@Elemtilas is absolutely right: this site is so hard-wired to the idea of in-real-life hard science that it eventually provoked my own complaint on meta (Real Life cannot be an overriding limitation on any question unless specifically requested). It's become so bad that perhaps we should re-open the discussion about the suitability of real-world questions on this Stack. I was a strong supporter back when the decision was made, but now that a few years have gone by, I can't but admit that in permitting them (ostensibly by requiring a worldbuilding context), we've encouraged the hard science bias that exists on this stack.
I'm going to offer some opinions about what I believe are the two predominant biases affecting questions about the social sciences and why they exist. These are my opinions. If you want to jump to my recommendations for how we can better support social-science-based questions, scroll down to the TL;DR: So, what can we do? section.
Hard Science Bias
If you'll forgive me, let me use one of your paragraphs to illuminate the nature of this bias.
The concept of gender is non-intuitive and confusing, especially if one has no formal training in gender studies and/or related fields or has no personal experience with non-cisgender people. Moreover, the results of scientific research contradict common sense (because common sense is based on dominating cultural norms and stereotypes). One must adhere to science when evaluating questions related to gender and when answering those questions if they strive for high quality and objectivity of decisions and answers. [Emphasis mine.]
Problem #1 is that gender is perceived as entirely intuitive and not at all confusing to most individuals. Attempting to convince someone that what they perceive to be so simple and obvious ("I'm a man... why aren't you?") is almost always perceived as patronizing. It's an emotional response that no amount of logic will easily dent. Add to this...
Problem #2: There is no scientific test (one that meets the fundamental requirements of the Scientific Method) that definitively identifies gender identity or preference. And yet people who are free to openly participate with any question are being asked to adhere to "science." This is the paradox that, in my opinion, most underscores the bias on this Stack in relation to questions about social sciences — or, more specifically, behavior.
I believe too many people, notably people who have not completed a college education in some scientific field, fail to realize that there are, for lack of a better way of saying it, multiple kinds of "science." There's mathematics, which people seem to believe is "as close as we can come to the handwriting of God," and chemistry or any similar science that can use the Scientific Method to follow the "if I can measure it, it's real" flow of reasoning are absolute. This, despite obvious weaknesses (like the necessity that mathematical simulation is only as good as the empirical measurements it's based on and chemistry only reflecting the materials we actually know about), these two "sciences" tend to be reasonably solid such that the average person feels comfortable trusting them even if they know nothing at all about them.
Then there's "scientific reasoning," meaning that testing is difficult because there isn't always (if ever) a causal effect that can be measured, which is the fundamental problem with associating the word "science" with "behavior."
Please don't get me wrong. I believe the dedicated study of human behavior is valuable and a science of its own — but I don't believe astrophysics understands everything about our own solar system, so when someone asks me to believe the science supporting behavior, I'm a born skeptic.0 And without that demonstrable, repeatable, "scientific" test that can definitively prove gender identify or preference, the "science" can have nothing to base itself on but behavior and people's opinions.
And the average person unpracticed in the art subconsciously knows that. The fields of the social sciences simply haven't been around long enough nor have a well enough established track record to convincingly educate enough people to raise them to the level of the so-called "hard sciences."
Hard science and soft science are colloquial terms used to compare scientific fields on the basis of perceived methodological rigor, exactitude, and objectivity.Roughly speaking, the natural sciences are considered "hard", whereas the social sciences are usually described as "soft". (Listen to the entire audio, intended for the blind, here)
But I believe there is another bias at work here. Call it a "political" bias. This stack tends to have a United States-centric culture. That's certainly inconvenient, but not surprising for a service designed and based in the U.S., which hosts the world's largest body of English-speaking people. As you consider that list I just linked, please note that the top five populations of English-speaking people are:
- The United States
- The Philippines
- The United Kingdom
I might be completely wrong, but I believe I can argue that the top four positions are held by some of the least social-sciences-tolerant English-speaking people on Earth. My point?
Expecting the average user of this Stack to accept the social sciences as a definitive authority concerning human behavior is asking a lot.
Do I wish it were otherwise? I do. But how to do it? Obviously, restricting user participation based on whether or not they are personally qualified and accredited to answer is quite literally antithetical to the design of Stack Exchange.
But it's also why down voting exists. To remind people that they didn't have the expertise to participate concerning a particular question. I can't speak for others — but I've had a few answers that I thought contained clever insight only to be down voted and proven in comments that neither the answer nor I were anything of the sort. As Winston Churchill is purported to have said, "Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried."1
Every user brings the entirety of their behavior with them to this Stack. That includes their loves and hates, their political/religious/philosophical biases, their educational focus (and sometimes the lack thereof). And this, alone, underscores the difficulty of convincing the Stack to better accept the social sciences as authoritative.
TL;DR: So, what could we do?
Knowing perfectly well that the average user has spent little to no time actually reading the Help Center pages or any of the tag wikis... (And I wouldn't be surprised if 99% of the difficulties on this Stack boil down to that one weakness).
I think a concerted effort to review our tag wiki names and pages concerning the social sciences is in order. It's likely that there are some tags that bridge between the soft and hard sciences. If so, those (hopefully few) tags should be redesigned to reflect hard- and soft-science personas. Those tags that are far too generic (I'm looking at you behaviour) should be seriously considered for burning and replaced with a (hopefully very small) set of more useful tags. Those tags that would be appropriate for questions concerning behavioral or social world building should have their wikis evaluated to be as precise and concise as possible with appropriate examples to help users who are not practiced in the art to better identify the expected direction for respondents.
Knowing from experience how hard this next one would be: I believe it would be appropriate for someone like Otkin (someone "practiced in the art") to formulate a Meta chain that ends in a single post (like the "perfect question" chain did) that could become the authoritative reference for what our community believes "social world building" means... then have the Mods include "Society and Behavior" on the list of "Sample topics" found on the "What topics can I ask about here?" Help Center page.2 If someone is willing to take this particular project on (and if they do, they should hear from the Mods about their willingness to update the Help Center pages first), I would ask them to remember that their audience is NOT made up of people who understand the subject like they do and that the goal of this effort is NOT to bring anyone up to that level. Remember SE's "book rule."
Finally, most stacks have "events" that promote some aspect concerning the use of their stack. We've had bounty challenges where we encouraged users to find questions to bounty to entice younger members to greater participation and we've also had the old fortnightly topic challenges. I believe AFTER the previous two steps have been taken that it would make sense to resurrect and/or create such events and use them to encourage users to focus on asking and answering social-science-based questions. During these events, mods and senior users would/should make a concerted effort to use the resources developed and improved in #1 and #2 to address the concerns of down voters and close voters and to help the community at large to better understand what makes a good social-science-based question and why they're valuable here.3
0 I was once asked by a homosexual why I felt it was unreasonable to take his word for his sexual-preference? My response: If his word could be trusted to so great a degree, then there should be no need for adjudication in any case wherein he could testify as to the facts of the case. Was there no such need? The conversation ended very quickly. This is the basic difficulty of the so-called "soft" sciences: they're based on the observation of human actions, which can be motivated consciously and unconsciously by the subject. No matter how well set up the test and how well vetted the results, there's always a larger room for interpretive error than is found in the so-called "hard" sciences.
1 What he actually said was, "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…" (Source) My point with the statement is that SE is far too democratic for scientific consensus to be considered universally trustworthy, even on a Stack with the hard science bias this Stack has.
2 Fair warning to whomever might take a shot at that... You need to develop a final text that is utterly and completely devoid of any effort to change the minds and hearts of the reader. Otherwise there's a proverbial 99% chance that the effort will entirely fail as emotions take precedence over intellect. The result must make an honest effort to educate, not convert. The ideal solution would be one that someone who lividly hates homosexuality (for example) could read and come away not only understanding how to ask their question, but willing to participate on the Stack without a bias carried from the page itself. I believe it can be done — but I'd be foolish not to wish any effort to do so the best of luck.
3 Please, please, PLEASE do NOT jump straight to this recommendation! We need to make a serious effort to address issues #1 and #2 first so that we have an improved foundation to work with when we start moving forward with this.