Related: Please undelete this question on String Theory

According to this post

If the question is more than 30 days old, and ...

  • has −1 or lower score
  • has no answers
  • is not locked

it will be deleted.

I certainly can see the case for closed questions following these criteria being deleted (and the roomba already achieves that), but should small sites really have it? Especially for posts that don't have only negative votes?

Sometimes there are questions which are misguided but answerable. Especially in niche topics, these may get controversial votes, but not get answers easily.

Should we really auto delete them on smaller sites? Pushing them to /tools or perhaps raising a Community flag seems like a better option to me here.

  • Unrelated question but, why the lack of spaces in title? – Daedalus - Reinstate Monica Sep 28 '13 at 16:48
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    @Daedalus That's the system name for the deletion script (the one that shows up in the mod timeline) – Manishearth Sep 28 '13 at 16:49
  • Ahh. Thank you for the clarification. – Daedalus - Reinstate Monica Sep 28 '13 at 16:49
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    Define 'smaller sites' ? – Josh Crozier Sep 28 '13 at 16:55
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    @JoshC Depends, really. There's no need to fix a definition for it and discuss, IMO it's better if the answerers pick a delineation. Some may feel that the script should be run only on graduated sites, some may feel it should be run only on graduated sites with very high activity (trilogy+gaming+AU). – Manishearth Sep 28 '13 at 17:00
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    So the question is only MostlyDead then? Why do we need to save questions in which the community has demonstrated no interest? If the chooser algorithm needs to be fine-tuned, that would be great, but why turn it off completely? – user102937 Sep 28 '13 at 17:02
  • On a smaller site, there are obviously fewer questions - therefore practically all questions would have answers/upvotes rendering this irrelevant. In the case that there are no upvotes or answers the question should be deleted. – Josh Crozier Sep 28 '13 at 17:06
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    @JoshC I see you haven't participated in any site at the scale of Physics. There are fewer questions, but also fewer experts. In the end, there are many unanswered questions of varying quality, which have become unanswered either due to random tumbleweeding or due to the difficulty. – Manishearth Sep 28 '13 at 17:10
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    @RobertHarvey That would work too. But "no interest" isn't something that can be entirely determined by the current criteria. Posts randomly get tumbleweeded at times for no reason. Or they are difficult. – Manishearth Sep 28 '13 at 17:11
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    @RobertHarvey on Physics SE, there re many good very high-level questions about advanced topics, that need experts to be answered. These are valuable, even though the audience interested in them is naturally smaller, they therefore have less votes, views, take longer to get answered etc ... Such high quality questions should by no means be deleted. The automated deletion script is especially dangerous for such questions, as it needs just some revenge downvoters-flaggers, to make these valuable questions look deletion worthy which they are not. – Dilaton Sep 28 '13 at 17:27
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    @Dilaton The system only deletes negatively scored questions with 0 answers. Are you saying that on Physics, "high-level questions about advanced topics" do not get the votes they deserve and end up being negatively scored despite their "high quality"? Then the problem is not with the system... – Lorem Ipsum Sep 28 '13 at 17:30
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    @Dilaton See, that's the direction I'm trying to steer you in — Why are there "controversial" votes on "legitimate" posts? That's something that's localized to your physicist community out there. Are you saying that there's an anti-string theory mob that goes around downvoting every question on string theory? And that they've managed to do it so discreetly that even the mods are not aware of it? Or are you saying that the OP is a controversial person who just happens to attract downvotes? – Lorem Ipsum Sep 28 '13 at 17:41
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    @yoda I am not sure if the controversial votes are worse on physics than elsewhere generally. But highly specialized questions about advanced topics, such as yes for example technical questions about string theory, have more difficulty in attracting the right positive attentions, than this has been the case for example on the former Theoretical Physics SE, where the audience consisted almost exclusively of experts and advanced students interested in questions about such topics at that level. – Dilaton Sep 28 '13 at 17:46
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    @RobertHarvey no, string theory belongs to theoretical physics, so it is perfectly on topic on physics se. Indeed it would be nice, if the number of such questions and the corresponding people interested and knowledgeable about such topics could be increased. This is why it is particularly bad when this kind of questions gets automatically deleted. – Dilaton Sep 28 '13 at 18:08
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    @RobertHarvey TheoreticalPhysics.SE is no more. RIP. Its questions were migrated to Physics.SE, but a substantial fraction the users who had been active on the more specialized site didn't come with them. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 28 '13 at 20:30

Sometimes there are questions which are misguided but answerable.

That's putting it nicely.

The rules for automatic deletion are extremely conservative. The goals are:

  • Remove distractions for folks active on the site. Questions unlikely to attract constructive answers get in the way of those that might produce useful answers. Some folks like to go back over unanswered questions looking for something that interests them - seeing the same cruft in there every time isn't a good use of their time. Down-voting such questions de-emphasizes them, but at some point there's just no good reason to keep the clutter.

  • Remove distractions for folks searching The Greater Internet. One of my greatest frustrations when researching a problem is the number of red herrings that Google turns up in old discussion forums: questions asked by folks who haven't put enough thought into the problem to attract an answer, who've posted it in the wrong place, or whose writing style just drives away the folks who might answer. SE doesn't need to contribute to this problem.

  • Paves the way for someone to ask a better question. We disallow closing new questions as duplicates of older, unanswered questions now, but for a conscientious asker, finding an old question that's close to what they were going to ask can still be discouraging.

At the end of the day, the best indication of a good question is that it attracts good answers. If a question can't do that, then there's no good reason to keep it around. If you feel that the automatic deletion scripts are creating a problem for your site, you would do well to follow yoda's advice first - chances are, there's a deeper problem.

As for disabling these on smaller sites... I'm not interested in a threshold for "site size" that, once passed, would suddenly result in the deletion of a huge backlog of cruft. Given that smaller sites tend to have fewer people able to delete things, I would actually argue that they need these scripts more than medium-sized sites.

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    So, are you saying that it is ok to delete high-quality maybe even research-level questions, which have a smaller specialized audience and therefore get less positive attention than popular level questions everybody understands? In addition, I dont agree that there is something wrong with questions that can not be answered immediately. For specialized, high level questions it can legitimately happen that they have to wait for the right expert to answer them coming along. – Dilaton Sep 30 '13 at 14:20
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    No. I'm saying it's ok to delete poor-quality, maybe even poorly-researched questions if they don't get any attention that would make them worth keeping around. – Shog9 Sep 30 '13 at 14:23
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    @Dilaton The question that triggered this has some comments from Lubos Motl, who I think you'll agree knows a thing about string theory, questioning some parts of the post that don't make sense. So I don't think you can take this question as an unambiguous example of a high-quality question. – Disappointed in SE Sep 30 '13 at 14:34
  • @MadScientist: Well, sure, but isn't it useful for people to know what's wrong with the question? By the way, Lubos Motl was pointing out mainly terminological problems, like "fermionic string theory". – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Oct 24 '13 at 11:22

While we can certainly agree that the rules are quite arbitrary, I don't think that unplugging the roomba is the solution here. Here are some things to think about:

  • Why couldn't the question muster a non-negative score in 30 days?

    • Was it because of poor quality? If so, why wasn't it edited to make it better?
    • Was it because it was off-topic/marginal? If so, why wasn't it closed or shaped into something more reasonable?
  • Why didn't the question get a single answer in 30 days?

    • Was it because the question was boring/uninteresting? If so, what's the point in having it around?
    • Was it because it is genuinely unanswerable (but a reasonable question)? If so, why isn't your community upvoting such questions?

You say that "controversial" votes cause it to be scored negatively, and it remains unanswered even though it is answerable, just because it is "misguided". If that's the case, I would suggest taking this as an opportunity for the community to introspect and analyze its voting and answering patterns before blaming it on the roomba and asking for a system wide change.

Specifically, these are issues that you should be discussing on your meta (I don't know if you already have, since I'm not on physics.se)

  • Is the community being too harsh on questions that fall into areas that they are inexperienced/disinterested in? Then perhaps that attitude could be changed...
  • Is the community choosing to ignore questions that it deems not worthy? If so, then it shouldn't complain that the system agrees with it that the questions are not worthy.

In the end, while it's easy to blame the system, if you want a long term solution to the problem, some introspection is needed. Besides, now that OPs can see their own deleted questions, there's nothing stopping them from trying to ask a better version of the same question, incorporating the suggestions in the comments (if any, and if they haven't done so already).

One partial solution to this, which would help the really small sites (not physics.se) would be to add a "has at least 100 views" criterion to the deletion task. If 100 people viewed it and didn't find it worthy enough to correct the vote imbalance, then it probably ought to be deleted.

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    -1: as I explained above, on Physics there is the problem that very high quality advanced topic, sometimes even research-level questions, have a smaller specialized audience which leads to the effect that questions get fewer views, votes, take longer to get answered etc ... Nevertheless, these questions and the people interested in them are highly wellcome on Physics SE (they are neither off topic nor low quality) and should therefore by no means get automatically deleted. – Dilaton Sep 28 '13 at 17:34
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    @Dilaton The system only deletes negatively scored questions with 0 answers. I can understand them not having answers because of the difficulty of the subject. Are you saying that on Physics, "high-level questions about advanced topics" do not get the votes they deserve and end up being negatively scored despite their "high quality"? Then the problem is not with the system; it's with your community. – Lorem Ipsum Sep 28 '13 at 17:36
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    @yoda yes, I got the impression that since the site has grown (which is not bad of course), high-level specialiced questions get much less positive attention relative to say popular and easier questions. Easier questions most people can understant can get 10 upvotes within an hour, whereas advanced topic questions often hardly get two votes. There is also the problem that more difficult questions, that have to be answered by experts tend to get flooded down from the first page ... – Dilaton Sep 28 '13 at 17:41
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    @Dilaton Again, "hardly get two votes" is not the problem. 2 votes is not the problem and neither is 0 votes. The fact is that these are scored -vely, and it's not just a stray -1. In the question referenced, 3 users felt it was "bad enough" to downvote. Why is that? I don't know string theory, so I can't judge for myself. You seem to be suggesting — "Ignore those downvoters, they're just biased." Why are they biased? I can understand if they don't want to upvote, but why are they downvoting good and "high quality" questions? Do you not think it worth discussing this point with your community? – Lorem Ipsum Sep 28 '13 at 17:46
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    @yoda yep, on this I agree. The downvotes were absolutely not justified, the last day I observed quite frequently that good technical questions got downvoted for no reason, this one for example recieved several, I feel tempted to say trolling downvotes, too. Adressig the unjustified downvotes of good to high-quality technical questions on our meta seems a good idea. My personal strategy for when it happens to me, is to ask others what could be the mistake in my post for example. – Dilaton Sep 28 '13 at 17:53
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    @yoda if a (or several) controversial downvoters / (spam, offensive) flaggers are clever and distribute their votes over a larger time period for example, it is difficult to detect that there is something fishy going on I guess. – Dilaton Sep 28 '13 at 17:56
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    @yoda: There is strong evidence about an arising anti-string mob. I (and probably others) have been getting a lot of downvotes on stringy posts in the past 3 weeks, so I suppose there is certaainly an anti-string mob. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Sep 29 '13 at 3:13
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    @DIme You're an aspiring physicist, right? Then instead of peddling rumors and conspiracy theories, prove your claims with evidence. Even though votes are anonymous, there is sufficient data available via the SE Data Explorer to establish the presence (or lack thereof) of an anti-string theory mob. Until you do, all you're throwing around is junk statistics and wild accusations. BTW, both you and Dilaton seem to be missing my point despite making claims supporting my point — if you both feel that there's a mob, then fix that! Don't change the roomba. – Lorem Ipsum Sep 29 '13 at 4:43
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    @yoda: It is almost impossible to fix that. Physics is not programming. There's nothing controversial about programming. Nobody will go around serial downvoteing, say, posts about javascript. It's not the same in physics. String Theory is sort - of controversial (it should not be; though'), and there are also crackpots who don't want to listen to well-known, established theories. These sorts of stuff have already plagued wikipedia, now so is Phys.SE. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Sep 29 '13 at 5:03
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    "There's nothing controversial about programming" HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! @DImension10AbhimanyuPS Programmers are ready to shed blood over tabs vs spaces at any given time. – yannis Sep 29 '13 at 13:47
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    This is hardly the first time someone has complained about organized voting targeted at a specific tag, @DImension10AbhimanyuPS. If you have good reason to suspect such a thing, toss up a discussion on your meta along with your reasoning - if you have any solid evidence whatsoever, I can investigate and - if there is a real problem - y'all can address the problem directly. Don't forget to control for the effects of poorly-written questions by folks with a poor understanding of the topic - speaking from past experience, this is usually the root cause. – Shog9 Sep 30 '13 at 13:43
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    @Dilaton: before you go accusing someone of something you can't possibly know, it would behoove you to at least consider what you can know - their voting stats, for instance. – Shog9 Sep 30 '13 at 13:52
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    Either you were implying something about voting by that comment, or it is completely irrelevant to this discussion, @Dilaton. If the former, my comment stands - if the latter, please, stay focused. – Shog9 Sep 30 '13 at 14:09
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    One person's comments are not evidence of anything, much less evidence of the claimed "anti-string mob", @Dilaton. As I told Dimension10, if you actually have or are able to collect evidence, post it in a meta discussion. Idle speculation helps no one. – Shog9 Sep 30 '13 at 14:27
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    I'm not inviting you to air all of your grievances against individual users who subscribe to different beliefs, @Dilaton. The fear stated above is that there is a group of users systematically and surrepticiously working to discourage questions on certain topics - if you have any evidence of this, post it on meta. You're making a pretty serious accusation, so I'm trying to tell you ahead of time that if all you have to back it up are a few comments from folks who think your pet theory is bunk, then... You don't have anything at all. – Shog9 Sep 30 '13 at 15:10

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