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There's nothing about another SE site like Physics that can make a question off-topic here!


SE has several close reasons for questions, one of which is that the question is off-topic.

For a few special cases there are hard-wired community-specific options

enter image description here enter image description here

Except for these community selected options

we don't conflate closing as off-topic with suggesting some options where a moderator might initiate question migration.

There was a recent, somewhat cavalier "This smells like physics, so close as off topic" which was unjustified.

Under a new user's first question What are the forces affecting superconducting MRI-magnet on low-earth orbit and could you accelerate a satellite with these forces? the first "welcoming" comment is

I’m voting to close this question because it belongs on Physics SE

"because it belongs on X" is simply not a close reason.

When we do this and others go along with it, it sends the message to all readers, including those just starting to learn the site that "Hey! If I can think of a site where I think the question should be, then that's a close reason!"

In addition to being wrong (we close when it's off topic, irregardless of whether there are better or other sites for it) it starts setting a wrong precedent.

Now in this case the problem is even worse because in my answer there I link to four previous questions about using magnetic dipole fields for propulsion in Earth orbit. Those were all considered on-topic here.

So the reason that I call the comment cavalier is that the user didn't even bother to check if magnetic dipole propulsion is on-topic or not before leaving the comment.

The problem here is that other readers' eyes will go straight to the comment, assume its author did their due diligence (they did not in this case) and knee-jerk agree vote to close. The on-topic magnetic propulsion question gets closed in a few hours, and the reopen process invariably takes days to reverse.

Question: Can we please consider a policy of not using "belongs on" in lieu of an explanation why a question is off-topic?

If it's off-topic, just say it's off-topic. If you separately want to offer guidance where the question might be migrated, then feel free! But don't mix the two totally separate functions, decisions, and opinions.

There's nothing about another SE site like Physics SE that can make a question less on-topic here!

Apples and mascons!

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    $\begingroup$ I agree, especially for the particular case at hand. But the guiding principles to judge whether a question is off-topic, are difficult to capture, unfortunately. There will be always some degree of subjectivity. My guiding principle is: would the ensuing answers/discussions improve the knowledge of this community, or would it rather dilute and confuse comprehension (too much information kills comprehension). $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Nov 18 '21 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ To illustrate further my thinking, recently we closed a series of questions asking about modulating a laser. Arguably, optical communications are important in several missions. Knowing how an optical modulator works, what are the physical constraints, ... sounds legitimate in Space SE. Yet, when we dig deeper into the true problem of the OPs, it became clear that they have a gap in comprehension what a modulation is, so that closing their questions is justified (IMO). I don't think it's our purpose to be an encyclopedia. $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Nov 18 '21 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ @NgPh your example is of something that is simply off-topic. The idea that topicality now means curation; that a question is off topic if we can't ourselves imagine a scenario when a future reader will find any possible answers not yet written helpful then the question should be closed for reasons of topicality so that those answers can never see the light of day seems to overreach, and the optical modulator example is a poor choice because it is off-topic trivially. Can you find something that is on-topic in a simple way, and yet you'd close as off topic because it doesn't improve... $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 18 '21 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ I have this example of a question that you should consider as off-topic as a result that my optical modulator example is "trivially" off. Not only the answer given doesn't improve knowledge, it is misleading (IMO, put it in a Math forum and it would be immediately contested). But again, it's a question of subjectivity. That's why we resort to voting BTW. $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Nov 18 '21 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ @NgPh note that the question in full is "Question: How is stacking oranges in 24 dimensions related to receiving and decoding signals from the Voyagers? It it possible to explain in a relatively simple way to the Space SE community, or find a source that does explain the connection suitable for this site?" Note also that voting on the answer is +131/-0 your point is that the question should have been closed as off-topic because of the nature of the posted answer? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 18 '21 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ No. The quality of the answer is the consequence of the fact that the question needs knowledge and expertise that you do not expect to exist on this site. I can explain in "relatively simple terms" that the Earth is at the center of the Universe and immobile. I would be acclaimed if I was born before ~1500. $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Nov 18 '21 at 19:02
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I agree, the correct course of action should be:

  1. Is the question on topic here?

    Check the help center and meta. If you don't have time to check these, just say "I'm not sure this is a good fit here" and wait for feedback from others. If it's already been ruled off topic, then you can leave a comment saying it's off topic and why ("on topic elsewhere" is not sufficient justification). If not, then proceed to step two.

  2. Should the question be on topic here?

    Maybe it's been ruled on topic before or it's not clear according to the current help center and meta discussions that it is off topic, but you think it should be off topic. Create a meta question discussing the topicality. Link to the most recent question. Explain why you think it should be off topic. You may leave a link to the meta discussion in the comments of the recent question. Then wait and see what people say. If it's ruled on topic, then you have no reason to close it as belonging elsewhere. If it's ruled off topic, then you have a justification to provide for closure; proceed to step three.

  3. Is it on topic on another site?

    If it has already been determined to be off topic here and there is another site where it would be appropriate to ask, you can post, along with your note about why it's off topic, a request for migration to another site.

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A recently closed question highlights why this may continue to happen (in my opinion). The question is clearly not related to space exploration as written (focusses on aircraft), yet I can't vote to close it as such. Here are my options:

close options

Options 1, 3, and 4/5 seem best, though option 3 is not very helpful (you can only propose to move it to space.meta.stackexchange).

The question is NOT about "physics, weather, astronomy, etc" but it "does not directly pertain to space exploration" so option 1 seems at best half correct.

Option 4/5 is problematic for reasons this thread addresses, though I can understand why a user would choose/create it; it makes more sense than option 1 (in this example). Also, because physics.stackexchange.com & earthscience.stackexchange.com (top tag: meteorology) & astronomy.stackexchange.com exist (option 1), and option 3 suggests that you can move a question to where (you think) it belongs, a user is reasonable to assume 'combining' those into option 4/5 is valid.

There should be a generic "This question is off-topic as defined in help center" vote to close option so people aren't prone to suggest where it may be on-topic. Remove the mention of specific "space sciences" so that option 1 catches all off-topic vote to closes.

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    $\begingroup$ Option 5 is the generic vote to close option. Option 4 in your screenshot only appears because someone else wrote that in in the fill in a blank off-topic reason. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Dec 9 '21 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage yes, I failed to address that at first, hopefully my thoughts are clearer now $\endgroup$ Dec 9 '21 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ I do agree with you that it is confusing to mix option 3 with the others. Migration should be given some visual separation at least. Option 1 is not supposed to be generic. It is a custom close reason, and it is supposed to be specific. Option 5 is the generic option. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Dec 9 '21 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage IMO that is not clear at all $\endgroup$ Dec 9 '21 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ I agree - maybe SE should make it so that you can see a preview of what the close notice would look like if your close reason is picked. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Dec 9 '21 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ @BrendanLuke15 I agree they are not at all easy to understand. It's taken me years to get only half-used to how to use the close reasons. Basically, 90% of the time I just click #5 "Other" and go on to finish the "I'm voting to close the question because..." with "It's off-topic here in Space SE" or something similar. I then often add a second sentence suggesting where it might be on-topic. Unfortunately new users will sometimes post a new copy of the question in the suggested site. I'm sure there's a better way, but getting ALL of the ~200 communities to agree to it... $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Dec 9 '21 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think there is any reason to try to get people to avoid suggesting where it might be on topic. Those can be really helpful! My view is only that problem is the single "voting to close because belongs on" links those two separate ideas in an unnatural cause-and-effect way. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Dec 9 '21 at 15:22
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"because it belongs on X" is simply not a close reason.

It most certainly is. I emphatically disagree with the premise of this question.

This site gets lots of science fiction and world building questions. There are sites on the Stack Exchange network that do accept such questions. If I see a sci-fi / world building question (e.g., "What should be the protocol in case humanity were able to colonise an exoplanet?"), I'll vote to close and diplomatically suggest the question be moved to another site.

We still have a fill-in-the-blank reason for voting to close. Take away my ability to vote to close without a fill-in-the-blank reason and I'm out of here.

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    $\begingroup$ Nobody is proposing removing the fill-in-the-blank option! My question suggests that "because off-topic here" is the right reason to close a question (rather than "because belongs on") and "belongs on" is a separate thing that a comment can also address. The reason I draw the distinction is because there are always questions that are on-topic in more than one site, and if new users start getting the idea that they should vote to close any question that they feel should have been posted somewhere else even though it's on topic here, it will lead to unproductive close voting. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 22 '21 at 23:20

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