I was going to ask "What are the main differences between Objectivism and Libertarianism", but the Wiki already has a fairly good summary ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism_and_Objectivism ) . Are such questions (already largely answered on Wiki) encouraged? Discouraged (some SE sites have "General Reference" policy for VTC)? Other?

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    I don't think we should trust wikipedia when it comes to political themes. They are good and objective when it comes to natural sciences, but in such matters as politics... they are people only. Dec 21, 2012 at 7:02

2 Answers 2


My main issue with questions that are easily answered by Wikipedia - or any other equally easily discoverable reference site - is that they are absolutely boring. On all other Stack Exchange sites I participate, requiring people to do at least some minimal research before they ask is an essential part of the culture. We sugar coat it, we tell people that just a tiny bit of prior research will help them better understand their problem, and perhaps even solve it themselves (what could be more satisfying?), we quote the "do your homework" guideline engraved in the "how to ask" page - blah blah blah. But at the end of the day, the truth of the matter is that reference questions are absolutely boring.

The last paragraph of Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand, the blog post that introduced free downvoting on questions, explains why we should do our best to avoid boring questions better than I could:

We feel that the world is awash in questions, but not answers. Answers are the real unit of work in any Q&A system. Therefore, the only logical thing to do is to maximize the happiness and enjoyment of answerers. If this means aggressively downvoting or closing unworthy and uninteresting questions, so be it. Without a community of people willing to answer questions, it really doesn’t matter if there are questions at all, does it?

Answerers are our most important resource, and our best answerers will probably not stick around Politics.SE for long if all they do is copy paste stuff from reference sites. It might be fun for a while but it won't last for long. If we want this site to succeed, we need to protect our answerers from boredom, and try to keep them engaged and entertained at all times.

(all) That said, and strictly speaking, reference questions should not be closed, they should be downvoted. The downvote tooltip reads:

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful

And failing to check the relevant Wikipedia article prior to asking is a prime example of lack of research effort. Unfortunately, the system doesn't always work as advertised, Parkinson's law of triviality applies1. Low hanging fruit understandably attract a lot of us (the ugly side of gamification), and simply put, trivial questions have a much, much wider audience than challenging questions.

If you are looking for a hard rule, we already have it:

Do your homework

Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

Granted, it's not in the FAQ, but this is:

What kind of questions should I not ask here?

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

Not bothering to read the relevant Wikipedia article is not an actual problem you face, at least not a problem we can or should help you with. The purpose of the site is to help people better understand politics, not teach them basic googling skills.

If, however, you've taken the time to read the relevant Wikipedia article, or have done any kind of prior research, then by all means feel free to ask your question, but please let us know what exactly you've researched so far, and why your research didn't answer your question.

1The left-right question, for example, is fully answered in the relevant Wikipedia article and it's (currently) our highest voted question.

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    "Answers are the real unit of work in any Q&A system" - OMG. My years of struggle of Meta.SO paid off! (I was one of the original cranks complaining about Joel's infamous "How do you move a turtle in LEGO" questions as well as "Q=10rep=A" policy :)
    – user4012
    Dec 13, 2012 at 16:32

You are referring the English wikipedia only. But in such matters as history or politics, just make the effort of visiting the same page in other languages, and you could be surprised how different they can be.

Wikipedia shouldn't be trusted when it comes to such themes as history and politics. And it's not the Wikipedia, but Wikipedias. Just take such topic as Kosovo or Arab Spring. The English-speaking sites and Russian-speaking sites describe it as it they were living in two separate worlds. This site should encourage deeper studies, and not just referring to Wikipedia.

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    Fair point, but the problem isn't with askers that have read the relevant Wikipedia article (in any language), is with askers that haven't even bothered reading the relevant article at all. There's absolutely no problem if in your question you tell us something along the lines of: I've read this Wikipedia article, but I'd like a fuller explanation on this and that. Your last sentence is exactly what we are trying to do, if askers haven't shown us that they've done some minimal effort, then answers will tend to just post the obvious answer, which most of the times is quoting Wikipedia.
    – yannis
    Dec 21, 2012 at 7:57

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