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How do we best promote PhysicsOverflow ?

+ 5 like - 0 dislike

As PhysicsOverflow approaches its public beta (the term beta seems still appropriate as we will start out with only the Q&A section ready first, and the full-fledged site will then include the Reviews section), it gets time to reconsider how we best promote PhysicsOverflow to the right audience. Such discussions have already been started on the blog at the beginning of last December.

Lubos Motl (who thinks our site is cool ;-) ...) gave me the advice to use some clever promotion methods, so please list corresponding ideas in the answers below.

asked Mar 22, 2014 in Discussion by Dilaton (4,245 points) [ no revision ]

I'm sure we all know what Ron is going to write : ) 

Just checking--- is what I said what you expected? I don't know what you are referring to in the comment above, I suppose everyone else knows.

@RonMaimon yes, it is : )  

11 Answers

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I think the best thing to do now is to have a "soft" launch so we can slowly grow the community, as we build momentum. So word-of-mouth, particularly if we can get good+respectable physicists to participate will be great. To get such people involved, we have to figure out what will incentivize them to contribute their time and effort on a platform like this.

We could organize it somewhat like an online journal club platform -- where we could even invite the author(s) to come and summarize the key aspects of their paper in a post, followed by a discussion. I'm sure any author will be keen to promote his work (and others will be keen to hear) and that will give us a chance to engage with the community. So if we pick papers which are of interest, I'm sure we can build up engagement very quickly.

Marketing is important, but we've first got to figure out some solid value that we can provide to the community. On that note, I think the feature to discuss articles is great.

answered Apr 22, 2014 by Siva (710 points) [ revision history ]

I like this, but I am not sure if I understand the organizational details exactly:

Do you mean to invite authors to present their papers in a specific Journal Club section of the site, by for example explaining the paper in the question and the community can discuss in answers and comments? But then we would have to be a bit careful that this does not too strongly overlap with the upcoming Reviews section ...

Another idea would be to run an accompagnying PhysicsOverflow blog, where authors of cool new papers can explain their work. In fact, we already have a blog which was originally concepted to support setting up PhysicsOverflow


Of course, to allow for a Journal Club with good known physicists taking part, it would need to be spiced and styled up a bit (coughing ...).

I'm referring to the reviews section. For eg: Instead of me reviewing a paper by X (which is also fine), we could invite X to introduce and explain their paper in the reviews section, followed by a discussion. Author participation in the discussion will definitely add value and authors would love to indtoduce their paper and thoughts rather than just coming here to defend themselves from criticism. Instead of setting it up as a place to point out mistakes and criticize papers, let's set it up as a place were we can discuss. Less of Q/A and more of discussion emphasis.

Important thing to keep in mind: To a practicising physicist, this site provides very little value by way of professional advancement (as yet). But if their article gets panned on the internet, or if they get into a flame-war on this site, that can significantly damage their professional reputation -- particularly in the currently tough academic market. So people will (understandably) be hesitant to test this out. We need to be patient and welcoming.

Ah I see, I think your suggestion could nicely fit into the Reviews section. There speaks nothing agains the author(s) editing the submission (question with link to the paper) him/themself to explain their paper, too if they want.

Sure, that's ok, but the problem is that if the author is a big-shot, it tends to squelch criticism. The goal of reviews is also to replace journal refereeing, so that people have a free and open alternative to journals for peer review, one which is not behind closed doors. This way, you can see exactly why a paper is rejected, and decide for yourself if the reasons are valid. Right now, this is done in secret.

But the comments need to be just as hostile, and having a friendly "leadership voice" tends to amplify friendly back-patting and no hostility. Peer review comments are usually mostly hostile, because the good stuff you can assume the author already said about themselves in the paper itself.

To replace journal refereeing is a noble but long-term goal. Realistically, that's not something we're going to accomplish in 2 years by bringing a few good theoretical physicists here. Survival and growth of this platform depends on providing value to the community in the short-term.

I agree that the presence of big-shots might squelch free-thinking -- that depends on how the atmosphere is moderated and the attitude/tone set by moderators. But in balance, I feel that we have a lot to gain by their participation -- insight and endorsement. If we think this is a serious matter, then we needn't invite many high-profile names just yet.

As much as I know about it referees invited by journal editors often do both, point out what is bad and what is good about a paper to explain why they reject or accept it. So the reviews (answers) and comments in the Reviews section can certainly be negative and positive as justified by physics reasoning, no?

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

Lubos Motl will allow me to write a guest post on TRF :-) !

answered Mar 22, 2014 by Dilaton (4,245 points) [ no revision ]


+ 3 like - 0 dislike

I believe no matter what you do, you will have only a relatively small group of academic folks here, until the review section is up. The reviews section is the best advertizement, in my opinion.

Once the reviews are up, ask people to review negatively, where they find mistakes or omissions. This will force the author here, so as to respond, and this is enough advertizing in and of itself. It's coercive. I think it is important to make sure the comments are substantive, technically accurate, precise, and quantitative, and involve things that are not simply common knowledge, but actual insights into the paper's guts.

A good referee, someone like James York, can referee many thousands of papers. The one time I met him, York offhand mentioned that he feels that his refereeing isn't fully appreciated--- I think many academics feel this way. Refereeing with substantive comments is something that does not go on your C.V. today, it's something that helps you only inside the schmoozy hand-shaking world of academic journals.

When people have a place to post comments on preprints, once they feel secure in anonymity, and one they are secure that it is free of partisan censorship, it will allow this type of academic work to be done out in the open, and I think the site will explode.

But for this end, you need two technical modifications to the software. I'll look at the code this weekend, and see if I can do anything (no guarantees, I don't know php well).

answered Mar 22, 2014 by Ron Maimon (7,435 points) [ no revision ]

I agree that the review section is the best way to engage the wider community.

_"Once the reviews are up, ask people to review negatively [...] coercive."_

That's a risky manouvre. (With my limited experience) it seems that the easiest papers to critique are the bad ones -- and pulling their authors into the community will not add quality, or help the brand in any way. We should be looking to try and engage good physicists. 

_"once they feel secure in anonymity"_

PhysicsOverflow might be pseudonymous, but it isn't really anonymous. So if someone really wants to stay anonymous, they need to _really_ care about something to bother commenting here.  Besides, anonymous commenting does not help one who desires credit.

All physicists, especially the best ones, write bad papers, old Einstein had his "black holes spin too fast to form", middle-aged Einstein had the superconductivity nonsense paper, 1905 Einstein screwed up an airplane wing analysis. Old Feynman had the "quarks are doing harmonic oscillations in hadrons", young Feynman had his "mathematical methods" paper, which just showed how to do time ordering from the path-integral (I like it, but consensus was that it's a bad paper). Dirac flat out miscalculated certain atomic transition rates, Heisenberg had the unified fermion theory, and so on, there are clunkers everywhere, even when a physicist has a great idea. Bender published a wrong experiment regarding his PT quantum mechanics, even though his PT quantum mechanics is the newest idea in quantum mechanics pretty much since quantum mechanics.

Even when the paper is a classic, there are often little things to criticise or clarify, or at least discuss. The classic Dirac equation paper has a ridiculous idea that the field equation has to be first order and linear always, when this is just true of the particular field equation for the electron. This confuses students even today. The classic articles on string field theory all have wrongheaded statements about how it should be non-perturbative, and play the same role for strings as fields do for points, but this is nonsense holographically, or even just looking at the extra string matter discovered in the 90s. There are always criticisms.

You want to critique the wrong stuff of good physicists, not the obviously wrong stuff of bad physicists. It doesn't hurt to bring people in, because if their comments are required to be substantive, even if they are wrong, it will bring other folks in to respond, and the criticism will help many other people. In this way, you get a discussion going.

Most often, you only think something is wrong, and this is a block to reading the paper, and having a clarification will help a lot in getting the paper wider readership, because a lot of people get stuck on the same point. I got blocked regarding S-matrix articles because of stupid things, I still get blocks regarding resonant valence bond ideas, it happen a lot. Someone who doesn't understand things well is also good, because they will make lots of wrong but common misplaced criticism of famous papers, and then get the folks to respond, so that the clarification is here.

The reviews for a perfect paper then just serve as a "frequently asked questions" for the paper. It's good, because something that's right has nothing to worry about from hostile review, it just makes it more solid and clear what's going on.

When I say coercive, I mean it. It's really a forced participation.

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

Please help promoting PhysicsOverflow by upvoting this answer


in order that (once there are six net upvotes) the ad appears on the main page of Physics SE from time to time ;-)

answered May 10, 2014 by Dilaton (4,245 points) [ revision history ]
edited Apr 22, 2015 by Arnold Neumaier

It may be better to wait with upvoting there until after the completion of the election. By then visitors will see a renewed PO. I'll upvote then.

@ArnoldNeumaier Well, the ad needs +6 votes, which needs (a lot of) time, so it would be better to upvote beforehand : )

Ok - but whoever pushes the the vote count over this threshold should do so after the election.

I just upvoted it - it is now at +5, so only one more vote is necessary to make it occasionaly appear (until someone votes it down again).

Thanks @ArnoldNeumaier :-)

I expect that the bulk of the downvoters (about 20) has already done its job right after the answer was posted ...

+ 2 like - 0 dislike

Quid from MathOverflow told me that it should be ok to write a short announcement on their meta.

Even though this is a mathematical site, they feature some nice theoretical physics tags which contain corresponding cool questions, and there are theoretical physicists there too, such as for example Urs Schreiber  and Jeff Harvey.

By this we might even reach good people who have never been active on Physics SE for example ...

answered Mar 22, 2014 by Dilaton (4,245 points) [ no revision ]

Great! Just be sure not to take his name when promoting PhysicsOverflow, in case it is not really allowed.  

+ 2 like - 0 dislike

Notify the people mentioned here who are not yet on PhysicsOverflow right now in a short invitation.

answered Mar 22, 2014 by Dilaton (4,245 points) [ no revision ]
+ 2 like - 0 dislike

If Physics Overflow was an exchange of ideas in classical physics during the times of Hooke and Newton (as well as dozens of other Newton detractors), one can easily imagine some rather heated discussions both about the math and the measurements.

This is all good, but one should never expect that Newton would have won or carried some or even a majority of the discussions.  Neither would an Einstein, or Peter Higgs.   Look how long it took for his ideas took (basically his whole life) to be recognized after their initial rejection by the preeminent science news publishers of his day.

I am a refugee from the Physics Stack Exchange, where if someone doesn't like your ideas or your questions, and if they have, by whatever means, amassed a sufficient number of "points" (whatever those are), they are free to edit both.   Hooke would have trashed both Newton's theory of gravitation and any answers he wrote to answer inquiries about them.  I somehow doubt that Newton would have done the same to Hooke on such a forum, other than to publish Principia elsewhere.

Yet we all still fondly remember Hooke as that "springy thingy guy", don't we?   The moral is: no one here or anywhere else has a hammerlock on all of the right answers (unless they do), and no one I have never known in this field is remotely qualified to have the last word on everything.  If humanity ever has even a few of the right answers, it will need to be a group effort.  Think Google and Wikipedia.  This is the 21st century.  Act like you understand this, and everything will be better.

Take Sheldon Cooper's advice and hone your social skills here and whereever else it takes.  If your ideas are right, you will no doubt need them.

answered Apr 21, 2014 by anonymous [ no revision ]

Take a look at our bill of rights: http://www.physicsoverflow.org/user-rights . This was written to address your concerns, which are frankly shared by everyone here. The final say on content belongs to OP, the moderation must bend over backwards to avoid censoring unpopular opinions, the goal is only to avoid repetition, vacuity and clearly low-level stuff that everyone already knows. There will be no imposition of opinions of high-rep users or moderators, the community is free to decide accuracy of material without censorship or any other heavy-handed intervention.

If there is a concern which is not addressed by this text, please let us know at the faq discussion.

Today it would be some kind of fun to repeat the history of physics with the internet and international phyisics sites already there, to see how well known disagreements and discussions among famous physicists would pan out ... :-)

@Dilaton I don't understand what you mean...       

I mean it would be some kind of fun to observe what could have happend if Bohr, Schrödinger, Einstein, etc had such physics sites (and blogs too) as we have them available today as QM was born for example ... ;-)

You can see their discussions transcribed, sometimes verbatim, in old conference proceedings, also in personal correspondence that sometimes makes it into print. The school at Erice has proceedings that are just a transcription of everything that is said, so you get a lot of discussion that is internet-like. The "Bohr Einstein debates" are an example of a internet style chat.

For Newton and Hooke, the disputes are pretty well preserved too. It's actually kind of amazing considering how primitive pre-internet stuff was for this type of thing. These fossilized discussions clarify the literature immensely, I enjoyed reading those in the dead tree libraries in my youth.

+ 2 like - 0 dislike

You may post or hand out pamphlets about PhysicsOverflow or add a small PhysicsOverflow advertisement to your personal website. 

Please see this thread which contains some handout and banner ideas. 

answered May 11, 2014 by dimension10 (1,950 points) [ no revision ]
+ 2 like - 0 dislike
If you like PhysicsOverflow, please help it grow by promoting the site at "real-world" events such as group meetings at your university, workshops, conferences etc if possible.

I learned that this is how MathOverflow achieved its immediate vigorous kickstart directly after going public


This could then also lead to nice to read blog-posts afterwards ... ;-)
answered Dec 20, 2014 by Dilaton (4,245 points) [ no revision ]
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

Give a 20 min talk about PhysicsOverflow at the 5th Offtopicarium near Warsaw (Poland), expected to take place September 2014.

Piotr Migdal  (at present heavily busy with writing his PhD thesis) is among the organizers, said PhysicsOverflow  would be a good topic for this interdisciplinary event.

There will be not only physicists and physics students, but a whole bunch of cool interesting people from neighboring fields and business. And who knows, by introducing PhysicsOverflow to this audience, we could maybe even find a way to strengthen our system development team ...?

answered Jul 2, 2014 by Dilaton (4,245 points) [ no revision ]

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