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Okay, I'll start with some context. I was on vacation last week, and so actually tried to break my SE addiction. :) Over the course of that time, I really missed my beloved Christianity.SE, but this site, honestly, not so much.

We long ago lost one moderator, and while I cannot speak for Yannis, I definitely have to work much more here to keep my commitment. Put another way, I'm not having the fun here that I once did.

If you ask me, How does C.SE make the internet a better place, I can tell you:

  1. We deal in facts, but we are free to put them in context.
  2. We have fun with each other, even in our answers, but still have scholarship.
  3. We really do some real thinking around serious issues.

I truly believe that all three could be true of politics as well. But you know what? I don't see it. In fact, I am actually quite frustrated by this site. I have my grievances (and I'm sure that as a moderator, you have grievances about me.) I'd like to know what those are. Please, as a moderator, feel free to tell me I need to close more questions or leave more open. Tell me I suck - but tell me why. Just tell me what we all can do to make the internet a better place, through this site.

In short, what is worthwhile about politics.se, and what needs to change to make this a better place?

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    Frankly, I have almost no problems with moderators (I disagree with some of Robert C's moderating decisions but they are more or piece-mail disagreements about specific posts rather than systematic issues). My main issue is with comment deletion, but that's an SE wide policy so it's not a beef with Politics.SE mods specifically. (this is to answer your concerns about moderation, but doesn't address the "this site" in the subject, so I'm posting as a comment. Which some mod will of course delete :)))) – user4012 Aug 25 '13 at 13:23
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    @Avi, wow, 5 days and only two upvotes (and one down vote) on all 9 questions I listed. Looks like you people claim voting is important to you, but you don't act on it. – user1873 Aug 28 '13 at 0:50
10

I came here to write a question called "Is this the worst site on Stack Exchange", to which I was clearly expecting the answer "Yes". Fortunately I found this question had been here first. Like AffableGeek, I'm a frequenter of the Christianity site, which you would expect to be mired in argument and backbiting. But the truth is that this site has much more argument, backbiting, pointless discussion, partisan answers and questions asked only to make a point than Christianity - or any of the other sites I frequent. I can supply references for all of those if you insist, but I doubt that anyone who answers here frequently disagrees with me.

Here is what I think Christianity does better than politics, and which I recommend to try to fix this site.

  1. Your opinion is your opinion, and don't pretend that it's a fact. This is a rule that has been learned from Wikipedia as well as the Christianity site. In politics everything is an opinion, unless it's a simple procedural thing. If someone asks "Does government spending stimulate the economy?" the correct answer is that some economists believe yes, and some believe no. You may think that one side is correct, but that opinion has no place in a good answer. Citing references makes no difference, because both sides can cite scholarly articles in their support. The only possible approach that makes for a viable site is to give a neutral answer. If you don't like that, then maybe a chat site is a better fit for you than a Q&A site. (Please don't try to debate whether government spending really does stimulate the economy in comments - doing so will show only your inability to master your own argumentative impulses, and possibly be clear indication that this site is in fact doomed).
  2. Talk about what people believe, not 'The Truth(tm)'. If a question is asked on which there are differing opinions, state both sides, even if you take one of those sides. Say specifically who believes what. When the Christianity site got started, it took a long time for this to be accepted, and until it did the site was nearly as argumentative as this one. Now its a well-accepted principle. Newcomers sometimes still have trouble with it, but the old hands know to stick to it, and the site is a better place for it. EDIT:I don't of course mean that "this is what I think" is an acceptable answer. It should be a notable set of people.
  3. Zero tolerance for arguments in comments. That doesn't mean no criticism, but it needs to be tightly focussed on 'this is not a good answer because', not 'I disagree with this'. For example, if I were to write that "Increased government spending is a necessary way to stimulate a slow economy" (which is a bad, one-sided answer), you should not write "Government spending does not stimulate the economy because...blah blah blah". What you should write is: "This is a bad answer because it only puts one viewpoint". We have no need to argue about who is right.
  4. Vote down questions that are only asked to make a point. Sometimes tricky to tell, and we need to be careful with newcomers. But there are plenty of repeat offenders here, and we need to put a stop to it. We can usually tell. For example if an answer is posted and the OP comes straight back and says "no that's not right" then that's a good indicator.

I hope this is helpful. Like AffableGeek, my tolerance for this site is almost at an end.

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    +1, however I do think that compelling answerers to post all sides of an argument is an unreasonable burden. – Sam I am Oct 16 '13 at 19:10
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    The folks at Christianity said the same thing. However striving towards that has improved the site. I would suggest that someone who can articulate both sides of an argument is a better person to answer than someone who can't. – DJClayworth Oct 16 '13 at 19:13
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    It's naive to assume that there are only 2 sides to an issue. – Sam I am Oct 16 '13 at 19:18
  • -1 for the no citations 2 and 4. I agree with 3. and just because a question may seem to prove a point does not mean it is a bad question. I do not care what people believe. People believed the world was flat, columbus had found a route to india, Bush was a conservative, and Obamacare was going to make things better. That does not really matter. – SoylentGray Oct 16 '13 at 19:19
  • @Chad If only you had ended that comment after the second sentence. – DJClayworth Oct 16 '13 at 19:21
  • @SamIam You are right. My mistake. I should have said "all sides of an issue". – DJClayworth Oct 16 '13 at 19:23
  • @DJClayworth - My point exactly what people believe does not matter. – SoylentGray Oct 16 '13 at 19:25
  • Are you saying that you only want to give answers that reflect your opinion, and intend to downvote everybody who gives an answer reflecting a different opinion? Going that route will mean then death of this site. – DJClayworth Oct 16 '13 at 19:27
  • @DJClayworth which leads to my original comment. With the understanding that there might be many sides to an issue, do you understand how it might be unreasonably burdensome to have to know or research ALL of them in order to post an answer? – Sam I am Oct 16 '13 at 19:41
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    @Chad This is politics.se It's neither Physics, nor is it even law. Of course opinions matter. Opinions are one of the driving forces of politics. The point is that it's not useful for an answerer to post his own opinion, simply because his own opinion is too localized. If his opinion is not reflective of some other subset of people, than it's really not that valuable to know what it is. – Sam I am Oct 16 '13 at 19:44
  • I am saying that so long as the answers are based on facts I would have a well written and referenced explanation of position that is not based on opinions of the user. It does not bother me to see a leftist answer so long as it is well referenced and explained. But any answer that is not based on facts bothers me greatly – SoylentGray Oct 16 '13 at 19:47
  • @SamIam - We are in agreement there.However I go further to say that even if that opinion is shared by the vast majority it still is not good enough for an answer. – SoylentGray Oct 16 '13 at 19:50
  • @Chad So what? Even the most perfectly researched, accurate, succinct, and neutral post is not necessarily a good enough answer if it's tangent to the question. – Sam I am Oct 16 '13 at 19:55
  • @Chad and even an account of a poorly thought-out and perhaps demonstrably wrong "opinion" can be the perfect answer to a question that expects it. – Sam I am Oct 16 '13 at 19:57
  • @SamIam - and we need to squash those types of questions where an opinion of a user is an acceptable answer. I have never advocated bad answers nor am i doing so now. – SoylentGray Oct 16 '13 at 19:58
5

The thing that this site does well is to encourage supported answers to real questions over against random kevtching about politics. I don't want to change that.

What seems to be missing for me is any feedback on that.

To wit:

  1. The User Leaderboard hasn't changed in months, despite the fact that many of our top users are actually gone. This means that voting is a rare, rare thing. I cannot release the stats about votes, though I can assure you that in aggregate, they are rare, and that's bad.

  2. Questions seem to be met with an expectation that they suck and should be closed. Only the rarest of gems eludes scorn. I'm not going to say I'm perfect, but I'm a pretty good SE user, and the questions I think are best are usually the ones that are hated most. If somebody who has been here from the beginning is having difficulty getting any sort of traction, imagine how our newest users feel. I'm not saying we should let crap proliferate, but if you can give people a little benefit of the doubt, could I humbly suggest you do? [The whole 'Summer of Love' post actually hits my thoughts pretty well.

  3. We are not Skeptics.SE. I'll admit - I passionately hate that site. If we become that site, I'm done. That's not a threat, that's not a "I'm taking my ball and going home", it's simply a statement of fact. The culture sites do best when there is some tension between what you know and what you don't. The skeptics model is "It sucks until proven otherwise." It ends up alienating anybody with anything less than a passionate love of argument. It is not what I want to see in any case. It also discourages participation from all but the annointed few.

    And yet, when I come here, I feel precisely that way.

So, how do we fix this?

  1. Rule#1 - Be Nice.

    We are all intelligent people here. If we were robots looking to parse information, then the level of rejection would be understandable. But, we're not. We're people. And people like nice. I'm not saying you need to upvote crap. I'm not saying that comments aren't constructive. Indeed, you've probably noticed I'm very lenient with leaving comments that I probably should delete, and very open about when I think something is on or off topic.

    But, I try to be nice about it. And I'd love to see more people do the same.

  2. Vote more.

    If someone makes a point, reward it. I've upvoted stuff I personally disagree with - and even selected answers that are not what I believe, when they show good research. I downvote some, but I much prefer the upvote. Reward it.

  3. Answer more

    Right now, our front page has the first 12 questions having only one or zero answers. This is a very, very bad sign. Answer where you can, use facts, but don't be afraid to try. I can and will tell people who are most vociferous in their comments that any fool can knock a thing. It takes some chops to actually build something. Try it some time! If you are leaving "This sucks" comments, I want to see you do better. Please try.

  4. Lighten up.

    Stack Exchange makes the world a better place when people can intelligently discuss things - but there is a difference between intelligence and arrogance. Intelligence uses facts to make reasoned arguments. Arrogance says "Oh, if you disagree with me, you shouldn't talk. I value the intelligence of SE. I'd like to see less of the arrogance.

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    The thing that this site does well is to encourage supported answers to real questions over against random kevtching about politics. - You and I obviously have different standards of measuring this. – SoylentGray Aug 25 '13 at 4:27
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    Yes, I think the biggest hurdle is a lot of random kvetching about politics (and I see more of that in the questions than the answers) – user1530 Aug 25 '13 at 19:46
  • +1 "I passionately hate that site." Ditto. skeptics.se seems the very definition of a debate site. If I wanted that, I'd go to a forum. – LateralFractal Oct 25 '13 at 3:05
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Politics isn't a very active stackexchange, but that's not a problem easily solved. A more significant problem, and one that can be solved, is that of the quality of posts on Politics.

The majority of answers are politics are nothing but stated opinions, and so only receive upvotes and downvotes based on whether people agree with those opinions. Politics doesn't (or, at least, shouldn't) exist only for the purpose of polling its users: answers should ideally answer the question.

Moderators need to enforce higher standards of evidence like they do on Skeptics. Otherwise this site really doesn't make the internet a better place. What value does this site provide if the only answers provided are unsubstantiated opinions? If people provide substantiated, factual answers, then people can learn from it more than just what a random user thinks.

Take a look at this question. It's not a constructive question, in that it asks about Obama's motivations for his counter-terrorism policies. The answers are similarly not constructive. How could they be? None of the answerers could read Obama's mind. So long as these kinds of questions and answers dominate Politics, the site will fail to make the internet a better place.

  • I did, and it's self-promotion and requires a general change in attitude, which isn't feasible. We need a top-down solution, because that can actually be implemented. – Avi Aug 25 '13 at 5:30
  • Without commenting on the rest of your answer, your example link seems like a poor example. None of the answers are above +1 (and the only one above zero is a dispassionate - albeit not very fact-rich) explanation rather than biased opinion that deserves its honest +1. This site is rife with much worse examples. This Q is a rare case of community voting showing true worth of information. – user4012 Aug 25 '13 at 13:43
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    My point is that the question exists, not that it's liked. – Avi Aug 25 '13 at 23:53
0

The community that remains has decided that it would prefer the unrestricted exchange of opinions and discussion. It seems that any attempts to call for references or suggest improvements are chastised. So my opinion is:

This SE currently does not make the internet a better place!

While it is probably technically possible to course correct and make this site a viable SE, is suspect that the reality is that the site would be better off closed, and if the desire is there recreated through the A51 process. There are more broken windows here than there are salvageable window frames. Most of the quality SE posters have already been driven off. The mods have basically given up trying to keep people from shooting up the saloon but rather relegated themselves to dragging the bodies out after.

I suspect that the only thing saving this SE is the fact that there are so few people actually visiting the site that it is not that big of a black eye yet. If we were to grow with out improvement then the powers that be at SE are more likely to take notice and shut us down. This is just my opinion but if I were the decision maker at SE I would shut this down now and avoid the risk.

How can we fix it?

  • Change the scope to forbid hypothetical questions on policy effects
  • Shut down comment chatter and purge anything that is not obviously a request for improvement, or adding significant value to the question/answer.
  • Purge obviously crappy questions rather than allowing them to be rewritten.
  • Change the scope to forbid questions on personality and motivation
  • Enact a strict citations required policy
  • The mods have to be active in providing quality answers to good questions, politely shutting down bad posts, and comment chatter.
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    Hypothetical questions on policy effects can be answered if studies are available for them. Otherwise I'm pretty happy with these suggestions. – Avi Aug 25 '13 at 1:58
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    @Avi - No they really cant. We can say what studies have said will happen but most political studies end up saying what the people who paid for the study want them to say. An educated opinion on what would happen is equally valid to any politically sponsored study. If you want to ask a question about what a specific study found and who has addressed that I would not be opposed but a question that is fishing for specific results does not make the internet better. – SoylentGray Aug 25 '13 at 4:05
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    I think this is a valid point and, perhaps frustratingly, simply a sign that the topic of politics is not suited for the SE format. – user1530 Aug 25 '13 at 5:00
  • Unbiased sources exist, Chad. The most obvious that comes to mind is the CBO. – Avi Aug 25 '13 at 5:31
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    @Avi - Not to most of the questions that get asked here... and for any forcast of a policy that shows one thing there exists another forcast that shows the opposite. That is the problem with hypothetical questions... they do not have right answers. – SoylentGray Aug 25 '13 at 6:01
  • Also just because a question could be answered well does not mean that the question should be asked here. If you shut down the hypotheticals, personality, and motivation questions you will remove most of the questions that attract they types of answers and comments that drive serious experts away. – SoylentGray Aug 25 '13 at 6:03
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    The right answer is the one matching the consensus of experts for questions about the potential effects of policy. – Avi Aug 25 '13 at 23:52
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    @Avi - I understand what you are saying but disagree that is not the right answer that is the consensus answer. – SoylentGray Aug 26 '13 at 11:20
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    @Avi: I agree with Chad. "Expert" (decided by whom?) consensus is rarely anything more than an educated opinion - or worse, just a useful "narrative", which may or may not wind up being vindicated. Either way, I think even in Politics.SE a right answer should be more than just an opinion. – Ben Collins Aug 26 '13 at 13:46
  • "The mods have to be active in providing quality answers to good questions, politely shutting down bad posts, and comment chatter." I can try to shut down more bad posts and comment chatter (that's a balance), but everybody needs to be providing quality answers to good questions. As the #2 user by rep on the site, I think I've done my best there - but to suggest that a mod is responsible for this is 100% off base. Indeed, a mod needs to actually be less active than other users, in order to avoid any bad appearances... – Affable Geek Aug 26 '13 at 15:47
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    @AffableGeek - Look at Oddthinking on Skeptics. He is incredibly active there and a well respected member of the community. Sklivvz is as well. Both were active as both mods and contributors during the beta and were a big part of making Skeptics a success. And the truth is that EVERYBODY is not going to contribute. The key is to have mods shut down those people who are here to disrupt or that refuse to play by the rules. Right now it seems we do not have enough active users to get obviously bad questions closed... If something doesnt change there is only one way this SE goes. – SoylentGray Aug 26 '13 at 16:31
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    @AffableGeek - And I do not disagree that we need more than just the mods contributing. But seeing the mods active on the site and providing a good example for others to follow is something that will turn this site around. Providing bad examples as a mod is something that MUST be avoided. – SoylentGray Aug 30 '13 at 17:48
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    I don't believe citations will help. Everyone can produce a citation to back up their opinion. – DJClayworth Oct 16 '13 at 17:34
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    I agree. But my worry is that people think producing a citation turns an opinion into a fact. I can produce many citations to show that (e.g.) government spending helps the economy in a recession. I can also produce citations that show the exact opposite. Neither should be admissible as a statement of fact, just because i have publications to back them up. – DJClayworth Oct 16 '13 at 17:49
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    It's not Ann Coulter. The issue is saying: "Government spending is always bad, and here's a reference from an Austrian School economist to prove it". – DJClayworth Oct 16 '13 at 19:25

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