I have problems with writing good, on-topic questions and would like to know what went wrong with some of my questions and how to improve them. If something is clearly obvious to you, it might not necessarily be clearly obvious to me. Some of my thoughts (questions arranged from most to least recent):

Are fares for US transcontinental flights at an all-time low? (2 upvotes, 2 downvotes)

I don't know how this question could be controversial. Air fares! It should be easily researchable and answered. There's probably something I am not seeing.

Are patterns of holes in surfaces surprisingly good clickbait? (4 upvotes, 3 downvotes)

I understand that I initially asked a question that wasn't in the claim ("Does trypophobia elicit curiosity?") rather than the claim, which I intended to do. However, it seems that there is a fundamental problem with the question itself even after the edit. Probably another question where I am missing something.

Did people in the Renaissance believe that the heart had two chambers? (1 upvote, 4 downvotes; deleted)

I always thought this was a good question. I am guessing its not because modern day scientists agree the heart has four chambers. I guess you learn to not ask this question through experience?

Are Rembrandt's two anatomical paintings the only two where the identity of the cadaver is known? (1 upvote, 1 downvote)

I can see how this question is related to history and art, something others may not necessarily want to see on Skeptics.SE (why?). There is a comment I would like (and can't get) clarification on. Would this question belong on other SE sites? Does it not belong on any SE site at all? In general, am I forcing questions onto SE?

Is America “seeing a spike in celibacy fuelled by economics, technology and female empowerment?” (17 upvotes, 5 downvotes)

I fail to see the controversy. I am probably also missing something. I understand that definitions can be tricky, but I was also told to not define terms.

Is 95% of what you read in the financial press “either wrong or irrelevant?” (3 upvotes, 2 downvotes; closed)

I thought this belonged on Skeptics.SE until I was told the claim is a general "everything you hear is wrong" cliche (?). If only I can do a better check beforehand. Is there a way to check for opinion-based questions before asking them?

Will the third Heathrow runway fill up within 25 years? (1 upvote, 3 downvotes; closed)

Maybe this question is asking about the future. Maybe its not. I think its not, but my thinking is obviously biased for my own questions. Could someone convince me this question is really asking about the future?


2 Answers 2


I have some guesses as to why the community might be reacting this way, and some suggestions, but please just take them as guesses and suggestions, not mod directives.

Very Active

You have been very active, with lots of questions over a short period. I think that's great - and the velocity of your reputation growth is impressive.

However, I fear some of the voters may tire of your questions dominating the front page.

My ideal solution: More questions from other people, rather than fewer questions from you!


I feel hypocritical, because I think I fall for the same trap - e.g. this sentence itself - but many of your questions contain digressions. This question starts with a defence against an attack that never happened. This Meta question has a defence in the title about conflicts of interest that I don't think many people would even posit.

I would avoid these diversions in the questions - get straight to the meat of the question, so casual readers can decide quickly if they are interested. Perhaps put any disclaimers in comments if you must.

Low Import

It is apparent you have broad reading interests - again, I am impressed - and come across many obscure pieces. The claims in those pieces are likely not of interest to many people.

Claims by politicians have interest because, in a democracy, we are charged with choosing the most competent - and finding out that they are basing policy on factual errors is an important part of that decision.

Claims about medical cures have interest because we are all concerned about the health of ourselves and our loved ones.

Claims about what the person-in-the-street in 1550 thought about anatomy, or what art historians know about the subjects of old paintings aren't of much interest. Whether the claims are right or wrong, the stakes are very low.

Is it enough to be satisfied that Leonardo was one of the first to document four chambers in a place known to historians? Isn't it enough to note that the identity of the corpses in almost all paintings is unknown, and reflect on what that means about attitudes to corpses?

We don't have a "Who cares?" close reason, but it may lead to downvotes or a lack of upvotes.

Vague Claims

The most serious problem, to me, is the vagueness of many claims, making them unanswerable.

The heart question lumps together many millions of people around the world, over three centuries, and asks "What did they think?" as though they were a homogenous group.

The Rembrandt question lumps together many hundreds of art historians and asks "What do they know?"

The economics question takes a field in which there is famously a lack of consensus between major schools of thought, and asks "Who is right? And what percentage of the words do they write?"

The overall feel I get is that you read a diverse range of materials, and when you get to a particularly colourful rhetorical phrase, you ask here if it is true. Unfortunately, it is the colourful rhetorical phrases that are the least likely to have a simple truth value.

e.g. I do not believe there is any way to measure whether celibacy (or lower sex rates) are "fuelled by economics, technology and female empowerment?"

That doesn't mean that I approve of such phrases being used to persuade people. Just that often - like claims from cosmetics adverts - they are carefully devoid of specific meaning.

Let me finish by acknowledging that you are very active in trying to improve your questions. That is appreciated. I've mentioned before that I feel I have been done too little to give helpful feedback. I hope this will be useful.

  • 1
    I guess Indirectness would have to do with spoilers too? That's the reason behind "no spoilers?" Commented May 21, 2019 at 1:40
  • Also, the Rembrandt question. Is it fixable? Commented May 21, 2019 at 2:47

Don't forget that there are other Stack Exchange sites!

Skeptics prefers controversial questions where there is an active dispute, with proponents on both sides of an issue. But many of your questions are not like this—there is no active controversy over the issue, so what you have is a plain question of fact in "skeptical" disguise. You can attempt to disguise any question as a "skeptical" question by rephrasing it as if it were controversial, but this does not make it so, and it would be better asked as an ordinary question on another Stack Exchange site.

Three examples:

  1. "Are Rembrandt's two anatomical paintings the only two where the identity of the cadaver is known?"
    This would be on topic at History.
    Compare: "Is there a painting from before the colonization of the Americas depicting travelers from far away visiting European nobles?"

  2. "Did people in the Renaissance believe that the heart had two chambers?"
    This would be on topic at History of Science and Mathematics.
    Compare: "When did people realize that the eye was a lens?"

  3. "Who wrote “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”?"
    This would be on topic at Literature.
    Compare: "What's the source of Michelangelo's quote: “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”?"

By asking each question on the most appropriate Stack Exchange site you have the best chance of getting good answers.

  • Thanks! Very nice comparisons! Commented May 22, 2019 at 12:40
  • Could I ask if quote questions in general belong on Literature? Or only ones about literature. I don't quite get how the Michelangelo quote has to do with literature. Commented May 22, 2019 at 12:57
  • @BarryHarrison: The Literature Stack Exchange interprets "literature" broadly, so that the term includes essays and other non-fiction, song lyrics and comics, as well as poetry, drama and prose fiction. Take a look at the range of questions in the quote-identification tag. Commented May 22, 2019 at 13:34
  • WOW! Neat! What about newspapers? Apologies if any of these questions are bad. Commented May 22, 2019 at 13:38
  • 1
    @BarryHarrison: Yes, newspapers can be on topic too: here's an example. Commented May 22, 2019 at 13:44
  • Thanks for answering! That's it for questions. Commented May 22, 2019 at 13:45

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