There were recently two questions about specific, different, computer science subfield.

Going through what is defined as on topic in the help centre, I am honestly a bit confused by the outcome of the above two questions.

On one hand, it says that questions about academic writing and publishing as well as the academic research process are on-topic. On the other hand, it also says that we should not ask questions about the content of research and coursework (rather than the process of teaching). Further, it also clarifies that we should specify the subfield our question relates to, so we could receive relevant answers.

Both questions were initially well-received, however the first, deep learning, question was eventually closed as off-topic, where the only comment explaining this decision at least partially was the following (now moved to chat):

  • Azor Ahai -him-: "You're asking a question about something you've observed in deep learning. This SE is about academia, not about why people in one field do one thing. Because we're on SO, this site tends to be overly permissive of questions related to math/CS. "Entirely," no. "Off-topic" yes."

I find that the closed question actually directly related to standard practices in writing, publishing and research in a specific research field/subfield (deep learning). There was a latter attempt to make the question general and less specific to deep learning (which, I think, made the question worse), but eventually it was left closed.

On the other hand, the second, computer architecture, question, is still rapidly collecting upvotes and answers. However, this one actually seems to be about "the content of coursework", something explicitly listed as off-topic in the help centre. Additionally, there is actually a whole stack for Computer Science Educators, which might be better suited for teaching-focused questions (while academia mostly focuses on research-focused questions).

Could somebody clarify what is on topic and what is not? Do we, or do we not, welcome questions on specific sub-fields? Do we only welcome those questions if there are no other suitable SEs for those questions? If the outcome of these two questions is representative of what we believe to be on and off-topic, should we update our help centre definitions to reflect the viewpoint of the community?

  • 2
    I think the second one hit the Hot network stage, so most votes and answers are not from regulars here.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 14 at 22:35

1 Answer 1


Personally, I think both questions should be open. However, I agree with you that it can be very hard to predict how a question will be received. The advantage of this is that it's community-driven; if you don't like the status quo, you can cast votes accordingly. But I agree the uncertainty is a bit of a problem, as it can be scary to post a question in this state. If there's a suggestion for how to better codify our policies, or to update the help center, I think we'd be open to that.

Here's my understanding of the status quo:

Do we, or do we not, welcome questions on specific sub-fields?

Most of our well-received questions apply to a broad swath of academia. A question on a specific sub-field might be OK if it is just an example of a concept that applies more broadly. A notional example:

  • "How to handle students who routinely turn in picoblaze code that does not compile?" While nominally about picoblaze, this question is really about students who turn in work that they know is wrong but don't ask for help. As such, this one seems okay to me.
  • "What are the pros and cons of using a made-up language like Picoblaze?" More borderline -- this will probably come down to how it is phrased. If it were phrased as "Should I teach assembly using x86 or Picoblaze?", that would probably get closed. Whereas if you asked "Should I teach my students a real but complicated language or a notional but more tractable language," that would probably be well received.
  • "How I debug my picoblaze subroutine" -- this is a content question (regardless of whether it's for research or coursework) and should be closed.

Do we only welcome those questions if there are no other suitable SEs for those questions?

This has nothing to do with it. Some questions could be posted on multiple sites (though we discourage simultaneous cross-posting, and a borderline question that has been cross-posted might get closed or even mod-hammered). Other questions don't belong anywhere; the various stacks do not span the space.

  • You mostly focus on the question that has stayed open in your answer, but as I personally also think both should have been open, I was more interested in the case of the closed question. The first question was seemingly well received initially, with 8 upvotes, and well-received answers. It still got closed, and I left it as such as it got closed by a community vote. I've only raised this now because of the perceived inconsistency (and cast a re-open vote), but since two weeks have passed, I'm not sure if there's enough interest in the old question to re-examine that question.
    – penelope
    Commented Apr 11 at 11:51
  • I agree the other question should also be open, but as I have an answer on that page, an executive decision from me might be perceived as a “conflict of interest.” Will see if anyone else replies to your question.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Apr 11 at 15:55
  • I think at this point we can safely say that no action has been taken regarding the closed question, despite the fact that this has been singled out as a "hot meta post". In fact, it seems to be a very well received question for meta, but very little discussion. And my original question still stands: there seems to be a difference between what our rules say and what the community does. Would be great to have a community opinion on this rather than a mod ruling, but I'm just not sure how to solicit more activity around this topic except asking a question here on meta...
    – penelope
    Commented Apr 22 at 18:55
  • Yeah, if you want to pursue it, I recommend opening a new meta post titled along the lines of: "Can we reopen the question about..."
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Apr 22 at 19:50

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