I recently made a review that you can find here (Note that the "Emacs" spelling changes were made after I had done the review). Also note that the author subsequently approved of the edit.

The edit made the sole change: open source to free software. If you're wondering why, I rejected the edit, here's my stance:

I rejected the edit on the grounds that as the reviewer of posts, I should strive to make sure that edits fix the issues with the post: concerning formatting, quoting, attributions, grammar, punctuation... making the post look pretty. I'm not there to verify information - I believe that is the responsibility of the author. If information is incorrect, that's fine. If you're wondering how we deal with that, we have a largely sophisticated system: voting. If something is wrong, down vote. In essence, if you have something that is right, leave a comment with a source to back up your claim, and let the author make that edit. Otherwise, you could be deviating from the author's intent in that you may be changing the meaning of something the author has to say.

I have two questions about this:

  • What's our policy on these sorts of edits?
  • Was my review correct and reasonable?


I want to go out and give a different, theoretical example as I feel that people have paid attention to the suggested edit I mentioned earlier. Consider this then:

The Open Source Initiative considered the Creative Commons CC0 license for open source certification


The Open Source Initiative rejected the Creative Commons CC0 license for open source certification.

In essence, one was wrong, and the other is right. However, to the average reviewer, how do they know which one is right? While generally I would have faith in the suggester, remember that they are below 1000 rep (some as low as 1), which in many betas are on the lower line of the reputation spectrum. In essence, the site doesn't always consider them to be trusted and knowledgable.

I'm not going to look on the internet (sometimes hopelessly) just to verify that this one teensy weensy fact is actually right. What if it's not? It's a waste of my time. If something is wrong, the author should be made aware of this and they should make the edit. If something is wrong, you can leave a comment, and place a down vote.

I don't want it to sound like I'm going on a rant about this, but I feel like this could potentially be an issue. I personally don't care whether Stalman said that he wished he could fly on unicorns, but if someone is attempting to make a point, like with the creation of free unicorns provided courtesy of the OSI, I don't necessarily want someone to be changing the above to "Oh, well that guy didn't do that...". Just let the author know to change it, and down vote if you don't like it. That system is sophisticated and in place to everything.

  • Your question is not getting any clearer to me by our edit. Are we talking about technical terms or about using the terminology a third party uses when she is refering to her work? What is all this unicorn stuff about?
    – user490
    Jul 12, 2015 at 14:07
  • I have to say a couple things: unicorns is our beloved SE example, the edit was an update, and I made that update, and I'm talking about minor edits that seemingly "correct" information by changing the terminology in a post.
    – Zizouz212
    Jul 12, 2015 at 14:56
  • I think this post is getting too muddled. Reviewer laziness seems very tangential to the other issues. Jul 12, 2015 at 21:23
  • I've raised the main ideas on Meta SE: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/260558/…
    – Zizouz212
    Jul 13, 2015 at 15:16

3 Answers 3


I've proposed that on this site terms like 'free' and 'open' must be considered to be synonymous except in the rare questions that are directly asking about the subtleties of their 'official' definitions.

So in general, I think it would be appropriate to reject edits which change 'free' to 'open' or vice versa with the 'no improvement whatsoever' reason.

But in this case I'm sympathetic to the edit. When you're talking about the founder of a movement, you might as well use the terms he coined!

I'm not going to look on the internet (sometimes hopelessly) just to verify that this one teensy weensy fact is actually right. What if it's not? It's a waste of my time.

Then don't review edits. Or skip any you don't want to put the time into.

  • Can you check out the update? Thanks :)
    – Zizouz212
    Jul 12, 2015 at 13:37
  • @Zizouz212 Done. Jul 12, 2015 at 21:21
  • +1 for "skip any you don't want to put the time into"
    – user490
    Jul 13, 2015 at 7:35

I think a good rule of thumb here is to try and avoid taking sides. If someone prefers using the term free over open, then we shouldn't be editing their post. Since that would be us making a big deal out of which terminology is preferable, and thus taking sides.

However, if someone uses 'open source' in a context where it makes absolutely no sense to do so (for instance when talking about Stallman's efforts), the OP is taking sides and an edit would simply be correcting that.

Whenever you see an edit like this, try to figure out what would cause least friction: leaving it as it is with a maybe slightly inappropriate use of terminology, which could offend future readers, or to change it and possibly go against the OP's will. In the end, we want to avoid flame wars.

I would say that in this case, you decided wrong and that using 'open' there was off by enough to warrant an edit.

Regarding the update

I would follow the same principle. Some other things that come into play here are how obviously something is wrong, how important it is that it's wrong and how much this changes the rest of the post.

If you can explain with a simple link why this is wrong as a editor (and is not a matter of opinion), you should do so, so that the OP and reviewers are aware of why you suggested the change. If you as an editor know this is obviously wrong, approve and hope the next reviewer knows what you do.

From your examples, the two mistakes are rather important. This is basically what I focused on before the update. It extends a bit into possible misinformation in addition to friction though.

The last point could possible go against the second one. If the entire post leans on this one central point, and that point is wrong, you shouldn't try to fix the post by editing. This is very unlikely to yield desirable results. Just let the poster know in a comment that they are wrong and should reconsider their answer.

As a reviewer, try to rely mostly in what can be seen. If the editor didn't explain what was edited and it's not obvious to you, side with the poster.

If you notice this somehow leads to the wrong edit getting through or the right one getting rejected, mention this in the comments and explain yourself clearly; ususally a quick, silent edit is prefered, but there is no need to start an editing war and undoing an edit with another edit is definitely the start of a war.

  • Can you check out the update? Thanks :)
    – Zizouz212
    Jul 12, 2015 at 13:37
  • @Zizouz212 checked out
    – overactor
    Jul 12, 2015 at 14:47

My edit was not about a technical term. It was about the terminology used or not used by a specific person (RMS) for a specific topic (his work on GNU Emacs).

In cases like this it is wrong to use the term "Open Source" instead of "Free Software" as RMS does for his work.

This does not mean that everywhere we should make such an edit. It depends on the context.

  • 1
    I'd agree with this, but just note - edits like this may be more likely to be rejected because it's unclear whether they actually improve the post or not.
    – ArtOfCode
    Jul 12, 2015 at 12:47
  • Can you check out the update? Thanks :)
    – Zizouz212
    Jul 12, 2015 at 13:37
  • 1
    @ArtOfCode Then maybe a reviewer should try to understand the context. Of course a proper edit note would help. Aligning context and terminology will most likely improve post.
    – user490
    Jul 12, 2015 at 14:08
  • Doing that would render the reviewing system inefficient then.
    – Zizouz212
    Jul 12, 2015 at 17:15
  • 1
    @Zizouz212 Doing what? Do you propose a reviewer should not try to inform himself about the context?
    – user490
    Jul 12, 2015 at 17:24

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