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Today, we had this question posted. In its original form, it read

Why do we see things?

Yes. That seems unquestionably obvious. But, when i try to think about it in my way. I find it as a mystery. Every object(solid,liquid,gas) has atoms.

Now, why only light makes other things visible ? There must be something special about its atoms(atomic structure ) ?

After some edits by quid and Omen, it became a more history-oriented question.

Before then, however, it accrued 4 downvotes (one of which was later removed); after the edit was made, 2 upvotes emerged. There was also a lengthy train of comments prior to the edits.

I think that (especially when we move into public beta) this will come up in the future - questions that are tangentially (if at all) related to the history of science and mathematics, and are instead merely about science and mathematics. What should we do about such questions? Suggest that the OP change the question of place it somewhere else, or have the community edit it? Will downvotes be a proper response (although this is, as has been pointed out in lots of places on Stack Exchange, a personal decision)?


Update:

The question has a net score of 7 (+8, -1) and 2 close votes. I think congratulations are in order for Amit and the community at large for fixing this one up.

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  • $\begingroup$ You could argue that homework questions are on topic if they can be edited by any user to give some random context on MSE. Down and close votes are for low quality posts. That was undoubtedly a low quality post. We need to tread carefully of what we can and cannot do when we edit a question. $\endgroup$ – Ali Caglayan Nov 13 '14 at 1:07
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As general rule if somebody asks mathematics or science questions on the site, as opposed to historical questions, we should close the question and direct (if possible) the asker to an appropriate site.

We get this quite a bit on Mathematics Educators with mathematical questions. There we have the following custom off-topic reason.

This question is off-topic because it is a mathematical question as contrasted with a question about mathematics education. For a Stack Exchange site for mathematical questions please see Mathematics.

There is no point in us answering physics, maths, chemistry questions here, while there are dedicated sites for this. There is also no point in always editing the question to become historical. For one thing, this is perhaps not at all what the asker wanted to ask.

There is however a gray-area. If a question has at least implicitly but still noticeably a historical angle to it, while not really being phrased as a history question, then I think we should interpret it in a way that makes it fit the site, and document this interpretation via an edit (or at least at the start of the answer).

To sum it up, I think we should try to interpret questions so that they fit the site, but we should also try to keep the site focused on history of science and mathematics. If we do not do this the site losses its raison d'ĂȘtre and might be shut down as duplicate of existing science sites.

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This was definitely a lesson for the future. We may not have time to do this sort of polite prodding and modding in site public, and allowing off topic questions to survive in situ will be very (potentially terminally) detrimental to our site. This question was originally a textbook example of one that is completely off site topic. It has been repaired well since then.

In public I will initially favor constructive comments to deal with this issue. After waiting a very reasonable time for the poster to respond, I will go straight for the close vote on something that is completely off topic. I avoid the downvote in this case, as the community close vote process is very effective all by itself.

Politeness will rule our future behavior, but protecting our site's integrity must absolutely be the one thing that never wavers.

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