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Computer expertise is inter-disciplinary. Many questions relating to computer hardware can be answered by users with a little hard science or engineering background. There is basic theory and design principles that are well known to people with formal education in the appropriate field.

Super User has many members with broad computer background but limited formal training in engineering or hard sciences. Without that training, it may not be obvious that some questions can be easily and factually answered. There has recently been a growing number of questions where people take the position that if the answer isn't obvious to them (because they would have encountered it in their experience), the question is opinion-based or off-topic.

Some of these questions might attract some BS answers. If they do, those answers can be downvoted or deleted. We should not censor legitimate content in advance based on speculation about answers that might be received. That's punishing the OP because some other users might act irresponsibly.

A couple of recent examples:

Regarding the second, the site has tons of questions about heat dissipation. There are design principles based on physics, engineering, and other disciplines. The majority of these questions, though, seem to get answers based on personal practice or what people have picked up watching YouTube videos. Why are questions that can be answered from actual knowledge considered opinion-based?

We don't migrate a question about battery life to the Chemistry site because batteries are based on chemistry. Every physical component associated with a computer required expertise from other disciplines to originally design it. We would have no hardware questions if we migrated or closed everything based on what knowledge is required to design it. But users with the appropriate background can answer questions here about how or why things are designed in a certain way or work the way they do, and often, how hardware will behave in uncommon situations. The strength of the site comes from people with diverse backgrounds sharing knowledge.

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This is a little bit of a rant. My purpose in posting it is to raise awareness so people give a little more thought and restraint in closing some of these questions. It isn't speculation if you know the answer, or opinion-based or off-topic if you don't.

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    Just my opinion. Q1 is better answered on EE, and Q2 on Physics. Those sites are frequented by users with "formal training in engineering or hard sciences." – DavidPostill Jul 26 '16 at 7:48
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    @DavidPostill, they might also be on-topic at those other sites, but they are computer-related questions. On Q2, if the question was how to invent the best way, maybe Physics might be appropriate. But this is ancient knowledge that's long been standard practice. How to arrange computer components in a rack is a computer question that was answered long ago. You only need physics if you want to understand why. – fixer1234 Jul 26 '16 at 7:56
  • I reopened the rack one, though I'm internally debating throwing it over to SF – Journeyman Geek Jul 26 '16 at 9:47
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    @DavidPostill Just going by the title, the cooling question doesn't look like a good fit for Physics at all. It's not asking for physics-based explanations of convection; rather, it's asking for a solution to an engineering problem. – David Richerby Aug 4 '16 at 9:15
  • @DavidPostill This site is also frequented by users with "formal training in engineering or hard sciences." I for one can answer the heat dissipation questions, as heat transfer, in practical situations, is a mechanical engineering topic, not physics. (Art vs science debate withstanding). – Xalorous Aug 5 '16 at 14:38
  • @JourneymanGeek I would agree that this heat question is more of a systems administration issue than a SU issue. – Xalorous Aug 5 '16 at 14:40
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I agree: the "primarily opinion-based" close reason is used too often. I think there is a lot to be gained from questions that have a little subjectivity but are grounded in facts. There's a whole blog post about this: Good Subjective, Bad Subjective.

It is my understanding that this close reason was intended for terrible things like:

  • How do y'all arrange your desktop icons?
  • What's the coolest theme for Office 2016?
  • How important is free (GNU) software?

Those are all "bikeshed" questions, where everyone's opinion is worth about the same. They are primarily (or even completely) opinion-based. Answers to the questions you linked, however, may involve some personal experiences in addition to facts. That is, they're partially or marginally opinion-based, and I think that's just fine.

I wrote an SEDE query to find answered Super User questions closed as "primarily opinion-based."

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    Yes, let's differentiate between questions that have answers that can be backed by facts, and questions that have answers (so it's a question, not a statement or rant) but where those answers cannot be supported by facts. In my opinion, that's exactly what the clarifying text just below "primarily opinion-based" in the vote to close or flag dialog expresses. "Is there a best placement of hot hardware in a rack to maximize convection cooling for the whole rack?" can be answered with facts and benefit more than one person; "How to arrange my desktop icons?" cannot and basically does not. – a CVn Jul 26 '16 at 18:11
  • I hadn't thought about it from the more general perspective you cover here, but you're right (as usual). :-) – fixer1234 Jul 26 '16 at 20:22
  • I agree with your answer, but it occurred to me that close voters may view the kinds of examples I was talking about in the question as not a real-life problem, and/or see them as covered in the wording of the close reason. They assume there is no factual basis on which to answer, or that there are too many variables for an answer to be practical, therefore all answers will be opinion or BS. – fixer1234 Jul 28 '16 at 4:14
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    @fixer1234 If there are too many variables for a good answer to cover, the question should be closed as too broad, not opinion-based. For other concerns: hypotheticals have a way of becoming reality. Some hypothetical situations can be very educational and useful for other situations, in my experience, even if the question itself isn't super practical. – Ben N Jul 28 '16 at 18:26
  • You're right about too many variables if it's actually true. In some of the questions, the reader only thinks there are too many variables because they aren't familiar with the underlying principles. They envision that all kinds of (irrelevant) factors might come into play. For the kinds of questions I was referring to, I think most of the close voters are trying to do the right thing. They are just making bad assumptions about whether the question is answerable based on what they're familiar with, and not considering that there may be applicable knowledge from other related specialties. – fixer1234 Jul 28 '16 at 18:52
  • About too many variables: wouldn't it be quite useful to community if an answer unfolds another dimension in the subject, the one which escaped an attention (an frequently beyond the level) of OP, instead of shutting it down? For example #2, hotter device would not necessarily operate worse if placed in higher-temperature area, because each device might have different upper margin in operating conditions. Therefore it is obvious that device placements in a rack must account for particular temperature margins and device sensitivity to temperature, not just who is hotter or colder. – Ale..chenski Jul 29 '16 at 18:01
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    Opinion vs Expert Opinion. – Xalorous Aug 5 '16 at 17:28
  • I have had questions closed inappropriately for this reason. My solution is to ask inappropriately closed questions on a non-StackExchange website where they get answered without hesitation (or opinion). It's a loss for StackExchange, because they lose the advertising revenue from the question not being answered on their site. It's also a loss for me because I have to spend the time to post it again. Inappropriate question closing trained me to initially post many questions on other sites, and only post them on StackExchange if they were not answered elsewhere. – RockPaperLizard Aug 6 '16 at 5:34

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