Why would this question be closed as Off-topic?

How is a 25-year-old can of soda now empty without having been opened or poked?

The topic seems to be suitable for this site, and the question was also featured as a Hot Network Question and then even tweeted about at https://twitter.com/StackPhysics/status/1231730602472288256 .

Featuring it on Twitter conflicts with closing it. One implies "This is representative of what we talk about on this site" while the other says "This discussion doesn't belong here".

Shouldn't it be re-opened?

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    $\begingroup$ FYI the twitter posting and HNQ post are automated processes. It being tweeted or put onto HNQ just means the questions gained sufficient attention. That is not a guarantee that it is on topic. $\endgroup$ – JMac Feb 25 '20 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @JMac Even knowing about the automation (which ultimately a human programmed), it's odd to promote a question with one hand while denouncing the same question with the other hand. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 25 '20 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan Sure it is odd. But the problem is with the (indiscriminate) promoting, not with the denouncing. $\endgroup$ – AccidentalFourierTransform Feb 25 '20 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ I'll post a proper answer to this later. Can't do so now since I only have access through my phone at the moment. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 26 '20 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ "and then even tweeted about" - this is basically meaningless. The twitter bot's coverage has long been seen as awful, and little better than pulling numbers out of a hat. For some indication of how well-regarded that bot is, look at the score of the answers that propose it as a community ad (last year's is here, previous iterations are linked in the sidebar). $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 26 '20 at 9:56
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ Oh okay, looking forward to it. I wonder if there is a bug as speculated here: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/12714/… $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty "The twitter bot's coverage has long been seen as awful". Presumably it has NOT been "seen as awful" by many people whose opinion matters though, right? Because otherwise they'd get rid of it. Since they haven't gotten rid of it, my point still stands. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan If getting rid of the twitter bot was an option, we would have done it long ago, but it's a baked-in feature of the SE platform. Instead, we have done the next best thing - downvote its ads to oblivion, completely disregard its question choices as having any value, and otherwise completely ignore its existence. Can you actually say that you have looked at the previous inventory of tweets and that you find those questions to be of high quality or otherwise worth promoting? that you follow the twitter bot and use it to discover questions? that you know anyone who does or has? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 26 '20 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ So: no, your point definitely doesn't stand, and including it detracts from your (otherwise good) question. You're quite right to want to understand and challenge this closure, but arguing that it was "featured on twitter" is just misguided. It was put there by a dumb algorithm that actual users disregard, not by a human user. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 26 '20 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I'm sensing from your comment that the employees who run StackExchange enjoy the Twitter bot and want to keep it running, and you physics.meta.stackexchange.com/users/8563/emilio-pisanty have a huge rep on this one site within SE but are not an employee. And you wish you had more autonomy to moderate the Physics site than you do. So, now I'm starting to understand. But still, comments from you and all the other high rep people on this site have felt the opposite of welcoming or clarifying. It has felt so contentious. I doubt I'll be back. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ Apologies if I assumed you had a higher fluency with PSE and its Meta than you do -- I didn't realize your rep comes from a single question instead of a longer exposure. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 26 '20 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ Part of the confusion here seems to be a bug in the close-reason banner, now reported on the Mother Meta. $\endgroup$ – rob Feb 26 '20 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan I am very sorry you have felt that way. I remember feeling the same way when I first joined. But once I became more familiar with the site and how discussions like these are done, I realized that other users really were just trying to help. If there is anything I have said that was received as unwelcoming, I apologise; it was not my intention. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Feb 26 '20 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ and everyone else, I'm so sorry for the confusion: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/12714/… $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ No worries :) And sorry it took so long, but I finally got time to post an answer. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 27 '20 at 10:30

I'm going to say no, it should not be reopened, at least not in its current form, though of course I voted to close it in the first place so that's not saying much new :-p

The reason I voted to close it is basically that your question is just asking how some fairly arbitrary thing happened. We get quite a few questions that, like yours, tell us about something that happened in everyday life and ask how it happened. But this site is not a place to get explanations for how random things happened. Here, we focus more on why they happen, specifically in digging down into the underlying physical principles. There didn't seem to be anything about that in your question.

If you had worded your question a little differently, to make it ask more about the physics involved in the situation, it might have been on topic. For example, instead of asking how the soda got out of the can, suppose you speculated that there might have been a tiny hole, and you wanted to know how to figure out what size of hole would allow the liquid to escape in 25 years. That would be a question about physical principles that might be on topic. Or, perhaps you might want to know whether the fizz or the sugar would affect how quickly liquid could escape through the hole. That could also be an on-topic question. Alternatively, you might wonder whether the liquid could diffuse through the side of the can over such a long time. You'd have to do some of the preliminary research yourself, but you could definitely ask an on-topic question about that.

It might actually be possible to edit your question in a way that makes it on topic and eligible to be reopened. Of course, the trick is that you would need to do so without invalidating most or all of the existing answers, since once people have put in the time and effort to answer your question, it's considered discourteous to change the question in a way that makes their answers no longer apply. If you want to do that, you would certainly be welcome to ask for help improving the question in our chat room.

For clarity, let me add that the only thing that determines whether a question is on-topic or off-topic is (perhaps somewhat obviously) the topic of the question. Our site scope is not based on popularity. So things that do not affect the topicality of a question include:

  • vote counts
  • view count
  • asker's reputation
  • comments
  • whether the question is on the Hot Network Questions list
  • whether the question is tweeted
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this clarification! $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 27 '20 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ No problem Ryan :) $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 28 '20 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ Asking how the soda got out of the can is irrelevant, since there is no proof there was ever any soda inside it. A couple of years ago I bought a 6-pack of Coke from a UK supermarket and found one can was apparently sealed and undamaged, and empty. The supermarket customer service replaced it without taking much interest in it beyond "It's not the first time we have seen that happen - here's another can". $\endgroup$ – alephzero Feb 29 '20 at 17:50

While I can't speak for DavidZ, I will say that I voted to close due to "primarily opinion based". DavidZ picked the engineering reason, so his vote reason is what is shown (to users with high enough reputation).

The reason I chose to close as such is because answers to questions like these usually involve much speculation. Usually the OP either doesn't, or even can't, supply enough information for an answer to be an objectively correct explanation of what happened/is happening. Therefore, answers end up being what others think could be the answer, rather than definitively what the actual answer is. This is very evident in the currently highest voted answer, and this answer even admits that they are guessing.

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    $\begingroup$ Okay, thank you. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 25 '20 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't know what you meant by "engineering reason", but now I'm seeing that there is probably a bug: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/12714/… $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan It isn't a bug. Only users with a high enough reputation (and the person who made the post) can see the entire banner. Hence my parenthetical statement in my first paragraph). $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Feb 26 '20 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ As the person who wrote the question, shouldn't I then be able to see it? $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan Oh yeah, I didn't realize that it is your question. Yeah I am not sure about that. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Feb 26 '20 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan This is the close banner: This question appears to be about engineering, which is the application of scientific knowledge to construct a solution to solve a specific problem. As such, it is off topic for this site, which deals with the science, whether theoretical or experimental, of how the natural world works. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Feb 26 '20 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. That isn't visible to me anywhere. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan Please bear with us. The Stack Exchange developers changed how the post-notices system works relatively recently, and we (this community) have yet to form a communal mental image of the precise details of their behaviour. The developers say that the change was done to be friendlier to new users (like you!), and that they have substantial user research behind the change, but we don't really understand it. This sounds like you were not shown a key piece of information that would have made it possible for you to react to the closure. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 26 '20 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Thanks. I shared my screenshot here: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/12714/… $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ As such, it would be good if you can post a bug report on the main SE Meta site -- we sense that the system is putting new users at a disadvantage, but the developers have not been listening to established users very much lately, so it would be good if you can raise it directly with them so they can get it directly from you. (Or, if rob raises the bug report independently, for you to show up at that report and complain.) $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 26 '20 at 18:19

There is a lot of tension between the kinds of questions our high-rep, long-time users like to see versus the kinds of questions that the automated processes tend to promote. There have been many Meta discussions about this tension, but in general the robots are here to help the people, rather than the other way around. When the Twitter robots and HNQ pick up a question that's not a good fit, the human users step in to emphasize what kind of site we want.

That's not to say anything about your particular question, which I haven't voted on and haven't discussed with any of the close voters. Perhaps one of those people will weigh in with their specific thoughts about your question.

Note that your question can be reopened by community vote; the process for this is described in the help center.

  • $\begingroup$ Where at physics.stackexchange.com/q/532731 can I see why it was closed? Only when I visit physics.stackexchange.com/posts/532731/revisions can I see Post Closed as "Off-topic" by Aaron Stevens, David Z♦, but it still doesn't explain why (or how to ask those people specifically). physics.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic says as the very first example of "On-topic": "Explanations of observed physical or astronomical phenomena". $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 25 '20 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan - the use of 'physical' phenomena there means covered under the field of physics, not the more general non-technical usage. While perhaps covered under chemistry (or engineering for the packaging aspects), it really does not fit well under Physics SE. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Feb 25 '20 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan, in the close banner for your question, can you see the paragraph that says "this question appears to be about engineering"? The close messages have been changed recently, and if you can't see those details it's a bug. (If you can see that paragraph but didn't notice it, or didn't understand it, those are different bugs.) $\endgroup$ – rob Feb 25 '20 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ @rob I don't see anything that I would consider to be a "banner". All I see is the word "[closed]" appended to the title. I can't find any explanation. Does it really say "This question appears to be about engineering" somewhere? I did a search on the page for "engineering" (and also on the edits/revisions page) and found 0 results. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ @rob If StackExchange is experiencing a decrease in happy users, I can see why. Especially with this response from moderator David Z that doesn't help clarify anything at all: physics.stackexchange.com/questions/532731/… But maybe there is a bug that would explain how a low-rep person like me is having such trouble understanding moderators. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 16:10

Ryan, since you're the author of the post, you should be able to see the explanatory banner about how the close reason is because your question is more about engineering than about science. You've left a comment suggesting this is improperly hidden from you. If so, can you edit this answer to include your own screenshot? I'll use your image to post a bug report in the right place.

Screen capture of close banner

  • $\begingroup$ I tried to edit this answer but get this error: "Suggested edits are not allowed on non-tag-wiki posts on meta sites." But I was able to share a screenshot here: imgur.com/K3ih57j $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ And you're logged in on the main site, and have post-author privileges like editing and commenting? $\endgroup$ – rob Feb 26 '20 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan we'll be better able to understand the conditions the screenshot was taken in if you extend it to include the top bar (i.e. this component). $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 26 '20 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Here is a larger screenshot: imgur.com/p38x7tn $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan Yeah, that looks like a software bug to me -- you're clearly signed in, and the post notice should be on the top of the post, as it is in my screenshot. Notice in particular that the notice there explicitly tells me that it is visible to you. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 26 '20 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan Hi, SE developer here. I'm trying to figure out what happened with the banner here and I can't reproduce what you're seeing (or, I suppose, not seeing). Are you by any chance running any browser extensions that might be messing with the page? Ad blockers, that sort of thing? $\endgroup$ – Adam Lear Feb 26 '20 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ @AdamLear Thank you! You were right that an extension (although not an ad-blocker) was interfering, and I apologize to everyone here for the waste of time. This is my fault, and I'm embarrassed at having caused a commotion. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan No worries! Glad to hear the mystery is solved. Out of curiosity, which extension was it? No pressure to share if you'd rather not, I'm just curious if it's something we can be mindful of on our end and prevent others from running into the same issue. $\endgroup$ – Adam Lear Feb 26 '20 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ @AdamLear You won't need to worry about any other users with this particular extension because it was my first attempt at an extension (trying to do things like redirect amazon.com to smile.amazon.com and also change the layout of thesaurus.com). And I never got it working how I wanted (and obviously the namespacing was ineffective) but it was running locally in dev mode. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 26 '20 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan Right on, thanks! $\endgroup$ – Adam Lear Feb 26 '20 at 22:01

As Stack Exchanges demonstrably (but not really!) "hottest" Stack Exchange user, I'll add my two cents. It's fine when HNQ's are closed, it shows that the system works.

This may or may not be helpful to you, but one can see the HNQ and closing process as in some ways adversarial processes in the good sense of the word, and not just a source of "a lot of tension" which at least sounds like it could be bad in some ways (in the sense that Stack Exchange angst is bad).

The nonlinear HNQ system amplifies views and brings some questions to more eyes than they would have otherwise been exposed to, and the views can lead to more up votes, down votes and close votes. In my opinion the result, though imperfect, ends up okay most of the time.

"high-rep, long-time users" are a great resource as long as they are comfortable with how the site works. If they don't like how the site works and can't compel or induce changes they find satisfactory and the community doesn't do it with (or without) them in mind, then they go away. Human nature is what it is, and adversarial systems, while not always pleasant are still the worst systems, except for all of the others.

(174 HNQ's, here's a list) note: I'm not taking this seriously, the numbers are real (but incomplete) and I'm using "hotness" strictly tongue in cheek.


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