Today in particular there were a couple of questions that were put on hold by one or two people (at least one person being a moderator) shortly after posting (within a few hours) without displaying what I would consider grave flaws that could not be fixed through the usual process of commenting, editing and a little patience. I think what was wrong with the questions was that the authors wrote in sloppy english and used even sloppier formatting, none of which encourages consideration, but otherwise the questions seemed quite interesting and unfamiliar. Seeing how shoot-first-ask-later freezing has become slightly more frequent since the recent election (perhaps my imagination?), it makes me wonder whether a protocol change has been implemented. Rapid intervention is sometimes very welcome, but here it seemed to preempt a real need.

Perhaps this is a statistical hiccup, but here are some examples:

This one is cryptic, but probably warranting an attempt to engage with the poster prior to putting on hold: Are there any relation between magnetic moment & crystal structures that I am unaware about?

This one is pretty flawed, but my guess is it would pass if english was significantly improved: Tool for calcating excitonic and vibronic coupling

BTW I realize the question of "how long to wait before putting on hold" is not a novel question, so let me make my question clear: has there been a change in protocol? Why the apparent increase in "moderator holds", something I don't remember witnessing before? Also, this is not about regular users who can't freeze questions at will but submit votes that are aggregated, this is about moderators single handedly (or with little prompt) freezing questions. Also, I don't think this is all bad, but I'd like to know more about the thought process behind this apparent change, if any.

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    $\begingroup$ Related: How soon should I “vote to close”? $\endgroup$
    – user7951
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ Mods usually leave the things that can be handled by the community to the community, but they're under no obligation to do so, and it probably takes some time to adapt changes to the recent privileges and powers they've earned, and change habits, if they want to. There has been no apparent change in the handling process, or you'd definitely see it discussed to death on meta first. Psst, these new guys are still noobs and they don't know how big their gun is yet. Don't tell 'em I said that. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ BTW, "freezing" is definitely not the right way to look at closing a question. Ideally, what it means for the asker is they won't receive answers yet because the answers were most probably going to be poor. Granted, closed questions are often unsalvageable to ever meet the requirements of Q/A, or the OPs usually won't bother, but nothing stops people from reopening or answering it than adhering to policy, and the policy is not some rigid ignorant scripture; it's meant to help askers and answerers as a collective. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 20:25

3 Answers 3


Thanks for bringing this up. There are a few things for which I want to put my thoughts on record.

First up is whether there has been a change in closure policy. The answer is no, there is no official change in policy (there has been none since 2016, even though we have tried a few times). I will also put it out there that if there is any such change in policy, it will not happen behind closed doors. The way we work may seem opaque at times, as if something is brewing behind the scenes, but I reassure you that none of us have dared to even discuss closure policy since 2017, not even in private moderator channels.

However, the guidelines for closure are subjective, and on several occasions it has been argued that they will always be subjective, i.e. "I know it when I see it". Therefore, the exact application of the policy to questions on the site will depend on the individuals who implement this policy. It is not surprising, then, that since the recent election, you (and others) feel that there is a slightly different vibe on the site. It is not just moderators; I notice that as the core members of the community change over the years, the general propensity for closure waxes and wanes.

That brings us to the next point, which is the general idea of how lenient one should be in closing questions. This is a topic which every SE site struggles with, and it is not a black or white thing, there are many shades of grey in between, and everybody has a different opinion on where we should stand.

I believe that (for the most part) we err on the side of leniency, and indeed if you look through my meta posts and site comments, you will find many instances of me arguing to not close questions. I am happy to provide some numbers on how many questions we mod-close. In the last 90 days, between jonsca, Loong, Martin, and myself, we have closed 162 questions. In the same time period, there have been 2753 questions, 1355 of which were closed. So, we are only responsible for ca. 12% of closures, and in my experience, the vast majority of these are for photos of homework. Of course, this number will be slightly biased by the new moderators, but I don't have the energy to address this in detail now.

Nevertheless, it's clear that you think we (or some of us) are still being too heavy-handed. So, what can we really do when there are differences in opinion? One way is to say that we have executive power here and that you had better agree with us, and too bad if you don't like it because you elected us for life, but that doesn't quite get us anywhere.

So, all I can really offer is my own opinion. I personally think that as it stands, we are not being overly trigger-happy with the close hammer, and I leave it to the rest of the community to judge whether this is the case. But, I will also try to keep an eye out for it in the near future (in the last few weeks I have been very busy with real life, so haven't been able to monitor the front page as closely as I would like to). And if I ever feel that things are being unfairly closed, I will complain about it, just as I have in the past, as anybody who's been here long enough will attest to.

Finally, there are individual cases which you have brought up, one of which is my doing. I will just say that I stand by my original decision, because the wording of the question was very unclear. Even putting aside the issue with the "something that I don't know" line, which the first comment adequately pointed out (so you cannot really say that there was no feedback given), it's not clear whether they are asking about how the crystal structure affects the magnetic moment, how the magnetic moment affects the crystal structure, or both. Furthermore, it's not clear whether they're asking specifically about the quoted text, or more generally about any relation between crystal structure and magnetic moment.

But, closure is not the be-all and end-all of a question. Closure is meant to provoke editing and improvement of the question, such that it can be eventually reopened. The unilateral moderator close vote is no different from any other close vote in this respect. Furthermore, if anybody disagrees with it they are free to cast a reopen vote, as you already did.

Of course, sometimes it doesn't pass through the reopen queue successfully, but that is not my fault for closing it. It just means that, as judged by other members of the community, it should stay closed (even after editing), which in fact suggests that I might actually have made the right decision in closing it... What I will note, though, is that that in this case, the decision to not reopen was made by andselisk. I think that as a moderator, stepping into the close/reopen queues is a risky thing, and I personally never do it any more, so I will have a brief word with andselisk about it.

For what it's worth, I've also gone through all the questions which andselisk links to in their answer, and I think that the closure in each case was fully justified. I think some of them deserve to be reopened based on edits that have occurred since the closure, but as I said earlier, that does not reflect a problem with the original close decision.

  • $\begingroup$ As it stands both of the posts I referenced appear to have been abandoned by the posters. It is perfectly possible others have a better instinct than I at seeing questions that deserve being placed on hold ipso facto by a mod, without waiting for others to pitch in with votes. It takes experience. And I perceived a departure from previous handling of questions on the site. I was not aware mods are responsible for ~10% of holds. Perhaps in most the mod closure came after quite a few others had voted and the question had had more view time? Anyway, happy to call this case closed. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 20:12

There was no change of "protocol" I would be aware of. A moderator is guided by the same rules and policies as any other member of the community, also when it comes to questions. The majority of the actions performed by a moderator can be reverted by the community; once the question is improved, it can be reopened. Since one of the moderators you are referring to is obviously me, I feel obliged to post my "thought process" as requested, so I picked some questions I closed today "single handedly" and with "little prompt":

  • Tool for calcating excitonic and vibronic coupling: first is was a plain how to question without showing any research effort; second edit added a demand. At this point the question was closed by me as a homework-type question. Note that there is an automatic message that user "must demonstrate some effort to understand the underlying concepts." Was it addressed in the next edit? No, it wasn't: a new how to question has been added followed by a reopen request which I declined since there were no improvements. (editing history)

  • Why does the voltage of a galvanic cell increase as the concentration of the solutions increases in a 1:1 ratio?: put on hold as unclear since the OP posted an update regarding erroneous raw data and the question became redundant, not there is no reason to delete it as it doesn't violate any policies (OP can delete the question at any time, too).

  • What is the synthesis diclofenac mechanism of ortho-chlorobenzoic acid and 2,6-di-chloroanilline?: Closed as HW as there was no effort demonstrated from the OP. The hand-drawn scheme has been copied exactly from p. 47 of Synthesis of Essential Drugs by Vardanyan and Hruby (ISBN 978-0-08-046212-7) and presented as own work — probably, unintentionally, but it appeared somewhat like a plagiarism.

  • Specific and molar activity: closed as HW. This could also be closed as too broad since OP not only demands to "explain the concept", but also asks how the measurement is done. I don't count additional remark "with respect to radioactivity" as an research attempt and find it rather confusing. Plus, user used a homework tag which shows an explicit "don't use this tag!" message when one tries to assign it; this alone also says a lot about the amount of research effort put into the question.

  • Question of raoult's law: closed as HW. At first there was only a question, then a note from OP appeared stating what's been done, but nothing specific; further, it was noted in the comments that the question looks incomplete and it looks like OP supplied missing data and posted a demand to solve the question for them. Also, there was a homework tag (see previous explanation). I also declined subsequent attempt to reopen the question since it only has been changed cosmetically (improved formatting y another user) without addressing the very reason it was closed.

  • The difference between configuration cis /trans and Z/E in organic chemistry: Closed as HW, but might as well be closed as a too broad one. I think this one is self-explanatory.

Closing an off-topic question fast is not an issue; rather, it's a matter of availability. For now, I happen to be on-line quite often and I do receive updates nearly in real time on a handheld device. I've never seen an off-topic question self-improving over an hour. Those who put little effort in such questions would even often leave the site immediately and return in a day or two for the answer, sometimes using another account as they forgot the password for the first account they created a day ago.

From my experience, it doesn't make a lot of difference in terms of question quality whether it was closed in five minutes of five hours; in fact, slow close-votes collection creates a false illusion for the OP that the question is fine, when in reality it is not. Closing a question swiftly also alerts an OP, as mentioned in this answer, and motivates them to take actions towards making it better.

Keep in mind that the questioner had enough time before posting a question, and also that none of the questions mentioned above were deleted – every person is still more than welcome to read on the site policy and improve their questions accordingly. I'm also more than happy to reopen a question, but sadly this statistics is less visible as there is no message attached to reopened question contrary to a closed one. I was already accused once for "sadistically" close-voting questions, but I have to disappoint you: I'm actually more a perfectionist than a sadist: if I see something that can be substantially improved, I'll do the job even if it's somewhat time-consuming.

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    $\begingroup$ Ok, thanks for your answer. It does seem like a change in practice. Previously I'd not noticed this frequency of rapid response. Most importantly you clarify that the policy is in fact to shut down at the least provocation. Looks like you were on a roll today. I would argue again that a couple of those questions were highly flawed by the poor english but seemed otherwise reasonable. You may want to let questions "stew" a while before putting on hold, and give posters the benefit of the doubt, applying the golden rule: do unto others yada yada. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ @NightWriter I'm not a native English speaker, and I don't really pay attention to grammar or spelling in a sense that it's a sole decisive factor for closing a question. It's just that it makes little sense to improve formatting or grammar for a downvoted HW question as it will be purged by the system in time. It's really up to OP who should show a minimal research effort in the first place. $\endgroup$
    – andselisk Mod
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, and I certainly think your effort is more positive than not. And perhaps dire times call for dire measures. But let me just point out the following likely scenario: third party looks at question, is in a crabby mood, downvotes poorly formatted/worded question without blinking, moderator comes by soon after and after only 8 cumulative views shuts question down, never to again see the dawn of light because the poster is humiliated/confused (although the one you shut down twice today is an obvious counterpoint to an abashed poster). $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @NightWriter I haven't even noticed that I closed more than one question from the same person. The thing is, people get confused because they associate the question with themselves and consider the judgement of the question as the judgement of their personality, when in reality those are totally unrelated things. I know the frustration: I had my questions closed within minutes on SO and SuperUser, but this is normal due to enormous traffic. This actually helped to fix my mindset regarding questioning, develop thicker skin and eventually read site policies:). $\endgroup$
    – andselisk Mod
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, you closed two questions (well, basically the same question posted twice) within ~2 hours of each other, by user79523. Admittedly the poster probably needs to do more homework, but none of the links to other SE questions appear useful (and sort-of humorously, one of the links is the posters own alternate question), and the question might have intrinsic value if reformulated. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ @NightWriter Yeah, but I still think the reasoning for closing is solid. Adding extra questions or "thanks" doesn't improve the question, and whether the answer has or hasn't been answered before is irrelevant in this case. $\endgroup$
    – andselisk Mod
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 19:53

I have noticed the community has changed after the elections in several ways. Good, bad both. But that doesn't mean any policy changed: I am merely noting the change in the way things are done. That's only natural, no need for medical support yet.

With polite regards to the question, I proceed:

The linked post needs some discussion. As far as I am concerned, it seems weird to put it on hold so fast. I really think the grave message

homework message

does not suffice for this question, which is clearly asked either by a postgrad/superhuman undergrad with a genuine request. Formatting is poor and language is not exactly a strong area, but the post is definitely salvagable(in my limited understanding).

But hey, what happened to leaving a comment? Trying to help the guy/girl/?/wookie out?

What about the other users? Clearly the mod who put the post on hold was not the only human to visit the question today- the others should have commented and suggested a way to get the question opened again. (I am underqualified to handle that branch of chemistry, so don't hand me the shortest twig)

Similarly for this one.


The rate constant for the reaction $$\text{Question}\ce{->}\text{Question[on hold]}$$ needn't change, as long as the following are met:

  1. The ♦ or at least one user who votes to hold the question must provide a comment that not only explains the vote, but also suggest remedial measures to have the question reopened.

  2. Please keep the $k_{\pu{reopening}} \approx k_{\pu{putting on hold}}$. In other words, please consider casting reopen votes in case the question has improved based on aforemntioned comment's suggested line of action.

Other homework posts (highschool/really undergrad)

I noticed some questions were slammed shut(with mod-like powers) really fast. In fact, within a matter of minutes after posting.

These were on homework posts, and I really appreciate this. Earlier some homework posts would get answered by the time the close votes tallied to a count of five. Some hyperactive new users who do not yet understand our policy/rules/efforts-against-homework-questions answer such questions very fast (I might've been one of them earlier)

That's bad.

But with the homework questions safely [on hold], the OP has no choice but to edit and display effort.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer, good to know I am not the only one to notice this. I also think it's not all bad, and agree with much of what you write. Also, as a hyperactive new user I realize that soon I should stop answering bad homework questions. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 19:53

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