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I asked and suggested an answer to this question about whether instructors should use a newly-presented academic-integrity web service from the Chegg company (the "Honor Shield"). The question quickly received a number of upvotes, and no suggestions to close from community members.

However, a moderator then closed it as a "shopping" question, linking back to this question on meta from a few years ago.

The title of that meta question is, "What to do with questions asking to evaluate commercial online services?", but the body of the question, and the accepted answer, deal with assessing organizations in general. That is: the examples in the meta question are all of the form, "Is organization X useful?". And the highlighted summary of the answer is, "Evaluating an organization is not OK."

But the question I posed is not about evaluating an organization in general. It is putting up a specific online web service, which is publicly available to any instructor, and relates to an important academic-integrity issue which has had numerous other questions on SE in the past year, to vote and find a consensus response by the community here.

In contrast, I might point to this other meta question from last year, on the issue of, "What are the limits of 'shopping' questions when it comes to software?". In that case, the top-voted answer observes that specialized software tools are intrinsic to the work of many academics, and summarizes that, "I think that this is the right site for this kind of questions, and that we should amend the definition of 'shopping question' to make them on-topic if they are not on topic already." I think that meta question is much more relevant than the one linked by the question closer.

Compare also to several questions specifically about the Turnitin service (on the same theme, another specific online tool to support academic integrity checks) that have been left open on SE Academia over the years, e.g., here, here, and here.

Is a narrowly-focused question about a particular online software tool, which relates to an issue of academic integrity, truly a shopping question? Should all questions of this nature now be closed, or left open?

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    I think this is borderline enough that it should not have been mod-hammered closed. Wrz should reopen and let the community decide. None had voted to close it when they did. – Azor Ahai -him- Apr 8 at 19:53
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I'd consider that specific kind of question highly opinion based. After all, your answer boils down to "Chegg is a bad guy, so don't interact with it". That is, it seems more an attempt to attack a specific service, rather than a genuine evaluation of the offered option.

So, I think that it should be kept closed, either as opinion based or as a shopping question (depending on how one looks at it).

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There are some crucial differences between your question and other examples you cite:

  • Your question (and answer) hinge on the integrity of the company in question. This is partially due to the nature of the service in question, but that doesn’t solve the problem. Questions about evaluating whether a journal is trustworthy¹ have the same issue. Your answer spends the first two (non-summary) paragraphs on evaluating the company. At the end of the day, the main reason why we close questions is the answers they attract, and your question inevitably attracts answers that evaluate the company.

  • Your question (and answer) is not about how or when to use a tool but whether to use it at all, with the conclusion that nobody should ever use this.

  • Your question is not about evaluating a type of tool, but a specific tool. You are not using this tool as an example for similar tools (which is even possible if such do not exist), but your question is about this tool in specific.


¹ which is after all usually only one product by one publisher and while your typical predatory journal belongs to a predatory publisher, there have been cases of single journals of a reputable publisher being wrecked by an editor.

Compare also to several questions specifically about the Turnitin service (on the same theme, another specific online tool to support academic integrity checks) that have been left open on SE Academia over the years, e.g., here, here, and here.

The first two questions (and many other typical questions on plagiarism-detection services) illustrate the difference quite well: The integrity and quality of Turnitin are not the subject of these questions and the answers do not address this. If we answer somebody that it is a waste of time and money to have their own thesis checked for plagiarism by such a service, this doesn’t mean that the service is bad or nobody should ever use such service. It’s about when and how to use such tools. The third question is asking many things at once and some of them are shopping (“I would like to know whether the free tier is totally worthless”), but nobody answered that (and I now removed it).

It is putting up a specific online software tool […] to vote and find a consensus response by the community here.

That’s exactly the kind of popularity contest that we want to avoid by banning shopping questions. We are not the Board of Deciding which Academic Tool is Proper. Votes decide whether an answer is useful to the asker and future visitors – which usually means weighing the pros and cons, being generally applicable, etc. Votes do not decide whether an answer arrives at the correct™ yes-or-no conclusion.

In that case, the top-voted answer observes that specialized software tools are intrinsic to the work of many academics, and summarizes that, "I think that this is the right site for this kind of questions, and that we should amend the definition of 'shopping question' to make them on-topic if they are not on topic already." I think that meta question is much more relevant than the one linked by the question closer.

Mind that the focus of that question is recommendation questions, which does not translate well here: You do not choose one tool to solve your problem, but even if everything works as advertised, you would have to use all of them. The entire angle of my answer to that question, namely to focus on how to solve a given problem (be it with or without specific software) does not apply.

Is a narrowly-focused question about a particular online software tool, which relates to an issue of academic integrity, truly a shopping question? Should all questions of this nature now be closed, or left open?

There is no simple yes or no answer. Such questions should be closed if they focus on evaluating the tool, company, or similar instead of solving a particular problem or when or how to apply a tool.

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    I dunno - I haven't voted one way or another, but there's lots of specific questions about software. For example, a question like "Should I use LaTeX in sociology?" would probably be fine and get the answer "No," or cf here: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/157578/…. Note that LaTeX and Facebook are specific tools. I think you shouldn't have mod-hammered this Q, nothing that there weren't any other CVs. – Azor Ahai -him- Apr 8 at 19:58
  • I never claimed that all specific questions about software are problematic. The LaTeX example is considerably different because it has a specific usage context and will probably attract answers weighing the pros and cons. You would not get answers dissuading the use of LaTeX in general. Also LaTeX is not commercial. I would consider the Facebook question also problematic as it attracted several answers that are just general Facebook bashing. I cannot fully evaluate that one though, since it assumes familiarity with Facebook tools that I do not have. – Wrzlprmft Apr 9 at 5:45
  • As for hammering this, I still consider this far from borderline and a clear case of an opinion-based shopping question. At the moment of closing it had become an HNQ and thus a prominent broken window. Also please mind that since closing, three users with CV privileges chose to leave it closed and another moderator seconded my decision. So hammering it open now would be at least as problematic as hammering it closed allegedly was. – Wrzlprmft Apr 9 at 5:54
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    I don't think Latex not being commercial has any bearing, and I think the Facebook one is fine and they're all valid issues with the platform. Anyway, mod hammering it closed is a big precedent ("leave closed" is imo different than "close") and I still think you shouldn't have hammered it but I'll acknowledge that now undoing it would be bad (still not as bad - if it's as obvious as you think, it should be promptly closed, right?). – Azor Ahai -him- Apr 9 at 6:03
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    @AzorAhai-him-: This community does not operate on precedents. If the community decides that it wants such questions (which doesn’t appear to be the case), so be it. One reason for mod-hammering is to perform a quick action if needed and this was the case here: The question was clearly about evaluating and bashing an individual company, which no matter how much that company deserves it, clearly goes against a repeated community consensus. As it was active (and an HNQ), there was the risk of it attracting additional answers, comments, etc. exacerbating the problems. – Wrzlprmft Apr 10 at 8:31
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    From another perspective, moderators are human exception handlers. An open and active popular question that should clearly be closed (as per our policies) is such an exception. The normal way of handling it (waiting for close votes) would have been too slow. On top, the decision could always be undone by reopen votes or meta consensus. Of course, evaluating the size of the problem is a judgement call, but that’s the kind of judgement call we moderators inevitably have to frequently make and were elected to make. So far, this meta discussion seems to confirm this judgement call. – Wrzlprmft Apr 10 at 8:49
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    Ah that's not what I meant - I meant that it's the precedent for dealing with this question. Surely you can agree that sending it to the reopen queue and seeing it receive n CVs is not the same as it receiving n CVs naturally. It has as many reopen votes as leave closed votes. Anyway, I won't belabor it any more other than to state I still disagree with your action. – Azor Ahai -him- Apr 10 at 18:29
  • If this is that black and white, it should be closed by voting members, not moderators – Scott Seidman 3 hours ago
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I think you should make a new question that does not request an assessment of a particular company or product. Wrzlprmft claims that "Your question ... hinge[s] on the integrity of the company in question." This is not true. If the question were "Should I rely on a third party to enforce academic integrity?" then the answer would be no. The question is about a specific case of that situation.

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There are several problems with shopping questions: first, they tend to attract spam. Secondly, they invite opinions. Third, they encourage answers that become obsolete very quickly. An answer claiming that OP should buy a computer with one of the Pentium Pro processors would be completely useless at this point, for example.

On the one hand, this is asking only about a single product, so it's not an unconstrained request for a list of things. That being said, it's unlikely to attract spam.

A more debatable question is whether or not this is likely to attract opinionated answers. The term "should" invites opinions rather than answers because there isn't an agreed-upon standard about what things you should even consider in answering it. This question would be improved by editing it to specify what factors you would like people to consider in writing answers. Something like "can we trust Chegg to handle our data correctly?" or "does this product actually accurately identify cheating?" are answerable questions.

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I've voted to reopen. This is not a shopping question.

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