So when I encountered this question it had four close-votes, all of them for its being "too broad". This struck me as inappropriate since the question didn't seem particularly broad to me (it was asking if a mouse could be genetically engineered to have alpaca hair).

The question is certainly not a gem, seemingly being an offhand obscure scenario generated by mild curiosity. My guess is a good answer would require more than a little effort, and would end up being along the lines of "not currently as we don't know all the genes involved nor the compatibility of the genes between the two species". Perhaps it should be redirected to another question generically covering gene engineering of random characteristics between random species (a question that probably doesn't now exist). Or maybe it should be closed for some other reason, but I presume that wouldn't be because the two specific species and the trait was being asked about made the question too broad.

Anyway, after adding a comment asking why the close-voters thought it was too broad, there was a response saying "It's just a way of removing a poor question. The Homework thing is another option if you just focus on the lack of research."

So it seems that random close-reasons are being used to try to get rid of questions that some feel shouldn't be on the site. Do we want to be using these two canned close-reasons in this manner? Do we need one or more new canned close-reasons that make explicit whatever the real reasons are for closing questions that the community feels contaminate the site by their presence? Shouldn't the close-reason give the questioner a reasonable clue as to why their actual question is not acceptable?

  • $\begingroup$ I am one of the close-voters; I voted as "too broad" because I felt like the question is not answerable without including a semester of biology. Alternatively, I could have voted it as "unclear" for a similar reason. The spectrum of answers could include anything from complexities of traits (i.e., "fur" is not a gene, there will be many genes that influence fur characteristics) to cloning strategies across species. Alternatively, I could have voted it as a "homework" question because there doesn't seem to be any background research. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Nov 15 '18 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ So @BryanKrause's close reason was "your question suggests broad misunderstandings" $\endgroup$
    – De Novo
    Nov 15 '18 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ @DeNovo That might be a good way to put it, thank you. :) Certainly more principled than David's explanation though I think our overall motivations were similar. It's difficult, though, because sometimes I've tried to answer questions here that had broad misunderstandings, too, and felt good about those answers. I think the effort that the question-asker seems to have put in counts a lot for me, and I feel like this question in particular was more of a "Hey wouldn't it be cool if..." question rather than something based in wanting to learn about biology. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Nov 15 '18 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ I'd also say that if the community decides we want to be more narrow in our use of "too broad" as a close reason I am open to that suggestion. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Nov 15 '18 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ I was responsible for the comment "It's just a way of removing a poor question. The Homework thing is another option if you just focus on the lack of research". However, to set the record straight, I have not actually voted to close that question. I was just suggesting why I think people had used this option. In fact the "Homework is another option..." was suggested to me one time when I bemoaned the paucity of options for voting to close an obviously poor question. I'll provide my own answer to this discussion question. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Nov 15 '18 at 22:53

Close-vote reasons should be used carefully, as it may happen that a question gets closed without anyone leaving a comment. Then the close-reason (democratically picked across the 5 close votes) will be shown below the freshly closed post (technically - put on hold). While a comment is basically a necessity especially for new users, I don't wish to enforce it on this site, as the number of active reviewers on this site is below standards and I don't want to discourage potential reviewers from doing good work by adding work load. So first off:

Thank you for reviewing!!!!

Is it OK to randomly pick a close-reason? No, close-voting for something being too broad, while you basically think that it should be something else, is highly discouraged, as users should be guided to improve their question. However, in the linked case you can make your pick, as it is indeed a poor question for many reasons: it is under-researched ('homework'), open for discussion ('pob'), and indeed too broad as well.

Why did 4 too-broads pour in? Often long-time users will have a reasonable hunch if a question is poor or not and will just cast a quick vote. Subsequent users might also feel it's a poor question and will follow the herd and use the same reason.

What to do if you think the standard close-reasons are insufficient? Make your own custom close reason, even if it overlaps with existing reasons. It may be way more informative to OP than a random close reason.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The "follow the herd" reason is probably a big factor for why questions such as this one have a single close reason. $\endgroup$ Nov 15 '18 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater - absolutely. I myself do it as well, but as a mod I have the awesome excuse that I am a representative of the community ;-) $\endgroup$
    – AliceD Mod
    Nov 15 '18 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ I'll just point out that - from a "users should be guided to improve their question" perspective - labeling an "under-researched" close reason as "homework" is terrible. $\endgroup$
    – R.M.
    Nov 21 '18 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @R.M. agreed, it's along-time issue that should be resolved soon by adding another close-reason or change the text of the current one. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD Mod
    Nov 21 '18 at 18:59

If we play by the strict rules, then the answer to the question should obviously be no, but…

  1. I don’t think the ‘hard case’ is an abuse of the ‘too broad’ category. (Apologies for implying that others might have been doing so.)

  2. The real problem in my (and others’) opinion is the inadequacy of the options available for closing obviously poor questions.

1. How broad is too broad?

Let us look at the question, ignoring the first sentence that says the poster is curious to know the answer:

“Is it possible to replace a mouse's fur genes with the an Alpaca's fur genes so the mouse then has Alpaca fur?”

Now the poster may have wanted just a yes/no/"we might be able to" answer, with perhaps a link to an article if it had already been done, but most users with enough privilege to vote would regard such questions as outside the remit of SE Biology. So it is natural to recast the question in SE Biology terms as 1. "What is the genetic basis for the difference in coat of mice and alpacas?" and 2. "How can the mouse genome be experimentally manipulated to introduce such genetic changes?". In these terms the question can be considered as too wide as being two questions, but either of them (especially the experimental one) could be considered too wide in their own right.

Of course, @mgkrebs will probably disagree with this point of view, but it would have been better if I had presented it instead of saying that it was a way of removing what was considered to be a poor question.

2. The real problem

The real problem, in my opinion, is, as I have said above, is how to deal with poor questions, given that we would all prefer to use one of the options available rather than write a custom piece each time. There are much worse question than that above, but it seems immediately unsatisfactory because there is no evidence of any effort on the poster’s part to answer the question himself, and the one-liner does not indicate which of the two implicit questions he is really interested in (technology or hair form), and at what scientific level. The suspicion is that he just wants a yes or no answer e.g. to be able to say “Do you know. Those scientists can now...”.

But how do we handle this? If someone happens to know some key gene that influences hair they may wish to answer and not consider the question too broad (even if the poster might not have the background to comprehend.) If one marks the question as unclear for the SEB reasons explained above, that will appear strange in terms of plain English, and the only ‘canned’ response that relates to lack of research is for homework questions, even though the importance of research is emphasized in the help.

This question has already been raised before with the suggestion to follow English Language and Usage’s close option of merely not showing evidence of research. But here we are, four years later, discussing the same problem.

And I would really like to see an option for dealing with really poor questions by saying that a question is not at the requisite standard for “biology researchers, academics, and students”.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ For last paragraph, you can post a feature-request and if the community agrees the mods can do that. $\endgroup$
    – user237650
    Nov 17 '18 at 15:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @user237650 — Wasn't aware of that. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Nov 17 '18 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ This issue has been raised many times over the past few years with no change. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Nov 19 '18 at 20:39

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