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This post is in regards to events occurring with the question Do tachyons move faster than light (see also chat starting around here), but the question is to be applied to a site-wide policy.

The aforementioned post contained a bad question that was quickly closed as primarily opinion based. A set of high-rep users then edited the question to be something entirely different, which was then reopened.

According to this Meta.SE post about editing posts,

They are all adding/changing the content of the post, the intended meaning of the author. That is not appropriate for an edit. (Unless the post is Community Wiki.)

The intent of edits is to allow readers to more effectively understand the authors original intent. They are not there to change the author's intent.

The edits made to the post in question appear to change the intended meaning of the post.

We've discussed radical edits before in regards to incorrect answers, in which my answer (highly voted + accepted, though the 2nd answer says the same thing & is also highly-voted) says that such edits that change the intended meaning should not be done.

Question: Should we change our policy on editing (which, AFAIK, is aligned with the SE network policy cited above), to allow for such radical changes?

As a follow up, if we should keep the existing policy, what should occur to the post in question? Should it be reverted and closed, or should it be left as is?

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  • $\begingroup$ While it does not appear to be the case this time, some user who have been affected by the question ban try to use the editing mechanism as a way to evade the ban. In those cases, please flag. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Feb 20 '15 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ So, it's pretty clear this is leaning to one side of the "What should we do" question (so much for neutral wording). But whatever. At least maybe now we can get a general consensus on how much editing is acceptable from non-OP users on closed questions $\endgroup$ – Jim Feb 20 '15 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ @JimdalftheGrey: Well if the consensus is that the policy of the site is that such radical changes are accepted, then nothing needs to occur. I put the follow up in the case that the community agrees it's wrong. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 20 '15 at 20:49
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    $\begingroup$ I do think that it's of critical importance here to make it clear why the edits were made (mostly by me), as it makes this case a very special one. There was a (very) good answer in the comments by someone who'd clearly written it up before it was closed, and the main point was to improve the clarity of the question to allow the good answer to survive as a proper answer. I think that the fact that you completely left this out of your post here represents a significant misrepresentation of the situation at hand. $\endgroup$ – Danu Feb 21 '15 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ Here I collect for later some examples of heavily edited questions which presumably still respects the original author: (Better examples hopefully to come): here, here. $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Oct 23 '15 at 18:12
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Question: Should we change our policy on editing (which, AFAIK, is aligned with the SE network policy cited above), to allow for such radical changes?

No, no, no no, no no no, no no no no no no no no, no.

Unlike e.g. Wikipedia, the Stack Exchange software attaches the original poster's name to every question and answer (and comment), except community wiki posts, and it's therefore reasonable to expect that the content of that post reflects the named poster's intent. Radical changes therefore cannot be allowed without the original poster's approval. If people do think the question should be radically different, they can always post a separate question.

Since we have previous meta Q&A on this issue I may as well also mention that I don't believe anything relevant has changed since those other questions and answers were posted.

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  • $\begingroup$ There was a lot of disagreement over this in the chat and there's also some other mother meta posts I linked to in chat that made an issue like this one more debatable. $\endgroup$ – Jim Feb 20 '15 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ @JimdalftheGrey well, this is my position on the issue, and I can't imagine any meta post changing that. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 20 '15 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ So... the changes on the post in question should be rolled back then? $\endgroup$ – Jim Feb 20 '15 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ Depends on whether the OP approves of them or not. In this one case, it may be easier to wait and see what they say about it when they come back to the site. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 20 '15 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ @David Z: I have now asked OP in a comment. $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Feb 20 '15 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ I don't very much agree. "They can always post a separate question" works when they actually can. If there is a risk of the second question being marked as a duplicate, though, it's much less clear. Should either be closed? If the second one gets closed, nothing was accomplished. If the first one gets closed, it is disrespectful with the OP and not a nice way to welcome newcomers (which is usually the case). If both stay open, then the second one is stealing the OP's audience and it is also slightly disrespectful. Just saying - it's not always that clear. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 23 '15 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty if the second question would get marked as a duplicate, then it'd be asking essentially the same thing and it could have been made as an edit to the original question without changing the OP's intent. I don't buy the argument about stealing the OP's audience. If anything it helps because it will typically be linked to the first question and will point more viewers that way. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 23 '15 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ Re No, no, no no, no no no, no no no no no no no no, no. That wasn't nearly emphatic enough, David Z! I've occasionally had people change one of my answers to the polar opposite of what I wrote. I reverted those changes faster than fast. My name is attached to those answers. Plus one, BTW. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Feb 26 '15 at 23:51
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There's a subtlety to the guidelines for editing here that many people (even some aged, veteran users) don't quite pick up on... So I'll try a different approach here

There's a famous interview with Richard Feynman, where he was asked the question, "how do two magnets attract or repel each other?" To which he responded,

I can't explain that attraction in terms of anything else that's familiar to you.

...and then went on to list how he might answer the question if someone else were asking it. This is a brilliant response, precisely because it illustrates a consideration that so many educators skip: understanding the intentions of your student.

The basic guidelines for editing are listed on the full edit page:

always respect the original author

Note that they say nothing about the "intended" meaning of the post; you're expected to clarify the meaning, which you can hopefully learn by reading the post... but the only way to know if you've preserved the asker's intent is to make the edit and see if he's satisfied with the results. When in doubt, talk to the author: a comment paired with the edit expressing your intent and requesting feedback on your edit can go a long way toward ensuring that your edits are helpful.

The critical guideline here is always respect the original author: edit with his best interest in mind, strive to make him look good, write a question that'll get him the help he needs!

Watching some editors debate this reminds me of an old story...

He also who had received the one talent came and said, "Lord, I knew you that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours."

But his master answered him, "You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I didn't sow, and gather where I didn't scatter. You ought therefore to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back my own with interest. Take away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who doesn't have, even that which he has will be taken away. Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

— Matthew 25:24–30, World English Bible

It's always safe to edit a question in a way that does not change the literal meaning; after all, who can criticize you when you haven't done anything? But when you do understand the intent, and yet, out of an overabundance of caution, do nothing to alter the meaning even if by doing so you could better reflect the author's intention and potentially provide a way for him to obtain assistance here, then you're hardly respecting the author; like the cynical servant or a weary teacher who no longer cares if his students can absorb the information he regurgitates, you've wasted an opportunity and squandered the attention of your audience.

When you edit a question, or when you review the edits of others, ask yourself this question: does this edit make it more likely that the asker will obtain the information he needs? The answer you give yourself to this question should provide you with a foundation for any discussion that might follow from it.

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  • $\begingroup$ So are you saying there's a difference between "don't change the intended meaning" and "respect the author's intent"? I don't see it. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 20 '15 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ I think he's saying respect the author. The difference would be that the meaning of the question they ask might not result in answers that give the information we might see them as desiring. In which case, changing the question to have a substantially different meaning is okay if the resulting answers would give the OP more of the actual information they are trying to find. It's a case of "If they don't know how to ask the right question, you can change it so far as they still get the right answer" $\endgroup$ – Jim Feb 20 '15 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ What Jimdalf said, @David - asking questions is hard, especially when you don't know enough to know what you should be asking - if you can suss out what the asker needs, even if it's not quite what he's asking for, then helping him get that is respectful of his needs and wants, even if it changes the literal meaning of what he asks. Obviously, there'll be cases where you get it wrong and the author disagrees and rolls back your edit - that's ok, don't get into a battle over it, but don't refrain from trying to help out of fear that you'll err. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Feb 20 '15 at 21:45
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    $\begingroup$ OK, I think we all agree about that, but as I understand it we're talking about cases where the question is edited to meaningfully change the information being requested. In other words, it's not clear that the question actually does reflect what the asker wanted to know. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 20 '15 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ So, talk to the asker! "I've edited to reflect the information I think you need - please let me know if I misinterpreted your needs." $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Feb 20 '15 at 23:40
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ perhaps it's a good idea to read the entire (and, admittedly, lengthy) chat discussion about the issue: This post by Kyle does not satisfactorily reflect what was going on (and even if it did, it appears that Shog's answer vindicates the edits, as it is very clear to me that the OP was simply too confused to properly word his question; so I did it for him/her. I don't expect a rollback happening). $\endgroup$ – Danu Feb 21 '15 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Shog9 I don't like the idea that any sort of radical edit is okay as long as you leave a comment asking the OP to review it. I think we should exercise some discretion in making such edits, using them only when there is reason to believe we're actually helping the OP express things in a way they wouldn't be able to on their own, and only when that's necessary to properly express the question. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 23 '15 at 23:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Danu it's my understanding that this question is about the broader issue of editing a closed question into a completely different question that would not be closed. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 23 '15 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ Okay, but in that case I don't think that conclusions drawn from it could be readily applied to the case at hand. In any case, from this answer it seems clear to me that there was no problem with what happened anyways, so all's good. $\endgroup$ – Danu Feb 23 '15 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ Editing is a medium for communication, @David. Like all media, it imposes certain restraints that influence the nature of what can be - or should be - effectively communicated; that said, it still allows for considerable breadth and nuance. Therefore, edits should generally be reviewed on a case-by-case basis; radical edits can still be respectful (and communicate the necessary changes far more effectively than comments or closes - some communities refer to these specifically as "heroic" edits), while minor edits can still be disrespectful. All communication in context, judge appropriately. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Feb 24 '15 at 19:46

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