# What are the goals of this site?

This discussion question is inspired by this post on the current homework policy question. The main question is

What are the goals of this site?

• What is it we want this site to represent?
• What are the ideals to which we should hold all of the content on this site?
• What do we want the site to be seen as? (i.e., how do we want it to look to outsiders?)

Some might say this is unnecessary, but I think it is really important. To quote Jim (the user who posted the idea)

Before we get ahead of ourselves [and define close reasons], we should step back and officially answer some questions that I'm sure many of you will consider already answered. But until we know everyone agrees on them and knows our stance, we can't properly move forward.

Please try to focus on one question at a time in answers; hopefully once the community has reached a consensus, the answers can be combined into the main answer.

Note: after this question, there will be two more questions, plus the close vote question already in existence. I will link to them as each is resolved.

Next question: Leeway in deviating from goals of this site

• In my opinion, this question too ill defined to be useful. It asks far too much and presupposes that a "consensus" can be reached on a topic which is likely to be clouded by poorly defined terms (e.g. "student") and subjectivity. – DanielSank Sep 5 '16 at 23:44
• @DanielSank, I'm sorry you think so. What improvements would you suggest so that this becomes a good question? – heather Sep 5 '16 at 23:57
• Well, since this post is squarely aimed at addressing the "homework" policy, why not focus on the already existing posts about that? I know Jim said that we should back up and talk about the purpose of the site in general first, but I think that taking a step in totally the wrong direction. We will never, ever, get everyone on this site to agree to a general site description and agree on what it means. There's just too much material there. I think we're better off focusing on the one issue that's actually contentious. Obviously, this is just my one opinion. Don't let it discourage you. – DanielSank Sep 6 '16 at 0:00
• @DanielSank, well, the purpose of this post is to step back, as Jim said, so your suggestion would basically mean deleting this post. =) I also don't believe that we cannot come to some consensus. I am not proposing everyone on the site agree it is best, but that the majority think it is best and everyone will enact it. Finally, some of this is contentious, such as who should be allowed on this site. – heather Sep 6 '16 at 0:19
• I disagree with the notion that it's contentious as to "who" should be on this site. As soon as we talk about "who" we might as well pack up and go home. The only thing we should ever discuss is what objective qualities a post must have or not have in order to be supported by the site. The question of "who" should not figure into the discussion in any way, in my opinion. – DanielSank Sep 6 '16 at 0:22
• @DanielSank, what do you mean it isn't contentious? People argue over whether laymen should be allowed, about what "level" of question should be allowed (which is related directly, in my opinion, to who is allowed), etc. I think it should figure in, for two reasons, one, that it is directly related to some of close reasons/homework policy, for the reasons I mentioned above, and two, that this isn't just about the homework policy, but about laying the framework, so to speak, the ground rules. (Poor phrasing, perhaps, but you get my drift, I hope.) – heather Sep 6 '16 at 0:24
• I think this discussion about laymen is entirely misguided. I actually already explained why in my post about the homework policy where I pointed out that it's possible to ask questions related to very advanced topics in physics, but which ought to be closed for the same reason that we close a lot of homework questions. The point is that the status of the human behind the keyboard is completely irrelevant. – DanielSank Sep 6 '16 at 0:26
• @DanielSank, sorry, but I think you forgot to include the link. Otherwise, I think it is just important to establish, yes or no, whether laymen are allowed, how student is defined, etc, though I certainly agree with you that "high-level" questions can be off-topic. – heather Sep 6 '16 at 0:28
• @DanielSank, perhaps we got a bit sidetracked. This is, again, not about the homework (problem-solving) policy, but about establishing the purpose of this site. – heather Sep 6 '16 at 0:34
• @DanielSank, I apologize, that is clear. But I don't understand how establishing the purpose of this site is a problem! It is about saying, okay, these are the goals of this site. Then, okay, (this is going into the later questions) this is how much freedom are we willing to give people to deviate from those goals. Then, these topics are harmful to the goals of the site, and finally, finishing with the question linked in my question, these are the close reasons, the commonalities in the harmful stuff. What is wrong with that? – heather Sep 6 '16 at 0:40
• The four bullet points still don't really make for a usefully answerable question: What this site represents is different from who it is for is different from whether or not "problem-solving" questions are allowed is different from what a student is. The third bullet point is exactly what Jim's answer said we should take a step back from, yet you claim you're taking a step back here. The question of what a "student" is is irrelevant - we can't determine what the people asking here are and it doesn't matter anyway. A good meta discussion needs to be focused on one specific issue. – ACuriousMind Sep 6 '16 at 0:41
• That said, the issue has been raised that we will have a hard time finding agreement from our users. If that is the case and we cannot agree on what the site is supposed to represent, then how can we agree on a close policy? We close questions because we reason that they aren't a good fit for the site. They aren't a good fit when they misrepresent the objectives of the site or actively harm the desired characteristics of the site. To know if a question does this requires knowing what the desired characteristics are. If we can't agree on them, how do we expect to agree on what doesn't fit them? – Jim Sep 7 '16 at 12:21
• – Qmechanic Sep 9 '16 at 15:42
• The original intent of the site was to help folks learn and discuss physics. Now, the stackpile is a bunch of cackling hens seeking meaningless points. Don't waste your time here -- it's next to useless. – MarkWayne Nov 4 '16 at 22:49
• I'd say it may be time to move to the second question now. Lest we forget where we are all trying to take this. – Jim Nov 7 '16 at 14:11

The conception of the founding members is expressed in the tour:

Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy.

Now, "students" are explicitly included among the audience envisioned for the site, but the members have been very negative on the idea of becoming a resource to which beginners turn to finish an assignment or avoid having to do some basic reading and thinking about concepts that are widely addressed in basic pedagogical materials.

This has taken the form of a much debated and repeatedly mutated 'homework' policy (where 'homework' has never really meant 'something that you were assigned for class', but something more like 'questions copied from texts or that seem to exist in order to teach the subject).

And frankly I don't think there is a large contingent interested in changing those basic parameters (inclusive, but not here to solve endless problems for students who should be practicing those problems). The linked posts are about trying to get a good consensus on what we do and don't want and how to express that in a comprehensible form.

I propose that the site should be "for active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy", and that we should encourage posters to think of the site as a tool for jump starting their thinking and not one for getting their work done for them.

• To clarify: when (and if) should "laymen" be allowed on this site? What do you define as a student? Where do you draw the line between (for example) engineering and physics? (I'm not asking this to be difficult.) This isn't so much about the homework policy, but just laying out the ground rules. Thank you for answering! – heather Sep 6 '16 at 0:21
• On the internet, no one knows you're a dog. We don't know you from Adam, we don't know where (or even if) you work, what kind of education you've had or what you do with your spare time. Ask questions like a physicist and you'll be well received. Of course, for most people learning to do that requires some interaction with physicists. Which doesn't mean you need to be going to school for it. There are probably some at a nearby maker space, science fiction con, linux users group, rassberry pi enthusiasts club , amateur string ensemble or other gathering place of the intensely focused. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 6 '16 at 1:04
• thank you. ACuriousMind and DanielSank were telling me in the discussion above that who the people are isn't that important. So perhaps it should be reworded so that this site is "for questions of the level of active researchers, academics, and students of physics and astronomy"? – heather Sep 6 '16 at 1:07
• @heather I think that would be overly complicated. That tidbit in the tour is not supposed to be a precise definition of the scope of the site; it's more like a mantra, or a guiding principle, as well as a very simple and rough indicator that people can use to decide whether this is the site for them. – David Z Sep 6 '16 at 7:12
• @DavidZ, okay, that makes sense. – heather Sep 6 '16 at 11:16
• So this is essentially a statement of "We should stick to what we've been saying all along but here it is to be explicit"? I like it. I fully agree. As I said, this step in the process seems overly trivial but, if you'll pardon my french, "tel est le monde de la diplomatie" – Jim Sep 7 '16 at 12:30
• @Jim Well, I think that we're going to keep examining the 'homework' policy and trying to figure a way to express it that causes less confusion and makes more people happy, but beyond that yeah. Steady as she goes. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 7 '16 at 15:08
• If Newton or Einstein were alive today, would they be included in this definition? Maybe we should include patent clerks too! – zooby Sep 16 '16 at 19:43
• Aside from the flowery style each would write questions and answers like a physicist. We'd never know what species they were much less what they did for a living. They'd be welcome until Newton got all huffy and started calling people names. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 16 '16 at 19:53

Seems to me this site' is one of those entities that exists in the perpetual state of an identity crisis. When I read: "Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy," I cannot help being somewhat amused. The reality from what I see is quite different.

Although I've been a member of this site for a while, I've only been really active (if you can call it that) for a fairly short while. So, I'm still a bit of a newcomer/outsider. I came upon this site more or less in the way that I think 99% of people discover it, by searching the web with a particular physics question. As a result my untested impression was that the goal of this site is to promote or raise the general physics knowledge of the internet population at large. No wonder I was rather surprised at the severely draconian drive to close questions!

The irony is the way it works. One does not need to submit your CV to become a member (not I am suggesting that). Anybody can basically become a member and then build up a reputation.' How? By getting votes! So basically anybody can get a high reputation simply by sticking around and being popular. Almost anybody can vote. I've seen the most horribly wrong answers getting high positive votes. So my guess is that the portion of the membership that consists of active researchers and academics is rather low. I do believe there are many students, but they tend to be early career students.

It is high time that the goals of this site is taken into consideration. So I think this is a very pertinent question. And if you find that the actual operational goal of this site has developed into the one I stated in bold above rather than the one quoted in the first paragraph, isn't it time that you drop this draconian drive to close questions? Allow the site to be the organic mess that it is turning into anyway.

Active researchers and academics work on very focused topics. Those questions that appear on this site dealing with such highly specialized topics seldom get answers that are useful. So what's the point? Who are you trying to fool? Open the gates for the populace and allow those ignorant young students that don't yet understand enough to formulate a "clear question" to receive some help. It's happening anyway in spite of your best attempts to keep them away.

• There is something to this viewpoint, for sure. The question is whether the high-value users (in the sense of consistently writing a large corpus of clear and correct answers, but who do tend to be physicists by training at least) will stick around after that; my feeling is that they won't, and this site would lose much of its edge in terms of quality and interest. – Emilio Pisanty Sep 12 '16 at 11:55
• @EmilioPisanty: Thanks for the comment. I think those people who are physicists by training and who are active on this site, are here for the same reason I am. That is because they enjoy explaining things. – flippiefanus Sep 12 '16 at 12:58
• Even if this were our goal for the site, I still think there would be a drive to have a good question closing policy. We still wouldn't want questions that are unclear, too opinionated, duplicates, homework problems, unpublished personal theories, not about physics, or where the answer is available by simply typing the first sentence of the question into google. And that's basically all of the close reasons – Jim Sep 12 '16 at 13:14
• @Jim: I would agree with all these reasons accept the first. People ask questions because they don't understand things. The result is that the question often then comes out incoherent, riddled with wrong assumptions and therefore unclear. The thing is that some people can see what it is that the person doesn't understand and then provide the necessary answer, while others may find it unclear. Leave the question and give those that may be able to, the opportunity to answer the question. – flippiefanus Sep 13 '16 at 4:24
• @Jim: I think the problem that I'm pointing out is precisely the result of size of the community, but I do agree there are other problems. – flippiefanus Sep 13 '16 at 13:02
• Not sure I see how actively encouraging a less expert audience is going to solve the problem of horribly wrong answers getting a lot of votes. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 13 '16 at 17:10
• I think flippiefanus has hit the nail on the head. I don't think unclear questions need to be closed. Helpful people will try to clear up the confusion. If the question is very poorly stated, people will simply ignore it even if it's not closed. – user55515 Sep 13 '16 at 22:57
• @dmckee: the point I'm trying to make is that the high ideals that are being set for the site is somewhat naive. I don't think that particular problem will be solved, but at least it may solve other problems. – flippiefanus Sep 14 '16 at 4:28
• @dmckee : I didn't say anything about encouraging a less expert audience. Read what I said again. It concerned the discouragement of expert posters. – John Duffield Sep 16 '16 at 15:43
• This is so on point! If I researched on a specific subject, why would I ever post something on this site, instead of just reading a specific paper. Also, specific questions rarely get answered here. This site will serve as education for students and even post grads, but never active researchers. I mean, if an active researcher spends too much time on this site, I would ask some serious questions... – EpsilonDelta Sep 18 '16 at 12:45
• This is like a dream answer :-)!You've hit the bull's eye +1.Maybe we can try something like this meta.chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/3302/… – user74370 Sep 18 '16 at 18:55
• I agree. I do not lurk much here but this place actually seems more like math.stackoverflow.com than mathoverflow.com – durum Sep 19 '16 at 14:46
• This is a totally valid answer, but I disagree quite strongly that our goal should be to raise the general physics knowledge of people on the internet. There are already plenty of other sites for that. I want to be able to answer questions with the kind of mathematical reasoning and references to papers that a serious student of that topic would understand. E.g. I do not want to answer questions about the details of quantum mechanics without being able to use calculus. I also do not want to sift through poorly written, unclear, or no-effort questions to find the few good ones. – David Z Sep 20 '16 at 9:49
• @DavidZ. Fair enough, but there are also other sites aimed at professional researchers. How well they do, I don't know. Question is, is the current state of this site living up to the high ideals set for it? Despite the drive to close questions, one still needs to sift through poorly written and unclear questions. One can always use as much calculus as one wants to answer a question, even if the OP asked for no math, because many other people may read the answer. – flippiefanus Sep 21 '16 at 4:21
• @DavidZ. Actually, I don't understand the issue with unclear questions. Thanks to the diversity of the readership, what is unclear to one person may not be unclear to another. Often I find that a question is put on hold for being unclear, but I can see what the confusion of the OP is. So one can address this in an answer. Why should such a question then be closed? – flippiefanus Sep 21 '16 at 4:26

Here is my 2 cents, as a low-rep user of this site.

First of all many of the sites on this network appear to be dysfunctional (with the exception of the super dorky ones, because dorks are typically decent people who get along well with each other) and generate frustration for both novice and experienced users. Stack Overflow is very similar in its high influx of low-quality questions, high threshold to gather up-votes, and frequent closing.

The goal of this site as per Stack Exchange's philosophy, should be to create and curate a collection of questions about physics that are likely to be useful to future visitors and people googling with similar inquiries. With this mindset one can derive an appropriate strategy about closing.

This goal, more often than not, conflicts or is not completely aligned with what many new users imagine this site is for: getting a quick answer to their specific problem that would mostly benefit themselves. Hence the frustration.

Another key frustration point is the lack of recognition for users, experienced or not, who put tremendous amounts of effort in answers with little to no reward. The voting culture varies a lot between sites and this one is on the least enthusiastic side of the spectrum.

In that perspective, here is my modest proposals for a list of idealistic objectives:

• Emphasize the objective of the site to new and existing users to ensure people know what to expect, and don't take it personally when their question is dismissed.
• Work on the form when addressing new users about the issue in their question or answer. It's perfectly possible to curate for quality without being rude.
• Meticulously close all questions that do not match the goal stated above, and all duplicates as such, but be more lenient on "unclear" or badly formulated ones. Very good answers can emerge from a poorly written but original question.
• Encourage non-trivial content creation with more up-votes.
• Challenge wrong, incomplete and frivolous content via moderation or comments.

I am an A level physics student, and whilst I see people using this as a homework site, there are students like me who use this site to expand knowledge through asking questions and viewing others' questions.

Therefore, I think the goal of this site is to teach through community knowledge, to grow the site that more may hear about it and contribute where they can.

What are the goals of this site?

This site is not volitional and thus does not have goals. While some of those that participate here may not have goals, most do.

What is it we want this site to represent?

The interests of those that volunteer their time here. If it doesn't, there will be no volunteers.

What are the ideals to which we should hold all of the content on this site?

The trader principle - participants here (ideally) trade value for value to mutual benefit.

• Oh my, this is the most ambiguous answer I can think of. If I may also disagree. I believe, in this case, the use of the term "the site" refers not to the inanimate object of the website itself, but to the community of users that make up its population. So, when I asked "what are the goals/ideals of the site?", I'm really asking what intentions or ideal motivations the general community of users have in effecting the actual website's existence. That is, what do we as a community want this site to represent? – Jim Sep 7 '16 at 12:12
• @Jim, the last sentence above indicates to me that you've missed the essential point of my answer. Rather than ask "what do we as a community want this site to represent?", ask "what do you, as an individual participant here, want this site to represent?" – Alfred Centauri Sep 7 '16 at 12:34
• I could ask for individual answers; it would likely amount to the same effect. Any one person can only offer what they believe the site should represent. It is my hope, however, that phrasing it with "we" emphasizes that we are a community and encourages users to consider the perspectives of other users when forming an opinion; which is a wise thing to do in any situation but sometimes a slight prodding is needed to get people to do it. – Jim Sep 7 '16 at 12:48