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On a number of occasions, I have seen questions closed as duplicates although the linked question either did not have answers, or had only poor answers, and in some cases it had already been closed (often for quite different reasons). In such cases, I think that to close a question on the grounds that it is a duplicate of a question which already has answers is inappropriate. I think that to close a question on this ground, it must not only be a duplicate but also the answers given must genuinely answer the current question.

I have just voted to leave open the question Why do higher harmonics have a lower amplitude than fundamental frequency. It had been linked to the closed question Is the first harmonic the prevalent frequency? [closed] (which does have a single, very good, answer as it happens). It was closed, probably correctly, because the question lacked clarity. Consequently it is not visible to many users.

The suggested duplicate question has 1 upvote, and the answer has 5 upvotes. The new question, which is much better phrased, has 21 upvotes and the accepted answer has 36 upvotes. A total of 47 upvotes have been given to the other 5 answers. And yet, there were already two votes to close.

Surely we should not be voting to close high quality questions and answers in favour of questions which have already been closed? Can I ask that we do not close questions as duplicates unless they are genuinely duplicates, and unless the answers given completely answer the current question?

Also, should we not look at the way the system works? It does not seem reasonable to me to close a question because it duplicates a question which is already closed and is consequently not visible. It is entirely reasonable to ask whether an answer to a closed question answers the current question. But it is not reasonable to close a question simply because a similar question has previously been asked.

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    $\begingroup$ "It does not seem reasonable to me to close a question because it duplicates a question which is already closed and is consequently not visible." Quick comment: closed questions are still visible to other users. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Jul 7 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist, when questions are closed, they are flagged "Viewable by the post author and users with the close/reopen votes privilege". When questions are deleted they are viewable only by the author, and perhaps moderators. $\endgroup$ – Charles Francis Jul 7 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ @CharlesFrancis That is referring to the closure reason, not the entire post. All users can see closed questions. Users above a certain reputation can see deleted posts. e.g. I can see deleted posts I did not make. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Jul 7 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist, thanks for clarifying. It does not help me understand the purpose of voting to close. I would see the point of tidying up the site by merging duplicate questions, so that answers can more easily be found, but if the questions remain after closure, then we have not done so. Still, this would be a matter for a different discussion. $\endgroup$ – Charles Francis Jul 11 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ Charles, although mods can merge questions, it's rarely a good idea unless the questions are extremely close. If the questions aren't close enough, you end up with the imported answers looking a bit odd. AFAIK, it's not possible for readers to tell which answers were originally associated with the question & which ones were merged in. It might be possible to see that via the timeline, but since mergers are very rare it's hard for me to verify that. $\endgroup$ – PM 2Ring Jul 12 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ OTOH, it's possible to point a duplicate at multiple targets. The system can do that automatically if a couple of dupe targets are nominated before closure. It's also possible for mods & gold tag badge holders to edit the dupe target list. $\endgroup$ – PM 2Ring Jul 12 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ There is already a requirement in the system that the target should have good answers for a question to be marked as the dupe of the target :/ In fact, the correct policy would be to remove that requirement because it's messed up for correct answers to be on a newly asked duplicate question while an old question asking the same thing exists. $\endgroup$ – Dvij D.C. Jul 20 at 19:12
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People should be encouraged to close questions as duplicates, but they should certainly take care to choose an appropriate duplicate target. Even if the target does have answers that correctly answer the new question, it may not be a useful target for the OP of the new question if it uses mathematics and concepts that are too advanced.

Also, if the old question is closed (and isn't itself a duplicate), it makes a poor dupe target, IMHO. Across the Stack Exchange network, it's suggested that if you start composing an answer to a question which gets closed as a dupe before you submit your answer that you should instead post your answer on the dupe target (with appropriate modification, if necessary). But that's obviously impossible if the dupe target itself is closed.

BTW, when a new question and its answers are higher quality than the proposed dupe target, it can be appropriate to close the old question as a dupe of the new one. That sort of thing can be organized here on Meta, or possibly in the main Physics chat room, The h Bar.

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There is limited correlation between the number of votes and the quality of the question, so your point there is not very strong. Your broad point however remains valid: one should exercise caution in voting to close as duplicate.

I certainly feel very strongly that overall there is not enough effort on the part of some posters to check for duplicates or near duplicates: specific problems can be hybrids between (or variation on) multiple other questions - v.g problems on elementary circuits - so finding a near-enough duplicate is often enough for me.

Note also that generic users can definitely see closed questions, but not deleted questions or answers. Thus, as it is always possible to edit a closed question explaining how it is different from the alleged duplicate, I feel on balance the situation you describe is best corrected on a case by case basis, subject to the reminder of carefully checking the proposed target duplicate. My experience is that when a reasonably legitimate case is made the question is often re-opened.

Also note that there might be multiple reasons why someone would VTC and if the closure reason is for duplication this does not imply that reason was unanimous.

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  • $\begingroup$ The quality of the question is down to a subjective assessment. It is arrogant to suggest that one's own subjective assessment is better than that of numerous others. $\endgroup$ – Charles Francis Jul 11 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ @CharlesFrancis Of course you are free to focus "popular" question. As to your comment on subjective assessment: if two wolves and a sheep vote on the course for dinner, is it arrogant for the sheep to dissent? $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Jul 11 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ Lol, the sheep is indeed dinner for the wolves. Dissent is futile. $\endgroup$ – Charles Francis Jul 11 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ @CharlesFrancis :D well... futile only if you let the majority carry the day. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Jul 11 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding your last paragraph, it can be a little annoying to cast a close vote only to have the question closed for a different reason that you don't fully agree with, so you get "lumped in" with the other close voters. I sometimes post a comment in that situation, when I notice it. $\endgroup$ – PM 2Ring Jul 12 at 10:52

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