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I am frustrated with how users have reacted to my question and answer regarding the Reade/Biden issue. The reaction was negative. First there was a vote to close, and then it was reopened, but downvotes and negative comments remained. I primarily use stackexchange to discuss mathematics where the standards are clearer for when a post is acceptable or not, so I am a bit lost here. Here are my concerns.

  1. This topic seems clearly about the subject matter “politics”, so it seems to belong on this forum.

  2. Several users claimed the question was inappropriate because it was about unknowable facts and/or opinions. They did not give any basis for this, in terms of when something can be or cannot be known generally. Furthermore, there certainly is evidence to examine regarding the facts of this case, and professional journalists have been diligently gathering it and disseminating it for the past several months.

  3. One user did delve at little into the issue of standards of evidence/knowledge, saying this was unknowable because it is a “he said she said” issue. But testimony is the primary source of information in police investigations, court proceedings, and congressional hearings. Educated citizens of this world should be able to assess testimonial evidence in terms of self-consistency, consistency with other testimony, measured likelihood against general facts, and consistency with physical, documentary, video, auditory, or digital evidence. When we are speaking about workplace climates of several decades ago, testimonial evidence is one of the few available sources, and it can help fill in the gaps about things that were not written down. We certainly don’t memorialize everything that happens in our lives!

So I would like someone to explain the general standards of politics.SE that apply to this case.

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    The q was single-handedly reopened by mod Philipp here, so obviously on-topic. politics.stackexchange.com/posts/53220/revisions You can ignore the "modding from the backbenches" below. (Also the advice to take this to Skeptics as-is was terrible.) – Fizz May 22 at 16:21
  • Also, people seldom go back to delete their comments once they are addressed. Flag as "no longer needed" and a mod will delete them. – Fizz May 22 at 16:26
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    @Fizz giving opinion on the on-topicness of a question is not "modding from the backbenches". It's something you yourself have done in response to questions asking about things being on topic. – Dan Scally May 23 at 20:45
  • @DanScally: In difference to the q you linked to, I see no diamond mod disagreeing with me on that one, nor do I foresee a reason why what I said there to Ankit was controversial or outside consensus. (I really thought you were going to link to the ones on Trump and racism or fascism. On those I did disagree with a mod, but I know how to recognize when I'm on the losing side of an argument. "Modding from the backbench" would be for example if I now told someone it's A-OK to ask a q here if Trump is racist, after I know mods and a wider portion of the community disagrees with that line of q.) – Fizz May 23 at 21:55
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    @Fizz I didn't say it was controversial or outside consensus; on the contrary I agree with you. But I have done nothing qualitatively different here than you did there; the fact that Phillip happened to undelete the question doesn't somehow make my expressing a contrary opinion a challenge to his modding or anything. Indeed, I didn't even realise he'd done so until you noted that point, and I doubt my point of view below is anywhere near as controversial as your example is (frankly, equivocating them is silly.). In any case; having pointed out your mistake I'm now done with this conversation. – Dan Scally May 23 at 22:30
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(1) This topic seems clearly about the subject matter “politics”, so it seems to belong on this forum.

I dispute this, and lament that more people seem to share your view than mine (and thus such questions remain open). Politics.SE defines "on-topic" here, and the only section that is close to applicable to your question is:

  1. Conflicting Egos:

In just about any policy of substance, there are particular personalities that are central to its understanding, as well as demographic data about supporters and opponents of legislation. Asking “Why is [insert person here] such a jerk?” is clearly off-topic - the answer is highly subjective, but asking “What groups of people tend to support X in her implementation of policy Y?” is answerable using polls, punditry, and other verifiable and reproducible sources.

Your question isn't about the processes of politics, or about particular policies, or why a particular person is (or indeed which particular people are) supportive of the implementation of a particular policy. That the people involved in a disputed allegation of impropriety happen to be politicians, doesn't make it a question about politics, in my opinion.

(2) Several users claimed the question was inappropriate because it was about unknowable facts and/or opinions. They did not give any basis for this, in terms of when something can be or cannot be known generally. Furthermore, there certainly is evidence to examine regarding the facts of this case, and professional journalists have been diligently gathering it and disseminating it for the past several months.

(3) One user did delve at little into the issue of standards of evidence/knowledge, saying this was unknowable because it is a “he said she said” issue. But testimony is the primary source of information in police investigations, court proceedings, and congressional hearings. Educated citizens of this world should be able to assess testimonial evidence in terms of self-consistency, consistency with other testimony, measured likelihood against general facts, and consistency with physical, documentary, video, auditory, or digital evidence. When we are speaking about workplace climates of several decades ago, testimonial evidence is one of the few available sources, and it can help fill in the gaps about things that were not written down. We certainly don’t memorialize everything that happens in our lives!

Whilst you're right that there is the possibility of documentary evidence verifying changes of roles and whatnot, the point I believe the objectors were making is that neither demotion nor dismissal are necessarily retaliatory actions, and that it's likely not going to be possible to conclusively demonstrate one way or the other whether such actions were motivated by some allegation she made or by other factors such as staffing requirements or performance.

You're countered that objection by claiming testimony from colleagues and so on can be conclusive; I would simply say to that that I disagree entirely, especially given the events in question occurred decades ago. Witness testimony is notoriously unreliable even when recent (and is one of the leading causes of miscarriage of justice in criminal cases). Acceptance of one version of events or the other is likely therefore to come down to implicit biases.

So tl;dr - your question isn't on-topic, and doesn't have an obtainable objective answer.

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  • Two questions then. (1) In what SE forum can we discuss current events that have political implications? (2) Would you claim any factual question is unknowable if the only available evidence is testimony? Would a discussion of the merits of the impeachment charges against Trump be similarly off-topic? Is the Nixon impeachment on-topic, and if so, is that only because of tapes? – mbsq May 20 at 15:15
  • Regarding the statement: “neither demotion nor dismissal are necessarily retaliatory actions”: Obviously that’s true, but this is what my question is about— What was the reason the office demoted or fired her? Not sure if we are using the same notion of “retaliation”.... It might have even been written in some kind of performance-review memo. There has been only one person I know of who has testified to her performance— Reade herself has not offered any contrary claims about that. – mbsq May 20 at 15:42
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    @mbsq Reading from the Help Center, asking questions with the intent on discussion is discouraged, and I would imagine that policy would be pretty similar across all SE sites. So I think the answer to your (1) is "Nowhere". – Jeff Lambert May 20 at 15:58
  • @JeffLambert Sorry, let me phrase it as: "In what SE forum can we ask and answer questions about current events that have political implications?" – mbsq May 20 at 16:00
  • @mbsq The answer to that would be here. But you still have to have a question that is asking a question and isn't inviting discussion, which after a few edits I think the OP is much better than the original. – Jeff Lambert May 20 at 16:21
  • @mbsq As to (1), pass. The questions may not be appropriate to any SE forum, but there's far more of them than I've time to explore so I couldn't answer that. Regarding question (2)...the question is unusual. You've asked if a factual question can be on-topic, but you've given examples of questions asking about the merits of the impeachment charges. Those two things are mutually exclusive. A question about the merits of an action can not be described as a factual question. So; you need to clarify what you're asking there. – Dan Scally May 20 at 19:01
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    @mbsq As to "What was the reason the office demoted or fired her?". That's the whole point; people are saying you're not going to get an objective answer to that, because people will interpret it as they wish. Even if someone produced a performance review saying they sacked her because she was rubbish at her job...they're obviously not going to say they're sacking her because she rejected her boss' advances, are they? – Dan Scally May 20 at 19:09
  • @DanScally (a) In case you aren’t aware, impeachment, like any legal proceeding, depends heavily on facts. For example, the famous question, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” is a factual question, which, amazingly (?), has bearing on the impeachability and guilt of the president. – mbsq May 20 at 21:01
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My primary objection to this question — which is a bit much to hash out in comments, so thanks for posting this here — is that this question blurs the public/private distinction, and does so in a prejudicial and lopsided fashion. To be brutally frank, it is emotional reasoning hiding behind a thin veneer of vacuous empiricism. You could have made the question less lopsided if you'd turned it into a comparative question — asking for evidence for the various accusations against Biden, Trump, and perhaps other political leaders — but making it more balanced in this way would do nothing to resolve the deeper issue.

When I talk about the public/private distinction, I'm pointing out that politics is public matter: ideas, standards, and actions that functionally relate to or affect the state, nation, or individual citizens as a group. When we evaluate a political candidate or leader, we should be looking at policies, agendas, and capabilities. We should not be evaluating the fine details of their private lives. Biden has a single accusation of harassment against him; Trump has a long string of harassment accusations, as well as affairs and interactions with prostitutes; Clinton had that thing with Lewinsky; John F Kennedy supposedly had a fling with Marilyn Monroe... All of this is titillating tabloid material, but it has no relevance to the public political sphere, and won't unless (say) Trump decides to revive the custom of jus primae noctis (which I can totally see him trying to do). It may be unpleasant or disturbing, and it may reflect poorly on the character of the man involved, but it is of no consequence to the administration or leadership of the nation.

Of course, this is the kind of thing that sells papers like the Daily News, precisely because it is titillating innuendo. If it were a decidable fact, it would be dry and boring; everyone's prurient curiosity would be satisfied by knowing the truth, and no one would care. But it is not decidable. The entire debate will boil down to a couple of well-known but boring facts — that Reade filed a minor complaint against Biden, and that Reade's role in the office was shuffled around — and then a bunch or personal anecdotes and recollections that people will believe or dismiss according to their political allegiances. There are no facts here that can be assessed, only innuendos that can be spread. And while I don't agree with all of the moderation standards that are applied on Politics SE, I do get that this forum is not in the business of spreading titillating innuendo.

Part of the problem is that the US political system itself has degraded to a veritable shit-show. The Right has turned character assassination into its primary political activity (starting back in the heyday of good ol' Karl Rove), while the Left has taken a Comedy Central approach to politics, living for that sardonic zing on the other side. In the Trump era in particular, nasty innuendo and sly digs dominate most of our political information, so much so that it's hard to see what's public and private anymore. Everyone goes straight for the groin, because a groin-shot is a money-shot, and the social media universe luuuvs a money-shot. With that in mind, it's understandable that people are confused about what a proper political question looks like.

But we don't want to allow that understandable confusion to drag the shit-show of US politics into the forum.

I don't know why you're so deeply curious about something that may have happened between two people 27 years ago, but even you have to admit that this discussion will never under any circumstances rise above a titillating he-said/she-said drama-trauma of sexual innuendo. The only possible result of asking such questions is to keep the innuendo floating along; to make sure that the innuendo stays in the public eye as long as possible, with the consequent negative emotional impact on the people involved. If that isn't your goal, then you should avoid asking questions like this; if that is your goal, we should prevent you from asking questions like this. Either way, we should all try to stick to things that are politically relevant and publicly verifiable, and leave the dramaturgy to the tabloids.

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    This is a horrible post on so many levels. Interesting how you immediately leave the realm of objectivity and start talking about my political agenda. No, I am not here to keep the story floating; I’m here to sort it out, and personally I think Reade is probably lying. If you think the right way to do politics or SE fora is to shut down discussions, well you’re not gonna succeed in the end. – mbsq May 22 at 19:47
  • @msqb: I have no knowledge of (or interest in) your intentions. That's between you and you. I'm simply telling you what the context and results of your actions are, as a matter of objective assessment. If you are not self-reflective enough to look at your own actions objectively, that is not my problem. Seriously, dude: get a grip. – Ted Wrigley May 22 at 19:58
  • @mbsq: You mean the paragraph where I explicitly do not make any presumptions about you, but tell you that the outcome is undesirable in any possible case? I would suggest you read it again, but I don't see much point in that. Unless you have something substantive to say, this conversation is over. – Ted Wrigley May 22 at 23:36
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    Yes, the one where you go on about my “goals” and question why I am curious (in other words, what’s my motivation?). You don’t have to put forward an explicit theory in order to “go there.” Maybe now that you’ve had time to sleep it off you can see what a rant this post was. – mbsq May 23 at 6:22
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    I disagree with the argument you started with about the public/private separation. For example, I think the various personal vices (or crimes) of Trump speak to his decision making style as president. – mbsq May 23 at 7:32
  • @mbsq: I stated explicitly that I do not know or care about your goals or motivations. I made it explicit that whatever your goals and motivations are, the outcome is poor: either contradicting what you want or contradicting the aims of this site. I cannot stop you from making the impersonal personal, but please do it inside your own head and leave me out of it. – Ted Wrigley May 23 at 14:41
  • @mbsq: Crimes are public matters that should be addressed in courts, not tried in social media. While I agree with you about Trump, Trump has long-standing pattern of behaviors: those patterns are empirically observable, documented, and sufficient to constitute the body of a legal case against him. The only documentable pattern of behavior for Biden is his well-known tendency to be overly-familiar with people. Your failure to recognize that speaks to your bias. – Ted Wrigley May 23 at 14:57
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    And by the way, analyzing available evidence, even when it is X-rated testimony, is not “innuendo.” That’s not what the word means. – mbsq May 23 at 16:02
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Ted Wrigley May 23 at 16:04

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