This question was in the middle of a question about whether it was on-topic or not -- a discussion we needed to have because whether or not pet food is on topic is not addressed in our rules. Two senior members of the SE voted in the comments that it was on-topic.

And then ... a moderator closed it unilaterally, without comment or direction to the asker. This was deemed hostile by the asker, and I have to say I agree with them. It feels like the post was simply closed because that moderator didn't like it, and not because the post violated any rules at all.

Why is this OK?

2 Answers 2


I am the moderator who did the closure, and the topicality of the question has already been decided and become part of the rules of the site. The basis for it is the Meta question Would a question regarding making homemade pet (kitten/cat) food be considered off-topic?.

The most important parts of our scope are indeed written down in the help center. However, there are also topics which are so rare that they are not codified in the Help center. For those, it is Meta discussions which determine whether the question is within the site scope. In fact, the network tends to treat the Meta content as being the more important one, with the Help center being more of a summary of the most important rules which have been discussed and concluded on Meta.

Had this been a brand-new situation, I would not have closed unilaterally. In that case, the best course of action would have been to create a new Meta discussion, and wait for the results. But once such a discussion exists, its results are considered binding. They become part of the rules, which are expected to be enforced by moderators and users with a closing privilege. This happens regardless of a separate discussion which may be taking place in the comments (this kind of comment discussion is actually quite common, because people are understandably frustrated when their questions get closed).

  • 1
    There is no index of such decisions, though. As someone who's been on this SE since is was launched, I was completely unaware that we had a rule against pet food, and if I'm unaware then so are most other people -- particularly any new contributor. So, how are new askers supposed to know what's on or off topic, except through the extremely frustrating experience of accidentally hitting an "off-topic" landmine?
    – FuzzyChef
    Mar 28, 2022 at 18:28
  • @FuzzyChef One bit of guidance we try to give new users who have their post(s) closed is that having a post closed is no big deal, in case of a duplicate it can even be seen as a good thing: Instead of having to wait they get a full set of answers in one go. And not being familiar with each and every Meta QA is also fine. That’s why we have community moderation. We help keep the site clear as a community effort.
    – Stephie Mod
    Mar 28, 2022 at 18:32
  • Btw., the user that posted the question is by no means a new user. Their first post is from 2018.
    – Stephie Mod
    Mar 28, 2022 at 18:41
  • @FuzzyChef Indeed, the network does not have a very good solution to this problem. Theoretically, a user could first go to the Help center, read the pages cooking.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic and cooking.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask, then go to Meta and look through all questions tagged "scope". In reality, this has problems. 1) Users new to the network are not accustomed to heavily-scoped sites. 2) Users new to the network don't know of these places 3) People (new or not) have preexisting assumptions about cooking, which makes them not realize when a question falls ...
    – rumtscho Mod
    Mar 28, 2022 at 19:07
  • ... under a given category (e.g. concepts like "traditional" or "healthy" are assumed to be objective). 4) Our Meta tagging is imperfect, I don't know if all our scope questions have the tag. 5) It is too much damn work! So, the general practice is to just accept that askers will be unpleasantly surprised sometimes. We don't know how frequently - there is a selection bias hiding all the people who had an off-topic question in mind, checked these sources and decided not to post. But in the end, the system is more geared towards keeping the content clean, than towards making every new...
    – rumtscho Mod
    Mar 28, 2022 at 19:11
  • ... poster happy. This is in line with the general idea behind SE sites as being mainly a reference for the millions of unregistered users. Of course, if you have suggestions how to improve the discoverability of these rules, I think there will be a lot of people who will love it, far outside of our small cooking site.
    – rumtscho Mod
    Mar 28, 2022 at 19:13
  • How hard is it to update the Help reference pages? I.e. could we have a Scope FAQ page and maintain it with summaries and references to Meta discussions?
    – FuzzyChef
    Mar 28, 2022 at 20:54
  • 1
    @FuzzyChef mods can edit help/on-topic directly, but cannot edit help/dont-ask. Also, mods can't add new articles on the help center, but can edit the header above "Find out more about…" on the help center.
    – Andrew T.
    May 10, 2022 at 7:42
  • So really, this is a bug in SE itself?
    – FuzzyChef
    May 10, 2022 at 22:35

This was perfectly within the rules of Stack Exchange, including the guidance given to moderators.

The closure of a question and the discussion whether it’s on-topic are two independent processes. The closing of a question requires a certain number of close votes, in the case of a moderator vote, one is sufficient. The guidance to moderators is to vote like they would as regular users with non-binding votes. That moderators tend to hold back is a bit of a custom, but by no means required, quite the contrary, in fact. The same principle applies to the reopening process. Neither is irreversible, and that’s part of the way the SE system is designed.

Any discussion whether a question is within the site’s scope and possible clarification can happen at any given time, whether the post is open or closed.

For basic discussions about whether a topic should be within the scope, we have this Meta. In the case of pet food, this decision has already been made by the community. Comments are not the right place.

In short, it’s perfectly acceptable if a question gets closed while a discussion is still ongoing. That it happens infrequently here is usually because we have few users that exercise their right to vote for closing and our mods aren’t around 24/7, so that this kind of debate here often is already competed by the time enough close votes were gathered or problems with the post fixed. On sites with significantly more traffic, the pattern is rather closing first (also to prevent a bad post from gathering worse answers), then reopen after a discussion and/or an edit.

Your claim that the post, that was clearly off-topic as originally posted, had no comment or guidance is incorrect, please refer to the custom close vote in the comment section.

  • Weird, the custom close comment was invisible to me until I force-reloaded the question. Odd. OK, noted, thanks.
    – FuzzyChef
    Mar 28, 2022 at 18:27

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