This comes out of this discussion: "Why is Python so slow" shouldn't have been closed and deleted

There are a set of questions, like "Why is python so slow?", that can be viewed as bad, flawed, or downright evil. Though Shog9 was coming at this from the other side, I think this comment from him may in a sense be the most cogent in the discussion:

@Nicholas: every new programmer wants to know which language is the best, which editor is the best, which operating system is the best, which method of indentation is the best... These questions are the epitome of subjective and argumentative, because everyone thinks they have an answer but rarely do they agree on what that answer is. And so, they provide a never-ending source of entertainment on newsgroups and message boards. But they're inappropriate for SO, for just that reason. If only it was possible to stop a flame war with a single, level-headed "there is no answer" answer...

Though I might quibble with a direct comparison of those examples to "Why is insert language here so slow?", I think it goes a long way to getting to the core problem.

These questions have no real answer, but every new programmer has them. They're not going away, and as long as Stack Overflow or any other site for questions or general discussion of programming exists, they're going to keep occurring.

So what's the best thing to do with them?

(My opinion in an answer below.)


For my part, I say that not only does deleting them accomplish nothing in the long run, rewording them into the "right" questions doesn't really help, either. When a new programmer asks these questions, it's because they don't understand that they are flawed, and someone needs to explain it to them.

Replacing it with a more "correct" question (like "Is Python slower than C?" or, perhaps better, "Why is this C code faster than the equivalent Python code?") both fails to tell the new programmer what they (think they) want to know, and fails to educate the programmer on why their premise is faulty or why the question just can't really be answered.

Personally, I think the right thing is not to avoid having these questions on the site, but to put them there and provide answers explaining why it's the wrong question, what better questions would be, and hopefully provide links to any such questions that already exist.


So what's the best thing to do with them?

Ah, another good example!

There is no "best thing" of course. If you allow them, you'll get the same endless, repetitive discussions that have filled The Internet since the first bored person signed on to USENET. If you disallow them, they'll get asked anyway and you'll spend your time cleaning them up. If you close them, or lock them, you'll be fielding complaints from everyone who didn't get to put their two cents in before the barrier fell.

At one time, it appeared that Community Wiki would become a de facto home for these: a sort of crappy discussion forum embedded within the larger site. But there's no good way to enforce that, nor any real agreement as to where the boundary lies.

Every strategy fails in some way. Someone is going to end up unhappy no matter what happens... And since there is no shortage of topics that fit in this mold, there will be no shortage of unhappy people. That's Life...

My opinion is that they should be edited into something answerable if possible... but failing that - and once several answers have been posted, that strategy has already failed - they should be closed and deleted. SO just isn't a good fit - the same aspects that make traditional threaded forums problematic for Q&A make them much better suited for these sorts of... nuanced discussion.

But of course, my opinion is just that. And regardless of what gets said here on Meta, tomorrow there'll be more newbies asking more S&A questions, and they'll all be handled slightly differently depending on who sees them...

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