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Discussion on rules, justice and peace on PhysicsOverflow

+ 2 like - 0 dislike

Before I returned to PO in the beginning of March, I had acted on the assumption that only technical matters need to be regulated, and that competent PO users would automatically resolve conflicts in friendship.
Due to what had happened in my three months of absence from PO (and maybe begun in secret even earlier) I became convinced that at least guidelines for desirable behavior are necessary; perhaps even strict rules.

Given how vehemently Ron Maimon fights strict rules I tried in all what I proposed to find a way to accommodate his interests; we'll see whether it proves practicable and sufficient. I didn't expect that freedom of speech should have on PO a much higher value than professionality, but among those currently active in meta it seems to be the majority view. This is deplorable. It seems that concerning politics, physicists are not better than other people, not even with regard to their own affairs.

The very first day I came back to  PO (March 3) after a 3 month break that had nothing to do with PO (and wasn't initiated by anyone as all thought I had left for good), I saw polarkernel's emergency call,

what I see today is a desert. The site got an arena of politics, where gladiators and self-proclaimed prosecutors produce an abominable mud-wrestling, in order to get power over the site. It makes me sick to see how you try to undermine and pervert fundamental rights.
Today, PhysicsOverflow has fewer users than in private beta. There was a time at the beginning, where more than 200 users contributed to PO, at least by voting. Almost all of them have gone. 
Politics seems to be much more important than physics. The Q&A category is dried up, there is almost nobody on the site that is able to give answers and nobody anymore writes reviews. We are near to have more moderators than users.

which alarmed me to the highest. Most professional scientists (as most people in general) want to spend their free time only in an environment that is friendly and inviting. Thus this must be achieved by the active users, even against the private interests of those who don't care about this. 

In order not to fall victim to the disease myself, I first wrote a number of scientific answers since this is the declared highest goal of PO (not freedom of speech as Ron Maimon wants us to believe). Then I replied to the emergency call from my knowledge based on my past presence (dating from Nov.26, according to my answer history). I didn't understand all polarkernel had said, and therefore started reading the meta history in more details. What I found out over time (at first I didn't spent much time on it) was much worse than what I had expected. And some of what polarkernel said, his complaint

It makes me sick to see how you try to undermine and pervert fundamental rights, as privacy and anonymity.

makes sense to me only since very recently. Nothing of this was resolved but Ron Maimon still claims today on my wall that 

we found a compromise where everyone was happy, and things could be unanimous? I was sure I was leaving the site on the day before Jia got the compromise settled, VK was angry, Dim10 was angry, everyone was unsatisfied. With the moderator rotation and resignation promise, all was healed. I don't understand how anything that is so simple to do and produces such peace can be bad.

Nothing was healed, there was no peace, just a thin cover to hide the worst. Once I started to spend more time on it since my real life duties again allowed it, the problems surfaced again, and much more.

My picture of what seemed to have happened is still changing as new information comes up. It wasn't a good idea to clear the site of so much of the war that one cannot afterwards still get a reasonable picture of the main issues. I hope that after the second war created by me there will remain something more tangible, if only to be able to point to it if such things should threaten to occur again. 

The most recent piece of information is JiaYiyang's remark,

you didn't taste the rampaging anxiety we had when Dilaton stopped responding in public, I hope you can try to sympathize the feelings on the other side [...], I was quite sure Ron, Drake and VK would permanently leave the site if the stagnation continues. It's hard to make you feel that now, I hope you were there. Actually if you were there you probably could solve the stagnation much more easily, with the trust and respect both sides have on you, but unfortunately you weren't. 

Unlike earlier post factum reports from both sides on what had happened this one is neither defensive nor confrontational but human, and describes a real emergency situation (whatever the underlying cause). This moved me to reconsider my judgment of what Jia Yiyang did. Although we have very significant differences regarding certain values I really appreciate his efforts and his achievement to avoid a breakup of PO, whose traces are currently hinted only at in a remark by Ron Maimon,

barring a competitor starting immediately, which I believe is always possible (meaning, I've got a right to fork you). 

He might well have started a competitive site by cloning PO, and the scientific world would have laughed at our quarrels and punished both sites by ignoring them. 

Why I opposed all of you, Ron Maimon, Jia Yiyang, and dimension10 (I am not counting drake who contributed to the site only sporadically; alone he would have been powerless) was that the human factor was almost completely lacking. (almost - I had upvoted dimension10's response to the impeachment threat, but of course many weeks too late.) 

This can be seen from the quotes above: The healing, the peace, and the averted fear of leaving are about Ron, Drake, Dim10, and VK - nobody cared whether dilaton was healed, had peace, or would permanently leave the site. 

This is the problem with justice - it is always the justice of the winners, never that of the loser. This is why in real life, justice is complemented by settlements. A judge who achieves a settlement among the opposing parties is much more worth than one that is just according to the law but inconsiderate according to the single case. The latter gives peace only to the winners; the former gives peace to the whole community.

This is why I was pressing for mercy - unconditional mercy. My boss, we-all-know-who, was once asked how much we should forgive others, and he replied, 70 times as much as you think is sufficient. This seems ridiculous on first sight and completely impractical in practice. But you might be curious how Albert Schweitzer, the winner of the 1952 Peace Nobel Prize, notable for his philosophy of ''reference for life'', commented this story.

I accept VK though he often plays the clown on PO; it is fine with me as long as the clowns form a minority of those contributing actively to  Q&A. I do not mind that Jia Yiyang and Ron Maimon have values quite different from mine in some respects - it strengthens the site, though only as long as their activities are strictly subordinate to the goal of PO, to be a site where those interested in physics are informed, educated and corrected for free

I have forgiven Ron Maimon though his (according to the old PO rules fully legal) actions were far more detrimental to PO than all dilaton ever did wrong. If Ron, Drake and VK would permanently leave the site, ad Jia Yiyang had feared, the scientific part of would suffer very little as (though for different reasons) none of them contributed significantly to the scientific part, the core of PO. But dilaton founded the site and if he would leave, I wouldn't find it worthwhile to remain here. 

I apologize to all I may have hurt by confronting them in the strongest possible way with how I view matters. I tried to do so with consideration of your feelings. I learnt it from my boss - he ended up on the gallows for it, but it was enough to change the world forever, and to set a very attractive example for me.

But this is not my usual style. I work for the peace for all in PO. Until now it had cost me an inordinate amount of my time, but I hope it is well invested. From now on I will be quiet on all this, trying to heed the advice of Urs Schreiber,

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.

asked Mar 25, 2015 in Conflict Resolution by Arnold Neumaier (12,570 points) [ revision history ]
recategorized Apr 2, 2015 by dimension10

"Clown" did you say? It is better to be a "clown" than a "clone" or a "con".

You should have asked a separate question, and given this is an answer.

The same source said "That which you do for the least of these, you do onto me", consider who is the least, and do onto the least also, and not only onto the greatest. Reconciliation is essential, you helped there, but most of it happened before you arrived, and your efforts have unintentionally cast uncertainty on the only crucial aspect of this compromise which was in the future, which was the moderator rotation.

@RonMaimon: I guess you mean @VladimirKalitvianski. To know what to do I'd need his input. Two days ago, I tried to prompt for it, since some hidden hurt for which I might be responsible still seems to be in the air, so far without success. (I asked dimension10 to reshow the flagged stuff, which he did. It can be hidden again once the issue is cleared up.)

6 Answers

+ 4 like - 0 dislike

The twin goals of PO now is to have both high level physics Q&A discussions, and literature reviews open to the scientific public. The latter is unique to us. This unique feature is only made possible by the unique moderation environment we have developed by trials of fire and ice, without which I am sure it cannot work.

My perspective is "reviews centric" naturally, and my concerns are toward the success of the reviews section nearly exclusively. Both because it's something I spent a long time planning and considering, and also because it is something which is being done by others now, except we do it best by far, because everyone else restricts reviews to authorities. Since we don't, we are like the Wikipedia to their NuPedia. That means we need to make sure good stuff gets voted up, bad stuff gets voted down, irrelevant stuff is removed, and all of that automatically, without top-down authority mucking it up.

I suggested the reviews section would be a good fit for PO specifically, because PO promised from the start to be uncensored for rudeness or tone, and promised to always be uncensored for tone in the future, even if it caused some problems here and there. The gain is freedom from fear of political reprisal. Reviews for journals are subject to extreme political pressures, much more than anything minor like what comes up with VK's stuff or any Q&A. Notable authors' reputations are impacted by a negative review (even when incorrect), positive reviews can lift a paper out of obscurity (even if it doesn't deserve it), it's a completely new world for impact for a website, and we are the first to explore it. But to do it right, I am sure, requires a difficult job of navigating the rules so they absolutely positively can never be exploited. I think this job is largely finished.

If the site admits rules that can be abused toward censorship when people are focused on the much less contentious Q&A phase, those same rules can be used to remove or mute criticism when it is in the politically sensitive Reviews phase, and because reviews are so politically fraught, much more so than Q&A, they will be attacked much more strongly for biased or ideological reasons. For this reason, I insisted so strongly on freedom of speech to the exclusion of all else, and went crazy trying to protect it, and get everyone on the same page on this.

Reviews is really unique and dangerous, because it positions itself as above the literature. Other sites place their Q&A and discussions as subservient to the literature, disputes are often resolved by looking to literature sources for review of the content, which is considered inferior to the published literature and less authoritative. We instead review the literature! This inverts the balance of power, and places our reviews section in a strange position of claiming authority initially without any more visible justification than a handful of reasonable and accurate reviews. But of course, this is all the justification that is needed.

The real justification for such authority can come from a superiority to other forms of review. This comes most plainly from impossibility of political interference with the reviews on this site, as opposed to other places. If referees are free to place criticism without political reprisal, if these are never removed, and if they are voted and vetted constantly, with comments and questions linked back to Q&A, then we provides a unique unprecedented service. If the authors of papers are free to defend their work from idle criticism, the quality can go up gradually by voting and social consensus.

But if we adopt careless rules for Q&A, forget about reviewing, it will get controlled by a small group of editors, who will run a special journal here.

This requires freedom of speech to be protected with the utmost of vigil. I don't have any gripe with professional conduct, good feelings, etc, but this was always secondary, because professional conduct is usually not a problem, although I seem to be an exception myself, evidently due to my psychopathic personality.

answered Mar 26, 2015 by Ron Maimon (7,535 points) [ no revision ]
+ 3 like - 0 dislike

Why I opposed all of you, Ron Maimon, Jia Yiyang, and dimension10 (I am not counting drake who contributed to the site only sporadically; alone he would have been powerless) was that the human factor was almost completely lacking. (almost - I had upvoted dimension10's response to the impeachment threat, but of course many weeks too late.) 

I feel the need to defend myself on this. However, despite what I'm going to say, I promise I'll upvote Dilaton's nomination as long as he/she resigns symbolically, so Dilaton, please only downvote this if you think what I say is not factual.

 It's not that I did not resort to feelings, I just didn't do it in public. I said tons of good words about Dilaton to Ron, and tons of good words about Ron to Dilaton in private exchanges, with little effect. I urged Dilaton to issue a public apology, and if it worked out, the episode should've ended at that point, but when the actual apology came out, I knew all my earlier effort went in vain. Here's an excerpt of the apology:

 I consider this the first official warning against my moderatorship, for having violated the principles of PhysicsOverflow. Two more, and I will be forced to step down from moderatorship.

I immediately saw an inappropriate sense of ownership of PO, and what's worse, I knew if I could see it, everyone else could see it too. Then Ron replied to that apology, in an unsurprising way. From that point I knew there was no way in heck this could end like a happily-ever-after fairy tale. And it's at that point I was convinced some symbol of moderator accountability must be erected, so that in the future this kind of issue can be resolved by following a relatively mechanical procedure, and so that there won't be another fool like me endeavoring  enormous effort to a lost cause.  So I was persuaded of moderator accountability not just by Ron and drake, Dilaton's actions had a fair share of persuasion power.

Now that no resort to feelings could ever solve the conflict, justice was the only remaining thing to try, and I planned to give up if even justice failed, but luckily it didn't. Justice doesn't make everyone happy, but it makes everybody  not too much unhappy, so that people involved can shut up and keep moving, although the situation turned out to be better than I thought: people did not just shut up, they started to talk to each other in a peaceful manner again.

You may call it "Nothing was healed, there was no peace, just a thin cover to hide the worst.",  I don't disagree, but have you considered maybe it's because the wound is too deep to be healed by just speaking? It's not yet healed, but I believe we are at a good starting point, the healing should be handled to time.

answered Mar 26, 2015 by Jia Yiyang (2,505 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 26, 2015 by Jia Yiyang

@Yiyang I have to apologize for having misread and misrepresented as something else some of your recent comments where you did just express your personal experience and feelings. I am now able to understand this answer in a more correct way and acknowledge it,+1

@Dilaton, thanks for your understanding.
+ 2 like - 0 dislike

I have one question to ask, Why was Dilation Identity an Issue at all?

I am referring to this question.

I was extremely furious when I read this, I did not bring it up earlier, but I think its important, since no one brought it up.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but it appeared to me that you were not simply happy with asking Dilaton to step down as a moderator. This was immediately after the apology.

You(Ron) tried to go after the thing that hurt him the most. It must have been clear enough that he preferred to remain anonymous. Thankfully there were enough people stopping you.

answered Mar 25, 2015 by Prathyush (695 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 26, 2015 by Prathyush

because Ron got paranoid after being lied to during VK's case, and he genuinely thought for a moment there was some conspiracy among other mods, he rested after I assured him polarkernel and dilaton were two independent persons. I was confident since I talked to dilaton and polarkernel both earlier. And please read my answer, the apology was the turning point when things turned to the worst, it didn't get better until the resignation declaration came out.

@JiaYiyang I saw you answer. If the apology was unsatisfactory, something as simple as calling Dilaton's moderatorship to review was enough.

So long a Ron agrees it was an extremely untasteful thing to do, I am ok with excusing this. I really did not want to bring it up, but just to be clear and avoid any possible conflict in the future.

If enough people would have agreed, would Ron have forcefully revealed his identity in public. I find such a thing to be completely unacceptable.

A sane community would never agree with a forceful revelation. I have no intention to defend Ron for his paranoia, you can ask him to apologize if you think it's necessary, and I think @RonMaimon will if you ask.  

@Prathyush; That rule makes sense as a general rule, as I explained, although my own political motivations were not acceptable to me (so I explained these too, so people would know). I didn't want a "moderator review", because I wanted all of us to end up friends and colleagues, so I wanted to avoid any implication of bad character at all costs, and avoid the site shutting down, and go with totally neutral rules that aren't aimed at any individual. I don't think that the issue of anonymity is painful or hurtful in any way, I still don't think it is, just Dilaton prefers to stay anonymous to avoid any spillover to real world life, and that's perfectly fine. I just figured it might be best if moderators were real-world accountable here.

It wasn't an attack on user anonymity on the site, which is sacrosanct. I just genuinely didn't know what was going on, who is running the site. I operate on total trust, and if there is even the smallest dishonesty, I go into panic mode, I genuinely don't know what to do. I am never dishonest, I can't deal with it, online even the tiniest dishonesty is especially dangerous, because everone starts thinking "what else in this structure of assumptions is wrong?" and paranoia mounts, and then you have to go back to the bottom and verify all your assumptions all over again. The paranoia ended when Polarkernel explained everything, and I realized everyone was always honest about everything except for one big thing and one little thing.

I just was thinking "Why did dishonesty happen?" and "How can it be fixed?" I explained my motivation there--- I figured anonymous people for some reason feel freer to do underhanded things, because it's only their avatar that suffers the consequences, not them. So perhaps moderators should not be anonymous. That's not a request for moderators to reveal their identity, it was really a request for our anonymous moderator to stop moderating.

I did not really expect a revelation of identity for anyone, nor could I threaten it, because I genuinely forgot who Dilaton is. Dilaton sent me a personal email some years ago, I thought "ok, nice to meet you", and forgot about it completely. All I remembered was one fact about Dilaton, let's say that Dilaton's last name starts with the letter Q (it's not that). This fact I was pretty sure about it, but not 100% sure, because, you know, it could have been a typo in the email, or bad memory. But this single fact I knew kept on getting contradicted by what Dimension10 was saying, for instance, referring to Dilaton as "Our Mr. P", nor "Our Mr. Q". It was also contradicted by Dilaton's Quora profile, where Dilaton was a "Mr. P" not a "Mr. Q", and Quora requires real-world identities. I got more and more uncertain, until finally, the one datum (the long forgotten email from Mr Q) was outweighed by the many recurring references to "Mr. P", and finally decided I got an email from a pseudonym of Mr. P by the Q name. Then I thought "great, more dishonety".

I finally broke down and asked Dimension10 and Jia: why the heck do you keep referring to Dilaton as Mr. P and not Mr. Q? And they laughed, and Dim10 said it was just a meaningless convention, that he calls Dilaton "Mr. P" because P is for "polite", that in fact Dilaton is Mr. Q, and the email wasn't a hallucination or a fake. Then I was reassured again. That's not exactly what happened, but I can't explain better.

Even this minor dishonesty was too much for me, and I thought "everyone could be lying about everything". The memory of the incident on Lubos's blog where somebody offered hosting and programming for free some years ago didn't help, as I also started to think CrAzY thoughts (moves finger in circle around side of head).

@RonMaimon I understand.

regarding " I just figured it might be best if moderators were real-world accountable here."

I don't think this this should be insisted. Though I would not post anonymously, there are several reasons I can imagine, why someone would want to be anonymous. If someone builds a reputation on a pseudonym and becomes a moderator, there is no reason to ask for any more accountability, beyond the scope of his actions on that name. Now that we have revision histories, all actions are automatically accountable to the community, it matters little if it is a pseudonym or if it can be identified with a real person. 

Anyways I am done with all this, thanks for being patient. 

@Prathyush; The proposal failed already, we healed other ways, I forgot about it and I myself no longer support this for now. It might be good for new moderators, to avoid anonymous referees getting elected, but maybe not.

+ 1 like - 0 dislike

I didn't expect that freedom of speech should have on PO a much higher value than professionality, but among those currently active in meta it seems to be the majority view. This is deplorable. It seems that concerning politics, physicists are not better than other people, not even with regard to their own affairs.

PO is not the only place and the last resort for professional physicists, to say the least. That is why there are too few professional physicists participating here. On the other hand, the freedom of speech may let us achieve what the other places will never do - discussing and thinking over freely new physical ideas.

answered Mar 25, 2015 by Vladimir Kalitvianski (22 points) [ no revision ]
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

Thanks Arnold,

for the immense time, effort, love, and engagement you have put into mediating peace and justice for all members of PhysicsOverflow and making the site look more welcoming to professional physicists, in addition to your always great and insightful physics contributions.

answered Mar 25, 2015 by Dilaton (4,305 points) [ no revision ]

Dilaton, tell me, whether you felt yourself in danger before Arnold's intervention, please? Haven't we forgiven you and expressed a friendly attitude?


Yes, you all had forgiven me and after posting my Declaration of Intent, you were even the first to forgive me, which was very nice and kind of you and I highly appreciate this.

Things should have been well again, but for some reason I did not feel happy again yet. I still felt hurt and crushed when thinking about the past, and was full of worry and sorrow when considering the future of PO. Everything felt still sad and dark to me.

From my personal point of view, Arnold brought back the light to PO and also to me personally, as it was plain obvious to me right after he reappeared that he is not only a great generous person, but also that God is with him and has sent him (back) to us.

This makes me look more optimistic at the future of PO, and for some reason I do now also better understand people and what happend in a different (better) way.


+ 1 like - 0 dislike

Thank you, Arnold

Your powerful commitment to mediate between the poles on PO lets me hope that my emergency call was not without any impact. Maybe it can even be a starting point to help the users contributing here on Meta to build some more trust in each other, as they all seemingly have been violated, already long before PO came up. You have invested an immense amount of your time to moderate. I look forward now to see you on the Q&A page, hopefully with an increasing number of other professionals.

answered Mar 25, 2015 by polarkernel (0 points) [ no revision ]

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