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According to this meta question, when the VTC options were being overhauled, we were asked to choose a maximum of three customized reasons for off topic VTCs. The options we have now are:

  1. Seeking scientific solutions or explanations...

  2. Request for list of works or recommendations...

  3. Belongs on another site...

  4. Other (add comment explaining what is wrong).

Although the second highest voted answer to the question linked above was "This question does not pertain to Science Fiction or Fantasy", which would be an excellent option to have available to us, it was inexplicably ignored.

Instead, we have option #3, which is absolutely useless: as countless meta posts have pointed out, if you select that option, you get a menu with exactly one choice: Question should be migrated to SF&F Meta. Since this is almost never the option the user is trying to find, it is totally worthless to us. There are several compelling reasons why we should get rid of this choice, if it is possible to do so:

  1. Questions that don't belong on SF&F usually belong on Movies & TV or some other SE community, not SF&F Meta.

  2. We very rarely need to migrate questions (a meta question about this received an answer stating that in the previous 90 days, only 9 questions had been migrated; an average of 1 migration every ten days is well within the capabilities of our mods to handle; a similar answer to another question found only 5 migrations in 90 days).

  3. Mods deal with migrations, not normal users.

  4. The most obvious reason to say that a question on SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY is off topic is clearly "This question is not about SCIENCE FICTION OR FANTASY!!!"

  5. It is sometimes necessary to alert a mod to a question that should be migrated, of course, but at present, the only way to do this is to flag the question as "In need of moderator attention". This system works perfectly well, and makes VTC option #3 totally redundant and surplus to requirements.

  6. If a question appears, and it is clear that it should be moved to meta, we can simply flag it for moderator attention and say so, the same way we do with every other migration.

Taking all of this into consideration, it seems to be completely obvious that we should get rid of VTC option #3 and substitute "This question is not about science fiction or fantasy".

Is this even possible?

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    for the record: the current #3 and #4 are the standard system options; most sites have 5 off-topic close reasons where we only have 4. We should have an open slot just waiting to be filled... – KutuluMike Sep 1 '15 at 0:48
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    Ditto. Mike's absolutely correct comment pretty much robs the entire question of its very premise. And the general "this is not about this site's topic" reason is actually the existing "other" reason. You're actually supposed to provide a proper reason yourself in this case to make you think responsibly why it's off-topic and explain that to the asker. If you have a general "that's just off-topic, period" reason, many people would just blindly select that one. – TARS says Reinstate Monica Sep 1 '15 at 1:03
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    not really. There's still a question as to why we only implemented 2 of our 3 custom close reasons, and why the 2nd highest voted reason isn't there. We could clean up the wording a bit to make it clear that we are claiming that the work in question is not a science fiction or fantasy work. – KutuluMike Sep 1 '15 at 1:06
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    @TARS - That's absolute nonsense. The idea of having pre-written options is to save time and effort. "Not Science fiction or fantasy" is the most self evident reason to close a question as off topic. We should have that option. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Sep 1 '15 at 1:13
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Can we?

Yes. Per this Meta.SE post, moderators can curate the list of site-specific off-topic close reasons:

  • Each site will have a list of its own specific pre-selected “Off-Topic” reasons

[...]

  • These lists will be determined by the communities, and moderators will be able to update them, subject to review by each other, their community, and the SE team

However, I don't believe we can remove the migration option, although I'm welcome to correction on that point.

Should we?

The "not science fiction or fantasy" custom close reason is certainly popular; in the last 90 days (10k+ users only; sorry), 12 questions were closed with a custom reason that was some variation of "this is not about science fiction or fantasy" with no additional information given1, out of 32 total questions closed with a custom off-topic reason. Anecdotally, I think most of these are on story-id questions.

But despite its popularity, I'm leery of canonizing this close reason; it seems lazy, and I'm not convinced we have the volume of "not worth the effort" questions to justify it.

The goal of the off-topic closure is three-fold:

  1. Make it clear to the poster why their question is off-topic. In the words of the OP of the above-linked question, we want to:

    minimize frustration and reduce the misperception that they’re just being “picked on for being a noob”

  2. Incentivize improvement. Again, in the words of the above-linked OP:

    we want the language and workflow to encourage editing wherever possible (and in particular, to make improving a post seem more logical than arguing that it shouldn’t have been closed.)

  3. The close reason shouldn't rely on outside information, like the help pages.

In my mind, the "not science fiction or fantasy" close reason only accomplishes one of those, or perhaps two in a small subset of cases:

  1. This is maybe arguable, but it provides the bare minimum of information. As I see it, there are three types of questions where this close reason would apply:

    1. Questions that, yeah, are obviously not SFF. Custom message box in c# language (visible to 10k+ users only), which was migrated to StackOverflow (because of course it was) would be one example of this as would spam questions.

      In this case, I can see that having the canon close reason would help us save time on questions that really aren't worth it However, although I don't have hard stats, I believe this is still a minority of cases

    2. Story-id questions where there's no obvious SFF elements. You could perhaps make an argument for this one, but I don't know how often it really applies, and in any case I don't think it's wise to have a dedicated close reason that's only really valid for a single tag.

    3. Questions where the community has decided that the work (or genre) is off-topic; the recent crackdown on spy-fi springs to mind, as does the longstanding issue with religious works.

      The problem I have with this case is that, ideally, we should be explaining why the question isn't considered SFF for our purposes. Since this is already a major source of "picking on me" complaints, I'm not sure adding to that is a good idea

  2. Complete failure. Saying "this is not science fiction or fantasy" offers no guidance for improving the question.

    I will grant that the more legitimate uses of this close reason focus on questions that are unsalvageable, but I'm not yet convinced we have enough of those to justify the canonized close reason.

  3. Well, yes. Except in the case of community-driven decisions about something being off-topic, where we should (I think) be linking back to Meta, the close reason is definitely self-contained.

Bottom line: I don't think the close reason does a good enough job fulfilling the goals of off-topic closure. There might be a case for it when we have a higher volume of questions that are just beyond saving, but I don't think we're at that point yet.


1 Aside from suggestions to migrate to M&TV, but there's only two of those

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    I would assume that if we had such an option, it would be more informative than "NOT SCI FI OR FANTASY, YOU MORON!" Perhaps it would say "This question does not appear to be related to science fiction or fantasy. Please edit it to explain why you feel it is relevant to science fiction or fantasy". That's how the other VTC reasons work. Why not this one? – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Sep 1 '15 at 2:25
  • @WadCheber Because most of the occasions where we might use the close reason could benefit from providing more constructive guidance to the poster (that is, "this is off-topic because X"). The other off-topic reasons do this (the other reasons don't, but that's a network-wide thing we have limited control over). There are cases where we don't need to provide guidance, but I don't think there's enough of them to justify having a dedicated close reason for it – Jason Baker Sep 1 '15 at 2:28
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    Closing as "not scifi or fantasy" is particularly silly in the case of story-id questions. It can be hard enough to decide what is scifi-or-fantasy when you know everything about the story; it's beyond ridiculous to try to make such a determination on an unidentified story. Note that a story-id question is on topic if the story itself is scifi or fantasy; it is not required that the part remembered by the asker contain stfnal or fantastical elements. – user14111 Sep 1 '15 at 4:42
  • @user14111 Excellent point, but there could still be a legitimate use case when we have a positively-identified story; if somebody asked a story-id question, and the accepted answer was Watership Down, for example. But I'm not sure how common of an occurrence that is – Jason Baker Sep 1 '15 at 4:51
  • How common is it that a story-id question, which has been definitively answered, receives additional answers which are not immediately deleted as non-an-answer? If it's not very common, then how important can it be to close such questions? – user14111 Sep 1 '15 at 5:34
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    is there really a point to closing a positively identified story-id question, even if we realize after the fact that it's not a sf/f story? – phantom42 Sep 1 '15 at 5:38

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