How do we handle questions based on incorrect premise?

E.g. questions asks "Why did X happen in work Y", when in fact X never happened in work Y.

Specific example is Where did Doc Brown get plutonium from?

While I can fully get on board with the notion that such a question is not a GREAT question, I don't see it as a BAD question merely because its premise is wrong (in this case, since Doc Brown didn't steal it, terrorists did, as the answer pointed out).

Please note that the example-specific issue of "that question is bad because it may be General Reference" is OUTSIDE the scope of this discussion - pretend that there is no Wikipedia page clearly outlining the plot of BTTF.

3 Answers 3


Personally, I think such questions are completely fine, based on the following logic:

  • We consider the questions that ask about details of primary work that can be answered by viewing/reading the work to be perfectly fine. E.g. "Who stole the plutonium used to power the Delorean in BTTF?" or "What powered Doc Brown's Time Machine"? (again, leaving aside the fact that, due to a great Wiki article, both of these are General Reference). For a more esoteric one, consider "Why did Percy Weasley fall out with the rest of the family". Googling for that does NOT bring up Wiki on first result set, but "Anyone who read the books should know it".

  • Therefore, a question based on imperfectly remembering the source material should not be considered bad either, as long as it is definitively answered by stating correct facts, like the Doc Brown one.


Do we need to handle them in any special way? Questions with an incorrect premise will either get downvoted by more knowledgeable fans, or corrected in comments and/or edited (by the author) to correct their mistake.

No special handling needed, in my opinion.

  • 3
    Hey now, don't edit an incorrect statement in a question, unless it's completely peripheral to the question. If the question is “Why is the sky green?” (not an SF example!) and you edit that to blue and proceed to answer on why the sky is blue, the answers aren't going to make sense to the asker. The proper way to answer “Why is the sky green?” begins with “The sky is actually blue.” An incorrect premise isn't intrinsically a reason to downvote either. Correct the wrong assumptions by answering the question.
    – user56
    Commented May 26, 2012 at 10:14
  • Yes, I meant the author correcting the question after reading its comments
    – Andres F.
    Commented May 26, 2012 at 14:16
  • 4
    Gilles, elsewhere in the SE network an incorrect premise is very much a reason to downvote (did not show research)
    – Andres F.
    Commented May 26, 2012 at 14:18
  • 2
    “did not do research” is a valid reason to downvote. Not all misconceptions are due to a lack of research. In this case, it probably was.
    – user56
    Commented May 26, 2012 at 14:45

Unless the work in question is confusing on the relevant points and it's a natural question to ask, questions like that should be closed as Too Localized. Barring the point about unclear facts, no two people are likely to reach the same erroneous conclusion, misremember the same things the same way, and so on. Nonsense questions can't help other people.

If the facts of the matter are unclear, I would support rewriting the question to ask "what happened in this situation?" and then the answers can shed some truly useful light on the matter while still giving the asker what they need to know.

  • 2
    Why not simply edit the question to make it better? "How did Doc Brown get the plutonium?" - this would de-localise the question and make it more acceptable (of course, this does still fall foul of general knowledge in this instance)
    – HorusKol
    Commented May 31, 2012 at 4:10
  • @HorusKol In some cases that might work, sure :) Commented May 31, 2012 at 5:54
  • 1
    @MatthewRead - I have a hard time imagining when it would NOT work Commented May 31, 2012 at 11:10

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