I have recently seen a few cases where questions have been closed very quickly (after a few hours), usually with a "question unclear" motivation, but with no further comments to the OP. Examples are:

1) How are colors outside the standard RGB color scheme perceived? (also highlighted in this meta post)

2) Calvin cycle:synthesis of glucose

3) How many times can a single human stem cell divide?

My feeling is that in all these cases, the questions were dismissed too quickly, without giving the OP a chance to edit and clarify his question. In case (1) the question was initially closed for being off-topic, but was then reopened. In case (2) the question was closed for being unclear, but in my opinion it was clear enough after some edits, and my answer was apparently what the OP was looking for; I have voted to reopen it. In case (3) there has been no further discussion --- possibly the OP gave up after the question was closed.

I agree these questions have been borderline off-topic and/or unclear, especially in the first posted version. But I think it is important that we in such cases point out what the problem is, and allow the OP to attempt to revise the question, rather than just closing it with no feedback to the OP whatsoever.

One danger with closing too quickly is that it is likely to be discouraging towards newcomers; it feel it makes Biology SE appear less welcoming. Also, we should recognize that it may actually be difficult for the OP to formulate the question clearly if he/she is uncertain or confused about the topic. Providing comments and allowing the OP to revise the question are then necessary steps towards an answer. (Personally, I have learnt over the years that in science, formulating good questions is often harder than answering them, and so I have a lot of respect for this process.)

For these reasons, I think it is important that we err on the side of caution when considering closing questions. My view is that a poorly formulated or borderline-relevant question that remains open for a while doesn't really hurt anyone, but premature closing of a question can be rather damaging because of its discouraging effect.

I recognize that review of questions is a somewhat thankless task where we have too few hands, as pointed out in another recent meta post, and that mistakes will be made. But I would suggest that we try to give borderline cases the benefit of doubt, especially when the OP is a new user, so as to be inclusive as a community. I'd love to hear any comments you might have.

  • $\begingroup$ I think the idea is that questions will be closed until edits are made to improve the quality. Unfortunately, even when this happens, it can be hard to re-open questions. Generally, I agree with you that questions are closed to often (though not in the case of your latter two examples). I've brought this up before but the people who frequently vote to close don't seem to agree. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Feb 27 '17 at 5:24
  • $\begingroup$ The edits to the Calvin cycle question seem sufficient to me and I have voted to re-open. Also, I think people do generally comment on why a question is being closed. I won't also comment if someone has already expressed my point for me. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Feb 27 '17 at 5:25
  • $\begingroup$ I edited the third example and voted to reopen it. I agree with the closers that the question wasn't written very well, but I think this is a case where one can make a reasonable guess about what the OP wanted and answer that question - basically any answer that tries to address the question should be of interest to the OP and others, and the interesting biology isn't likely to be different for different interpretations of the question. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Feb 28 '17 at 0:11
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    $\begingroup$ Overall, I think this site is plagued by low-quality questions (specifically of the "homework" type) and that helps to make people more trigger-happy on closing things in general. To add I think this older meta post is also instructive - sometimes helping to clarify an issue in a question with bad assumptions is more helpful than answering a straightforward question, which can often be more easily answered via search. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Feb 28 '17 at 0:13

Short answer

Vote Early, Vote Often

The fast closure is a hotly debated topic over the years. There are a few, yet strong arguments that speak in favor of it -

  • Questions are not closed immediately, they are put on hold first so the process is not final. When questions are put on hold and are subsequently closed, there is time for OP (and other users) to improve the question and vote for re-opening;
  • Not putting mediocre questions on hold swiftly results in poor questions to linger and start gathering dust, cluttering a site. In CogSci this is a serious problem and is referred to as the dreaded Garbage Valley. Yes we are out of Beta, and yes, garbage doesn't harm our statistics anymore in the sense we are a full site - but not for nothing! Core individuals here have invested heaps of time in scraping away old, forgotten, poorly posed questions to clean this site up. Not long after this fortunate initiative we were out of Beta. Keep up the good work - kill poor questions swiftly.
  • It is in fact a core principle of the SE Network: Vote Early, Vote Often. Here in Bio we do vote quickly, but the Vote Often guideline is yet another story...

A small handful of relatively recent related questions

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    $\begingroup$ Basically "on hold" and "closed" mean the same: The question cannot be answered. They can be edited and re-opened, and this is easier for "on hold" questions. A question stays "on hold" for the first five days after the closure (except for duplicate closings). Other than that, there is no major difference. See this posting on meta.stackchange.com for details. $\endgroup$ – Chris Mar 1 '17 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, these are good points. I appreciate that it's a trade-off, as not closing questions can clutter the site. @canadianer also pointed out that putting on hold is meant to allow revisions, and I agree with that, but it depends on how the "on hold" message is conveyed to the (newbie) user. I think that without any explanatory comments, the "on hold" message is very discouraging. If moderators would always provide a comment explaining why the question is being put on hold, and what the OP should do to improve, then it's very different. So, more feedback, not just a silent close vote. $\endgroup$ – Roland Mar 1 '17 at 9:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris - thanks for that. I edited the answer $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 1 '17 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Roland Not all questions are put on hold by the moderators - most are closed by the community. Since a moderators vote is binding (meaning it comes into effect immediately), we mostly abstain voting - I usually only cast the 5th vote, where this effect doesn't matter. $\endgroup$ – Chris Mar 1 '17 at 9:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris, sorry, I'm not using terminology correctly. By "moderators" I just meant those high-rep users that cast the close votes. (What's the correct term?) $\endgroup$ – Roland Mar 1 '17 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Roland: hi-rep users it is :-) $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 1 '17 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Roland Ah, ok :-) $\endgroup$ – Chris Mar 1 '17 at 11:54
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    $\begingroup$ The motto for biology SE should be "vote early, vote wrongly"... $\endgroup$ – canadianer Mar 1 '17 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer - explain? $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 1 '17 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ Just being silly. I frequently disagree with how this place is moderated. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Mar 3 '17 at 16:47

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