How should we answer Questions

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Offline syhprum

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How should we answer Questions
« on: 19/08/2009 14:18:15 »
I see two possibilities, firstly we should offer an answer from our own accumulated knowledge or we should hunt through the literature on the subject and try a give a definitive answer.
I think the first course makes for the more interesting forum, we should not try to emulate Google, Wiki or Bing Our answers may well be wrong initially but more informed correspondents will correct us and we will learn.
Even those who have the more correct answers will find it interesting how we formed our eccentric opinions.
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Offline Vern

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« Reply #1 on: 19/08/2009 17:13:34 »
This is a very good concept. I sometimes answer questions with a quick answer that is wrong. It is good that more informed people can come in and correct misconceptions. It's better to have to say "yikes, I goofed", than to continue with the misconceptions.

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lyner

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« Reply #2 on: 19/08/2009 18:06:53 »
It's always worth giving you own take on a problem. Ready made answers may not address the actual question (the useless FAQ page on the average website is a great example).
Text book presentations (the sort of stuff you get in Wiki)  are fine but they are what they are and are not 'answers'. I have very often found that someone on this Forum can state something in a way which really helps me to 'understand' something just because they have answered MY actual question and they've spotted MY problem.

btw, would wiki have an answer to this particular question?

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Offline techmind

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« Reply #3 on: 19/08/2009 20:18:33 »
I try to indicate my degree of confidence within a reply I make.

If I state such and such then I'm very confident in it. It will normally be something I've done first-hand, or something very generally accepted and found in the major university physics textbooks or whatever, for example.

If I say "I guess that blah blah" then that's my lowest level of confidence (for example I might use that when the principle I've stated should apply, but when I'm not familiar enough with the particular case being mentioned to be sure that there isn't some bigger effect at play). "I guess" would generally be followed with a fairly broad-brush explanation.

If I say "I understand that...", or "I believe that..." then this lies further up my confidence (but the weasel words are there for a reason!).
I might say this when I think I've read something in an authoritative source and/or I've held the the view for a long time and I think it is not inconsistent with other data which I'm more sure of.
This means I'm pretty certain, but won't take offence if someone with more specific/recent/accurate knowledge corrects me.

If I do post an answer which I later realise is incorrect or seriously incomplete I do try and go back and add correction/clarification.


If the question is unclear or open to interpretation I try to raise the fact ad seek clarification and/or answer (briefly) both viable interpretations. If the question doesn't seem to make sense, then I try and cue the poster to go back a step and tell us the bigger picture - ie where the question came from.



And finally...

I sometimes become aware that I seem to have the last post on quite a few topics.
Is this because:
 - my answer says all that needs to be said?   [;D]
 - I killed the discussion?   [:(]
 - I was simply too late to the party?   [???]
 - ?

Constructive feedback is welcome.  [:)]
« Last Edit: 19/08/2009 20:30:21 by techmind »
"It has been said that the primary function of schools is to impart enough facts to make children stop asking questions. Some, with whom the schools do not succeed, become scientists." - Schmidt-Nielsen "Memoirs of a curious scientist"

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Offline techmind

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« Reply #4 on: 19/08/2009 21:27:51 »
And philosophical question: is the aim to generate the 'correct' answer reasonably quickly (from an 'expert'), or to stimulate active participation and discussion?

In a classroom situation, or in a meeting of friends, various lines of discussion can be explored, then tidied up and the 'correct' answer disseminated by the expert before the meeting breaks up.

On a forum, people come and go at random and the notion of 'tidying up' so no-one leaves with the wrong impression doesn't work. Well, the thread can be tidied up, but interested participants may never return to a thread to see it. I guess this is just the nature of the beast.
"It has been said that the primary function of schools is to impart enough facts to make children stop asking questions. Some, with whom the schools do not succeed, become scientists." - Schmidt-Nielsen "Memoirs of a curious scientist"

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Offline turnipsock

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« Reply #5 on: 20/08/2009 00:07:25 »
I have a fair idea of the answer before I post a question as I've already googled it. This forum would die if everybody just googled things. I'm just looking for people that have a bit more insight on things, it doesn't matter if it is actually factual and the humour angle is actually better for me.
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Offline LeeE

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« Reply #6 on: 20/08/2009 03:24:42 »
Heh - this is an interesting topic, with several aspects to it.

First of all, forums are primarily places for discussion and not for the asking and answering of general questions.  Sure, questions may be asked in the course of a discussion, to clarify or illustrate a point in the discussion, but it is the topic of discussion that is the important thing, not the clarifications or illustrations used in the discussion.

NS is a bit weird in this respect though, with its insistence on posing threads as questions, as though it were just offering an answering service.  It doesn't of course, as this thread shows.

Then there is the nature of the questions themselves.  Some of the questions asked here are simply seeking a simple answer to a straightforward question, while quite a few of the rest are down to gross, but not necessarily self imposed, ignorance and misunderstanding.  These sorts of questions don't really merit much discussion and only really need a simple and clear answer.

There are quite a few questions though, that have no clear and definitive answers and the best we can really do is to just define the question more clearly.  This is where the discussion comes in.  Everyone has their own view but, because its theirs, it's necessarily limited to only the aspects that they're aware of; the only way to get a more complete view, and thereby improve the definition of the question, is to take other people's views into consideration.

With this type of question, it can often be the case that once you've identified and defined the question properly, the answer becomes obvious.
...And its claws are as big as cups, and for some reason it's got a tremendous fear of stamps! And Mrs Doyle was telling me it's got magnets on its tail, so if you're made out of metal it can attach itself to you! And instead of a mouth it's got four arses!

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Offline Don_1

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« Reply #7 on: 20/08/2009 08:04:02 »
I agree with this concept. But I do some times like to check my facts before I make a complete arse of myself, as in this thread http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=25025.0 where I was sure the Peppered Moth was of the Geometer family, but checked up on wiki first.

Of course, even after checking the facts, I am still perfectly capable of making an arse of myself!
If brains were made of dynamite, I wouldn't have enough to blow my nose.

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Offline Vern

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« Reply #8 on: 20/08/2009 14:50:05 »
Quote from: LeeE
NS is a bit weird in this respect though, with its insistence on posing threads as questions, as though it were just offering an answering service.  It doesn't of course, as this thread shows.
Posing thread titles as questions simply makes them more attractive to search engines. If you will notice, most threads on this forum will get listings close to the top on most search engines.

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Offline LeeE

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« Reply #9 on: 20/08/2009 16:03:44 »
Quote from: LeeE
NS is a bit weird in this respect though, with its insistence on posing threads as questions, as though it were just offering an answering service.  It doesn't of course, as this thread shows.
Posing thread titles as questions simply makes them more attractive to search engines. If you will notice, most threads on this forum will get listings close to the top on most search engines.

But that is assigning more importance to the publication of the discussion than to the discussion itself, which seems the wrong priority to me.

If getting the most hits in search engine results for questions was the primary objective then a simple text web page consisting of nothing but questions would get most hits, but wouldn't serve any real purpose.  The value then, comes from the responses i.e. the subsequent discussion, and not from the questions themselves.  This emphasis on questions can actually be misleading too, especially when the 'question' asked is really more to do with defining the question clearly and which, once done, may make the answer obvious.

I think that even without the 'rule' of framing every thread as a question, simple questions that only require a clear explanation would still be framed as questions by the posters and the only practical difference would be threads that are trying to discover what questions should be asked, by mutual discussion, would have a more relevant title.

It's not really something I'm too bothered about though.
...And its claws are as big as cups, and for some reason it's got a tremendous fear of stamps! And Mrs Doyle was telling me it's got magnets on its tail, so if you're made out of metal it can attach itself to you! And instead of a mouth it's got four arses!

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Offline rosy

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« Reply #10 on: 20/08/2009 17:08:28 »
There is something else, too, with the phrasing titles as questions thing.. it's intended to tie in with the rest of the website and with the Naked Scientist show (which is where this all starts from).

Also, it helps to force people into incorporating at least something about what the thread will (notionally) be discussing (although the capacity for the denizens of this forum to wander OT is unparalleled almost anywhere else I've encountered..).

On the original topic of how people should answer questions, I don't think the important point is whether you check your facts or speculate wildly, but that you must make clear in your post when it is you are speculating and when it is you are sure of your ground.

If the question is one with a straightforward answer, then answering with checked facts is the way forward. If it's a more speculative question, clearly speculative responses are what's called for... but even speculative responses typically require some level of background assumptions which should (ideally) be stated (and if you've looked them up the sources might as well be linked).

Either way, a giant quote from wikipedia (or anywhere else) is rarely appropriate, if people want wikipedia they can search it themselves. Short quotes and links are more readable...

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Offline graham.d

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« Reply #11 on: 20/08/2009 17:47:48 »
I rather agree with Don_1. I don't like to make an arse of myself either (despite succeeding on occasions) but I also think I owe it to the questioner to give a full answer and not to give uneducated guesses. I really only answer to subjects I know about but even in the few areas where I would be considered reasonably knowledgeable, there are usually areas of elaboration which are worth getting factually correct rather than my spouting falsely remembered rubbish. I think the forum helps me to improve my own knowledge by forcing me not to be lazy and research areas at the edge of my knowledge or stuff I've forgotten. However, I sometimes don't do this being short of time, but I think this is a better approach, at least for me.

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Offline Variola

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« Reply #12 on: 20/08/2009 23:27:13 »
I see two possibilities, firstly we should offer an answer from our own accumulated knowledge or we should hunt through the literature on the subject and try a give a definitive answer.
I think the first course makes for the more interesting forum, we should not try to emulate Google, Wiki or Bing Our answers may well be wrong initially but more informed correspondents will correct us and we will learn.
Even those who have the more correct answers will find it interesting how we formed our eccentric opinions.

Surely it is based on common sense? It is obvious to most that one would need to make it clear in a post if something was a reasoned guess,or based on knowledge, or drawn specifically from a site to answer a question.
Wandering off topic is the nature of forums, and the art of human communication. This is not a hard-line science forum, and neither should it be.It fills a nice niche just as it is. (No I don't have a citation for that! [:D])
We have precious few contributors to this site sometimes, the more we can do to encourage posting the better.
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Offline Variola

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« Reply #13 on: 20/08/2009 23:31:06 »
P.S Would this be better in the Guestbook or Just Chat section?
  A potty-mouthed, impertinent female who thinks she is God's gift to men" -JimBob

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Offline DoctorBeaver

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« Reply #14 on: 20/08/2009 23:36:06 »

On the original topic of how people should answer questions, I don't think the important point is whether you check your facts or speculate wildly, but that you must make clear in your post when it is you are speculating and when it is you are sure of your ground.


That, of course, depends on your being fully up to date with the latest research & discoveries. What was accepted as fact just a few years ago may now have been refuted by more recent experiments/discoveries. Unless you have an RSS feed from all the research institutes, every post should begin "As far as I am aware..." or "To the best of my knowledge...". Maybe we should ask Dave to alter the forum code to stick that on the front of each reply.
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Offline Variola

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« Reply #15 on: 20/08/2009 23:42:26 »
Quote
That, of course, depends on your being fully up to date with the latest research & discoveries. What was accepted as fact just a few years ago may now have been refuted by more recent experiments/discoveries. Unless you have an RSS feed from all the research institutes, every post should begin "As far as I am aware..." or "To the best of my knowledge...". Maybe we should ask Dave to alter the forum code to stick that on the front of each reply.


Spot on DB. I would assume most posters on here know and take that on board when reading replies, unless the member is blatantly trying assert it as unquestionable.Most of the time it is a civil and friendly exchange, the only time it isn't is when one poster decides to turn it into an intellectual peeing contest.
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lyner

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« Reply #16 on: 21/08/2009 00:07:48 »
There are many topics which are not really 'matters of opinion', though. Examples of this are all over School Physics. Granted, there are always Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and Thermodynamics lurking in the background but it doesn't always help to bring them into simple ballistics, electronics or thermal problems. Anyone who is not 'getting it right' at that level is almost sure to be even more befuddled by introducing Higher Physics with its uncertainties. Snell's's Law or Boyle's Law can be stated pretty firmly, I think., in order to answer many questions.

People who don't know a lot of Science are not always aware of just how firmly based a lot of Scientific knowledge is and they lump it all in with Quantum Entanglement and Parallel Universes. I see no harm in the occasional forceful assertion. (If that's OK with you guys, that is)

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Offline Variola

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« Reply #17 on: 21/08/2009 00:22:13 »
Quote
There are many topics which are not really 'matters of opinion', though

In which case, other than for ease of search, it is pointless phrasing topics as a question, if you ask a question, then it is opinions you will get. Whether that opinion is based on provable fact, or an educated guess is what is pertinent.

Quote
People who don't know a lot of Science are not always aware of just how firmly based a lot of Scientific knowledge is and they lump it all in with Quantum Entanglement and Parallel Universes. I see no harm in the occasional forceful assertion. (If that's OK with you guys, that is)

It's not really for me to comment on your assertions SC, forceful or otherwise. You can out a poster straight in an even-mannered friendly fashion. I think people do realise how entrenched science can be, and that gives them the impression of science being a creaking old machine rather than the wonder that it is. Keep things light and it can open their eyes.
Like I have said before, this is not a serious hard-line science forum, I post on one or two of those and TNS is a light relief in comparison, simply because it does attract the 'ordinary Joe with an interest in science'.
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Offline Geezer

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« Reply #18 on: 21/08/2009 07:39:18 »
Q: How should we answer questions?

A: Very politely.

As soon as we get an urge to demonstrate our vastly superior knowledge of a subject by pointing out what we consider to be another poster's pathetic lack of knowledge, we should count to ten before we hit the Post button. It's just possible the poster knows a lot more about a subject that we are too scared to even ask about.

1  2  3  4  --- I don't have time for th
« Last Edit: 21/08/2009 07:52:54 by Geezer »
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Offline Variola

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« Reply #19 on: 21/08/2009 10:38:42 »
Quote
As soon as we get an urge to demonstrate our vastly superior knowledge of a subject by pointing out what we consider to be another poster's pathetic lack of knowledge, we should count to ten before we hit the Post button. It's just possible the poster knows a lot more about a subject that we are too scared to even ask about.

Agreed. It is that type of behaviour that has made people reluctant to post. Keep it light.
Oneupmanship is neither attractive nor impressive and reflects the insecurity of the aggressor.
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Offline rosy

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« Reply #20 on: 21/08/2009 11:57:42 »
I don't think we can assume that people know that we might be guessing, actually. This site has a truly alarming google ranking and with that comes a lot of drive-by visitors who may read our threads without taking on board the extent to which they are speculative.
Whilst in principle one could take the view that this is a forum just for its participants, and treat the conversations as one would an after dinner speculation on the likely behaviour of burning gases in a tube (such as occured at my house last night), infact the discussion remains on the internet "permanently" (as long as TNS carries on being awarded grants/being paid to make radio shows/whatever).

Some of the people posting on this board are active researchers or clinicians and do, infact, know what the up to the minute research says on their subject. Historically, this was a much higher percentage of total posters and so the old threads are in some cases (plus or minus the fact that they're a few years old now). So I do think it is important to be explicit (at least at the start of a discussion in any given thread), for the benefit of people who aren't familiar with the forum, to what extent you are making it up as you go along.

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lyner

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« Reply #21 on: 23/08/2009 23:47:43 »
variola
Quote
if you ask a question, then it is opinions you will get
Not sure about that one. You could give a pretty well founded answer to a question about why the Moon faces the Earth all the time. Much less opinion and more reasoned argument there. otoh, a question about the mind could involve a lot of speculation and opinion.

Quote
I think people do realise how entrenched science can be
The word "entrenched" is a bit loaded, is it not? Buildings can be relied upon to stand up because their foundations are laid in "trenches". One man's "entrenchment" is another man's "foundation". (Or person's, if you like)

I think the way to answer a question / post depends entirely upon the actual topic. I don't think it does anyone any favours to suggest that all of Science is fair game for personal interpretation. The textbook stuff is pretty important as a launching off point.

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Offline JnA

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« Reply #22 on: 24/08/2009 02:04:10 »
surely this is a *discussion* forum and forums have been around long enough for people to understand they are not reference points.

*insert latin phrase for taking responsibility for your own research*

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Offline Variola

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« Reply #23 on: 24/08/2009 02:44:38 »
surely this is a *discussion* forum and forums have been around long enough for people to understand they are not reference points.

*insert latin phrase for taking responsibility for your own research*


Spot on. And not only is it a discussion forum, it also has disclaimers plastered everywhere. It does not portray itself as a serious and academic science forum either, that's not the spirit of the TNS. While information should be as accurate as possible... it is not going to mean the end of a career if it isn't.
People are not sponges, they don't need molly coddling and having everything explained to them or pointed out just how vastly wrong another forum member is.
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Offline Geezer

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« Reply #24 on: 24/08/2009 04:21:45 »
Code: [Select]
*insert latin phrase for taking responsibility for your own research*
How about:

"TIGREM IN LACU HABEO"
There ain'ta no sanity clause, and there ain'ta no centrifugal force Šther.

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Offline Variola

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« Reply #25 on: 24/08/2009 04:27:32 »
Quote
How about:

"TIGREM IN LACU HABEO"

Ohh yes please, with ice and a slice  [:D]
  A potty-mouthed, impertinent female who thinks she is God's gift to men" -JimBob

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lyner

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« Reply #26 on: 24/08/2009 11:30:30 »
variola
Quote
People are not sponges, they don't need molly coddling and having everything explained to them or pointed out just how vastly wrong another forum member is.

Are you saying that there should be no disagreement within a forum (because someone may become upset)?
Would there be any point at all in discussing the outcome of 2+3? Would we just take a survey of the various opinions about the answer? A vast amount of what is 'discussed' in these Forums is along these lines. Fair enough, but it is 'Just Chat'.

"You are wrong, for the following reasons . . . coherent argument based on some established knowledge"  is not being rude. It's not attacking someone. It's a reply, made to a post which may be full of absolute rubbish.
Why was the statement / question posted in the first place? There are various motives and some of them actually require some help with common conception problems.
There are many posts which are away with the fairies (I think we would all agree) and many which, in a very gauche way, attack some 'good Science' and make out the whole Science establishment to be like the Taliban. Are we not to make any assertions in order to put them right?

The TNS broad/pod casts are as rigorous as they can be (the disclaimers have to be there, of course). Why shouldn't a Forum with the title "Physics, Astronomy and Cosmology" contain as much rigour as possible? How will an uninformed visitor stand a chance of becoming  better informed if all it contains is  subjective opinions along the lines of a Fashion Forum?

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Offline Variola

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« Reply #27 on: 24/08/2009 13:13:57 »
Quote
Are you saying that there should be no disagreement within a forum (because someone may become upset)?
Would there be any point at all in discussing the outcome of 2+3? Would we just take a survey of the various opinions about the answer? A vast amount of what is 'discussed' in these Forums is along these lines. Fair enough, but it is 'Just Chat'.

Of course not, that wasn't what I was saying at all, and you well know it SC.  [::)] Therefore the rest of that quote does not need a response.

Quote
You are wrong, for the following reasons . . . coherent argument based on some established knowledge"  is not being rude. It's not attacking someone. It's a reply, made to a post which may be full of absolute rubbish.

Ah thank you for that clarification, I had gone all these years of posting on forums and I hadn't realised that SC.  [::)]
My point is that isn't always what happens on this forum, people, often particular forum members use it for their own intellectual peeing ground, often crushing posters and perturbing them from posting again. Intellectual snobbery and attempting to incorporate one's CV into a post, to establish their own perceived authority on the topic is really, well, just plain embarrassing.
It really isn't difficult to be nice to people SC, people skills are a valuable quality learned for life. You can be a pleasant, friendly and intellectual person all at the same time SC.

Quote
Why was the statement / question posted in the first place? There are various motives and some of them actually require some help with common conception problems.
There are many posts which are away with the fairies (I think we would all agree) and many which, in a very gauche way, attack some 'good Science' and make out the whole Science establishment to be like the Taliban. Are we not to make any assertions in order to put them right?

I agree totally, people who are obvious fools do need to be told repeatedly were they are wrong, this can be done firmly but politely. But then, that was not my point was it SC?

Quote
he TNS broad/pod casts are as rigorous as they can be (the disclaimers have to be there, of course). Why shouldn't a Forum with the title "Physics, Astronomy and Cosmology" contain as much rigour as possible? How will an uninformed visitor stand a chance of becoming  better informed if all it contains is  subjective opinions along the lines of a Fashion Forum?

I am not sure where you have conjured up the impression that I don't think it should be that way.  I have stated before my feelings on that, I am not sure quite how else to restate them in order to render the point clearer to you.
I post on a couple of academic forums, those forums are there purely for academic advancement and sharing of knowledge. On there I really have to know my stuff before I post,shocking as it may seem I do have a field of expertise! [:)] My whole manner, demeanour and style and content of posting is different, it has to be otherwise I would not be taken seriously. However I wouldn't dream of answering in the same way here! It would quite rightly bore the pants of an intellectually curious poster. To be able to post on a forum means being intellectually supple, not frozen in the same rigid mindset.




« Last Edit: 24/08/2009 13:31:36 by Variola »
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Offline DoctorBeaver

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« Reply #28 on: 24/08/2009 13:28:37 »


Quote
I think people do realise how entrenched science can be
The word "entrenched" is a bit loaded, is it not? Buildings can be relied upon to stand up because their foundations are laid in "trenches". One man's "entrenchment" is another man's "foundation". (Or person's, if you like)


I think entrenched is the right word considering how vehemently certain theories are defended by their advocates. But do we really want to get into semantic arguments?
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lyner

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« Reply #29 on: 24/08/2009 13:37:26 »
"certain theories" is just the right word at times. There are plenty of erroneous theories which have been hung onto for years.
BUT, if you are going to show how wrong they are, you have to be rock solid in your  own understanding, both of those theories and have a rock solid alternative. How many times, in these pages do we see a kite flown which satisfies neither of these requirements?
In many of these cases it's a case of "If you know of a better 'ole then get into it" (WW1 reference, for the younger readers).
But, would you say that Newton's Laws of Motion or Maxwell's Equations  are 'entrenched' or just well founded, within their gamut?  They are seldom actually violated under normal conditions and cannot be cast aside as 'opinions'.
I think it is well in order to argue strongly with a post which demonstrates that the poster hasn't an idea about those or other fundamentals.

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« Reply #30 on: 24/08/2009 13:57:10 »
Q. When does an 'opinion' become an 'attack'?
A. When we're losing the argument.

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Offline Variola

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« Reply #31 on: 24/08/2009 14:05:30 »
Q. When does an 'opinion' become an 'attack'?
A. When we're losing the argument.

Q. When does an attack get excused an an opinion?
A. When the poster cannot excuse his behaviour any other way.
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Offline DoctorBeaver

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« Reply #32 on: 24/08/2009 14:05:52 »
Newton's laws of motion are actually being called into question now, are they not? I've read a lot of articles where the new theory is dismissed out of hand simply because the existing laws have apparently passed the test of time. I call that entrenchment.
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Offline Variola

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« Reply #33 on: 24/08/2009 14:07:17 »


Quote
I think people do realise how entrenched science can be
The word "entrenched" is a bit loaded, is it not? Buildings can be relied upon to stand up because their foundations are laid in "trenches". One man's "entrenchment" is another man's "foundation". (Or person's, if you like)


I think entrenched is the right word considering how vehemently certain theories are defended by their advocates. But do we really want to get into semantic arguments?

Apparently we do. Semantics is a useful too to use when avoiding answering pertinent points and when one needs to change the course of a thread in order to avoid losing face.
  A potty-mouthed, impertinent female who thinks she is God's gift to men" -JimBob

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« Reply #34 on: 24/08/2009 15:07:35 »
I don't want to change the direction of the thread.
I realise that politeness is vital.
I realise that people have different motives for contributing to Forums.
I do think that, on a Forum which has the word Scientist in its title, the object is probably to discuss, learn or even to influence aspects of Science. It would be magic if this could be achieved without any differences of opinion.

Something that amazes me is that people seem to feel it necessary to dismiss 'Science', at a stroke, when the received wisdom on one topic doesn't fit in with a personal view. It seems to me the height of arrogance to dismiss all the excellently founded work of so many 'good' Scientists on the grounds that some (many) of them are human and conservative. When some aspect of Science is overturned, that is a cause for celebration  - not 'crowing'.  And, in fact, it's usually a matter of a shift of viewpoint to include cases which the original theory couldn't explain.

If  established Science is so flawed, then why even get involved with it? Why do people not start up entirely on their own? The reliability of Modern Technology is one of the best proofs that a lot of Science has, in fact, "got it right" in many instances. People take great delight in picking holes in the fringes and it's very often without very much serious knowledge to back up their arguments. Is it wrong to take issue when this happens?

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« Reply #35 on: 24/08/2009 15:22:21 »
Newton's laws of motion are actually being called into question now, are they not? I've read a lot of articles where the new theory is dismissed out of hand simply because the existing laws have apparently passed the test of time. I call that entrenchment.

Of course Newton's Laws don't cover every case. He wrote them a long time ago. They still apply all over the place and aeroplanes will never fall out of the sky because someone says they aren't 100% right. You dismiss Newton's Laws at your peril if you ain't as smart or as well informed as the good Sir Isaac and his successors.

There are only 24 hours in any day. "Entrenchment", if you must use the word, keeps you from waking up every day with a new idea and heading off in another direction; chasing your tail. Science changes when the time is ripe. Evolution not revolution is the majority situation. What may seem, in retrospect, to have been a revolution, was often a long, slow business - meticulous and rigorous. The historians (bleedin' journalists!) often presented it as a revolution. But Paradigm changes do occur. And when they do, we celebrate.

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Offline neilep

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« Reply #36 on: 24/08/2009 16:20:41 »
As a sheepy I of course have lots to say !

In MY opinion....the poster of an answer may wish to think about the language used in the question asked.

From what I have understood (and you only need listen to the podcasts) is that the premise of this site is to ' strip down science ' ...so that people like me, the younger viewer and the layperson can easily understand it.

If the questioner is suitably academic then this will be reflected in the question and the appropriate language can be used to respond. Selfishly, I would love to get a grip of the complicated stuff and would wish to see 'simplified' versions of both question and answer, though, I can see that this may be a big ask !

I also personally prefer answers to be given here on the site and would prefer to not have just blind links given. The question is asked here, I think the answer should be showed here too...I agree that reference links for further info should be cited and sources too.

If there is to be possible contention as to the authenticity of an answer then one should answer a question like I do by saying..In MY opinion !

...and that's what I have to say about that !

Men are the same as women, just inside out !

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Offline Make it Lady

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« Reply #37 on: 24/08/2009 17:57:28 »
I agree with the sheep. People come to this site from different backgrounds and different knowledge bases. We should welcome all scientific questions and treat them with the spirit they have been asked. That usually for me is of an amateur interested in finding out more from people that have the answer and can explain it in a reasonably down to earth manner. My job is breaking down science into easy to understand language and also drawing out the social issues. Trouble for me arises when people make light of my question because they feel that they are too superior to answer. I am quite happy to fight my corner in areas where I have expertise but in areas where I do not I feel angry when people poo hoo my questions. I feel that I have been driven away from this site and am presently looking for a better place to call home. This used to be a welcoming place for all posters. It seems to have taken on an element of the bear pit.
Give a man a fire and he is warm for a day, set a man on fire and he is warm for the rest of his life.

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Offline Geezer

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« Reply #38 on: 24/08/2009 19:38:24 »
I agree with Lady, and also with Le Sheep, 'cos I don't want him and a bunch of his pals showing up here in the middle of the night playing their little games on me.

Anyway, back to the point. It's a shame that Lady feels the way she does, but I can see why. Some of the posts are downright supercilious. I can only assume those who make such posts (hope I didn't make too many of them myself!) derive pleasure from demonstrating their "superior" knowledge on a subject at the expense of putting someone else in their place. Apparently some people derive pleasure from such actions.

If you have constructive advice, please provide it. If you wish to be judgemental (as in standing on the sidelines holding up score cards) realize that all you are doing is driving people away from this site.

On a more constructive note, perhaps NSF could allow us to rate posts for helpfulness, entertainment, clarity etc., etc. No consequences from the result, but it would give us some honest feedback from the community. Individuals would only have access to their own scores and their rank compared to the rest of the community. Wonder if other sites do something similar? Maybe I should file a patent PDQ?
There ain'ta no sanity clause, and there ain'ta no centrifugal force Šther.

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Offline neilep

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« Reply #39 on: 24/08/2009 19:45:18 »
I have moved this to Just Chat for now.

If ewe feel it belongs in a more suitable place then let me know.


I also agree with Geezer and Make It Lady and would consider it a terrible shame if she does indeed leave...I hope she does not !

Men are the same as women, just inside out !

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Offline JimBob

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« Reply #40 on: 24/08/2009 20:08:02 »
You did the right thing, Neil, The Pox suggested a move eons ago. I was going to move it had you not done it.

And I personally believe this has gotten way to intellectualized. As has been noted  somewhere on the forum earlier this month, the forum is more a clubhouse than a peer-review site. If it were a peer-review site most of us would not be able to participate in ANY section but the one dedicated to the subject in which we were educated. 

As others have suggested, I have also noticed that there is less tolerance of late for persons who may not be as well educated in a certain subject as others. It is why, even though I have a good fundamental grounding in geophysics, I do not post in the physics section. And I have also noted that person who ask more simple questions seem to be set upon. 

An example::

Yesterday a post was reported as being done by a "troll" because the person was not as rigorous - or had a different opinion - than the person reporting the post. The person reporting the post said we moderators were not being rigorous enough and set out the way our severe over-sites and lack of attention to the site   should be addressed and what we should do to correct this "troll" abusing the holy halls of science.

The reporting poster's reply to the "troll" was, in turn, reported by someone else as being one filled with anger, as it obviously was.

I believe everyone in this discussion can benefit from the reply sent to the person raising the issue of no-rigorous science posts.

It is, in part (and highly edited) as follows:

"Our moderation policy is a tolerant and generally permissive policy agreed to by all moderators two years ago and approved by the persons at Cambridge who provide the site. It provides access for all persons, not just the most intelligent of those among us. The way the site is moderated is set, not only by myself alone, but by a group of persons who use policies that have proven over time to be acceptable for our purposes on this site.

"We expect civility and above all tolerance from all members. If you wish to continue, accepting that there will be other members posting who may irritate you, please continue to participate."

I feel that this applies to this discussion as well. YES! we should be a scientific as possible. However, to insist on a standard that few, if any of us can meet is absurd and not what is meant as the purpose of this site since I became involved. This is not a peer-review site and I hope it never is.  To put down others, or to be irritated in our reply is plainly uncivil and rude.

The Acceptable Use Policy states:

2. Keep it friendly
   
"Do not use insulting, aggressive, or provocative language.

"If you feel another forum user is using insulting language, seek to calm things down, or if that fails, report the matter to the moderators.  Under no circumstances should you seek to trade insults, or make accusatory remarks to that, or any other, forum user.

"Show respect to other forum users.  In particular, there are times when forum users might post about delicate personal issues.  Please refrain from trivialising or making inappropriate remarks, or remarks that might embarrass the poster."


In section 4 it states "We will be very liberal in our interpretation of what science means ..." To me that means we will be tolerant of the ideas and questions of others, however we may perceive them.

I, personally, expect all persons to follow the rules and policies of the site.

We are here to do the best we can, not provide perfection of scientific debate. That is what the battles in learned journals are all about. And it does get cut-throat, as all scientists have witnessed. I joined this site to get away from such emotion-ridden discussions.

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, KEEP THE DISCUSSIONS LIGHT AND ENJOY EACH OTHERS COMPANY!!
The mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.  -- A. Einstein

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Offline Karen W.

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« Reply #41 on: 25/08/2009 04:43:31 »
Here here!

"Life is not measured by the number of Breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."

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Offline Geezer

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« Reply #42 on: 25/08/2009 05:02:26 »
Either we have a lot of latin scholars on this forum, or everyone was to scared to ask what "TIGREM IN LACU HABEO" actually means.

It's a well known phrase (or it used to be).

Hint: LACU is a reservoir, cistern or tank.
There ain'ta no sanity clause, and there ain'ta no centrifugal force Šther.

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Offline Karen W.

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« Reply #43 on: 25/08/2009 07:11:00 »
isn't lacu milk.. meaning "to have in or with milk?"

"Life is not measured by the number of Breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."

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Offline Nizzle

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« Reply #44 on: 25/08/2009 07:20:46 »
with milk would be "cum lactis"
Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Most poems rhyme,
but this one doesn't

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Offline Karen W.

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« Reply #45 on: 25/08/2009 07:41:49 »
"TIGREM IN LACU HABEO"

according to this translator

Free Online Latin to English Translator

it means...

TIGREM UPON A HOLE To have "

"Life is not measured by the number of Breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."

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Offline Nizzle

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« Reply #46 on: 25/08/2009 09:49:33 »
According to my free brain translator it's

I have a tiger in a cage

Disclaimer: If incorrect, I hide myself behind the fact that I had my latest class of Latin about 10 years ago
Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Most poems rhyme,
but this one doesn't

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Offline Karen W.

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« Reply #47 on: 25/08/2009 09:53:01 »
At least you make better sense then the translator!! LOL...

"Life is not measured by the number of Breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."

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Offline chris

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« Reply #48 on: 25/08/2009 10:06:53 »
Hello everyone.

First, thanks to syhprum for initiating one of the most interesting threads I have read in a long time. Second, I'd like to take this opportunity to expand upon a couple of the issues that have surfaced in the course of this discussion.


THREADS AS QUESTIONS

For the last two years we have had a policy of phrasing thread titles as questions. The reason for doing this is mainly two-fold:

1) In much the same way that Twitter forces users to crystallise their thoughts within 140 characters, by asking users to turn their posts into a question we aim to stimulate discussion and debate structured around a short punchy question.

Experience has shown that, with no rule like this in place, most people default to useless titles like "question", "help me anyone?" or "chemistry". Allowed to continue, before long we'd end up with 5000 posts all titled "question". Consequently there would be no useful information to guide an interested visitor to a thread containing helpful information.

Why are we so concerned about appeal to incidental visitors? Because that's what you all were once. You had to find this forum in the first place, and then become engaged with it, in order to decide to remain and contribute. Attracting new contributors, perspectives and expertise is the life-blood of an online community like this. Also, when people turn up and see an orderly, well-managed array of questions it's rather like going into a garden and seeing a well-hoed, neatly planted vegetable patch, which says "someone cares about me and what's growing here". In other words, people have a lot more respect for the work that we all do if this place is tidy and well-organised. This, in turn, makes people less likely to abuse it and more likely to take the content seriously.

Therefore, with our question policy, we are aiming to make the information presented here more compelling, alluring and easier to organise. That this strategy works is borne-out by the visitor stats, which revealed a significant increase in traffic growth once we implemented this policy.

2) We re-deploy threads from the forum across our entire site as part of our "related content" system. These "offerings" appear at the page bottom beneath the material on the page in question. For instance, a page about a news story on fibre optics might include some forum threads in which we've discussed this technology; the titles of these threads are used as the link text on those pages. Therefore, you can probably see that having a clear and concise title, phrased as a question, achieves two ends - i) it tells people what the content is about and ii) reveals the fact that it is a discussion, rather than a straightforward list of "facts".


PATTERN OF DEBATE

Another important issue raised above how we should answer posts. This is dictated by what we want this forum to do and to achieve, which is to provide a friendly environment in which we can all learn from each other in a helpfully-critical manner; that is, if someone gets something wrong, which does happen - and I have learned a huge amount here - then hopefully we can steer each other back in the right direction - in a friendly way. I think that the great virtue of this forum is that it is sufficiently informal, and often irreverent too, to enable people to participate without feeling intimidated - this we must absolutely strive to maintain.

What we are definitely not trying to provide is a surrogate Wikipedia: there would be no value in that - it's already been done. It's also slightly annoying when people answer a post with nothing more than a link to a Wiki page - the visitor who asked the question in the first place could, presumably, find wikipedia themselves and if it was as simple as reading a page there they would have done that already.

Instead we have the opportunity to have a discussion and a debate that inevitably leads to the subject evolving and expanding significantly, thereby broadening the subject matter and widening the learning opportunities.


WHAT ROLE DOES THIS FORUM PLAY?

This forum was implemented to draw together, in an interactive way, a number of different aspects of what the Naked Scientists is all about. It provides a debating platform for diverse science topics, it provides a feedback forum for visitors and listeners to the radio and podcasts to react to what they have heard, it generates unique content for the rest of the website, the radio show and the podcasts and also helps to turn podcast listeners into web visitors and vice versa.

You can see this happening when posts appear posted "on behalf of" someone. The answer you give to those questions could well be cited in the podcast and the listener who submitted the question will receive an email telling them where to read the answer. So this is an opportunity to attract a host of new forum users.


SUSTAINABILITY

One of the things that keeps me awake at night is working out ways to keep this project going in a sustainable manner. The Naked Scientists costs about ú150,000 per year to run. To date we have been supported by grants that I have managed to win from various sources, but this cannot continue indefinitely, at least as the sole revenue stream. Instead, we need to look at mechanisms to raise income from our activities and our offerings in order to keep the project going. For this reason we've done some initial trials with advertising; later this year we're considering the introduction of a donation system. In particular we'd like to raise some money around the fact that next year is the tenth anniversary of this project starting - as ScienceWorld - in 2000. 2011 is also a very big anniversary because it's 10 years since the launch of The Naked Scientists. Therefore, any suggestions or ideas that people have around fundraising and revenue generation would be welcome.


OTHER FUTURE DIRECTIONS OR QUESTIONS

 -Quality of answers

I think it would be helpful to have some kind of star system for posts; if a user finds an answer particularly helpful then thye could flag that answer; the more flags an answer receives the higher its calibre. I think this would guide visitors to more robust material. It would also be useful for us to strengthen our related content system.

We did try a karma system last year but it was universally unpopular and also ended up reflecting more the poster rather than the posted material. I think we need to return to this and work out a better way to do it.


THANKS

The most important thing to say to you all is thank you. Without your enthusiastic, engaging, often hilarious (yes you Neil) and always careful contributions and your moderation effors this forum would not be the vibrant place that it is. I spend a lot of time looking at what other sites have to offer on the web and what we have here is unique in its friendliness, approachability and high standards. That wouldn't be possible without you all. Thank you.


Chris
« Last Edit: 25/08/2009 10:12:17 by chris »
I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception - Groucho Marx

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Offline Karen W.

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« Reply #49 on: 25/08/2009 10:42:19 »
Thanks Chris That is an excellent post and I am glad to here about efforts to try to keep our sight up...I know I for one do not want to see it slip away and I have always considered this a serious forum for scientific answers and learning and frankly love the way each of us can participate without embarrassment and feel free to read and follow threads that are enlightening funny and a breath of fresh air... Thank you for your opinions and support on the site also!

"Life is not measured by the number of Breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."