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Thread: How can we get better questions in Q&A?

  1. #1
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    How can we get better questions in Q&A?

    “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.”
    ― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
    Five days after the announcement of the observation of gravitational waves from a neutron-star merger, I posted these questions seen in Ethan Siegel's Starts With A Bang (Forbes)

    Quote Originally Posted by 01101001 View Post
    Forbes: Ethan Siegel: Seeing One Example Of Merging Neutron Stars Raises Five Incredible Questions
    With so much information, much of it surprising, coming from the discovery, there are dozens of new papers out already trying to make sense of what we've seen. Here are the five biggest new questions the discovery raises.
    1. What is the rate at which neutron star-neutron star mergers occur?
    2. What causes so much matter to be ejected from a merger like this?
    3. Did this merger produce a hypermassive neutron star?
    4. If these neutron stars had been more massive, would the merger have been invisible?
    5. What causes gamma-ray bursts to be so bright in so many directions, not in a cone?
    You don't have to agree with his top-five list, but do you see a difference in the quality of these questions from the ones inspired by the same announcement in our own Q&A subforum? We got the other kind of "incredible" questions, ones that appear to be seeking confirmation of some unusual personal views of how the Universe works. Why is that?

    How do we get more interesting, meaty questions in Q&A, like the ones above?
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    Skepticism enables us to distinguish fancy from fact, to test our speculations. --Carl Sagan

  2. #2
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    Many of the more chronically irritating Q&A quesioners have ATM axes to grind, and use Q&A to do it.

    But thank you for your post, 01101001, the can of worms is open.

    Regards, John M.

  3. #3
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    "Incredible" questions?

    Those seem to be the questions that logically fall out of a confirmed neutron star merger.

    Though I do understand people nowadays finding logic "incredible".
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    (John, not the other one.)

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by 01101001 View Post
    How do we get more interesting, meaty questions in Q&A, like the ones above?
    I very much appreciate the question, but I question whether Q&A is the place for "meaty".

    From the Q&A stickies:
    Quote Originally Posted by ToSeek View Post
    This section of the forum is for astronomy and space exploration questions with straightforward, generally accepted answers.

    Questions that are likely to lead to extended discussion about the correct answer, or that have no clearcut correct answer, should be posted in the forum most appropriate to the topic of the question. If a question does lead to such discussion, it may be split off or moved entirely to a more appropriate forum by a moderator. Since it's hard to tell how a discussion will go, posting such questions will generally be treated as a judgment matter and not a rule violation.

    Questions taking issue or raising concerns with the mainstream viewpoint should be posted in the ATM forum. Posting questions along these lines will generally be treated as a rule violation.
    My thinking (and I think this is shared by the Moderation Team) is that Q&A is not for "meaty" topics, and is much more for the average person on the street trying to get their straight-forward questions answered.

    Personally, I think there have been too many "meaty" topics in Q&A lately.

    Now, I love the idea of discussions of meaty topics, I just don't think they should be in Q&A. I think Astronomy or S&T are much more appropriate.

    So, if that is the consensus, then the question is how do we get more meaty discussions in those parts of the forum. I don't have an easy answer. One suggestion - start the threads. If there is a meaty topic you want to discuss, then start a discussion.

    I'll admit a bit of a frustration over this in recent years. I've tried, as I've seen interesting (to me at least) science topics, to start threads on them. They generally seem to be ignored or turned into joke threads. Maybe what I find interesting is not what others find interesting, but I don't know.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDon View Post
    Those seem to be the questions that logically fall out of a confirmed neutron star merger.
    "Incredible" has a couple of meanings: nowadays often more "magnificent" but at its base "unbelieveable". I was trying to contrast the good questions offered by Ethan Siegel with those lackluster ones offered by our members.
    Last edited by 01101001; 2017-Oct-25 at 03:30 PM. Reason: add "un"
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    Skepticism enables us to distinguish fancy from fact, to test our speculations. --Carl Sagan

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    I very much appreciate the question, but I question whether Q&A is the place for "meaty".
    Thanks. All of Ethan Siegel's questions look simple. That's partly why they are great ones. They are so cute. They are meaty, but someone who was very new to neutron-star mergers could certainly have come up with them and asked them in Q&A -- and thus I sort of wished I had seen them there, before they were appropriately moved.

    So, I don't have an answer to my topic question. I would wish that the people who seem to use Q&A to promote an ATM agenda could be persuaded out of it, to avoid a tragedy of the commons. An appeal to shame probably won't work, though, and I can't think of a rule that would.

    Why did we get at least a couple questions along the lines of: what's wrong with physics in that the gravitational-wave climax did not arrive here at exactly the same instant as the gamma rays? Why weren't the questions more thoughtfully: how long does it take gamma rays to be generated after the neutron-star-merging gravitational waves reach maximum amplitude?

    More curious about the source than the journey, I had that lag question, but being of the look-it-up-yourself mold, I looked it up myself and did not ask it here. But those who did ask us about the event skipped that little detail and went straight for their usual agenda.

    Maybe I should have asked it anyway, if only to raise the level of quality of Q&A. But I shouldn't play at naive in order to use Q&A, right? Nobody should do that. It's not nice.

    Two and a half of Ethan Siegel's questions had come to me before I even saw his article. But I didn't ask them in Q&A. Because Q&A rules. Did I do the right thing?

    And I didn't ask them anywhere because I did my own research. The good questions, they die young.

    Meanwhile, in fact, some Q&A examples seem to indicate that Q&A is where you stealthily promote ATM. A tragedy.
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    I suppose that's part of the problem. Most of us find the answers to the "first tier" interesting questions by watching a press conference, or at least reading or glancing through linked articles and websites. Because those announcing stuff also often have a pretty good hunch about the questions that are most likely to be asked.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by 01101001 View Post
    Thanks. All of Ethan Siegel's questions look simple. That's partly why they are great ones. They are so cute. They are meaty, but someone who was very new to neutron-star mergers could certainly have come up with them and asked them in Q&A -- and thus I sort of wished I had seen them there, before they were appropriately moved.
    I think we may still have a disagreement on what should be the roll of Q&A.

    It isn't even a question of "deep" versus "simple" since sometimes the simple questions are the deepest.

    I just see Q&A as the place for "newbies" to astronomy questions. The "what did I see in the sky" or "what is a quasar" kind of questions. I don't see it as a place for deep questions and long discussions on the cutting edge in astronomy.

    I also see it as a place for the actual person to ask the question. I see it less as a place to bring up "hey, Ethan Siegel asks some questions in this article", and more where the person posting at CQ has the question for themselves.

    I still think the discussions along the lines of "Ethan Siegel asks some really good questions in this article" should be in Astronomy, not Q&A.

    As far as ATM.... that's a different issue to me. We always allow people to ask questions about ATM ideas, as long as they don't advocate outside of the ATM forum. Yes, there is a long, grey, slippery slope between those endpoints; it is the life of the Moderation Team to figure where any given thread is on that slope. This is true whether the tread is in Q&A or Astronomy. But again, since the topics that are on the edge between cutting edge astronomy and ATM are almost by definition "meaty", they probably are more appropriate to Astronomy, rather than Q&A, even if they don't advocate any ATM.

    All of this is my personal opinion, and not the official opinion of the Moderation Team.
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    I agree with Swift, except that I wouldn't strictly say for "newbies". I think some astronomy (and by extension, fields like astrophysics, and even observational astronomy) questions from "oldbies" or specialists can be simple and straightforward enough for Q&A. I'm sure there's a blurry transition between those and "meatier" questions, though.

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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    I think we may still have a disagreement on what should be the roll of Q&A.

    It isn't even a question of "deep" versus "simple" since sometimes the simple questions are the deepest.

    I just see Q&A as the place for "newbies" to astronomy questions. The "what did I see in the sky" or "what is a quasar" kind of questions. I don't see it as a place for deep questions and long discussions on the cutting edge in astronomy.

    I also see it as a place for the actual person to ask the question. I see it less as a place to bring up "hey, Ethan Siegel asks some questions in this article", and more where the person posting at CQ has the question for themselves.

    I still think the discussions along the lines of "Ethan Siegel asks some really good questions in this article" should be in Astronomy, not Q&A.
    Entirely agree. But once you read the Ethan Siegel article, you realize the simple appearance of the questions is deceptive; they are hard. But when I thought of my shared questions before I read that Siegel wrote they were incredible, and if I hadn't looked them up, and just posted them to Q&A, or if anyone else had been similarly curious, there they would be, elevating the tone of Q&A -- until maybe they were moved. Actually, several have the quite simple answer: nobody knows.

    I don't know how hard my natural questions are just by looking at them. I wouldn't know if they were suitable for Q&A. But then I do my own homework, and then do not ask. I'm filtering out good questions. Sometimes, I come up with questions that have simple answers and know they would have lived a brief, interesting life in Q&A, and could be instructive to even newbies. But I filter them away. Maybe I should ask. But often it turns out the answers are so stupid-obvious that I'd embarrass myself. If I didn't care about burdening others with my problems, and stopped my self-censorship, I'd ask some easy questions and some difficult questions. Isn't that the nature of questions?

    Anyone with a meager interest in science, having read the popular-press accounts of neutron stars, might have come up with some of Siegel's questions. They are not exotic by nature. They just turn out out to be cutting edge.

    Maybe we should ban the "oldbies" from using Q&A as their platform to ask leading questions. If Q&A were really just newbie questions -- as seems to be the claimed purpose -- I'd see less tragedy. I hate waste.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by 01101001 View Post
    <snip>
    I don't know how hard my natural questions are just by looking at them. I wouldn't know if they were suitable for Q&A. But then I do my own homework, and then do not ask. I'm filtering out good questions. Sometimes, I come up with questions that have simple answers and know they would have lived a brief, interesting life in Q&A, and could be instructive to even newbies. But I filter them away. Maybe I should ask. But often it turns out the answers are so stupid-obvious that I'd embarrass myself. If I didn't care about burdening others with my problems, and stopped my self-censorship, I'd ask some easy questions and some difficult questions. Isn't that the nature of questions?
    OK, sorry if I misunderstood that concern.

    Do not worry about where you put the thread - just ask. Put them in Q&A, put them in Astronomy. Do your own homework, or partial homework, or just ask. If at some point we decide the thread is better off living somewhere else, we will move it. Moving a thread from Q&A to Astronomy is trivial.

    Don't filter out good questions or even "I'm just curious" questions.
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  12. #12
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    I never thought the Q&A forum was the right place for "meaty" questions, for the simple reason that "A" in "Q&A" implies the answer is already known. Questions in cutting edge physics do not have answers until the required time, effort and billions of dollars in equipment to run experiments have been done, which is often years or decades after the questions are posed. Those resources are beyond the reach of most of the members of this board.

    Theoretical questions have theoretical answers, which tend to open the door to Against-the-Mainstream proposed answers because there may not be any answers with enough data or consensus to be considered mainstream yet. Add to this the long-term trend of rules-tightening on topics that are ATM or otherwise controversial, and members may not want to engage in any brainstorming for answers to physics questions for which there is scant data. That's also probably why people turn some threads into jokes, because anything serious and theoretical runs the risk of getting shut down as ATM, if not by moderators then by ATM proponents who take it too far afield or complain about favoritism.
    Last edited by Ara Pacis; 2017-Nov-14 at 07:42 PM.
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