0

I have looked through the various questions and answers on meta regarding this, and have not found anything solid. The nearest can be found here, and the mod's answer is at odds with the highest-voted answer.

Sometimes, a question is asked that involves a claim that can be asserted to be true... if interpreted in a certain way. Such claims often then go on to be used in a different manner from the literal interpretation (note that "literal interpretation", here, shouldn't be interpreted as "taking the word-for-word meaning", such as "Do pregnant women glow?", but as "ignoring the context of the claim", such as "Was a class of Dutch school children required to learn Muslim prayer?")

For example, this question, in which the question asked is "were children safer in the good old days?". The interpretation of the question affects the results, as seen in the accepted answer, which establishes 5 different plausible interpretations, and then provides evidence and argument for each one.

Similarly, this question asks about whether it is possible that a monk could have gone without sleep, food, or water for nine days. The top-voted answer, here, concludes that it is true... but only by noting that it is the buddhist interpretation in which the period between dawn and midday is not included.

In both cases, interpretation plays a key role in the answer, and a literal answer that takes the claim literally becomes misleading. In the first case, any one interpretation could be used to justify an answer. In the second case, the interpretation being used by the claim is inconsistent with the source.

In other situations, the literal text of the claim in question is technically true, or technically false, while the intent of the claim (as seen by its context) is the opposite.

For example, Hillary Clinton did, indeed, co-sponsor a bill that would punish some flag-burners... but it was very specifically written in order to only punish those who use it to incite violence, etc, and Clinton was opposed to a constitutional change that would allow a stronger law that banned all flag-burning.

Here, the literal answer would be "yes", but in-context, the answer is much closer to "no", as the proposed law would be about preventing incitement of violence. And the answer reflects this.

And Apollo spaceships did only get about 7 inches to the gallon... but only during the first phase. As a result, while it sounds like it's using 7 inches to the gallon all of the way to the moon and back (over 300,000 km each way), it's actually only for the first 67 km.

This demonstrates that sometimes questions are about confirmation of claimed values, and "how did they get that value" isn't always the only right answer, even if the value is legitimately calculated or estimated by some interpretation.

However, sometimes answers that focus on these clarifications, answers that address the claim in-context rather than literally, are considered to be non-answers, as they rely on existing answers to cover the "literal" interpretation, or for other such reasons. Such answers may be flagged, or even deleted.

Should matters of interpretation, issues with claims that are technically true but distinctly misleading due to interpretational issues, and issues with literalism be valid in answers? And if an existing answer already deals with the literal claim, should answers exclusively discussing another interpretation of the claim that can be seen within the question, but isn't the most literal interpretation, be acceptable answers?

Where should the line be drawn?

Browse other questions tagged .