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Recently this question was posted: Is the ISS a tennis racket?

I think the question itself is good, but the question title by itself does not make any sense without context. This makes it useless in search results, which harms the value of the question.

I didn't want to go as far as to editing it, although I think it should be edited. What is the Right Thing to do here? Leave as is or edit?

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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I'd like to hear your opinion also. $\endgroup$ – Ludo Dec 21 '19 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ IMO the search results would show the text too which would help identifying that it was helpful $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Dec 21 '19 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ I downvote questions with humorous or click-bait style titles -- unless they are particularly relevant to the question $\endgroup$ – JCRM Dec 21 '19 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Ludo the way @replies works means that I didn't receive a notification even though you left a comment here because I hadn't posted here already (thus the name "replies"). I've added a link to this back on the original question so everyone can see it. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 23 '19 at 0:16
  • $\begingroup$ related but different: MathJax in titles? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 23 '19 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JCRM my answer shows that the title is highly relevant in this case, consider reversing your down vote? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 23 '19 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ No, the title wasn't sufficiently relevant @uhoh. As such it was "unhelpful." As such I downvoted. The edited title is relevant, so I have reversed my vote. $\endgroup$ – JCRM Dec 24 '19 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ You can't imagine just how badly I wanted to leave the title How badly does the ISS banana? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 24 at 23:23
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Titles should give a reasonable expectation for what the question is about.

Drifting by, I could only deduce that the question was related to the international space station, which makes it a poor title. Unless, of course, most others immediately get what "tennis racket" has to do with the station, which I doubt.

On a more general note, "The Right Thing to do" is always to make questions better, which also includes editing the title.

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  • $\begingroup$ This looks like the right answer to me! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 24 '19 at 1:33
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Should nonsensical question titles be edited?

This title is not nonsensical.

Here is my thinking when I wrote the title:

  1. In this SE site many readers will know a bit about dynamics, and "tennis racket theorem" is a real thing. That's the name chosen in Wikipedia's Tennis racket theorem article, chosen over "intermediate axis theorem" or "Dzhanibekov effect".
  2. These days searches in SE or with search engines are not specifically keyed off of titles, and arguments about "won't show up in searches" are probably baseless.

I've written thousands of SE question titles and I almost always put a lot of thought into them, sometimes revising them several times in the first few hours as I consider further. In this case I felt and still feel that the title is sufficiently clear and absolutely relevant.

And what's wrong with an occasional title that also attract views anyway? If it brings more readers to the excellent and authoritative answer then where is the harm?

However: if you can propose a different title that still captures the "tennis racketness" of the physics of the problem, maybe we can find one we both think is better!


This makes it useless in search results, which harms the value of the question.

I think that may be a false flag. These days search functions tend to be good, and will get even better, and search results always contain snippets of the relevant content for instant visual confirmation.

Searching google for "iss intermediate axis" or Space SE for "iss intermediate" both yield my question and thus your answer as the first result, though who knows how google sorts results. I'd appreciate someone else check that as well.

obviously google search works

above: When I didn't specify the site, the question and its snippet still came up on the first page.

obviously SE search works

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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't show up when searching for "ISS moment of inertia", which I think it should. Also, only the question title shows in the "Linked/Relevant Question" list, no clarifying context there. I took many classes on rigid body dynamics in university and I've never heard of the tennis racket theorem. The effect is a logical consequence of Euler's equations and I've studied the effect in that context. Hence, for me the current question title doesn't tell me anything and it bothers me that I have to actually read the question body in order to understand it. But if I'm the only one, I'll back off. $\endgroup$ – Ludo Dec 23 '19 at 10:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Ludo thanks for your feedback! Please don't back off, I think you have a valid point. The "However: if..." above invites you (or anybody) to propose a better title. To get the ball rolling, how about something like "Is the ISS a tennis racket? Does it rotate around its intermediate moment of inertia axis?" If that's good enough, please feel free to edit my post and add that. Of course I can do it, but it might be cathartic (in a small way) and/or fun for you to go ahead and do it. You can even add another answer here summarizing. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 23 '19 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ Alright, I edited the title to something that I think should satisfy everyone. $\endgroup$ – Ludo Dec 23 '19 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ if you've got to explain your thinking for a "clever" title, it's not as clever as you think. $\endgroup$ – JCRM Dec 24 '19 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ @JCRM disagree; cleaver may need explaining because it's by definition non-obvious, and its that non-obviousness that makes the explanation helpful to some. So perhaps "clever" is not a desirable adjective for a title. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 24 '19 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ no @uhoh, a clever title needs no explanation, just as a funny joke needs no explanation $\endgroup$ – JCRM Dec 24 '19 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JCRM we'll continue to disagree on what is or is not clever. The difference is that I recognize "clever" and "funny" to be purely subjective terms. You can say that you don't think it is clever, but you can't prove it. Even when expressed in a matter-of-fact style, it's simply an individual, personal opinion. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 24 '19 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ @JCRM to me for example, a good joke may be one that needs no explanation, but a clever joke might take years to even be recognized as such. Cleverness may use subtlety, which is not always good for a Stack Exchange title. As an aside, a quest for good jokes that none-the-less may need explanations for most of us might begin in comments under this answer. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 24 '19 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ web.archive.org/web/20190430085721/https://mathoverflow.net/… $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 24 '19 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ well, you keep explaining your jokes until people laugh $\endgroup$ – JCRM Dec 25 '19 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ bah, humbug I say! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 25 '19 at 13:06

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