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I know there have been some posts that already state that providing an answer of "We Don't Know" can be acceptable provided that the answer still follows the site guidelines of a good answer (i.e. referenced, well reasoned, support from the works).

However, I feel it is a good idea to have a "final" discussion on the matter with a direct answer. Most of the other posts I found related to a single question and do not address the policy as whole. I am writing this post that get the direct answer so that it can be linked to any further discussions or when new users ask;

Are We Don't Know Answers Acceptable?

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    I think we should ban questions that would have "we don't know answers". So far I haven't seen a clear line between POB and "we don't know", and it seems to be arbitrary and inconsistent. – Gallifreyan Sep 9 '17 at 21:32
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    @Gall That's the most awful idea I've heard for ages. People ignorant of the canon would be VTCing because they think the answer is "we don't know" when in fact there's a perfectly good canon answer buried in a webcomic or a junior novelisation or whatever. Even an expert in the topic might not be aware of the precise place where a particular question is addressed. Plus, the fact that something is unknown can be an interesting or important fact about a book/film/whatever. See also Can absence of information be considered a stylistic choice? – Rand al'Thor Sep 9 '17 at 21:38
  • @Valorum I know it was pretty similar to the other questions, but like I tried to explain I wanted some thing a bit more direct (aka key word hits). – Skooba Sep 9 '17 at 22:15
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    @Gallifreyan I know POB = Post Office Box, but that doesn't seem to fit the context. Portable Oxygen Bottle? Place of Birth? Public Order Battalion? – user14111 Sep 9 '17 at 23:11
  • @Randal'Thor I agree. I'm also aware some things may be left unsaid for a purpose. On the other hand, we've had folks ask unanswerable things about some relatively well-established franchises, such as Harry Potter, where an answer would be a clear "we don't know", such as the question about whether the half-giants are fertile, or whether Hagrid's parents were in a consensual relationship. It's possible that one day the gap will be filled, but until then we face the possibility of having fanfic/headcanon answers with no canon support. What do we do with them? – Gallifreyan Sep 9 '17 at 23:11
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    @Gallifreyan Not all "we don't know" answers are "fanfic/headcanon answers with no canon support". What do we do with the latter? Well, how about downvoting them (as is usually already done)? – Rand al'Thor Sep 10 '17 at 17:44
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    @user14111 A bird's flight is PPB (Primarily Pinion Based). – Rand al'Thor Sep 12 '17 at 9:35
  • @Randal'Thor Opinion POB not PPB – Hermione Granger Oct 9 '18 at 20:00
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Yes.

For many questions, "we don't know" is the correct answer - it would be beyond foolish to seek to ban such answers. Of course, a plain "we don't know" without saying anything more than those three words would probably make for a bad answer, just like any other unsupported three-word answer. Here are some ideas I once came up with for possible ways to make a "we don't know" answer good:

  • show your work. Give list of Google queries you used, or resource sites/pages checked, or terms searched in e-books.
  • list all the information we do know ("there's no mention of xyz - the closest is this mention of yxz on page 73")
  • give some sort of explanation for why it's reasonable that we don't know ("it wouldn't make sense for them to tell us, because blah blah blah" or "people have written fanfic taking xyz in this direction, so it's unlikely to be confirmed as going in that direction anywhere in canon")

The basic principle, as with many SE answers, is to back it up if at all possible. Of course it tends to be hard to prove a negative, but any sort of extra knowledge - even just a deep personal experience of the topic - can be helpful. If you say "I've searched through all the books and also supplementary information on websites X, Y, and Z, and none of them say anything about this", that's a much more respectable answer than "dunno, mate".

  • @Skooba - why???? With all due respect to Rand (and agreeing with his answer), a mod is no more nor less "right" than any other community member. Mods aren't supposed to set site policy.. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 10 '17 at 15:34
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    i agree, tho it's sometimes painful to read "We dont know as there's no mention/direct quote i found in the <material> or <creator interview> about <string> " type answers. I like more to see an effort at deducing an answer than scanning all the available canon texts/interviews for the <string>... – user68762 Sep 10 '17 at 16:41
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    @Morri Oh, definitely. The best answers are the ones which deduce the answer from a deep knowledge of the text itself, or even close reading, rather than just citing a 'canon' interview with someone or a single quote. Sadly, on SFF the latter tend to get more upvotes. (Not that there's anything wrong with them - in many cases they nail the question perfectly - but they tend to be low-effort and rely on nothing more than search-fu.) – Rand al'Thor Sep 10 '17 at 18:00
  • @Randal'Thor I agree with your answer completely, but many questions keep getting close votes as POB, we don't seem to be following the policies established in the threads mentioned. Even well known members keep voting to close this kind of questions as POB hence why it keeps getting asked here in meta and why I understand Skooba need to ask again. How can we solve this? – Ram Sep 10 '17 at 23:25
  • @Ram Good question; close votes that go against community consensus can be a difficult issue to resolve, especially if there are enough of them and not enough reopen votes to counterbalance. Can you link to some examples of questions which have been wrongly closed as POB and haven't been reopened, so that we have something concrete to consider? – Rand al'Thor Sep 11 '17 at 16:38
  • @Randal'Thor I have raised a flag to a recently closed answer, I have encountered other examples but none was closed at the time I saw them: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/175939/… – Ram Dec 11 '17 at 0:33
  • @Ram "What would happen" questions can be tricky, because some of them totally are opinion-based. E.g. "what would happen if Gandalf put on the One Ring" is fine (answerable from canon), but something like "what would happen if Harry Potter had been born a Squib" really deserves to be closed (it boils down to "write my fanfic for me"). I suspect there's a knee-jerk reaction to close any what-would-happen question because so many of them are completely open-ended. Not sure about the specific case you flagged; I'll leave it for another mod to look at. – Rand al'Thor Dec 11 '17 at 1:10
  • @Randal'Thor I agree it's phrased in a way that calls for closing. But in essence it's asking What Lily's protection protects from. In any case, my point is we are too trigger-happy when closing questions as POB lately. – Ram Dec 11 '17 at 1:25

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