coldquestioning

Very Little Excuse To Ask A Question Cold

We frequently get questions such as these:

“What is energy?”

“What are Cooper Pairs?”

“What is conservation of momentum?”

etc…etc.

And the persons who asked such questions didn’t bother to explain the context of the question, what exactly did he/she wanted to know, and didn’t reveal the level of education that he/she could understand.

While we welcome questions, in this day and age, it is hard to comprehend anyone coming here asking a question cold, without first trying to look it up. There really is no excuse, other than laziness, for asking such a question. If you are curious enough about something, the first thing you do is fire up Google, and do a search on it. You don’t just pop into an open forum and ask such a question as to the first thing that you do, do you?

Learning, believe it or not, is a very personal and internal activity. While we use external means to gain knowledge, in the end, it is something that has to sink in for yourself. So the effort in learning has to come from you. While this forum can do a lot of things, what it can’t do effectively is teach BROAD subjects. It is just too cumbersome! What it can do very well is tackle specific and narrow areas. Often, questions coming from such narrow areas are dealt with satisfactorily, with full closure.

So if you have a question, this is what you should do:

1. Do a search. Try finding out the answer yourself. Even Wikipedia, which I dislike, might offer some help.

2. Figure out where, in all your readings, that you lost your understanding. This could be an equation, a derivation, or a description that simply doesn’t sink in.

3. Note the exact reference that you used, and cite these references when you tell people where your source of information was.

4. Post your question in full, and within the proper context. Cite your sources, and indicate what level that you can understand. It is a waste of time if someone presents a response that is way beyond what you can comprehend.

5. Make sure you follow up. There’s nothing more annoying than someone who posts and runs. The rest of us can’t tell if we’ve answered your question, or if you never came back to even read the responses. The least you can do is indicate that, yes, you’ve read it, and it is satisfactory. If not, ask what you still don’t get.

6. Don’t be impatient. Students who demand answers IMMEDIATELY deserve to fail their exams. Remember that no one is being paid to do this in this forum. People are helping you voluntarily. Demanding that your question be answered will do nothing but turn people off, and may get you an infraction or two for being a jerk.

7. Don’t get annoyed if people are helping you via “guidance” rather than giving you a direct answer. In many cases, it is best that you discover the answer yourself, with the guidance of others. This is one of the most effective means to learn, where you use what you already know, and build on top of that to learn new things. Sometimes, what you think is new, actually has an analogous situation elsewhere that you’ve already understood. Making you realize that the situation that you didn’t realize to be similar to be just that is part of learning. So be prepared to be asked questions as responses to your question. People might be trying to get clarification of what you were asking, or trying to guide you to arrive at the answer.

 

 

71 replies
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  1. Drakkith says:
    vela

    It's a mistake to ascribe blanket motives to the people asking bad questions. Some are indeed lazy, but many others just don't know how to ask a good question. Many have been misled by teachers telling them "there's no such thing as a dumb question." If a question pops into their head, they just blurt it out. They don't consider that perhaps they could figure the answer out on their own. Some people just can't articulate their thoughts. Most of my gen-ed students are absolutely horrible at this, and I'd guess people in general are no better.Indeed. The ability to articulate your thoughts is not something that comes naturally to many people. I'm a prime example. I have a horrible time asking questions because I have a horrible time trying to gather all of my thoughts on something that I'm unfamiliar with and condense it all down to a question that makes sense and isn't a simple "How does X work?" type question.

    David Neves

    However, it takes more work to post a question here than to look it up on the Internet.I wouldn't be so sure about that. Looking up information isn't as easy as you make it out to be for many people. It's difficult to read through all of those websites, each one filled with terminology you aren't familiar with and concepts you've never even heard of. It's downright hard for some!

  2. David Neves says:
    ZapperZ

    Er… how do you know this? Did you poll and collect statistics of PF Moderators? I'd like to see it.I did not conduct a poll. This is just the impression I got from reading their responses.

    When I was a physicist working at a US Nat'l Lab, part of my job was to participate in outreach programs. What this means is that I frequently dealt with high school/elementary school students, visitors, and general public. I've coordinated open houses, I've conducted tours and seminars, I've even had a Q&A session, all with the public. Not only that, I've also taught physics courses for Arts majors where the students can barely do simple algebra! Try explaining physics in that situation!

    Based on this, I would say that I have had quite a good knowledge of dealing with the public in terms of science/physics issues. But even without that, I've been dealing with the "public" on this forum for YEARS, way longer than the time you have spent on here. And this is what every moderator here has in common.

    So to claim that the moderators or I have no clue on how to deal with science questions from the public is faulty and has no supporting evidence.I never said that you had no clue that how to deal with science questions from the public. I think it is great that you have participated in public outreach. I think that public outreach is important. However, I have noticed that if the original poster does not state their level of experience, (which they should, but if they don't) the responders including the moderators, assume, without anything else to go on, that the original poster has more knowledge than the general public. It is especially common for members of the public to post in the quantum mechanics section because quantum mechanics is so often misrepresented in the popular media, yet it's captured the public imagination. If you are answering a question posted by a member of the public who only knows the bad pop-sci misrepresentation of quantum mechanics, you will answer in a different way than you would if a physics student asked the same question. However, if the original poster does not state their background, almost all responders will assume they are a physics student, unless otherwise stated.

    Actually, I didn't assume that. This is because I also listed what one should do on PF IF one has tried to look up for an answer and still has questions. If the person has tried to find the answer and still do not understand what he/she has read, then simply asking the question without doing much explaining is NOT sufficient. This is because we do not know what he/she has read and has not understood. There is no point is providing the SAME answer that the person did not understand. So knowing what didn't work is as useful as knowing what might work!I agree they should! Some people here were saying that the posters are lazy, and therefore, they post a question here first before looking it up on the Internet. However, it takes more work to post a question here than to look it up on the Internet. It is a lot of easier to just go to Google, and type in a phrase, then for you go to Physics Forums, log on, start a new topic, post the question, and then wait for responses. It is just takes a lot fewer keystrokes to type it into Google, and I would have thought a lazy person would try the easier thing first. Therefore, I don't think it is common for lazy people to not look it up on the Internet, and instead post a question here as their first course of action, and the reason is because they are supposedly lazy.

    And this is WHY we needed MORE information than simply "What is Energy?". Many people who respond to these types of questions often simply assumed what that person knows. It is the fault of both sides. The person asking the question didn't bother to elaborate not only about what he/she doesn't understand, but also didn't bother to describe his/her capability of understanding. This is a DIRECT result of a very short, terse question.

    No, the MAJORITY of "first responders" in this forum are not moderators! Go take a look! The moderators are not the people you should be "schooling" in this (assuming that your guesses of the people who I was referring to in the article is valid, which still has not been established).I agree! The original poster should state what they currently know. I give credit to posters who say, "I am lay person trying to understand physics" or something to that effect. I also think that part of the explanation for the terse nature of some of the questions is because sometimes the posters are non-native English speakers who recently learned English as a second language, and part of that is that they can't write in a flowing casual conversational way.

    Take note that, per the PF Rules, simply asking "What is energy?" and leaving it at that can already be construed as in violation of the posting guidelines, which among others, stated that:

    Simply asking "What is energy?" without (i) explaining what ones has attempted to find out and (ii) describing what one already knows or capable of knowing (i.e. background knowledge) means that one has not given enough information for other readers to have a good understanding of what and at what level the responses should be given.

    There are a lot of things one can learn from this forum, beyond just the science or the subject matter. For the public, leaning the question to ask, how to ask, and what needs to accompany that question, is a valuable lesson that no other places on the 'net will spend time and effort to educate. It forces a person asking the question to get into the habit of looking carefully at the question and how to present it. This is what scientists normally do, and it is an invaluable lesson that someone not in science can learn from and appreciate! One has the chance not only to learn the subject matter, but also the PROCESS, which is typically neglected when we talk about science.

    The fact that this forum requires and expects a lot more is a virtue, not a weakness.

    Zz.I agree! I really think that a big part of learning science is learning the scientific method, curiosity, creativity, logical reasoning, problem solving skills, thinking outside the box, being able to reason something out, to ask the right questions, how to properly phrase the question, how to do a back-of-the-envelope calculation, and if you can't figure it out, how to look up the answer, and what sources you should use. In addition, you need to learn the mathematics that is the foundation, the language of science, how we actually write it down, and also the history of science. Hopefully, we can instill these concepts into children at science museums and elementary schools. A big part of learning science is learning how to learn. There is a whole subject of physics pedagogy or physics education research, where they study the learning process itself, and suggest how we might update our teaching methods.

  3. vela says:
    davenn

    There is definitely a lazy streak, I see it in every day life as well as on forums …. so many (not all) of the "younger" generation, around 30 years old and younger, expect everything just to be handed to them …. apparently they believe ( incorrectly) that that is their right. Anyone my age, give or take 20 years knows what it was like before the internet and search engines. We had to make a concerted effort to go out and find the answers ourselves. I spent countless hours in the high school library and again in the science library at university. If I wanted to make something happen, I had to put in the effort.

    Seriously, how difficult is it for some one to say in their OP …. "I have done a bit of I-net searching and I don't really understand what I'm reading" " here is an example ( link) can some one clarify that for me please?"I think there's a tendency for older people to look down on the younger generation as being lazy and entitled. I don't think it's really fair to characterize the younger generation as being any more lazy than previous generations. Kids might seem lazy to older people, but remember, part of it is about growing up. When I've had older students in my classes, they generally were more disciplined and would do the work assigned. Over the years they learned that being a flake or just giving up usually doesn't cut it. The younger students simply haven't learned that life lesson yet.

    It's a mistake to ascribe blanket motives to the people asking bad questions. Some are indeed lazy, but many others just don't know how to ask a good question. Many have been misled by teachers telling them "there's no such thing as a dumb question." If a question pops into their head, they just blurt it out. They don't consider that perhaps they could figure the answer out on their own. Some people just can't articulate their thoughts. Most of my gen-ed students are absolutely horrible at this, and I'd guess people in general are no better.

    Asking good questions and knowing how to learn aren't things that comes naturally to most people. They have to learn how to do it.

    lavinia

    The people who are abused are the science advisors. We devote ourselves to this forum and are faced with lazy Ops who do not feel like learning anything on their own, people who take your help for granted and walk away without responding, people who make zero attempt to understand and just want answers, people who completely ignore your efforts, people who disrespect the learning process and just shoot their mouths off, people who refuse to engage with you because they are not really serious.You don't have to reply to these posters if you don't want to. If you find them exasperating, just ignore them.

  4. ZapperZ says:
    David Neves

    The moderators are mostly physics professors used to dealing with physics students.Er… how do you know this? Did you poll and collect statistics of PF Moderators? I'd like to see it.

    The people posting these type of questions are not physics students! These are just members of the public with zero background in science whatsoever! They have no clue what a tensor is or what a differential equation is. They don't realize that you need to know all of this prerequisite material to understand the answer to their question. They don't realize that it takes many years of hard work to get to the point where you can understand the answer. They think that if you have zero background in science, you can ask a one sentence question, get a one sentence answer, and then understand it.When I was a physicist working at a US Nat'l Lab, part of my job was to participate in outreach programs. What this means is that I frequently dealt with high school/elementary school students, visitors, and general public. I've coordinated open houses, I've conducted tours and seminars, I've even had a Q&A session, all with the public. Not only that, I've also taught physics courses for Arts majors where the students can barely do simple algebra! Try explaining physics in that situation!

    Based on this, I would say that I have had quite a good knowledge of dealing with the public in terms of science/physics issues. But even without that, I've been dealing with the "public" on this forum for YEARS, way longer than the time you have spent on here. And this is what every moderator here has in common.

    So to claim that the moderators or I have no clue on how to deal with science questions from the public is faulty and has no supporting evidence.
    I

    The writer of the article was assuming that they did not look it up on the Internet ahead of time. I think most of them probably do try to look it up using a search engine, but they can't understand any of the websites that a search will bring up. After that, they try to post a question on this forum. They don't think they are being lazy. From their point of view, what they think are saying, "I don't need to slog through a long winded answer full of technical jargon. Just tell me what it is!" They are assuming that physics is like every other subject where there is a short answer that could be understood by a non-specialist. It's not that they are lazy, and not willing to do the work. They are looking for a short answer than can be understood without having to do any work, not realizing that in physics, unlike every other subject, no such short answer exists.Actually, I didn't assume that. This is because I also listed what one should do on PF IF one has tried to look up for an answer and still has questions. If the person has tried to find the answer and still do not understand what he/she has read, then simply asking the question without doing much explaining is NOT sufficient. This is because we do not know what he/she has read and has not understood. There is no point is providing the SAME answer that the person did not understand. So knowing what didn't work is as useful as knowing what might work!

    The writer of this article also complains about people who post a question, and then disappear, and never post again. I think the real reason for that is because they did not understand any of the answers to their question. I mean they really did not understand a single word. They could never even begin to understand it. From their point of view, the responses might as well have been written in Chinese. Well, at that point, what follow up post could they possibly make? This is different than a physics student who partially understands it, but they are struggling with it, and can ask questions relating to specific points.And this is WHY we needed MORE information than simply "What is Energy?". Many people who respond to these types of questions often simply assumed what that person knows. It is the fault of both sides. The person asking the question didn't bother to elaborate not only about what he/she doesn't understand, but also didn't bother to describe his/her capability of understanding. This is a DIRECT result of a very short, terse question.

    So this explains the people that the writer of the Insights article is referring to. There are many other types of people who frequent these forums, including physics undergraduates, physics graduate students, physics professors, scientists in other fields, knowledgeable members of the public, and crackpots peddling their own wrong crank theories. The moderators have to tailor their answers to the type of person asking the question.No, the MAJORITY of "first responders" in this forum are not moderators! Go take a look! The moderators are not the people you should be "schooling" in this (assuming that your guesses of the people who I was referring to in the article is valid, which still has not been established).

    Take note that, per the PF Rules, simply asking "What is energy?" and leaving it at that can already be construed as in violation of the posting guidelines, which among others, stated that:

    PF Rules

    Please clearly state what you wish to discuss. In general, one should attempt to flesh out questions and arguments adequately enough that readers will have a good understanding of the issue.Simply asking "What is energy?" without (i) explaining what ones has attempted to find out and (ii) describing what one already knows or capable of knowing (i.e. background knowledge) means that one has not given enough information for other readers to have a good understanding of what and at what level the responses should be given.

    There are a lot of things one can learn from this forum, beyond just the science or the subject matter. For the public, leaning the question to ask, how to ask, and what needs to accompany that question, is a valuable lesson that no other places on the 'net will spend time and effort to educate. It forces a person asking the question to get into the habit of looking carefully at the question and how to present it. This is what scientists normally do, and it is an invaluable lesson that someone not in science can learn from and appreciate! One has the chance not only to learn the subject matter, but also the PROCESS, which is typically neglected when we talk about science.

    The fact that this forum requires and expect a lot more is a virtue, not a weakness.

    Zz.

  5. davenn says:
    David Neves

    The writer of the article was assuming that they did not look it up on the Internet ahead of time. I think most of them probably do try to look it up using a search engine, but they can't understand any of the websites that a search will bring up. After that, they try to post a question on this forum.and for a large % age of the time they don't …. and it is obvious by the way they ask their Q
    30 sec of googling and they would have got their one sentence answer
    There is definitely a lazy streak, I see it in every day life as well as on forums …. so many (not all) of the "younger" generation,
    around 30 years old and younger, expect everything just to be handed to them …. apparently they believe ( incorrectly) that that is their right
    Anyone my age, give or take 20 years knows what it was like before the internet and search engines. We have to make a concerted effort to
    go out and find the answers ourselves. I spent countless hours in the high school library and again in the science library at university.
    If I wanted to make something happen, I had to put in the effort.

    Seriously, how difficult is it for some one to say in their OP …. " I have done a bit of I-net searching and I don't really understand what I'm reading"
    " here is an example ( link) can some one clarify that for me please ? "

    At least then, we would be on the same page and can build on the teaching from there :smile:

    I totally agree with the topic. In these days there really is no excuse for cold questions when there is so much information available
    with a few words and mouse clicks in your favourite search engine

    Dave

  6. UsableThought says:
    David Neves

    If you are stunned that someone could think that, remember that that is the case for subjects other than physics.This is not anywhere near correct. Getting a simplified answer about who Cromwell was is virtually meaningless if the person asking has no context for that answer, as in the example.

    If anything, I would say that many persons in the hard sciences have a blindsight of their own, precisely around this issue of not realizing that the "soft" disciplines of history, economics, sociology, etc. etc. are not inferior or simpler, but equally as abstruse and demanding.

  7. David Neves says:

    The moderators are mostly physics professors used to dealing with physics students. The people posting these type of questions are not physics students! These are just members of the public with zero background in science whatsoever! They have no clue what a tensor is or what a differential equation is. They don't realize that you need to know all of this prerequisite material to understand the answer to their question. They don't realize that it takes many years of hard work to get to the point where you can understand the answer. They think that if you have zero background in science, you can ask a one sentence question, get a one sentence answer, and then understand it. If you are stunned that someone could think that, remember that that is the case for subjects other than physics. For instance, if you reading about history, and ran across the name "Thomas Cromwell", and didn't know who it was, you could ask

    "Who was Thomas Cromwell?"

    and get the answer

    "He was a high ranking statesman in the court of King Henry VIII."

    and now you have the answer. You can even have satisfactory simple answers like that in natural science other than physics.

    "What is meiosis?"

    "It's the type of cell division that produces sperm and eggs."

    "What is metamorphic rock?"

    "It's a type of rock that has been modified by high temperature and pressure."

    After reading the simple answer, you still don't know the technical details, but you basically get it. You have the basic gist. You have a basic awareness of what it is. This is not the case in physics. This is not possible in physics. Even a seemingly simple question in physics such as

    "What is polarized light?"

    gives a complicated answer requiring more mathematics than the average person possesses. Try to remember than the average person who is not scientist, mathematician, or engineer, even if they have currently a college degree in a non-science subject, is sadly at a 4th grade level in their mathematical ability. That's not true for everyone but it's true for most people. Whatever they may have learned when they were kids, they forgot. They teach simple algebra in 7th grade, and maybe they could have done it when they were in the 7th grade, but if later, when they are an adult, you gave them a 7th grade math problem, they would not have the slightest clue how to begin. They don't know what a vector is. They don't know what matrices are. These people are not stupid. They just have a non-scientist's knowledge of science, which is close to nothing. They literally don't realize that physics is fundamentally different than other subjects in that, unlike other subjects, you can never ask a simple question, and get a one sentence answer that will give you any kind of basic understanding, awareness or gist of what the answer is.

    The writer of the article was assuming that they did not look it up on the Internet ahead of time. I think most of them probably do try to look it up using a search engine, but they can't understand any of the websites that a search will bring up. After that, they try to post a question on this forum. They don't think they are being lazy. From their point of view, what they think are saying, "I don't need to slog through a long winded answer full of technical jargon. Just tell me what it is!" They are assuming that physics is like every other subject where there is a short answer that could be understood by a non-specialist. It's not that they are lazy, and not willing to do the work. They are looking for a short answer than can be understood without having to do any work, not realizing that in physics, unlike every other subject, no such short answer exists.

    The writer of this article also complains about people who post a question, and then disappear, and never post again. I think the real reason for that is because they did not understand any of the answers to their question. I mean they really did not understand a single word. They could never even begin to understand it. From their point of view, the responses might as well have been written in Chinese. Well, at that point, what follow up post could they possibly make? This is different than a physics student who partially understands it, but they are struggling with it, and can ask questions relating to specific points.

    So this explains the people that the writer of the Insights article is referring to. There are many other types of people who frequent these forums, including physics undergraduates, physics graduate students, physics professors, scientists in other fields, knowledgeable members of the public, and crackpots peddling their own wrong crank theories. The moderators have to tailor their answers to the type of person asking the question.

  8. Vanadium 50 says:
    Bystander

    "Elephant in the room:" the recent election; need I say more?I think you should say less. Do we want a forum where conservatives are unwelcome, religious people are unwelcome, etc.?

  9. Bystander says:
    Greg Bernhardt

    Just curious, how would you suggest we filter these "non-serious" people out? Are you suggesting we block non math majors from using the math forums? I also strongly share fresh's sentiment of hoping you stay! What would make you feel more appreciated?"Elephant in the room:" the recent election; need I say more?

  10. Fervent Freyja says:
    lavinia

    The truth is people are taking great pains to explain and educate. We are giving our time and knowledge as a gift.

    You have also insinuated that the recent quietness of the topology and I assume other math forums is because of bad behavior on the part of science advisors. I take exception to that.I wasn't implying that the insight was being insulting.

    I know the effort that is given in replying to a post- I've never made a post asking for help myself.

    The topology and higher mathematics forum reference was intended for those that also very much miss the uplifting presence of a member that posted there frequently…

    I have actually also noticed you are posting less frequently, though I don't read everything in those forums. I don't think that you should leave just yet! PF will either improve or it will not, I have a feeling that it could improve if the people that care the most about it stick around! You don't have to put in your effort if you don't believe in what you are doing of course, but please at least stick around and see if things can improve! :smile:

    You are right, a big problem is bullies and jackasses (Drakkith said I could cuss every now-and-then, I'm going to test that and see if I can get away with it). Even if you do get the serious students that you want posting questions on here, those bullies could be running off potential long-term posters! A priority goal should be to retain the members that can keep posting good questions. That would significantly improve both the quantity and quality of questions/answers that this site holds in the long run.

  11. UsableThought says:
    lavinia

    In my opinion the reason the math forums are so poor is that most of the people who ask math questions here are not math students. They are either learning elementary math as part of some general curriculum like high school coursesPersonally, I'm glad that the math forum helps people like me learning "elementary math." I am an older adult revisiting high school algebra, since algebra is essential to further topics. I think that reaching out to older people is essential to physics and science education.

    I'm enjoying my math studies. Aside from my self-assigned study & homework, I browse the math forum fairly often, looking for topics not too far over my head; and I sometimes comment or ask questions in threads about learning strategies, which is something I'm very interested in. I don't post a lot of homework questions – just one to date – but I appreciate this resource being available. Also one can ask more general questions about textbooks etc.; and this too has been useful for me, as I started a thread asking for recommendations for a good introductory algebra text, and so wound up with a textbook that I am very happy with.

  12. dlgoff says:
    Greg Bernhardt

    … non math majors from using the math forumsI'd be willing to bet that there are countless views by readers that don't post that are getting well educated. I've been around PF for a lot of years and my post count isn't that big and have learned an unbelievable amount of science (and math). Maybe I should just pop in and say thanks even though I'm not contributing to a thread.

  13. Greg Bernhardt says:
    lavinia

    One way to remedy this would be to weed out the the insincere Ops who just use this forum because it is free and who are not interested in really learning not to mention even listening.Just curious, how would you suggest we filter these "non-serious" people out? Are you suggesting we block non math majors from using the math forums? I also strongly share fresh's sentiment of hoping you stay! What would make you feel more appreciated?

  14. fresh_42 says:
    lavinia

    I am on the fence about spending anymore time here.Just a side note: Please don't! I will definitely miss your contributions as I currently try to close my gap in understanding the bridges between analytic, geometric and algebraic concepts of topological groups. Hard enough for I don't like coordinates (and indices) at all.

  15. lavinia says:
    Fervent Freyja

    I'm appalled at having to be a tattletale. I really don't want to have to report an established member, especially when it's clear in their posting patterns that they are bullies. I cannot stand when somebody does it to me, instead of coming to me about it.

    I've gotten upset and stopped posting, nobody seems to notice. I don't like this, I don't think people should be viewed as disposable, especially on a human interactive forum!
    .The truth is people are taking great pains to explain and educate. We are giving our time and knowledge as a gift.

    The people who are abused are the science advisors. We devote ourselves to this forum and are faced with lazy Ops who do not feel like learning anything on their own, people who take your help for granted and walk away without responding, people who make zero attempt to understand and just want answers, people who completely ignore your efforts, people who disrespect the learning process and just shoot their mouths off, people who refuse to engage with you because they are not really serious.

    You have also insinuated that the recent quietness of the topology and I assume other math forums is because of bad behavior on the part of science advisors. I take exception to that.

    In my opinion the reason the math forums are so poor is that most of the people who ask math questions here are not math students. They are either learning elementary math as part of some general curriculum like high school courses or they are physics students who just want an answer that will get them through the next page of their physics book, or they are not students of anything and come here to ask frivolous questions like "Is 0/0/ a number"?

    One way to remedy this would be to weed out the the insincere Ops who just use this forum because it is free and who are not interested in really learning not to mention even listening. Maybe then serious students will come here. They will come because they see the quality of the questions and the quality of the teaching. Right now if I were a mathematics student I would look at this these forums and say "This is not a serious math forum." and go somewhere else.

    Recently I decided that the forums do not appreciate their mathematics science advisors and perhaps do not appreciate mathematics either. I am on the fence about spending anymore time here.

    Oh yeah I forgot. The problem is bullies and the j-word.

  16. Mark44 says:
    Dr Debi

    Some people don't like to give free stuff. My wonderment of why they're on a blog.

    Drakkith

    I have no idea what this means.That makes two of us.

  17. lavinia says:
    Fervent Freyja

    At least they are showing a small interest in science. People should look at those sort of posts as an opportunity to teach them how to be more independent and help them, instead of personally attacking and yelling at them. There is such a thing as being firm but kind.While I agree with what you say here , I saw no personal attacks in the Insights article. Could you point them out to me?

  18. Dr Debi says:
    Drakkith

    Is your objection that we've labeled people acting "rude" as jerks in the insights article, or do you think we're actively calling them jerks when we issue warnings? Or is it something else?Some people don't like to give free stuff. My wonderment of why they're on a blog.

  19. Dr Debi says:
    Fervent Freyja

    There are people in this world that exist with cognitive limitations, such as autism, mental health issues, or learning difficulties- they are also likely to post these questions that annoy others. There are also many that haven't had the opportunity to make it through primary or middle education. And remember, many posting are minors and may not have been taught how to find information yet. They don't deserve to be beaten down on the first post they make on here. English may not even be their native language, and they may simply not understand how to find information. I'm not saying that most of them aren't just being lazy, I agree most should know better, but there are going to be many that post simple questions that fall into the above categories. To respond the way that I've seen on here to people like that, before assessing why they are asking such elementary questions and don't fall into the above categories, is incredibly cruel.

    I'm happy for you all that don't have to deal with those problems.

    At least they are showing a small interest in science. People should look at those sort of posts as an opportunity to teach them how to be more independent and help them, instead of personally attacking and yelling at them. There is such a thing as being firm but kind.Surely a large mind can answer something SIMPLE?

  20. lavinia says:

    Name calling is not the only way to scare a student away. Another is to say things like " you clearly do not know what you are talking about" or " your post makes no sense" or " why do you ask a question when you can't figure it out for yourself?" – which was once said to me.

    That said, Zapper Z's use of the word "jerk" was not personal nor was it said with anger or with disdain. It was completely appropriate. The complaint about it was IMO misplaced. His points in the Insights article were exactly right and anyone reading it would have seen that.

    A couple of related thoughts:

    It can be a dereliction of pedagogical duty or even an insult merely to throw an answer out there without guiding and without pointing to underlying ideas. A mentor I had several years ago would never answer my questions directly but would always point to a more general context in which the importance of question could be understood. I think more of his method would aid this forum and would bring a richer level of respect for the OPs.

    Finally, in an intellectual community, bounds on what can or can not be said are intrinsically contrary to open discussion. This means that in order to preserve our integrity, we have to accept the possibility that someone may get insulted.

  21. Krylov says:
    Drakkith

    Is your objection that we've labeled people acting "rude" as jerks in the insights article, or do you think we're actively calling them jerks when we issue warnings? Or is it something else?I was referring to the Insight article.

    (Please also see the PM I sent you.)

  22. Drakkith says:
    Krylov

    In general, I don't believe it is necessary to answer to rudeness (= insisting on an instant answer) by being rude (= calling someone a jerk), especially in an insight article. It creates an atmosphere that I find very unpleasant and on top of that I doubt whether it will be very effective.Is your objection that we've labeled people acting "rude" as jerks in the insights article, or do you think we're actively calling them jerks when we issue warnings? Or is it something else?

  23. Krylov says:
    Drakkith

    May I ask why you're appalled at the thought of someone receiving an infraction for being a jerk?In general, I don't believe it is necessary to answer to rudeness (= insisting on an instant answer) by being rude (= calling someone a jerk), especially in an insight article. It creates an atmosphere that I find very unpleasant and on top of that I doubt whether it will be very effective.

  24. UsableThought says:
    mfb

    User who make problematic posts usually don't read guidelines or helpful texts how to ask better questions before starting a thread.

    Greg Bernhardt

    Furthermore the tolerance of most new members to jump through hoops and move through barriers is very low. It's really a difficult balance between informing them and making the process as easy as possible.Well, at least ZapperZ's Insights article can be linked to for quick reference – handy thing to have.

  25. Greg Bernhardt says:
    mfb

    Even the best explanation with the best possible structure does not help if it is not read.Furthermore the tolerance of most new members to jump through hoops and move through barriers is very low. It's really a difficult balance between informing them and making the process as easy as possible. There is an awful lot we want them to know, but the reality is that many of our new members are here to find help with a specific problem and are not interested in investing themselves into the community (initially).

    Overall I really agree with much of the feedback in this thread and it should be known it's something the staff has discussed often.

  26. mfb says:
    UsableThought

    but (a) it has what appears to be a broken link to an old blog post by ZapperZ (so this should be fixed);Fixed, thanks.

    User who make problematic posts usually don't read guidelines or helpful texts how to ask better questions before starting a thread. Even the best explanation with the best possible structure does not help if it is not read.

  27. Greg Bernhardt says:
    anorlunda

    No, I don't see it. It must be platform dependent. I mostly use my IIpad for PF. It shows this, (no sidebars on any PF pages.)ah, the sidebar is disabled for mobile even though your screen res appears quite high.

    anorlunda

    @Greg Bernhardt , do you get reports showing the percent of posts originating on desktops / tablets / phones?Yes

  28. anorlunda says:
    Greg Bernhardt

    On the "create thread" interface we do have this on the sidebar. Everyone see's it right?No, I don't see it. It must be platform dependent. I mostly use my IIpad for PF. It shows this, (no sidebars on any PF pages.)

    View attachment 197525

    @Greg Bernhardt , do you get reports showing the percent of posts originating on desktops / tablets / phones?

  29. fresh_42 says:

    My 2ct.:

    UsableThought

    If you behave like a jerk (e.g. demanding an instant answer and not realizing you are turning people off; escalating these demands even as people try politely to tell you to first do some research; etc.), then you will likely create irritation & hurt feelings in those trying to help you.I think that nails it. After all there are real people involved – on both ends of the line! To me it is very much about respect, not to say mainly, and this is a symmetric property. If someone posts, e.g. only a photo and leaves basically everything open, I simply won't answer even if I could. Why to spend more energy on a response than a poster did on the question? Of course this holds the other way around, too. Sometimes we face clearly young kids with questions that appear naive. So what? Or even adults who doesn't know better. We must not complain about the politics in our days, if we treated people badly who try to extend their horizons. We all should be lucky that there are students (or grown-ups) who really try to learn something and benefit from PF. And there are manifold ways to benefit from PF. All that is really needed is some respect – on both sides.

  30. anorlunda says:

    OK, so the next step should be for us to propose the wording of a guidance prompt for @Greg Bernhardt put into the body of the create thread editor. @Fervent Freyja suggested profile-dependent text, but I think that's too hard. Static text could be our first attempt. The main criterion is that it must be very short, perhaps a target of 140 characters. It should read like a bullet list with no scrolling required

    The homework forum already has its own template in the create thread. So we are discussing the non-homework forums.

    Below is my proposal (163 characters). I invite others to propose their own wording. (Post your entire wording, not incremental changes.) We can vote via likes.

    Explain the context of your question.
    Say why you are asking it.
    Say what research you have done.
    Give links or references.
    Use the upload button for pictures.

    No Homework here.

  31. UsableThought says:
    Drakkith

    May I ask why you're appalled at the thought of someone receiving an infraction for being a jerk?In hopes of establishing a useful distinction, I think there are two ways to evaluate language such as "being a jerk":

    1) As a normal human response – hurt leading to judgement – when someone is hostile to us, or to someone else in a way we feel is unfair, etc. ("Boy what a JERK that guy was!")

    2) In addition to the above, as a piece of self-talk that it helps to be aware of in ourselves – especially if we are in a position of responsibility. The alternative is to unwittingly allow our self-talk and our feelings of hurt/irritation control our actions; in which case we are likely to be less flexible/helpful to jerks and non-jerks alike. Whereas cultivating sangfroid, equanimity, coolness under fire, whatever you want to call it, makes us more effective at dealing w/ both ourselves & those pesky human beings around us who are so difficult.

    Of course there are degrees to everything; language is full of nuance. Personally, I agree with the gist of ZapperZ's Insights article, and this includes #6. Here it is again in full: 6. Don’t be impatient. Students who demand answers IMMEDIATELY deserve to fail their exams. Remember that no one is being paid to do this in this forum. People are helping you voluntarily. Demanding that your question be answered will do nothing but turn people off, and may get you an infraction or two for being a jerk.My interpretation of what ZZ is saying here is that it's simply a common-sense caution: If you behave like a jerk (e.g. demanding an instant answer and not realizing you are turning people off; escalating these demands even as people try politely to tell you to first do some research; etc.), then you will likely create irritation & hurt feelings in those trying to help you. The whole thing spirals downward very fast, and boom, the thread is locked or you are banned; and probably still blaming those who tried to help you. "What jerks they all were!"

    My own deeply engrained response to prickly interactions is to defend myself a bit too briskly – i.e. to behave a bit too much like a jerk. Fortunately there's the Edit button. Sometimes I wish real life had an Edit button too.

  32. Drakkith says:
    Fervent Freyja

    I don't think they care about moderating your PM's, unless you piss off somebody and they share it with staff or something…Mentor's don't have access to private conversations, so the only way we could moderate them is if someone reports them.

    Krylov

    When I read about "getting an infraction or two for being a jerk" in point #6 of the original "insight", I was appalled.May I ask why you're appalled at the thought of someone receiving an infraction for being a jerk?

  33. Fervent Freyja says:
    Krylov

    When I read about "getting an infraction or two for being a jerk" in point #6 of the original "insight", I was appalled.I'm appalled at having to be a tattletale. I really don't want to have to report an established member, especially when it's clear in their posting patterns that they are bullies. I cannot stand when somebody does it to me, instead of coming to me about it.

    So that's why you've not been on much!

    I don't think they care about moderating your PM's, unless you piss off somebody and they share it with staff or something…

    I can tell you that Greg and staff don't play games, if you threaten to go away then they aren't going to beg you back, no matter how much you've contributed (or how quiet the topology and higher mathematics forums have been for the last few months…) I've gotten upset and stopped posting, nobody seems to notice. I don't like this, I don't think people should be viewed as disposable, especially on a human interactive forum!

    @anorlunda, a beginner tutorial/prompt sounds like a good idea! I think that it would be easier to assess if they have more profile information, that way we can be sure that the person doesn't have those cognitive limitations or is like just 10 years old before coming down hard on them. I'm all for a little roughness, but only if they can handle it.

  34. strangerep says:
    Krylov

    This is one of the reasons that since December I only try to help via private conversations every now and then. I don't understand. (I had thought you'd abandoned PF, but it seems something else is going on?)

    When I read about "getting an infraction or two for being a jerk" in point #6 of the original "insight", I was appalled. Again, I don't understand. I thought point #6 was reasonable, since it's talking about posters who demand instant answers and act as if SAs are their personal slaves. For such people, I think "jerk" is a reasonable description.

  35. anorlunda says:

    I too have wished that posters should be familiar with a "PF Manual" chock full of good advice about how to be a good PF citizen. But then, I remember reality that RTFM is obsolete advice. There's no way we could force people to read it without scaring them away.

    But I really like @UsableThought 's idea (quoted below) about a "your first post" popup. But to have its contents actually read and considered, it has to be very very short. No more screen real estate than the quoted paragraph below (half a screenfull on a phone), and with about half as many words. Use Facebook as a guide to modern habits. If you write more than two sentences in a post, it appears truncated on Faceblook with a "more" hyperlink. If your Facebook post requires a "more" click to be viewed, that guarantees almost nobody will view it. So here's the challenge @UsableThought , propose a wording for that "first post" advice, short enough to be actually read and absorbed.

    Perhaps more practical would be a reminder (max 140 characters) that pops up every time a new thread is created by anyone. Such as "Say what research you have done. Explain the context. Say why you are asking this question."

    UsableThought

    (1) Create a separate help topic on "your first post" or some such. It should be crafted so that (a) persons who already know how do to research can scan it quickly and say "OK, I already know that" and move on without being offended; (b) it gently acknowledges the potential for learning/language/social support issues and gives whatever initial support PF mods consider would be appropriate in such situations (which may be very limited or very specific; I really don't know; mods can decide), and lastly (c) it gives specific advice to those who don't have learning/language challenges, but who don't really know how to do research, on why you need to make an initial stab at it rather than post a wide-open "I have no clue" style of question; with perhaps a link to an appropriate resource for the basics on student-level research & critical thinking. In other words, a topic that handles the concerns ZZ and others are talking about, in a supportive, non-belligerent "welcome, here's how we do things here & why" manner.Related: It can take skillfully nuanced use of language to navigate the narrow real estate between:

    1. The OP explaining what his/her current understanding is to provide context.
    2. The PF prohibition against personal theories.

    Finally, it needs to be said that although we strive to do better, PF rocks as it is.:cool:

  36. UsableThought says:

    A related aspect to my post above, suggesting a help topic for "Your first post" or something similar –

    Many posters, when starting off a thread, give sufficient context just by the detailed manner in which they ask a question or raise a topic; the level of detail alone is enough to suggest that the OP is saying/asking something reasonable, and also enough that others know how to respond.

    But a big problem with naive thread-starters is not only has the OP shown no sign of doing even basic research on the question, but also they very often provide almost no context for why they're asking. Which makes it even harder for people to respond than it already is – it's tough to know what to recommend when you don't know why someone is asking.

    Fortunately it's easy to learn how to provide enough context for people to respond. So the help topic I am suggesting could also have some other tips for "good posts for beginners" – e.g not just "Do at least basic research before posting your question" but also "and say why you are asking it"; maybe with some good example of starting posts in threads. And I'm also starting to think that this should somehow have a connection to "no speculative theories" etc. So some slight reworking of links & hierarchy might be useful at some point (later on maybe). I'd be volunteer for w/ what would probably be a team effort; however I am very junior here so it may not be appropriate.

  37. UsableThought says:

    We all know what @ZapperZ is talking about. However it's not a mere annoyance – it's a really, really important point in this day & age. So much so that I believe PF would be helping a lot of young people out by developing a systematic response, in addition to ad hoc mentor interventions.

    Specifically, there ought to be a topic or sub-topic inside the Help section that addresses ZZ's concerns as well as the related concerns raised by others in this thread. Currently, when I look, I don't find anything that pertains.

    Inside the Help section, the Global Guidelines have a lot to say – but nothing on this point. There is a help topic titled "How to post," but it is quite brief & says nothing about doing research before posting a question. We have another, somewhat more in-depth help topic titled "Why did nobody answer my post?"; however it pertains mostly to homework questions, not general questions. The fifth bullet down in that topic actually does pertain – it is subheaded Did you research the problem first yourself? – but (a) it has what appears to be a broken link to an old blog post by ZapperZ (so this should be fixed); and (b) it is buried too far down to be easy to notice. And regardless, certainly a topic titled "Why did nobody answer my post" is not the first place that persons new to PhysicsForum are going to look before posting for their very first time.

    Getting back to the issue itself: What ZZ has identified is not only a very common problem for this forum, but a common problem in the world in general: Even disregarding the question of whether English is a native language for someone, or whether they have a learning challenge or some other issue, it's widely acknowledged that many young persons aren't being taught how to do research in the Internet age – even when they are enrolled in, or have graduated from, a school & college that supposedly teaches such things. (I am reading a book now, The Death of Expertise, that includes an entire chapter on the failure of higher education in this regard.) So it would be doing a real favor to everyone, most especially young people in this category, if PhysicsForum made a couple of small changes to address this concern.

    Mods & people with more experience on the forum than I have will probably think of things I haven't. But for starters, here are two suggestions:

    (1) Create a separate help topic on "your first post" or some such. It should be crafted so that (a) persons who already know how do to research can scan it quickly and say "OK, I already know that" and move on without being offended; (b) it gently acknowledges the potential for learning/language/social support issues and gives whatever initial support PF mods consider would be appropriate in such situations (which may be very limited or very specific; I really don't know; mods can decide), and lastly (c) it gives specific advice to those who don't have learning/language challenges, but who don't really know how to do research, on why you need to make an initial stab at it rather than post a wide-open "I have no clue" style of question; with perhaps a link to an appropriate resource for the basics on student-level research & critical thinking. In other words, a topic that handles the concerns ZZ and others are talking about, in a supportive, non-belligerent "welcome, here's how we do things here & why" manner.

    (2) Optional: Modify the automated routine for new members such that when they go to make their first post, the system detects whether they have visited the above help topic; and if they haven't, directs them to do so. If the help topic itself isn't burdensome to read, this ought not to be discouraging; only a brief check to make sure a person's new-member ducks are in a row. I don't remember my own experience as a new member other than that I did get an automated message congratulating me for having actually visited the help section early on. I'm suggesting just to increment this a tiny bit. If there are other initial topics that new members should also be sure to read prior to their first post, they could be included in this automatic check as well.

  38. Krylov says:
    Fervent Freyja

    I know most members don't behave that way, but all it takes is just a handful to behave that way towards new posters to scare away that poster and probably deters other members from posting at all, from fear of the same negative reaction.This is one of the reasons that since December I only try to help via private conversations every now and then. (The moderators are invited to monitor my messages, if they care for that, so they can see I am not breaching any of their rules.)

    When I read about "getting an infraction or two for being a jerk" in point #6 of the original "insight", I was appalled.

  39. Fervent Freyja says:

    I agree that there are some great role models on here. I especially love to see members going into detail for a poster, that can be very encouraging and inspiring for young people. I think a lot of the time people post questions in order to get some interaction, because it's not always so easy in RL to discuss these topics without being judged and it can be difficult to find people that can even discuss it with. Simply put, if posters had the social support in RL then they wouldn't be on here seeking help or interaction. I know most members don't behave that way, but all it takes is just a handful to behave that way towards new posters to scare away that poster and probably deters other members from posting at all, from fear of the same negative reaction. And I hate to think of some person with those limitations being unable to cope with the harsh reaction! My little brother asked me questions all the time that would have been mocked by his peers, I would flip out if I saw somebody treat him that way!

  40. berkeman says:
    Fervent Freyja

    There are people in this world that exist with cognitive limitations, such as autism, mental health issues, or learning difficulties- they are also likely to post these questions that annoy others. There are also many that haven't had the opportunity to make it through primary or middle education. And remember, many posting are minors and may not have been taught how to find information yet. They don't deserve to be beaten down on the first post they make on here. English may not even be their native language, and they may simply not understand how to find information. I'm not saying that most of them aren't just being lazy, I agree most should know better, but there is going to be many that post simple questions that fall into the above categories. To respond the way that I've seen on here to people like that, before assessing why they are asking such elementary questions and don't fall into the above categories, is incredibly cruel.

    I'm happy for you all that don't have to deal with those problems.

    At least they are showing a small interest in science. People should look at those sort of posts as an opportunity to teach them how to be more independent and help them, instead of personally attacking and yelling at them. There is such a thing as being firm but kind.You make valid points, and please believe me, the Mentors try to be understanding and deal gently with special cases like those.

    It takes some experience and some guesswork to figure out why a new poster is showing no effort, but we do try to handle such cases in a constructive way, and we have definitely adjusted our response with some users as we find out that they are dealing with some learning disabilities.

    Pretty much every user, no matter what their ability starting out here, can benefit from learning to do more research on their own before posting a great thread start (with lots of details, links to previous reading, specific questions based on that reading, etc.). One of our biggest goals here is to help folks learn how to learn (no matter what their level or ability). :smile:

  41. Nugatory says:
    Fervent Freyja

    To respond the way that I've seen on here to people like that, before assessing why they are asking such elementary questions and don't fall into the above categories, is incredibly cruel.It's also inappropriate. The right thing to do when you see an ill-formed or substandard post is to report it and let us mentors handle it; anything else nearly always turns into more work for us.

  42. Fervent Freyja says:

    There are people in this world that exist with cognitive limitations, such as autism, mental health issues, or learning difficulties- they are also likely to post these questions that annoy others. There are also many that haven't had the opportunity to make it through primary or middle education. And remember, many posting are minors and may not have been taught how to find information yet. They don't deserve to be beaten down on the first post they make on here. English may not even be their native language, and they may simply not understand how to find information. I'm not saying that most of them aren't just being lazy, I agree most should know better, but there is going to be many that post simple questions that fall into the above categories. To respond the way that I've seen on here to people like that, before assessing why they are asking such elementary questions and don't fall into the above categories, is incredibly cruel.

    I'm happy for you all that don't have to deal with those problems.

    At least they are showing a small interest in science. People should look at those sort of posts as an opportunity to teach them how to be more independent and help them, instead of personally attacking and yelling at them. There is such a thing as being firm but kind.

  43. scottdave says:

    Interesting article. Makes some good points. I actually found PhysicsForums, because I was searching for an answer to something on Google, and it pointed to me to one of the forums here.

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