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I have the impression many low quality questions don't get closed or not fast enough. I'm talking mainly about primarily opinion-based questions, as they attract a load of low quality answers, especially from new users. Some examples:

Each of these questions has attracted one or more low-quality answers (that is, without references, merely opinion, etc.) from new users. I think that's bad, and here's why:

  • These new users somehow come from outside and this is probably one of the first things they see on this site. New users should enter the site through good questions so that they see how things are supposed to be done.
  • If users see bad questions, that will encourage them to write bad questions.

Of course, this can be solved by flagging and commenting on the answers. However, I think we should tackle the root cause so that people don't waste time on answers that aren't good for this site anyway.

We should close questions that attract these kind of responses or edit them in a way that they don't do that anymore. Part of this system is going well, but it's not fast enough. For each of the above questions new users have already been encouraged to write low-Q answers, and for only one of them this has been stopped, by closing the question.


I'd like to have a discussion on this matter and see what the rest of the community thinks.

  • Am I the only one who feels this is a problem?
  • What can be done about it?

    I'm thinking in terms of:

    • Encouraging people to review more (but how?)
    • A new moderator? (moderators can close directly)
    • Other solutions...?
  • Very-low quality is not in itself necessarily a reason to close, but this is a good series of questions regardless – Joseph Weissman Feb 13 '15 at 13:26
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    @JosephWeissman true. In my opinion it's often very much preferable to put low-Q questions temporarily on hold until problems have been resolved, than to let the question hang around in its low-Q-ness waiting for low-Q answers, though. – user2953 Feb 13 '15 at 22:49
  • It doesn't seem a problem to me. I can see it would become one if things got out of hand but the mods are around to stop this happening. You call those questions 'opinion-based' but they are good philosophical questions and it is only the answers that may or may not be opinion-based. There seems no reason these questions should not be given sound philosophical answers. – PeterJ Apr 16 '18 at 11:00
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This is a big problem. I just recently joined. There are too many answers by people who have probably not studied philosophy at all. I'll just mention one example (I could pick any number of examples): Is there anything that is totally random? As far as I can see no answer even mentions algorithmic randomness, a theory where philosophy has had a role (see the work by Martin-Löf). Anyone even cursorily familiar with how randomness is talked about in philosophy would have brought this up, there is even a Stanford Encyclopedia article on chance and randomness.

Philosophy is a topic where people have opinions because the questions are often intrinsically interesting to them. That's why it's a great topic. But that doesn't mean untested opinions are good philosophy. One mark of good philosophy is that you read what other smart people have said about a topic before forming your opinion, preferably read stuff that has gone through some peer review process. It's shame to let good work by professional philosophers go unused.

Maybe the epistemic virtues of good philosophy (like citing previous research) should be stressed even more on the site, stress that you have to cite a peer reviewed article or a proper book, or something like that?

Citing might only be "hard" for simple questions relating to baby logic for example, where it would just be a drag.

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    +1. I strongly appreciate your presence here. (My own specializations are modern philosophy, Chinese philosophy, and ethics, so I'm not too up on topics like randomness) – virmaior May 9 '15 at 5:36
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    I second Virmaior's comment, but would like to say I don't think only academicians should answer questions here. Some study is of course highly preferred, but self study can also suffice. – user2953 May 10 '15 at 6:15
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I do think that this is a problem. But I suspect the low-quality questions are, at least in part, a result of the general public not having acquaintance with what philosophy actually does. If we stickied (can we do that here?) some questions that explain what philosophy is, how it works, who the important figures are etc. that might help to stem the tide of low-Q questions. Obviously it wouldn't immediately help, but it can't hurt. A better appreciation of the field will help newcomers to discern between better and worse questions to ask. (The folks over at /r/askphilosophy have done something like this - a go-to user manual that explains the field and its subdisciplines, and helps to point newcomers in the right direction).

It might also be useful to have a list of pre-baked answers to common recurring questions. Stuff like "what is the meaning of life," "are humans intrinsically selfish" etc. that pops up all the time. It may also be useful to include in this answers some indication of whether they're good - or bad - questions, and why.

Maybe we should encourage responses that cite relevant work in the field? So that the best responses are those that (a) locate the question within its larger philosophical milieu, and (b) indicate how philosophers (or, better, particular philosophical views) have, or would have, answered the question. And citations obviously never hurt - plus they're pretty easy to come by with sites like philpapers.org around now.

These are just off the top of my head. Maybe most of it's obvious. And maybe the only real solution is heavier moderation. Let me know what you folks think.

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    Thanks for your input, but this idea has been suggested many times on other sites on the SE network and every time it has been rejected as 'would be too much work'. I think we should look for a solution that fits within the current limits of the system. – user2953 Feb 22 '15 at 17:35
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    There's a few points here that are interesting to me. First: canonical questions/answers for commonly-occurring problems is definitely something we do occasionally. For instance, regarding the benefits of philosophical study, we decided to compose a careful question and answer around this since we were getting flooded with a series of somewhat acerbic queries around the point. – Joseph Weissman Feb 25 '15 at 0:36
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    As far as encouraging citations -- Skeptics.SE has a policy of requiring cites for important arguments. This may not be quite as important for us given the nature of the discipline but it's definitely something to consider given that at least one other SE has had to do something like it. – Joseph Weissman Feb 25 '15 at 0:37
  • What about a sticky which explains exactly what we want from answers? So not defining philosophy, but SE – user6917 May 13 '15 at 23:05
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How about not blaming the question, I'm sure your examples were asked in good faith, and encourage down voting on answers that don't provide any sources - across the board that is.

Or make it easier to clear an answer?

  • Also questions that were asked in good faith can be unfortunately worded. – user2953 May 14 '15 at 5:33
  • if you mean poorly worded i don't disagree. i don't know what else you could mean - – user6917 May 14 '15 at 5:35

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