# Allowing mathematical and homework questions on this site

I'm about to complete my four-year physics degree and want to write briefly on the topic of this site.

I've spent a lot of time on the physics Stack Exchange site (not on this account) and believe, overall, it's hugely detrimental to the physics cause - more specifically, the general public's aspirations, understanding and enjoyment of the subject.

I constantly see excited learners ask reasonable, enthusiastic questions but are rejected for stupid reasons. What's wrong with a homework-like question? Homework questions are specially written to expand and question one's understanding - it's a totally valid way of learning. If you think someone's trying to cheat, don't answer (or even comment) on the question - the beauty of a website like this is that if people don't respond to crappy questions they won't be popular/seen.

I've seen many, many question written off as one for the maths Stack Exchange site. Yes, the arithmetic/solving is obviously maths - hence the language of physics - but the explanation, the understanding, is obviously physics - don't reject someone for asking how to solve something physical using maths.

Fundamentally, if you spent the same amount of time complaining about someone's question as you did answering it, your impact would be genuinely positive and fantastic. For those who think this site could be some definitive Q&A textbook - it isn't and never will be. Wikipedia will always be wider-reaching and more democratic - and if you want to contribute to a textbook/people's question, go write one.

If you believe in physics you should want it to grow - stop controlling the learning of other less knowledgeable students of the universe - it's not big and you're hampering our progression as a species.

• @Again I agree with this whole post. I also agree with Jeanbaptiste Roux; Especially the maths part. really, actually good post. really. And especially the homework-like questions I really dont understand, if we can't post or answer about those, why do we have a tag about it? so I agree to fully the whole post, respect. Dec 15, 2022 at 11:04
• Yes. which is why I think this is such a great post. truly. it feels like time is more spent on rules and following (strictly following) those rules, like if some question is a BIT wrong, it's closed (because of reason x..y..z..) Instead of just answering, which is.. yea. No offense to those though, but it should be a more, "answer" not "rule following" community. a there is obviously questions that are totally legit-to-be-closed; but it feels like, extreme courage have to be taken to ask. not only research the question itself. Again, respect! wishes from Sweden! Dec 15, 2022 at 11:40
• As mentioned already, this belongs to the meta section. That being said, there you can already find questions regarding the existence of the homework and exercise tag and related problems/discussions. Moreover, keep in mind that this sites exists for quite a long time already and the rules are not some pointless things to annoy you; they are employed for certain reasons you perhaps did not think about yet. Sure, this does not mean they cannot be changed, but they don't have to, only because you (and some others) think so. Dec 15, 2022 at 12:15
• More specifically, it is also reasonable to keep this site "clean" - and to close /downvote questions when appropriate, e.g. when someone simply asks for a solution after posting the screenshot of the exercise. This site is already full of these "spam" questions and it is not the aim of the site to encourage people to post their homework problems here in a manner conflicting the rules. Also, often some personal theories are posted, which is against the rules too and the tools for reacting on these questions is closing and downvoting- this is how this site works. Dec 15, 2022 at 12:26
• @Again Good luck on the Physics Degree as well! Pure respect! really :) Dec 15, 2022 at 12:32
• This has been discussed only about a million times on this site, have you bothered to look at any of those posts before writing yet another thread? I've spent a lot of time on the physics stack exchange (not on this account) Are you that embarrassed by the thread that you don't want to associate yourself with it? Why? Dec 15, 2022 at 20:14
• Although written in a different context, a previous answer of mine physics.meta.stackexchange.com/a/14217/36194 does apply in this case. Dec 16, 2022 at 1:23
• Answering all homework-type questions does absolutely no favors for a lot of askers, who make no effort to answer their own questions, nor do they want to. They just want an answer. They should be trying to learn. In such cases, which make up a good portion of the homework-type questions, we would be doing more harm than good, so thinking that "impact would be genuinely positive and fantastic" is something a lot of members would disagree with. Dec 16, 2022 at 4:10
• @WilliamMartens "I really dont understand, if we can't post or answer about those, why do we have a tag about it?" Because just because a question belongs to that tag does not mean it should be closed. There are ways to make posts about homework and exercises that are on topic for PSE Dec 20, 2022 at 2:47
• @BioPhysicist I know that- but It was kind of like a figure of speech(..) or what to call it; because the reason of the close being "homework is not on topic" which, of course makes the user believe , all homework related things is off topic (even if that is false) so I would probably change the closing reason to be more specific; as it is now it's very broad but thanks for pointing it out , anyway so I could clarify it (here) :) Dec 21, 2022 at 18:56
• @WilliamMartens That's not what the closure message says. Additionally, it's very specific as to the reasoning, and it gives links to find more information, to find useful examples, etc. However, meta is the place to discuss these things; if you have a proposed change to the current closure reason you should suggest it in a new post. Dec 22, 2022 at 0:41
• @BioPhysicist yes, not exactly like that I agree. It was a shorter version so to not make the comment longer; (to give the general point across) anyway, thanks :) Dec 22, 2022 at 10:12
• NOTE! I just have to send this comment as well, if I ever write anything that looks like it is being written in a offensive way I apologize - it isn't Intentional, and it isn't meant as that in any way (so if I do, please point it out! and i will change the format of it writing this comment NOT because someone told me to, but to be sure I don't offend anyone :) please, have a good, continuing corona-free weekend! :) wishes from Sweden! Dec 22, 2022 at 10:15

I'm sorry, but the idea that our site policies are "controlling the learning of other less knowledgeable students of the universe" is just plainly ridiculous. That people on the internet won't volunteer their time to answer your homework question is not "controlling your learning", it's just people not wanting to do your homework.

Indeed, physics.SE could stop accepting new questions altogether tomorrow and it still wouldn't be exerting control over anyone's learning. No one is forced to come here. When we say a question is off-topic that doesn't mean it will be impossible to ever get an answer to it - as you rightly point out, there are other sources on the internet!

Every site needs to have some boundary for what sort of content is acceptable on it. We've apparently chosen to draw this boundary on physics.SE narrower than you would like, but you seem to think that we could just expand that boundary and everything else would stay the same. However, it is not unlikely that changing our policies would alienate some contributors - again, everyone is here voluntarily, because they like to answer questions here, and presumably because they like (or at least can live with) our policies. Getting a lot more questions while having previously prolific answerers leave would certainly not be an improvement for the overall quality of physics education this site provides.

Finally, regardless of what physics.SE chooses to do, we're not "hampering our progression as a species" - that's just pointless hyperbole. The problems our species faces at large will not be solved by a website teaching slightly more people slightly more physics. Please reserve apocalyptic language for the non-zero amount of actual existential threats humanity faces.

• Physics Stack Exchange is one of the (if not the) largest physics question and answer site - of course the way people behave on here impacts a generation of physicists. I'm grateful for anyone willing to answer a question, at any time of the day, for free, within minutes - that's incredible! But, without a doubt, there exists a large group of users that are very quick to reject a question as needing clarity or off-topic or homework or blah blah - it's controlling and I'm willing to bet a bunch of users enjoying policing - that's where the element of control comes from. Dec 15, 2022 at 16:14
• I've written a bit more below, if you're interested. Dec 15, 2022 at 16:15
• @Again sorry but this is completely crazy to the point of disillusion. I must respect that you do not like the policies of this community but surely your criticism are completely out of place given the success of the site. Dec 16, 2022 at 23:03

Personally, I think it is fine for a site to decide what is on-topic and what is off-topic for the site. A different choice wouldn’t have been wrong, but having a specific policy (whatever it is) allows a site to focus and excel in that niche. Other needs outside of that niche are then best met by directing people to the places that already have that focus.

I've seen many, many question written-off as one for the maths stack exchange.

I don’t agree with your point about math questions. Directing people to a better site is not writing off a question, it is sending people to another site with a better focus for that question. They will get better help at a site focused on their specific needs than they would here with a topic that is outside of our focus.

What's wrong with a homework-like question? Homework questions are specially written to expand and question one's understanding - it's a totally valid way of learning.

It is a valid way of learning, but it is not well suited to the Q&A format. What students usually need in homework help is not an answer to the question, but a discussion of the particular conceptual hurdle they are facing. That is more suited to a discussion format.

What I think would be helpful is to point such students to physicsforums.com where homework help is already available. They are already staffed and focused and structured to best help. Similar to how math help is handled, quickly pointing students to physicsforums.com would help better than trying to handle their needs here.

It is better to excel in a specific focus area and point people to other excellent places as needed than to degrade our focus.

• ...but a discussion of the particular conceptual hurdle they are facing. That is more suited to a discussion format. +1 for this line alone. Dec 15, 2022 at 20:15

What's wrong with a homework-like question? Homework questions are specially written to expand and question one's understanding - it's a totally valid way of learning. If you think someone's trying to cheat, don't answer (or even comment) on the question - the beauty of a website like this is that if people don't respond to crappy questions they won't be popular/seen.

This website is not meant to be all things to everybody. You are accusing this community of being actively detrimental to physics because we have a very strict policy regarding homework and homework-like questions, but that policy is supported and enforced by the community. We have collectively decided that we don't want the site to become inundated with check-my-work style questions, which (as Dale points out) are better suited to a discussion forum. And in fact:

If PSE has a policy against explicit homework help but PhysicsForums has an entire section dedicated to homework help for various levels and subjects, why wouldn't you simply go to PhysicsForums instead? Why should this community change its policies to suit what you personally think they should be, especially if other (both free and paid) sites which cater to those desires already exist in the world?

If it's because you prefer this site's Q&A format, or the general quality of the answers received, or the breadth of knowledge of the community as a whole, consider the possibility that these aspects of PSE are inextricably linked to its policies. Speaking as a sample size $$N=1$$, I am not an active user on PhysicsForums precisely because I don't like the relentless back-and-forth of a discussion forum. I am looking for interesting questions with thoughtful, authoritative answers, which is why I am here.

I've seen many, many question written-off as one for the maths stack exchange. Yes, the arithmetic/solving is obviously maths - hence the language of physics - but the explanation, the understanding, is obviously physics - don't reject someone for asking how to solve something physical using maths.

I am guilty of answering more than a few questions which, objectively, should have been migrated to MSE. First, migration is not writing a question off. Questions which are purely mathematical in nature are being sent to a community of experts in mathematics which is better equipped to answer the question in a clear and authoritative way. To be sure, there are likely many people at PSE who might be able to answer the question - but there are also people at PSE who can tell you how to change a tire or cook pasta. The point is that purely mathematical questions are not our community's focus, so we send such questions to a community that's a better fit. I can't imagine a way in which this is anything but positive for the question asker.

Secondly, if there is physics involved in the understanding then by definition it is not a pure mathematics question. If anything, this community errs on the side of keeping such questions open (in my experience, at least). Asking how many Killing vector fields must exist on a generic pseudo-Riemannian manifold is a purely mathematical question; asking why Killing vector fields correspond to physical symmetries is not.

Fundamentally, if you spent the same amount of time complaining about someone's question as you did answering it, your impact would be genuinely positive and fantastic. For those who think this site could be some definitive Q&A textbook - it isn't and never will be. Wikipedia will always be wider-reaching and more democratic - and if you want to contribute to a textbook/people's question, go write one.

Clearly this site is not what you are looking for - and that's okay. You are well within your rights to want to change things rather than simply leave, but we are equally well within our rights to keep things the same if the community disagrees with your proposed changes.

Lastly, it is of course true that the community moderation does not always align with my views. Some questions are closed which should, in my opinion, remain open, and vice-versa. Sometimes community members make mistakes or vote hastily, and voting is by no means universally consistent (which is certainly true of me). In such cases, I vote to re-open (with edits if necessary); if the community disagrees, then c'est la vie.

Overall, I think the policies as they are currently are more positive than negative. Disagreements are part of being in a community, and I will accept that sometimes there will be no reconciling my opinion with that of a majority of other users.

• @TobiasFünke Indeed, I didn't mean to imply that there was no recourse and I have edited to reflect that. I simply meant to say that disagreements are natural and that my opinion will not always carry the day, but that is not a sign that anything needs to be changed. Dec 15, 2022 at 15:27

If you believe in physics you should want it to grow - stop controlling the learning of other less knowledgeable students of the universe - it's not big and you're hampering our progression as a species.

This is a huge generalization. This specific site, physics.stackechange.com is one of thousands 830,000,000 , when I asked on google "sites physics questions answers" . A number of them are interactive and it is logical that limits to the type of question an answer should be set.

Choose what suits you better.

• “Choose what suits you better”: well said. If you go to a restaurant and don’t like the food offering, go elsewhere… Dec 16, 2022 at 23:10

My intention was to write this and not reply to the answers - that way danger lies. I will say one final thing though, which could have equally belonged to the original post.

The issue of homework-like questions and moving to the maths site are just examples of the point I was trying to make. Of course there are justified, reasonable reasons for these rules, obviously. Many of the responses have reduced the conversation to just site policy chat.

I wrote this out of frustration at the way enthusiastic learners are often pushed aside. If they didn't ask the question in the right way (which is often the tricky part) why not make a few assumptions about what they intended and try to teach them something at least on-topic.

I think discarding questions as homework or belonging to the math site are examples of the widespread sh*tty/controlling attitude that will discourage people from the subject, and that makes me sad. At the very least, my own experience of this website, as someone who loves physics, has been off-putting in the vast majority of cases. That's it. That's my point.

Of course

it's not big and you're hampering our progression as a species.

is hyperbole. But I genuinely believe a swathe of people interested in learning about physics will have been discouraged.

• why is this getting down voted? It is a new member, and posted a pretty good post. and no explanation to why it was downvoted either. Upvoting because of that. at least explain why the downvote. Dec 15, 2022 at 18:55
• @WilliamMartens I imagine downvotes are because this answer doesn't bother trying to answer the question, it's a response to other posts. Dec 15, 2022 at 20:16
• @KyleKanos oh okay; thanks for explaining. I tried to just grab a explanation to why; Dec 15, 2022 at 20:24
• I am active here now for a little bit less than two years, and I don't see how any "enthusiastic learners" are "pushed aside". For sure, the "system" is not perfect, but I don't see any systematic problem at all. I instead see a lot of "do-my-work-questions" or questions where it is clear that the person did not think/ work long enough about/on their question (e.g. did not use google, WIkipedia, searched on this site, checked some book etc.). And IMHO such posts lower the quality of this site a lot and I thus think that one can safely downvote/close these. Dec 15, 2022 at 23:02
• OTOH, you're right in the sense that if the question does not meet the standards but it seems clear that the OP can change the question such that it will be on-topic, then the community should help (help with editing, explain why it is currently off-topic, try to help to formulate a better/more specific question). But as far as I can see, this is done very often and moreover in a polite way. There may be (and probably are) exceptions, where "the community" was not patient enough; but again: I don't see any systematic problem here. Dec 15, 2022 at 23:05
• Related: Why do I need 50 reputation to comment? What can I do instead?. In this case, it could be done by a single accepted suggested edit. Dec 16, 2022 at 18:25
• The company has indicated it wants to do something on the learning front (even the current homework sites may not guarantee any learning. My emphasis): "The users: learners, from beginners to experts" and "Community. Learning, sharing, and growing together".". And at 23 min 38 secs: "Our outcomes are not just a library. But it is actually a community of people writing, consuming, curating, recommending, bringing in outside pieces of content". Dec 16, 2022 at 18:31
• Further, at 24 min 24 secs: "We want our users to not think of themselves ... as consumers, but to think of themselves as learners." Dec 16, 2022 at 18:41
• @WilliamMartens The question says "I've spent a lot of time on the physics Stack Exchange site (not on this account)", so it is not a new user. Dec 17, 2022 at 12:48
• @NorbertSchuch oh okay, yea but in my opinion it doesn't matter - we should always explain downvotes but yes I saw that when you pointed it out (thanks) :) Have a great day on you! wishes from Sweden. Dec 17, 2022 at 13:20
• The irony is that my previous account was deleted for not asking questions in the right way. Dec 17, 2022 at 18:13
• @WilliamMartens NO! Forcing people to explain downvotes will solve nothing, and will only lead to bickering. Even now, we have another user bitching about rules they don't like, even if the policies are clear, so just imagine the bitchfest that would follow from perceptions of unfair downvoting. Most users who want to leave comments with their downvotes do so, and that's good enough. Dec 17, 2022 at 19:23
• @WilliamMartens I fully agree with ZeroTheHero -- my experience from explaining downvotes (which I do when I feel motivated and believe in the good in people) is that in many times, it leads to pointless discussions with people who don't even want to be convinced that they might not be right. Dec 17, 2022 at 19:47
• @ZeroTheHero @NorbertSchuch this is a bit individual , it depends on the person. I understand it will lead to confusions IN SOME situations but if it was ONLY bad to do it, why are we advice to  explain the downvote when , i.e down-voting? I think.. to explain the downvote is good, because lets face it - no one is perfect. nothing is perfect. there WILL be downvotes-with-garbage explanations. but there will also be the opposite. can't we try from both sides? especially on stack sites; even if the explanation is bad; Dec 17, 2022 at 21:37
• "my previous account was deleted for not asking questions in the right way" This is not true. Neither SE employees nor moderators delete accounts for low-quality content. You might get rate limited or suspended for low-quality contributions, but this is not a deletion reason. Please also note that making new accounts to circumvent rate limits is frowned-upon as sockpuppetry and this can lead to your accounts being suspended and/or deleted.
– ACuriousMind Mod
Dec 18, 2022 at 22:41