In Why does Newton's Third Law actually work?, the asker states their age in the question. (They are 10 years old.)

On the one hand, their age does not have anything to do with Newton's Third Law.

On the other hand, it gives the answerers an idea of what age-level to answer the question at. For example, if the asker stated that they were 20, they may receive a more advanced answer.

Should the user's age be edited out of the question?

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    $\begingroup$ Related: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/9777/44126 $\endgroup$ – rob Jul 31 '17 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's worth noting that the thread linked could be considered a bit of a special case. The account of the person asking was deleted, and it was technically against the rules for a 10 year old to use the site. It provides some reason why removing it in this case made sense; but not as a policy. $\endgroup$ – JMac Aug 4 '17 at 0:45
  • $\begingroup$ Related earlier meta discussion about how to receive answers suited to one's level: How should I ask a question to understand the answer I will get? $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Aug 7 '17 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't the minimum age requirement for Stack Exchange in general 13 years due to COPPA? $\endgroup$ – Mast Aug 13 '17 at 13:13

Yes, the OP's age is relevant if they're 10 years old. Although age is not 100% correlated with vocabulary or math knowledge, being 10 does tell us a lot. And someone at age 10 is very unlikely to be operating at a high level of abstraction or logical sophistication.

Brain development takes time, and even precocious kids do not usually fully develop higher-level reasoning skills until their late teens. I see this a lot when kids at age 15 enroll in my community college physics classes. Although they may be brilliant by the standards of their peers, they are often not operating at a college level of critical thinking and conceptual understanding. They are kids who have excelled at computation.

And certainly people asking questions should be allowed to request answers targeted at their level of background knowledge. In fact, it's extremely annoying when they don't. Then we get situations where, e.g., answers that are written for a grad student, but the OP then posts a comment on the answer saying, "Sorry, I don't know what a Lie group is. I'm a high school senior."

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    $\begingroup$ My concern is, age should not be the factor which we decide the technical level of the answer. (which is why I thought that question at least requires heavy editing to actually be a well-posed question) Two people at the same age can have very different levels of understanding. The post itself needs to provide the level of expected depth, or clarify it through the comment process. We can't use age as a determining factor, it's subjective. A 45 year old who wasn't interested in science could know as much as a 13 year old who is interested. $\endgroup$ – JMac Aug 2 '17 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ Following up on this, what happens when two people ask the same question but requesting different levels of answers? $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 2 '17 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ I think that's a great question itself. I often see duplicate tags votes on questions that might fit this criteria. I.E. where someone says "I've seen X question but was looking for an answer more relevant to Y". Often enough, it's just because the dupe doesn't answer their homework, but there are exceptions. Do you know of anywhere this has been discussed on the meta? $\endgroup$ – JMac Aug 2 '17 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ If they request different levels of answers, they are not the same question, because the level is part of the question. $\endgroup$ – Massimo Ortolano Aug 2 '17 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ @MassimoOrtolano No, not necessarily. I think that's a matter we (as in the community, not just you and I) need to have a separate discussion about, because it's not self-evident that the level is part of the question. $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 2 '17 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ Indeed, but why having a separate discussion? The titular question is already the general one: "Is an asker's age relevant?" $\endgroup$ – Massimo Ortolano Aug 2 '17 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @MassimoOrtolano Because whether the level should be considered part of the question is a separate topic from whether the asker's age is relevant. Related, yes, but separate. That could also be a very involved discussion and it makes sense to put it on its own. $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 2 '17 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ @JMac "A 45 year old who wasn't interested in science could know as much as a 13 year old who is interested." - true, but that's only half the story. Show me any 13 year old who knows as much, and thinks with the same level of abstraction, as a 45 year old who is interested in science - and who may have been studying the subject for twice as long as the 13 year old has lived, let alone studied anything formally. $\endgroup$ – alephzero Aug 4 '17 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ @alephzero You're making my point for me though. By giving us an age we can't really tell if it's someone who has been interested and studying for a long time, or has taken a recent interest and is trying to introduce themselves to the field. It's clearer if you explicitly state your current level of knowledge/familiarity with the subject. $\endgroup$ – JMac Aug 4 '17 at 0:20
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    $\begingroup$ @JMac but age helps convey that background experience. If someone says explicitly that they are 13, they are less likely to have much background experience even if they are interested in science than a 45 year old who is just getting started. Saying that you are 13 is incredibly important, as is how much experience you have with it. Both components work together to convey what is needed to be said. $\endgroup$ – heather Aug 6 '17 at 18:14

No, I do not think that a statement of the OP's age should be edited out, or (as DavidZ suggests) replaced with a statement identifying the type of answer requested. In my opinion this is an unnecessary and unhelpful interference with the question.

  1. Most questions (and answers) do contain a lot of irrelevant material. If we are going to enforce a policy that an irrelevant statement should be removed, this should apply consistently to all content, not only to statements of age. I am not aware that there is any such policy, neither have I seen any instances of it being implemented on this site. Doing so consistently would require an enormous amount of extra work.

  2. Deciding what is irrelevant can be difficult and highly subjective. The key point is that the OP thinks it is (or might be) relevant. Those who think otherwise can either ignore it or leave a comment or address the issue in an answer. To others it might have a significant bearing on the answer.

  3. Replacing a statement of age with a statement about the level of answer required is also subjective and best left to the OP. If anyone is in any doubt themselves, they should (as usual) post a comment asking for clarification - not impose their own interpretation on others.

  4. Personally, age is relevant to the type of answer which I would post. Although there isn't a perfect correlation, it does give some indication of the OP's level of knowledge and ability. This does not prevent anyone else from posting a highly technical answer which the OP could not possibly understand. There should be answers at various levels, but particularly at the OP's level, because the OP has been motivated to ask.

  5. The ethos of the Stack Exchange network is one of democracy, tolerance and freedom of expression (within the bounds of politeness). Editing others' posts without prior consent is a privileged interference with their freedom to express themselves as they choose. IMO it should be restricted to the mininum of whatever is helpful to making the question understandable and readable and getting good answers. It should not change the intention of the OP - which replacement might do. I agree with DavidZ that this is a minor issue. Deletion of material should be restricted to breaches of community standards; it should not include minor issues.

  • $\begingroup$ Sorry Sammy, only saw this now. I was the first to answer, based on the physics level I gauged the OP was at, but in simplifying it, I gave a misleading answer and it was, perfectly fairly, pointed out to me at the time, that I telling the OP something that he/she would have to unlearn later. But that's what physics is about for everybody. Simplifying comes at a cost, we all know that. $\endgroup$ – user163104 Aug 7 '17 at 6:01
  • $\begingroup$ But I don't think I had the skill to get the balance right for the OP. I deleted the answer on those grounds, (as I couldn't bridge the gap), but I still felt my answer was the nearest to the OPs level. I would however, pass on the next one, not from pique, ( hey, I am older than 10 : ), but because there is a risk of the site standard dropping. $\endgroup$ – user163104 Aug 7 '17 at 6:01

The age of the asker has nothing to do with the question asked. As stated above by others, being 10 has no impact on Newton's Third Law. In the end, we are just here to answer questions which other people pose on physics, not to question their ability to understand our answers.

If the OP were to not understand our answers, then it would be our responsibility to edit or further our answers so that it does make sense, but in terms of the effect upon the answer, age of the OP really should not matter. As seen in the referenced post, the "most popular" answers and as one might thus hope, the best, did not really answer the question that the OP posted. What then was the point in such answers? I don't mean to criticise, only to point out the purpose of this community in existing. Thanks.

*Feeling really out of depth as everyone else here has lots of rep and thus has more credit to their answers.

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    $\begingroup$ While there is a lot of emphasis on the usefulness of answers to future visitors, that doesn't mean that we should forget about their usefulness to the OP, either. Flip the tables for a bit: How would you feel if you asked a high-school-level mechanics question and got multiple answers all of which relied on graduate-level mathematics? How would you go about communicating to the answerers that you don't understand their posts (in a way that's stable against comment deletion) other than specifying in the question that you're in highschool? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 2 '17 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Emilio Good point, but those comments don't actually need to be stable against comment deletion. By the time the comments get deleted, the OP has probably gotten what they need to get out of the question, and its value is for other readers; those other readers don't need to leave comments saying that they don't understand the answers. $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 2 '17 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ There is a difference between (a) someone who posts an answer ignoring the OP's age and (b) a 3rd party removing this information from the question so that nobody can make use of it. IMO it should be those who answer who should decide what is relevant and what is not. $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Aug 3 '17 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ I think that for the sake of explaining a question, whatever explanation is needed will suffice. It's the OP's choice of whether that answer is understandable or not, and they can seek clarification from there. $\endgroup$ – SAS2507 Aug 3 '17 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ By stating their age, the asker is preempting the "that's too difficult, please simplify I am only 10" conversation that would follow after you have carefully crafted a correct answer that totally fails to satisfy the need of the OP. Less work all around. $\endgroup$ – Floris Aug 7 '17 at 17:14

It's a minor issue, but strictly speaking, yes, the age should be edited out of the question because it is irrelevant. As you said, the only reason we might care about it is that it gives answerers a very rough guide as to what kind of answer the asker may be looking for, but it's better to express that as something like

I'm looking for an answer that assumes zero prior knowledge of physics.


I'm looking for an intuitive explanation, not a mathematical proof.

or so on.

There is a broader issue to consider here: to what extent can askers expect answers at a specific level of expertise? In cases like this specifically, should people with zero prior knowledge of physics be able to expect that they will get answers suited to them? I think this is better discussed in a separate topic, perhaps in chat, so I won't get into it here, but it does have some bearing on the relevance of an asker's age. If we were to decide (for example) that askers do not get to dictate what level the answers to their questions should be at, and answers at all levels of sophistication are fair game, then clearly an asker's age and other qualifications are completely irrelevant, whereas if we decided that answers should be targeted at the level of the asker, it does make sense to have some information about their qualifications in the question.

I'm going to edit out the age right now - someone can revert the edit if we decide it should be in there.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, actually - the vocabulary level, for instance, of a 10 year old, is significantly different from the vocab level of a 20 year old, regardless of either's knowledge of physics. I think it is quite relevant, especially at an extremely off-average age, like 10. $\endgroup$ – heather Jul 31 '17 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ @heather OK, I didn't mention vocabulary, but that just folds into my point: the relevance of the asker's age depends on the extent to which we want to cater to different levels of preparation, whether in terms of physics knowledge or vocabulary or anything else. As I said, I don't think this is the place for that discussion. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 31 '17 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ "I think this is better discussed in a separate topic, perhaps in chat": Perhaps, instead, community policies are better discussed on meta: that's what meta is for, after all. $\endgroup$ – Massimo Ortolano Aug 1 '17 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ @heather There are online dictionaries/thesauruses. Even then, vocabulary of any two 10 year olds will be very different (and yes, some 10 year olds do have better vocabulary than some 20 year olds). I think if people are looking for a specific level of knowledge, it's up to them to make that explicit, instead of using age as a measure of expected knowledge. $\endgroup$ – JMac Aug 2 '17 at 10:59
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    $\begingroup$ @David What heather is saying is that "zero prior knowledge" and "10 years old" are not synonymous, and that replacing the latter with the former removes information which is indeed relevant to how one couches the answers. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 2 '17 at 11:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Emilio I disagree that the information removed is something answerers should be expected to consider. $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 2 '17 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ You're free to, but the voting thus far indicates that the community disagrees with that assessment. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 2 '17 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Emilio Yes, I'm well aware of that $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 2 '17 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ -1. If the asker is giving his/her age, that is an indication of the level at which an answer should be pitched, so it is relevant. Askers often provide other irrelevant information; if we edit out the age because it is considered irrelevant, we should edit out anything else which is irrelevant also. $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Aug 2 '17 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ @sammygerbil Of course we should edit out other irrelevant information. That's part of the whole point of these sites. Anyway, the point I'm making here is that, if we are going to accept indications of the level at which answers should be given, they should be given in a different form than a statement of age. Do you agree with that? If so, you've downvoted my answer for a point I am not making. $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 2 '17 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ The DV is for the age should be edited out because it is irrelevant. IMO site policy is that edits to others' posts should be restricted to improving meaning or format, as in the Help Centre. This view is supported by answers to Correcting Incorrect Answers and Radically Editing Closed Questions. Removing anything we consider to be irrelevant goes too far. It smacks of censorship and control, and invites trouble. $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Aug 3 '17 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ @sammygerbil The help center page you linked does not say anything like what you claim it does. And there is limited support in the answers to the questions you link for this view; only one of them actually offers any support, and I would point out that it was posted in response to an entirely different situation. And all this talk of censorship is nonsense, since edit histories are preserved. You're welcome to hold the opinion that editing smacks of censorship, but that's just your opinion. $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 3 '17 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ I am not claiming that the Help Centre restricts edits, but that voters in meta interpret that guidance restrictively. Correcting incorrect answers unambiguously supports this view with scores of +11/0 (Q), +20/-2, +12/0 (As) in favour of restriction to minor changes (as defined by Kyle Kanos). The majority view seems to be that it is ok to correct bad grammar, but not to change the intended meaning. The meaning and intention of stating one's age are clear already. And I haven't seen anything which says you should remove anything you think is irrelevant. ... $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Aug 3 '17 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ ... Yes, I am expressing a personal opinion that removing information we deem to be irrelevant smacks of censorship and control. The purpose of discussion is to express opinions about issues which have no right or wrong answers. $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Aug 3 '17 at 16:26

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