The recent two questions I have asked have received harsh treatment in my view as a layman. I find the community unwilling to edit questions to achieve the necessary standard. The recent one:


Has received many downvotes in a short period of time, although it refers to events which have a large historical importance, I was unable to get it across as a layman. The sources and preparation are an inhibition. I would have like experts to see gaps and provide support rather than shut the questions down. If not the site is almost answering the questions themselves. Examples are numerous in StackOverflow who have spawned all these subsites. Look at how many 'noob' basic questions get answered there. That is why it kicked off so well. There were plenty of developer mailing lists prior to it.

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    The question was moved again to the mythology stack exchange, and the comments from top rated contributors states everything that is wrong with the treatment here. mythology.stackexchange.com/q/1538/88 – Vass Mar 26 '16 at 17:46
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    Your question probably didn't deserve such a harsh response. I think the biggest problem was that you started with "it is commonly known". That phrase is almost always followed by a blatantly false claim and I sense people are allergic about it. It is unfortunate because it really has nothing at all to do with your real question, which seems to be whether Hellenic paganism proselytise. Anyway, problems were pointed out to you in comments at the time. I'm not sure why you wouldn't edit your questions to address the concerns people raised? – Semaphore Mar 26 '16 at 17:55
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    Actually, I don't know why you asked MarkC.Wallace to edit a source into your claim, and complain about "no offers to edit". Shouldn't you edit your own question yourself to support your own claim? – Semaphore Mar 26 '16 at 17:56
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    @Semaphore, not complaining, but wondering why there was no desire to fix what was wrong if it was easily seen. Today I was in a cafe and people discussed some history of the city. Different views, I think this is a time which is going to look into history more often. StackExchange is a landmark in education. If this site doesn't pick up, history will be left to YouTube and occasional Wikipedia. The 'historians' of this site are making 'history' by shutting down questions containing layman amateur mistakes of contemporary language and lack of formality. This is your decision of treatment – Vass Mar 29 '16 at 0:02
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    @Semaphore, and a simple last point, meta.stackexchange.com/q/442/150457, edits to questions are part of the SE philosophy, and why there are badges allocated to people who help questions survive, not for closing them down. – Vass Mar 29 '16 at 0:12
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    I don't think you can legitimately blame the community for asking you to fix your own question as "no desire to fix what was wrong" – Semaphore Mar 29 '16 at 4:21
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    @Semaphore, you are right, I cannot blame them and don't want to, but I am disappointed. The community makes up the site. There are two ways 1)regulated and held by those holding strict rules for information exchange between like minded individuals with a steady slow growth amongst experts 2)open and accommodating for amateurs and the layman. I would have liked the 2nd option. This place is the 1st option. Fine, I see it and accept your choices, and the lack of assistance is a choice, because on other sites usersdo put effort into helping solid questions get answered by cleaning out problems – Vass Mar 29 '16 at 12:09

I thought that I would copy and paste my comment exchange on the Mythology site regarding this question:

@C.M.Weimer I took a look at the exchange too. They have a point about saying things like "It is commonly known" without backing it up. But at most that's only reason to downvote a question. And if they are able to leave comments to the effect of "the Greeks didn't forcibly convert people, and neither did the Romans," what's stopping them from writing an answer? Of course they didn't cite any sources in those comments, so I don't know if they can actually answer this question. I honestly can't understand why they closed it. – Hamlet 3 hours ago

It was downvoted because you made a surprising claim that sounds very wrong, and yet called it "commonly known". It was closed because you wrote "forced conversion" in the title, and but talked about "missionaries" in the text, which is prima facie contradictory. People weren't sure which you meant, as the comments noted. It would have helped if you edited to clarify. – Semaphore♦ 3 hours ago

@Semaphore those questions are very similar/related. An answer could have just said "the Greeks did/didn't use missionaries, and/but they did/didn't forcibly convert people." It's not as if OP is asking "did the Greeks use Missionaries, and what were their naval tactics like?" – Hamlet 2 hours ago

@Hamlet I gave an explanation for how History.SE works. I'm not going to debate another stack's practices with you on Myth.SE, especially not off Meta. – Semaphore♦ 2 hours ago

Two points:

  1. If Semaphore is correct as to why the question was closed, then that is probably one of the most absurd reasons for closing a question that I have ever heard of.

  2. Looking through the comments on the question again, I can't find a single instance where someone explained why the question was closed I was able to find a comment explaining the reason, but it was buried under a lot of stuff, and it wasn't clear from reading the comment that said reason was the reason why the question was closed. I'm not quite sure how OP was expected to find it. If you're going to use an absurd reason to close a question, at least explain said reason.

In general, I haven't been very impressed with History SE. Admittedly, I don't spend much time on the site. But the quality of answers on this site seems very poor. I've seen a lot of highly upvoted answers that are inaccurate or just plain wrong. Watching this whole exchange play out seems to verify my initial impression of this site.

To be clear, I think you all did the correct thing in downvoting the question. It was poorly written and poorly researched. But I can't for the life of me understand why the question was closed.

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    Thank you very much for the judgement. Now that I understand that the problem with H:SE is that there is insufficient judgement based on erroneous evidence, I'm sure that things will improve; we'll simply judge one another harshly and the situation will improve. I'm thrilled to hear that your not impressed with us and that the quality of our answers are poor. And now that we know we are absurd, that will help us to be less absurd! Perhaps SE should write several essays recommending closing a question as an approach to avoiding confusing, contradictory and confusing answers? oh, wait... – MCW Mar 28 '16 at 11:51
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    @MarkC.Wallace, I am leaving this site as well. Some questions, will be stated as they are said in the public sphere. Maybe some colloquial elements creep in, oh no. All that is needed is an edit, from those more experienced, I mean SE even has specific badges for that! Look at StackOverflow. Anyways, people all over the world discuss history, and this site could be great, it will be a challenge to not let things become 'sloppy', there will be challenges. Other sites have different ones but manage to incorporate the outsiders in the field and not intimidate them. – Vass Mar 29 '16 at 0:10
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    @MarkC.Wallace I may have been too harsh in my answer. To clarify, I would have no problem if the question was closed because it was "based on faulty assumptions" or because it "showed insufficient prior research." These are legitimate issues that the question has, and these issues will impact the quality of answers the question receives. What I disagree with is closing the question because it is unclear. The distinction between "forced conversion" and "missionaries" is incredibly minor, and judging from the comments this was a secondary reason for closing the question. – user230 Apr 4 '16 at 23:20
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    I know that SE policy "recomend[s] closing a question as an approach to avoiding confusing, contradictory and confusing answers." But for History.SE my initial judgement is that it might be worth reconsidering SE's unofficial guidelines. – user230 Apr 4 '16 at 23:25

Excellent question and I appreciate that you've approached this problem professionally.

T.E.D proposes that we imagine a math stack question beginning, "It is commonly known that 1=0" - which is an excellent thought experiment. Today I re-encountered a question that is perhaps a better illustration. How and when was Portugal created? As I said in my comments, this question is really frustrating because the original poster asserted that he did research and consulted wikipedia, but didn't get an answer. He didn't provide any links, so we don't know if he consulted the English wikipedia page on Portugal or some other page. So if I want to try to answer this, I have to start by repeating his research.

Then I have to figure out why there is confusion - when I do a google search on the foundation of Portugal, I get a clear unambiguous answer. So why is there a problem? For every other country there is a clear foundation date. Why is Portugal unique? Why didn't OP's research resolve the question? I don't know because OP didn't share that information with me.

I gave up - I'm not going to answer that question because I don't want to fight up that hill to understand the question before I find the answer.

History is unusual (perhaps unique) because we are about research. There is a common body of math facts that are accepted and documented, and a common body of procedures that transform those facts to new facts. In the Project Management Stack exchange there is a Project Management Body of Knowledge (and a few other canonical references) - we can all refer to the same body of knowledge.

But history is about assembling a narrative from a set of sources. It is vital to know what sources are being consulted. It is critical to know what assumptions the question is making. Many of our very good questions clarify assumptions -for example the recent question about guards wearing plate mail assumes that during the period in question there are guards and they wear armor. I think both of those assumptions are wrong. That person will never get a good answer from wikipedia or google because they are searching with flawed assumptions.

You are 100% correct that it is difficult to get a question into this stack and you are (unfortunately) also correct that we could be more welcoming.

My repeated resolutions to be nicer and more welcoming are strained by questions like this

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    I would propose that any supplement of useful references and information from the experts would be great even if it not a complete answer. Maybe not filling up the whole puzzle, but contributing substantially to the OP's knowledge bank would be more than useful to know more about what has made our world. History is important. People discuss it everyday and want to know MORE. It is a duty of historians to UP THEIR GAME and get more active. That means helping formulate these malformed questions with extra effort. People are confused and uninformed. I want to learn more than from Facebook posts. – Vass Mar 26 '16 at 16:46
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    If it is possible to provide useful information, we generally will. – MCW Mar 26 '16 at 19:35

I have to say, I wasn't familiar with that exact question, but winced when I read the first phrase ("It is commonly known that..."). Winced harder when I glanced at the rest and saw no hyperlink backing up that assertion.

The first comment you got (upvoted multiple times) tried to explain the problem. A very common issue we have with questions here is people trying to slip controversial (or even flat out wrong) assertions into their question as facts just by asserting their veracity*. If you'd provided a link showing that this is indeed "commonly known", then folks might have let it slide, but as you didn't do that either...

To get a bit more general, I'd suggest reading the meta thread Why did I get a downvote? It does a much better job of explaining the pitfalls to avoid than our help center does, I'm afraid. The current #4 answer there might as well be a direct quote from your question, even though it was written 3 years ago.

To get even more general, it is indeed very difficult to get a question accepted on this stack. Moreso than any other stack on the entire network of which I'm aware. I'd argue too much so. So its not your imagination that its hard, but neither is it anything personal.

* - Imagine if the mathematics stack allowed questions that started with "Assuming 1=0 ..."

  • ..in fact, I've just gone and marked that meta question as featured. Perhaps that will help new users a wee bit, or at least make it easier to reference in comments to new users. – T.E.D. Mar 23 '16 at 18:10
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    Well, in mathematics, the concept of 'assuming' is a part of the exploration of that type of science. Yes, people are finding it difficult to get answers to questions in history and the body of historians are not going out of their way to help. In programming stacks, you can throw some code, people will try to compile it and arrive at an answer. Here, it can be understood what is being asked, and no effort to fill in the gaps which the OP might not be able to find or properly articulate. If there is a missing link, which one should be there? if the assumption is wrong.. maybe correct it? – Vass Mar 26 '16 at 16:41

I have to both agree and disagree. I am not so used to this stack in particular, since I'm mostly a software and games developer (in fact the only reason I enter here is to ask for reality-history checks I need to develop a story or a game, or stuff like that), but what I can say:

  • I received a good treatment for my questions. Perhaps I automatically understood the stack criteria. This is both good and bad to my eyes. "Good" for my needs, and "bad" since I estimate (or conjecture) that history professionals (or any social science professional) have a different mindset wrt an information technologies enginner, and this site was mostly intended for programmers. Said this, perhaps asking for a list, which is mostly referred as polling, is crap when asking for the favorite framework or books to start programming in java, but it is indeed useful when asking for resources. So I agree and disagree here.
  • More welcoming? Perhaps. However this problem is not only for history.SE but for the majority of SE sites. In my environment, I am the only one with the patience to actually ask stuff in SE sites other than stackoverflow, and if you cannot grab people to find this site as useful as you and I find it, then we're not a community but a sect, or a bunch of nerds. I estimate SE structure was a vaccine against other poor Q&A sites, and most people agree that many SE sites would need different features (e.g. have more close reasons, have a different close mechanism at all, ...).
  • WRT the mentioned question I neither understood the close reason (although a perfect match for a downvotes waterfall).

Said that, the main issue here is that this is a history site designed for... programmers. I think many rules common in SE sites should be revised, and in order to attract people not deeply used to computers, this community and alikes have a special responsibility in this point.

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