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First off, I am a heavy user of Stack Overflow and find it's focus on questions with clear answers good (although at times I wish it allowed "what is the best..." questions). But for a site on politics to not allow questions where the answers tend to be opinions, well a ton of politics is opinion.

I asked What is the best way to eliminate the corruption that comes with fundraising? which I think is one of the most interesting questions we have in politics today. And there is a lot of value in people laying out what is known on this issue. But the bottom line is there is no specific factual answer because nothing that has been tried has worked. By definition any answer is opinion.

I'm thinking this site is not for me. Because the most interesting questions in politics are the ones we don't have a clear answer to. The rest exists in Wikipedia.

  • Fully agree, a question of mine was heavily downvoted I think because of the lack of possible fact-proof answers, even if the question is actually asking for a theory. – user2382 Jan 6 '14 at 10:08
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If nothing that has been tried has worked, how can we know what the best way is? Questions that aren't 100% fact-oriented aren't necessarily bad, but you should be able to look at a list of answers and say "that one's probably right". I could post the answer "I think that requiring donations in multiples of $7 would decrease corruption", and there's nothing that makes my answer right or wrong.

A better way to interpret your question might be "What methods have been tried to reduce the corruption that comes with fundraising? How much success have they had?". Now it's asking about stuff that's actually been tried, not whatever random untested theory the reader happens to come up with off the top of their head

  • Not to move the original question's discussion over here, but can you name anything that has been tried that has been effective? I think the answer is no. So just the facts limits us to listing all the things that don't work. Not a terribly useful discussion. I'm not saying this site should change the policy. I'm just saying it eliminates what I think are the really interesting questions. Another example is what would happen if we eliminated the electoral college - what would happen? We don't know because campaigns would significantly change and experiment to see what was effective. – David Thielen Dec 7 '12 at 18:40
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    What about "What methods have been proposed?". In my opinion, it's a bit sad if we can only discuss things that have been tried. – gerrit Dec 7 '12 at 19:25
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    @gerrit "What methods have been proposed?" is a question asking for facts, and it's answerable. "What methods do you propose" on the other hand... – yannis Dec 8 '12 at 3:47
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    But any posted answer by definition is a method that has been proposed. Even if in that answer it is the first time it is mentioned. – David Thielen Dec 8 '12 at 15:03
  • Yeah, I'm with @David here - if no one's tried it, what good does talking about it do? If you're looking for something that's worked, at least in a limited context, you should ask for that. – Shog9 Dec 10 '12 at 22:45
  • @DavidThielen nope, it only counts if it has been proposed somewhere where there was an actual chance of it being actually tested. – o0'. Jan 22 '14 at 18:32
  • @Lohoris by your definition then nothing proposed by either party in Washington can be listed because in the present political climate there is zero chance of any partisan solution being passed and tested. – David Thielen Jan 23 '14 at 15:25
  • @DavidThielen are you putting in the same boat an MP proposing a law with a random anonymous user writing a post in the Internet? Seriously? – o0'. Jan 23 '14 at 20:23
  • @Lohoris I was just pointing out that your criteria is not sensible for the very reason you countered with. That a proposal with no chance of passing should still be considered legit. And so, what criteria should be used to say who has a valid proposal? Especially when you consider some laws eventually passed started off as "crackpot ideas." – David Thielen Jan 24 '14 at 23:53
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We should consider what someone will do with information that they walk away with after visiting our site. I'll venture to say that a significant number of users will be looking for evidence to support or discredit an argument.

Sure, all of the needed references could be found in Wikipedia and other resources, but that's not a well crafted answer that speaks directly to the question ending in a well informed conclusion.

I don't think 'just the facts' can be enforced unilaterally for all questions, but it should be strongly encouraged. Additionally, the probability of a question receiving such an answer seems to be a good consideration when determining if a question is on the bad subjective end of the spectrum.

I don't think we've seen enough questions to decide one way or the other at this point. However, I hope that answers serve a greater purpose than just reinforcing someone's opinion after learning that someone else agrees with them. This may not always be possible, but the majority of answers should be able to be validated to varying degrees.

  • I don't think politics fits so neatly in the rule of only answers that have been validated. I'll take that back to my question that led to all this - is there anything out there that has been validated as having worked? I've followed this a lot and have yet to see anything that works. So in this case we are left with opinions. Those opinions should be backed up with compelling arguments, but they do remain opinions. – David Thielen Dec 10 '12 at 23:01
  • @DavidThielen That's what I meant when I said 'to varying degrees'. I don't want to force people to re-word an otherwise good question into something that simply asks people to document a negative, but there's a subtle difference between an opinion and an educated guess. I think we can evaluate this better when we have a few hundred more questions to analyze, but I really feel we should strive to keep pure opinion to a minimum in the meantime. – Tim Post Dec 11 '12 at 1:29
  • Looks like we're agreeing. I think answer should be required to lay out why they think that answer is valid. Doesn't mean you or I will agree, but at least there is specific reasoning listed. – David Thielen Dec 11 '12 at 3:36
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Yes, "Just the facts" does hurt the site, since hard facts are in short supply regarding politics.

I personally hope we can find a way to list and weigh (via votes) Theories, but not mere opinions. Many important and interesting political questions have only theories and little or no science (yet).

Ideally, this site could become a seedbed to inspire or concentrate objective information.


However, that question deserves to be closed irregardless.

  1. It starts off stating an unsupported opinion as fact. (There is no hard data linking corruption with fundraising.)

  2. The question asks for the "Best", which not only is an open-ended invitation for opinionated, unproductive debate; but it encourages the fallacy that we can/should try only one measure at a time1.

  3. It deals in absolutes2. "Eliminate" versus "reduce". This encourages defeatism, letting the "Perfect be the enemy of the good". History shows that we can't eliminate corruption, but we should strive mightily to reduce it.

A better title (and premise) might be something like: "What are practical ways to guard against corruption (if any) tied to fundraising?"



1 One measure at a time is optimum for a scientific study, but not necessarily for trying to eliminate a pressing human problem.

2 Insert obligatory Star Wars quote here.

  • That's interesting as I think one of the few clear facts in this area is that the present fundraising has led to pervasive soft corruption. So this site is probably going to have major arguments around what constitutes a clear fact. I do agree with your points 2 & 3 making it a better question. Maybe "What are possible approaches to reduce the corruption engendered by fundraising?" But that still leaves the key question - will opinion discussions be allowed as answers to that are unequivocally opinion. – David Thielen Dec 8 '12 at 4:30
  • @DavidThielen, if it is a clear fact, site objective evidence that backs it up (I'd like to see it). Then the question becomes something like "... corruption indicated by 'study X'...". ... I think that there is a way to to ask about this kind of issue. Theories (which can be tested) are okay, even though they may be opinions. Other kinds of opinions are not so productive. – Brock Adams Dec 8 '12 at 4:36
  • I would cite Lawrence Lessig's work and the 60 minutes expose on this to start. But we still face the fundamental issue of questions that only get opinions (any opinion can be tested if the law is passed). – David Thielen Dec 8 '12 at 15:02
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The problem is that to fit the site around this would take away from the Q&A format and move towards a discussion, something which is not the purpose of SE.

If a discussion is what you're after, you'd be better off finding a politics forum or maybe even using chat once we're out of private beta and we have more activity.

  • I was able to use chat the day private beta opened. Use it now! – Kevin Peno Dec 7 '12 at 22:56
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    @KevinPeno Chat is indeed already up and running, but hopefully will become far more active when we're out of private beta was what I meant :) – Graham Wager Dec 7 '12 at 22:58
  • I understand that. But is a strict Q&A format workable for politics? The interesting questions in politics tend to be items that don't have a clear answer. – David Thielen Dec 7 '12 at 23:12
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What we want for your question, is for a google searcher to stumble upon it and feel that their question is resolved,

Or at the very least we want them to find the answer to be more useful than the opinion of some guy on the internet.

Stack Exchange is not a discussion board. If you want that, try http://www.discourse.org/

  • OK, you're now outed as a paid front for Jeff Atwood! TAR AND FEATHERS! <g> – user4012 Dec 18 '13 at 16:57
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To avoid debates/discussions, I try to follow some rules of thumb, they are useful most of the time:

Questions

If your question seems like it's asking for opinions, try narrowing it down, make it as unambiguous as possible, accept proposals to improve it and be polite.

If you're asking, it's very likely that you are not looking for opinions, you want a "factual answer", right? This a Q&A, so the questions should allow an answer that can be accepted on the grounds of how consistent it is with the evidence/facts, otherwise you wouldn't know weather or not is a correct answer.

Answers

As long as your "opinion" follows logically from known facts you should be in good shape. What good is an opinion if you can't defend it with evidence?

If your "conclusion/opinion" does not follow, accept the criticism and if you think you're right try elaborating on the sequence of inferences that led to that conclusion.

If you still don't like what Politics.SE is

For the sake of argument say that you do want to debate, argument, discuss at length and be able to have the rest of SE goodies (voting, reputation, etc), then create your own Debate site with those rules. If enough people are interested it is a totally valid thing to do.

Just don't try to hijack someone else's site or criticize it's rules just because you don't like them.

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In my experience, SE sites are best when they aren't seeking "truth" so much as describing what many people believe as true.

For example, in Why is there concern about the growing income gap, and is there an ideal level? there is a difference between the "answer" and what answers are commonly given. I'm going to posit that my answer to that question was actually pretty good, but let me unpack that -

  1. Is there an ideal level of income inequality? would ultimately be an opinion question. One can argue about how the system is affected, and the effects of more or less income inequality (which I do discuss) - but ultimately, "What is best" comes down to whether you value equality or freedom more. As such, I purposely avoided saying "X is best," but rather gave the motivations for each position. The answer thus moves out of the realm of opinion and back into fact, because it can be defined as true within the political view for which it claims to speak.

    If I had simply said, "Income inequality is bad," I'd technically be wrong for anyone who is a radical libertarian. Libertarians believe that there should be an equality of opportunity, but generally tend to say that equality of outcomes should not be guaranteed. If I said "Progressives think that widespread income inequality is bad" that too is a demonstrably verifiable (and accurate) statement, because of the tautology. Progressivism pretty much inherently teaches this point. It doesn't say whether or not the thesis itself is "right" but it does accurately portray a verifiable point.

  2. Why is there concern about the growing income gap? is also an excellent question, because again, it isn't seeking to find the "truth" but rather to understand why an issue is an issue. It is inherently answerable: There is a segment of the population that has these concerns.

The point about a "Just the Facts" mentality is less about discussion and more about what promotes knowledge. SE Sites promote knowledge by seeking to unearth facts and contextualize them. Ultimately, my belief is that these sites shine when we focus on the facts as a means to an end.

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    Why was this downvoted? – user4012 Dec 18 '13 at 16:58

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