6
votes

Update: The Theoretical Physics proposal will not be closed

See: The Theoretical Physic Proposal Back Underway!


Over the last 8 months, I have watched this Area 51 proposal to create a Theoretical Physics site which would, effectively, split the Physics community into two separate branches of study.

I can appreciate and understand both sides of the debate (focused vs. broader appeal). That's why I've been watching carefully the Area 51 discussions and the development of Physics SE. This proposal has inched along slowly over 8 months while the Physics Stack Exchange continues to evolve.

At this time, I feel strongly that splitting the field of physics between two separate sites would be materially harmful to both the proposed Theoretical site and the Physics SE. Having two related sites like that will only draw much-needed attention to the detriment of both.

Physics SE has been doing fine in the Area 51 analytics, but there have been concerns of steadily declining traffic and visitors. If Physics SE had the "big city" problems of a Stack Overflow, there might have been merit to splitting up the community. It might makes sense someday, but not now. I don't think either site can take the additional hit on Physic SE's declining traffic.

But traffic isn't the main reason not to split up the physics community. The Theoretical Physics proposal was created when the Physics SE site was very young. At the time, it wasn't clear if the two branches of study would benefit from being on the same site. But the Physics SE has made tremendous progress and, to their credit, this site seems to have successfully and harmoniously integrated these areas of study.

In short, I feel that the scope of questions outlined in this proposal have a home on Physics SE. That doesn't mean that we can never open another physics-based site. There may be a time where that makes sense. But I am planning on closing the Theoretical Physics proposal and wanted to let you know how I came to that decision and to see if there were any further issue I should consider before finally closing the proposal.

Proposal: Theoretical Physics

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16
votes

Let me try to reiterate why I think closing TP.SE would be a step in a bad direction.

  1. Opening a new site is not going to hurt the old one. I can't see any reason why this should be so. People who have interest in phy.SE are there already and those who don't aren't. It's as simple as that. Joining another site doesn't force anyone to leave the old one. On the contrary, some professionals are fond of answering even lower level questions (as seen at math.SE) and so I think it very likely that by launching TP.SE the opposite would happen -- there would be an inflow of valuable users to phy.SE.

  2. It's a definite fact that some very valuable users left precisely because of level of questions. They are just not interested in the site that produces predominantly low level questions any more than they would be interested in the site on flower arangement or carpentry. I am still hoping that phy.SE might one day turn into a big site that can also accomodate professional scientists but currently the evidence is to the contrary -- we have professional users leaving and there is virtually no research community there.

  3. What would be the point of closing the proposal anyway? Is the proposal hurting anybody? I think the only effect would be that hardly gained valuable subscribers (just by glancing at the recent ones one can see that there are lots of academics and professionals) would be lost. They would probably not join phy.SE because often times they are aware of it already and don't join it (again among the recent subscribers: ""Do NOT merge with physics."). They simply want this site and none other.

In conclusion, I think having this site will be tremendously useful to the scientific community as there is currently no other site that comes even close (certainly not phy.SE), while closing the proposal doesn't really help anyone.

8
votes

I think the decision to close TP.SE is a disastrous one; moreover, the importance of this issue transcends the current discussion. I, for one, would love to see stackexchange sites on more academic subjects: economics, political science, history, etc. However, I think the Stackexchange team needs to understand a basic fact about the academic world:

Most academic scholars are unlikely to share the same community with enthusiastic amateurs.

Why not, you ask? I don't know; its how the academic world works. Your average mathematician will visit math.SE, note the fairly basic level of most questions, and never visit again. The same person will be intrigued by the questions on MO and be easily enticed into participating.

But, you ask, why don't they share the same community? Why don't they screen out the basic questions and interact with each other on the more advanced questions? I have a few theories, but the bottom line is that they simply will not, regardless of what policies the Stackexchange team puts into place.

Note how many of the world's most famous mathematicians are on MO (I can count several fields medalists). By contrast, math.SE is primarily composed of graduate students, postdocs, advanced undergraduates (though there are several established mathematicians contributing as well) mostly answering undergraduate and high school level questions (with an occasional high-level question every once in a while). Physics.SE is analogous to math.SE in that respect. The people who answer questions on math.SE are mostly doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, out of a desire to help others, perhaps sharpen their skills in the process; the people who answer questions on Mathoverflow are mostly doing it because reading and thinking about the questions there is a fantastic learning experience.

Philsophy.SE is also useful to consider here: note that its top five users by reputation (on Sept. 04, 2011) all appear to be software developers (albeit with some background in philosophy) (not that I have anything against software developers :) the point is that they are not academic philosophers, the people with the most expertise in the subject).

  • 2
    Rest the first line (update) of the post or the [status-declined] or the updated linked article. The Theoretical Physics has not been closed. – Robert Cartaino Sep 5 '11 at 1:18
  • 2
    Absolutely! And to underline your point, it is not possible to screen questions by level. On MathOverflow, I can assess whether I can answer a question or not in about 30s. On Math.SE the very same question takes much longer, and probably several back-and-forth comments, because I cannot make any assumptions about the level of understanding of the questioner. – Loop Space Sep 6 '11 at 10:18
1
vote

Well, my hope is that a professional physics SE would improve interdisciplinary communications. I Understand the reality: theorists and experimentalists are not really interested in each others job. But i think that a common research SE would help to change a tiny little bit that reality

the argument above is why i think that, while a professional-level physics site is definitely required, and it definitely will not hurt Physics.SE by the reasons that already Marek presented better than i would be able to, i don't think it should be Theoretical-physics the name or the focus of it.

Although, i'll play devil advocate here and expose equally nice arguments about why maybe experimental and theoretical physics should be separate sites: There exists already a similar experience, specifically with Computer Science SE versus StackOverflow; both sites have very different aims and they work very well being not the same site.

Obviously, physics is not CS or programming; its a different science; stackoverflow is engineering-oriented, but experimentalists are not engineers! and there are huge gains to be made from interaction between disciplines that don't apply to other sciences and engineering fields.

  • 1
    I very much agree (but can't upvote for some reason?) I want to add another thought or two: most of the arguments I have seen for TP.SE seem to be calling for a 'research-level' site with 'research-level' questions, supported by a 'research-level' community. I can foresee nothing but mutual gain to include professional experimentalists in the site and assosciated community. It would certainly be very easy to distinguish between such professions on the questions-page and I don't doubt that everyone would occasionally stumble upon an experimental/theoretical-based that interested them – qftme Jul 29 '11 at 15:53
  • 4
    I agree that the experimentalists should be invited (and personally I preferred name "Research-level Physics" instead of "Theoretical Physics"). However, there is an idea in calling it TP.SE: while there is an huge intersection, mixing theory with strictly technical questions (e.g. What is the acceptable noise in XXX oscilloscope at 31oT?) is not a good idea. Still, not-technical questions which are in principle experimental are welcome (e.g. What is the shortest scale at which gravity was tested?). – Piotr Migdal Aug 1 '11 at 12:54

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