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Suggestion Layman’s Area

  1. Jul 14, 2011 #1
    I spend a lot of time in the Special & General Relativity forum as I love the subject. I would also love to learn more about this as well as quantum mechanics and many other topics here. PF is a great forum.

    However I am just a layman, not great at the math and don't always have the time to read up on subjects.

    I also find it really frustrating having questions answered by very technically competent PF Mentors / Members but who give answers that are just way over the layman’s level or are just a heap of formulas that layman like myself will struggle to grasp.

    This leads to a lot of frustration both from the layman poster who just wants to learn conceptually and the PF Mentors / Members who get fed up with the not properly formatted layman's replies and the 'I don't get it' responses!

    So I was wondering, could we have a science forum(s) for the layman. Where the expectation is not to be scientifically correct all the time, but where we layman can just go chat and ask questions to people that are not expecting us to be the next Einstein?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 14, 2011 #2

    Evo

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    Have you tried prefacing your questions with "I'm just a layman, please make the answer as simple as possible"?

    It would also be ok to enter a thread and ask that a specific answer be reposted in layman's terms. It may not happen, but if someone can do it, I'm sure they would be happy to.

    S&GR really isn't a subject for laymen, so I'm not sure of how simple you are expecting explanations to be.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2011
  4. Jul 14, 2011 #3

    micromass

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    Yeah, just ask for a simpler/less technical explanation.

    However, you must make sure that your questions are properly worded. It's extremely hard to decypher what somebody means sometimes. So make sure to explain your question very well and to give examples. The more information we have, the better our answer will be.

    Also, be sure to start your post with your qualifications (i.e. what do you already know about the subject), this helps us to give an answer on your level. If somebody asking me a math question and starts with "I have a PhD in physics..." will get a very different answer than "I never took a physics class in my whole life". So giving us information about you, will help us :smile:

    And again, if something is not clear: feel free to ask!! (that's what we're here for)
     
  5. Jul 15, 2011 #4

    ZapperZ

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    Well, OK, I'll respond to this, but it'll be tedious to follow. Here goes:

    First, a bit of a background. I've been involved in an outreach program for many years, and also been involved in direct contacts with students, and the general public that often visited our facility. I deal with many questions from this group of people about physics in general, and about what we do in particular. As far as I can tell, and from the feedback that I occasionally receive, these efforts have been well-received. So yes, I do know quite a bit, based on experience, on how to communicate physics to the public, and also the importance of such communication and education.

    Now, coming back to your point. As has been pointed out, it would be extremely beneficial that a layman declare himself that when asking a question. In fact, I would say that anyone, especially new members that many of us are not familiar with, should present a brief educational background of what he/she knows, so that the members who respond to the question can tailor the answer that can be understood at that level. This is a no-brainer, but yet, members frequently neglected to do that.

    Now that that is out of the way, there is also another problem, and something I encounter very often.

    Often, members with very little physics background will ask a question that is "too advanced for his/her own good!" :) Now, this is meant in jest, but let me explain a bit via an example. We often see a question from a layman that looks something like this:

    That actually is quite a common question. Now, let's assume that that person has clarified that he/she is a layman. Now, you need to look at this from OUR point of view. From my point of view, when the person is asking such a question, he/she must have read about some of the results where IF there is a signal going from one entangled entity to another, that signal would have to go way beyond c to go between each other. I will also assume that he/she is knowledge about the quantum entanglement phenomenon, because he/she is now asking about the USE of this phenomenon.

    So my approach in responding to such a question is to explain, in layman's term, why it isn't possible to send a signal faster than light. But you see, my explanation will require that this person understands already what quantum entanglement is, and the fact that the superposition principle is the crucial piece in this phenomenon. In other words, there are a few "prerequisites" to understand before one gets to quantum entanglement, and then quantum teleportation. But you see, no matter how simple I explain this, I often find out that the person asking the question hadn't really understood these prerequisites. So what inevitably will happen is that we have to backtrack and backtrack some more in having to explain the basic principle of the components of the idea, I have to explain what quantum entanglement is, and I have to explain superposition principle, etc. Often, the thread will get derailed into a discussion of more basic, fundamental ideas.

    So yes, I can see why a layman will find it difficult to follow, but you see, this is a DIRECT result of the fact that in physics, very seldom can one simply pluck a fruit in mid air. So what should this person do to learn about quantum teleporation? I have a suggestion:

    Make sure that you first check and see if your understanding of what you are going to be applying is valid.

    So if what you ultimately want to know is if we can send signals faster than c via quantum teleportation, check first of all whether you've understood what quantum entanglement is. It is "closer" to the lower level of the foundation, upon which you will build all other subsequent knowledge. You'll often find that you haven't fully understood it, such as you didn't know that superposition is a necessary ingredient to this phenomenon. So now, you ask more questions about, say, superposition, etc., and how this comes into play.

    This is how you build knowledge. It isn't via learning a set of disconnected/disjointed pieces of information. Rather, it is the awareness and understanding how many of these things are related to each other.

    I've made many posts on here where I started my response with "Back up a bit" (see https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=514001" as the latest example). This is because in asking these questions, the members have based it on a rather puzzling/faulty knowledge of something. Rather than check if their knowledge of that something is valid, they went ahead and used it to justify or claim another thing. This is what usually makes explaining things confusing, even if we try to use description that a layman can understand!

    Learning and understanding is a 2-way process. There's work to be done by both parties. The inquirer needs to think a little bit on not only what to ask, but how to ask, and what efforts have I done to see if I can understand this myself. The responders need to pay attention to the level of knowledge of the inquirer and present an answer that the person could possibly understand. In fact, I feel very strongly about this that https://www.physicsforums.com/blog.php?b=2679" [Broken] about people who simply don't investigate the level of knowledge of the inquirer when such information wasn't provided.

    In a roundabout way, I'm answering your question by telling you that a separate forum will not help. Rather, there has to be an awareness on both sides, regarding the issues I've mentioned, to communicate for effectively.

    Zz.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  6. Jul 15, 2011 #5

    jtbell

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    Ideally, people would put this sort of information in their profiles. If enough people did this, I'd check those profiles more often when answering a question from someone I don't remember from previous discussions.
     
  7. Jul 15, 2011 #6
    I take on board all the points made. Thanks. I have on occasions stated my level of experience in my posts, but not always to be fair.

    I've done a lot of study on this topic, but look for material that is pitched at a level I am comfortable with. So I wouldn't say that I am completely bamboozled by the topic and feel quite comfortable with some complex themes when they are pitched at the right level for me.

    I guess the main theme here is how can a newbie quickly get across his/her experience and level of expertise in the subject matter.

    I like jtbell's idea:

    Building on that, one idea might be to design a standard template that highlights experience / knowledge that all newbie's (And current member's) put in the signature. That way a mod can make sure that signature is completed correctly before answering a post?

    What do you think?
     
  8. Jul 15, 2011 #7

    Ryan_m_b

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    I've been lurking around this thread because I think it's a really interesting topic, I whole heartedly agree with ZapperZ. We should encourage people to post their expertise with the OP. I'm not sure what you mean by putting a standard template in a signature, do you mean writing your expertise in the area at the bottom of the post (where I've got an asimov quote?). I think that would be rather long and given the interdisciplinary nature of this site a bit unwieldy.

    However I do think it would be a good thing to make it site policy that a brief explanation of your understanding of the field should accompany the OP.
     
  9. Jul 15, 2011 #8
    A solution has been implemented
     
  10. Jul 15, 2011 #9

    Ryan_m_b

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    Seems good to me though people would still have to stress their expertise if their education/background doesn't fit the thread. Also our blog post counts have disappeared...
     
  11. Jul 15, 2011 #10
    I did mean where the asimov quote, yes. I like it there becasue it is always visible with a post and you don't have to click elsewhere to read.

    I'm not too sure what info would be usuful, but it doesn't have to be lots. Just somthing to give an indication.

    I thought of something like:

    ___________________
    Physics Qualifications:None Math Competency:Basic Algebra

    Relevant Material Studied:Teaching Company DVD's on Particle Physics for the non-physicists, Relativity for the non-scientist.
     
  12. Jul 15, 2011 #11

    Ryan_m_b

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    You may want to check the changes made on our faceplates <<<
     
  13. Jul 15, 2011 #12

    micromass

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    I like :smile: This will make our life much easier!!

    I hope the posters will fill in the relevant information.
     
  14. Jul 15, 2011 #13
    Opps! Missed this, sorry.

    Where is the solution please. Do you mean the 'About Me' tab in my profile?
     
  15. Jul 15, 2011 #14

    micromass

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    <<<<<<<<< look :smile: It presents the education level in the left column.
     
  16. Jul 15, 2011 #15

    dlgoff

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    Outstanding. :smile:
     
  17. Jul 15, 2011 #16
    Yeah, just noticed it in the forum. Fantastic. :smile:
     
  18. Jul 16, 2011 #17

    Ryan_m_b

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    Any chance of getting the blog count back or is there not enough space?
     
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