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The Community recycling algorithm recently brought this homework-style question asked in 2012 to the Top Questions list. It's interesting to me that

  1. It's clearly an elementary homework-style problem asking PSE to check the answer.
  2. John Rennie answered the question by confirming the answer with 4 upvotes and no down votes.
  3. There were no votes to close as homework.

In my empirically-based opinion, if this question was asked today it would quickly be closed based on today's homework policy.

Is the philosophy of these dealing with questions like this one different today than in 2012? Or was the community more relaxed? Or are we becoming more aware of the clutter which these questions cause after a near-decade of activity?

Which direction should the PSE community go? Accept questions like this 2012 example, or maintain a tougher scrutiny?

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    $\begingroup$ More than one decade by now. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty May 5 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ FWIW, the linked question has now (2 days ago) been closed. $\endgroup$ – Jonas May 8 at 11:07
  • $\begingroup$ Looks like direct moderator action by @rob, not a community vote of 5. Interesting. Now I curious about that reasoning! $\endgroup$ – Bill N May 8 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ As you said, “it's clearly an elementary homework-style problem asking PSE to check the answer,” so it deserved to be closed. $\endgroup$ – G. Smith May 9 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Its wavefunction did not change, but its measured value is different with any measurement. :-) $\endgroup$ – peterh May 17 at 18:15
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  1. The essence of the policy has existed in this form since the beginning of the site in 2010, as you can see from the revision history of our FAQ post.

  2. Specific aspects have been debated often enough that we have a specific meta tag for it. These often led to much discussion, but ultimately only minor changes in the actual wording of the policy or tag. (Not because there is consensus this is the best policy, but because there is no consensus another policy would be better)

  3. The site was certainly "more lenient" in many respects in its beginning days due to overall much lower volume of questions. Many people also probably hadn't yet formed a firm opinion on the necessity of policies prohibiting certain questions.

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    $\begingroup$ So, (asking half in jest) is it proper to consider voting to close on this old question and possibly downvote @JohnRennie for answering it (HA,HA) (and others like it that Community brings to the fore)? BTW, love your "no consensus another policy would be better." $\endgroup$ – Bill N May 5 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ @BillN Everyone is free to vote as they see fit, but I wouldn't recommend downvoting old posts just because the culture has changed. I can see an argument for closing it - it avoids "if my question is off-topic how come this old question that's just like it isn't closed?" debates if nothing else. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Mod May 6 at 7:38
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Is the philosophy of these dealing with questions like this one different today than in 2012?

I think of particular note now is that exams and tests are being conducted online a great deal more (especially with Covid-19 concerns but I think the general trend is there anyway). There's also (IMO) more of a move to continuous assesment at all levels of education.

The reality is we are now seeing many questions which clearly have a time element and I've seen questions which rather pointledly want an answer in a hurry. I've also seen questions posted where the OP gets a conceptual answer (e.g. outtline the solution method or explaining the physics principle) but then explicitly asks for a worked out calculation, undermining the idea they are interested in understanding.

So I do think the teaching and testing environment out there has changed and this has meant the homework policy is, if anything, more relevant than ever.

In my empirically-based opinion, if this question was asked today it would quickly be closed based on today's homework policy.

Regardless of individual opinions there is a well established principle in law that you cannot (and should not) impose new laws on crimes that occured in the past and should instead apply the rules existing at the time. OK, homework violations aren't exactly a crime, but the principle of fairness remains. We should not back-date and revise punishments because at the time people are presumed to have acted in good faith.

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While I agree with the (current) policy on homework questions, and I try to do my bit reviewing them, homework questions have two plus points going for them:

  1. they can highlight interesting and important aspects of physics that students need to learn

  2. they are easy for beginners to answer

In particular I fear that the PSE can be a bit scary for newcomers because the questions can be intimidating and hard to answer well unless you have at least graduate and perhaps postgraduate experience of physics. I was such a newcomer when I first joined the PSE ten years ago (how time flies!) and indeed I did my share of answering homework questions in those early days. These days I would not answer the question you posted as an example and I would vote to close it. However I don't think that reflects a change in the PSE policy - just a change in myself.

I still think (1) is a good reason to answer a question that is apparently homework, as long as you concentrate on explaining the principles and not just the answer to the question. A good answer will help not only the OP learn some new physics but hopefully generations of students coming after them.

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    $\begingroup$ "A good answer will help not only the OP learn some new physics but hopefully generations of students coming after them." I agree with the goal of this completely, but couldn't you make this argument to keep most questions open? "I have a really good answer to this question that explains the physics really well and it will be helpful for others, so this question should stay open." $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist May 13 at 9:45
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist I think it's the exception rather than the rule that a homework question deserves that sort of answer. Based on my ten years of voting to close homework questions the majority involve no great insight and could be answered in a few seconds with a quick Google. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie May 13 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with that. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist May 13 at 11:10

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