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At least one moderator has been unilaterally closing questions (e.g. with the first vote, for "missing context"). In the past, it has always been agreed that moderators should only use unilateral closing powers in cases where there can be no question about the decision (e.g. blatant spam). For other matters (and esp. for contentious matters), the community should use the SE-designed process to close and reopen posts as the community sees fit. Such decisions should not be made by a single member of the community. Do we still agree about this?

For those who many not be aware of the history. In the early days of MSE we did have serious problems with moderators closing questions that they personally felt were off-topic, e.g. too applied, or too elementary, or too computational, or too foundational, etc (questions that would surely be considered on-topic nowadays).

Thanks to Martin for pointing out a recent thread by Brian M. Scott about essentially the same issue (I was not here when that was posted). There Brian refers to such unilateral closures as an "abuse of [moderator] powers", a sentiment that I strongly agree with. This may well be the reason that we lost Brian. It was the reason that I left the site last year. I am very sad to see that not only do these problem still remain, but they've gotten much worse. How unfortunate for MSE.

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    $\begingroup$ Was there really a question about its fate? I mean this question seriously: I haven't paid careful enough attention to actually have realistic knowledge about the distribution of life cycles of such questions. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 25 '14 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ I propose, as general policy, that if there is no question that the fate of a question is to be closed, then its fine for it to be closed unilaterally. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 25 '14 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl Any such decisions should be made by the community, not by a single member using a unilateral, binding vote. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Feb 25 '14 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ (if this topic is about whether or not there is a question that the fate of questions like the example is to be closed, then you should actually say so, rather than couch it as a question about the general policy regarding questions for which there is no question. Otherwise, I will continue to respond to what is actually written) $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 25 '14 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ For people who didn't click through, the recent thread linked is about a weird corner case, which is that moderators should not close migrated questions (even as the 5th vote!) outside of really extreme situations. $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Feb 25 '14 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ "It was the reason that I left the site last year." Is there a reason you came back after exactly one year? $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Feb 25 '14 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ Bill, while I do agree that in general unilateral closure is not a good idea, I also recall that we always had a very fundamental disagreement on what counts as "reasonable" in this aspect. This is like saying that murder is the worst thing you can do in any possible scenario; without taking into account that sometimes you kill someone because they are shooting at you (it's not good all of a sudden, but it's not as bad as premeditated murder). And I feel that there is a very strong consensus that indeed unilateral closure is bad; but the real issue is when it becomes acceptable. [...] $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Feb 25 '14 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ [...] And it always bothers me in these discussions, that the focus was on the generality, which the majority of people already agreed upon, rather than the particularity which is where the disagreement lies. And the real issue was that all the ensuing discussions in comments of such threads were always thinly veiled discussions on the particular case, and rarely on the general case. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Feb 25 '14 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill: "inasmuch as possible" is too far; you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It would entail, for example, moderators leaving spam for the community to deal with. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 26 '14 at 3:01
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    $\begingroup$ I pick this nit because it is directly relevant to the topic. Tossing out an absolute proscription against moderators closing threads is inappropriate when the central topic discussion is about the extent to which moderators should close threads. If that's the topic you actually want to discuss, then discuss it! $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 26 '14 at 3:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl The point is that there is no one in the community who questions the topicality of spam. But there are members of the community who disagree widely on the very subjective criteria used to judge how much (if any) effort needs to be shown when posing questions. As such, no individual should be making that decision for the entire community. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Feb 26 '14 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ Bill, my advisor, whom I think is a wonderful teacher and a lecturer often says that it is a good idea not to discuss the most general theorem, if it obscures understanding. The same holds here. You wish to discuss the "most general settings", and in that settings the answer is simple "No, it's not a good idea. Yes, there should be exceptions." But now we're stuck on what are the exceptions, and that cannot be discussed in generality because it's a case to case problem that the moderators have to deal with each time anew. The gray area is huge, and I find your insistence counterproductive. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Feb 26 '14 at 7:34
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    $\begingroup$ Bill, it's easy to claim that any comment which is not on the most general abstract is immediately off topic. Yes, my comments are not on the topic of your question. They are about your attitude. You insist and refuse to accept that there is a possibility that the abstract question has a simple and agreeable answer. But the problem is that you and I (or you and the moderators) disagree on the implementation. As long as you keep ignoring this fact, you will always be disappointed by the "lack of constructive discussions on meta". And that is a shame. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Feb 26 '14 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ I never said that you did say anything about my previous comments; I said something about my previous comments. As for my inference, it may be false. But that's how I understand your behavior, and I'm not sure where my mistake is (except for the fact that the function which takes beliefs to behavior often has discontinuities, so to speak, and this might as well be one on my side, or yours). $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Feb 26 '14 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ I posit that lamenting the alleged abuse of moderator power in specific instances is a rather poor way to start a discussion about the abstract question. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 27 '14 at 2:44
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If it's clear that the ultimate fate of a question is to be closed (or to be put on hold until improved) then I can see only drawbacks to requiring moderators to abstain from accelerating the process.

(EDIT: I knew I was missing an obvious one: an incidental increase in the number of mistakes. This is, of course, mitigated by the requirement of clarity)

As a preemptive measure, I feel I should point out "the ultimate fate is to be closed" is very different from "it is fated to go through a close/reopen war", "will accrue a few close votes but not actually be closed", and "I personally think questions like this do not belong on MSE". And that "it's clear" is much stronger than, say, "75% confidence".

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    $\begingroup$ After thought, I can see one possible drawback: if moderators become much quicker on the draw than the rest of the community, we could eventually get to a position where the "training data" for classifying the eventual fate of a question would become tainted. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 25 '14 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ I think another shortcoming might be that the window of opportunity for improving the question before closure shrinks. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Feb 25 '14 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael: If you add in that there is lag before it gets reopened, I can see that. It could be mitigated if there was a fast way to quickly reopen questions when they are improved after being put on hold. I think there are a few possibilities to improve the response time; it would be interesting to make a new topic on it. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 25 '14 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael: ... but again going back to my lack of knowledge of the distribution of life cycles, do questions get improved before accumulating a fifth close vote? $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 25 '14 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ Questions that are edited after being closed are put into the review queue for reopen votes, so in theory should be reopened quickly if the edit is good. I also don't know how well this works in practice though. $\endgroup$ – mdp Feb 25 '14 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Matt: I never knew that! I suppose that's because reopen votes don't give notification icons on my SE status bar. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 25 '14 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl I learned it before the status bar appeared! I hadn't used the review queue for a while, but having just checked it, the only question under "reopen votes" had the description "this question was edited after being closed", so it appears this is still true. (Perhaps relevantly, the question was closed for lacking context and had been edited to include a lot more information about what the OP already does(n't) understand - I have voted to reopen!). $\endgroup$ – mdp Feb 26 '14 at 10:28
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Personally I do not feel comfortable with mods using their binding votes to close, delete or reopen a question. With the exception of spam and similar clear-cut cases, I think that moderator's vote should be as strong as votes of other members of the community.

Without implementing some changes by SE developers (which does not seem very probable) this is not very easy, but it is definitely not impossible.

  • When reopening questions, mods used to post comments in the re-open thread instead of voting. If there were enough comments from mods, that they wish to reopen, some of the mods cast their bounding vote and made a comment in that thread. (I suppose that the mods still proceed like this when reopening questions.)
  • This comment from 2010 (which was before my time at MSE) seems to indicate that mods used to post a comment that they think a question should be closed instead of casting a vote. I do not know when this practice stopped, but it seems like a reasonable possibility to me.
  • Another possibility could be using dedicated chatroom for this (or use some of the chatrooms that already exists). But I think that this could become a little chaotic; I think that other possibilities are better.

I am aware that our moderators have a lot on their plates and I do not like the idea of adding even more work for them. But, as I said, unilateral closures do not seem right to me. Let us see what other members of our community think about this. (So, please, upvote or downvote this post to indicate your agreement/disagreement.)

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  • $\begingroup$ I presume you agree with using binding votes to close spam.... If so, a worthwhile exercise is to imagine that you didn't already have a solid belief that spam is "fair game"; how would you arrive at that belief despite your discomfort with binding votes? Would you even be able to? I think these sorts of explanations are incredibly important in this sort of discussion; it makes all the difference between a reasoned opinion and a dogmatic "Power is bad! Nobody should have power, except when I say it's okay". $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 27 '14 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, that wasn't meant as an attack; let me try to explain better. It's easy to just cite a general principle like "power is bad"; but it is also nearly content free: I think nearly everyone would agree that the more power one has and uses, the more potential for it to be used for harm. But there are clearly uses that outweigh the potential for harm. In a discussion about just how much power should be had/used, it becomes problematic to just cite the general principle, because it turns into a double standard: your opinion is bad because {principle}, although my opinions are exceptions. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 28 '14 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ ... which is why it is more productive to actually comment on why and how one thinks a line should be drawn in a particular place or what sorts of things should be on which side of the line; such a comment is what I was hoping to get as a response. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 28 '14 at 0:33
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    $\begingroup$ "dogmatic ... nearly content free ... double standard ... power is bad ... "except when I say it's okay". --- that's at least 5 blatant misrepresentations, and I doubt @Hurkyl will be able to locate specific material in the answer that matches any of those negative descriptions. The obvious thing to do would be to delete the comments, which would be just as well considering the silliness of the comparison between spam and mathematics questions. If there is a real point to be made I'm sure it can be done in some other way. $\endgroup$ – zyx Feb 28 '14 at 5:47
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx: I would explain better what I meant... but I already did. :P And who's making a comparison? I would be happy with any attempt to explain just what one thinks justifies an exception to the general principle: I only offer up spam as a test case since it's relatively uncontroversial that it should be an exception. (and that it serves as a relatively easy sanity check) $\endgroup$ – user14972 Feb 28 '14 at 9:46
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    $\begingroup$ "I already did [explain that]". No, you did not explain any reason to call Martin's answer "dogmatic", or "content free", or to accuse him of applying a "double standard", or to claim that the answer (which does not include the word power) argues from the premise that "power is bad", or to present him as claiming personal command over which uses of power are "okay". @Hurkyl $\endgroup$ – zyx Feb 28 '14 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, my opinion changed a bit since I made this post. But it is probably better to leave the answer here, since the voting reflects (at least to some extent) position of other users at the time. (I have added this comment after seeing that this is discussed once again in comments to a recent question on meta.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak May 29 '17 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak What is your opinion now? $\endgroup$ – mrnovice May 30 '17 at 0:18

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