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Why are questions like "Why does objects with zero acceleraton move?" downvoted?

To me it seems like a person genuinely wanting to understand a physical concept and coming here for help. It just bothers me that apparently people have decided not to help those people.

I've seen remarks on meta like 'This site is for professionals', suggesting that the question is too 'stupid' or low-level, but if that is truly the case, homework questions should also not be allowed.

To avoid misconceptions: I am perfectly ok with downvoting low-level or homework questions if the person has not put any effort in, or wants us to solve their problems. I am only talking about the cases where people are, in my perception, genuinely looking for help.

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    $\begingroup$ Just a short comment: As far as I'm concerned, the question you refer to shows insufficient effort. $\endgroup$ – Danu Nov 12 '14 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ One downvote isn't a trend. Don't read too much into it. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Nov 12 '14 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ @dmckee indeed, but single downvotes in many similar cases might be. This question is not about the specific example. $\endgroup$ – Oebele Nov 14 '14 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ According to my observations contrary is the truth: when I ask long, complicated question it has no comments, no answers and somebody will eventually downvote it because he doesn't even understand what I'm asking (yet noone posts the Unclear close vote) $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Zato Nov 22 '14 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, but the comment above applies to StackOverflow. I've happened to forget on what Meta site I'm on. $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Zato Nov 22 '14 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting - two weeks later the votes have suddenly increased and an additional answer is placed (which does not really add anything though). And also this post keeps getting attention, probably both has to do with this question being a "Hot Meta Post"? $\endgroup$ – Oebele Nov 25 '14 at 8:43
  • $\begingroup$ Homework questions are not allowed, as far as I can tell. $\endgroup$ – Raskolnikov Nov 25 '14 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, they are, as long as the student shows he has put a lot of effort in, and doesn't ask us to solve his problem, but for example asks us to help him understand where he is going wrong. $\endgroup$ – Oebele Nov 25 '14 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ I'd say it's because many moderators have no concept of empathy, they are absolutely unable to see that a question that has no value to them may have value to another (Perhaps allowing someone to learn by answering if nothing else). This is a very common trait amoung smart people and with the nuber of smart people on SO it is bound to be common. At least it takes more than a couple rouge votes to close a question. $\endgroup$ – Bill K Nov 25 '14 at 17:12
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As far as I've seen, simple questions are not downvoted. One of our most upvoted questions is Don't heavier objects actually fall faster because they exert their own gravity? A simple question if ever there was one. And the all-time most up-voted question on our site is about the best way to cool a cup of coffee with a spoon. If posed right, the simplest questions get the most upvotes.

As for the question you cite, it didn't make much sense to begin with and the answer is fairly obvious and presented in any text that teaches about Newton's laws. It's also a question easily answered by parents, teachers, whatever. The downvote was most likely because the question showed little to no prior effort. We do enjoy teaching physics to interested people, but we expect to be met halfway. We are supplements to learning, not primary sources.

Now as stated, one downvote does not establish a trend. It happens on some "simple" questions, but that's not so much due to their simplicity as it is due to their unclear/imprecise wording, lack of effort, or other such reasons. I assure you that there are high-level questions that get downvoted as well.

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    $\begingroup$ (Note that the cup-of-coffee question has an anomalous vote count because it was linked to by xkcd what-if, so its voters may not necessarily be representative of the site's population.) $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Nov 13 '14 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty - But everyone who voted must be on Physics.SE! Unless I'm wrong, and there's some way of upvoting this question from xkcd site itself, without having the requisite reputation on this site ... $\endgroup$ – 299792458 Nov 14 '14 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ @New_new_newbie that's definitely true, as drive-in Upchurch are hard for users who have not yet signed up. Nevertheless, it's hard to say what sort of skewing influences would come from a single link with so much traffic. It's just something to be aware of when analysing voting patterns. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Nov 14 '14 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ Probably the thing I was seeing was a correlation (not necessarily a relation!) between low quality questions and low level questions. $\endgroup$ – Oebele Nov 14 '14 at 13:57
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I've seen remarks on meta like 'This site is for professionals', suggesting that the question is too 'stupid' or low-level, but if that is truly the case, homework questions should also not be allowed.

I do not follow how 'this site is for professionals' implies homework or homework-like questions should not be allowed. Regardless, notice the rather large banner when first visiting the site:


enter image description here


Researchers, academics and students of physics are all welcome on the stack exchange, as are their questions providing they adhere to the guidelines, as determined by the users and moderators. If a homework-like question adheres to the following:

  • Presents the question clearly, with all required details
  • Demonstrates an explicit attempt, whether conceptual or computational
  • Discusses clearly what the issue the OP is having
  • Poses a question sufficiently broad, i.e. at least partially beyond the homework context

give or take a few more points (outlined in the site's guidelines), it's likely though not guaranteed that it will be well-received, and attract posts of good quality. If the question is too 'low level' as you describe, it may be easily answerable by a quick Google search, in which case the question may be closed for insufficient prior research.

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  • $\begingroup$ Okay, that part you cite might have been badly phrased - what I meant was that Physics.SE is clearly also a place for low-level questions, as can be seen from the fact that homework-like questions are accepted. $\endgroup$ – Oebele Nov 14 '14 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @AleStrooisma: What have I said that goes against that? I just outlined the basic criteria for a homework-like question to be accepted... $\endgroup$ – JamalS Nov 14 '14 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't mean to say you went against that, just tried to clarify what I meant with it, as you say you didn't follow. $\endgroup$ – Oebele Nov 17 '14 at 8:48
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    $\begingroup$ According to my observations, the SE system in general is much more tolerant to stupidity than to dissent. It is easier to acquire a “fan club” of stalkers (anonymously downvoting answers and questions) because of disputes, than to have your rep ruined because of a genuine stupidity. $\endgroup$ – Incnis Mrsi Nov 23 '14 at 5:56
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    $\begingroup$ @IncnisMrsi While I don't condone what you just described, I can't say it's not something that does exist. The reason probably has something to do with attitude. If you display stupidity, people are likely to dismiss what you say and forget about you. If you are consistently confrontational and negatively critical of others, then people are likely to pay close attention to what you do and say and jump at opportunities to be confrontational and critical towards you. It's about being part of a society. If you're nice, people let you make mistakes. If you're not nice, you need to be flawless $\endgroup$ – Jim Nov 25 '14 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim do you mean “persistently confrontational”? Thanks for your support anyway. $\endgroup$ – Incnis Mrsi Nov 25 '14 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @IncnisMrsi I suppose persistently confrontational is also a valid descriptor, but I actually did mean consistently confrontational. As in without fail, at every opportunity, reliably, etc. But persistence is sometimes at the heart of consistency. $\endgroup$ – Jim Nov 25 '14 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ May I suggest you move this discussion to chat? $\endgroup$ – JamalS Nov 25 '14 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ @IncnisMrsi, give heed to Jim's words: " If you are.. critical of others, then people are likely to pay close attention to what you do and say and jump at opportunities to be... critical towards you." . Human nature is frail by definition, and, remember, the reaction will be stronger if the criticism were grounded, as you know home truths hurt most. $\endgroup$ – bobie Dec 3 '14 at 17:27

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