it looks like the forum is starting to fill with open-ended questions / lists like

Supercomputers around the world!

What are the pitfalls for new users of DFT?

What are the types of MCSCF?

What are the types of SCF?

IMHO these don't really belong on StackExchange, since they don't arise from spontaneous users' questions and are of rather poor quality. These are questions one would implicitly ask oneself when writing a textbook or a review article when figuring out what its content should be, and correspondingly, the answers can be found by simply picking up a textbook.

Well-posed questions are much more interesting to answer. Here, the question already shows that the asker has looked into the problem, has gotten somewhere, but then has hit a wall with some specific issue.

  • $\begingroup$ One problem for me is that I don't have any textbooks and Helgaker's one costs $125 😂😂😂 $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2020 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ @NikeDattani if your college library doesn't have it, there's always other sources ;D $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2020 at 16:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think that this type of question is very useful for who is starting in Matter/Materials/Molecular modeling. There are a lot of issues (pitfalls?) than can make anyone to abandon this research area. Each of these questions, if well answered, will be a very good guide (also, they are no open-ended as the number of items are finite, so there is and end). $\endgroup$
    – Camps Mod
    Jul 22, 2020 at 12:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ksousa could you make that an answer? $\endgroup$
    – Cody Aldaz
    Aug 19, 2020 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @CodyAldaz, I'll do it. $\endgroup$
    – ksousa
    Aug 19, 2020 at 15:27

4 Answers 4


I agree in the long run that these sort of questions would not be well suited for the StackExchange format. However, there are potentially some short and long term incentives to have these questions now.

From just a pragmatic perspective, the site needs more questions/answers, active users, and views. SE will only maintain the site if its has an active community and, at least in the last few weeks, our progress had slowed. Both our questions and views per day had dropped a lot and we didn't add many new users. So what can we do to bolster those numbers until the community is self sufficient and growing naturally? One option is these general reference questions, which have a couple of nice short term benefits:

  • They tend to be fairly straightforward to answer and allow for multiple answers, giving more users an opportunity to participate/earn rep.
  • A more general question is more likely to show up in a search engine query.
  • The SE network advertises "Hot Network Questions" on other sites in the network. These are questions that quickly got a lot of upvotes/answers, which tends to happen with these general questions that even beginners at modeling can engage with.

Now in the long term, I agree we wouldn't want every question to start being like this, but that gets to another advantage of doing these now. If the answers to these questions are polished and include references to further material on the subject, they will serve as a great resource for getting started with a particular topic. In the future, this can help us avoid a lot of repeated requests for references by giving us canonical questions that can be used as duplicate targets. Basically, once we have a number of these built up, we will have a builtin response to more basic questions so users can focus on answering the more specific/advanced questions that will come in daily.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "In the future, this can help us avoid a lot of repeated requests for references by giving us canonical questions that can be used as duplicate targets." That's actually a very good point: Having these questions taken care of right now, will be very valuable in the future when people come by with "homework questions" about the difference between RHF & UHF: We can just quickly close their question as a duplicate of the "types of SCF" question we already have. For people that aren't every-day users of Chem/Phys.SE: Do try to appreciate the frequency of "drive-by" and "homework-style" questions. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 0:31

This post could have also been title "Why are we trying to eat Wikipedia's lunch?"

I agree with Tyberius's answer. There are many benefits, particularly for fostering the community. Furthermore, I think it has been shown to work well, and is a logical extension of the question asking for software recommendations which I think a lot of people agree are important.

However, there are some potential pitfalls,

  1. The lists can degrade over time, either through poor quality answers or the answers becoming outdated. Other's have mentioned Awesome lists on github as a better alternative.
  2. The voting system is not designed for lists (the same is also true for recommendations).
  3. Who moderates and can make the lists?

As for point 1, I think it's just an unfortunate aspect of all encyclopedias so at least we aren't worse than that.

Point 2, we've been able to make the voting work with a very generous voting culture, it doesn't mean any answer is right but popular answers tend to rise to the top so that is still okay.

Point 3, perhaps we are setting a bad precedent. If the ultimate goal is to move away from these type of questions (I'm not saying it should be but this is in-line with other SEs), than closing future questions as "not focused" just because they aren't a founder may be frustrating. Also, in order to make a good list, presumably we would need to rigorously prune the answers. However, this can be tedious to get mods to delete poor quality answers.

I vote to keep them, but it's something to keep in mind. I suggest we look at Software Recommendations or elsewhere for advice.


I think our problem is that there's not much matter modelers in the world, as compared with programmers, for example. I guess the number of people with some programming experience is at least in the tens of millions range. Meanwhile, how much of us matter modelers are out there? Maybe 100,000-1,000,000 people, worldwide? With such numbers, It will take a while to reach the point where we have lots of very focused questions documenting every corner case one may encounter in the field, just like Stackoverflow does now for programming. Too much pruning now risks stagnation.


Lead here to discuss the value of community wikis.

I agree that Comm. wikis are not encouraging reputation hunters. However, they could be valuable in that they don't advocate a single correct answer.

To add to this, I don't think one should rush a question to a comm wiki. First when a certain mass of answers and votes have been cast it should be converted.

The procedure would be something like:

  1. Wait until 5-10 answers
  2. Wait until votes have been casted (some undefined amount of time and # of votes)
  3. A moderator questions the questioneer in the comment section whether this should be turned to a comm wiki, people get notifications and may also like that post. If people are against it, simply don't do it. If there is a backup of this, then continue.

Edit: removed erroneous claim, thanks Nike

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "However, Comm. wikis have a great value in that answers are not ranked according to # of votes" ... This is not true. If you look at that example you posted, all answers are ranked according to the number of net upvotes, except the "accepted" answer (this is the way the answers are ranked on non-community wikis too). If the answers appear to be in a random order to you, it might be because you clicked on "active" or "newest" in the top right of the first answer. But the default is "votes". $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2020 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for adding an answer. My answer above isn't that great. I was trying to come up with some pros and cons on the fly. so I welcome any other viewpoints $\endgroup$
    – Cody Aldaz
    Aug 20, 2020 at 18:43

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