I need to understand the actual stance of this place on homework type questions. The actual practice as I have recently seen on the Physics site seems unacceptable to me. A homework tagged question was asked about a fluid mechanics problem with which I happen to have significant experience.

An answer was posted proposing a method of solution and I wanted to offer a different point of view without directly solving the homework question for the student. Mind you the question had asked for "any insight" and not a solution to the problem.

Later another user basically provided 90% of the entire answer to the problem, following along the same line I suggested.

Both of the other solutions were upvoted by other users. I checked in today to discover that my hint had been commented upon twice as "not answering the question" and subsequently deleted by a moderator as useless.

There's room for differing opinions about how much help is appropriate for a homework style question, but squelching entirely my response as useless seems to be crossing a line. A subsequent reply indicating that the rudeness was unwarranted was immediately deleted.

Is this a place where it's more important to trip over each other trying to get the green check mark then it is to foster any academic discussion? On a homework question? I have a real problem with the way this is playing out.

This was my first post ever to any Stack site and I'm not impressed. One of my rules is that I don't share my mind with people who are disrespectful from the outset. Can somebody explain the actual stance?

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    $\begingroup$ The point is to not feed homework answers to anyone, or this site becomes a swamp of bad questions. This has been debated a zillion times here on Meta. I don’t anticipate a change anytime soon. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 7, 2020 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @JonCuster I interpret the OP’s question to be “why weren’t the other answers to a homework question deleted along with mine, since they were even more in violation?” $\endgroup$
    – G. Smith
    Mar 7, 2020 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ You don't have any deleted answers. Is this user also you? If so, you can use the "contact" link at the bottom of any page to ask for your two accounts to be merged. $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Mar 7, 2020 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ wHERE ARE THEY THEN? $\endgroup$
    – jmb
    Mar 8, 2020 at 1:35
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    $\begingroup$ @jmb You appear to have made two separate accounts, which would prevent you from seeing the other account's deleted answers. As rob as mentioned you can ask an SE employee to have these accounts merged. $\endgroup$
    – Chris Mod
    Mar 8, 2020 at 2:40

3 Answers 3


I’m not entirely sure how a one-line answer “ You can get a solution in terms of Bessel functions of complex arguments“ provides much insight into the problem. Indeed I was hoping my comment would encourage you to expand your answer: surely there must be some physical reason why Bessel’s equation emerges from this.

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    $\begingroup$ I'll not waste any more of your time $\endgroup$
    – jmb
    Mar 7, 2020 at 22:52

I was one of the users who voted to close this question. I did it because the question is essentially asking how to solve a differential equation. Since at this point the question was past the physics and was more about the math, my vote was to migrate it to MathSE.

However, the majority of votes was for closing it as an off-topic homework problem, and I agree with this as well. Questions of the type "here is this problem, how do I solve it?" are considered to be off-topic on this site. Additionally, just asking for "any advice" is somewhat broad, so this is another issue with the question.

To summarize the above, questions that ask how to solve a specific problem without really asking about any specific underlying physics principles are off-topic for this site.

In terms of your personal experience, I think users were acting according to the usual site expectations. One user has already explained their comment in another answer to this post saying the comment was more advice than a call to remove your answer. The other user's comment was actually an automatically generated comment that arises from reviews of answers that have been flagged. I don't think anyone was being rude, but I agree that to someone who is new to the site it can be confusing and even off-putting to see resistance to helping users who ask homework questions.

Additionally, I don't see where anyone called your answer "useless". You are still free to edit your answer. And you are free to raise a flag to have a moderator restore your answer after you make it better. I agree that your answer as it stands is more of a comment, but given how open-ended the question was, I personally would not have voted to have it deleted. However, your second post was not an answer to the question, so it should have been deleted.

As for the other answers, in my opinion they should not have been posted. And at the risk of looking like a bad guy, I actually flagged the answers for being solutions to a homework-like question, which is also against site policy. Of course many users either don't know about this policy, or they don't really care about it, so answers that are solutions to homework problems still posted and still get up votes. Sometimes the thrill of solving a fun physics/math problem gets in the way of PSE's homework policy.

Something you have to keep in mind is that while the site has policies, those policies are not always followed perfectly. Different users will support, ignore, etc. each policy on a spectrum of support levels, so depending on which users happen to see and review which posts, you are bound to see a spectrum of outcomes in regards to how certain policies are carried out. Although I will say that I've never really seen answers that are solutions to homework questions get down voted as much as I think they should (but that's where I am on the spectrum for this policy I suppose).

Welcome to PSE. I am sorry your first experience was not as great as you (or I) would have liked. My advice is to keep participating and keep learning about the site. When I first joined I did not perfectly adhere to the site policies. I had some answers deleted, and when I go back and look at my early answers I am somewhat confused because I answered questions that I would not answer today in ways that I would now not do.

If there are any other points you want covered, please let me know and I will update accordingly. Thank you for bringing this up. I think it is always important to have discussions about the site policy, how well it is being implemented, and how it is being perceived.

  • $\begingroup$ I actually also voted to close as I also thought the question was a better fit for MSE. I will note, in connection with the reaction of the OP, that this specific answer was NOT downvoted. The position of the OP must be respected of course but I myself don’t get excited when others get upvoted when I do not. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2020 at 1:26
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not going to stay $\endgroup$
    – jmb
    Mar 8, 2020 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ @jmb I am very sorry to hear that. I hope at least that I have made this specific scenario more understandable. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2020 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ Your answer was thoughtful. I just can't do it. It works out to me that the mods chose to condone spoon feeding the answer and prioritized deleting my response. It's offensive. $\endgroup$
    – jmb
    Mar 8, 2020 at 2:14
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    $\begingroup$ @jmb In my experience when I flag answers that are homework solutions, moderators do typically delete those answers. It is most likely that the moderator was responding to a flag on your answer as well. On this site moderators rarely ever act on just their own decision. The fact that those answers are not currently deleted doesn't mean the moderators are rewarding them, it just means that they haven't acted on it yet. Custom flags need more review and take longer to be acted on than low-quality flags $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2020 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ @jmb Like I said, responses to certain instances fall on a spectrum. I have seen answers like yours remain open and low quality flags get denied. Unfortunately, you ended up on the stricter side of the spectrum on your very first experience, and I'm sorry for that. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2020 at 2:20

welcome to Physics! I'm one of the elected moderators, but I'm not the moderator who removed your posts. It's a shame that your first contact with the site was so frustrating. I hope that you'll reconsider your decision to not participate; you seem like you would be good to have around.

The question you link to falls into a funny space vis-a-vis our homework policy. The main reason we have a policy about homework-like questions (which is basically "you can ask about your homework, but please don't ask us to do your homework") is to avoid low-effort introductory problems from users who don't have any investment in how the site works. It turns out, we've learned after many years of discussions, that it's hard to write a single rule that describes those sorts of obviously-bad questions without also describing some questions that other people find interesting and valuable.

The question you answered is one of those that a different version of the homework policy might allow. Several users thought (and communicated via flags) that it was a perfectly fine question, but was more about math than about physics, and belonged on Mathematics. Several other users thought that the structure of the question, "I'm working on this problem, I know some things, but I'm stuck, please advise," was the kind of homework-like plea for help that we close, and voted accordingly. And several users, including you, thought that the question deserved an answer of some complexity, and that the complex answers that appeared deserved to be upvoted.

Since it wasn't clear how the question fit into our ecosystem, it also wasn't quite clear how to categorize your answer, which was a single sentence:

You can get a solution in terms of Bessel functions of complex arguments.

At the time you posted it, there was one other answer, which was at that time

I never use complex numbers on a problem like this. I would represent u as $$u=A(r)\cos{\omega t}+B(r)\sin{\omega t}$$ This leads to two coupled ODEs in r for A and B.

I'd say that, as a new site user, you were perfectly reasonable in thinking that those two answers were of comparable complexity and appropriateness. I would also say that neither of them is a great answer, and that an appropriate reaction from the asker or from another site user would be to leave a comment encouraging the answers to be expanded somewhat --- which is what happened. The other answer was expanded. Yours was flagged, and another moderator who saw the flag removed your answer.

The two comments you got were

  1. In its current form this is really more a comment than an answer.

  2. This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review

to which you replied

  1. The rudeness was unwarranted. The poster asked for any insight. As far as you know this is a homework question. I provided an insight that was a sufficient clue to help the poster solve the problem. I have worked this particular problem in significant detail previously and could easily provide the exact profile.

(You accidentally replied in a new answer, rather than in a comment, but another moderator moved your post the right place.) I don't think the first comment is impolite --- though it's terse enough that it might be off-putting if you're new to the community. The second comment was auto-generated when the user who wrote it was going though the review queue.

It's extra-confusing that you accidentally made two accounts, because your second account (which posted this meta question) can't see the deleted answers which were posted by your first account.

Anyway, the point of this long answer is that you really didn't do anything wrong, and that it makes sense for you to have been confused, because there was a lot that was not-typical about your first interaction with the site. Bummer. We really do hope that you'll hang around a little more.


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