This is the second time I've seen a perfectly relevant question closed as "off-topic":

Minimization of L1-Regularized system, converging on non-minimum location?

Here's another one that was closed for some time but was finally reopened:

Formulas for the constants in fdlibm/e_pow.c

The first one is a practical, answerable, specific question about the behaviour of a software algorithm; it seems to fit the FAQ perfectly. Perhaps the second question isn't reasonably scoped (Stephen Canon still gave a very good, if high-level, answer that points the asker in all of the right directions), but it's certainly not off-topic.

Why do people keep doing this?

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    The first one is much more of a pure computer science question, as noted in the comments. I agree with you on the second one. – Jeff Atwood Jan 8 '13 at 16:27
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    Two questions out of millions (of which one was re-opened) doesn't seem to indicate the system is broken. Part of the entire purpose of SO is that the community decides their own scope. They close questions that they feel don't belong here and don't close, or reopen, questions that they feel do. When there are disputes on specific borderline questions/situations meta is here to help discuss and resolve them. Is there a particular class of question that you feel is consistently being closed that you don't thinks should be? – Servy Jan 8 '13 at 16:31
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    Seemingly some users thought the second one was more suitable for the Math SE and I'm not so surprised about that. Furthermore, it does not seem to go beyond a "please explain this code for me" type question at first glance. Which one could see as off-topic. I would not have voted as such, but I can see some logic there. I don't think there is a need for the dramatic "Why do people keep doing this?". – Bart Jan 8 '13 at 16:32
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    In the second case, it would be better to have the relevant code in the question instead of just a link. – Denys Séguret Jan 8 '13 at 16:33
  • @Servy: I'm not trying to claim that the system is broken. I'm just wondering what motivates people to do this. – tmyklebu Jan 8 '13 at 16:46
  • @JeffAtwood: Hang on, what differentiates a "pure computer science" question from a programming question that happens to have a mathematically nontrivial answer? (And are "pure computer science' questions of that nature be off-topic in the first place?) – tmyklebu Jan 8 '13 at 16:54
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    @tmyklebu Your statement Why do people keep doing this? implies that it's both widespread, in violation of policy, and A Bad Thing. If your curious why this specific question was closed, that's really a different question from "why are so many questions improperly closed as offtopic". The latter being somewhat of an accusation (whether explicit or implied). – Servy Jan 8 '13 at 16:54
  • @Servy: It's meant to be a question with an irritated tone, not a statement. I saw two fairly obvious instances of questions voted off-topic when they're plainly not according to the letter of the FAQ, and I've been directed to "the FAQ" in similar instances. There seems to be some knowledge about what's on- and off-topic common to a bunch of other people that I can't for the life of me see. – tmyklebu Jan 8 '13 at 17:31
  • @tmyklebu And one of those questions had been reopened before you even posted this, so clearly that question isn't a problem. This leaves you with just one single question that's closed that you don't think should be. Either this is a question about why that one question is closed, or it's you accusing the system of not working given a single example of a problem. That's simply insufficient evidience that there's an underlying problem here. Most people will freely admit that every now and then questions are closed when they shouldn't be; it's why there is a reopen system to begin with. – Servy Jan 8 '13 at 17:43
  • @Servy: No, this is a question about why some users behave a certain way. It's only an accusation insofar as I'm accusing some nebulous group of users of behaving in a way that appears to contravene the guidelines listed on the site, then quoting said guidelines as justification for their apparently aberrant behaviour. (Believe it or not, some people do ask questions about things without accusing them of being wrong, broken, heathen, and Satanic! Even when they're annoyed by said things.) – tmyklebu Jan 8 '13 at 17:58
  • @tmyklebu So are you asking why those 5 people choose to close that one topic, or why people in general close questions as offtopic. For the latter, it's when they feel that the question is offtopic. You'd need either a specific question, or a specific type of question, or some criteria that you feel is not be evaluated in a way that you feel is appropriate. Without that there's nothing to say other than that, "they felt it should be closed, so they closed it. If you want it to be reopened, then vote/flag accordingly." That's the way community moderation works. – Servy Jan 8 '13 at 18:02
  • @Servy: To break down my question again, the "people" are stackoverflow users who have enough reputation to participate in close votes. "This" is voting to close relevant questions. I'm asking why the "people" above keep doing the "this" above. I'm asking because I've started seeing a pattern, in my short time on the site, where questions are voted to be closed when the voters don't understand the question and think it's "math." I've also gotten responses from high-rep users of the form "get off my lawn and read the FAQ" to my evidently in-bounds answers. – tmyklebu Jan 8 '13 at 18:13
  • @tmyklebu So you're claiming that you're noticing a pattern, yet you've provided one single example. If you wish to demonstrate a pattern more than one example should be provided. Next, what do you think the pattern is? Are you finding that lots of math related questions are being closed? If so, perhaps people feel that they belong on other sites, such as math.se, or compsi.se. Some cases they may be right, and in others the questions might belong on either. If you provided examples they could be discussed, and you could link to that discussion if you saw close votes that contradicted it. – Servy Jan 8 '13 at 18:17
  • @Servy: While you're correct that stackoverflow is fundamentally a sociological phenomenon, there are technical mechanisms in place (some of which I know about, most of which I probably don't) that try to keep it roughly in line with its aims. I'm seeking more clarity on how these technical and sociological factors work together to produce the results they do and how, perhaps, I can work with them. Simply saying "community-moderated; users do as users do" is disingenuous; it ignores the (very important) sociological factors at work here. – tmyklebu Jan 8 '13 at 18:19
  • @tmyklebu SE has a lot in common with a judicial system. There are a small number of very specific, very concrete rules that must be followed, and there are also a lot of less specific rules, rules/guidelines open to interpretation, etc. There is also a strong reliance on precedence. When difficult decisions come up it's common to post on meta either asking what to do, or disputing an action taken. The consensus of that meta post creates a precedence that should be followed by people closing questions. While that's not always followed exactly (as trusted members are given discretion). – Servy Jan 8 '13 at 18:23

Closer examination of a question can be revealing in determining why a question was closed by the community. The close reason is not always the actual reason.

To illustrate: in the second example you gave, the person answering the question basically said, "Well, I looked at the source code, and determined that...", which is something the OP could have done himself. In addition, the OP has several questions in the same question, which could have triggered the "Not Constructive, Big List" sensibilities of some folks.

Nevertheless, the answer given is a good one, providing explanation and context without the usual snark, and is likely to be of use to others encountering the same code, unlike the endless parade of "what's wrong with my code" questions that seem to adorn the front page nowadays.

In addition, the question was reopened by the community after further review in the review queues. The system works.

  • Thanks; this is helpful. I agree that the second question isn't a great question. (But I'd take issue with "which is something the OP could have done himself"; you need to know what you're doing to read that kind of code.) – tmyklebu Jan 8 '13 at 17:39

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