I already noticed a certain number of times that some questions have been closed based on the policy for "opinion-based" questions. Reading the rationale for that policy, I find:

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions rather than on facts, references, or specific expertise.

Of course, I fully agree. However, I think that in some cases, this policy has been used in a too wide meaning. The last example is the question How can I accurately state the uncertainty principle?.

The explicit question was

I'd like to know if there is a simple conceptual explanation that uses key concepts such as "observation," "measurement," "decoherence" accurately. For example, if I were a teacher, how could I state Heisenberg's uncertainty principle in a less mathematical, but conceptually rigorous way?

Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that it is impossible to provide answers to this question not based on facts, references, or specific expertise, and I would say that all or most all the answers, including the mine, were not opinion-based.

Even if it is always possible to reopen a closed question, and I see that the process in progress for this question, I pose the more general problem of what I see as a too subjective use of the policy on "opinion-based" questions. There was already a question here in meta for a different question. Even in that case, I do not see a convincing argument for closing as "opinion-based", although I agree that the question had other weaknesses. But again, the problem I am raising is not the closure of such or such question but the application of this specific rule.

  • $\begingroup$ Even the close banner says "Update the question so it can be answered with facts and citations..." It seems like the language of the policy is saying as long as it has facts/citations then it shouldn't be considered to be opinion based, but I doubt that is the goal of the policy. One can back their opinions with facts. $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2021 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ It should also be noted that, at least in the particular case you raise, the title of v1 of the question was way more subjective than its current form, which could have been the basis for the opinion-based close reason. $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2021 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist I hope that decisions about closing/re-opening are not based on the title. $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2021 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that only the title shouldn't be considered, but it's still a part of the question. It's (supposed to be) the main point of the question the OP wants to highlight. If the title is subjective then it's a good indicator the OP is looking for subjective answers. I think a bad title could be a good closure motivator depending on the scenario, although one should always read/consider the body as well. This question is a prime example of that IMO $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2021 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ @GiorgioP If the title is irrelevant, why bother to have a title at all? Just start every question with PLEEEZZZ ANSR MY QUESTION NOW NOW NOW KTHNKS!!!!!! $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Apr 6, 2021 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero, please, do not make me responsible for what I did not say. I just wrote that I hope that decisions are not based on the title, meaning "title only." Reading title and question should be a fair way to judge a question. In the specific case I made, I do not see any opinion-based possibility of an answer. $\endgroup$ Apr 6, 2021 at 23:42

3 Answers 3


At a top level independent of the questions you linked to here, it's important to remember that applying site policies is done by humans, and humans aren't perfect at implementing things -- so there are always going to be examples where something is closed that maybe shouldn't be, or something didn't get closed that should be, and so on. It also tends to hinge on which group of people happens to see a particular question, because there's always a possibility that people refuse to implement a policy because they don't like it or whatever else.

Getting a little more specific about the opinion-based policy, it can also be the case that our own knowledge or experience biases us to see something as an opinion or to not see it as an opinion. For example, a question that says "What is the best way to do X" may seem extremely obvious to me that there is only one answer with my background in computational combustion -- but somebody with a different background might see that there is no best way and so the question is opinion-based and I just don't have the background to see it.

Now for the specific question about HUP -- OP is asking for a less mathematical and more rigorous way to explain something if they were a teacher. This immediately poses a series of things that are unclear and/or opinion-based:

  • Less mathematical relative to what?
  • More rigorous compared to what?
  • What is the background of the students being taught -- are they just learning about science in general, are they learning about QM in a general chemistry class, or are they at a PhD level class on QM and that's their research area?

The last one is particularly challenging because it again comes to the background issue I described earlier. It's pretty well known in teaching circles that sometimes we teach lies to the students. Not because we want to mislead them, but because the important concept they need to know should be explained in a language they understand. If I'm teaching 15 year olds about chemistry, it's enough to say that electrons are kinda fuzzy around the nucleus and we can't possibly measure their exact position and velocity because anything we would do to measure it will change it. Do they need to know more than that? For 99% of the class, probably not because they won't go on to study QM, or physics, or chemistry, or maybe even science in general.

So there are elements to that question that are certainly opinion-based because OP gave vague metrics (less mathematical/more rigorous) without a definitive anchor, and because they are looking for the "best" way to teach something to a group with an unknown background and unknown learning expectations.

That said, I don't know that I would have closed it as opinion-based. But I can see why some would. I can also see why some would want to reopen it.

Ultimately it boils down to humans interpreting a policy and we all have different backgrounds/experiences/ideas/intentions and so it's hard to be 100% consistent in application. I haven't looked it up, but I would wager there's way more questions closed as opinion-based that are clearly opinion-based than there are ones that are marginal, and so the "difficulty" in applying it is really just confirmation-bias.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with this answer except for a philosophical quibble: it refers to “site policy” as if that’s a well-defined thing that exists as a Platonic ideal, which we humans might apply correctly or incorrectly. It’s important to remember that we are a community made only of humans. The policy is our attempt to articulate a consensus. If there’s a conflict between what we’re doing and some policy, it’s possible that we’re imperfectly applying the policy — but it’s also possible that the policy doesn’t actually say what we meant for it to, or that our consensus has evolved. Humans come first. $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Mar 27, 2021 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ The problem's that representations of knowledge are not direct: In some pop-sci decades ago, I read that fermions have spatial extent, because someone had chosen to pop that aspect of Einstein-Cartan Theory into what I'm sure would've been only a very general text on relativity. Now that I have time to return to such reading, I'm finding that the point-like nature of all subatomic particles is sacrosanct, etc. So I'm realizing that, in the meantime, one or more purchasing agents for school boards may have, thru textbook selections intended to be inoffensive, thrown physics onto a new track. $\endgroup$
    – Edouard
    Mar 28, 2021 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ @rob I can see your quibble with it... For better or for worse, I mentally view policy as set in stone until we break out the chisel and change it, rather than something that evolves through applying it differently. In other words (taking off my mod hat), I personally dislike applying policy the way I see/want it (rather than what it says) and if the two are in conflict, I would apply it as written until it is rewritten... At any rate, point taken and it is definitely possible that the policy isn't saying what it needs to or that it should say something different given the community today. $\endgroup$
    – tpg2114
    Mar 28, 2021 at 21:48

In my own experience, I VTC as opinion based if the question is asking something subjective, or has some element that users could disagree on and there is no correct position.

I can somewhat see it for this question in its current form, although it might be a little harsh. I'll still go through what might have happened. In this this particular example, we have the title

How can I accurately state the uncertainty principle?

as well as

I'd like to know if there is a simple conceptual explanation that uses key concepts such as

and it would be easy to a user to go an answer and say, "No, this is not accurate or simple." There would be no way for either user to use facts or references to say whether or not a given answer is accurate or simple. It also gives the possibility of the OP saying "this is not as simple or accurate as I want" even though the content of a given answer is technically correct.

I can't speak for this policy being applied consistently across the site, but that's how I try to be consistent within my own voting at least.


After doing some research on this particular question, I found out that my initial notion of the issue was entirely wrong. I have therefore voted to delete that answer and submit one based on more in depth study.

It is strange to realize, but the site policy to suppress opinion based questions and answers is not due to judgement or preference as a product of free choice, but to the fact that it is incompatible with the underlying technology. The tech base of SE is a heavily modified gaming structure and those are by their nature conclusive. Win or loose. A vote is either up or down. Regardless of how many reasons one may have to choose either one, there is only those two options to choose from and like in a game, SE promotes voting for the sake of voting by rewarding it with privileges and public acknowledgement of achievement. Similar things go for editing and deleting. They simply aren't made to deal with choices that only produce 'probability'.

That is what effectively keeps it from becoming a discussion platform or a chat zone, but it is also what makes it 'repel' opinion, in questions as well as in answers.

Physics is a subject that by its nature is relatively immune to this. Formulas being its main content and those being pretty conclusive in themselves. However, opinion adds a component of inconsistency to the subject that provokes an entirely different approach.

If we observe how moderation works in other areas in SE that are less of an exact science, like TWP, this gaming base not seldom leads to quite grotesque situations. Downright aggressive moderation practices based on mere glancing over answers does not only occur, but is actually advised as a way to obtain more privileges, expressing the gaming tendency of this moderation. It corrupts the mental attitude of moderators to the extend that I had a hard time getting them to understand that downvotes really don't bother me. They didn't consider that possible, so I had to be lying.

Another thing that clearly points in the direction of gaming in moderation is the use of scripts, allowing for 'power voting' and other ways to 'cheat' into getting more reputation, awards, privileges, badges and other achievements. Practices one would normally only find in computer games.

The fact that this has little if anything to do with reasonable site moderation is something I find quite alarming. Internet gaming is a mayor source of concern, causing severe cases of addiction, social alienation and abuse. The idea that such a game could be hiding in a site like SE, attracting people who otherwise would avoid games, but are equally vulnerable to addiction, is threatening.


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