Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Walking on eggshells

  1. Feb 28, 2015 #1
    I'm not a professional scientist, but I love science. Should not the love of science be encouraged?

    I have Aspergers, so my writing may be a little awkward. I am also an atheist, and a materialist, yet people have read that wrong.

    When I post here, I feel like I'm walking on eggshells. After a long absence, I decided to try posting here again. I posted a question which asks if strings in string theory are subject to entropy. Perhaps it's a naive question, I have no idea. But if I'm to learn, then mentoring should be about leading and teaching, not censure. My question was removed and I received a warning.

    Such a reaction only does a disservice to science. It enforces my ignorance through censorship. When I seek the enlightenment of knowledge, you send me back into the darkness, as if it's all I deserve.

    Three years ago I was warned for using the word 'spirit' in a post. I wrote something like "in the spirit of good will," a totally non-religious meaning. When I pointed that out and had my warning removed, I was told to watch my wording - no apology. Hence my absence after that.

    Based on the revolving tips at the top of the PF pages, this forum "thrives by your sharing of our community with your friends, family and colleagues," yet I am reluctant to send anyone here because they may receive similar treatment. People here are so hyper-alert to crackpottery that genuine-if-naive questions are lumped into the same category. How is that friendly to me, my family and friends? And how is that helpful to science if such exclusivity creates a wall against entry?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 28, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    PF can be a difficult place to post. I went through similar tribulations when I initially joined. In my first post I was too helpful and gave the OP the answer. In my second post being more careful, I gave the OP a reference to a web page that had the answer. I wasn't trying to be tricky, the page had described how to do these types of problems and at the very end solved the OPs problem and I in my haste didn't see it.

    We get all kinds of posters here from children to really old folks far older than me but I won't name names. We get people with no experience in science to experts in some very arcane fields. We get posters who need a place to push their personal theory of the universe and others who post whatever comes to mind not understanding even the scientific words of their question. We get students who are trying to con us into doing their homework and other students who earnestly want to learn. It's very hard to tell with any given poster where they are coming from and what is it they are looking for.

    Through all that, I feel PF has struck a good balance and that is why people keep coming back. We strive to provide an environment where mainstream science can be discussed and limiting anything that may vere into questionable areas of speculative science or personal theories.
  4. Feb 28, 2015 #3

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    It can be tricky to work out how to not look like a crackpot... the crackpots are trying the same thing. They all say just the same things you just did. Frustrating isn't it?

    Maybe the PF community would benifit from a broader sandbox for borderline questions? Part of the mission statement is to teach people how to talk to scientists, after all.
    OTOH, you can learn a lot from the search function ... there are many members active here, and none of them have trouble in this way.

    The damage to science is marginal since there are many more tolerant forums.
    I think it is fine to just try to find the community you feel more comfortable with.
    If you prefer to ask here then you may want to consider how the hypervigilence contributes to the qualities you value.
  5. Feb 28, 2015 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Heh, I'm an SA here, but I still walk on eggshells quite often -- meaning that I try really hard not to say something stupid or misleading accidentally. :oldbiggrin:

    Well, it's certainly a question where I don't understand what you mean. I didn't see the original post, so I can't comment further.

    Well, that's certainly not the purpose of PF.

    Well, then let me say that, in a SPIRIT of goodwill and common sense, I find this bizarre. (OTOH, I have not seen the full context.)
    ... And now I wait to see if I receive a warning. :angel:

    Well, yes, we do tend to be very sensitive to crackpottery. You just need to make it clear that you're asking a question, not subtly trying to promote a private theory in the form of a question.
  6. Feb 28, 2015 #5
    I'm sorry, I haven't gotten up to speed on using quotes yet, so please accept my different way of doing it for now.

    Simon: "Part of the mission statement is to teach people how to talk to scientists, after all."

    Horse or cart, when talking to scientists. Should scientists also learn how to speak to non-scientists?

    Simon: "I think it is fine to just try to find the community you feel more comfortable with."

    I want to learn. The answers I have received here are generally more informative. Why should I be barred from that resource?

    What is wrong with asking a naive question? I come from the education sector, where the oft heard response is, "No question is a stupid question." If we are to learn, then there must be a better level of tolerance. If you want this to be a forum for scientists only, then ok, but that's not what's stated on the masthead. "Bring your friends and family."

    Simon: "It can be tricky to work out how to not look like a crackpot... the crackpots are trying the same thing. They all say just the same things you just did. Frustrating isn't it?"

    If you're vigilant against crackpots, then you'll see them everywhere. I may be naive, but why treat naivety as unwelcome?

    Strangerep: "You just need to make it clear that you're asking a question, not subtly trying to promote a private theory in the form of a question."

    As I said, my Aspergers leaves me with some issues there. In my string theory post, I asked the question and provided extra detail to try to be clear. Maybe I should have just asked the question and not added detail, but from your response (Strangerep) maybe my extra detail was needed. Damned if I do, damned if I don't.

    I should not have to state that I'm not trying to promote my own theory. I did state that I wanted to learn and that it was probably a naive question. But I can't recall the words I used - not now that my post was removed - so I can't learn from whatever mistake I made.

    Mentors should mentor. I received none of that.
  7. Feb 28, 2015 #6
    Yes absolutely and there is a big movement with science communicators to teach scientists communication skills to better communicate with the public :)

    Here is one such place
  8. Feb 28, 2015 #7
    Great link, Greg. I look forward to spending some time there. Thank you.
  9. Feb 28, 2015 #8

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    ... and many of us here have. I was finding merit in your statement.

    You are not being barred from PF. Here you are.

    Who says there is anything wrong with naive questions?

    ... since you come from the education sector, as do many of us on PF, then you know there is more than one principle to be followed.
    Perhaps you would benefit from a more complete list of the principles and guidelines that PF tries to work to?

    ... and yet we do not, or we would exclude everyone. You have managed the trick yourself over 100 times.
    The downside of the policy is, you are correct, a larger number false positives. However, the upside is a more useful community for everyone else.
    This would be more important if there were no other forums. However you will find the more tolerant the forum the less useful it is to serious questions.

    I too have often thought the "mentors" are poorly named. They tend to serve more in the role of moderators.

    Anyway, now more of us are aware of your oarticular situation, Im sure you will find a more mentoring approah in future.
    Perhaps if another of your posts were to trigger red flags for crackpotism it will be placed in moderation to be tidied up rather than just deleted?
    OTOH moderators tend to be quite busy with genuine crackpots so they may make some mistakes.
    I think they should continue to err on the side of not letting the crackpot in.
  10. Feb 28, 2015 #9
    Ok Simon. Thank you.
  11. Feb 28, 2015 #10

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    No worries.

    Ah... found the general guidelines under "info" in the top menu. Still not properly explored the new layout.
    There's a trophy for having read them... I find it useful to revisit them from time to time.

    I found a good way to learn and understand what not to do is to join debunking forums.
    JREF is good. Also look for skeptical discussions of pseudoscience claims.
    There are online articles about red flags for crackpottery.
    You'll quickly see the problem for the likes of PF.

    PF used to be more tolerant, judging by past posts, but suffered as a result.

    When I want to be more tolerant I go to a different web site.
  12. Mar 1, 2015 #11
    Thanks again, Simon. I have already read the guidelines and gained the trophy. The only need I have for trophies is to tell people that I'm here for genuine reasons.

    I'll check out the forums you recommend (thank you), but as I say, I can't much help the way I put things. I spent a lot of time editing and still I copped a flag. It takes me an hour to write a few lines because I'm trying my best to demonstrate how genuine I am, and always apologizing for my naivety. It feels like I have to come on my knees to make a post. Of course, that's not always so, but if my post seems just a little esoteric (e.g. are strings subject to entropy) then I just know someone will pre-judge my question.

    I have no qualms with being corrected or being told I am wrong. That is what I expect and want from a site with tight guidelines. I'll even go as far as to say, I love to be corrected, because that is, after all, true science. It's much better to be corrected than to go forwards with wrong information. Like when I was corrected in my understanding of expansion. Learning a) that I was wrong, and b) the proper way to understand it, actually made me smile! What I don't expect is to be made guilty before proven innocent.

    I don't mean to sound unappreciative, but I have done nothing wrong here, have I?

    Please put yourself in my shoes. Imagine knowing you have done nothing wrong and then being given advice how not to do it again.

    Even if it doesn't sound like it, I do appreciate your input, as also the others who responded.
  13. Mar 1, 2015 #12
    (Yay. I think I've learned how to quote.)

    I looked at the above site, and watched the Alan Alda video. Very pertinent, especially the story about the scientists speaking before a congressional panel, with none of them understanding what the scientists said. Alda said, "Now these were intelligent people on both sides of the table - why couldn't they make themselves understood to one another?"
    Thanks again, Greg.
  14. Mar 4, 2015 #13


    Staff: Mentor

    As already stated by someone else in this thread, our title is "Mentor" but much of our work is moderating the forums to keep out spammers and cranks. As for myself, I spend a lot of time in the various math sections, so maybe what I do there could be classified as mentoring.
    Our stated purpose, which is in the very first guideline here (https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/physics-forums-global-guidelines.414380/) is
    We have had a lot of members who are looking for a podium to shop their theories about perpetural motion machines, "over-unity" mechanisms, and the like. PhysicsForums is not the place for them. Many of these same people complain that we are "censoring" their ideas or preventing the next Einstein from being recognized.
    Based on what you said, it sounds like we erred in giving you a warning for this. We mentors are human, and thus prone to make mistakes. One option you could have taken was to PM a different mentor. When things like this happen, we can and do discuss them at length among ourselves. If a mentor errs in issuing a warning, he/she should own up to the mistake and offer the affected person an apology.
  15. Mar 4, 2015 #14


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    The forum software also allows you to report the private message that you receive from a warning - just click the "Report" link. This brings it to the attention of all the mentors at once.
  16. Mar 4, 2015 #15


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

  17. Mar 4, 2015 #16


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    And that, really, is the crux of the matter.

    This CAN be a tough place to post because of the extra scrutiny but it is that very scrutiny that keeps so many folks here who (like me) enjoy helping people and even more who (unlike me) really know what they are talking about. There are plenty of forums where you can say pretty much anything you like, and the value (or lack of value) of the discourse on those forums is reflected in that fact.
  18. Mar 4, 2015 #17
    It seems I don't properly know how to quote. It does not include your quotes of my words, to put them in context. So I will have to do that manually. Apologies.

    I've never wished to push my own theory, only to better understand existing theories. I wasn't having a theory censored. I had a question censored, which was basically, "Are strings in string theory subject to entropy?" It may be a naive question, but it wasn't me pushing my own theory.

    Regarding my "spirit" item, Mark said:
    I did take that option at the time.

    I did not know I could "report" a moderation. I thought it was only for reporting posts that break the rules. Thank you for advising me of this, though I doubt I would use it unless it was extreme. I prefer to try working it out first with the moderator in question.

    Regarding my "spirit" item, Evo said:
    Like I said, the moderation on the "spirit" item was removed, rescinded, after I explained that it was not religious. I don't know how the moderation record was done, except that it was before the forum was upgraded. I do vaguely recall that other moderation, the one you linked, and was glad that it was handled the way it was.
  19. Mar 4, 2015 #18


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Well, I hope that you have a better experience going forward and learn a lot here. :oldsmile:
  20. Mar 4, 2015 #19
    Thank you Evo. Much appreciated! :)
  21. Mar 4, 2015 #20


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Oh, the lengths some discussions can run...

    It's not supposed to. If it did we'd run into the problem of consecutive posts becoming longer and longer since the quotes would be quoting previous quotes which quoted previous quotes, etc. The context is already there in the thread. Quoting simply allows you to respond to a specific part of someone's post. It's not supposed to be a replacement for the rest of the thread.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook