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  Rejuvenating the site

+ 18 like - 0 dislike

I'd like to create this space for people to have ideas on increasing the quality and visibility of the site. Among other things, increasing the number of questions, the number of professionals involved, and the variety of topics covered. To start, let me seed the discussion with a few points:

  1. In my mind, the main thing we need to improve on is the number of good quality questions. Perhaps, to focus the mind, we can have targeted "themes", for example make January "black hole information month" and solicit questions on that subject. The specific topic(s) and time period should be discussed, of course. It could also be an opportunity to branch out into new research area which are not well-represented here.

  2. We probably need to come up with some ideas of advertising the site to the professional community which is its primary target. Ideas are welcome.

  3. I'd like to find ways to encourage users to be more involved in managing the site, for example initiating meta discussions and voting to close/delete questions. Ideas would be welcome.

These are different topics, each of which can brach off to a different meta discussion. Hopefully in the new year we can regain some ground and realize the potential of this site, which I think could become a good resource for the professional theoretical physics community.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)

asked Jan 1, 2012 in SE.TP.closing by Moshe (2,405 points) [ revision history ]
recategorized Jun 5, 2014 by dimension10
Great idea. The CSTheory crowd managed to get an article which was collaboratively written on meta published in the SIGACT newsletter, which is analogous to the newsletter of an APS unit. CSTheory has a somewhat smaller audience and so two ACM special interest groups cover most of it. I'm not sure what the appropriate version would be for TP.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
It takes time to have the community start using the site. The more worrying thing IMHO is that the number of daily site visits seems to be dropping. The area51 proposal page is ranked over the main site and is on 4th page when I search "theoretical physics". There are not many links to the site (google for "theoreticalphysics.stackexchange.com" -site:stackexchange.com). In short the site is not visible on the Internet when someone is looking for theoretical physics.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)

5 Answers

+ 13 like - 0 dislike

In my opinion, the biggest problems is the lack of critical mass of people willing to contribute. Coverage of a variety topics is also important, but to be dealt after the first issue is solved.

Most of physicists I talked to like the idea of TP.SE but for some reasons they don't contribute because they:

  • don't have time or will to translate their problem in a question (as it typically takes longer to provide a good enough description in the text that during a f2f discussion),
  • are afraid of asking sth too simple (*),
  • don't want to share credit or are afraid of their idea being stolen,
  • are kind of conservative - either they don't use new Internet tools that much or just don't use sth unless it is a standard in their field/group,
  • or they judge a thing by its cover and perceive a forum-like thing as sth to waste one's time.

I think that the most important problem here is (*) - because either people tend to ask to complicated questions (and as they have been struggling to solve them for months it is unlikely that someone is going to instantly provide a solution) or just they don't ask at all. So, encouraging to ask (even simple) questions may be crucial. A "simple" question by a PhD student or above may not be that simple at all.

Moreover, it may be useful to provide examples or content that people are very much willing to talk about. For example, we may encourage to talk on their own papers or preprints. Eg. of the form "In my recent preprint (link) I've shown that bla-bla. Does anyone know a simpler or shorter derivation of the observation?".

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Jan 2, 2012 by Piotr Migdal (1,260 points) [ no revision ]
Not to diminish the value of the observations you've made, but with respect to your last sentence: I think most physicists would be understandably reluctant to ask for a reference that renders their work obsolete! Perhaps a question asking about followup work would be a more palatable example.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
@DavidZaslavsky: I don't want to imply that all reservations are irrational and every physicist should participate. Some people won't participate for one reason or another. But for the other it may be rather lack of knowledge (or encouragement) about the site.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
+ 8 like - 0 dislike

Math has an enormous amount of breadth, which makes MathOverflow very useful, as a tough question for one mathematician will be easy for another. So does programming, and thus StackOverflow was a great success. So far, TP.SE has only received attention from a subset of physicists who do not have anywhere as much breadth between them. I think we need a broader base of physicists. Unfortunately, I don't have any good suggestions as to how to attract them.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Mar 13, 2012 by Peter Shor (790 points) [ no revision ]
Yes, I entirely agree, though any suggestions from others on how to address that problem are certainly welcome.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
@Peter it would help to know how YOU took notice of SE ans WHY you stayed. I think physics.se became popular amonng some phd's because known/famous researchers like Motl or you were posting there. So while laymen are attracted by graduates and students (guarenteeing min. quality), researchers are often attracted by more experienced and older researchers :) You know, the best scientific communicators and teachers are often very good scientists too (Hawking, Greene, Dawkins), who can explain/resolve tricky questions in a simple way ("as simple as possible, but not simpler" A.E.).

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
There are so many american physicists authoring blogs, **the Elsevier-boycott wouldnt have started without lead of FAMOUS scholars**. Are they aware of TP.SE or didnt stay, this site has many users, but they dont seem to contribute questions, this would induce other to do so. I havent seen many question from the high rep users here.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
@Joe I would put a link to TP.SE on any sidebar of mathematica.se, computationalscience.se, mathematics.se stackoverflow.se. The inner advertising on SE is imho imperfect. "recent tagged questions/badges" is not of interest to anyone. Theorists not aware of TP.SE will often hit these pages for answers on practical Q&A via google.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
@WernerSchmitt: I'm not sure that is something we can achieve ourselves, but rather something that the SE admin people would need to do if they agreed.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
+ 3 like - 0 dislike

My advice would be a comparative analysis with mathoverflow, did/do they face similar problems, I don't think nature of questions (problem-orientated) and type of audience (academic level) differ much. Maybe you could learn from this.

For advertising my experience is linking your SE profile or a distinct question in blog comments (there is often a formular field for email or homepage) is the best way to attract outsiders. I don't think twitter and facebook help here a lot for research physics. But a lot of physicists maintain and read blogs afaik. There is also the computationalscience.SE to unite powers.

Pushing some older questoins to the top to show this is not only a particlce physics place may be a further tip ;) No SE newbie is browsing this board by tagged feeds.

Concerning Piotr main argument, why recommend or make real name mandatory for given reasons, there seems to be enought know-how to vote correct questions up.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Jan 10, 2012 by Werner Schmitt (0 points) [ no revision ]
I think the major difference to [MO](http://mathoverflow.net) is that it started as SE-1.0 site being run "privately" by [Anton Geraschenko](http://mathoverflow.net/users/1/anton-geraschenko). He could maybe provide us with useful information about MO's history (which I could only make up or try to guess...)

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
@WernerSchmitt: Actually, it may be all about the difference of questions. While on both sites problems are research-level, in mathematics it is easier and more natural to make one short and precise. In physics one needs to put some effort into writing down a question, and someone else - interpreting it.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
@PiotrMigdal maybe, but then this site is somehow doomed (?) if it is the nature of the questions. I don't think you will see a lot research questions here, as this may point to much to papers you are preparing. IMHO that is the main reason for no exp. physics questions on physics.SE. Maybe it's more about giving "secrets" away. I dont think answering is easier on mathoverflow, either you know a answer or have a hint or you dont. Typing the answer seems not the crucial time factor to me, esp when it comes to formulas?

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
@WernerSchmitt Well, from time to time I ask myself if I am failing (as a moderator) or the idea is doomed from its very beginning. SE works the best for programming, were one encounters a lot of well-defined questions, which answers can be checked easily. Questions like "Have anyone ever investigated ..." or "What is the reason for ..." may not be that well-defined. I don't claim it is necessary the reason No1, but certainly it may affect the popularity. When it comes to sharing secrets - well, it may be another issue but it is hard to change it but giving a example.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
@PiotrMigdal many physicists in research take part in closed mailing lists for current research questions or discussion on concepts with their colleagues in other groups afaik. And probably for distinct reason. As such questoins fit better a discussion than Q&A format when beyond text book questions. MO success maybe also related to being a mathematician in research you feel very lonely whole day in front of your PC :) and progress is not directly linked to patents, while theophy often works together with exp. groups. Dont think you as a Mod can do a lot at all besides keeping the site clean

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
everybody can start and practice math, you dont need a team/hardware, there are probably much more hobby mathematicians in math. than in theophys. research. This explains to me why we have polymath but no similar projects in physics. And most questions in research of phyiscs being rather open-ended and relying on comparison with data then having a clear answer or proof, needing in-depth discussion. A question on approaches to calculate solid band structures may be no research question, but is also no standard theophysics lecture stuff.So there is maybe a gap in your scope for graduate students

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
@WernerSchmitt When it comes to experimental questions - lot o my friends are doing experimental optics and usually they won't ask a question on their setup because it is nearly impossible to answer it without knowing very well the their very particular experimental setups. When it comes to maths, it is much more a black box approach, were a long and difficult result can be _exactly_ stated as `If X and Y then there exist a unique Z such that A`. Questions for adv undergraduates and PhD students, e.g. http://theoreticalphysics.stackexchange.com/questions/1, are IMHO welcome.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

I can't say much that what has already been suggested to increase the visibility of the site. There is one thing we could to increase the quality: vote down and close any non-research-level question right away. It might seem like it hurts the site at first, but it will definitely help in the long run. I don't see a way around it. People have done a decent job getting rid of silly questions like the one I recently saw about wormholes in the classroom, but there needs to be even more stringent control of questions if this site is going to become the physicist's MathOverflow. If it does not smell like a research question--even if it is an advanced question--it should be voted way down at least.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Mar 6, 2012 by physics (80 points) [ no revision ]
When MathOverflow was first started, the moderators were much less strict about questions really being research questions, and I think the less research-level questions they let in (no truly silly ones were allowed) actually helped the site gain popularity.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
I understand what you are saying and I agree that the technique of allowing less than research-level can help at first. My concern is that the quality of the questions in this site has not showed any improvement. So a follow up question we may ask is, how long did MathOverflow allow that sort of question? I am not sure if how helpful or practical this is but maybe the moderators of this site should contact the most senior moderators in MathOverflow for tips on how to avoid succumbing to another forgettable discussion site. I'm truly impressed with MO's success and I would like to see it here.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
+ 0 like - 0 dislike

I rather like the concept of themed questions. I think that rejuvenation implies a desire for more site activity, which means asking questions of wide interest. So far, TP.SE is populated largely by research-grade questions of extremely high technical focus. Of course, I presume that this site should not become an elitist version of Physics.SE, and certainly not a place to get help with homework.

I also would participate more in this site if there were more discussion-type questions at a more pedagogical level. So far, most of the questions I see require deep technical knowledge of some field or another. I tried asking a more generalist question (Source term of the Einstein field equation) and met with a good response aside from the usual trolling by Luboš Motl. It didn't get many upvotes, though. I consider that a shame, since I thought carefully about how I posed that question and tried to put it at a level that was accessible to anyone with a general physics knowledge as opposed to research grade knowledge. I also thought it would be interesting to bring the intuitive style back in vogue. So many questions here have a bunch of abstract symbols that are difficult to relate to The Real World -- especially for a graduate student like me!

I am of the Feynman school of thought, which can be paraphrased as follows: you can know all the names in all the languages of the world for a Nightingale and you will know nothing about the Nightingale. You will only know something about the peoples of the world. If you want to know the Nightingale, listen to it sing. By analogy, let's have less "Why is there no theta-angle (topological term) for the weak interactions?" and "Edge theory of FQHE - Unable to produce Green's function from anticommutation relations and equation of motion?" (no disrespect to the askers I've copy+pasted -- I chose based on jargon density, not question quality) and more "what is an electron?" type stuff. I'm not ashamed to admit that I still don't know what an electron is -- is it a piece of EM field? Can you form superpositions of electrons and neutrinos and, if so, how does it behave from an intuitive standpoint? How does a neutron star react to bombardment by a beam of electrons? I think these are legitimate research-grade questions.

Just my two cents :-)

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Feb 2, 2012 by Kernel (125 points) [ no revision ]
Kernel, +1 for pointing the general/introductory stuff which goes beyond popular science, or undergraduate, level. However, SE is not well suited for open-ended discussion-like questions. Actually, it may be the problem that many issues in physics **are** open-ended and discussion-like (in contrast to mathematics and programming, where it is much easier and more natural to ask a very well-defined question).

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
The intuitive style is fine and well, but jargon is necessary if you are going to say something precise, which is where personal musings stop and professional research starts. So, I am hoping for more questions, but not at the price of compromising the mandate of this site (which is different from that of physics.se).

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
I'd rather have less of "what is an electron" and more of "why is there no theta angle for weak interactions". Sorry

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)

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