# Multiple indirection in closed duplicates and transitivity of duplicates

I find it hilarious that this question was closed as a duplicate of a question which is in turn a duplicate of a question closed as off-topic!

I realize questions may be closed at any time, not only when the first question in the chain was closed as duplicate, but this is not the case in my example.

When finding dupes, shouldn't we make an effort to either

• Choose one that is not closed itself, or if not possible
• Go to the root cause and use it as the close reason? (In this case: off-topicness).

I also think, in this particular case, the question at the leaf -- vague question about productivity in the workplace and rightfully closed as off-topic -- is different to the original question, which was specifically about earmuffs.

"Duplicate of" should be a transitive property (if A is a dupe of B, and B is a dupe of C, then A must be a dupe of C), otherwise we are using it wrong!

• Ah, that's nothing, not long ago recursive dupes were possible (A closed as a dupe of B closed as a dupe of A...) ;) – yannis May 3 '13 at 16:53
• Consider "A is duped to B" and then later "B is duped to C" - quite possible... especially considering there isn't much visibility about A when looking at "Is B a dup of C?" And the later, "C" is designated as off topic. – user40980 May 3 '13 at 16:56
• @MichaelIT I agree that's a regrettable possibility, but it wasn't the case! At the time of marking A as dupe, B and C were already closed. Like maple_shaft said, this sends the wrong message to the user whose question was closed. – Andres F. May 3 '13 at 19:58
• i wish the greater ups would allow these questions, as i found them interesting (yours and the ear muffs mentioned in answer 1). i do not think there are many such questions to go paniky and close them all, and if there are more than 3 a day then we can think about a new site for them. but till then they are fine – tgkprog May 12 '13 at 5:30

## 2 Answers

I agree with you that it is silly to have a string of duplicates ultimately leading to something offtopic. That doesn't do the user any services by looking at it and thinking

Well these kinds of questions are okay here, but this one just so happens to have been asked before.

Keep in mind that things like this do sometimes happen as a function over time. Sometimes a question can be duplicate to another, only for the original to be later closed as Off Topic. It is not just the moderators closing things, higher reputation users have the ability to close vote as well.

This question...

https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/195351/using-industrial-earmuffs-while-programming-to-filter-out-talking

I reopened and closed as Off Topic as I felt it was slightly different but still does not exclusively apply to the realm of software development.

The other duplicate I merged into the original offtopic question as they were essentially exactly the same.

• Fully agreed with your reasoning (and yes, I'm aware the status of questions can change after choosing them as close reasons. That's unavoidable, I think...) – Andres F. May 3 '13 at 14:40

"Duplicate of" should be a transitive property (if A is a dupe of B, and B is a dupe of C, then A must be a dupe of C)

Assumption of transitivity looks wrong; per my reading of the definition in duplicate-questions tag wiki, it is not required:

we want to tell the user ...something like, “Somebody already asked this. If that other question doesn't solve your problem, please clarify your question to explain how it's different.” Perfect: if the other question helps them, they're happy because they got an answer. If the other question doesn't help them, they know exactly what to do. No argument about how exact an "exact duplicate" needs to be...

Question A having an answer in B does not automatically guarantee that it also has an answer in C, even though question B may have its answer in C.

For a simplified example, imagine "chain of duplicates" like as follows:

• A: How do I see result of multiplying 2 by 2?

• B: How do I multiply?
answer:
You invoke multiply method of arith package. In order to view result, you invoke method of display package.

• C: How do I do arithmetic operations?
answer:
You invoke appropriate method of arith package, like multiply, divide etc.

It's easy to imagine readers being satisfied by closures A -> B and B -> C since answers given solve the problems asked about.

However, closure A -> C would be problematic: first question asks about how to display results, while answer in the second question says nothing about this.

Note how question in B does not ask about displaying results, making dupe closure look reasonable. Also note how answer in B provides guidance beyond its scope, along with addressing the question asked.

For a more realistic example, refer to the non-transitive chain of duplicates at Meta Stack Overflow:

A' is closed as a duplicate of B', which is in turn closed as a duplicate of C'.

If you take a closer look at revisions history and comments, you will notice that initial closure has been changed from A' -> C' to narrower one, A' -> B' because readers disagreed that widest dupe target has answers relevant to the question asked in A'.

• Haha, well reasoned! I agree the transitivity angle is not as clear cut as I first thought. I still think there is something essentially silly with having a potentially infinite chain of closed-as-duplicates, ending with an off-topic. – Andres F. May 4 '13 at 22:00
• @AndresF. well to me it doesn't look as silly if one considers that alternative to chain of dupes is to have a heap of posts closed as off-topic, along with all the usual complaints. Note that as pretty well explained here, dupe closure is most user friendly one – gnat May 4 '13 at 22:12