Some questions posted on Islam.SE are in fact a debate form, rather than a simple Q/A. For instance, the questions asking different views (of different schools, scholars, etc.) about the same problem, that have more than one the so-called "accepted answer".

Having one "accepted answer" on these questions makes the final outcome biased towards the personal idea of the user who has asked the question, even if there are other answers with higher upvotes.

Ho to face this situation? These are some answers:

  • To close the questions that ask for multiple answers (from different schools, scholars, etc)
  • To ignore this bias

The answers above are the simplest, but not the best - I think. We have already very constructive questions asking multiple answers - of different schools or ideas - and they are really great, because many Islamic questions are not limited to a single answer.

Ignoring the bias towards a single user's idea - the person who created the question - is also something that can be ignored, but also can be solved: A better solution can be a "multiple-answer" or "debate" flag on the question, that can be set by 5 votes - like a close flag - and if set, there would be not a single "accepted answer" for the question anymore.

By this means, just the number of upvotes will decide the more qualitative answers to the question.

What's your idea? Is there any better solution?

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Questions that actively solicit debate are de facto not constructive. Asking for a constructive comparison between viewpoints, however, is not a debate-style question. Compare-and-contrast often has long-term usefulness. –  Aarthi Feb 11 '13 at 19:36

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Removing the "accepted answer" bias doesn't really solve the problem, that just shifts the bias from one single user to a bias of popularity. On a pluralistic site (such as this one), that's practically the same as saying "Only the majority opinion can ever be right." If nothing else, maintaining the status-quo of the single-user bias means (and visibly demonstrates) that minority opinions are not only welcome, but potentially rewarded.

One important thing to note about "debate questions" is that any question that asks for something that's not universally agreed upon is open for debate. Short of asking only for 100% verifiable facts with no room for argument (which in my opinion would make the site far too sterile to be useful) questions will always be (potentially) asking for multiple answers. Those which explicitly seek a pluralistic response are just more apparent.

Pluralistic questions don't cause debates. Debaters cause debates.

The best way, in my opinion, to deal with debate is to stem it when it appears; if users are seen to stray from actually answering the question asked and rather start debating the merits of other posts, they should be redirected to chat (where debate has been actively encouraged) and any non-constructive comments flagged for cleanup.

If the question itself is written in such a way that looks like it can only solicit debates, it should be closed as non-constructive. Or, better yet, edited to make it less debatey.

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Most of the questions that have a single 'correct', non-debatable answer are often easily Googled what with all the online Islamic resources available.

Multiple Interpretations

A good question should be easily answerable, with a clear citation from a primary source (Al-Quran or the hadiths). There should be little commentary/interpretation other than translation; the cited source should speak for itself.

As most people are unfamiliar with the teachings of schools they did not grow up with, the advantage of a site like this is that it allows people from different schools to repeat what they have heard, especially if it answers the question directly. There should be almost no debate.

However, there will be some difficulty in actually accepting a single answer for these, and I would agree that it should be somehow flagged that these questions have multiple answers.

Confirmation

Some questions are posed in the form of "Someone I know believes (this), is this correct in Islam?"

Those questions should also not be debatable. I think it's best to take the Skeptics SE approach to such questions, and filter the answers ruthlessly. A lot of these can't be easily answered, as there's no proof. It could either be that the practice is bid'ah, or that the proof is too obscure.

Maybe there should be a tag for these kinds of questions that may, by default, be false?

Debatable

Some of the more difficult questions are simply not answerable through primary sources, such as "Are video games haraam?"

It is not our role to debate such topics. These topics will most likely have been debated by a full time scholar somewhere, and released in some form of fatwa. What we do is repeat their arguments. As many of these might be verbally debated or explained in a lecture, the best practice would be to cite which lecture or debate it occurred in, and perhaps the name of the scholar as well. Even if it was in Arabic or another language, at least a researcher could trace the answer back there.

If someone else is skeptical to the validity of these fatwa, they can look for a differing opinion from another scholar. Whatever it is, it should have some academic backing.

Something that cannot be answered without resorting to personal debates and opinions should be closed as unconstructive.

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