According to the closed question statistics the most used custom close reason with 12 occurrences in the last 90 days was:

I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's based on false premise.

I personally find this sentiment worrying and counterproductive, as I wrote earlier:

Just because a question is based on a wrong premise, it does not mean it is not worth asking. The wrong premise must come from somewhere. I truly believe that debunking a myth, [...] is far superior to closing it down, preventing it from getting more attention.

M.A.R. pointed out that just because a question is closed, it doesn't prevent it from getting more attention. That is correct. However, it does prevent it from getting a useful answer that would debunk a (/an obviously) wrong claim.

I would like to understand why this is so popular. It is not only one person to suggest this line of reasoning, but there are others who agreed to close a question based on this.

Of all possible reasons to reject a question I think prior knowledge shouldn't be among them; I'd encourage anyone to take the opportunity to educate as a well crafted answer can lead generations to come down the right path.

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not saying that all of the questions that have been closed with this reason are a good fit for the site, I am just saying that the reason to close them is terrible.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I guess none of the answers nor your post mention this -- but whenever I close something because it's 'based on a false premise', it's when the post is not about the false premise, so the answer would only choose to debunk it as a side comment as best. "Why does everything follow octet?" is not something I'd close, because the answer would debunk the false premise. "Yogurt is usually black and sometimes purple. What decides when it's purple and when it's black?", however, is unsalvageable gibberish once you agree yogurt is brown. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 14:07

3 Answers 3


Actually, I can see why one might want to close a question that is based on a false premise. In the worst case scenario, you end up correcting misconception after misconception of OP, and digressing further and further from the crux of the original question. In the end, your answer becomes 90% about other stuff and only 10% of it answers the actual question. I find such Q&As to not be particularly useful - the answerer's effort would imo be far better spent doing a self-Q&A.

In this regard, it is no different from dealing with a chameleon question. I'm not sure whether closure is the right action to take here, but I can see some rationale in it.

As with the HW policy, the problem arises when people take it too far. Obviously not every question falls into this mould, and if there is only one major misconception, (e.g. the d-orbitals in SO3) then it is perfectly possible to answer it.

I answer these questions too, after all. Sometimes it inspires a useful answer, or in this case, two useful answers.

Well, what should we do about it? I would like to ask everybody to consider this:

Please think about what kind of answer a question could potentially get, before voting to close.

If you think that there might be something that we could all learn from, then consider giving it a chance. Unless you know every single fact about chemistry - then by all means, vtc it! - what's the point of leaving such rubbish open? But I will also expect you to be announced as the Nobel winner tomorrow.

Case in point, from today: H-NMR spectroscopy of [18]annulene (see my comment on the question).

This philosophy is summed up nicely in AliceD's mod election questionnaire from Biology.SE. It's something I remember reading months ago, and it stuck with me:

Further, mediocre questions can be shaped by well-thought answers. Be inventive in answering, not harsh in closing.

  • $\begingroup$ One thing about the [18]annulene question: it is dangerously close to homework and I feel OP could have expanded on the topic. The first time I passed by, I was about to swing the hammer because it should have been two peaks before I noticed the temperature. For someone not in the actual field and too lazy to look up literature for every question, I would initially assume the temperature to be high enough for simple interconversion to take place. If OP had mentioned that, they would have gotten an upvote and no close vote. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 5:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Jan I really couldn't care less if something is homework or not. I think the question has premise and by evidence of quite a few papers about that creepy molecule it is evident that the subject is far from trivial. If you don't think it's useful than down-vote it. Why is your second option immediately jumping to close a question? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 6:33
  • $\begingroup$ The first example that you give is certainly a problem, and I agree that such a question needs to be handled. But simply saying "this is based on a false premise" and closing it isn't going to do the trick (imo). I simply do not see why this has to be prevented from getting an answer. Why can't it just be down-voted? If someone puts a good answer on it, everybody wins, if not it'll cleaned up eventually. Why does it have to go through review? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 6:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン I can’t tell the question’s premise if OP doesn’t write it out. If I haven’t seen any examples that point to the contrary, my immediate thought is going to be ‘Oh, they should explain why signals collapse at high temperatures if proton exchange happens, yet another homework question without thought.’ Which is why I voted to close [18]annulene as homework. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 9:34
  • $\begingroup$ And the reason for putting things through review (i.e. closing them) is that the text [on hold] provides a fast way of screening whether I should bother opening and reading the question or whether I should move on to what would likely be more interesting. In the queue, they get served on a silver plate, ready for closing/not closing, which can serve to save everybody’s time. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Jan I can't follow your argument here, but this is not the place to have this conversation, and I'm not sure if I ever want to have this conversation again. I was aiming at something completely different here, but I already regret bringing it up. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ I generally agree with your answer. Just that false premise questions aren't in the risk of becoming chameleon questions. They're usually just unsalvageable since the beginning. (See my comment below the question) $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.R. Yes, that's actually exactly what I had in mind. You put it better, though. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 15:41

I would agree -- part of the process of learning, is acquiring the skill to ask questions well. Just because someone asks a question with faulty premises doesn't mean they aren't looking for truth. A capable and informed person can see through the error, correct it first, and show the asker what they're actually looking for. A clear distinction between carelessness and honest ignorance can be seen. The former should be closed; the latter treated with some consideration.

Plus -- you can always edit a question to be more concise, correct, clear, etc.

"False premise" should be reserved as a major issue (worthy of rejection) for publications, i.e. claims and assertions of truth, not for paths to learning. Learning is bumpy so I think we ought to allow room for it.


I sometimes agree with the false premise close reason. I believe I may have used it myself previously, too.

When discussing this, I would like to point out that two types of false premises exist:

  • false premises that have been popularised, that form part of a conspiracy theory, that were once considered the state of science or that are otherwise widespread; and

  • false premises that basically only the OP has and that may be as basic as assuming high NMR shift = high shielding (i.e. getting the scale ordering wrong)

In the first case, I am all for keeping the question open, debunking the myth, explaining, etc. etc. as Martin wrote in this meta question.

In the second case, I believe that pointing out OP is wrong (in a comment) and closing the question is enough.

I will instantly admit that I am not consistent in this. I have answered a question that could fall into the second group only recently rather than aligning the close hammer. I have also probably erroneously swung the hammer on questions of the first type (but I don’t have an example at hand right now). And I do admit being susceptible to the bandwagon effect if a question shows up in the close votes review queue.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't see in any way why your second example should be closed. Is having this question around harmful in any way that I cannot fathom? Do we really have to prevent it from getting an answer? Isn't it just enough to down-vote, comment and move on? The main problem here is just saying "it's based on a false premise" because it doesn't offer any clarification. Sorry, but I disagree with what you have written, hence I down-voted. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 6:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン (Yes, that’s what downvotes are for on meta ;)) I think for those kinds of questions, a comment really should be enough. If three people disagree with closing before four people agree with me, it will be kicked from the queue anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 9:28

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