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I ask a question about native complex number support in programming languages. Within literally seconds I had three downvotes and four votes to close on the following grounds:

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.

Within minutes the fifth vote was there (along with another downvote) and the question is closed. Now looking at the explanation given, I'm smelling ... well, bullshit, to put it bluntly. Let's address this one by one:

  1. Facts. A programming language either has native support for complex numbers or not. This is a purely factual condition.
  2. References. I'm sure that programming language manuals count as references. Like this reference to Python's documentation
  3. Specific expertise. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure that you need expertise with a programming language to know if it supports complex numbers natively or not.
  4. Opinion. There is no room for opinion here. Either complex numbers are a native data type or not. I'm not asking if it's good or bad here. I'm asking for simple existence: yes/no. I'm not seeing how opinion enters into things.
  5. Debate. Again, how do you debate whether a language supports complex numbers or not?
  6. Arguments. Yet again, how can you argue something that's a simple yes/no?
  7. Polling. What? You think people are going to vote on whether or not SNOBOL4 supports complex numbers natively? (Hint: no it doesn't.)
  8. Extended discussion. And yet again: how?

Seriously, I'm at a loss here. I cannot even begin to fathom the how and why of this closing. Can anybody perhaps give me a hint, even if that hint is "the Wikipedia fascists have taken over Stack Exchange"?

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closed as off-topic by Lukasz, Lance Roberts, 3ventic, ben is uǝq backwards, Hugo Dozois Feb 27 at 0:08

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "The problem described here can no longer be reproduced. Changes to the system or to the circumstances affecting the asker have rendered it obsolete. If you encounter a similar problem, please post a new question." – Lukasz, Lance Roberts, 3ventic, ben is uǝq backwards, Hugo Dozois
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

So what you want is a list on Wikipedia that lists which languages support those features, and you were hoping the crowd here could help ID those best, yes? –  jcolebrand Jun 23 '11 at 15:13
Full disclosure: the question was closed, as JUST notes... But it was re-opened by 5 other users a mere 7 minutes later. A half-hour or so later, JUST asked that the post be deleted, and a moderator complied. –  Shog9 Jun 23 '11 at 15:24
I want to put my hat in the ring on this meta.stackexchange.com/questions/96169/… with this proposal. –  jcolebrand Jun 23 '11 at 15:31
Fuller disclosure: The question was closed, re-opened seven minutes later, then closed by a moderator. THEN I asked for it to be deleted. Get your facts straight, Shog9 (and the twerps who upvoted his "full disclosure"). –  JUST MY correct OPINION Jul 2 '11 at 12:19
@JUSTMYcorrectOPINION: I have no idea what people were smoking but all I can say I've been there too... people love closing things just because they can. –  Mehrdad Feb 19 '13 at 5:16
@JUSTMYcorrectOPINION Sorry that you had so many downvotes :( Hope your life outside of the ill Stack Exchange elite is better. I'm following you in the decision, many regards :) –  myth May 25 at 18:29
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6 Answers 6

Polling. What? You think people are going to vote on whether or not SNOBOL4 supports complex numbers natively? (Hint: no it doesn't.)

But that is exactly what you're asking people to create, a poll. People will provide the answers and other people will vote on them. Since (as you point out) none of those answers are going to be more correct than any other (each answer will either be right or wrong in this case) this kind of question doesn't really quite fit right in the Stack Exchange system.

For what it's worth, my personal opinion is that these "List of X" style questions should be allowed on two conditions:

  1. The existence of the list actively makes the Internet better.
  2. The list doesn't exist somewhere else already.

Strictly following those two rules should still eliminate the vast majority of the "List of X" questions that get asked.

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OK, so where does this list exist elsewhere? If it exists elsewhere I'll delete the question in a heartbeat. –  JUST MY correct OPINION Jun 23 '11 at 13:37
@JUST: I'm not saying that it does. –  Bill the Lizard Jun 23 '11 at 13:39
@Bill - is there any way to see the original question before it got deleted? –  Adam Rackis Jun 23 '11 at 14:00
@JUST: why not host such a list on your own site, if you think it would be beneficial. Create a blog/forum post and ask people to reply/comment with their answers. @Adam: you need 10k rep on the site. –  Andy E Jun 23 '11 at 14:03
@Bill: Also, might add number 3 - The list is finite and reasonably long. –  Goran Jovic Jun 23 '11 at 14:26
@Goran: Yes, maintainability would also have to be addressed. Many people don't seem to like anything with more than 30 answers, which would further cut down on the number of questions that qualify. –  Bill the Lizard Jun 23 '11 at 14:37
@yoda: Since [...] none of those answers are going to be more correct than any other... is not the crux of the SO model. In this example there could be dozens of potential answers that are all equally correct. –  Bill the Lizard Jun 23 '11 at 15:10
The list should exist on Wikipedia. It was built for such a thing. –  jcolebrand Jun 23 '11 at 15:14
@jcolebrand: I totally agree that Wikipedia is the best place for a list like that. Sometimes it takes a community of experts to get the list started though. That introduces a bit of a "chicken and egg" problem, since we'd like the list to exist but we don't want it here. –  Bill the Lizard Jun 23 '11 at 15:18
Then perhaps a community ad or something could be used in that place to get the ball rolling? Just a thought. –  jcolebrand Jun 23 '11 at 15:20
@Bill: I wrote that believing that the OP had asked a direct question on native support for complex numbers that was unfairly closed, and didn't quite understand where you got the "List of X" from (I can't see deleted questions yet). But now that I noticed the question title in the URL carefully, I see that it is a list polling question and your arguments are valid. So, my apologies and comment withdrawn :) –  Lorem Ipsum Jun 23 '11 at 15:43
@yoda: Ah, I forgot the original question was no longer available. No apologies necessary. :) –  Bill the Lizard Jun 23 '11 at 15:46
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It seems to me that you're asking for a list. Further, a list that will never have an end, unless they stop making programming languages.

So, that really makes it difficult to have a single, correct, answer.

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Which has absolutely NOTHING to do with the 8 reasons given for closing the question. –  JUST MY correct OPINION Jun 23 '11 at 13:22
Except it seems to fit right in with the information on the FAQ. –  Al E. Jun 23 '11 at 13:26
It doesn't seem to. It's not chatty. I'm not trying to start a discussion. I am trying to get answers to a problem I'm facing (related to language design). There's nothing subjective about the question at all. There's no rant. There's no asking about others' feelings. It is not hypothetical. About the closest you can get is "open-ended", but I note that in the FAQ the wording is "an open-ended, hypothetical question" which in the English language I'm familiar with means "open-ended and hypothetical" question. Where do you think it fits? Spell it out as if to a child. –  JUST MY correct OPINION Jun 23 '11 at 13:35
I think it would have been a more than reasonable question with some bounds. "The top 5 languages where this is true", although defining "top 5" is probably going to be subjective. Or limited in some other way; for instance, limited to web-scripting languages. Without limits every answer is equally valid. –  Al E. Jun 23 '11 at 14:09
@JUSTMYcorrectOPINION: btw, realize that while X number of people may vote to close, each with a different reason, only one reason is shown when it does get closed. And if a mod is one of the people, they win. I close a lot of questions as "not constructive" where the majority of close voters have picked "off topic". So the close reason isn't set-in-stone 100% correct all the time, its a judgement call amongst a very short list of options that don't cover all possible reasons why a question should not be allowed on the site. –  Won't Jun 23 '11 at 16:24
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Specific expertise. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure that you need expertise with a programming language to know if it supports complex numbers natively or not.

Probably not. I mean, you could just find a list on The Internet somewhere...

Of course, users experienced with using a language will tend to know how to manipulate complex numbers regardless of whether support is built-in - however, you explicitly excluded libraries from consideration, which removes a lot of the "expertise" needed to answer.

That said, it's a lousy reason to close. Which is probably why it was re-opened just minutes after being closed. Before you posted this question here.

As for the down-votes... Anyone's free to down-vote for pretty much any reason they want. The little tip that pops up when you hover over the down-vote button reads, "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful":

  • You listed three languages that matched your criteria, so apparently you've done some research. Although the first answer seems to indicate that you missed Wikipedia, so you didn't do much.

  • The question is crystal-clear. I immediately understood what you were looking for.

  • I haven't been able to think up a good use for such a question, and you didn't bother telling us what use you would have for it either.

So down-votes are probably to be expected. Apparently, there aren't enough folks on SO with idle curiosity regarding complex number support to make up for them.

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hint: the wikipedia fascists have not taken over Stack Exchange...it's the community who is after good, useful content who is closing your question.

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Like @Bill the Lizard already said, you are asking for an infinite list that has no end. Where is the concrete answer? Which answer will be the most acceptable? I understand you are upset, but if you look at the reason why it is being closed after considering the former two questions I pose to you, then you will see that is why the question is being voted for closing.

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It's amusing that the question "Which languages support complex numbers (without libraries)?" is bad enough to be deleted, but the suggestions page for the deleted question lists these previous well-received questions:

Which programming languages support constant methods?

Which libraries for handling very large integers in languages without native support?

Languages with native / syntactical / inline graph support?

which programming languages support templates like C++?

Which scripting languages support multi-core programming?

Seems that the question deletion and the negative response is a reflection on the asker's argumentative and confrontational opposition to the question downvotes and close votes.

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"Seems that the question deletion and the negative response is a reflection on the asker's argumentative and confrontational opposition to the question downvotes and close votes." Agreed - hopefully the moral of the story is to not be argumentative and confrontational :) –  Adam Rackis Jun 23 '11 at 14:45
The asker asked for his own question to be deleted. –  Shog9 Jun 23 '11 at 15:21
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