3

I would like to ask about the following, systematically observed, moderation-style of the biology site that I would loosely interpret as planting "answer traps".

Here an example of what I mean with an "answer trap":

A question that received 0 downvotes and is not closed. Instead it got a comment vaguely hinting at violation against Stack Exchange rules without directly saying so.

https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/101526/what-is-the-difference-between-assignment-and-prediction

From experience, I know that any attempts of answering a question like this, no matter the quality of the answer, would receive heavy downvotes and comments that one shall not answer. As you might guess, I have fallen for such traps many times, and often the questions seemed completely valid to me (not this one in particular).

However, I do not understand the purpose of these trap-like question-states. Why do moderators not simply close questions or at least downvote if it is not allowed to answer? Is such an unofficial 'on hold state' really necessary? Why not using the official on hold implementation? Is there a need for a new, softer or temporary, on-hold state?

Finally, how should I behave? Should I answer such questions or not?

7
  • 8
    Question's that you think are off-topic you shouldn't answer.
    – Luuklag
    Jul 5 at 13:28
  • 17
    If you think the question is off-topic, you should downvote it and/or flag it. If you feel like moderators and users with the vote-to-close privilege on Biology give questions some sort of an unofficial on-hold period before closing, it's probably better to ask this question on the per-site meta.
    – 41686d6564
    Jul 5 at 13:39
  • Ok, now I understand what to do in future!
    – KaPy3141
    Jul 5 at 13:43
  • 5
    A moderator has a binding vote. They often prefer to not cast a binding vote to prevent their own bias and/or have the community decide. Once it is clear what direction a post is going they might cast the final vote needed. See also: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/41062/… and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/124097/…
    – rene
    Jul 5 at 13:43
  • @rene. Ok, I see. That explains it. Thanks!
    – KaPy3141
    Jul 5 at 13:50
  • 1
    Another possibility for that instance would be to leave a comment for the OP pointing them at the Bioinformatics sister site, explaining that their question might be a better fit (reminding them to read the help center, take the tour etc. before posting), unless they can edit it to be more on-topic on biology. Jul 5 at 14:13
  • 2
    They may have voted to close but not enough people have voted for it to be actually closed. Jul 5 at 16:39
3

How to handle non-closed, non-down-voted questions if you are no moderator?

My usual process as a non-moderator is as follows:

  1. Do a search for a few keywords/check some tags too to see if it isn't a duplicate yet, and check to see if there's anything in the question that needs to be improved. The latter could be anything, there's a range here. That range goes from a small detail that makes it so I have to make less assumptions in a possible answer I'm thinking of writing, but wouldn't make the question unanswerable, to being blatantly off-topic.
  2. Act according to your findings under 1. Your possible range of actions includes commenting and explaining major problems/suggest major improvements, downvoting, close-voting or flagging to close, flagging as rude/abusive/spam, flagging because it needs moderator intervention, but it also includes editing, upvoting, commenting to request minor clarifications or suggest minor improvements, answering, or putting up a bounty to get the question some more attention and a possible answer.
  3. When in a lot of doubt, I play safe, and do nothing or only comment/wait and see. This is no excuse to just follow the herd, it's really a last resort for when you really don't know what to do. See if any comments pop up that do see flaws in the question and if those comments gain upvotes, and if I can agree with those comments I can flag/vote accordingly. Answers can shed light on whether a question is e.g. too subjective, so if any of those come in I might know better what to do. In the end, doing nothing when you're in a lot of doubt is a valid approach too.

Here an example of what I mean with an "answer trap": A question that received 0 down-votes and is not closed. Instead, it got a comment vaguely hinting at violation against stack-exchange rules without directly saying so.

It's not a trap. And there are now two comments, which is probably a pretty big flashy sign instead of a vague hint.

At the moment I checked, you had 1095 reputation points on Biology.SE. This isn't enough to see close votes on all questions there, which is a privilege granted at 3000 points. But just because you can't see them, doesn't mean the process of voting to close hasn't started yet! I don't have the reputation to check for myself either, but there could very well be close votes there already.

So the best way to learn is by looking at things you can see: The question seems to be gathering more comments stating it isn't a good fit for the site, and those comments are gathering upvotes, which probably means there is something wrong with it.

As for the downvotes: On these sites, there are people of the opinion that a question that needs to be closed is not also an 'unresearched, unclear, unuseful' question to a site. As such, not every question that gets closed/close-votes will be downvoted by those users too. I agree this can add to the confusion of whether a question is showing research effort, useful and clear enough to be answered, or better skipped, for a user that can't see close-votes yet.

As you might guess, I have fallen for such traps many times, and often the questions seemed completely valid to me. (not this one in particular).

Learn from this. A great place to start would be the site's /help/on-topic page, and meta discussions/posts on question quality, how to write good questions, or posts discussing closing/reopening questions in general.

Perhaps the comments you got also took the time to explain why you shouldn't answer such questions? If not, you could ask, nicely. But don't be surprised if people don't want to explain to you what's already freely available in the help center. If you can show reasoning for answering based on the help center or meta and ask people, and show you made an effort, you might get more useful guidance on how to recognize bad posts and where your reasoning went wrong.

As long as you use this as an opportunity to learn about which posts you should flag for closure instead of answering them, you'll get there eventually.

Why do moderators not simply close questions or at least down-vote if it is not allowed to answer?

The ideal ♦ moderator does as little as possible, see a theory of moderation. Since ♦ moderator votes are binding, they tend to at least try and leave closing to the community, and do as little as possible themselves.

As for community members, they might be voting to close but you and I can't see it. And I also already talked about reasons they might not be downvoting above too.

Is such an unofficial 'on hold state' really necessary? Why not using the official on hold implementation? Is there a need for a new, softer or temporary, on-hold state?

I'm not sure what the ideal 'speed' for closing a question is. "As fast as possible" seems nice, though giving every single user binding close-votes seems less so, especially because this leaves no room for people to disagree. So yes, the unofficial 'on hold state' is necessary, because you ideally want more than 1 community member involved in closing questions.

I don't think a new state is going to solve the root cause of the problem you encountered though, which seems to consist of unfamiliarity with the site's standards for questions and being unable to determine what other people are doing, because you can't see close-votes yet.

The first is entirely up to you to solve, perhaps with guidance from the community you're trying to participate in. The second might be able to be solved with just showing everyone when there are close votes on a question (I must admit I'm not yet familiar with the reason why this isn't done yet).

Finally, how should I behave? Should I answer such questions or not?

If you've tried what I described above (check for duplicates, check for flaws, 'listen' to other comments, familiarize yourself through the help center and meta) and still think the question is a good one, go ahead and answer.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .