The Re-Opening Process

EDIT 3: Not to belabor this post, which is obviously inactive, but I have one more related point if anyone is interested: another question of mine was put on hold for being opinion-based, and I have run into the same sort of issue: why is it opinion-based?

I think it would be very helpful for the OP to know which aspects of their post were deemed inappropriate (in this case, encouraging opinions instead of facts). I honestly don't know which part of my question the closers were objecting to, so it's very hard for me to edit or improve it. (This is sort of a feature request.)

Cheers!

I have a question about the closure process.

1. The whole system seems unnecessarily biased against the OP. We should keep in mind: there is little active harm in letting a bad question remain open. At worst it will distract users for a few seconds before they move on to other, better questions which they would rather answer. In this light:

2. Why does the process conform to a "guilty until proven innocent" model? As far as I can tell a question is put on hold as soon as it receives five votes, and there is no way to cast a counter-balancing "upvote" (perhaps I am wrong on this?). Only after the vote is completed does the user get instructions to edit the question (formally, that is... sometimes users are kind enough to alert an OP that they should change the question).

3. Why does the whole process occur behind the back of the OP him/herself? New users can be entirely unaware that votes are being cast to close/hold their question, and so be ignorant of any edits which may be appropriate or required. I, when this question began to receive downvotes, knew that this was happening. However, I had no way of knowing what the justification for these votes was. My question was apparently considered "opinion-based" - I still do not understand how "mental math tricks" are "opinion-based", or why I was never able to represent myself "on trial."

4. What exactly is the function of putting "iffy" questions like mine on hold? For context, my question, at the time of closure, had several upvotes (more than downvotes), several favorites, two responses (each with upvotes), and 5 constructive comments. Given that the users involved in making this happen clearly wanted to continue a discussion of the question, what is accomplished by putting the question on hold? Why not "live and let live?" The irony here is that none of the five people who voted to put it on hold had participated in any way in the question itself. The only interaction I got from them was one comment saying "You are asking for the best mental tricks -- that sounds opinion based to me..." Incidentally I was not asking for the "best mental tricks", I clarified this in the comments, I asked if anything else should be changed, and I had completely edited the question to its present state before the person who made the above comment helped put the question on hold. The purported justification for closing given in that comment was no longer valid, and yet the closure happened anyway.

5. Why does there not seem to be any good process for reviewing such instances as this? I commented several times, I read all the information on the sight about re-opening questions, I re-read my question to see if there were any ways to improve it, I noted that I had received several more upvotes, I flagged a moderator for attention, I added a request to this page where such requests are suppose to be made (thanks to @AlexBecker for showing be that) -- but my post is on the fifth page, and as far as I can tell nobody is going to view it anytime soon. This brings me to another question: why the ticking time bomb scenario? How does letting five days go by democratically represent the OP? In what way does this involve anyone productively?

I apologize if I sound exasperated, I have done my best to keep this post polite and constructive, and I will certainly edit it if anything is deemed out of line. To simplify the point, my questions are basically:

a) Why doesn't the OP get a say in the process, or at least a representative advocate?

b) If several users are interested in keeping a question open so they can post and comment on it, why shouldn't they be allowed to insofar as they are not actively harming anyone else on the site?

EDIT: Responses to comments/post.

Your thread, while it may be an interesting topic, isn't very focused.

I have to agree with this. But remember, my post was closed because it was "primarily opinion based", not because it was "too broad" or "lacking context". This is why I think the OP should have some kind of advocate during the process to review at least the possible validity of the claim. What I'm really saying is: why was a post allowed to be put on hold based on its "opinionated" nature, when it was not opinionated under any reasonable interpretation of the word?

This isn't irony at all. I vote to close (or not close) threads in which I have not participated. This is in an effort to give back and help keep the community clean and quality.

Ok, and I'm sure you do that responsibly, but would you close a post in which several users were exchanging comments/answers/upvotes and having a productive discussion about something mathematical and on-topic? What is accomplished by doing this? It does not keep the community clean and quality if half the community at the time of closure is trying to read the posts on the discussion in question.

I'm not saying that we should let any group of users hijack the site to use it as their own personal discussion arena, but why did 5 people so rapidly choose to close a question with an on-going conversation in which they weren't even a part? How was the discussion hurting the community? Surely by silencing the post they have done more harm than good, yes?

Downvotes are given by individuals and do not reflect the view of anyone except the individuals giving said votes.

This would seem to support my claim that the process is not very democratic. It takes the word of five people as law, and there is apparently no way for users to "upvote" closure votes and counterbalance the fight. (Is this right? Nobody has answered this question yet, perhaps I'm wrong.)

I'm sure the people that need to see your post in the Reopen see it. I am against deleting posts, as it is important to view close/reopen history in cases of threads where disputes may arise. There was a recent case last week where a thread was closed and reopened a couple times. It's nice for there to be documentation so everyone is on the same page.

Thank you for explaining this. As I mentioned in comments, I now see why that wouldn't be a good idea. (I have deleted question (c) accordingly)

there are queues that have users review questions for reopening once a reopen vote is cast;

But can reopen votes happen while close votes are being cast? (What I asked above) That is what I am wondering about. Otherwise it doesn't seem fair.

EDIT2: Response to Post

Discussions are primarily opinion based. It's subjective as to what is considered "neat" or a "trick."

I wasn't looking for a discussion, nor am I sure why you characterize my post as such. I tagged it under "big-list" and that is what I was looking for: a list of mental math tricks, ideally with proofs included. I never used the word "neat", and the word "trick" is an accident of the English language. I could just as well have called it "mental math techniques". (In fact, I will change that) By "mental math" I simply mean anything that can be done without the aid of a calculator by an average mathematician/student. Some may be harder to perform than others, but I don't see anything subjective about that.

Too broad also would have probably been appropriate.

Perhaps, but this is off point. It is not germane to any of the arguments I made in the post, nor was it referenced as justification by anyone who voted to put the question on hold. They all used "opinion-based" as their tag.

That said, I don't think it applies unless "too broad" is used fairly loosely. I think everyone knows roughly what "mental math" constitutes, and I tagged "arithmetic" to indicate that I was looking for simpler techniques that an average high-school mathematician (for instance) would be able to perform.

Your thread is clearly a discussion; and as such, simply not appropriate for the MSE forums.

Same as above. Whether or not this is true does not alter the substance of what I have said. I know of several other soft-questions/big-lists on this site that have received many upvotes, so I'm not exactly sure why this qualifies as a "discussion." I was envisioning a long list of answers, with no "chit chat" at all. What would there be to "discuss" about? Could you perhaps clarify your reasons for saying this?

• I think the short answer to why the system was designed this way is to optimize for pearls, not sand. – Alex Becker Apr 20 '14 at 2:31
• "What are some interesting" $\implies$ I am voting to close. – user127096 Apr 20 '14 at 2:39
• @HowAboutaNiceBigCupof What about these? The last received 22 upvotes. What is wrong with these questions?math.stackexchange.com/questions/299917/… math.stackexchange.com/questions/161287/… math.stackexchange.com/questions/191684/… math.stackexchange.com/questions/689315/… – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 2:41
• Can people please explain why they are downvoting? What aspects of the question are inappropriate? What should I change or delete from it? – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 3:35
• @NotNotLogical Downvoting on meta is used to indicate disagreement, not that the question is inappropriate or low quality. – user61527 Apr 20 '14 at 3:40
• @T.Bongers Oh I see. Thank you. – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 3:42
• Regarding your three questions at the end: For a), wouldn't you agree that there's a huge conflict of interest for the OP in keeping the question open (regardless of quality)? For b), there are queues that have users review questions for reopening once a reopen vote is cast; if there's an edit to the question after closure, it automatically enters these queues. For c), sort by "active" rather than by "votes" or "oldest." Deleting old reopen wouldn't make them disappear for 10k+ users, and many of the posts are useful for historical reasons. – user61527 Apr 20 '14 at 3:44
• @T.Bongers a) Conflict of interest? Of course! Isn't there a conflict of interest when a person pleads innocent in court? I merely meant that both sides should be represented, this is a basic principle of law. b) What I really meant was: if a group of people involved in the question (posting, commenting, upvoting, etc.) wish to continue their discussion, why shouldn't they be able to? I don't know how many of them will see that queue, and as I said the question was completely edited before closure (I haven't changed it since to my memory). c) Ok I think I agree, poster below made similar point – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 3:52
• The chat room might be a good place to continue the discussion: chat.stackexchange.com – ml0105 Apr 20 '14 at 3:56
• Ah thank, I just asked about that below your post. – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 3:56
• How does the chat room work? :) Sorry I'm pretty new to the site. – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 3:57
• Ok I'm just going to edit the post for now. If anyone wants to use a chat room please let me know I would be fine with that. – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 3:59
• @NotNotLogical If you go to the bar at the top of the page and click on the left, you should see a link to the general Mathematics chat. (You can also use ml0105's link.) There are other chat rooms too (for other sites and other purposes) but that's probably the one you want. Once you get there, just talk - it's a chat room. – Alexander Gruber Apr 20 '14 at 4:40
• Quit with the edits and go talk to each other in chat. This is not how editing is meant to be used. – Alexander Gruber Apr 20 '14 at 4:45
• Why does the process conform to a "guilty until proven innocent" model? As far as I can tell a question is put on hold as soon as it receives five votes, and there is no way to cast a counter-balancing "upvote". Actually, the process conforms to an "innocent until proven guilty" model. At the start the question is open and not on hold. – Joel Reyes Noche Apr 21 '14 at 12:28

2 Answers

I think Alex Becker's link hits the nail on the head. Frankly, it's not efficient to have back and forth with the post or thread owner every time an edit or close is made. A forum of this size gets lots of crap posts (not calling your thread crap). As in any forum, the number of members dealing with the issues are far fewer than those causing the issues. We cannot be expected to have dialog with every close vote, which may range from threads like yours to threads where the posts are homework questions that are poorly formatted and in broken English.

I don't think this is a "guilty until proven innocent" model at all. When I review close posts, I look at the potential for the thread to be used as a resource. That's what Stack Exchange is all about. People search for a pointed resource and get MSE threads. The four threads you provided all have something which I feel your thread lacks- focus. The first thread deals with computational group theory. If I Googled "computational group theory," then that would be a thread where I could get a feel for it. The thread about $\pi$ appearing outside of geometry is focused in the sense that it seeks to draw connections of a circle, a geometric object, to other areas of mathematics.

Your thread, while it may be an interesting topic, isn't very focused. It's a thread, which means posts are viewed in a certain order based on reputation, age, etc. It's very hard to weed through to get to graph theory tricks, or number theory tricks, etc. Your thread is a discussion question. Discussions are great, don't get me wrong. They just don't fall within the model of Stack Exchange.

The irony here is that none of the five people who voted to put it on hold had participated in any way in the question itself.

This isn't irony at all. I vote to close (or not close) threads in which I have not participated. This is in an effort to give back and help keep the community clean and quality.

However, I had no way of knowing what the justification for these votes was.

Downvotes are given by individuals and do not reflect the view of anyone except the individuals giving said votes. If there is a clear case of you being downvoted rapidly, you should first closely examine your posts to see what you could have done better. If you take a deep breath and feel your posts were quality, report the abuse. However, you only received one downvote on your MSE thread, so there is clearly no abuse here. Meta votes are about whether people agree with you, in general. They don't affect your MSE rep, so I wouldn't fret about them.

c) Perhaps it would be a good thing to delete all the resolved posts on the meta "re-open" post so that 5 pages of old requests don't hide new ones (like mine!) all the way at the bottom.

I'm sure the people that need to see your post in the Reopen see it. I am against deleting posts, as it is important to view close/reopen history in cases of threads where disputes may arise. There was a recent case last week where a thread was closed and reopened a couple times. It's nice for there to be documentation so everyone is on the same page.

Edit:

Ok, and I'm sure you do that responsibly, but would you close a post in which several users were exchanging comments/answers/upvotes and having a productive discussion about something mathematical and on-topic?

Yes, I probably would have voted to close your thread, as it doesn't fit into the MSE model introduced to every member upon signing up. Discussions are primarily opinion based. It's subjective as to what is considered "neat" or a "trick." Different people at different skill levels have different perspectives on "tricks." Too broad also would have probably been appropriate. Having multiple possible reasons for a close doesn't invalidate the close.

It does not keep the community clean and quality if half the community at the time of closure is trying to read the posts on the discussion in question.

They can still read and comment.

This would seem to support my claim that the process is not very democratic.

What's more democratic than the entire community having the ability to vote on your thread? Note that a downvote on your post is not the same thing as a close vote on your thread.

It takes the word of five people as law, and there is apparently no way for users to "upvote" closure votes and counterbalance the fight.

I have four options when moving to close a thread: Leave Open, Close, Edit, and Skip.

why did 5 people so rapidly choose to close a question with an on-going conversation in which they weren't even a part?

The fact that your thread was closed so fast is simply a matter of who was online and viewing the queue at the time. In order for your thread to be in the queue, someone has to flag it. Then five members with reputation at least 3000 review your post. These are active, contributing members, not one post drive-by members. We are also frequently "audited" in the review process. We have test cases to ensure we understand which types of posts to close. So we receive guidance in accordance with the MSE model. Frankly- your thread doesn't fit with the MSE model. I'm not saying it isn't a worthwhile discussion, just that MSE isn't the place for it. I cite the quote below from the MSE tour page: https://math.stackexchange.com/tour

This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat.

Your thread is clearly a discussion; and as such, simply not appropriate for the MSE forums. It's off-topic. It's like going to a C++ developer's group and posting a Lisp question. Or perhaps more pointed, it's like going to a C++ developer's forum that is help-only and asking "which IDE is your favorite?"

• Just to clarify: I got two downvotes, I believe one of them must have been changed or something. But I was really referring to the "close votes" which got to $4$ quite rapidly after my posting the question. And thank you for the response I will read through it more carefully to consider your points. – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 3:47
• I clicked your question thread and saw +4, -1 on your OP for Mental Math Tricks. I'm guessing someone flagged your thread, and enough people were viewing the close queue and saw your thread pop up. – ml0105 Apr 20 '14 at 3:49
• I'm pretty sure it was +3, -2 at some point during the process. But it doesn't really matter, I might be remembering wrong. – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 3:53
• Is it ok if I respond to your post as an answer? Or should I just use the comments? I'm not sure what the appropriate procedure is on meta... – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 3:56
• If it's sufficiently long, I don't object to an answer. – ml0105 Apr 20 '14 at 3:57

If you look at What types of questions should I avoid asking? at the Help Center, you will read

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

Given the existence of books like "Secrets of Mental Math" by Benjamin and Shermer, "How To Really Calculate In Your Head!" by Williams, or "Short-Cut Math" by Kelly, your question is probably too wide in scope.

Of course, your meta question was not about this specific case. Arguing that one needs to apply the same standard when closing questions on MSE as when one throws people into jail strikes me as quite absurd.

• Once again, I agree that the question is probably too broad in scope. But, as you say, the question was not about that. And I feel like you've distorted my argument, which was a little more substantive than "needs to apply the same standard... as when one throws people into jail." Please consider what I actually said in the post. – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 15:59
• And thanks for letting me know about those books! :) They look interesting. – user142299 Apr 20 '14 at 18:09