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My answer to this question has been deleted, despite providing a skeptical discussion of the meme posted. It was respectfully written.

At time of deletion, the answer had 8 upvotes, and no comments indicating any issues with the answer.

The ostensible reason for deleting the answer is that it did not answer the question, despite the accepted answer going far beyond the question to assert “yes, the meme is accurate in its primary statements”. My answer was posted after raising my concern about that answer with the author, and my criticism being rejected. The comment raising this concern, and clarifications regarding it were also deleted. I felt the need to point out that the meme is not accurate in it’s primary statements, despite using facts.

A larger issue this raises, is that a questioner can post a misleading meme, ask a narrow question about a fact in the meme, and then be endorsed by skeptics.stackexchange without challenge.

In my answer I gave the example of a climate graph which could show a cooling globe despite using factual data. Would skeptics.stackexchange allow the posting of such a graph with the question ‘is the data accurate?, and delete answers that address the broader implications of the graph? If this site is providing a “fact check, true” stamp on misleading propaganda, I find that hugely problematic.

This site is called skeptics, not fact checks. Is applying skeptical analysis to questions is off topic?

If my answer to the question is not acceptable, then I think the question as a whole should be deleted, because otherwise it invites the posting of misleading arguments attached to narrow questions.

Edit to address OddThinking's answer:

1. Implications of implications and meandering off topic

In my opinion this can largely be addressed through the voting system and does not need to be the subject of moderator action. I reiterate - not one comment was made on my answer to suggest it needed improvement.

In particular, this question already had an accepted answer which had drawn a conclusion about the accuracy of the meme as a whole, rather than just the numbers. It 'opened the door' so to speak. The expansion of the topic is a fait-accompli, endorsed by the asker.

I did address the numbers, but since that aspect was already covered I can do what? Repeat information already given? That would be plagiarism, so I cited the existing answers.

The notion that each question exists in isolation, absent the context of the other answers, does not provide for answers which address the flaws of other answers.

2. You can continue to downvote and post comments helpful to the author and voters on propaganda answers. You can continue to post full answers without the propaganda parts in competition.

My comments doing the former were deleted, and I was not given any opportunity to improve my answer before deletion.

3. If skeptical analysis means your own independent thoughts and opinions about a topic, then YES, THAT IS OFF-TOPIC.

I reject the suggestion my answer was opinion based. It was an analysis of the logical structure of the argument made in the meme. I largely omitted my own opinion, though I did perhaps err in linking to 'The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine' in my conclusion.

4. The question, the comments, and the answers all received a huge number of flags - it required more mod attention than this silly meme deserved.

That people decided to flag comments and answers, including constructive ones, is not my fault. People should be directed to use the voting system.

It also largely avoided empirical data (except about climate change) although it did mention 1948's 750,000 Palestinian refugees.

That being the most relevant empirical data to the question of whether ethnic cleansing has been committed against Palestinians.

It didn't even reach a conclusion about ethnic cleansing, just saying "A case can be made".

That, indeed, is the point. It's largely a matter of opinion whether the events in question meet the definition provided as it requires intent. But that a conclusion is not required in order to refute the logical structure of the meme.

I'll drop this now, but I urge the moderation team to rethink the policy what is on topic in relation to all answers. If the accuracy of the meme as a whole is on topic for the accepted answer, it should be on topic for all answers.

Screenshots of deleted post:

Screenshot 1 Screenshot 2

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  • I note that my comments on the accepted answer have also been deleted, despite offering constructive criticism on the answer.
    – Wossname
    Commented Mar 31 at 19:12
  • It would help if you could provide the text or a screen shot of the text for those who can't see deleted answers.
    – Joe W
    Commented Mar 31 at 19:12
  • 1
    @Joe-W Thanks. I have added screenshots.
    – Wossname
    Commented Mar 31 at 19:17

2 Answers 2

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Should my answer, which addresses implications in the framing of a question, have been deleted?

No, neither your answer nor my answer should have been deleted. Both answers offered additional context around the literal "are the numbers accurate" question asked by OP.

(The text of my deleted answer is appended at the bottom of this post.)

The moderator seems to be of the view that answers must be hyper-focused on a completely literal reading of the question, with no side discussions being allowed regarding any other issues that the notable claim presents that may be misleading or outright false.

Let's see how this logic holds up in practice. Say I were to post a question that asks:

A viral meme states:

"Rice contains arsenic. Don't eat this poison, it will kill you!"

Is the claim about rice containing arsenic accurate?

According to the moderation philosophy that led to the deletion of my and OP's answers, the only acceptable answer is "yes, the claim is accurate." No side discussion whatsoever should be allowed about the extremely misleading sentence following this "accurate" fact, and any such side discussion should lead to prompt deletion of the answer.

Needless to say, this is absurd. It's not how skepticism works, and it's not an effective way to promote honest discourse or to stop the spread of false and misleading information. For one thing, such an intolerant moderation policy opens a clear path for abuse by bad-faith actors. As you stated in the question: "A larger issue this raises, is that a questioner can post a misleading meme, ask a narrow question about a fact in the meme, and then be endorsed by skeptics.stackexchange without challenge."

Second, even questioners acting in good faith don't always know what is the right question to ask about the notable claim they are interested in, or don't always formulate their question in the most precise or helpful way. In the hypothetical question about rice and arsenic, the asker may well be more interested in the practical question of whether eating rice is unhealthy than in whether rice contains some specific chemical element. Similarly in the current example about the ethnic cleansing meme, the literal question is "are the numbers accurate" but there's pretty clearly more that needs to be said.

Third, anyone who regularly reads Skeptics will have seen many answers that go into discussions of matters that go quite a bit beyond the literal question being asked, adding (often extremely helpful) context. Often the most highly voted answers are precisely the ones that add this context. The issue of an answer "not answering the question" in such situations is never cited as a reason to delete the answer; of course, if the answer is unhelpful then voting is an appropriate mechanism that can indicate that.

In the case of my deleted answer as well, my answer had 11 upvotes and 0 downvotes (compared to a similar current score of 11 for the accepted answer), indicating that quite a few people found it helpful, and no one seemed offended enough by it to downvote it (by contrast, 4 people downvoted the accepted answer). And yet the moderator wrote in a comment: "This is pushing a political opinion which is off-topic here. It is earning flags. It is not answering the question that was asked. I have focussed the question, and I am deleting this answer for not answering the question." This seems misguided and is very surprising to me. I actually make it a point to never disclose my own political opinions in posts on Skeptics or anywhere on stack exchange, so it seems impossible to me that the moderator was able to infer my political opinion from anything I wrote. (If he tried to guess which "side" in the debate I'm favoring, I'd bet he got it wrong.)

Summary: it does of course happen that answers veer into territory that is either completely irrelevant to the question being asked or editorializes to an unhelpful extent to promote the writer's particular agenda or biases. Such answers should be (and usually are) downvoted by readers. In extreme cases deleting them may be a reasonable moderation strategy. The current situation does not seem to me to be one of those cases.


Appendix: Below is the text of my deleted answer

The accuracy of the specific numbers in the meme has been discussed in other answers. In terms of the question of whether the classification of "ethnic cleansing" is accurate, a good reference is Wikipedia's article containing a list of ethnic cleansing campaigns. This well-referenced article lists both of the historical events discussed in the meme as examples of ethnic cleansing, while also mentioning the controversy around some of those claims. Here are some relevant quotes (with reference tags removed - refer to the article itself for the detailed references):

  • The Nakba or 1948 Palestinian expulsion and flight during the 1947–1949 Palestine war, which involved the expulsion of much of the native population of Palestine, has been considered to be ethnic cleansing by several scholars, such as Ilan Pappé, Mark Levene, Ronit Lentin, Derek Penslar, Yair Auron, and Alon Confino. [...] Benny Morris in 2016 rejected the description of "ethnic cleansing" for 1948, while also stating that the label of "partial ethnic cleansing" for 1948 was debatable [...]

[...]

  • The Jewish exodus from Muslim countries, the flight of over 1 million Jews of the Islamic world, mainly Mizrahi and Sephardic. Many Arab governments, such as Gaddafi's Libya, Nasserist Egypt, and Hafez al-Assad's Syria, confiscated Jewish bank accounts and property of Jews who had departed, in addition to placing laws restricting Jewish business. The episode is sometimes labelled one of ethnic cleansing. [...]

For additional context, it's also worth looking at "neutral" examples of other historical events that are considered ethnic cleansing but that are not related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One such example listed on the Wikipedia article is:

  • The expulsion of 14 million ethnic Germans from the Former eastern territories of Germany after World War II. This policy was decided at the Potsdam Conference by the victorious powers.

These events are described in detail in a separate Wikipedia article. I think what one can learn from such examples is that:

  1. The label "ethnic cleansing" is a loaded term that's thrown around quite a lot these days to evoke a particular emotional reaction or advance a particular narrative or political agenda. However, as used by historians, the term often encapsulates very complicated events that defy easy categorization or even understanding, with different episodes of "ethnic cleansing" being massively different from each other in their underlying causes and in how justified or excusable they might be regarded as by experts after the fact.

  2. Anyone who considers the label of "ethnic cleansing" as automatically damning ought to be asked to explain why they are so outraged about one episode of ethnic cleansing while being indifferent to or even supportive of others.

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  • See my answer (coming soon) to see how the existing rule isn't as black-and-white as your describe.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Apr 1 at 6:23
  • your rice example is carefully picked as a reductio ad absurdum. Of course, a correct answer should not be just "yes", but something like "yes, rice contains arsenic, about x ppm which is harmless". Likewise, an answer that expands on the actual question (the numbers) by pointing out that one year later they were completely different, or something like that, would be on topic. But when the question specifically is "are the numbers in this meme correct?" when it would've been shorter and easier for the OP to ask "is this meme correct?" it should be clear what OPs intent is.
    – Tom
    Commented Apr 6 at 9:20
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    @Tom OP here. I simply asked about the numbers because I think Ethnic Cleansing is a vague indefinable term. I can think of definitions where the Israeli expulsion was ethnic cleansing, where the Jewish expulsion was, and where both or none are. The numbers though are hard fact which is why I asked about that.
    – TheAsh
    Commented Apr 7 at 12:44
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There are several different issues here:

  1. Should we accept answers that ignore the actual question being asked and instead address the implicit claims (i.e. about the implications of the facts, rather than the facts themselves)?

There has to be some limit to this. What about the implications of the implications?

In this case: Do we need to allow an answers that don't talk about the facts about populations, but instead talk about how climate change deniers manipulate numbers? Answers that argue about the difference between ethnic cleansing and genocide? Answers that just talk about how propaganda has been spread? Answers that just talk about the definitions of "Jew" and "Arab"? Answers that talk about the nature of war?

No, we can't allow that. This is not a discussion board. We don't welcome meandering conversations. We are here to fact check.

Our general rule has been: You must address the actual question - the facts of the case. Once you've done that, as a little treat, you may spend a little time on the implications [e.g. "Although true, this claim is misleading because..."].

  1. Only fact checking will allow propaganda

I hear that concern. It concerns me.

However, in practice, this has been a fairly minor issue.

You can continue to downvote and post comments helpful to the author and voters on propaganda answers.

You can continue to post full answers without the propaganda parts in competition.

  1. The site name

This site is called skeptics, not fact checks. Is applying skeptical analysis to questions is off topic?

Yeah, the site name is terrible for our content.

Not only do we not discuss skepticism on the main site, but it tends to attract denialists who have co-opted the term, and get very upset when they are not greeted by a like-minded community.

I think I suggested we should be called "citation-needed" over a decade ago.

If skeptical analysis means your own independent thoughts and opinions about a topic, then YES, THAT IS OFF-TOPIC.

What we actually do here is closer to science popularisation - taking empirical results from the literature, and using them to support or refute widely-believed claims.

  1. This actual question.

This was another dog's breakfast question.

It made it to the HNQ, attracted lots of partisan viewers who seem to think that the Middle-East situation would finally be resolved if only their opinions were shared on this site.

The question, the comments, and the answers all received a huge number of flags - it required more mod attention than this silly meme deserved.

One of the answers didn't address the numbers, tried to argue that some of these events were on a controversial list of ethnic-cleansings and therefore they were, before arguing the definition is loose, and then attacked people who disagreed as hypocritical. It came across as a political rant and had no empirical data. It earned lots of flags and comments, and was an easy decision to delete.

But once I deleted that, I couldn't see why your answer should be spared. It also didn't answer the question. It also largely avoided empirical data (except about climate change) although it did mention 1948's 750,000 Palestinian refugees. It didn't even reach a conclusion about ethnic cleansing, just saying "A case can be made".

I deleted it. I deleted lots of comments, especially the flagged ones. I edited the question to focus it more to prevent repeats.

The answers that actually addressed the question were left alone (even though they seem to differ on the conclusion; I haven't spent much time seeing why that is.)

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, or in Skeptics Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Apr 7 at 23:50

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