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Are questions about offensive claims allowed, so long as they otherwise meet Skeptics SE criteria?

For example, are questions about holocaust denial, denial of the Armenian genocide, 9/11 trutherism, blood libel, the Protocols of Zion, the ethnic background of past US presidents, and racial superiority/inferiority allowed? Even if the person asking them appears to believe in the claims?

Background: The meta post Closing of questions which don't clarify what they are asking for is advocating closing down a question asking whether race and penis size are correlated. The question and his comments complain that the question is vague, but also complain that the question is racist (the meta post was even tagged with "racism").

  • I see a distinction between an offensive claim (holocaust denial being offensive to those who lost family) and the use of offensive words in the question (e.g. religious epithets). Is it worth clarifying this question? – Oddthinking Jun 16 '11 at 2:23
  • @Oddthinking: Is it ambiguous which of the two I'm referring to? – Andrew Grimm Jun 16 '11 at 2:29
  • probably not to a reasonable person. I guess I am trying to avoid setting a precedent, where someone can point to this question as a defense of their use of slurs. I may be being overly cautious. – Oddthinking Jun 16 '11 at 3:18
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I don't see why they shouldn't be. Skeptics.SE is all about the truth, whatever that truth may be, offensive to some or not.

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    Just because you're right doesn't mean you have to be an ass about :-) Besides, there's plenty of things to be skeptical about that don't require you to be offensive. – Ivo Flipse May 3 '11 at 13:41
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    I am not sure I understand what are you trying to say and how is it related to original question. – user288 May 3 '11 at 13:51
  • That you value the truth or being right higher, than not purposely trying to hurt someone's feelings. But that was meant more with regards to your statement than you as a person – Ivo Flipse May 3 '11 at 14:00
  • Are you suggesting we should lie in answers in order not to hurt peoples feelings? Or close the question with the reason "The answer to this question might be offensive therefore question is closed"? – user288 May 4 '11 at 6:11
  • The latter, though there's a large grey area of what is offensive. I just think that being civil by simply not catering to these questions is perhaps just as important as saying the truth. – Ivo Flipse May 4 '11 at 6:47
  • @ Ivo Flipse: on a second thought I believe your opinion fits this site far better than mine. I cannot vote to delete accepted answer but I flagged it asking for deletion. I hope mods will be so kind to delete it. – user288 Dec 27 '11 at 13:48
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“User unknown” has a point.

For the record, I don’t in general advocate closing offensive claims, as long as they are answerable.

However, there is a problem with questions like “is penis size correlated with biological race?” This question isn’t answerable, the same way that “did you stop kicking your cat?” isn’t, because there is no biologically sound concept of race that is applicable to humans (and incidentally, the accepted answer on the related question is a prime example of a bad Skeptics answer).

The question “Is there a correlation between penis size and race?” explicitly supplied a working definition of “race” and the answers made do with it. Had the question explicitly asked after biological race (or Hitler’s weird race concept), no good answer would have been possible.

In reality, most inherently offensive questions are off-topic anyway since they deal with political or religious motivations. We can probably handle the rest.

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I guess you didn't get the point of my concern in the penis-race-question entirely, and your question here is asking for something which is impossible - to make a whitelist of possible questions.

Of course you should discuss every topic where you aren't sure about. The problem is, if you ask a question which is based on a false believe - then you have to tackle the question.

Example: If I ask 'Why does Obama pretend to be an US-citizen?' I don't ask the legitimate question, whether he is or is not an US citizen. I already claim that he is not and ask a question on that basis. Now would it make sense to answer the question without correcting the questioner?

I don't think so.

A question which already carries a racist claim has to be corrected or closed.

If somebody is interested in finding out, what a race is, and who belongs to a race and who not, what the distinction is, he shall discuss it. But 'race' needs to be a defined term, so that you can make a reasonable distinction who belongs to that race and who doesn't. If there is no rational distinction, the question is either senseless, or a form of agitation.

  • The question would be off-topic even if he weren't a US citizen. Please find a better example. – Andrew Grimm May 4 '11 at 23:42

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