Proposal: Theoretical Physics

Is Theoretical Physics different enough that it deserves its own site separate from the Physics group? I would suggest just merging them.

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    @Mark: Have you read the justification put forward for this site both here and on Physics meta? This is really not a subset of the existing site, but rather a distinct community. The reasoning behind my proposing this site can be found here: blog.jfitzsimons.org/?p=218 – Joe Fitzsimons Feb 4 '11 at 17:10
  • @Joe I moved my comment to an answer before I saw your comment after rethinking it. I still think the proposal should be closed and will vote accordingly, but I'll give everyone a chance to downvote my perspective. – Mark Rogers Feb 4 '11 at 17:18

The Physics SE site has it's own community, and one which is significantly different to the one that we are building here. Note that at present only 18% of committers here participate in the other site. Further, if you look at the bios, you'll see that the overwhelming majority are professional physicists (unlike the other site). I think that speaks volumes about the potential of this proposal, and its distinctness from the Physics SE. I think it would be an appalling waste if this proposal were scuppered by a merger with Physics. I am extremely opposed to any attempt to merge the two, and I will do anything within my power to ensure that this proposal does not become part of the other site.

Lastly, I would ask that people who have no stake in either site (i.e. not being a user or committer to either) allow us space to sink or swim on our own, rather than forcing a merge.

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    I think it's exactly the attitude to think that you are 'better' (at Physics) than others that's a problem. We're supposed to be a place where people can get answers, but only people you deem worthy? What's next? Creating a Super User site for only users who work as professional system builders? – Ivo Flipse Feb 4 '11 at 20:44
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    @Ivo Flipse: The idea is to create an expert community.I don't think superuser is a good comparison.Hard sciences have an issue that a lot of people think they know the correct answer to a question,but it is actually incorrect and stems from inaccuracies in popularizations of the subject.There clearly are experts in physics and non-experts,and the point of this proposal is to create a site for expert/research level questions.Is it wrong to ask for a site where we don't have to constantly answer questions about crackpot theories/misunderstandings of quantum mechanics/perpetual motion machines? – Joe Fitzsimons Feb 5 '11 at 6:17
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    @Ivo Flipse: Also, everything I have heard from Jeff and Joel about building StackExchange communities has advocated creating expert communities. I think this is particularly important in this subject area, because there are objectively correct answers to questions, but often these are non-trivial to verify. This is why we need a core group of experts, to separate the wheat from the chaff. To give an example of the value of an expert level community,on CSTheory I have both answered questions on a paper I wrote and had my questions answered by the person who first proved the result I was after. – Joe Fitzsimons Feb 5 '11 at 6:27
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    @Joe on a university, the community exists out of all the students and personnel. What you are proposing is a community for the post-docs and professors and I strongly oppose that segregation. You should remember that you don't have to answer every question and I didnt say that any question should be allowed. But I do think you are all part of one community and that you as the experts are the ones creating a problem by separating yourselves. – Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '11 at 9:44
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    @Ivo: In a university, he physics research community is generally comprised of grad students, postdocs and faculty,plus some undergrad students on research projects.The separation works for both CSTheory and MathOverflow.As you are not currently involved in either Physics.SE or here,I think it is a little unfair to push merging.I am not forcing anyone to commit to this proposal, so there is a reasonable number of people who want such a site.If this proposal is closed,I'll start one using opensource Q and A and host it elsewhere.However StackExchange is a nice platform,so I'd rather not do so. – Joe Fitzsimons Feb 5 '11 at 11:24
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    I've been thinking: what would be the downside if the "research bloc" currently committed to this proposal just started participating in physics.SE? As long as this community has enough people to be self-sustaining, you'll be able to ask and answer research-level questions on the existing site as well as you could on a new site. We don't get that many basic questions; I think they could easily be outnumbered by high-level content. Plus, with the number of physicists committed to this proposal, you'd easily be able to downvote bad answers into oblivion (and/or upvote good answers above them). – David Z Feb 13 '11 at 6:54
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    @David: First of all, this is a moot point, because I don't have any control over which sites the committers to this proposal participate in, nor do I wish to have. That said, however, there are a number of reasons I can see why researchers may be less than keen to participate in Physics.SE: 1) It can be less than welcoming, with correct answers being heavily downvoted (along with condescending remarks) in favour of incorrect answers for various reasons, 2) There is note really much interest in research level questions and of the few I have seen not many were upvoted or correctly answered, – Joe Fitzsimons Feb 13 '11 at 18:34
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    3)The Lubos syndrome: Lubos is a professional physicist and has almost twice the rep of the next highest user. He has answered 283 questions, yet has only asked 1. This question went without any serious answer for over a month, and the current answer is not a full answer. Clearly he is putting an enormous amount of effort into the site but getting very little back out of it, and I suspect this is the case for any researchers on there.4) the majority of users there could perhaps be characterised as physics enthusiasts rather than physicists. This leads to research Qs getting ridiculous answers. – Joe Fitzsimons Feb 13 '11 at 18:42
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    @Joe: okay, but points 2 and 4 exist only because the type of people who would be interested in research level questions (i.e. committers to this site) are not present on physics.SE in large enough numbers. If a significant number of researchers joined, it would invalidate both those reasons, and perhaps #1 as well. (side note: I'm curious to see the examples of correct answers being downvoted by enthusiasts) As for point 3, based on the discussion, it seems like Lubos' question may not even have a complete answer for anyone to give. So I don't think it's a good example. – David Z Feb 13 '11 at 20:59
  • It looks that there is only a small number of followers who are experts in theoretical physics. So it is not clear that there is a critical mass for an MO-level site. – Gil Kalai Sep 8 '11 at 16:15
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    @Gil: Which site do you mean? The existing physics site or the TP proposal. If the TP proposal, then I don't agree. I count about 70% as research student or above, though admittedly there is a glut of QIP people compared to other areas of physics, but I guess that's just down to how it's been promoted. – Joe Fitzsimons Sep 8 '11 at 16:25
  • I talked about the new TP site. I meant "professional or experts" - there are handfull of those. (In MO and TCS they are large fraction of participants). – Gil Kalai Sep 8 '11 at 21:11
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    @Gil: that self declaration thing only came in halfway through the commitment stage which is why there are so many "unknown". Also, most people I would consider experts have gone for "academic", since most experts are academics in real life. – Joe Fitzsimons Sep 8 '11 at 21:57

The case is for Theoretical Physics to exist as an alternative proposal to Physics by analogy to Math Overflow and the Mathematics proposal.

See Where should research-level questions go? Theoretical Physics SE or Physics Research SE? on meta.physics.

Math Overflow vs Mathamtics and the success of Theoretical Computer Science shows that having parallel sistes in this mould can work. We should wait and see whether this proposal can gather support in the Commitment phase.

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    Who says it's actually doing the Math guys any good? – Ivo Flipse Feb 4 '11 at 20:41
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    It's certainly doing MathOverflow and CSTheory good that Math.SE exists, as they now redirect non-research level questions there rather than just close them. This has to be good for Math.SE too, as it is boosting their traffic and userbase. – Joe Fitzsimons Feb 5 '11 at 5:45

The level on physics.SE is constantly rising through the enormous effort done by some like Luboš Motl. However, as Joe points out, a lot of the questions are still at best on highschool level and could be answered by pointing to the corresponding wikipedia article.

This to my mind greatly holds back professionals - the Mathematics and MathOverflow example was given several times already.

Lets see it the other way round - Physics.SE created a community which is stable and healthy by now and creating nice content. Hence it can be very useful for TP.SE as a "preliminary step".

  • It's good to know that. – Maniero Feb 1 '11 at 0:58
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    At first I agreed with you but on second look, I think this characterization of physics.SE is not fair. Consider the 5 newest (not closed) questions: "Electron-hole symmetry in H and He," "Is anyone studying how the topology of space arises from more fundamental notions?," "Impulse - distance question," "What are the alternatives to the Higgs mechanism?," and "Why is there a search for an exchange particle for gravity?" I don't see how more than one of these could be considered high school level. – David Z Feb 13 '11 at 6:11
  • @David: Well, let's see how P.SE evolves. Normally, such things tend to be somehow self-organized and the reputation system enables this. Maybe the highschool-thing was a bit exaggerated and should be replaced by undergraduate. Nevertheless I guess you might agree that we have really few research-questions on the site like the one given by Luboš. Greets – Robert Filter Feb 13 '11 at 10:38
  • @David: also, in addition, let's look at the most popular questions: Cooling a cup of coffee with help of a spoon; How does gravity escape a black hole?; Great unsolved physics problems; What really allows airplanes to fly?; Mechanics around a rail tank wagon; How long a straw could Superman use?. What do you think, which one of these questions would be seen as research-related? We have to accept that where a community site is evolving, it might become something totally different from we wanted it to be. Greets – Robert Filter Feb 17 '11 at 11:47
  • Well, but research-level questions would never be upvoted that highly because they're too specific (and they wouldn't be tweeted by Jeff). So by looking at the highest voted questions, you're introducing a huge selection bias. I don't think that's a basis to conclude that the level of the site as a whole is low. – David Z Feb 17 '11 at 17:19
  • @David: Well, I think its a representative evaluation. The highest vote counts correspond to the kind of questions/answers the majority wants to have on such a site. Such a "ranking" is of course highly dependent on the audience and will on the long run alter what will be the content. So to speak, my selection bias is the correct one when one has to talk about the character of a site. Greets – Robert Filter Feb 18 '11 at 11:02
  • @Robert: perhaps we can agree to disagree on that point. I don't think that selection bias accurately represents the character of the site. – David Z Feb 18 '11 at 18:15
  • @David: I agree to disagree :D Nevertheless, the votes pretty much to my mind point out what the majority of the people like to see and thus define the character of the site. If the vote count is an extremely biased selection criteria, then we can entirely forget about the reputation system imho. Greets – Robert Filter Feb 18 '11 at 20:37

As I have seen and discuss here the problem is not exactly for merging but discuss the viability of Physics as a good Q&A site. I can't say much about the quality met in P.SE because it's not my domain but I see some ugly answers. It seems that P.SE is not making the internet a better place.

See also this answer and comments

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    Personally, I am simply choosing to part ways with the existing site, so I will not be trying to make them change. I submitted this proposal simply to try to build a community which I found lacking on the other site. I believe the questions and communities are sufficiently different that discussion about the two sites can be separated, and as I am choosing to leave the other site, I think it would be hypocritical of me to have any hand in deciding its faith. – Joe Fitzsimons Jan 30 '11 at 18:23
  • @Joe Fitzsimons: Good behavior however you could get into the discussion as you are doing. Thanks. – Maniero Jan 30 '11 at 18:31
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    Asserting that physics.SE is not making the internet a better place is pretty strong. If you're going to say that, it would be nice to have some detail to back it up. – David Z Feb 2 '11 at 21:10

To me it just doesn't seem like Physics or Theoretical Physics have a large enough audience yet to survive separately.

Theoretical physics is a direct subset of Physics, therefore it does not need a separate site, and it would simply drain interest from physics. I have to vote to close, sorry.

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    Well, my point (see my answer) is that these are distinct communities, similar to the situation with Math.SE and MathOverflow. While theoretical physics is of course a type of physics, the current Physics site does not contain an expert community in theoretical physics. Rather it contians a handful of users who are experts in physics of any sort, and a ton of people at the undergrad level and even more at a pop-sci level. This proposal is aimed at creating an expert community, and I think looking through the current committed users here it is easy to see the difference in level. – Joe Fitzsimons Feb 4 '11 at 17:26

I think the idea of making basic site and advanced site is just bad, because it provokes the first to be junkyard and the second to be discussion forum instead of Q&A.

Everyone mentions MSE and MO, but the opposite construction works very well for instance on CrossValidated.

  • <lonnnng, largely irrelevant ad hominem discussion deleted> – Robert Cartaino Feb 6 '11 at 5:55
  • So, have you decided if you want to say "I told you so." or just leave it as understood yet? – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Apr 26 '12 at 1:16

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