The reason Opinion Based (OB) is used too frequently to close questions. Two examples:

Why are long distance trails so much more famous in the US than in Europe?

What top items did the teams competing on the TV survival show Alone most frequently choose?

Neither of these has been closed, but both received VTC.

In the second case, the VTC probably came from quick, sloppy reading. As @Charlie Brumbaugh said:

How is this opinion based? If this was asking what 10 items to bring it would be, but this is asking which items they do choose and hopefully that information is recorded somewhere.

In the first case, I postulate that the OB VTCs came from people who did not know much about European long distance trails, and so it seemed OB to them. However, a person knowledgable about European trails gave an objective answer, backed up by pertinent information. As I commented on the Q:

this Q is not primarily opinion based; the accepted answer demonstrates that there is a good objective answer to this question.

There are many more examples I could find, but it would take a lot of time.

So, my plea is:

  • Read a question carefully before you VTC.

  • Don't assume because you can't think of any but an opinion based answer that a person knowledgable on the subject cannot write an objective answer.

Of course, there are opinion based questions. With apologies to @James Jenkins, if he had asked

How should I cut my toenails on the trail, with a nail clipper or with my multi-tool knife scissors?

that would have been opinion based.

Of course, JJ's question was different, but there have been similar questions on TGO properly closed at OB, but I do not have time to search for them.

  • 2
    Hi ab2! I agree that the 2nd might have been from skimming, not reading, but also because the title was unclear. It originally said "Alone top 10 Choices" which looks opinion-based. After I edited it to explain what the question was really asking, the VTC disappeared. Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 0:55
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    I do support what you are doing here, very strongly actually as I'm a banner waver of the "SE is over-policed, some sites oppressively so" crowd, and I think your second sample is an obvious and clear-cut case for this, but your first example does not seem to be a good one. After reading the answer there, I can see where someone might still think the whole matter is opinion based even after reading the accepted answer. I tried reading it from that point of view, and I must admit it does not seem completely objective. I wouldn't VTC, but I get Olin's point. It's not clear cut for that Q.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 19:17
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    @Aaron Almost any question is opinion based. The best we can hope for is highly informed opinions. If we want to go beyond "What is this bug" questions, we have to accept that we will be getting opinions. See my first Q here -- opinion based, and I got opinion based answers, but they were highly informed opinions. Ask a physicist what dark matter is --or whether it exists -- the answer will be based not only on models and theories, but opinion.
    – ab2
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 19:35
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    There are plenty of opinion based questions that could be useful. For example, "what belay device the best" could prompt a discussion on the pros and cons of different devices.
    – Qudit
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 19:48
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    @ab2 I agree with you to a certain extent, but I do think there is a difference. However, in my personal opinion I don't think "opinion based" should even be a close reason, as I'm fine with opinion based answers as long as they are good and useful answers, and so for that reason I won't bother to debate that point with you since that would be of no benefit. But regardless of my own personal preference, the fact is that someone smarter than us (sarcasm) has decreed opinions off topic. Perhaps we should have a discussion about that. Do we want opinions OT? Should we define what is OT opinion?
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 20:00
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    @Aaron I don't think there is any chance of changing anything that is SE-wide. All we can do is arrive at an interpretation for TGO (or whatever site we are on) that does not too flagrantly violate the edicts of SE. That could allow a lot of leeway. Take a look at Interpersonal Skills -- everything, but everything there is opinion based -- in my opinion, of course.
    – ab2
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 20:12
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    @Qud: The question "What belay device is the best?" is indeed opinion based and should be immediately closed. As you say, it would prompt a discussion, which is something not suited to SE. If you want to know about pros and cons of belay devices, then ask something like "What are criteria for selecting belay devices for xxx use?" or "These two belay devices differ by A, B, and C. What situations make each of those configurations advantageous?". Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 11:21
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    @Olin That's essentially the same question. The much different way that you suggest that those questions should be treated is IMO exactly the sort of legalistic nitpicking that I think is harmful on this site.
    – Qudit
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 13:52
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    @Qud: Then you are missing a large part of how SE works and why. This is a question and answer site, not a forum or kaffeeklatsch. That's why many of the people are here. Questions where answers can't really be judged right or wrong generate a lot of discussion and clutter, and usually resolve nothing. Note that there is no way to judge whether answer to "What belay device is best?" are correct, but "In what situations are tradeoffs A1,B1,C1 advantageous versus A2, B2, C2?" can be to a reasonable extent. This distinction is significant and important. Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 15:45
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    @Olin It's not important for it to definitively resolve anything. Users who read the question and it's answers to help decide on a belay device can weigh the arguments of the different authors and use their own intelligence to decide what device would be best for them.
    – Qudit
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 18:09
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    @Olin Have you taken a poll? How do you know what users want from this site?
    – Qudit
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 18:20
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    Under the SE model, achieving a certain reputation grants a user certain privileges, including voting to close. Those people are using that privilege. Others may disagree with the assessment, and that is what the various queues are for. In general, SE seems to work well, and discussion on Meta is a way to attempt to 'normalize' the group. But thinking that someone's vote is 'wrong' isn't really in the SE model - they earned the privilege and are exercising it.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 19:49
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    @JonCuster I have the ability to cast up to 100 flags on this site per day, but if I abuse that to the point that over 10% are not helpful, I will temporarily lose that privilege. Right now the percentage of questions that need to be reviewed for closure and end up getting closed is less than 10%. Its not a problem to ask users to be more responsible with their votes so as not to waste others time. Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 20:05
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    @CharlieBrumbaugh - that comment seems to imply that certain users are 'abusing' their privilege. In your opinion perhaps they are, but that is why SE works - it takes a group, not one person.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 20:10
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    @Jon Custer Please note that the fixes I recommended were: •Read a question carefully before you VTC. •Don't assume because you can't think of any but an opinion based answer that a person knowledgeable on the subject cannot write an objective answer. These suggestions are modest, and were worded politely, and yet I have been accused of being obnoxious and arrogant because of this Q. Clearly someone did not read the Q as carefully as he could have. QED.
    – ab2
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 21:46

3 Answers 3


I agreed with ab2 and Charlie basically 100% at first, but I've been thinking more about Olin's point. On the surface I disagreed at first, but as long as the actions are not stifling to either the community or the individual users then Olin is correct, especially in the specific use case provided here.

I thought ab2's assessment was great:

I postulate that the OB VTCs came from people who did not know much about European long distance trails, and so it seemed OB to them. However, a person knowledgable about European trails gave an objective answer, backed up by pertinent information.

That sounds great, but that is hindsight. Couldn't that happen for most questions that are asked? We cannot know ahead of time, so that logic suggests that all we can do is sit and wait to see if an expert comes along who shows us that it's not really opinion based. How long do we wait? You can never be sure you're waiting long enough unless you wait forever.

That is not a problem with ab2's argument, nor with Charlie's nor Olin's... the problem there is with the mechanics of StackExchange within which we have to work.

Nonetheless, the mechanics of SE are what they are, so all we can do is decide how best to work around them and within them. While we must be able to use our own opinions, lest nobody ever act at all, I do agree that SE in general is way over-policed. TGO seems to be better than many others, but even here the policing can be annoying at times.

StackExchange strives to be the place where there are no tangles, no loose ends, just questions and answers within a hard set of rules and guidelines. However, no matter how robotic some people try to make it, I think this demonstrates that the answer is not straightforward...

There needs to be a balance. User1 needs to be able to act according to their opinion, User2 needs to be able to ask questions and get answers even if they don't conform perfectly to User1's ideas of the rules, and all while we likewise accommodate User3, User4, etc.. So Olin is not incorrect in his point, but despite being correct we need to balance our opinion very heavily with the desires, needs, and opinions of others. We need to err on the side of caution, otherwise the site is not as helpful to people as it could be.

For the example cases: #2 ab2 and Charlie were 100% correct about. At least from the title (I haven't clicked the link), it is completely not opinion based. For the provided case #1, this then begs how we should have handled it.

Should it have received no VTC and everyone give it the benefit of the doubt? Then what do we do if it receives no expert non-opinion answer, but possibly receives a bunch of opinionated ones and becomes a problem Q&A?

Should it have been closed? Then what happens when the expert comes along with the true and non-opinionated answer? Either we don't get it, because they silently move on, or they request it be re-opened for their answer. Is that a desirable route, closing because it looks at first like it should be closed and then re-opening later on when an expert informs us otherwise? That seems like a cumbersome process. Would it happen often?

Lots to think about. Maybe this is not a simple matter.

  • This is why self-answered questions get closed less frequently, and why accepting an answer will stop people from VTC Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 23:29
  • @CharlieBrumbaugh If accepting an answer stops VTCs, that sounds like yet another uninformed VTC. VTCer probably didn't bother to take 10 seconds to quickly skim over the answers. Or is it just that a question with accepted answer is less likely to show up somewhere where the VTCer will notice it?
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 14:49
  • Just to let you know, accepting an answer does not stop it being closed as off topic :-)
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Commented Sep 19, 2018 at 16:15
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    @RoryAlsop No but it helps. People usually won't close something as unanswerable if there is an accepted answer with good data. Also sometimes people try and close things because they don't think it can be answered and once it has an answer that stops happening outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/11799/… Commented Sep 19, 2018 at 16:23

The site suffers from an over eagerness to close in general.

The answer is in this four year old answer by @ppl,

Instead of having an army of people ready to close questions for the smallest of reasons, we should aim to have an army of people ready to edit and improve questions being asked.


For example, see the revisions to this post or this one where neither of the edits are anything special, they just took a small amount of Googling.

If people were to try and salvage what we can, and close what we cannot the site would be way better off. After all, it takes 5 people to close but only one person to edit.

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    I think that closing low quality questions is fine. However, most of the questions that are closed on this site are not low quality. If you look at other SE sites, closing is usually done conservatively for very poor questions and obvious duplicates.
    – Qudit
    Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 20:39
  • @Qud: Low quality isn't the only reason for closing questions. A question can be well asked, but not fit the site for other reasons. Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 12:02
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    I think the site also suffers from over edits. Not my down vote.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 17:10
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    @Olin To generalize my comment, many questions that are closed do not actually satisfy the started close reason or only satisfy it in a technical and legalistic way.
    – Qudit
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 17:45

I voted to close the Europe versus US trails question as opinion based, because it is. It only requires one more vote. Perhaps someone reading this can help with that.

First, the notion that US trails are in general "more famous" is not proven at all. No evidence was presented to support this unfounded assertion. It sounds like one of those everyone knows "facts". I don't see this as necessarily being true. Without some evidence backing up the claim, the whole question makes no sense.

Even if one looks past that flaw, how can anyone really know the cause? Of course we can speculate on lots of possible reasons, as the accepted answer did. However, note that none of the reasons presented can be shown to clearly be the cause. I could have guessed some reasons too (taking on face value that the claim is true), but that would have been just as pointless. Nobody would be able to say if my reasons were right or wrong.

That's what opinion based is all about.

I downvoted your question because you employed the tactic in your title of pretending something is considered fact by everyone, when it is actually the issue in question. I would have been fine with "How can we reverse VTCs on the ground of opinion based?". But no, you tried to make a political point in a question.

"Have you stopped beating your wife yet? Well, have you?".

Cleary it is only your opinion that the close votes were "incorrect". Presenting that as if it were a widely accepted fact can cause offence. That's what the -1 is for.

To actually answer your question: You can't.

That's how the system works. You think a question is OK, so you don't vote to close. Someone else thinks it doesn't fit the site and votes to close. You don't get to decide that someone else's judgement is "incorrect" and thereby have the system dismiss their input. Do you realize how arrogant that is?

If you disagree about a question being closed, then come here to meta and debate the issue. That would then be the point of the question. You don't ask something else with the real issue hidden in a side-statement.

In some cases the moderators can override the collective actions of users. For good reason, they do this sparingly and only intervene in blatant or critical cases. Ordinary users don't get to do this, as it should be.

I believe (perhaps a mod can correct me) that mods have the ability to unilaterally re-open questions after they have been closed. Likewise, they can unilaterally close question (that part I'm sure about).

  • 2
    Then almost all questions except ones like "what bug is this" are opinion based. My first question was opinion based. Any question about dark matter, including whether it exists, is opinion based. And so on.
    – ab2
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 13:14
  • @Aaron: But this is actually a pretty good example of a opinion based question. A good test is whether any of the answers can be reasonably shown to be right or wrong. The question is basically asking what is in the minds of thousands of people. Unless you actually poll a statically meaningful sample of them, we can only speculate. Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 18:27
  • @OlinLathrop Please accept my apologies. Since I saw no arguments to the contrary, I accepted ab2's statement that the long trail question was shown non-opinionated by the non-opinion answer without having bothered to read that answer. I just read it and deleted my comments here. Even given the accepted answer there, I can see how you could still consider the entire matter to be opinionated, including that answer. I take back my previous statements, but I do still suggest that SE is over-policed in general and that we need to be more careful overall.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 19:11
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    I have decided not to read any of your answers or comments from now on. You too often assume, as you did here, that someone with whom you disagree deliberately violated all norms of decent behavior. Is it reasonable that everyone is guilty, except you?
    – ab2
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 20:43

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