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I don't believe it's a surprise to anyone that I'm an advocate of swift question closure. I'd rather have a chance to help a user produce a great question than suffer the problems that come with merely good (or worse, mediocre) questions.

However, whether you agree with my behavior or not, I believe close voting on our creative, subjective, and amazing Stack suffers for inconsistent close voting—especially as most close voters choose not to offer advice for improving the question.

An example of my concern comes from one of our users, who posted this question:

which was closed within a day and aggregating eight down-votes. However, this question from the same user posted 20 days ago:

is identical in form and intent and yet aggregated two up-votes and nary a single close vote. This was preceded by this related question posted yet two weeks earlier:

which aggregated three down-votes and was closed for a completely different reason than the first question I mentioned.

Request #1 I ask the moderators to please, please, please make the effort to come up with a final policy for how the Opinion-Based close reason should be used on this site and post that policy in the most closely-related Help Center page you can edit. We've been debating this since 2014. While I suspect a debate about how it should be used would be vigorous, I also suspect that in the long run nobody will care what the policy is so long as there's a posted explanation that everyone can easily point to for the purpose of justifying how they used that vote. Please. I'm begging on my hands and knees.

It doesn't help that VTC:Opinion-Based it closely related to the just-as-long-debated issue of allowing Fishing-for-Ideas/Idea-Generation/Brainstorming questions. At one time I promoted the idea that asking for an infinite list of things (meaning the question is poorly bounded) is off-topic while asking for a finite list of things (meaning the question is well enough bounded to limit responses) is on-topic. But while that distinction was reasonably well received, time has proven that creating Meta-only-based policies simply doesn't work in the long run.

Request #2 I ask all users to please think through your VTC reasoning. Even if you choose to offer no additional insight to the OP (which is your right), if you can justify in your heart-of-hearts any close reason other than Opinion-Based, please get in the habit of doing so. If you seriously think Opinion-Based is the only right answer, I further recommend that you instead select "A Community-Specific Reason -> Other" and explain it.

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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that moderators aren't supposed to make up site policy. They're supposed to serve as exception handlers for when community moderation is insufficient. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 31, 2022 at 0:44
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings Only moderators can change the Help Center pages. If they want a public debate beyond the last seven years, that's their prerogative... but we shouldn't fool ourselves. They hold the keys to the Help Center. Until Stack Exchange chooses to provide a means for the community to update the HC directly, the moderators set permanent policy. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 31, 2022 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ There's a difference between proposing a change to the help center text, getting community buy in, and then a Mod making the edit, and asking the mods to on their own "come up with a policy". Do you have a change to text you'd like to propose? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 31, 2022 at 2:31
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings I've been proposing changes for years. A search against my user account for questions having "opinion based" in them will show that. Why bother with yet another effort to fix the problem when the only people who can fix the problem won't act? Unless the Mods choose to start the discussion, it's an additional waste of time. I'm begging them to start the discussion. Or make a choice. Anything other than to ignore it again. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 31, 2022 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ There is key context omitted in the way this is expressed - the CAIS question was edited by LDutch into the same form as the Asperger question AFTER it had attracted the downvotes and been closed. Prior to the edit it was a very different question with (IMO) many possible valid reasons for closing. (Full disclosure - I had considered VTC on the Asperger question because it is asking for guesses at possible decisions of characters, albeit large numbers = story based. Only reason I did not VTC was the hope there might be knowledge out there for a high quality answer.) $\endgroup$ Feb 2, 2022 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ Something that is bothering me is people keep citing my name on Meta and I don't get any message or notification about that. Now it happens in an opening. Last time a complete comment thread got a review here and the topic got locked so I did not even have a chance to put a response. These are week days, not everyone has the time to "sit" on this forum and wait for things to appear. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 2, 2022 at 7:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies you would only get a notification if mentioned in a comment - using @<username> in a post is not special and does not produce a notification. In addition, you have to be "involved" in a post to get a notification from a comment - if you edited it, or posted a comment, or similar. For more information see: How do comment @replies work? $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 2, 2022 at 7:29
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ nope, no message.. Ive noticed that. It happened 2x, once in an answer and now in an opening. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 2, 2022 at 7:35
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ you don't have to educate me on that, I don't need your paternalism and I can read. I just express my discontent about being cited without me knowing it. Without any doubt, the opener is aware of this shortcoming of the SE software. I don't find it polite to do these things in any community (rest my case now, hope it is clear) $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 2, 2022 at 11:57
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 2, 2022 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 Thank you for pointing out the edit chain. I had not reviewed that before posting this. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 2, 2022 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact I removed the one with the link, the rest has been moved out to chat already. Could you do me a favor and remove my account name from your opening ? $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 2, 2022 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies I apologize I couldn't get to that faster. Thanks for the edit, no problem. I honestly didn't think it was shedding a bad light on you. Sorry if it did. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 3, 2022 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ Just to be sure, you ask "request n°2" until "request n°1" is fulfilled, right? I mean, beyond "thinking about your close reasons" $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2022 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Ah, there we go. I was having trouble understanding your initial post. The answer is yes, I believe the two requests can be and should be thought of as mutually exclusive even though they're closely related. I hope that both (a) the Mods will solve the Opinion-Based problem by posting a permanent interpretation in the help center and (b) that people will spend more time actually thinking through why they think a question should be closed. I further believe that (a) would make (b) more successful, so I very much would like both. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 6, 2022 at 19:52

5 Answers 5

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The problem is not inconsistency. All active VTC'ers are rather consistent in their votes. The real problem is the lack of a well-defined policy.

As it is now, 'opinion-based' is a purely subjective reason for closure that is dangerously close to 'I do not like this question'.

I second the request for moderators to get involved. The WB.SE does need a proper policy that is written into the official rules. The Help Centre should be updated to include it, even if it is a link to a Meta discussion that contains the final decision on policy and its interpretation. And no one except for moderators can do it.

It is my opinion that Meta discussions can not and should not be used as a substitute for actual rules. There are very few people who read Meta. And even fewer actually participate in discussions. In addition to this, contradicting opinions/positions/proposals may have a comparable number of upvotes and downvotes, so it is not possible to determine which of them are the 'policy'.

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  • $\begingroup$ For the record, I'm the up-voter. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 1, 2022 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps @JoinJBHonCodidact might edit the question/proposal with a link to all the related relevant meta posts so that the mods can get the flavour of the community consensus (at least of those of us who do read and participate in meta). $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2022 at 0:38
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    $\begingroup$ @EveninginGethsemane I am not sure that there is a consensus. There is a lot of confusion about the 'opinion-based' reason for VTC. Everyone has their own idea about it. It might be better to analyse the comments on the main stack and base the policy on current practices rather than going through old meta discussions, especially considering that many participants of those discussions are no longer involved with the WB.SE. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Feb 13, 2022 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ As long as something decisive is put in place - if it kicks-up issues then it can be modified accordingly at a later date. I'm not certain about the tools they have, perhaps searching the comments might work or might not be possible, if not just taking a look at questions closed for the OB reason might be enough. I'm not so much bothered about the source of the policy as long as we have a clear one (even if temporary). $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2022 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ @EveninginGethsemane In my opinion, this is something that moderators should finally do. It is up to them to decide how to approach it. Regular users cannot do much at this point. Discussions about the 'opinion-based' were held for years and they resulted only in more confusion and user dissatisfaction. And only moderators have the power to formalise the rules. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Feb 13, 2022 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ @EveninginGethsemane Otkin's right, if we had a consensus, this whole post wouldn't exist. The list of links you're looking for might list past 50. If you want to see just what I've done, paste the following into the search bar: user:40609 is:question "opinion based" I, too, no longer care what the policy is so long as it's in the help center. That way when I decide it's an appropriate VTC reason I can link to the help center and people will stop complaining that it's not authoritative. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 13, 2022 at 23:02
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Subjectivity Rules the Day

As you know, I'm often in agreement with you on matters of custom and even policy. I think my main concern here is not so much the desire to be consistent in voting to close (or "voting" to leave open); but rather the question is how does the community achieve consensus on what consistency means.

I've been fairly self consistent in arguing against "opinion based" as a closure rationale. (Assume a "good" to "excellent" question with an engaging matter and sufficient responsorial paraphernalia present.) Other people have been fairly self consistent in voting to close those same questions because they are inherently opinion based. (These tend to be questions of the magic and dragon wings sort.) If three users espouse five different opinions on what opinion based actually is, I don't think any policy is going to work.

Let's take a look at the three named queries, I would note the following:

The CAIS query was closed for being opinion based. I can see the point, though I disagree with their rationale. Of course it's an opinion! Every question in this forum is seeking an opinion! I also think the question could be stellar if properly worded. This is a fascinating area of worldbuilding that I've done a lot of work on and I think this question could be edited to work well in this forum. I left a comment to that effect.

I would have very reluctantly voted to close this question for lacking detail, but I would have also engaged the OP in making it better. If she edits it substantively, I'd happily propose reopening!

I think the Aspergers query remains open because it's better written. It sort of provides some rationales for parents to choose this for their kids. (Though to play devil's advocate: if you have the gene editing tech and wherewithal to give a kid Aspergers, why sentence her to all the potential problems it brings along with it when you can simply edit the genes different, give her "more neurons" and thus make her smarter?) I'd also gnitpique that bit about "aspergers cases rising" --- it's not that there are more actual cases, it's that more cases are being diagnosed. Improved access to better diagnostics allows this kind of awareness to bubble up in the common consciousness.

I would have left this one alone, though might suggest clarifying edits.

On these two queries specifically, I would resist the temptation simply because I find CAIS and minor sexes/genders to be far more interesting a topic than autism, but I think the case can be made that the CAIS query be closed as a typological duplicate. The actual matter of the question is different, but the question itself is identical.

As for the length of gestation query, I am boggled how that one got closed for being story based. Opinion based (!) maybe, but I see nothing that indicates that it is a matter of plot development or character evolution. This is a straight up query of technology in society -- in other words, worldbuilding!

I would not have voted to close this question, as it stands, but neither will I vote to reopen unless it's clarified a little better.

I don't know if this helps or hurts your plea! But at the very least, I think it speaks to the real difficulty a forum like ours has when it comes to objectifying the inherently subjective.

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    $\begingroup$ That was a great analysis of how you viewed the three questions! Thanks for adding that. As for my hope of a reasonably definitive definition of use for the Opinion Based closure reason, heck, I'd take, "we don't use it!" so long as it's in the Help Center so I can point people to an authoritative reason to invite them to revoke their votes. Yup, that comes with the consequence of not being allowed to vote a new reason - but people would figure out not to do it (I'd hope) soon enough. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 31, 2022 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ As one of the people who voted to close the artificial womb question I can give you my particular rational for going story-based: the question is about a hypothetical technology that we don't have yet, therefore the exact performance of that technology is up to the author, in short it's parameters and the possibilities they create are a matter of plot. The further edition of gene editing for designer babies simply muddies the waters. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Feb 6, 2022 at 3:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash -- I don't concur, but I can see your point! For me, the science a/o magic that goes into technology and the form and performance of the tech itself are all fundamental rules of the world. Like airships vs aeroplanes: their potential existence is governed the world itself. What colours the ship should be painted, what the ships are used for and what their routes are is more a matter of story for me. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Feb 6, 2022 at 19:46
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When you need an answer, search if someone already asked what you need and read a question about X thing, which is very broad and very opinion based but it has lots of upvotes and it is very well received.

But you need X+Y so you ask another question, it gets closed within a few hours as opinion based.

This happened to almost everyone who spent a few months on Worldbuilding.SE.

Close votes are as opinion based as they can be.

Fun experiment on monkeys to show innate sense of fairness (youtube)

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  • $\begingroup$ It didn't happen to me in any of my questions. In fact, by closer experience, I find very broad questions to be much more likely closed for being opinion based than not. Indeed, questions which have issues tend to have more than one, and when they have many the reasoning to close tend to be either confused or blurred. In these cases, opinion-based act a little bit like a joker card ^^'. $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2022 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ Hello User89947. X+Y questions are actually a regular problem here, and not simply because the question may or may not be opinion based. Frequently, the problem is that the OP won't extrapolate a suitable answer from X. In other words, we too frequently have people who ask lim(y→0)X+Y and think that there's enough difference that a new answer is warranted, or lim(y→∞)X+Y and then wonder why their question is too vague (aka, opinion based). As for people voting capriciously, most do OK, but the presence of a poorly defined VTC reason doesn't help. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 6, 2022 at 19:13
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Part of the issue with Opinion based is with the opener

I'd like to participate as a peer-mod. There are a lots of rules, but I'm slowly getting to grip with them, imho the main problem is with the openers.

The WB-rules are not clear to askers/openers.

We request an edit, the edit won't come, because our explanation is not understood. "Opinion based" is one of the worst close reasons to explain to openers. In the past months, I've come to understand why it exists: you'll get far too many answers and it is not clear what the (single, green) acknowledged answer should be.

Opinion based is too general, split it, get rid of it

Maybe it would help if the (2, 3?) conditions for "Opinion based" would 1) be simplified and 2) become a separate close reason. These can be added to the dialog, and the current Opinion based reason removed. "Opinion based" is far too broad. When talking non-exact sciences, in fact everything is opinion in fiction. People don't know how to edit their question to avoid it.

Other issues with closures, technical solutions

  1. I know there are reasons, but imho close votes should not be put too quickly. The forum software will immediately close at the 5th vote, many times this occurs within hours of the question, the 5 close votes are sometimes all put within one hour ! The asker will not always return within that time span. It would be less intrusive and frustrating for openers and answerers, when the actual closure is postponed. Having a "close gang" could be prevented by using a time limit between close votes, e.g. 1 hour. This would also make sure questions are not closed too quickly, or people rush through their reviews too quickly, without giving explanations in comments.
  2. WB is growing. The number of members with close votes is growing.. Why keep the number at 5 votes to close/reopen and not 8 votes ? or 10 ? That would give the opener some extra time as well.
  3. I feel the implementation of SE closure via close votes and reviews is difficult to learn, that is.. when I vote to close something, I'm on my own.. I don't know why others chose that particular reason. Asking for consistency among peer-mods is nice, but it is not supported in the software. It would be convenient, to have some chat-like function to explain your close vote, that would be made visible in the review. Another solution may be to not accept close votes by people who did not comment on the question.
  4. (part question) it is not always clear why some topics disappear from the review.. maybe there's a rational reason for it, I did not find it.
  5. A question: I have tried to find it, but I don't see where the rules state when closed topics are to be be removed completely. Is there any answer to that ? Is removing topics automatic, is it a mod permission, or a higher level peer-mod decision ?
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    $\begingroup$ The entire point is that questions which need to be closed should be closed as quickly as possible; the goal being to close the question before somebody answers it, so that the querent can safely edit the question without invalidating existing answers. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 2, 2022 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP a quick close only makes the opener's problem worse. No use to edit, people won't return. As long as close votes are pending, say 2-3 votes, people may be persuaded to salvage their question. I noticed that a question edited will not return in the reviews. A topic is [ Closed ] in the question list and goes down, despite the effort. As a peer-mod, I sometimes tried to help, by changing a title.. a word.. sometimes I succeeded to keep it open. I never succeeded to get something reopened with an edit. Questions that get answered will stay up. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 2, 2022 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Goodies So if the question is closed, and people don't make sufficient edits to the post to get it reopened, it stays closed. Seems like the system is working as intended. The whole point is to get it closed quickly so that edits can be made without invalidating incoming answers. We require that edits to a post don't invalidate existing answers. This policy takes precedence over edits to get a post reopened. We also don't want to encourage off topic questions by allowing them to collect answers in the first place. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Feb 2, 2022 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings these "intermediate answers" pose a problem, I agree on that. But I don't think your initial assumption holds. Edited questions or titles will not reappear in the Review, despite the edit. The edit itself does not draw attention. The topic will be ignored in the followup and go down in the list, after they get a [ Closed ] mark. Reopenings are rare on WB. Maybe someone has the statistics ? $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 2, 2022 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Goodies You're mistaken. As soon as a closed question is edited it automatically enters the VTO review queue. The system is designed to draw attention to edited closed questions, to get them reopened. If a question hasn't been closed before it has been satisfactorily edited then further close reviewers do a good job of keeping the edited question from being closed. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Feb 2, 2022 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ Euhm.. @sphennings are you sure that actually works ? Also mods may interfere.. I've seen a case last week where an edit was put (by me) and it did not return in the reopen review, I had to vote to reopen it, using the link below the question, an my reopen vote remained the only one ref worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/223344/… $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 2, 2022 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies I don't see any edits that resolve the issues that got the question closed. Looks like similar to how a mods vote closes a question, a mods vote takes it out of the VTO review queue. I could be wrong on that. That's not mod interference that's mods using their power as intended. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Feb 2, 2022 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings maybe that happened, but I did solve one of the two close reasons there. I put a very small change in the question, giving it focus and preserving the existing answers. I don't understand things have to be removed from a reopen review, I've seen it more often. It will make a question unsalvagable.. and in this case it was an interesting issue and an interesting subject, the commercial potential of black holes. The "Opinion based" close reason always has defenders and protesters. Why not allow peer mods to decide for themselves, if they upvote or not ? $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 2, 2022 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Goodies Solving 1 of the 2 reasons still leaves you with 1 reason that the question should be closed. The important criteria when assessing whether a post should be opened, or closed, is "As written is it a good fit for this site?" and if there's still an unaddressed concern, such as those raised in the comments, it should remain closed. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Feb 2, 2022 at 23:33
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings I could not resolve the "Opinion based" objection completely, as for the "best" answer. I provided a change that would make it at least answerable. As I remember there were 3 out of 5 with "Opinion based" reason. See the comments. I tried to solve the "focus" issue that was mensioned 1x and the "answerable" issue that was mentioned 2x. Both were solved, still it was denied review, apparently. I really did not understand why that happened. For me, it illustrates the issue with "opinion based". It is too vague/broad and it is too prominent. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 2, 2022 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Feb 2, 2022 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ I haven't read through all the comments, but the Opinion Based close reason doesn't belong to Worldbuilding. It belongs to Stack Exchange and it's network-wide. In other words, we can't change it and we can't get rid of it. Our only options are to provide an authoritative explanation of what to do with it or ignore it, which is what we've been doing since coming out of beta. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 3, 2022 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ Your question was removed from the VTO queue by L.Dutch. This is the system message that I can see: 'Left closed in review as "Original close reason(s) were not resolved" by L.Dutch♦'. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Feb 3, 2022 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ Opinion-based reason for closure cannot be removed, AFAIK. It is 'baked' into the system. It also cannot be used on the WB.SE as it was intended originally: To close questions that ask for answers that cannot be supported with facts and references. The only thing that can be done here, on the WB.SE, is to give it a new definition. This was attempted and resulted in the current state where 'opinion-based' is unclear. I think that a better solution for the WB.SE would be to limit 'opinon-based' to 'bad subjective' (aka questions about preferences). And use proper VTC reasons for the rest. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Feb 3, 2022 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ Thx for the info @Otkin, and JBH ,apparently I did not notice this review message, nor realize the technical limitations of having a one-config-fits-all kind of Q&A software SE uses. I also wonder now, if these things can be solved anyway, if the close-reason dialog cannot be configured for specific sites. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 3, 2022 at 22:35
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Require a downvote threshold for closing anything.

This post talks about upvotes as if they matter. But most of the things I see closed seem to have plenty of upvotes, to no avail. Is there any need or justification for a special "close" mechanism to override the readers who signalled that the posting was a good one?

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    $\begingroup$ Votes only reflect whether people like or dislike a post. They do not reflect an assessment of whether something is or is not a good fit for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Feb 3, 2022 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ I think that within the current situation when VTC's are not based on rules but personal preferences of VTC'ers your suggestion makes perfect sense. On the other hand, if the WB.SE ever formalises the rules and starts to abide by them strictly, it will not work. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Feb 3, 2022 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ Agree with @sphennings comment, votes and ctv's should be kept separate. I would also like to see a certain etiquette in downvoting, irt closures: today, there was a beginner question which was off topic, because it was an astronomy question. This question got closed within the hour and it received 3 downvotes after it got closed. I wonder if is it really needed, to downvote closed questions, that is punishing a member who has <200 points for posting something off-topic ? $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 4, 2022 at 15:19

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