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I asked a question and in the body I specifically said that I'm not looking for a list. The first comment said:

This is an interesting question, but requests for lists of works are off-topic here.

I responded in the comments to the person saying that I specifically stated I don't want a list of works. I also edited my question to make the statement that I'm not looking for a list bold. That didn't stop my question for being closed as off-topic because:

Requests for lists of works or recommendations are off-topic

A helpful person commented that if I put the word "First" into my question it would be totally on topic. Why do I have to put "first" in my question if I only care if something happened? Similarly there was mostly well received question about Star Trek and Auto-Destruct. That question follows the same format as mine. Both questions essentially state:

I know to a lesser degree XYZ has happened, but has anyone gone all the way?

I find it irksome that I have to say "First" when I don't even know if such a thing exists. Especially since there are 50+ votes on a question that asks if such a thing exists. If the answer or a comment was along the lines of:

Why yes I know of lots of things that apply off the top of my head.

Then I would understand where asking for the first occurrence carries more weight. Also if the question is fundamentally flawed, or plain off topic I'm happy to delete. It just bothers me that my question was closed pretty quickly with a given reason that contradicts my intent (close reason says I'm asking for a list, and I explicitly said I don't want a list).

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    Simply demanding that you don't want a list (on a list question) doesn't make it on topic. – Valorum Nov 3 '15 at 1:50
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    Previous discussion: How should we handle “any” (list) questions? – phantom42 Nov 3 '15 at 2:28
  • @phantom42 Martha's answer to that question was and really is my core position. That being said I understand how others can come to the conclusion that these questions are "too broad" and/or "list" questions. I've edited my question to include "first" because it is apparent to me that is the only way the community might allow it to stay at this time. – Erik Nov 3 '15 at 15:27
  • You can say you don’t want a list, but the desire for a list can still burn truly and brightly within your heart. – Paul D. Waite Nov 12 '15 at 15:18
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    @PaulD.Waite So you're a mind reader and I'm a liar? In general I think it is best to give people the benefit of the doubt, and trust their intentions are as stated. While its true that: it isn't paranoia if they really are out to get you. Assuming everyone is acting in bad faith isn't productive. – Erik Nov 12 '15 at 15:36
  • @Erik: Nope, I was just kidding. – Paul D. Waite Nov 12 '15 at 17:27
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    @PaulD.Waite :) well that just goes to show that I'm not a mind reader! – Erik Nov 12 '15 at 17:28
  • @Erik: plus I suck at jokes, although I helpfully provide evidence of that almost every day on here :) – Paul D. Waite Nov 12 '15 at 17:29
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Dislcaimer: I left the first comment mentioned in the Meta question, and cast the first close vote.

In hindsight, I'd rather have VTC'd as "Too broad," which is a slight nuance on essentially the same idea. I initially VTC'd as a list question because I saw the bit that said "Are there any..." and didn't see the "I'm not looking for a list." That's on me. However, I didn't retract my vote because I do believe your question should have been closed.

I want to point out right now that I genuinely do think you asked an interesting question; it's one I'd love to see answered, if only to satisfy my own bizarre curiosity. However, interesting is not the same as good, at least not within the SE context.

Now, moving on.

The problem with "Is there a..." questions

The trouble I have with questions of this type, as I mentioned in a subsequent comment on your question, is that you're inviting a situation of "Me too!" answers; users adding one more (legitimate) example just because they remembered one1.

Obviously most types of questions that suffer from this problem: and "first-of" questions being more notable for it. The difference is that those classes of question have objective answers; questions can (usually) be positively identified by the OP, and we don't have the technology to create an earlier example of a given work. "Is there a..." questions usually don't.

You can actually see the problem in the Star Trek question you link to; there are six answers, all of which are perfectly legitimate answers to the question. Which one is "correct"? All of them. How do you choose which one is correct? Maybe by quality, which is intensely subjective, or either arbitrarily or by who answered first, both of which are kind of icky.

This is the reason you were advised to modify your question to "First occurrence of...". While this may seem a little weaselly (frankly, it is a little weaselly), it does give us a reasonable way to stem the tide of "Me too" answers.

The Star Trek question

The existence of undesireable questions isn't a reason to post more undesireable questions. If you think there's a discrepancy between how your question was handled compared to another question, you should do one or both of the following:

  • Post to Meta. Which you did, which is good. This is a conversation we should be having.
  • Flag or VTC the other question. Obviously flag/vote in a way that's commensurate with your values. But if you feel like your question is bad and that Star Trek question is bad for the same reasons, flag

Likewise, that a question is highly-upvoted does not make it a good question. As an example, Could the Enterprise beam a vampire into a house she didn’t have permission to enter?, the highest-scored closed question, has a score of 107. It was initially closed as "Not constructive", but still falls foul of our "Gorilla vs. Shark" policies.

Unfortunately, we're not always as diligent as we could be. We're only human2, it happens. If you see one in the wild, flag it. Or go to Meta and ask about it.

Personally I'm not fussed on the question, but I'm withholding my close vote for the moment. The community seems to have drawn a distinction between questions about a specific universe (Star Trek, in this case), which is reasonably finite and relatively slow-growing,and the science fiction genre as a whole, which is enormous and growing rapidly. I'm not sure of my position on that yet, and personally I hope this question opens that debate up a bit more.


1 I realize this isn't exactly what the phrase "'Me too' answer" means elsewhere on the network, but I use it this way because I've seen others do so and I haven't come up with a better phrase for it

2 For now...

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  • (It's a shame I can't do a bulleted list in a comment.) 1. "While this may seem a little weaselly" <-- I agree and that is why I didn't immediately change my question. 2. Instead of "Me too" answers you might consider calling them "And this" answers. 3. I think the "Too Broad" close reason would have been less frustrating. 4. I think the Star Trek question fails the same tests my question does, but I'm not going to flag it because I already had a comment flag declined on that question. 5. Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful response. – Erik Nov 3 '15 at 15:25
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    -1. The problem with this answer is that it conflicts with the general policy indicated by the accepted answer to How should we handle "any" (list) questions, which says it's OK to ask a question of the form "do any examples exist of X"? Since that's the answer that has had the most upvotes (and also been accepted) since 2012, I think it sets a precedent that this is the semi-official policy people have been using for years. – Hypnosifl Nov 10 '15 at 18:37
  • @Hypnosifl Note that policies change over time as we see how they work out in practice vs. theory, and as the active participants shift. A 3 year old discussion is not reason to feel a policy is set in stone. – Beofett Nov 10 '15 at 20:12
  • @Beofett - It doesn't mean it's set in stone, but the usual way to change a policy that has already been decided on is to write a new answer to the existing question about it, and see if you can drum up more upvotes for the new answer than the previous top-rated answer there. And this question was not really one about general policy, but about a specific thread, so if Jason Baker wanted to suggest a change to the general policy (instead of just being unaware of the old question, which is probably more likely and is perfectly understandable), this doesn't seem like the right place to do it. – Hypnosifl Nov 10 '15 at 20:22
  • @Hypnosifl In my experience, it is much more common to revisit such discussions in new questions altogether, rather than just posting a new answer in an ancient version of the question (which generally results in very little attention and activity). Note also that Martha's answer simply states "'any' questions aren't automatically 'list' questions", nothing more. It certainly doesn't assert that such questions are not "Too broad", which seems to be where this answer is leaning. – Beofett Nov 10 '15 at 20:56
  • @Beofett - Even if it's better to revisit policies by starting new questions, I would still say that anyone who wants to suggest a change to a general policy should start a new question about that general policy, not make the case for such a broad change in a question that is asking about something much more narrow, like why a particular discussion was closed. – Hypnosifl Nov 10 '15 at 21:55
  • @Hypnosifl I agree with Martha's answer, and the majority of answers on that thread that seem to support allowing "any" questions even though the OP seems to be against them and believe they're "list" questions. Regardless, there are still enough people who disagree with the policy that "any" != "all" so they'll close "any" questions unless the question is about a well loved franchise. That is why IMO people like Richard appear to be very critical of my question, even though he answered ab2's Star Trek question despite the fact that their structure is the same. "First" is the fig leaf. – Erik Nov 14 '15 at 3:35
  • Is that fair? IMO no it isn't. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander. I recognize that due to my question not targeting a popular franchise, and my assessment of the current de facto stance of the community the fig leaf is required in my case. That is also why I accepted Jason's answer. For better or worse experience and the current vote count here demonstrate that this is the route we must take. – Erik Nov 14 '15 at 3:41
  • @Beofett you have ~800 rep on Meta so you should know that asking a duplicate question isn't the best way to approach an issue. My biggest Meta question was closed for what I consider to be shallow duplicates immediately. The only reason why the question was reopened IMO was because Shog9 stepped in. I agree with you that it is hard for a new answer to gain traction on an old question but the community severely dislikes duplicates so that is the row we have to hoe. – Erik Nov 14 '15 at 3:50
  • @Erik not to be rude, but I'd have to say I know quite a bit more about the history of this community than you do, and you're simply wrong. There are plenty of precedents for "let's revisit an earlier decision." Yes, some of those have gotten closed as duplicates. Others resulted in brand new discussions that completely reversed previous decisions (e.g. "general reference" as a closure reason). Thanks, though. – Beofett Nov 14 '15 at 4:59
  • Also... 800 meta rep? Not that there actually is meta rep, but I'm curious how you arrived at that number. – Beofett Nov 14 '15 at 5:08
  • @Beofett I've been wrong about lots of things here and in life in general. I might be wrong that duplicates are embraced but my experience and observations have been different. My intuition is the tide needs to clearly have changed and you need high rep users to initiate the dup/revisit. Regardless votes alone don't create policy. Compelling evidence and a hundred semi related discussions combine into a consensus. Thanks, though – Erik Nov 14 '15 at 5:22
  • @Beofett there's rep on the main meta site not the satellite meta sites. I looked at your profile and saw your meta site rep. Just because it isn't in your top 5 like mine doesn't mean it's hidden although you can hide a network site if you want – Erik Nov 14 '15 at 5:24
  • @Erik ah, I see. You think all SE communities work exactly the same. They don't. As for your experience and intuition, well, I suggest participating with more than 1 question and 1 answer before making any judgements about how this particular SE community works. – Beofett Nov 14 '15 at 13:22
  • BTW, check my meta profile here. Granted, I'm nowhere near as active as I used to be, but I'm very familiar with how this particular community has functioned for the past several years. Ago, thanks, though. – Beofett Nov 14 '15 at 13:27
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As the OP on the Star Trek Non-Aborted Autodestruct question, I'm gobsmacked at the response. I must have struck a deep chord in Star Trek aficionados. (I have no interest in looking at the vampire question cited by Jason Baker as one of possible comparable worthlessness.) I'd rather get on to the list issue.

One of my earlier questions was closed (after two excellent answers) and a discussion that obviously gave pleasure to many 3- & 4-digit rep users as (paraphrasing) "even if it doesn't ask for a list, it could generate a list." See Has science fiction used the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of Hugh Everett to address time travel? All I wanted was one, one, example of a particular controversial mainstream science question being used in science fiction. Fortunately, enough users understood that, and responded.

I agree that questions that ask for lists should be regarded with grave suspicion. But many questions that get more than two answers will generate a list of some sort. So the potential for generating a list -- a list that was not asked for -- should not, by itself, be a reason for closing the question. In scrolling through some questions, I see several that "generated lists" -- e.g., How many times has "Make It So" been demanded by anyone other than Picard?; Which character in Star Trek has been played by the most actors?; I could go on, but I won't.

As for "what was the first...." being the magic phrase to get Eric's question reopened, does this mean that no one is going to answer or comment: "Whosis said XYZ was the first, but PQR was really the first because [long chain of at least arguable logic]"?

I suspect that whether to close or not to close can have more to do with the egos of the people debating the point than the merits of the question.

EDIT: Because of the thoughtful and polite comments from Keen and Jason Baker, I withdraw my sentence about egos.

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    There's an objective best answer for 'what was the first' questions that isn't present in 'are there any' questions. – user1027 Nov 4 '15 at 21:38
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    You make some good points, but I'm still concerned about the lack of objective answers; in your auto-destruct question, what made you choose The_Doc's answer over Richard's (the two answers that were posted at the time you accepted)? What would it take for a new answer to earn the tick away from The_Doc? – Jason Baker Nov 4 '15 at 21:38
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    @Erik I understand your using my Q as a foil -- no problem. I am a bit miffed at Baker comparing it to a vampire question -- is nothing sacred? Yes, Martha's answer is right, and mercifully brief. – ab2 Nov 4 '15 at 21:39
  • @Jason Baker Both answers were objective. I don't understand what you mean by "lack of objective answers." The_Doc's answer came 11 minutes before Richard's. T_D's came in instantly; I remember being astonished at the fast response. The answers were very close in quality: T-D's pictures were better; Richard had sound. Both got 6.0 (in figure skating parlance.) I gave the acceptance to the first to come in -- as simple as that. I waited until the next day before accepting; perhaps I should have waited a full 24 hours but the third answer, while very good and also objective was a 5.9. – ab2 Nov 4 '15 at 21:59
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    I'm having trouble putting what I mean into words, but I basically mean "difficulty marking one answer as objectively correct." The fact that questions like this tend to generate multiple equally valid answers is the issue I'm grappling with at the moment; the SE model, which is designed for questions to have one and only one correct answer, works great for programming but isn't as clean with literature. I'm trying to reconcile that in my head, and I think that's the core of this kerfuffle – Jason Baker Nov 4 '15 at 22:03
  • @Jason Baker "what would it have taken for a third answer to earn the tick away from the Doc?" In this particular case, I don't know, which doesn't mean that nothing could. Doc had priority; Doc had a correct answer, backed up by a reputable reference. Doc had a well presented, brief answer. Again, Doc had a correct answer -- Doc came in first with the existence proof -- self destruct did in fact go to completion at least once. I didn't hold out for an opinion-based favorite KABOOM. If Richard had come in first, same logic. Correct, reference, well presented, the existence proof I asked for – ab2 Nov 4 '15 at 22:08
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    @Keen I'll concede that you are right in theory about an objective best answer "to what was the first", but the first is not always easy to find in a field with a long history and gestation period. You certainly have more experience with awful answer chains than I ever want to have, but I fear that your approach, if rigid, forecloses interesting answers to interesting questions. Maybe the magic phrase "what was the first...." is a good compromise. – ab2 Nov 4 '15 at 22:21
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    "Because of the thoughtful and polite comments from Keen and Jason Baker, I withdraw my sentence about egos." - You know you could as well just edit the sentence out right away, rather than adding a "withdrawal" statement, right? – TARS says Reinstate Monica Nov 5 '15 at 2:12
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    @TARS One can either acknowledge that one has made a mistake, or cover it up. I chose the former. – ab2 Nov 5 '15 at 23:50
  • Kudos for posterity. These comments would be drivel without the last line. – Mazura Nov 6 '15 at 4:04

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