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The homework policy doesn't seems like a counter-productive policy on Stack Exchange.

I understand Stack Exchange policing their questions, but policing removing answers to "homework like questions" seems counter productive, especially once answers.

Take this question for example: How much room do you need to safely exit terminal velocity?

I'm a middle-aged person, and I just take a general interest into physics. I posted a question which perhaps could have been a bit more specific, in what I've attempted to resolve the problem.

However, I know very little in the field of physics. My question was graciously answered and accepted before the question was closed. Yet the answer was removed due to the homework policy.

  1. A user took their time to accurately answer my question, so why are we going to penalize them?
  2. I'm not in school for this, and even if I were to be, the question accurately described the steps to achieve the goal and would be beneficial to the entire community
  3. The homework policy is ambiguous. What determines a "homework like question"?
  4. The homework policy only punishes new users, because anyone with enough rep will be able to see deleted answers and its would be wrong to assume that people with 15k cannot be students.

This policy seems outdated, and harmful to the community.

I can understand closing a question based off of policy, but what benefit do we get from deleting answers?

Furthermore, can you give me a clear concise definition of a homework style question? Or is a homework style question really just a loose term which can be used to close and remove questions based off of individual bias?

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    $\begingroup$ As per the Homework Policy and the reason for closing it could have been that it "didn't show enough research prior to asking" or it needs details or clarity - I'd guess (on behalf of the closers) that it was ~80%/20% those reasons. --- It is possible to edit and improve the question, then ask for it to be reopened; assuming that it wouldn't invalidate the answer that too could be undeleted - it's generally the case that off-topic questions shouldn't be answered. $\endgroup$ – Rob Dec 21 '20 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ as to the last bit: see physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/10938/36194 $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Dec 21 '20 at 23:19
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With due respect: we've already had this debate ad nauseum. Check this post from 2014 as a representative example, or more recent posts here , or here. PSE is NOT a homework site.

Whether or not this is a homework question to you is not this issue: if it is not then you have posted your question on the wrong site. The community took the decision to avoid the inevitable deluge that would follow if we allowed homework questions.

You claim it is not a homework question: fine. But there is no way for people to know this, and moreover it could be a homework question for someone else.

Speaking for myself as a professional instructor:

  1. There is already massive plagiarism on various sites on the part of some students. The objective of assignments is not to hunt for others to provide answers.
  2. Given the current exceptional circumstances where many students now take online exams, I am grateful that PSE is particularly vigilant in promptly identifying and closing possible exam questions; those would resemble homework questions.

It is possible to get away with "homework-style" questions if they are constructed as questions on a specific concept: see this discussion for instance.

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    $\begingroup$ The fact that the debate have been going on ad nauseam is probably due to the fact that the homework policy is considered unsatisfactory by many. Personally, I think it's one of the most convoluted and wrong policies I've ever seen, and frequently applied blindly. It's actually a policy which keeps me at distance from this site. I'd be happy to see it nuked. $\endgroup$ – Massimo Ortolano Dec 21 '20 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ @MassimoOrtolano For what it's worth, I'd also like to see it nuked and replaced with something better -- but the community hasn't been able to come up with an agreeable solution that is better. I think we're all open to suggestions, but letting all homework questions in won't fly. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 21 '20 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ @johnny5 I would define a homework style question is one where the value of the answer is primarily in learning the process of solving it, not in the specific answer. In your case, deciding how to slow down to not break a bone either is only valuable in learning how to solve kinematic problems (which is physics, but is homework) or it's engineering and off topic (I need to design a system for skydivers). $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 21 '20 at 23:07
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    $\begingroup$ @johnny5 As I stated in my answer -- we delete full answers temporarily for questions that appear to be homework-like. This is to prevent potential academic dishonesty. The answer can be undeleted at a future date when it is much less likely that it could be used to cheat on an assignment. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 21 '20 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ @johnny5 And the definition I gave for homework-like is the first sentence of the homework policy post (not counting the summary section). Is there something about that which could be improved to clear up any confusions? $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 21 '20 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ @johnny5 Given it takes 5 votes to close a question it's certainly not a personal bias; very few users have the instant power to close a homework question. See the last link of my post for some guidance on concocting conceptual questions. There is an element of "vagueness", and some questions get through but by-and-large the policy works, and occasional excesses are remedied through meta when users plead their case. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Dec 21 '20 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ @johnny5 I can appreciate that motivation -- part of what we struggle with is how to know when somebody is a student and when somebody isn't. People can be, or can say they are, anything and we can't verify it. We've had people post questions from their classroom in the middle of exams before, but we couldn't tell until they left a comment saying so. If there's a way to distinguish legitimate copied-from-an-assignment questions and ones that just look like they could have been, that'd be really helpful! $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 21 '20 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ @johnny5 Your comments are off the mark here. There are about 150 users who earned the privilege to access to deleted posts, out of 215k+ total users, and I doubt very much if these users care very about answers to homework questions. I am not denying the deleted answer was useful, but pointing out it was deleted because it provided a complete solution to a homework problem. Finally, I do not think people with significant “experience” ask this type of question. Surely there are exceptions to each of the above... $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Dec 22 '20 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ ... but the experienced users are experienced precisely because the format of the site - which excludes homework questions - was to their liking. There are plenty of site that attract people interested in homework-type of question. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Dec 22 '20 at 2:12
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    $\begingroup$ @johnny5 I understand not liking the policy, but I don't understand calling it ridiculous. Certainly you can at least understand the point of it and why someone would want to have it in place? If you're not willing to at least try and understand the other side and just dismiss it entirely then what's the point of a conversation? There are other online sites for homework help; PSE is just not one of those sites. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Dec 22 '20 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ The policy is absolutely ridiculous, and violates the fundamental tenets of the Stack Exchange Q&A model. That you have decided to create such a policy is shameful, and that you are defending it with no sense of irony is just embarrassing for both you and the site. The discussion has indeed been had ad nauseam, on Meta Stack Exchange. You've badly misinterpreted the conclusion of those discussions. $\endgroup$ – Cody Gray Dec 22 '20 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist I understand what the policy is trying to do. But its ridiculous for the following reason. 1. Its takes a stance on what questions can be used for. e.g Its okay if your making bombs for work, but if you try to cheat thats a no-no. 2. It discrimates against new users who don't have the knowledge to rephrase their question. 3. If you have enough point's you're able to view deleted answers, (which on othersite such as SO, its easy to achieve, so people who have those points are allowed to ask questions like that $\endgroup$ – johnny 5 Dec 22 '20 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyGray As far as I'm aware, any "debate" on the main stack exchange site is pretty irrelevant to this discussion. Sites are able to define their own scopes with community input, and every time it is brought up, the majority consensus here is to not allow homework-like questions. What other network sites choose to do is up to them, but the policy actually has a lot of support on Physics SE from active members. I would also love to hear what specific "fundamental tenets" of SE would require us to act as a homework solving site. $\endgroup$ – JMac Dec 22 '20 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyGray You're going to need to cite specific policies if you're going to claim that it is a "network policy violation". Sites are able to determine their own scope, and this community has decided many times that providing the solution to exercise problems is outside of our scope. Like every site, just because the question has to do with physics, it does not make it inherently on-topic, and each site explains this in the "What questions can I ask about here?" help section. $\endgroup$ – JMac Dec 22 '20 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyGray That's about when things should be deleted as "Not an answer" from what I can tell, that is not giving a complete rundown of the only reason an answer can be deleted. There's also this main meta question which as-is suggests that it is completely okay for us to have our homework policy. $\endgroup$ – JMac Dec 22 '20 at 15:32
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To answer the specific question about the benefit of deleting answers to homework questions, I'll cite the homework policy itself:

Why don't you provide a complete answer to homework questions?

This is pretty well covered by a discussion on the Math Stack Exchange site.

Providing an answer that doesn't help a student learn is not in the student's own best interest, and if a solution complete enough to be copied verbatim and handed in is given immediately, it will encourage more people to use the site as a free homework service. In the spirit of creating a lasting resource of mathematical knowledge, you may come back after a suitable amount of time and edit your response to include a more complete answer. Or even better, the student can post his own correct answer!

If someone posts an answer to a homework-type question that gives away a complete or near-complete solution, in most cases it will be temporarily deleted.

So that means if somebody posts a complete or near complete answer, we will delete it temporarily. If the question is on-topic and the person who posted the answer pings us some time later, we will often undelete the answer once the danger of academic dishonesty passes.


But of course, there's a lot of background on how we got to this policy.

The policies on our site (and really all Stack Exchange sites) are designed to strike a balance between many different needs and desires of users. For almost all sites, there are two core tenants that underlie everything:

  1. The sites are a place to connect to and learn from professionals in the topic area.
  2. Posts (questions and answers) are designed to help every future reader, and not just the person asking the question.

Our homework policy, or perhaps more precisely, our policy on "homework and homework-like questions", tries to thread a complicated needle while upholding those core tenants.

Through many long discussions within the community, the consensus opinion was that allowing homework questions deters professional participation in the site. People who are researchers or professors or engineers, by and large, don't enjoy answering the same types of questions on Newtonian mechanics where the answer is always "draw a freebody diagram." I understand that for new users to the site or people new to physics see that as a really interesting and fascinating area, but for people who have worked in the area forever, it's not that interesting and it drowns out the interesting questions if we allowed them repeatedly where the only variation on the question is specific values involved.

We also want to help every future reader of the site, which means questions should be general and conceptual, rather than focused on how to complete a particular calculation. In your particular example, the question is looking for a specific calculation and that's why it was closed.

If you had asked "How would one set up a kinematic problem like..." then it becomes conceptual. Rather than "Here's the distance" as an answer, a good answer becomes a recipe that will be true for solving all kinematic problems that are similar. And that's really helpful, because we can point all future users with similar questions to that core conceptual Q&A.

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    $\begingroup$ The policy is fundamentally wrong and misguided. It focuses on all the wrong things. The network-wide policy is simple: the origin or genesis of a question doesn't matter. We don't care if it's homework or not. It only matters if the question itself fits into the Q&A format. If it does, great; if not, close. These are not a drain on professionals, because they can be answered once and future questions closed as a duplicate. $\endgroup$ – Cody Gray Dec 22 '20 at 7:56
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyGray PSE's homework policy doesn't care about the origin either. We call it "homework-like" in the close banner; we really don't care if it was actually assigned as homework or not though. Please take the time to learn more about the policy before criticizing it. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Dec 22 '20 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ And the need to do that is to help future users find something, because "Please calculate this" is not searchable, it's not findable, and when we close people's questions as duplicates, we get into protracted arguments with said user about how their question is the same even though it's asking about trains and not falling spheres. For all its flaws, the policy we have is one decided by the community, again and again, through years and multiple discussions -- it is the epitome of community/site-governance. Calling it completely antithetical to the way SE works is a bit extreme. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 22 '20 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyGray But it requires more than "My inputs are Y and I'd like to do X" -- you need minimal working examples, you need some evidence that you aren't just asking somebody else to do your job. We need the same thing here for "homework" to be on-topic. We need to see what work was done so far, we need to see where you got stuck (the error log, so to speak). $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 22 '20 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyGray I'm not really sure how you're making the leap from our policy to us deciding who deserves an answer. It's pretty clear to me that we're deciding which questions deserve an answer, without regard to the person who posted it. Doesn't matter if the person is a student or not, is a professional or not, has a million rep or not -- we don't answer "Please calculate this for me" unless it asks about concepts. I'm not sure where the status of the asker comes in at all. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 22 '20 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyGray I think part of the challenge for folks is that when people take a "physics" class, it's all essentially one topic -- Newtonian mechanics. And they think "physics" is just plugging things into a couple of equations and balancing forces. For most professional physicists, Newtonian mechanics is something they took in high school and never used again. I'm struggling for analogies, but it would be kinda like someone thinking that programming is really just typing, so they come to SO to ask how to type faster or something. If we have a professional or expert level, then the... $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 22 '20 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ kinds of questions that get closed as "homework" wouldn't even register as something professionals or experts see or do as "physics" really. If we allow it, because 90% of the world thinks that's what defines physics, the site would be almost nothing but questions that only non-experts find useful or interesting or engaging. And our community decided to strike a balance -- experts will teach concepts, but not run calculations. Students can ask concepts, but not for calculations. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 22 '20 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ And our site grew out of the merger of a few sites, one of which was "Theoretical Physics" and that subset of the community wanted to keep things at an even higher level than we allow now. The policy is an act of compromise, and like most acts of compromise, nobody loves it. But it's kept the site operating and growing for years. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 22 '20 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyGray We do answer "hello world" type questions when people have trouble getting it to compile. We just don't do it when they drop in and say "How do I program 'hello world'." And we don't like saying the same things over and over again either, and the repetitive calculations are things the community stressed they don't want to do. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 22 '20 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ And no, we're not for experts only. But you have to have experts around in order to answer questions, otherwise nothing gets done. If you drive all the people who know the answers away, then you get a ghost of a site with no content and no community. So, we have to strike the balance between what kinds of questions people want to ask, and what kinds of questions people are willing to donate their time to answer. If we don't strike that balance, we don't have a community or a site. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 22 '20 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyGray No, I don't -- it says "What is the distance." If it said "How do I set up the equations for the forces" or "What forces need to be accounted for" or a multitude of other possible concepts that could go towards solving the problem, then it wouldn't be off topic. It would take a relatively minor edit to bring it in line with the need for conceptual questions, and then it could be reopened (although there would need to be clarification on what speed or acceleration breaks bone). Or if it said "Here's my free-body-diagram and I get it takes infinite distance, but I don't know why." $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 22 '20 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyGray Well, because I can't read minds so I don't know which concept(s) gave trouble such that OP came here to ask, and also because I wasn't involved with the question until this meta post arrived last night. While the edits that are needed might be minor, we can't know which edits are of relevance or not. When it's clear what edits are needed, we generally do make them (and try to before the post gets closed). $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 22 '20 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ @CodyGray Well, the site can't be perfect for everyone. The current policies are based on community input, the same as every SE meta basically, so that they best reflect what the community wants. Obviously not everyone wants the same things, but when the majority of feedback consistently says no homework-like questions, it makes a lot of sense to go with the majority. I personally believe allowing those questions would be misguided and harmful. $\endgroup$ – JMac Dec 22 '20 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ @johnny5 Well asking how to make a weapon here would almost definitely be off-topic as engineering, and I'm not sure if Engineering SE would explain how to make a weapon either. Someone asking about concepts that could be applied to make a weapon wouldn't be stopped, because we are talking about physics, not how to design a weapon. In a similar vein with homework, you can't ask "what's the answer to this?" or "how do I solve this?" but you can ask about the related physics concepts in a way that can allow you to complete your homework yourself. $\endgroup$ – JMac Dec 26 '20 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ @johnny5 What assumptions am I making? You're the one assuming that we are willing to help people make weapons but unwilling to help people complete homework. No one else is saying this. I said conceptual questions are on topic, whether you use that to answer homework or build a weapon is entirely outside the scope of this site. $\endgroup$ – JMac Dec 27 '20 at 16:24

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