Yesterday we had a question, Probablistic problems in physics?, which I initially closed, but (as Ron pointed out) perhaps I shouldn't have. My reasoning was that:

  1. these questions, or at least their answers, become out of date quickly as the problems are solved (as opposed to https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/1453/great-unsolved-physics-problems, student-level problems can't be all that difficult, so they don't last that long)
  2. we should at least keep these lists organized and limited in number, to make it clear that these aren't the kinds of questions we want dominating the site.

I'm thinking that if we allow questions about "open problems in X" for any X it leads to a proliferation of questions, so there should be some limited set of topics that people can ask these questions about (kind of like how the book recommendations are organized by specific subject areas). Probability in physics seems unlikely to be one of those areas. We could have just one big list question for student-level problems in all areas, but it seems like that might be hard to search, especially for someone who has an idea of what area they want to work in.

Anyway, I wanted to get a few more people's input:

  • Is the fact that open problems won't be open all that long (my point #1) a reason to disallow "open problems" questions on the site?
  • Should we be controlling the number of them by limiting them to certain broad subfields of physics? Or is it just anything goes?

The reason I thought it should stay open is because the listing of interesting easy open problems is something that the usual literature is very bad at, because people tend to publish difficult conjectures, and just solve the easier ones. But some "easy" problems are very time consuming to solve, because they require simulation, or they require tedious exploration of phase spaces or models with huge case enumeration, and these problems tend to vanish in the literature muck.

So we can serve a useful purpose by listing such problems, and giving people a heads-up where there is interesting work that can be done by someone who is not an expert. There are tons of such problems, they are everywhere around us, but they are hard to see with the blinders that come from years of specialization. So I think these type of questions are useful.

But they are open-ended, but I don't see why that is a problem--- you can make them community wiki, and let them grow naturally, like "common false beliefs".


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