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Recently, I had a question closed because it was, strictly, a maths difficulty. It occurred during my reading of a physics text named in the question. Admittedly, it was not a profound question, and I did demonstrate my effort to understand the statement, but was self-dissatisfied because my method was tedious though correct. I thought I ought have seen the answer more quickly. A reader gave me the quick method I sought, and I was pleased. Then, another reader with a high reputation commented that my question had no physical content, and closed it. I did not mind the closing of the question, but I thought the criticism was legalistic. If a reader of a stated physics text finds a maths difficulty and is discouraged from using your site, then you are not being helpful nor encouraging, in my opinion.

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  • $\begingroup$ We do not discourage questions; we discourage homework questions actually. Homework questions are generally like is there any other way to do this apart from my process? or what is the problem in my process?. There needs to be a query on specific physics concept otherwise the question is too localised. $\endgroup$ – user36790 Nov 26 '15 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ More about math questions on Phys.SE: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/5713/2451 , meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/7140/2451 and links therein. $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Nov 26 '15 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ See this question (though it was also linked in your post) $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 26 '15 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting stuff, Albert. The thing to appreciate is that your concern is a result of the "democratic" model used here at Physics Stack Exchange. I think it's rather naive myself. All it would take is a clique of 5 people, and every new poster like yourself could feel discouraged. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Nov 27 '15 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ I added my reopen vote to the question mentioned. IMHO it is not even remotely a "homework" question under the definition given in the homework policy. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Nov 28 '15 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ I just voted re-open $\endgroup$ – user56903 Nov 28 '15 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ IMO, it is a HW question as defined in the Meta post. It is also a math question and not a physics one. I think it should have been migrated, not reopened. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 28 '15 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ Definitely a 'HW&E' style question. No physics content really. I didn't vote to close but would have if offered in Review. $\endgroup$ – Gert Nov 28 '15 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ The best answer that I received from the flurry is "This is not a help site." $\endgroup$ – user97621 Nov 29 '15 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ Note that it's not a homework help site, but you can get help in understanding physics concepts here. You do see the difference between the two, no? $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 30 '15 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ @AlbertDHorowitz - see my response to Gert's "this is not a help site" comment, below. $\endgroup$ – Floris Dec 1 '15 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ Even "democracy" must be protected from majoritarian tyranny! :) (@JohnDuffield) The physics section of Stack Overflow has had this problem for a long time. As a student of physics, I have found this site to be almost useless precisely because of the "lofty pedantic standards" you cited in one of your comments, something which is supposedly meant to improve quality, but instead destroys the social fabric needed for any site of this kind to be successful. As a career programmer, I've been active on some of the other Stack Exchange sites, none of which have this problem. $\endgroup$ – CaffeinatedPerson Dec 3 '15 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ @CaffeinatedPerson : I don't think I've ever said "lofty pedantic standards". I do think there are issues though. For example, Kyle Kanos above says you can get help in understanding physics concepts here. But when I do that, he calls me names. See this answer. Note the downvotes, and note that he didn't offer an answer. In similar vein see the Chris White comment here. That isn't lofty pedantic standards. That's jealousy. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Dec 3 '15 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ Only the first sentence was geared toward you. The rest was for Mr. Horowitz. $\endgroup$ – CaffeinatedPerson Dec 4 '15 at 19:51
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Your question was closed due to five close votes by site members, not by anyone in an official role, so the closure doesn't reflect any official site policy but just some of the site members' personal views. Those five people didn't include me, and indeed I would have left the question open were I asked (mainly because I didn't understand it :-). I note the question has a reopen vote, though since you have your answer it's not obvious that reopening the question would achieve anything.

I would be wary of attaching any great significance to the closure of your question. We get so many homework questions that we are sometimes a bit trigger happy when it comes to clicking the close button. Sometimes mistakes are made and we close a question that should have been left open, and sometimes we fail to close a question that really should be closed. Such failings are an inevitable result of the democratic nature of the site, but I think the site works pretty well most of the time.

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    $\begingroup$ I was aware that they were readers who closed my question, as you may note from the present question. Further, my question was not a homework question but an exercise question. I am 83 yo and out of school, even post, post graduate school. I am just a bit rusty, I freely admit. I do not see an "exercise" category; just "homework and exercise" category. The excuse the closers offered for their implied reproach to me was maintaining the quality of the site. Helping people should, in my view, be the chief objective of the site rather than a lofty pedantic standard. Thanks for your reply. $\endgroup$ – user97621 Nov 27 '15 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @AlbertDHorowitz: I sympathise to a limited extent, but only to a limited extent. If we allow problem solving questions, whether they are homework, worked exercises or for mental exercise, then we will rapidly be overwhelmed by them. Most of us are eager to help, and if the question can be phrased in a way that discusses the principles required for the solving of a problem we generally find this acceptable. Questions that basically ask solve this for me are generally unacceptable. That said, the distinction between the two is blurred and we sometimes err on the wrong side. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Nov 27 '15 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ @AlbertDHorowitz: this is not, in my interpretation, a 'help site'. Despite closing many HW&E questions that violate the policy, we're still inundated by them. I see little merit in becoming a 'we'll do your homework for you' type of site. $\endgroup$ – Gert Nov 28 '15 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ I'm curious to know why this was downvoted, as I thought everything I said in my answer was obvious and uncontroversial. If you are the downvoter please say why you downvoted and what you disagreed with. Airing these differences is an important part of making the site work as well as possible. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Nov 28 '15 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ @John Rennie: Does downvoting require comments? Hmmm.... those lazy fellows:/ $\endgroup$ – user36790 Nov 29 '15 at 2:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Gert - I think this is a help site, in the sense that we try to be helpful to people who post what we, as a community, see as "good and useful" questions. That means we are not a "help for any distressed teenager with a deadline" site, but we are definitely here to help each other explore and understand physics. And sometimes mathematical manipulation is a part of physics, and intricately linked. $\endgroup$ – Floris Dec 1 '15 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Floris - in that sense, yes. $\endgroup$ – Gert Dec 1 '15 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Gert For the record, please take note of the misprint in "Classical Theory of Fields" (1971) p63 Eq(25.2), which shows the product of the EM field tensor and its dual as the invariant EH. That product is zero identically. The invariant product is of tensors that are both covariant or both contravariant. That misprint contradicts what directly follows p19 Eq(6.11). The book contains many misprints, but is still a classic. For someone not in a classroom, misprints are a hurdle. Stack moderators ought consider that there are independent readers seeking help. $\endgroup$ – user97621 Dec 19 '15 at 3:44

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