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I am writing as a history-lover and avid researcher of almost everything. I have been a member here for a while, though I haven't posted much. This as an earnest attempt to address what I think is a major failing of this site, highlighted by a question I posted and a subsequent response. I ran across someone who posted a similar complaint and as an academic I attempting to bring it back and with a bit more exposition. Allow me some time to elaborate. I am looking for an honest answer/discussion here.

Too basic

What is the mission of this site? Now I could be wrong, having come here from StackOverflow, which handles such things very differently, but shouldn't it be a starting point for research? I mean, if you want to answer a question about History, wouldn't you want people to come here first - and hopefully stay?

With that in mind, consider the Too basic response: "This question is too basic; it can be definitively answered by a single link to the relevant topic on Wikipedia or another standard reference source"

This response is wrong on so many levels.

  1. It is often false. I posted a question and received this response and I saw another question with this response and in both cases there is no single site as asserted with the answer, not on Wikipedia and not on another standard reference source. That's a 100% failure rate so far. I will bet my salary there are a multitude of others. Why make such an assertion unless it is true in all cases?

  2. It is vague. Too basic for a 4th grader is not that same as too basic for a history professor at Stanford. You don't filter your users based on historical expertise so why would you make such a broad assertion?

  3. It is condescending. Imagine you are on the receiving end of such a comment. You have spent maybe an hour or more researching a question, then trying to frame it so the question gods don't strike you down for daring to ask in a way that is improper. That's not an insignificant investment in time, even for a 4th grader. You then get a canned response saying you didn't do enough. How can you NOT interpret that as a slight.

From a recipient's perspective "Too basic" is another way of saying:

a) You are not worthy of our time

b) You shouldn't be so lazy - go away

c) This question is too stupid for an answer (Substitute stupid for basic and you are literally saying this!!)

d) You are too stupid for an answer.

Now imagine English is not your first language and you spent a ton of time trying to put together a question in a language you don't really understand only to end up with a response like this. You have just magnified the insult.

  1. It doesn't offer any assistance whatsoever. It doesn't tell you where to go (other than a generic Wikipedia reference) or provide any recommendation on how to obtain an answer. At the very least it should provide a link to a page that shows HOW to find the answer you are looking for. It completely overlooks the fact that somebody invested real time to come HERE for an answer only to get figuratively crapped on and turned away with nothing to show for it.

For those of us in the "The only stupid question is the one not asked" category, labeling a question as "too basic" is an intellectual affront. If one person asks it, the odds are extremely good that others have the exact same question but won't make the effort to ask - so we as a group lose. This site also becomes less relevant as a consequence. That's just a fact.

I get that some questions are pretty silly or off-topic or trolling or whatever. I have no issue with those; they should be pretty obvious and handled appropriately. It is readily apparent, however, that there are real questions requiring real answers getting flushed into the ether by the "too basic" response.

On StackOverflow, programming questions quite often get repeated and others are extremely basic - at the level of "what is the power button for?". They have come to recognize that sometimes it can be hard to even realize an answer exists when it appears obvious to someone else. I have seen literally thousands of questions and never once seen one closed for being "too basic". They get closed when a question has already been asked and answered and a link is provided with the original answer. In that way, nobody gets insulted or turned away with nothing. They may not like the original answer but at least they get one.

Most importantly, they almost never get redirected elsewhere. It happens occasionally but at such a rate it makes no sense to go anywhere else first when looking for an answer. I tell my CS students that when they get stuck, they should start with StackOverflow as the most likely place to find an answer.

I fail to understand why Stack History hasn't taken the exact same approach. If I was a history professor with students looking to maximize their time, shouldn't I want to direct them to a place where historians and enthusiasts collectively gather and share their insights?

I have run across a distinctly and disturbingly elitist attitude on this site which is personified in the "Too basic" response to certain questions and I think it bleeds into some of the "answers" I have seen as well. I was given an "answer", which was useless as it didn't really address the original question properly, but not before being upbraided for not doing enough or proper research beforehand - all without knowing an iota about the what effort I had put beforehand.

Perhaps you disagree, but I personally envision this site to be, at the very least, the starting place for anyone wanting answers to history's questions, period. That won't happen, however, if one of your core responses is to literally insult your reader and tell them to go elsewhere.

Am I just wrong here? Is Stack History trying to be the goto site for all things history or just a sight where the snobs gather to demonstrate how smart they are or some version in between?

Thanks again for your time.

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This answer probably won't say much different, but perhaps a perspective from someone who wasn't involved might help.

This site is moderated by the users, and they make moderation decisions like holds, reopens, deletions, and votes, at their discretion. Like a Supreme Court, their verdict is the law, agree with it or not. (And of course nobody who loses a decision ever agrees with it).

Site policy for good questions and answers is, by definition, what their votes say it is.

As for the "too basic", the original rationale for it is here and here (among probably other places I'm missing). The general gist of it is that we want answers on this site to be a little more than just the ability to paraphrase (or even just quote) the relevant section in Wikipedia. We aren't here to be a free Wikipedia reading service. We're here for the hard stuff, not the alley-oop slam dunks.

I do think there is a bit of a problem with the wording of "too basic". It seemed OK at the time, but it turns out "basic" is an insult to at least one of the younger generations coming up, and I don't think we realized at the time how pejorative that would appear to some people. Rest assured, we mean nothing insulting by it. Its just not a type of question that fits our format well.

That being said, our close reasons are often more descriptive than prescriptive. Sometimes people just want to close a question for complex reasons that don't exactly fit into a close reason with machine precision. In those cases, it seems like they will pick the closest close reason. Turning around and arguing that the question doesn't precisely fit that close reason completely misses the point. There are things about the question that the site's users thought made it not appropriate here. Listen to their concerns and address them, or expect the question to stay closed.

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Thank you for this. You have raised some interesting issues.

As always, I'm going to preface my answer with the usual caveat: What follows is my personal opinion, so please ignore any moderator diamond you may see after my name).

I don't have time to address everything that you've raised, but I will try to answer some specific points.


Firstly, in answer to your question

Who decides whether a question is "Too basic"?

The answer is any member of the site with sufficient rep to have been awarded the cast close and reopen votes privilege. That is the same as any other site on the SE network. Of course, many members who have that privilege choose not to exercise it, but that is a different issue.


As a community, we are not always very good at communicating the site rules and expectations to new members (I hope to elaborate my thoughts on that in another post later today or tomorrow).

However, the scope of the site was agreed by the community long before I joined, and is set out in the site tour and in our Help Centre. For what it's worth, I think that the current scope is actually quite reasonable, given the limitations of the SE question and answer format, but I know that others feel differently.


As regards this specific case, I was one of those who voted to close (as the 5th vote, to avoid using my Moderator 'super-vote' - see below). I will try to explain why I did so:

From our Help Centre: "Questions answered by a simple Google search or to be found in a Wikipedia page" are off-topic. In this case, from the edit history, the original version of your question was:

Looking at the Midway timeline I see the Hiryu launched two separate attacks on the Yorktown, one consisting of dive bombers and the other of torpedo bombers. Given the attacks were less than 3 hours apart they couldn't have been the same planes so why not send the groups together in a massed attack rather than two smaller separate attacks? Seems like Japanese doctrine favored massed attacks so why did they instead go for the option more likely to fail? TIA

Now, when I enter Hiryu Midway into Google, the very first page returned is the Wikipedia article on the Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryū. Section 2.3 of that article covers Hiryū's service at the Battle of Midway.

As far as I can see, that section of the article completely answers that version of your question. I know that the results returned by Google depend on a lot of external factors (not least the location of the user), but - in the absence of any statement to the contrary by you - I have to assume that you would also get that result from that search.

So, in this case, the question as asked is both answered by a simple Google search and found in a Wikipedia page. That is why I added the fifth vote to close the question as Too Basic.


Moderator "Super-Votes"

As an aside, it is, perhaps, worth noting here that the general advice to moderators on SE is:

When you see a post you think should be closed, close it. When you see a post you think should be re-opened, re-open it.

Now, here on History:SE, moderators generally try to exercise a lighter touch, preferring to let the community decide which questions should be closed, and which should be re-opened.

Obviously, there will be some exceptions to that general case. As you note, we do get questions from trolls and other bad-actors. Obvious troll-posts tend to be deleted on sight, but we also get more subtle cases where the situation might be more complicated.

An example of the latter might be sock-puppet accounts where an individual creates multiple accounts on SE. Those accounts are then used to upvote their own posts, post supportive comments on questions or answers, attempt to deflect legitimate criticism, suggest edits to "improve" problematic posts, etc.

Without going into detail, you might reasonably assume that moderators have access to tools that enable them to identify and deal with some of these cases and, when necessary, we can escalate to SE staff. Those SE staff have access to more detail than is available to site moderators, and can apply sanctions across the entire network where necessary.


Edits that invalidate existing answers

I note that your question has been extensively edited since that original version. However, that original version was also answered by another user before the question was closed. The community has previously expressed an opinion that questions should not generally be edited in a way that invalidates existing answers.

You may not like or agree with that answer, but someone took the time and effort to post it, and that should be respected. If you disagree with it, or feel that the answer is not useful, by all means down-vote, but don't simply change the question in a way that invalidates it.

Personally, I happen to agree with the community position here. But even if I didn't I would be reluctant to vote to re-open a question that was edited in this way, given that I am a site moderator - a representative of the community - and that the community has expressed that view.


So, coming to your last question:

Is Stack History trying to be the goto site for all things history or just a sight [sic] where the snobs gather to demonstrate how smart they are or some version in between?

I'd say the answer is clearly something in between your two extremes.


As I said above, the scope of the site is set out in our Site Tour and Help Centre. In addition to that, the expectation that people will have done at least some research before they post their question is built into every SE site. The section How do I ask a good question? is explicit when it asks:

Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

  • (my emphasis)

(I understand the content on that page is common to all sites across the SE network.)

What's more, a lack of evidence of prior research is an explicit reason for down-voting a question. As the tooltip states:

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful


Now, we do have a higher bar for questions on sensitive subjects like the Holocaust or Nazis (for obvious reasons, given the problems we've had with Nazi trolls in the past). But beyond that, I think that pretty-much any question that meets the basic criteria set out in our Help Centre, and which demonstrates some evidence of prior research, is likely to be perfectly acceptable to our community, and will probably be well-received here on History:SE.

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  • thanks for your answer and the link, but I would like to point out that nowhere in that article does it address or otherwise answer the original question. Nor does the answer provided here do so either. The question, originally stated was "Seems like Japanese doctrine favored massed attacks so why did they instead go for the option more likely to fail?" Do you honestly believe "D3A dive bombers were ready to go, the B5Ns, used in the morning strike on Midway Island, had to be serviced and re-armed with torpedoes, and all that that entails." is a suitable answer? – ds_practicioner Aug 29 at 17:22
  • Is it that hard to just open the damn question up for a better answer? – ds_practicioner Aug 29 at 17:24
  • From your site tour "Our goal is to have the best answers to every question," so I fail to see what the problem is. – ds_practicioner Aug 29 at 17:28
  • From your site tour: "Use comments to ask for more information or clarify a question or answer." Didn't happen – ds_practicioner Aug 29 at 17:29
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    To your first question: Yes, that is a sufficient answer to the question as asked. When doctrine meets the constraints of reality you either have to forgo the opportunity to attack (which might be lost forever), or you go with what you have. To your second question, also yes, as explained in the section on edits that invalidate existing answers above. – sempaiscuba Aug 29 at 17:29
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    IMO, you currently have what is probably the best answer you might expect to the original version of your question. The fact that you have edited the question into something different, that invalidates the existing answer, is the problem. – sempaiscuba Aug 29 at 17:33
  • We agree to disagree I guess. However, can you honestly say that's the best answer there is? You won't even give me a chance to improve upon it. With all due respect are you THAT stodgy and inflexible? – ds_practicioner Aug 29 at 17:35
  • Uh, if you look, that wasn't my edit. Even if it was, why is that a problem since you complained the question was too basic. – ds_practicioner Aug 29 at 17:36
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    @ds_practicioner With all due respect, this is a community moderated site Moderators do not generally overrule community decisions. Yes, I can see who made the edit. The edit is a problem because it invalidates an existing answer. That is probably also the reason your question has now attracted a vote to delete. – sempaiscuba Aug 29 at 17:39
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I would like to offer my thoughts here, but it's difficult. I started out with a few curious questions here, and these got treated a lot better than my a-lot-more-inexperienced questions on StackOverflow. In that way, I don't think this is necessarily a question of the site but rather the vocal minority of users and what they may or may not like/dislike.

I originally voted to close your question because the first answer expressed an opinion that it was very easily answerable. I have, in the past, demonstrated that I disagree with the 'Too basic' closure reason because searches give different results based on one's location. In this case, I was swept by the first answers' authoritative nature, but I was probably mistaken, especially taking into account the complexity of the edit and what it displays about the situation which ruled during that battle.

Overall, I have tried to argue against the 'too basic' reasons because it sounds, much as you described, too weird for me to really accept. There's a difference between "how long did Egypt last?" and "why were the pyramids built?" though both would be closed by the same reason on this site.

I should add two things: I think the difficulty of wording a question such that it doesn't get closed gets more difficult the longer one spends on H:SE, but also the quality of answers one can find here is very high if the previous barrier is crossed. Given the frequency with which some aspect of this site's closure/acceptance of topics gets raised on Meta, I think it's clear there's a different understanding at H:SE compared to other SE sites.

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