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There is an issue that has popped up a few times on the site, and often seems to lead to conflict and wasted effort.

When we get a question of the form:

Did person X say that Y is true?

and an answer of the form:

Y is not true.

or

Y is true.

What should be the appropriate action?


Here is a recent example:

Did WHO publish a bulletin stating that COVID-19 is “equivalent in lethality to seasonal flu”?

One person posted a demolition of the claim that COVID-19 is equivalent to to influenza. That answer is now deleted (by me), as it did not address the question.

Yet another person edited the question to change it to ask whether COVID-19 is equivalent to influenza. That edit has been rolled-back (by me).

Is that appropriate?

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    I've upvoted because it's alas a somewhat common issue to have trivial questions about one aspect of something, winch "by the by" mention something else that is considered (by the mods) off-topic. Another recent example: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/50173/…
    – Fizz
    Jan 13 at 4:11
  • You've also previously complained about another q of mine as being something like that skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/47312/… So, I'm not saying I'm entirely innocent of such slippage in questions either...
    – Fizz
    Jan 13 at 4:14
  • @Fizz: I plan to tender my opinion in an answer, but I would be delighted to hear yours as well.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Jan 13 at 4:17
  • Note that the OP of the q has seemingly even protested the extent of the extra info provided in the (other) answer you didn't delete. skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/50163/… Although that may have been addressed at me, not sure. (They didn't accept the non-deleted answer though either, in the formal sense.)
    – Fizz
    Jan 13 at 20:54
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    @Fizz: I have responded there. I think the complaint is unfair.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Jan 14 at 9:24
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I think this question is about a balance between two competing issues:

  1. We don't want people using the site to subtly push their political/commercial agendas in a way that evades proper scrutiny.

  2. We don't want people using the site to subtly push their political/commercial agendas in a way that evades proper scrutiny, but in a different way.

If I use a troll's hypothetical love of tinned beans as a stand-in for whatever political position they hold:

We might well be wary if someone asks:

Did Gandhi really say that tinned beans were the most nutritious, delicious and inexpensive food?

that they don't care at all whether Gandhi really said it - they just want to sneakily push their opinion of tinned beans.

In such a situation, it is understandable that people who don't share that view of tinned beans might want to ignore the "did they say it?" part and focus solely on debunking what was said.

But if we turn that around and ask about a real-life controversy

Did the US president really endorse a brand of tinned beans?

with genuine doubt about whether the images were photoshopped, we would be very wary of anyone who posted an answer that explained why tinned beans were nutritious, delicious and inexpensive. That wouldn't answer the question.

More problematically, these answers about tinned beans would not be in a question about the nutrition of tinned beans, and would likely not attract the attention of our users who have expertise in the area of bean nutrition, so the answers would likely not get the best peer-review.


My position is that we should be very clear about whether a question is about authenticity of a and the actual claim. We shouldn't let people ask both in the same question. We shouldn't let people answer one in a question about the other.

With one proviso: We have long permitted that a little bit of context, and even clearly marked conjecture, might be added to an answer that already addresses the question.

e.g.

Yes, Gandhi said tinned beans were nutritious on page 72 of his autobiography.

However, this was a controversial claim, and undermined by this recent study.

I think this sentence might have been a misunderstood metaphor.


[Disclaimer: I have railed in the past about how dull most quote questions are to me.]

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    Being from the USA, the US President would never endorse a brand of tinned beans. He might however endorse a brand of canned beans. Jan 13 at 10:30
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    As you may guess, the provisio where the argument continues. SO, can you elaborate further on this? Is the 'actual A to Q present' sufficient to then include context, or are there special circumstances making that context desirable or even necessary? (Plus: I see your concern in the start of this A as also the other way around: a great way to sneak in outlandish claims that then get publicity but no scrutiny. Should those then require a separate Q looking at the content of the claim?) Jan 13 at 13:22
  • If the asker makes up a Gandhi quote solely as a sneaky way to promote the virtues of tinned beans (or whatever), the obvious first line of defense should be to close the question for lack of notability. If the poster can't show evidence that anyone actually believes that Gandhi (or whoever) said the quote, the question is off topic here. I do agree that we should be very careful to be clear whether the question is about the quote vs. the claim in the quote, but I think it's all too easy to forget about notability in these discussions. If it's not notable, everything else is moot. Jan 14 at 1:44
  • @plasticinsect: Sure; if the community is satisfied it wasn't asked in good faith, but I think there are a lot of hazy area where there is an actual claim of a quote, so it is, at first glance, notable.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Jan 14 at 5:00
  • @LangLangC: "Is the 'actual A to Q present' sufficient" I don't have anywhere to point with a hard-and-fast rule. And answer to the the question seems to be necessary, but I am not sure if it is sufficient. If people are using it to push their agenda, we aren't interested. If they are using it to clarify why the question might be misleading or to propose a straightforward alternative explanation that Occam's Razor might prefer, it seems worth it.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Jan 14 at 5:04
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    The critical thing in many of these claims is context. Some claims seem to be trying to validate the claim surreptitiously by asking whether some expert made the claim. Or trying to invalidate expert opinion by showing the expert once held a dodgy opinion. So asking, for example, whether someone claimed that "covid isn't serious" might get the naive answer that, "yes they did claim that". This would be a very misleading answer if, three months later when better evidence was available, that expert changed their mind...
    – matt_black
    Jan 15 at 11:41
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    ...In some cases the question seeks to validate an opinion by showing someone made a statement confirming it. Again, the context matters. Answers about one-off statements sometimes need to go beyond the fact that a statement was made and include other evidence (eg the expert changed their mind or that nobody else agrees with their claim). It is quite hard to generalise without providing context.
    – matt_black
    Jan 15 at 11:45
  • @matt_black: The gift that keeps giving skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/50201/…
    – Fizz
    Jan 17 at 23:04
  • I usually downvote quote questions ...
    – fredsbend Mod
    Jan 22 at 17:49
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I think the obvious solution in case of scope disputes like this is to ask a separate question... which I've done in this case. (I can forsee a potential problem with this approach, namely that (1) mods delete answer to one q as off-topic, and (2) some other set of users close the 2nd q as a duplicate of the 1st. Hopefully that doesn't happen too often.)

By the way, since we had a publication tag, which was redirecting to research, but neither had a tag description, I've created this tag description, in the spirit of this meta discussion:

Questions about the existence or non-existence of specific research and publications. Use this tag if you do not seek to validate the correctness of the claims in the (alleged) research or publication in question, but only to inquire the existence of the research or publication

On some other SE sites, such a tag is usually called reference request or thereabout.

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    No to some extent they need to be the same answer as what will happen is ythat people trying to spread 'fake news' will quote the answer saying yes he said it and totally ignore the other question saying it is total rubbish.
    – mmmmmm
    Jan 22 at 12:48
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I think that you have to keep them together.

The reason is that the asker or the person reporting the 'quote' wants to get an answer Yes to something and then they will use that to prove their point.

If you separate the quote and the facts they can point to just one of them.

Unfortunately some people find quotes to use in bad faith. If we don't deal with the underlying question we are just enabling the spread of false information.

So I disagree with the actions in Oddthing's answer except for the last paragraph.

If the premise of the quote is wrong that has to be stated.

Or if the quote was made but later events or research change the facts especially of the person making the quote then that needs to be in the same sentance as the fact the quote was made.

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