I was struck reading this recent question Did lightning strike the St. Peter basilica the night the Pope resigned? that the answer requested is, in one sense trivial, but will inevitably be incomplete.

The problem here is that the question as asked has a trivial answer. We should be able to find simple verification of whether there was a lightning strike at that point in time. But the fact that the question was posed implies another question, not explicitly asked but just implied: was the strike or its timing significant?

By the normal rules of this site, simple proof that the strike happened on that date is a good answer. But this doesn't address the implied question at all. A better answer would provide the statistics of how often lightning strikes the Basilica, putting the answer in a context which also addresses the significance (well the statistical significance at least as the theological significance is likely off topic). If lightning strikes the basilica every week, then the fact that it did that night is not unusual or significant at all.

I'm sure we have quite a few questions of this sort where the question as asked is neutral, but implicitly implies greater significance.

My suggestion, on which I would welcome further comment, would be to encourage answers that also provide the (unrequested) context so the implied question is answered as well as the explicit question actually asked.


As outlined here, asking for clarification is a good use of comments.

I'd say there's nothing wrong with asking the asker if they would also like to question the significance of the claim. For your example, somebody could have asked:

Are you also wanting us to examine the claim that the strike was significant in some way? If so, could you link to a source that makes that stronger claim?

Even in the absence of such a clarification, any answer is free to add material beyond what is necessary to verify the claim that was asked about. In your example, an answer could have even just used your exact wording:

The fact that it did that night is not unusual or significant at all.

If a lot of users like these types of caveats, those answers will just receive more up-votes in the long run. However, nothing's wrong with an answer that doesn't add that.

You also may be inferring too much when you say that the answer to the St. Peter basilica question will be inevitably be incomplete. Perhaps the asker had no pretence, and was only interested in whether or not the lightning strike in that photo happened on the night the pope resigned (based on this comment, that looks like it's the case). In that case, an answer without the caveat would be complete.

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