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We have had a number of recent meta discussions about what should and should not be closed as a duplicate, most recently Handling questions that will be duplicates once answered. It seems that, despite this issue coming up repeatedly over an extended period of time, we are unable to reach consensus on our policy. This leads to odd results. For example, at the time of writing, the most-upvoted answer to that meta suggests practically screams for reopening the question, but three people voted to leave it closed in the review queue. Ignoring the issue of who's right or wrong, these outcomes are inconsistent and frustrating to everyone.

(The meta answer was written well after the last review finished. The problem is not the order in which events transpired, but the fact that they ultimately disagreed with one another.)

Historically, our meta questions about duplicates have generated more heat than light, with different factions "winning" different votes at different points in time, so it's very difficult to distill a general policy from all of our meta discussions. Some meta answers, like this one from Shog9, actually get cited a lot by both sides, but with differing interpretations.

Why is this issue so contentious? Are we doing something wrong? Should we conduct this discourse differently?

And, as a last resort: If we are unable to reach an agreement, should the moderators pick a side and enforce it by fiat? Or is there some reasonable alternative that still gets us a consistent policy?

(This question is about the meta discussion process itself, and not about which side is "right" or "wrong." We can figure that out once we have a process that actually works.)

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    We're arguing because a small but vocal subset of users are determined to allow anything that isn't a completely word-for-word duplicate to exist on the site. – Valorum Apr 7 '18 at 7:41
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    Moderators aren't there to create policy they're there to enforce it. If we can't decide as a community, then we need to use persuasion to try to convince people to come around to our side. – Valorum Apr 7 '18 at 7:47
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    I'd say it's redundant, but it seems the community wants to have several copies of pretty similar questions, like the Turanga one, so why not? I'll stop marking questions i identify as dupes, as it clearly frustrates some people, and i don't want to kick their cloned puppies. This policy might give SFF a more forum-y feel where popular topics often rediscussed, but that's not necessarily a bad thing :-) – user68762 Apr 7 '18 at 9:01
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    @Lt.Ortega We're a Q/A site not a forum so giving us a forum-y feel is of course a bad thing. – TheLethalCarrot Apr 7 '18 at 10:10
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    @Lt.Ortega Having a "forum-y feel" is anathema to SE, but why would that be an expected result of leaving edge-case duplicates open? I don't follow your chain of reasoning. – Rand al'Thor Apr 7 '18 at 10:11
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    @Randal'Thor wouldn't you agree that re-answering the same question over and over again for the sake of those unfamiliar with the stack, that is to err on the side of being welcoming to new users instead of pointing the OP to an existing resource is more discussion board/forum like? – user68762 Apr 7 '18 at 10:44
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    Or worse, answering the same question repeatedly with conflicting answers. – Valorum Apr 7 '18 at 14:01
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    @Valorum Even if there is one question, it can still have conflicting answers! This is especially a problem where the OP doesn't bother to come back and mark one as correct. – Mr Lister Apr 10 '18 at 6:11
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    @MrLister - Sure, but when you have multiple dupes, you can end up with a situation where there are two conflicting answers that are both upvoted and accepted. That's something that lowers the quality of the site and makes us look tinpot – Valorum Apr 10 '18 at 6:51
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    Hm. If two similar looking questions have different accepted answers, doesn't that mean the OPs were actually looking for different things? That's what I would conclude, rather than that we have sloppy rules. – Mr Lister Apr 10 '18 at 7:33
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    @MrLister - Generally if you just had the one question (and one dupe) a objectively correct answer would push an objectively wrong one down. Where you have dupes, sometimes that same bad answer manages to get some early points (in the absence of the other answer that proves it wrong) and becomes unassailable. – Valorum Apr 11 '18 at 22:51
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    @Valorum Or, maybe we are arguing because a small group of dictator kind of users want to close questions based on robot logic of "If an answer exists, close it" and they don't want to see vocal users raising their voices. – Lobo Apr 15 '18 at 18:36
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    @Don'tPanic - Perhaps you might be a happier and less vocal user if you didn't keep posting endless duplicate questions, then getting huffy when they get closed? – Valorum Apr 15 '18 at 18:56
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Why is this issue so contentious?

Apparently, people have strong feelings over duplication. Some people feel that duping practice on SFF is far too restrictive, that many questions are getting closed which should really have remained open - it's natural that they'd be annoyed when a question is (in their view) unfairly closed. Other people are voting to close as duplicate much more, even questions which aren't asking the same thing at all but which have similar answers, or might have similar potential answers - it's natural that they'd be annoyed when a question is (in their view) left open to clutter up the site unnecessarily.

Some meta answers, like this one from Shog9, actually get cited a lot by both sides, but with differing interpretations.

I've noticed that too, but only in recent months. For a long time that answer was being cited only to support "leave open" arguments, while people arguing in favour of closure tended to rely more on the fact that (regardless of meta votes) long-standing practice on the site has been to dupe-close based on answers. It's only more recently that they've begun interpreting that meta answer to support dupe-closing based on answers.

Are we doing something wrong? Should we conduct this discourse differently?

I don't know. It feels like we never really come to any kind of clear agreement or consensus, but then I've thought that about other contentious issues which did end up with a good consensus.

One thing I'd suggest is that meta debates should be based on clear, solid lines of reasoning. If people post answers saying "close these questions" or "leave these questions open" without elaboration on why, that's only going to exacerbate the division between users and the 'faction' effect, as the voting on these answers will be based on people's pre-held beliefs about duplication rather than on the convincingness of their arguments.

If we are unable to reach an agreement, should the diamond moderators pick a side and enforce it by fiat?

I feel like we'd get a lot of pushback from the userbase if we tried to do that :-)

On SE as a whole, I believe this can sometimes be considered acceptable - if the community can't agree, then someone with the authority to do so has to step in and create a policy, so that the site can function at least up until the users can come to an agreement. (Cf beta site mods, chosen by CMs until the site is large enough to sustain elections.) But I know the SFF community too well to try doing that here. Moderators are here to enforce community consensus, and if there is no clear community consensus, then there's nothing to enforce (except, sometimes, common sense).


While we're here, I just found this answer to the very relevant discussion What is our position on closure when the community appears to be split?, which currently has +9/-0 voting for:

I suggest that our policy should be that in situations where the community has not been able to develop a clear consensus, we should err on the side of being welcoming to new users, and leave the questions open.

Of course, this policy is hard to enforce absolutely. Close votes are one of the main ways for users to express their opinions, and as long as they're not explicitly going against meta policy, it's hard to penalise them for doing so. On the other hand, if the review queues are mainly manned by a small subset of very active users, then closure/reopening practice on the site isn't as good an indicator of community opinion as it might seem; meta discussions might be more representative.

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    Nicely written answer but I'd just like to point out that the Leave Open side like to make analogies to completely different examples than the question in topic to make a stronger case. Also your last point (without clicking through) seems to be about new users only. Lastly, I'd just like to point out that, from my experience, it's newer/less active users that have more of a problem with dupe closures than the older/more active ones. The more a user is on the site, the more repeated questions they see and the more on the side of closing they appear to become. – TheLethalCarrot Apr 7 '18 at 10:14
  • I am on the side of closing duplicates so my point may be slightly biased above. – TheLethalCarrot Apr 7 '18 at 10:15
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    @TheLethalCarrot There are certainly counterexamples to your hypothesis about older users being more dupe-closey. Martha has been here since 2011 and is one of the strongest "leave open" voices. (I myself have undergone the opposite effect to what you describe - I used to be much more in favour of dupe-closing based on answers than I am now - but I've tried to be even-handed in this meta.) – Rand al'Thor Apr 7 '18 at 10:23
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    Instead of trying to browbeat the other side into submission, perhaps a 'third way' might be amenable to both sides. Whichever side "wins", the other side is basically planning to ignore the decision anyway – Valorum Apr 7 '18 at 11:14
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    The usage of phrases like "leave open side", while sure comfortable, might be a little misleading, as the users on that side don't actually advocate to leave open all kinds of duplicates, rather than just the ones that other SE sites and general SE policy would leave open, too. They're only on the "leave open" side because SciFi.SE is strongly on the "close" side compared to general SE policy. – TARS Apr 7 '18 at 11:17
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    @Randal'Thor - Alas, we have a situation at present where moderators are allowing community-closed duplicates to be reopened, ostensibly in violation of the agreed policy. Why should anything change if we decide on the opposite action? – Valorum Apr 7 '18 at 12:09
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    @Rand from a practical standpoint, how you want to implement this approach?say you researched the subject and an answer to the new Q would be identical to the old one, so how you go about posting the same answer to the new Q? ask the author of the original to repost their answer to question2? or maybe quote the old answer with attribution? link it? reword it w/ attribution? ignore the orig and write your identical one as it's based on your independent research, resulting in an identical answer? – user68762 Apr 7 '18 at 12:19
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    @Valorum Well, the agreed policy is to use "answers as more of a litmus test than as a policy" and not to "close completely irrelevant questions as duplicates [...] simply because there's an animated gif that happens to apply to both". More tellingly, it says "normally the presence of identical answers is a pretty good indication that the questions themselves are the same" - suggesting that the real issue is whether or not the questions themselves are the same. Not sure why you think questions are being reopened against policy. – Rand al'Thor Apr 7 '18 at 12:20
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    @Randal'thor - The question that triggered this latest debacle is a perfect case of a question that can/should be answered with identical answers. Either we accept that or we don't. At the moment moderators seem happy to turn a blind eye. Why should it be any different in a week or a month? – Valorum Apr 7 '18 at 14:00
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    @Ram - His meaning is pretty clear. Just beause there's an incidental fact buried in one of the answers that tangentially answers another question doesn't mean that they're dupes. – Valorum Apr 7 '18 at 16:51
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    So the original question has been reopened and two people have VTC'd it again. If it gets re-closed, can we expect moderator enforcement of the clear meta consensus to leave this individual question open, or is even that a bridge too far? – Kevin Apr 8 '18 at 3:09
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    @Rand al'Thor's: "I suggest that our policy should be that in situations where the community has not been able to develop a clear consensus, we should err on the side of being welcoming to new users, and leave the questions open." On an unrelated SE site, my first post was slapped down. (Incorrectly, I thought.) I didn't go back for quite a while. I'm not saying "have no standards" but I think that Rand al'Thor's point is good to always keep in mind. – Mark Olson Apr 9 '18 at 14:05
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    @Edlothiad Well, I think we should have a uniform policy. Sometimes it's a slippery slope from "be nice to new users" to "let them post bad questions" to "anything-goes forum". – Rand al'Thor Apr 11 '18 at 7:54
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    @Randal'Thor I was asking for clarification on a rather strange choice of wording. I couldn’t see why you’d single out new users for benefit of the doubt. – Edlothiad Apr 12 '18 at 5:45
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    @Edlothiad Once again, not my choice of wording :-) Perhaps the idea is that "being welcoming to new users" is one of many things which can influence a decision on (overall, uniform) policy? – Rand al'Thor Apr 14 '18 at 6:21

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