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Should questions about specific aspects of fandom response to a work of sci-fi/fantasy be considered on-topic for SFF.SE?


The help centre's on-topic page clearly states that "Behind-the-scenes and fandom information" is on-topic here (even though some users aren't aware of this or don't grasp what it means - see Why is fandom information treated as if it weren't on topic?), and questions about how fans responded to a particular work are often objectively answerable, especially for popular works which have had massive public fandom response. However, the following questions have had a mixed reaction:

In the last of these examples, a close-voter stated that questions like these are "not on-topic unless you can demonstrate at least some degree of notability". Interestingly, this idea also came up in another recent meta, with the conclusion that notability requirements are for Skeptics SE, not SFF.

However, this doesn't seem to be a case of simple ignorance of site policy, because at least some of the close-voters on these posts are well aware that fandom information is on-topic. Thus I'm bringing the issue to meta, in an attempt to understand why some of these questions were closed and whether or not they should be reopened. All thoughts and comments welcome!

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    Only one of the questions you've cited isn't asking for fandom response, it's asking for a meta-analysis of the response from professional critics. Not coincidentally, it's the only one of the three that's still open. – Valorum Mar 20 '18 at 22:51
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    @Valorum That sentence in the FAQ is not considered to apply on this site, as made very clear by meta policy; see Are we really here to solve problems? and Is “I am curious about X” sufficient justification for asking questions on SFF.SE? (As surely you well know?) – Rand al'Thor Mar 20 '18 at 22:53
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    Sure, but we also discourage aimless and endless questions on a theme for precisely that reason. You can call it something other than notability if it makes you feel better. – Valorum Mar 20 '18 at 22:54
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    Discouragement can take different forms. If you feel like discouraging "aimless" questions, your downvotes are yours to use as you will. Close-votes should be reserved for off-topic content (including POB, too broad, etc.) – Rand al'Thor Mar 20 '18 at 22:56
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    We have an "other" reason precisely to close things that are off-topic but not covered by the small number of customisable close reasons. – Valorum Mar 20 '18 at 22:57
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    For the record, I've long argued that "dumb" should be one of the standard close reasons. – Valorum Mar 20 '18 at 22:58
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    @Valorum I'm not certain what difference it makes to specify "professional critics". Especially since reader response criticism is apparently a tool used by many professional critics. (Disclaimer: I haven't read/understood all of that Wikipedia page.) – Rand al'Thor Mar 20 '18 at 23:06
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    Stop with the "notability" nonsense. There are three separate metas that all say that the FAQ bit doesn't apply to us and that we're not here "to solve problems", and you know it. – phantom42 Mar 21 '18 at 2:28
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    @phantom42 - Genuine curiosity is (by definition) a problem that we can solve. Idle curiosity, however, is not. – Valorum Mar 21 '18 at 7:17
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    @Valorum would you be reassured and ready to answer if an user states that they are genuinely curious about the dark arts, necromancy and sacrifices indstead of just idly speculating about it? – user68762 Mar 21 '18 at 9:04
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    You can argue that definition, but we have no less than three metas that specifically say that the we're not here to solve problems and that the FAQ bit doesn't apply to us. If you want to change that, make your appropriate argument in the proper place. Stop trying to change the policy by just pretending it's what you like. – phantom42 Mar 21 '18 at 12:32
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    @phantom42 - the community response is clear. That already is our policy, no matter how hard you deny it – Valorum Mar 21 '18 at 19:49
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    @Valorum What, precisely, are you saying "already is our policy"? That "dumb" questions based on idle curiosity with no "notability" are off-topic? If so, you'd be very seriously mistaken, as evidenced by the community response to meta posts from 2011 to 2018. – Rand al'Thor Mar 21 '18 at 21:15
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    @Valorum: So in order to deal with the vagueness of some of these questions, we now have to... figure out the difference between "genuine" and "idle" curiosity? That seems a bit self-defeating to me. – Kevin Mar 22 '18 at 6:03
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    @Valorum Those sound like excellent reasons to downvote, edit, and move on with your life, respectively. Absolutely none of them is a reason to close a question. – Rand al'Thor Mar 23 '18 at 10:45
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No

We already have a proscription on questions that invite idle speculation (“I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”) and my instinct is that questions about 'what fans think' fall under much the same heading, largely because they're invariably too widely scoped to be sensibly answered.

So what should we allow?

Questions about critical response should be acceptable. It's been demonstrated that it's possible to collate those sensibly and in an objective fashion, as demonstrated by Rand in the ST question above.

Questions about "what do fans think about x" should be off-topic as there doesn't seem to be any sensible measure we can use to determine which answer is the most right.

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As someone who has (literally) closed thousands of opinion-based, let me start off with the general theory of Primary Opinion Based(POB) and work back to where I think we should be on this

POB is bad because it invites people to debate something using answers. SE is not a discussion platform, it's an answer platform. We don't allow people to openly speculate about anything SFF because everyone has an opinion in Shark vs Gorilla or Enterprise vs Death Star, and nobody has an answer. Nobody is clamoring to reopen that question either. So we have some agreement on POB, in that open-ended speculation or discussion is bad (case in point).

The flipside is, given the SFF subject matter, we have to allow some speculation. We're answering questions about stories here. Modern stories often leave gaps in the plot and half the fun of being a fan is helping people to answer those gaps as best as you can, with what the producers/writers have given us to work with (I'd dare say it's why this site exists). Speculation is on-topic, but only within certain limits (good answers cite things to back their points up).

The questions Rand identified are in a subset of POB: film criticism. This invites some discussion (good!) and debating (bad!). Let's focus on his first one for the sake or argument. The problem we run into is illustrated perfectly in #1 by Praxis. We have Rand give the critics' responses and then Praxis adds his excellent answer, but notes this at the top

Rand al'thor has done a great job of collecting reviews on the issue of The Motion Picture. However, I thought you might also appreciate the input of a die-hard Trek fan.

But why stop there? Praxis isn't the only die-hard Star Trek fan. I could answer this (but I don't, because I really don't have anything to add between the two existing answers), and so could anyone with an opinion. That's why I had issue with this comment on Rand's second question

Why is this closed as "opinion based"? The querant is not asking for our opinion, but rather for (as the answer shows) well documented responses by the audience.

Praxis' answer isn't well documented anything. It's 100% his opinion. It also happens to be well written and shared by a lot of people. Assuming these will be limited to just quoted responses by the audience is naive. Everyone is a critic

On any other site, the course is clear. Cut the chit chat and close the questions. But SFF is a different beast from other SE sites, in that there's no massive outstanding moderation queue and an active group of people keeping it like that. As such, there's no fear of doing things that could fill said queue. POB is not a hard and fast rule, just a guideline about limiting chit-chat.

I would say we just leave these open at this point with the following caveats (most of this is already policy but let's review for the sake of completeness)

  1. The question must be asking for serious answers/critiques. No Why does this movie suck? questions
  2. Answers must be well reasoned. No The writers don't care about the story/audience answers

SFF has a low tolerance for one-liners and bad questions. I don't think this really marks any changes for how things work. Unless we get flooded with bad answers, just let them ride.

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    Not sure if you're aware (since you haven't linked to it), but your discussion of bad POB vs allowing some speculation is closely related to Good Subjective, Bad Subjective, an old SE blog post which is now codified in the help centre of every site. I've argued that there's always a certain bar on SE for what counts as too opinion-based, but exactly where that bar is varies from site to site. – Rand al'Thor Mar 21 '18 at 15:26
  • @Randal'Thor I'd forgotten about that one. If I were to put POB on the scale of strict vs permissive across the SE network, I'd put SO on the strict end and SFF on the permissive end. I really don't think there's a good way to codify where the line exists here, largely because of the strong regular-user moderation (stuff gets done and undone a lot here until it reaches equilibrium) – Machavity Mar 21 '18 at 15:36
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    This has been my issue with this type of question as well. "Fandom" is too broad/vague, and is often split. The group being asked about has to be clearly delineable. It's also my gripe about "suggested order" questions. Suggested by whom? What I suggest is different than what you may suggest. – phantom42 Mar 21 '18 at 15:58
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    @phantom42: Re suggested viewing order: Those at least have the advantage of a finite space of possible answers (for N different stories, there are precisely N! possible answers), most of which are quite obviously terrible answers (e.g. "Watch Deep Space Nine in [some random order]"). Furthermore, there are "standard" approaches to viewing order (publication order, internal chronology, the writers' preferred order, etc.), and if you deviate from those standards without strong justification, your answer is rightly downvoted. – Kevin Mar 22 '18 at 3:12
  • @Kevin like I said, I'm ok, or at least more ok with them if OP is asking for something from a defined group/source or an otherwise objective list. Things like publication order, internal chronology, or writer/creator's preferred order would all fit the bill. General, subjective "what order should I watch/read" do not. – phantom42 Mar 22 '18 at 3:47
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    I was on your side, right up to the final couple of paragraphs where you did a heel-turn and said that they should be allowed whereas the rest of your answer is a solid argument for not doing so. – Valorum Mar 22 '18 at 14:55
  • @Valorum Funny thing is I agree with yours. The community at large, however, disagrees. SFF seems to favor broad allowances for discussion and moderation to fix problems as they arise. In this case, since there's no real harm to the site, I say let's just let it go. The best I can do is make the case that it's not a good idea before saying so. Caveat emptor. – Machavity Mar 22 '18 at 15:03
  • @Machavity - My problem with that is that if we allow them in, who's to say that we won't get many more? Other sites have had issues with (for example) ID questions. Perhaps it would have been better to nip it in the bud early instead of allowing it to blossom and then be forced to prune. – Valorum Mar 23 '18 at 0:11
  • In the event that an answer violates these guidelines, but others are okay (as in the case of the Star Trek TMP question you point to), what would you suggest doing? Raising a moderator flag to have it be deleted? – Thunderforge Mar 28 '18 at 22:14
  • Actually, (what I consider) overuse of POB as a close reason is a major peeve of mine (way beyond pet peeve). A question is POB only when asking for our opinions. Even the literal "Gorilla vs Shark"-question should not be closed as POB, but rather be answered with "we don't know, there isn't any data". POB should be reserved for questions asking "which is better, X or Y?" or "what do you think about Z?" Taking the question about Star Trek Into Darkness, the question boils down to "a film was released, it did well in general but was panned by fans of the franchise; why?" 1/X – SQB Apr 3 '18 at 11:40
  • That question is answerable by referencing sources, such as established authorities on the franchise, or conducted surveys. It can also be answered by stating we don't know, of course not without stating which sources you did consult. It can also be answered by challenging the premise — again, referencing sources — to point out that it wasn't received badly by hardcore fans. It is not asking whether we liked it, so it is not POB. (Of course, on Science Fiction & Fantasy, POB doubles as a "future works" close reason, but that's not pertinent to this case). 2/X – SQB Apr 3 '18 at 11:45
  • So in closing, don't vote to close a question as POB simply because it asks about an opinion. Reserve it for those cases where it asks for the opinion itself. 3/3 – SQB Apr 3 '18 at 11:47

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