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As anyone with an interest in vegetarianism, veganism, and other diet-related fields knows, there's a lot of conflicting, often made-up or half-baked information floating around, plus everyone likes to chime in with their own personal experience, what worked for them or didn't, and what they heard from a friend. (I'm no exception.)

That is all great in a forum, but may not necessarily be where we want to take this Q&A site. Or do we? I come from Stack Overflow, where everything is super strict and anything even slightly outside the on-topicness rules closed within minutes, and I shudder at the thought of open-ended, subjective questions to which basically everyone's own experience is a valid answer. But hey, maybe I'm being too strict!

So you understand what I'm talking about, examples from the current stock of questions:

And also maybe, although that's probably a grey area

(That's not to call out those specific questions; we're here to find out what works and what we want, after all!)

Is there an issue here? Do we want to set guidelines on such questions? Where on the spectrum from "You must back up all claims with peer-reviewed citations" to "Anyone's opinion on the question is welcome" do we want to settle? Both extremes sound awful. Is there a different way altogether to approach this?

How do other lifestyle-related Stack Exchange sites deal with it?

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    While I do appreciate the moderation of questions on other sites (despite sometimes grumbling about it when applied to me) I think that we do need to find a middle ground, also to not scare people off when questions are closed or put on hold. Of course the middle ground is going to be opinion based, so we may have a recursive issue :P – Steve Jan 31 '17 at 20:02
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    I too believe that we need some more clarity on "Primarily opinion based" flags. "Does vegetarianism increase lifespan?" this doesn't sound opinion based to me. – Nog Shine Feb 1 '17 at 8:18
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The Community Team has been watching this site with some interest because it seemed likely to fall into one of the two extremes you mentioned. So far it hasn't, but I've been observing some signs that have me a bit worried.

To take a step back, we've had some experience with, for lack of better word, lifestyle sites. Parenting is one, but so are Christianity and other religion sites, The Workplace and Academia. The line connecting these sites is that they face practical problems because of the restrictions people in these communities choose to follow. What often makes these sites exciting is that not everyone who participates agrees to the same restrictions.

Before this gets too hypothetical, the question that got me thinking about the problem is: What's the difference between legislation protecting pets and lab animals (etc) and farm animals in the U.S.? I closed it because as asked the question is too broad. However, there's a potentially deeper problem: not everyone is motivated by avoiding animal cruelty. A broad question with no specific application tends to invite advocacy rather than information. While it's possible someone might write a comprehensive, well-researched answer that examines the legal history of animal cruelty laws in the US, it seems likely that answers will tend toward, to be blunt, propaganda.

Ok, that sounds harsh. How about if I bring up an example from the Christianity site instead? Early in the site's history, someone asked "Why is Christianity the only true religion?" Robert noted:

Simply stated, your question outside the purpose of this site. This is not what this site is about.

This is a tightly-scoped Q&A site to ask questions regarding the canons and teachings of Christian faith. That also includes good-faith questions about their Christian lifestyle where folks are trying to rectify their day-to-day issues with the ideals of those teachings.

In other words, there are places to debate whether Christianity is true, but Stack Exchange isn't one of them. Similarly, when I look at questions tagged or or , I worry this site is verging away from matters that can be well-addressed by a focused Q&A site.

Insist that questions and answers be limited to a specific veg*n lifestyle

The farm animal question is presumably asked from the perspective of someone who avoids eating meat because of concerns about animal cruelty. It doesn't necessarily apply to people interested in healthy eating or protecting the environment. (I realize there is a lot of overlap for many people, but the goal is more focused questions.) To once again quote Robert on Christianity:

If this site is going to succeed, it is absolutely essential that questions be answered specifically within the context of the belief system they are asked. This is not optional or reserved for the people you agree with; It is a basic tenet of the site.

There are several ways this could play out. On some sites tags define the scope of a question. Others instruct askers to provide context. Still others discourage answers that disagree with the premise of the question.

Notice the solutions are not mutually exclusive. In whatever way possible, keep questions and their answers focused. Close down questions that are too broad, underspecified or that invite opinions rather than answers. Downvote (and possibly delete) answers that merely disagree with the premise of the question. Vote up questions that are well specified and answers that come armed with facts and evidence.

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  • I think there has been a massive misunderstanding of the farm animal welfare question. I intended it to be specifically about what clauses in U.S. law allow for farm animals to be treated differently from pets/lab animals, not about why the lawmakers chose to make those decisions. – C_Z_ Mar 24 '17 at 3:14
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    @C_Z_: So the difficulty (other than which laws?) is that it's not clear how the question connects to veg*nism. I mean, I can guess, but it really ought to be spelled out in the question itself. As it stands, it seems like a more appropriate question for our Law site. – Jon Ericson Mar 24 '17 at 3:43
  • One subset of veg*nism is veganism, which is directly related to animal ethics. Not sure what you mean by "which laws", because that's the question that I'm asking – C_Z_ Mar 24 '17 at 3:53
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    @C_Z_ animal ethics is certainly related, but that doesn't necessarily make questions about it on topic on Veg.SE. Narrowness of focus (as hard to understand it often is to new users not familiar with a given SE site and its rules) is one of the reasons why these sites work so well. (Doesn't mean the question is bad - I'd be very very interested in seeing it answered competently somewhere, perhaps indeed law.SE.) – Pekka Mar 24 '17 at 8:09
  • @Pekka웃 but it being on topic elsewhere does not make it off topic here. As a vegan I think the relevance to veg*nism is transparently clear. Conditions on commercial farms are a huge reason for many people being veg*n. Many omnivores justify meat eating on the basis that farm animals are treated well or that they only eat meat produced in specific conditions. I am constantly told that farm animals are happy and protected by law and constantly asked if I would eat meat if I knew the animal's life was like this or that. It's an important part of my experience as a vegan. – Zanna Mar 24 '17 at 21:30
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    @Zanna: I think it might help to fill in the animal-welfare tag wiki. The concern I have is not that the question is off-topic (it isn't), but that it is not specific enough even in the current form. And to be clear, the problem really isn't the question, but the potential for unhelpful answers. If the site turns into a place for advocacy (either for or against veg*nism), it becomes a lot less useful for practical questions. – Jon Ericson Mar 25 '17 at 0:49
  • Yes I agree on all counts, especially speaking generally about the site. I think that question has a reasonable answer now but I saw one troubling late comment. Maybe we should close it now it has been answered? (cc @C_Z_ did you get the info you wanted?) I am super busy this weekend but I will try to make the tag wiki. – Zanna Mar 25 '17 at 7:01
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Parenting often struggles with subjectivity, with varying opinions on how well we do. Many users find us too subjective, others think we're too rigorous in demanding citations -- the truth is presumably somewhere in the middle, and also varies from question to question.

Generally, pointing to What types of questions should I avoid asking (a help page found on every StackExchange site, including this one) is a good starting place.

Some subjective questions are allowed, but “subjective” does not mean “anything goes”. All subjective questions are expected to be constructive. What does that mean? Constructive subjective questions:

  • inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”
  • tend to have long, not short, answers
  • have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone
  • invite sharing experiences over opinions
  • insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references
  • are more than just mindless social fun

There's also a blog post about good vs. bad subjective.


There needs to be some form of expertise involved in the answer. Research papers and reference sources are terrific. But personal experience is also a valuable resource, particularly in an area that's really all about personal experiences (such as the example will this make it easier to transition to veganism) or doesn't have an extensive body of research to back it up.

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  • This sounds like a sane approach that still leaves enough freedom for things to be fun (and allows people with knowledge outside the purely academic realm to contribute as equals). – Pekka Jan 31 '17 at 20:44
  • Erica, @Pekka, I think my recent question on meta is related to this topic. I.e. some questions which may not seem very good can actually be really useful to beginners (be sure to read my edit at the bottom of the question though) – user116 Feb 2 '17 at 8:48
  • Do note that we want a source for all of this, even if it's just personal experience. For example, "Yes, vegan instruments do sound different than normal ones. For example, I have a vegan guitar and it sounds different than my friend's non-vegan one." vs "Yes, they do sound different." – Riker Feb 2 '17 at 21:25
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Rules for Questions

I'm not sure whether Buddhism.SE is considered a "lifestyle" site, but (to add a datum) I think that site is unusually permissive about question: Moderation policies for Questions

Users there hope to write useful and helpful answers (and to welcome new users), even if their question isn't ideal, so long as the question is on-topic and understandable and not a duplicate.

That's an unusually permissive question policy, and I don't know whether I recommend it for you, but it shows that a community can agree to define their own policies.

It's based on the premise that it's possible to post good answers even to unpromising questions.

In contrast, and as an example of the opposite extreme, Skeptics.SE is a graduated site which has defined for itself a lot of rules: https://skeptics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/faq


Rules for Answers

When I answer questions (or post comments to try to promote the quality of answers) I find this blog entry helpful: Good Subjective, Bad Subjective The summary is that answers should be referenced and/or based on personal experience.

See also To what extent are references required? which I posted on this meta-site.

On Buddhism.SE, users (the expert users, of which there were some) decided that references shouldn't be required: What about providing sources?


Questions about Culture

To try to address the comments under this answer about farm animals, on Buddhism.SE (for example) we allow any questions about Buddhism: including doctrines, practice, vocabulary, culture, art, etc.

I see why you're inclined to allow the "farm animals" question (I think it has an obvious correlation with the "culture" of vegetarianism).

A question you might ask: if this question is posted on this site, is there reason to believe that users on this site might be any more expert on this topic than the average site? Users posting on this site are supposed to be getting expert answers (from among a community of experts).

In this case (farm animal welfare) I might think "Yes" because I think there's some positive correlation between being vegetarian and having taken a more-than-average interest in this topic.

I recommend you also be acquainted with other sites (not only, what sites exist, but also what the standards are for posting questions on those sites), and sometimes recommend that a question be reposted on another site (e.g. you might say, "You might get a better answer to that question on Law.SE ... or Skeptics, or Biology, or Cooking, or Fitness, etc.").

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