The "snowball clause" is one way that editors are encouraged to exercise common sense and avoid bureaucratic behavior. The snowball clause states:
"If an issue does not have a snowball's chance in hell of being accepted by a certain process, there's no need to run it through the entire process."
The snowball clause is designed to prevent editors from getting tangled up in long, mind-numbing, bureaucratic discussions over things that are foregone conclusions from the start. For example, if a file is speedily deleted for the wrong reason, but doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of surviving deletion in a regular deletion request, there's no sense in resurrecting it and forcing everyone to go through the motions of deleting it once more.
The snowball clause is not a policy, and there can sometimes be good reasons for pushing ahead against the flames anyway; well-aimed snowballs have, on rare occasions, made it through the inferno to reach their marks. The clause should be seen as a polite request not to waste everyone's time.
What the snowball clause is not
An uphill battle is extremely difficult but potentially winnable. In cases of genuine contention in the Commons community, it is best to settle the dispute through discussion and debate. This should not be done merely to assuage complaints that process wasn't followed, but to produce a correct outcome, which often requires that the full process be followed. Allowing a process to continue to its conclusion may allow for a more reasoned discourse, ensure that all arguments are fully examined, and maintain a sense of fairness.
The snowball test
- If an issue is run through some process and the resulting decision is unanimous, then it might have been a candidate for the snowball clause.
- If an issue is "snowballed", and somebody later raises a reasonable objection, then it probably was not a good candidate for the snowball clause.
A cautionary note
The snowball clause may not always be appropriate if a particular outcome is merely "likely" or "quite likely", and there is a genuine and reasoned basis for disagreement. It is important to be reasonably sure that there is little or no chance of accidentally excluding significant input or perspectives, or changing the weight of different views, if closed early. Especially, closers should beware of interpreting "early pile on" as necessarily showing how a discussion will end up. This can sometimes happen when a topic attracts high levels of attention from those engaged (or having a specific view) but slower attention from other less involved editors, perhaps with other points of view. It can sometimes be better to allow a few extra days even if current discussion seems very clearly to hold one opinion, to be sure that it really will be a snowball and as a courtesy to be sure that no significant input will be excluded if closed very soon. Cases like this are more about judgment than rules, however.
- A Lucky Snowman (Dilbert comic strip 2003-07-05)
- Snowballs in Hell. Physics News Graphics. American Institute of Physics. "reported by Schwegler et al., in Physical Review Letters, 13 March 2000"
- David A. Paige, "Chance for snowballs in hell", Nature 369, 182 (19 May 1994); doi:10.1038/369182a0
- Toynbee, Paget Jackson (1898) A dictionary of proper names and ..., The Clarendon Press