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We sometimes get notable claims which explicitly say one thing, but which frame the statement as implying something larger.

For example, this meme alleges that Black Lives Matter has failed to do various practical things to improve conditions for black people. The text of the allegation might have been literally true (turns out it wasn't). However sitting just outside the frame is the fact that BLM wasn't set up to do any of those things, and has been doing a lot of other things that it was set up to do. Thus the statement frame is being deliberately misleading.

Should we encourage or discourage this kind of frame challenge?

The current top-rated answer by Johanna includes such a challenge:

The specific purposes of different BLM organisations differ, but they are typically not a charity aimed at providing scholarships, providing food, or providing housing. The movement is about protesting police brutality and overpolicing aimed at Black communities, but specific chapters may have different ways of going about this.

In comments Karl Knechtel has argued against frame challenges:

As for the purpose of the organizations and what the money is spent on vs. what James Woods (a) implies it's spent on or (b) thinks it should be spent on instead: whether it's spent on the specific things described in the tweet is the only question of fact here. The rest is about politics, not skepticism.

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  • Not sure I understand correctly: who frames the claim? Original claimant or OP questioning it? If not intended for this specific example: things would be straightforward: make a FC answer if it's from claimant, close & fix the question if (wrong, or not original) framing is from OP? – LangLаngС Sep 3 at 13:52
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    Questions like this are like asking "When did Joe Bloggs stop beating his wife", If someone answers "He has not stopped beating his wife" it's on topic and technically true and then can be used as propaganda. I agree that this is an issue, we can't be so focused on the question and blind to the framing that we allow facts to be twisted. – Keith Loughnane Sep 3 at 14:33
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    @LangLаngС In this case, the original claimant (James Woods) frames the original claim, but not explicitly; rather, the framing can be deduced from the context, the caption that James Woods applies to the image, the other claims that James Woods makes, and the replies by his followers, all of which point towards a very particular framing of using something technically true to suggest something that isn't. – probably_someone Sep 3 at 18:22
  • @LangLаngС For example, here's another one of his tweets: "With leftist terrorists creating havoc in all our cities and making disturbing forays into the suburbs, the pandemic is twice as difficult. We all suffer from cabin fever in the quarantine, but outside our doors it’s like a bad zombie movie. #AntifaBLMDemocratTerrorism". And most of the replies on the original tweet are saying that the original tweet implies that BLM is a money laundering scheme. – probably_someone Sep 3 at 18:23
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    @LangLаngС well, especially on social media, the claim is framed by both the author and the audience/wider society. A Jewish journalist using (((these))) would be most likely sarcastic or mocking, whereas someone on the far-right doing the same would be engaging in barely disguised antisemitism. That's why either skeptics needs to change, or it's a bad place for a lot of political questions. It's either impossible or meaningless to try to separate the politics from the factual statement when it's an inherently political statement. – llama Sep 3 at 18:29
  • It's like the old quote: Humour can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process. – llama Sep 3 at 18:32
  • @llama The problem with limiting political questions is that every question is, to some extent, political. Even questions that are ostensibly about scientific fact can be (and often have been) political questions, if a political party decides to oppose the conclusions of science. – probably_someone Sep 3 at 19:32
  • @probably_someone Absolutely true, I definitely lean more towards a greater acceptance of allowing answers to address the political context – llama Sep 3 at 19:53
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I've been mulling around a tripartite rubric for "good answers". In short, it's that good answers are accurate, thorough, and corroborated.

Accuracy is that facts must be presented, and corroboration is that reputable sources are required. Personally, I think Skeptics really excels here. Inaccurate answers are usually downvoted and often deleted. Uncorroborated answers are almost always deleted.

Where Skeptics lacks is thoroughness, and that is what I think you reference when you say "frame challenge", which is something else. 1

Here, we don't only want facts. Facts alone can mislead as well as lies. We want truth and reality, or at least close approximations. Questions asked here are sometimes answered exactly factually, but cannot fairly be approximations of reality. In a charitable word, they are "non-real" answers, and less charitably, they're false and/or misleading. In my opinion, they should be downvoted and criticized in the comments.

"Thorough" does not mean "opinion". The thoroughness items of an answer are factual in themselves and must be corroborated, just as the accuracy items. A quick pop of opinion here or there is usually inappropriate and irrelevant, whereas thoroughness is based in fact and provides context, so to present reality and truth.2

If we take your example, "BLM hasn't spent money on X" may very well be factual, but saying so may be misleading if the context is stripped out, that is, if the answer has neglected to be thorough. A number of items might be relevant for an answer to illuminate the truth, such as the organization doesn't exist for funding X, it didn't buy the buses in that picture, and "BLM" is ambiguous so there's some uncertainty who specifically is the object here. The accurate and thorough answer covers at least all of this.

There's perhaps even more, like a breakdown on the BLM's spending, but there are diminishing returns, and the quest for thoroughness can be a rabbit hole. Knowing when you've started down rabbit holes has an ineffable quality, but when you are sure you've presented an approximation of the truth then you have been thorough. Anything else is just details and aren't necessary.

This rubric works on political questions. Punditry and sensationalism don't care if they present reality. They only care about their preferred ends. Skeptics by nature cannot be concerned with ends at all. Skeptically minded people hope to bring the amoral empiricism of science to everything else, so that broad and reliable truth can be discovered. Mentioning when points of fact might change one's impression of reality is not a political pursuit until those facts are concealed/highlighted disingenuously. Hence, thoroughness is the target. I'm skeptical of the motives of one who'd suggest "only verifying the facts in the question matters".

I would like to see Skeptics SE culture promote thoroughness, but unfortunately it seems that many upvote the quick dirty factual answer and generally ignore the thorough answer, even when both contain virtually the same facts verification for the accuracy portion.

An accurate answer verifies the facts. A thorough answer gives the truth. I'd like to present Skeptics as a place that dependably presents the truth, but it just doesn't a little too often for my confidence.

So I urge all of us to vote accordingly. Answers that are sourced but neglect relevant context should be downvoted and criticized in comments. As a mod, I don't want deletion as our policy. Rather, I'd like us to be in the habit of appreciating thoroughness, being skeptical of short and simple answers, and despising answers that intentionally neglect/ highlight facts that reasonably change perceptions of the truth and the questions that try to solicit them.


  1. A "frame challenge", as I understand it, is not about implicit questions per se, but about answering the question asked by answering the question that should have been asked. A question in need of a frame challenge is essentially the wrong question, which the answer illuminates by changing the frame. To steal Odd's coastline paradox example, explaining that paradox to answer the size of Australia's coastline is a frame challenge. So it's not that there's implicit claims in the question. It's that the question needing a frame challenge comes from a combination of reductionism and ignorance.

  2. SE used to call this "good subjective". Good subjective is the idea that a subjective measure in answers is wanted and even necessary when the topic is not programming (the topic of SE's Stackoverflow).

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It's complicated.

Some factors include:

  1. We prefer (and often demand) explicit claims over implicit ones.

  2. We don't accept answers that don't address the question.

    E.g. consider this answer:

    Do violent video games encourage violence? It doesn't matter! Freedom of Speech is an inalienable right! Even if they do cause deaths, they should still be allowed!

    This could be considered a frame-challenge, but it would not be acceptable.

  3. We don't accept opinion-based answers.

  4. What we do tend to accept are answers that first directly address the explicit claim, and then (clearly stating it is opinion) give some context.

    E.g.:

    No, the Eiffel Tower is not 984m tall [ref]. I suspect the most likely explanation is that the claimant has confused metres and feet.

    Note that last sentence is unreferenced.

    An answer that first addressed the BLM question and then addressed how the claim was misleading propaganda would likely be acceptable. One of the answers has been controversial because it only addresses the pictures of the buses, but not the question itself. Ideally, answers should stand on their own; the other answers might get deleted.

  5. Frame challenges might not always be appropriate.

    For example, if someone pointed out that Australia's coastline was variously reported as 59,736 km and 59,681 km and asked which was right, it might be appropriate to frame-challenge that there is one answer, and point to the Coastline Paradox.

    However, if someone claimed that the coastline of the UK was longer than the coastline of Australia, an identical frame-challenge would be avoiding the question.

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    In your point 4, the example of the Eiffel Tower height is not the kind of opinion we're generally worried about. That's simple speculation to explain the origin of a falsehood in the question. We're more or less worried and bothered by politics creeping in via selective facts presentation, in both questions and answers. We want answers to represent reality, not just verify facts, right? – fredsbend Sep 6 at 23:06

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