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I've been thinking about asking this question for a while.

But I saw a good example that made me go ahead and ask it now.

Recently, this History SE question was (rightly) closed as off-topic for that site. Which begs the question, which site is it on-topic for?

Before the question was closed, an answer was provided (and accpeted) that relates the question to climate, meaning that ES:SE is solidly in the running.

"Economic geography" relates to the economic activity humans engage in while trying to fit into their environment - climate, soils, vegetation, and other resources.

There's a lot more analysis of empirical data and statistics than in the old regional specialties.

Although another ES MSE question related to this exists, it's much more general (perhaps too broad) and didn't really get a good answer.

Proposed Geography sites have never really gotten off the ground on Area 51 because they get bogged down in trivia. But I think that certain subdisciplines, such as economic geography, might be a good fit for ES:SE.

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Executive summary: Questions on economic geography can be on-topic, but usually aren't. To be on-topic here, the question should focus on the Earth Science part of the bigger question.


When I had geography in secondary school, the topic was divided in two topics. Somewhat simplified:

  • Physical geography, where we used natural sciences to learn about volcanoes, glaciers, and other topics of the Earth Sciences.
  • Social geography, where we used sociology, economics, history, to learn about why wars are where they are.

It was not until much later that I appreciated how geography links the two, even though the title of my primary school geography textbook was a giant hint: Waarom daar? or Why there?. To understand why farmers in some parts of The Netherlands have chicken and not crops, you need to consider the Würm glaciation. In the USA, elections are impacted by a 100 million year old coastline.

There are very interesting questions.

BUT

I don't think they are in scope within Earth Science.

We need Earth Science to consider those geography questions, just like how we need physics, chemistry, and mathematics to answer Earth Science questions. But that is not enough to make those questions on-topic. Often, geography questions need to consider other factors that are not related to Earth Science. Some examples:

  • Why is there a strip of Democratic voting counties surrounded by overwhelmingly Republican voting areas? — the answer dives into the history of Earth, but the question is off-topic on Earth Science. The answer also involves the history of agriculture, slavery, and American politics. We don't have that expertise on this site.
  • This strip is good for cotton agriculture and therefore is now home to many slave descendants, but what conditions make it good for growing cotton? — although put in the same context, the question is explicitly about the Earth Science aspect, and is on-topic (minus the biology of the cotton plant).
  • Why is the pattern of ditches different in different parts of The Netherlands? — the answer is a combination of natural and human history, delves into fens and bogs but also into the history socio-economic conditions of the humans exploiting the land. We don't have that expertise as Earth Scientists.
  • What are some characteristic differences between fens and raised bogs? — this would be the Earth Science part of the question to answer the previous one, and here Earth Science does have the expertise, so this question would be on-topic (although perhaps not very well researched).
  • What causes the stark vertical divide in population maps of the United States? — the answer involves climate, but also the history of how the United States was settled (I note there are currently two votes to reopen on the question on History.SE)
  • Why is the western half of the USA so much drier than the eastern half? — an important part of the answer to the previous question, and one we can answer on Earth Science. It's not the best question we've seen, but it'd be on-topic.

The critical question is: can we as Earth Scientists offer a complete answer? Then it's on-topic. Or can Earth Science only get toward part of the answer, and would we need the expertise from social sciences to answer the question completely? Then it's off-topic.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've accepted this, even though my idea of what constitutes Earth Science might be a bit more expansive than yours. $\endgroup$
    – Spencer
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 16:31
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There could be a case for arguing that this belongs on ESSE, but I doubt that this is the place with the best expertise?

Maybe if it is framed in a more climateish fashion?

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Personally I think the example given is a poorly constructed question that tries to connect many things together based on geographic distribution. If it were posted on ES SE it should focus on one science question in particular, and not try to solicit one answer to explain a connection between all maps that have population involved. The scientific answer to the question is that population maps show a line because that is how population is distributed in the real world. If the question is about distribution of something ES related, then it should focus on that topic and not try to create a "discussion" question. We see questions like this on ES SE quite often: "I noticed all these things that look similar, why are they similar"? It's an open-ended question that leads to discussion, which is not encouraged on ES SE.

Furthermore, anyone who has been to the Dakota's knows pretty well why there aren't many people there. It shouldn't be a surprise that cold/dry places are less attractive than warm/wet places. In fact population all over the world is centered around coast-lines, fresh water sources, and tolerable climate.

What's good for ES SE:

  • questions about the history of Earth Science
  • questions about how economics have influenced Earth Science
  • questions about how humans interact with the Earth
  • questions about why climate distribution is the way it is
  • questions about vegetation distribution
  • questions about the underlying data behind a map (though GIS ES might be better)

What's not good for ES SE:

  • questions that are broad and not focused on a particular scientific question
  • questions about why humans have migrated to certain places
  • questions about sociology
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