I am a PhD in Chemistry, who graduated from a top 20 university in the US, failed to find a job in the field and moved to CS. Chemistry field doesn't have much of job security, so that was a good choice. I ask beginner's questions on StackExchange, but I want to pay back by answering questions on Chemistry. Here is my experience:

How do I calculate moles of a chemical given its volume, density and formula? -4 votes, no answers. Sure, it smells like a homework, but don't we want to build a question:answer base for new generations to come?

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle On hold. No explanation given. Does it mean that the derivation is too obvious (I dare you to derive it then) Or does it mean that those in power can't answer the question so they decided to ban-hummer it just in case?

So, if you have a question you shouldn't try to state it clearly and format it nicely. No, you might be hit with "question closed". Your task is different. Give it a try. A new user willing to help might reply first. Good for you. "Administrator" might close it because he is on a period of bad mood lately.

I am fine that you humiliate those, asking questions. It is your toy. But you are cutting the branch you are sitting on. Soon decent people will leave this site simply because it is not fun to try to sneak your answer before hold-hummer strikes.

Fishers put some food to the river to attract the fish. I realize that you really want to use your power, but lets feed beginners with answers first.

PS. If you hate chemistry and want someone suffer (say, the beginners with their questions) try to change your life.

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    $\begingroup$ Was there any minuscule of underlying research effort in the said question? No. We are not free homework service that would spoon-feed everyone asking to do calculations or derivations for them. They wouldn't make the site a great place. And also most of the homework questions (like those above) only help a tiny number of people and are not significant for a broader cause. So, I disagree with almost all of your statements. There is no bad mood and all that. The closings are done legitimately by experienced users. $\endgroup$
    – user5764
    Jul 15, 2016 at 4:15
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, I'm seeing nothing but a total ignorance (or possible misinterpretation) of our current homework policy. It would be totally wastage of time and against our policy to answer those which show no research-efforts. $\endgroup$
    – user5764
    Jul 15, 2016 at 4:16
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    $\begingroup$ Then please explain why was the Heisenberg's uncertainty principle closed. Downvotes are done to motivate users to improve. Interestingly most downvotes are silent. The only thing it teaches people is that some reputable bad mannered members can downvote you at zero risk to themself. Those willing to help will just leave. There is no fun to type answer rasing against "put on hold". $\endgroup$
    – sixtytrees
    Jul 15, 2016 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ You're not doing yourself or, more importantly, the chem.SE (and broader SE) community any favors with posts worded so negatively. In my experience, the users here are genuinely engaged and knowledgeable and not interested in humiliating anyone. That you have chosen the "humiliation" phrase as a common thread in your posts hints to me that you've got a personal issue with the SE community and I question your objectivity. $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2016 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ These are some example of good homework questions. The OP clearly explains what their thoughts are and where they are stuck. This is what we are trying to encourage, not broad, vague questions which show no effort. chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/148/… chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/30940/… $\endgroup$
    – bon
    Jul 15, 2016 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ Asking people to explain their downvotes is like asking them to reveal why and how they voted in an election. They don't have to explain anything to you. I find it interesting that you assume only "reputed users" downvote, while anyone with 125 rep, including you, can downvote. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Jul 16, 2016 at 5:33

4 Answers 4


I cannot say if your point is right or wrong, because I don't read chemistry.SE. But as a bystander, I can state that somebody being rude and imputing bad intentions to others, cannot convincingly convey a "please be friendlier" message. In fact, out of the few things I read from the chemistry.SE community, your post was by far the unfriendliest one. In my mind, this is rendering your statement void.

  • $\begingroup$ Please provide facts. $\endgroup$
    – sixtytrees
    Jul 15, 2016 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ @sixtytrees - reread most of your post. Of just your PS - it drips of bitterness and distaste for everyone else. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 15, 2016 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ @sixtytrees "Administrator" might close it because he is on a period of bad mood lately. When I'm in a bad mood I take a vacation if it can't be cured with a coffee and a cigarette. This is insulting. $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2016 at 14:27

On The Philosophy of Moderation

The philosophy of all Stack Exchange sites (which they took from their precedent, Stack Overflow) was to help people by building a library of detailed and quality answers to all real questions. The idea was to reduce the clutter to a minimum by a set of rules and active moderation. Rules that didn't exist anywhere else on the web at the time, so an answer to your query had to be dug in stale forum pages, providing that there exists an answer and you're not going to be disappointed by seeing the post unresolved after ten minutes of reading and scrolling.

Turns out, for this vision to become reality, there had to be certain tweaks. Turns out, not all questions belong in the library. Not all questions are real either.

It's not your fault if your question is "When should I marry?" It's not the library's fault either, when its workers direct you out, because that question is out of the place. It's not something you look an answer for in the library.

Stack Overflow was envisioned to be mostly a very short chat between a professional and another about how to get one objective done. That's very different from teaching a beginner the ropes, discussing this new very nice tech that makes a programmer's job easy, or even noting down a few hundred lines of useful info, related to the job. Hence, there were newer measures taken, one of which was "closing questions".

What Closure Really Is

The idea was that your question was "put away" so the real problem your fellow professional has can be seen, or in most cases solved.

It's helpful to liken SE to a library, as opposed to other walk-in-the-park answer sites like Yahoo Answers, and to some extent, Quora. If you make loud noises, you'll be asked to leave the library. If you start dancing frantically and tearing down books, you'll have to leave the library. Generally, doing anything stupid and unruly will get you kicked out of the library. That's not because the workers are trigger-happy snobs. It's because that's the only way to keep the library quiet, so that it serves its purpose.

However, workers in the library don't hold grudges. Once the naughtiness goes away, once everything is according to the rules, and once the behavior is improved, the same person is more than welcome to use the place. That's exactly the case about closure. Improve the post, and the post will be placed in a queue for review. I have closed many questions that I have reopened later. Just like how five users with 3,000 reputation on this site can close questions, five users can vote to reopen them.


Doesn't matter how noble your intention is. Once people know about you, there will always be some misunderstanding. Moderating a large community is so exception. Do you think you're the only person who's come to a meta site and left a non-constructive rant? Then you're wrong.

As soon as moderation started, people started posting emotional "questions" on metas. They took downvotes to mean what they don't mean. They took closure and deletion as censorship. Sometimes they just needed a reason to whine. Well, when you don't like someone, whatever they do or say must be because they want to hurt you in some way.

This makes me feel I need to repeat myself. Any act of moderation is only done to maintain a clean site. This site wouldn't have attracted you, a PhD, if it weren't for how easy it is to find correct and reliable answers to questions. We owe much of that to people that devoted their (free-)time to moderating this, even though it's a pretty thankless task. (This is what they get as a "thank you".)

Feed Me Moar Answers

This long-winded response would surely benefit from some defense on the homework-closing side. I mentioned earlier that SO (and as a result, SE) was meant for "real" questions. So, what are "real" questions?

A real question, in my humble opinion, is one that the cornered mind of the asker has asked. If an apple fell on my head, and I questioned its motion, that's not a real question. It's something I blurted out due to sheer curiosity. My mind was not cornered — it would reach out stars and idiotic explanations unless I get some reading done. Then, if I did my job as an asker, and I still didn't get the response, I have nothing left to do. This becomes my real question.

Similarly, some questions are textbooks', not mine. It's not a real question if it's not me asking it. I'm just babbling some scientific jargon, like a parrot. If you're okay with spoon-feeding parrots the answers to their textbooks' problems, then this site might not to be the place for you.

On another note, textbook questions with no effort are bad because they spread like a sickness. If we stop closing questions for a week, you'd drown in a mass of questions from people that ask you to count significant figures for them.

What You Could've Done Instead

I see you've pretty much figured out that this place is for discussing the issues in the site. Just another expression of bureaucracy from the developers' side. If I were you, I would've come here and asked for a reason those questions are closed.

Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe, and I say maybe, a PhD in chemistry doesn't mean I can tell people that have governed a site for at least a couple of years how to do their job. Maybe there's a fault in the system, and I get the rewarding feeling of helping out others do their job by pointing it out and getting it solved. Maybe if I wrote a polite and constructive post, this guy called TIPS would've commented on how much more the lines have gotten fuzzier and how we're trying to work on it. Maybe he even asked me for any suggestions.

OwwK, I wrote this during a dark night, and now that I re-read it, I realize it was a bit harsher than intended. I scraped the parts that seemed the harshest, and please point out anything that needs editing in the comments. Sorry that I overreacted a bit. It was a jerkish thing to do.

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    $\begingroup$ Was it really necessary to be this condescending? Of course the question wasn't exactly constructive to start with, but that's not really an excuse. I don't expect to convince the OP of anything here, but plenty of other users might read this question and the answers. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2016 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry @MadSci, I meant to edit this a while ago, but I was away and still don't have a good enough internet to do it. I'll edit it when I get hold of good connection, unless someone else has done it. As for the bitterness, that's due to typing this at a late time at night. Sorry $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Jul 24, 2016 at 19:30

To add a personal perspective to those already offered by Bon and TIPS, I've always found this community to be incredibly friendly. We have very few incidents compared to other similar sites, or even other communities on stack exchange.

When I first joined here, people were quick to edit posts what were formatted awfully, or add tags that I may have missed. This may seem a bit pedantic at times, but really it just helps keep the site clean and tidy, and accessible to others who may be looking for the information in the future. Whenever anyone has mopped up my mess, theres always been a polite note pointing me to relevant pages on meta for how to format/tag etc.

I agree that you may have had a bad first experience on this community, however I think thats far more related to your attitude/behaviour than to moderators deciding to try and p*ss you off. Your opening line to this thread pretty much sums it up:

I am a PhD in Chemistry, who graduated from a top 20 university in the US.

The great thing about this site is that nobody cares less how much education you have/where you're from/who you've worked for etc etc etc.

The point is that ANYONE is free to write questions and answers. If they're good, they get upvoted, whilst awful responses get down voted and eventually fade into existence.

Throughout my time here there have been periods where new users join, spam the forum with short/irrelvant/unintelligent answers, get pis**d off when they're down voted and then eventually leave. C'est la vie.

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    $\begingroup$ When and why did you change from not-KCN to NotWoodward btw? (Totally off-topic, I know xD) $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Jul 29, 2016 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Jan Maybe he likes to tell what all he is not. He isn't KCN, isn't Woodward, who is he?? I know, total mystery. $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2017 at 12:39

First off I'm going to direct you to several relevant meta discussions that we have already had on this topic.

Let's decide on a homework policy (the official homework policy)
Let's decide on what we should close as homework (a recent discussion with some useful points)
Shouldn't we be a bit more welcoming to new askers/ posters? (an older discussion)

The bottom line is that questions which display no effort from the asker will be closed as homework. This is not limited to questions that people have actually been asked as part of their school/college homework but it includes any problem where no effort is shown.

There is a reason for this. Firstly, we do not want our site to become the default place where people go to get their homework done for them. This is what sites like Yahoo Answers are for. Look at the quality of questions there and the quality here and decide which you think is better.

Secondly, it is much easier to explain something to someone if you know what they are struggling with. If someone just posts a very general question (like the one you linked above) with no explanation of what they don't understand then it is very difficult to give a focused answer which will be of most use to them.

Thirdly, we are all volunteers. We do this in our spare time and frankly, doing people's calculations and answering basic questions that they could easily google is just boring. We have to keep our experienced members interested in the site and the best way to do this is to ensure the quality remains high.

As a final note, I would echo @mhchem's sentiment and encourage you to be more friendly in your own posts. Claiming that people are abusing their power because they are in a bad mood when you have no evidence to suggest such a thing will not garner you support. We all give up our time to this site and there are some incredibly dedicated and helpful people here. Try to have a little more understanding of the position of the community before you dismiss them all as power crazed bullies.

  • $\begingroup$ Regarding second: one needs to know most of the answer to ask a correct question. People are learning. You cannot understand what exactly they ask about "please explain the derivation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle . I know. Or I think I know. Why do you block me from answering this question? Regarding third: Yes, we are all volunteers. If you don't want to do some basic calculations, but I want, then why block me from a chance to volunteer? And finally, I am friendly to people who are friendly. But why should I be friendly to those who humiliate new users? $\endgroup$
    – sixtytrees
    Jul 15, 2016 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ @sixtytrees you don't have to be friendly, just not rude. It would be a start. $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2016 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ Can we please unhold Heisenberg's uncertainty principle question? $\endgroup$
    – sixtytrees
    Jul 15, 2016 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @sixtytrees read meta.chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/2860/… $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Jul 15, 2016 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @sixtytrees Also you could post another question, of good quality this time, and answer it yourself. Self answers are encouraged. $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Jul 15, 2016 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ @sixtytrees We are not trying to humiliate new users in any way. In regards to the second point I raised. If you are asking a question then you must know at least something about where you are stuck otherwise you wouldn't be asking the question. This is what we encourage people to put in their question because it makes it much easier to give a focused answer. $\endgroup$
    – bon
    Jul 15, 2016 at 20:26

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