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It's the second time in less than a week that a question attracts only junk content and youtube-quality comments war. We failed to close this one soon enough:

If you're black, how do you answer "Oh you're a professor? So you teach African Studies?"

Can we act swiftly on that one?:

What is the purpose of women-only meetings, panels, conferences, etc. in academia?

Deletion would be the best but closing would already help.

Please note that in a typical meta fashion, up-votes on this question mean in favor of closing/deleting said question and down-votes against.

Edit: Question 2 has now being closed and then reopened after edits. And a major clean up of comments helped a lot. Thanks to the moderation. I'm leaving this question up for a more general consensus discussion about closing such questions.

  • 3
    I think those two questions are quite different, and for what concerns the latter, I'm not even sure whether it should be closed. – Massimo Ortolano Sep 20 '16 at 19:34
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    Please don't bother the gender question. It is a legitimate concern, and it's not hurting the site in any way. Focus instead on the idiots who think the site is Youtube; flag inappropriate comments as needed. – user8762 Sep 21 '16 at 16:19
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    @RobertHarvey I think that the question itself, in the form asked by the OP, has more in common with the YouTube-comment mentality than one would like. I would be much much happier with the question if certain claims in it were toned down; I am particularly unhappy with the understandable but naive assertion "I am sure this phenomenon is true elsewhere", which I associate with people who really don't have much actual breadth or depth of experience in academia. – Yemon Choi Sep 21 '16 at 16:34
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    @YemonChoi: Suggest an edit for that assertion. In the edit description, say "Removed speculative material that is fodder for opinionated comments and not really relevant to the question." – user8762 Sep 21 '16 at 16:59
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    Just to 'fess up to being one of those who upvoted this meta question, BTW – Yemon Choi Sep 21 '16 at 20:23
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    The "hot questions" list keeps showing up as a major root-cause in much bad site behavior. That deserves its own meta-discussion on how to fix it. Individual questions are not the cause. – smci Sep 25 '16 at 2:03
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    @smci I personally think "people failing to read the actual question, and instead answering the question they have in their own head" is a bigger problem, but perhaps that is even less out of "our" control – Yemon Choi Sep 25 '16 at 14:10
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    The ambiguity in the title of the second question is problematic: is it "What is the intended purpose?" or "What purpose is actually achieved?". These are two separate things. Do those two things vary if the conference already has 75% female attendees? 50%? 10% female attendees? You can see this confusion from the answers: some are talking about intent (which doesn't lead towards verifiable conclusions, and results in a ton of anecdotes); others are talking about actual effect (if any). And of course this will also vary by field (STEM teachers? academic? linguistics?) – smci Sep 26 '16 at 0:20
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    @smci I don't think the question was particularly well thought out: it seemed querulous, prone to excessive generalization from limited personal experience, seeking validation of one's own preconceptions (a tone of "come on, guys, you agree this is pointless amirte?") and so on. Hence my sympathy with this meta post by Cape Code: badly phrased, or badly intended, questions need extra vigilance or perhaps pre-emptive closure, IMO. YMMV as they say – Yemon Choi Sep 26 '16 at 12:07
21

I have mixed feelings on this. I think the questions address legitimate issues in academia that can be answered. The questions attract a lot of discussion in the comments and bad answers. I think we should moderate the comments and answers and not slam the door on relevant questions.

I would rather see comments flag as too chatty and bad answers either flagged as not an answer or down voted into oblivion.

  • I am a relative newbie to academia.SE but I am concerned about whether there is any clear line from the moderators -- I'm not demanding that they agree with me, but I have seen several questions where comments get out of hand and I wish I could heavily downvote them, but I don't want to start flagging in case I'm the one being out of sync – Yemon Choi Sep 21 '16 at 1:08
  • @YemonChoi just flag them. It's site policy not to have extended discussion in comments. Use the "other" reason and say something about moving the discussion to chat. – Cape Code Sep 21 '16 at 11:33
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    @YemonChoi You should flag away. When comments are flagged, we can label it helpful/declined. If lots of your flags are declined, then ask on chat or meta about why (we could be wrong). If we decline a flag, nothing happens to the comment. If we think a flag is helpful we can edit the comment, delete the comment, leave a comment, do nothing (apart from keeping an eye on future comments), or in exceptional circumstances move the comments to chat. The comment chain has to meet certain requirements before the system will let us move it. – StrongBad Sep 21 '16 at 15:02
  • @CapeCode other reason is not a great choice when flagging comments. In general, the system does not let us move comments to chat. It is only special cases where we get that option and the bot lets us know when that is an option. – StrongBad Sep 21 '16 at 15:04
  • I think one problem is that some comments, perhaps the majority, will be reasonable; but then all it takes is one or two people wading in shooting from the hip, and the whole thing gets derailed. Because the system doesn't have a means for downvoting comments, I think there is a "ratchet" effect whereby dubious comments get upvoted more than they deserve – Yemon Choi Sep 21 '16 at 16:36
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    @YemonChoi We need to be careful with "reasonable". The idea of comments is to help improve the post. Most of these types of questions get comments that are discussion. In a strict sense, discussion comments are never "reasonable" while in a practical sense we can let them slide unless the thing gets derailed. – StrongBad Sep 21 '16 at 17:16
  • Related to the points I was trying to make: GregMartin, who has IMO greater experience and knowledge than pay, has noticed the question and is leaving useful and considered comments. But now since they've gone through a round of being moved to chat, it seems that his comments may get deleted. This strikes me as an undesirable outcome. The ratchet effect I mentioned above allows wrongheaded comments to get voted up, in a kind of tabloid mentality – Yemon Choi Sep 21 '16 at 20:13
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    @YemonChoi His comments are an attempt to start a discussion. Regardless of if it is a well reasoned and thoughtful discussion, comments are NOT for discussion (meta is different). He should either write an answer or take it to chat. – StrongBad Sep 21 '16 at 20:33
15

Just because something attracts junk comments, doesn't mean it's a bad question. Personally I think the question is legitimate and should stay up.

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    I believe just because it attracts mostly junk comments and answer means it's a bad question for this site. – Cape Code Sep 20 '16 at 19:50
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    @CapeCode The topic of climate change attracts a lot of junk comments and answers, does it mean that it's a bad topic to study? No, it means that for some reason many people are particularly opinionated about the issue and want to make their voice heard no matter what, but it doesn't mean that it's impossible to discuss the issue and provide actual answers to the question. – user9646 Sep 21 '16 at 13:29
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    @Najibidrissi I make no comment about what's a good subject to study and what's not. A discussion about climate change would be a bad fit for this site all the same. I'd vote to close it. – Cape Code Sep 21 '16 at 13:55
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    @CapeCode You're purposefully twisting my words. A discussion about climate change would be a bad fit because this site is a bad fit for discussions altogether. A question about climate change related to academia could be on-topic (even though it would certainly attract off-topic commentary), it depends on what the question is; but the fact remains that "climate change" was used as an example of something worth talking about even though many people want to spout nonsense about it. It appears that you do not know what an analogy is... – user9646 Sep 21 '16 at 14:11
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    @NajibIdrissi I think that certain topics are likely to cause quick influxes of ill-informed or prejudiced comments. FWIW I incline towards CapeCode's views. Either academia.SE should get much more pro-active and explicit with moderation (MO style) or it should just steer clear of certain topics. I mean, over on TCS don't you get PvsNP and Collatz crankery? – Yemon Choi Sep 21 '16 at 14:54
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    @YemonChoi I don't participate on TCS so I wouldn't know. On math.SE, we do have some topics like that, e.g. 0.999... = 1 which has a whopping 28 deleted answers (one of them is sitting at a score of -46). This sort of topic is simply heavily scrutinized. If you search for the name "Collatz" on math.SE you'll see that there are a few OK questions about it. Banning a topic altogether because it's likely to attract low-quality content is not the way to go IMO, it's a poor substitute for actual moderation (remember that ordinary users moderate, too). – user9646 Sep 21 '16 at 15:31
  • @NajibIdrissi A fair point, but then the nature of SE system means that the tone is largely set by those who got in early. (After all, am I really an order of magnitude "better" as an MO user than you? I think not). And on contentious issues like these, I think moderation would have to be heavy, not always supporting views you agree with (or that I would agree with). – Yemon Choi Sep 21 '16 at 16:32
  • @YemonChoi "much more pro-active and explicit with moderation (MO style)" What do you mean to propose specifically? My main problem is that I do not consider MO as pro-active and explicitly moderated for an SE site at all. (And there are numerous quotes on its meta where the community praises itself not to be as rigidly moderated as common SE sites.) – quid Sep 21 '16 at 18:32
  • @quid on reflection you're right to question my choice of words. If I find a cogent response I'll post it in due course – Yemon Choi Sep 21 '16 at 20:44
10

I think that controversial questions are fine, but require a much higher level of care in community attention and moderation.

In particular, they typically rapidly shoot to the "hot questions" list and start attracting low-quality answers from new site users. I typically protect such questions as soon as I am able, in order to keep the trash-answer rate down, but there is a significant delay (maybe a day?) before non-moderators can protect.

Flagging early to ask the moderators to protect can thus help a lot in mitigating quality issues.

  • Indeed I'm always surprised to see their vote count skyrocket while I find them utterly uninteresting. The click-bait effect I guess. – Cape Code Sep 22 '16 at 18:38
  • What about low-quality comments? – Yemon Choi Sep 22 '16 at 18:53
  • @YemonChoi Comments are already partially protected by reputation requirements: you at least don't get totally random driveby comments. As for the rest, flag for mod attention just like anywhere else. – jakebeal Sep 22 '16 at 19:11
  • @jakebeal Thanks for the advice. I would say, however, that reputation requirements aren't much help if, say, people who've racked up rep on other sites wade in. But this has no doubt been done to death in discussion on many different .SE sites as a feature/bug of the susyem – Yemon Choi Sep 22 '16 at 20:17
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    The "hot questions" list keeps showing up as a major root-cause in much bad site behavior. That deserves its own meta-discussion on how to fix it. – smci Sep 25 '16 at 2:00
3

I felt that much of the problem with this question was the presence of a personal story that did not bear on the question being asked, so I edited the question to remove the story.

The resulting question (i.e. the underlying question of the original post!) strikes me as much more reasonable.

  • Thanks, Tom. I am still troubled by "I am sure this phenomenon is true elsewhere" but I agree that the version resulting from your edit is much less problematic – Yemon Choi Sep 21 '16 at 16:54
  • I don't disagree, but wanted to err on the side of removing as little as possible. Perhaps one can charitably read this as "is true in some other places" rather than "is true everywhere else" (whatever the odds that the OP actually meant that). – Tom Church Sep 21 '16 at 16:56
  • @YemonChoi I took the "elsewhere" to be other STEM departments in US graduate schools and not just his/her department. If the scope of "elsewhere" that is the issue, we should just edit that bit. The OP can roll it back if need be. – StrongBad Sep 21 '16 at 16:59

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