I don't know if it's some visionary dude coming up with a revolutionary idea, some lunatic who wants to prove sciencez is wrong and water can be a fuel, a curious "chemistry layman"1 who aims to understand how glues work, or someone in dire need of a miracle worker substance. They come up with some weird questions, which makes me think we need to revisit this old discussion with a more rigorous or straightforward policy.

There are good instances of these questions; such as this one2. Most questions of this sort lack some crucial component needed in answering, however. I don't need and don't mean to provide examples, and the regulars are all too familiar with them. They either:

  • Not narrow down the scope adequately, so a lot of different substances qualify for an answer.
  • Use qualitative data where they need some numbers, so the compound ends up not being what they want.
  • Can't judge the merit of an answer rightfully, which isn't usually a problem but seldom does lead to erroneous accepts.
  • Don't provide sometimes necessary background, so sometimes the question ends up being a chameleon question.

Needless to say, most of these askers lack the knowledge of the safety measures working with these interesting, yet at times dangerous, substances. Heck, the ones you need to be worried about usually don't even know they're playing with fire.

We should come up with

  • a policy to point users to, preferably in the answers to this post, or the one I linked up there. The policy should cover both these compound requests and reaction requests. (Stuff like "I want a reaction that's neither good or bad, and it's only half-good, to entertain good people with. It doesn't need to be that good, just 50 percent good. KTHXBYE")
  • preferably an auto-comment to add to the questions of this kind, which will be added to either of these lists.

1: One chemistry layman that has used Google has 5,742 rep now.
2: Really awesome narrowing of scope, BTW

  • $\begingroup$ I assume you're not proposing a new close reason related to this -- any of too broad or unclear or opinion-based would probably fit? Though, perhaps the new guidelines could recommend a specific close reason, to make the process easier for people faced with such questions? $\endgroup$
    – hBy2Py
    Mar 24, 2017 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ Meh, I think mods rightfully want a third custom close slot open, and these posts are recurring often enough to merit a policy, but they're not common enough to deserve a custom slot. So probably either of reasons that already exist. Might even be a canned ''I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because' comment.'' $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 24, 2017 at 19:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ We've used too broad on these before. See Why is this question not overly broad? $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2017 at 22:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Edible Flubber? $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Mar 25, 2017 at 2:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @jonsca Elmer's Edible Flubber, apparently. $\endgroup$
    – hBy2Py
    Mar 25, 2017 at 3:26
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not entirely sure we need a policy for that; common sense and voting should take care of that. However, a post that acts as a guide and helps OPs to improve their questions is desirable. $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2017 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Mart sure, go ahead. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 25, 2017 at 20:06

1 Answer 1


Basically, if a question asks

I’m looking for a substance that …

should be closed as too broad. It is either unanswerable because such a substance would need to be invented/discovered or it has too many possible answers.

  • In the first case, that’s an entire research proposal. We would either be doing that person’s research (how about no?) or they want to motivate others to do it — still no. In neither case, we can identify an adequate answer which is what too broad is for.

  • In the second case, there are too many possible answers. E.g. ‘A substance that is wet’. Basically every liquid that we perceive as wet counts; every answer is valid.

I don’t think we need a specific policy, enforcing the existing ones (which is happening!) is good enough. But we might want to link to this meta question in a canned comment.


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