It seems MSE moves in "eras". There are a lot of famous and insanely upvoted questions in the past which, by today's standards, would be regarded as dull and even really bad. But it seems a consensus among the experienced users that we are moving towards a better "community" with higher "standards", whatever that may mean.

My question, therefore, is: should we revisit our past and try to close/fix questions which, by today "standards", should be reaped? Or should we let "eras" have their place... after all, we may as well be in one of them?

A good example is this one. If this popped out in the close review, I would surely vote to close. Also, this one is highly opinion-based (the question itself is: "What's the best way to explain to a non-mathematician that complex numbers are necessary and meaningful, in the same way that real numbers are?").

My question bogs down to a practical nature: Is it unpolite/bad manner to introduce close votes to old questions, even if they apparently seemed well-received in the past?

This post seems related, but it adopts a different POV. This one also seems to talk about the issue. Both of them, however, do not discuss (it is discussed in the comments, but not adressed at the answers, and there is no consensus) if it is a good behaviour to do what is adressed. My question is exactly that.

  • $\begingroup$ This seems (to some extent) related: Why close old questions with accepted answers using the “no context” reason? (However, your question seems to be mainly about soft questions and opinion based questions.) Maybe it is worth mentioning that the first question you link was discussed in several threads on meta. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2015 at 3:47
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    $\begingroup$ Not only standards of the MSE community evolve, but also different people have different standards. For both examples you linked, I would either click on leave open or skip in the close votes review queue. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2015 at 3:52
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, I would also click on either leave open or skip if I encountered those questions in the queue. $\endgroup$
    – davidlowryduda Mod
    Oct 24, 2015 at 4:01
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak I know of the ubiquitousness of the "Batman Question" on meta, but I thought my question was of a different nature, with this only being an "example". It seems the meta posts on the "Batman Question" are specific to that question. Also, the examples are only that: examples. I only got the first things that sprang to mind. My question is of a more practical objective. I'll edit to clarify. PS: You and mixedmath would really skip the second one? I understand the first one, but the core of the second one is "What's the best way to explain to a non-mathematician..." (cont...) $\endgroup$
    – Aloizio Macedo Mod
    Oct 24, 2015 at 4:05
  • $\begingroup$ (...inuing) and that is intrinsically opinion-based. $\endgroup$
    – Aloizio Macedo Mod
    Oct 24, 2015 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ How about: close/fix an old problem only if if was already bumped to the front page for some other reason. $\endgroup$
    – GEdgar
    Oct 25, 2015 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ The Batman Question is wonderful. Questions about summing positive numbers to $-{1 \over 12}$ are not. These reflect my biases. In fact, if I recall correctly (and that is often in doubt), I think it was the Batman question (which I saw originally on makezine.com) that led me to MSE in the first place. I think@GEdgar's suggestion about a pragmatic approach is reasonable. $\endgroup$
    – copper.hat
    Oct 25, 2015 at 17:12

2 Answers 2


One problem with leaving old, poor questions be is that they are then used as precedents for new questions. We then get complaints of the form

Why was my question closed when A, B, and C are open!?

This is not to suggest that we should — or even could — systematically go through the tens of thousands of extant older questions and judge them all by today's standards. But should an older question be brought to your attention, it doesn't hurt much to lend it your critical eye.

Of course, with poor quality old questions there are options beyond closing.

  1. They can be edited to bring them into a more appropriate shape.

  2. In exceptional cases (e.g., containing a truly great answer, or otherwise noteworthy), you can flag the moderators to place them in a historical lock, the accompanying post notice for which states

    This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

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    $\begingroup$ Preferences change all the time. Only what current users value matters in selecting what additional content to take and what not to take. They consume the content. Which past content that users liked additional present content resembles should not be taken into consideration whether it is regarded as appropriate or inappropriate. But if so I suggest there is no need to lock or close old questions if this can be made clear to all users: that only what the current users consider appropriate, reflected in their votes, is appropriate. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2015 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ +1 Especially for this suggestion: "They can be edited to bring them into a more appropriate shape." $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2015 at 7:34
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    $\begingroup$ If a question is simply missing context, which is currently used as a criterion for "low quality", it is not always possible to add context (history, effort, thoughts, etc) without making edits that are considered extreme. So editing to bring an old question into appropriate shape is often not possible. $\endgroup$
    – robjohn Mod
    Oct 24, 2015 at 9:41
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    $\begingroup$ @robjohn Yes, there are probably many questions for which it is incredibly difficult for someone else to add context. I would guess a sizable number of these are integral computation questions for which there is little rhyme or reason to ask them (as opposed to similar variants), except that they have been taken from somewhere else. Adding references is another way to add context, which additionally makes such questions more searchable. (I realise that hunting down the exact source may be difficult for everyone but the original asker, who is probably long gone.) $\endgroup$
    – user642796
    Oct 24, 2015 at 10:29
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    $\begingroup$ @ArthurFischer More often than not, these questions ("What's $\int e^{\sin(\arctan(2x^2+1))} / \ln(\Gamma(x)) dx$???") have no real lasting value. They can be almost always be deleted with a nonnegative impact on the site. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2015 at 18:36

The problem is not so much the question of politeness I think as it's the question of how to value the content of a participatory website.

That a third pencil has no value and is not taken if offered does not necessarily mean that the first two taken have no value or had no value and should not have been taken and that if we have them in front of us we best get rid of them.

I suggest leaving questions and answers that are well received be and letting current preferences of site users who consume the site content filter additional content primarily.

That means once well received site content that would not have been well received much later should not be closed or removed.

It follows from a counterfactual analysis of the context. They are well received (otherwise they would be closed). Ultimately the site content is for the users. It is judged by their preferences because only they consume it. (Therefore it has value only so far as they value it and neither more nor less.)

So this content is not judged by an abstract standard of value above and beyond or other than their preferences at the moment as they are demonstrated. There is no entity with such a standard consuming site content.

This is all because of the participatory nature of the site.

Regarding precedents A.F. has a good point and I further suggest that the community do not consider any past site contents as precedents for deciding whether to take or leave additional future site contents.

The questions of taking or leaving are entirely questions of value. Consider the demonstrated value (votes total) to the community of site content as its value and let this solely determine whether to take or leave any given additional content and whether it keeps or removes the content taken in the past.

Actual site user preferences change. That an additional object is such that it satisfies past preferences if it were present in the past but was not so present and did not satisfy past preferences in fact does not give it any present value. This is determined solely by present preferences. So precedents cannot be valid rules in a participatory site regarding content.

So site content that was not well received and does not become well received simply is not well received.

Deciding by precedent the taking or leaving of additional site content is disregarding site user preferences and reducing its value.

However this means since we can ignore all precedents that there is no reason to close or remove (so that it cannot be taken as a precedent) the site content that was well received in the past but would not be additionally well received in the present if it was not already well received.

That something additional like it satisfies no other preferences, and would be left or removed does not mean that it the original satisfied and satisfies no preferences and should not have been taken or should be removed.

Concisely I suggest that altho much earlier desired content wouldn't be desirable now, this isn't a reason to do anything about it once it's on the site.

Preferences change not merely in eras but all the time. Current preferences don't imply much about actions caused by past preferences unless they are harmful not merely useless from the new perspective.

We get a better chef's knife to replace another which doesn't hone or hold its edge so well but usually we don't throw away the other one unless it's harmful (broken) or temporary (plastic).

Yet if precedents don't matter no harm exists. Why do anything if most users didn't feel the need to downvote reverse votes when their preferences changed, while some users may positively still like the choices they made?

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    $\begingroup$ The pretty good points you make drown in the number of words you need to make them. $\endgroup$
    – Lord_Farin
    Oct 24, 2015 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ I know. However does that make them invalid? Choice theory is needed to make the arguments stand. There are also many factors to consider. Anyway I clarified my own thoughts about the subject. This question pops up on the various SE sites periodically. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2015 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding replacement see Concisely ... (More words ... ) Basically we don't throw away the results of preferences after they change. There is no reason and some users may still be satisfied with them. We also don't throw away content that causes satiety after additional such content, this superfluous and not taken. This content is still serving some purpose. There is a mix of users some in the first case others in the second case. Which suggests doing nothing with past well received content. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2015 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ You seem to be convinced the content is not harmful but the content might in fact be harmful in a way. You, as quite a few others in such arguments, argue the case from the point of view of an informed users. But this is not really what is most relevant. Most traffic the site gets is via search-engines. Some potential new user might stumble over an old "bad" post and this post will shape their first impression of the site. They might be turned away by the poor quality or might take it as a model for their question, which then is also "bad." (I deleted some of the older comnt mainly about MO.) $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Oct 24, 2015 at 16:01

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