In the comments for this question, I was told that the close-and-reopen process is how the PSE community finds consensus on what is on-topic and what is off-topic. Is this correct?

  • I should mention, because I can't help myself, that even if the entire 117,000 users with a score of 1 or more feel a certain way, the site owners must establish certain policies to protect themselves from liability. So even if we all voted to reopen every single question like the one you cite, odds are the site owner would still shut them down. What can I say? Tyranny is just hard. – Rob Jan 6 '15 at 0:54

Voting is how the community comes to consensus on most things on the StackExchange network. Is the question good? Up-votes will determine that. Is the question bad? Down-votes. Does the question fail to meet on-topic criteria? Close votes. Has the question been updated to be on-topic? Reopen votes, etc.

There are many discussions about what constitutes on-topic in Meta and in chat, but ultimately "community consensus" can only be measured by how the community votes.

Edited to add:

I want to mention that sometimes "community consensus" on certain topics does not reflect the written guidelines. When that happens, and it has happened several times on PSE, debates take place, and either the guidelines are changed or consensus is swayed. In either case, how the community votes is still the only way to gauge community consensus on interpretations of the guidelines.

  • "In either case, how the community votes is still the only way to gauge community consensus on interpretations of the guidelines." by definition (= – David Cowden Dec 26 '14 at 19:06
  • Let me throw "silence is consent" into the mix, just to call it out. If 5 people vote to close, and 129,995 don't vote to reopen, then their silence counts as consent. – Rob Jan 2 '15 at 23:22
  • BTW that principle is the only way we could elect state or local governments in the US ;) – Rob Jan 2 '15 at 23:25
  • @RobY Are there 130,000 users with reopen vote privileges? And even if so, how many of those 130,000 who have seen the closed question? – Damian Yerrick Jan 6 '15 at 0:26
  • 1
    That's a fair question. I used 130,000 to be dramatic, from memory of the total number of users on stack overflow. A score of 3000 allows close or reopen votes, and there are 430 users with that score or higher. That means that roughly 430 users determine what questions are on or off topic, so that constitutes "the community" for this purpose. It's less dramatic to say 425 people had every opportunity to vote to reopen, regardless of how many actually did. It may seem unfair, but if 425 silently go along with the actions of the 5, then that's pretty much end of story. – Rob Jan 6 '15 at 0:47
  • But there's no monkey business going on, like moving the cacus to some obscure location. All the questions, comments and votes are accessible through the main page. If the community of people with voting priveliges behave in a consistent manner, then that's what it looks like when the consensus takes shape. – Rob Jan 6 '15 at 0:49
  • @David: That may seem obvious to you, but (for example) Wikipedia hates using votes as a substitute for (what they call) consensus. Of course, Wikipedia's policies are (to put it charitably) a Gordian knot of jargon and legalese, so that's arguably not the best approach. – Kevin Jan 15 '15 at 0:33
  • @Kevin I was just teasing but interesting point. – David Cowden Jan 15 '15 at 1:18

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