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There are a few recent questions ( Magnetic Susceptibility- Permeability and What is a Free Body Diagram? and How to compute drag coefficient given initial position, initial velocity and final resting position?) that are basically asking for information that could be easily looked up in any reference book (or website) on the appropriate subject. The distinguishing feature of these questions is that all you have to do to answer them is find such a reference book, look up the value or concept being requested, and copy it into the answer. One could make the argument that these questions don't belong on this site because what we copy out of the reference book may become out of date, so it's better to send people to the authoritative source directly.

The network overlords have considered implementing a "general reference" close reason to deal with these sorts of questions, but they decided it was too easily abused to make permanent. So it's unlikely that we will be able to get that close reason added to our list here.

The question is, should we do anything about this, and if so, what? As I see it, the options are:

  1. Just leave these kinds of questions alone
  2. Leave the ones about physics concepts alone (such as asking what a free body diagram is), but close the ones that simply ask one to look up a value
  3. Close all questions that are asking for reference material (I don't like this option, because the answers to most physics questions can be found in a book or some reference, and so where would we draw the line?)
  4. Close only those questions where the asker has not shown that they have made some effort to look up the answer before asking here

or perhaps some combination of the above. What do you think? In each case, we should probably add something to our FAQ to clarify what sort of questions are not allowed.

Keep in mind when answering that one of the fundamental principles of Physics SE is that no physics topic is too elementary to ask about. The idea of "general reference" has nothing to do with the topical content of a question.

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I like proposal (4), with a modification. Before closing, we must make sure that the explanation is easily available on the Net, and is something the reader can understand. For example, the enwiki page for FBD is pretty easy to understand for a neophyte. On the other hand, some pages are full of jargon that confuses the reader. What we can do is provide a link to the relevant page, and then close it.

The MgSO4 question on permeability actually may be something we should keep, because I was not able to find any data on the Net. Maybe the asker wanted someone with access to this data (people with access to journals/&c). Now I'm new here so I don't know if those types of qns are wanted or not, but it;s something to think about...

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    $\begingroup$ I have to disagree with keeping the MgSO4 question: it would spawn a whole fleet of similar questions eventually. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Feb 6 '12 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ So where should a person go if they had such a question? We should atleast redirect them. A nice place to redirect would be enwp.org/WP:RDS , but stuff like the mgso4 question goes unanswered there, too.. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Feb 6 '12 at 4:39
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    $\begingroup$ I'd suggest that they google for "Handbook of Chemistry and Physics". There are PDF versions on-line. In fact, I'm going to do that for the MgSO4 question now... $\endgroup$ – dmckee Feb 6 '12 at 19:02
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I think that closing the "It a single lookup" type questions would be a reasonable---but not absolutely obvious---extension of our homework policy; as with the homework situation we need a way to distinguish allowed from un-allowed content.

I propose something like "If the answer would be a single [number|word|phrase]" it is probably a bad question, but if it calls for a paragraph it is probably a good question.

Under that rule, I think the free-body-diagram question is OK: you have to tells them to draw all the parts, and place and label arrows for vector forces acting on/between all the parts you are trying to analyze.

By that rule the magnesium sulfate question is probably out.

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