A question asked one hour ago was recently closed, and my answer to it was deleted. Let's assume for the sake of argument that the question was truly inferior as it was asked, and my answer was likewise inferior. Is it truly expedient to have such a fast turnover time? Typically, when I ask or answer a question on a SE site, I might still be thinking about the matter for some time after contributing, and the idea for an improvement only comes to me a few hours (or perhaps the next day) after my original contribution.

Is there a principled reason why community members should not have the luxury of reflecting on their contributions (or have only an exceedingly short time)?

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    Are you asking about the question closure or the answer deletion? Because they're two separate issues. – waiwai933 Dec 17 '12 at 1:09
  • they're the same issue. how long should it take for a contribution to get closed? if you want to split hairs, imagine that i'm asking two separate question: (1) how long for a question to get closed? (2) how long for an answer to get deleted? – user31341 Dec 17 '12 at 1:14
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    The answer to both is simple: it takes exactly as long as it takes. The system expressly has all kinds of limits in place, and the system expressly allows and encourages certain people (3k, 10k, 20k, mods...) to ignore them. The system also expressly allows anyone to object to any decision. And it expressly allows for any decision to be reverted. Your answer in particular was deleted because it had collected downvotes to the point of being greyed out, and started to collect flags. That is all. You want the decision reversed, be my guest, but the ball is back in your court then. – RegDwigнt Dec 17 '12 at 16:32
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    Meanwhile let me just sum up the various complaints we have so far. Some are offended that closed stuff is not deleted on the spot. Some are offended that closed stuff is deleted too fast. Some argue that nothing should ever get closed, only downvoted. Some complain that nothing should ever get downvoted, that makes them feel unwelcome. And some actually complain about their heavily-downvoted contributions getting deleted to prevent them from getting downvoted even further. And the real kicker is that all five can be the same person. – RegDwigнt Dec 17 '12 at 16:35

I truly do not understand why your answer was deleted. It was on topic.

As to why the question was closed, there is a problem on this site. We used to encourage giving interesting answers to fairly simple questions, in the spirit of "a question can become interesting by adding extra information and theory in your answers beyond what the OP was asking for". I strongly favour this approach.

But things have changed, and now the majority seems to be against simple questions no matter what the answers they may receive. The closing reason "General Reference" was introduced about a year ago to weed out questions that could easily be answered by consulting a standard reference work, which mainly meant a dictionary. The target was questions like "what does at loggerheads mean?", because people were expected to look that up in a dictionary. The downside is of course that this approach precludes adding extra information about the word loggerheads; but then this genre of questions was found too boring by most people. I can understand that.

Currently people are trying to widen the scope of "General Reference", to include even etymological entries on Etymonline.com, and expressions. They feel that expressions like "nothing less than" can easily be looked up in a dictionary, although sites like Dictionary.com do not have it. The Free Dictionary does have it, however. I personally think many entries on Etymonline will be hard to completely understand for laymen; I don't know where the majority stands.

Moreover, these two categories, expressions and etymology, often lend themselves well to adding extra (interesting) information, as you were in the process of doing. But we are apparently the minority, so I think nothing can be done about this.

This still doesn't explain why an answer to such a question was deleted. I really don't understand it. I will probably get a load of flak for this, but there you have it.

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    this is interesting historical context for the site. i'd agree with you that "general reference" can easily lead to abuse, because there are a great deal of questions which have "general reference" answers, yet remain active topics for scholars, because much more depth is possible than a general reference can provide. – user31341 Dec 17 '12 at 2:50
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    @jlovegren: I'm going to recuse myself from the debate on whether or not the question should have remained open. That said, I believe your answer to the question was confusing and misleading. In "At issue .. is nothing less than human freedom," you compared the phrase "is nothing less than" to some quantifiable amount ("no less than one million dollars"), and then explained that you'd use that wording if the winnings would be less than a million, which simply isn't true. I have enough rep to vote to undelete your answer, but I don't believe it should be undeleted due to its inaccuracy. – J.R. Dec 17 '12 at 9:14
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    @J.R.: It was a work in progress, I read that as a typo. In any case, an answer that you disagree with is not normally deleted, just voted down, as long as it's on topic. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 17 '12 at 9:56
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    @jlovegren Consider the ramifications of Christiansen’s Conjecture, which says “There exists no ELU question so surpassingly GR that a sufficiently creative, motivated, and assiduous writer cannot provide a useful and interesting answer to.” (Or something like that, whatever makes the pieces connected correctly.) Yet even if true, we seem to suffer from a chronic collective shortage of creativity, motivation, and assiduity, and I know no remedy to said shortage. Saying people could give answers doesn’t get them to do it. – tchrist Dec 17 '12 at 15:44
  • @tchrist: I see a solution but I see no problem. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 17 '12 at 16:45
  • 'Lack of research one might reasonably expect from a reasonably proficient Anglophone' might be a better filter (though no doubt people would still seek to exploit the necessary looseness of this). 'Camford Online [with link] does not mention this] would probably be sufficient. If people wish to answer 'in the spirit of "a question can become interesting by adding extra information and theory in your answers beyond what the OP was asking for" ', they should edit the question. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 23 '17 at 11:42

In most cases, you have that luxury, you can make an edit whenever you need to. Only when an answer gets deleted can you not improve it; only when the question is closed can you not leave another answer.

As for when questions and answers should closed or deleted, there are several valid answers and opinions on that, but one of them is: they should be closed or deleted when a moderated deems they should be closed or deleted. Sometimes immediate action is necessary (such as when spam or porn is posted, or when an answer of exceptionally low quality needs to be dealt with).

Oh! Quality! I opened that can of worms again, didn't I? Please, no more arguments about judgemental snobs, and let's not debate whether or not your answer was of "low quality" (however, I think it got three downvotes for a reason – and no, I wasn't one of those downvoters). There are several checks and balances in place in the system. All it takes is five members with enough rep to reopen a closed question, and three members with enough rep to undelete an answer. If the moderators act too hastily, there are ways to overturn their decisions.

Do I agree with every decision they make? Hell, no. But the moderators work hard here, fighting sock puppets, removing spam, reviewing flagged posts, dealing with over-the-line comments, and – gasp! – maintaining a level of quality. All of this takes time, and they're not paid for their services. It's about time somebody recognized that, with the giant cry-fest we've had here in meta over the past week. If you think every new user needs to be coddled with a welcome wagon, then step up to the plate and do that work. It's called a community for a reason.

You asked, “Is it truly expedient to have such a fast turnover time?” 99% of the time, yes. Sure, maybe in this particular case, you can't fix your answer, because it's been deleted, and you can't post a revised one, because the question's been closed. But I see no need to revamp the entire system to account for this one perfect storm of unfortunate events.

  • It's just that this one really fell into my lap, so I went ahead and went meta with it since it'll be a good illustrative case for what i think is a systemic problem on the site. i'm not new to SE, and I like this site and i'd like to do my best to make newcomers feel welcome; it's just that i'm using whatever time i dedicate to the site to try to stand up for the newcomers when they get roughly treated. – user31341 Dec 18 '12 at 2:12
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    +1. Is it possible to have the fourth paragraph, in flaming letters a foot high, sent to the asker of every meta question to consider before the question can actually be posted? Just dreaming... – Tim Lymington Dec 23 '12 at 18:55

I can only explain the physical mechanics. I cannot explain why votes apart from my own were cast. In the case of my own vote, I voted to close as General Reference because I felt that asking what “nothing less than” meant really was too basic for the site, and should be readily explained in any standard reference work.

Now, about the mechanics.

In the normal course of events, questions remain open until and unless they accumulate 5 close votes, and both closed questions and negative answers remain around until they accumulate 3 delete votes. Positive answers are not normally deletable.

10k users must wait two deliberative days to vote to delete a closed question, although 20k users and moderators do not. Deleting a closed question also deletes all its answers, but it can take more than 3 delete votes to do so, if things have been upvoted sufficiently highly.

There are two scenarios where this matter of this-or-that-many votes to either close or delete does not apply. The one case is that a very limited set of old, closed question get deleted after either a month or a year, depending. The other way for these things to happen is when a moderator casts a decisive (aka binding) vote to close or delete.

That is what happened here, and in both cases.

Note that a closed question can be reopened under the same rules (5 votes, or a moderator’s), although it usually takes some fairly solid reason for doing so. And indeed, a delete post can even be undeleted under the same rules of 3 votes or a moderator’s.

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    Which standard reference work is this, and how can it be easily looked up? I couldn't find it on Dictionary.com. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 17 '12 at 2:24
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    i don't agree with the reasons for closing, but i do appreciate the enlightening explanation of the mechanics. – user31341 Dec 17 '12 at 2:49
  • @Cerberus Are you honestly saying that you think we should have to explain what “less than” means? To what purpose? At what cost? This is a basic comparison in the English language, and many others. It is paired with “more than”. Please try to be serious, and possibly more than serious. – tchrist Dec 17 '12 at 2:50
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    comparatives require either that the standard of comparison be a scalar quantity (and no property of comparison be specified), or that a property of comparison be explicit or easily inferrable. in this question neither of those is the case; it is more complex than the "general reference" stigma makes it seem. i am supposing that @Cerberus is seeing this in more complexity than the closers have. – user31341 Dec 17 '12 at 2:54
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    @jlovegren Perhaps there is more than it would casually appear, but there is also the non-trivial matter that the original poster did not provide his research into the matter, what he had looked up and where, what he had found and what he still did not understand. We really do expect a bit more work on the part of the questioners than “What does this mean?” After all, they expect more work from the answerers. Anyway, if I said I did not want less than $10, it would mean that I wanted at least $10. Is that really a sophisticated question, or one that solicits a sophisticated answer? – tchrist Dec 17 '12 at 2:56
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    i answered the question because i thought it was interesting. i don't care how much research the OP did, because i know that the answer i would give is not in standard works. i wouldn't waste my time reiterating what is written in standard references. anyways, there is a sophisticated answer: if you say that you want "not less than $10," the key fact is that you could have, but elected not to, say that you wanted (simply) "$10". there is a big difference in the pragmatics and that's what i would have liked to write about if the question (and my answer) had been left open. – user31341 Dec 17 '12 at 3:42
  • The title of my question might sounds silly. But did you open and read the full question? The reason I ask is that I am not quite sure the usage of the phrase in a certain context. But thanks to the kind people here, I did learn about the usage in the end. But of course I would like to hear more from @jlovegren about the usage of the phrase. If I am content with what I have found online, I would not have initiate this question. – Leo Dec 17 '12 at 4:33
  • @tchrist: All I'm saying is that the close-reason "GR" is being expanded beyond what it was meant to cover, and that we would be unhelpful to the OP by refusing to answer what he cannot easily look up in a "standard work of reference". And the assumption that he didn't do any research seems to be untrue as well. See my and Leo's answers. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 17 '12 at 9:55
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    @Cerberus I could see your point if we were talking about an idiom, but we are not. The whole phrase, "nothing less than", is exactly the sum of its parts. It quite literally means "nothing less than". Word for word. The standard reference work you are asking for is a dictionary of your choice. It will have an entry for "nothing", "less", and "than". Which standard reference dictionary does not have them? – RegDwigнt Dec 17 '12 at 15:46
  • @RegDwigh: The fact that you do not see how it is more than the sum of its parts doesn't mean someone else does not. Because there is more to it, various pragmatic implications resulting in a certain function that I still do not fully understand, but that Lovegren probably does, and it is quite interesting. His answer wasn't quite there yet, but it was probably getting there. [I]f you say that you want "not less than $10," the key fact is that you could have, but elected not to, say that you wanted (simply) "$10". – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 17 '12 at 16:48
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    @Cerberus you know that if someone has an excellent answer and asks in chat, I will reopen on the spot. I have done that in the past, time and again. You will also know that "probably getting there" is not enough. That is not the standard we are holding us to. Nota bene: I haven't downvoted or flagged the answer. Other people have. A heavily downvoted answer does not make us look good, especially on a question that basic. What do you expect me to do — look the other way? This is not a rhetorical question. – RegDwigнt Dec 17 '12 at 20:26
  • @RegDwighт thanks for undeleting my answer. I'll now have the chance to make the improvements that I had been hoping to make. – user31341 Dec 17 '12 at 23:55

Just to give the locals a bit of broader perspective on the issue of the closures, let me quote something found on a different SE site (it's currently closed beta so accessing the link may be impossible)

Can you ask questions even if the answer is easily found elsewhere?


"Too Simple" is something which has been discussed on Stack Exchange before, and was implemented on other sites with a General Reference close reason. It was considered a failure though, since all it results in is users drawing arbitrary lines in the sand for when a question is "too simple", and what sites are considered general reference.

Furthermore, a tool already exists for questions which are too simple, it's called a downvote.

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful (click again to undo)

As you can see, the case of a question which is too simple is covered by does not show any research effort. With this in mind, there's really no reason to close these questions as well, because down votes are already a sufficient way of dealing with them.

Personally I don't know where it has been discussed, who came to conclusion it's a failure and whether ELU falls within the area of blame. Just quoting something I've noticed elsewhere to provide food for thought.

  • This "food for thought" has been chewed to death. I myself always fiercely opposed the gen-ref close reason, for the exact reasons you quote. Here's a link from more than two years ago. It's all right here. Search the site. Please. – RegDwigнt Dec 17 '12 at 15:40
  • @RegDwighт: Seems like the links are to times when it was to be a new thing and nobody really knew what results would it bring - e.g. the slippery slope it carries currently. Today we see the results. IMHO GR isn't evil by itself but the list of GR sites should be firmly defined, very short, and without Google on it (and with recommendation to check if the answer is there before voting to close). "Everyone in my town knows it" is not a valid GR source. – SF. Dec 17 '12 at 15:57
  • @RegDwigh: Then what's the problem? As to searching the site...you know the answer. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 17 '12 at 16:47
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    @SF. List of general references. Firmly defined and without Google Search on it, and we not only recommend, we enforce that people only close questions as GR if they actually provide the link in a comment, and only after checking if that link actually answers the question. Now, the list might not be short enough for you, and in fact it could be shorter if you ask me, but even so, that's three out of your four criteria fully satisfied. – RegDwigнt Dec 17 '12 at 20:39
  • @RegDwighт: I hope I'm not expected to have to check all 11 listed dictionaries to confirm none of them contains the word used in the sense I want to ask for, before I'm allowed to submit the question? Otherwise, a very nice list. – SF. Dec 17 '12 at 20:46
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    @Cerberus: I'm just saying I don't like the tone of "just to give the locals a bit of broader perspective". I don't like it one bit. Like we're savages or hermits or something. We have a dozen mods that meet up with mods from other sites at least once a week, a couple mods who are mods on other sites as well, and we have literally thousands of users who frequent other sites of the network on a daily basis. – RegDwigнt Dec 17 '12 at 20:46
  • @RegDwighт: ...and thanks to these so many questions are reopened. But sometimes it really seems like some of the users really have no life. So, if you don't feel like "a local" (e.g. you were already aware of that kind of opinion on the subject "making rounds"), that wasn't addressed to you. No need to be upset and if I accidentally made you upset, sorry, that was a misunderstanding. – SF. Dec 17 '12 at 20:49
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    @SF. I will go out on a limb and say that nobody will stone you to death if you check two dictionaries and not twenty (and don't forget to actually include your findings in the question). The thing is, quite often OPs will check exactly zero dictionaries. And that's when people get all up in arms. – RegDwigнt Dec 17 '12 at 20:49
  • @RegDwigh: I just read that as a funny tease... – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 17 '12 at 20:53
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    ...aaand as chance would have it we now have a dedicated blog post dealing with GR. And Martha already has beef with it, which happens to be precisely my beef with the aforementioned List of GRs here on meta. But other than that, no excuses now. Go spread the word. – RegDwigнt Dec 17 '12 at 21:34

As of today, the question shows no evidence of research effort. Askers should put substantial effort and research into questions, and questions (even simple ones) should reflect that effort.

This is a courtesy to people who write answers. Without results of research, they are likely to waste time doing research the asker has done (or should have done). Answers to such questions often get responses from the asker such as “I thought of or looked that up already” and “but that isn’t what confuses me”, which are frustrating to the person who took the time to try to answer the question.

A question lacking research should be closed until the research work is done, then reopened. Closing a question is not a death sentence. The asker gets as much time to reflect and revise as they want.

When I vote to close such questions, I use a close reason of “not a real question” because that close reason applies to questions which are incomplete. (See the FAQ.)

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