At the time of this post's creation, the leading answer for the meta discussion Should meta posts regarding the deaths of figures that are important to SFF:SE be on topic? is that these should be allowed (18 votes vs. 9 for the opposite view). That answer was based on the high number of upvotes—and relatively low proportion of downvotes—for recent such posts. But how do we judge whether someone is an important figure to science fiction and fantasy deserving of a meta post? For this discussion, let's just focus on celebrities and not users on this site (that would be better as a separate meta discussion).

I think that we ought to figure this out long before someone tries to create a meta topic for someone who is "not an important figure", given that an In Memoriam post is not a great place to have an internet argument or downvote the thing to oblivion (that would make the community seem insensitive to their death).

To give a few concrete examples:

If any of these answers are no, then why is that? What sort of litmus test could we develop to determine if someone is an important enough figure to get a recent death meta post?

  • Other writers who died recently include Jack Vance and Leigh Brackett, not that either of them was a towering figure like Carrie Fisher. Speaking of actresses, I wonder if Barbara Eden will make the cut?
    – user14111
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 13:48
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    The main question about whether these should even be on topic on meta seems far from decided to me. The two top, contradictory answers currently have a score of 16 and 12. That is nowhere near a consensus. Not when ~40 votes have been cast per post. So no, there is no leading answer and this is kind of premature.
    – terdon
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 13:49
  • @terdon The scores were farther away when I started this topic. I think it was 18 and 9. Of course, the outcome of that may very well flip since the creation of this topic. Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 18:30
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    After Shog9 clearly talked about discussing an actual problem with these posts, why are we trying to create more policy about hypothetical problems? Also, no matter what the meta policy is, people can still vote up and down however they wish. And offensive comments can be flagged as such.
    – user31178
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 9:17
  • @user14111 Leigh Bracket died almost forty years ago. Her last work was the first draft of the Empire Strikes Back screenplay.
    – Buzz
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 17:08
  • I’ll decide. I don’t mind. Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 18:51
  • @Buzz Forty YEARS?? Seems like just yesterday. :-( All right, I must have been thinking of someone else. Danged if I can remember who. :-(
    – user14111
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 21:17

3 Answers 3


On a case-by-case basis

Ultimately, there is no exact test we can use to determine if an figure deserves to be commemorated, any more than we can judge whether any other class of announcement (such as a convention) is relevant to the community. We have to use our best judgment with respect to notability and relevance, and only post memorial notices for figures whom we genuinely believe to be important to the community.

That said, I think there are some general guidelines that we should keep in mind, which generally center on the the relevance of a post to the community.

  • Will a majority or significant minority of users be familiar with the figure?

    A meta post should be relevant to the community, and this applies even to posts that are announcements, not questions. Most people on this site, though they might not know who Carrie Fisher is, are at least aware of her most famous role (Leia Organa, i.e. Princess Leia). Similarly, while not everyone here will have heard the name “Leonard Nimoy,” at least an appreciable minority are familiar with Mr. Spock. Even Terry Pratchett is a fairly familiar name.

    What we don’t want is every person who acted in a science fiction or fantasy production, or wrote a science fiction or fantasy book, to receive a memorial post. There’s a place for memorial posts for famous figures, but we don’t want to turn into the obituary section. Before writing a post, we should ask ourselves, “How many other people will this matter to?”

    This guideline is self-reinforcing, to some extent: a post about George Clayton Johnson or Ron Glass will simply not get as many upvotes as one about Carrie Fisher. A post about truly obscure individuals might even attract net downvotes. We know your third cousin twice removed wrote a really nice Twilight fanfic, but they’re still not getting a memorial post.

  • Is this person’s work relevant to the site?

    Carrie Fisher is a major figure in , which has over 3900 questions. But she also is the originator of the role of , which has 18 all by itself. There are over 3000 questions about , of which has 38 just by himself. And has 45 and has 40. Christopher Lee plays major roles in both and In other words, these people are central to major tags on the site.

    By contrast, consider the proposed memorial notices. Ron Glass plays a major role in (87 questions, plus probably more for , so his work is definitely relevant). On the other hand, Reb Brown’s Captain America film has very few questions. Anne Francis is best-known for Forbidden Planet, which has only 3 questions here. If someone has no (or very few) questions on the main site, we should think twice before writing a memorial. This also takes into account the relevance of the person to the work. Ron Glass is relevant to Firefly. Your third cousin twice removed who played a nameless Reaver in Serenity? Not so much.

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    Would you like to also address in-memoriam posts relating to SFF:SE users?
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 10:50
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    "a post about [...] Ron Glass will simply not get as many upvotes as one about Carrie Fisher" - I wouldn't be so sure about that. There may not be as many Firefly fans as SW fans, but they tend to be very loyal, and this site will attract those people. Don't forget Firefly beat Star Trek TNG in an SFF.SE popularity vote!
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 12:01
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    @Valorum From the OP: "For this discussion, let's just focus on celebrities and not users on this site (that would be better as a separate meta discussion)."
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 12:53
  • @Randal'Thor - I disagree. This is the ideal place to have that discussion.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 13:23
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    @Valorum My main concern was that it would be confusing if there were answers like "I agree with X on users, but disagree on celebrities and would rather we had this criteria". Also, do you upvote or downvote an answer where you strongly agree with half, but strongly disagree with the other half (and what does that mean for the ranking of the question)? I think that arguing them separately would be better so that we can avoid such difficulties. Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 18:41
  • @Valorum - Well, the question specifically didn’t ask about celebrities. But I should think similar guidelines would be well worth following for users. The thing is, we’ve only had, what, one memorial post for a user? I’m not sure the death rate of our users is high enough for this to be a particular concern. If someone writes an obituary post, it will probably be for someone with a significant presence on site or in chat.
    – Adamant
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 18:51
  • @Praxis - Since she is Princess Leia in ANH and General Organa in TFA, I feel that her full name is the most accurate.
    – Adamant
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 0:16
  • @Adamant : Certainly the most accurate, I agree. I just contend that the vast majority of people would know her as "Princess Leia", and your point was about how most people would refer to her. I think the average person on the street will have heard of "Princess Leia" but few would know who "Leia Organa" is....
    – Praxis
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 2:14
  • @Praxis - Better?
    – Adamant
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 2:34
  • @Adamant : Looks good. A well-written and sensible response to the original question, either way.
    – Praxis
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 2:47

What sort of litmus test could we develop to determine if someone is an important enough figure to get a recent death meta post?

I think we have a good and working litmus test already, namely that such a post can only happen if some user is willing to go through the effort to create such a post.

Should the person in question be not relevant to this community, this can be decided by close votes on a per-case basis. Whether the posts makes it to the sidebar on the main site can be decided by the existing system for hot meta posts (namely that it has to reach a score of 3).

Sure, it may be possible that somebody overdoes it, but so far this has not happened. If it does, we can always re-discuss this. Right now, this (over-zealous obituarists) does not seem to be a problem that needs to be addressed.

  • The only problem with this is that a committed user (such as myself) could take this and run with it.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 13:24
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    @Valorum: Sure; but so far everybody seems to be sufficiently self-controlled or lacks commitment.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 13:37
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    The problem with making a policy is that it gives people carte-blanche to abuse that policy.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 13:38
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    @Richard: I am not really suggesting a policy but rather keeping the policy-less status quo (which of course as technically also a policy). Also, this still does not give anybody a carte blanche for abuse – if somebody does this, we can still reëvaluate this. Societies can live very well without policies against a lot of harmful actions (except extremely general laws such as SE’s be-nice policy), simply because nobody does them – usually because there is nothing to gain from them. And since there is little to gain from flooding Meta with obituaries, I would not worry about this yet.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 13:55
  • The purpose of this thread is to suggest a policy (hence the scope tag) to which we can all adhere.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 13:56
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    @Valorum: And the purpose of this answer is to voice the opinion that we do not need a policy (other than “if somebody is willing to write a post”). While the on-topicness of obituaries in general is disputed, the threshold for obituaries does not seem to be a problem that needs to be solved.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 14:25

I would not support actors, bearing in mind Noel "The Master" Coward's remark that they "... were the opposite of real people". However I would advocate for Iain M Banks in the illustrious list.

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