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I was just looking through the accepted topics and generally got the idea that this Stack Exchange does not support topics which rely largely on debate.

However I noticed a lot of the top rated question on this SE

Ask questions similar to why is X against Y despite Z evidence?

I was therefore wondering if the following sorts of questions are on-topic for this SE.

  • Why does X country maintain Y policy position despite Z
  • Why shouldn't X country do Y? (Contrary to a generally accepted political thesis) e.g. why shouldn't Iran have nuclear weapons despite X
  • A question advancing the merits of a particular policy and asking why the policy is not generally supported despite benefits to Z subsection of the population
  • A question which blatantly and fundamentally (with evidence) documents a point against a generally accepted political thesis. e.g. (This is an absolutely extreme example which I in no way support but advancing it to test a point) Did X genocide occur despite Y evidence to the contrary? Or is X actually a genocide despite Y?
  • A question which advances a theory that could also be the answer. E.g. Why doesn't X occur despite Y (implying X should occur)
  • Questions which are extremely lengthy due to exploration of a political thesis? e.g. Why is "example"-ism considered Y despite ABCDEFG reasons (prompting debate)
  • Questions relating to hypocrisy of a position, why is Y against X despite Y doing X?
  • Short answer: depends on how they challenge the thesis. – user4012 May 15 '17 at 1:04
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Questions that "challenge a political thesis" are not on-topic. They are almost always either a "rant in disguise" or a pseudo-question made just to make a point and "score" a zinger.

Questions that ask for clarification of a particular viewpoint are on-topic, and that's exactly what the "Why are so many Americans against Obamacare?" asks for: clarification. It is not trying to make any points as such, but it does have a paragraph or two about what the OP is confused about (which is okay). It's a great question with some great answers that really explain a particular viewpoint.


Distinguishing between a rant-in-disguise and genuine question can be tricky at times, and not infrequently it boils down to how the question is framed and language choice. In a rant, one or more assertions are being made, which don't happen in genuine questions. Perhaps it's easiest to show with some examples from non-political topics:

  • Stack Overflow:
    Okay: Why would generators in Python be useful?
    NOT okay: Generators in Python are a crappy useless feature, why was it even included in the first place?!

  • Sci-Fi:
    Okay: Why did Londo set Sherridan free in Babylon 5? It doesn't seem to fit the character?
    NOT okay: Londo setting Sherridan free was out-of-character and silly

  • Vi:
    Okay: How do I quit Vi?
    NOT okay: Vi is terrible! I can't even quit!

In every one of those questions, the OP has the exact same question; but in the second examples the OP decided to add some assertion (e.g. "it's terrible"), which are typically avoided in genuine questions.

4

The reason that I answered that Obamacare question, rather than closing it, was that it gives me the impression that the asker genuinely wants to know something. So we could either nitpick away until we found a way of asking that fit the site properly, or just answer it.

The biggest problem that I have with debate questions is when people then try to actually debate them in the comments. There are always going to be some answers with which people disagree.

why is X against Y despite Z evidence?

The problem that I have with that is the "despite Z evidence" part. But sometimes the easiest way to handle that is to debunk it.

I tend to give more leeway to people outside the US whose only knowledge of something is political propaganda that has been repeated to them. Two things to debunk in that question were that the tax cuts were part of the repeal promise and that no one had any reason to dislike Obamacare for purely selfish reasons unrelated to tax cuts. Obamacare was a huge program that did far more than just increase taxes and subsidies.

My hope is that someone comes away from reading my answer understanding how someone might not like Obamacare, even if that person disagrees with the reasons I gave. Because understanding why people disagree with us is important too.

My preferred way to formulate these questions would be something more like,

Why are Republicans against Obamacare?

No need for a despite. Someone could always ask,

What's good in Obamacare?

Or

Why are Democrats for Obamacare?

3

There are two problems I have with these: many are about motivations, and many try to tell us too much.

Motivations

Guessing at motivations of a multi-member population is not fruitful.

Here are answers that will almost always work no matter the X, Y, Z in your formula:

  • because some people don't know Z
  • because some people don't believe Z
  • because Z isn't the only factor being considered when people decide X
  • because Z is actually irrelevant

Ask, don't tell

I also don't like questions that tell us too much, and the "despite" section is telling rather than asking.

Almost all of these question forms could be improved by removing the "despite" section. If somebody does X for a set of reasons, and if those reasons are correct and complete, then those are also the reasons why somebody does X despite Z.

The "despite" section is also where many questions make assertions that turn out to be false. This isn't good because then the comments and answers focus on these false claims (that are sometimes irrelevant anyway) rather than answering the question.

  • I think a short "despite" section statement is fine because it does give the answer a focus. "Why do some people oppose Obamacare" is hard to answer because there are so many reasons they can't reasonably be explained in a single answer. "Why do some people oppose Obamacare when it will reduce the deficit" can be answered with a focus on how there is not unanimous agreement that it will reduce the deficit. or if the question says "..despite more people getting insurance" the answer can focus on whether healthcare in general is certain to improve. – Readin Jun 6 '17 at 4:34
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Part of the problem is that the questions like that (including the one you linked) can be/are simply phrased in a way that invites subjectivity, despite having an interesting core question which can easily be made objective or Good-Subjective.

Please compare:

Subjective-ish: Why are so many Americans against Obamacare?

Objective: What are the major/popular reasons people state as objections against Obamacare? (ideally, answers should prove that the stated reasons are indeed popularly expressed)

Objective: What specific downsides of Obamacare are listed as reasons to oppose it? (ideally, answers should list notable sources, in addition to popularly stated reasons listed in above answers)

Objective and great: I researched reasons to oppose Obamacare and found this specific objection. I don't understand why people feel that way; how do they argument it?

Objective: What reasons to oppose Obamacare were stated in House/Senate debate when it was being discussed in US Congress? (this is the most objective but frankly, least useful/illuminating one).

Now, if you're lucky (like the case was with Obamacare question), the people answering will indeed interpret the question's core in an objective way (and most of the highly voted answers there indeed were answered as if the question was asked one of the objective ways). If you're unlucky, most answers will regress to subjective "I disagree personally because" (some such answers can be illuminating and do work on sites like Parenting and Workplace but are tricky to get right; and generally if they are a majority, the question isn't answered well).


To me, a good rule of thumb to detect whether a question is asked in a good (objective or good-subjective) way is: "Does the question give clear indication of what facts are sufficient to explain the challenge to you?".

If you're asking about people's motivation, show what would be enough for you to come away with "OK, I may disagree with those people but now I understand where they are coming from".

  • Good points. Question: couldn't genuine questions asked in good faith in a slightly Subjective-ish wording be edited by the community? Shouldn't the Obamacare example be? Why hasn't anyone done so yet? – Martin Tournoij May 15 '17 at 1:50
  • Example from the Skeptics site, by the way, where my question was edited quite a bit to better fit the site's rules (while still maintaining the core of my original intent). – Martin Tournoij May 15 '17 at 1:52
  • @Carpetsmoker - could? yes. Should? Probably. Why not? Nobody bothered (I know why I personally didn't, not sure about others' reasons of course). – user4012 May 15 '17 at 3:06
  • Why did you choose to not edit the question? – Martin Tournoij May 15 '17 at 11:44
  • @Carpetsmoker - I'm not very motivated to help improve SE overall at the cost of my time, recently (not specific to Politics.SE). – user4012 May 15 '17 at 11:50
  • That's fair enough. I just thought there might be some deeper meaning :-) – Martin Tournoij May 15 '17 at 11:51
  • @Carpetsmoker - I'm Homo Economicus. I rationally respond to incentives :) OK, putting in uncounted hours to win Imaginary Internet Points to make Joel and co. rich may not be as rational as I thought. – user4012 May 15 '17 at 17:46

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