Here is a case how the current review-system ruins the content on SO.

The question Merge alternate elements from two lists in Prolog tagged as only has been closed by 5 individuals. Four of them never contributed anything to . And one individual, the moderator https://stackoverflow.com/users/1288/bill-the-lizard has 7 upvotes for two answers: In one, he states that he has not read a book he recommends, in the other he states that he has not tried some IDE.

The closed question is clearly not the best formulated on SO, but it is understandable. And there are two useful answers which do not give away everything but help beginners. Brief, I cannot see a reason why this question has been closed.

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    I don't know prolog either, but that's obviously a bad question. Remember: Closing is not an end state. If the question can be reformulated to be a better question it can (and should) be re-opened. – ale Dec 7 '12 at 15:30
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    "The closed question is clearly not the best formulated on SO". Precisely. – ben is uǝq backwards Dec 7 '12 at 15:30
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    The question amounts to, "Please do my work for me". It takes no knowledge of prolog to see that. – Andrew Barber Dec 7 '12 at 15:30
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    @AndrewBarber: But even to such a question there is a good answer. And both answers are very good. – false Dec 7 '12 at 15:34
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    @ÄlËverett: Revent I have seen that closed questions were removed on tag prolog. So the work from the two very constructive answerers is threatened – false Dec 7 '12 at 15:36
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    @false - the question should not need good answers to redeem it. It should be good in and of itself. – ChrisF Dec 7 '12 at 15:36
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    @Ben: Does this justify that the two very good answers will be deleted too? – false Dec 7 '12 at 15:36
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    @false Voting to close an question does not mean the answers are not good. The closed question will probably remain on the site. There is a separate process to delete questions. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5221/… – cadrell0 Dec 7 '12 at 15:37
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    @false Who says they will be deleted? That's absolutely not a given. – Bart Dec 7 '12 at 15:37
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    @false Questions are closed because the question is bad. That the answers are good does not change that at all. So yes, that's irrelevant. – Bart Dec 7 '12 at 15:40
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    Looking at Billthelizard's answers', how is recommending something that you havent used a good answer ? – asheeshr Dec 7 '12 at 15:51
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    Your question was deleted for an entirely different reason ("what is your favorite" questions aren't acceptable on SO, and this has been generally accepted and agreed upon for a long time). It has absolutely nothing to do with the closed "do my homework" question other than that both involve Prolog. – David Robinson Dec 7 '12 at 15:52
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    @AshRj Who says it's a good answer? Please note that the question is from 2008, a time at which this site and what was appropriate was significantly different from today. I'm sure Bill would agree it's not a gem of an answer. But that's really not under discussion here. – Bart Dec 7 '12 at 15:56
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    @false That some closed questions get deleted after some time. But by no means all. And the more valuable the answers are, the less likely it is that this will happen. – Bart Dec 7 '12 at 16:04
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    Now, This might just be my lack of prolog experience speaking, but that question looks an awfully lot like a "give me teh codes" question – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Dec 7 '12 at 16:22

This is the question, verbatim. Let's have a look at it:


Write a Prolog function mergealt(X,Y,Z), that makes the list Z a merger of alternate elements from the lists X and Y. and the input and out put will like below:

?- mergealt([1,2,3,4],[6,7,8],Z).
Z = [1, 7, 3] .
?- mergealt([1,2,3,4],[6,7,8,9],Z).
Z = [1, 7, 3, 9] .
?- mergealt([1,2,3,4],[6,7,8,9,10],Z).
Z = [1, 7, 3, 9] .

I don't really know recursion, so someone please help me!


The first part of the question is the assignment the user is trying to complete. That, alone doesn't make the question bad, however that's all there is to the question other than an explanation that the author does not know recursion and wants help.

As nothing indicates to the contrary, most would assume that by 'help', the user would be quite happy if someone were to give them the solution to the exercise. There is no actual question to be found.

Even if I had an in depth knowledge of Prolog, I don't think I could see how this question fits within our quality standards.

Per a section of our FAQ that all new users asking questions must read:

Do your homework

Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

Take a look at the text given under the close reason on the question:

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form.

Incomplete, vague and overly broad clearly apply - there was nothing sinister about the closing of this question. Four users and the moderator that cast the final vote decided that the question, as asked, did not meet our minimum quality standards.

The question could be re-opened if:

  • The user gave a more detailed explanation of what they don't understand
  • The user showed some attempt to try and solve the problem, which is very useful to us to figure out where they are stuck
  • The user ultimately asked a question

All of this is something that the user needs to do, we can't do it for the user because (again), we have no idea where they are actually stuck.

While I do abstain from close votes (especially as a moderator) if I'm at all unsure, there's no ambiguity here. The question as asked is simply not a good fit for Stack Overflow.

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    Bleh. “How do I get started” is also a valid question, and suits the existing answers. The answers are useful, so let's adjust the question and keep it, eh? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 7 '12 at 16:57

The closed question is clearly not the best formulated on SO

Formulation is one issue. But this question does not go beyond a "please do my (home)work for me" request. It is not a good question, if it's a question at all. It can stand with significant improvement. What has the OP tried? Where is he stuck? "I don't really know recursion" doesn't fit that bill.

And there are two useful answers which do not give away everything but help beginners.

Excellent. Some knowledgeable users managed to contribute something positive to a question that is not all that good. Whether or not they should have put in this effort is debatable, but well done for them.

I cannot see a reason why this question has been closed.

Because the question is bad. As simple as that. Most of us can see that. That the questin received answers of value does not change that at all. Knowledge of Prolog is not required at all for this particular evaluation. Closed questions are not dead, but this one needs significant improvement for it to be reopened.

In short, what you're seeing is not vandalism at all. It's appropriate community moderation. Want to see this reopened? Then help the OP reformulate his question so it can stand up to scrutiny.

  • "help the OP reformulate his question so it can stand up to scrutiny" couldn't agree more. I think edit is the way to go in cases like this – gnat Dec 7 '12 at 16:03
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    @gnat: Thank you for your effort! – false Dec 7 '12 at 16:20
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    Note though that even with your editing efforts, still some effort is required on behalf of the OP. The formulation has improved. The question itself however hasn't. – Bart Dec 7 '12 at 16:22

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