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I think it is time to have a discussion about the amount of challenging the frame of the question that we have on this site; a follow up to Possible new 'non-reality-check' tag?

So what is challenging the frame of the question? Well, the best explanation of this I know comes from the RPG.SE meta, How do we handle a desire to challenge the frame of a question.

We have had a number of meta posts on this matter, and so I think its time we discussed site policy. Answers on a post(card :P) please.

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    $\begingroup$ I appreciate the desire to avoid meta effect or calling anybody out, but if you could point to a few examples of this it'd help people understand what's currently happening here. Thanks! And people, if Mourdos does supply this, please don't take that as a call to go beat up those posters. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Jan 25 '16 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ Its like I posted a question to generate an example! (I didn't, by the way, but I think that this is a good example): worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/34276/… $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 26 '16 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ Related meta.worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/2407/… $\endgroup$ – Aify Jan 27 '16 at 6:57
  • $\begingroup$ Obvious examples: all the stuff about "my magic system is incomprehensible to scientists, so how do I explain that?" Answer: "you can't because science can know anything." Not an answer. $\endgroup$ – CAgrippa Jan 29 '16 at 10:12
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I think this is a practice we want to avoid, because it can be frustrating to ask a question and only receive answers of the type: "your premises are faulty".

However, it might actually be useful. The OP may not realise where the fault is. So the challenging answer might be more valuable to the OP than a standard answer. It happens. Alternatively, the OP might be aware of the flaw(s) (and thus get more frustrated), but it might help to clarify or refine the question, not to get further challenging answers.

Of course, it might just be useless, especially if it's of the third type.

In my opinion, challenging answers might be left, provided that

  • they are sufficiently detailed to be useful to the OP. Avoid answers like

    Dude, you're so wrong!

  • the answerer accepts the risk that the OP might edit his question, thus invalidating his answer. We generally don't want that to happen. But as we wrote challenging answers isn't what we want to see all the time.

In conclusion, I do not think that enforcing a no-challenging answer policy is recommended.

Note that it is up to the OP at the end to select the best answer, and not by the voting of other users.

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  • $\begingroup$ A problem with this is that the OP's edit might, inadvertantly or not, invalidate other peoples' answers as well. That's why we put questions on hold while quirks are worked out; any significant edits to the question should be done at a time when it has the minimum risk of invalidating work done by others to answer the question. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 1 '16 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ That if, of course true. If the questions is unclear, too broad, etc. It should be placed on-hold. But if that was passed AND there are some answers fitting the frame AND there is (at least) one answer challenging the frame of the question... the OP should either ignore, note for themselves, or edit their question without invalidating the answers that were within the given frame. But how often do we come to that? $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Feb 1 '16 at 10:15
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I don't see a problem with challenging the frame of a question. It can be beneficial if it's done right by explaining the flaws of the question.

Also, by done right I mean that the answerer should also answer the question as it was asked. One should avoid answering the question that he think should have been asked.

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    $\begingroup$ Just because it's beneficial doesn't mean it's a good answer. I think your second paragraph shows this. You can't just challenge the frame as your answer, you still have to actually answer the question. Thus, challenging the frame should only exist as an addendum, or a comment. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 26 '16 at 17:25
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As others have pointed out, it can be useful if done correctly, and by correctly I mean, constructively. To put it as simply as I can, an individual simply stating, "NO!" adds no substantive value to the question and, doesn't provide any means for the author to restate or reshape their question. The author learns nothing.

If however, an individual states something along the lines of, "No, but..." in order to provide an alternative or states, "No, and here is why..." to explain the faults in the question, they are then contributing to the author and the question by allowing the opportunity to learn or adapt.

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A variation of bilo's answer is to

  1. Explain the problem
  2. Present my own interpretation/variation
  3. Answer that

WB is different from many (most) areas in that the questions don't relate to real things so much and are themselves ideas and works in progress. If a rough idea can inspire something interesting in terms of plot or design, then it's still worthy as a straw-man, and interesting and entertaining to the members.

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    $\begingroup$ This can be good and I have done. I have also asked question and had these sorts answers even though the concerns were already addressed in the question. $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Jan 29 '16 at 13:50
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I would like to make it site policy that we should not be challenging the frame of the question in answers. The fact that the situation you are in is impossible is not relevant to the question in these cases, only what happens from now.

Comments are for clarification are fine, that is what comments are for. 'Do you know this wouldn't happen?' is a perfectly valid clarification request if you are unsure. It isn't however appropriate for an answer to say 'your question is bad'.

The appropriate response to this being done is to downvote the answer and leaving a comment (if you so wish) saying something along the lines of 'OP is not looking for a reality check', or for answers that only say 'this wouldn't happen' flag for deletion as non answers.

Obviously, none of this applies to question who ask 'Is this possible?'

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    $\begingroup$ I think this already is site policy: "this answer does not actually provide an answer to the question" seems like a reasonable response. The problem I see is with enforcement; sometimes people just upvote these answers because the answers are knowledgeable and objectively correct. Since we can't change how people vote, there's really nothing to be done (except leading by example, which is perhaps what you're going for here) $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 25 '16 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ While it has been mentioned in several answers elsewhere that this is what the answer-er would do, I haven't found anything specifically saying 'this is site policy', its always been as part of an answer addressing something else. I would just like to see it clear cut, so that we can link to this in comments and say that this is our official policy. So yes, leading by example, I guess, though more leading by providing a clear referable answer. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Jan 25 '16 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'm just saying it's implicit in the Q&A format of the site. Answers should answer the question; if they instead challenge the frame of the question, they are not good answers. But since we're not too strict about this, people get used to it, and some users form bad habits. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 25 '16 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ For the most part I agree. As someone whose main is RPG.SE, they have tend to run into the X Y problem, people have a problem, but ask about their solution, so you can challenge the frame of the question in terms of 'I think you are actually trying to do this, so this might work better'. On WB, this isn't the case, we don't want frame challenges like this. Hence why I'm trying to make it clear that on WB, this is our view of this kind of answer, because it can differ on other sites. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Jan 25 '16 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ In that case, I think the problem is with RPG SE, not us. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 25 '16 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh if some users form bad habits, having a well fleshed-out meta here to point to can help with that, as well as with acculturating new users [wave] $\endgroup$ – nitsua60 Jan 25 '16 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ If two questions are identical, other than that one asks "Is this possible?" and the other does not, should they be considered duplicates? $\endgroup$ – Damian Yerrick Jan 26 '16 at 20:11
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I think that overall, challenging the frame of a question is a great thing. Challenging the frame of questions can cause unanswerable questions to change into answerable questions.

However, even challenging the question needs to be done correctly. You can't just go and say "this question is bad because ___" - I think it's better to about it saying something more along the lines of "Why/how do you explain _____". This method provides a chance for the question to be edited into one that fits the sites scope.

Of course, this isn't to say that you should question the question in an answer - I think a comment should suffice to make your point. I disagree with Bilbo in that regard; challenging answers should never be left since they're rarely actually answers.

Unless the actual answer is just "no". In that case, go ahead and put that in as your answer.

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History matters

What if I postulate a democracy where a group of people were enslaved but gave their owners 3/5 of a census credit for population weight. Since representatives are apportioned based on population weight, this means that the votes of freemen in areas with high slave ownership are effectively worth more than the votes of freemen in areas with low slave ownership. That's a ridiculous proposal. Why would voters in low slave owning areas agree to it? Yet that is the actual, real behavior in the early USA.

Many times when people point out problems with the frame of the question, what we are doing is pointing out weak areas in the background.

A simple solution to this problem of disproportionate representation would be for the North to secede from the South. Then the North wouldn't be subject to the South's whims. But that's not what really happened. The House of Representatives was overwhelmingly controlled not by the South with its disproportionate representation but by the North.

Why was there a 3/5 rule? In the original thirteen colonies, seven were northern and six were southern. The seven also had more free population. So if the natural rule of only counting free population would have held, then the North would have held control of both houses in Congress. The compromise gave the South control of the House and the North control of the Senate. Later that would switch, the South would use control of the executive and an even split in the Senate to block undesirable legislation.

Knowing the historical background and actual facts of the case would allow people to give realistic analysis of what was going to happen. Without that, people would be likely to give the wrong path forward. Instead of having the South secede, they'd have the North secede. Expecting good answers for badly framed questions is unrealistic.

In theory, these things should be handled via comments, but in practice, comments simply don't allow enough explanation.

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I've been making a lot of comments here, so I thought I'd try and get my thoughts on this into an answer.

I'm gonna go a bit Platonic on this, so be aware that this proof has its flaws.

Now, imagine a question that is bad. The asker shows insufficient research effort, and/or is not being clear. Should you post an answer to this question, detailing its flaws? Of course not; you should try to improve the question through minor edits or by asking the asker what they mean and/or what they've tried. After the question is improved, you can answer it, confident in the knowledge that both the question and answer need not be modified in the future, and will be useful to people who find them.

To me, a question with a bad 'frame' is just another bad question. Thus, based on the above paragraph, you should not respond to it until the flaws have been fixed. Note the recent how does light work without mass question; the asker had a flawed knowledge of how light worked, and instead of everyone coming in and answering that light didn't work that way, they tried to explain in the comments and put the question on hold; I believe that is how it should always be.

If you really want to challenge the 'frame' of a question, you can ask and answer your own question about it. Then comment on the user's question, linking to your question and its answer, and suggest they edit their question in light of this new information. If they're not actually asking about their frame, you have no right to write an answer about it on their question.

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  • $\begingroup$ So I take it from your final paragraph that if two questions are identical, one asking about the frame and one not, you would vote not to close one of them as a duplicate of the other. Am I correct? $\endgroup$ – Damian Yerrick Jan 27 '16 at 0:05
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    $\begingroup$ @tepples That is correct, though I would not consider them 'identical'. If they're asking about different things, then the answers will be completely different. Similarly, if two questions have the same frame but ask different questions about it (which is something that happens often), neither question should be closed as a duplicate. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 27 '16 at 13:23

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