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I posted a question asking "What is a rigorous definition of a 'strong Brønsted-Lowry base'?" (noting that the usual glossary definition of "strong base" was that it "dissociates completely", but that can't be right for a Brønsted-Lowry base because a Brønsted-Lowry base is defined by proton acceptance, not dissociation): what is a rigorous definition of a Brønsted-Lowry "strong base"? (glossary definition seems wrong)

This question was closed as "primarily opinion-based", which didn't seem to make sense to me. (Presumably chemists generally agree on what the definition of a 'strong Brønsted-Lowry base' is, and even if there are multiple accepted definitions, the question still has a factual answer, where the factual answer is: there are multiple accepted definitions, and here they are.)

But the oddest thing to me was that the site displays a message saying it was closed as "primarily opinion-based" by five different users. It seems unlikely that all five of the users reached this conclusion independently! I don't know what the UI looks like from the point of view of those users, so which of the following best describes the most common situation (across all Stack Exchange boards, not just chemistry):

  1. The five users separately and independently reach the conclusion that the question was "primarily opinion-based".
  2. One of those users initially flags the question as "primarily opinion-based", but this action is visible to the other users, and there is an unwritten rule that if one user does this, the other users will jump in and do the same thing to back up the first user.
  3. One user initially flags the question as "primarily opinion-based", and explicitly asks the other users, "Hey gang, back me up on this and close the question as opinion-based as well", and that's what they do.

(I think this distinction matters quite a bit, because in a recent blog post the management at Stack Exchange was asking what they can do to make the site more welcoming to newcomers. Regardless of how hard experts try to be "polite", one of the most off-putting things to me is when insiders create the false appearance of "consensus" against an outsider opinion -- "Hey n00b, all these people agree that you're wrong, so you should listen" -- when all they did was agree to form a coalition, rather than arriving at that conclusion separately and independently from each other.)

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    $\begingroup$ Shall we begin by noting that no moderator has closed your question, hence some things need rewording. I will also say this very clearly: there is no public or private collusion to close questions on Chem.SE. When five people vote to close, those are their own decisions. These decisions can be contested, but that is another matter. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol May 12 '18 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol thanks for clarifying. I have edited to say "users" rather than "moderators" $\endgroup$ – Bennett May 12 '18 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ Related meta post. $\endgroup$ – Gaurang Tandon May 13 '18 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ I don't like that we focused too much on the "collusion" accusation. How hard or rare do you think it is for five close voters that know how the system works to agree objectively on what reason to choose? I'd dare say without stats that most questions that get closed have five people unanimously, and independently, reaching the same conclusion. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ May 16 '18 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ That said, there are cases where the question is so poor more than one close reason is fitting, or cases where the close voters simply disagree. The system then chooses to display the most commonly voted reason. It's possible for 3 people to vote as "too broad" and 2 as "off-topic". The "too broad" reason will be shown. You admit you don't know what the site looks like from a 3000 rep user's POV, so you shouldn't make bold assumptions or throw accusations. In doing so, you've obscured the valid point you're making that close voting sometimes becomes jumping on a bandwagon. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ May 16 '18 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.R.ಠ_ಠ well I would consider that a bug that StackExchange says "closed as primarily opinion-based by user1, user2, user3, user4, user5" if that is not actually what happened. I know that's not a chem-specific issue so I'll file that as a bug separately unless a search turns up that someone has already filed it and it was rejected. I still think this matters because telling a user that five people have concluded something, has a very powerful effect on the user making them think they should agree, and they're likely to be confused and frustrated if they don't understand why $\endgroup$ – Bennett May 17 '18 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Bennett I believe it's already been asked on Meta Stack Exchange. Lemme find it. . . . Oh, there you go! meta.stackexchange.com/questions/54917/… $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ May 17 '18 at 20:45
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Bennett, I appreciated your previous detailed meta post, however, this one honestly goes a bit off-track. First, I hope you have read our Help center page on closing questions. If so, you would know that a moderator closing questions is different from regular users closing questions. The regular users in this context are +3k users, users who've spent time on the site, contributed by asking or answering, etc. They've earned their privilege to make such decisions.

Now, if you write a meta post like so, and indicate - just because one or two of your questions got closed - that they are "forming a coalition" and trying to close down on new users' questions, I doubt that would work. Regulars here are working in good faith, trying to keep the site neat and clean. They have no vested interests in closing down more questions, or in closing questions by a particular set of users. orthocresol already has said the most important stuff:

there is no public or private collusion to close questions on Chem.SE.


I assure you that StackExchange has multiple and rigorous mechanisms in place to prevent new users from feeling helpless when their post is closed. In fact, you can always contest the closure, via messaging in Chemistry Chat, or writing a meta post. You've already done the latter once, and the question was reopened too. Moreover, if a post on hold is edited, it is again sent to regulars for review, who now decide based on the new edited post.

Finally, here's an image of the close dialog box:

enter image description here

Notice that the number of close votes that have been cast is shown. These are beneficial to a reviewer because:

  1. if I was about to Leave Open, knowing that other people have voted to close instead, looking at the reason they chose can help me reconsider my stance, and look at the question from a different perspective. This is also especially important in case of duplicate closures ("Why did this good question get four close votes? Ah, it's a duplicate of an existing question!").
  2. sometimes the question is borderline, and I am not sure whether to vote what. Looking at the existing votes again gives me an idea of what could the possible reasons be.
  3. If I disagree with a close reason and see that there are multiple close votes already, I can put a comment, sort of a call to discussion or just a general reminder, that the question does not seem to fit the grounds on which it is being closed. Here's the latest example from two days back. If people agree they vote Leave Open. Otherwise, if they disagree, they comment back.

In all of these, one crucial fact is that which user voted to close - and with what reason - is not visible until the close process is over. (ignoring duplicate/custom closures). So, a regular has no way of knowing if their favorite CV reviewer has already voted to close. That is entirely pointless though because such a thing ("an unwritten rule that if one user does this"/"Hey gang, back me up on this") does not exist in the first place.

Here at meta we've had and continue to have countless discussions on how to make our site better for newcomers. You yourself can go through the previous posts and read them. Most of the regulars here have invested days of time in just discussing the philosophy behind these close boxes. We attempt to make our process as smooth, as less confusing, and as less error-prone as possible. Your post, therefore, would have been better if you didn't tried to imply - directly or indirectly - that there are collusions on our part. In fact, there aren't. There may be sometimes be errors though, after all, we are all human volunteers devoting our time to the site. (You're already seen one error before.) However, I'll repeat, those errors - if any - do not imply collusion.


Now, regarding your own post that made you started the thread, there were five close votes and two Leave Open votes. You can view them all in the timeline. Being the first to Leave Open, I don't see how exactly the post is opinion based. But, five other people did. So, it'll be best if one of them comes by and describes directly why the post was deemed to be worth a closure and how it could've been improved.

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Thanks Gaurang. I think my use of "collusion" was harsh and sounded unnecessarily accusatory. What I mean is that any time there is a group making a collective decision, there is a tendency to follow the herd and pile on to an initial arbitrary decision, even if that decision is not objectively "right".

There are many psychological experiments demonstrating that people are more likely to make an objectively wrong decision if they think other people have already made that same decision. Solomon Asch did experiments where a test subject could be persuaded to say that line A on a board was longer than line B (even when line B was really longer) because everyone else in the room (really stooges of the experimenter) said that line A was longer. More apropos to the current scenario, experimenters have found that when teams are trying to solve a problem (e.g. guessing the number of beans in a jar), the teams did best when the experimenters imposed a rule that the team members couldn't talk to each other, and everyone just wrote down their guess and then the team would average them. Without this rule, the teams were usually further off because everyone would just coalesce around whatever answer was called out first, which seems analogous to what happened here.

Now, in the case where something is a duplicate of an existing question, that is a special case that depends on circumstances "external to the question", so it's helpful to see if someone else has noticed a duplicate.

On the other hand, as to the issue of whether a question is "opinion-based", that's something that presumably can be determined by looking at the question itself. So it would seem you're more likely to arrive at the objectively correct answer if each user is voting separately and independently whether a question is opinion-based, without seeing the votes of the other users.

So, suppose that for each question in the queue, the voters review the question and vote -- either not to close the question at all, or they vote that the question is primarily opinion-based, or whatever -- but they vote without seeing the votes of other users. And then the question only gets closed as "primarily opinion-based" if a sufficient percentage of voters separately and independently come to that conclusion.

Is there any reason to think this would not result in more accurate decisions? (Even if it's not realistic to expect the UI to be rewritten this way any time soon.)

p.s. as you can see, this would have been better as a comment reply to Gaurang's answer, but the character limit for comments was much too short to summarize this. Is there a better way to reply, other than submitting a second answer?

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  • $\begingroup$ Indeed Bennett, this is a much better post than what you wrote originally, and honestly should've been your original post instead. Nevertheless, before I reply though, I hope we both agree now that the regular 3k+ close voters are following the designed system of StackExchange, and trying to be as welcoming and efficient as possible. And that there certainly isn't any "collusion". If we do, then that's great. Now, in principle, I agree with what you've said. When there's already two people doing one thing, in this case - choosing a close reason, there is always a bias ... $\endgroup$ – Gaurang Tandon May 13 '18 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ ...for the third to choose the same reason. However, though, at least in StackExchange, that's not enforced. Close voters are free to choose any of the reasons they deem fit, and all the five close voters don't always agree on the same close reason. They can also leave helpful comments to the future reviewers in case there's anything important. Regardless, in any case, what you're suggesting, while certainly may be an interesting proposition and one that could be implemented, it is beyond our power to decide that... $\endgroup$ – Gaurang Tandon May 13 '18 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ ...You may transfer this request now over to the parent meta site - meta.stackexchange.com - where such feature-requests are generally accepted. I'll let you know that there has been a past attempt at achieving the same (Should the existing close votes be shown in the review section?) - however that attempt failed. You may adjust accordingly. Thanks $\endgroup$ – Gaurang Tandon May 13 '18 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. (And now I know how to get around the 600-character comment limit, too :) ) $\endgroup$ – Bennett May 14 '18 at 8:52
  • $\begingroup$ But to go back to how this ties to the problem of making the site more "welcoming" to newcomers: I feel like it's part of the problem if the site's philosophy is that the 3k+ users have "earned the right to make such decisions" [to close a question even for a given reason]. Either a reason for closing a question is valid, or it isn't. (And I think the best way to determine if a reason is valid is to show it to multiple voters and let them vote without seeing each other's votes.) ... $\endgroup$ – Bennett May 14 '18 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ ... If the reason isn't valid, but the senior user can close it for that reason anyway, then we're saying a senior user can override a new user even when the new user is more objectively correct. If you use the double-blind voting, where people vote without seeing each other's votes, then you avoid that problem. There's no reason to let a senior user override a new user if you have a better way to determine who's actually right. $\endgroup$ – Bennett May 14 '18 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ Bennett, 3k+ users have earned the right to close vote because they have been around on the site for a substantially longer time than a new user. On heavy traffic sites like StackOverflow, you may reach 3k rep as early as in just two weeks. However, on a low-traffic site like ours, it can take more than two months of consistent, daily participation to reach 3k+ rep. Close voting means being able to decide what is and what isn't on-topic for the community. ... $\endgroup$ – Gaurang Tandon May 14 '18 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ I hope you'll agree, that a person who has been around for so long, and has actively produced good Q&A content, is certainly much more competent at being able to make such decisions than, say a new user who's only been around for two weeks. Note that such a close vote system is not unique to Chem.SE, but rather exactly the same across all StackExchange sites.|| "If the reason isn't valid, but the senior user can close it for that reason anyway", that does not make complete sense Bennett. First off, there's a difference between mistakenly VTCing a question versus deliberately doing so... $\endgroup$ – Gaurang Tandon May 14 '18 at 11:02
  • $\begingroup$ ... I agree that a closure may be mistaken. We are humans, we make mistakes. If there's ever been a pattern of consistent mistaken closing, it has been brought onto the site before (see Close Votes aren't Super Downvotes). However, note that regulars have no benefit at all in deliberately closing questions. Actually, it takes them less time to even deliberately vote Leave Open all questions, than vote to Close them, if at all. Most importantly, it takes as many as five users to agree that a question is close worthy. There's already a low probability of all five making a mistake... $\endgroup$ – Gaurang Tandon May 14 '18 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ ...I do agree that a bias may be created due to existing close votes. However, that's not always the case. We have ample number of cases of questions saved by 3xLeave Open vs 2xClose votes. Finally, I will still repeat that what you have said in your answer above will be a much better fit on meta.stackexchange.com under the feature-request tag. $\endgroup$ – Gaurang Tandon May 14 '18 at 11:11
  • $\begingroup$ Proposals to change the fundamental structure of StackExchange should go on the main Meta site (after reviewing other such proposals there first). $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer May 14 '18 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ I flagged your post as not being an answer. I didn't do it to be mean. I didn't do it out of collusion. I did it because that is what the tools are there for! Welcome to (Meta)Chem:SE! $\endgroup$ – LordStryker May 14 '18 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ @LordStryker of course you're right, it's not an "answer". I wanted to reply to Gaurang using more characters than were allowed in a single comment. There are two ways to circumvent that limit, and the user interface doesn't make it clear that one of those ways incurs a reputation penalty, so I guessed the wrong one. Gaurang showed me the right way to do it so I'll do that next time :) $\endgroup$ – Bennett May 17 '18 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ Although @LordStryker can you clarify, when you say "flagged" it, do you just mean downvoted? (On some other sites, "flagged" and "downvoted" mean very different things.) $\endgroup$ – Bennett May 17 '18 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ Please note that using the answer space for a comment is not really encouraged, and is in fact, discouraged. You go into a lot of side discussion in this answer and I think a much shorter version could have been left as a comment. $\endgroup$ – jonsca May 19 '18 at 2:52

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