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There have been a number of answers to questions where the answerer has specifically stated "this is my answer" or words to that effect. They contain no references to back up their answer, and don't claim to speak for any group. How should we treat these?

To give some context, the Skeptics site would throw such answers off immediately, if they didn't contain a reference to back them up. StackOverflow allows them, on the grounds that a solution that doesn't work will get voted down. Programmers accepts them because it's intended to be a more subjective site.

The danger I see here is that if we allow such answers, the voting becomes a popularity contest. How many voters like the answer, without any check on whether it actually represents the view of Christians as a whole or any significant subset of them. In the early stages a relatively small number of like-minded contributors can have a disproportionate effect on the site.

My proposal is that it becomes accepted policy to encourage voting down of any answer that does not claim, with some sort of reference, to speak for at least some part of Christianity. If we don't ground our answers in referrable facts, then the site will descend to the level of a discussion site, and will be doomed as a usable reference.

(By fact I mean of course the fact "this is what Christians believe" without getting into the argument as to whether it is true).

EXAMPLES: Flimzy's answer here is a good example. The first part is reasonable, but the second clearly personal. (Sorry to pick you as an example, Flimzy - nothing personal. You are a good contributor.)

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    Please link to specific examples. – Wikis Aug 27 '11 at 17:23
  • You say "They contain references to back up their answers"... do you mean they do NOT contain references? – Flimzy Aug 27 '11 at 20:54
  • @DJClayworth: Please, pick on me... that's what beta is about :) (I honestly think my answer would be better with some scripture references backing my claim... and am prepared to improve it accordingly, but I want to wait to see how this discussion pans out first) – Flimzy Aug 27 '11 at 22:20
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    I have had many discussions with fellow believers whose opinions and thinking on issues have inspired me to greater heights. They didn't have citations and quote authorities, they just had an interesting viewpoint that was worthy of consideration and thought. – user32 Aug 28 '11 at 5:47
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    @Software Monkey Those were part of discussions, which is grate. But it is an important principle that SE sites are not discussion sites. We need to discourage anything that makes them turn in to discussion sites. – DJClayworth Aug 29 '11 at 20:11
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    @Flimzy "They contain no references to back up their answers." – DJClayworth Aug 29 '11 at 20:12
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Personal viewpoints can be useful, too.

One possibility to reduce the discussion-like nature that arises from personal viewpoints is to recognize different question scopes:

  1. Questions can be quite general (which isn't a very good property for a question), in which case we could require answers to cite sources.
  2. Questions can be answered while specifying a viewpoint or doctrinal framework the answers must stick to.
  3. Questions can be made so specific that there aren't very many different personal viewpoints possible, and so we could allow them.
    • Still, we should only accept personal viewpoints with some references, logic or similar argumentation to back them up.
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    A personal viewpoint may be 'useful', but it isn't a correct answer. – DJClayworth Aug 29 '11 at 13:55
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Guilty as charged, and I think there is something to your idea.

I think it should be implemented cautiously but is something to keep in mind. I have been vocal about the need to include POV in all posts, and recently made mention that I think it's important for the tradition you claim to represent to consent to your answer. I do think there is a place for saying "in my personal view" and allowing votes to demonstrate whether that is a widely held view and comments to reveal what the objections/counter arguments are. However, encouraging answers to try to faithfully represent a group of some size (whether sect, church, tradition, or faith) sounds like a good idea.

I will consider how to edit some of my answers to do a better job of this.

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    It's inevitable that voting will weed out the unpopular views from the popular ones, but I'm not sure if we should try to encourage that. Often the popular view is not necessarily the correct one. And if we down-vote unpopular views, simply because they're unpopular, the poster is likely to delete them, or not answer future questions, and that will reduce the value of the site. – Flimzy Aug 27 '11 at 22:22
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    I don't believe that we have a statistically valid sample of Christians visiting this site, or anywhere near it. Simple voting on whether the voter personally agrees with the viewpoint will not necessarily produce an accurate answer. Voting on whether the answer reflects the general Christian viewpoint (regardless of personal agreement) is much more likely to. – DJClayworth Aug 29 '11 at 13:57
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As a matter of on- or off-topic, I think the only reasonable answer is to allow personal viewpoints. And not to require references for them.

  • Personal viewpoints are not created in a vacuum. They are the result, often, of years of research and life experience. It is often impossible to summarize the reasons for a personal viewpoint adequately on a site like this.

  • Many personal viewpoints are obvious enough that they don't need further explanation--and differentiating between those that are obvious and those that are not, will prove impossible, especially considering that what is obvious to one person may not be to another.

  • Some questions are almost entirely the realm of personal viewpoints.

When a personal viewpoint is poorly expressed, it is reasonable to down-vote the answer, and ask for clarification or more information. But not on the grounds that a personal opinion is expressed, but on the grounds that the personal opinion needs clarification or external backing.

Consider this theoretical "programming" question:

Q: How do I declare a variable in perl?

A: I believe it is "var $variable_name;"

Clearly (to any Perl programmers) the answer is wrong, and should be down voted. But its' not down-voted because it is an opinion ("I believe..."), it is wrong because external sources tell us it's wrong (Perl documentation, or simply trying it).

A: I believe it is "my $variable_name;"

This answer will be up-voted because it is a good answer, not because (or in spite of) the fact that it is expressed as opinion.

Another good answer might be:

A: According to XYZ documentation on Page Number X, it is "my $variable_name;"

This answer may well be better than the correct-opinion answer, but really only because it's more thorough, not because it isn't expressed in terms of "opinion."

The first answer will be down voted, the second two will be upvoted, and one will be accepted. Additionally, the first answer may get comments explaining that the answer is wrong, and pointing to documentation.

Likewise, poor answers (whether expressed as opinion or not) here may be down voted, and will be scrutinized. And good answers (whether expressed as opinion or not) will get up-voted.

That's how the system is supposed to work.

  • There are a number of troubles with this. First, many personal viewpoints are created in vacuum, and don't in any way reflect general Christian thinking, let alone historical or biblical Christianity. Second, it's a lot easier to tell that the Perl answer is 'wrong', and there is more likely to be consensus that it is wrong. There is less likely to be a voting war about it. – DJClayworth Aug 29 '11 at 13:54
  • @DJClayworth: It may be that some opinions are created in a vacuum, but I don't think it's possible for us to reliable discern. Therefore, I think we must give the benefit of the doubt to the poster, at least in terms of on/off-topic. The voting system can separate good from bad answers. In some places, opinion is perfect for an answer. Consider my answer here. It seems to be quite popular--although feel free to down-vote it if you think it's a bad answer :) – Flimzy Aug 29 '11 at 19:46

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