Kafkaesque question closure(s)

This question seems about to be closed (4 votes currently), because it is (supposedly) "not about math as defined in the help center."

Can anyone explain this to me (if there is an explanation)? I find it mind-boggling. I would say the quality of the question places it very clearly in the top 1% of the site, as a conservative estimate.

PS: I happen to have answered this question, but that's not the reason I'm posting here. Rather, it's the other way around, if I hadn't answered it, I probably wouldn't be aware of the impending closure.

Added later: Thanks to all who attempted to clarify. I do not wish to get involved in any further discussion of this topic at this point, for several reasons, and maybe just one of them can serve as an illustration:

I asked my only question ever on MSE almost exactly 5 years ago, and it led a peaceful existence until yesterday, when all of a sudden it collects 3 close votes and 1 downvote.

Now of course this is so ridiculously childish that one shouldn't take it seriously, and one could even get some entertainment value out of it, but if this is how things are handled on MSE, then it's clearly not the kind of enterprise or activity I want to be a part of.

Added later still: Derek's theory in the comments below deserves praise for its good intentions, but it doesn't match the facts. The close "reason" given in the 3 original close votes was that the question was "too broad." Then apparently someone (rschwieb ?) felt compelled to investigate if more convincing close reasons could be found, and (what a stroke of luck, that!) it turns out that the same question was also asked by someone else. Sure enough, my question is closed now as a "duplicate." Never mind that the other question came later.

All of which is perfectly fine with me; I was feeling slightly embarrassed about the question anyway and would have deleted it if that had been possible. I do advise against further attempts to explain any of this, though.

• Mysterious? In all likelihood, because it is just a problem statement, which as you know we typically close for improvement. If you click through past the reason you saw to the sub-menu, it details everyone voted for this reason: "This question is missing context or other details" – rschwieb Mar 12 '19 at 17:06
• May I ask, what exactly are you basing your assessment of the question quality? Beyond being properly grammatical and typeset, there isn't much in the way that differentiates it from a question like this. I suppose one could certainly like the question itself, but that isn't really an objective measure of quality. – rschwieb Mar 12 '19 at 17:08
• I should also add that (as I have mentioned in previous discussions) some of us (at least me) don't come down as hard on example/counterexample questions if they are actually involved and hard, because it can be challenging to provide context. But as for the topic at hand (why people voted to close) we can say with some certainty what the sentiment was. – rschwieb Mar 12 '19 at 17:11
• Could you be more specific about what there is to praise? – rschwieb Mar 12 '19 at 18:56
• It's no longer closed, and I would personally not close it since it seems to be purely out of curiosity, but there are two points you should take note: (1) As quid already said in his answer, good questions as per the how-to-ask page will almost surely be well-received, and certainly be preferable to what the current question is right now (a bare question). – user21820 Mar 13 '19 at 7:35
• (2) The close-reason shown may not be the reason that all close-voters picked; those who picked it are listed at the end. Anyway the right reason would be "Off-topic: This question is missing context or other details" and not "Off-topic: This question is not about mathematics". – user21820 Mar 13 '19 at 7:36
• @ChristianRemling Since you say that it is obviously interesting, perhaps you might be able to add at least few sentences to the post explaining why the question is interesting or what it is related to. Or at least suggest to the OP what they might add to the question. (I am aware that some users object to somebody else than the OP editing context into the question, but maybe it is at least worth trying.) In the current form, it seems likely to continue the close/reopen (possibly delete/undeleted) cycle, especially after the additional attention that this question received from meta. – Martin Sleziak Mar 13 '19 at 14:06
• @ChristianRemling Your question was 1) unanswered, and 2) closed as duplicate. You don't lose any reputation by having a question closed. You only lose reputation when a question is deleted which usually doesn't happen for duplicates. There is also no particular value judgment related to a question being closed as a duplicate. Once there is a recent close vote on a question, it enters review queues. At that point many people will see it regardless of whether they are aware of this Meta question. – Derek Elkins left SE Mar 15 '19 at 3:29
• This was very unlikely to be some kind of coordinated campaign against you and is rather weak sauce as a "retaliation" (though still unacceptable if that was what it was). It's quite possible that the only reputation affecting part, the downvote, was by someone who was unaware of this Meta question. – Derek Elkins left SE Mar 15 '19 at 3:30
• @ChristianRemling The additional facts only support my "theory". As I stated, once you got one close vote, your question enters the review queues and is viewed by anyone looking at the review queues. If the three people who close voted as too broad were "retaliating", you'd have three downvotes, not one. If someone was trying to attack your reputation, closing as duplicate is about the worst possible way to do that. Being closed as too broad likely would lead to deletion eventually. The facts suggest that there was at most one, very incompetent, user "retaliating" against you. – Derek Elkins left SE Mar 15 '19 at 12:25
• @DerekElkins Pre-merge, Christian's question was answered by gt6989b (but it was moved to the other after the merge, making it look unanswered.) . But what you said is still basically the same: the other question had more answers and comments. All other things being equal, it seemed sensible to merge in the direction that occurred. – rschwieb Mar 15 '19 at 16:27
• Hi! I am the OP in the question mentioned here. When asking the question I hesitated between MathOverflow and math.stackexchange and opted for the latter as it didn't look like research-level to me. I am really puzzled about the open/close cycle that followed. I tried to formulate the question in a short and simple way. If somebody feels that the question does not respect the standards, please go ahead and edit, as I really don't see what to do. – Guillaume Aubrun Mar 18 '19 at 9:17
• More important: I was really happy by the answers I received, all of them being highly interesting. I commented to each answer to thank and share my joy of learning great mathematics. For some obscure reason these comments have been deleted. Let me take this opportunity to thank again all people who took the time to answer my question. – Guillaume Aubrun Mar 18 '19 at 9:20
• @GuillaumeAubrun As Quid's answer here points out, the reason for the closure(s) were that a question without some sort of context (or possibly "motivation" is more relevant here) is not a good question. It is not just about formulating the question in a "short and simple way". (I was one of the original 5 vote-to-close people, and this was my reason. Going by the closure reason ("off topic"), most of the other close-voters had a similar reason.) – user1729 Mar 18 '19 at 15:52
• (I do not know the reason for the repeated reopening. I guess being on +11 sways peoples opinions. I guess also this meta-question increases visibility, which means more people want to voice their opinion by voting one way or the other.) – user1729 Mar 18 '19 at 15:56

The "off-topic" menu contains some sub-points most notably this:

This question is missing context or other details: Please provide additional context, which ideally explains why the question is relevant to you and our community. Some forms of context include: background and motivation, relevant definitions, source, possible strategies, your current progress, why the question is interesting or important, etc.

I assume this will at least somewhat clear up the confusion. Now, some would still argue that there is nothing missing there, but some others do insist that more is required in a question post. Details of information that should be provided are given each there: How to ask a good question. especially the answer on context.

• That's a discussion that we had often. I won't contest that it is obviously interesting for some. But, I'll say this: obviously it could be made more interesting and accessible for many if more information was provided. If things were spelled out a bit more, at least the question would be essentially completely understandable for every calculus student at least. I don't see why we should not insist on higher standards for presentation. – quid Mar 12 '19 at 18:32
• Just to be clear regarding the previous comment: are you suggesting the question should have given a reference for how $L^1(\mathbb R)$ is defined and how convolution is defined on $L^1(\mathbb R)$? (I am not objecting, I just want to be clear about what needs to be spelled out in this particular question.) – Dap Mar 15 '19 at 3:51
• @Dap yes, that's what I had in mind. I am sure it's not the only way to contextualize the question. But when it already is presented as a bare and seemingly ad hoc problem, one might as well brake further it down to a question about an integral. – quid Mar 15 '19 at 17:58
• Anyone is free to dislike (read vote down) a question if it does not define standard terms that the voter in question happens to not know, and unable to google. But that is a terribly reason for closing a question. The fact that this might be a homework question is also not a reason to close it, since one might as well shut down the whole site if that criterion were strictly applied. – Alex B. Mar 24 '19 at 12:40
• @AlexB. "But that is a terribly reason for closing a question." Alright that's your opinion. Any more detailed thought on this. It's not as if this was not discussed any number of times already. – quid Mar 26 '19 at 19:37
• "The fact that this might be a homework question is also not a reason to close it [...]" Did anyone say it was closed for that reasons specifically? In any case, I did not. – quid Mar 26 '19 at 19:39
• One more point so that this does not get misunderstood @AlexB., the issue is not over the voter(s) not knowing or being unable to look up a term, it is about the quality of the presentation being lacking. This is a reason for closure on this site, as it is a reason for rejection or requests for revision at most any scholarly journal, for example. Depending on the instructor also for homework, term papers, etc. It's not very clear to me why that's so difficult to accept as it's perfectly common. – quid Mar 26 '19 at 22:38
• I do not submit to journals that reject papers for failing to define standard terms that every researcher in the area can be expected to know (and all the words used the in the post in question do indeed fall into this category). I will not argue about "most any scholarly journal", because I do not care what "most any scholarly journal" does. I do not like the tone of "It's not very clear to me why that's so difficult to accept as it's perfectly common", so I will now withdraw from this discussion. – Alex B. Mar 26 '19 at 22:53