How can a question on Penetration of electromagnetic waves in insulators? be classified as engineering?

To be sure, the only answer seems to have focused on some particular issues that some might consider "engineering", but what was actually asked was a general question about the attenuation of electromagnetic waves in insulators, i.e. dielectrics. This is a topic covered in a myriad of courses and texts on classical electromagnetism taught and written by physicists. Should any question on index of refraction also be rejected as engineering, since it is also a concept used by engineers and involves electromagnetic waves in dielectric media?


2 Answers 2


The change to require only three close votes for a question to be closed has been very effective at closing the more outrageous homework questions rapidly, but it is also causing a small but significant number of questions to be closed inappropriately. Recently I have found myself voting to leave open or reopen almost as often as I vote to close when reviewing the queues.

I still think the change is worthwhile and shouldn't be reversed, but it does mean the onus is upon us to think before we close vote. I would urge everyone to consider carefully when deciding if a question really deserves the nuclear option.

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    $\begingroup$ I completely agree with your point of view. Unfortunately, I have the impression that there is a diffuse tendency to close after reading the first three lines, even in the case of questions beyond the reviewer's expertise. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ @GiorgioP While this is certainly possible, I would advise against defaulting to an explanation by bad faith for what might be explained by genuine differences in opinion. E.g. in this case, even one of the answers says that the question is more of an engineering question! While I agree with the arguments for why the question is still on-topic here, there is room for reasonable disagreement, or if not that, at least genuine learning experience. If someone cast their close vote in good faith, they need to be convinced that the question should stay open, not scolded for their vote. $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind Mod
    Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ I feel this attitude - that when arguing about close votes one side immediately tends to paint the other as unreasonable and only characterized by laziness or elitism - contributes to many users not really wanting to discuss their close votes at all. We have too few users reviewing close and reopen votes as it is, let's not alienate them even more by immediately assuming bad faith every time we don't agree with a closing or reopening decision. $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind Mod
    Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ ACuriousMind makes a very good point - the site only works because people are willing to contribute their time (for free) to go through the review queues and we should not disparage them just because we don't agree with their votes. Having said that, I do sometimes wonder what the close voters have been smoking. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnRennie ACuriousMind argument can be reversed. If I realize that I must spend significant time reopening questions closed for understandable reasons, I could get discouraged equally. Indeed, this is something really happening to me. At the end of the day, there is no allegation of bad faith but only a reasonable request to read each question more carefully before voting for closing and to abstain from voting if the question is not in the field of expertise of the voter. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 8:04

It's a symptom of trouble in academic physics: the drive to abstract mathematical formulation at the expense of practical, real-world science. What's our biggest problem in physics these days? I think it's what Sadler's social experiment revealed.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting take which I do agree with, despite the focus of my time in physics being on very mathematical or abstractly-formulated topics. I guess there is a phenomenon where people put some theory or theorems on a pedestal because if it is not understandable in a way that it seems obvious, we have a greater tendency to believe it must be profound. But this does not make it useful. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 26, 2022 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ @doublefelix We don't even understand electricity very well. Instead, we've changed the language so that "electricity" reflects the phenomena we understand, while in its original meaning it is called "triboelectricity". And the problem is not so much that abstract physics is not useful, but that it's not physical. It's disconnected from the phenomena. $\endgroup$
    – John Doty
    Commented Nov 26, 2022 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ I think there's a fine balancing act. I 100% agree that abstraction for abstraction's sake can obscure the physics, and that this does happen quite frequently. On the other hand, sometimes taking a more abstract point of view can elucidate the physics. For example, Maxwell working through the self-consistency of his field equations led to the discovery of the displacement current. So I am sympathetic to the basic point being expressed, but think it's a nuanced issue where being too extreme on either side leads to issues. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrew It depends on the connection to the phenomena. Maxwell's work led to Hertz's. Hertz's antenna theory is pretty abstract, too. Tesla couldn't understand it, to the detriment of his own work. But Hertz went and did the experiments to prove his theory. However, what we see in theoretical physics these days is ideas that will never be testable. And, while experimentalists are expected to have a fair grasp of theoretical abstraction, we don't expect theorists to have any competence in real-world physics. There is no balance. $\endgroup$
    – John Doty
    Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 15:11

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