When I read "How to counter 'research shows what research is designed to show' arguments?", I was convinced it would have already several close votes on it. To my surprise, it had none. Not only that, many high reputation users (Sklivvz, David, and Fabian) had activity on the question.

Am I mistaken? Should "how to argue" questions be on-topic?

  • I did not yet vote to close it because I was not sure what our position is, and also not what it should be. I'm not sure if those questions make sense here, but I'll have to think a bit more on that. According to our inital FAQ I would consider them off-topic.
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Mar 4 '11 at 14:56
  • 1
    Please don't see my participation in a thread normative for whether or not the question should've been there in the first place. I'll happily throw myself into answering something I find interesting, regardless of any amount of close votes it may have received. Mar 4 '11 at 15:05
  • As a person who asked this specific question I obviously feel it ftis the profile of the site. I do however see the points raised in this discussion (especially 'question's quality is inversely proportionate to the number of answers it gets' is somewhat convincing)
    – Mchl
    Mar 4 '11 at 16:06

I believe it shouldn't be on-topic for two reasons:

  1. It doesn't meet the criteria set for what should be on-topic in the FAQ, or any proposed FAQ. It's about how to argue a point effectively, not about applying skepticism to anything.

  2. It's highly reminiscent of the kind of low-quality questions that, in my opinion, killed Atheism.SE. There's a corollary on Stack Exchange that a question's quality is inversely proportionate to the number of answers it gets. Too many highly subjective questions, or questions with no definite answers, can negatively harm a site by driving away experts interested in answering real questions. I believe that is why Programmers.SE is a separate site from Stack Overflow.

  • 2
    I've been pondering this one all day, and i think i've come around a bit. Intuitively, i didn't feel it was so bad, but i think if we want to avoid this site becoming a 'logical fallacies for dummies' we might have to make a point of closing early in the initial phase of the site. Mar 5 '11 at 11:09
  • If the purpose of the site is to answer questions by using skeptic methods I have come to agree that analysis of the methods themselves should be confined to meta, if at all. They should not be on the front page. I would cite my own question as an example of this, I think there was a question to be asked, just not on the front page. Whether those questions should exist on a stack's meta though? I'm still not sure even there is the proper place.
    – mfg
    Mar 10 '11 at 14:12

I think we should close them as subjective:

  1. Any question on this site can be rephrased as in "how to argue" form. This indicates that the problem is with the form, not the topic. Any question in the "how to argue" form can be rephrased in a more precise manner: "What measures are in place so that research does not suffer from self-confirmation bias?"

  2. Asking a question in the "how to argue" form makes it much more subjective and much less precise: anyone feels entitled to have an opinion on how to argue something, but the more specific form will extract better answers from the experts.

  • You seem to be suggesting that almost any “how to argue” question can be rephrased so that you wouldn’t close it. If that is the case, why do you suggest to close them as subjective instead of suggesting to edit them appropriately?
    – Timwi
    Mar 10 '11 at 20:25
  • Closed questions can be edited and then reopened. This prevents massive down voting while the question is being fixed.
    – Sklivvz
    Mar 10 '11 at 22:14

I believe it should be on-topic for the following reasons:

  1. The exposure of logical fallacies and cognitive biases falls within the scope of skepticism. A question like “how to respond to argument X?” is usually actually asking “what is the fallacy in argument X?”. A good answer is one that exposes the fallacy and provides a valid counter-argument, but shan’t go into subjective opinion on things like tone of arguing or how to sound convincing.

  2. It provides an opportunity for experts to demonstrate a correct application of skepticism to the question itself. Here I am thinking of questions like “how do I argue that X is true”, which reasonably come from people who assume X is true. A good answer addresses the assumption that X is true and examines the degree to which it is true, and then concludes with a valid, substantiated argument in support of X.


I feel that specific 'responding to arguments' type questions should be on-topic, but generally my vote would be to leave them for now and come back to this question after a few weeks. If they dominate the site and all end up having similar themed answers, then they probably are off topic (or at least duplicates of a more general question which covers this situation).

As an example, I don't think these questions are the same type of question:

a) What experiment can I use to show that magnets do not 'make you stronger'?

b) https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/335/how-to-counter-research-shows-what-research-is-designed-to-show-arguments

One is talking about a specific problem domain (magnets and their effectiveness) while the other is a general 'how do I counter these types of arguments'. If you decide that (b) is off topic, I'd say (a) is on-topic. If you decide (b) is off topic, then you should have at least one (a) that is canonical that you can point new questions to (since I suspect you'll get lots of them).

To be fair, I can see both sides of this argument, but I'd urge you to be 'inclusive' rather than deletionist while the site is growing.


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