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Rather than fight this issue over every other question like that that gets posted (my own included), can we have a straw poll here?

Q: Are public officials' or politicians' reactions to current events off topic?

Typical example(s):

  • Politician X says politician (or public official or even government agency/body) Y did "something something". (How) did Y respond?
  • Someone notable enough from country X's says country Y did "something something" which is terrible; the accusation is repeated in highly read/watched media. Did country Y's officialdom offer a response?

If it needs saying, public officials need not be politicians, depending on the country government structure and even their level in said structure.

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I think it's on topic as long as the specific current event is related to politics as defined in the help center. For example, events related to Brexit, an election, diplomacy, the United Nations are in scope. If certain officials have a relation to those events, then asking for their (public) response should be in scope as well.

Of course, if the current event has no relation to politics, then it's mostly a trivia question. For example, question asking whether some politician or official hears Yanny or Laurel in the infamous auditory illusion has little bearing on anything related to politics as defined in the help center (even though a politician's opinion is part of the question).

I think an important criterion for determining the scope should be whether a question adds value to the site. I think these kinds of questions can be interesting, they don't stand out among other questions on the site, and they can be related to scope of the site. Therefore, I would be against a blanket ban on this question format.

Aside from that, the question would still have to meet the regular rules (verifiable with public sources, good-faith effort, not too broad, not opinion-based).


Under your question on main, StephenG posted a relevant concern:

@JJJ So tomorrow and the next day and the day after that are answers supposed to be updated with every new statement by an official or lawyer representing them ? It's news and not suitable for a question here as there is no resolution yet E.g. tomorrow they could "correct" what they said or statements in court could contradict it or confirm it or a bit of both. When do we stop answering an open question like this ?

So the main concern is that answers are a snapshot of the current stage of the event. I think that's a fair concern, but it's not new or specific to these kinds of questions.

Indeed, many political questions are related to changing events. Questions about election results while the winner hasn't been declared, or questions about Brexit negotiations before an agreement is signed, they are all subject to change.

Ideally, the question would be phrased in a way that outdated answers are not invalidated. For example, 'what is the position of X in relation to event Y'? If X takes a position on day 1, and changes it on day 2, then any answer explaining the first or second (or both) position(s) would (partially) answer the question.

Answers and edits are always timestamped, and if it helps, we can always add a disclaimer on what period it covers in the answer (or the question if we want to limit answers to a specific time).

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I do not think these are appropriate types of question. The problem is that this type of question merely stacks one opinion against another opinion, disregarding anything factual or objective about the case. It becomes a mechanism for ad hominem attacks, since the targeted side is obliged to argue for its own innocence against an otherwise unsubstantiated charge.

I mean, this takes us straight back to the old LBJ strategy of calling your opponent a pig-fucker, not because your opponent actually fucks pigs, but because you want to force your opponent stand up in public and deny that he fucks pigs. It's a crude and effective tactic used by grade-school bullies (and certain putative adults) world-round, but it hardly qualifies as intellectually sound material, and it is inherently morally suspect.

I don't explicitly object to someone asking general questions about some ridiculous piece of conspiracy-mongering: e.g., asking whether this video actually indicates some kind of malfeasance (as was done in a different question). The answer to the latter kind of question would naturally include any statement by the targeted side, if they choose to make one. But asking specifically about the targeted party's response is mere shame-baiting: non-response is presumed to be a sign of guilt; negative responses are treated as self-serving lies; the deck is stacked entirely against the accused. There is no way to address such questions without leaving the door open to further attack... which is, I suspect, the entire purpose of such questions. We should not be a vector for fostering that kind of nonsense.

We should close these questions peremptorily as an effort (whether intentional or not) to demean or degrade the target, by the implicit suggestion that they are guilty of something that needs to be explained or justified.

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    "merely stacks one opinion against another opinion". Well, that's pretty obvious. If we assume that's a bad thing, then a lot of q about ideology would also be off-topic, unless there's the "one true ideology" that provides a clear scientific answer. I'm trying to say that to a good extent this is the nature of politics. The help page suggests that "conflicting egos working themselves out through matters of policy" is on-topic. I'm saying that if we go your route, we'd need a lot of changes to the site. – Fizz Dec 6 '20 at 6:29
  • And I think you're trivializing things too much when you imply (2nd para) that disagreements about facts in politics are all about name-calling. I agree with your final para that, in theory, one can ask ridiculous/bad-faith questions like that. I'm not sure I buy it that we need to throw the baby out with the bathtub though, i.e. all responses to attacks are off topic (vs. just responses to silly attacks). – Fizz Dec 6 '20 at 6:32
  • To give you an example from Skeptics, one can make political attacks out of almost any "objective" question, e.g. skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/49945/… – Fizz Dec 6 '20 at 6:39
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    -1: There is already a close reason for bad faith questions. Use it if it applies. In cases where it would not already apply, I am extremely leery of expanding it. – Kevin Dec 6 '20 at 9:22
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    @Fizz: It's one thing to trade opinions about an ideology or philosophy. We can disagree about the nature of Marxism, Christian Fundamentalism, Libertarianism, or etc, and our debate can be informative and productive for others. That is what every intellectual or academic debate strives for, and how we acquire advanced knowledge in the world. It's another thing entirely to trade opinions about the character of individuals or groups. That is the definition of an ad hominem attack: the attempt to undercut an intellectual knowledge by discrediting individual speakers. – Ted Wrigley Dec 6 '20 at 14:23
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    Your question (whether you realize it or not) falls in the latter category. it begins with the presumption of bad faith and puts the target in the position where they must rehabilitate their character. LBJ's strategy isn't just 'name-calling' (though name-calling is a childish way of accomplishing it). It's about creating a condition of public shame for an opponent, to corner the opponent into a weak political position. As I said, it's a crude and effective political strategy, but not a strategy we should be fostering on this site. – Ted Wrigley Dec 6 '20 at 14:30
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    @Fizz: Your 'Skeptics' question is a case in point. The thrust of the question is to assert that AOC is somehow stupid, ignorant, hypocritical, backhanded, double-dealing — choose your preferred term — because a REAL greenie would NEVER use non-renewable resources. Now, this would work as a statement (in a kind of pointed, sarcastic, Daily Show humor sort of way). It makes a great late-night tv joke. But as a serious question it's offensive and misleading. And this is a site about serious questions, right? – Ted Wrigley Dec 6 '20 at 14:39
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    @Kevin: That's a naïve comment, if only because it implies we should be mind-reading the question-asker. Allow me to put this in clear fourth-grade terms: Then Sam the Bully says "Johnny eats boogers" that is bad faith; the intention is to make Johnny feel like shit so that Sam feels good about himself. When Mary asks "Does Johnny really eat boogers?", it does not matter one whit whether she is asking in bad faith or out or mere innocent curiosity. She is completing the Bully's task of creating shame. – Ted Wrigley Dec 6 '20 at 14:48
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    @Kevin: Bullies' taunts don't work because the bully says them (because no one really gives a shit what bullies think). Bullies' taunts work because of the fear that other people — people whose respect one might want — might pick up on it. We do not want to be the echo chamber for bullies in their efforts to ruin reputations. – Ted Wrigley Dec 6 '20 at 14:51
  • @TedWrigley: I hate to say it, but... that's politics. Or at least, that's American politics in the 2020s, anyway. If we can't discuss in neutral terms the bad faith statements of one side or the other, then we effectively cannot discuss a large swath of politically-relevant topics. – Kevin Dec 6 '20 at 18:59
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    @Kevin: Politics is what we make to it, and if that is what you want to make of it, the more fool you. But regardless, this site is not a participant in politics; this site is about politics. Let's keep the distinction clear. – Ted Wrigley Dec 6 '20 at 19:32
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    @TedWrigley: I'm aware of the participant/about distinction, but I would like to point out that this site does not have the practical ability to decide what politics is. It is what it is, and we can either document it, or ignore it. Your answer proposes to ignore it, and I do not agree that this is a prudent or appropriate course of action. – Kevin Dec 6 '20 at 20:38
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    @Kevin: I"m sorry, but the site most definitely has the practical ability not to be part of the problem. There are ways to discuss disinformation without spreading it; there are ways to analyze propaganda without promoting it; there are ways to address malicious content without implicitly endorsing it. I take it for granted that you understand those distinctions, but if you're trying to suggest that they are not important or meaningful distinctions to make then you have one hell of an intellectual hill to climb explaining your position. Best you buckle down and write your own answer. – Ted Wrigley Dec 6 '20 at 21:50
  • @TedWrigley: JJJ has already written that answer: It's on topic because it falls within the scope defined in the help center. I have no interest in further debating with you whether that scope is proper or not. As far as I'm concerned, there is no moral dimension to this discussion whatsoever; the scope is what it is, and this particular question easily falls within it. There's simply nothing more to debate. – Kevin Dec 7 '20 at 3:01
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    @Kevin: Well, good thing it's not up to you. I trust that others will see the sense in what I'm saying. – Ted Wrigley Dec 7 '20 at 4:01
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I'm not sure if I'm just re-stating what Ted Wrigley's otherwise excellent answer said, but, in my experience, 90% of such questions are going to be just an excuse to post a "objectivish-seaming" ad hominem attack to attract attention to some fact someone likes to highlihgt about a political side they dislike.

The examples are trivial to construct/offer, but ask if you need them.

Aside from ad hominem, the questions of that sort suffer from other logical fallacies, notably the implied false dichotomy (if the question target did not react, it does not imply they agree or can't rebut something - they may have had other priorities, considered the topic beneath them, weren't aware, or simply decided that silence is golden especially in a climate of being misquoted by opponents/media).

Plus, in my opinion, both the question and even any answer to it would offer zero benefit to anyone - yes, the answer may be factual, but it can not be used to reach any meaningful useful conclusion. 'What did "X" political entity do' is useful. 'What is officially stated position of a party on a topic' is useful though less so (talk is cheap, but at least it implies official messaging to party's constituency). 'What "X" said on some random topic' is not useful.

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