I've asked my first question on Politics today, and I'm not very happy with the first couple of answers that I received. Don't get me wrong, both answers are helpful, I appreciate the answerers' time & effort, and it might just be that it's the question's fault, but I'd very much prefer if both answers were backed by solid references. To the point that I think we should add a "back it up" rule in our FAQ.

We went through the same process on The Workplace, and what we eventually came up with is:

How should I answer?

Make sure your answer adds helpful information and is a complete, stand-alone answer. Read other answers first and be sure not to completely restate information that has already been posted.

Please note that answers should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct.

The personal experiences bit might not be very relevant to Politics, but given that politics is often controversial, I think establishing a clear policy for references in answers early on will be essential for the site. Adding the rule in The Workplace's FAQ had a positive effect on the site (as far as I can tell).

Skeptics has similar (and perhaps stricter) policies:

And we already have a couple of related Meta discussions on Politics:


@AffableGeek - I am still completely behind this proposal. But I think this has been around long enough that instead of featuring this question, why do we not ask it again and readdress? – Chad Aug 4 '14 at 14:18
@Chad Do you think the answer has changed? – Affable Geek Aug 4 '14 at 14:19
Maybe I am misunderstanding the reason for making it featured. Was the intent to have the discussion again or just to point it out to those who have not seen it yet, or forgot about it? If so maybe a comment to make that clear :) – Chad Aug 4 '14 at 14:20

Yes, answers should be backed up.

However, I think that absolutely requiring references for all answers, as Skeptics does, is not suitable for our site.

On the one hand, always requiring references is too much. There is a key difference between us and Skeptics. On Skeptics, every question probably has one and only one answer that can be backed up up with virtually indisputable evidence. This is not the case for political questions. As pointed out in Tim Posts answer, objectively described personal experience can also be an informative way of backing things up (when I was working as a campaign volunteer, I experienced that...).

On the other hand, references may not be sufficient. For example, take Cuba. As the comments in this question and in this answer show, much depends on the (subjective!) interpretation of how reliable sources are. Do I choose to believe statistics from the Cuban department of health, or do I choose to believe Castro-critical elements in the Cuban-American diaspora? They probably both have an agenda with what facts they tend to present and how. Depending on my political belief, I can probably back up whatever I want.

We could choose to limit to questions that can be indisputably answered, but I think that would be too much of a limitation. Still, I think the main burden is on the questions, not on the answers. Therefore, I propose we focus on describing what constitutes the excellent question, and then the excellent answers will follow.

References obviously might not be sufficient, but I'm not looking for a perfect solution here, just for a good enough solution that will work most of the time. – Yannis Dec 12 '12 at 14:39
Standards of evidence don't vary: experience doesn't become a valid source just because the question is political. – Avi Aug 25 '13 at 2:04

I mostly agree, this will also encourage the community to close questions that can't be answered with solid references. If a question is asking for pure speculation or opinion, it's probably not a constructive fit for the site. In fact, this may resolve some our current discussions regarding what should and should not be asked.

With that being said, I don't think we should discount the experience of someone who participated in the political process directly as a candidate, or indirectly as someone working for a candidate if that experience is highly relevant to the question. They should, however, indicate the nature and origin of the experience in the question.

My concern remains for simple answers derived from relatively common knowledge, such as this answer explaining how the recall of an ambassador is mostly a political statement. The author of the answer probably could add references to it, but I'm not sure that any are really required. Would it be too much of a barrier when answering relatively simple, straight forward neutral questions?

Too much of a barrier? Probably. But my experience with science, engineering, and economics is that "simple, straight forward neutral questions" often have surprising and counter-intuitive answers, when(if) the harsh light of Science shines on them. – Brock Adams Dec 6 '12 at 11:16
They should, however, indicate the nature and origin of the experience in the question. Exactly. Anecdotes may not be universally applicable, but they still beat the sort of pure arm-chair quarterbacking that so quickly shows up otherwise. – Shog9 Dec 10 '12 at 22:40

I think Skeptics does an incredibly good job of keeping noise out and keeping the questions on topic, but what I ultimately fear and think that others should too is that Politics will eventually become a focused clique much like Skeptics is currently.

Their are a handful of extremely high rep users on Skeptics that also happen to be the mods and a throng of disatisfied low rep lurkers who are too afraid to contribute anything, no matter how small.

The over zealous nature of Skeptics to snub out anything but the most perfect and pristine answers has effectively created this dysfunctional community, and a rather unimpressive rate of questions being asked for a site no longer in beta.

I think that references should be encouraged, but lack of references should not be punished by any other means than lack of an upvote or perhaps a downvote for quality. In other words, answers without references should inherently be considered lower quality though I feel calls for moderator deletion are taking it too far.

I kinda like Skeptics, but I won't pretend it didn't take me a while before I felt confident enough to ask a question there. – Yannis Dec 5 '12 at 14:13
@YannisRizos That is exactly my concern, the barrier to entry is too high for that community. When the barrier to entry is too high then the only people that matter are the moderators and major players and that is when a clique forms. The absolute death of this site would be if people are afraid to ask questions or provide answers and a clique starts forming. – user117 Dec 5 '12 at 17:09
I don't think there's a clique on Skeptics, I might have not been very confident in asking my first question there, but it was quite well received. I get that we don't want to set the bar too high, but at the same time a naturally controversial subject like politics will be unmanageable if we set the bar too low. In any case, there's no urgency in this, we're still in private beta, this discussion can (and probably will) carry on for a while. I think it will be a lot easier to come up with a balanced policy when we get to public beta and get a better idea of what questions the site attracts. – Yannis Dec 5 '12 at 17:11
I agree that the requirements on skeptics are too high. You are for example not even allowed to use basic logic to argue or prove something. You have to have a reliable source that says what you say. I don't think we need to have that requirement here. – Lennart Regebro Dec 6 '12 at 6:40
I fully agree with the part about using votes - this was, after all how they were intended to be used! – Graham Wager Dec 6 '12 at 12:43
Keep in mind, there are degrees of "enforcement" here. Parenting and The Workplace are two other sites that request something beyond pure opinions in answers, and the practice is strongly recommended for more subjective questions on any site. To the extent that this site will handle anything beyond purely fact-based answers (and I think it will have to), this rule helps to avoid a lot of the problems that come with such questions. – Shog9 Dec 10 '12 at 22:38
I kind of agree that skeptics has changed from a great site with high quality content to a site that became about how can we shut you down and make you wish you hadnt contributed... I feel it and I was there through the beta. – Chad Dec 12 '12 at 4:30
Your cautionary tales about the downfall of Skeptics don't bear out. Skeptics has grown from about 2,500 visits to over 14,000/month over the last year. For a niche site, they fall about half way in terms of question rate, and there is absolutely no signs of abatement. None. I don't have a strong opinion about the level of enforcement needed here, but I thought the community should have the right information. – Robert Cartaino Dec 20 '12 at 20:28
Why do we care about the attitude of the community? Shouldn't the questions and answers themselves be the most important part? – Avi Aug 25 '13 at 2:10

Yes please. This is the only way to avoid overly opinionated answers. I like the approach on Skeptics where answers without references are just not allowed.



A lot of political questions don't have squat to back them up. How did Khrushchev end up in charge after Stalin died? I've read a number of books on that period and none of them has anything more than wild guesses. Lots of interesting possibilities.

Or take one of the biggest questions in U.S. politics right now - should we have a balanced budget with no debt. No industrialized country has ever had a balanced budget. So there is nothing to back up answers on either side of the questions.

If you require a back it up rule, then questions like this are not allowed. And yet many of the most interesting questions fall in this category.

For questions that may have no right answer, it's still possible to provide an answer which is based on opinion, while still backing up that opinion with some (ideally, respected) sources -- as opposed to "armchair quarterbacking" (as Shog9 describes it above). – Steve Melnikoff Jan 8 '13 at 14:24
Except... There are numerous studies that find when it comes to political experts, the more highly regarded they are, the more likely they are to be wrong. Based on that, it might be more accurate to say the more respected the backup source, the less valid the opinion. – David Thielen Jan 11 '13 at 18:55

I think the workplace method works well there and would help improve answers here.

Saying what the answer is is not enough. You must explain why your answer is right.

It eliminates one line and me too answers and helps to improve answers as a whole.

That said good questions beget good answers. Bad questions beget bad answers. If you ask a controversial question in an open ended format you are probably not going to get good answers.

For instance "What are the key factors for the rise of nationalism in Europe?" I think a question like this is far to open and subject. I can not only see a book about what lead to calls for nationalization in Europe, I Can see several volumes focusing on the cause and effects in different countries. I suspect the German's answer is liable to be almost the exact opposite of the Greek's. Neither may be wrong but there is no "right" answer because there are so many factors. However a question that asked about a specific factor may get much better answers. It is focused and people can look more objectively at a specific factor than they can when looking at the big picture. For instance "How has the Eurozone's reaction to the Greek crisis influenced Spanish policies toward nationalism?" Is more likely to get good answers. Because it is focus on a specific cause and area of effect.

Edit because I finally saw the call from the SE Overlords Facilitators asking for more references.

We could and probably should require references for claims or inferences of fact. For instance if someone said that the RNC Spokesman called for the wholesale slaughter of baby bunnies, then their should be a reference require, even if it is just a date, time, and location of the conference where it was called for, though a link to a video clip or transcript would be better. If someone says that the DNC is against that policy then it should have a reference as well. Even if it is just a claim on The DNC will never stand for that activity, it needs a reference. Qualifying it with "I believe the DNC will never stand for that activity" should not be acceptable because that is bad subjective opinion, unless it is backed up with a reference like because the "DNC Chair said that they have been in discussions with the party leadership on on how to contest this attack on baby bunnies." and include a reference to that reason.


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