Re Why can I write 2x as alternative to 2 x?. Looking at the timeline we can see that it was closed as primarily opinion-based and then edited. It entered the reopen queue, where the two users that reviewed the post voted to leave it closed. Yet a moderator essentially unilaterally voted to reopen it.

I am more active on physics.SE, where such behaviour is very much frowned upon. The philosophy is that moderators should let the community decide, except for very atypical cases. Is this an atypical case? Was the mod action warranted/justified? Or was this an abuse of power?

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    Two users voted to open the question, including the mod, whose vote opened it (per the timeline). So I wouldn't say it was unilateral; however, opening did apply special moderator powers and your essential question is still valid.
    – Michael E2
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 14:41
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    I close duplicates / simple mistakes all the time and no one complains so I guess the answer is: we have different community that expects or allows different things. You can of course disagree with mods actions but that is not a subject of discussion here, right?
    – Kuba Mod
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 14:50
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    @Kuba I think it's a different thing to close a question than to override a community decision, such as to reopen a closed question, or I guess even to reclose a question that was reopened by community vote. It's probably worth discussing.
    – Michael E2
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 15:01
  • I've edited the question further to make it less confusing, do you guys still think it's an opinion-based question?
    – xzczd
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 2:32
  • @MichaelE2 right, I missed the point.
    – Kuba Mod
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 19:03
  • @MichaelE2 You can see here: mathematica.stackexchange.com/review/close/84490 that it did not get enough "Leave open" votes. It was not cleared from the close queue. But anyway, these details are beyond the point of the meta post. My issue is that a mod overrode a community decision on a post that was already being reviewed by the community. Whether the post itself is good or not, or whether the edit/answer was good, is not the issue. Even if the post is the best question ever asked. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 19:58
  • @MichaelE2 A post requires three "Leave open" votes to leave the queue, and it only got two. Also, the last review in the queue came from Öskå, which is precisely the fifth close vote the question got. So their vote completed the review, by closing the question. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 20:05
  • OK, I was confused by the timeline and I now agree about the review being completed. The timeline shows xzczd edited at 12:44, I posted my answer at 15:08, and the question was closed at 16:11. So your summary of the timeline is inaccurate, with respect to when the edit and closure occurred. I think we have to rely on @Kuba for the times of the votes, because I can't find the information.
    – Michael E2
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 20:21
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    About the forensics of the crafting and editing of the question consider that edits within a 5-minute span of posting or edits within a 5-minute span of a new edit are grouped together.
    – rhermans
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 17:42
  • About the core issue, On one hand the question as originally written seemed like a trivially pedantic point I stand by my vote to close it as offtopic, on the other hand I'm happy to yield to any effort to save a question if anybody thinks there is some value to be shared. I think the subjective opinion of a moderator is enough for that, even more if there was already and edit and vote. Our moderators are trusted, elected and they have my support in principle. In this particular case I see no abuse of power but thoughtful action enabling the rescuing a bad question to share valuable insight.
    – rhermans
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 17:58

5 Answers 5


The timeline is as follows: xzczd and m_goldberg edited the original question in order to improve it. After that, there is this comment

Guys, I think the question is no longer opinion based after the clarification. I'm voting to reopen it. – xzczd

and one re-open vote was cast. At this point, JM reopened the question.

and mod are exception handlers

That is not entirely true. One of the good things as a mod is that we can be catalysts, who speed things up, e.g., like re-opening a question when has been improved in formatting or wording. This ability has helped many times in the past when users asked me in chat if I can re-open a question because it was edited and they would like to provide an answer.

I cannot understand, how the question "Why is 2x parsed as 2*x" is in any sense opinion-based and why the post in its current state is close-worthy. It contains a clear description, examples and a request for references to the documentation. Additionally, it has now 10 upvotes and only 4 downvotes, and it has an accepted answer of +15, it is highly discussed and has 2 additional answers. JM's assessment that this post can be of value to the community was correct and future visitors can now look at 3 answers which wouldn't have been possible otherwise.


Let me elaborate on some of the points from your comment


Mods are supposed to be exception handlers. Please have a look at the blog post A Theory of Moderation.

The post you linked is about de-escalating and intervening. The whole quote is

Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt [..]

An improved question that is re-opened is a thing that happens regularly and would not bring the community to a screaming halt. So while you are implying that JM abused the moderation powers, I am arguing that reopening an improved question which already has a re-open vote and is now a perfectly fine question is in the interest of the community. It is the counterpart of closing a question prematurely because it lacks information or is of bad quality.


In this case there was no need to speed up the process: the post was already being reviewed in the corresponding queue. The mod action suspended the standard process and invalidated the choice made by the community.

Please take a look at this and understand that these shortcuts are also available to normal users who have a gold badge:

These users can single-handedly mark questions as duplicates and reopen them as needed.

The conclusion is that StackExchange supports these shortcuts because they help to speed up exactly such things. However, you are asking if it is "an abuse of power" when a community elected moderator does it. The answer is no.


The edit by xzczd happened before the question was closed

I did not say otherwise. What I did say was that the question was actively edited before it was reopened by JM!


Questions are not to be judged by its answers. An off-topic question is off-topic even if some user answers the best possible interpretation of the question, and the answer is great. No matter how good the answers are, if the post is off-topic it should be closed. Good answers do not make bad questions good.

Right, and I'm asking again: Why is a valid question about the syntax of Mathematica off-topic here? The OP asked for a simple pointer to the documentation, but the question of 2x or a^2x is much deeper than this. One could write several pages about tokenization, valid symbol regexes and parsing to explain, why 2x is transformed into 2*x but this is not the point. The point is that this question, although not the greatest and deepest, is still a valid question which is on-topic here.


And even if in this case the question was actually good, the point of this meta post is that the mod did not act as they should have. The philosophy of stackexchange is that this is a community driven site, and the bulk of the moderation is performed by regular users.

See the second half of point 2. These shortcuts are there for a reason and in a lighter form also available to regular users.

  • 1) Mods are supposed to be exception handlers. Please have a look at the blog post A Theory of Moderation. 2) In this case there was no need to speed up the process: the post was already being reviewed in the corresponding queue. The mod action suspended the standard process and invalidated the choice made by the community. 3) The edit by xzczd happened before the question was closed, so the community deemed the question opinion based even after the edit. The mod action was not triggered by the edit. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 19:20
  • 4) Questions are not to be judged by its answers. An off-topic question is off-topic even if some user answers the best possible interpretation of the question, and the answer is great. No matter how good the answers are, if the post is off-topic it should be closed. Good answers do not make bad questions good. 5) And even if in this case the question was actually good, the point of this meta post is that the mod did not act as they should have. The philosophy of stackexchange is that this is a community driven site, and the bulk of the moderation is performed by regular users. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 19:22

1º I answered the question, so I cannot claim disinterestedness. If pressed, I would probably claim fairness, but wouldn't we all?

2º A certain amount of the SE idealism runs into trouble in practice. For instance, it is hard to write a good question, and sometimes it's hard to read one well. I certainly read SE quickly and sometimes make mistakes. A good answer can bring out what is good about a question that might otherwise be hard to perceive. This has been discussed before.*

3º Another practical difficulty is reopening a closed question. That the system is biased against it, in practice, has been discussed before.*

4º Mods have reopened improved questions before, but they tend not to do it unilaterally, AFAIR. One particular case has been discussed before: when a (high-rep) user requests it because they feel they have an answer that would be useful for others (I forget the definition of high-rep, maybe 100 or 200 rep, maybe more, but not someone who just joined). Sometimes their actions irritate me...when I'm right and they're wrong. :)

5º I think it's difficult to separate out the qualities of the question itself and their relationship to the actions taken. It's an important point: To include such considerations will tend to favor one argument; to exclude them, another.

6º Re "Why" in the original title/final question: Why can you write "2x" instead of "2 x"? In general, the question "Why is/does...?" is ambiguous. Usually the OP has something more specific in mind. Often OP's don't even care that much about "why?" but are really looking for correct code or workarounds. This time the OP was interested in a certain why question. I have to say my first reaction to the title was to skip it. After it got bumped a couple of times, I thought surely it'll be closed, and I read it to see what all the activity was about. It was a why question that theoretically could be answered, but since, as I remarked, "The documentation is notoriously incomplete," I wasn't sure a definitive answer would be found.

Not an opinion-based why question. It was not a why question of the sort referred to by @rhermans in his comment (by my reading). The original question states "I'm looking for an official source to determine that [i.e. that 2x is valid syntax for denoting multiplication]." This is the justification (the why) that the OP was seeking. It is perfectly clear and not opinion-based. However, as I said, writing a good question is not easy, and this statement is buried in the middle, bracketed by the title and final "Why...?" I missed it at first, too, but saw @xzczd's rephrasing of the question in a comment (I answered before the question was edited). That the question was clearly not opinion-based, which was made even clearer by @xzczd's edit, makes me quite tolerant of the mod's action, an action that has let others add their good answers along side the answer I posted.

Not easily found in the documentation. Currently some of the close votes cite the "simple mistake" category. I think the answers prove it is not easily found in the documentation.

This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear... [the "hover text" for the upvote button on a question]. I think this is true, although I didn't at first. The "useful" attribute is arguable; but I think the question is sincere and valid, and I'm willing to accept them in place of useful. I came to this conclusion after a long debate with the OP about what exactly is in the documentation. It turns out the OP does not use the front end and perhaps doesn't have access to it. The OP was surprised that I did. The OP uses the online documentation only, and there are some slight differences between the HTML pages and the notebooks that are significant: in particular, spaces, the issue in the Q&A. The OP clearly had done some research in the online documentation, more perhaps than is behind most questions on the site (sadly). I surmise the OP is a relatively new user, and I think they should be excused for expecting that the documentation might contain a definition of the syntax of the language.

10º I think the "controversy" engendered by this meta Q&A, if that's not too exaggerated a characterization, has amplified the attention the question about 2x has received. It has gotten more votes, both upvotes and downvotes than it deserves. Normally such a question would have been overlooked by almost everyone. It's another example how ideal behavior is overshadowed by real behavior.

11º It's hard for me to get too excited about this issue because the question should have been reopened. Really, it shouldn't have been closed. The right decision was reached. The rest is moot. Wait for a time when it matters. Mistakes can be undone on this site (at least I think so).

*I haven't found references for the discussions I remember. (It's possible some discussion was in chat, too.) Here are a couple of related Q&A:

  • I mostly agree with everything you say. But my issue is not really with the question itself, but with the mod action. If five users had voted to reopen it, I would have been happy. The question was already being reviewed, and I feel a mod abused their power. That's all. The question could have been the best question ever written, and I still would feel the same: a mod should not interrupt a review process unless something exceptional happens. And nothing exceptional happened here as far as I can see. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 15:42
  • I obviously appreciate the time and effort mods put into the site, and for the most part they do a great job. But I think it would be dishonest not to complain when one of them does something they should not have. It is not really a big deal, but I would like to know that, in the future, this person (and the rest of mods that, apparently, support the action) will try and not intervene in the standard review process unless something exceptional happens. Perhaps this is too much to ask? But anyway, thank you for the input! Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 15:43
  • @AccidentalFourierTransform Thanks for the comments. I think I understood your position. To be clear, I wasn't arguing for a position but was trying to point out differences in the bases for our two points of view. The principal difference you also emphasized, whether the quality of the question should matter; connected with that, in my case, is the correctness of the outcome. Another characterization: the difference, perhaps, is that you think mod actions should be judged absolutely and I think in context. Both views are OK (imo). As I said earlier, it's worth discussing which is better.
    – Michael E2
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 18:35

As the moderator who put in that reopen vote, I will weigh in.

I made no secret of the fact that despite my own discomfort about the question (in brief: user6014's comment to the question would be a more forceful version of my own opinion), I chose to reopen it, especially after seeing xzczd's and m_goldberg's edits. The one thing I would admit to being remiss is that I did not look at the timeline in detail, for which I freely admit to be in error.

That being said, as now formulated, I also do not care for this question being deemed "primarily opinion-based", even as I recognize that we only have a limited amount of close reasons. For that, I stand by my decision to reopen. Additionally, I already saw there was already a vote to reopen present (which we can now see to be xzczd's), which only convinced me further. (I would have been more reluctant to reopen if there were no previous reopen votes at the time I saw the question.)

For people who are concerned I might use mod abilities to reopen questions that I want to answer myself (I have encountered sentiments of this sort), I wish to point to this example and this example (I am certain I have forgotten other examples), among others, where I have had to ask for other people to reopen questions on my behalf. So, my reopening this question was certainly not out of self-interest. (Michael, andre, and Ronald have sufficiently covered the needed ground, as far as I can tell, so I have no need to make further technical remarks.)

To close this off: at the time of writing this, I see four votes to close; I guarantee that I will no longer make any further votes if the fifth close vote is cast.


If this is an example of us doing things differently from some other site, so what? Why can't we be different?

I personally don't care much about the path this question took to get its current state. I see no problem with that state. The question has only two close votes and I don't think it is likely to get the required five. I certainly will not vote to close it: It is a good question with up votes and a highly up-voted answer.

Still the community does have the power to override the moderator and close it. All it takes is three more close votes.

So I think everything's fine.


Because I didn't make it clear enough it before: I fully support the action of the moderator reopening the question.

  • Thank you for the feedback. A few points: 1) I am perfectly fine with the two sites being different; I actually like that. I was merely using the physics.SE case as an example where I know for a fact the behaviour is not OK, and asking whether or not here it is as well. I was definitely not trying to argue that here we should do as we do over there. I hope my intention is more clear now. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 2:10
  • 2) Here is some more data for low rep users: the question has three close votes, plus the five that got the first time (we cannot vote twice, so those are 8 different users). It also got one reopen vote, plus the mod vote, so the action was almost unilateral. Also, it has +6 votes, but also -4, so it is somewhat controversial. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 2:12
  • 3) I know the community has the power to override the mod action. My concern is that I don't think it should have happened in the first place. Stackexchange is supposed to be community moderated, and mod are exception handlers. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 2:14
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    @m_goldberg, Could you explain your reasoning behind your support for the moderator action? I wonder if I am missing some nuance here. I was also among those surprised to see the question reopened by moderator action, while it was in the reopen queue. I did not see an urgent need for a moderator to intervene at that point: the community was weighing in on the issue already.
    – MarcoB
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 4:43
  • @MarcoB. I thought I gave my reason in the answer when I wrote "I personally don't care much about the path this question took to get its current state." I am more oriented toward results than to process. I realize there are situations where the process is as important as the results (we require due process when applying the law), but I don't see this situation as one of those.
    – m_goldberg
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 22:47

While I may have missed some relevant details (I wasn't originally involved), it seems to me that this has been blown way out of proportions. I find terms like "abuse of power" very inappropriate here. Saying such things (without a very good reason) won't help.

For as long as people are open and are willing to talk and listen to each other politely, the system will work well. People might make mistakes, but mistakes are not hard to correct for as long as we are willing to be reasonable and listen to feedback.

But once people feel that they need to resort to citing rules (instead of common sense), and judge rigidly whether those rules are abided by, things aren't going so well anymore. In a climate like that, moderators (or any user with some moderating power) couldn't work as effectively than in an open community. They would need to watch every step they make, and they would be forced to ignore many opportunities to make things work smoothly (even in completely benign situations) out of fear of triggering a conflict.

I hope I managed to get my point through, and it's clear that I support the moderator's action, as well as all our moderators' ability to act with good intentions without triggering a huge backlash.

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    Like some others, I also find the 2x vs 2 x question silly and pointless, but I think that's beside the point. I am actually puzzled how a question like this could have triggered a controversy. It's not about a topic that people would feel strongly about.
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 14:08
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    I mostly agree. Indeed this blew out of proportions, and it was my fault. My accusing language was inappropriate. My intention was basically to say "hey, not cool" but I didn't choose the right words. I still think the original question is not a very good one, but (as I said above), I'm happy with it staying open if that is what the community wants (but we will never know if that is what the community wants, because the review process was interrupted, and that was my concern). But anyway, I'm ready to move on. Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 14:23

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