With "How should we handle "any" (list) questions", the highest voted (+9, -3) answer right now (by a mod) is:

Since we're debating the issue right now, I'm not going to wield the mod close hammer

The next highest (+3, -0, also by a mod) is:

It seems to me pretty clear that the word "Any" in a question doesn't warrant immediate closing, but it does signal that the question should be watched.

I don't see any answers there that suggest that these questions are "by definition" off-topic, but this question was closed (by a mod, with no other close votes). My flag querying this was declined (I flagged initially rather than asking this question because we already have two meta questions about this, where I see no justification for the closure, and I don't see the merit in having a third):

I thought we had a consensus against list questions. If you object to this closing, please explain your reasoning on meta.

The question is from April 2011, so it includes the sadly-too-common clarification that it's not a list question:

(Please note I don't want a list of every time this has been used. If it's actually common, then a single example, or the first example, is enough, thanks).

The question has no satisfactory answers - either this is extremely rare, or the answer is that "no", there are no other examples of this. There's certainly no evidence at all that this question has led to "one work per answer" style answering or poll-style voting, which are the usual indications of a problematic list question (again: it doesn't want a list).

I found something new to me in this story. I'd like to know if this is a particular conceit of the author's, or if this is something that's based on either real-world research or a common (or at least not new) fictional-world idea. Considering the author's work, it's reasonable to consider that either of those is true. A list is not needed to answer this question; a list has not been provided (in any form) for this question.

The second previous meta question related here is: Are questions looking to simply prove or disprove a premise with a yes/no answer a good fit for our site?

Here, we have the highest voted answer (+7, -0):

These are some great answers posted, and it seems (so far) that the consensus is that these types of questions do have a place here.

I again see no answers to that post that suggest that these questions should be immediately considered off-topic - i.e. so much so that a moderator should (with no other prompting) close them.

Why was this question closed?

  • I'm voting to re-open. This isn't a perfect question but is not a bad one. Definitely NOT a list one. Mar 1, 2012 at 12:31
  • To be very clear: if a question that can possibly be answered by providing a single example work is considered by the community to be off-topic, then so be it - this question (and many more) is off topic. The problem here is that I see the exact opposite resolution on meta. What's the point of meta if the answers don't match up with the moderator's behaviour? What happened to that rhetoric in the elections about following what meta says rather than doing things based on your own opinion?
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 3:20
  • I didn't follow full election rhethoric, but the people who were most vocal about letting the community express its will and not stepping in front of that were NOT the ones who won the election. Your (and mine) preferences on that one lost. Mar 2, 2012 at 3:38

4 Answers 4


Your question has been edited and reopened.

I edited it so as to remove the clause about "a single example is enough" and make it more clearly asking about the origin of the idea rather than just asking for more examples of it. While list questions are off-topic, questions about the inspiration for an idea in a given SFF work or about the origins of an idea or trope in SFF literature as a whole are both perfectly fine.

I was reluctant to wield my mod-hammer and reopen it unilaterally, but my edits bumped it to the front page so that it got some attention, and I also mentioned it in chat as a possible candidate for reopening. After three people had voted to reopen it, I cast the fourth vote and it's now open again.


I notice that you cited my question and answer as justification for why your question should be left open.

Yet you only quoted the first sentence of my answer, and ignored the vast majority of it.

The answer that I wrote clearly outlines that part of the problem is that certain wordings in these types of questions are problematic, and should be avoided. In particular:

I propose that any question asking "does x exist?" be worded to make no mention of examples. Any good answer will, by definition, include examples. A great answer will contain a fairly comprehensive collection of examples, and explain the context.

Mentioning examples (whether it is "I'm looking for examples" or "I only need one example") seems to be the flag many people identify as indicating a list question.

If the question is worded to simply focus on the problem, we may be able to avoid the issue altogether.

Yet the last sentence of your question is:

(Please note I don't want a list of every time this has been used. If it's actually common, then a single example, or the first example, is enough, thanks).

In short, your question, as it is currently worded, is an example of what that second meta question you linked clearly indicates is what you should not be doing.

  • @Beoffet - the problem isn't thinking that the wording needs to be improved (it does), it's unelaterally mod-hammer-closing INSTEAD of posting a comment that states "this violates guidelines, here's a link to address violations, do so in reasonable time or risk closure". Mar 2, 2012 at 16:43
  • @DVK 1) I think it's clear that there is not unilateral mod-hammer closing.Take a look at the first question he linked. There are a bunch of "any" questions that are still open. 2) There's absolutely no reason bad questions should be kept open, in the hopes that the OP will fix it and the hopes that a mod will see the changes. There is no reason a bad question can't be closed, and then reopened after it is fixed.
    – Beofett
    Mar 2, 2012 at 17:15
  • 1. I was referring specifically to Keen's closing the colors question. It wasn't even flagged (and answer was). 2. It's not a binary choice (modhammer or keep open indefinitely). All I'm asking for is a common courtesy of a warning "this is worth closing, fix it to avoid that. 3. I have had experience with Mod unilateral action - at times unjustified (as it was reversed) and I can 100% fully attest that there's a measurable negative impact to both the question AND the questioner from a mod-closing vs. a warning message. 4. If a warning comment is left and no improvement follows - WHACK. Mar 2, 2012 at 17:56
  • @DVK "this is worth closing". I'm pretty sure that says all that needs to be said right there. I really don't understand why you think content that is admitted bad should stay open, with or without a warning. There are multiple avenues to re-opening available. If it is bad, close it. If it can be fixed, fix it. If it gets fixed after it is closed, re-open it. The issue here doesn't seem to be the process, but rather some people not liking the idea of moderators in general.
    – Beofett
    Mar 2, 2012 at 18:00
  • I like the idea of moderators. I oppose the idea of moderators acting like Judge Dredd. All I'm asking for is Due Process - and as I repeatedly stated, "close and let people re-open when improved" is NOT AT ALL equivalent to "keep open for a bit till it's either improved or clear it won't be". The only time I'd agree with mod-closing immideately is if there's active time-sensitive damage to the site from a given question that can't wait for a day. This question clearly wasn't it. Mar 2, 2012 at 18:04
  • ... You seem to be confusing "community consensus is to close list questions" with "community consensus is that THIS given specific question is a list question". I'm sorry, but if >1 long time members of a community feel that a specific question was NOT closed properly, then 100% clearly moderator was NOT acting fully with the consensus of the community. So closing MAY have been the correct ultimate result but ONLY after proper steps (meta discussion of a given question, warning comment etc..). Mar 2, 2012 at 18:07
  • ... Also, on the topic of moderator enforcing the will of the community: We have PLENTY of people with closing power now, if NONE of them have seen it fit to close a question in a given period of time, that seems to me to indicate a clear lack of consensus that the question is close-worthy. Mar 2, 2012 at 18:09
  • 1
    @DVK As I have repeatedly stated, no matter how many times you demand "leave bad stuff around a bit in the hopes that it gets fixed", I disagree, and think that's a bad approach. No matter how many times you state your disagreement, it isn't going to change our differing perspectives.
    – Beofett
    Mar 2, 2012 at 19:16
  • 1
    @DVK No, I'm not confused. Read the meta questions Tony linked, particularly mine. The community consensus is that poor wording is what causes these types of questions to be closed, and that the solution isn't "don't close them", but rather "don't use poor wording". As for the whole "clearly there wasn't community consensus because no one voted to close it when it was asked"... The relevant policy discussions occurred more than 9 months later. "No one complained back then" is completely irrelevant.
    – Beofett
    Mar 2, 2012 at 19:18
  • 1
    @DVK 1. You can't know if there were expired close vote. (Mods can't tell either.) 2. A closed question can be edited. If you've edited a question and think it's improved and can now be reopened, flag it.
    – user56
    Mar 2, 2012 at 21:01
  • @Gilles - <include #our_last_argument_over_good_vs_bad_of_modclose>. Bear in mind - I have been on the receiving end of mod closes that were later reversed. Don't know if you have had that "pleasure". Mar 2, 2012 at 21:07
  • @DVK I don't post many questions, so I'm not sure if I have, but I have argued to reopen mod-closed questions posted by other people many times.
    – user56
    Mar 2, 2012 at 21:11

This question was closed for being a list question. Whether it's worded as “list all the works that have X” or “what are some works that have X” or “is there a work that has X” is irrelevant. List questions call for items rather than answers. Think of it that way:

If citing one work that has X would answer the question, it's a list question.

Now there is possibly a good question in there, calling for a study of color perception in science fiction. An answer would discuss multiple approaches to basing a color description system on four colors including “clear”. The question needs to be edited to this effect instead of asking for items. “A single example is enough” is not acceptable.

Furthermore the question should be made more specific, because it's very open-ended: are we talking about unmodified humans, modified humans, aliens, robots? Is this under sunlight, some other starlight, some artificial lightning? Would magic be involved? Are you after something that's scientifically sound, or does it have to only make sense from a cognitive point of view, or are you looking rather at the cultural aspects?

There's another thing that makes me queasy, and should be addressed in an edit: it's partly a question about science and history rather than about SF. Uses “in actual historical texts” do not belong here, nor does a detailed explanation of color perception. The existing answers are affected by this off-topic bias — one is about linguistics (and could be a good answer to a question about the background to Jean Auel's writings), one is about the biology of certain animals, one is about human biology and its reflection in culture. None of the existing answers are really about SF.

  • Is your second paragraph a personal opinion, or is it a statement of policy from a moderator? It directly answers the other meta questions that I link to here, but it is the opposite to what the community has decided in those. Why have you decided to overrule the community here, and why have you not told the community that in those meta questions?
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 0:32
  • If you don't think the question is good, then vote it down (ideally with a comment why). That's not a reason to close it.
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 0:33
  • Since when are we not allowed to ask about how science fiction/fantasy relates to the real world? What about all those questions that relate scifi to real-world physics? Why is real-world history not ok? That's not what was decided when the community discussed this when formulating the list of topics for the FAQ. I don't see any other mention of that in other meta questions, either.
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 0:34
  • I agree that the existing answers are not good. That's why I haven't accepted any of them. One isn't even an answer to the question (and says so), and so I flagged it for cleanup.
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 0:35
  • @TonyMeyer My first two paragraphs are not an opinion but an observation: the wording does not have a significant effect on the answers. I'm not going against any community decision, we (the community) have decided to reject list questions. I'm (agreeing with) closing the question because it's unsuitable for this site, that has nothing to do with up/down-voting.
    – user56
    Mar 2, 2012 at 1:00
  • 1
    This isn't a list question. It explicitly says that. Find me any question on the site and I can provide you with an answer that contains a list. That doesn't make it a "list question". This question is one just like the ones discussed in the meta posts that I link to. How can those posts say that these questions are ok if they are not?
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 3:19
  • @TonyMeyer I am a teapot. See? This comment says I'm a teapot. Are you willing to drink that colored liquid that comes out of me?
    – user56
    Mar 2, 2012 at 21:02

My attention was drawn to that question by a flag to this answer to it for being a non-answer. While that answer didn't answer the question, it seemed to me that this was a clear list question that had already gathered several 'me too' style non-answers. In addition it was a question of the form 'are there any X', which I've always seen to be list questions given that's what they frequently become as multiple people add their own single example answers to them.

I took the number of votes on Gilles answer, which advocates closing questions exactly like this one, to be consensus on the topic. That question was asked a month ago and hasn't seen any new activity in over 2 weeks.

I'd also like to address a common misconception, which your post potentially makes:

There's certainly no evidence at all that this question has led to "one work per answer" style answering or poll-style voting, which are the usual indications of a problematic list question (again: it doesn't want a list).

We don't wait to close list questions once they've accumulated a list. The vote to close reason is:

This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format. We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

(emphasis mine) We the community should vote to close when we see bad questions that aren't a good fit here, we don't wait for hypothetical bad answers to make bad questions worse. We preemptively prevent this from happening by voting to close. The question asker then can make changes to their question to improve it and have it reopened.

  • 2
    I flagged that answer, because I want good answers to the question, and that answer is a comment, not an answer (it even says it's not answering it). I wouldn't try and flag answers for cleaning up if I thought that it would result in the question itself being closed. How is that a constructive way to moderate?
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 0:36
  • 1
    As I outline in the question, the number of votes on @Gilles's answer support the moderator not wielding "the mod close hammer". How can you use that as justification for doing exactly that?
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 0:38
  • 1
    "will likely". Give me some evidence that this question is "likely" to solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. I have evidence: after 11 months of existence, none of that has happened. Why does your guess outweigh what has actually happened?
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 0:39
  • In what way can this question be changed to have it reopened? According to Gilles (but not the community consensus - which hasn't changed because we all agreed that it was ok!) these must immediately be closed.
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 0:40
  • @TonyMeyer The majority of Gilles' answer is devoted to outlining how he would close a bunch of list questions, leaving one of them not closed due to it having attracted an excellent answer. Your question has only attracted non-answers to your question. How are we to know if the up votes to his answer are not encouraging the closing of those questions?
    – user1027
    Mar 2, 2012 at 2:04
  • @TonyMeyer There are 3 answers that are discussing the idea of other primary colors. None address your question properly.
    – user1027
    Mar 2, 2012 at 2:09
  • @TonyMeyer You could make it a question about historical use of clear as a primary color. There are quite a few questions on the site that would be list questions if not for them specifying the constraint that they're looking for the first instance of a trope.
    – user1027
    Mar 2, 2012 at 2:35
  • How would a question about historical use of clear as a primary colour be on-topic on this site? I'm asking if this is something that is specific to this work of fantasy or not. Could I ask if the ansible is something that OSC created? (With the right answer being, no, Le Guin did). That seems on-topic to me, also not a list, and no different from this.
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 3:15
  • Yes, there are three bad answers (including one that isn't an answer that I flagged as such, not expecting that to result in the question being closed). None of them are listing works. None of them contain a list. Yet this was closed "as a list question". Again, where is the evidence of that?
    – Tony Meyer
    Mar 2, 2012 at 3:16
  • 2
    @TonyMeyer Asking open-endedly 'is this the only example of this?' causes people to answer in the same way as 'list examples of this'. That's why it is a list question. Without any constraints on the type of example you want, anyone can add valid answers of different examples of that trope. This in turn results in a list. For your particular question this did not occur, but the current structure of the question matches the pattern. You yourself acknowledge this with your parenthetical attempt to ward off multiple answers.
    – user1027
    Mar 2, 2012 at 16:14
  • @TonyMeyer - slightly tangential, but in all fairness, it was a bit Karmic - you COULD have just commented on my answer and asked to remove it, instead of flagging. I would have gladly done so. My problem is having the mods "resolving" the problems instead of the community doing so - in this case BOTH yours and Keen's actions were a problem in my eyes. TOO HASTY </Treebeard> Mar 2, 2012 at 16:45

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