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This question was asked yesterday: Very old novel about a planet with a living ocean

A comment was posted asking whether the answer was "Solaris". OP replied to say that it was, so I closed the question as a duplicate, in line with our policy on dupes (e.g. where OP accepts in a comment that it's a dupe, it can be closed as a dupe regardless of whether it's been answered)

I was quite surprised to see that it now has an accepted answer. When I checked the timeline I found that a user, the same commenter from earlier had used their gold tag badge authority to reopen the question, post an answer, then reclose it a few seconds later.

Was this an appropriate course of action, and more generally, should we be reopening closed duplicate questions to answer them?

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  • 3
    Hmm. On reflection, there's a few things to unpack here. 1) Was it needed to reopen it at all? 2) Was using a gold badge to reopen it, answer it and then insta-close it an abuse of the system (e.g. since it wouldn't allow anyone else to post an answer).
    – Valorum
    Nov 5, 2023 at 7:28
  • 2
    "Was it needed to reopen it at all?" Needed? No. Beneficial? I'd argue yes. It was obviously beneficial to me, since I gained rep from the answer I posted. And why shouldn't I? This site is clearly designed to incentivise the posting of answers, and closing the question before a proper answer can be posted removes that incentive. Beyond that, I'd also argue that it's better for the site in general for a question to have a proper answer rather than an answer in a comment. Nov 5, 2023 at 7:46
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    @LogicDictates - Post that as an answer so I can downvote it, please
    – Valorum
    Nov 5, 2023 at 7:47
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    @LogicDictates - For the record, this is why we discourage the posting of Story-ID answers in the comments box unless you really don't care about getting the dupe from a lazy copy-paste
    – Valorum
    Nov 5, 2023 at 7:48
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    I don't like to post an answer unless I have a high degree of confidence that it's correct. I suspect you feel similarly, as I've often seen you post speculative answers as comments as well. One of the reasons it makes sense to do that is because only the first active answer posted can qualify for the 'Enlightened' badge, meaning that if you post an incorrect answer first and don't delete it, you're blocking other users from being able to earn that badge in a given question. Nov 5, 2023 at 8:02
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    @LogicDictates - I tend to post 'answers in comments' where it's so obvious that it's not worth just reposting an existing answer ("I'm looking for a film series where the guy has a laser sword") or where the question is basically a trope ("I'm looking for a film where the guy has a laser gun") and I plan to spam a bunch of possible matches.
    – Valorum
    Nov 5, 2023 at 8:32
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    I feel like using a gold-badge in this manner is an abuse of the privilege - any other user would cast a single reopen vote and the question would most likely not be reopened in the queue (I would have certainly voted to leave it closed). Using the hammer to get some extra rep in this manner feels very unpleasant
    – fez
    Nov 5, 2023 at 8:54
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    @LogicDictates - Yes. You should have posted an answer. Unless you're not fussed about the rep
    – Valorum
    Nov 5, 2023 at 9:17
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    @LogicDictates "The same reasoning can be applied to the use of a gold badge to insta-close a question, thereby denying other users the opportunity to leave that question open" - no it can't, because insta-closing a question is exactly what the dupehammer privilege is for, and (crucially) it doesn't present any conflict of interest by giving extra rep to the hammerer. A police car turning on the sirens to get through traffic and catch an escaping thief is very different from doing the same thing to reach a shop with a sale on before it closes because the cop wants some cheap stuff.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Nov 5, 2023 at 9:45
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    @LogicDictates Except that this isn't a competition.
    – DavidW
    Nov 5, 2023 at 12:49
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    @LogicDictates Nobody's making a big deal about the fact you earned a bit of reputation; the issue is that you abused a privilege.
    – DavidW
    Nov 5, 2023 at 22:38
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    @LogicDictates Using your privilege to unilaterally reopen a question you know is a duplicate is an abuse of that privilege, whether you gain anything from that or not. You proved that you knew it was a duplicate by almost immediately re-closing it using the same duplicate target. The fact that you gained useless Internet points for it explains your motivation for doing it (you clearly care about such points since you are so concerned about the reputation leaderboard "competition"), and makes your action a more serious abuse of your privilege.
    – Null Mod
    Nov 6, 2023 at 18:21
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    @LogicDictates It is an abuse of your reopen privilege to reopen a question you know should be closed (in this case, because it is a duplicate). You knew it should be closed since you almost immediately closed it again with the same duplicate target. This abuse is compounded by the fact that you could reopen that question unilaterally, and further compounded by the benefit you obtained by the abuse. Duplicate questions don't need "a formal (and formally accepted) answer" because they are duplicates -- that's why we close them and point them to the duplicate in the first place!
    – Null Mod
    Nov 6, 2023 at 23:21
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    @LogicDictates We do not need to create an "established policy" to explicitly state something that is true by definition. The purpose of the reopen privilege is to reopen questions that should not be closed; common sense and logic dictate that the act of reopening a question that you know should be closed is contrary to the purpose of the reopen privilege (i.e. is an abuse of it). You clearly knew that question should be closed since you immediately re-closed it for the same reason as it was originally closed...
    – Null Mod
    Nov 7, 2023 at 6:06
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    ...Furthermore, the fact that the system disables the posting of new answers on closed questions is an unmistakable sign that such a question does not need a "formal (and formally accepted) answer". The only thing you did to the question after you re-opened it was to post an answer, which means the only reason you re-opened the question was to circumvent the system's rule against posting new answers to closed questions.
    – Null Mod
    Nov 7, 2023 at 6:08

5 Answers 5

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The question's timeline shows that it was re-opened on 2023-11-04 at 23:14:10Z, answered at 23:15:25Z, and re-closed with the same duplicate target at 23:18:17Z by the same user -- a span of just over 4 minutes. No other events are recorded on the timeline between the re-opening and closing. It may be permissible in rare cases for a user to do this (e.g., if the user is only made aware of new information that convinces him the question should be closed after he has re-opened it and posted an answer, or to change the close reason), but this is not one of them. No new information was made available between the re-opening and closing, so this user clearly knew the question should be closed at the time of re-opening.

The purpose of the re-open privilege is to re-open questions that should not be closed; the act of re-opening a question that one knows should be closed is contrary to the purpose of the re-open privilege so it is an abuse of that privilege. In this case, the user who abused this privilege had earned a gold badge in and was therefore entrusted by the system to unilaterally re-open and close such a question for the duplicate close reason -- this is a further abuse of the re-open privilege and the trust given to this user. The user also benefitted from this abuse of the re-open privilege and trust by posting an answer in order to gain reputation1 from upvotes and answer acceptance, which further compounds the abuse of the re-open privilege.

It has been argued that the help center does not explicitly say users are not permitted to re-open a question just to answer it and close it. This is because the help center is not designed to explicitly state every obvious fact about the network. Nonetheless, there are several not-so-subtle clues that this behavior is not permitted. For example:

  1. The help center article on the reopen review queue instructs users to "evaluate the question as it is now" and "leave [it] closed if any close reason(s) still apply". Since the question did not change nor was the re-opening user made aware of any new information, the correct choice is clearly to leave it closed. The same instructions apply both within and outside of the actual review queue -- another fact that is not explicitly stated but obvious.
  2. The system does not allow new answers to be posted on closed questions. The fact that the user needed to circumvent the system's rules is an unmistakable sign that such a question should not be re-opened simply to answer it and re-close it.

It has also been argued that duplicate questions may somehow benefit from posting duplicate answer(s) on them. That may be the reader's personal opinion, but it is not the well-established philosophy of the Stack Exchange system -- which is that duplicate questions should be closed and linked to the original question so that, ideally, all answers are posted on one, canonical question. This avoids the need to post duplicate answers and reduces the likelihood that users will need to browse to all the duplicate questions in search for a sufficiently good answer.

The duplicate answer posted in abuse of the re-open privilege is not obviously better than the answer to the original question, and contravenes the Stack Exchange philosophy on duplicate questions. Therefore, I have deleted it. The user is free to post an answer with any additional details on the original question.


1In the form of useless Stack Exchange Internet points, but likely not in the usual sense of the word.

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  • I remember a case of opening and re-closing almost instantly, but I think that was warranted because it was to perform a moderating action that could not be realised on a closed question. Or maybe to reverse the duplication. Either way, it's just an example of a valid close-open-close situation I came across once.
    – Clockwork
    Nov 7, 2023 at 20:31
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    @Clockwork - I've done it in the past when trying to resolve circular 'duplicate rings'. Sometimes it's just easier to reopen everything and then point them at a single correct target
    – Valorum
    Nov 7, 2023 at 21:28
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    I've also done it when trying to swap which is the dupe, changing a from being a dupe of b to the other way around
    – Valorum
    Nov 7, 2023 at 21:30
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    @Clockwork In my comments on the question I had highlighted the fact that the same duplicate target was used, so I've noted that here and mentioned that a question can be re-opened in order to change the close reason.
    – Null Mod
    Nov 7, 2023 at 21:49
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    @Null Gold tag badge holders should be able to change duplicate targets without reopening the question as well.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Nov 8, 2023 at 9:02
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    @TheLethalCarrot Yes, though it is legitimate for them to change the duplicate target by reopening/re-closing as well.
    – Null Mod
    Nov 8, 2023 at 15:17
  • "It may be permissible in rare cases for a user to do this" - given the obvious conflict of interest, one should probably delete the answer in such cases (at least where able and when there's a short time between closing and reopening).
    – NotThatGuy
    Nov 14, 2023 at 11:09
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Unilaterally reopening a question to answer it and then unilaterally closing it again is not an appropriate use of one's unilateral closing and reopening privileges.

The privilege is not meant to give one a free pass to answer questions that should stay closed. This applies to both moderators and gold tag badge holders. A question should stay closed if it’s a duplicate, or stay open if it's not.

In this case, the question is a duplicate and already has an answer in the duplicate target, so it was inappropriate and unnecessary to reopen it, answer it, and then re-close it.

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  • I've added a linkie to Meta in case new users are baffled why these individuals were able to open and close questions unilaterally.
    – Valorum
    Nov 5, 2023 at 9:35
  • I am the OP of the quastion that was reopened. As I explain in detail in my answer below, had I realised that mentioning in a comment that the answer in a comment was right was enough to make the question a dupe, I would not have done so.
    – Alfred
    Nov 5, 2023 at 11:09
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    @Alfred - That's obviously your choice, but what you did was perfectly fine.
    – Valorum
    Nov 5, 2023 at 11:31
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    @Alfred You are not at fault. The issue here is whether the use of one’s privilege to unilaterally close and reopen questions was appropriate. Nov 5, 2023 at 13:24
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There is an issue with story ID questions that has caused some argument in the past and that has, as far as I know, never been definitively addressed.

After a decade of story ID questions all the well known works have been asked about - many times for the most popular stories. So if someone asks a question about e.g. a well know Asimov short story it's going to be a duplicate and all the more experienced members of the site will know it's a duplicate. That means writing an answer is a deliberate choice to write an answer to a question known to be a duplicate.

The question is whether we should post an answer anyway? In a way that I cannot frame in any logical way this feels like rep-hunting behavior and particularly deplorable when done by experienced users who don't need to scrabble for reputation. But then I have posted answers to questions that I should have known were duplicates so I have no moral high ground to stand on. My experience is that there is a burst of excitement on realising that I recognise a story (without recourse to Google) and this often leads me to post first and think second.

And in any case, who says it's wrong to post an answer to a question you know is a duplicate? The OP didn't know it was a duplicate, and it's probably annoying to have your question closed without an answer when it was asked in good faith. And there will be special cases such as when the OP has remembered an obscure aspect of the story that is not mentioned in any of the answers to the duplicate(s).

So I suspect there is no answer. The sensible course is to point that rep is an irrelevant measure of anything and the subjective feelings referred to in my third paragraph are irrational and probably a bit childish. But story identification inevitably becomes competitive and it's only human to regard your rep as a mark of your status in the community as an uber-nerd.

Having said all this, the reason we close a question is because we believe that it should not be answered. I'm not sure if the SE guidelines on closed questions explicitly say they should not be answered but it seems to me that this is implied. You may feel that a question should not have been closed, so you may wish to reopen it, post an answer, then leave it open. But to reopen it, post an answer, then close it again does seems like a step too far.

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  • We don't call it rep-whoring any more. It's considered 'not nice'
    – Valorum
    Nov 6, 2023 at 8:26
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    I don't think anyone is saying that you shouldn't post an answer to a question that might be a duplicate. On reflection OP may realise that they're wrong, for example.
    – Valorum
    Nov 6, 2023 at 8:27
  • @Valorum I deliberately used the term because that is, in a totally illogical way, what it feels like. I agree the term is somewhat brutal but it was coined because that's how it feels. Nov 6, 2023 at 8:30
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Well, this action had been at the suggestion of the OP of the question (that is, myself) who in a comment (that I have erased afterwards) wrote that I found it unfair for the user who had found the book in a comment rather than as a proper answer. I was checking the question for the case where it were reopened and was very happy to accept (and in addition upvote) the answer. In fact I felt guilty: since the title sounded familiar I checked on Wikipedia and from the summary there I recognised it was correct. I did not realise before that just telling in a comment that it was right made it instantly a dupe. Next time this happens I'll write a comment "This sounds familiar, please write a formal answer adding some details so I can be sure and accept it if it is indeed correct." My bad, apologies.

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    Nobody is questioning whether your actions (in asking the question, responding to comments, encouraging the commenter to post their comment-answer as a proper answer, or accepting/upvoting said answer) were correct or proper. As far as I can see, you've not done anything that you need to explain.
    – Valorum
    Nov 5, 2023 at 11:33
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    I fully agree with Valorum here. As I see it, you acted with purely good intentions (self-interest definitely not being a factor whatsoever in your case) and aren't to blame for any of this. I appreciate the attempt to take some of the blame, though. That is a nice gesture. :-) Nov 5, 2023 at 13:18
  • @LogicDictates Well, I am a bit upset that you got into trouble because I "accepted" in a comment. And I did get 2 points from accepting your answer.. LOL
    – Alfred
    Nov 5, 2023 at 16:28
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    @Alfred - I wanted you to confirm whether Solaris was or wasn't the book you were looking for, and your doing so did not compel Valorum to close the question as quickly as he did. That was a choice he made, for which he is solely responsible. Similarly, neither of your actions compelled me to reopen the thread to post an answer. That was a choice I made, for which I am solely responsible. I accept that my choice was questionable. I believe Valorum's is too. I don't see what you did as being questionable in any way; on the contrary, I think you've behaved admirably from start to finish here. Nov 6, 2023 at 2:52
  • Solaris was definitely the book I was looking for. After you commented, I went to Wikipedia where I found a very good summary that convinced me 100% it was indeed my book and I commented about that, not imagining the question would be closed before you had a chance to turn your comment into a formal question.
    – Alfred
    Nov 6, 2023 at 3:03
  • @Alfred - I totally get all that. You've indicated that when asking story-ID questions in future, you'll avoid outright confirming answers posted as comments, but I don't think querents should have to play word games like that in order to keep their questions open long enough to receive proper answers. Rather, I think that users with the power to close questions unilaterally should appreciate that some querents actively want to get a proper answer (rather than just one in the comments) so that that they can accept and upvote it, and allow more time for that to happen. Nov 6, 2023 at 4:20
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    @LogicDictates - You seem to be suggesting that the error was mine, in applying the rules rather than yours, in breaking them.
    – Valorum
    Nov 6, 2023 at 6:56
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    @Valorum - Are the 'rules' you're referring to ones that existed prior to the creation of this thread, and are they written down somewhere? If so, would you be good enough to provide a link? Nov 6, 2023 at 7:29
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    You didn't do anything wrong here so there's no need to apologize. Your desire to reward the answerer is commendable but not as important as following the established rules of the site.
    – Null Mod
    Nov 7, 2023 at 18:26
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I have a mixed opinion. In cases where the duplicate answer is sufficient, I think it's alright to leave it as a comment, particularly if the alternative is copying and pasting the other answer verbatim. If it is not equivalent (they're asking about different parts of the work, or remember different details, I think it's appropriate to have an original answer posted. And overall, I'm mildly opposed to a comment-only answer, since comments are not guaranteed to be permanent, and mildly opposed to there just being a link to another answer, since the content at links can change, and we have a general policy against link-only answers, that they should stand on their own.

I attach no moral judgment to opening the question, answering it, and closing it. To me, that's more of a personal choice than a moral one. I suppose that, as one of the top three, I might be a bit biased, but past the first few thousand points (where you accumulate privileges), the point system really doesn't mean all that much. I think that I personally would not re-open a question to post an answer based on a comment accepted by another comment, but I might be inclined to if it were not accepted since, again, comments are ephemeral, and answers should stand on their own.

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  • A community answer could have done the job; I think.
    – Clockwork
    Nov 7, 2023 at 11:57
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    @Clockwork: Eyeh, but is it a community answer? My understanding is that community answers are meant for situations where you expect other people to potentially be equal contributors, like the "identify these objects" posts where the community answer is basically saying "Here's a grid. Fill it in" with sometimes a few items already filled in. I personally don't tend to tag anything I feel that I am answering with the Community Answer.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Nov 8, 2023 at 17:06
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    I see what you mean. Yeah, that would make sense. Personally, I sometimes also write a community answer when I feel like I "don't deserve the reps" (like when the answer was way too simple and I merely wrote it out of politeness). I usually do that on other communities in which I'm even less knowledgeable than this one though.
    – Clockwork
    Nov 8, 2023 at 19:23
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    @Clockwork - That's not what CAs are for. They aren't intended as a 'rep avoidance' mechanism
    – Valorum
    Nov 10, 2023 at 18:58
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    @Valorum I usually do that when what I'm about to write is a draft of an answer, which should be posted because it helps (but not in the comments) and at the same time isn't thorough enough to be a proper answer (it requires contributions from people more knowledgeable to complete it). Edit: Which means it doesn't apply in the aforementioned scenario indeed.
    – Clockwork
    Nov 10, 2023 at 19:17
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    @Clockwork - Partial answers deserve love too.
    – Valorum
    Nov 10, 2023 at 19:38
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    @valorum: Eyeh, but not link-only or name-only (although they're better than nothing).
    – FuzzyBoots
    Nov 10, 2023 at 20:35

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