Given the volatile nature of the topic, Politics.SE has done a great job so far of keeping out most of the subjective discourse. However, we’re choosing to extend your private beta for a week to give you more time to set and solidify a productive scope and tone on the site.

Politics are often personal, and people hold onto their beliefs with an intense fervor. This is great for driving passion and interest in the topic, but it can also lead to sites about this topic becoming a hotbed of discussions that are often wholly not constructive.

We want to see this site succeed. To that end, I think you all need to push for, encourage, and use citations more. There’s a great discussion on establishing a “back it up” rule here -- something that’s worked out well on several other sites where unsubstantiated opinions ran wild -- before opening this up to the world. It would be nice to see a bit more input on that and some of the other discussions surrounding these issues, such as:

Check out the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective blog post and in particular strive for questions that hit points 1, 3, and 5:

  • Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.
  • Great subjective questions have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.
  • Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.

You are already doing an excellent job of closing questions that aren’t constructive or which tend toward discussion and opinion. Keep that up! Edit questions to seek factually correct answers, and do as much as possible to shut down questions that are open-ended and hypothetical.

We will check back in a week's time. I'm confident that we will see great progress. You can do it!

  • Coincidentally I posted a rant almost at the same time you posted this. Extending the private beta is a very good idea, we could certainly use a little bit more time to decide on a few things before we open our doors to the world.
    – yannis
    Dec 10, 2012 at 22:19
  • 1
    In my opinion most of the interesting questions only have answers that are open-ended and hypothetical. You can make this site just the facts but for politics that's going to be a very limited and uninteresting set of questions. Dec 11, 2012 at 3:58
  • 1
    @DavidThielen Not true. Just don't post your opinion. If you post a properly referenced opinion of a respectable scholar, it is a factual post since it reports the fact that a respectable scholar is of this and no other opinion.
    – ymar
    Dec 11, 2012 at 11:57
  • @ymar - the problem is, unlike in math or science, frankly, there's little difference between opinion of a "respectable scolar" and simply a smart person's opinion, since neither can be proven 100% with facts. Also, respectable by WHOM? Will "left wing" people accept opinions of Mises or Friedman? Will "right wing" people accept opinions of Marx or Lenin?
    – user4012
    Dec 11, 2012 at 15:14
  • 1
    @DVK I don't think there's a problem here except perhaps "influential" would be a better word than "respectable". Of course it might be difficult to draw the line between influential and not influential, but we have meta for this. I don't think you have to accept someone's views in order to agree that their views are important in themselves. The only thing I think we should be careful about is asking questions that specifically ask for influential thinkers' opinion and not just for the solution of the problem in question. It'd actually be best if one thinker's opinion were asked for.
    – ymar
    Dec 11, 2012 at 17:49
  • @ymar - again, still subjective. Che Guevara is quite influential. So was Hitler. Should we accept Mein Kempf or UN teatrises on how it's a great idea to nuke New York as valid answer sources?
    – user4012
    Dec 11, 2012 at 19:09
  • @DVK Definitely so in my opinion. But the question shouldn't be "Why is it a great idea to nuke New York?" This question should be closed as not constructive. But the question "What were so-and-so's arguments in favor of nuking New York?" is on topic and answerable, and should be kept (if other criteria are met). The question "What arguments for and against nuking New York have been given in literature?" is also on topic and answerable, but the previous one is more concrete and better.
    – ymar
    Dec 11, 2012 at 19:41
  • @ymar - that wasn't what I was referring to. I was referring to answering a question with Che's opinion when the question wasn't "what were Che's arguments" (the latter is IMHO fully objective and on-topic)
    – user4012
    Dec 12, 2012 at 0:07
  • @DVK I think in such a case the answer can be useful for the community, and we should think of ways of editing the question in order to salvage the answer. It may or may not be possible, but we should try.
    – ymar
    Dec 12, 2012 at 17:44
  • @ymar - sorry, I'm 180 opposite. Che's opinion is worthless unless the OP was explicitly interested in Che's opinion (or a range of stated opinions where Che fits the range). However, Che's opinion doesn't belong within 10 miles of an objective answer NOT asking for it, and editing the question just so you can post Che's opinion is contrary to SE ideas.
    – user4012
    Dec 12, 2012 at 18:12
  • @DVK Che's opinion is worth to me just as much as any other influential thinker's, because I come here to learn, and not to read absolute truths. It is true that editing a question just so you can add your favorite thinker's opinion isn't right. But if you can answer a question with a spectrum of opinions, that is desireable. Such editing should also be discussed first if possible. What is definitely against SE ideals is posting your own opinions because you think you are "very smart".
    – ymar
    Dec 12, 2012 at 20:55
  • @ymar - that was precisely the point I was trying to make. What makes Che "smart" enough that his opinion weighs more than yours without actual facts to back it up?
    – user4012
    Dec 12, 2012 at 21:11
  • @DVK Well, that's exactly that point I'm trying to make. Nothing makes Che or anyone smart enough. Smartness isn't the right criterion of selection. Being influential or widely respected (not by all -- by many people is enough) is. Che's opinions are important precisely because they are influential.
    – ymar
    Dec 12, 2012 at 22:21

2 Answers 2


While I agree with the high level goal from the point of view of someone who's a long time Stack Exchange user, I must point out that on Politics.SE, due to the nature of the subject, some of these problems are 100% intrinsic and for many categories of questions, fully intractable.

  • First of all, a LOT of political disagreements are due to definitions being poor and imprecise. Witness for example "socialism" or "capitalism" for which even Wikipedia openly states there are no good unified formal definitions. That leaves aside the ubiquitous yet even more horrible "left" and "right".

  • Compounding this, a lot of goals and adjectives used in political discourse are 100% subjective at best and hypocritical at worst; and entirely too vague to be useful for objective discourse to boot (I am more prone to give examples of that on the "left", but there are plenty on both sides).

  • Compounding that, there are no clear ways to evaluate the truthiness of many statements. Most political actions have strong second and third order side effects, and muiltiple primary effects. Any idea/action has greatly diverse costs and benefits.

  • Unlike hard sciences, in a soft social science like politics, you frequently can not prove anything with data correctly, due to immense amount of causations and correlations and small # of data points, even if you WANT to be honest and objective.

  • A LOT of the "data" available is 100% false, either due to desire of the data providers to hide the truth (e.g. any economics or political related #s available from a dictatorship - or, frequently, a non-dictatorship), or due to poor methodology, or simply scarceness for historical reasons.

    As a random example, average life expectancy in Cuba was cited as a "fact" by several answers. Color me cynical but I don't exactly trust a Castro regime to release any data showing lower life expectancy.

    Even polls that are frequently the pnly hard data available on the subject are not as "hard" as needed, as they are strongly influenced by question wording and a host of other parameters.

  • There are no "canonical authorities" to cite or refer to who are universal.

    Will "left wing" people accept opinions of Mises or Friedman? Will "right wing" people accept opinions of Marx or Lenin?

    Even more importantly, unless we are talking pure economics, most of the citing of "respectable scolars" will be no better than random ranting by random smart people, since the scolars don't have any more basis for being proven right or wrong due to bullet points above. You can prove a physics paper wrong, so that even its supporters can not claim otherwise. But if 10 guys from pro-lassiez-fair camp approve of a paper and 10 guys from the opposite side disapprove, you're about as "objective" as random posters on Politics.SE

  • A LOT of politics is about motivations. There's a very good reason why Skeptics.SE made motivations offtopic, but it's hard to do so when discussing politics.

  • Politics, by its nature, is about conglomerates of people, yet people are all different. A lot of statements made to be generic end up being false when applied to individuals within groups.

  • Most of "scholarly" research in the area is purely theoretical, and much of it just doesn't apply to real world with real people.

Now, what can be done to fix this?

  • Put up draconian restrictions on acceptable content. Nothing that can not be proven with hard numbers is allowed.

  • Delete any posts where someone can prove that they fell into one of the subjective traps above (semantics issues, vague definitions used, citing an "expert" that is considered wrong by 50% of population, citing factual examples to imply causation without proving the causation itself, citing facts that can not be proven to not have been "massaged"/"faked").

  • Ditto with any posts exhibiting standard logical fallacies.

  • Require all posts to 100% caveat any of the issues above (idea X is good for Y purpose, given these 3 paragraphs of assumptions and caveats).

  • Fold and go home.

  • I didn't bother giving examples for most of the bullet points, considering them obvious, but if anyone wishes to challenge a specific one, I will gladly add specific examples, from politics in general and frequently, from existing P.SE posts.
    – user4012
    Dec 11, 2012 at 15:35
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    My entire problem with the premise of this is that your proposed fixes are even more shaky than the opinions of reputable scholars. People can't even agree on what a Logical Fallacy really is. citing an "expert" that is considered wrong by 50% of population Grounds for deletion? How do we measure this? How do those 50% know any better than the scholar or maybe they just don't like the conclusions he/she came to?
    – user117
    Dec 11, 2012 at 19:26
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    @maple_shaft - I don't see how we can avoid subjective content any other way.
    – user4012
    Dec 11, 2012 at 23:53
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    @maple_shaft re: 50% - that was precisely my point. Political science "scholars", with all due respect, aren't really "scholars", unless they explicitly veer into economics or history, or are called "Nate Silver". Otherwise they are just opinion writers, like anyone else on Politics.SE. My whole point is that appeals to authority, when the authority isn't citing facts, is meaningless in this subject matter, since a random guy is just as authoritative as a Poly Sci professor when they are both espousing non-fact-based opinion.
    – user4012
    Dec 12, 2012 at 0:05
  • @DVK - very well said. Spot on Dec 12, 2012 at 0:27
  • Sounds more and more like skeptics :-P
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 23, 2012 at 15:27
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    @Sklivvz - Skeptics can afford to cull (see my "no motivations" point), due to the breaths of subjects to be skeptical about, most of them scientific and/or falsifyable. If you cull to the same rules here, you will have very few questions and answers left.
    – user4012
    Dec 25, 2012 at 11:27
  • @DVK I was just kidding :-) Of course it's different!
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 25, 2012 at 13:44
  • @Sklivvz - 4 years later, I think I'd have liked it better if the site was restricted to pure political science topics. It would have been less fun/entertaining, and a lot drier. But a lot more factual (curiously, I didn't initially even follow Politics proposal on Area 51, for just that reason. I got here when a separate Libertarian Area 51 proposal got merged).
    – user4012
    Jan 15, 2017 at 20:54

Unless they are historical questions or questions about political terms or organizations specifically that can be fact checked, there is often going to be subjective answers that will never be in any unanimous sense considered correct.

Politics are inherently contraversial, and contraversial questions and answers IMHO will never and can never and should never be snubbed out. In a sense to build a community with a wide range of opinions, we need to be inclusive of all ideas, even ones we personally and vehemently disagree with.

Instead of falling in the trap of down voting or deleting content that we disagree with, we should judge the quality of posts based on the level of effort, research and the height of the logical leaps that one makes to prove a point.


According to Dr. Liberalstein of UC Berkley, Republicans blocked a measure that prevented 200 armor proof vests to get to troops stationed in Afghanistan, thus Republicans are evil and want this country to fail in Afghanistan.

Probably should be downvoted because of the enormous logical leap, even though it was cited well by a respected scholar, blogger, opinion-head.

A better version:

thus it calls to question if Republicans care more about cost cutting than the safety of our troops.

One might legitimately accept this conclusion so perhaps it should be upvoted.

In other words, the quality rules should be less about finding the absolute truth in Politics which is a futile goal, and more about judging the quality and presentation of the message or opinion like how a Debate Moderator would award points in a Debate.

I am not going out and saying that references are absolutely necessary either, just that answers without references likely should be evaluated more critically. I also don't think we should be in the business of attacking or criticizing sources unless they are clearly very terrible.

This is the only way that I see this site surviving long term.

  • -1, because your second version - while undeniably much better than the first one - still has subjectiveness coming out of its ears and worth a downvote, not an upvote like you claimed. Unless you cite a specific republican who explained his vote thusly, you are imputing motivations without proof. Could it be that 200 vests were a rider on a really bad bill (typical political maneuver). Could it be that the vests were a bad model (early Zylon Interceptors)? Could it be because the person was lobbying for Dragon vests which are generation ahead? This is precisely what I meant in my answer.
    – user4012
    Dec 11, 2012 at 23:55
  • @DVK That is a fair point but in debate rules it is perfectly valid and politicians in debates purposely paint a picture with only limited information. A perfect rebuttal would be exactly what you mentioned. The entire nature of Politics is subjectiveness so expecting Politics.SE users to be completely objective all the time is lunacy. They might as well just look up all the information they want to know about politics on Wikipedia if that were the case...
    – user117
    Dec 12, 2012 at 2:39
  • ... This site has so much potential to be awesome if we allow people to present well informed, easily fact checked information to back up their own political viewpoints in their own words. I feel this can be a game changer for quality political questions and answers in a civilized way, if we can get it right.
    – user117
    Dec 12, 2012 at 2:41
  • That's precisely my point. "question if Republicans care more about cost cutting than the safety of our troops" is no where near "well informed, easily fact checked information to back up their own political viewpoint". It's a random guess made to disparage political opponent, in absence of direct evidence to back it up.
    – user4012
    Dec 12, 2012 at 12:08
  • s/contraversial/controversial
    – user171
    Dec 12, 2012 at 15:14

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