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Sometimes very tricky problems that require quite a bit of ingenuity are removed simply because they're exercises in physics/maths. Well, what is the fundamental difference asking about a specific 'concept' as opposed to solving a hard problem? They both involve similar skills and I daresay that solving problems is all you really need to do anyway and the former will come naturally as a result. If the goal of this website is to be a place where people can improve at physics, then we should have a more lenient homework policy.

Plus, problem solving is an enjoyable process and this website's popularity would skyrocket if we were more open to it.

I still respect the homework policy in so far as closing questions that clearly show no research or attempt. But we can't keep closing questions whose answer exists somewhere.

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    $\begingroup$ "problem solving is an enjoyable process" [citation needed]. $\endgroup$ – AccidentalFourierTransform Aug 9 '17 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ well, it's definitely less enjoyable when you're truly stuck and you've got nobody to help. I cite maths stack exchange as evidence $\endgroup$ – lucky-guess Aug 9 '17 at 10:25
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    $\begingroup$ I cite all the physicists ever as evidence. If they really hated it they wouldn't do it for a living $\endgroup$ – lucky-guess Aug 9 '17 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ ...this website's popularity would skyrocket if we were more open to it. Sadly, there have been some prominent members who have explicitly left this site because the site quality degraded. I know more would be willing to do the same were we to allow homework. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 9 '17 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ Further, there have been at least 3 attempts to make a dedicated homework help site w/in the SE network. All have failed to even gain the necessary number of members to go for a beta trial. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 9 '17 at 11:11
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I think you summarised all the reasons needed to ban homework questions. Letting 10 bad ones through in the hope of one good one is logically certain to degrade the site's reputation. Provide a list of resources as an overall answer and give moderators the power to remove the bad ones to storage. We both know that this topic has produced an amount of discussion comparable to the amount of homework questions. (OK, an exaggeration.) . $\endgroup$ – user163104 Aug 9 '17 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos But still... Inertia is ruling here, the need for consensus on this topic before acting is truly frustrating to me. Try a test for three months of the above idea. What is to lose, nothing imo $\endgroup$ – user163104 Aug 9 '17 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Countto10 we do have a Meta question about homework help sites (on mobile, so I can't find it and link it), and I'll sometimes link it if the OP is persistent enough about it. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 10 '17 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos thank you for the quick reply. I do honestly believe that the effort yourself and others have put into this site (which is ideally suited for self study types like myself, a Godsend basically) is being rapidly diminished by the homework questions. That's my motivation, wait till September when school reopens. Regards $\endgroup$ – user163104 Aug 10 '17 at 1:04
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    $\begingroup$ "Plus, problem solving is an enjoyable process and this website's popularity would skyrocket if we were more open to it. " - Problem solving is an enjoyable process which is precisely why we have a homework policy - 'solving' essentially the same damn questions over and over (and over and over...) is not an enjoyable process. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri Aug 17 '17 at 1:31
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The "homework policy" has been a source of tension on the site for a long time now. (A helpful editor could probably turn every word of the previous sentence into a link to a different Meta discussion about homework-like questions.) I think that everyone agrees that zero-effort homework questions like

Question

[blurry photo of assignment]

plz halp

Answer

teh answer is 15.6

don't add anything to the site. On the other hand, there are certainly questions which have their genesis in homework assignments but raise interesting conceptual issues. And people's positions evolve over time. One of my first answers on the site would, if posted today, probably be flagged as a "complete answer to a homework-like question." I don't know that it would get removed (and I don't think there's cause to remove it now) but if that question were posted today I wouldn't write an answer like that and I wouldn't be surprised at all if the question were closed.

Since my own opinion about what's an acceptable sort of homework question has changed over time, I'm sympathetic to the reality that some questions will seem okay to some users, and merit closing in the eyes of other users.

There are at least two very different things that people tend to have in mind when they express concern about "homework questions" on the site:

  • Academic integrity. I want this site to remain a resource that I can point people at professionally. A low-quality question like the one I invented above is something that could be tossed together on a mobile phone, out of the view of the proctor, at the start of an exam. I'm not interested in helping anyone who would do that, and since it's not possible to judge intentions remotely, I'm interested in making it actively difficult for those sorts of questions to receive answers. In the process I expect that collateral damage will make it harder for people who are legitimately interested in learning but have poor written communication skills to get answers. That's okay.

    However, concerns about cheating age away. I don't have much problem with a complete answer to a homework-like question that is several months old, like the one I linked above.

  • Interestingness. The way that you get good at solving physics problems is to solve lots of physics problems. My copy of Halliday et al. has probably 3000 exercises and problems in it (about 100 per chapter). Many of them are very interesting --- but many of them are not very different from the problems that precede or follow them. They were also much more interesting when I did them the first time as a college sophomore than they are now.

    So what if there are some uninteresting questions on the site? Can't people just ignore questions that don't interest them? Well, yes and no. I ignore lots of questions on the site that don't interest me. But if I were to check the front page, and several of the tags that I do like, and find only homework questions, I'd be more likely to wander away from the site altogether.

I disagree with your closing sentence:

But we can't keep closing questions whose answer exists somewhere.

The mission of the site is not to record the answers to all questions where an answer exists.

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    $\begingroup$ Though I generally agree with this answer, I don't think academic integrity should be of concern in deciding what questions can be accepted. It's someone else's business to prevent students from cheating (and I'm saying this as a professor). $\endgroup$ – Massimo Ortolano Aug 9 '17 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ That was a challenge, right? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 9 '17 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I really needed that laugh. That was fantastic. $\endgroup$ – JMac Aug 9 '17 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ @MassimoOrtolano Academic integrity is really only part of the reason, and can be completely enveloped by a more simple reason if you want to consider it differently. By answering off-topic questions we condition people to believe they may get answers to such questions by posting. Discouraging anyone from answering them will discourage the poor questions as well. Academic integrity is just another reason to follow that same logic. $\endgroup$ – JMac Aug 9 '17 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ aaaaaaand, the gift keeps on giving. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 10 '17 at 21:35
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The community is implicitly lenient when it comes to homework-style questions: it usually takes 5 votes to close a question, and this puts a natural brake on unilateral action by too few members with vote-to-close privilege. The "uberpowerful" users could in principle close questions by themselves but my experience is that they do so only in clearly appropriate cases: IMO the bulk of questions that are closed certainly deserve to be closed.

I will stand and be counted amongst those generally biased against tricky questions, unless I feel the trick to solution is "exportable" to other questions, i.e. I recognize that some technically challenging questions can certainly have good conceptual answers that will be applicable beyond the original narrow posts.

In some cases, I'm game to take the challenge but you can easily argue, for instance, that this post was so specific that the question and its answer have had at best only a very modest impact on the average user of the site. This question is an example of the community being "lenient", although I imagine not in the direction the OP would have wished.

As another context for leniency, a marginally bad question often attracts as comments some suggestions on how to improve or rephrase the question. My experience is thus that there is some (variable) time buffer during which a poster could revise her/his question before the close votes start to accumulate.

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