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Our FAQ states:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

Yet there are many questions that fall into our domain whose correct answer is: there is no correct answer. The question I asked regarding the innateness of homosexuality is one such question.

I think it was on topic, as it is a subject surrounded by psuedoscience and dogmatic beliefs. We might not know the right answer, but we know many of the commonly believed answers are either patently wrong or that there is simply not enough evidence to support them. I think these questions are just as important as the ones that do have concrete answers.

Should Skeptics allow such questions?

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    "actual problems that you face" is certainly another SO-centric formulation. I think that on all sciency SE sites I've asked nearly zero questions about "actual problems that I face" (ok, maybe there was one math problem). The rest were curiosity/entertainment based. In fact on many sites like psychology, health, etc. asking about a "problem that you face" is very likely to get the question closed (unless you happen to be a researcher in the field)! – Fizz Jan 8 '18 at 16:15
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    @Fizz: yeah I wonder how many people really ask about actual problems that they face on Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange? And that phrasing doesn't really rule out the kind of subjective questions we don't want on any SE. "What JavaScript front-end framework should I use?" is a subjective question that is supposed to be excluded by this rule but is an actual problem people face. – Patches Jan 14 '18 at 2:31
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Answerable, in this particular context, is not meant to be understood as a ban on questions where the answer is "we don't know." In fact, thorough answers explaining the debate and why there is uncertainty make great answers. We are a site dedicated to seeking the truth. As such, there are many times where the answer will be "we don't know." It's unavoidable.

The kind of questions that are forbidden are subjective questions, questions that have no objective answer. "Is homosexuality innate?" can be answered objectively. Thus, it's allowed.

Bad subjective questions would be:

  • What is your favorite skeptical podcast?
  • What is the best way to persuade my mother that astrology does not work?
  • What is the most dangerous alternative medicine?

For these questions, the best answer either does not exist or could be debated for eternity (which is why we don't allow them).

Another kind of question that fits under the umbrella of "unanswerable questions" would be long lists. Asking for a list of all anti-vaccine activists or a list of all British chiropractors would be examples of such a questions. Those lists would be far too long for anyone to reasonably answer it.

PS: "Is homosexuality innate?" is a great question. I upvoted it.

  • +1 I think this is the only tenable approach to this question. – David Hedlund Mar 11 '11 at 9:28
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If a question is unanswerable is usually because the question is poorly phrased.

Take "Is homosexuality innate?"

The problem with the question is that the words aren't clearly defined.

On OKCupid rougly 17% percent of the person who identify themselves as straight report that they had sex with the opposing sex that they enjoyed.

Innateness is a very relative term. In usually needs a reference population and asking whether intelligence is innate in Europe might give you a different answer than asking whether it's innate in Africa. People who don't understand the way genetics measure innateness in twin studies often have a very vague idea of the meaning of the term.

Asking "Is there a genetic predisposition that predicts whether or not someone will enjoy having sex with a partner of the same gender" would be much better than asking "Is homosexuality innate?".

If a question seems to vague we should think about making it more precise and use terms with a well defined meaning.

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    If I were to be as specific as you desired, I would have had to ask a dozen questions, all of which would have probably received a similar answer. Had I been specific about what I considered to be homosexuality, we would have still had the discussion as to whether the researchers in various studies considered it the same way. Additionally, as mentioned in the discussion, most studies use self-identification as their definition, so any definition I profferred would not have necessarily applied. By being more vague, we were actually more accurate. – Patches Mar 11 '11 at 19:51
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    Also, I specifically used the term "innate" rather than "genetic" because, as mentioned in one study linked in my question, there is some evidence that homosexuality might in fact not be genetic, and instead related to conditions in the womb during pregnancy. Finally, I believe you meant "same" instead of "opposing" with regards to the OKCupid poll. I'd hope more than 17% of straight people enjoy sex with the opposite gender! – Patches Mar 11 '11 at 20:05

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