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I've seen the comment

Relevance to space exploration?

Appear quickly, directly below several question posts over the past several months, and I'll explain why it makes me uncomfortable.

  1. It creates the impression that a question asker must demonstrate "relevance" whenever asked, specifically to the SE website's short name. I'm pretty sure that the only relevant issue (to borrow a word) is if the question is off-topic, or not off-topic.
  2. It creates the impression that the onus is on the OP to prove topicality, to any user who drops a "relevance?" comment. That's not now SE works. If a user feels a question is off-topic, a user can 1) vote to close as off-topic, and generally should show the courtesy of explaining specifically why they feel it is off-topic or better yet 2) simply leave the comment sans answer-blocking close vote which provides that explanation. The onus is in fact on the commenter to explain why the question might be off-topic, not for the user to guess what the unstated concern is and to defend the question against it.

This kind of comment creates a situation where the OP must guess why the commenter thinks the question is off-topic then try to defend against an invisible argument.

It also suggest that any user at any time can simply type "Relevance to (site name)?" under any question at any time.

This kind of commenting also creates the false impression that the question has issues, without any specific issue being raised. This is problematic.

It casts shade on a question without being productive, helpful, or actionable.

To me this feels like "Guess where the invisible hoop is, then jump through it".

Question: I think this kind of commenting should stop. What do others think?

note: Words like "relevance" or "relevant" do not appear in What topics can I ask about here? or What types of questions should I avoid asking?. The latter does include "anything not directly related to space exploration" but questions about planetary science for example have been well established to be explicitly on-topic (example) so we can not use the site's name alone as a gating mechanism for topicality.

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  • $\begingroup$ Much better to just VTC as off-topic, which should prompt someone to edit the question to explain the relevance. $\endgroup$ – JCRM Sep 17 at 9:08
  • $\begingroup$ @JCRM how would someone be able to do that without information on what an objection might be, if there is a valid one as all to begin with? Step 1 needs to be a productive, helpful, or actionable comment. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 17 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ Remember a close vote is a vote to prevent anybody from posting an answer. A silent close vote will block answers longer because it contains no information besides "stop answers because.... well, i'm not saying why exactly, but just stop them!" $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 17 at 9:18
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There are a couple of problems here:

  1. No one is required to sacrifice their time to explain things to you. Of course, getting further information can be necessary, but it absolutely doesn't have to come from a specific person. When someone takes an action for a reason that is not clear, it can be difficult sometimes for others to fill in the gaps, but that's just one of the difficulties of a volunteer-based community.

  2. Stack Exchange explicitly allows votes (downvotes or votes to close) without comment, and allows requests for clarification from the asker without further explanation. It may not always be immediately clear to the asker what needs to be fixed, but if we required users to guide the asker until they understood what needed to be addressed in order for users to vote or comment, then a lot of people would find they simply don't have the time and energy and we would have very little community moderation--with quality lagging as a result.

  3. "Relevance" is basically a synonym for "topicality" in this case. Organic's comment was basically saying, "I can't see how this has anything to do with the topics we address here, and I'm planning to vote to close. Maybe you could explain to me why you think it's on topic, before I vote prematurely?" Sure, the actual comment was a lot more terse, but again we can't be too demanding of people's time, and I didn't find it to actually be rude.

  4. It is not the responsibility of the responding user to take things to meta. They certainly can, if they feel it would be helpful, but you could just as easily have come to meta asking "What atmospheric science is on topic here?" instead of criticizing the commenter.

In summary, the last thing we should be asking for is for terse comments to stop. It is better to have terse comments than no comments at all. (That said, if you have the time and energy, it is always better to leave a more fleshed out comment so the asker has a place to start.)

If you're feeling personally criticized, it's worth taking a step back for a moment to cool off. Even if it's true that another user has a grudge, it doesn't mean they may not have a valid point in this case. If you feel a user is harassing you, you should flag their comments with a custom flag briefly explaining the situation to the mods. If you need to say more on it, you can ask to speak to the mods privately. We can invite you to a private chat room to hear your story.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 24 at 13:46
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You're right, I should have vtc with a comment explaining why. Done.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 24 at 13:46
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Regarding your claim

It creates the impression that the onus is on the OP to prove topicality, to any user who drops a "relevance?" comment. That's not now SE works.

The onus is on the OP to ask on-topic questions. That is how SE works. The OP is not required to pay any notice to comments, however comments are generally left to improve the question. In this case, it wasn't obvious how the question was on topic and the comment left should have suggested (at least to an experienced user) a path to improving the question.

Asking them to demonstrate why it's off-topic is disingenuous, it's similar to asking them to prove a negative. But I'm sure you know that. I would hope it was clear that a question about "why x=4,352 isn't treated as an error in Fortran?" isn't on topic here, but is it easy to explain why?

"Gaming the system" is is doing something nefarious yet within the rules.

In this case you're now pushing a whole bunch of ionosphere questions that are on-topic, I expect with the intention of claiming -by extension- all ionosphere questions are on topic, and thus you were hard done by when someone had the nerve to suggest a question you posted was on topic.

That, of course, is nonsense, because these questions being on topic has no bearing on wether the original question was on topic or not. In just the same way that questions being well-received with answers doesn't make them any more on topic.

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  • $\begingroup$ there's a lot here, thanks for addressing my question! To the "pushing questions" and intent, I ask an average about 8 or 9 questions a week and it fluctuates so some weeks are more, nearly 2,000 on this site so far. There are trends in topic of course, the more you learn, the more there is to ask. I asked about the ionosphere recently about five days ago and now I've asked a few more. Asking questions and receiving answers is a way of finding out more about a topic. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 19 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ After some more questions and answer, we can overcome this kind of thing, then step back, look at it more clearly, and have a better idea how ionospheric phenomena fit with the site. My feeling is that it's simply been overlooked. It's unfamilliar to some. Let's see the ways in which the ionosphere interacts with, and is a subject of space exploration. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 19 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ If Did astronauts on the moon poop in front of each other? and Can you ride a bicycle on Deimos? are aspects of space exploration, then certainly studying aurora and other ionospheric phenomena should be as well, no? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 19 at 18:33

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