I just got an accept from an older question :What is a good definition of 'time'? [duplicate]

Curious I went to the duplicate,Time, what is it? [closed], and see that it is closed with the explanation:

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

There is a logical inconsistency here of pointing to a duplicate that is closed with such a reason. Either the original should have been closed or it should not have been marked duplicate.

Edit after I read the comments that led to the duplicate assignment. The second link provided in QMECHANIC's comment is fine and should be subsituted

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    $\begingroup$ Why is it inconsistent? If the question has been asked before, it's a duplicate, so closing it as duplicate is as valid as closing it for the reason the original was closed. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Feb 26 '15 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind Supposedly we are not setting up a game but a resource searchable and referable that would help in understanding physics. Pointless pointers are useless. anyway see my edit $\endgroup$ – anna v Feb 26 '15 at 4:57
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    $\begingroup$ I see your point (and I agree). $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Feb 26 '15 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure that I see an issue with pointing out that the newer question is a duplicate of an older bad question. Sure a "duplicate of a duplicate of a Q" ought to cut out the middle-man, but a "duplicate of an off-topic question" doesn't seem bad or pointless to me. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 26 '15 at 5:04
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos: The duplicate text says: "This question already has an answer here". While technically true for this particular example, that's not really what we want to convey if the original has been declared off-topic, right? Pointing out the duplicate is ok, closing as duplicate and not off-topic seems indeed inconsistent. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Feb 26 '15 at 5:06
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind Can topics be closed for more than one reason? $\endgroup$ – Stan Shunpike Feb 26 '15 at 5:10
  • $\begingroup$ @StanShunpike: It's closed if five close votes are cast, no matter for which reason, but only the majority close reason is displayed (this has created annoyance before). $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Feb 26 '15 at 5:12
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind Why? I guess it is hard to follow rules if they aren't applied consistently. I feel like this sometimes when posting on different stack exchanges. $\endgroup$ – Stan Shunpike Feb 26 '15 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind: I don't really see any inconsistency. It's a question that was already asked, ergo it's a duplicate. Both questions happen to be off-topic because they're a bad questions. Either way, the newer one should be closed & any way it happens is fine. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 26 '15 at 5:15
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos: As annav said, it's not a game of "Find a valid close reason", but we're creating a physics Q&A database. Closing a question with the message "This question already has an answer here" somewhat implies that this is a physics question that just happens to already exist within the database, and only when you click the link (or know SE and notice the [closed]) you'll discover that we don't actually consider that question physics. It's a totally pointless click that conveys no useful information whatsoever. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Feb 26 '15 at 5:21
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    $\begingroup$ If it's a bad question, close it for being a bad question (whatever that close reason may be). I think "duplicate" should be used for "On topic question that has been asked and answered before." $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 26 '15 at 5:24
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    $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 make it a short answer and I will choose it $\endgroup$ – anna v Feb 26 '15 at 6:54
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind: See my answer as to why I still see no inconsistency. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 26 '15 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ @annav I see closing a question A as duplicate of question B as saying something on the lines of this matter has already been discussed in B. If B has been closed for some reason, then we are saying we already discussed this matter in B, and we decided that it is off-topic on this site for such and such reasons. But what if in some time in the future the policies change and B is no longer considered off-topic? If all the duplicates have been closed as dups of B, then we'll only have to reopen B, otherwise we'll have to reopen B, and then change the reason for closure of all the dups of B. $\endgroup$ – glS Feb 26 '15 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @annav in this case of course the best thing is to point to the "good" duplicate I don't argue with that. But I'd say that the policies can change way faster than the physics, and given for example all the continuous debates over the homework policies changes do not seem so unlikely even on the short period. And given the fast growing pace of the stackexchange network, in the fifty years period this may be an awesome place containing huge amounts of perfectly indexed (maybe we'll manage to that in fifty years) information. Or maybe not, but it would be awesome if that were the case! $\endgroup$ – glS Feb 26 '15 at 16:35

I think we should strive to choose the most appropriate/specific close reasons when we vote to close. It is extra important in cases like this because the duplicate question close message encourages users to ask a new question if the answers on the duplicate don't address their specific concerns. But we don't want somebody to ask a new question about something that is off-topic to begin with.

To ensure consistency and to avoid problems like this, the process of reviewing a question should be something along the lines of:

  1. Evaluate whether the question is on- or off-topic. If it is off-topic, vote to close based on the most appropriate off-topic close reason.
  2. If the question is on-topic, look at the content of the question:
    • Has the question been asked before? Many times, I can find a duplicate in the "Related questions" bar on the right side. If I can't find it there, and I think "Surely this is something I've seen before" or "There's no way this hasn't been asked before," I'll search for possible duplicates. If a possible duplicate is found, vote to close as a duplicate and move to the next question. If no duplicate is found, continue.
    • Does the question show research effort, is it clear and useful? Upvote.
    • If it is on-topic but just a bad question (not useful to anybody else, no research, etc.) -- downvote and move on to the next question.

If we follow that type of flow, we would avoid situations when we say "Hey User, your question already has an answer! Oh wait, but we closed it because it's off-topic..." Instead, we just say "This is off-topic because X" and it doesn't matter if it's been asked 100 times before.

I know some may disagree on the whole upvote/downvote thing. But regardless of your views on that, I think it makes the most sense to decide if something is on-topic before looking for potential duplicates. It seems silly to chase down potential duplicates to off-topic questions (wastes our time) and it also presents a strange message to people not familiar with how our site, or StackExchange in general, works.


I think the problem with the "inconsistency" as viewed by some is the fact that close states are not permanent, yet they are being viewed as a permanent state. This is simply not true; any post can be re-opened at any time. In light of this point of view, it should be clear that there isn't any inconsistency.

Note that close states also do not at all suggest that the question itself is "not physics." What it does suggest is that the question does not fit the site in its current form under current policies. A closed question may be a perfectly valid physics question; case in point: homework questions. We view these as off-topic, even though they certainly are valid physics questions. And since policies can change, there is no reason to suspect that an off-topic question will remain closed.

I do note though that, on occasion, there are questions asked here that aren't actually physics (e.g., some people asking engineering, philosophy or chemistry questions). This does not mean that the close state itself indicates that the question is not physics.

This also has been discussed on Mother Meta before:

The solution is mixed between the answers (so obviously no consensus, not even highly upvoted answers), but two points were brought up there that we ought to consider:

  1. What happens if we later decide that the closed-original is on-topic?
  2. What happens if we later decide that an unclosed-original is off-topic? What should we do to the questions closed as duplicate of that one?

In the first case, your issue disappears because the close-state isn't permanent. This should suggest that closing as a duplicate of a closed question should not present any problems/inconsistencies because of the fact that the original can be reopened.

In the second case, we have the opposite case you present. Should we then go through all the duplicates and re-label them as off-topic? That would be quite a lot of unnecessary work (because it brings us right back to (1)).

I disagree with tgp2114's evaluation process; the reasoning should be in this order:

  1. Has the question been asked before?
    • Close as duplicate
  2. Is the question off-topic (HW, engineering, etc)? Too broad? Opinion based?
    • Close appropriately
  3. Can't tell or disagree
    • Skip or Leave Open

It should not matter if the proposed duplicate is also closed as off-topic because, again, it can get out of that state.

  • $\begingroup$ Alright, technically, it presents less of an issue to close stuff as duplicates. Practically, closing off-topic stuff sends a message that we don't want to send, again, "This question already has an answer here". I don't think your formal argument trumps the actual meaning of the duplicate closure, but I'd say it's really a matter of opinion. Let the votes decide (and perhaps annav could unaccept the answer until some time has passed?). $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Feb 26 '15 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind: Since originals are required to have an answer in order to select it for dupes, the statement is indeed correct: the question does have an answer. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 26 '15 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't say it sends an incorrect message, I said it sends a message we don't want to send. That off-topic questions here sometimes receive, for better or worse, answers, is not something I really wish to advertise. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Feb 26 '15 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ I will repeat that this is not a site set up as a game plan. At least I hope that the aim is to offer a useful physics resource and a recourse for somebody looking at the topic. In this case somebody looking for "a definition of time" finds a duplicate label, goes to the dublicate and discovers it is off topic. Has she/he learned anything except not to value physics.se? $\endgroup$ – anna v Feb 26 '15 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind: You're still thinking of it as the original question being permanently closed. This is not true. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 26 '15 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @annav: Who says it is a game plan? I certainly never said it, and I certainly never implied it either. I'm stating that closing questions as duplicates of other closed questions is not a problem. Since duplicates require the original to have an answer, they'd still get "an" answer by going to the original. It may not be canonical, but it might also suggest to them that their question is ill-defined. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 26 '15 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ So I would say, Yes, absolutely they get something out of their experience in following the Rabbit Hole. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 26 '15 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ sent to a question that is off topic invalidates the answers in that question and makes the whole thing nonsense $\endgroup$ – anna v Feb 26 '15 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ if the new question is off topic for physis se, just close it, instead of a run around. $\endgroup$ – anna v Feb 26 '15 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ @annav: How does a question closed as Off-topicn invalidate any answers therein? That is nonsense. Consider the HW questions we have. Are the answers to those questions invalid because the HW Q is closed as off-topic? No, certainly not. Just as in this case as well. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 26 '15 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ lets agree to disagree $\endgroup$ – anna v Feb 26 '15 at 15:28

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