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Recently, I have seen 2 questions here where the underlying assumptions made the question hard to answer. In both cases, there is no reason given for the assumption(s) that was/were made in the question. The first one was closed, the second is still open.

How can I be safe around drunk people?
This question was closed as 'unclear what you're asking'. Judging from the comment thread, there was some debate on the underlying assumption: That drunk people were dangerous. There were comments stating that this underlying assumption was wrong and that this would make the question less answerable, and there were comments asking for clarification as to how the OP got to his assumption (that were never answered).

How can you answer a question that starts with a wrong assumption?

This question is based on a very skewed opinion of people who drink. This question cannot be answered with a solution to his problem, but with a solution to his assumption that a problem may come up. A question rephrasing is definitely in place. The fact that OP thinks public schools teach you how to do "alcohol things" is proof to this.

But you seem to have a lot of misplaced apprehensions. A work event like that generally doesn't end with people being falling-down drunk... it's usually just people having a couple of beers and socializing. Most people leave buzzed, not even normal "drunk". What have your coworkers done that makes you think this is a "scary" situation?

How do I get a person selling newspapers at a subway station to stop approaching me?
This question seems to suffer from the same problems as the one mentioned above and has sparked a debate on the underlying assumption that the street vendor approaching the OP is dangerous. There have been comments asking for proof that this person is indeed dangerous:

And I have a few questions: What makes this person creepy-looking? How would you know what the cops would say, if you never called the cops on him? How did he get aggressive? Verbally or physically? How does he look like a cunning criminal type? What signs are there on the outside, that are bothering you? What did this person do, after you refused the high-five and said "have a nice day" instead? How are the acid attacks related to your fear of this person?

OP offers as a general answer to all these questions:

Look I have my perceptions, plus there is cultural background too

And some comments to answers (also stated by OP):

Often people are told to follow their gut to avoid being victim of crime (especially told to victim AFTER the crime)

I'm 2nd generation American from India, and I'm constantly seeing what is going on there (and it's not getting better!). And the family I live with are from that environment and have seen things in life no one should ever be exposed to.

OP is not really offering much help on why she feels this particular person is a threat to her, and scares her so much. Just like the question assuming that all drunk people are dangerous, this question is assuming that this street vendor is dangerous, without giving any real evidence to base that assumption on.

As for now (24th of September, 18:48 CET time) this question has only three close votes: 1 for unclear what you're asking and 2 for primarily opinion based.

My question here is:

  • Should there be a difference in how we treat these two questions?
  • If yes, what makes them different enough from each other to warrant different treatment?
  • If we should close questions like this, what is the recommended reason?
  • One difference I can think of is that the op in the first question made an assumption, among many others prior to editing his/her question, that all drunk people are dangerous and would harm him/her, while the op in the second question asked about a specific person who makes her uncomfortable. – Tycho's Nose Sep 24 '17 at 18:34
  • @Tycho'sNose but in both cases the OP's (in my opinion) are unable to back up their assumption about these persons being a danger to them. – Tinkeringbell Sep 24 '17 at 18:35
  • At first, I thought about voting to close the second question but didn't do it because it seemed to be about a specific person. If the op had said they thought all newspaper vendors are dangerous, creepy and so on, then I would have the same issue. I don't know, to me this seems worse, having a false assumption that applies to " all drunk people" (general) vs a false assumption that applies to "a newspaper vendor" (specific). – Tycho's Nose Sep 24 '17 at 18:47
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    It's open again. I can't vtc again, but I think now it's just a duplicate of interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/3223/… although with a lot more detail as to why OP won't interact? – Tinkeringbell Sep 26 '17 at 7:05
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    The edited question has been fumigated and sanitized. It bears the slightest of resemblance to the original, both the OP (user) and all the editors have changed the content and the meaning of the question, after it has been answered, something which SE has always disapproved of. If the new question is now a duplicate of an older question, it should be closed. (I can't VTC twice either) – user3114 Sep 26 '17 at 8:14
  • The question about drunks has new comments, it seems this person has been severely abused by drunk idiots in the past, which would explain their fears... – peufeu Sep 26 '17 at 18:49
  • "looks like the cunning criminal type" - makes me think of cartoon villains. I was also thinking that if a criminal was actually cunning, they'd make it a point not to look like a cunning criminal stereotype. – PoloHoleSet Jan 10 '18 at 16:58
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I'm going to say this loudly and with emphasis.

NO. These questions should not be closed...

... for being based on an assumption...

If they're lacking detail or off-topic or rants in disguise, close them for that but not for simply being wrong.

Why would we close these questions? If they're sufficiently detailed, on topic and ask a specific question why are they close-worthy?

Someone making a false assumption about another person or people needs help, too. It's within our abilities to tell people that their perceptions may be unfounded. While we should assume the best and try to take people's interpretations of a situation at face value, closing the question does nothing.

If someone is concerned that they will be harassed by drunk people at a work happy hour, closing their question doesn't tell them that their concerns are misplaced and that there's little for them to worry about, it just ends the entire subject. We need to answer the question and explain that their concerns are unlikely to come to pass and encourage them to talk with others at their office to get a better idea of what happens at one of these events. That said, this specific question has other issues... it's not a complete question, is missing details and it's unclear whether the event is even required attendance at all and the OP seems disinclined to answer our requests for detail or clarification.

The same is true of the other post. While we should definitely help them with their immediate question, it's certainly acceptable to let them know that their question makes it seem like they are being overly concerned of being attacked with little reason. This question is otherwise pretty detailed, though we have asked for more information and generally not gotten it.

For more discussion as it relates to this, see the second half of my answer to the related meta question here. The quote from Shog and down supports this interpretation, particularly the statement "First off, let's get one thing out of the way: no one asking questions here is objective." While we can hope that users will explain the reasoning for their assumptions, we can not judge the viability of their questions by these assumptions. We must, instead, accept them and incorporate them into our answers.


So, if these questions otherwise meet the quality requirements of the site, they should not be closed just because they're based on a misplaced assumption... instead, we should (if possible) first answer the basic question and then correct or somehow address that assumption or (as Hamlet suggests, perhaps) answer with a frame challenge.

  • What do you think of the edits that the 2nd question has been subjected to, and which lead to its reopening? – user3114 Sep 26 '17 at 8:24
  • Are users now justified in changing the content and meaning (however subtle) of posts that ask a specific question, if they believe that post should be reopened? – user3114 Sep 26 '17 at 8:24
  • I think you should add that you are one of the five users who closed the first question for being unclear. However, the statement in large bold letters in this post strongly hints that you are against the idea of closing either question, admittedly you immediately qualify your statement, but first impressions count. – user3114 Sep 26 '17 at 8:37
  • @Catija, hope you can live with the edit? I think it makes the statement a little clearer... – Tinkeringbell Sep 26 '17 at 9:39
  • I'd like to add that I also fully agree with this answer. We shouldn't close questions based on wrong assumptions, I see that now. I'll be trying to write a better meta question soon :) – Tinkeringbell Sep 26 '17 at 18:51
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I voted to close How can I be safe around drunk people? because it was unclear and lacked important details, not because of any assumptions made in the question.

If you look at the original question, it says the following:

I have received a required invitation to a work alcohol event next week.

That's very unclear. What is a "required invitation"? Does that mean everyone has to attend? So I voted to close the question. Has the question been edited enough to merit reopening it? I don't know; I haven't thought about it yet.


As for whether questions should be closed due to faulty assumptions... I don't think that's a good idea. Questions with faulty assumptions are a problem on a lot of Stack Exchange sites, and as far as I can tell not a single other Stack Exchange site has decided that closing questions is the best solution to this problem. If we decide to implement such a close reason, I would recommend doing a lot of thinking and research before doing so.

One concept that would be worth reading up on is the frame challenge answer:

A frame challenge is where an author answers a question in a wholly different way the querent never asked for, or potentially expressly forbade — but in a way which, the answerer feels, will actually solve their problem (or generally improve their life quality or prevent them from making a terrible mistake).

The “frame” being challenged here is specifically the way the question was framed — the way they put it forward, the parameters they offered, the kinds of answers they're driving for.

This is as opposed to answers which answer the question at face value.

Frame challenges are hard to pull off, but they work successfully on a lot of Stack Exchange sites. It would be worth spending some time to see if frame challenge answers can work here before implementing a close reason that has never been implemented on any other Stack Exchange site.

  • then what do you think of the answer that tells OP to seek professional guidance? I think the frame challenge is good, but any ideas on how we should handle questions once it becomes clear OP only wants to hear what they like? The comments underneath that question are quite unnerving, it is a good answer and example of a frame challenge, yet the writer of that answer is called unmannered and lacking empathy... – Tinkeringbell Sep 25 '17 at 6:57
  • @Tinkeringbell I don't know, I haven't really thought about it. However, my advice would be to be to try frame challenges for a few months, and see what works and what doesn't. You can't really make a good decision based on one example. – user288 Sep 25 '17 at 12:09
  • that's true. I'll keep it in mind (and leave the comment as a reminder, if you don't mind) – Tinkeringbell Sep 25 '17 at 12:18
  • Members writing 'frame challenge' questions should be prepared for an adverse response: and our task is not to write what OP wants to hear, but to give useful answers that can benefit future readers, whoever be the OP and whatever their expectations. – English Student Sep 25 '17 at 17:54
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You can't give objective evidence for gut feelings and personal anxieties.

Simply put, both OP's want to avoid a situation that for their own reasons (which possibly include negative past experiences in similar situations) makes them extremely uncomfortable. Since many members' comments have described both questions as anxious overreaction to regular everyday situations, we are forced to remember that interpersonal issues can carry intensely subjective interpretations depending on the cultural background, personal history and psychological makeup of the individual.

Answers to both questions have sought to reassure the OP's that their fears are probably exaggerated, and proceed to give them some useful practical advice how to handle the situation. Comments on both ask why OP makes such an assumption in the first place. That tells me the two questions are similar enough not to be treated differently from the close-voting perspective.

The main objection in favor of close-voting would be that OP has been asking about essentially hypothetical problems (prediction of bad outcomes with insuffucient cause) in the opinion of many members. That makes it difficult to write good answers that could benefit both OP's and also future readers.

So there is just enough reason to close both questions. Of which one has already been closed and the other has 3 close votes already.

Remember it's Sunday so I expect the other 2 close votes might be slow to arrive but they will appear soon enough, never fear -- especially if certain dedicated close-voters are yet to see the question.

Close reason: too broad/ unclear/ opinion based, take your pick. Any of these 3 reasons would be OK because Stack Exchange users have learned that it's more important to close the Q than to choose the best applicable reason.

And this time it might well be a good decision to close these questions.

  • There's also the "meta effect". Anything close-worthy gets closed quicker when mentioned it meta. And so is the case for reopening. – NVZ Sep 24 '17 at 18:59
  • Meta posts draw the quick attention and decisive action of users interested in meta including most of the high-rep members, @NVZ. Somehow I have a 'gut feeling' that a very many members at any SE are not so interested in meta.... But 5 votes is all it takes in either direction! – English Student Sep 24 '17 at 19:04
  • Not many know that meta exists. Of those who know it does, not many have the time or patience to engage here. Of those that do have them, only a few stick around long enough. You are now part of the few good users who come to meta. :) – NVZ Sep 24 '17 at 19:09
  • Oh I just appreciate the opportunity to peek into the engine room and see how that awesome complex machinery that we call 'community website' works, @NVZ. In this specific case, OP has correlated 2 random questions by one very pertinent common factor called 'unsupported assumptions' and she has raised a valid point 'how are we going to write good answers?' Thus meta is crucial for us to draw valuable conclusions towards site policy and I feel privileged to be part of the process. – English Student Sep 24 '17 at 19:13
0

Allow me to say I had a hard time taking the first question seriously from the way everything was phrased. I actually felt this person was either trolling or it was a child writing.

I went to a private school, and they didn't teach us how to do alcohol things. When I am at alcohol places, people do bad things to me (e.g. forced kissing, putting bad things in my drink, fighting, humiliation) because I am ugly and weird. I have received a required invitation to a work alcohol event next week. I am very frightened. How do I make drunk people not do bad things to me? I am a very small person.

Let's break it down.

and they didn't teach us how to do alcohol things

What does "alcohol things" even mean?

so if the person had gone to a public school, would they have taught them "how to do alcohol things"? Is "how to do alcohol things" taught in schools?

When I am at alcohol places

(you mean bars?, where?) so that means the person has been at alcohol places before and this isn't their first time

people do bad things to me because I am ugly and weird (and small)

I am sorry but I have a hard time taking this sentence seriously.

Problems

  1. people do bad things to him/her NOT only drunk people do bad things to him/her? Which is it?
  2. the person has serially had bad things done to him/her (e.g forced kissing, putting "bad" things in my drink..)

Questions

Why has this person not done anything about this after the first time they had this bad experience, how many times has this happened and why not go to the police or seek help? Was the op drunk every time? There are a lot of unknowns and we are forced to make too many assumptions because the op doesn't share specific events.

The person has had "bad things" happened to them because they are small, ugly and weird. Again I have a hard time taking this seriously. I know we should.

Most of the time, except for when a person is an alcoholic and they also engage in domestic abuse, a drunk person has their guard down, is more vulnerable to "bad things" happening to them and not the other way around. Not saying a drunk person couldn't harm someone but the opposite possibility wasn't even considered and addressed.

Even though I voted to close the first question, I mentioned in my comments that I have no problem voting to reopen the question if the question (and title) is rephrased and the answers address the fact that not all drunk people are dangerous.

Now let's compare titles:

"How can I stay safe around drunk people" vs "How do I get a person selling newspapers at a subway station to stop approaching me.

Imagine I asked "How can I stay safe around Muslims?", based on my false assumption that all Muslims are terrorists just because some terrorists are Muslims.

Not only would my question be heavily down voted but it would have been instantly closed. So replace "Muslims" with "drunk people".

In the second case, we have at least the title itself not based on any assumptions. The op in the second question might be irrationally afraid and critical at others for stopping to talk to the vendor, but nowhere in their question does the op indicate that she thinks all vendors are dangerous. The op is talking about a specific person they don't feel comfortable around for whatever reason. The op also mentions specific reasons for being afraid. It seems they have been close to harassed in the same setting in the past and feel uncomfortable being approached and they have information about something that happened to their dad which makes them have a negative opinion about cops (both are specific events)

The other person who I refused was some kid soliciting money and wouldn't leave me alone. Eventually after 30 minutes he left.

As for police, yes I feel they would do that. About 20 yrs ago my Father was assaulted in the same subway and the cop assigned to his case said my Father kept rambling. The cops were acting like doing their job is a big favor and the search was eventually dropped

I answered the question but I also broke it down to help the op understand where they might be making these false assumptions or where they need to provide more information.

Now, I'll be honest. At first I voted to close the second question. I saw people giving the reason "unclear what you are asking". To me the op was clear, they wanted to avoid a specific vendor approaching them. So I retracted my vote.

I also remembered some comments regarding the first question, pointing out to me that a lot of questions start with the wrong assumption and we should still answer and explain why we think that is, so I was also reluctant to close the question for that reason. I tried to keep that in mind.

I really don't know what we should do here. I feel confused.

  • Should we ask the op to rephrase a question like the first one for example?
  • Should we help them understand why they are asking a question based on false or wrong assumptions? Help them realize they might have an irrational fear and then ask them to reword the question? And then answer it?
  • Should we edit their question for them?
  • Should we edit out/ omit information that sounds racist, sexist, judgmental or any elements that encourage false assumptions?

I would very much like to know what people think about that.

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    Should we ask the op to rephrase a question like the first one for example? Definitely. 1/3 – Tinkeringbell Sep 25 '17 at 15:06
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    Should we help them understand why they are asking a question based on false or wrong assumptions? Help them realize they might have an irrational fear and then ask them to reword the question? And then answer it? I would recommend leaving a comment first, and close-voting OR doing the frame challenge answer that Hamlet mentioned. But remember that we generally discourage answering questions that we feel do not belong on this site. 2/3 – Tinkeringbell Sep 25 '17 at 15:06
  • Should we edit their question for them? Should we edit out/ omit information that sounds racist, sexist, judgmental or any elements that encourage false assumptions? Apparently, we do edit out the offensive/rude parts. If the owner of the question gets in an edit war with you, you flag for moderator attention. If the question is reading like a rant, leave a comment and close-vote. – Tinkeringbell Sep 25 '17 at 16:25
  • It is absolutely not recommended to write an answer if you feel that OP 'is asking a question based on false or wrong assumptions' unless you are willing to explicitly state that in your answer and try to 'correct' OP's logic, which would indeed be a good approach to the problem and help OP solve it, though any user trying to do that runs the risk of antagonizing OP. As I said in a comment on a related answer, our task is not to write what an OP might want to hear, but to give good and credible advice that will help OP find a solution to their problem, and also be useful to future readers. – English Student Sep 25 '17 at 18:42
  • @EnglishStudent So from now on, vote to close, and leave a comment explaining why the question as asked isn't answerable. – Tycho's Nose Sep 25 '17 at 18:45
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    Remember I didnt write an answer but that is certainly the sensible option, @Tycho's Nose. I saw so many illogical questions that members were rushing to answer on English.SE, without considering that the question is based on faulty logic. The problem with answering such Q is that the answers can also end up illogical. Vote to close + explanatory comment is a good choice in such a case. If such an OP is keen to get answers they should re-frame the question as the site guidelines recommend, avoiding bias and faulty logic so that users can vote to reopen and we can write good and useful answers. – English Student Sep 25 '17 at 18:51
  • Thanks! Your comment helped a lot. – Tycho's Nose Sep 25 '17 at 18:52
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    You are most welcome; your advice in that answer was really good; your answer did not become illogical and it was eminently sensible; and I really appreciate your effort to help OP, @Tycho's Nose! – English Student Sep 25 '17 at 18:54
  • "The op also mentions specific reasons for being afraid." You forgot to quote the reason for the OP's distrust of cops given in her original post (and then edited out by different user): "And the cops here are so Politically Correct they would say it is my fault even though I was minding my own business trying to catch train to go to work." – Anne Daunted Sep 27 '17 at 12:58

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