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After voting to leave open a half-dozen Santa questions and considering my previous question about anatomically correct questions, I'd like to propose the following.

At this time I am aware of two kinds of "tradition" questions: Santa questions and "anatomically correct" questions. Yes, they're all off-topic for a variety of reasons, but they're also popular and fun. In other words, they're exceptions.

Rather than create lengthy meta descriptions for either of these two questions — and in an effort to keep people from voting to close many-year-old questions that are obviously in our tradition bracket — I would like to propose the creation of the following NOTICE for "anatomically correct" questions. This notice would be attached to all such questions past, present, and future to help people understand that they're a delightful exception to our normal rules. (See linked question for a proposed Santa notice.)

Anatomically Correct Creatures Tradition: Questions asking after the plausibility of anatomically correct mythological or fantastic creatures are a tradition at Worldbuilding.SE. Leniency is granted concerning our on-/off-topic rules. The OP should endevor to include as much information as possible about the creature in question to avoid the question being downvoted for poor research.

I'm pretty sure I don't have privileges to create and attach these notices. They're the same programmatic object as the notice. This means I'm going to need the help of someone great and powerful to help me get this done. Thanks!

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what you mean by tradition. It doesn't apply to anatomically correct. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Dec 23 '17 at 0:30
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    $\begingroup$ If only close voters would follow precedent, we wouldn't need any sorts of tradition banners. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 23 '17 at 0:33
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    $\begingroup$ Having had some experience with these, I'm of the opinion that post notices are unwieldy, especially given that they need to be manually added to questions - by mods. They're fine, but they should really only be used to solve or mitigate serious problems. I'm not sure I see a serious problem here. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Dec 23 '17 at 0:37
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion, I've read your precedent post, it goes against every Stack Exchange site I participate on. Rules change. Old posts are expected to be closed to reflect the new rules. If you preserve prcedent, you might as well ignore all the rules. Precedent should either be reflected in the current rules or it shouldn't exist. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 23 '17 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent, The anatomically correct questions become more off-topic the older they get. New users are using the older questions to justify asking new, off-topic questions. I tried to better understand the problem, but there are two camps: the "precedent overrules the rules" camp and the "yeah, we need to fix that" camp. Call it precedent or tradition, it's the same thing. I'm just trying to help the new users understand what are clearly unclear rules, mostly messed up by unwritten precedent that requires reading somone's mind to figure out. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 23 '17 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868, there may not be a serious problem (that should have generated an upvote for the "no" answer). But I found six close-votes for Santa questions in the queue, and I've found new users using old AC questions to justify new ones that are off-topic. I'm just looking for a practical way to solve the problem. I haven't found one yet (though changing the on/off topic FAQ to specifically say what's valid would help). $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 23 '17 at 1:00
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I didn't upvote your "No" answer because while I agree that it's not a great idea, I don't agree fully with the answer's reasoning. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Dec 23 '17 at 1:04
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH A practical way to solve the problem, is to resolve that the people voting to close these questions are wrong. The new questions by new users are on topic. Far too much gets closed around here, especially in thesoft sciences. The sooner people stop being so trigger happy with close votes, the sooner we can stop having this endless meta wrangling over what to close. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 23 '17 at 1:06
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion, "trigger happy with close votes" is another way of saying "poor descriptions of why to close." The largest offender is "principally opinion-based." Everything not involving science is opinion-based by definition. Our explanations of what that thin, nearly non-existent line means are difficult to find because the only decent definition is three-clicks deep after you've clicked the "ask question" link and there are undefined exceptions. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 23 '17 at 2:06
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH Having been in the trade of giving legal advice, the role of precedent is to assist with the interpretation of rules. No set of rules will cover every situation it was devised to cover precisely or without ambiguity. Now changes in the rules can and will override precedent. Rules and precedents should work together. You are right in "trying to help the new users understand what are clearly unclear rules, mostly messed up by unwritten precedent that requires reading someone's mind to figure out." The rules are unclear and their criteria hard to find. [to be continued] $\endgroup$ – a4android Dec 23 '17 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH [continues] Sometimes it requires deep diving into Meta to find the rationale behind the rules we have. Users often use their own ad hoc misinterpretations of the criteria in the rules. One point few consider: any changes to the rules will make eligible some closed questions for reopening. The criteria for vote to close should be in one accessible location with links to the discussions which decided what they should be. $\endgroup$ – a4android Dec 23 '17 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion The rules of review favour improving questions where possible. A noble ambition eclipsed by users who are overeager to close question rather improve them. As I discussed above the criteria are misinterpreted. Too many commenters slag questions instead of pointing their failings and ways to correct them. A cohort of high-frequency VTCers skews things in favour of closure. What practical way(s) do you have in mind to stop trigger-happiness? $\endgroup$ – a4android Dec 23 '17 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android, While in no way equal to your own experience, I come from a family of lawyers. You're correct about precedent... but it's only valuable when an individual (or, more frequently, a team of researchers) is focused on finding, understanding, and applying that precedent. There are rules just to control how precedent is used... because in the end the process is supposed to produce order. I have no doubt the reason SE in general avoids the use of precedent is that the average user doesn't understand how it's used or why... and yet rules change. Thus, they favor avoiding precedent. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 23 '17 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Excellent! That's explains why you have a reasonable grasp of what is involved. I think you're right about why precedent isn't used here. After my previous comments I realized the problem isn't between rules and precedent, it is between the interpretation of the rules and precedent. As I said precedent is used, normally, for guidance in interpretation of the rules. Interpretation here shifts according to fashion & users making the interpretations. [to be continued] $\endgroup$ – a4android Dec 24 '17 at 1:21
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    $\begingroup$ [continues] As it stands SE is a shambolic Rube Goldberg contrivance assembled by guesswork with halfway competent rules institututed by those with little knowledge or experience in the relevant decision-making processes and run by the mostly unenlightened. There seem to be a handful of people who do know how to make reasoned & proper decisions, but they are too few. Too often questions are closed for what seems like arbitrary reasons. Putting a question into a VTC category without saying why it fits is meaningless, leading to poor decisions. $\endgroup$ – a4android Dec 24 '17 at 1:36
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I agree with this answer, and have some things to add.

Post notices are not band-aids over weak questions: A question doesn't get a free pass just because somebody used a particular phrase in the title or a particular tag. Questions still have to be on-topic, appropriately-scoped, and clear. If they aren't, we need to fix them or put them on hold until they can be fixed.

But what about precedent? All sites evolve, including ours. We've learned a lot over the last 3+ years about what works well for Q&A here. We still have more to learn. On every site I've been on that's more than a couple years old, there are questions that seemed fine originally and that later get closed because of scope changes, re-examination of what can or can't be answered reasonably, and other factors. And I don't just mean questions with low votes and low views; it happens to popular, massively-upvoted questions, too. I have a Famous Question that was closed 2.5 years after asking. It has a historical lock now; the notice for that says something like "this is valuable content but is no longer a good example of an on-topic question, so don't base new questions on it".

We're not going to get two new post notices anyway: sites, by default, have three notices that moderators can apply. We have a fourth for hard science, because we made a strong case for it. We can't make anywhere near as strong a case here (and for your related request for Santa questions). Plus, all the stuff Michael said about managing these notices.

But... a possible mitigation for Santa

In Judaism there is a long tradition of getting a little silly around the holiday of Purim. It's not a free-for-all; there is a particular style to this silliness. But for a couple weeks a year, over on Mi Yodeya we allow questions that, the rest of the year, would be closed. We require that they contain a special notice in the body and a link to our policy on these questions. And then at the end of the season, we put them all on hold so that future askers aren't misled.

If our community wants Santa questions for a couple weeks in December, we could do something similar.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah. I didn't know about that limitation on notices. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 24 '17 at 1:18
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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea about the putting them on hold after the season $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Dec 24 '17 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ On the one hand, I like the concept of making a "special case" type of question by mentioning a policy for them within the question itself, then putting them on hold later (in this case, after the Christmas season). On the other hand, I still don't think having different rules at different times of the year is a good direction to head in. Should I be prohibited from asking about Santa Claus because I'm writing the Christmas story in April rather than December? I know that's probably not the intention, but that's the way it feels as suggested. It'd probably be tricky working out the details. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 25 '17 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling, Monica, this question recently used a Santa question to kinda in a sideways manner justify the scope and format fo their Q. Is it worth bringing the discussion of a Meta policy for Santa up? Or should I let the growling-quietly-while-sleeping dog lie? $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 17 '18 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH That question is on hold. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 17 '18 at 6:37
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Each question should be judged on its own merits.

Seriously.

Personally, I very often feel that the "anatomically correct" questions are poor. They are often both underspecified and broad. The titles very rarely actually summarize the question, so it's hard to know when clicking on the question title what you're about to see. (It doesn't really help in my mind when they are asked by people who have enough experience on the network, and on the site, that they should know how to do better.) I mentioned almost two years ago the issue of meaningful titles specifically in the context of the "anatomically correct" questions, and am pretty sure I've made the same argument in many different places. But that's all my opinion, and other peoples' opinions differ.

If a question is good, vote it up. If it's on topic, vote to leave open if someone pushes it into the queues; if enough people do that, it stays open. (I'm fairly sure it also dings the flagger's ability to flag a little bit, so if this happens consistently, their flags will carry less weight.) If it's off topic, flag or vote to close, and maybe leave a comment explaining your reasoning. If it's poor, vote it down. If you think it's on topic and you know enough to propose an answer, then post an answer. If you can't make up your mind or if the site consensus doesn't seem to mesh with what it says in the help center, bring it to Meta; maybe one or the other needs to be updated.

Notice how the above doesn't say anything about the subject matter of the question, or about who wrote it? That's on purpose. Even mods sometimes post questions that turn out to be off topic, or which turn (from even good) to closeworthy status as standards change. (Reminder: Diamond moderators aren't necessarily subject matter experts. We're just janitors. Even more so on a site that covers as broad a subject matter range as Worldbuilding does.) Even mods sometimes post poor answers. Who posted something has no bearing on whether it's on topic or off topic. None whatsoever.

Also, post notices shouldn't be used for every little thing. They require the involvement of a diamond moderator to add or remove from a post. They can only be added to the system, or changed, by Stack Exchange employees. The UI is somewhat clunky. (That last isn't a big issue in and of itself, but certainly doesn't help the workflow.)

The hard-science notice, in my opinion, really is only needed because of the site's dual standards. Dual standards should be avoided rather than encouraged just to be plastered over. The month during which a question is posted shouldn't determine whether it is on topic or off topic. Neither should the fact that I'm posting the question, as opposed to someone else posting the exact same question. While site standards change, standards should be consistent. If I post a Santa Claus question in August, it should be just as on or off topic as if I had posted the same question in December or in March. If a question is on topic when posted by a user with 20k reputation, it should be equally on topic when posted by a user with 1 reputation.

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No, we don't need this.

This will likely be more work than its worth and wouldn't stop new users from adding anatomically-correct questions to the VTC queues anyway.

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No we don't need this

We don't need this because these questions ARE on-topic. As are the santa ones. Whoever went through and flagged all the Santa questions for closing is a jerk, and I hope they stop voting on closing questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ A comment would have been better than muddying the water with a third answer to a two-answer question. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 23 '17 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH Poll-style meta discussions rarely work. They're limiting and don't really account for a wide range of views. Nothing wrong with letting people express themselves more freely. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Dec 23 '17 at 1:03
  • $\begingroup$ I can't speak to the Santa questions, I voted to leave them all open because even the wild-and-crazy ones are acceptable as traditions on this site (even when they don't meet our on-topic definitions.) The earliest anatomically correct questions and many of them on the list clearly violate the posted rules. Claiming tha they are on-topic by declaration is what a tradition is. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 23 '17 at 2:08
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH Can you explain why, in particular, they're off-topic, and if so, why we should allow future questions like them? If they're off-topic, they're off-topic; if they're not, they're not. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Dec 23 '17 at 2:47
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868, My quest started with the question linked in this question. "How could X evolve" questions are off-topic because no answer is any better than another. Maybe a geneticist could provide realistic insight (though I doubt it), but the reality is that given enoug time, anything can evolve ... making every answer equally valid and therefore "primarily opinion-based." $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 23 '17 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH It is your opinion that "How could X evolve" questions are off-topic, but not mine. It is yet to be determined that the site collectively determines those questions to be off-topic. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 23 '17 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion, That is EXACTLY my point. You have an opinion. I have an opinion. What we need is a clear definition. That's actually all I've been trying to promote, a method to help people understand what the rule (not hte opinion) is. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 23 '17 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH Questions about "How could X evolve?" fall within the province of the expertise of evolutionary biologists.While non-evolutionary biologists can only answer based on their opinions of non-expert kind, evolutionary biologists can apply their expert knowledge. Even concluding X might be impossible. I can see the value in your methodological approach, but ensuring that it is followed will be the main problem. Just like the way things are now. $\endgroup$ – a4android Dec 25 '17 at 11:38
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Yes, this is a good idea.

A notice like this will help all users understand our "anatomically-correct" tradition and avoid "anatomically-correct" questions ending up in the VTC queue.

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