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I recently asked a question about Neapolitan pizza ingredients: What toppings can be added when cooking a traditional Neapolitan pizza?.

I had a lengthy discussion with a mod in the comments, who was kind enough to take the time to explain the issue with the question. However, in the end, I still cannot see the reason the question was considered off-topic.


Website Scope

By looking at the website scope as defined in the Help Center, questions about “ingredient selection and use” are on-topic. In What type of questions should I avoid asking?, it is written that subjective questions that generate discussions instead of objective answers are not on-topic. On the other hand, a question should “invite sharing experiences over opinions” and “insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references”.

To gather more information, I found several questions which are similar to mine and were well-received by the community. These are the two most relevant examples:

  1. Does authentic Italian tiramisu contain large amounts of espresso?
  2. What are the authentic traditional ingredients for Naan bread?

Why I believe my question was on-topic

In my question, I was asking for which toppings I can add when cooking a Neapolitan pizza. I am asking for an answer based on facts and references (experience visiting pizzerias in Naples or answers based on menus of such pizzerias).

Moderator Discussion

Initially, the moderator had an issue with my use of the “ingredient-selection” tag. They pointed out that I was using the tag incorrectly. I found a few examples of questions where the tag was used in a similar manner. The moderator then informed me that the tag was used incorrectly in the questions I found. I accepted this correction and decided to remove the tag from my question.

I then tried to explain that my question is regarding the correct way to cook a particular type of food, which is Neapolitan pizza. I also shared the similar questions I found about Naan bread and espresso ingredients.

The moderator pointed out that the Naan bread and espresso questions were asking for “authentic” ingredients, which is subjective. I agree with this, but it does not apply to my question since I am asking for evidence based on what ingredients are used in Naples.

The moderator then pointed out that the questions I found would have been closed by today’s standards. This is a fair point, but I would like to know in what year the scope was changed, so I can do better research on existing questions next time, or find similar questions to mine which were asked after the scope was changed. By that time, the moderator had (justifiably) had enough of the lengthy discussion so I did not press further asking for the year.

The moderator also made a point about how my question might be problematic because I am asking about optional instead of mandatory ingredients. I did not understand this point at all. I did not find any references in the Help Center about the scope being restricted to only basic recipes.

More Research

I found several very questionable questions which seem very subjective yet were well-received by the community. Many of them are more recent than the questions I had shared earlier. A few examples:

  1. Ingredient selection for Canadian Poutine dish Here, the asker is literally asking for “ideas” to make their dish more “palatable”. Somehow, this question was received well.
  2. Are potatoes ever used in Mexican or Tex-Mex dishes? This question is older, but I wanted to include it because it is very similar to mine (asking about what ingredients are used in a certain dish).

I am not saying that the 2 questions above are good questions. In my opinion, they aren’t, especially the first one. But, it is weird how these questions were upvoted and answered, while mine, which can be answered much more objectively, was closed.

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I'm glad that we have a meta question on it, since the comments on the original question seemed to go off on too many tangents.

TL;DR

The reason the question was closed that it is what we nowadays call a "list" question (earlier known as "poll"). The codification for this is on the don't-ask page, and the problem comes from the point

every answer is equally valid

This is a standard policy for all Stack Exchange sites, except for 2-3 which have actively decided to waive it.

A straightforward list question

I admit that the whole issue is a bit confusing to explain, so let's start with a simpler example: What toppings can I put on a pizza. Imagine that this had been the question asked. You will probably agree that there is a long list of possible answers here, and that "ham" is not somehow more correct than "olives".

Such questions were noticed to cause trouble from the beginning. See Should questions that have a list of answers be allowed? and Should polls be maintained as Community Wiki questions, or should they be closed? for a network-wide discussion and What's the difference between these two "list of x" questions? and Should questions that have a list of answers be allowed? for two questions which were discussed right here on Cooking. For some reason, Aaronut/Aarobot (who happened to be a moderator on Cooking at that time) suggested that the "list" questions should be regarded as "poll" questions. For many years, this was actually one of the five canned closing reasons available across the network.

At some point, it was noticed that there are more question kinds that need closing, and instead of adding more closing reasons, the developers decided to reword the existing ones. Since then, we moderators have been using the "subjective" reason for closing the list questions - because, when faced with a list of equally good answers ("mushrooms" and "prosciutto" for example) one cannot determine a "correct" one by any objective criteria.

But what about the "authentic" criterion

OK, so you didn't ask what toppings to add to a pizza, you asked what toppings are authentic. And you are arguing that this is objective.

First, to the surprise of many cooks, "authentic" is not objective at all, except for a few dishes with a known, documented origin, like the Saher cake. As soon as you look closer at "authentic" recipes for traditional dishes, you will recognize that there are differences between these recipes, sometimes even including feuds between regions. Everybody from the originating considers "authentic" to be the variation which his own grandmother was making.

Second, even if "authentic" were less subjective than it actually is, it just shortens the list somewhat - now nobody is going to suggest "nopales" as a pizza topping. But a new list of candidates with dozens of items breaks the voting system in the same ways that the old one with hundreds of items did. So the primary problem is not the subjectivity of the "authentic" criterion, it is the subjectivity of choice between multiple equally-valid answers.

But there are old upvoted questions

There sure are. And this doesn't mean anything.

This is something Jeff Atwood and the early users noticed back at the beginning - some of the most upvoted questions were the worst for the site and produced a big pile of desinformation. So, since of the early days of the network, the number of votes for a question was, on purpose, not considered a factor in determining the scope.

The examples you brought up should probably have been closed. This is an oversight, not proof that the scope allows list questions.

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    Rumtscho: thing is, the OP wasn't asking for a list. He had the misunderstanding that there was one, and only one, set of ingredients that makes a "traditional" Neopolitan pizza. So this question could have been answered by clarifying that, and pointing to the Neopolitan Pizza certification rules. – FuzzyChef Jun 5 at 17:17
  • So, yes, we should close questions where the OP is asking for a list, but it's worth clarifying that they are asking for a list. – FuzzyChef Jun 5 at 17:19
  • @FuzzyChef leaving the question open with its current wording would pretty surely have attracted answers with random lists of ingredients. Do you have ideas how to best communicate the information that there is no single "traditional" recipe for Neapolitan pizza (or actually not for any other dish) without having that happen? – rumtscho Mod Jun 5 at 17:30
  • Take a look at my comments on that question, and compare them to the other comments which focused on the board rules. The OP was simply clueless what they were asking, and a more direct response, instead of focusing on the rules, would have either allowed the question to be answered, or allowed to be closed for a reason the OP understood. – FuzzyChef Jun 5 at 17:54
  • Basically, at no point did you our Johannes say anything about "the list of Neopolitan pizza toppings is quite large and a matter of some debate". Instead, you went to invoking the rules immediately, without really clarifying why they applied to the OP's question. – FuzzyChef Jun 5 at 18:03

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