The Mad Scientist Network: User's Manual

This page is intended as a resource for answering questions and other aspects about the network's functioning. Questions, comments or suggestions should be sent to the madsci account at

If you are unfamiliar with the Q&A structure of file on our site, take a few minutes and browse through the current listing of posts.


Answering a question.

Receiving a question.

The MadSci Moderators review all questions prior to sending them out. The review is intended to weed out questions concerning how to locate basic references (Where can I find information about frogs, e.g.), obvious "do-my-homework" questions, and questions already answered by material on our site.

Messages sent to you will be clearly marked as coming from The MAD Scientist Network. The mail message will contain a copy of the posted question, the name of the person, their grade/level in school, and the Message ID Number. This number is a nine-digit number ending in two letters: 812916414.Me, e.g. The two letters indicate the area of science. In the above example Me = medicine. When you signed up for the network you should have specified areas in which you wished to answer questions. We use this information to match questions with specific members of the network.

Messages will be signed with the moderator's name and their mail address, along with a brief note describing how to upload answers.

What if I need more information from the person?

If you require further clarification reply to the moderator for the area, or send a message to the network account.

How soon do I need to answer it?

We hope for a maximum turn-around time of 5-7 days after you receive a question. If you are unable to respond within this time, please notify us so we can send the question to another person. You may "defer" questions through the MadSci User's Interface. Enter the MessageID with your name and password on the WWW form. Alternatively, respond to the original message stating you do not want to answer it - make certain the MessageID# appears in the text of your message.

How should I answer it?

In most cases the person will provide their grade level. We recommend providing background a little below the grade level stated. Remember, people at all levels of education may be reading your answer.

You should be certain to answer the question. Many questions will not have definitive answers (How did the universe start? e.g.) In such cases, a summation of what is known/current thoughts on the subject are appropriate. In addition, most individuals asking questions do not have extensive training in the sciences so you should provide sufficient background for a "lay person" to understand the gist of the answer.

A few other suggestions..

It sounds like this person is trying to get me to do their homework!

For the most part the moderators weed out blatant 'do-my-homework' posts. Borderline cases will still be posted, in which case we ask that you answer by going over key points of "problem solving" in the given instance, and providing "help" to send the person in the right direction.

Where do I send my answer?

You have two choices. We prefer that you use the online answer interface (answers arrive ready for presentation on the WWW). This interface should work with any browser, including Lynx. You will be presented with a 'Login Box' that asks for your name (First_name Last_name), email address, password, and the Message ID# of the post to which you are responding. The subsequent page will show an 'answer form' for entering your answer.

We recommend that you construct your answer in a word processing program then cut-and-paste it onto the answer form. If something unforseeable happens then you still retain a copy. The section on including images describes how you can upload graphics with your answer. You also have the option of formatting your answer with HTML, or of using the server's default. Once submitted, your answer will await review by one of the moderators before being moved to our webspace.

If you are unable to use the web, answers may be mailed to Please be certain to include the following information in your message so we can properly transfer your answer to webspace.

Name: Your Name
Program: Graduate Student, etc.. Program/Major or Department
Subject: Subject of the original post
Message ID: Message ID Number (12345678.Nn)

Your answer..

What do we do with answers?

The MadSci Moderators review all answers. We consider the review process an important means of "quality control." If the moderator feels your answer needs more work, or would like information to be referenced, they will place your answer "on hold," and notify you with specifics of what needs to be done. You may then re-enter the answer interface to edit your original text.

The moderators may correct spelling changes, alter the HTML formatting, or add websites to the text of an answer prior to moving it to our webspace. In some instances they may also add a note at the bottom to further clarify or add material. They will not make changes in content without first contacting you.

Answers are generally posted to the server. They may be saved in a "private archive" if the person asking the question does not wish to have their question made public. A copy will be cc: to the person who asked the question. Files reside in the server's Current Q for 7 days before being moved to the archives.

Administrative Info

What if I don't want to receive questions for a while?
How can I change the areas in which I receive question.. my address.. research interests, etc.

A WWW interface on our site (available from the answer page) will let you carry out the following actions:
  1. Defer a question. You must enter the question ID# on the form.
  2. Put yourself on hold, or remove a hold. While "on hold" no questions will be sent to you.
  3. Alter your information in the databases. You can change fields such as your name, institution, research interests, areas in which you wish to receive questions, etc. Please notify the network account to alter your password or email address.

What is done with the information I supplied when joining your site?

This information is held in a series of databases. We do not sell this information or make it freely available to the public. People are able to see your name, institution and position in the headers of answer files. The "Mad Scientist List" also provides a link to your home page if you entered one.

The moderators make use of the databases to locate individuals to answer questions by searching research interests, and matching questions with groups of individuals based on the topic of the question. We also keep "statistics" as to how many answered and unanswered questions a person has.

Using the WWW to your advantage

Your answers can serve both as scientific resources and as starting points for finding further information on specific topics. We hope you will take the time to learn a few Web tricks that will enhance the meaning and content of your answers.

Including hypertext links in your answer.

All Web documents are formatted in a language known as HTML, for Hypertext Markup Language. HTML itself is very simple and easy to learn. We don't expect or even require that you should know how to format text with HTML. However, we would like to show you how to construct hypertext links in your answer so people reading your post can connect to other sites on the WWW that may contain useful or relevant information.

Hypertext links generally appear as blue underlined text. The actual construction behind the text is:

<a href="text_link.html"> blue underlined text </a>

Notice the use of the <a href= > and the closing </a> HTML tags. This text does not appear on the page, only the words between the two tags, highlighted in blue. The a href stands for an anchored reference, or link that goes to another location. The text between the double quotes specifies the exact location, known as the URL, forUniform Resource Locator. In this case the URL is another file in this directory called text_link.html Rarely do you have to generate the URL yourself. In most cases you will be able to copy it directly from your web browser into a text document. However, we will describe the meaning and parts of a URL so you can understand how they function.

To connect to the "What's new" page at the National Institutes of Health we write the following anchored link:

<a href="">National Institutes of Health</a>

This address looks quite different from the first example. The URL is which has three distinct parts.

  1. The type of server being accessed: http:// The http stands for 'Hyper text Transfer Protocol', the language of WWW servers. Other server prefixes coul d include gopher://, ftp:// or telnet://.
  2. The address of the site: which behaves just like an email address.
  3. The path to a specific file on that site: /nihnew.html
The format for URLs follows the convention: server_type://internet_location/p ath/to/a/file.html This information is case sensitive. Entering the same address in capital letters will produce an error message on your browser for anyone clicking on the link.

Finding relevant sites: WWW Search Engines

Running a WWW search takes a matter of minutes, and can provide you with links to sites containing information beyond the scope of what you discuss in yo ur answer.

Google, Yahoo, and AltaVista are three commonly used search engines for the WWW. You can follow the above links to the inital query page for entering search terms.

Incorporating the results into your answer

When researching web sites I use my web browser (Netscape) to access the URL. I then copy it into the buffer (apple-C on a mac) and paste (apple-V) into the relevant text document in Teachtext, MSWord or Eudora.

Make sure your browser shows the location: window. In Netscape go into the Options menu and make sure Show Location is checked.

When you find a useful site, highlight the location box with the mouse and copy the text there, then paste it into an anchored link:

<a href=" ">descriptive text</a>.

How you choose to incorporate the links is entirely up to you. You can include them freely within the text or write a separate 'Further sites of interest' after the body of your answer. Either way is fine.

Graphics, Movies, and Multimedia

The online answer interface will let you upload a maximum of 5 images with your answer. Images must be in the GIF or JPEG formats, and each one may be no greater than 75K in size.

If you other graphics formats (MPEG, quicktime, etc.), more than 5 files, or ones >75K in size, either send them to us as a mail attachment, or notify us so we can make an upload site available.
Last modified 8-12-2003.
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