The question Which pitfalls should I watch out for when meeting my half-brother who hasn't been aware of my existence for 25 years? is a really interesting question. It's interesting, it's about a practical problem that someone faces, it's answerable, and it even includes contextual information such as nationality. I upvoted it.

The answers are a bit of a mixed bag. I upvoted the current most upvoted answer: it was written by someone who has direct experience with a very similar experience, they give examples of things that worked and didn't work, and was well written.

The second and third answers aren't as good in my mind, but the second answer, at least, has a similar amount of upvotes as the first. The second answer is written by someone who admits they have no experience with any remotely similar situation. They reason their way through what they think might happen if they were in a similar situation. But... might doesn't seem very reliable to me.

Should we be encouraging answers from people who don't either: 1. direct experience with a situation 2. can cite others direct experience, e.g. they quote from a blog from someone who has a similar experience, or they quote from a publication that contains information from a survey of people with similar experiences, etc.

Personally, I don't find speculation to be very helpful. But I'm curious to see what the community thinks.

  • 4
    Do you have to be a child to answer a question on how to talk to children?
    – user4548
    Nov 15, 2017 at 18:22
  • 3
    This is something that voters have to decide for themselves, don't they? And what if I have valuable experience, but find that a(n) (honest) speculating answer is good enough to receive my UP - refrain from it, because of some meta discussion? Nov 15, 2017 at 18:47
  • 2
    @TheSnarkKnight I would expect that children have valuable insights about how adults should talk to children. I would also expect that an adult who works with children would have valuable insights about how to talk to children. What I would not expect is for someone who has forgotten what it's like to be a child, and who has never talked to children as an adult, to have valuable insights.
    – user8960
    Nov 15, 2017 at 18:57
  • 3
    @TheSnarkKnight Most adults were children once... most...
    – apaul
    Nov 15, 2017 at 19:00
  • 1
    @AnneDaunted Stack Exchange sites are supposed to be a repository of expert knowledge. A voting culture can help achieve that goal, or it can hinder it. While there aren't restrictions on voting for individuals other than individuals shouldn't use voting in abusive ways, every site is defined in large part by a unique voting culture, which influences what types of content is posted on the site. As a community, we can decide what sort of voting culture we want to have.
    – user8960
    Nov 15, 2017 at 19:02
  • 6
    @Hamlet We can "decide" the voting culture on meta all we want... that doesn't mean we can force people to follow it. Many of the users of this site are transient and likely never visit meta.
    – Catija
    Nov 15, 2017 at 19:03
  • @Catija we don't decide on meta, we discuss. I'm raising this post in the hopes that it will prompt a discussion, which might then prompt changes in the way people vote. With any change, starting off with a few people is the best way to start.
    – user8960
    Nov 15, 2017 at 19:04

4 Answers 4


I think it comes down to the answer.

You can upvote or downvote for any reason you want, if that reason isn't based on the person, but the post.

Personally, I look at:

  • Does the answer try to provide a solution
  • Does it make sense to me
  • Do I think it's non-obvious and adds something over earlier answers
  • Is it kept nice and not insulting
  • Can I understand the reasoning the answerer is recommending to OP, and do I think that this has a fair shot of working / being good advice.

You obviously have to make your own list, but you don't need to have first hand experience to address something, and since every person is fundamentally different in their expectation and reactions, most of what we do here are varying qualities of educated guessing and suggesting.

Social interactions aren't a precise science and there is no one and true "right" answer to most questions here.

  • Very true @Magisch. Moreover answers taken together are generally meant to give OP guidance and insight about how to best approach the situation in question; and it is our common-sense assumption that OP will not go off and blindly apply any suggestion just because an answer got a large number of upvotes. Nov 16, 2017 at 14:59
  • 1
    By discouraging speculative answers, I feel like that would take away from a posts authenticity. Users who feel they have valid answers that meet the criteria Magisch lists here might start making up untrue fluff facts to make their reasoning sound more authentic. I think it's far better to say "Hey, this answer might be speculative, but it really makes sense for my situation" rather than "Man, Dr. Whoozee-Whatzitz sure knows his stuff!"
    – Jess K.
    Nov 16, 2017 at 20:49
  • @Magisch: TWP seems to have a back-it-up rule if I'm reading this answer correctly. Is that still enforced there and why?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Nov 19, 2017 at 12:44

If expertise were a hard and fast requirement for providing answers, we'd never have IT, the theory of plate tectonics, cell phones, or surgical glue.

What matters is the rightness or wrongness of the answer. Sometimes someone outside of a subject can provide insight.

Plenty of people who don't have Asperger's syndrome have given me excellent advice on AS, for example.

The Wisdom of Crowds is one of the basic principles upon which SE exists. Bad ideas get voted down, nastiness gets deleted, and the good ideas percolate up to the top. This works for the other stacks from worldbuilding to code review to SO, et cetera. There is no reason why it should not work here.

Another thing to note:

If I were to say "A good way to deal with sensory overload is to get to as dark and as quiet a place as you can find, and calm down".

Would that advice be any better or worse if I experienced sensory overload? Do I need to cite the fact in order for my advice be right? If I were to first announce that I had sensory issues and that the best way to deal with it is to just tough it out suddenly invalidate someone who posted the above answer but did not say that they had sensory issues?

I think it is best not to overthink this and just let the system work.

  • 1
    TWP seems to have a back-it-up rule if I'm reading this answer correctly. Is that still enforced there and why?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Nov 19, 2017 at 12:45
  • @Tinkeringbell It's enforced, but it's not of the nature of "Only someone in HR can answer anything about HR". One thing you'll see over there very commonly is HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND if that were an answer, it would get deleted, but if it were followed by "...Because HR represents the interests of the company and...." Back it up at TWP means that you can't just drop an opinion without explaining it. It does not mean back it up with credentials.
    – user4548
    Nov 19, 2017 at 15:30

This was already sort-of discussed here:

The general outcome there seems to be:

  • Personal experience is 'a reference'
  • References are perfect if they can be found, but we can't 'require' them.

This is from the Help Center of Parenting SE:

Please note that opinions shared here should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. Also, posts that primarily exist to push a specific agenda (propaganda), and soap-boxing, are not welcome.

I agree with that: posting something like 'I think you should do this to resolve your problem' without backing it up by explaining why and how that works isn't a good answer there, and won't work here.

From the Workplace SE Meta:

Please note that answers should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct.

See also this Workplace Meta post:

It is never sufficient to simply say what you think the answer is. You must always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct.

So, Workplace does allow 'solid reasoning' as a back-it-up to opinions on why a proposed solution is a good answer for a specific problem.

I agree with @Catija's answer here. One of the most important points to keep in mind is this:

Spitballing possible solutions if you've never been in the situation yourself is not helpful and is potentially disastrous for the person asking for help. If you do not know your solution works because you've used it yourself or you've seen it recommended by a reputable* source, do not supply the answer. Answers that do not cite a source or note that it was the solution they used in a similar situation should be marked with an appropriate post notice requesting sourced information.

Even though something may very well make 'common sense', unless somebody can confirm it actually worked, the answer isn't really useful.

I agree with Hamlet that the second answer and third answer fall into this category. The OP admits never having been in the situation, so we can't tell the OP if this will really work or not. Basically, the OP of that answer is using the answer to 'soapbox' his opinion about what would be the right thing to do in such situations, without ever having been in a similar situation.

If we don't want the 'negative' soapboxing here, we should also not allow the 'positive' soapboxing. Giving your opinion on what's best in these matters should be not done.

The answers might not be bad enough to be worthy of a downvote, but they also aren't upvote-worthy in my opinion. See also the link at the bottom of this post.

Since I'm a bit late to this meta, 2 other answers have been written since.

This one is written from personal experience, but didn't have any upvotes! Although the personal experiences the OP shares here might be of much more use than the opinions on how the world should work in other answers... This is definitely one of those upvote-worthy answers.

This one is a lot more extreme: it tells the OP to do something that goes against the wishes of the birth mom, while the OP specifically stated in the question that 'their mom doesn't want contact, and they want to respect that wish'. This is what happens when we allow people to 'share their opinions' as a solution without having them relate these 'solutions' to personal experience explaining how things have worked out for them in the past!
This does definitely not deserve an upvote. In fact, this might even be flagged as NAA because 'it doesn't honor the premise of the question'

I played an interesting mind game with Shog9 in chat last night.

Pretend you're a passing reader
With Many Opinions
But no special training/experience on the subject matter of the question.
You see a question... Can you answer it?
Will that answer touch on some area of your personal experience?
How do you determine these things?

I've seen users say in chat 'Oh, it's easy to gain rep here, it's easy to rep cap each day'.

That's probably because we have been allowing people to post their opinions, instead of requiring them to back these up with personal experiences that explain how the solution worked for them, and why they think it might work for the OP as well. This has two problems:

  • If we allow soapboxing of opinions that are 'nice', we must also allow soapboxing of opinions that aren't, otherwise, we'd be censoring people. Passing users with Many Opinions will come by, see other users that are allowed to post their opinions (because those are considered okay) and use that to stave their thought of 'Oh, so I can do that as well'.
  • It will be detrimental to the quality of our answers if we allow opinions. Because an opinion on how something should be handles isn't really an answer, it's just what you think will work in your own perfect world.

There is one other meta post that should be in this discussion:

Why doesn't this site have a back it up rule?

There's a really good answer there: We need a back it up rule. But not for the reasons you would think.

  • 2
    Spot on. There's one critique of this idea that has been made in several of the answers to this question: how do we tell whether someone is just making up personal experience?
    – user8960
    Nov 19, 2017 at 13:01

This is a Q&A-site, free for all and anonymous, not a peer-reviewed scientific journal. This should be kept in mind, because we have no good way of finding out, whether it's correct when someone cites personal experience or some other sort of qualification.

The suggestion just forces us to add another speculation to our UVs:

  1. We speculate that the person does have the claimed experience/qualification
  2. We trust their answer even more for it

Following scenario (not their real usernames):

"Bob" is a new member who claims to be a psychiatrist, working in some large hospital. If you know that, you will certainly be more inclined to UV his answers, won't you? Especially if they sound plausible, at least to laypersons (like me). Because "Stack Exchange sites are supposed to be a repository of expert knowledge." Now, imagine "Alice", claiming to be a medical professional herself, challenges Bob's story and Bob cuts a sorry figure - all's well that ends well?

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not doubting Alice's qualification. Quite on the contrary, I love to read her excellent answers. And I also do not doubt, that the user who wrote the most upvoted answer in your example (got my UV, too) is speaking from actual experience. But in the end, this is just an educated guess on my part. I am - We are - necessarily speculating, although "[p]ersonally, I don't find speculation to be very helpful."

In the end, following that suggestion boils down to believing in the plausibility and the qualification of the user. This is a narrow path to follow. And experience is manifold and may be relevant, even if not cited. If I feel like I absolutely cannot judge an issue, I simply refrain from voting. I do not ignore the potential qualification, but I still try to judge the answers based on their merit and how plausible they appear to me, if I feel ready to judge them.

  • As I was telling my colleagues at the Mayo Clinic last week......
    – user4548
    Nov 16, 2017 at 18:42

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