Since quite some time, the amount of new incoming higher level questions is decaying and the number of very basic ones is increasing, but the current inflood of bad homeworks (the good ones I appreciate and upvote) and very basic questions of non physicists and people who have almost no physics knowledge of their own, is unprecedented I think.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

A (smart) way to map out the Brillouin zone of a 2-D material

Newtons Cannon ball problem

Understanding on quantum entanglement

How is a one position shift of an interferometer fringe pattern defined?

How much torque does it take to turn a doorknob?

Is play-dough liquid or solid?




Is velocity of light constant?

What exactly is implied by Einstein's insight in this scene from the NOVA series "$E=mc^2$ Einstein's Big Idea?"

Simple pendulum and planet mass


Dry Ice in Liquid States

What is the sensation by man carrying a water bucker with an object floating in it?

What is the time component of velocity of a light ray?


Is it possible to calculate distance if non-constant acceleration is unknown?


What's gonna happen if a nuclear bomb explodes nearby?




Calculate the distance between two points from iPhone Camera


Quantum field theory quote


What is the difference between material fatigue test with 1 sec cycle and 1 hour cycle?

How long would it take for a container in vacuum to leak half of its air?



How much is 1 electron-volt (eV)?

Parallel circuits - Overall resistance decreases with additional resistor

Does one second exist?





Question about weightlessness

Is the result of (every) research on acceleration equivalent to gravity?

Help me check units

How does the formaldehyde leak into the food from bamboo cutting board?

Calculate heat loss of aquifer with unknown shape


How do you calculate the Milky Way’s galactic year?


Temperature gradient in body

What units are needed for the variables when I want the result to be in $erg$

Gravity as a river

In what order should unit symbols appear?


Is electronics a core topic in physics?

Ok, parts of them get closed or migrated, if they are just posted on the wrong site here etc ...

But the really worrying thing is that a not negligible part of these homework and very low level questions get (even highly) upvoted and answered by very basic answers which are upvoted too by the present population of Physics SE, and sometimes even flags saying that these questions should not be here for the one or the other reason, get declined!

The About of Physics SE still says

*Physics is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy.

So my main question is:

What can be done to counteract the overtaking of Physics SE by homework, very basic, and laypeople questions to make it a better and more attractive place for active researchers, academics, and students of the site topic again?

I know that similar questions have been asked over and over again here on Physics meta. But obviously the issue has never been seriously addressed which is, as I guess, among the possible reason for the current flood of really low level stuff.

People who ask these low level questions seem to be less knowledgeable on physics or maths than the visitors of Prof Strassler's site the purpose of which is explicitly to explain (particle) physics to laypeople. And the atmosphere of the site starts to be "Quora-like", as (almost only) short, basic, equation free, and in popular language formulated posts get high upvotes, activity, and attendance whereas slightly higher level, more sophisticated, advanced topic, and in particular technical posts almost tumbleweed meaning they get low views, low votes, no answers, etc ... these days.

A bad side effect of the current state is that if this keeps going, the site will be governed by people who like and prefer this increasing basic Q&A, because it is them who are gaining the most rep so it will be them who have the power to closevote and access to other moderation privileges, even if they have no (deep enough) physics knowledge of their own to decide what is a good legitimate physics question and what not for example, what the (intended to be community of physicists and students) needs, etc. whereas the initially targeted by the site audience and its needs gets pushed back.

So, if the targeted audience should still be the one described in the About, something has to be done.

  • 15
    $\begingroup$ "A student is a learner, or someone who attends an educational institution. In some nations, the English term (or its cognate in another language) is reserved for those who attend university, while a schoolchild under the age of eighteen is called a pupil in English (or an equivalent in other languages), although in the United States a person enrolled in grades K–12 is often called a student. In its widest use, student is used for anyone who is learning, including mid-career adults who are taking vocational education or returning to university." $\endgroup$ – Řídící Jun 4 '13 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ Stackexchange never demotivate asking basic questions. $\endgroup$ – ABC Jun 4 '13 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ @userØØ7 yes I know, SE gives a damn about the level of the individual sites in the network. The only thing which counts for the SE people is quantity (the site is frequently enough visited, has enough traffic, is googlable, has enough (new) users, questions, and very important people are polite and speak no words that could be badly taken by somebody, etc) and not quality or level of the question and answers meaning their value for experts and professionals of the individual site topics. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 4 '13 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton it does come across as a rather parasitic and ungrateful, you continually criticizing the folks at SE for running a site that doesn't cater for your needs. They've done something you haven't - set up a site for people of all abilities with an interest in physics. $\endgroup$ – Larry Harson Jun 4 '13 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ To help me understand your concerns, could you give me a date when there wasn't a "flood"? $\endgroup$ – Larry Harson Jun 4 '13 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ @LarryHarson before the last elections, and since about two-three weeks, the flood has really broken loose. Since about two or three weeks I am flagging really too low level stuff. Note that you are (once again) representing me quite wrong, since I dont want the site to be something the SE people have not intended. On the contrary, I'd just like it to be a site for the targetted audience as described in the About. BTW who has written what the targetted audience is there, was this done by the SE network or by physics moderators. Who writes and determines what is in the About anyway? $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 4 '13 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ @LarryHarson for what it's worth, I have not noticed this flood of low-level questions. We've always had a non-negligible flux of them that slowly increases with overall site activity. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 4 '13 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: SE doesn't give a damn about the level. actively demotivating basic level questions and preferring more higher level questions are two very different things. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 5 '13 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Some people vote down easily, sometimes even for a detail or a matter of opinion. Some users may appear uneducated on the topic they broach. However, people often forget that users of this site are not all native English speakers. For some people speed means the same as velocity because the distinction is not made that way in their native language. I would normally use "speed" always, and generally assume that context will tell which I mean, and I make it more precise if I feel it is needed. I learned better here. But then, velocity is seldom a concern in my own work. $\endgroup$ – babou Jun 5 '13 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ Out of the questions you gave, 13 were open and 39 were closed. "Ok, parts of them get closed or migrated" doesn't really work here, most are closed. And many of the open ones are legit questions, even if at a basic level. What was the point of giving this big list? $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 8 '13 at 6:52
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    $\begingroup$ Do not make any more frivolous edits on this question. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 11 '13 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ Is it real homework or just trolling? Or worse, some tunnel system allowing for Homework questions and channeling them here. Some info about IP addresses and users could be relevant. $\endgroup$ – arivero Jun 15 '13 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZaslavasky: Frivolous Edits? I see just 1 even slightly major edit . $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Jul 30 '13 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Dimension10 the "frivolous" edit was that I changed in the title the term in braces from (current) to (ongoing). "Ongoing" is more correct, obviously ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 30 '13 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ @LarryHarson, "parasitic"? "ungrateful"? "they've done something you haven't"? ... What is your problem? Take it easy. Allow different opinions. $\endgroup$ – Eduardo Guerras Valera Jul 1 '17 at 22:27

13 Answers 13


While I disagree with the specific implementation, I think userØØ7's idea does have something to it.

Can we have the page respond to users entering the tag by showing a short homework FAQ and links to the canonical meta question? I would like to have new users confronted to the homework section of the FAQ and the How do I ask homework questions on Physics Stack Exchange? meta question as soon as there is any indication that this is a low-level homework question.


The proposal below has been posted as a separate feature request here, and has was implemented shortly afterwards. The current sidebar looks like this:

It would also be good to have links to this on the How to Ask sidebar that appears when the cursor is on the question title box:

enter image description here

Adding a line like

Not all homework questions are allowed. Please see the homework guidelines.

to the How to Ask sidebar, at least for new users, may help stem the flow.

Addendum: I'm quite certain we have some access to the sidebar. Cooking.se, for example, has a line like that:

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ This is a nice idea. Maybe adding the most important guideline or two into the line about homework might increase adherence. $\endgroup$ – SMeznaric Jun 4 '13 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Emilio, if you'd like to ask this as a feature request just for our site on MSO I and (maybe others too?) would come to upvote, support, and defend it there if you would leave a link to the corresponding MSO question. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 5 '13 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton I'm unsure how the Seasoned Advice guys accessed that sidebar. As far as I can tell, they just went ahead and changed it, so it looks like something mods might have access to. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jun 5 '13 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth, is that the case? If not, should I create a feature request? Here, or at the Mother Meta? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jun 5 '13 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty: That's what I call "a wonderful idea". Regarding your question - "Since this is a site-specific request, it holds a very good place here (MSO might not be good for site-specific questions unless very necessary". You can post it as a feature request here. Don't worry. The Community Managers are always watching us. Well, I have a thought of adding Don't ask book recommendation questions. I'll edit it in your FQ ;-) $\endgroup$ – Waffle's Crazy Peanut Jun 6 '13 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ The ".se" or ".SE" convention, like in Cooking.se is unfortunate. Cooking SE, Physics SE, etc. seem better until SE transforms all its websites to Swedish ones. :) $\endgroup$ – Řídící Jun 6 '13 at 5:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Emilio We do not have access to change the sidebar. I don't know how it was done on SA; perhaps by request to the SE team. In any case, the problem with this is that original posters often don't add the homework tag, and besides, they don't read things. No amount of written material will prevent some people from asking inappropriate questions. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 6 '13 at 6:03
  • $\begingroup$ OK, I'll start a feature-request thread here. @ϚѓăʑɏβµԂԃϔ, please respect this answer; you can add your suggestion as an answer on the separate thread. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jun 6 '13 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I discussed that in chat and that's why it was rollbacked. Don't worry... I'll add there ;-) $\endgroup$ – Waffle's Crazy Peanut Jun 6 '13 at 13:10

Firstly, you're asking two separate questions that need to be dealt with differently. One question has to do with HW posts, and another has to do with basic posts.

The Data

Now for the data:

enter image description here

enter image description here

Unfortunately I can't cook up a query that reliably separates basic and non-basic questions.


The last data point is incomplete (data.SE lags behind by ~a week, and anyway June just started), so it can be ignored.

Another caveat is that downvoted closed questions get deleted after 6 months or so (and can't be queried by normal means), so we probably can increase the data from before 2012 by at least 50% to account for this (most HW questions seem to get closed/downvoted).

With that in mind there seems to just be a local exam-time jump (if you look closely at the data this happens every year around May), not really a net increase. This has happened in the past, and levels returned to normal afterwards.

Of course, the number of deleted HW posts may not be as I predicted above. In such a case, this data is probably not analyzable.

Is there a need for something to be done, and, if so, what can be done?

Firstly, a clarification:

Clarification of the About:

The line in the About says:

Physics is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy.

(emphasis mine)

It applies to students of all levels, not just grad students and above. A 8th grader is still a student of physics. Also, this is the target audience. We hope for a large number of high-level questions, yes, but we will never discourage low-level questions or questions targeted towards the layperson. There is a huge difference between preferring that a level of question is less prominent on the site and actively making it go away. The about is all about what we prefer. We won't actively discourage an audience outside of the one listed in the about only because it has the misfortune of not being there.

Put clearly, the about cannot be used as a reason to discourage a type of question

Should we do something about homework questions?

Regardless of whether or not HW is on the increase, I'd always prefer a reduction in such questions. Not because of the about, but because they tend to be less conceptual. HW seems to be around 15%±5% (counting deleted questions). I'd prefer for it to be around 5% (with a better question quality).

What can be done?

One simple thing to do is to solve the broken windows problem of HW qs. Currently, the main page does show up a handful of HW questions (at times, it is much more).

Questions that have a score of -3 or less disappear from the main page. So one thing that can be done is that there can be more proactive downvoting of HW posts. Try not to downvote those that follow the policy (these are rather few), but, of course, it's your choice in the end. And of course, vote/flag to close were necessary.

Besides that, we could try being a bit more quicker in deleting HW questions where the OP is obviously not coming back. A week ought to be OK. (This may remove HW from the popular tags list)

Another solutions is to get rid of the HW tag altogether. Not the policy, just the tag (IIRC some sites like CS.SE have done this). This will remove it from the popular tags list in a much cleaner manner.

People use the tag for filtering, however, so this may not be a great idea..

Should we do something about basic questions?

Not directly. As mentioned before, the about isn't a reason to stop accepting basic questions. It's not even a reason to worry about basic questions. Of course, this site has much more value when it has a good amount of high-level activity. And we should try to maintain and improve this activity.

However, this should be done in a constructive manner. Not by reducing the number of basic questions, but by attempting to increase the number of high-level questions independently.

Reducing the number of basic questions has an on-paper benefit; that's it. There was an increase in the theoretical-to-basic ratio on the site on paper, but we haven't improved on the theoretical bit at all. And in the process we have lost a portion of the audience that was contributing constructively to the site1.

1. One could argue that this isn't a constructive contribution -- I myself don't know what to say to that unless a reason was given. From what I've seen, Physics.SE provides one of the best sources of conceptual explanations at all levels on the Internet. Quora does provide a lot of layman's explanations, but Phys.SE goes above and beyond layman's explanations even for basic questions.

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    $\begingroup$ Looking at the figures the tagged as such HW seems to exponentially increase in the course of time, and it has already reached almost 30% (the too basic things from people who have almost no physics knowledge of their own not included?)? That speaks for itself ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 5 '13 at 10:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: Did you read the caveats? The 2012 data needs to be boosted because there are many, many deleted HW questions that aren't accounted for in the graph. And "almost 30%" is only for two days worth of data--June 1st and 2nd. Like I said, that data point can be ignored. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 5 '13 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: ....that's the sort of elitist attitude that lead to the downfall of TheoreticalPhysics.SE. MathOverflow works because it already had a large community from the start and no significant competition. Of course, you can try to set up your own site -- you can get hosting for $5/month and use free software like Discourse or OSQA (the former is quite good for discussions, though a bit harder to set up). But I don't really see this happening withing the SE framework. (another option is to propose phyhomework.se on [area51], but I don't see that succeeding either) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 5 '13 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ this has nothing to do with "elitist", on this, heck even on the this terminology I completely disagree. What is wrong if people want to have a place where day can focus on what they are interested in without each question of interest to them being interspersed by 5 "What is velocity?" and similar questions? TP.SE was a very nice site, I disagree with you calling them elitist (this is quite a cliche way of thinking), the just should have lowerde the barrier to ask questions a bit, as I said here. I have learned long time ago $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 5 '13 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ the you and the SE network generally dont care about the level or particular content of the site, as long as the activity of the site is high enough. For the SE network all would be well if every member site is just a purely popular site with no real experts present. Why are you so against people interested in more technical/theoretical/fundamental physics issues a place where they can focus on this in form of a minisite. This would be great for the international community of physicists. Not allowing focused communities of professionals to form is just gambling away a huge chance and potential $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 5 '13 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: You have been warned multiple times against making accusations against mods/members of the community. I do care about the content. Just because I don't advocate aggressive separation/deletion of low level content doesn't mean that I don't want the level of theoretical questions on this site to increase. Not at the cost of the basic questions. I never disallowed the minisite thing, I just said that I really doubted that SE would implement it. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 5 '13 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, you need to take a more global viewpoint here. You are mainly focused on the high-level portion of the site, and consider the low-level portion to be less valuable. Fine. But that's your viewpoint. From the global viewpoint of the site all levels are equal. Harming a portion of the community to benefit another will never be a good thing. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 5 '13 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: Again, I don't advocate aggressive separation of the communities (that doesn't mean I don't care). I'll help out if you ask a well posed questions on MSO, but it really depends. Thing is, I can't really think of a convincing reason for the minisite. And I won't really ask for something I can't convince myself of. You seem to be convinced that it is a good thing; pose the question yourself. We'll see after that. No, I won't ban you, but please take this as a warning. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 5 '13 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ Useful statistics, +1. But: "Another solutions is to get rid of the HW tag altogether. [...] We won't lose much functionality, really -- the HW tag is just for keeping track AFAICT." Ugh. Without the tag, I can't filter them out. This would probably end up driving me away from physics.SE. $\endgroup$ – user4552 Jun 6 '13 at 0:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I categorize picturing the last data point, especially in the second graph, under "Lies, damned lies, and statistics". The analysis below it doesn't quite rectify the damage done by the visual suggestion. $\endgroup$ – Řídící Jun 6 '13 at 6:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Ben well, the idea is that if we were to get rid of the homework tag, we would do so in a manner that also eliminates the crappy questions to which it is applied. (Not saying that all homework questions are bad, I'm only referring to those which are bad.) Those questions shouldn't be on the site, not even now. But implementing that will take more active close voting from the community. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 6 '13 at 6:06
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    $\begingroup$ Well, I was thinking if the community has missed out on a bunch of closeable HW questions, we should make a list somewhere and point people to the list saying "Here, the reason you're complaining about a flood of basic questions is that you did not flag or vote to close these." $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 6 '13 at 8:00
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZaslavsky: if we were to get rid of the homework tag, we would do so in a manner that also eliminates the crappy questions to which it is applied. It's not that I don't want to see bad homework questions. I want to be able to filter them out completely. I teach physics for a living. I don't want to do it in my time off. If others are willing to do that, good for them. Different people make positive contributions in different ways. Filtering or answering hw questions is not a way in which I want to contribute. $\endgroup$ – user4552 Jun 6 '13 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: Search MSO, or ask in the MSO Tavern (chat room). I can't immediately find anything and I wasn't around when it was implemented. Basically: It's one minisite. Facebook had an agreement with SE that their developers would also help on questions regarding the FB API. With this agreement, SE made a tag-filtered ([facebook*]) facebook.stackoverflow.com website, so that FB devs could get their own place. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 7 '13 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ I checked the data.SE link once more to today and there seems to be a vast improvement from last month and the month before that. April was 15% HW. It is around 9% now. It shouldn't go beyond 2%... $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Jun 28 '13 at 10:01

This is just something I have recently noted. Maybe the presentation of Physics SE to people who have no account or are not logged in, is not optimally choosen to represent what the site should be (How is this view determined anyway ...)?

The 10 featured tags indicating what topics we have are:

, , , , , , , , ,

These are the 10 most poular tags, they are nice good physics topics, but featuring at the prominent second position could leave the wrong impression that it is a very good idea to come here for homework help.

The list of sample questions presented to not logged in readers of Physics SE, looks very unnatural to me; it is neither the hot, nor the newest, nor the active list. All questions presented are relatively highly upvoted, but it is clearly biased towards equestion free, non technical, rather everyday-life applied questions.

Maybe these two features of the view presented to not logged in visitors could be costumized a bit if needed ...?

Update I have just learned from this maths meta post that SE has changed the front page for not logged in visitors at around midmonth of April to optimize it to attract people who are randomly visiting the site. The list of questions presented is seemingly something like the months view, that features questions with the most views, are hot and closed questions are left out.

I personally agree with the mathematicians, that this is not a good change for the knowledgable about the site topic people who are already on the site since it does not represent the community and the content of the site very well, available options are reduced (chat and meta are not accessible for example), etc. In addition, since it is optimized to attract people who randomly visit the site, it is rather not well suited to attract people who have a good physics knowledge of their own (leaving alone experts), so that I suspect that this change could have contributed to the current flood of very low level questions we actually have.

If the content (question list, featured tags, HW should be taken out) can not be changed by the physics community, a feature request to make it customable might be appropriate indeed!

Update 2

Now I have asked a corresponding question on MSO if the frontpage presented to anonymous or not logged in users could be made configurable, in order to be able to exchange tags and questions in the corresponding lists. Any support for this feature request on MSO would be highly welcome and urgently needed I think :-)

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    $\begingroup$ This does not answer the question. Should be a part of the question or a new question itself, $\endgroup$ – ABC Jun 4 '13 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ @userØØ7 maybe you are right. My thought is that improving the view of the site presented to not logged in visitors could help to make people feel less encouraged to come here and post homework or overly popular things. Therefor I thought it could be a (maybe tiny) partial but certainly not complete answer of how to mitigat the issue. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 4 '13 at 12:48

I can see it from both sides of the fence, as a teacher of Physics (high school) as well as being a PhD atmospheric physics student (finishing this year).

For what little my view is worth, allowing basic questions may spurn continued interest in those just starting out in physics, on the other hand, I can see what you mean regarding the higher level questions are often not answered - I mean, it took me putting a bounty on my question for any answer to come about (and I still don't have the full picture). Please note, I am not saying that my question was particularly 'high level'.

Just some food for thought.


I am impressed at the saintly patience shown by Physics SE moderators and regulars to some of the homework questions.

One question, can't find it right now, gave zero evidence that the asker had tried anything. It was just a verbatim reproduction of the assignment. And to top it off, they added "Due tomorrow" at the bottom. The sheer gall of it!

Maybe such questions should be ignored, meaning no answers and no comments?

It won't stop the influx of "do my homework" people, though. Maybe a split of your Stackexchange is in order?

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    $\begingroup$ Questions like the one you describe should be "ignored" in the sense that you should not answer them and probably not comment on them, but do downvote them and flag them. We (moderators) don't have any patience for such blatant cheating, but we don't have magic bad-question radar - you have to bring it to our attention. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 4 '13 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ I believe that was this one: physics.stackexchange.com/questions/66763/… $\endgroup$ – Colin McFaul Jun 4 '13 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ Yep I agree, and if the overtaking of the site by these low level questions and the corresponding new audience can not be stopped, i split of the site into popular/everyday physics and a site for academics, students, and researchers which should be the audience of the current site, might well prove the only way to procede at some point. In particular since some people, even some moderators deny that the overtaking is happening. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 4 '13 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton I (and pretty much everyone except you) has denied that it was happening when it wasn't happening. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 6 '13 at 8:03

As someone that has provided answers to at least one of the questions in your list, I'd say I'm fine with unsuitable questions being closed sooner rather than later than they are currently being closed.

  • $\begingroup$ I also fully support this. But if it is going to be sustainable, the impetus to close questions has to come from the community, not just moderators. That means people have to cast close votes and flags. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 6 '13 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I hear what you're saying. However, because there is such a thing as a Homework tag - I tend to avoid even opening those questions anymore. I suppose I need to be a bit more willing to down vote poor questions. $\endgroup$ – Mark Rovetta Jun 6 '13 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ That would certainly help. Downvote and flag as too localized, or whatever close reason is appropriate. Many questions of the type that people would presumably like to see closed get only one flag, which is not much of a signal from the community and doesn't give us (moderators) much incentive to act on it. However, if a question gets 3 or 4 flags, that's a clear signal and the question will probably get closed in short order. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 6 '13 at 18:10

It might be helpful to look at what physicsforums does: http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=686781 . They have a specific template for homework problems. They also segregate the homework in a separate area of the site's hierarchy of topics, which unfortunately probably can't be done in SE's FIFO stack design. Many people who fall within "academics" and "active researchers [...] of physics and astronomy" will probably be immediately turned off by the huge number of homework questions. One can filter out the homework questions, but newcomers don't know that.

In principle, it might make sense to split physics.SE into two parts, like math.SE and mathoverflow. However, the site is still quite small, so this might be like trying to propagate a tiny sprout by taking cuttings from it.

  • $\begingroup$ Related: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/4308 $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jun 4 '13 at 23:33
  • $\begingroup$ I once saw @Manishearth talking about minisites, maybe they could help to saparate things a bit like a Physics SE and a Physics overflow? I would be really interested in knowing if minisites could be done for either the more basic or higher level fraction of the current site. The larger fraction should stay the main site and the smaller fraction the minisite. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 4 '13 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ Heck, at the moment I think some kind minisite approach to level separate things a bit would be THE perfect sulotion of the issue at hand. If it only could be implemented! $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 5 '13 at 0:00
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    $\begingroup$ I'll repeat it here: I think imposing a specific homework template will only bring out more of the questions we're getting now, which do state the problem and how far they've gone (which isn't very far), but show no effort to turn the question into a general one about concepts that could be useful to others. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jun 5 '13 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with @Emilio, I don't think it's in our best interest to use a template. (This has been discussed on meta before.) Homework questions often need to be discussed, not just answered, and thus are not suitable for this kind of site. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 6 '13 at 8:05
  • $\begingroup$ I have now made a feature request for an internal minisite here $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 9 '13 at 15:17

I made some points about a separate problem section, at How about a "physics problems" stack exchange?

Not wanting to repeat I will summerize, I think that a separated problem(Homework) section will, keep the site better organized. From Mannisheath graphs point to, percentage of Homework Question has reached roughly 20 pc and likely to Increase Further. I would like it to be separated from the Main site, to avoid clutter and the people who arnt interested Text Book like questions can safely skip them. Ofcourse, It does not make sense to start a new site for homework questions, as it does not address a very different audience.

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    $\begingroup$ This would be a reason to implement a minisite inside Physics SE too, I think. And I agree with what you say, +1 $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 9 '13 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ It's not crossed 20%, the last point is a statistical hiccup. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 9 '13 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth There are a lot of questions rather elementary which dont fall directly into the HW category, but are elementary questions, which picking up a text book can solve. (ex physics.stackexchange.com/questions/23294/…). April has ~20 pc questions with HW tag. I am not here to argue statistics, but you must agree that it is a fair fraction of the site, and clearly noticeable if one browses through the site. $\endgroup$ – Prathyush Jun 9 '13 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Prathyush: Well, it is indeed a fair fraction. Just letting you know that the apparent increase showed near the edge of my graph was a statistical hiccup due to a small sample size in the last point. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 9 '13 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I corrected it to reached 20 pc(I did notice the hiccup in June). But the main point I hope you can appreciate. This problem will come again in the future, next time with more percentage of HW level question. It is best to address it at its roots. This site will continue to grow popular, and it will grow popular in a skewed manner, and Physicists and seasoned researchers could lose interest in the site. $\endgroup$ – Prathyush Jun 9 '13 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Prathyush: Again, if you read the analysis in my question, HW isn't on the increase -- it's always been at around 15$\pm$5%. I do see the main point: the current amount of HW is high. I just disagree that it's on a net long-term increase. I just personally think that separating the community isn't the right way to do it. TheoreticalPhysics.SE was borne form a similar idea. And it failed. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 9 '13 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Prathyush please see my feature request here ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 9 '13 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I am saying splitting the community is not they way to go. I am saying the same people are interested at both so there is no reason to split the community. I am saying there must be a section dedicated to questions like "What are the newtons Laws of gravitation?". "How does an LC circuit behave?". These question are very important and should be addressed with patience. Lot of questions(even some closed ones) are very valid and well posed question, Even if they are at an elementary level. It would be nice to segregate them. So that elementary questions get requisite attention. $\endgroup$ – Prathyush Jun 9 '13 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ Hi Prathyush, thanks for putting a bounty on one of my questions, this is very nice and kind of you :-) $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 12 '13 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton I just collected my first bounty, and whats given must be returned :). Its worth if there is an interesting response. $\endgroup$ – Prathyush Jun 14 '13 at 18:44

This will not solve much problem but can be taken into account for HW askers, if possible.

Adding an additional box as soon as OP adds asking to "add the specific doubt along with the work they've done".

enter image description here

The major problem I've seen till now is in the cases when OP don't use HW tag and someone else add it afterwards. Then it would create much problem!

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    $\begingroup$ I think this will be detrimental. The format the question: ... my approach: ... is archetypical of physics homework forums and quite characteristic of the low level questions we're getting. This might encourage a user to write what he has done, but will not in general improve the level of the question. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jun 4 '13 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think there's a need for this because a bad homework question can be closed on the main page, advice given in the comments on how it can be improved, and then reopened. $\endgroup$ – Larry Harson Jun 4 '13 at 16:44

Not sure how this idea will go down - but maybe with homework questions, we could provide a basic link (to HyperPhysics etc), and suggest that they bookmark those type of pages (just as I did here. Then close if necessary if they do not meet the requirements as per the FAQ.

Pretty much providing them with the tools, a gentle but definite hint to use the tools to help them. All the time, not doing their homework for them.


This is a good place to document a nice SE Data Explorer query I cooked up recently. (This is not a direct answer to the question, but it does provide some useful data to inform decisions.) The query Timeline of posts closed as homework plots the accumulation plot of questions created in the past 3 months (or some other period you specify) which were closed as Off-Topic and were tagged as (or some other tag you specify). Currently the data shows a sharp increase in the rate of homework closures at about the start of term (I complained about it in chat here, which also has a graph as of January 20).

The output looks something like this:

enter image description here

Old data, though, must be taken with a grain of salt, because many of the relevant questions (and particularly the more annoying ones) are automatically deleted by the system. For more details, see the post deletion documentation on the mother meta, but in short, questions closed as Off-Topic can get deleted as soon as 9 days after their last edit if they have score ≤0 and no upvoted or accepted answers. This thinning down of the data is evident upon comparing the graph in this post with the one in chat.

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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, many of these closures are of pretty high-level questions accused of being homeowkr-like. $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Feb 11 '14 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this nice plot and answer Emilio, +1. In addition, I have to second Dimension10 s concerns, the issue of the too broad notion of "homework-like" currently applied even to decent up to high-level technical questions, that should be allowd on a physics site which is not exclusively research-level, has still not been properly resolved. On the contrary, it is still the case that way too many legitimate rather high-level questions, for example in the tags differential-geometry and QFT, are wrongly tagged or even closed as homework. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Feb 11 '14 at 10:18
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    $\begingroup$ I strongly disagree. There have indeed been a few of those recently but the vast majority have been of the mindless do-my-homework-for-me type. There is no correlation between high-level homework accusees and the sharp increase shown after ~8 Jan. If you have any evidence, show it. Find those high level questions and collect them in one meta thread. Please stop simply complaining and do something. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 11 '14 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ Emilio, I never said that wrongly closing questions as hw is the reason for (correlated to) the increase in the graph but its happening should be kept in mind. However, the mistagging (=accusing) of legitimate technical questions as homework keeps going on which always puts them at a risk of getting wrongly closed too, I already provided examples here and see also this. So there is no need for a new meta post. The list could be extended by newer examples though... Stepping out now. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Feb 11 '14 at 11:11

Just go to the main page, click questions, newest, and compare the current page one with other pages from the past. I certainly see no evidence of "(current) flooding".

I suppose there's a flooding of the questions you want to see here with the ones that have always been encouraged in the FAQ and are of use to others.

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    $\begingroup$ I am talking about the About, have you ever read it and seen that it says "Physics SE is a site for academics, active researchers, and students of physics and astronomy"? At the present state of the site, this sentence from the About (not the FAQ!) can only be understood as a bad ironic sadistic joke ... :-/. BTW this does not answer my question, since it suggests nothing that can be done ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 4 '13 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Your question states that there is currently a "flood" of bad questions, and my answer says there isn't one. Sure, bad questions are still being posted - and closed, but where's this flood exactly? You seem to be making a mountain out of a mole hill $\endgroup$ – Larry Harson Jun 4 '13 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ @LarryHarrson where is the flood? Have you studied the long list I provided in this question ? They are all from the last at most two weeks.Should I proved some more for you, if the flood is not big enough yet ;-) ? If you want I can easily double the length of the list :-) $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jun 4 '13 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ The Close Votes review queue does show a spike in low quality questions, I believe. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jun 4 '13 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Around Sep 12, the ratio of closed questions to open was around 7/100, today it's 12/100, so yes there's a spike, but it's hardly a "flood" compared to the past. $\endgroup$ – Larry Harson Jun 5 '13 at 14:00

Isn't it nice to get someone to ask a basic question? After all , everyone of us learned the basics some day. I think it is nice that the beginner has different sources of knowledge.

I think the problem is that of sifting. if we can categorize questions in to basic and advanced then it will be a relief to people who are irritated and embarrassed at being in the same forum where mere mortals who are grappling with quantum entanglement. Those guys can get to the advanced area.

However this classification has to be very crude, May be some can appear in both sections. It is nice to see things out of your field of specialization, it helps a lot in developing lateral thinking patterns.

I think one should not worry too much about the basic questions, Human brain is really good at spotting what it wants in 'noisy ' situations. ELITISM should not be welcomed and tolerated anyway.

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    $\begingroup$ This is not a site for helping individual users with very specific questions. This site is meant for having a collection of high quality questions with accompanying high quality answers that will be valuable to many visitors. Enforcing high standards of quality is not elitism. $\endgroup$ – Brandon Enright Mar 21 '14 at 5:51

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