I know that technically I have the right to vote on any question on the site -- upvote, downvote, VTC, whatever.

But is it within the spirit of SFF.se for me to cast a VTC on a question about a canon that I either know nothing about, or know very little about?

For example, maybe I've seen all the LOTR movies -- would it truly be within good faith for me to exercise a VTC on a question about Tom Bombadil or Glorfindel, two characters that do not appear in in the movies, but rather feature only in the LOTR books? Or, perhaps I've seen all six of the Star Wars movies, but only once, and I didn't really pay attention during the first three films and I'm far from having memorized the second trilogy -- I know I have the right to VTC, but should I?

Should a person be familiar with or, even better, have a working expert knowledge of a canon before VTC? Or is it okay to VTC whatever the heck you want to, whether you know the canon or not?

I realize this is something that could never be enforced -- it's too subjective. But I'm compelled to ask out of a concern for the integrity of the site, and I wonder if anyone else had any thoughts on this subject. To be clear, I'm not talking about excoriating another user who happens to interpret a given canon differently; I'm referring to a user who presumptuously VTC questions in a canon he/she clearly doesn't know (or know well).

I'm not going to put down identifying details, but, yes, I saw this happen recently, and I've been thinking about it.

Is there anything to be done about this? Should anything be done about this? I realize this particular issue can never be part of the site's formal policies, but I think SFF.se does a really good job of passing along informal, user collaborated expectations.

What are your thoughts?

  • Are you asking specifically about VTCs that are based on "not answerable", "too vague", "don't understand what your are asking" etc...? Nov 1, 2014 at 14:00
  • @DVK -- I'm concerned about users who vote to close a question, but don't have sufficient knowledge of the canon involved, if any at all. I'm concerned whatever the closure reason might be (Except for, perhaps, questions that are so poorly written and grammatically incorrect, that it doesn't matter what the canon is -- the question needs to go!). Nov 1, 2014 at 14:50
  • Just wondering: how would you determine familiar with? Rep in a specified tag? Badges? Review/flagging history?
    – Möoz
    Nov 4, 2014 at 22:27
  • Also, related? maybe? somewhat? meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/q/3488/21267
    – Möoz
    Nov 4, 2014 at 22:34

3 Answers 3


Yes, we can vote on topics we aren't familiar with.

There are two main reasons. First is that a lot of the vote to close reasons are totally obvious even if you have no knowledge of the specific topic. We shouldn't artificially reduce the number of people who feel free to close obviously bad questions.

The second is that if we do this, then it becomes a matter of "how much is familiar?"

Your Star Wars example is great: am I qualified to vote if I've seen one movie? All the movies? Do I need to be keeping up with the currently-airing Star Wars Rebels TV show? At what point does "unqualified" cross over into "qualified"?

The answer is that we can't reasonably make sweeping statements because it depends on both the franchise and the individual question.

We are always expected to act carefully and reasonably.

Which means that if we aren't sure, we should stop and think before we act. Drawing the line on qualifications for vote-to-close actions is a personal, individual choice and really can't be anything else.

There is nothing site-wide to be done.

Individuals should apply thought and prudence to our voting habits, and that's all there is to it.

But if there's a pinpoint problem, it should go through the regular channels.

Sometimes an individual's habits show regular thoughtlessness in this regard, to the point that it's a toxic pattern of behaviour. When we can see that their actions are detrimental to the site, then it's no longer a purely personal choice. If the person is resistant to friendly reminders, we should take note and bring it to the attention of the moderators with links to the relevant actions the individual has taken.

  • 3
    ISTM that your first reason is the key one. There are lots of way a question can be inappropriate that have nothing to do with canon.
    – Tony Meyer
    Nov 1, 2014 at 6:24
  • "Which means that if we aren't sure, we should stop and think before we act." and be prepared to skip. ;)
    – Braiam
    Nov 7, 2014 at 1:24

It depends why you're Voting to Close. Let's have a look at the main reasons;

Duplicate of;

Some duplicates are obvious. Others are far more abstruse and technical. Those that fit the latter definition are probably best left to people with a knowledge of the canon.

Off-topic because...

Some off-topic closes are obvious. Others are less obvious (Sherlock Holmes, for example) but in the main you don't usually need more than a glancing knowledge of a canon to easily determine if it's scifi/fantasy or not. At worst, a 10-second google will tell you.

Unclear what you're asking

This seems to be used (in the main) to deal with questions that are badly or confusingly written. No major canon knowledge is required to deal with these.

Too broad

Some questions are obviously too broad, especially where they're non-universe-based (e.g. why are vampires x?) whereas others are more technical and abstruse. The latter are best left to people with at least a brief knowledge of the canon.

Primarily opinion-based.

This one is probably the hardest to quantify. Many seemingly opinion-based questions actually have a fully canon or "word of god" answer. This close reason is usually best left to people with a more intimate knowledge of a canon universe.

In short, there's a 'skip' button for a reason.

  • 1
    I'd interpret the primarily opinion-based close reason as referring to how a question is phrased, not the potential for a canon or word of God answer. The existence of those answer sources is orthogonal to what the question is asking for. Nov 10, 2014 at 12:06

With exception of some extremely clear-cut cases, YES they should know canon.

First off, let's get rid of the obvious ouliers. If the question asks for a list of works similar to canon, yes anyone can tell it's not a good fit for SE. In some (not all) cases of duplicates, the question is such a clear-cut duplicate that knowing canon isn't required.

Most other instances, however, are NOT. For pretty much ALL of the situations listed below, I have seen cases where people who had no knowledge of canon erroneously close the question as "too vague", "unclear what you are asking", "list", "subjective", or even worse "unanswerable". I can dig up examples for ALL of these.

  1. Questions that fall under "shark" vs. "gorilla" in a specific canon.

    Yes, sometimes they are poor. No, without knowing the canon you are not always, or even usually, qualified to judge whether a given comparison is fully and objectively answerable in canon.

    Example: Superman vs. Hulk fihgt. On the surface, 100% SvG. Once you dig around, they DID have several contests; and I was able to provide an objective answer based on canon. And this isn't even within a single canon since one is DC and one is Marvel! (you can view them as DC+Marvel canon though).

    Example: Dumbledore vs. Voldemort. Again, superficially seems SvG. However it has answers based on canon, good ones.

  2. "Unclear what's being asked".

    Yes, some are really ramblings that no knowledge of canon would be able to help with. But many are asking about some minute detail of canon that those who know it will be able to discern, and clean up the question to the core of what what being asked.

    Example: Identify a species in Star Wars. Was greatly denounced for being unclear. In reality, was 100% clear AND answerable.

  3. "List".

    As long as the question is within a given canon, the fact that it asks for a list does NOT in and out of itself make it a bad fit for SE. Specific canon knowledge is needed to understand if it has a finite - and rankable - list of answers. (Caveat: often, such a question is poor and may deserve downvotes. That's irrelevant as we are discussing VTCs).

  4. "Subjective"/"opinion based".

    Again, while there are some outliers, more often than not I see questions closed as "subjective" which can be fully objectively answered from canon.

    Example: Can Númenor be resurrected?

  5. "Unanswerable"

    This one isn't even on the same scale. In general, canon knowledge or not, existence of an answer as per the site consensus is NOT grounds for VTC.

    However, it fits here because "can't be answered" argument is frequently used (incorrectly, since they don't know how answerable something is in canon) by people pushing for VTC for other reasons.

  • 1
    Identify a species in Star Wars was far from clear, even after I'd hacked it to death with the edit stick.
    – Valorum
    Nov 3, 2014 at 0:07
  • @Richard - it was crystal clear to me. Nov 3, 2014 at 0:07
  • Before or after the edit?
    – Valorum
    Nov 3, 2014 at 0:08
  • @Richard - even before the edit it was clear to me, though admittedly it was much clearer after the edit :) Nov 3, 2014 at 0:17

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