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I've recently noticed a troubling trend of "attacking" questions that seem to be too elementary. In some cases that is translated to closing a question, and in some cases the aggressive tone of the comments scare the question away. In the last 24 hours, I've seen disparaging comments on at least two questions that seemed 100% fine (and interesting) to me, in one case leading to the elimination of the question (in my judgement, not because there was anything wrong with it).

I fear that people will be afraid to ask questions here. The TCS community has always been very pleasant, and this is often not the case here. Come on, people, take it easy. Asking a silly question should be a badge of honor, not something that one gets scolded for.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you point to specific questions ? I've also been noticing (and participating) in question closing of late, but there also seem to be a number of very elementary questions. Seeing examples might help indicate where there's a difference of opinion and how we might adjust our policies as needed. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Oct 10 '11 at 7:09
  • $\begingroup$ I would also like to hear more about the specific questions. I have also been recently involved in closing many questions, and I do admit that in "clear cases" my comments tend to be somewhat blunt. $\endgroup$ – Jukka Suomela Oct 10 '11 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ I think the expectation was that a question needs to be related in some way to OP's research, and we might have applied that policy too strictly. MO seems to be less stricter than cstheory on this. We can be more open to questions which are not really coming from someone's research but are research-level (it would help if you add links to the questions you have in mind). ps: closing questions should not be a big deal, a question can edited and reopened by 5 high rep users. On the other hand, I agree that comments can be more polite and welcoming. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 10 '11 at 9:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'd rather not point out to specific questions as I don't want to point fingers at anyone specifically but just note an overly-critical attitude that was developing here. I am not bothered by closing decisions per-se but rather by the aggressive tone of some of the comments that suggest closing or just suggest that the person asking the question ought to go elsewhere. $\endgroup$ – Noam Oct 10 '11 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for raising this issue. In general I agree – I think this is a good reminder that all of us should try to be a bit more friendly and welcoming towards new users (and also each other...;). $\endgroup$ – Jukka Suomela Oct 10 '11 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding questions that are closed too easily: I think it might be helpful to pick some good "borderline" cases and open new threads here on meta for each of them, and see if we can find a consensus; slight adjustments of our scope may be good every now and then. But to avoid hostilities, we should ideally choose some great questions whose only problem is that they are somewhat off-topic here. Then we wouldn't need to discuss the merits of the specific question; instead we could focus on discussing the scope of this site. $\endgroup$ – Jukka Suomela Oct 10 '11 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ For examples, the question "How practical is “Automata Theory”, and why is it taught in undergraduate CS curriculum?" was almost closed, and I think it's appropriate for this site and has had some very good answers. $\endgroup$ – Peter Shor Oct 11 '11 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterShor: Thanks, I think it is indeed a good example of a borderline case. I voted to close it, and my main concern is that with very little thought, any CS student can generate a large number of questions of the form "Why do people teach topic X". But perhaps we could have a semi-official policy that borderline (non-homework) questions that happened to generate good answers can be left open (effectively, highly upvoted answers could be seen as votes against closing). $\endgroup$ – Jukka Suomela Oct 11 '11 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Jukka: Actually, for "Why do people teach topic X", for X in TCS, there is nowhere else to ask these questions, so I think we should leave reasonable questions of this form open if we don't get overwhelmed by them. I think questions like this might help actually improve the CS curriculum in the long run. $\endgroup$ – Peter Shor Oct 11 '11 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterShor: Good point. $\endgroup$ – Jukka Suomela Oct 11 '11 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ Currently (2011-10-27 18:40 GMT) there are 3 closed questions on the main page and another question with a negative score. This means 4 unwelcome questions out of 15, more than 1/4. If you consider the first 50 questions instead, there are 7 closed questions and 4 with a negative score = 13 unwelcome questions, similar ratio. Isn't 1/4 of "rejection rate" a bit too much? Will an accepted question here count as a journal publication in a few years? :) (This should be a comment but my reputation score is not high enough to post comments on meta.) $\endgroup$ – gioele Oct 27 '11 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ @gioele: No, it's not too many. In fact, I upvoted a homework question on the main page, which I now regret doing. (The one about finding a quantum AND.) The problem is not the rejection rate, but the lack of higher-quality questions. Some people may have been discouraged because of the aggressive closing, but that doesn't mean we should allow homework or near-homework. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Sterling Oct 27 '11 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ Noam pointed to a very important aspect of "science doing"! Often these are exactly "silly" questions that wake one's brain. Remember "Socrates method". Actually, I don't understand why we need this "shut up!" procedure at all? Would it not be enough to have a separate place where all questions with, say, 5-10 down-votes would be automatically moved? They would remain open, just not as interesting for most people. Yet another thing I don't like is the speed of discussions and decisions. Much like on usual blogs: after 2-3 days the topic dies ... More perseverance would be good. $\endgroup$ – Stasys Nov 12 '11 at 12:38
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I think this question on the future of computer science could have been worked with instead of closed. A version of the question like, "What are the main position papers about the future of computer science?" might be very informative. There are certainly citations available from CACM and other places, about the mismatch between the current hardware curriculum and the emerging needs of the hardware industry, or the current software engineering curriculum and the emerging needs of the software industry.

Without too much work, that question could have been made useful for the site -- i.e., requesting links and hard content, not just the posting of opinions.

Now, perhaps Noam totally disagrees with me about this particular question, and I am hijacking his thread, but as long as we are here, I thought I would let people know my position.

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    $\begingroup$ Questions like that are difficult: They could be edited so that they become on-topic – but is it appropriate to steal someone else's question and re-write it entirely so that it no longer matches their original intentions? I think the consensus in similar situations was that (1) the question is closed, and (2) someone who is really interested in the topic can write a new, more on-topic question (and refer to the original). $\endgroup$ – Jukka Suomela Oct 10 '11 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Jukka, maybe we should revisit that policy also. I think that works in theory but not in practice, I haven't seen people posting better versions of closed questions recently. (Part of the problem - at least for me - was that the OP would get reputation for what other users do but probably at this point that is a minor issue.) We can try to improve the question politely so it becomes a good on-topic question and still is close to what the OP is asking. If the OP disagrees with the edit they can revert it. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 10 '11 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ There hasn't been much efforts on our side to help users with bad questions. I think that we used to be more welcoming to new users. We used to comment more often on how an OP can improve their question. (About that particular question, it doesn't seem to be a theoretical question there, seems more like predicting the future of computer hardware.) $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 10 '11 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh: One of the problems is that so many people just post a question and disappear. No matter how many suggestions you give in comments, the question is never edited. $\endgroup$ – Jukka Suomela Oct 10 '11 at 21:23
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Quoting Noam:

I am not bothered by closing decisions per-se but rather by the aggressive tone of some of the comments that suggest closing or just suggest that the person asking the question ought to go elsewhere.

I agree that sometimes the comments do sound harsh. I also understand that people voting to close have left comments like this on so many threads that its hard to leave a long and friendly comment explaining why the question is off-topic every single time.

As a concrete suggestion, perhaps we can come up with a moderately long (say 3-4 lines) generic comment that is friendly and non-aggressive and explains that the question is out of scope (the most common reason for closing), CSTheory's scope in short and a link to the FAQ, suggestions for other websites that might allow such questions, etc. We can also explain that closing is not permanent, and questions can be reopened anytime, so they should feel free to edit and improve the question if they feel it is in CSTheory's scope.

Then the next time someone wants to post a friendly comment before closing, they can just copy and paste this generic comment instead of writing something new. I would guess that having your question closed with a long helpful comment seems a lot friendlier than something like "off-topic, voted to close."

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this idea. Kaveh used to do this for out of scope questions, but the extra bit about editing and improving would soften the blow as well. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Oct 12 '11 at 4:59
  • $\begingroup$ I like this idea. I am often unsure what to write in such situations in the comments. $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Oct 15 '11 at 18:27
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Related discussion on MO:

https://meta.mathoverflow.net/discussion/1174/redirecting-people-who-did-not-read-the-faq/

Concerning Robin's suggestion, there is a list of possible comments on TeX.SE:

https://tex.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/430/text-building-blocks

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    $\begingroup$ I like TeX.SE's list; we should make a list like that for CSTheory. $\endgroup$ – Robin Kothari Oct 18 '11 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ yes that's a good idea. but how do we get people to use it ? Should we link to the meta-question every time we post a text-template ? $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Oct 19 '11 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ @SureshVenkat: I don't think this is a real problem. Just post the templates on meta and let people use them if they want. Many of the regulars read meta and will learn about the availability of text building blocks. If the templates are updated regularly, the thread will appear on the meta front page often, and I think that we do not need any other advertising efforts. $\endgroup$ – Jukka Suomela Oct 19 '11 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds good. @RobinKothari would you like to start ? $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Oct 19 '11 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ @SureshVenkat: Sure, I'll start the thread. $\endgroup$ – Robin Kothari Oct 21 '11 at 19:43
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I am naturally afraid of asking silly questions in places where silly questions are not allowed. I find nothing wrong with it.

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    $\begingroup$ It is impossible to do any science in a place where silly questions are not allowed and treated with respect. While it is perfectly acceptable not the place for homework questions, a forum promoting science can not decline to be a place where silly questions are welcome. $\endgroup$ – Noam Oct 10 '11 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Noam: Thank you for the response. I personally do not consider Stack Exchange as a place of doing science, but I understand different people have different opinions. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Oct 10 '11 at 5:56
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    $\begingroup$ I'm with Noam: we have enough venues to be hypercritical, and we don't need more. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Oct 10 '11 at 7:10
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    $\begingroup$ Noam's comment makes me seriously consider opening a second account just so I can +1 it again. $\endgroup$ – Jeffε Oct 18 '11 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ @JɛffE: Coincidentally, Noam’s comment makes me seriously consider closing my account. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Oct 18 '11 at 17:06

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