Although answers on a site like IPS will be opinion-based to some extent, I recently came across certain questions that are not themselves primarily opinion-based, but seem to have attracted a few answers that are, in terms of making assumptions about the motives of the protagonists, which are not warranted by the information provided by OP, and basing the answer on those assumptions. I should not like to point to specific examples if it can be avoided, because in such cases the meta discussion often tends to focus on those particular examples. Typical form of an opinion based answer is as follows:

from your question it seems to me that the underlying intention of Alice and Bob in asking Eve to drive Mallory to the supermarket was to...... from which it can be concluded that......


I think it was very ............ of Mike and James to do ..........., which clearly shows that they want to ........... So you need to .......... which would be a good solution to your situation

when in fact there is no information in the Q for anybody to authoritatively make that assumption.

It is a common error made in good faith, and I might even have written some such answers myself, but it was not pointed out by anyone at the time. Are we OK with such speculative answers, or what do we do with them?

Note: these answers are not really "off-topic" in the manner described in this meta question Can answers be off topic? - How to deal with answers that address legal issues but rather they are highly opinionated in being based on unfounded assumptions.

  • Can you link to real examples of the sort of answers you are asking about?
    – sphennings
    Feb 3 '18 at 16:37
  • I consider it would be critical of individual users for me to do so @sphennings, but a recent example of a question that saw such a few such speculative answers and comments (some now deleted) was interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/9953/… where a leading member even had to remind users to refrain from making opinions and speculations, in this comment: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/9953/… Feb 3 '18 at 16:48
  • 2 other questions that attracted a few opinion based answers are interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/5502/… and interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/4842/… (this one my own question) @sphennings. Feb 3 '18 at 17:01
  • Do you have a special action in mind? Like flagging/deleting them, editing (if possible), writing comments? Feb 3 '18 at 18:50
  • I was specifically thinking of pointing out in a comment to the author that their answer is based on opinion/ speculation and giving them a specific time period to modify -- if they ignore then vote to delete on that basis as very low quality.That way it enters the delete vote review queue only if the author actually ignores the request to modify the speculative element. However any such course of action needs community consensus. I am against editing for the pertinent reasons you have mentioned elsewhere @Anne Daunted: we cannot assume what the author has in mind! Feb 3 '18 at 19:09
  • Note 2: if there are enough answers requiring such treatment we might even consider whether "primarily opinion based" could be made a reason to vote to delete an answer, just as it is a reason to vote to close a question. Does delete voting admit a custom reason @Anne Daunted? Feb 3 '18 at 19:23
  • "if they ignore then vote to delete on that basis as very low quality." It's not that easy. And in HNQ questions, the scores can rise pretty fast. Regarding the new delete reason for answers - this would rather be something for Main Meta, I fear. Apart from any official actions, you can still write comments explaining the problems, without any backing like a threatening delete vote. Such comments are sometimes posted. Feb 3 '18 at 21:33
  • Thanks for pointing out that a constructive comment may be posted on individual initiative @Anne Daunted. Regarding delete voting, may I clarify (as I noted earlier) any such course of action needs community consensus, and I shall not consider the delete option or any other unless there is some general agreement in this meta. Feb 3 '18 at 21:37
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    Related, possible duplicate of: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1795/…
    – apaul
    Feb 3 '18 at 21:39
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    But why would you need community consensus for simply challenging a user's answer? Unless you remain nice and constructive to avoid unnecessary bickering. Feb 3 '18 at 21:40
  • I require community consensus only to make any mention of delete voting @Anne Daunted. I would like to know how the community prefers to address this matter, hence this meta Q. If I see an answer that appears opinon based or speculative I shall point out to the author in a comment so that they can improve their answer. Feb 3 '18 at 21:49
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    Viewed from a different angle: Wouldn't it be covered by the Back it up rule (or rather: violate it)? Feb 5 '18 at 18:05
  • I am concerned that a person could base their answer on an unwarranted assumption and "back it up" with experience or references @Anne Daunted. It was your question about "indecent proposal" and your observation somewhere that people are jumping to conclusions about the motives of Alice and Bob that prompted this question. I have also noted that nearly every question on IPS gets a lot of answers, some of which are speculative. If it is not yet a real issue then we can monitor developments for now. Feb 5 '18 at 18:09
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    This would still violate the back it up rule, since the assumption is not backed up. Feb 5 '18 at 18:17
  • "This would still violate the back it up rule, since the assumption is not backed up." __ very true. It is something solid for us to point out to the author of the answer, thanks for the observation @Anne Daunted. Feb 5 '18 at 18:28

There's a lot of discussion going on in the comments but I'm going to go out on a limb here and write an answer.

I think, for the most part, that most opinion-based answers should just get upvoted/downvoted based on how well other people agree with the assessments being drawn. It's true, after all, that interpersonal skills are skills usually acquired through experience. Explaining by saying

"This reminds me of a situation I had, so it seems like Bob might be actually upset because of XYZ (something OP maybe didn't focus on), so you should try handling it by doing ABC."

gives the OP a chance to evaluate these insights and decide if they agree that the situation is similar enough to apply and use the advice of the given opinion-based answer. Worst case, OP says "this isn't helpful for me at all" and downvotes.

The only time I would assume it to be something we should take action on (flagging/deleting/etc) is if it's so severely assumptive of things the OP has not specified and without explanation of the logic that derived such assumptions, that the answer cannot be followed (basically, an answer that doesn't make sense is not an answer).

  • "The only time I would assume it to be something we should take action on (flagging/deleting/etc) is if it's so severely assumptive of things the OP has not specified and without explanation of the logic that derived such assumptions..." __ Many thanks for the eminently sensible assessment and suggestions @Jess K. The only concern that remains is that answers on IPS typically receive many upvotes (or maybe not many upvotes) but very few downvotes. Feb 6 '18 at 18:21

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