I just voted to close this question as off-topic.

On the old MathOverflow, I'd have voted to close as "Not a Real Question". But in the current version, the closest I can come to "Not a Real Question" is "Unclear What You're Asking", which requires me to invite the OP to "Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details". I do not want this poster to clarify his specific problem or add additional details. I just want his question closed.

This issue has arisen for me a few times since the transition, and I've dealt with it by always choosing "Off Topic". But I'd be much happier if we had the old "Not a Real Question" option.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How about making this a suggestion here: meta.mathoverflow.net/questions/183/… $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 17:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You are unlikely to get the old NARQ back: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/171732/… $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 11:14
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I also miss "no longer relevant" for those big list questions which begin to attract crank answers. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 18:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ But we've gained "historical locks" specifically for that purpose, @Felipe. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais also the ability to protect questions -- prevents answers from low users. This is useful when you don't want to hist lock (strictly speaking, hist lock is for questions that have good answers but aren't any more considered on topic) but ant to prevent low quality answers from newbies. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais So how do we "historical lock" a question? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Felipe: Flag moderators and ask for a historical lock. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Felipe, it looks like Scott got to that one before me and decided to protect it instead. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 14:23

2 Answers 2


I don't think I understand why you would want to close this question as "not a real question". It is certainly an understandable question, but also very clearly not a question at the research level. "not a real question" does not really fit here, the question is understandable and reasonably clear, it just isn't research level. Off-topic is a perfect fit here.

The new close reasons and the associated changes to the close system strongly emphasize that questions can be salvaged and reopened. Previously, the impression many new users had was that the closing of their question was final. This is not the intention behind the close mechanism, in cases where the question can be edited into shape, closing is only temporary. This didn't work as well as intented, and the changes are meant to encourage editing and reopening salvageable questions.

Of course there are some questions that just don't belong here, and telling those users that they could be reopened would be offering false hope and would be rather counterproductive. If a question is not at the research level, off-topic is the correct close reason. In such a case it is the best for both sides if the user is told politely, but firmly that he is in the wrong place. This is also a point where you might want to point the user to MSE, if appropriate. Not only is it more helpful to the user if you point him to a place wher he'll likely find help, but it also avoid further discussions or any other kind of trouble when they find a place where their questions fit.

The off-topic reasons are also customizable by the moderators, so you can add some appropriate close reasons if the existing ones are not sufficient.

  • $\begingroup$ There are plenty of questions asked at MO, which do not belong to math.stackexchange either: These are questions which are either extremely poorly stated, or questions of the type "I proved X, where should I publish my result?" or "questions" of the type "Here is a short proof that the set of real numbers is countable", followed by some utter nonsense. All these, used to be described as "Not a real question" and I too miss not having this option. $\endgroup$
    – Misha
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 5:35
  • $\begingroup$ Here is a recent example: mathoverflow.net/questions/136187 $\endgroup$
    – Misha
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Misha If such a type of question is closed often enough, a custom off-topic sub-reason might be appropriate. $\endgroup$
    – user35354
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 13:34

I can appreciate that sense of conviction: when you just know something has to go. But encouraging an author to improve their work doesn't necessarily imply it can (or even should) be salvaged. At the very least, the introspection might help them improve their work in the future. That's the point of the new close system. It gives users clearer guidance about where they went wrong so they can either (a) fix the problems or, failing that (b) not repeat them in the future.

Certainly some questions are destined to (and need to) be closed, no doubt. But having the core software tell you that your question is not real by default has fueled the growing belief that we are more interested in alienating users who haven't learned all our nuances of how to ask, rather than helping them with their problem.

You don't get it so this needs to be closed. Buh-bye.

At least that's the perception. It's this "no one is interested in helping me" ethos that the new close system is designed to address:

War of the Closes

There's nothing about the new close system asking you change what questions you accept, or how to moderate users who are unlikely to contribute to this site. But the truth is, our original close system was designed with the experienced community in mind… while neglecting to help the author of the question understand what the heck was going on. The default messaging built into the old system — how potentially brilliant new users were treated by default — did little to help hapless new users understand the system of improving their content so it could work.

In contrast, the new close system was written with the the author (and majority of less-experienced users looking on) in mind — part peer review, part educational.

This question is not usable because of the following problems. If you feel you can address these problems, here's what needs to be done… or at least how you can have a more productive experience the next time around.

Of course we recognize that some posts are simply unsalvageable. There are instances where no followup is going to save that post. But baking a lack of guidance into the close system only engenders the belief that Stack Exchange has become increasingly elitist and unwelcoming to all but the most experience users who have been here since the earliest days.

  • 16
    $\begingroup$ Personally, I would very much like MathOverflow to seem quite unwelcoming to the sort of users who are unlikely to contribute anything other than noise. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 18:14
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I downvoted this. First, because it seems to make several unsubstantiated claims, such as "But what you are suggesting we add back is the concept of the author being dismissed out of hand". Second, rather than addressing Steven Landsburg's point, it just reads like promotional material for the new close system. $\endgroup$
    – user5117
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 19:45
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I agree with Artie. Steven Landsburg is asking for "NARQ" to be reinstated as a reason for closing or putting on hold, not "suggesting we add back the concept of the author being dismissed out of hand". $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 20:01
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ How nice to see that my comment, which admittedly was no longer relevant, has been removed unilaterally $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 21:25
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ The problem is that a person who asks an unsuitable question of the sort we want to close as NARQ is in very high probability never going to have a question suitable for MO. If we encourage them gently, then they might come back, which we don't actually want. And for the sorts of questions I'm envisaging, they aren't suitable for M.SE either, like, "I think I proved the Collatz/Golbach/twin prime/BS-D conjecture, can you help me?", which we have gotten, and some of these people took real and sustained effort to get rid of at the cost of a lot of noise. Giving them a mild ... (cont) $\endgroup$
    – David Roberts Mod
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 21:40
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ ... 'perhaps you could ask this question better next time'/'this question would be more welcome on M.SE' is not what the situation needs. $\endgroup$
    – David Roberts Mod
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 21:41
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Yemon, there is a custom across other SE sites to delete obsolete comments. We don't do that on MO but this is not clearly advertised anywhere. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 0:12
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Ah, yes. Certainly no offense or attempt at censorship meant, @YemonChoi. See meta.stackexchange.com/questions/77373/…. I only removed the comments because I took your suggestions and integrated the information back into the post. Much appreciated; but come to think of it, more important for the canon of the main Q&A site and less so for meta. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 0:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RobertCartaino Thanks for the clarification - no hard feelings $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 3:30
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ For all your concern about "welcoming" people, this message --- especially in its original form before you started editing and re-editing it --- leaves me feeling quite unwelcome. "Nobody here is interested in helping you" is exactly the (accurate) message I sometimes want to send, and I am dismayed by the insinuation that I am somehow at fault for not wanting to engage with people who clearly have nothing to contribute here. You've of course got every right to pitch your site to whoever you want to, but if that's who you end up pitching to, I for one will be gone. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 1:55
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ I would kindly like to ask Robert to refrain from editing incessantly. Once every day for a few consecutive days or so seems excessive but not terribly intrusive, but 16 edits on two days is way too much. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 2:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .