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My question Clustering vectors of unequal size was unilaterally closed by a moderator less than an hour after it was published. While the question might require some improvement or might be even too general for the Cross Validated SE, I am taken aback by the fact that:

  • Moderator hasn't made any prior attempt to clarify the question or help me improve it
  • Moderator chose to act unilaterally, rather than allow the community to judge the question and close it (if necessary) by the customary number of votes.

I am looking for a clarification regarding the criteria by which moderators are allowed to close questions without consulting with the OP and the community.

Update
What is really expected as the answer to this question is a clear statement of the moderation policies and criteria for unilateral closure - most likely in a form of reference to an existing meta post, as I am certainly not the first one raising the question. At least this seems to be the practice in other communities, striving for objective moderation.

Further clarification (in response to a popular comment):
Questions have a comments section, explicitly intended for posing a questions aiming at clarification (obviously, it is usually the OP who clarifies their question in response, not the moderator or other users.) This is the SE policy. In fact, the moderator did pose such a question, and I replied to it (and, upon the suggestion of another moderator, even included this reply in the body of the question.) But such a constructive discussion does not require immediate closure - so the question is about the criteria used by the moderation team for applying such a closure.

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    $\begingroup$ -1 For the misrepresentations in this post. $\endgroup$
    – whuber Mod
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @whuber please quote where I misrepresent it. For the record - so that the whole community sees it. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ It's not the job of moderators (or anyone else) to clarify an unclear question. How can anyone do that? Trying to guess what an unclear question means would be a long slippery slope through "the question you might be asking" "the question you should have asked" to (I don't know) "a possibly relevant but different question". Unclear means what it says; if the OP can revise to make a question clear to the community, good; otherwise, not good. This all follows from the over-arching principle that CV is not a help line. It's a site where people offer questions that may be accepted. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ Here you can read about the role and privileges of diamond mods: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/75189/… $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ Voting to close is no "nuclear" option: it's routine. The current mods (which excludes people who have resigned their mod status) have voted to close over 68,000 questions, averaging over 15 per day. We have no choice about what happens next: our VTCs immediately take effect. I can't speak for how other mods work, but when a question does not seem at risk of collecting conflicting or misleading answers, I leave it open for a day and check back later. The post discussed here was, as I explained, unanswerable. The constructive solution is to fix the post--which only you can do. $\endgroup$
    – whuber Mod
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ (-1) You could have simply asked 'What is unclear about my question?' or 'How can I improve my question to make it acceptable here?'. The path you chose - filled with mudslinging and childish histrionics (nuclear option, really?) - would make me unsympathetic even if you had a reasonable grievance. Which to be clear, you absolutely do not. $\endgroup$
    – mkt
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 5:19
  • $\begingroup$ @whuber 1) You likely abused your moderator privilege by closing the question without giving me the opportunity to clarify it; 2) You made in this thread false statements, claiming that you gave me such an opportunity; 3) moderation team here is unable to formulate clear policy for closing questions outright. As the moderation team cannot deal with these issues, they have to be addressed at a higher level. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ @mkt I think we disagree about who engages here in "childish histrionics". But I flagged your comment for using such a language. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ @NickCox Questions have a comments section, explicitly intended for posing a questions aiming at clarification (obviously, it is usually the OP who clarifies their question in response, not the moderator or other users.) This is the SE policy. In fact, the moderator did pose such a question, and I replied to it (and, upon the suggestion of another moderator, even included this reply in the body of the question.) But such a constructive discussion does not require immediate closure - so the question is about the criteria used by the moderation team for applying such a closure. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 7:30
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    $\begingroup$ I was not addressing the specific circumstances of your post, but for the record I consider that you were fairly treated there. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 7:48
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    $\begingroup$ I don't share your concern about the present moderators.: they're an excellent team. But I fear that the goal of explicit, objective criteria is abstractly admirable but impractical. Take an example beyond your original question. What is and what is not rude or offensive is a judgment call: quite a few threads on CV and CV Meta have hinged on what some people see as rude or offensive, and others see as fair comment, colo[u]rful language, frank opinion, defending oneself vigorously against unfair accusations, and so forth. In fact, we are there now. Objective criteria for rude? $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 9:01
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    $\begingroup$ I am not happy that you are not happy, but we're going round and round the same circles and I don't think we're making progress. It's good that Meta exists as a place to air concerns, but why are you getting no support? I sense a consensus of opinion. that goes beyond current moderators and includes some active, experienced people. Call this answer half-hearted by all means, but it was not and will not be anything but some general points in addition to those already made when I posted. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 10:02
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    $\begingroup$ I know @whuber personally to some degree and more importantly greatly respect his utterly outstanding contributions as a member and as a moderator. You will get no extra support from me by including negative personal comments. By all means focus on issues of policy and principle as you see them. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ I am declaring a personal dimension in having interacted with @whuber personally as well as through the forum, and my personal knowledge merges into what I know of his contributions on CV. What happened or didn't happen in the original thread is not territory where I want to try to add to what's already been said, but as I said no moderator is above query or challenge. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ My CV name is real and my affiliation is easy to find. That's my choice and others can make theirs. Now that is SE policy. I vote for mutual respect too, but its distribution in this thread seems uneven. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 11:25

4 Answers 4

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I can't speak specifically to this site, but on other SE sites I've had more than my share of closed questions.

In most cases, when I sit back and calmly look at it (pretending I'm not its author), I can usually understand why it was closed. At that point I either delete the question or correct the problems that are now obvious to me.

Suppose people post answers to the problematic question. Depending upon what is wrong with the question, correcting those problems may cause posted answers to become incorrect or appear to no longer match the (new) question. The situation is even worse if any of those answers have received up-votes.

That's one of the main reasons why moderators choose "to act unilaterally, rather than allow the community to judge the question and close it (if necessary) by the customary number of votes"; simply to prevent anyone from posting answers.

And looking at this specific question, the first thing I notice is that there isn't a single question mark in either the Title or the Body. On almost all SE sites, the Title should be a simple question, and the Body should contain a single question that is similar but possibly longer version of the Title question. To me, regardless of what the posting actually says, lacking both instances of an actual question is a major indication that there is something seriously wrong with a post.

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    $\begingroup$ This is an accurate and clear account of the reason why immediate closure is important in some cases, +1. What often happens with unclear questions is that somebody jumps in with an answer according to one interpretation and then either somebody else gives a contradictory answer according to another interpretation and/or the OP then clarifies or even completely alters the question. Confusion and sometimes acrimony result (who wants to work to answer a question only to have it changed after the fact?) It is best for everyone that such questions be closed as quickly as possible. $\endgroup$
    – whuber Mod
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 12:27
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This is my two cent. (I am not acting, of course, for the moderator in question.)

Last time I checked, moderator is part of the community. The precedent is that whenever they detect a post that is plausibly not in the form to be answered in a concise way, then they can temporarily put the post on hold eliciting information from OP (which has been done here).

Once the post is updated, it goes to the reopen review queue for the community to check it. I am not seeing any problem in it.

The key is proper interaction and accurate articulation and clarification of what has been sought in the closure reason.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem here is that the post was closed unilaterally, but (according to your answer) it will have to wait for a required number of reopen votes to get reopened, which may mean that it never gets reopened (unless the question is popular.) In this sense, it might have never been closed, if one waited for the required number of votes (as it often happens to many poor questions.) $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ @RogerVadim On the other hand, if the question were improved to be suitable, a moderator could unilaterally re-open it. $\endgroup$
    – Sycorax Mod
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ See, Roger, the mod has raised a valid question. You would definitely respond to them. If they feel the response is okay, they can reopen themselves too. And more importantly, you have to be patient here. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that's what I wanted to say as @Sycorax wrote. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Sycorax the problem is that moderator might simply misunderstand the question: I provided a rather obvious example in the comment to the question itself (which would not be a problem, if it was reviewed in due order by several community members.) $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @RogerVadim I think the moderator completely understands the question, and the moderator's comment raises a valid objection. I don't think your reply does anything to address the moderator's comment or make your question clearer. There's no reason to wait for community feedback -- the question is unclear on its face. $\endgroup$
    – Sycorax Mod
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ Re which may mean that it never gets reopened (unless the question is popular.), I have to disagree with that. Airing such view is tantamount to frowning on the capabilities of the reviewers. I have been reviewing for quite a while and I can assure you that if a post even has a minuscule portion that can be answerable, it gets reopened. Remember it needs three votes. Yes, there are cases where all the three reviewers voted for not reopening the post but then a mod reopened it. I hope you are getting my point. Have faith in the community. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Sycorax the moderator completely understands the question is an unprovable statement. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ @User1865345 The situation with closing and reopening is clearly asymmetric here. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ @RogerVadim Misquoting me is not going to raise my esteem of you. I said I think the moderator completely understands the question. I'm going to disengage at this time. $\endgroup$
    – Sycorax Mod
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ There are many misrepresentations and scurrilous insinuations in this thread, such as "I provided a rather obvious example in the comment to the question itself." The record shows that no such comment was posted before I closed the question. As far as the "completely understands the question," that itself has multiple interpretations. Although I haven't any clue what you're trying to ask, I can understand what was asked and I have no qualms about closing it immediately, since it was likely (if answered at all) to have collected multiple differing answers. I did my job. $\endgroup$
    – whuber Mod
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ It's time for you to read our code of conduct, Roger. As far as "dishonest" goes, be aware that the site maintains a full record of all changes made to your original thread, including the comment history. I was accurately reporting it. $\endgroup$
    – whuber Mod
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ Instances like these alleviate my reverence all the more for the unsung works performed daily by our mods and feel sorry for the impending allegations they need to face for the same. Dishonest? Sorry, I really have to disagree here. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ The situation with closing and reopening is clearly asymmetric here. - Roger, I cannot coerce you to (not) believe in your stated hypothesis. But unsubstantiated claims like these without evidences aren't healthy in the long run in a constructive discussion. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ "moderator might simply misunderstand the question", If a moderator misunderstands the question, it's very likely that many other people will misunderstand it too. And that by itself is a good indication that there is something significantly wrong with the question. ¶ Yes, it is possible that a moderator is having a bad day and misunderstands through no fault of the question, but in such cases other people would likely point this out and vote to reopen, assuming the moderator hasn't already realized the mistake and done so already. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 3:03
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Moderator hasn't made any prior attempt to clarify the question or help me improve it

The moderator left a comment right below the question that explains exactly why it was closed.

Moderator chose to act unilaterally, rather than allow the community to judge the question and close it (if necessary) by the customary number of votes.

There's no requirement that a moderator sit back and wait for the community to do anything, as evinced by the fact that a single moderator can close the question. A moderator might choose to wait for the community for any number of reasons, possibly because the moderator is interested in the community's opinion.

I am looking for a clarification regarding the criteria by which moderators are allowed to close questions without consulting with the OP and the community.

Off-topic, unclear, overly-broad and other unsuitable questions can be closed by anyone with sufficient privileges. I didn't close it, but I support the decision. Ambiguous and unclear questions of this nature invite irrelevant, ambiguous answers and protracted discussion; that's not how this site works.

The Help Center has more information on how question closure works, how moderation works, and how to ask a good question.

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  • $\begingroup$ As pointed in the edit, what is needed here is a clear statement of (preferably objective) criteria, which moderators use to close a question, without giving a prior opportunity to clarify it. Instead this answer seems like an attempt to engage in polemics about this particular case of closure. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ It’s awfully rich for you to complain that this answer engages in polemics (what part of it is polemical?) when the title to this question compares having a question closed to a “nuclear option.” Please, by all means, escalate this issue to the "higher power" you keep alluding to, because I'm tired of it. Whoever that "higher power" is, I'm sure they'll be outraged that an unclear, ambiguous question was closed and they'll immediately understand that question closure is exactly like dropping a nuclear bomb. Hopefully they’ll alert NORAD about SE’s dangerous arsenal of closed questions! $\endgroup$
    – Sycorax Mod
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 11:55
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The question arises from a specific post and raises the general question of criteria for prompt moderator closure.

I just want to spell out two simple general points.

  1. Although not the case here, it is a strong positive for me that moderators can act unilaterally given unwelcome postings (questions, answers, comments) that are spam, filth, or hateful or offensive rants. I make no claim there to a comprehensive list.

  2. As others have mentioned, moderators are not beyond query or challenge, but in my experience they are right most of the time.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for taking this matter seriously. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ I think this answer goes furtherst in formulating clear and transparent criteria for immediate post closure (vs. closure after demanding a clarification and/or the required number of close votes.) However, it could be expanded. And, of course, it does not represent the opinion/policies of the actual moderation team. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 8:28

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