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I understand that communities evolve sets of rules over time, and I'm trying to understand the rationale behind some of the rules for questions and answers on this site. Now, I'm the new kid on the block, as it were, since I only discovered History Stack Exchange a month or so back, so please bear with me if what I'm asking is already old news to some of you. I've read the Help Centre sections on asking and answering questions, and I've tried searching here on Meta, but I think I may be still missing something.

For example, I've seen a number of questions that have been closed because there is no known answer. This question about the killer of Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia murder) is actually a pretty good example.

Now, I found this question here on Meta, and that seems to suggest that it's OK to answer a question with no known answer, but still leaves open the suggestion that they are somehow "bad questions". This bothers me.

I would argue that there is no known answer for an awful lot of things that have happened in history. Generally, that is where the conspiracy theorists and fantasists step in and have a field-day! The problem is compounded when historians and archaeologists aren't prepared to step up to the plate and attempt to provide the best answers we can. (A case in point would be Erich von Daniken and his Chariots' of the Gods!).

Now, I think we can, and we should, offer an answer here - provided that answer is based on the available evidence. If we have researched the question, we should at least be able to offer an answer along the following lines:

"Nobody knows the answer. Here's the evidence, such as it is. Make up your own mind."

(The quote is taken from my comment to the question linked above)

This site has been in Beta for 5 years. The number of questions per day (and also the number of answers per question) are considered to be too low. [In fact, I just noticed that the number of questions per day has actually fallen from 5.1 to 5 in the last month].

Which brings me to my actual questions.

  1. Do we really want to shut down valid historical questions just because there is no known answer?
  2. Do people agree with me that we shouldn't be deleting questions just because they have no known answer? And equally, if not, why not?
  • I certainly don't think we should be considering retaining poor questions simply to boost the Questions/day rate. – KillingTime Jun 9 '17 at 21:44
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    @KillingTime I agree. But is that question really a poor question? That is my point. – sempaiscuba Jun 9 '17 at 21:49
  • Another relevant Meta link Here concerning closing vs answering questions that don't meet SE requirements. – justCal Jun 9 '17 at 22:29
  • @user2448131 Yes, and there are a few others I found as well, but none really address the question of why a question with no answer is necessarily a "bad question". It feels like we're removing valid questions and that doesn't help the people asking the question, isn't good for the site, and actually feels like we're going against the original ethos of SE? – sempaiscuba Jun 9 '17 at 22:44
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    I don't know the answer either. (No pun intended) – justCal Jun 9 '17 at 22:57
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The problem tends to be where it leads. You brought up the conspiracy theories, and questions which are only answerable by opinion or can't be answered are often just used as a way of getting some bizarre opinion in print online for his buddies to see. The problem falls when we have to draw the line between the wacko's and the serious uniformed questioner.

Do we answer the "Is there any historical evidence that Bigfoot didn't assassinate Kennedy" with the "NO proof that did not happen" answer? You get the point, I hope. I also believe answers make it more difficult to remove from the server, but I'm not sure on that point.

I personally hate the close rate and some of the rules we have. I cringe on some of the 'no homework' and 'no book reviews' closes, hoping a child somewhere didn't just get denied a chance to develop an interest in History. There are times I'll admit to putting an answer on a question I knew would be closed, because I found an answer I thought relevant. And I'll accept the downvotes accordingly. At times I wonder if the closing process shouldn't have some time limit, like question will be closed 24 hours after the last close vote to give the OP time to fix a bad question. (But then there are offensive idiots that you can't close quick enough).

Bottom line is we have a set of guidelines to follow, and we have to assume the semi-democratic procedures in place will allow the process to operate in a hopefully logical, and unbiased way to protect the validity of the questions and answers we can post.

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    "...to give the OP time to fix a bad question.", Questions with sufficient close votes are put "on hold" for precisely that reason, to allow the OP to re-work the question based on the feedback. The "no homework" rule is usually only applied when the question is clearly cut and pasted from the teacher and the questioner wants someone to write their essay for them. In which case there is little chance of them developing an interest in history since they clearly don't like research. – KillingTime Jun 9 '17 at 21:51
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    I agree that there needs to be a threshold, but right now it seems that we're throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I'm just trying to understand why. – sempaiscuba Jun 9 '17 at 21:51
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    @KillingTime I do feel less guilty on some of the homework questions, for that reason-many are just being lazy, and without their text or classroom context we could just as easily provide answers that don't agree with their curriculum. – justCal Jun 9 '17 at 22:10
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I've voted to close. Not because there is no definitive answer. History has quite a few unsolved mysteries, and learning the "state of knowledge" on them is sometimes worthwhile.

The reason I voted to close was because this "whodunit" question belongs in the realm of criminology, that is "social sciences other than history." If there is a historical context or significance to this question, it is not articulated in the question itself. Put another way, it can reasonably be characterized as "too broad," or "opinion based" because the relationship to "history" has not been pinned down.

A good question about Al Capone's Valentine's day massacre would have a grounding in say, Prohibition or the rise of the Mafia. A question about the Lizzie Borden murder trial might have meaning in the then-contemporary views of female vs. male murder suspects. But here, a woman (aka Black Dahlia) was the victim, as has often been the case through human history, and not the perpetrator. From a historical perspective, one reaction might be, "so what else is new?" If this is, in fact, the sentiment that the question generates, then it's probably off topic.

  • I'm not sure that I entirely agree, although I do see your point. This isn't exactly a "whodunit" question, as much as "I read there's a good case against this guy, is there anything else that supports what I read". The murder was an event in history, and (as phrased) the question is about the context of that event. Now, I suspect that the sub-text in this question was that the OP wanted someone to validate his/her personal theory, which is why I limited my engagement with them in the comments following my answer, but I'm not sure that should invalidate the question. – sempaiscuba Jul 1 '17 at 14:01
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A list of questions that may be examples:

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    I've posted answers to both questions. I think my answer to the first makes the point I was trying to make in the question above. My answer to the second, (albeit mainly based on a particular piece of research of others) suggests that there is, in fact, a known answer to that question. – sempaiscuba Jul 1 '17 at 13:51

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