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I have just come across a 6 year old question in the review queues.

Back when this question was asked, it was a perfectly on-topic question, which has been reasonably highly up-voted and received 20,000 views. However, a user has recently come across this question and flagged it off topic as per our real-world science questions policy and us deeming them off-topic 5 years later.

What should our action be with regards to this situation. Will we close all these questions in time. Do we close them all now. To we leave them open for "historical significance" as these questions are a part of the history of our site.

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  • Highly related. After recommendation questions were deemed off-topic, all the existing ones were closed without further ado, and the only thing worth a meta discussion was whether to delete them outright (in the end, they were all deleted with a few exceptions which got historical locks). – Rand al'Thor Oct 3 '17 at 22:02
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Close them

I would argue to close them. They no longer fit our current policy, so it doesn't make any sense to leave them open for new answers. They will remain accessible and searchable, and no one loses rep over it.

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  • Your answers seem to agree, although I feel like a point should be made about "hunting out" old answers. I feel like no harm is done by having a six year old not closed nor do I find it "obscene" as one other meta suggested that these answers aren't closed. – Edlothiad Oct 3 '17 at 15:41
  • @Edlothiad You say answers, but do you still mean questions? – Rand al'Thor Oct 3 '17 at 18:16
  • Oh those answer, I meant questions, my apologies. Freudian slip while looking at two answers. – Edlothiad Oct 3 '17 at 21:08
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I agree with the previous answers, but I just wanted to mention a reason why this should be the policy.

Leaving old off-topic questions open threatens to set a bad precedent.

If questions like this were left open just because they were on-topic at the time of asking, then new users would see highly-voted and unclosed "real world science" questions and assume - quite reasonably - that such questions are well-received when in fact they're not. Then they might post such a question themselves and - again, quite reasonably - feel unfairly treated when it gets closed. "Why is my question closed when this very similar question by a high-rep user isn't?", they'd say, and they'd have a point. The policy set of an SE site is already confusing enough for newbies - spread out over multiple meta posts, changing over time - let's not make it more confusing than necessary.

After all, a common piece of advice for people posting low-quality questions is to look at well-received existing questions in the tags that interest them. If some of those well-received questions are actually off-topic, it just confuses things unnecessarily.

So, don't consider the age of a post when deciding whether or not to close it. Is it off-topic according to policy - that's the only question you need to consider. Close-voters aren't required to know all the details of the 6+ year history of the site and what was on-topic when, nor should they be.

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  • 2
    This would seem like a good reason for the "historical lock" button. Not necessarily a close vote. – Edlothiad Oct 3 '17 at 20:07
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    @Edlothiad AIUI, historical lock is meant to be reserved for very special cases. That's why it requires mod intervention - we shouldn't need a mod to step in every time an old question becomes off-topic due to a change in policy. – Rand al'Thor Oct 3 '17 at 20:30
  • Well there you go, that's now understood. Thank you. Although a source for you understanding would be appreciated :) – Edlothiad Oct 3 '17 at 20:59
  • @Edlothiad I already mentioned a common-sense reason why this should be the case, but OK, I went and tracked down some sources for you :-) "Posts should generally only be manually locked in cases where something seriously bad is happening. In particular, where the ongoing updates and edits are actively detrimental to the system." (from main meta; a similar warning appears on the mod tool for locking a post.) And there's a FAQ post specifically about historical locks. – Rand al'Thor Oct 3 '17 at 22:08
  • "A historical lock preserves content that was very popular when it was originally posted, but is now off-topic or otherwise out of scope for the site it is posted on" – Valorum Oct 5 '17 at 16:27
  • Also "The post is contentious; e.g., it has been closed and reopened at least once, or deleted and undeleted at least once". Again, it seems silly to expect ♦ moderator intervention on every single post that's become off-topic due to changing in policy. What would historically locking it achieve which closing it hasn't already done? – Rand al'Thor Oct 5 '17 at 18:14
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If they're just plain off-topic by current standards, then mark them for closure. The community can apply our current policies and decide whether to keep them open.

By the same token, if you come across an old closed question that should be open using the current standard, click the reopen button.


Obvs if the question has a large viewership, high rep answer or has attracted controversy, you might also want to flag it for a mod to "historical lock" it to keep it visible on the site.

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  • 2
    "to keep it visible on the site" - closure doesn't make a question invisible. Only deletion does that, and historically SFF hasn't had many question deletions that weren't a) by the roomba (which doesn't affect answered questions) or b) egregiously bador off-topic questions (spam, recommendation requests, etc.) – Rand al'Thor Oct 3 '17 at 18:15

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