So I made a while ago a question that was downvoted and closed because it was a "why didn't" question, which supposedly does not fit this site.

However, quite a few other past questions are "why didn't" questions, but the questions are upvoted and kept open. That question is broader and show less research than mine, yet it got more answers and more votes.

I do not feel like whining or anything, but I do sincerely not see how his question is in any way better than mine.

EDIT: Also the first link does not work, it should be a bug in SE.

3 Answers 3


The generic problem of "why didn't" questions is the problem with all counterfactuals: they invite speculation.

SE sites generally frown on answers that are not supportable and tend to frown on questions that invite speculation.

Granted, History isn't as hard of a science as, say, chemistry, but good history and good historians do a lot of weeding out of speculation. That said, if the scope of a question is tightly focused enough, some plausible "this not that, and here's why" questions and answers can arise. By addressing such questions on a case-by-case basis some questions in this class will fit the constraints of our format.

Something else to consider is that History.SE has yet to graduate (out of beta) and is still working on upgrading its content. I'd rather we were hard on "why didn't" questions such that those who ask them take the time and trouble to refine them so they fit into the site by being tightly scoped.

The close/hold process is part of how that goal is achieved: if the question is improved it can be reopened. If the person asking it can't be bothered to engage with the community in improving the question, why leave it open?


Well, one of them had an answer of "Actually that did happen", which ironically makes it not off-topic because answers don't require speculation (even though its also probably an indication of seriously poor research).

The first question appears to be well on its way to being closed. I'll venture a guess that either it gets reworded, or it will be closed quite soon.

The third is two years old, and perhaps our users were a bit more forgiving back then. We get more questions these days, so perhaps users feel they can be more picky? I've also seen it happen where good answers can "save" a question that was otherwise well on its way to being closed. That might have happened there. Both answers are pretty good IMHO.

  • Yes, in my personal opinion, those questions aren't that bad and got very good answers. So I just don't know what is off-limits and what isn't.
    – Bregalad
    May 8, 2015 at 11:36
  • Good point. Which suggests that a question that encourages answers where part of it is "actually, that did happen" (in case A and not case B) are on topic. See my answer.
    – Tom Au
    Dec 5, 2017 at 10:45

"Why didn't" questions can make good questions of the comparison-contrast variety. In literature, it took the form of "Why didn't the dog bark in the night," when dogs usually do under similar circumstances (Sherlock Holmes). The answer was that the criminal was known to the dog, and the crime was an "inside job." That said, there are good "why didn't" and bad "why didn't" questions.

A bad "why didn't" question is something like "Why didn't the sun fail to rise today?" That is a question in a vacuum, and there is no motivation for it. A better question is, "Why hasn't the sun ever risen in the west instead of the east?" (Answer, because of the direction of the earth's rotation.) An even better question is, "Why hasn't the sun ever risen in the west instead of the east when it does on Uranus? (Because Uranus' direction of rotation is the opposite of the earth's. The latter two questions benefit from what I call comparison/contrast. You've demonstrated that your question is plausible in case A. What is it about case B that makes it different? Such a question is not "opinion based" because it is possible to list the factors that made things possible for A, and then show that these same factors did not exist in the case of B.

This is what I consider a good (or at least "not bad") "why didn't" question. It has one case, Hong Kong, that demonstrates that the question's premise is possible, and then ask why certain things happened there, and not Gibraltar; what were the differences between the two cases. There are some superficial similarities between Hong and Gibraltar. They were both strategically located, and both controlled by Britain, a Maritime power. Things just developed differently historically; e.g. Hong Kong, although "small" on both counts, ended up with a land area and population more than 100 times greater than Gibraltar. There were other important differences in the immediate environment. True, the question demonstrates a certain factual ignorance, but this, unlike e.g. ignorance of History SE protocol, isn't anything to be ashamed of.

  • (Sorry, accidentally pressed enter before I finished typing) I actually don't have a problem with "why didn't" questions per se, but I'm somewhat inclined to the opposite on "why didn't" comparison questions. A common problem I see is that the asker ignores key, and factually simple, differences between the two cases. It often then devolves into opinion based arguments over whether the simple factual answer is sufficient explanation. For instance Gibraltar is much smaller than Hong Kong Island even without the new acquisitions - but then we get, "why not smaller, densely populated city?"
    – Semaphore
    Dec 5, 2017 at 19:14
  • I don't know where the right balance to strike is. Personally I think the better "why didn't" questions are the ones who refrain from falsely assuming agency on the part of anyone in particular (e.g. "why didn't the British design a large population" or "why didn't the Allies restore Bavaria") or by attempting to draw false equivalencies. Perhaps focusing on a hypothetical scenario's own merits, e.g. "Why didn't this strategic location develop into a trading hub?" could work. Thinking more, I suspect any properly researched "why didn't" question could be rephrased to be clearly objective.
    – Semaphore
    Dec 5, 2017 at 19:27

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