update: After reading the first answer here I've made an attempt to update the question. It is now: Writings advising elected politicians on how to make hard choices

In my meta question How to ask beginner-level questions on political theory or science? one example of a question I'd planned on asking was "How do politicians decide if they should X or Y?"

Deciding to post the question now and not wanting to receive "we aren't mind readers" close votes, I've cast it as a reference request question:

Votes are currently -3/+1 and some comments try to find ways to suggest the question can't be answered.

I know I shouldn't, but I take this as "down voting because I don't know the answer". No actual reasons for down votes are given, so so far there's no actionable information that I can see.

I feel that this question likely has a good answer, but I don't know for sure, which is of course why I posted the question in the first place!

Question: Is there any way I can adjust or otherwise "spruce up" my reference-request question? Or should I just leave as-is and be patient?

  • This sounds like your looking for a list of philosophy books. It's just too broad. Nov 21, 2020 at 20:51
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    @SurpriseDog No it doesn't "just sound like" that, not at all. "...scholarly works... by those who study this conundrum or have faced it personally that provide guidance to others who may face it?" And also, it's clear that for something so narrowly defined there'll be no list. ...experience and comments there both suggest that there are few if any.
    – uhoh
    Nov 21, 2020 at 22:39

1 Answer 1


The question appears to be asking for something, and there's a fundamental aspect missing from the vocabulary that is related to the concept being asked about. I think this is a relatively common thing when asking a question and expressing a genuine interest in a topic, and should not be discouraged.

The biggest issue I see is that it is basically asking for a list. Such a list is going to be subjective by its nature, depending on who (or what) an answer may choose to include or exclude. A more objective question if you are having difficulty finding resources on this specific topic could be "How are politicians advised in areas where they are not an expert?" As a mainline question, that itself is pretty broad, and can be narrowed down to specific levels of government (national, local), country/region, or cultural context.

The body of your question implies that what you're most interested in is the area of expertise for advice on what actual stances a politician should take and when, and to be fair the word for this (if one exists) doesn't exist in my vocabulary, either. I believe the disconnect with the question is related to this inability to communicate what it is you're trying to ask about. At a policy level, there could be references to all sorts of things from social research on large group dynamics to game theory. There should be a way for the question to be reworded so that an answer can be more than a curated list of all of starting points to all of the things that may affect a politician's position on any given subject.

Instead of asking for a list of books/monographs/memoirs, I can also suggest finding a specific policy position that was taken and mentioned in one and ask about it, in particular. [Author] of the memoir is very clearly a biased member of [political faction], obviously, so it is fair game to ask about competing perspectives. How did [this policy position] taken by [person] affect actual policy? How was it arrived at? Are there any contemporary sources to back that up? Framed that way, it may be also just as much about history as it is about politics, but I think it could have a place here as long as there is a connection to how a government's policy at a specific point in time was affected/not affected and whatever outcome occurred.

  • While "you're asking for a list" seems to be a premise here, experience and comments there both suggest that there are few if any. Right now the number is zero, so if ultimately one or two are provided then a list was never requested nor generated. But I think you mis-state my question as a whole. I ask how to decide between options based on criteria such as those five enumerated items for example. Your proposed questions are wonderful questions, but I've articulated just the question to which I'd like an answer.
    – uhoh
    Nov 21, 2020 at 11:04
  • It might not be an easy question to answer and there may be other questions that many wish it were instead because there's an answer they'd like to write, and in SE in general it's certainly allowed for those individuals to both ask and answer their own questions within each community's guidelines, but I think my question should be valued even though it's not as juicy as other questions might be. Is there any way to spruce it up without changing the nature of what this reference-request asks for?
    – uhoh
    Nov 21, 2020 at 11:09
  • @uhoh Are those five areas grouped underneath a particular research area? What is the word for that area? On the face you have specified 5 distinct pieces of criteria, and my response to you is that those criteria can potentially span a large portion of humanity's knowledge and is way too broad. "What's best..." is complex for lots of individual policies, let alone "all policies ever before and ever to come" styled as a request for references.
    – user5155
    Nov 21, 2020 at 11:12
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    Another premise of mine is that the question doesn't really communicate what you are asking about very effectively, so if I am misstating your question as a whole I apologize, but the fact I am I think shows the critique is still valid.
    – user5155
    Nov 21, 2020 at 11:22
  • Okay that point's well-taken. I'm going to try to refactor it somewhat; where I use examples for lack of specific terms maybe this comment provides a suggestion. Thanks! and +1
    – uhoh
    Nov 21, 2020 at 11:40
  • Imperfect though it may be, the question is now at least shorter.
    – uhoh
    Nov 21, 2020 at 11:58
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    @uhoh I'm still having trouble with the question. I still think you need to try to connect it to something concrete, such as one (or set of connected) specific policy position(s) taken by one person. You can ask many questions about other specific ones. A term fitting for your specific list of criteria can be something as broad as leadership, which almost every single leader from every single country has written a book about since the printing press but are seldom scholarly in nature. Without narrowing the space encompassing the set of possible answers, I'm afraid you'll never get one.
    – user5155
    Dec 1, 2020 at 11:35
  • Your point is very well taken, but I'm surprised at the silence. This is a very active site and users thoroughly enjoy and take advantage of any space to speak their mind and share their thoughts and knowledge. It seemed to me that if there would be so many suitable answers that would occur to so many users, at least one if not several users would jump on the chance to post answers they felt were the most relevant! The silence is deafening!
    – uhoh
    Dec 1, 2020 at 22:40
  • The question was at first slightly narrower and used to contain some (albeit non-specific) references to 20th & early 21st century issues; (see previous revision) and the score first sunk to -4. Surprisingly, after deleting those items of context and scope-narrowing-bits the tally then rose to its current +1! I Will keep working on it but "there are so many answers that nobody offered any (except for Marcus Aurelius in the deleted answer)" is a surprise in this community! In other sites such questions would attract a half-dozen answers
    – uhoh
    Dec 1, 2020 at 22:45
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    Certainly this site regularly has questions that attract that many or even more answers, so it is not averse to such things. But those are usually questions about interpreting current events. This one about familiarity with books and scholarly works is not benefitting from a similar plurality of viewpoints for some reason. Perhaps its simply not as fun to answer, or people are afraid of being "shot down" by others for proposing the "wrong" works?
    – uhoh
    Dec 1, 2020 at 22:53

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