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  Proposed editing guidelines

+ 4 like - 0 dislike

At present, users with enough reputation are allowed to edit posts, but no guidelines are given about the editing process. In view of my proposal to make the user rights more precise, we also need to specify the editing rules guidelines in more detail. hence my proposal below. 

Also, to make changes to the FAQ easier to follow, I propose that  the page with the  FAQ should have a history, and a link to all pages where they are discussed. The discussion should be separated from the FAQ itself. FAQ discussion pages should be locked after a month of inactivity; new ones can be created easily when need arises.

I propose to replace the heading ''How do I edit a post?'' of  Section 8 of the FAQ to ''Editing posts'', and append the text starting with the next paragraph  after the current text of this section. 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.

Note that the following are intended to be guidelines only, not laws; each editor should use common sense to modify existing text.

Editing guidelines:

Original contributors of a question, answer, or comment may edit their contribution in any way deemed to improve the text. However, mutilation of existing upvoted answers and comments by the original contributor is not acceptable and may lead to a loss of the upvotes.

Editing by others than the original contributor is at the same time encouraged, and restricted to, matters of spelling, languange, and politeness; see the amended user rights proposed here. Anything else - in particular, dissent about matters stated in a contribution as a fact - should be addressed by submitting a comment rather than by an edit.

Spelling should always be corrected in question titles; in other contributions only together with other changes. Don't enforce British or American English spelling; both are acceptable.

Grammar should always be corrected in question titles; in other contributions only in case of multiple errors or together with other changes. Rephrase poor English phrasing but preserve the meaning of the text.

Impolite text should be toned down to a level acceptable in everyday spoken and written conversation between respected collegues. The tone of all contributions should be made consistent with an atmosphere where people are informed, educated, and corrected for free, and in a professional, respectful, friendly and forgiving way - so that they like to be around and contribute.

Make sure that all seemingly factual information (including value judgments you disagree with) is preserved by any rephrasing. You should not change a statement that something is wrong invalid, irrelevant, or meaningless, even if you are convinced this statement is nonsense or you find it arrogant; rather state your opposite assessment and the reasons for it in a comment or answer. On meta, you should also preserve more emotional language, since there discussions are not just about scientific facts. 

However, you should change (both on the main site and on meta) statements that someone is wrong, deluded, lying, a fanatic, a fool, an idiot, etc., and statements containing other offensive words into corresponding statements about the underlying matter (unless contributors talk about themselves). For example, replace
'You are completely wrong!' by 'Your claim is completely wrong', etc..

You may also simplify statements containing dirty words or superfluous, non-factual content. In this case, preserving the meaning is impossible, but try to preserve factual connotations implicit in the phrases modified. For example, you might replace 

  • 'totally worthless' by 'worthless',
  • 'wrong, wrong, wrong', 'completely wrong' or 'more than wrong' by 'wrong', 
  • 'full of shit' by 'valueless', 
  • 'full of crap' by 'irrelevant',
  • 'a construction of absolutely zero interest' by 'a construction of no interest',
  • 'the result is a literally funny theory where there are a bunch of noninteracting bosons' by 'the result is a theory where there are a bunch of noninteracting bosons',
  • 'horrific misunderstanding' by 'misunderstanding',
  • 'not even wrong' by 'meaningless' (except if it refers to Peter Woit's site, and the reference makes scientific sense in the context).

Remove links to nonscientific content such as Tourists as tax spies and similar Greek tragicomedies
even though it refers to the blog of a competent physicist (Lubos Motl).

Delete factually empty remarks such as 

  • 'Do not fool yourself',
  • 'It actually can be interpreted as a mathematical joke, if it weren't so formal',
  • 'My patience for this paper is nil, it's insulting it's readers' intelligence.'

But if a comment is factually completely empty, such as ''If you do not have any doubt, aren't you a "fanatic"?'' flag it for moderator attention rather than edit it to the empty text.

Note that this site guarantees the freedom of speech; PO has no censorship rules and bans nobody who contributes scientific content, even if his or her contribution is based on misunderstanding. Thus (apart from users striving for excellence) editing is our only way of ensuring high quality, by striving for a professional, inviting atmosphere that attracts excellent contributors. High quality editing is therefore very important.

If you are a contributor whose text was edited, take it as a sign that the form of your contribution wasn't seen as being up to professional standards. If you don't like the edit, it is far better to improve it further in the light of the corrections made than to undo it, which should be done only in case the editor misunderstood what you meant to say. (But if you meant to be rude you should learn to improve your social habits. People may be rude on their own web site but it is inappropriate in a professional place such as PO.)

asked Mar 15, 2015 in Discussion by Arnold Neumaier (15,787 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 27, 2015 by dimension10

I really hope it is a joke. If so, it is really funny and entertaining. Thanks, Arnold! By the way, currently jokes are allowed.

Basic rules of politeness and decency are not just an idealistic value but concretely serve any discussion of physics and mathematics, for they serve to calm down the distracting limbic and allows the neocortex to rule supreme, which is why we are all here.  Therefore all suggestions to keep discussion as much in matter-of-fact style as possible find my support.

@UrsSchreiber: This is not what these rules are ever used for, voting already removes rude material. As you can see on the site, there is very little rude material, and whatever little there is has been downvoted. The point of these rules is to allow moderators to censor minority positions by interpreting the phrasing as rude, no matter whether this is objectively so or not. This is not an intuitive proposition, it seems, and you need to be aware of the history of abuse on this site to know how these rules are made, and how they are abused. I urge you to reconsider, as it is urgent. Politeness rules on a site with voting are at best redundant, and at worst invite moderator abuse. They serve to increase moderator authority unnecessarily.

;Many years back, I was co-moderator of the newsgroup (as these things were called back then) sci.physics.research, that was in the days of "USENET" before the "web 2.0". with its forums etc appeared. The group was popular and had a considerable amount of traffic. At just around the time that I became moderator, the fight exploded which some people still remember as the "string wars", something that could have been the first genuine broad public internet debate about string theory, had it not been for the fact that, as the name suggests, it inevitably turned from useful debate into useless war.

Us moderators at that time all of a sudden were flooded by discussion contributions that needed moderation, it was a huge struggle and pain, and eventually I quit, exhausted by the moderation work.

In that context, we had lots of discussion about issues of politics. Still, the amount of genuine physics content we had to deal with was much larger still. Even at the times of the string wars, that's what I am trying to say, the ratio of physics over politics of concern for forum moderators was a number considerably larger than one.

Comparing to this site here, which is by and large empty and populated only by import from other forums, to get such a healthy ratio of physics content over politics, the latter would have to be restricted to miniscule amounts. Having fights among moderators here is like members of a rockband fighting with each other on stage while the audience hall is empty, a pitiful and off-putting sight for every potential fan who happens to arrive to the site after all.

What seems to be under debate here is the plain obvious: of course a site that wants to be perceived of as being professional has to stick to standard professional behaviour, basic rules of conduct. One wants the physics content to thrive, and wants everything that could get in the way of that to be removed.

Anyway, just keep that ratio of content over politics in mind that needs to be preserved by all means.

I'll propose a rule: nobody should allow himself, from now on, to send more words per week to PO Meta than he or she sends to the PO Q&A section.

I myself will stick to that now. This means in particular that if anyone would like to engage with me in lengthy meta discussion, then he or she needs to first engage me in at least as much genuine physics discussion first. To keep the content/politics ratio greater than 1 at all times.

@UrsSchreiber: The main difference between here and Usenet is that the internet has not stood still since 1995. Wikipedia solved the problem of collaboration by introducing talk pages and voting communities, Slashdot solves the problem of poor content by introducing voting, Stackexchange solves the "rambling discussion" problem by introducing focused "on topic" rules, and when you put all these together, the result is a self-moderated version of alt.physics, rather than a top-down moderated sci.physics.research, but which is able to reach a higher level, because it doesn't exclude any points of view, but allows all of them to be reviewed fairly.

This different structure is very important, as the end result does not involve any top-down authority, rather you have self-moderation by the community, and things self-correct when things go wrong without a few people on top deciding what to do in every case. The role of moderators does not need to be as all encompassing as in usenet times, since there are now systematic community procedures in place to replace the decision-making functions of the moderator nobility.

The debate here are more like Pete Best vs. Ringo Starr. It is obvious to all involved that we can really go big time, so the debates can be acrimonious, but they are not over nothing, nor are they secondary to attracting an audience. Pete Best attracted a big live audience by thudding the bass drum to create a terrifying propulsive sound, but he wasn't able to morph styles easily to suit the studio projects. Likewise, we can easily get a bigger audience by renouncing the principle of community moderation in favor of top-down authority by a handful of experts, but experience shows that this would not have the same potential to grow in the future to preserve the free character of internet discussion, as opposed to the lumbering self-censored character of academic discussions. The audience is important, but the music is innovative and clearly a big improvement on any of the alternatives, even if we are mostly playing covers right now.

As for "equal amount of physics content", I placed a cute model of my own devising on your page.

This proposal is indeed much better phrased than I initially perceived it to be, downvote retracted, and upvoted. While I don't personally need guidelines to encourage me to edit, I'm told that other people do, so alright.

@ArnoldNeumaier @RonMaimon @VladimirKalitvianski @WolfInSheepskin The off-topic discussion has been moved here. It passed the delete queue to be deleted (three for and zero against), but two other 500+ rep users asked for it to stay and be moved to chat outside the delete queue and instead be moved to chat, so it's been moved.

6 Answers

+ 2 like - 1 dislike

I know that among the current moderators/administrators are those who enjoy belonging to a "high quality" something and they also enjoy "correcting" those who are of "low quality". All mentioned criteria like "scientific content", "professional standards", "high level", "excellence", "relevance", etc. may well serve to intervene into discussions in a harmful way. I do not accept it (intervention). The discussions must be free. Each contributor is responsible for his level, language, and manners, and there is no shame for PO for hosting rude or non qualified posts. Any intervention may bring noise and turn into a quarrel quickly. So, the fewer editions, the better for participants.

Arnold Neumaier is a valuable, excellent, professional and respectful contributor; he has a rather high reputation score. Let me show how his reviews of my papers are valuable.

In a quite professionally looking manner he writes: "No attention is given to the question whether such an alternative would produce results in accordance with experiment." This statement is a lie. Arnold knows from me since long ago that my reformulation approach is a short-cut to the same (standard) results and no sign of lack of "attention" can be found in my papers. On the contrary, correctly describing the data is my purpose, to say the least.

Also he writes: "To those who find no serious fault with existing quantum field theory, the paper, though it seems technically correct in its mathematical (rather than philosophical) considerations, is devoid of useful content." It is another lie. I pointed out the places and the ways where we commit our errors in putting forward new equations. Although it is shown on a toy model, everybody should ask himself whether the same errors are admitted in QFT or not. It is a serious matter full of serious contents.

Arnold calls my physical reasoning "philosophical musings", etc., in order to put the paper down. By the way, having done so, Arnold earned his 300 points of reputation. I, on the other hand, deserved a negative reputation, mostly from anonymous downvoters with no reviews at all! Is it a high quality, professional approach? (By the way, my proposal to change this "rule" is left without reaction.) All four my papers submitted here are original and valuable, and my negative reputation more characterizes PO system than my works. You see, "rudeness" and "low quality" attitude can be camouflaged without problem.

I agree, rudeness should be avoided by authors. Only the author is the author of his post. The most that can be done for "editing" the post is asking the author to reword it. Correct grammar, spelling, etc. is not why we are here. Do not introduce "perfectness" rules!

answered Mar 15, 2015 by Vladimir Kalitvianski (102 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 15, 2015 by Vladimir Kalitvianski

@dimension10: The point of this answer is to show how those with a position of authority use veiled insults, like "philosophical musings" and "this paper's mathematical content is accurate, though clearly unnecessary" as a substitute for direct insults. The reason they only need to use such vague insults is that professionally, those of higher status can easily insult down, and suppress material by those of lower status, while those of lower status can't do anything to suppress those of higher status. Online, there is no such thing as status, only the content matters. Still, accurate content is upvoted and survives.

@RonMaimon & VK You're right - I initially perceived it to just be an attack on Arnold for no reason, but yes, this is a good answer. Downvote reverted.

I edited hundreds of posts without asking the authors, got never a complaint, and will continue to do so, since any other rule is simply too cumbersome that I'd want to follow it.

What prevents you, Arnold, from continuing? Have you had any conflict impossible to settle without new rules?

For fear of conflict I refrained from editing a lot that would have needed edits, including comments by you. But this may well change in the future.

I see. You want to be on the safe side. On the safe side by definition. And then you unleash your itch to modify, sorry, to improve the texts with the only noble goal to attract noble scientists to PO. But let us ask Ron Maimon, who is the only huligan here, to refrain from rudeness, and the site will become as attractive as honey.

Before new rules are implemented, try to edit those posts that you would like to edit and let us see what kind of conflicts it brings and what rules we need to settle these conflicts. Let us stop speculating and let us get real.

I guess everybody is for politeness in discussions, but not everybody is for "politeness rules".

+ 2 like - 1 dislike

Hi Arnold, I appreciate the effort you put on this issue. However, on the politeness issue I don't really see how this is gonna help. 

Whenever you think a comment needs to be edited due to rudeness, the author of the comment will either be fine or not be fine with the edit, if it's the former, it could've been resolved by simply asking the author; if it's the latter, the author can easily revert the edit given the new feature polarkernel developed, and then you are back to the starting point and still have to resort to negotiation.

The best we can do seems to be only encouraging politeness.

Aside: If politeness is to be imposed in the future at all, I think only moderators need to be subjected to this imposition, since like it or not they inevitably convey the official image of Physicsoverflow.(Just a immature thought, please don't vote toward this, if you like we can discuss it in the comment.)


Now I'm fine with the guidelines modulo the explicit examples such as "totally", "absolutely" etc. But please make it clear in the document that this is only guidelines not laws, or just write something like "This is a document strictly inferior to User Right".

answered Mar 16, 2015 by Jia Yiyang (2,640 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 21, 2015 by Jia Yiyang

Whenever you think a comment needs to be edited due to rudeness, the author of the comment will either be fine or not be fine with the edit, if it's the former, it could've been resolved by simply asking the author; if it's the latter, the author can easily revert the edit given the new feature polarkernel developed, and then you are back to the starting point and still have to resort to negotiation.

This has nothing to do with rudeness, the same is true for any edit. The point is that having to ask for permission is a bureaucratic step that slows down things a lot and makes editing very time-consuming: instead of doing it on the fly while you are reading the post anyway you need to write a private message to the author (many clicks and a few minutes of thinking how you say it), wait for the message to be answered, then going back to the post and editing it, and one is still back to the starting point when the original author didn't like how you did it. I would immediately stop editing if this was made the rule.

My proposal clears away the bureaucracy - that fact that an edit happened is already asking authors to approve of the change or to improve it even better if they are not happy with it. See the last paragraph of the proposal. 

The best we can do seems to be only encouraging politeness.

According to your logic, the best we can do seems to be only encouraging correct spelling, correct grammar, correct math, etc., too. There is no difference in handling these from handling correct tone (i.e., politeness). 

If politeness is to be imposed in the future at all, I think only moderators need to be subjected to this imposition, since like it or not they inevitably convey the official image of Physicsoverflow.

No. To the world, and to the casual user, the tone comes across primarily through the tone in the Q&A section. It takes a while before users notice the moderation activities, and many will never notice it. 

@ArnoldNeumaier the rules don't say that you must ask the author for permission, all it says is that the author has the final verdict about them. Since your edits were good, they were uncontroversial, and the author didn't object to them.


 The point is that having to ask for permission is a bureaucratic step that slows down things a lot and makes editing very time-consuming

You do have a point here, but the con is that a forceful changing of the tone, even it can be reverted, can cause unnecessary antagonism, now I have to weigh and rethink about it.

According to your logic, the best we can do seems to be only encouraging correct spelling, correct grammar, correct math, etc., too. There is no difference in handling these from handling correct tone (i.e., politeness).   

The analogy is wrong, spelling and grammar are objective issues, it's almost impossible to cause any controversy by editing the spelling and grammar, and math will be handled by votes; on the other hand, politeness/rudeness can often be quite subjective. 

the con is that a forceful changing of the tone, even it can be reverted, can cause unnecessary antagonism,

This is much less problematic than the original rude tone that causes unnecessary friction with most readers. 

Now I'm fine with the guidelines modulo the explicit examples such as "totally", "absolutely" etc. But please make it clear in the document that this is only guidelines not laws, 

Sorry that I had missed this. Maybe this was since the notification mechanism doesn't work well when too many notifications come in; the history is limited to one page only. (@polarkernel: Can't one paginate the history so that it goes back one week, or to the oldest unseen notification, whichever is older?)

I edited my proposal accordingly.

+ 2 like - 1 dislike

My biggest concern is, when you make seemingly objective rules for subjective matters(manner is a subjective issue most of the time), the rules can be abused, and a general pattern I've observed through the years is that if a rule can be abused, it will almost certainly be abused. Thanks to polarkernel's development of the "revision history" feature, nothing abusive of the sort happened not too long ago can happen anymore. However, the specific examples that Arnold proposed, once made official, can be easily perverted into weapons for harassment. Don't say it's hypothetical, it already happened: when there was still the "official warning for off-topic post" rule---which looked quite innocent on the surface---it was outright unfairly applied against VK(both sides clearly have some equally off-topic comments, the decree of "official warning" has been hidden, but it was only toward VK not both sides. EDIT: please don't conflate this event with the event that led to Dilaton's resignation.). Just do this thought experiment and you'll see, without that "official warning" rule, it was just a conflict between one user(who happens to be a moderator) and another user, and with that rule, somehow one side seemingly gained the support of the whole site and might even delude himself/herself so, which really wasn't the case.(On this particular event I have always believed Dilaton was honestly misinterpreting the rule, but my point is how easy it is for a moderator to delude himself/herself and utilize the rule to his/her favorable direction subconsciously.)

Some of examples proposed by Arnold hinge on changes over the words like "absolutely", "totally" etc., which are very susceptible to the above mentioned harassment. Harassment can no longer cause irreversible damages, but it can still become quite annoying.

Really, currently there isn't any written rule for or against edit of any comment. Right now the atmosphere is negative toward it, but it's not like anyone would receive any punishment for doing so. If you want to edit a comment, nobody can stop you, just use your best judgement and be accountable, but don't make such specific rules for subjective matters. 

Again, let me reiterate and summarize: no irreversible damage can happen anymore for editing comments, and none can stop you from editing of any comment, but please notify the author if you do so (afterhand or beforehand, there's really no rule for either way).

I am personally very pro-politeness, but I'm against legislation over it. Can't we just make a manifesto for the general attitude? Something like:

Physicsoverflow strongly encourages civility, since it is a very effective catalyst for a smooth discussion.

However, politeness will not be forcefully imposed upon individuals by unilateral irreversible edits (a link to  a page introducing edit function, revision history and "revert" ).

You are encouraged to use the best of your judgement to edit posts, but try to do so without altering the meaning of others' posts unless you find them severely obstructive to the discussion.


This is much less likely to be abused: if we go along with Arnold's proposal, and if a moderator constantly harasses a user by inappropriately erasing all the "absolutely", "totally" etc., in accordance to Arnold's proposal, then the user would have no choice but arguing against the legislation; if we go with the above manifesto, the user only needs to argue that his words are not obstructive to the discussion, which can be handled more locally and easily.

@ArnoldNeumaier, note that I already conceded above in that I now agree with edit of comment before asking the author, but we should at least notify the author afterward(maybe by systematically generating an email to him/her).

@RonMaimon, there really does not seem to be any feasible way to forbid such "beforehand" edit, certainly not at the level of legislation. There won't be any controversy over the ill-willed edits, but what are we gonna do with the well-intentioned ones? There's no effective way of punishing the editor, nor shall there be. All you can do is again to encourage or discourage such edits. Now I'm personally inclined toward Arnold on this particular point. I'm vehemently against the legislation of either opinion.


Now I'm fine with the guidelines modulo the explicit examples such as "totally", "absolutely" etc. But please make it clear in the document that this is only guidelines not laws, or just write something like "This is a document strictly inferior to User Right".

answered Mar 19, 2015 by Jia Yiyang (2,640 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 21, 2015 by Jia Yiyang
Most voted comments show all comments


 where has the absence of rudeness rules hurt PhysicsOverflow? Can you even produce one example of a post that you actually tried to reason with the author to edit, and failed? Nope.

Ron has set with his review of Dynin's work an example that made clear to everyone that nobody who wants to be respected should have his papers reviewed here. In this way he ruined the review section. At least nobody from outside was attracted by the option to do reviews after Dynin (who was attracted, as Ron predicted) came, complained, and left. 

I am happy that Ron now updated his review and took out the most unprofessional stuff but the incidence already had achieved its effect - it was set half a year ago and corrected only after this whole debate about editing started. 

And this review was exactly to the point where you claimed Nope as answer. It was the only time I tried to reason instead of simply edit (since I wanted to give Ron's model of freedom of speech a chance). I had pointed out to him a number of changes where he was too harsh and even factually wrong. After getting not the appropriate response half a year ago I knew that reasoning with an author who thinks he has the right attitude is of no use. It is a big waste of time.

However, my complaint then together with the present discussions about editing policies had a positive net effect: Yesterday Ron (@RonMaimon: Thank you!) posted on my wall that he now sees my points and made corresponding changes. 

In looking over the review I gave to Dynin, I myself am a bit appalled at the language I used. It was over the top, and I don't know why I chose to express myself in this way. I am changing it right now to be an impartial review, rather than a crazy sounding screed. I stand by the technical remarks, however, the formalism is ill fitted to the problem.

I also found a technical mistake in the Dynin review--- I misinterpreted his Hamiltonian, just as you said. [...] it is not doing the nonsense I invented in the review. I don't know what I was thinking--- I misunderstood from a later equation [...]. I will rewrite the review entirely, and apologies to ignoring you earlier.

 I am sorry for not paying attention earlier (perhaps if you had been ruder? Just kidding!)

I removed all rudeness (sorry, really, it was terribly inappropriate). I removed all false claims about Dynin's work.

But editing must be done soon after posting to be effective, whence editing rules are absolutely necessary.

I heard the information cannot disappear even in a black hole, so those editions, deletions, etc. cannot really change what has been posted on PO. Let us stop, therefore, here, if we all agree about that.

This is an outright distortion of the situation - I didn't accept it with "protest", 

Sorry; you are right, I didn't remember all the details. Still calling it an ''outright distortion'' is no more true than when you misinterpret one of my comments although the words clearly say something different.

@ArnoldNeumaier It is possible to create for instance a category accessible only as registered user and/or using captchas.

I can give priority to the development of such a solution. As a first estimate, I think it could be solved in about two or three weeks, depending on the details of the feature request.

Most recent comments show all comments

@dimension10: If you are concerned about bureaucracy, most of it can be automated, and I am confident that @polarkernel would find it important enough to give the automation high priority (just as he did with creating the edit facility for comments). 

And for sure it will be much less time-consuming and nerve-consuming for moderators and users than the present heated discussions.

@polarkernel I think that we already have the Permission2Category plugin for that, right? But please don't act on this yet, there's no conenus about this yet (there's only some unfortunately emerging consensus about putting editing guidelines in the FAQ.

+ 2 like - 1 dislike

I changed my downvote to an upvote--- I think this is a sensible proposal. My kneejerk reaction came from reading it as a rule rather than a guideline. I like these guidelines, so long as they are not enforced by punitive blocks or by threats, but by amicable edits, so that when there is a dispute about tone, if push comes to shove, the resolution is in favor of the author whose name appears on the bottom.

But 99% of the time, push doesn't come to shove, and I think following these guidelines will mean that 99% of the rudeness will be eliminated, certainly all the gratuitous rudeness, and if anything remains, it will not be gratuitous. When the atmosphere is professional, the site will be better off for sure. This proposal is different from the others, and doesn't seem to weaken the user rights at all, I don't see any downside to accepting this into the FAQ verbatim.

Anyway, regarding the impact of rudeness, Arnold for sure knows better than I do, as I don't notice rudeness at all.

answered Mar 20, 2015 by Ron Maimon (7,720 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 20, 2015 by Ron Maimon

I'm terribly afraid of this rule, because once we have this, the next would be the "ammendment of user rights", then a rule saying that any comment containing rudeness will be deleted, and finally bans against people for rudeness.

I view this guideline only in context of the ammendment to user rights, so at least my cynicism is not going anywhere.

On the large I wouldn't mind if it's made absolutely clear these are suggestions, as I said in my answer I'm vehemently against the legislation, I hope it can be made clearer than it currently seems. 

On the details, I still think some of the examples Arnold proposed are bad("totally","absolutely"), I'd rather prefer fewer explicit examples.

@dimension10: You have only one perspective, and you have to accept that Arnold has a valid alternate persepective. I was afraid too, but there is more than one problem in the world, and this solves a different problem. So long as people are aware of both problems, I trust that it will be ok. Please, change your mind, it will be ok as is. People will edit out the rudeness, the user rights will not need to be modified, 99% of the time, nobody will protest to getting a more professional tone for free (it's actually a service). This is not yet a rule with punitive restrictions, and there was a real rudeness problem here, which I did not appreciate because I was responsible--- I wrote ridiculously insulting things to a fellow based on a mistake I made! That's completely unacceptable, actually doubly completely unacceptable, it should have been edited away ASAP, but Arnold was afraid to do it, because there was no guideline. He is right here, I think. Don't be ruled by fear, pay attention to the voice of reason. Arnold is not biased, and he knows everything that happened just as well as you and me.

@RonMaimon My fear is completely reasonable, a tiny mention that "you can edit posts for rudeness" would lead to a sort of spontaneous symmetry breaking of the site, because it will push further "ammendments" in contrary to the site's actual goals. I simply cannot view this meta post in any context other than the "ammendment of user rights".

I understand the problem of being afraid to edit because of the absence of a guideline - however, the proposed guidelines, and the form of them, is simply not a way to fix it.

I would rather support a "be bold" guideline like the one Jimmy Wales pushed on Wikipedia to try and stop the permanent article-locking business. It failed there, like "Ignore All Rules", for a variety of other reasons that are not applicable here.

Please take some time and reconsider your position! It would be terrible if this thing got passed.

(P.S. Even if this thing's to get passed, please remember the terms need to be discussed properly first.)

@dimension10: The slippery slope to censorship is real, but also real is the slippery slope to abuse of PO by pure politicians. If you don't make a professional atmosphere, serious people can be drowned out by a chorus of people who are heckling and mocking them. The idea was to remove off topic comments, but you can make a demeaning comment which is on-topic, the Dynin review is an example--- it was on topic, and it was demeaning to exactly the same extent that it was wrong. Please review what I said, and realize that THIS INSULTING TERROR DUE TO ME was the main block to acceptance of the site by academics, nothing VK did was important, not Dilaton removing VK's comments (which was my peeve). It was the fact that nobody could deal with my loudmouthed crappy review of Dynin. That's game over for the reviews section.

We need to encourage editing of posts, to remove rudeness, and leave meaning unaltered. But we also need a user-rights that allows the OP last word, so that it is a compromise between professionalism and personal integrity, with the scale weighed toward integrity. This type of thing should only fail with a terribly mean-spirited OP, who is not likely to have any on-topic contribution to make anyway.

Ok, you know about the slippery slope, Arnold knows about it too, you won't slide down. This is actually a very carefully worded proposal, it is a real original idea for combatting rudeness without compromising the spirit of freedom. But, you know, you have your own opinion, you weigh things your own way, I understand. But I have to support this, because Arnold showed me an example of something I wrote where I was doing propaganda instead of mathematics. This is no way to review mathematics, although it can get cheap attention. It got us attention all right, the wrong kind of attention.

@RonMaimon Ok, after further thought, I get the point, I just hope it doesn't lead to further pushing into the politeness direction, like the proposed user rights ammendment.

+ 2 like - 2 dislike

The FAQ is generally not a collation of "rules", but rather a guide to using the site for users. The "editing guidelines" section, in particular, refers only to how text is to be formatted. Thus, if you propose a set of "editing guidelines", it will have to be an official meta post, as opposed to an ammendment to the FAQ. Now coming to your proposals:

There is no need to have a set of text swaps, because people can use their own common sense to edit text, and if the edit really doesn't change the meaning, the edit wouldn't be controversial (usually). Besides, most of your proposed edits seem either quite drastic, in that they change the meaning of the original text, or impose some kind of a cultural bias on the text.

"Not even wrong" is simply different from "meaningless". "Scientifically meaningless" or "Philosophical musings" would be closer, but they just aren't as effective as "not even wrong". The phrase "not even wrong" does not, in anyway, "reduce the professional look of the site" - huh, the phrase was said by Wolfgang Pauli.

I am absolutely puzzled as to how "the result is an absolutely funny theory" can be edited to "the result is a theory". What's the purpose of such a line, if you strip out all the adjectives?

I'm kind of amused how "full of shit" translates to "valueless" (incorrect grammar, by the way) while "full of crap" translates to "irrelevant" : )

I just don't see the point of such a policy. The existing policy works fine.

The current policy works as follows.

If a part of the text is controversial because of it's phrasing, sure, edit it out, although not silently, and if the user disputes it, he can revert it - do not impose your point of view above that of the user, and discuss with the user, on meta, on the user's wall, in private messages, or elsewhere, about how a consensus about the edit can be achieved.

The policy proposed in this meta question seems to be as follows:

If a part of the text is controversial because of its phrasing, then sure, edit it out, although not silently, and if the user disputes it, delete the part of the text altogether and instead link to a meta post where the user isn't given priority on his own text.

I don't see how deleting physics content helps to make the site look more professional.

As for contentless posts, that was always the policy, and your "change" is really no different.

answered Mar 16, 2015 by dimension10 (1,985 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 16, 2015 by dimension10
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@Dilaton Did you even read the answer? I think it's quite clear, that I disagree with the suggestion itself.

@Arnold Neumaier

  • If an edit changes the meaning of the text, then it's simply not to be done.
  • That would rarely happen, because edit wars are pointless, and any user with editing priviledges would understand that.
  • That's still making legitimate physics content invisible to a user! How is this in line with the purpose of PhysicsOverflow? Note, that it's often (almost always) impossible to cut out part of the content without making the rest of the text meaningless.
  • It's not what's already done informally. Perhaps you might be mistaken as to the reasons behind moving stuff to chat. Content is moved to chat for being off-topic, not for being "unprofessional".

I do understand the motivation behind trying to solve edit wars, but I don't see it as very important, because it's never happened, and unlikely to ever happen in the future, because this is a graduate-level site, and anyone with editing privileges would usually know better than to engage in pointless edit warring. The best thing to do in case of an (improbable) edit war is to first ask the edit warriors to calm down, and if that doesn't work, lock in place what the OP of the text wants. That's how it's supposed to work.

"Unprofessional" is a subjective thing. Censorship for rudeness is simply against the principle of PhysicsOverflow.

  • If an edit changes the meaning of the text, then it's simply not to be done.
  • That would rarely happen, because edit wars are pointless, and any user with editing priviledges would understand that.

Because it would rarely happen, it is safe to simply change the text, and let the original author revert it if he or she thinks it was not good. 

Note, that it's often (almost always) impossible to cut out part of the content without making the rest of the text meaningless.

You severely underestimate the power and flexibility of language. 

@VladimirKalitvianski: See my comment here. The point is that to simplify human communication costs, an edit should automatically be regarded by the author as the request to modify the text as stated in the edited version, and as an invitation to improve it even more. Adding additional blabla as you request doesn't convey the slightest additional information but makes it much more time-consuming to help improving the text, and would in practice be a big barrier to submit improvements.

I edited hundreds of posts without asking the authors, got never a complaint, and will continue to do so, since any other rule is simply too cumbersome that I'd want to follow it.


I agree with that! That's exactly what the current user rights say - the author has the final verdict on any edit to the text.

My amendments do not change this in the slightest. They just add detail that I think is very important and provide for a means to resolve conflicts that may well be more frequent in the future if editors make more use of their power.

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@ArnoldNeumaier How does it matter if it's called "Meta", "Chat", or "Controversial"?

@dimension10: It matters a lot if you define (as you do) chat as the place for off-topic stuff only, and meta as the place for non-science stuff only. This is underlying all of your arguments against my proposal, which become empty if either these definitions are widened or a corner of PO called controversial (or anything else distinguishing it from the two) is opened.

With your definition of chat and meta, controversial would have to be defined as the place for on-topic stuff of controversial quality (as evidenced by multiple antagonistic edits). This would make it clear to everyone what it is, it can be ignored or visited according to the interests to the users. But active controversies would be on the top and give the authors who fear about their freedom of speech any desired amount of publicity without harming the majority who only cares for polite and (in this specific sense) uncontroversial stuff. 

+ 1 like - 1 dislike

Reading Dimension10 s answer and looking at the FAQ as a whole again, I see that so far the FAQ is written as a "neutral" unpolitical technical manual about how to use PhysicsOverflow. So one could consider indeed if the editing guidelines alternatively could/should be placed somewhere else, for example into an appropriately tagged meta post.

However, I do agree with the content of the editing guidelines as suggested by Arnold. They contain good examples, based on things that happend in the past on PhysicsOverflow, if what kind of edits can be done to increase the professionality and appeal to the targetted audience of the site without changing the scientific content or meaning of a post.

The given examples to change the amount of insult, confrontationality, and quality which is a good and appropriate thing. It is the scientific content and meaning which has to be concerved by all means in edits, and NOT the maximal amount of insults, confrontationality, and rudeness.

Dealing with not easily resolvable content disputs by replacing the matter of contention by a link to a corresponding meta post where things can be discussed and resolved without interrupting the physics discussion, seems like a very good idea to me.

The suggested edit guidelines may contribute to resolving the long-standing issue with user retention and attraction PhysicsOverflow always had right from the start and make the site more compelling to the targetted audience to stick around.

answered Mar 16, 2015 by Dilaton (6,240 points) [ no revision ]
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@Dilaton First of all, you didn't really ask him to edit his comment, nor try editing it openly and revertably, so you can't show that as your evidence. Secondly, those cases are relatively very rare, as I said, compared to the cases in which the proposed policy can and will be misused.

Don't you see that this blatantly, obviously violates the principle of PhysicsOverflow?


 those cases are relatively very rare, as I said, compared to the cases in which the proposed policy can and will be misused.

Please be more specific about the reasons you are sure that ''the proposed policy can and will be misused'' far more often than what you compared with.

@ArnoldNeumaier Don't you see how easy it is to censor a post based on these guidelines? Let's say someone says something like "Obviously, the ATLAS and CMS observations of the Higgs at 125 GeV show that the MSSM must be right", and someone want that removed, as a moderator or as a user. So that fellow claims it's a "controversial" text and remove it, linking to some meta post, where you deliberately prolong the discussion for years, just to censor off that statement. That is basically censorship.


Don't you see how easy it is to censor a post based on these guidelines? Let's say someone says something like "Obviously, the ATLAS and CMS observations of the Higgs at 125 GeV show that the MSSM must be right", and someone want that removed, as a moderator or as a user. So that fellow claims it's a "controversial" text and remove it, linking to some meta post, where you deliberately prolong the discussion for years, just to censor off that statement. That is basically censorship.

It is not censorship, as the text is still there, just one link away from its original place, and the link can be marked 'controversial' or something similar so that those curious even have an extra incentive to look it up. (The move should definitely not be to meta, but either to chat or to a new category.) And prolonging the discussion would make it always pop up to the top of the controversial category, giving it even more prominence. This is just the opposite of censorship.

But if you call what you described censorship then we have it already on PO, very prominently: Exactly what you describe can now happen as easily in an indefinite number of comments. Discussions with VK have indeed repeatedly taken this form and were (rightly) moved to chat. 

@ArnoldNeumaier Moving comments to chat is not censorship as such because only off-topic comments get moved to chat. They aren't moved because of the style of writing, or other arbitrary reasons.

The arguement that it gives the text more prominence is invalid - if we were to say, remove the text (temporarily, permanently, whatever), and move it to say, the main page of wikipedia, where it would get "more prominence", it's still censorship. Meta or chat is simply not the place for it, and the context it's put up there is just very different.

@Dilaton Now you're being ridiculous - what you're suggesting is also based on a "hypothetical" situation. If we adopt this policy, then abuse will happen. 100% guaranteed. It's rather obvious, and I'm surprised how neither of you seem to realise this.

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@Dilaton. That's like saying "If your name starts with a vowel, your posts will be deleted. No this is not censorship. And since I clearly said that this is not censorship, and I am against censorship, this is not censorship. This is not censorship.".

All this talking that these guidelines will be abused (by people who want to rightly so keep up the level and professionality of the site) is in my personal opinion nonsense not true (and I see Ron in these words), there is absolutely zero evidence for that prediction becoming true on PO.

This must be voted as the most ironic passage ever written since the invention of the English language.

  1. I say the same about the predictions of edit wars etc.
  2. You use the word "absolutely", which is listed as a censored word in this thread.
  3. You use the word "nonsense", which is a censored word in this thread.

I didn't say that you or Arnold or whoever will misuse these "guidelines", but that someone in the future may. And it wouldn't even be called misuse, because these guidelines so explicitly justify it.

@Dimension10 what you state is just a normal example of scientific discussion, where disagreement can naturally happen. No sane person who has some nontrivial knowledge about physics would see any need to interfer with this kind of discourse.

So instead of enumerating highly hypothetical and improbable examples of what could maybe sometimes in the far (infinite) future happen as a pretext to not keep up any minimal professionality, level, or standard on PhysicsOverflow, it should be kept in mind that the audience of the site is meant to be professional. On a high-level site as PhysicsOverflow is meant to be, one can rely on the fact that people (in particular moderators who are expected to have a non-trivial knowledge about physics too) simply know better than doing all the bad things invented by people who do not want the site to hold up any minimal standards.

For example on the former Theoretical Physics SE, even Lubos Motl just scientifically disagreed with people working on topics like LQG for example, and I would trust him to not suppress discussions on such topics on PO either.

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