Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Thoughts On The Closure Of ALL EXPERTS

All Experts was the free question and answer service that for 19 years provided users with answers to their questions in a vast variety of subject areas from biology, medicine, geology, religion, politics, and psychology to astrophysics and physics.  Since late 2004 I participated in the Astronomy forum - this before there was All Experts (it was known then as 'Experts Central') then three years later joined the astrophysics expert forum, as well as the atheist -agnostic forum.

As per a notification sent out a week ago, the site shut down from April 24th. Anyone trying to access it via Google or the url will simply be shown a terse message noting the 19-year run and that "more than two million" questions were answered.

Why the closure, we can't say. Experts were simply sent the brief notice with no further explanation. One reason is that perhaps there wasn't the money available to support the financial maintenance and even a putatively "free site" needs money to operate - if only to continue to support nearly 500 different forums, responses and further exchanges. Not to mention tracking vacation dates and experts' statistics in their profiles.

But let's be clear the site wasn't always smooth sailing and for experts often a source of frustration. After eight years answering astronomy questions, for example, I had to go to the option of  "no ratings allowed"  - ratings being given in the several areas of: politeness, knowledge, clarity of response, and timely response.    What constantly irritated me was that so few questioners knew how to give an appropriate rating, especially to knowledge and clarity of response.  For example, they'd deliver a '10' in knowledge but then a  '6' for clarity of response. But how would one be cognizant that the knowledge aspect was as high as 10 when they believed the clarity was only at a 6? It was preposterous.  

I tried to attach the proviso that if the answer still appeared to be abstruse, or too difficult, the questioner could reframe the question or make it more specific. (That was another gripe - often the questions were so poorly worded one couldn't make any sense of them and had to ask the person to please rewrite it, try to be more specific or to clarify a term used).   Often there was no further question, so the expert is left with just the crummy rating - and bear in mind we aren't getting paid a damned cent so the ratings comprise our only "earnings".

I retained the ratings for the astrophysics largely because I'd become a lot more rigid in what categories of question I accepted. If it seemed that bare balderdash or ignorance was the theme I delivered a polite rejection response.  Or, if there was the slightest divergence from what astrophysics included. For example, questions to do with meteorology, say the formation of "Moon dogs" or "halos"  forming around the Moon.   While perhaps making it as an astronomy question - ice crystals forming in the atmosphere - it doesn't make the cut for astrophysics. 

As I made clear in subsequent rejection letters the topics for astrophysics included: star formation and evolution, the HR diagram, stellar models, stellar spectra, star cluster dynamics, galactic cluster properties, Hubble diagram, expansion of the universe, solar flares, sunspot properties and coronal mass ejections as well as prominences, plasma waves and instabilities. 

Apart from the poorly worded or misdirected questions there were the many from crackpots. These were most often poorly or semi-educated people who were perhaps above average in intelligence, had a bit of a "brain storm" and fancied themselves a new Einstein for having found some seemingly novel relationship. One of these was a guy in his fifties or sixties, admittedly having "little education" who came up with the notion of "Earth flares", i.e. analogs to solar flares but occurring on Earth.

After several fruitless exchanges where I emphasized there was no observational basis for his entity, namely any magnetic signature for rapid release, he finally agreed to go to another expert. He just couldn't admit his own "thesis" was cockeyed and - in essence - pseudo science.

Another pair of crackpots (from the Middle East) insisted they had overturned Kepler's 2nd law of planetary motion, the "equal area" law.  One of them actually wrote:

"Kepler's area law says r*Vp=Ct.  Newton's universal attraction force says this force is radial F=Fr and a perpendicular force (Fp)  to the radial, also a side force component does not exist.  So: m*dVp/dt=Fp=0.  Then dVp/dt=0 and with integration we get Vp=Ct.     f Vp=Ct is correct, elliptical orbits theory has to be modified to a new theory, new math. And the motion equation should be r=-4*t^2+4*t*T-4*T^2/6 .This equation does not indicate an ellipse but a parabolic vortex spiral."
For his benefit I made several points:
1) He never expressed the 2nd law in proper form and indeed it makes no sense at all as portrayed.

2) He never defined 'C', and whether it is the same as h .  He doesn't say so one can't just assume it.

3) His equation r*dVp = Ct = 0 is incorrect. The Areal law in most concise form should read:

dA/dt = h z^ / 2
In addition,  he failed to distinguish between a real force and a non-existent force, i.e. perpendicular to the orbit (since the gravitational force of interaction acts through the mass centers) so mg = 0 i.e. weightlessness applies.
In effect, his integration result, e.g. Vp=Ct  is spurious .
After much back and forth in the rejection regime he rendered a final assertion he believed would force me to go to his side.  This was after I pointed out that the very fact spacecraft had landed successfully on Mars, the Moon, Venus etc. showed the Kepler law in its given form had to be correct. However, unwilling to accept this he wrote:
"Anyhow,  sending celestial probes to the Moon,or Mars or to any body will still be successful even if the orbits are triangular. It does not depend on  the form of the planet's trajectory . It is controlled from the earth."

In other words, he's saying you just need to fire the rocket into space, and the human controllers on Earth (like at Johnson Space Center) will do the rest,  to "steer" it to the destination.    I had to summon all my will power to avoid calling him a total nutcase, but again we must allow common courtesy even for kooks.
Then there was the Canadian "Bree"  (and several others with different identities or names) who sought to browbeat me into accepting a novel presentation of units which "proved" one or more of her crackpot ideas. She wrote, as "mathematical proof":

1)     Speed of Light  =  orbit Velocity^2  /  Pi       (Enormously Important Equation)

2)     Speed of Light  =  Acceleration of Gravity  x  orbit Time

3)     Speed of Light  =  Acceleration of Gravity  x  (earth Volume  /  orbit Circumference x Tau2)

4)     Speed of Light  =  Acceleration of planet earth in orbit  x  Diameter of orbit

5)     Speed of Light  =  Density of earth  x  orbit Velocity x 21  
None of which made any sense in terms of actual physical units and dimensions as I tried to show her, to no avail.  Her baloney was a perfect example of similar piffle cited by Charles Seife in his superb book:  'Proofiness: How You're Being Fooled by the Numbers.'   Seife decried the tactic of using numbers not just to lie but to baffle the susceptible and gullible with bullshit.  He referred to a common failing of most people unversed in math to be hoodwinked merely because some form of math or numbers are interjected into arguments.  Not just using numbers to bolster one's argument. In his words, to use fake numbers to prove falsehoods and to seek to prove something is true - even when it's not- is one of the most egregious forms of  intellectual  fraud. But "Bree" believed herself to be an incomparable genius of the first order.

The first thing any first year Physics student learns - or should - is to check a formula or claimed relationship for consistency of the physical units used. If their combination doesn't yield any recognized physical quantity - defined as part of the standards and constants published yearly by the American Institute of Physics - then the results are balderdash, pure and simple. Let's take her example (4) where:

Speed of Light  =  Acceleration of planet earth in orbit  x  Diameter of orbit

What are the units here? The speed of light c is in meters per second, or m/s. The acceleration a is given in terms of  m/ s 2  and the diameter of any orbit (any orbit) is a length -  so given in meters (m). Then multiplying them together one gets:

(m/s)  =  ?  (m/ s 2) (m)  =  m2 / s 2

Which is emphatically not the same as the units for velocity of light! Let's also check her "enormously important equation" (1): Speed of Light  =  orbit Velocity^2  /  Pi      

Again, we examine the product of the units to see if there's a physically meaningful quantity that results or if this girl is just seeing things, or seeing what she wants to see.  We have the speed of light on one side (units m/s ) and on the other the orbit velocity squared:

(m/s)2    =  m2 / s 2

Note that the presence of pi is neither here nor there as it's dimensionless.       "Bree" leaves herself open on so many fronts it's essentially laughable, and in ordinary discourse she'd be put down as a dummy or dupe, but as experts  we had to strive for politeness. This irrespective of what mutation of knowledge we were confronted with. (Including one Saudi character nicknamed "Amtry" who tried to argue atheists were less than moral because they objected to have prostitutes flogged, or those women seeking abortions. 

The thing that really bothered me in all this kerfuffle with the Canuck lass(-es) was, not so much the snarkiness and bogus certitude of these young women, but their failure to recognize that the combination of units yields zilch. A squared velocity is simply NOT the same as a velocity. Both girls - if indeed there are two - would merit an F in any physics class of mine.  Worse, if I could I'd deliver an F-minus because of the lack of critical thinking.

Sadly, if this girl or girls are infected by this stupidity many others might be too. Who knows how many physics students have gone on to the website referenced and then belabored their profs with this bullshit, wasting all kinds of time?  But one thing I've learned is you can't argue with ignorant students or ignorant people who are already committed to believe what they want. In this case, because the "maths' seems to work out (at least in their heads) they believe it like a sacred book.

One would have thought they'd back off but that's not the nature of crackpots.  This was even after I had written in one rejection:.  Btw, anyone can concoct and hurl together dissimilar units to make them appear valid, but garbage in = garbage out. The sure sign of pseudo-scientific claptrap and bunkum is when one reads:

"The earth in orbit is electrical, the Tesla is present due to the earth moving through the aether.  When you multiply earth Acceleration by the Diameter as well as the hidden Tesla you get the Velocity of light and its CORRECT UNITS."

Any physics student of mine that would scrawl such drivel would get an F - for the semester! An orbit being electrical? Moving through the "ether"? The ether doesn't even exist - the Michelon -Morley experiment showed the concept of ether is redundant.  The rest is pure poppycock. The waste of a mind is a terrible ting and this nonsense is an enormous waste of a mind - as well as the minds led to buy into it

 At least 5 months passed before the following bit of bafflegab gibberish (under the header 'Sound math')  arrived in my inbox, doubtless compliments of the selfsame Canadian twit, now using the name "Brianna":

Our SOLARMath equations work with "Kilograms" ( )

But because Avogadro's number is atoms per mole which leads to atoms per "gram", prior to commencing the equation below, we need to convert the initial Mass of the earth to grams.

The Equation is;

The Mass of the earth divided by Gravity^4  x  Acceleration of earth in orbit  =  Avogadro's number.

5537831004648121688015772977.2114697 grams  /  (9.8)^4  =  600392689687827221617859.5082045622325038

600392689687827221617859.5082045622325038  x  .001003207246557  =  602318297074676474879.204

I replied with a customized rejection and was as polite as possible, emphasizing that the astrophysics forum (at least for my domain of questions) had to meet at least one of a set  of content criteria for consideration as a legit astrophysics query. She then fired back "Are you drunk? Of course it's not astrophysics, it's math!"    But any serious inquirer in astrophysics - or math- would know the multi-digit explication as shown would instantly identify  a hardcore crank -  not to mention the units being all wrong.

Then there was Steve Torchinsky  (an "engineer turned radio astronomer") who "torched" me  ("so-called astronomy expert") for advising an Indian engineering student  who wanted to transfer into astrophysics that it might be "too hard" a path to successfully negotiate. Especially going from engineering to highly abstract (relatively!) astrophysics courses like stellar modeling, evolution and plasma theory.  Torchinsky blabbered on about the hundreds who "made it" (say in radio astronomy) but never referenced my presumption that one had to get through a very difficult undergrad and graduate series of courses first. A battery that many engineers - including my mechanical engineering brother in law- have said would have been their undoing. Could he have made it? Maybe. Would he have? I don't know and neither does Torchinsky.

Apart from these issues there've always been the niggling critiques (in ratings sites)  of All Experts, i.e. they "don't know enough about my specific problem" or "they take too much time off etc. WTF do you expect for a FREE service? All of which shows me that the widespread trope that "people devalue and dismiss anything given for free" is probably true. So, as they say - let the naysayers and complainers carry  on now that All Experts is gone. I am sure Google will be able to answer all their specific questions - if they just take enough time and get through the first gazillion irrelevant pages!


Jeff said...

I was one of the top experts there for many years, in the area of computer networking. I am not remotely surprised the site shut down. It was very poorly run and managed. For the last several years in particular, participation and questions fell WAY DOWN - so clearly they didn't advertise or market appropriately. I used to get a question or more every day. For the last few years, I got maybe one a month ... maybe.

FYI - I didn't even get the email that they were shutting down :)

A big issue - there was an annoyingly high percentage of questions that were clearly some kids's homework (high school or college). Allexpert's management NEVER blocked or banned these people - so they just kept asking more questions and I kept refusing to answer them. In particular, there was this one guy from India who would spam like EVERYONE on every forum with questions, probably stuff he found on the Internet - just to waste all that time. I sent evidence to allexperts management and do you know what they did? Yep - NOTHING.

I won't miss it. This should have been a multi-million dollar business instead of a monumental failure. If I'm ever going to spend my time doing that again it will be a forum that I own, make money on, and I'll get to block and ban as needed.

Copernicus said...

Spot on points made, in particular on the obvious homework questions which I inadvertently neglected to mention. But it was galling, especially when the wording clearly was from a textbook and you called them on it. Then you'd see the response full of indignation: "How dare you impugn my question as being homework!" Well, uh, yeah, sonny - if it reads as "Explain how one can compute the angular diameter of the full Moon from its linear dimension".

You are also correct about the failure to advertise and market properly. I also think this was one reason the ratio of cranks seemed to increase in latter years. The cranks more easily found the site than 'normal' questioners.

kavanr said...

I am amazed that a useful concept which had run for 19 years will be just shut down rather than been sold. Maybe it was sold and then killed by the buyer. which owns has recently become

I was and expert and I linked to it from my own website so visitor could ask me questions via ALLExperts. I made many useful connections over the 6 years I used it. I too did not get any notice in April.

Unknown said...

I did some "allexperting" in physics, mostly of materials, 2003-2006 and whar turned me away was the inverse proportion between the length of an exchange and its result. The graph of it was noisy, but the trend was unmistakable. I will not speculate, why this was.

Unknown said...

I was one of the top Experts answering questions on Pop Culture, Science Fiction and Identifying films and TV shows for questioners from just a few pieces of information they hazily remembered, many were usually obscure films or an episode of a TV series, most times they would get confused and think what they were looking for was a film but was in fact a tv show and vice versa but I usually always managed to find what they were looking for. The problem was you would get people who would say 'I saw this film when I was 7 or 12" or whatever even though I stated on my profile to just state the year if possible not the age you saw it as I have no idea of how old you are now. The point rating system was however the most annoying thing for me, even though I would answer a question correctly they would put a 7 or 8 instead of a 10 for knowledge even though I couldn't do any better than answer the question more coreectly. It was bad enough we had a time limit. Now the site has closed there is not even a saved back up of our answered questions anywhere online, what a waste of time and knowledge. I have ended up on Quora now answering questions on there and to be honest I think Quora has replaced it now. No points systems just upvotes and no time limit for questions. Anyway, that's my rant, best wishes to all the former AllExperts for the future.

Unknown said...

I was one of the top experts on Allexperts for over 10 years in the areas of Dog Training and Dog Behavior. I also did not get the notice that the site was shutting down. I finally tried to load the site as I hadn't gotten a question in quite a long time, months at least, perhaps a year.
All the criticisms posted are fair, and I agree. One of the further issues I had with the structure of the site was that we were all 'out there' as experts and not anonymous, and the questioners got to be anonymous. My field being a predominantly female-attracting one, and rather snarky and backbiting, I was sure that some of my competition were asking me silly questions, which I politely and professionally answered, only to give me poor ratings, usually on 'politeness' or some other aspect. I would write to Allexperts, and, for the most part, they were very good at removing ratings which were unfair to me. In a couple of instances I asked them to check the IP addresses of some of the lousy ratings I received, and it turned out that a few of them were matches; that is, that the same person was repeatedly e-mailing me questions which sounded legitimate just so they could bring down my ratings. As posted here, these ratings were our only "earnings." It was distressing. About a year ago, I changed to a format where I charged for responses, and at about that time, I got a few questions I rejected because the questioners hadn't paid the $25 fee I requested, which I explained was going to animal charities, not into my pocket. Getting a fair rating became so difficult that I told questioners in my bio that if they rated me fairly and promptly, that I would randomly make anywhere from a $10 - $25 donation to an animal-related charity or shelter for their rating; and, I DID, many times. Even with this carrot, I still got people who rated me unfairly, and I wrote to them and told them that they had cost some shelter a $25 donation. Then, I'd ask AllExperts to remove the rating, and if they agreed it was unfair (which in almost all cases they did), the unfair rating was removed. I suggested many times that they unmask questioners so that my competition couldn't get away with this any longer. Obviously, they never implemented my request. I wish I knew they were shutting down, because I would have liked to turn many of my responses (probably about 500) into a book about dog training and behavior. I guess I waited a bit too long. In any case, I have to admit I'm a bit relieved that I won't need to be fielding fake questions any longer. I actually was becoming really quite good at sorting out the fakers from the real questioners. That aspect helped me greatly in my selection skills of actual customers during phone intakes. I became quite adept at sorting out the people with whom I wouldn't enjoy working from those who would appreciate what I have to offer.

Copernicus said...

Very good points made, especially on the anonymity of questioners - which made it difficult to discern repeat pests- including a number who altered their handles when they asked questions in the atheist-religion forum, as well as astronomy. Ultimately, with all its latent flaws, and how they handicapped experts, the demise of the site was probably a good thing.

Unknown said...

I have to say, some here are forgetting an important rule of life: if you don’t like it, don’t use it. Stating that it may be a good thing that AllExperts was shut down because you had some issues with it, is rather selfish. No one made you use it! The site was a fabulous resource for I am sure hundreds of thousands of clients. I was the main (often only) mouse expert for 8 years. During that time I answered 2800 questions. In the early days I got about 9 questions a day; once I posted links in my profile for the three most common questions, it dropped down to 3 a day. I never charged. The time limit wasn’t a problem for me as mice die fast when something is wrong, so I tried hard to answer questions within 8 hours anyway. Some readers may not care about mice, but if it were thousands of dog lives I had saved, they would. I was devastated when the site closed especially because answered questions were simply gone. I also run the largest rodent care group in the world (for rats and mice) and as there simply are no expert sites for mice (there are dozens for rats), in our own files we had links to many of my answers. Now they go nowhere. Considering the number of people who, when they have identified me, have told me they found my answers by Google search and didn’t need to send me a question, I know that thousands of searches are being frustrated by dead end links. And of course this is true for every topic. I wish we had been able to leave contact info so I could direct thousands of questioners to my group instead.

The way the closure affects me personally is that I also used the site. I saved hundreds of dollars by asking questions of experts rather than pay for expert advice. Anywhere from plumbing to legal information that I was and am hard-pressed to find without paying a plumber, lawyer, lawn care specialist, etc. I have been frustrated countless times since the closure by not knowing who to ask without paying someone. And think of the many kids who came for mental health information or sexual health information because it was free and anonymous.

I have a theory about the closure. We have all been reading about how Trump, in his hatred for facts and truth, has been closing departments necessary for agencies to run and installing heads of agencies whose goals are to obfuscate the truth, such as climate deniers. If they are going so far as to erase climate data daily, it would be no surprise at all that they would close the largest, and free, information site in the world.

In any case it is a tragedy

Copernicus said...

Thanks for your interesting insights on All Experts!

Paul Sutliff said...

Saw this as I was wondering if I could find something I posted as an expert on All I have to admit I enjoyed answering questions, but I agree there were problems with both homework questions and ratings. Bummer that Yahoo never asked us if we wanted copies of our work.

Copernicus said...

It was truly a "bummer". Fortunately, I had a number of old questions and answers (copies) left on my email so started a series on this blog 'Selected Questions and Answers From All Experts". My regret is that I didn't have many more saved for further use, as you indicated.

kavanr said...

You may find some of your answers backed up at as I did

I am however sad the All Experts service went away. It was so useful.

Copernicus said...

Thanks for the link! I will check to see if there are any astronomy and astrophysics answers.

Unknown said...

I was a top expert in the area of repetitive strain injury’s from 2001 until the website closed. As so many others have said in the beginning I would get eight or nine request a day and that we’re down to three or four a month. I actually hadn’t realized everybody else was having the same problem until reading this site. I answered thousands of questions and told people how to self treat the spasms that were causing pain. I couldn’t tell you many hundreds of thank youse I got for saving them from surgery. I would love to start, or join, a similar service. There is so many people in pain. Right now my website Is helping athletes, but I don’t yet have a forum that I like and that is as good as was when it was working properly. If anyone knows of such aside, please contact me!