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I recently asked a question on which I am getting some pushback/suggestions. Since my question here is about the phrasing, I'll reproduce its initial contents here:

What were the motivations for Sri Lanka's banning of chemical fertilizers?

Sri Lanka is going through a serious crisis caused by a number of economic factors. One recurring theme, besides the Covid tourism crash, is the collapse of local agriculture following a ban on industrial fertilizers (or at least on importing them) in favor of all-organic fertilizers.

Googling the terms fertilizer sri lanka why quickly shows all sorts of issues with the implementation of this policy. From deficient Chinese imports to farmer productivity crashes.

But why was that ban implemented in the first place?

But as anyone's who's been here a while knows, asking this question leaves you open to close because:

Why isn’t this question suited for Politics Stack Exchange?

Questions asking for the internal motivations of people, how specific individuals would behave in hypothetical situations or predictions for future events are off-topic, because answers would be based on speculation and their correctness could not be verified with sources available to the public.

So I added an extra bit reminding that we can consider the government statements as well as opposition sources

  • what did the government's declarations of intent during its election campaigning cite as reasons?
  • what have opposition politicians/media cited as possible motivations?

And now I get a close vote

Needs more focus 1

This question currently includes multiple questions in one. It should focus on one problem only.

So what is the best format?

This is not necessarily all that complicated a question. Keep in mind, all the articles I had seen to date were articles about the impact of that ban, not the reason for that ban. I wasn't looking for the reasons-behind-the-reasons.

Government-issued reasons? Good for me. I may or may not agree with them, but at least I know what they said they were claiming it was for.

Opposition says: "Oh, it's because his wife owns a company which can benefit...". Well, assuming that it looks credible as information, then I also know a little bit more.

I mean, I could ask 2 questions:

  • What reasons did the Sri Lanka government give for the ban?

  • What reasons does the Sri Lanka opposition give for the ban?

... And then duplicate the body of the question.

Does that really help this site? Can we agree on a format that suits better?

2 Answers 2

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Don't ask for the "real reasons", ask for the "stated reasons".

By asking "Why did Arstotzka really close the Grestin border checkpoint?" you are opening up the question for all kinds of wild guesses and vague conspiracy theories.

But by asking "How did the Arstotzka government justify the closing of the Grestin border checkpoint?", you clearly request an answer which quotes an official source.

By asking "What did opposition politicians/media cited as possible motivations for the closing of the Grestin border checkpoint?" you are inviting all kinds of fringe theories and propaganda coming from questionable sources. If you look well enough, you can find some article written by some radical pundit pushing pretty much any weird conspiracy theory. And because it's on the Internet, there is now "the media" which says it, so it's a valid answer. And if someone questions the relevance of that particular pundit, then we will end up with another 50 comment debate about what media sources have what biases.

So you might want to be more specific and reduce the question to one possible source. Like "How did the official spokesperson of the order of EZIC comment on the closing of the Grestin border checkpoint?".

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  • different but related (and you have an excellent answer there) Why are most "Why did country X...?" & "Why does country X think...?" left open yet if it's an individual it's closed (we can't get into their head)?
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 1:31
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    Sorry, this doesn't satisfactorily answer my question. I don't want to limit to only what the government says. some article written by some radical pundit pushing pretty much any weird conspiracy theory. No that doesn't fly either: people can upvote and downvote answers and even delete them. Regardless of the exact nature of the question, anyone quoting Breitbart to support their answers will not be received well so SE.Po users have enough agency and discernment not to be fooled by really bogus claims. Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 17:50
  • If there is a good, solid, alternative reason for the ban (foreign exchange considerations have been cited) then I don't see why that should automatically be swept under the rug because it was not an official government statement. We don't apply that to US politics: where everything 2016-2020 had to come from Trump and 2021+ needs Biden sourcing only. As the linked Q by uhoh states, most government policies involve many people and communication and have observable expected benefits for the people promoting it. Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 17:54
  • When there is not, then secondary sources are available in form of experts who understand how the government in question operates and what their priorities are, which allows them to come to a good guess what might motivate their actions. Individual people are much harder to analyze like that Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 17:56
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica As with any SE site, Q&A's are intended to be factual. Things occasionally get a little weird on that on Politics, politics being what it is, but as a rule of thumb if answers aren't fact-based they are inappropriate, and questions which encourage primarily such answers are subsequently inappropriate. A "good guess" may be a well-educated guess, and may sound convincing, but it remains a guess which is inherently non-factual. We're not a site for theory crafting and novel research. Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 1:22
  • Now if there happen to be government memos, or a long history of statements by certain government officials who are ostensibly in charge of deciding and implementing certain matters, which shows they are likely to pursue certain objectives for certain reasons, that could be satisfactory. A bunch of interview statements, tweets, authored articles, etc. all become factual sources to illuminate why that particular government official may want to act in particular ways. It remains difficult to know why the government itself chose to act in those ways, however. Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 1:27
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I don't recall if I actually voted to close that or just linked to the meta on this:

I think that we should always try to ask one question per question on Main sites, irrespective of which of the sites we are using in the Stack Exchange network.

On some sites that is harder to do than on others, but nevertheless I think when multiple questions appear in a question we should do our best to try and get them separated.

As I read questions I am always looking for that single question mark that lets me focus my attention on what precisely the asker is asking.

If there is more than one question mark then I think about whether any of them are really rhetorical and would be better re-written as statements to leave just one.

If there really are multiple questions being asked then I think they should be in separate questions.

My reasons for advocating this are:

  • Some potential answerers may not answer because they feel unable to answer one or more of the questions, so what they could bring to the other question(s) is lost
  • Some answers may correctly address some of the questions but be quite wrong with respect to the others making it hard to decide whether an upvote or downvote is appropriate
  • Askers are likely to be reluctant to accept partial answers, and in the process of waiting for the last question to be answered, end up not accepting any of the answers
  • When there is a single clear question asked, it is so much easier to provide a single clear answer

I think your Q perfectly illustrates the bullets above. Especially when it comes to competing narratives (assuming they exist for this topic), and for that I wrote:

If one answer describes the gov't position and another the opposition's, which one are you going to accept?

That applies to answer voting too. Assuming competing answers state different motives, it turns the Q into a SE poll "do you believe the gov't stated motives or those imputed by the opposition"? If you actually ask the question like that, do you think it would not be closed as primarily opinion based?


And as I briefly looked into the subject matter, TBH, answering the part about what the opposition (incl. press) might have said is pretty hard to do concisely because a lot it was from "grassroots" or civil society. A non-exhaustive list:

  • the government wanted to do a land grab (and so impoverishing farmers was a quick way to achieve that). Not something the Tamil press hasn't claimed before.
  • they wanted to reduce the [external] balance of payments because most of the fertilizer is imported (totalling some $400 million/year) and/or reduce the budget outlays on subsidies thereof (as fertilizer is also subsidized) especially in the context of tourism income crash due to Covid-19. (There were certainly prior attempts to reduce fertilizer subsidies.)

So it's a fairly open-ended list what the imputed motives were. The format of SE is alas inherently not very suitable for such "add me a reason" questions. IIRC there were some attempts to handle these with the "community wiki" type of Q, but those never became too popular.

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