Well, I'm new on this community, but not on others such as Mathematics, Economics, etc. What I'm about to say will probably be a bit unfair, due to my lack of experience on this community, and get me lambasted in every imaginable way, but since this is just an online forum, and history is not my life, here are my 2 cents on this.

Lately I've tried to ask 1 question, and I've never seen a fastest closing. So, to address the situation, I decided to open a new question, this time I thought more objective, and again a very fast closing.

The 2nd question is this one and in the comments the 1st one is also linked.

I find it odd that the community had difficulties in trying to flesh out a decent answer from my admittedly first bad question... (some comments were interesting though), but had no qualms answering this type of question. This question was so broad, and yet it got more than one good answer. Has the culture/policy of this community somewhat changed since then? (Side note: Is it related to the Monica incident and potential flight of good moderators?)

My first question was accused of being too broad, and lacking an objective criteria to assess the best answer, and yet it still got 2 upvotes. However, if I compare it the 2nd version of my question, where I purposefully tried to be as objective as I could possibly be, despite 1 obvious detail (constraining the geographical region), I considered the question a reasonable one. However, I was soon disabused of that notion. It got at least 3 downvotes in a matter of hours... Well, so what do you want? A more objective question, or a more broad question? Here's another example of a question I would think it was not so focused, but still a reasonable one, in my opinion, and they tried to close it, and yet it still got at least 10 upvotes and a good answer.

Not even in mathematics have I seen this type of limitations... It stretches on the paradoxical and potentially inconsistent behaviour.

Well, I'm now ready to have this question closed, and to be suspended from History exchange.

  • 5
    Good question - if you browse around, you'll find that many of us are asking how we can find the right balance between question quality and question retention. I think that part of the answer is that we don't have as much of a consensus as we think we do about what is a good question. I think questions like this meta question are important in resolving the confusion and improving the community, so thank you.
    – MCW Mod
    Feb 12, 2021 at 11:10
  • 1
    Just offered a quick friendly edit to the question, but I will note that the current question is not supported by preliminary research. Like most scientific exchanges, we require evidence that the original poster has tried to solve the problem before asking. Although WIkipedia mentions the death tolls, they don't provide numbers; I see a couple of results from google however, and I'd recommend mentioning one of those and explaining why it doesn't answer your question.
    – MCW Mod
    Feb 12, 2021 at 11:33
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    Your first question was closed after 11 hours and your second question was closed after eight hours. Please don't take this as me "lambasting" you - I truly appreciate that you're taking the effort to learn and improve your questions - but I find it hard to believe that you've "never seen a faster closing". I see questions get closed in a matter of minutes on a regular basis. 11 hours really isn't "fast" by SE standards.
    – F1Krazy
    Feb 12, 2021 at 11:40
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    @F1Krazy I forgot to add "for a question of mine, as far as I can remember" Feb 12, 2021 at 13:06
  • This was posted many hours ago and it had several comments and answers. Do you feel that you were “lambasted in every imaginable way”? Feb 14, 2021 at 8:28
  • @JoséCarlosSantos For the purpose of constructive feedback, I will answer you saying that the reaction has been surprisingly positive so far. Feb 14, 2021 at 15:00

3 Answers 3


Since you are used to MathStackExchange: The most common causes of closure there are: "missing context" (which in history stack exchange would translate into lack of preliminary research) and "lack of clarity." I did not vote to close either one of your questions, but here are the issues as I see them:

  1. Lack of preliminary research: Please, make an effort to show what did you find out on your own, what do you know, what you could not determine, etc. (As Al Capone used to say "If you want to do something right, do it yourself!") This will also help with the lack of clarity. (Partial answers help to clarify what the actual question is.)

  2. Lack of clarity: I read your questions few times and even after Mark's edit am not sure what are you really after. On the face of it, the immediate cause of famine in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s (let's focus on that one, taking place primarily in Ukraine and Turkestan) was not industrialization, but collectivization and the following confiscatory policies of the state. (Imagine that somebody is driving to a supermarket, rans through a red light and kills a pedestrian. Do you think the pedestrian died because somebody's kids back home needed food?) But at least, this question is rather narrow in space and time, so basically answerable, after a suitable reinterpretation. (Forget the industrialization, let's focus on the governmental policies.) In contrast, your question about the 19th century Industrial Revolution is:

(a) unfocused (even if you restrict Europe) since the Industrial Revolution in different European countries proceeded rather differently,

(b) covers a 100 year period, and things changed quite a bit in any given country during this period (hygiene, bacterial theory of diseases...),

(c) addresses a phenomenon driven primarily by market forces (and leading to depopulation of the countryside, move to cities, emergence of mass production...), rather than governmental decisions.

Because the causes are so indirect, this question (in my estimation) becomes pretty much unanswerable:

If a 35 year old male in USSR in 1930s dies from starvation, the cause is easy to see (even his neighbors could tell).

If a 35 year old male in England in 1830s dies from, say, high fever and multiple organ failure, how would anybody know that the case was poor hygiene in his cramped housing which, in turn was caused by mass migration to cities, which, in turn, was caused by some economic changes? Or maybe it was not poor hygiene, but poor chap had too much gin, contracted pneumonia and died from it a week later? Or maybe he was overworked and compensated by gin? Who would be able to tell? Not his doctor (he never saw one, and doctors at the time had no idea about causes of diseases or proper treatment). Not his priest (if the man was lucky to get the last rites in time). Not his family. So, there would be no records, no statistics.

On the positive side, there are historic studies on relation between human health and urbanization. A google search immediately gave me the article "Urbanization and mortality in Britain, c. 1800–50" (Economic History Review, 2020). I did not read this particular paper and maybe it does not address your question, but maybe you should, and you then can determine if this is what you want to learn about. (Now, we are back to item 1.)

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    Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but I think the last few paragraphs here are basically agreeing with one of the points I made, which is that we're more useful here for giving historical analysis than as research grunts.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Feb 12, 2021 at 18:39
  • @T.E.D.: I agree with everything that you said in your answer below, just addressing a different side of the issue. Feb 12, 2021 at 18:45
  • Hi Moishe, thanks for your answer. I would like to add that I'm not a history buff, I'm just lad (or I was one a long time ago) trying to understand if the assertion made by my colleague had any ground to stand on... Clearly my questions were very rough, but I could never clean them up by myself, or by my 'failed' research attempts, since I didn't know any of the flaws you point out. I know very little about history... It's just not my area. If it were, I most probably wouldn't have asked those types of questions... Feb 12, 2021 at 22:15

I think there are a few things going on here.

  1. Its unusually hard to keep a question open here. Of the 20 questions posted in the last 3 days, 9 of them are currently on hold or closed. That's 45%; almost half.

For Politics, the number for that same period as of right now is 38%. For Skeptics 25%. For the last 50 posts of Interpersonal, it looks like 20%. Movies&TV 18%, SciFi 15%. Writing is 42%.

Of course of those surveyed sites, the ones most like this one in problem domain tend to be the ones with the highest closure rate. That's probably no coincidence.

  1. The sites you're used to are unusually permissive (or get unusually good questions).

Econ appears to be very high-traffic, and has only about 17% of its posts in the last 4 days sitting held or closed. Math is very low traffic, but I had to go back more than 50 posts (to January 13th) to find a second one that is closed. Both were closed for being dups. Not sure what's going on there.

  1. You're not really doing that badly. From what I can see, half of your questions have been closed. That's the site average! Not bad really, for a newish user.
  2. 2 isn't a great sample size to be talking about trends with. So let's look at them individually.

The first doesn't seem to be asking about a specific thing that someone can craft an interesting coherent answer around, but rather requesting people go off and do a ton of research for some quasi-related stats (the boring annoying part), perhaps so that you can compile and analyze them and make sense from them (the part we like to do).

Its not really a question about anything specific, just a request for people to go do a lot of work and report back with the results. What it needs is a site with volunteer researchers, where we are more a site of volunteer analysts.

The second one, well I'm going to say up front here that I disagree with its closure. In fact, the comment I put on it was intended to help someone else (who had the time to do it) to research and make a proper answer out of it.

So anyway, this is just going to be a SWAG, but I know we've had a bad experience with questions along this lines of "This nutjob in a bar told me ..." and this likely seemed close enough to that to get a lot of folk's closure fingers itchy.

There are currently 8 billion people in the world, and probably half of them have some unique ideas about history that are egregiously wrong. We don't have the time or the heart to try to address them all, so we need to stick to ones that are somewhere in the ballpark of reasonable. Personally I think we here could at least attack some of the more common popular misconceptions (sort of like Skeptics does routinely, but limited to History), but in practice those questions usually get closed.

Now, since its easy enough to do, should be enlightening, and because I don't want you to feel personally picked on, I'm going to go through the other 2 questions you posted and talk about what they did right.

This one is wonderful in that its objectively answerable, and the person in question is famous enough that there are public resources available to research it without having to dig into genealogical tools. An answerer could even drop any related biographical info about the person in question that they happen to find interesting into their answer. Fun. It also managed to avoid the ham-handed hints of antisemitism that such a question might contain, and that plagues this site almost daily.

This one succeeded where the first one above failed because its only asking for a single number. It also implies that related info may suffice for an answer if the exact number in the exact format requested isn't easily available.

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    Hi TED, thanks for the answer. I found it refreshing to get a different perspective on my questions... I must say it caught me by surprise. In my opinion, my question (the one about a colleague) was the least objective, prone to be answered in a simple way... So, would you recommend that I add to the 2nd one some proof of my failed attempts at finding a number, and delete the first? Feb 12, 2021 at 22:10
  • @Anoldmaninthesea. - Definitely showing your work is always highly encouraged here, both in questions and answers.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Feb 13, 2021 at 3:54
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    "This nutjob in a bar told me ..." -shows up often enough that we might consider a stock response.
    – MCW Mod
    Feb 14, 2021 at 2:18

The comparative theorisation of developmental economics is an economic question which uses historical sources. Historians generally only support weak and diffuse causation due to the complexity of social relations. Even the relationship between government policy and social outcomes is a diffuse and weak causative process (institutional, administrative, political, social, economic and corrupt resistance to policy for examples).

As such your questions appear at or beyond the pale for historical commentary. A doctoral student asking to commit to comparative mortality in development would be pushed towards A Sen and the anthropology department. Historians ask, “what are the real contents of large document sets and what do these support having had reasonably happened?” They avoid asking “what does what happened mean?” At least while acting as historians.

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