A somewhat similar question to this one, although not about the choice of words per se.

This question was asked about an hour ago at H:SE, and in this little time it has attracted 17 viewers and four downvotes, which is a pretty high viewers/downvotes ratio. Indeed the topic is very sensitive, but I don't think the user had bad intentions in asking this question, and even though he didn't show any previous research, his question is a pretty straightforward one.

The person that asked the question is a new user to H:SE, and might (just might) be downvoted for not showing previous research, but does this person really need such a negative response to a straightforward question, even if it is about a sensitive topic?

  • It has also attracted 3 close-votes and no comments. I get that it is a sensitive topic, but do you think the fact that the OP is an unregistered user might be a factor in the down-votes & close-votes? – sempaiscuba Oct 7 '17 at 23:15
  • This could be the case, but I find it rather odd that he/she received so many downvotes and so few views. In my experience this doesn't happen only because the person is an unregistered user, but this could be one of the causes. – James Cook Oct 7 '17 at 23:17
  • Perhaps a question like this from an unregistered user raises more warning flags than it would do otherwise. I've only been a member for 5 months, but I gather from reading meta posts there is some history in that area. – sempaiscuba Oct 7 '17 at 23:24
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    My point is that it shouldn't raise so many warning flags. The only real problem I see with the question is that there are no signs of research. The fact that it is an unregistered user could indeed point to some kind of trolling or something like that, but the wording of the question shows otherwise. – James Cook Oct 7 '17 at 23:28
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    I agree, that question shouldn't have been closed. Denialism aside, there are a lot of bad questions about topics like this: (history.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3472/…) I think the fact that these topics attract low-quality questions, in addition to the denialist questions, has made people trigger happy when it comes to closing and downvoting questions of this kind; there's a higher bar. – Ne Mo Oct 11 '17 at 10:29
  • NeMo is right; we do have a higher bar for these sorts of questions. And I think this is a good thing. Unless we start getting a lot of ancient Greece trolls, it is acceptable to be a bit more tolerant about sloppy ancient Greece questions. But we do have holocaust trolls, so we should enforce the site rules more strictly for these question. This isn't a coding situation with strict, even rules. This is a social group with messy human interaction. – axsvl77 Oct 11 '17 at 11:18
  • I agree that there should be a higher bar. I think it's a shame this question got smacked over the head with it, but that's an (occassional) price worth paying. – Ne Mo Oct 11 '17 at 11:59
  • I also agree, it is a shame. It is probably a good idea for to admit there is a level of "unfairness" in this process. – axsvl77 Oct 11 '17 at 13:32

I tried to post this as a comment, but got a 'too long' message.

As pointed out by @axsvl77, we have had a lot of these questions, one repeated the same question over and over for about a week, and just waited to engage anyone who would comment. Patterns begin to emerge after a while. Questions often try to debate the different casualty figures, or the logistics of gas production or train transport, or cost involved. We have seen these so many times that response for some of us is almost 'knee jerk' to flag and close. If you think something is legit, don't downvote it, answer it, or at least research it first. You may find if you try to google these topics, they will lead to hate sites. That's your biggest hint.

As to downvoting sensitive topics, you might note the current Holocaust question on children, which didn't get closed(yet), because it was written so as to define the issue; where the question arises from and why its confusing. How the question is written is key. If a legit question arises, this group in general is usually capable of discerning it. And equally capable of sniffing out the Trolls.

If you do feel we are being unfair in closing something, absolutely bring attention to it, debate it, do your own research, comment on or answer the question. That's how the system works best. But we do still have to deal with Trolls and bad questions and answers, so the 'be nice' philosophy does have to have its limits, and down votes, flags and closes will have to happen in some cases.

  • I think your answer is the one that best clarifies the issues in question here. The question you refer to might not be closed, but it got more downvotes than upvotes nevertheless, which shows, IMO, that people do downvote questions on sensitive topics. But the question really was written "so as to define the issue", which didn't happen in the one I was previosly talking about. I will accept your answer because it was the most helpful in finding my solution, but all others have good points and received my upvote. My thanks to all of you. – James Cook Oct 11 '17 at 21:46
  • The OP of the "children" question often gets downvotes for badly worded or constructed questions, but topically, he is not a "troll." Instead, he displays a certain level of sensitivity toward the Holocaust in Europe, and slavery in the U.S. It's the "revisionism" issue that usually gets people in trouble for "sensitive" questions. Related:history.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/504/… – Tom Au Dec 6 '17 at 5:02

The question you cited was a holocaust denial question.

In 2015-2016 there was about 10 months where we had people creating accounts and posting one or more holocaust denial questions almost every single day. So for a while, the vast majority of new questions were hateful holocaust denial questions.

Each question received a dozen comments from concerned users, and the troll(s) who were posting these questions were really having fun. More trolls were coming, and the frequency of denial questions were increasing. This is not what History:SE should be for, IMO.

We had a meta question about denialism, and after that, when a holocaust question comes up, there is a knee-jerk reaction to immediately close it without comment. This is good - angry response comments is what brings the trolls here, so closure without comment sends the trolls elsewhere. We as a group do a good job of not feeding bigoted trolls. This should most certainly continue.

In a word, let's keep doing it. When it comese to the holocaust, don't feed the trolls, close without comment. Or, just to be polite, a quick message about "Please perform prior research, edit the question with your preliminary research"

  • The person was only asking the price in 2017 money of gas chambers. Strange taste in questions, no doubt, but why a denial question? – James Cook Oct 10 '17 at 23:18
  • @JamesCook Imagine writing a 2 or 3 holocaust questions per day for a couple years - hard to write so many questions about the exact same topic, so get bit looney. – axsvl77 Oct 10 '17 at 23:45
  • So you are assuming that because the question was strange, in addition to it being about the holocaust, it must have been from a denialist? – James Cook Oct 11 '17 at 0:47
  • (Don't read my previous comment as an accusation, I am only trying to understand your position) – James Cook Oct 11 '17 at 0:52
  • @JamesCook Yes, exactly.For a holocaust question, where there's smoke there's fire. I think in for a non-holocaust question, we should generally give the OP benefit of the doubt. – axsvl77 Oct 11 '17 at 11:10
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    I think it is common sense even for a 13 year old. When approaching a sensitive topic, for example, mass death, holocaust, genocide, racism, discrimination, etc, perhaps a bit of extra effort is required to frame a question. – axsvl77 Oct 11 '17 at 11:11

It might be just me, but I'm having a very hard time coming up with good, sensible explanations as to why anyone outside of academia might be pondering over the costs of building a death camp's gas chamber.

Even if we leave the potential trolling and the lack of research aside, the question struck me as poor because it likely wasn't answerable in a satisfactory way to begin with.

Best I'm aware the Nazis took steps to not leave any evidence or paper trail, and there are no detailed budgets of death camp operations. The closest one might get to a ledger lies in bank archives like those of Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank. These are accessible, but not online, so the odds seemed strong that the question would have stuck around unanswered forever.

Also, keep in mind that this site periodically needs to deal with bouts of bigoted trolling, revisionism, holocaust denial, etc., all of which eventually tend to get on regulars' nerves. See for instance:

  • It could be something that came up in a conversation and the person got curious, I know some of my most awkward questions were made this way. But I didn't know that the answer wasn't so easy to give, and I understand your point about bigoted trolling (even though the question didn't seem to propose some kind of revisionism or denialism). – James Cook Oct 8 '17 at 10:54
  • Although we shouldn't downvote questions just because they are hard to answer; this question in particular is something I would suspect someone already tried to answer before. – James Cook Oct 8 '17 at 10:59

I do think we have a problem with "sensitive" questions. About a year ago I was mauled on here by a high rep user for "not understanding" freedom of speech, because I'm not American! But - the role of History is to interrogate the past, and I am unhappy with the idea that some questions should not be asked. A few examples, off the top of my head - please note, I am not asking them, merely posing them as difficult questions.

What was the average price for a field hand in 1850s Alabama?

Given the history of the region, is Israel a legitimate state or merely a successful conquering regime?

Given its teaching of brotherly love, why did Christianity endorse slavery for so long?

I'm not claiming these are good questions, but each of them could offend certain people. Does that makes them "unaskable"?

Galileo was persecuted for his heliocentric theory, Darwin for his theory of evolution. We sometimes have to pose difficult questions, or we go back to a form of (self) censorship we have only lately escaped from. The Inquisition was an early version of political correctness.

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    You make a very good point. I've certainly seen some questions here that made me uncomfortable, and a couple that I would have been reluctant to answer. – sempaiscuba Oct 9 '17 at 22:57
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    I do not agree; I honestly think the questions you pose would not be closed (if asked well). This question about Nazi propaganda is uncomfortable but did well. The knee jerk around here is for immediately closing holocaust denial. – axsvl77 Oct 10 '17 at 12:02
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    I am sorry you were mauled; that's not right! – axsvl77 Oct 10 '17 at 12:20
  • @axsvl77 thank you, it was dealt with. – TheHonRose Oct 10 '17 at 13:23
  • Number 1 is a good question. 2 and 3 ain't. What's a legitimate state, other than one which calls itself legitimate (they all would)? This post would be rightly closed, because it's assuming we already know the answer to an entirely subjective question. – Ne Mo Oct 11 '17 at 10:22
  • Number 3 is less unsalvageable, but contains a no true scotsman fallacy which practically all discussions over religion are plagued with. (a) christianity is good, (b) slavery is not good, (c) therefore slavery is not christian... and why didn't they just GET that, man? It just leads us down a rabbit hole of value-judgment debate, and doesn't really explain why we should expect that ancient Christians should have opposed slavery. – Ne Mo Oct 11 '17 at 10:26
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    TL;DR: questions which make a covert value judgments will and should be closed. – Ne Mo Oct 11 '17 at 12:00
  • @NeMo First, thanks for the No true scotsman argument, not familiar with that, I'm no logician. I'm not defending the questions, they were "off the top of my head" examples, not good ones! :) However, on the Christianity - slavery one, there seems to be an internal inconsistency in believing your cook is your brother in Christ whilst treating him as property. But we've strayed a long way from the subject of the original question! – TheHonRose Oct 11 '17 at 14:28
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    FWIW your question (2) would attract my instant downvote and close vote for using "merely". The latter implies a value judgement and it's the type of question that's usually asked by people who aren't so much interested about contributing to the site than they are about "here's my thesis, am I right?" and then go on with accepting an answer that best suits their viewpoint - ignoring votes by other users that might be based on an answer's merits. (Without the "merely" I'd likely stick to a close vote because "not enough research".) – Denis de Bernardy Oct 11 '17 at 21:01
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    @DenisdeBernardy Personally, I think a down vote less aggressive than a vtc. Do you see it differently? – TheHonRose Oct 11 '17 at 21:08
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    @TheHonRose: Yeah, kind of... To me, close voting a question means something like "this does not meet this/that objective criteria that makes it valid to stay around on this site", whereas a downvote means something more subjective along the lines of "holy crap, your question really sucks/is outright offensive/is too biased to be read/etc." The first fits in a well defined mold; the other is left at the downvoter's discretion - and let's get real, can hurt feelings when it lacks explanations that might not be obvious to the person who wrote the question. – Denis de Bernardy Oct 11 '17 at 21:14
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    @TheHonRose: Adding to this, closed questions sometimes get reopened (we could admittedly do this more often as a community), whereas downvotes are seldom - if ever - reversed in my experience. – Denis de Bernardy Oct 11 '17 at 21:21
  • @DenisdeBernardy Interesting point, I hadn't thought about it like that, but you could well be right. Goes off to mull ;-) – TheHonRose Oct 11 '17 at 21:21

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