Recently, someone asked this:

Short story about a starship captain who's only eligible to run for President of the USA if you don't allow for time dilation

The asker states that they did not personally read the story in question, but instead copies someone else's description of the story from a web forum. It seems like the asker may not be able to determine whether any given answer is correct, nor provide additional details. On the other hand, these questions can certainly have perfectly "good" answers.

Are story ID questions like this, in which the asker never actually read the story in question, allowed?

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    I asked the question. I might mention that I did this once before, asking for help in finding a story I'd seen mentioned in an essay but had never read, and it worked out fine. (Granted, in that prior case, I at least knew the author's name was Marion Zimmer Bradley.) It seems to me that if a worthy candidate is nominated, it shouldn't be too hard to track it down and find out if it is the right one, though it might not be something I could verify in, say, the first couple of hours. Is that really so unprecedented on this site?
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 1:50
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    @Lorendiac: I have no opinion. I just thought it ought to be discussed and we ought to have an official policy to point to, one way or the other.
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 1:51
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    Well, having expressed my thinking, I believe that after this second comment, I'll just sit back and keep quiet for a while to see other people's perspectives. P.S. Thinking back, I'm fairly sure I've seen other "story-identification" questions where someone says, "My dad described to me a science fiction book he once read when he was a teenager," or words to that effect. I didn't get the impression, at the time, that there was any rule of thumb against "secondhand questions." (But I'll admit I don't remember exactly where to find concrete examples of that pattern.)
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 1:57
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    Yes, we have answered questions like this before. There is nothing wrong with them.
    – user14111
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 1:59
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    @Gnemlock We can always ask for clarifications. We don't always get clarifications, even when the asker has read the story. Not necessarily a problem, especially when, as in this case, the question is sufficiently detailed that it likely has a unique answer, so no further clarification is needed.
    – user14111
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 2:35
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    Quick shot at a search for second-hand story id questions
    – phantom42
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 5:06
  • @Lorendiac I suggest you write an answer, the points you bring up are very good
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 8:18
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    @Edlothiad You surprise me. This is the first time I've even bothered to participate in a Meta discussion, and I'm only here because my recent post triggered this question. Posting an "Answer" to say, in effect, "I was right all along!" seems a touch narcissistic. I rather expected I might learn there was already a general policy on this point that people with far more experience in Meta discussions had hashed out years ago, and then it simply hadn't been explicitly mentioned for a long time because no one had asked until now.
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 23:53
  • @Gnemlock It would make no sense to answer the meta with votes on the meta question. That is what the answers are for, otherwise it would just be a post and a consensus drawn based on the scoring of the question. The Question and Answers definitely should be voted on different merits. The question whether it's a topic worthy of discussion (or a waste of time) and the answer whether one agrees with the proposed solution
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 6:38
  • @Lorendiac sure it seems narcissistic, but all metas are based on a user expressing their opinion and the community voting on it. If you don't like that well don't answer, but you raised excellent points that I felt where worthy of being properly voted on, rather than just left in a throwaway comment to disappear. Maybe you can explain what the surprise was, I see nothing surprising that I've said.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 6:49
  • @Edlothiad I wasn't trying to be cryptic when I expressed my surprise at your suggestion that I post an answer. But let me try to reconstruct my thinking, above and beyond what I said in last night's comment. 1) Considering that my total experience in discussions of policy here on Meta consisted of a few comments in response to this post, I felt very startled at the suggestion that I was ready to post something intended to be the definitive answer to the policy question that had arisen. 2) As I suggested, I felt that any answer I did post was likely to draw (continued)
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 2:24
  • heavily upon my recent experiences with posting "second-hand questions," such as why I did it and how it turned out, which could easily look as if I were merely patting myself on the back and polishing up my halo. 3) (more of an afterthought) -- Möoz had already posted a reply saying the answer was "Yes" (as in: "secondhand questions are quite common, and don't hurt anyone"), and while he did not express exactly the same reasoning as mine, I felt that the original question was not very complicated, and if people upvoted Möoz's reply, that showed a consensus which seemed to settle the issue.
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 2:32

1 Answer 1



Because, more rep These questions are fine and totally on-topic. In fact, we've had some good ones too:

Look at it this way, what if my mother, who doesn't use the computer much, randomly remembers something and asks me about it. Are we to stop her from finding the answer?

The problem would be acceptance: it would be difficult for the OP to determine the correct answer correctly, but that's really only up to the OP - if they're ok to accept an answer, then who are we to say that it didn't match their criteria?

I'd go so far as to even say that since the OP is proactive enough to repost or post on behalf of someone, they're willing to be somewhat invested in the outcome.

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    All four mentioned questions imply the user is asking because a real life friend would not give away more / was having trouble, themselves. I don't see this as as big of an issue, since the asker can just ask their friend to respond. I still think we should be asking their friend to post, instead. When a post is just found on a forum, we lose a lot of that first hand access to confirm or deny any detail, such as clarification or an actual answer.
    – Gnemlock
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 3:21
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    @Gnemlock it's still a second-hand story-id.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 8:11
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    @Gnemlock Honestly, we'd know no different if they made no mention of the second-hand nature of the post.
    – Möoz
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 11:54
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    Acceptance is a separate problem. 47% of our story-id questions with answers aren't accepted. It's just the nature of the category, because askers typically don't come back or know how the SE interface works.
    – user31178
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 19:33
  • @Creation Agreed, which is why the problem of acceptance shouldn't hold us back from allowing these types of questions.
    – Möoz
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 22:05
  • Reading this meta post, I could think a way to abuse this to ask recommendation question that contains certain elements... after all, I don't know which answer to accept...?
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 6:44
  • @Andrew That's not a new phenomenon, we've had recommendations disguised as story-idents. Basically, as per normal, if it doesn't fit the accepted criteria then we'd close or down vote them, otherwise, it's suitable, so there's no problem.
    – Möoz
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 9:55

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