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I'm not a Skeptics user, but I click through from the Hot Network Questions section on Stack Overflow. Twice now, that I can recall, I've come across a question where the following are all the case:
- The claim in question comes from a right-wing source
- Per what I believe to be a plain-English reading of the claim, it is straightforwardly true, at least based upon the evidence presented in the accepted answer
- ... and yet that same answer leads by stating, bizarrely, that the claim is false, right before presenting the facts illustrating that it's true
- Further interrogation suggests that the answerer, along with lots of other readers, have read some bizarre alternative meaning into the claim that is plainly not what was actually stated. My attempts to draw out what this meaning is (and thereby understand what the sense is in which the answerer believes the claim to be false) draw derision from other commenters and quite possibly get deleted.
This situation differs from that described in How to proceed when implicit and explicit claims diverge in that that question is premised on the idea that the implicit claim is clear (although I reject that framing of the supposed "implicit claims" listed in that question); I'm instead talking about the scenario where an answerer is responding to a claim that I don't think is implied at all.
I've found these situations frustrating. You can accuse any claimant of being a liar if you take the liberty of reading whatever random outrageous crap you like into their words, rather than addressing their plain meaning; to me, these highly-upvoted answers (and the personal attacks on me that have consistently followed for criticizing them) seem to be motivated by a desire to accuse conservative speakers of dishonesty, rather than to objectively address the truth or falsity of the claim. I fear that skim-readers will see the tl;dr summaries at the top of these answers and go away misled, thinking that the plain-English claim is false, when really only addressing some wacky alternative interpretation of the claim specially selected for its falsity.
Two case studies:
The wording of the original claim:
Sweden’s board of health and welfare and the migration authority just released this pamphlet ... meant to help guide men who marry underage girls through the Swedish welfare system.
My interpretation: the pamphlet contains some helpful information about welfare entitlements in Sweden specific to men married to underage girls. (This is 100% true.)
The accepted answer's interpretation, drawn out through a long, frustrating comment thread with its author: the pamphlet expresses pro-child-marriage views and is a detailed step-by-step guide to claiming benefits for men married to underage girls. (This is 100% false.)
The distinction between my interpretation and MichaelK's interpretation, it seems to me, is that mine is what the original text says and his is something he made up so that he could disagree with it. After I finally figured out what was going on and pointed out the two different interpretations of the answer, he didn't edit his answer to reflect the possible interpretations of the claim and indicate that one was true and one was false; along the way, he throws this at me in chat...
@MarkAmery I don't know why it is so damned important to you to be able to point a finger at the Swedish authorities and make it sound as if they are helping paedophiles, but I am not supporting you in that because that CLEARLY is not the intent of the pamphlet, nor can a reasonable person ever think that from reading the pamphlet. You are being deliberately unreasonable just to be able to push this interpretation, and I think that is low of you.
despite the fact that I'd already told him that I thought it was perfectly reasonable for the Swedish government to release guidance on how the welfare system handles underage marriages, and so it plainly made no sense for this to be my motive - I was just arguing for the plain-English interpretation of the claim.
The wording of the original claim (from Donald Trump):
Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.” Andrew McCarthy says, “There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.” If so, this is bigger than Watergate!
My interpretation: somebody in the Trump campaign provided information to the FBI. (This, based upon the evidence in the accepted answer, seems to be 100% true.)
The accepted answer's interpretation: I don't really have a clear picture of that - maybe that the FBI deliberately planted some... fake employees, or something?... inside the Trump campaign whose whole purpose was to spy upon Trump? In any case the answer suggests that there was a "leak" but that there was not in fact an "embedded informant", which seems bizarre to me since those sound like two ways of saying the same thing.
I questioned this apparent self-contradiction in the answer, and now after a long comment thread my comment has been deleted. Except perhaps by asking this Meta question and drawing the answerer's attention to it, I'll never learn what his interpretation of words was by which it's meaningful for a leaker not to be an "embedded informant", and he may never see that I found his interpretation incoherent.
What should I do in situations like these? I struggle to comprehend how these answerers have managed to reach their interpretations of the claims at stake, and I don't like leaving tl;drs up asserting that a claim is false on an answer that actually completely vindicates (my interpretation of) the claim. Is it reasonable for me to suggest edits to these answers such that they lead by listing the two different interpretations of the claim and indicating which is true and which is false? How can I engage with answerers like this constructively to try to figure out what their interpretation of the claim is without getting sucked into a political flame war, accused of dishonesty, and censored by the mods?