Please bear with me because I do not have a long experience with SE. During my short life here, it seems to me (I accept that I can be wrong) that there are several inconsistencies in the way you practice auto-moderation (which is a good policy, by the way).

I will use just two examples to illustrate, but I must insist that the underlying subject of the two questions (ie SETI) has no importance in what I want to discuss here.

The first is titled Intentional signals and unintentional signatures (of extra-terrestrial life) with the core question:

How likely are the atomic bomb tests that we did (and still doing to some extent) to be detected by an alien civilization, say within 250 light-years from the Sun?

The second is titled Hypothetically, what a trillion budget do to SETI with the core question.

what might SETI usefully do with a much larger budget than it has currently?

    1. Inconsistent use of « opinion-based » to justify closing a question:

In the first example, after debates, the question was closed. But I observe that nobody (apart myself) made any comment on the substance of the various answers provided, tried to engaged with the answerers, or even down voted them. How can a casual visitor understand the policy of « no opinion-based here » when a question was closed on that basis while it has answers not considered as « opinion-based » ?

In the second case, without much debates, the question was closed (just 5 hours from its publication), thereby preempting any possibility to see whether there will be opinion-based or fact-based answers. How can a visitor understand the policy  with such thin justifications given, if justifications are given at all? When I asked, why don’t you try to help fix the question, a reply I got is « folks do not have time, the onus is on the OP ». Correct me if I am wrong, but the policy is to « skip » if you don’t have the time to engage with the OP.

    1. Inconsistent justifications of the reason for closing :

It can be observed (not only in the said 2 examples), that reviewers seem to confuse between « opinion-based », « off-topic » and « lack of focus ». Correct me if I am wrong, but « lack of focus » and « opinion-based » should be considered only after accepting that the question is on-topic. If the question is considered off-topic it has to be justified so, to begin with. There are many cases that questions are closed using the motivation « opinion-based », while in comments the reviewers do not seem to agree between themselves that this is the reason. If one says « opinion-based » and another says «too broad » then there is contradiction in the judgements (at least it gives this impression to a visitor). And this amounts to, or at least gives the impression to a visitor that the decision to close is itself « opinion-based ».

    1. Inability to distinguish between fictional and speculative assumptions.

I understand that this community wish to stay away from fictions. However, it seems that it has a big difficulty recognizing the existence of «speculative but not fictional», or at least it relies purely on individual judgements. It is observed a tendency to classify any question with a « what if », «imagine that », « how likely is » as « unanswerable ». Note that Science lives by "theorize-then-test". To the argument that we are dealing with technology, not science, may I point out that engineering too, is by and large speculative.

End note: If I am not wrong, there is an option available to close a question or to delete an answer without explanation (no justification needed). That option should be exclusive for what it is for. That is if you use it, you do not need to invoke any other reason to the address of the OP. And we should use it only when there is unanimity (among 5 voters) that it is the case, that is it must be truly obvious.

  • EDIT 1: Definition of a casual visitor.

When I spoke about « casual visitors » of a Space SE site, I thought the terminology was self-explanatory. A-posteriori, looks like, it is not. So, here is my definition :

A casual visitor of an SE site is a person who has not signed up to any site of SE, but is reading, browsing, the questions and answers. It could be that it was a search engine that brought this person to the site (that’s what happened to me). They can be considered as users, but not stakeholders.

It is my opinion that it would be shortsighted to ignore, or exclude, this category of users, by the potential value they can bring, just by clicking the content's link. At the same time, it would be over-the-top to assume that a casual visitor has a great envy to read the « law ». Even if this person has, it is unlikely that this reading is so enlightening that the casual visitor can work out things that look inconsistent are in fact artifacts of the application of the « law », by the letter. Note that I doubt that there is any truly application of the law by the letter, in any democratic society.

  • $\begingroup$ Btw, Space SE is very friendly, compared to most SE sites. I think it is not so bad, even if your question is closed, you can easily formulate it to become acceptable. The first question should be reformulated to ask about the detectability of a nuclear explosion from 250 light years with our current technology (and the answer will be that it is absolutely not detectable). The second question should ask for the improvement possibilities of SETI if there are no budget restrictions (but still there are our technological limits). And the likely answer is that not much. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ @peterh, agree with that. But my core point is that the OP should not have to do a guesswork. If it is simply a question of style, tone, or additional few precisions, the moderators that see these drawbacks in a question should be enticed (forced?) by the system to make the edits, not the converse. It's logical that those who have been selected by the system, or self-appoint themselves, to "interpret the Law", should explain, and not only to the OP, how they understand the spirit of the Law. $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ Btw, I think their next "surprise" step will be something related to this. I think I know what, but I do not want to predict it on obvious reasons. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 20:32

2 Answers 2


The first key requirement of the community is that everybody reads the help pages and the guide which is presented to anyone as soon as they sign up for a site. There are lots of interesting pages on how the various aspects of Stack Exchange work, including voting and flagging.

For reviewers there is only a very short list of broad canned reasons to close, and for many questions, more than one of these can be applicable, hence the system allows closure from votes for different categories, if they total up to 5. And it doesn't matter if folks voting to close don't agree on the exact reason - they can all be correct - your point 2.

If Opinion-Based is the reason for closing a question, that is down to the question, not the answers, so I'm not sure your 1st point is relevant.

Once closed, the message to the OP for closure is very strongly around editing to meet site requirements, and while it can be very helpful to leave a comment as to reasons for a particular vote, we absolutely do not demand it - that is one of SE's core tenets: voting should be anonymous.

And both fictional and speculative are rather heading towards opinion-based. Speculative questions about what could be done with x amount of money are not going to have a definitive answer, so are tricky to fit in the Stack Exchange model, which pushes for strict answers to strict questions.

  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 17:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sorry for my ignorance. Can you explain the difference between discussing here and "discussing in chat"? $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Commented Jan 15, 2022 at 21:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NgPh The chat is intended as a third space for extended discussion. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Commented Jan 17, 2022 at 14:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage, thanks but I still do not grasp the subtleties between first, second, third spaces for discussions. Perhaps, just a gentle way to say "better stop"? $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Commented Jan 17, 2022 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ @NgPh No, it's just that comments are not intended for extended discussion. They're ephemeral, and may be purged at any time. That's just the way SE prefers things stylistically. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage, that's really helpful. I didn't know that when comments are ported to "chat" rooms, they are elevated to "protected" status. I should read the Guidelines more attentively. $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 18:45

In the introduction to my point(s) above, I made it clear that I was looking for reasons to be convinced that I was wrong. I must say that I am disappointed. Here, is my attempt to answer my question(s).

  • How can a casual visitor understand certain outcomes of the auto-moderation policy? He can’t because nobody takes into consideration the casual visitors. This is problematic, because the content produced by this community is publicly available.

  • How can an OP understand certain votes to close when most prefer to vote silently? The OP can’t because anonimity is the «tenet». This is problematic, because the reason to keep silence is not what is stated. You can keep anonimity while giving articulated reasons for your vote.

  • How can a question be flagged « opinion-based », yet it is receiving answers not flagged as such? This is because, presumably I didn’t read the guidelines. This is problematic, even more so when it is added in a comment that:« to avoid [reading] the guidelines requires a concious decision », which comment is upvoted twice. There are 3 persons in a state of mind of presuming that people avoid conciously to read the guidelines!

  • Why don’t reviewers propose edits to show the OP the direction for improving the question? This is not a « safe » process. This is problematic because there are plenty of questions which have been edited long time after receiving many answers. Not only by the OP, by everybody, not only for editorial or typographic reasons.

  • What is the difference between fictional and speculative questions/answers? We treat them as equal. This is problematic, even so when there are examples of questions that you do make a distinction and others where you don’t.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can't close an answer at all, so it makes no sense to criticize on that basis. If the answers do what they're supposed to do, there's nothing to flag for. If the question is of inadequate quality, it doesn't matter how good or bad the answers are, it should be closed, and flagging answers achieves nothing more useful than flagging the question alone. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 4:04
  • $\begingroup$ A casual visitor doesn't need to understand how moderation works, beyond the basics of "write question good, vote up useful, accept most useful" since they are only here to browse. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 4:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Nij, You are another member of the community believing that we can ignore the casual visitors. I am of the opinion that when we have defined the audience, every actions and postings we do should look logical to that audience (everybody in the audience). $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ It shouldn't look logic, it should be logical, and the large majority of SE systems are. The casual visitor doesn't have to think about anything more difficult than: sign in, post Q&A, flag stuff, done. If someone wants to do more than that, they're not a casual visitor any more, and they should take responsibility for learning how the system works, not been arrogant enough to claim the system isn't logical when they've only been on one or two sites, for a few months. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ No, I was referring generally to brand-new users who make the same suggestions that were thoroughly analysed last decade and found to be unviable. Apologies if it felt personal. There are many users who certainly should know better, though, so I advise taking care of whose advice you follow. Including my own, to the extent it doesn't fit with the overwhelming consensus. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 22:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Nij, No harm done. I delete my related comments. $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 22:07

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