I've had a few questions recently which have been closed very early on grounds that don't seem to make any sense and which have not been clearly explained. Take this one which seems to exemplify my frustration: Is the optimal temperature for human productivity 13°C?

The claim is clearly notable (it made plenty of newspaper headlines) and is specific. There are reasons for skepticism (including plenty of previous work on related topics). It doesn't seem too for from the sort of questions the site frequently deals with. And it looks like the answers could bring referenced evidence to bear either to support of reject the claim.

But it is currently on hold as not being on topic. I'm not clear why.

A moderator has acted very quickly to put it on hold. He has also shown some evidence he doesn't understand the question for example by stating "I've read the article but it seems that causality is not claimed by anyone." I challenge anyone else to read the newspaper report or the abstract of the article and conclude that.

So we have a rapid closure after some edits and discussion in comments (where I disagreed with the moderators edits) and where no clear reason is provided for the question being off topic.

As far as I can tell it is a clear, notable claim, it deserves skeptical analysis yet it is being closed within a couple of hours of posting for reasons that are not clearly explained.

Are some moderators too eager to close without having to provide good reasons to do so?

  • Do you want to know "why" or complain about me? The latter is best done through the contact us form and not here. In the former case you should limit this question a particular question and not ask in general (with all due respect, there are different reasons for different questions). – Sklivvz Oct 25 '15 at 8:18
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    @Sklivvz I'm happy to depersonalise. My major frustration is a lack of clarity about why decisions are made. I think when questions appear to meet all the normal stated rules a much more specific reason for closure needs to be provided. We could, for example, have a rule that we can't question recently published science (as oddthinking almost suggests). That would be a really bad idea, I think, but it would be a clear rule I could understand and follow. – matt_black Oct 25 '15 at 13:16
  • I'm happy to answer later today as I'm on a train. Things are very different form what you are inferring on many levels and this requires a lengthy explanation. – Sklivvz Oct 25 '15 at 14:50

When we mods make decisions that get some push-back (or even if we are concerned might get push-back), we contact each other and ask for an independent opinion/review.

Sklivvz did this for these questions, and we have been discussing them.

I did comment on your recent question about inventions - I agree with the closure. Unfortunately, I did so before reading this meta-question, so it may look like a reaction to this one, but it wasn't.

The Optimal Temperature one is trickier. Asking Skeptics.SE to seriously peer-review a Nature article published only 3 days earlier, that has yet to have scientists react to it, is beyond our remit. I've had some ideas on fixing it (e.g. focussing on the reporting, rather than the Nature article), but none I think you'll be happy with.

But I don't want to resolve that here. What I want to do here is answer your question: Are mods too eager to close questions?

Firstly, the barrier for putting a dubious question on hold should be low, given the costs of having someone research a non-answer to a poorly-worded/considered question. Once we start getting answers to questions, it is much more difficult to fix them, out of fairness to the effort spent by the answerer.

Secondly, in this case, he requested peer-review, which I consider evidence that Sklivvz was not trigger-happy. That is not to say he was not unsure about his decision, but he acknowledged that you were unhappy with it.

So, I think the answer is No.

  • If the reason for holding a question is that the claim is only recently reported in the literature and we shouldn't be questioning it, then that should be stated as a reason. I disagree (I think some questions like this need to be put in context of previous science) but the decision would be clear and I would live with it. My frustration is the lack of clear reasons stated by moderators for closure. – matt_black Oct 25 '15 at 13:11
  • BTW the question on the history of science and technology is one where the stated reasons (likely to be a little vague and too opinion based etc.) is clear. Again I think it is rescuable. But what is important is that there is clearly stated reason for closure which means we can argue about ways to fix the problem. Closure with vague reasons or no reason at all is not conducive to improvement and just causes frustration. – matt_black Oct 25 '15 at 13:23

I do agree that putting this question on hold for being off-topic was a mistake, regardless of the moderator who made this decision. I'll explain why in this answer. The question is special because it is not only linking to a notable claim, but to a notable study.

The paper is called "Global non-linear effect of temperature on economic production" and published in nature. The moderator said first that:

Skeptics is not the place for "the study makes sense".

By saying this, the moderator assumed that you're asking the community whether the study makes sense or not; i.e. to peer-review it, which is not necessarily the case. The conclusion made by the study could be contradicted with another evidence or the question could remain unanswered for the moment, but that doesn't make it off-topic. Extraordinary claims require extra ordinary evidence. So, we should be able to find evidence that contradicts or confirms the causality-claim (be it in the present or the future). This question should have been left open for the air.

Moreover, skeptics is:

a library of detailed answers challenging unreferenced notable claims, pseudoscience and biased results.

That doesn't exclude studies, there is a possibility (and it happened) that a study be contradicted with another study or another evidence in the future. There, we can have an answer. By closing your question, guidelines are not followed.

Moreover, the moderator said:

I've read the article but it seems that causality is not claimed by anyone.

It seems that the moderator was referring to the article and not the study.

Also, this is not true. The causality claim is made by both parties.

First the study, as you showed by quoting this part the study that clearly claims causality:

We show that overall economic productivity is non-linear in temperature for all countries, with productivity peaking at an annual average temperature of 13 °C and declining strongly at higher temperatures.

And second, the WashingtonPost:

Culling together economic and temperature data for over 100 wealthy and poorer countries alike over 50 years, the researchers assert that the optimum temperature for human productivity is seems to be around 13 degrees Celsius or roughly 55 degrees Fahrenheit, as an annual average for a particular place.

It said that the researchers assert (state a fact or belief confidently and forcefully) that temperature for human productivity is around 13 degrees Celsius.

Conclusion: Putting this question on hold was a mistake by assuming that you're asking the community to review the study while there is a possibility that evidence from other journals could contradict or confirm the causality-claim. Moreover, the moderator who closed your question failed to find the notable claim in the study (i.e. causality).

If moderators don't convince you with their justification(s), you can contact Stack Exchange where an employee will review your complaint and make a decision.


First of all, thank you for taking the time to bring up the issue in a constructive fashion. Secondly, thanks for posting many questions, I think I can speak in the name of everyone saying we appreciate the effort on your part.

I'd like to clarify a few things. Each question that has been closed has been closed independently of the others, and independently of the author. I can see why it would look suspicious and that is one reason I flagged the other mods to give an independent look at my actions.

The particular question has multiple problems. The largest problem is that it is unclear. Is it about the research article published in Nature or about the reporting on the Washington Post? My comments about "causation" refer to the latter, where the research is spoken of mostly in terms of "relations" and explicit causation is never really claimed. If the question is about the Nature article I have multiple objections.

  • If the question is about the Nature article, why did you link the WP article and not the actual Nature one? The WP article is completely irrelevant to the question and yet it is the main source of the claim. The Nature article is not even linked in the question.

  • We don't allow research level questions. Yours is clearly best answered by an expert on the matter, not by a mere skeptic. Any answer is best evaluated by an expert in the field too.

  • An article on Nature does not really constitute a notable claim. It might be notable, but it's certainly not a claim in itself. It is a fact that the readership of Nature knows how to read a scientific article and can distinguish something preliminary and unreliable from a large study. The article is evidence, which is the opposite of a claim - it might be weak evidence, but it is honest about what it is, since it contains all the evidence needed, methodology and information needed to replicate the result.

  • "So is a strong causal link between average temperature and human productivity reasonable or is it an accidental correlation based on other factors?" is a not factual question. Asking whether something is "reasonable" or "accidental" because of unspecified factors is asking for an opinion on a (research level) paper.

  • "So is a strong causal link between average temperature and human productivity reasonable or is it an accidental correlation based on other factors?" is also a false dichotomy, and it's a leading question. Clearly there could be an unproven causal link, or a weak causal link, etc. The question is leading because it tells users how to answer. This is a fallacy.

  • "a strong causal link between average temperature and human productivity" is also a straw man, since the authors don't claim such a strong result -- in fact they don't even claim strong predictivity of their model, since they prefix their predictions with "If future adaptation mimics past adaptation..." which is a huge caveat.

  • The title has a different question from the body of your answer ("Is the optimal temperature for human productivity 13°C?"), which is, by the way, not what the authors are claiming at all. Also, this question is not about the Nature paper at all.

I would have closed the question straight away because of these objections, but I decided to interpret the question in the way most favorable to you, that it was about whether the Washington Post coverage was correct, and that, maybe, it was simply written unclearly. In fact, I modified it in that direction. Once you changed it again and complained about the edit, saying that it was, in fact, about the Nature article, I had no choice but to vote to close.

I am sorry but I find your question not viable as currently written and I stand by my vote.

Take closure as an incentive to improve your question. I honestly don't know how to help you in that because I believe that your question would better be answered by, for example, an expert opinion of a climate scientist than by us looking at other papers.

To answer the other issues which you are raising:

"Are moderators too eager to close questions"?

No and in fact I want to reiterate that the community should do so more than us mods. But claiming that we are "eager" to close is frankly offensive. We don't like to close questions. We'd love to have as many open questions as possible, but the questions we closed are the ones we think that need to be fixed before they are viable. A community that is fearful to close and reopen is unhealthy.

Furthermore closing is not a moderator-only action, it is something that every user with 3,000 rep can (and should) do. I know that mods have a heavy vote, but we are encouraged pretty much constantly (see for example this official response) to not let that influence us too much.

I've had a few questions recently which have been closed very early...

Each question was closed for a specific reason, and the reason is always its content and never its author. I know it is probably not what you meant but it came across as a half accusation of targeting you. This is not the case and I wanted to clarify it.

Some of your questions seem to be problematic, especially because they sometimes can be read as highly opinionated, rhetorical or can be thought to be asked while you already had a strong opinion that ideally would like us to corroborate. This kind of questions tends not to work very well, obviously, and is going to be closed.

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