This is a reminder of an issue that has come up before - around the last US election: Are political comments a problem?

If your comment is little more than tribal markings to indicate the US political party you belong to, please don't post it. It will save the effort of another user flagging it, and a bored moderator having to delete it.

This is proving to be a problem recently with both pro- and anti-Trump comments.

Comments are not intended for you to:

  • signal to others what your politics are.
  • convince others on how to vote.
  • vent about whatever political issue is bugging you.

You are welcome to put your political affiliations in your profile if you think anyone cares. You are welcome to have a whin[g]e on Skeptics.SE chat, if you think it will help you feel better.

If you can see that an answer has a political bias that disagrees with your own (or even, if you are mature enough, a political bias that agrees with your own), and you are dying to leave a comment about what idiots the other side of politics are - STOP! You can be a lot more help to Skeptics.SE, to your political point of view, and to political discourse in general if you use your special perspective to post another answer, or to make a polite, direct comment about where a mistake or hidden assumption is being made.

Who knows? Your answer might get more votes, might get accepted, might help people recognise their blindspots and might convince others that the evidence shows that they are wrong and you are right. Okay, perhaps it is a long-shot for some people, but it has a far better chance than simply staking your ground as a member of a political party and/or which side you think are the bigger dolts.

If you see comments that are not constructive in helping explain or solve the question, please continue to flag them - comments on posts can be added without anyone else being informed, so no-one may have noticed before you.

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    Perhaps a one or two week moratorium on all "trump" topics would help. It certainly would help with all the stupid questions running through right now, like "is this actually the first time they covered the grass for the Inauguration?" – fredsbend Jan 22 '17 at 19:39
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    @fredsbend You can ignore the donald-trump tag. No need to see it at all, if you want a couple of weeks off. – ff524 Jan 22 '17 at 20:35
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    @ff524 I just might do that. I forgot that feature existed, thank you. – fredsbend Jan 22 '17 at 20:47
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    How about disclosing political affiliation when asking a question or giving an answer that goes against your candidate? For instance, "I voted for Trump, but here he seems to be wrong" or "I didn't vote for Trump, but he's actually right in this case". People may not want to be seen as supporting a position they don't support. – SQB Jan 22 '17 at 21:12
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    @SQB: Interesting dilemma. I've certainly said in answers that I was surprised by the answer the evidence lead towards (because: AWESOME!) I've cautioned against accepting the implied additional claims, even when the base claim is true. (e.g. Yes, Jewish Americans have higher income than average, but it is unsafe to conclude "Conspiracy!") But shouldn't we be willing to defend our political foes from false claims? I think that is most ethical. If we can do it for Hitler, I think we can do it for others. – Oddthinking Jan 23 '17 at 0:16
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    @ff524 I'm personally in favour of a tag like [trump-administration] for all of the claims that are going to come this way soon. It would be a useful tag and would allow people to ignore questions tagged with it if they so choose, although with all due respect it's precisely when so much tripe is being said that fact-checking is most needed. – Iwillnotexist Idonotexist Jan 23 '17 at 4:14
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    The "best" claims that Trump makes are generally not novel claims, and are worth pursuing. The problem is that a bunch of people want to examine novel, very specific and time-limited claims that no one really will care about a month from now. Answering (e.g.) "what color are the grass covering sheets at Obama's inauguration?" is not something that ultimately people will care about, and that ultimately makes the internet better. It's just noise. – Sklivvz Jan 23 '17 at 9:06
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    @Sklivvz I think it's important to tackle even small claims, especially if they're egregiously false, because individually they're corrosive and together they can produce a greater problem. There exists a psychological tactic called gaslighting that precisely centers around making the victim progressively start questioning her own observations/recollections/sanity by contradicting them even in the face of evidence. It's about turning indisputably true facts into (self-)dismissible beliefs, an artificial controversy or even the negative "fact". – Iwillnotexist Idonotexist Jan 23 '17 at 10:34
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    @IwillnotexistIdonotexist: "psychological tactic called gaslighting" There is probably a Skeptics.SE question in there somewhere, about whether gaslighting is formally recognised (perhaps under a different name) in psychology, or whether it is just a pop-psych description of behaviour. – Oddthinking Jan 23 '17 at 10:43
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    @IwillnotexistIdonotexist that's fundamentally interesting from a political perspective. From a skeptical perspective, not so much at all. – Sklivvz Jan 23 '17 at 10:47
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    @SQB, political affiliation should not be disclosed, you should let the evidence and only the evidence talk. inserting the affiliation would destruct from the facts. A question that starts with "I'm a triangle supporter and here are the [very good] facts why triangle is correct" would cause circle supporters to not look at the facts and dismiss a good answer, while an answer like "I'm a triangle supporter, but in this case triangle is wrong because [bad facts]" might cause people to give more credibility to bad facts. Also, if you can't source your political affiliation how can we believe it? – SIMEL Jan 23 '17 at 11:45
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    I'm so glad someone called this out, I was literally a button click away from deleting my skeptics account for this reason when I decided to see if something was being done about it. Of all of the sites on SE this seems to be the most childish IMHO and it doesn't fit in with the SE atmosphere. – user37544 Jan 23 '17 at 17:29
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    @fredsbend I don't really see how the question about covering the grass is a stupid question. Sean Spicer made a claim about this in order to bolster another dubious claim. This isn't some wack-job on the internet, it's the freaking White House Press Secretary. – JimmyJames Jan 23 '17 at 17:54
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    @Oddthinking A search for keywords "gaslight" and "gaslighting" doesn't return a single hit on either Skeptics or Politics, Main or Meta, but does score a hit on English and Workplace. Aside from that, the Wiki article on gaslighting has multiple references to sources including books, peer-reviewed journal articles and even an actual case report of this behaviour, going under the name "gaslight". It's not pop-psych at all and it does happen. – Iwillnotexist Idonotexist Jan 23 '17 at 19:20
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    Thanks @IwillnotexistIdonotexist. Here's a second case report of gaslighting, but this one with a free detailed description: aasmnet.org/jcsm/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=30220 – Matthew Elvey Jan 25 '17 at 1:01

Then do us the same courtesy

If you don't care about our political opinions (and you shouldn't; this isn't Politics.SE!), then please ensure that we're not being asked to care about (or silently tolerate) yours.

This answer makes a good case in point. A diamond mod has:

  • Taken it upon themselves to completely rewrite the original (and already accepted) answer content, removing large swathes of the OP's text, some of which was critical of Trump; the replacement text is different in tone and generally more supportive of Trump.

  • Edited the neutral header of "Videos showing:" above the links to sources/evidence to the biased/subjective "It does not seem to be an imitation of his disability though", which is not an assertion or interpretation that the answer's OP ever made about the videos and so must be the personal opinion of the moderator.

  • Ignored and deleted multiple comments pointing out that what the videos "seem" to show is actually quite debatable, can be used to support either interpretation, and suggesting that the answer should acknowledge this rather than put forward a subjective interpretation that can't be conclusively supported by the evidence supplied.

  • Made their own comments about how the evidence "is not clear" and thus cannot be used to support "strong statements" either way (as an argument that people stop commenting with their own interpretations of what the evidence seems to show), whilst still not revising their edits to the actual answer to reflect this fact.

This at least has the appearance of political bias. And it's more of a problem than us plebes making political comments because it comes from a position of power and authority.

Certainly I think there's no question that vague seemings do not count as evidence here, and that it's reasonable to expect our moderators to understand this and to refrain from inserting their opinion about what "seems" to have occurred into other people's answers. And especially into other people's already accepted answers.

If you want everyone to keep their political opinions in check, you've got to lead by example. Anything that even appears like political bias coming from an official source should be avoided like the plague.


And here's a second example. A diamond mod deleted numerous comments pointing out quality issues with the top-voted answer, and also entire answers (at least two, maybe three?) that provided a more thorough discussion about how the numbers referenced in the OP could be both technically correct and deeply misleading at the same time.

No useful purpose is served by suppressing such information, but it does further a particular political viewpoint by omitting relevant context (such as how to do correct statistical analysis and how to not cherry-pick a single datapoint when making broad politically and racially charged assertions).

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    Usually we're accused of left-wing bias here, so that is a new one. That linked question is inherently problematic, it is very similar to questions asking about intent, essentially the question is what Trump was thinking while making those gestures. Removing the commentary and judgement like Sklivvz did was necessary, but I think he didn't go far enough to let the videos stand on their own. I could also be convinced that the question should be closed because it is about motivation/intent, which would render the point about the answer moot. – Mad Scientist Jan 25 '17 at 13:27
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    @Aroth: You provide one example. If you think this is an ongoing problem, please provide more than a single anecdote. It appears to be a hasty generalisation at the moment. On the other hand, if you want to discuss this particular edit, please raise a separate meta-question to cover it, rather than have us debate it here under a different title. Perhaps if you explain your concern there in a different way, I could understand your objection. – Oddthinking Jan 25 '17 at 13:30
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    I found it more odd that this answer on the same question didn't suffer the same fate. Whatever. – fredsbend Jan 26 '17 at 3:10
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    @MadScientist - i won't answer the rest of the comment - but one big problem with what you said: the time to close problematic question is before it garners problematic but politically popular answers - especially since the tendency is to be more lenient with those (allow wide interpretation of vague claims, or as above comment points out, allow judgement calls that were edited out of competing answer). At this point, unless it's deleted, it's 100% irrelevant in practice whether that question stays open or gets closed. But I appreciate that you are willing to take steps, as a concept. – user5341 Jan 28 '17 at 2:18
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    What the video "seems" to show is actually irrelevant, but the OP originally made a longer argument including "Kovaleski does not make the motions that Donald Trump was making" and I simplified that long argument to Kovaleski does not make the motions that Donald Trump was making" simply because it's OK for an answer to speculate a little if they admit it ("seems"), but it's not OK for an answer to to say something speculative as a fact ("Kovaleski does not make the motions that Donald Trump was making"). – Sklivvz Feb 11 '17 at 23:47
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    In other words, I've added that line simply to respect the OP's intentions. And to actually disprove your point, someone else removed the "seems" line and the OP reverted, so clearly that's something they wanted. I removed comments that attacked my edit for... being correct, and there were dozens of similar comments attacking the OP for making the original argument that were deleted by others. I don't particularly like or approve of the speculation in that line, however that's what the OP meant, so arguing with me is not going to lead anywhere. – Sklivvz Feb 11 '17 at 23:51
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    The fact that the evidence is not clear is not an opinion. Clear evidence would be something along the lines of Trump being shown actually imitating the journalist or the journalist saying that Trump was not imitating him, or something like that. Just looking at a couple of videos and speculating is not definitive evidence on this site. Going on for 40 comments on how the OP's interpretation is not what we like is not constructive and as a moderator I have to prevent that. – Sklivvz Feb 11 '17 at 23:54
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    Performing a wholesale rewrite of an answer after it has been accepted is something that a moderator should generally avoid doing unless the answer is in flagrant violation of content guidelines; the best way to respect the OP's intentions is to let their words stand as-written. And the best way to respect the person who asked the question is to not wholly rewrite the answer they've accepted. Nor do I take the OP letting your edits stand while reverting a peer's to mean anything. Like it or not, that diamond lends an air of authority to your edits; you're not comparing apples to apples. – aroth Feb 12 '17 at 1:10
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    Also I don't know what point you intend to disprove. My point wasn't that the word "seems" should be removed, or that the OP intended to be supportive of Trump. My point was that if the evidence isn't clear enough to support the statement without the 'seems' (which we agree is a fact!), then it's not clear enough to support the statement with the 'seems' either. The only statement supported by such unclear evidence is "here's what actually happened, make your own judgements". Which is consistent with how the OP labeled the videos, but inconsistent with your edits. – aroth Feb 12 '17 at 1:11
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    I'm suggesting that there were several politically neutral options available. Such as 1) letting the original answer stand, 2) letting the community make/suggest edits to the answer instead of editing directly, 3) editing in a more factually accurate way that points out that the available evidence is completely inconclusive and doesn't seem to support either side, or 4) editing to include a subjective interpretation of the evidence while understanding that doing so invites comments pointing out alternative interpretations and allowing (at least some of) them to stand in counterpoint. – aroth Feb 12 '17 at 1:14
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    @aroth i respect your opinion on the matter but I do not agree. I don't believe my edit changed the political leaning of the answer at all. And regarding the edit, I don't agree that moderators should not edit posts, we do so, routinely. It's part of the job. We get badges for it. – Sklivvz Feb 12 '17 at 16:03
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    The moderators on this SE have had major issues with keeping themselves in check and respecting community opinions. Sadly there are no good processes to unelect moderators and most users leave the site anyway quickly after discovering that the policies on this site differ majorly from other SE's. At least I can say that the moderators here work hard... It's just that if they think that an answer is bad (not offensive, spam, extremely low quality, etc.), they should just downvote and write a better one... this editing and deleting approach is just hugely disrespectful to users. – David Mulder Nov 1 '17 at 8:37
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    I am an example of someone who has periodically considered getting involved in skeptics.se and has always run away after noticing the behavior of this site's moderators. After observing exactly what @DavidMulder pointed out in taking place in the "police officer/black male" question, where anybody who believes that context can be associated with statistics is greeted with belligerent behavior by the moderators, I can't imagine I'm ever coming back. – Zach Lipton Nov 2 '17 at 5:03
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    I'm in the same boat as @ZachLipton, and in fact went a step further by searching to see whether I can exclude skeptics.se from the "hot topics" sidebar. Unfortunately, I can't. This myopic view of the site's purpose serves to further untruths by making it easier to hide them in logical fallacies and misleading statements. The takeaway I got from the more recent example is that I should take anything I read on skeptics.se with a huge dose of salt, and not trust it to help me understand the real validity of a claim. In other words, it undermines the very thing I'd look for from the site. – yshavit Nov 3 '17 at 20:55
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    @DanilaSmirnov Statistics are meaningless without context. It is perfectly correct to say, to borrow from How to Lie with Statistics, that there was a strong correlation between the salaries of Presbyterian ministers in Massachusetts and the price of rum in Havana (at least pre-embargo in 1954 when the book was written). If you quote that statistical fact while aggressively silencing anybody who discusses its context, you're creating a misleading impression that the ministers are profiting off the rum trade. Context is essential to understand the actual relevance: global inflation. – Zach Lipton Nov 10 '17 at 19:49

I just wanted to add a counterpoint to the other answer:

I think the moderators have been doing an exceptional job keeping things on track under difficult circumstances. (I do not envy them this job.)

Thanks, mods.

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