When I flag a duplicate it's usually because I've found an older question with substantial topical overlap and an answer that covers the new question completely. Sometimes I hesitate because the new question is actually asking the same thing as the old question, but much more clearly. So I'm confronted with a "bad" (poorly worded/formatted/developed) question with "good" answers and a "good" question with potentially "bad" answers, no answers or also some "good" answers. What's the best practice here? Is it the responsibility of the moderators handling the flag to attempt to merge (I could then suggest it when I flag)? If the questions are similar enough, should I suggest an edit completely replacing the "bad" question with the "good" one? This robs the author of the "good" question of any rep from votes and could wreak havoc on any comment discussion. Anyone have some insight on saving these "good" duplicates?

This is some related discussion: Liberal definition of duplicate questions and the health of physics stack exchange.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, you could edit the first question to be more clear . . . $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2013 at 1:53

3 Answers 3


To answer the general question "how do I get a question merged":

Well, we usually don't merge duplicates questions unless they're exact duplicates (in terms of what is asked), or one is a subset of the other. That need not always be the case, though. It depends on the answers currently present on the question.

If you feel that two questions should be merged, just use a custom flag. Duplicate flags are no longer directly routed to mods, so there's a chance that it may be missed.

To answer the specific question "What should be done when there is a question which is a dupe of an older, answered question but is written in a much better manner":

Duplicates need not be in chronological order. Multiple times, I have closed an older question as a dupe of a newer one, and merged the answers because the older one is close to being closeable as unclear.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, good to know :) $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Oman
    Aug 28, 2013 at 12:57

Merging two posts is often a quite delicate and time-consuming job. E.g. even two questions, which are essentially duplicates of each others, can be worded slightly different, and the merged answers may have to be adjusted accordingly.

It is unfortunately an experimental fact that a new answer (to one of two duplicate questions) gains more exposure and votes if it belongs to the newer entry. But please please please do consider answering the older entry instead so that (in most cases) newer duplicate entries can be closed with minimal grief and heartache. And do never-ever submit the same answer twice to two duplicate entries!

Also please help locate duplicates, e.g. in the following frequently-asked-topics: twin paradox in SR; Young double slit experiment in QM; parabolic motion in Newtonian mechanics; and other typical homework.

Finally, if a question formulation is unclear, please improve it!


Closing duplicate is certainly a problem, as a variation in the way the question is asked can suggest very different answers, and sometimes much better ones.

If they are closed, the only alternative is to answer the old question, which I know from experience is mostly a waste of time because you start at the bottom of a list that is supposed to order for quality and not for date. I hate writing for a black hole.

Another point is that duplicate policies are inconsistent, bordering arbitrary.

Now here, I will just copy a part of my answer to another question about the quality of questions.

Regarding specifically the quality of questions, what matters most is the sexyness-entertaining quality of the question, not actual content or preparatory work. I will take the example of two questions that are exactly on the same topic, but were not flagged as such: Origin of motion and relative speed of bodies in the universe and Why are there no asteroids or meteoroids with relativistic speeds?.

The first question was mine, actually my fist post on physics.SE after doing no physics for more decades than I care to tell. It took me a long time to write that question as I was trying to understand first what issues could matter, what kind of data and question might be sensible.

I was very lucky to be upvoted once, and to get a nice answer.

The second question was asked 2 month later. It is exactly the same issue, presented as a disaster movie. It was not detected as duplicate and attracted much attention and 20 upvotes.

So should I try to ask questions as a scientist, or as a showman ?

The other issue, directly related, is the questions removed as duplicate. First, it is inconsistant (see above) and sometimes inaccurate. Answering old questions is a waste of time. I know as I did it more than my share. Thoses answers do not get votes or comments, and I personnally hate writing for a black hole.

So the practice of stopping duplicate question is just the best way to ensure that further input will not come, of that a different perspective will be avoided. What would have happened if the second question above had been detected as duplicate, as it should have ?

  • $\begingroup$ Please don't ask as a showman. It does garner a lot of off site attention, which is good, but doesn't always lead to coherent posts. And when posts are from a different perspective we may not consider them as dupes (or they can be edited to de-dupe). The reason we close as dupes is because we don't want to have, well, duplication. On other forums you can see some issues being addressed many, many times. $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2013 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ There are many problems with the site, and I always have more to say on meta than time permits. But it all boils down to one issue: behaving as a scientist is not compatible with business. We see that all the time in real life, with scientific corruption, and we see it here as rules of the site are also meant to create traffic, even at the expense of quality. I think the first problem of the site is voting without having to justify the vote - I do not mean signing it. Each vote should be attached to a comment, possibly many to one comment, possibly anonymous, though answerable. $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Sep 6, 2013 at 7:20
  • $\begingroup$ I suggest you propose that on Meta Stack Exchange (main meta), it's a new twist to an old brought-up-many-times-and-then-declined issue. However, I can tell that this would be declined for similar reasons -- we primarily decide good vs bad on the basis of votes. Make that harder, and less people will vote, and it will become harder to tell which answer is the correct one (and harder to find good questions). Questions that get really popular are a relatively rare case; I don't think changing the voting system to fix that makes much sense. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2013 at 7:51
  • $\begingroup$ AFAICT the rules on the site are created to make quality, which breeds traffic. Of course, there are a couple of things which make Physics.SE much better than other forums for people coming via Google (for example, we try to only allow questions that will be useful to others), but they don't really impinge on quality. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2013 at 7:53
  • $\begingroup$ What is the downvote for. Is the overall content of this contribution negative regarding the understanding of rules and their impact, or is it only to confirm with an example what I am saying about vote, in which case I do thank the downvoter. $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Sep 8, 2013 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ Voting is different on meta. The downvote expresses disagreement. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2013 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Manishearth. I would expect that downvote would always express some form of disagreement. But since the downvoter does not say what he is actually disagreeing with. Downvote is supposed to disagree with a proposal. The only one is a suggestion within a comment, distinct from the topic of my answer. Again, why not just say: "I downvote because ..." or "-1 for this point"? $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Sep 8, 2013 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ I was the downvoter, and I think the comments above attempt to explain it pretty well though that's not necessarily the primary issue they address. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2013 at 11:07
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Manishearth. I was wondering because you did it later. I have no problem with voting as such, up or down, or even not knowing the author of the vote. It is the ambiguity of it that bothers me, not being sure why. It is marginal in the case of meta, as only SE is concerned. But if there is possibly a problem with what I write scientifically, I do want to correct it or at least make explicit what is wrong with it. I often do not remove my mistakes, but explain why they are mistakes. And the downvoter may also be wrong, and I want to explain why. This is useful too. $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Sep 8, 2013 at 13:02

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