Recently someone added a comment to a question I had posted saying that they thought my question was "opinion based" and inviting me to say if I agreed or, if not, why not (I'm assuming they were considering voting to close but, very considerately, wanted to know what I had to say first). At this point my question had received no answers.

The link here What is a "closed" or "duplicate" question? says that being "opinion based" is a reason to close a question as off-topic. It goes on to say:

Opinion-based: While many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

Can anyone clarify what this means in practice? In particular

An "opinion based" question is defined by the types of answer it "tends" to generate. Obviously "tends" to generate does not mean "must inevitably generate" so what exactly does "tends to generate" mean...

a.) Does "tend to generate" mean that in practice (given the Politics SE community is what ever it is) the question attracts answers from people who have a general temperamental disposition to post answers which are "almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise"?

b.) if it means (a) what is the main concern of Politics SE? Does Politics SE want to avoid at all costs any answers being posted which are "almost entirely based on opinions", or does Politics SE not mind the odd "almost entirely based on opinions" answer if there are also some answers which are based on "facts, references, or specific expertise"?

c.) Or does "tend to generate" refer to the way the question is framed? i.e. that it tends to tempt even those who, by disposition, would normally post answers based on "facts, references, or specific expertise" to instead proffer a subjective opinion?

d.) Given that we are talking about a tendency rather than an inevitability, and whichever of the above meanings is the intended one, whether a question which has so far received no answers "tends to generate" answers "almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise" is a matter of speculative hypothesis. How in practice is someone considering posting a question, or someone considering voting to close a question before it has received any answers, inform their speculation?

  • 2
    Do any of these answer your question? What should be considered opinionated?, What's the difference between 'opinion based' and speculative analysis? and How does "Primarily Opinion-Based" work on this site? See also some of the other question in the [opinionated] tag.
    – JJJ Mod
    Nov 12, 2021 at 20:07
  • @JJJ Not really, unless I'm missing something here. Those links basically say the political opinions - e.g. policy X is bad, party Y is great, Z is a great leader are off topic. That is clear. But I thought "opinion based" was much wider than that. Nothing I have ever posted comes anywhere near to being the expression of a political opinion.
    – Nemo
    Nov 12, 2021 at 20:16
  • Which question are you referring to specifically? This question about the NI Protocol for example is closed as speculative. I don't see any questions of yours which are currently closed as POB. I see some comments arguing this question is POB but other potential close voters disagreed by choosing to leave the question open.
    – JJJ Mod
    Nov 12, 2021 at 20:21
  • @JJJ It was the last one you mention. Not closed but some thought it POB. I'm seeking to understand what POB means? Why would anyone think it POB?
    – Nemo
    Nov 12, 2021 at 22:02

3 Answers 3


One common misconception of new users about Politics Stack Exchange is that it is the Stack Exchange political debate club. It is not. We do not want to provide a platform for debates, opinions or political activism. Yes, I know that these are very important in any democratic society. But there are plenty of websites which cater to this need. If you want to upvote and downvote people's opinions and debate them, there are plenty of communities on Reddit for that. And if you want to connect with other people who share your political views, there are Twitter and Facebook.

We do not need to be another political debate websites.

Just like with any other Stack Exchange community, the primary purpose of Politics Stack Exchange is to provide useful information in a question&answer format. We don't want to spread or exchange opinions, we want to equip people with the knowledge to form opinions on their own. Questions should ask for factual information about politics or political processes, not for the personal political opinions of the community members. Answers should answer the question being asked - nothing more and nothing less - and stick to the facts without going too far into the personal opinions of the author.

Due to the emotional volatility of most political questions, we take this rule very seriously. Questions should be phrased in a way that people don't even think about answering them with their personal opinions. When questions are not written that way, then we close them.

Note that closing a question does not necessarily mean that you asked a question you should not have asked in the first place. When a question does not belong here at all, then we delete it altogether. A question being closed means that people object to the way the question is phrased, not the question per-se. The purpose of closing a question is to give the opportunity to improve the questions through edits and then reopen it when it was made appropriate for the website.

  • The Asker mentioned in the comments that they were talking about all uses of POB, not just about political opinions. Nov 15, 2021 at 14:15

I'll answer the question based on your comments specifying that you're asking based on this question in which some commented that they thought it was primarily opinion-based (POB).

The question at the end there is as follows:

Is there any plausible alternative reading of the DOT terms of the Protocol under which the terms might not be self-defeating?

Some might read that as if you're asking users to interpret the Northern Ireland Protocol in a way that fits you're question. In other words, it may be seen as an initiation to rules-lawyer the existing wording.

I think you're really asking users to confirm or disprove your reading of the article. It might be better to phrase it like this:

In my reading that article seems to be self-defeating because of <short recap of your reading>. Is that the spirit of the article or am I missing something?

That way you're just asking what the article means and your own reading serves as prior research.

  • I understand what you are saying and I can see that in some contexts being "legalistic" might be tendentious (I had not come across the phrase "rules lawyer" before). But this particular question is about a treaty. Treaties, like all legal documents, are supposed to have a definite legal meaning - which may not be the literal meaning as the document has to be interpreted as a whole, but still a legal meaning. So I am asking about the legal meaning, not about the "spirit"..
    – Nemo
    Nov 12, 2021 at 23:01
  • But I take your point that an open question such as "am I missing something?" may be a better way to phrase the question.
    – Nemo
    Nov 13, 2021 at 11:56
  • @Nemo yea I wouldn't worry about it too much, others also saw what you were asking and voted to leave the question open. As for laws having meaning, I'm not sure if that meaning is always clear from the start. That's why things get appealed and lawyers get to argue. In this case I think the provisions haven't been tested, as Fizz' answer notes the article 16 safeguards need to be invoked by one of the parties, but they haven't been so far. So how things might play out in practice might be open to interpretation. (I'm not an expert on this, I just skimmed through your Q&A).
    – JJJ Mod
    Nov 13, 2021 at 15:54

Allow me to point out that the checklist of options we see when we vote to close a question are not particularly well-designed, independent, or comprehensive. I'd have written that list entirely differently, but since no one asked me we're stuck with what we have. People will do the best they can with it, but there's no sense expecting it to be literal and definitive.

But anyway...

The idea of a 'question' has different meanings within different modes of speech (Wittgenstein's language games). For our purposes, four of these modes are relevant:

  • Earnest questions: questions which seek actual answers which might be derived from reason, theory, or factual evidence.
  • Pointed questions: Statements about or arguments for a particular point, which are rendered as questions because the person making them asks others to affirm or deny at was said.
  • Rhetorical questions: Questions that assume a particular answer, and are asked primarily to force others to accept the answer through emotional pressure.
  • Dramaturgical questions: questions asked mainly to establish oneself in a particular social role: usually catty, snarky, hyperbolic, or virtue-signaling.

The first mode is usually non-problematic. They are the kinds of questions StackExchange was ostensibly designed for, and while they may stray into opinion-mongering, even opinions can be informative to someone who sincerely wants an answer. The last three are often problematic, each in their respective ways, because there is no intent to learn. There may be a desire to argue, to find social approval, to inculcate shame or guilt, to taunt or berate, but there's really no space there for an honest answer to be offered and received. The checkbox 'Opinion-based question' can variously refer to pointed questions, rhetorical questions, or badly phrased earnest questions. People check it when they feel that there is no way to answer the question without being explicitly argumentative: when they have to cut through odd presumptions or dispute questionable logic before they can even begin their answer.

The question you linked clearly falls into the 'pointed question' category. Effectively, you assert that there is no plausible, non-self-defeating reading of the DoT, and then ask people to validate or contradict your assertion. It's possible you are still in the opinion-formation stage on this question, and what you really want is for someone to point out the flaws in your reasoning, but in that case you should refocus the question to bring out your intrinsic doubts. Otherwise it just feels like you've put a chip on your shoulder and are daring people to knock it off (weird that people actually used to do that...).

  • I think there is a category somewhere between Earnest and Pointed where the intent is earnest but the question needs to set out some "devil's advocate" arguments in order for people to understand the issue. If I just said "self-defeating" without expanding on what I meant by that then I fear many people would not understand what the question was about. In fact one user who answered said they did not know what I meant by "self-defeating" even after reading the "devil's advocate" bits.
    – Nemo
    Nov 18, 2021 at 17:06
  • @Nemo: I don't think there's a separate category, but there is certainly a judgement call to be made. I wouldn't condemn every question that seems pointed on the face of it, nor exclude every pointed question without due consideration. But the way you've written this question — as I suggested above — makes it hard to frame an answer without starting in 'argument' mode. Could you rewrite this question so that anyone answering didn't have to dispute, clarify, or agree with your reasoning? Nov 18, 2021 at 17:30
  • I don't think I could. Basically you have an agreement where a) The UK government must carry out checks on goods going from A to B, but there is a clause allowing the UK to get out of its obligations if doing those checks causes trade diversion. Apparently the nature of the checks is bound to cause trade diversion. So the agreement is self-defeating. I'm asking people to agree with my reasoning or say where I am wrong. I can't think of any other way of doing it. I could add "some might argue..." but I'm not sure that helps because it is clearly my reasoning I'm asking about.
    – Nemo
    Nov 18, 2021 at 17:37

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