Although this goes against my grain, I'm going to start by pointing out that I have extensive experience in philosophy, political theory, political science, and the philosophy of science. That much should be evident to anyone who's gone over my posts on the few sites I participate on here. I don't mention that — ever, for philosophical reasons — when I answer regular questions, and I'm only doing it grudgingly here because I feel I need to offset the social authority of a (to my mind mistaken) administrator. Because that is the problem here: that Philipp explicitly refused to engage in meaningful discussion, and plowed ahead with an entirely bureaucratic decision that did not take into account the sense or context of the question or the answers given.
The net result of Philipp's actions is that he actively created disinformation: suppressing a range of credible and reasonable answers and allowing only those answers that paint the situation in a particular light, because that particular light is the only way of viewing the question which can be accessed through the restricted methodology of opinion polling. I have no interest in speculating on his motives because I'm happy to believe he was simply following 'the rules' as he saw them. But I am pointing out the error.
I will go through this point by point, so it will be a long answer. My apologies in advance, but I want to be thorough.
1. The Original Question
The original question asked — the one which I answered — was titled "Why do Germans dislike Trump so much and consider him so dangerous?" There was a reference to a Pew poll in the first line, and the last line read "Are there some polls why Germans dislike Trump..." ('why' emphasized in text). The question title was modified to its current form two days after I answered.
My answer was based on the consideration that opinion polls are extremely poor tools for answering 'why' questions. Perhaps I should have put this explicitly in text, and likely I would have if the current title had been in place when I answered. But the fact is that opinion polls only gather Likert scale responses to pre-structured questions. 'Why' questions seek out motivations, and motivations are complex psychological phenomena that can only be accessed through some type of structured open-ended interview paradigm, or by inference through the application or reasoning to secondary, tangential information. My answer was perfectly appropriate for the original 'why' aspect of this question, since no opinion polls could ever suffice.
2. The Limitations of Opinion Polls, and the Danger of Disinformation
Opinion poll questions are inevitably practical and specific, such as:
- "On a scale of 1 to 5, do you approve of Trump's tariff policies?"
This is a limitation of opinion polling, mandated by the desire to gain a comparatively large sample size with a comparatively high response rate. The more detailed and specific a question is, the more difficult it is to process on a large scale, and the more likely it becomes that respondents will get frustrated or bored and toss the form in the garbage. Moreover, trying to craft more deeply psychological questions on opinion polls creates other problems having to do with triggering. For instance (using my own answer as an example), consider an opinion poll question like the following:
- "On a scale of 1 to 5, how much does Trump's rhetoric recall for you the political rhetoric of the Nazi regime?"
A question like that would both predispose respondents to particular answers and trigger emotional reactions; it is so methodologically questionable and so politically charged that any results from it would be effectively meaningless. I have occasionally seen poll-type questions that manage to thread this type of needle, but it's rare, and difficult, and it's risky for the researcher's reputation; and even then it is subject to a broad range of interpretations that limits its usefulness.
So, opinion polling is limited to simple, practical, intellectual questions, and thus limiting answers to those supported by opinion polls gives the false impression that all motivations are simple, practical, and intellectual in nature. Does anyone honestly believe that the the bulk of Europeans (or Americans, for that matter) evaluate Trump (or any political leader) on a calm, measured, reasoned analysis (CMRA) of their policies? No doubt that some people do, and that CMRA is a factor for many people, but implicitly asserting that CMRA is the only meaningful metric deeply misrepresents the nature of the situation, and inevitably creates a skewed, biased understanding.
3. Site Policy and Bureaucracy
Now, I am a relatively new member here — I've only been posting for about a month — so apologies if I am not entirely 'up' on standards and practices. But it seems to me that the purpose of a site like this is to inform readers, not misinform them. And yet, that is precisely what these deletions do. Now I could perhaps see the point of this (not agree with it, mind you, but understand it intellectually) if this kind of practice were a uniform feature of the site. But it isn't. I could look through any number of other questions on this site and find answers that are less up-voted, less intellectually sound, and less reasonable than my own, which have not been deleted or even questioned. For some reason this question caught Philipp's eye, and he decided to act in a manner that is inconsistent with general practice on the site; and yeah, I know, shit happens.
But as a general rule, when shit like this happens I expect a certain amount of discussion and reasoning to be applied. I do not expect to have an administrator flatly tell me "There is nothing to discuss", with the implication that if I do not comply with his wishes he will unilaterally delete my answer. I suggested we bring this to Meta or private chat to discuss the details (as I'm doing now); he refused. I gave him a précis of my objections to his actions; he declined to respond. The most he would say is: "Those are the rules and I am forced to follow them," a bureaucratic deflection of his own decision onto the site itself.
Is that the way this site is supposed to work? Because if so, that is — speaking frankly — stupid. And note please that I do not mean 'stupid' as a personal insult to any particular individual; I mean to imply that the entire site becomes stupid because it fails to fulfill any of the meaningful purposes such a site could have. It becomes simply an arbitrary collection of those answers that individual administrators have presumptively decided they will tolerate, for reasons of their own which they steadfastly refuse to express. If you can think of a better word for that than 'stupid', by all means do, but the point still holds.
I know that administrators have issues and problems I do not understand, and I am sympathetic to that. But my sympathy does not extend to endorsing haphazard, bureaucratic solutions. An administrator has an obligation to engage content, at least with members who are trying to be reasonable and earnest, and where administrators refuse to do so the effect is a consistent worsening of the quality of the site, and a chill on those trying to participate well.
I'm not entirely concerned about this particular answer (though Philipp's actions clearly annoy me). If this answer remains deleted I don't think I'll lose any reputation points, and if I do, I won't lose any sleep; I have the skills and knowledge to gain reputation points quickly and easily in this field. But I dislike the misrepresentations and malformations that inevitably arise from this kind of pedantic, unmethodical, bureaucratic thinking. If this is the way things are run here, then we seriously need a conversation about revising site rules and policies.