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Skeptics.SE is unique from the model "meant" for other SE sites [citation needed]. Thus, if I may say, questions and answers on this site are an acquired taste.

What does this mean? That any FAQ on good answers and good questions are extremely helpful, more so than for other sites. However, here's the thing: Can a truly comprehensive, yet specific, FAQ be made? The scope of Skeptics.SE is well beyond that of other SE sites. Thus, there will be many specific cases not necessarily covered by the FAQ. I am proposing to select a question each week to critique and analyze. Such specific, detailed, case-by-case analysis will eventually grow into a helpful encyclopedia of sorts. Every week, a Skeptics.SE user will select a question to critique and tag it . Is the question an overall positive for the health of the community? Negative? Are there aspects that can be improved? Does this question not belong? Is this question a "model" question?

I will start with the first pick: Is pollution the main cause of Notre Dame Cathedral's deterioration?

Critique and discuss the merits (or lack of) of the question.

  • If this idea is great, please let me know. If it is terrible, also let me know. Personally, I would find this proposal very helpful. – Barry Harrison Apr 17 at 19:01
  • Analysis of questions like this is how to get them closed, skeptics is littered with non existent Q and As where two people with different views go back and forth and request to close or have comments removed – daniel Apr 18 at 23:14
  • @daniel Thanks for the comment. I am not exactly sure what you mean. Are you recommending against question-analysis in general because they aren't helpful and are likely to get questions closed? – Barry Harrison Apr 19 at 0:46
  • I'm saying here you can expect any question or answer to be muted, if anyone now tried to ask one of the all time top questions it is likely to be closed as off topic/ vague – daniel Apr 19 at 1:42
  • @daniel Oh, OK :( – Barry Harrison Apr 19 at 2:59
  • To make this very clear: I am genuinely trying to address any and all criticism and genuinely appreciate all answers. I will read and re-read them all. – Barry Harrison Apr 19 at 22:21
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The FAQ entry on what makes a good question includes:

Questions must be answerable.

There are various kinds of question which are not unanswerable: they cannot create the high quality answers which we require on this site.

Kinds of questions which are NOT answerable include:

[...]

  • Imprecise questions

This is an imprecise question, because the term "main cause" and "biggest culprit" are meaningless.

This can be shown be trying to answer the question of anything.


Example:

Question: The cookie jar is empty. The children are covered in crumbs. What was the biggest culprit?

A: "Kim ate the most cookies. Kim is the biggest culprit."

A: "Leslie suggested they sneak the cookies. Leslie is the biggest culprit."

A: "Robin pull over the chair, and climbed up onto the bench to get the jar. Robin is the biggest culprit."

A: "Flo was supposed to be keeping an eye on the children. Flo was the biggest culprit."

A: "Sam was supposed to feed the children a big lunch. Sam is the biggest culprit."

A: "Max only bought a few cookies; with more cookies, the jar wouldn't be empty. Max is the biggest culprit."

A: "Greed caused the children to want cookies. Greed is the biggest culprit."

A: "Human Nature caused the children to steal the cookies they wanted. Human Nature is the biggest culprit."

Which of these answers is right? There is no way of determining that.


There can be several critical parts to a problem - if any weren't present, the problem wouldn't exist.

There can be several ways to model the set of causes to a problem, so there can be several conflicting answers.

The claim is meaningless, and doesn't have a truth value. The question should remain closed.

A more meaningful question would be "Does air pollution contribute to the degradation of stone buildings?"

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    > A more meaningful question would be "Does air pollution contribute to the degradation of stone buildings?" --- Yes, except probably nobody disagrees with the statement. – Sklivvz Apr 18 at 9:37
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    I'm not sure if the cookie examples are good (I mean they are funny). However, nobody can say "A suggested pollution to damage the building. A is the biggest culprit." or "B was supposed to prevent pollution. B is the biggest culprit." or "C got only a few buildings for the pollutants to damage. C is the biggest culprit." or "D caused the pollution. D is the biggest culprit." or "E didn't repair the damage, allowing pollution to continue damaging buildings. E is the biggest culprit." or "F designed the biggest pollutants. F is the biggest culprit." ... – Barry Harrison Apr 18 at 22:35
  • Based on your edit to the original question (which doesn't address the problems mentioned), your question about Skip's typing (is that meant to be a non-sequitur?) and your response to the examples, I don't think you've understood the criticism. Which raises the issue of how much effort we should spend trying to rescue one question, and when do we walk away? – Oddthinking Apr 19 at 15:22
  • @Oddthinking I am genuinely trying to address the issue and genuinely appreciate the answer. I will re-read it. – Barry Harrison Apr 19 at 16:48
  • @Oddthinking I thought I had addressed the problem. I don't completely understand this part "if any weren't present, the problem wouldn't exist." Could you maybe expand on it? – Barry Harrison Apr 19 at 17:01
  • @Oddthinking Oh, and no, I don't communicate (not intentionally, at least) through non-sequiturs. It was a bad example of how I think claims with "main cause" and "biggest culprit" can still be challenged. It's deleted now, meant no bad intentions. – Barry Harrison Apr 19 at 17:09
  • @Oddthinking What do you think about question v3 now? I think it should be more answerable now. Scientists either studied it, or they didn't, so this is much more black and white. Is it an improvement? – Barry Harrison Apr 19 at 22:16
  • @Oddthinking I agree with your general statement that asking "Who / what is the biggest culprit?" is meaningless while asking "Does X really cause Y?" would be much more meaningful. But many questions get closed because they're not about a notable claim. In a way that means that I have to find an article, blog post, news spot or whatever that contains a meaningful claim to be able to ask a meaningful question. On one hand this could discourage low quality questions, on the other hand it's a restriction that limits the kinds of questions users can ask on this site. – Elmy Apr 23 at 10:00
  • @Elmy: I don't understand your objection. Yes, it limits the kinds of questions, but it gets rid of the chaff we don't want, so it seems like a great filter. "Who put the bomp in the bompa bah bomp bah bomp?" is not a question we should entertain here, and this rule removes it. What good question gets rejected by it? – Oddthinking Apr 23 at 10:45
  • @BarryHarrison: Sometimes it takes a combination of events to happen to. Which part of the gun is most responsible for it working: the trigger, the piece of lead, the firing pin, the gunpowder? They are all required, so ranking them is pointless. That is what I mean by "if any weren't present, the problem wouldn't exist" – Oddthinking Apr 23 at 11:01
  • @Oddthinking A recent example is Did the FAA order the installation of “Cooper vanes?”. The question is valid (it's about applying skepticism and for researching evidence, as stated in the help center) and the OP did some research before posting, so it's quality is good enough to remain open. The question does fit into another Stack, but that's no reason to close it here as long as it satisfies at least one requirement to be on topic. But it's not backed by a notable claim and therefore closed. – Elmy Apr 23 at 11:11

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