Update: The question referred to in this post was edited and the problem was fixed this morning. It is still closed at this time and still attracted down voters. Please do consider re-opening the poor users question.

I've never used meta, so please bear with me and I'm not here to criticize anyone. There has been a recent major uptick in the past two weeks I find concerning, since I'm worried it will discourage new users. I went and viewed older posts and the average vote rating for a post has been declining rapidly since about June or July of 2013. I understand you have been trying to improve the post quality and that is an important concern, but I just wanted to express that I really don't think we should be expecting absolute perfection, especially since the rules of Stack Exchange are a bit complex.

For example, this is most recently posted question How did Swiss neutrality affect WW2?

"Was the neutrality of Switzerland during World War 2 a help or hindrance to Hitler?

Obviously if Switzerland had come out on the side of the Axis powers then that would have been beneficial to Hitler. However, if it had entered the war on the side of the Allies, would that have prolonged or shortened WW2 ? Or not made much difference?"

The main question is I think a very interesting history question and great fit for the site. I welcomed this user, upvoted them, told them we couldn't answer the other portion regarding if Switzerland had entered the war, and referred him to the help center. I thought it was good first question that was workable. This question is on its way to a -2/3 downvote and closed by tomorrow, even with my upvote, because its been happening over and over again lately. Is the opinion that I shouldn't bother with this? I'm a little confused.

Also as much as I understand down voting rules, there isn't a reason to down vote this question, correct? It is clear and not ugly, it may just be considered off-topic and be closed. By sticking to the rules, the downvoting would probably go down. Two, I've noticed there is a tendency to close questions because we don't know the answer to the question. If we close it then no one else can answer either. It's really hard to decide if you don't know something because you don't know it or it isn't something that is known in general, but I think we can be more mindful.

  • 1
    "there isn't a reason to down vote this question, correct? It is clear and not ugly" The primary reason to down vote a question is when it doesn't show any research effort. "clear" and "not ugly" is not a sufficient replacement for prior research.
    – yannis
    Apr 8, 2014 at 8:57
  • @YannisRizos By "clear," I meant prior research. Questions are unclear to me because they will have factual errors and assumptions that make them difficult to answer, which I didn't find this question. Switzerland was in fact neutral in WWII. Swiss neutrality did in fact influence WWII. Please be more specific what the problem is.
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 8, 2014 at 11:09
  • Clarity and evident prior research are distinct concepts, a question can be both clear and ill-researched. That said, there's a sentence in Avner's answer you should pay special attention to: "The mechanism was designed to let the community's voting determine what is acceptable and what isn't". Some people think the question is ill-researched, some don't. That's ok, we don't always have to agree. If you feel the question deserves your upvote, so be it. The net (total/majority) score of the question is what's important at the end of the day.
    – yannis
    Apr 8, 2014 at 11:23
  • 2
    btw, "I've noticed there is a tendency to close questions because we don't know the answer to the question." is a serious complaint and you really need to provide some evidence to back it up.
    – yannis
    Apr 8, 2014 at 11:29
  • @YannisRizos I will watch out for it and then it can be addressed in a future post. I read through some of the meta postings-I've really never been on here. I don't seem to be only person who has ever brought it up. Maybe I can find it again...
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 8, 2014 at 11:46
  • Note that the number of users over 2,000 rep and over 4,000 rep has increased rapidly over the past 12 months. As the number of senior users increases beyond a bare minimum it should be expected that the site will reshape itself somewhat. Apr 13, 2014 at 23:54
  • 2
    Note also that a question cannot be deleted quickly unless it has a negative score. This affects downvote decisions. Apr 14, 2014 at 0:12
  • @YannisRizos - I'm not sure if that's the case on History.SE (I don't participate enough to see the patterns) but I can assure you that at least one other site (SciFi.SE) has a serious problem with just that - people DVing and even VTCing "because the question can't be answered" - in the personal and usually wrong opinion of the voter.
    – DVK
    Apr 20, 2014 at 22:57

3 Answers 3


I partially agree with you here.

As already mentioned, the down voting isn't designed as a way of improving a question but of trying to ensure that the best content floats to the top while the not so good content sinking to the bottom. I do agree with you though that it can sometimes be helpful if a comment is left explaining the down vote, where appropriate.

I also agree that the example you gave was a fundamentally good question. It was reasonably unclear in its intention and as originally worded the second paragraph seemed to be asking for speculation rather than fact. Which is why I personally voted to close. I chose not to down vote it because I thought the intent of the question was fine, just that it needed to be re-worded to fit properly. Fortunately, someone had already left a comment to that effect, which saved me the effort.

The second part of your question

Two, I've noticed there is a tendency to close questions because we don't know the answer to the question.

is something I have noticed recently as well. Unfortunately, I can't find any examples of this at the moment, but I have noticed that in the last couple of months a series of seemingly unanswerable questions have been closed and subsequently deleted. In my book this is a fairly serious problem that we should address.

While I broadly agree with what was said by Anver Shahar-Kashtan on the subject, it's my view that closing a question because it might attract the wrong type of answer seems to be taking a bit to far. The voting system we have in place will highlight the bad answers as bad answers for all to see and understand. The truly terrible answers will be flagged and deleted where appropriate and we might, if we are lucky, get a good answer for the question from someone who does know of an answer.


The general philosophy behind Stack Exchange's voting mechanism, as I understand it, is that voting isn't meant to be constructive for a given question - it's meant to be constructive for the site. The ideal is that "good" questions (where "good" means "the sort of questions we want to see more of") will be upvoted, and "bad" questions (using the opposite definition) are downvoted.

By that philosophy, it doesn't matter if some people downvote because of a banal idea, some because of bad grammar and some because it's off topic. The mechanism was designed to let the community's voting determine what is acceptable and what isn't, not to flag specific faults in a question.

I gather from your question that you think that taking rough first-time questions and helping them polish and improve their question's style and focus is a worthwhile goal. Personally, I agree with you. But it's not a universal goal of the site. Some might prefer to simply upvote already-good answers. That's fine too.

Regarding the issues of closing, I don't know what's happening in practice, but the idea of closing questions isn't that there's no known answer, but that leaving them open will invite the sort of answers that the site doesn't want - subjective opinions that will not match the site's vision. Closing questions early is a way to prevent bad answers from popping up.

  • A closed question should be an opportunity to provide feedback and edits.
    – MCW Mod
    Apr 7, 2014 at 12:12
  • @MarkC.Wallace It could be, but I've very rarely seen it happen-once?
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 7, 2014 at 19:38
  • @MarkC.Wallace Meaning that th questioin was closed, edited, and then reopened.
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 7, 2014 at 19:39
  • @RazieMah I've actually seen that quite a bit on other SE sites. This is why the "on hold" status exists, as an interim state before full closure, to salvage a question. Apr 7, 2014 at 19:41
  • @AvnerShahar-Kashtan I understanding what we trying to do now, how would it be that could start doing it?
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 7, 2014 at 19:44
  • @RazieMah One method that works in other sites is to leave a comment on a closed question explaining why it was closed, and inviting the OP to Chat in order to help rework the question. Apr 7, 2014 at 19:46
  • Chat is a great option but unfortunately it wouldn't work in the specific instance; the OP is a brand new (1 rep) user, and you need at least 20 rep to talk in chat.
    – yannis
    Apr 8, 2014 at 11:27
  • +1 This is a great answer, which nails some important points.
    – o0'.
    Apr 9, 2014 at 14:38
  • @YannisRizos - IMHO, gathering enough rep for chat (20) is nearly trivial on any non-super-specialist SE site - this one included.
    – DVK
    Apr 20, 2014 at 23:00

I vote quickly to close discussion, in part to prevent fiascos such as this question from ever getting started.

The question belongs on either the MathOverflow or Philosophy stack instead of history, and is already a duplicate, in my opinion, of a question already asked and answered on MathOverflow. OP becomes insulting, and then possibly threatening:

@PieterGeerkens, this question transcends mathematics. You don't seem to have any notion about philosophy. – George Chen 1 hour ago

@PieterGeerkens, if you don't know the answer, please leave it alone. I'm fishing for the one person who knows. An there are probably only one or two such persons in the whole world. – George Chen 1 hour ago

@PieterGeerkens, the whole world in watching you. – George Chen 1 hour ago

  • Note also that a question cannot be deleted quickly unless it has a negative score. This affects downvotes. Apr 14, 2014 at 0:12
  • Ok, I'll flag and dowvote
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 14, 2014 at 0:12
  • That's done. I'm not arguing questions like that shouldn't be closed and flagged and downvoted. Wow. Sorry about that. I didn't close it, because I didn't understand it very well. I thought you provided him the correct answer in comments. I close questions a lot, so I think we're in pretty in good agreement, usually. I'm just very charitable to new users who ask slightly off topic questions, since they don't know the rules yet.
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 14, 2014 at 0:26

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