This comment states "It is up to the asker to clarify the intention of their question. Doing so on their behalf is rarely a good use of one's time".

When I read the question Why does the International Space Station have a downward facing light? I can imagine that different people would respond to it in different ways. However I think the answer is exemplary, and represents what attracted me to space exploration stackexchange in the first place.

@TildalWave used the first paragraph to survey the actual lights on the ISS and their function, treating the question with great respect. Next came this carefully selected "aha!"-inducing image:

enter image description here

followed by information on how big those arrays actually are such that the ISS can be seen from earth. The photo in this answer by @KimHolder is also really helpful, clarifying the difference between flares from the panels and the more ubiquitous reflections from everything else that's shiny. I liked this about space exploration stackexchange - that questions were treated with respect here, and looking through @TildalWave's voluminous, methodical and comprehensive answers I can see where this came from.

Stackexchange is both a floor wax and a desert topping. While it is a depository of great answers - because of their intrinsic quality or because they actually the questioner's question or hopefully both - it is also a place to come and learn for both the knowledgeable and the newcomer. Sometimes the newcomer is new to more than just stackexchange. For those, a "your question is welcome here" feeling in the beginning can be really important to long term participation.

So when a question like that gets one answer, and it is of the "you shouldn't want to know the answer to your question" followed by an answer to a different question that wasn't asked variety, it can be unnecessarily disheartening. On other stackexchanges I have seen many rescues where the questioner got the answer that really helped them, and for which they thanked, specifically because a third party intervened to clarify the question.

The "you shouldn't want to know the answer to your question" type of answer is not actually bullying, but it can be a first step in that direction.

So my question is: Is clarification of someone's question always solely 'up to the asker', even in situations where the asker may be new to the stackexchange environment?

As to 'waste of (my) time', well that's definitely an answer to a question that wasn't asked!

Eerily, while I was typing this, a new answer appeared to the ISS question - here is a screenshot:


  • $\begingroup$ There are two great answers here, please consider both equally well-accepted! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 24, 2016 at 3:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Personally, if I see a question I would gladly ask myself, but the asker made a mess of phrasing it, I'll take the effort to clean it up gladly, and I absolutely don't consider it a waste of time. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    May 11, 2016 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, that new answer was deleted less than eight hours after it was posted, having received a grand total of five downvotes. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jul 6, 2016 at 8:25

2 Answers 2


You make some good points about treatment of new users which I try to give more grace myself. Stack Exchange is supposed to be built around the Be nice model:

Whether you've come to ask questions, or to generously share what you know, remember that we’re all here to learn, together. Be welcoming and patient, especially with those who may not know everything you do. Oh, and bring your sense of humor. Just in case.

That basically covers it. But these three guidelines may help:

Rudeness and belittling language are not okay. Your tone should match the way you'd talk in person with someone you respect and whom you want to respect you. If you don't have time to say something politely, just leave it for someone who does.

Be welcoming, be patient, and assume good intentions. Don't expect new users to know all the rules — they don't. And be patient while they learn. If you're here for help, make it as easy as possible for others to help you. Everyone here is volunteering, and no one responds well to demands for help.

Don't be a jerk. These are just a few examples. If you see them, flag them:

Name-calling. Focus on the post, not the person. That includes terms that feel personal even when they're applied to posts (like "lazy", "ignorant", or "whiny").

Bigotry of any kind. Language likely to offend or alienate individuals or groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. will not be tolerated. At all. (Those are just a few examples; when in doubt, just don't.)

Inappropriate language or attention. Avoid vulgar terms and anything sexually suggestive. Also, this is not a dating site.

Harassment and bullying. If you see a hostile interaction, flag it. If it keeps up, disengage — we'll handle it. If something needs staff attention, you can use the contact us link at the bottom of every page.

We're proud to be a large, user-driven space on the internet where name-calling, harassment, and other online nastiness are almost non-existent. It's up to all of us to keep it that way.

In summary, have fun, and be good to each other.

There are sometimes situations that come up, that veteran users have seen a lot, that represent a fundamental lack of understanding of the way the site works, or seem to indicate a lack of regard for other people's time (by doing no prior research). The response to these situations are not always as kind as they perhaps should be at first. Ultimately, we need a lot of grace both ways. Many of these users are incredibly busy experts in the field who have invested their precious time to help build this site, and they don't always get polite responses.

Unkind behavior is not justified either way, but just as we should expect grace to be extended to us, we should extend grace to others. We don't have a lot of name-calling or harassment around here, and when it comes up it is dealt with. We have a good community, though we may get caught into little disputes now and then.

Now, about "wasting time". First of all, Kim never mentioned wasting time. As you indicated in your first quote, she said "rarely a good use of one's time". This may sound like I'm being needlessly pedantic, but there is a difference. Looking out to make sure the asker's post is handled well is not a waste of time; however, it is true that when the asker does not edit their question when asked to clarify, progress will rarely be made. Also, the problem with your post is ultimately what you stated in your own words: "So I don't know the answer to that".

You were knowingly using the answer space to provide commentary which was not an answer. The appropriate place to discuss would have been in chat.

  • $\begingroup$ Yep, thanks for taking time to write an excellent answer! The chat interface in genera -l anywhere - is great for many things - but because it naturally imposes a certain back-and-forth-ness it can throttle some discussions to a trickle. What I really needed then and frequently wish I could use was a sandbox - a linkable place to put structured text and images objects but wouldn't automatically appear in the Q/A space. Of course here in SE it would have to be wide open and available for anyone to read, but just like a profile, people don't have to see it unless they choose. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 24, 2016 at 3:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I neglected to mention that issues can be taken to meta as well, as you did with this one. It is more of the "sandbox" that you're looking for. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Apr 24, 2016 at 3:35

Handling matters like this one is not so easy to do in a comment. On the other hand, briefly stating the crux of an issue makes it easier to absorb. The better thing in this case would have been a more real-time and less formal conversation, where more time could be taken. That is what chat is for. Chat rooms can quickly be made for a specific matter if the main chat room, The Pod Bay doesn't seem adequate. However, a lot of members don't like chat, and at any rate, I have to make clear why something is done for others who don't see a chat.

The question you have raised stems from this answer of yours that I deleted:

@MarkAdler's answer is excellent. If I re-read @Chris's question, I'm guessing that "theoretical gravity" probably means the value of the (average) surface gravity that has traditionally been reported in textbooks for a century or longer.

We've all seen something like this (from here)


or this or this or this or maybe even this.

That value of surface gravity which has been around for a long time was - at least until recently - never directly measured. It probably comes from observations of the size and the period of the orbit of Mars's two moons, which gives mass, and the apparent diameter of mars itself, which comes from observations, including occultation timings. More recently, doppler radar measurements of the orbital velocity of the moons and early spacecraft flyby's may have also been included.

While the "remarkably detailed map" in @MarkAdler's answer represents orbiting spacecraft measurements that also give a total mass measurement and mars diameter measurement likely to be much more absolute accuracy accurate than that from natural satellite observations, it's still from orbit. And though I'm sure we all are convinced it should predict surface gravity with excellent accuracy and would bet a Space Program on it, the data on gravity fields in orbit would still have to be mathematically propagated back to the surface in some way, which is a theoretical prediction of surface gravity based on measurements from orbit in space, even if the theory is straightforward and beyond reproach.

I think @Chris is asking if any of the landers have actually made a surface gravity measurement - what you would feel if you were standing on mars - actually from the surface, literally.

So I don't know the answer to that, but I think it's a good question and I think it deserves a better response than just "we have 29,512 coefficients". Have predictions of surface gravity from space measurements actually been verified by gravity measurements on the surface? I think there is a significant chance that the answer is either "no" or "not very accurately."

And the comment of mine you refer to reads in full as:

It is up to the asker to clarify the intention of their question. Doing so on their behalf is rarely a good use of one's time. This answer amounts to an examination of definitions and different forms of measurement. It does not actually answer the question, so i have deleted it. The answer added by David Hammen and the conversation you had in chat with the various parties i think addressed this consideration very well, it was the best way to resolve of the matter.

Since here I am not restricted to 600 characters, I can expand a bit. Clarifying a question so it can be properly answered is of course very useful and important. But that is one of the functions of comments. Ask the asker for clarification, and if you think you know what they mean in words that didn't occur to them, say so and see how they respond. Assuming you know what they mean is a mistake. If you are wrong, you have definitely wasted your time, and even if you are right, the asker has learned nothing about how to phrase questions or get help. An important part of a stack exchange site working well is ensuring good quality questions as well as good quality answers. Whenever we skip getting an asker to clarify, or expand, or do a bit of research, we endanger the maintenance of question quality.

Also, if you want to talk about something, we can talk about it. But not through an answer that isn't an answer, but is being used to point to an issue indirectly. You will have to take the risk of stepping into chat and putting your feelings on the table. When I first started using Space Exploration, I made a string of mistakes, poor judgements, and said some silly things. But it's normal. I still cringe a bit at some of those early posts, but they shouldn't be deleted (and now that I'm a moderator, I could do that, if I chose, and if called2voyage and Pearson let me get away with it). This is a place for learning, and it depends on us working to get along. Accepting differences of opinion and mistakes is important. Any of the moderators and most of our top members would actively defend anybody who wasn't being properly treated.

So keep going as you have been, and you will get the hang of when to use Q&A, when to use Meta, and when to use chat. I'd say that if something upsets you, take it to chat if you can, and if you can't, get the attention of a moderator by flagging and/or mentioning it in chat even if you can't get the other party there.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer and advice! Like I mentioned in the comment above what I really needed then and wish we all had was a "sandbox" function. Chat format (in general) has never been very helpful for me personally due to the imposed "thought packet" ness. I'd planned on deleting that answer the next day or so but your action was obviously correct. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 24, 2016 at 3:41

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