the quarrels are mostly about ideology. But yes I guess such quarrel drains some of the energy that could have gone to Q&A section.

And if it can be made categorically clear in the guideline document that "This document is strictly inferior to User Right", then I'm willing to view them as a more detailed version of "politeness reminder/encouragement", though some of the examples for edits that Arnold proposed look still bad to me.

@JiaYiyang @ArnoldNeumaier I am alright with either, though I would prefer a simple remainder, and leave the rest to moderators.

Yes, It will be harder to come up with a list of changes that is somewhat exhaustive and agreeable with the community.

It would also be faster to keep it simple, this has been going on for a while.

+ 2 like - 2 dislike

This is a seriously problematic proposal. The main problem is the new idea that posts may be edited collectively by high reputation users, much as on Wikipedia articles are edited collectively.

This cannot be abided for the simple reason that the author's name appears on the bottom. When your name and reputation are attached to a post, you need to have final say on the content. The content must be controlled by you, down to the last comma.

Further, the proposal states that edits are to be restricted to those that don't change meaning. This is not necessary, and such a rule can cause problems. There is no restriction on edits when you have the author's permission. With permission, you can rewrite the whole thing from top to bottom! This sometimes happens, and the author is sometimes happy with the result.

The only case you need to consider in rulemaking is when there is a conflict: the author wants things one way, and the moderator and collective of high rep users want it another way. In this case, the individual whose name appears on the bottom must take precedence, as it is their reputation that is at stake.

For a specific stackexchange example of where this came up: on a question regarding Neitzche, I quoted an extremely racist passage of Nietzsche, the quote was saying that 'Negroes' feel very little pain compared to 'civilized people', and I called this passage "the stupidest thing I have read in a book". This 'stupidest thing' opinion was deleted (the reason cited was that it was rude), and the result of this omission made me look like I wanted to debate whether black people feel as much pain as white people! I was not willing to look like I am accepting of racism, I was horrified. Still, my name was permanently attached to this post, the post was locked, and there was nothing I could do about it. This is not an acceptable situation, and I hope this example explains why content with your name on it must always be controlled by you.

Change 1 is both unproblematic and pointless (it is simply inserted as a political trick, a way of making the other proposals look more reasonable, by starting things off with something uncontroversial).

Change 2 is not acceptable in any way shape or form, due to the right of an author to control content under their name (see above)

Change 3 is not acceptable either, but less so than change 2.

The main goal of the user rights is to avoid censoring topics politically. This is the main danger on sites such as this, the constant blocking of folks who have an opinion that is different from that which is the mainstream. This churning and testing of mainstream opinion is the sine-qua-non of internet sites, it is the main purpose, and it is the reason that things seem so rude--- internet comments are actually effective at changing opinions.

The only advantage of the internet over traditional media is the ability to correct a false consensus. This requires bending over backwards to not censor any opinion, to have full freedom of speech, and to allow unlimited conflict (within the confines of no-repetition and no off-topic content).

There is a culture issue here, perhaps, as those from Europe remember the Nazi era, and instituted restrictions on speech to prevent Nazis from doing politics. The USA never restricted Nazis, and dealt with their own neo-Nazis using free speech against these groups. In Europe, after a slow decline, the neo-Nazis use the laws against them as a persuasive argument that they are right, and this gives their arguments a legitimacy that they do not have in the US. In the US, holocaust denial does not exist, and neo-Nazis are totally powerless and would never win an election. This is precisely because they lost without their free-speech rights having been curtailed. The US is less accomodating of racism than anywhere else, precisely because it has no laws against racism. It is less accomodating of sexism than anywhere else, precisely because it has no laws against sexism. Once you experience freedom of speech, you never see the point of going back--- there is no speech that needs to be restricted because it is wrong. The only speech that needs to be restricted is that which is repetitive spam, or which is a direct threat to another person's well-being or safety. While arguably neo-Nazi stuff was a direct threat in 1950, it is not a direct threat today, and its suppression paradoxically makes it stronger than it would be under conditions of total freedom, as is shown by the example of the US. In case one thinks that the reason is the isolation of the US from Naziism, must I remind you that the Ku-Klux-Klan is homegrown to the US, predated European Naziism, and was politically dominant in the South throughout the 1950s and exerted influence well into the 1980s.

The omission of the line, while not altering the policy, alters the intent.

As for change 4, the word "fix" in this context means "rig". "Fixing an election" means inviting your friends to vote up your nomination and vote down others. If you wish to say "easy to rig online" instead of "easy to fix online", that's fine.

Elections on online fora are not usually a good statistical sample of opinion of the community. As the elections proceed, some people leave (those who disagree with the outcome of previous elections) and the group of involved folks shrinks to those who most agree with the current policy, much like the elections within one single political party. The result is analogous to one-party rule, where folks with different ideas are never allowed to moderate.

The statement that moderators are chosen for high level contributions is to make sure that the moderators understand physics, and are focused on science, not on politics. The election process on Wikipedia is extremely dirty, as there are 10 moderators who will vote on every election and guarantee that only those that they approve of will get a position of moderatorship. I don't think there is the idea that policy is to be decided by a neverending process of one-party rule, like ArbCom on Wikipedia.

I hope that you can go along with the current user rights, as they are mininal freedoms. The one example of moderation overstepping the bounds was only fixed here because we could use this document. I hope there is no change at all to the policy.

answered Mar 16, 2015 by Ron Maimon (7,535 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 16, 2015 by Ron Maimon
Most voted comments show all comments

I absolutely agree with this (maybe the "absolutely" should be edited out, hehe), and the Neitzche issue you encountered sounds terrible.

Even Wikipedia needs some kind of content protection, even if it doesn't associate an article with a specific user; look what happened to the AdS/CFT article, for example. Lubos started it, many contributors came in and the article flourished, but then some know-nothings came in and degraded it into some popular-level nonsense with people's faces replacing mathematical identities, and this was assisted by the so-called "administrators" on wikipedia who banned anyone who tried to restore it to its original glory. Then the severely dumbed-down article got "featured" on the main page.

The main problem is the new idea that posts may be edited collectively by high reputation users

This is explicitly allowed according to the current rules, independent of any amendment:

Indeed, posts on Physics Overflow are editable. If you have more than 500 reputation points, you can edit a post (questions, comments, answers, everything!) directly, by clicking the "edit" button below the post. 

There are currently no rules or guidelines at all about which edits are desirable, permitted, or forbidden.

Downvotes of this statement do not alter the fact, which everyone can read in point 8 of the FAQ.

On PO we are not discussing negroes or nazis but physics. 

Freedom of speech is guaranteed as long as the original version of the author is accessible, and this is guaranteed by my proposal. Freedom of speech does not mean that what is being said has to be visible where it was originally posted. And note that I nowhere proposes to lock an edited answer that the original author wants to revert - instead, in case of persistent conflict, both the author's and the editor's version are moved, with the author's version clearly marked as his. 

@dimension10: Then where are the rules that specify which edits are forbidden? The current user rights don't contain them. At least they are open to a very wide margin of interpretation. I believe that my proposed amendment contradicts the current user rights as written in not in a single point.

And who decided upon these apparently unspoken rules? I though that PO should be a democratic site, but it seems that just Ron and you make the rules and decide how they should be interpreted.

Most recent comments show all comments

@ArnoldNeumaier: All edits are allowed, if the OP agrees with the edit. Use your judgement, you are a high-rep user, we expect responsible editing. The OP is the person who decides what text will appear under their name, and if they aren't there, you shouldn't go around editing their text to say something other than what they meant.

Whether it's Nazis or racism, or claiming to support one theory over another, edits can and do easily shift meaning, especially edits which are there to enforce a style or tone. This is why the OP has the final say. Would you want someone else putting words in your mouth? It's outrageous to even contemplate. ((meta comment--- the comments are appearing out of order in this discussion! Bug?))

@ArnoldNeumaier What? "Untampered speech" is exactly what the user rights mandate, it's not new, and it would be nice if you could stop pretending that it is. And it doesn't disallow edits, it only gives the final verdict to the author. That's all. It's a trivial rule if you think about it.

+ 1 like - 2 dislike

As I understand it, these suggested amendements of the user rights do not change the "substance" and "spirit" of free open discussions on PhysicsOverflow, as  intended by the original text.

Apart from politically inconsequantial changes of the formulation, it expands and makes the meaning of the paragraph on the protection of text more precise which is helpful.

So I generally think these suggestions (or improved versions of them as needed?) can be savely adopted.

answered Mar 16, 2015 by Dilaton (4,295 points) [ revision history ]
Most voted comments show all comments

@Arnold: I deleted that comment on Pratyush's wall because you asked me to! I do not consider it bullying to express your opinion forcefully, in a case where you have no special authority (I don't anymore). If Pratyush has a strong opinion, he would just give a counterargument (we talked a long time in personal chat about this, and he argued very forcefully with some suggestions, not all of which were silly).

It isn't "pulling strings" when it is in the open. It is being honest about your political motivation. I didn't think Dilaton needs to step down until Drake told me what it feels like to see such abuse as a user, that it feels like user contributions are not valued. Drake was adamant that Dilaton needs to step down immediately, and I came to agree with him, only out of respect to his perspective as a user, and did everything I could to make it happen, by persuasion and by example, by stepping down myself first, so that nobody would lose face, and it wouldn't be seen as punitive or retributive.

You are confusing the ability to speak with the ability to impose. They are not the same, even though I can sometimes be a persuasive speaker. The difference is that even if you shoot me, others will say the exact same thing I am saying, only perhaps after another 10 or 20 years, on another website, and I don't think it is prudent to wait.

I became a pure politician because I was not willing to contribute science to your site. You simply don't deserve my material, it is good stuff, and I am still not willing to give it to you. I stopped cold turkey on the day I saw you turn on VK, and I was in the middle of several things, including the asymptotic safety business and some new stuff on stochastic quantization approaches like Hairer's.

I still am not at all convinced it is worth investing time here, as I don't see you as any better than David Zaslavsky, in fact, you are somewhat worse as DZ never considered himself authoritative to edit physics. I incline toward "yes, contribute now" only because of the presence of sensible young people here, since I know, speaking actuarily, the young people will probably live longer (as Planck noted, if people didn't age out, we would never have progress). You and Arnold seem to be intent on making censorship using editorial methods of imposing tone. If you suceed, every contribution I made will have to be redone elsewhere. It is very difficult to choose to support people who you know for sure are not committed to the values of free speech and open discussion you devoted your entire life to promoting. I am sure you will not understand.

@RonMaimon, now matter how the edit policy issue will end up, I don't think you have much reason to fear now. Given the revision history feature we have here, the worst it can possibly get is that authors may get annoyed by the edits, but nothing abusive like the one happened before can occur.

@Dilaton: Yes, it was you two who made PO. Unfortunately, you made it for everybody, not for "high quality" physicists and mathematicians. And now, what you are uncomfortable with, is nothing with respect to gains that freedom of speech brings in here, believe me. I am an old fart and I have seen many "groups" and "establishments" where some people oppressed others for "noble" purposes. And indeed, it worked well for some people, but was too bad for science.

Do not blame Ron, his participation has nothing to do with "the site taking off". Professionals have their own circles, networks, places, etc. PO is not the only thing available in their life. No wonder most of participants are either crackpots with agenda (like me), or enthusiasts.

@Dilaton: I suggested to start a new site on Motl's blog at the time of my yearlong suspension, right after the elections, because I wanted to keep writing and I figured stackexchange was hopeless. You participated. I remember it well because some mystery person actually set up a functioning OSQA website! I logged on once, checked it out, but I didn't know who this person was, it was totally sketchy, so I didn't take up his offer to host the site (whoever he was). You and dimension10 were still active on stackexchange for the next few weeks or months, but gave up when Manishearth started doing officious things. You were simultaneously saying that the old high-level physics site needs to be revived, and you were going to do something and solve the moderation problems, and get a good community functioning again. While I went to relatives to get help with hosting, I saw you were actually doing it, more competently than I could, so I stopped. I started again two months ago, but stopped again when things returned to sanity here. I am a single incompetent person, while here were three competent people who actually did it (and did it with the superior Q2A), and I figured we were on the same page on everything. That is just to show you to what extent we were on the same page. The discussion is still on Motl's blog.

A major goal in reviving the site was to avoid the censorship problems at stackexchange. This is NOT theoretical, it happened on this site a few months ago! You removed a reference to VK's "reformulation" in comments where he mentioned it, leaving only the half of the comment which didn't mention reformulation. Every post of his having to do with reformulation led to hounding, moving material, and eventually direct threats of blocking for posting off-topic material. The goal was to entirely remove all mention of "reformulation" from the website.

While I don't like reformulation, and I think it is completely appropriate to quarantine such an out-of-the-mainstream discussion to a few pages, and leave links, the response to reformulation here was a complete reversal of the stated intent to tolerate wrong material. You personally decided that VK was driving others away, so VK must go. You made a conscious decision that you didn't want VK's material on the site, and you decided that removing it was a top priority, and you harassed him, got dimension10 to harass him with you. You deleted his comments specifically leaving others' abusive comments toward him standing, gave him two official warnings that 5 off topic posts are sufficient for a ban, and at this point he voluntarily left the site because he justly realized he was being persecuted.

It was only at this point that I got involved. I talked to VK and asked him what happened, and found out about the deletions. Then I saw the two 'official warning's threatening to block VK if he posts off topic material 3 more times (they came one after the other, on consecutive days--- it was clear that if he posted anything at all, VK would have been blocked in at most 72 hours). I knew that there was hostility from personal communication, and I could see that there was a systematic persecution of a well-intentioned but occasionally infuriating user. This is how all the problems of moderation start.

There are many things that are censored in academic communities, by a consensus to ignore them. These are usually justly ignored things, like perpetual motion using magnets or other nonsense. But sometime these are unjustly ignored things, like ENCODE data, or the Soviet theory of deep abyssal petroleum. The instituting of academic standards is a codeword for allowing academics to decide what people to let through and what people to keep out, and this is always censorious by nature. On a site with voting, this is not necessary.

Avoiding this type of gatekeeper behavior was an explicitly stated goal by all involved parties at the start. It is still accepted policy on the site (despite attempts to change it), and at the time the policies were drawn up, the folks here were a unanimous collective about this, and that included me, you, dimension10, Drake, Eduardo, Arnold, and many others. I know exactly what everyone was thinking, and I know that nobody disputed my position on rudeness rules, because everyone saw the abuse that this led to on stackexchange. It also led to abuse here.

Now that the site is functioning, I don't see a rudeness problem developing (perhaps ME but I can easily fix that--- just ASK ME TO REMOVE ANY RUDE STUFF, I'LL DO IT!!). Instead, I see a set of new gatekeepers itching to establish themselves to control who to let on the site and who to keep out. There was no serious rudeness problem on the site, except maybe me, I can't judge myself. The only thing that happened here is that VK was harrassed by a moderator on the pretext of editing out rudeness.

The response to a problem caused by ignoring user rights must be to tighten the user rights, not to justify more abuse by installing new rules on users. People always gang up on others, because they don't like this contributor or that contributor, and they look for excuses. It's a natural human tendency, there is nothing you can do about it, except not give guns to censors.

When VK started to post, I got messages about how this was becoming "Vladimir Overflow", and if this isn't stopped, the quality of the site will decline, blah blah blah, the sky is falling. All because of one person who was writing with some dubious material which can be worked through in an afternoon, the parts that are wrong refuted, and the parts that are right reworked and internalized. That was what happened, and VK is still sorting out what is right and what is wrong, on his own time, and that is how it should be.

Vladimir's controversial material was initially dealt with entirely appropriately, by creating dedicated pages and working through the disputes, and moving long off-topic discussions to chat. There was no problem at all, and it certainly wasn't driving people away. It was localized discussions about a few papers, and a few scattered on-topic comments about this or that. Other off-the-wall material was analyzed fairly, and folks who under normal circumstances would never get a professional review for the first time got a professional review of their ideas instead of a curt dismissal, and whether they were persuaded or not, they now know exactly what people think is wrong with their stuff. Their rejection, whether they agree with it or not, is not a mystery to them anymore.

This is an unprecedented physics service--- peer review for whoever asks. VK has probably never gotten a complete honest professional review of his material after something like 20 years of publishing it and talking about it. The usefulness of this is probably not appreciated by anyone who didn't learn physics on their own, or who didn't go off into the wilderness to study something in a radically new way. If you only learn in school, and do pedestrian things, you don't know what the big deal with good review is, but people who make a mistake while self-learning or in doing highly original research usually can't get any feedback whatsoever on any mistake they may have made. They can't even normally get literature pointers. They need to sort out any probLems laboriously from scratch, all alone. Any self-taught person knows this feeling of total hopeless isolation very well, and this site can fix it.

For a personal example, when I was 16, I thought I discovered that monopoles can't exist because they lead to a doubled photon, due to me having no Dirac quantization condition, so I got two vector potentials for the E and B fields. Anyone who knows anything could have told me in one second that this is not so, that Dirac's monopoles are topological defects in a single vector potential, but nobody competent was around, so I was left to have to sort it out myself, which I did, a few years later when I finally got the Dirac monopole. There is no need for this nonsense anymore--- any person who has ideas, questions, anyone who is not spamming or duplicating crazy stuff or writing gibberish--- should be able to get quick feedback and have their material reviewed, no matter what stage they are at (so long as it isn't the undergrad stage) and no matter what their academic pedigree.

This site, and all academic sites, should be kept free of academic gatekeepers, deciding what to let in. At the moment, the current rules effectively eliminate every single instance of low quality material, there is not a single upvoted wrong post on this site yet and there never will be. Nobody will ever be able to give an example, because the moment it is pointed out, it will get downvoted. There is also very little material which is rude, most of the rudest stuff is mine, and I will bend over backwards to change it, because at no point was rudeness ever necessary, nor can I currently imagine a situation where it would be necessary. I don't use rudeness as a weapon, I simply don't care about it, and try to speak as informally and casually as possible. Rudeness is really ultimately just a filter checking for academic gatekeepers, as they always delete this material first. Maybe it's useful if someone is arguing from authority without understanding the authority, and the only time this happened here was when Marco Frasca falsely claimed that Wilson's strong coupling expansion doesn't work to describe long-distance gauge theory. But it's not like Marco Frasca was reflecting any sort of academic consensus--- it was just a wrong personal opinion.

The danger when you institute rudeness rules is that moderators will enforce these rules inconsistently, and use it against only those they disagree with. This harassment leads people to leave, and if the people who leave happen to be right, it allows wrong material to get stably upvoted, and not get any challenge, because academic censorship suddenly appears. If this site was around in 1998, and the ADD model came out, it would get very hostile negative comments. If the usual suspects were academic gatekeepers, this criticism would have been silenced, as it was in the published literature for a decade.

The internet's function is to circumvent academic gatekeepers who decide what is appropriate and what is not, and replace this with gatekeeping by community voting, which is faster, more effective and more trustworthy. This is the only point of an internet review, as opposed to traditional review. If the problem is with my material, I will change it.

Most recent comments show all comments

The revision history doesn't appear once I unhide the 44 auto-hidden comments. My long comment has been chopped off at the 75% mark in mid-word, I presume due to a bug in the revision history saving mechanism. The remainder was not so important, it appears in your image, and I can retype it, but this rush to remove discussions is not a good use of moderation power--- this is a long discussion about what to do. If you delete it, all that's going to happen is that it will reform again when the next batch of people show up, duplicating the work.

There is no reason to "clean up comments" on meta! This is not the physics site, this is where people are discussing what to do about policy. Why the heck would you remove comments? Hiding discussions doesn't help anybody know what is going on, what the issues are, or have confidence that poiicy was made fairly after listening and weighing everyone's opinions and motivations.

@Dimension10 I was travelling and on my iphone with sucking internet connection. I did only reshow all comments (in two steps with timelag of 30-60 min) while not looking at anything that was just edited, I have not even seen what your edit of Ron s comment was.

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