I would be interested in becoming a moderator. Professionally, I am a professor of physics at an R1 institution in the United States. Most of my research is on symmetries in theoretical particle physics. However, I also do some work in astrophysics, atomic physics, and condensed matter physics, and I sometimes collaborate with experimenters in these areas.
I visit this site almost every day, and I try always check on the review queues when I log in. Compared to a the other Stack Exchange sites I visit, Physics gets a lot of off-topic questions—especially homework-like questions. I think that makes it important for knowledgeable users to contribute to moderation here.
While I have never been a moderator on Stack Exchange, my wife has been a moderator on several Stack Exchange sites, and I am fairly familiar with the practicalities of being a mod. I have worked as a moderator on several other forum sites and have run networks and bulletin boards going all the way back to the pre-Web era, and I also have some experience helping to lead volunteer communities, including working on resolving the disputes that occasionally arose between members.
- How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?
For a user like this, who produces useful content for the site, yet who also generates an unusual degree of acrimony, I think the first step would be to have a conversation (in chat or via messages) about the the issue. After discussion among the moderators, one moderator can take the lead in contacting the user and letting them know that their contributions to the site are highly valued, but that some of their comments are not appreciated by other members of the community. I would hope that a mature user would take this constructive criticism in stride and make adjustments. However, if that doesn't happen, I think it becomes time for the moderation team to start enforcing sanctions on users whose out-of-bounds behavior is hurting the site. If the problems persist, the severity of the sanctions can be progressively increased
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc. a question that you feel shouldn’t have been?
The moderators on Physics Stack Exchange appear to do good job of dealing with the issues that arise, so I expect this kind of disagreement would be a pretty uncommon occurrence. In tricky edge cases, I think it will usually be best to defer to the judgement of the mod who first dealt with the issue, even if I feel that things could have been handled slightly differently. However, if I felt particularly strongly that a closure or deletion decision was made in error, I would want to discuss it with the mod who made that decision, and I would also want to reach out to the other members of the mod team, to see whether they had perspectives the wanted to contribute.
- What are major challenges specific to PSE?
The biggest specific issue for the Physics site is the large number of off-topic homework and work-checking questions that the site gets. For many of these (e.g., questions that are just asking for the solution of a homework problem), the site does a good job of flagging and closing them. However, I think that there are also a fair number of questions that, while they may be concerned to some extent with specific homework problems of other calculations, are also related to underlying conceptual issues, and I think the site could sometimes do a better job of recasting these potentially interesting questions to make them on topic.
- Are there any PSE site policies that you find insufficient for the problem they try to solve, superfluous, or even actively harmful to the site? In the case where these policies cannot/will not be changed, how will you make sure to adhere to and promote these policies despite not agreeing with them?
I am not aware of any Physics-Stack-Exchange-specific policies that I think are problematic. However, if there were disagreements about a site policy, I would first want to make sure that there was clarity and agreement about what the policy actually is. (In the past, I have seen often seen disagreements—sometimes fairly heated disagreements—over group policies and rules that turned out to be illusive, because different people were interpreting the policies in quite different ways.) However, if everyone is on the same page about what the policy means, I don't think I would have a problem with adhering a policy that I might personally feel to be not optimal.
- What, if anything, would you do with a user who posts a steady stream of polite answers that derail questions to talk about their own personal theories, while not technically breaking any rules?
This is what downvotes are for. One of the fundamental ideas behind the Stack Exchange platform is that voting can be used to help identify the best answers. People offering up crackpot answers are still functioning within the parameters of the site, and it is one of the strengths of Stack Exchange that these kinds of poor answers should quickly garner enough downvotes to make it clear to other users that they are not good answers.
- How well do you think your previous behavior and actions on PSE have aligned with current PSE site policies? Do you think this will change at all if you are a moderator, and if so, how?
I try to follow the established policies of each Stack Exchange site that I frequent, and in borderline cases, I usually try to give questions and answers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to closing or deleting them. As a moderator I expect that I would continue to err slightly on the side of inclusiveness when it came to content of borderline topicality. However, on other issues than topicality—such as rude or abusive behavior—which regular users do not deal with except through flagging, I would be more aggressive about actively enforcing site policies.
On other Stack Exchange sites, where it can be trickier to decide whether things are or are not on topic, I try to raise these issues on Meta whenever I seem them arising—so that the site community can discuss them and make decision collectively. As a moderator on Physics, I would be more proactive about raising these kinds of question for discussion on Physics Meta as well.
- Site policies need interpretation and interpretation of rules is never like proving a mathematical theorem. Moderators could play an important role in maintaining coherence in the interpretation of the site policies. However, elected moderators should act as an expression of their community. Do you think discussions here in Physics Meta could help? In the case of a positive answer, do you think this mechanism could or should be improved? How? In the case of a negative answer, why?
As I indicated in the previous answer, I think Meta should be the primary venue for discussion of how our site policies should be implemented and how they many need to evolve over time. Moderators can play key roles in these discussions by raising these issues on Meta when they appear on the main site—and by providing informed answers, laying out current site policy, to Meta questions asked by other users.
If I become a moderator, I anticipate that I would post more on Meta that I have up to now. One reason is that part of a mod's job is to lay out and clarify the site policies for other users, so I would be more proactive about visiting the Physics Meta site and answering questions that other users had raised. Obviously, I would also be involved in any Meta discussions about actions that I might have taken as a mod—whether there was just curiosity about something I had done or, more unfortunately, disagreement from some user(s) with some action I had taken.
- In your opinion, what do moderators do?
I think the job of moderators is to keep the Physics Stack Exchange a convenient, useful, and welcoming place for users. This means heading off and dealing with problems that ordinary users are not equipped to deal with via flagging and moderation queues.
- A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that?
I have always tried to avoid making combative comments (or even overly flippant comments, which might be misunderstood) on Stack Exchange. Moreover, compared with some of the other Stack Exchange sites that I frequent (such as Academia or Science Fiction & Fantasy), answers on Physics tend to be fairly factual, and I have not expressed many personal opinions in my answers on this site. So I am not particularly worried about anything I have posted in the past being intimidatingly associated with a moderator's diamond
- In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?
As I said above, I think that the most important job of moderators is to keep the site in the best shape for the user base. A lot of moderation duties can be carried out by experienced users, but there are simply some things that these users cannot do, and somebody needs to be available to take care of these activities when action is called for. Moderation need not and should not be heavy handed, but when potential problems do appear, it is important to have a responsive team of moderators who can use the full toolkit available to them as the need arises.