Many feel the need for a close reason that expresses that the basic premises of the question are incorrect (factual errors etc.). Shouldn't there be a need for this close reason on many (most?) SE sites? I first thought that the close reason "primarily opinion-based" could be interpreted to cover this, but it is clearly aimed to discourage general discussion-style questions without a well defined answer. At Biology SE this problem often comes up on "controversial" issues such as evolution and parts of human biology, where some questions are ideologically based and built on flawed premises, and where the OP refuses to modify the phrasing of their question to make it answerable. I can imagine that this problem could come up in many science-based SE-sites. An alternative would naturally be to include this as a custom close reason on some SE sites, but if it is relevant for many sites this seems a bit redundant. The old close reason "Not a real question" was actually a better fit for this problem, but still not perfect.

In the discussion I'm referring to above, one example/suggestion for the close reason was given (as a starting point for discussion):

The premise of your question relies on factually incorrect information, and thus, your question cannot be answered in its current form.

To be clear, the initial aim should always be to improve questions with constructive comments. The main use of this close reason would be situations where the OP is not really interested in honest discussion and a scientifically based Q&A. Thoughts?

Edit: Based on the comments, I want to clarify that the point of this close reason would not be to discourage controversial issues and a broad range of topics. The main use should be to close questions that superficially are phrased as valid within the topic area of a site, but that go against basic principes or ignore fundamental knowledge. A Q&A is hardly the place to challenge e.g. basic evolutionary theory with an argument based on factual mistakes. However, the current close reasons might be sufficient and I appreciate the discussion.

Note: This question is inspired by a discussion over custom close reasons at Biology SE, and was first posted as a answer to Closing changes: [on hold...]. I thought that it might be more useful as a separate discussion, therefore the reposting.

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    This seems to make sense. On SO we have "questions must display a minimal understanding of the problem..." In either case, the intent is that your question must at least attempt to meet answerers halfway -- neither baiting them nor expecting them to do your work for you.
    – jscs
    Jul 3, 2013 at 18:44
  • Since moderators can close out questions with a single vote, would this require them to have knowledge over the complete on-topic list for a site?
    – mpdonadio
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:02
  • @MPD: I would consider that minimum required knowledge for a diamond moderator. It's not like the list of on-topic subjects is all that large.
    – user102937
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:08
  • @RobertHarvey I wasn't quite clear with that question. If a mod can close out a question with a single vote, then wouldn't the mods on Bio.SE need to know everything about biology? Essentially what Servy says below, but about the elected moderators.
    – mpdonadio
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:23
  • @MPD Not if you don't require elected moderators to evaluate questions for technical merit.
    – user102937
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:24
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    @RobertHarvey Exactly, which means mods wouldn't be able to close questions for this reason unless it was in a domain they were experienced in; it would be one of very few close reasons for which that's the case. That is a strong indication that something's off here and that perhaps such a close reason isn't proper.
    – Servy
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:25
  • @MPD Moderators can wait for feedback from other users, and don't have to close at first sight. In my mind, this close suggestion should be used as last resort to deal with very problematic questions after attempts to improve them have failed. Jul 4, 2013 at 7:32

3 Answers 3


Questions revolving around ideology could be considered "primarily opinion-based," and closed on that basis. This would be true of any "leading" question where it is apparent that the OP wants to promote their own agenda, rather than asking a question in good faith (no pun intended).

Regarding questions that have a faulty premise, Stack Overflow has a "Questions must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the subject matter" reason. You could potentially adopt something similar.

  • That close reason is intended for questions like "why do metallic balls larger than 1 meter in diameter float while smaller don't?" (that is, the premise is provably incorrect) rather than "did God create dinosaurs with the intention to kill them before he create humans?" (where the premise is largely ideological) Jul 3, 2013 at 19:07
  • @JanDvorak: Both types of questions were mentioned in the OP. I've edited my answer to clarify.
    – user102937
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:08

I think downvoting works for this. Many Meta SO questions start with inaccurate premises but that doesn't mean they should be closed. Sometimes the inaccurate statement really doesn't affect the question. For example, a meta question might ask:

Since we are all just here to get our rep number as high as possible, when we see a [situation], shouldn't we [flag, downvote, answer, refrain from answering, edit, etc] in order to get more rep for ourselves?

There's a core good question in there, something like:

What is the community consensus on how to handle [situation]?

You could either downvote the question or edit it, but there's no need to close it.

If the question is clearly counterfactual:

Why does wood dissolve in water within minutes of immersion? How can I keep my pencils safe near the sink?

Then I think closing as "unclear what you're asking" is fair. I mean the question would only be answerable somewhere with different laws of nature, and the asker hasn't specified where the question is set. You could also downvote the question to indicate that, on topic or not, you don't consider it to be a good question.

If there seems to be too much argument about "don't be a jerk! It's perfectly clear what I'm asking!" and an edit/rollback war, the closers could choose "off topic because ..." and enter their own reason such as "applies only in a world where xyz". Downvoting is also still appropriate for bad questions.

  • 1
    Not all of these questions are bad; granted many of the examples given are a bit absurd, but in some cases the person is simply mistaken in a premise. Correcting the mistake can often be the solution. I see this often enough on SO. "When I do X Y happens, why is it that doing X causes Y?" The answer might be something like, "It's actually K that causes Y, you were mistaken in thinking that X causes Y, K causes Y because [...]"
    – Servy
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:38

What worries me the most is that you're now relying on people voting to close to be able to judge if statements in the question are factual. Most close voting throughout the site doesn't actually require domain knowledge, and if it does, it's generally not at a particularly deep level. (Duplicates are probably the best example, as they often require at least a bit of domain knowledge.)

I would be more inclined to post an answer explaining why the question is flawed, and that there is no answer because of the flawed premise. It's worth noting that "there is no answer" is a valid answer to a question.

Questions that are ideologically based and are clearly posted with the intention of causing debates can be closed as "primarily opinion-based", but that only makes up a small percentage of questions that some particular readers believe to have a flawed premise. If the premise in question can objectively be discussed based on factual information then the question shouldn't be closed at all. It is only if that premise cannot be objectively debated that the question should be closed, and in that case it's not even a matter of stating the premise is flawed; in such cases you're not closing the question because it has a faulty premise (after all, you can't prove that the premise is faulty) but rather that it's impossible to have an objective and fact-based answer to the question.

  • Good points....
    – user102937
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:10
  • Perhaps the close reason could include a custom box for "why is it incorrect"?
    – Joe
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:12
  • @Joe No, consider the case where the correctness of the statement is in doubt. We don't want people voting to close/reopen based on whether they believe it to be correct, we want them posting answers either giving an answer, or stating why the question can't be answered, and having people vote on those answers.
    – Servy
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:13
  • @Joe: The current custom box says "This is not on topic, because it is about..."; but you'd still have to judge for correctness, and historically that's never been used as a reason to close a question. Unclear, too broad, subjective: yes. But not "this question has a faulty premise."
    – user102937
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:14
  • Hmm, I suppose that makes sense.
    – Joe
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:15
  • @Joe: It does; one of the basic principles of moderation is that it should not require extensive knowledge of the subject matter.
    – user102937
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:20
  • Many good points, especially that "There is no answer" is valid. As I said, I'm also uncertain if "primarily opinion-based" can be used, so there is maybe no need for a new reason. However, I do think that this reason could be useful, and the close reason would be more clear. As for domain knowledge I think this is a bit overstated, or rather, that this to some extent is also needed to determine if questions are "Off-topic" or "Too broad". To this "problem" is present either way. Jul 3, 2013 at 19:51
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    @fileunderwater Consider a question such as this. It actually has a flawed premise. It's asking how to order a collection that is inherently unordered. Effectively the real answer is "you can't, but perhaps you meant to do this other thing instead that does make sense". The question doesn't need to be closed despite having a completely false premise, and I also wouldn't expect every moderator to know that a Dictionary is unordered and therefore the question is invalid.
    – Servy
    Jul 3, 2013 at 20:01
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    @fileunderwater For the questions that seem to be trolls in which someone is just baiting a flamewar over (for example) religious ideological issues the reason that the question should be closed has nothing to do with a false premise. It should be closed specifically because it won't be answered factually, it will be answered based on opinions. Even if it has no false premises (you can often edit them out of such questions while keeping its intent) it should still be closed for the same reason. In short, a false premise has no correlation with closeability.
    – Servy
    Jul 3, 2013 at 20:04

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