frequent closure of questions as "off-topic" that do not seem to meet the published off-topic criteria

I see a lot of questions closed as "off-topic":

even though they do not seem to meet the criteria for "off-topic" at https://chemistry.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic and the subpages linked from there. To be clear, I'm not raising the issue of whether the questions are a good fit for the site or not. I'm only talking about the disconnect between what the rules say, and what criteria people are actually applying in practice.

While they do look like homework questions, the person asking the question clearly did some work, and was asking about something they were confused by, as required by the "rules for homework questions".

I think people underestimate the degree to which it is aggravating to new users when there is a disconnect between the written rules and the actual rules. You read the rules page, you read all the sub-rules pages linked from the rules page, you verify that your question is compliant with the rules, you spend time crafting your question, only to get a notification that the question was removed anyway with no explanation given.

So I would argue if you vote to close something, unless you think it is very obvious which written rule at https://chemistry.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic it violated, please add a comment specifying the rule and a sentence explaining why you think it violated it.

• All three were closed as a homework questions. In one of the recent posts on meta it was noted that you must have a rep of 3,000 on the site to see closed questions and the reason. If you have less rep you can evidently see the question if you edited it, commented on it, or gave an answer. However under those circumstances you wouldn't see the reason why the question was closed. See chemistry.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4700/22102
– MaxW
May 26 '20 at 1:00
• I understand they were homework questions, but the rules say homework questions are allowed, and the posts appeared to follow the rules for homework questions. I am not sure what you're saying in your response; are you claiming the questions did violate the rules as the rules are written? (How?) Or are you saying the questions were closed for violating an unwritten rule not written on the rules page? In the latter case, do you agree or disagree that the written rules should be brought into sync with the policies that mods are actually following? May 26 '20 at 2:05
• The biggest thing that has irked me about the Close Vote review queue (and one that keeps me away in fear of making the wrong decision) is folks have proven to be more liberal with their close votes and set the bar on "effort" really high. Probably the biggest question underlying all the trouble that comes with this close reason and all the headache it has caused in the past is establishing a clear line on what constitutes effort and what doesn't. If you want to address that, be my guest, but getting it right seems to be as hard as enforcing the new rules. BTW, "mods" $\neq$ close voters May 26 '20 at 13:22
• I'm sure it's controversial "what constitutes effort", but I'm setting aside the question of how much effort people "should" make. What I'm saying is that the written rules don't say anything at all about this, they say only that you should show your work (if applicable) and ask about the concept you're confused by. For a new user, it's an extremely aggravating experience if they read the rules and follow them, only to be told that their post broke "a rule", when in reality it was removed because closers are following unwritten rules different from the written ones. May 27 '20 at 2:03

Just to make this clear up-front: Moderators seldom close questions unilateral.
We've been more active recently due to overflowing queues, but we usually only close very clear cases. Most other decisions are made by community moderation, which is a democratic process. So please, if you find a closed question, unless you absolutely know it was close unilaterally by a moderator, do not assume it was.
In most cases, the moderators will err on the side of leaving a question open.

The rules have been written down and there is hardly any disconnect between how they are applied and how they are written down. Homework has and will probably always be a controversial subject within our user base, and if we were not to follow our own rules we could as well just close down ship.

[...] they do not seem to meet the criteria for "off-topic" at https://chemistry.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic .

I disagree. The page you cite is only the landing page. The very, very brief summary under which we actually consider questions. I am quite certain you are referring to this bullet point:

Do-my-homework questions: Homework questions are OK, but they must follow these guidelines. Please don't ask "do my homework for me" type questions – we only clear conceptual doubts in homework questions and will not do your work for you.

At a brief glance you might appear right.
I must admit the instructions could be clearer, because this section is linking to the homework policy. This is a discussion for another time, but maybe the section should read something like this:

Do-my-homework questions: Homework questions are OK, but they must follow the guidelines outlined in this meta post. Please don't ask "do my homework for me" type questions – we only clear conceptual doubts in homework questions and will not do your work for you.

(I would even cut the last sentence.)

What I'm saying is that the written rules don't say anything at all about this, they say only that you should show your work (if applicable) and ask about the concept you're confused by.

That actually makes me question whether or not you have yourself clicked through to the actual policy.

We quite recently noticed that there was a change in the UI. We have unfortunately not gotten around to fix this. We are all volunteers here after all. In any case, the OP of the closed question (and anyone who has the open/close privilege) will see a more detailed description of why this question was closed.

The linked policy has been around long before I started here. Throughout the years it was changed, little by little, there have been multiple discussions about how to change it and to make it clearer. One of those is quite recent. With some other points we got stuck due to not reaching consensus or even compromise.

The topic is difficult, especially since there is that dreadful effort criterion, which everybody has a very subjective opinion about.

Let's just look at the questions individually and try to keep an open mind about that effort criterion.

Is this a homework question? Possibly. Do I care? No, not a bit. Should it have been closed with the homework close reason? Maybe.

In my opinion, a question about a buffer, which does not at least in passing mention the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation constitutes a case of not enough effort. If altavista were still around I'm pretty sure it would have pointed to that equation. So this is the reason why I think it can be closed with the homework close reason.
On the other hand, I think this question is way too basic to fit our scope. Any textbook about general chemistry will have a better explanation of this concept. There are open books on the internet that explain this very well (and a couple of ones which are garbage). Chemistry.se is not supposed to substitute a textbook. So my personal choice would - in this case - have been to close it as a duplicate of Resources for learning chemistry; which would have been somewhat against our written rules. (Because we have not yet been able to find a compromise on that.)

In any case, this was rightfully closed according to the written rules.

I must admit I don't understand the close-voters either. Sure, this is a question mixing basic concepts of chemistry, but I cannot see why this would constitute closure according to the homework policy. I guess that is somewhat due to the fuzzy interpretation of that policy.
However, I must also admit, I don't feel strong enough about unilaterally reopening the question. That should also be a community decission.

[Please don't use edit statements, there is a history of the post for that.]
Travel back in time to see the version of the post when it was closed: revision 3. I must admit, I don't understand what the actual question is here:

Is this how moles work (can different substances be added like this)?

Now the question has been reformatted and reopened and gotten an answer.

At first glance this looked like one of the 'Am I right?' category. How to handle these has also been discussed: Policy on AMIRITE questions. It's not as clear, which is also a shortcoming of the homework policy.

However, I agree that the question should be open.

There are coming in plenty of questions every week. Many of them are of mediocre or worse quality. We are all volunteers and those who dig through the review queues watch out for protecting the quality of this site. We owe them thanks. I recently went through about 100 questions of this queue and it can be quite enraging. It's almost always a community decision and sometimes the community doesn't get it right. We are human, it happens. There are multiple ways for inquiry. They need to be used. If you don't know how, and you don't care to find out, then that shall no longer be our problem. There is plenty of help, and many people are willing to help. If the OP doesn't interact with the people s{..}he wants to answer the question, then this is also no longer our problem.

The whole thing with the false premise. That has been just another issue and it has been discussed: I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's based on false premise. I don't think I need to repeat myself or others here.

I think people underestimate the degree to which it is aggravating to new users when there is a disconnect between the written rules and the actual rules. You read the rules page, you read all the sub-rules pages linked from the rules page, you verify that your question is compliant with the rules, you spend time crafting your question, only to get a notification that the question was removed anyway with no explanation given.

Well, this is not really true. Questions can't be closed without reason, and the asker will know that reason. I'm not sure how much any of these users have read the rules and make sure to comply with them; I'm also not quite sure how much time went into crafting the question. But that is certainly not the issue here. Those questions are not as bad as some others we get on a daily basis.
It might be aggravating to new users that there question is being closed, I actually sympathise with that. It is very well how they handle what comes after. You are looking for help, then please do your part. Others are volunteering their free time here, and even if they decide to pot a question on hold, they have at least read it.

• Seems that I was scooped wrt. the verdicts on individual questions... But those are individual cases. Which can be resolved in <5 min. The more interesting thing is that the guidance is all over the place and is terribly messy, and I agree that it could be clearer...
– orthocresol Mod
May 29 '20 at 18:00
• "Questions can't be closed without reason, and the asker will know that reason." When I say "without a reason", I am not counting the one-word reason that the closer chooses from an available list (opinion, off-topic, etc.). I mean a sentence explaining why the question supposedly fits the criteria. I asked "What is a rigorous definition of a strong Brønsted-Lowry base?" and that was closed and deleted as an "opinion" question and I still don't know why (see chemistry.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4238/… ) Jun 7 '20 at 0:31
• I wrote: "they not seem to meet the criteria for "off-topic" at chemistry.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic" You wrote: "I disagree. The page you cite is only the landing page." I was implicitly including the subpages linked from the landing page. I have edited question to clarify. (If you choose to edit the corresponding part of your answer, I can delete this comment.) Jun 7 '20 at 1:01
• "Policy on AMIRITE questions. It's not as clear..." This an example of what I mean. The problem is not that the AMIRITE policy is confusing, it's that it's not linked from the rules page which means new users have no way of knowing it exists. What I'm saying is that there should be alignment between what the rules say (on the page(s) that users can find by clicking through from the rules page) and what reasons people are actually using to close questions. Jun 7 '20 at 1:12
• "We quite recently noticed that there was a change in the UI. We have unfortunately not gotten around to fix this. We are all volunteers here after all." I don't understand what you're referring to or what it has to do with this issue. Can you edit to clarify and then I'll delete this comment if it's clear. Jun 7 '20 at 1:25
• I wrote: "[The rules don't say anything about 'effort'], they say only that you should show your work (if applicable) and ask about the concept you're confused by" You wrote: "That actually makes me question whether or not you have yourself clicked through to the actual policy." I did, the policy says almost exactly what I wrote: "Show your work and ask about the specific concept that gives you trouble". The word "effort" does not appear. This is logical; the value to other users has nothing to do with how much you sweated over a question, only whether you specified what you're confused by. Jun 7 '20 at 1:33
• "[Please don't use edit statements, there is a history of the post for that.]" -I have deleted the "edit:" statement and I'll try to remember that rule going forward. If you choose to delete the corresponding part of your answer then I'll delete this comment. Jun 7 '20 at 1:52
• "We are all volunteers... We owe them thanks" etc. -- I agree, one of the reasons for what I'm suggesting is that it will save question-closers time as well, if questions are not closed for invalid reasons, then people will spend less time over arguing to re-open them. If a person voting to close a question leaves a comment indicating why, then that will cut down on invalid closures, and if the comment gives a reason which is not in sync with the rules page, the questioner can point out that the rules page should be updated. Jun 7 '20 at 2:30
• @Bennett I'm not going to edit my answer; I have already spent too much time and effort on that subject. You might raise some good points, as is evident since two of your three examples have been reopened, but you raise it in a way that is an accusation towards the moderators and the entire user base (and this feels oddly familiar). This is not a constructive conversation, I feel defensive, and I don't want to. Jun 7 '20 at 10:04
• @Martin-マーチン I suggested edits based on my understanding of the SE principle that comments are not supposed to be used for a "conversation"; they're supposed to be for requesting clarifications and other changes that should be incorporated back into the post. (I've also seen it stated that SE is designed to produce questions and answers that stick around forever, while comments are subject to being deleted, but I don't know if that's an explicit SE rule.) Jun 8 '20 at 2:34
• @Bennett Your understanding is correct and a necessity for the main site. Meta's format is more relaxed; it's a place for discussion after all. Whether or not is is worth preserving every conversation on meta is a different matter. Comments are much more common here, and as long as they follow our basic principles they have a chance to stay for as long as the post stays. Editing back and forth a question and its answer is not a good practice; you tend to loose focus and/or the original problem; it is especially not recommended to alter the meaning of a question after it has received an answer. Jun 8 '20 at 10:54

I agree that there are mistakes made when closing questions: some that should be closed aren't closed, and indeed, some that shouldn't be closed are closed. But closure is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, not by broad application of some filter, and indeed even the same rule can mean different things to two people. As such, I think that it is fair to deal with the cases you raised on a case-by-case basis.

Note that everything expressed here is solely my personal opinion.

1. Why does the concentration of the acid equals that of the base at the mid-point of titration?

Verdict: This should remain closed; this really doesn't display any effort. This quite literally consists of an image, a sentence (quoted from where?), and the question itself.

2. Why exactly is a fluoride anion a stronger base than iodine anion?

Verdict: I agree with you that this should be reopened, and since Martin seems to agree with me, I have mod-reopened it.

3. Does the property of additivity for the amounts of different substances hold up for ideal gas law?

Verdict: This shouldn't have been closed to begin with. Yes it did get closed, but then it got reopened, so at least that got corrected.

In more detail: there is a well-known problem with the SE close vote model whereby if a question gets just one close vote, it is far too easy to accumulate four more. This is because there is no way to vote to prevent closure; you can only vote to close it. And once there is a single close vote, the question gets thrown into a review queue, where out of the $$n$$ different reviewers, only four need to agree to it; the other $$n - 4$$ people don't count for anything.

I can't agree with your analysis about the "false premise" reason. I don't really see any indication that this was used to rationalise the closure of any of the three questions.

More broadly speaking, I think that there is substantial room for improvement in terms of guidance that users receive when their questions are closed. This is especially so in light of the new changes to the SE network which Martin has mentioned. However, for me, it is always an issue of too little time...

• Point of order: There are three other buttons in the CVRQ of which two actually have an influence. For leave open, it takes only three clicks to remove a question from the queue so the four agreers have to be quicker than three disagreers. Finally, there is edit which instantly removes a question from the queue – and I have no shame to use it if I come across a question that is wrongly in the queue. (Above assumes the rules haven’t significantly changed since two years ago.)
– Jan
Jun 3 '20 at 5:08
• You are probably right. My view is rather coloured by the fact I haven't dipped into the CV queues for years...
– orthocresol Mod
Jun 3 '20 at 5:26
• 'I can't agree with your analysis about the "false premise" reason.' I agree -- I edited my question to take out the part about "false premises". I only wrote this because I thought the questions clearly didn't break the rules for homework questions, and the questions did contain false premises, so I guessed that was it. Without that as a reason, other more experienced users have replied saying they don't know why the questions were closed either, but I agree it is not 'false premises'. Jun 7 '20 at 2:19