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A month or so ago, we had a question (credit to Kyle Kanos for the screenshot) stemming from legal interests. The question mostly follows the site's guidelines, and it doesn't seem promotional in content. But certain characteristics of the questions make it seem of an interest not those of "active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy" as specified in the site definition. The question was later closed as off-topic due to the same.

The question might have some educational value useful for the community, but making use of the sincere services of users who want to contribute to society, for something else is not fair.

I think these questions challenge the very definition of Physics and other sites. Therefore, should we modify the guidelines of the site to formally indicate utilisation of the site for such interests are not encouraged ?

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    $\begingroup$ The example you point to is was not a great question but it was appropriately dealt with with the current flagging/closure mechanisms, so we seem to be doing fine. Are there other examples you're worried about? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 16 '15 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ I should add that the motivation behind a post is immaterial, and it is only the question itself that matters. If it had been phrased as "a friend got a burn in such-and-such circumstances, what physics could have caused such a high-temperature burn?", it would pretty much have been on topic. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 16 '15 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty well, even with that wording, I would have considered it a terrible question, if not still off topic. But I suppose that's not really the issue at hand. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 16 '15 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ Also, I just don't understand what this question is asking. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 16 '15 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Indeed, the question was appropriately dealt with. But that's not what I'm getting at. The thing is we're lucky that we found out it was from a lawyer with ulterior motives. If suppose, we get more such questions in the future, and there is no way in getting to know it was from such interests, users might be lending unpaid services to commercial or legal interests unknowingly. This is also exactly what the second paragraph of my question talks about. $\endgroup$ – Gaurav Jul 17 '15 at 6:33
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ Can you tell me which part you can't understand ? I will clarify. $\endgroup$ – Gaurav Jul 17 '15 at 6:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Gaurav That's precisely the point. We cannot and should not judge posts based on their authors' intentions, we judge questions on their merits alone. What if this person actually wanted to blind somebody using an elaborate scheme? It's not our job to police that and it does not detract from the usefulness of the post to its 1k+ later visitors. Simply put: let it go. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 17 '15 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ (2 comments up) E.g. what do you mean that these questions challenge the definition of the site? And "utilisation of the site for such interests are not encouraged" - what interests are you talking about? $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 17 '15 at 9:52
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Thanks for your considered reply. I find it slightly unsettling that you say we "should not judge posts based on their authors' intentions". I can't speak for you, but I would not be very happy after I find out I have answered someone who has an intention of making use of my time and services for a commercial interest without paying me anything, when I'm active on this site to be of help to students eager to learn, or be of help to society in general. And I'm not saying we need to move heaven and Earth and hunt down unscrupulous elements, because we can't. (contd.) $\endgroup$ – Gaurav Jul 17 '15 at 11:06
  • $\begingroup$ I'm just saying that adding a guideline or so which makes it clear that utilising the site for commercial and/or inappropriate purposes is not encouraged here will act as a deterrent to those attempting to do so. $\endgroup$ – Gaurav Jul 17 '15 at 11:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Gaurav This is something you should consider carefully. The content you contribute here is licensed under CC-BY-SA which explicitly allows commercial use of the content. Someone could take all your posts, collect them in booklet form and then sell it, with the condition that they attribute them correctly and do not hinder further distribution of the booklets. If you're not OK with those sorts of downstream uses then you should stop posting. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 17 '15 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ However, I tend to see this as a good thing. If people can take the information here and put it to good use to make a living, then good for them! That's part of what "for the good of society" looks like. If you're worried about an OP doing terrible things with your answers, you should vet them personally. If you're worried about some future visitor doing terrible things with your answers, you should not post them. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 17 '15 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ The site definition says that Physics is a "question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy." People joining this site will think these are the people who they will lend to and take services from in the course of their usage of the site. They will not be of the premise that they will be lending their free services to commercial and/or other inappropriate entities (these are the 'interests' I talk about). (contd.) $\endgroup$ – Gaurav Jul 17 '15 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Gaurav When you say things like 'we need to set a deterrent to such interests' or 'discouraged from carrying out their activities', is this an ongoing practice which we should be worried about. I.e., are there more examples of misuse of the site? As I said before, the example you point to was dealt with appropriately, so it would seem we're doing just fine on the 'deterrence' front. You need to accept that there will always be such posts so the goal is to keep them to manageable levels and dealing with them when they do happen. It seems to me we do accomplish that. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 17 '15 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Gaurav it's already there $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 19 '15 at 14:56
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This is a subtype of 'solve my exam for me' questions. Legally binding opinions are off-topic on most Stack Exchange sites, and "do my work for free" is quickly closed anyway. In ye olde days, it was 'too localized', now it can be closed as 'Blatantly off-topic'. Until the poster appeals on meta, I can see no reason to change the FAQ/on-topic blurbs. BTW, upvoted your post this time, although you could inline the image for more clarity.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. Whether such questions should be closed or not is not the question here. This is also the content of my reply to Emilio Pisanty's comment. As for your "Until the poster appeals on meta, I can see no reason to change the FAQ/on-topic blurbs", I don't know why you feel that the changes will be less relevant if the poster (by which I assume you mean answer-er) appeals on meta. $\endgroup$ – Gaurav Jul 17 '15 at 8:03
  • $\begingroup$ There might be times when we might not even be able to find out if the question stemmed from unscrupulous sources or not. (After all, we got to know the source's interests in our example question only after seeing words like 'client' in it's body.) In such cases, modifying the site guidelines to formally indicate that questions with unscrupulous interests are not encouraged, at least acts as a deterrent to those posting such questions. I hope you are getting my point here. $\endgroup$ – Gaurav Jul 17 '15 at 8:15
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Much as I'd like to make it a capital offence, we can't stop people posting inappropriate questions (or answers). We just have to put in place the mechanisms for dealing with them. And it seems to me these worked well in this case. The question was closed in about eight hours, and subsequently automatically deleted.

It's a shame it took eight hours to close what was obviously an inappropriate question, but we only have a limited number of members who are active reviewers, and some of them have real lives. The way to improve the site is to encourage wider participation in reviewing. You only need 3,000 rep to take part in reviewing, though the 10,000 rep needed to vote to delete is a bit more ambitious.

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  • $\begingroup$ I have nothing to disagree about here. What you are talking about is how to deal with inappropriate questions. What I'm talking about is how to deal with appropriate questions by inappropriate interests. I have also indicated and explained about this in reply to the other answerer. $\endgroup$ – Gaurav Jul 17 '15 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Gaurav: how can you have an appropriate question with inappropriate interests? If the question has inappropriate interests it's an inappropriate question and shouldn't have been posted. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Jul 17 '15 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ appropriate question in the sense that the question completely follows the site's guidelines, but the source of the question is of a commercial or legal nature not specified in the site definition. $\endgroup$ – Gaurav Jul 17 '15 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ How are we going to find out it "shouldn't have been posted" if we don't find anything inappropriate about the question itself ? $\endgroup$ – Gaurav Jul 17 '15 at 8:37
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    $\begingroup$ I like the way a man with 142k PSE rep precedes "3000 rep" with "only" ! $\endgroup$ – 299792458 Jul 19 '15 at 6:47
  • $\begingroup$ NB: The 10k delete vote requires questions to be closed for 2 days; that restriction is removed for 20k+ users (though it requires a -3 score after closing) $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jul 19 '15 at 15:58

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