I have seen a number of instances of the following pattern.
- Someone says something that absolutely explicitly states X and also clearly implies Y.
- Y, of course, is more outrageous than X. In typical cases, X is true but not terribly surprising or interesting, whereas Y is false but would be surprising and/or shocking if true.
- Y is plainly the point the person is hoping their readers/hearers will take away.
- A reader of skeptics.se sees this and posts a question asking "Is this really true?".
- In some cases, the ambiguity is noticed and dealt with by editing the question title to be about X, while the question body still contains material that implies, insinuates or presupposes Y.
- Someone posts an answer saying "Yes, X is true." which addresses Y not at all or only very briefly.
- This gets accepted (because X is in fact true and is the only perfectly explicit claim in the question).
- But it is still terribly easy for a reader to think that the good people of skeptics.se have endorsed not only X but Y.
Here are a couple of examples.
Was a class of Dutch school children required to learn Muslim prayer? -- X is "A class of Dutch pupils were taught about how Muslims pray" and Y is something like "A class of Dutch pupils were indoctrinated with Islamic ideas and induced to do actual reverence to Allah". There is exactly one answer, just saying that X is true.
Did the US national debt fall by $100 billion in the first two months of Trump's office? -- X is "The US national debt did such-and-such in the first two months of Obama's presidency and such-and-such in the first two months of Trump's" and Y (as, actually, stated explicitly in the material quoted in the question) is "Obama caused the national debt to do this, while Trump caused it to do that"); perhaps there's also a Z which is something like "... and this shows that Trump is better at handling the economy". The question title was originally about Y but it was edited to say X instead. There are two answers, the higher-voted of which gives a nice clear endorsement of X; it briefly mentions that Y is different, but briefly enough that (as you can see from the comments) at least one reader didn't see it.
Is President Trump right that there was violence on “both sides” in Charlottesville? -- X is "on both sides, at least some people committed at least some violent acts", Y is "both sides have comparable liability".
In both of these cases, the only answer (first case) or highest-voted answer (second case) addresses X nicely but neglects Y.
For the avoidance of doubt, this doesn't always happen: for instance, see this question about Obama "admitting training IS" both of whose answers make it very clear that (1) yes, he said what he's claimed to have said (X) and (2) no, he didn't mean what that sounds like (Y).
When addressing a claim that implies much more than it undeniably states, is dealing clearly with the implications an important part of a good answer?
I think it is. More specifically, I suggest that
- a question about such a claim should make it clear and explicit in both question title and question body whether or not it's concerned with the implications;
- in either case it should make the difference between the implicit and explicit claims as clear as possible;
- usually the more-dramatic less-explicit claim is what's actually of interest;
- an answer that isn't absolutely clear about which it's addressing is not doing its job;
- a really good answer will deal with both implicit and explicit claims and contrast them as appropriate.
This seems like something that would have come up before in meta, but I haven't found previous examples. What there are plenty of is earlier questions about whether it's OK to ask about implicit claims: one, two, three, four, but that's not the same thing.