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Stack Exchange is thinking about rolling out a US Election 2012 site, and I'm trying to gauge the level of interest for such a site here at Skeptics, the site that most resembles what we're trying to achieve.

To get an idea of what this Election site might look like, here are a few sample questions that may be appropriate for such a site:

1) Barack Obama's campaign has recently claimed that "Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich all say they would cut foreign aid to Israel — and every other country — to zero." Is this claim true?

2) Mitt Romney Tweeted that "more Americans have lost their jobs under Barack Obama than any president in modern history." Is this true?

3) Has one vote ever made a difference? - (from Skeptics.SE)

4) What, if any, is the benefit to the United States of the electoral college? - (off the top of my head)

I'm not certain all of these questions would be appropriate for an election site. I'm uncertain if the site would focus specifically on the 2012 presidential election or US election politics or even US politics in general.

We have a tentative partner or two in the political web space who may help us promote this site.

Questions for you:

What would you like to see of such a site? What kind of questions would you want to ask? Would you be willing and able to intelligently answer questions like you see above? How about other questions within this scope? Would this Skeptics site be interested in having a formal relationship with an election site? How could the election site transition into something worthwhile after the election is over?

Just a few questions. Figured this was a good place to get some quality input. Thanks for any thoughts you may have.

Added 1/20/2012:

@Borror0 @oddthinking @sklivvz @fabian @sathya - Thanks a lot for this input. This is really very helpful. We'll be shaping up this proposal over the next couple weeks and I'll be sure to keep you posted on what's happening. And if you have any further thoughts, please do let me know. Election Factcheck - For the People, By the People. Can our platform harness political passion to create a resource for political fact?

  • Whatever happened to Too Localized - it is only relevant to a small geographic area? Why only US? Are you guys going to support the next $country conducting elections? Or going to shut it down as too localized? – Sathyajith Bhat Jan 20 '12 at 9:40
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    @Sathya: An audience of 300 million people is hardly too localized. Many sites are created with a potential userbase far smaller than that. – Borror0 Jan 20 '12 at 14:59
  • @Borror0 uh huh. Right. Enjoy that. – Sathyajith Bhat Jan 20 '12 at 15:16
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    @Sathya point in question, country-size claims are notable enough for us, so if there is some fact checking to be done for pretty much any country that question can be probably asked here. There's no need for a special site. – Sklivvz Jan 21 '12 at 16:38
  • @SamTheBrand: Any gossip or official announcements that you can share, yet? – Oddthinking Feb 17 '12 at 16:12
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    @Oddthinking - a "mini-site" is brewing. stand by. details still being ironed out. – samthebrand Feb 17 '12 at 21:21
  • *crickets* Any news? – ON STRIKE - Jeremy Banks Apr 15 '12 at 0:26
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I agree with @Borror0's observation that most of these questions are on-topic.

Here are some more relevant examples of partisan political claims being investigated on Skeptics.SE:

So, I would argue we have a track record of handling such topics.

I echo Borror0's caveat. I don't believe any of the moderators are able to vote in US elections. Maybe that will be helpful in being perceived as disinterested parties?

I'd also welcome more traffic to the site; I want us to be promoted! (I misunderstood the title of this question when I first saw it, and got quite excited for a second. They are planning elections for Skeptics.SE mods? :-( )

I do have a concern, though, about user expectations.

From all the way over here, biased by the types of stories that get reported and with no good evidence to back me up, the US population seems to be quite strongly bipartisan. They are also strong advocates of Free Speech - a few of them interpret that to mean, not that Congress is constrained from passing some laws, but that moderators are constrained from deleting their opinions! :-)

My concern is that if people think they are arriving at a political discussion site, where it is considered acceptable to use ad hominem attacks, unsubstantiated claims and strong declarations of personal belief, they are going to be in for a shock. Their comments will be deleted. Their questions will be closed. Their answers will be downvoted. (Hopefully, some of them will find it a pleasant shock to see topics evaluated in this way, and appreciate its power.)

So, we are ready, willing and able to tackle questions about political claims about the (natural*) world. But we will insist on a level of rigour that might be more than the average person excited by the election might expect.

* I add the caveat about the natural world, because questions about "Which candidate did God really tell to run?" or "Which position is more morally right?" are out of scope.

  • Moderator elections are a few months after a site's graduation so, while I initially misread the same thing as you did, I got confused rather than excited. – Borror0 Jan 20 '12 at 2:30
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    You say you "have a concern, though, about user expectations." I personally consider that among the strongest arguments in favor of using Skeptics rather than building a new site. We've got a community of facts-finders. A new site about politics might not attract a crowd as interested in objectivity. It does mean more work for us (moderators, I mean) if SEN starts forwarding political questions toward us, but I think it's worth it for the traffic it will get us. – Borror0 Jan 20 '12 at 2:34
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    We're mostly from countries that are hopelessly liberal according to US standards, I don't think we'd be perceived as unbiased by conservatives. – Mad Scientist Jan 20 '12 at 9:16
  • @Fabian a lot of conservatives won't like us because we debunk Conservapedia anyways. Uh, and because we actually support evolut^H^H^H^H^H^H reality. – Sklivvz Jan 21 '12 at 16:42
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    I think managing people's expectations will be tough, but worth trying. The big problem will be moderator effort. Will the site be able to cope with the amount of effort required to keep things non-discursive and on topic? Given what political discussion looks like now, I think we can expect a large volume of off-topic comment/questions/answers that will need strict moderation. I think it would be a great goal if it worked, though. – matt_black Jan 22 '12 at 20:34
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I'm not a US citizen, so I have little to say about my interest for such a site, but I think it's important to point out that three of the four questions you mentioned would be on-topic on Skeptics. The last one, which would be off-topic, would find a home on Politics, whenever it is launched.

Simply put, any claim by a politician running for head of state is notable enough for us.

Thus, I would argue that, rather than building an ephemeral website from scratch, it would be best to use this opportunity to further the growth of what I think is a pretty successful site. As I understand it, Gaming gained a lot of traffic from answering Skyrim question pretty quickly. Then, why not do the same here for Skeptics? There is no need to build a community from scratch - Skeptics already comes with a pretty large amount of avid fact-checkers, you won't have to recruit them - and Stack Exchange is left with a thriving site by the end of the election.

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I completely second (third?) Oddthinking's and Borror0's answers!

As long as the questions are answerable with facts, we are more than happy to welcome them here!

  • We are particularly suited when checking claims regarding science, history, quotes or (past) economics. Your first three examples are good questions for us.

  • We will not be able to answer question regarding motivations, political opinion, or the future (e.g. "Obama says he will lower taxes for everybody, is this true?", "Will Obama make the US a socialist country?" are not very good :-)).

  • We will definitely avoid taking any political position or entertain any political discussion. We have a rather long history of answering politically loaded question by unloading them and looking at the facts.

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Politics is a difficult field for an SE site. Political subjects tend to elicit long, and often heated discussions. The partisan nature of most political subjects, especially in the US, means that political questions need a lot more moderation effort than most subjects SE sites deal with.

The first three of your example questions are fact-checking questions, which we're dealing with on Skeptics regularly. One aspect of our site that helps a lot with this kind of question is our citation requirement. It helps us to keep the partisan bullshit to a minimum, and it reinforces the expectation that you'll have to back up your answers with facts. Without the citation requirement political questions can easily deteriorate into a voting contest between the opposing political sides.

I also expect the expectation issue mentioned by Oddthinking to be a significant issue, people expect discussions when they think about politics, while the SE model discourages discussions. This issue could be reduced somewhat by advertising the site appropriately and hopefully don't lead too many people with the wrong expectation on there.

  • +1 Right. I occasionally get sucked into that kind of subject matter, and it very quickly gets really nasty, at least in the U.S. Compared to that, StackExchange is a breath of fresh air. – Mike Dunlavey Jan 21 '12 at 3:52
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It'll depend on how much we're really skeptics, or whether we're group-thinkers of a certain persuasion. If we're merely the latter, then this site may be useful as a source of links for debunking claims we'd be inclined to disagree with, but not much good at actually deciding whether something is true or not.

In matters of science, Skeptics.SE will mainly answer questions about obviously false claims by showing how it's false. Maybe in sociology and politics, some of us will be prejudiced in favor of less whacky but still false claims (especially those that put right-wingers in a negative light), and vote accordingly.

One question where I saw answers being heavily upvoted even when they're not well referenced is Is a woman who dresses sexually suggestively more likely to get raped? . Likewise, https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/4514/104 , from a question on torture, currently has 7 net upvotes without having a single citation (though it's +29/-22, so at least some people are prepared to downvote).

  • Part of the problem with the torture answer you've linked to it that it get shared around the network. That means most of the upvotes come from outside the Skeptics community, and thus are not aware of our standards. – Borror0 Jan 23 '12 at 14:37
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    @Borror0 I think it's also a good example of the kind of pressures we will be subjected to if we go through with this. – Sklivvz Jan 28 '12 at 11:33
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I think political questions about the current election need to be held to a higher standard.

  • Claims about what a candidate will/won't do should be off topic.
  • Claims about what a candidate has/has not done should be definitive. So a general claim that Barack Obama has not been good for the economy would be off topic. A claim of a specific part of the economy with a specific stat would be on topic. (IE Has Unemployment has gone from under 7% to over 10% since x took office)
  • Claims about past promises and actions could be on topic. So a question of did candidate x promise not to raise taxes and then vote in favor of a tax increase would be on topic. As would: Did candidate x ever promote position y?
  • Claims challenging the statements or actions of other candidates should require a claim of denial. There is no point trying to fight battles that the candidate or his campaign is not challenging.

I think numbers 2 & 3 are the ones that should be On topic here.

1) Barack Obama's campaign has recently claimed that "Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich all say they would cut foreign aid to Israel — and every other country — to zero." Is this claim true?

Calls for speculation about what they would do. Besides what a politician says they will do during the campaign is rarely what they actually do. I think we should make claims from one politician/PAC about what a different politician(or even the actual politician) will actually do off topic.

Mitt Romney Tweeted that "more Americans have lost their jobs under Barack Obama than any president in modern history." Is this true?

Questions about what a politician has done should only be addressed if there is a competing claim of denial. But as it stands I Can see how this would be on topic... though I am sure I could define "modern history" and "lost their jobs" to favor either side if I worked at it. Which is why I think we need a claim of denial.

3) Has one vote ever made a difference?

This is a question of history and definitely on topic(assuming a claim that it hasn't is either accepted as believed or shown).

What, if any, is the benefit to the United States of the electoral college?

Is asking an opinion and definitely off topic.

  • "I think we should make claims from one politician/PAC about what a different politician(or even the actual politician) will actually do off topic." Could you elaborate on why you believe that? I see no reason for us to adopt that policy. Sure, promises are not always kept but so what? – Borror0 Jan 27 '12 at 15:39
  • @Borror0 - It calls for speculation. It has not happened. There is no way to "Prove" that it will happen. And quite frankly, while I am willing to to spell out my vast big government conspiracy theories, they do not belong on this site. So if for no other reason than to spare this audience from my "paranoid delusions" based on my perception of reality and what people are saying they will do. – Chad Jan 27 '12 at 16:40
  • It doesn't call for speculation. It's not "Will X do Y?" but rather "Has X said he will do Y?" The answer is factual; you merely have to look whether X said he would do Y, if elected. – Borror0 Jan 27 '12 at 21:13
  • My statement boils down to "we should make claims about what a politician will/won't actually do off topic." - That is a different statement. I addressed that with my last bullet Claims challenging the statements or actions of other candidates should require a claim of denial. There is no point trying to fight battles that the candidate or his campaign is not challenging. – Chad Jan 27 '12 at 21:24

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