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I was looking at a previous meta question regarding whether certain types of questions requesting a learning-path, or resource-recommendation, or any learning-related-things are off topic or not. I couldn't find any vote on meta in which the community had decided this. What is the policy? Are these questions on topic?

A significant portion of my time is self learning physics, and I've found lists with references, especially those saying why a specific book is good, etc particularly very useful. Also, some of questions such as "learning physics for mathematician" or "learning physics for engineers" has been very useful to me, to separate resources more math-oriented or more physics-oriented, or applied-orientend, or exercise-oriented, or engineering-oriented, or whatever-oriented.

Maybe you guys that already know a lot of physics find these kinds of questions useless. Maybe you think they pollute the high quality content of Physics SE. In short, I don't know why you guys dislike these questions (or even if you do). But, I am sure others find those quite useful. Especially the ones who are learning (like myself). That being said, I can only hope today, 4 years later after the linked question, this policy has changed, at least a little bit. Has it? Maybe there is a reason for all this to exist that I am missing.

My Questions are:

  • Has the policy on learning-related questions changed?

  • What is the policy anyway?

  • Why do we need it? What are the reasons for this policy to exist?

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  • $\begingroup$ I think your references to the previous question might be distracting, since there's a lot of talk about proper use of moderator power and the like. The reason I suggested you make a new question was to get away from all of that. If you want to know what the policy is, just ask about that, and you will get more focused and useful responses. (Plus you don't have to apologize for writing a long question!) I'd suggest removing most of the references to the earlier question. If you like, I could make an edit to do this and you look it over to see if you like it. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 25 '17 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ I don't know what that policy is in the first place, so I couldn't ask without context. I think you know the answer I am looking for.. so.. feel free to edit it at will to maximize the chances I shall get it. Please. =). $\endgroup$ – Physicist137 Jun 25 '17 at 22:09
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I'm not entirely sure what kind of answer you're looking for, but I will make an edit that I think will improve the question without changing what you're asking for. If you don't like it, feel free to roll it back or make further changes. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 25 '17 at 22:10
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Your question is a bit confused but I think that you're mixing two types of questions and two separate policies, one of which did in fact change shortly after the question you referenced.

At the time that question was asked, all resource-recommendation questions were considered off topic and were promptly closed, by community agreement. (And, while we're here: accusations of a "small group" "taking control" of decisions like that are largely unfounded, I think, and hardly constructive.) In months that followed that thread, however, several things changed: this started with the thread

which represents a collective agreement that we should work towards a resource-recommendation policy that works better for the site, an effort which culminated with

in a tightly defined line of the kinds of recommendation questions which this community does and does not consider to work with our format and to add value to the knowledge store in our site archives.

If you have found the threads in the tag useful, as they stand today, it's largely because of the effort that took place in those months to craft a policy that would allow the questions but only in a form that would make them useful to a wide audience. (In its previous life, the tag mostly consisted of unannotated lists of books that were of little added value compared to e.g. a page of Amazon search results.)


A separate kind of question is the "how do I learn..." type of query - think this or this as examples - and those remain off-topic, though I'm not aware of a single specific thread that documents the policy.

The reason is that they are simultaneously too broad and too localized: they tend to require a much broader kind of answer than our format can really provide, and they tend to only be useful for the OP when they are strictly tailored to their experience, which makes them less useful for a wider audience. In addition, they have a junk-food-like quality to them, in that they attract lots of continuous attention (for a comparatively low objective value of the thread) and thus tend to drown out other content which we do want to incentivize.

These qualities make the genre hard to handle and it makes many people think that they're not worth the trouble, though as you note they are not entirely without interest to a nontrivial audience. A bit beyond that, the existence of Academia Stack Exchange has eased off the pressure on several of the soft-question types of thread, by providing an outlet for them - though I'm not quite sure how on-topic a question like this one, say, would be on the academia site nowadays.

Thus, if you think that those questions should be allowed, you're welcome to make a case that they do serve a part of this site's audience (which includes, according to the site charter, "active researchers, academics and students of physics) and that they can be made to work with the site's format rather than against it. An appeal for a blank cheque is unlikely to go down well, I think: instead, we would need a solid plan for dealing with the problems I listed above (and probably other objections I'm forgetting about at the moment) and a tightly defined way to handle those questions analogous to the one we currently use for resource-recommendation threads. I'm not sure that can be made to work, but you're welcome to make proposals.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree with everything. And all questions "how do I learn.." that I would consider useful can be put in the form "resource-recommendation" as specified in that meta link (thanks for the link!). $\endgroup$ – Physicist137 Jun 25 '17 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ A question: How about literally path-of-learning questions? Say..: "What are all pre-requisitives needed to learn Something?" Are these on topic or off topic? $\endgroup$ – Physicist137 Jun 25 '17 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ Prerequisites questions are normally grouped in the same "how do I learn..." category as the two examples I linked to, and neither is considered to be on topic according to the resource-recommendations guidelines. You're welcome to argue otherwise - some concrete examples that you think should be on topic would make it much easier to know what you are and are not talking about - as I indicate in the last paragraph. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jun 26 '17 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ As for finding those links - normally the faq tag on this meta is a good place to start. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jun 26 '17 at 0:10

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