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I really think it should be possible for people to vote not to close a function, not just unilateral 'close'. It only takes 5 votes to close a question, and then it is a more painful process to get it re-opened. If people could vote either way, this process could be simplified.
If 5 more people think that the question should be closed than people think it should remain open, I think that that is indeed enough to close it. But right now, any 5 people can 'unilateraly' close a question, and it takes effort to re-open. This seems unbalanced.
We can't change the functionality of the software, at least, it's not a short-term issue to make that kind of change. So the only thing you could hope to change is people's behaviour. The problem with votes to "not close" in the comments section is it requires people to put lots of comments regarding their wishes to close or not close, and then the bookkeeping becomes ugly. IMO it's probably best to just start a meta thread whenever it gets to a situation like this, and include the link to the meta thread in the comments section rather than have a confusing close/don't close debate in the comments.
I agree with everything Ryan said, and only would like to add that even if this was simple to change software-wise it is not quite clear how this should be actually done; and this is also an issue of the 'not close' votes in comments.
Also 5 people can 'unilaterally' reopen a question and it then is an effort to reclose it; I will eleabortae on the point of this remark in another active thread as it is a part of a more general phenomenon and better fits there.
Yet here the question to me is how should this work in practise. Of course one could keep a running count of close minus (not close) and if it is at least 5 the question gets closed; yet what if it reaches 5 and then drops to 4 should this reopen? Then alternating votes would one by one change the status of the question, which seems undesirable, and also would reauire more voting. Because then if I see something at 5 and want it closed I more or less need to vote to make it 6, and better 7 and so on.
Yet if not then the precise timing of the votes would be important, which feels quite arbitray. (Indeed this is the situation with 'not close' comments; if I get it in at 4 it helps, if a minute later the question is already closed, the one vote won't reopen).
So, I think there is a good reason why the situation is as it is. (Still I personally respect not to close comments, even though the convention was as far as I understand discontinued.)
Argh, and now the question that prompted this (on Leibniz) was predictably closed!
Even more: the question had 9 'up' votes, and STILL 5 people thought that it was off-topic. Isn't there something fundamentally broken when a question with 9 up-votes is closed as off-topic? Actually, what is the question with the most up-votes that was nevertheless closed?
To stress Will Jagy's remark. 'Controversial' things will typically show this behavior (downvoting is rather rare!).
And, not discussing this question but just as a matter of principle, just that 9 out of a couple thousand users that have 15 rep think something is of interest is perhaps also not a too significant criterion.
@Jacques: my own reason to close was 'not a real question' (the closest thing to my specific objection), because even after I asked the OP what he meant more specifically, he really couldn't say. Therefore, it seems to me the question was a fishing expedition, too vague, too discussion-y, not yet ripe for MO.
Okay, thanks for saying so, Will. But hm. This reminds me of another recent meta thread, the one on L^p and L^q not being isomorphic if p doesn't equal q. Once again, my feeling is that the answer(s) is/are being promoted ahead of the question, and again I take exception to this practice, no matter how good the answers may be, and no matter the interest of the question for some. We need to maintain the standard of focused questions.
Regarding the agreement:
I agree with Gil Kalai that some clarification might be needed here. Now that it is clear to me that Jacques Carette had an immediate motivation for this thread it seems obvious to me that he was unaware that might be able to vote by such a comment.
Yet, my impression of the situation is this (but I agree it is not very clear): there was a convention in palce about from mid 2010 to May 2011. Then it was declared obsolete and as such discontinued. (That I still respect such comment-votes is personal courtsey towards whoever might cast them.) In addition it was explained without any contradiction that nobody is under any obligation to adhere to this as it is only a convention (before it was declared obsolete).
For those unaware and for the rest for convenience, the main written record of said agreement is in this thread , the end seems most relevant as we are talking about the current situation.
The reason that this thread became reactivated after being idle for about a year, was that in another thread a dicussion happened regarding some not following this, and then a discussion started whether this existed at all.
I, for one, was not at all aware of this convention when it was around.
@Gil (comment 11): maybe the statement of mine you quoted was too starkly put. But I still think that it is in the spirit of MO to maintain the standard of precise and focused questions. See "How to Ask". In my opinion, the question we are discussing fell well short of that standard, and a lowering of that standard may not be good for the site.