The Problem As I See It
I would argue that the underlying reason for the dynamics on the site leading to this question, as well as more than one other recent meta question (here and here too), is:
The scope of the Chemistry.SE site is improperly defined.
In some cases, the scope may be ill-defined; in others, it may be well defined, but badly so. Regardless, a consequence of this is that:
The vote-to-close reasons available are poorly matched to the current needs of the community.
(These notions are not new, nor original to me; they're just important to state directly before proceeding further.)
I think one of the reasons why most (all?) of these recent scope-related questions have met with only light discussion is that:
There are numerous categories of questions needing scope clarification, and some of these categories differ only in subtle ways. It is thus challenging to opine clearly unless each category of question is isolated.
For example, this question. OP didn't do much research before posting the question, so from one perspective the question could be closed by the extended "homework" VTC reason. However, the question clearly derives from someone's industrial experience, and perhaps they don't have much of a chemistry background or have much interest in learning chemistry for chemistry's sake. Does that mean we should answer, even in the face of the lack of research, since it's a real-world problem that someone has encountered? Or should, e.g., a potential lack of interest in the chemistry on the part of the OP bias us even more strongly toward closure?
As another example, this question derived directly from an in-school demonstration. However, the question itself has to do with a curious observation distinct from the educational thrust of the question. No independent research effort was shown. Should its "homeworkiness" militate it be closed? Or should it be left open, since it shows the inclination toward self-education on the part of the poster?
Two Possible Approaches
I see two ways to move forward, not necessarily mutually exclusive:
Clarify the broader site goals; for example:
Should we err on the side of aggressive closure, or on tolerating "questionable questions"?
Do we want only to be a resource for experienced chemists, or to also welcome students, laypersons, non-specialized industrial users of chemicals, etc.?
Do we want to make it sine qua non that askers must have done some research beforehand? Or, do we want to accept questions without research as long as they don't have the ZOMG JST ANSWR THA QUSTN PLZ NEED THIS TONGHT ring to them?
Do we want the main site to cater to a smaller, more-constrained, more-expert community? Or, a larger, less-well-controlled community with a mix of expertise and knowledge levels?
Dig into the nuts and bolts of the different types of questions that are coming into the site, and:
Identify which types we want to accept and which to reject
Flesh out a detailed set of guidelines laying out the site scope based upon the above
Summarize the site guidelines into two or three carefully crafted vote-to-close reasons
In approach #1, we would need to identify the key questions to answer in defining the desired site goals, and then each of those key questions would need to be discussed and decided upon by the community.
Similarly, in approach #2 we would have to identify the set of question categories to be discussed, and then each of those categories would need to be discussed and the policies for responding to them discussed and decided upon by the community.
In both cases, I would argue that structured frameworks need to be implemented for:
- Identifying the specific things to be discussed
- Putting each specific thing before the community for discussion
- Evaluating the position of the community on each specific thing
- Aggregating the community positions into a coherent form
- Distilling the aggregated community positions into, e.g., vote-to-close reasons and meta posts
I have some thoughts about how some of the above might be structured, but I'll save those thoughts pending responses here.