Lately I've noticed a lot of close votes, down votes, and comments to the effect of "this question is too low level" or "the answer is on the internet if you search for it" or "you should already know this." And those are just my attempt at rephrasing things in a more friendly way. This isn't from one user either, but rather from many (sometimes it seems like most) of the active reviewers on the site. Some recent examples:
- Is there a weak magnetic field, coming forth from particles with a weak charge?
- How are thermometers calibrated?
- Problem understanding energy of a electric field
What exactly are we trying to accomplish? I don't think this was ever satisfactorily addressed the last time this issue was raised. Indeed there's hardly any consensus this should even be a valid close reason.
At first I thought this is just about trying to keep things at a high enough level1 But the more I see these comments the more it seems each high-rep user's threshold is nothing more or less than the boundary between what they can trivially answer and what they can't. Should I really vote to close questions on the basis that I know how to answer them off the top of my head?
One particular form this takes is closing because the question is "based on a misconception." What questions aren't, though? Either the person has a misconception (and a valid answer is "this is your misconception"!), or else they just haven't worked everything out yet (so we would close as homework).
My next thought is that we're trying to not duplicate Wikipedia or other standard references. I agree we shouldn't try to match Wikipedia in general-purpose, expository articles, given they've been refining those articles with an order of magnitude more contributors for many years. But I question how much physics is left for us to do that can't be derived and applied from the information in Wikipedia.
I'm pretty sure just about every one of the 502 answers I've written could be replicated with nothing more than access to Wikipedia. In fact, 207 of those answers explicitly link to the relevant Wikipedia articles.2 Should I go back and vote to close all those questions? After all, I doubt more than 10 answers of mine display anything more than a bachelor's level of physics knowledge (if anyone disagrees, I challenge you to give me a list of 11 such answers). And where does it end? If the world's leading expert in X is on the site, is that person obligated to close all questions about X since they would all appear trivial?
It all comes down to these key questions:
- What does "insufficient effort" mean to the community?
- Is there some level of insufficient effort that warrants closure (as opposed to, say, downvoting)?
- If yes, what objective guidelines should we have on the issue? Given the many orders of magnitude difference in expertise here between different users in different topics, any guideline based on individuals' feelings is decidedly not useful, without at the very least some reduction criterion ("this is trivial for everyone" and "this is trivial for at least one person" are objective; "this is trivial for me" is not).
For a philosophical bonus, given how every meta discussion about scope always seems to be about bad questions, I'll add two more discussion points:
- What is the ideal question here, one that everyone agrees is great?
- If the above exists, are we obligated to close anything falling short of the ideal? Must we be at the extremal tip of the generality-quality curve?
1Separate but related issue: We have neither a policy nor a notification to users about how advanced a topic must be to be allowed on the site, either in absolute terms or relative to our perceptions of where questioners should be in their education. I strongly suggest those who keep voting to close for such reasons should formalize this notion and get consensus from the community. I for one won't vote to close based on an entirely undocumented reason.
2Get a list of all answers with Wikipedia links made by a given user with this script. It probably misses some, for example links to other language pages or to explicit mobile pages.3
3Explicit mobile links (e.g.
en.m.wikipedia.org) are a scourge on the internet and should be fixed.