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This concerns a specific example of a more general procedural issue that bothers me.

A recent question is headed Idioms for a 'obvious' or 'needs no explanation'. Its well-stated core is a matter of professional discourse: ‘For [Human Resources] the relevant facts are very obvious or need no explanation but for me they are completely new.’

OP is asking about appropriate professional comportment in trying to help HR colleagues understand the difficulties that some of us might have in interpreting policies that HR discusses and applies as if they are totally transparent to everyone. The professional thrust of this Question is very obvious indeed, as OP dutifully and efficiently unpacks it.

A number of Answers addressed this question at a surprisingly naive level of terminology, many suggestions being inappropriate (some of them dangerously insulting) in the professional context that OP came here to explore.

And then the Question was suddenly branded a duplicate of the basically unrelated Question What is the idiom for “as anyone can see” or “clearly”?. This was summarily achieved by the momentary twitches of five people, not one of whom has made a stroke of effort to do any of the research that ELU purports to venerate, and to require of tentative users like OP. OP was just swatted.

For one thing, then, it is clear that in this case the statement, ‘This question has been asked before and already has an answer,’ is simply false and should not be delivered to OP in the unexamined way that currently occurs. The earlier Question was clearly about synonyms for ‘obvious’. The recent one is about respectful professional discourse, and the minefield of linguistic protocol or register of conveying that something that might seem obvious in one domain might not be so evident in another. That is: usage.

Actually applying any of the earlier Question’s answers to the recent one would be disastrous in the professional community about which OP was sufficiently clear. The earlier Question very obviously does not Answer this one.

Nevertheless, it takes only a few people’s presumably hasty assessment to result in OP being slapped with this automatically-worded and inaccurate rejection of a perfectly sensible Question.

In this case, OP has not been served well or respectfully.

Connected to that, even having explored SE (as a recent and excited convert) I am perplexed by this cult of priority. Even if the earlier Question had been similar to this new one (which it was not), how do we get so immediately and uncritically to the judgement that the earlier Question automatically leapfrogs any possible activity on the new one?

Any earlier Question might have been asked with vengeful manipulation, Answered by a fascist, and Accepted after a bottle of whisky. Why should some similarity in the heading mean that a new Question just gets batted over the hedge, and people automatically get herded towards the final (i.e. earlier) solution, whatever it was?

I could see sense in imposing some kind of moratorium, perhaps in an informed and critical way inviting the new Questioner to examine specified earlier Questions for a day or two, and to come back with the results of this ‘research’ as adjustments, extensions or exclusions within the present Question. Such a process could benefit individual Questioners, and ELU in general, by giving them guided and helpful access to the archive, rather than (as here) blindsiding someone with a swift and unjustified gotcha.

As it stands, however, this process can simply work to exclude, as in this case. Not only do we seem to have a fallacious bias towards anteriority-and-seniority, but we also appear to assume tacitly and communally that no modern input can be valued if we have any sort of vaguely-similar ancient text at all.

That can’t be right. That overall dynamic encourages the slow creation of a community quite keen on encouraging old people to assure us all that we have probably heard whatever this is before, and that we should therefore ignore it. It doesn't matter how mistaken the old people could be: we just muck about until they say that they reckon something sounds familiar, and then we proceed to mucking about with something else instead.

As a result, this trusting OP has just been smacked in the face with a shovel, for no reason at all.

  • @Josh61 Thanks for responding, but I am not clear that you grasp the point. I am, indeed, asking about the mechanism and rationale for marking duplicate Questions and (in the example that I gave, please have a look) unjustifiably offending and excluding a Questioner who has done nothing wrong at all. You seem to be talking about a related and still potentially useful thing, however. How would you administer the correct positioning and evaluation of clever, new ideas on 'civilisation' in ELU, if they must all be arranged as addenda to some accidentally 'original’ Question about Genghis Khan? – Captain Cranium Mar 28 '16 at 20:21
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    As a result, this trusting OP has just been smacked in the face with a shovel, for no reason at all. This is a feature of the site, not a bug. – deadrat Mar 29 '16 at 4:11
  • (1) While the example you cite was, arguably, a particularly egregious case of a question being closed incorrectly, I’m not sure why you’re focusing on the “duplicate” close reason.  There are five reasons why a question can be closed; “duplicate” is the only one that, at least, points the asker to a potential source of answers (although that was done badly in this case).  The other four leave the OP with no recourse, except for the special case of “off topic” migration; … (Cont’d) – Scott Apr 9 '16 at 5:10
  • (Cont’d) …  and even then the OP can feel assaulted and/or insulted.  (2) I’m not deeply immersed in the culture of EL&U yet, nor intimately familiar with its track record, but I can tell you that Stack Exchange, overall, does not automatically assume that earlier questions and answers are better.  It goes without saying that, if a new question is the same as an earlier question, such that answers to either one will work for the other, … (Cont’d) – Scott Apr 9 '16 at 5:11
  • (Cont’d) …  then the older question is more likely to have accumulated a set of high quality answers (especially if the duplication is discovered, and the newer question is closed, quickly).  But I spend a lot of time on Super User and some of the other computer-themed communities, and there, an old question is sometimes closed as a duplicate of a newer question, if the newer question is better (either in the sense of being better written or having collected more useful answers). – Scott Apr 9 '16 at 5:12
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I haven't looked into the two questions very much yet, so I can't say if they are truly duplicates. However, I can say that the practice of marking questions as duplicates isn't due to some assumption that earlier answers are automatically better.

The purposes are:

  • to "[invite] the new Questioner to examine specified earlier Questions for a day or two, and to come back with the results of this ‘research’ as adjustments, extensions or exclusions within the present Question," just as you said. Putting a question on hold as a duplicate is not irreversible; if the original poster is not satisfied with the answers at the linked question, then the later question should be edited to explain the differences between the two questions. Just as it only takes five users to close a question, it only takes five to re-open it.
  • to collect the best answers to a single question in one place. There is no time limit on posting answers. If two questions are really duplicates, but you think you can write a better answer than the ones that already exist, you will generally be able to post it at the older question.

There is more information about duplicates here: How should duplicate questions be handled?


After looking at the questions and their answers in more depth, I agree with you that they are not exact duplicates, so I've voted to reopen.

  • Thank you for looking and thinking. I was concerned about the unreasonable Olympian ability of people who have properly read neither the Question nor its supposed antecedent to make life mysteriously hard for OP making a bloody obviously honest effort. I was also confused by that person's supposed duty to 'collect' his or her efforts in a place where they do not apply, which was the point of my post to start with. How do we start to guard against this kind of thing for the future? – Captain Cranium Mar 28 '16 at 23:50
  • Incidentally, just to be clear... I initially downvoted your Answer on the grounds that 'I haven't looked into the two questions very much yet' pretty much defined a response based on chat rather than research. – Captain Cranium Mar 28 '16 at 23:55
  • @CaptainCranium: Thanks for explaining the downvote; your reason makes sense. The question has been reopened now, so I hope you've accomplished most of your goals in asking this question. Perhaps somebody else will leave another answer that is more useful. – sumelic Mar 29 '16 at 0:39
  • I am not primarily concerned about any one Answer being more-or-less useful: we all do our best, within a generally democratic machine. I am trying to protect OP's (and everyone else's) safety to ask a sensible question without getting shot from deep cover with no warning, no support and no (sane) explanation. – Captain Cranium Mar 29 '16 at 1:27
  • @CaptainCranium That's the motivation for the current trial to clarify the reopening process. While it doesn't help with the closure itself, it's intended to support and explain the process as well as (to some extent) how question closure is intended to operate. – Lawrence Mar 29 '16 at 16:20

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