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I believe that the question linked to below meets all the criteria for homework questions listed at the Physics Stack Exchange meta site, and that therefore it has been inappropriately put on hold. In a comment I left on the question I asked the people who put it on hold to explain their actions and they have not answered. I have seen this kind of thing on the Physics Stack Exchange before, and I don't like it. I thought this was a place where beginners could seek help, but it is also a place where they get bullied by people who have a lot of time to garner points and power on the Physics Stack Exchange. Unless the hold is removed from this question, I intend to remove myself (for a second time) from the Physics Stack Exchange, only this time permanently, which would be a loss for you, because (to the best of my knowledge) there is no one alive better qualified to answer questions about The Feynman Lectures on Physics (without speculation) than I, it's editor for 15 years, publisher of the online edition, and coauthor of its official supplement. I have no desire to participate in or to be associated with a community that ostracizes young people who are sincerely trying to learn physics. Such treatment discourages, rather than nourishes, youthful interests, and is antithetical to my pedagogical philosophy.

Water evaporation problem. Exercise from Feynman's lectures

Mike Gottlieb / Editor, The Feynman Lectures on Physics New Millennium Edition

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    $\begingroup$ A vast number of comments deleted here and on DavidZ's answer below. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Sep 12 '15 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ @dmckee, you've done Mike Gottlieb / Editor, The Feynman Lectures on Physics New Millennium Edition, an enormous favor. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri Sep 13 '15 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ As of this time the question has been taken off "hold". You are correct that PSE is hostile towards beginners. Not all of us like this fact; I don't. Worse, one of the policies (deleting answers which contain too-detailed solutions) is explicitly hostile to people who help beginners too much, which is probably part of why this irritated you. I'd love to see this rule gutted. In the meantime I suggest that you come back in a few days, answer some more beginner-questions (less comprehensively), and see if you can't find an agreeable balance between your goals and the site's. $\endgroup$ – CR Drost Sep 13 '15 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisDrost Please see my (response) comments to HDE226868 in the second answer, below. $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 13 '15 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisDrost, I'd love to see the people that find this site so 'hostile' (by whatever subjective standard they choose to judge that by) to simply make the effort to form and grow their own question and answer site that isn't hostile by that standard. But no, for some, that just won't do. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri Sep 14 '15 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ @AlfredCentauri I mean, I'd love to see world peace, too: but what we'd love to see is hardly material here, because there's no basis to expect those things to appear in reality, and furthermore the sorts of attitudes that these manners of thinking engender do not help solve the community problems in front of us. This community has from the very start been struggling with defining whether it is analogous to Math.SE or MathOverflow; that answer has not remained constant over time but varied. Present policy is a compromise with one particular rule that drives good answerers away. $\endgroup$ – CR Drost Sep 15 '15 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisDrost, this community is just a loosely knit group of folks that (more or less) regularly participate here because they find some value in it. Evidently, this state of affairs simply won't do for some. Perhaps they are 'good answerers' but if their skin is too thin, that's their own problem to fix. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri Sep 15 '15 at 20:27
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Let me start by saying that sometimes questions get put on hold by mistake. In those cases you can bring the discussion to meta, as you did, or post about it in our chat room (an "appeal" in a sense) and make your case that the question shouldn't be on hold. Those cases tend to be resolved quickly and you either get enough attention drawn to the post to reopen it, or you get a reasonably detailed explanation of why (most people believe) it is appropriate for it to be closed.

One thing that does not help your case is threatening to leave. Doing so makes me think as follows: if a single mistaken closure is enough to prompt you to quit contributing, you will probably have a hard time with our consensus-based governance and maybe you'd be happier if you do just leave. And now I'm much less motivated to fix whatever issue led you to complain in the first place. See how that works? Now, to be clear, I'm not saying you will be unhapppy here, and I'm not saying you should leave the site - just that it's not a very effective threat.

I thought this was a place where beginners could seek help, but it is also a place where they get bullied by people who have a lot of time to garner points and power on the Physics Stack Exchange.

Well... it is a place where beginners can seek help, but it is not a site for beginners. We are trying to be an expert-level site, and that means doing what it takes to retain experts. Part of that is expecting our average question to be interesting and show effort on the part of the asker, and expecting the asker to have the appropriate physics background to understand answers. We've had multiple experts leave in the past because they thought we had too many questions that don't meet that standard.

So the issue is, does the question you linked to meet the standard? Maybe, maybe not. If it does, then we reopen it. If not, hopefully one or more of the close voters will contribute an answer that explains why, and the votes will show if the community generally agrees with it. As I mentioned above I'm not all that motivated to form an opinion on the matter since you may be on the verge of leaving anyway.

a place where they get bullied by people who have a lot of time to garner points and power on the Physics Stack Exchange.

I will say this: if you honestly consider putting a question on hold to be bullying, you probably will not be comfortable here. In that case I would recommend that you take your expertise elsewhere - to be clear, this is not me telling you to leave, just pointing out a possible reason why it may be in your best interest to do so. If you do decide to leave the site, we wish you well helping people learn physics elsewhere.

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    $\begingroup$ David, I see that you have deleted my answer to the question, which leads me to wonder whether that was an attempt to make me feel more welcome on the Physics Stack Exchange, or less. The books I edit and coauthor are for beginners. Those are the people for whom I have worked so hard and long to make the Feynman Lectures accessible - the people who are interested in learning physics, not the experts who know it all already. On the other hand, some answers I have seen to questions about FLP given by "experts" on this website are so far off track as to be laughable. (to be continued in comment) $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ What I would like to see, with regard to this particular question, about evaporation, I have the following to say: Three anonymous "experts" putting a beginner's question on hold without any explanation as to why is intimidating to the beginner, and discourages them to learn. So, I would say that this is not only a site for experts, it seems to be one actively against beginners. The fact that you have removed my answer, which discusses the history of the question and its solution at Caltech seems to provide more evidence of this. So... with regard to whether I stay or go... (to be continued) $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ I am undecided. On the one hand, I don't support your pro-expert anti-beginner policies. On the other hand I feel obligated to stay in order to correct the "experts" when they post an answer to a question about FLP that is wrong (or worse), since I would not want such an answer to go uncorrected in a public venue. That is how false rumors get started, and there are enough of those around about FLP and Richard Feynman already. $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ I started a thought above, did not finish it, and then could not edit the comment because 5 minutes had passed. So I will continue that thought here: What I would like to see with regard to this particular question, about evaporation, is for the people who put the question on hold to attempt to explain the the poster why they did that and to attempt to help that person learn physics, but since you've explained this is not a website for beginners, but only experts, I suppose that would be asking too much. $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael (1) My deletion of your answer is simply because it provided a "complete" (final) answer to a homework-like question, nothing more. (2) We have nontrivial expectations of our askers. If that's what you consider "anti-beginner", then that's what we are to you, though I don't believe that's a fair characterization. (3) If putting a bad question on hold intimidates or discourages its poster from asking more such questions, then great, that's exactly what we want! Not saying this is a bad question, though. (4) Explaining why a Q is on hold has nothing to do with beginner vs expert. $\endgroup$ – David Z Sep 10 '15 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ David, your deletion of my answer for the given reason shows that you misunderstand the intent of the question in its original context, which I will try to explain in this very limited venue (if you will please forgive my typos, which I later can not correct due to the limitations of this interface): This question was given to new freshman students in a recitation section after they heard their first Caltech physics lecture which is now published as FLP Volume I, Chapter 1, Atoms in Motion. This lecture (please see) is a general non-technical discussion. The students had not yet studied ... $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ ... any of the mathematics or physics they would need to solve part (a) of the problem analytically, and they were not expected to solve it analytically. That is why the question is worded the way it is: it is merely soliciting the student' $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 12:53
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    $\begingroup$ (sorry) ... it is merely soliciting the student's opinion. The reason: the datum from part (a) is needed to solve (analytically, but very simply) part (b) of the problem (in combination with the answer to a prior problem in the same homework set). Part (c) of the problem is of a qualitative nature. These are essentially conceptual questions for students who had heard ONE non-technical introductory physics lecture. ... $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ ... A "complete" final answer to part (a), a question of opinion, is all that is appropriate. A technical solution to part (a) would be completely inappropriate in the given context. All this is evident in the notes of Rochus Vogt, who wrote the answers to this (and many other) FLP Exercises. $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ I have one further comment on this FLP Exercise, that you may find interesting. The answer I gave to part (a) of this problem has never been published. The exercise was published twice, in "Exercises for The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume I" in 1963, and in "Exercises for Introductory Physics" by Leighton and Vogt, in 1969. But no answer for any part of this problem was every published, due to it's conceptual nature. What is interesting is this: there in the late 1960's a Russian edition of the Feynman Lectures Exercises was published (without Caltech's permission, btw), and ... $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ ... the Russians supplied complete solutions to all of the exercises. The Russian solution to part (a) of this question is extremely long and involved and there is no way a student who knew practically no physics could come up with it, but what seems very interesting is that the answer the Russians arrive at analytically (making many assumptions along the way) is almost identical to Vogt's answer (which is written down, simply, without any proof). Vogt's answer was "~2 weeks" while the Russians (who could not have seen this answer when their book was written) answered "14 nights." Coincidence? $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ. In the comments of the answer you deleted I explain what I just explained to you about this problem: it's historical context (though in less detail). By deleting the comment with my answer you deny people this information about the problem. You are, in essence, putting a gag on one of only two people alive who really know something about this problem (the other being Vogt, who has neither time nor patience for this sort of thing). $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ In case anyone is interested, I have posted the pages that include the problem statement and solution of this problem in the unlicensed Russian edition of the FLP exercises. feynmanlectures.info/other/… $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 10 '15 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ Why don't we move this to the chat room? here created by Danu 5 hours ago :-) $\endgroup$ – skullpatrol Sep 10 '15 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ I happen to be a senior in high school. I also happen to answer questions at slightly higher rate than I ask them, but I will note that the level of sophistication on the site is moderate, but not high. This is rather annoying, as I tend to use the sites on the stack exchange network as a way to review lesser-known and arcane realms of subject matter not as a site for developing novel and research level knowledge. My point is that, even experienced users, such as myself, find this site to be cumbersome to ask questions on, compared to say MSE (Math Stack Exchange). $\endgroup$ – Zach466920 Sep 10 '15 at 22:01
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Perhaps the discussion is dead and gone, but there are still reopen votes on the question being discussed, and1 I'd like to bring in a few additional points.

First, I suggest looking at the question (v4), the last version prior to the question's closure. A decent explanation is provided for the motivation for the question, as well as the process leading up to the question. However, look at the third-to-last sentence of this revision, the heart of the question itself:

But I don't know velocity of this molecule that I need for calculating rate of evaporation.

This sounds an awful lot like another way of asking the question:

How can I find the velocity of this molecule in order to calculate the rate of evaporation?

I would certainly vote to close that if I saw it (I was not one of the original reviewers, by the way) as violating How do I ask homework questions on Physics Stack Exchange?. I've read through your comments, Michael, including this one, in which you state quite clearly that parts (a) and (b) were not intended to be solved analytically. Yet it seems to me that this is indeed an analytic task.

However, more important, at the moment, is the current state of the question (v11). The asker seems to have switched the focus to something that is decidedly not quantitative or analytic, and more like what you were describing as the intended way for the student to solve the problem. For this reason, I have voted to reopen the question.


You can stop reading there if you want; the rest of this answer is largely unimportant in comparison. But I'd like to say a few things.

First, take a look (if you haven't already) at this chat message, which quotes this (deleted) comment:

@MichaelA.Gottlieb from your comments I wonder if you may be confused about the purpose of putting questions on hold? It doesn't (usually) mean "we don't want this", it means "this needs improvement", and should be accompanied by some information about what needs to be improved. We often hold comment discussions with the poster to work out how to improve the question while it's on hold, and then the hold gets removed afterwards. Also: your old reputation ("points") isn't lost, it's out there in your old account and we can merge it into your current one. — David Z ♦ 5 hours ago

I've reviewed many more close vote suggestions than reopen vote suggestions, most likely by an order of magnitude. The reason isn't because I take sadistic pleasure from closing lots of questions, but because I would be that most closed questions aren't improved.

What's the reason? I don't know. It's clear how you can get your question reopened (see How do you reopen a closed question?, Nudge users to fix their closed questions themselves before calling others to reopen it, and Make the FAQ clear on how a question can be reopened). One theory as to why this happens posits that many users don't pay attention to some of these warnings. I won't speculate as to the forces at work here, but I would bet that my hypothesis that most closed questions are not reopened isn't the fault of the reviewers, but the askers.

That said, the asked of this question did an admirable job of working to improve the question, so kudos to him for that. I do hope that the question is reopened.

My second and final point (I think) is that I think you over-reacted. I specifically dislike the line in your question that goes

I have no desire to participate in or to be associated with a community that ostracizes young people who are sincerely trying to learn physics.

I think I qualify as a young person (16 years old), and I've found no such issues here.1 My first posts on Physics Stack Exchange were a bit . . . naïve, I suppose - well, my questions were. But even though my questions weren't the best, nobody tried to kick me off. I was far from an expert, and I'm still very, far away from being one. Yet my experience has been quite good. Was I lucky? I don't think so. I've know others who have had essentially the same experience that I had.

I don't know what you've seen in the past, as I guess from allusions in your question that you deleted a previous account. But I think that you overreacted to what happened. The user in question was not bullied nor ostracized. Please don't leave the site because of something minor like this. Experts like you are the key to making Physics Stack Exchange as good a site as it is.

I actually do have an unrelated third point, by the way. On a technical note, reviewers cannot be pinged in comments (see this Meta answer). Perhaps that should be a new , but at the moment, you'll have to contact reviewers in chat.


1 The question has now been reopened.
2 I also agree with a comment by Zach466920 (just to give some support from a similar user).

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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 Thanks for your thoughtful comments. As for leaving the site... I said I would close my account if the question was not reopened, and it has been reopened. However, I come here only occassionally when a Google Alert informs me that someone has asked a question about Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, or related publications, and then only if I feel that the answer can benefit from "inside information" not available to the general public. (to be continued) $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 13 '15 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ The reason I re-registered was to answer the question, "What was Feynman's “much better way of presenting the electrodynamics” — which did not appear in the Feynman lectures?", something I researched in the Feynman Papers at the Caltech Archives in 2008. After reading a number of wildly speculative, totally off-the-mark answers (some of which were richly rewarded) I thought I better pipe up before another Feynman rumor gets into the mill. (to be continued) $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 13 '15 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ I also have 'inside information' useful to Maruska, particularly for understanding the context in which the question was originally posed, which I posted in an answer that has been deleted. I won't go into the reasons I left this site before, but they persist. In closing I will mention that if people have questions about Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, or related publications, they can email me. I'm not hard to find and usually answer my mail. $\endgroup$ – Michael A. Gottlieb Sep 13 '15 at 18:48

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