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I appreciate that closing duplicate questions is an important part of maintaining the integrity of chem.se. I also appreciate all the help the users of this site have provided me. It has made a huge difference in my studies.

Saying that to say, I mean to be constructive when I say that I wonder whether we're too eager to close questions as duplicates.

Yesterday, I had a question closed that asks a question that manifestly differs from its putative duplicate. I asked 'Why do some quantum numbers limit the range of possible values for other quantum numbers?' The duplicate question asks 'What do the quantum numbers mean?' The only thing that these questions have in common is that they pertain to quantum numbers.

Less than an hour ago I asked a question, that was, minutes later, flagged as a duplicate of a question that manifestly differs from the question that I asked. I asked 'why are electron configurations most stable when there are 8 electrons in the outer shell' the duplicate asks 'Can an atom have more than 8 electrons in the valence shell?'

I acknowledge that the answers to these questions may overlap in some respects however, I think that most answers to almost any two questions that share a tag will overlap in some respects.

One of the stated purposes of SE is to create quality answers to questions that people might search for on Google etc. If the sentence used to express one question and the sentence used to express another question, do, in fact, express the same question, then it ought to be a duplicate. Google handles semantics well enough that it often provides results that include key words that mean the same thing in context that the search terms mean. However, if the sentences express different questions, then, not only are they different questions by definition, but their meanings differ. Google will not render links to both answers when a searcher inputs terms that cause it to render a link to one of the two answers.

Additionally, even if the information in the answers overlap appreciably, the fact that the answers express the relevant information as it pertains to ostensibly different questions justifies separate questions: Two answers to different questions, such that those answers appeal to the same set of facts are not the same answers. An answer to a question provides information as it pertains to the question. The facts are already out there on the internet and elsewhere. SE organizes facts as they relate to questions.

In sum, it seems to me that questions are being closed when they have something to do with another question, not when they're duplicates. Closing questions as duplicates for having something in common with another question does not conduce accomplishment of the stated goals of SE and does not concord with the meaning of the phrase 'duplicate question'.

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  • $\begingroup$ When flagged, it states "possible duplicate.." then it is up to the community to decide. Dupes should be closed immediately. $\endgroup$ – user15489 May 30 '15 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ @santiago, yes I understand that's how it works. However, meta is about what we ought to do as a community. This post is commenting on what principles ought to guide the community decision that you mentioned in your comment. $\endgroup$ – Hal May 30 '15 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to hear from some other members of the community before I officially weigh in, but in the case of the first one, it's an excellent example of why the system potentially works well. Since it's heavily upvoted and has upvoted answers, it's not going anywhere (you won't lose the rep) and now there's an extra "signpost" for someone who is googling with that exact question. $\endgroup$ – jonsca May 31 '15 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ Whether we're adhering to the spirit of the law or the letter of the law, so to speak, in terms of what does "duplicate" really mean is probably something that's good to discuss, though. $\endgroup$ – jonsca May 31 '15 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ Premature closing will always happen. It only needs five people to make the case. And I do not think this is a problem at all. Question can (and will) be reopened quite often. The system works very well. Our site is also small enough, but yet big enough, that things like this will be addressed within a day. To be perfectly frank here, I voted to close the first question because I just did not see the that you are actually only asking about the mathematics. I do see the difference now - reword your question and get it reopened. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン May 31 '15 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ I +1'd this since it's asking genuinely and is trying to avoid ranting as much as possible. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. May 31 '15 at 12:24
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Yet another example of system working!

But please next time, ask for the reason of their being duplicates rather than speaking of duplicate closure eagerness. Usually, these are the steps for getting your question back from the hands of closers:

  1. Closure needs at least five normal people to agree with the close vote. If someone has a good reason to disagree with the close vote, they usually comment and stop the question from getting closed. Five isn't too low to allow a lot of wrong closures and isn't too high to keep the closed/deserves closing ratio low. If a mod steps in, their vote will mean immediate closure, but our nice mods (Jonsca, Manish and F'x) usually don't step in to close. Two reasons:

    1. They're so nice.
    2. They'll usually leave it for the community to decide, specially on grayish areas of question closures.
  2. With regards to this implementation, you can see that there are dup close votes on your questions. If you ever ran into this situation of having a close vote on your question, edit your question and/or tell the voters (in comments) why your question isn't a dup.
  3. But wait... What if I come back the next morning and see my question closed as duplicate? No sweat! Edit your question and in the edit, explain why exactly your question is closed wrongly. An edit puts the question in the reopen queue, so you can make sure that with a pure spirit, good intentions and an strong body and heart, you'll have your question reopened - Again, with the vote of five people.
  4. Even that didn't work? Aargh!!! But wait again! What is meta for? You can simply come and open a meta discussion about why your questions are closed while you clearly see that they shouldn't. But...
    • Be patient.
    • Do not rant and do not make it personal. Instead, write as if you wanna learn the reason of closure. For example, asking Why my questions closed? I want them back and I hate you! will gather downvotes higher than Mt. Everest.
    • Be open when in discussion. People are free to have ideas, right or wrong.
    • And finally, don't ask for the reason people are inclined to close. Asking a question like why are you so wanting to close questions? does get downvotes. "Closing helps maintain quality." And I have felt with my whole heart that that sentence is not just a motto. We can't not close when we have to close, and we can't pass the red traffic light just because we were in rush.
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