This question was closed as "not suitable for" Physics SE. Based on the comments, the voters seemed to think that it belongs to Biology SE instead.

I don't understand this reasoning. Answering this question requires answering two sub-questions:

  1. What would be the flux of radiation at the Earth's surface if the Earth didn't have a geomagnetic field?
  2. What would be the impacts of that radiation flux on human health?

The first sub-question is clearly a physics question. The second sub-question is arguably more of a biology question, although I personally feel that the impacts of radiation on biological tissue is a biophysics question that lies well within the intersection of both fields. But even if we granted that the second sub-question was a better fit for Bio SE, then I don't understand why, if the first half is a better fit for Physics SE and the second half a better fit for Bio SE, that makes the whole question not suitable for Physics SE.

One commenter claimed that "the crux of the question" was the second subquestion. I don't understand this claim; one needs to answer both halves in order to answer the question. Arguing over which half is "the crux of" the question seems to me to be about as well-posed as arguing whether the engine or the steering wheel forms "the crux of" a car. You need both in order to function.

(A separate question was also raised, which was which title best summarizes the content of the question. I believe that this is an orthogonal issue to whether or not the question is on topic. My understanding of SE best practices is the purpose of question titles is to quickly convey the point to a viewer, but the title is not considered to be an "official" part of the question for the purpose of answering, and by design it often deliberately omits critical parts of the question.)

It seems to me that in situations like this, where different necessary sub-questions of a question might (arguably) be optimal for different networks, a question should be considered on-topic for any of the networks. Do others agree?


1 Answer 1


I think the fact that even the meta question here talks about different subquestions is simply an indication the question is not focused enough for the SE model: Yes, to answer the question you are interested in - "What effects does the radiation flux in a certain setting have on human health?" - you need the answers to both subquestions - but that doesn't mean the best way to model this in terms of SE questions is as a single question. Just because it is grammatically a single question in the English language doesn't mean it can't still be too broad for an SE question.

I see no obvious reason you could not simply ask this as two separate questions, i.e. "What is the radiation flux in this setting?" first, and then, after you've gotten an answer to that, "What is the effect of this level of radiation flux on human health?" as a second question. This would make the rather subjective discussion about which of the two subquestions is the "crux" unnecessary. It also means I disagree with the claim in this meta question that the two subquestions are somehow "necessary" parts of a single question.

In general, questions can be on-topic on more than one SE site - we have discussed this in the past with respect to history and astronomy questions. That another SE site exists on which a question would be on-topic is in principle not an argument that it should be off-topic here. This point is sometimes misunderstood because we also discourage cross-posting to several sites at one, but these policies are actually complementary: If questions could only be on-topic on one SE site, then there'd be no need for a cross-posting rule because the question would only be on-topic on a single site anyway.

I don't really think it is useful to talk about questions with "subquestions" from different disciplines in general because - as with this specific example - I would expect that one can usually split these questions up in such a way as to avoid the discussion at all.

As for your second subquestion specifically, we do not seem to have an established policy on whether the biological/medicinal effects of things like radiation are considered on-topic here (the only related meta question seems to be this one which is 9 years old and has no answers). If someone thinks we need one, I would suggest making a separate meta question about that.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I agree that the two subquestions are logically separable in principle, but I just suspect that they aren't individually interesting enough that many people would bother with them individually. I could be wrong about that, of course. But I suspect that it's more likely that someone would be inspired to do both halves of the calculation if they have the context. Also, the second half provides important context for the first half, since there are many types of radiation, and understanding that the ultimate question is about health impacts helps to focus the question on the relevant ones. $\endgroup$
    – tparker
    Feb 4 at 20:22

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