Result / Summary of policy

  • Answers which state or imply that a religious work is fiction should be flagged for moderator attention. Moderators will delete such answers.
  • The only exception in which an answer is permitted to cite a religious source is if the question clearly states that non-fictional sources are allowed, and the answer does not state or imply that the religious work is fiction.
  • Since the validity of an answer depends on the asker's clear intent, we require the asker to clearly state in the question post whether or not he's looking for non-fictional inspiration. We will not make assumptions about the asker's intent based on the question's tags.

Proposal TL;DR

The moderation team is proposing the following policy regarding answers that cite religious sources:

  • Questions which clearly ask for fictional sources only are not to be answered with religious sources. Users who find such an answer should flag the answer for deletion. No change from current policy.
  • Questions which clearly allow non-fictional sources may be answered with religious sources if applicable. In the event that such an answer could be interpreted as treating the religious sources as works of fiction, we will add a disclaimer that the community does not consider religious texts to be works of fiction. This disclaimer will be in the form of either an edit to the answer or a moderator post notice. The answer would not be deleted.
  • Since the validity of an answer depends on the asker's clear intent, we will require the asker to clearly state in the question post whether or not he's looking for non-fictional inspiration. We will not make assumptions about the asker's intent based on the question's tags.

Background

The community recently decided how to handle answers that cite religious texts. All the upvoted answers on that meta discussion are clear that the overarching goal of the policy is to avoid offending users by treating their religion's texts as fictional. @AncientSwordRage's post is the most comprehensive explanation of the agreed-upon policy. To summarize the important points:

  • Moderators are obligated to delete answers which are flagged as offensive, whether or not that moderator personally finds the answer offensive.
  • Because the topic of this site is a specific type of fiction, answers are generally expected to cite works of fiction (and thus not religious works).
  • There is an exception in which answers may cite a religious work if a question asker is looking for a (possibly non-fictional) inspirational source. @AncientSwordRage suggested using to indicate non-fictional sources are acceptable (or, of course, the asker can specify it in the question text).

This policy is largely sound, but the moderators have been discussing it extensively among ourselves and we would like to suggest a few modifications.


Rationale for the disclaimer

The main modification we are suggesting is to add a disclaimer rather than delete answers which cite religious sources on questions that allow non-fictional sources. The edit would add a disclaimer that the citation of a religious source is not intended to imply that the religious work(s) cited are fictional.

The purpose of this suggested modification is to preserve content which is potentially useful while still attempting to avoid offending religious users. The existing policy to delete such answers certainly avoids offense but is vulnerable to a tyranny of the offended censor -- content can be deleted easily by just a few offended flaggers even if it is useful to the majority of the community. Worse, moderators are expected to delete flagged answers of this type even though we cannot know whether or not the flagger is truly offended (the flagger may raise a flag simply because someone else might be offended, or to troll). We've already seen flags in which the flagger did not appear to be personally offended but raised a flag simply because the answer cited a religious text. The existing policy also risks offending the answerer, who may feel censored after having posted an answer with no ill intent. This suggested modification seeks a middle ground.

To make this editing policy easy for everyone, we propose the creation of a disclaimer template which would be edited into an answer which cites religious source(s). An example of such a disclaimer is:

The citation of religious source(s) in this answer is not intended to imply that said source(s) are fictional; answers citing such source(s) are allowed by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange community only when relevant to questions seeking non-fictional inspirations for works of fiction. See [link to "answers with religious works" policy on meta] for more details.

...where the link to meta would point to the meta discussion in which the community agreed upon the text of the disclaimer template. Don't worry too much about the template text at this point -- we'll figure out the exact text in a future meta discussion if consensus is achieved for the suggested policy change in this meta discussion.

There are two ways to apply the disclaimer template:

  1. Simply edit the answer. No moderator intervention would be required: any user can simply edit the disclaimer to the [top? bottom?] of the answer (users without the edit privilege can suggest the edit).
  2. Add a custom post notice. We would need to post a to convince Stack Exchange to add such a post notice. Additionally, a moderator would be required to add the post notice (users would need to raise a flag "in need of moderator attention").

There are pros and cons to each approach. For example, (1) is easier to apply but such an edit could be rolled back in spite of site policy. On the other hand, while (2) is more permanent it requires a feature change to the site and moderator intervention. Please discuss the pros and cons of each approach and suggest one or the other if you approve of changing the policy to add a disclaimer.

This policy change would only apply to questions which do not clearly indicate that only fictional works are acceptable; if a question explicitly asks for only fictional works then the answer would still be deleted (it either treats a religious text as fiction in violation of site policy, or it treats it as non-fiction and is thus "not an answer"). You can flag such answers as "offensive", "not an answer", or "in need of moderator attention".


Rationale for determining the asker's intent

The other suggested modification (more of a clarification) deals with the intent of the asker and enforcement of the policy. The linked meta post by @AncientSwordRage suggested using -- but not the related -- to indicate that the asker is looking for non-fictional sources and thus possibly religious sources. However, the moderators have come to a consensus among ourselves that tags are an unreliable method of determining the asker's intent because (a) users are often ignorant of tag wikis explaining the proper use of the tag and (b) someone other than the asker can easily add or remove a tag by mistake. Therefore we propose that tags -- like or -- are to be ignored when determining whether or not non-fictional/religious sources can be included in answers. To be sure what is acceptable, the asker needs to specify in the question post.


Your mission

  1. Indicate your support or disapproval of the proposal to add a disclaimer rather than delete answers which cite religious works on questions that allow non-fictional sources.
  2. Indicate your support or disapproval of the proposal to ignore tags when determining the intent of the asker to allow or disallow non-fictional sources.
  3. If you approve of adding a disclaimer, indicate whether you think it is better to add it via normal edit or via a moderator post notice (and why).
  4. If you approve of adding a disclaimer but you think the example wording requires significant changes, please suggest alternate wording. Don't worry about it yet if you think the wording just needs minor tweaking -- we will work that out later if the disclaimer is approved by the community.

To help determine consensus, please consider the above tasks in separate answers to this meta question. Also, votes on this meta question will not be considered for determining consensus -- only votes on answers to this question will be considered. If a clear consensus is not achieved for the above proposals the current policy of deletion will continue to be enforced.

  • 6
    I thought we deleted/frowned upon such answers because this is a speculative fiction site, not a mythology/religion/history/literature site. Taking offense had nothing to do with it, for me. – Molag Bal Jun 16 '16 at 15:43
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    @amaranth Answers are still generally expected to cite fictional sources. However, there are edge cases where someone asks for the origin/inspiration for a trope or the like and that origin turns out to be a religious work. – Null Jun 16 '16 at 15:49
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    The claim that answerers might be offended that their answer was deleted seems somewhat spurious. Someone posting off-topic questions might be offended that their questions are closed. Again - with no ill intent, but off-topic. If we have a set of rules, should we avoid enforcing them because someone might be offended that he was moderated? – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Jun 16 '16 at 18:35
  • I guess I never understood what tagging is all about. I thought tags were there to aid in searching, and were not properly a part of the question. According to my (apparently wrong) understanding, if answers of a particular sort, fictional or nonfictional are required, that should be stated in the body of the question, not in a tag. Have I got it all wrong? – user14111 Jun 17 '16 at 6:44
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    @user14111 I agree with your understanding on the use of tags. That's why I proposed using only the question text to determine the asker's intent rather than try to figure it out based on what tag(s) he used. – Null Jun 17 '16 at 14:55
  • @AvnerShahar-Kashtan A non-zero number of people have been quitting the site due to the current draconian deletion policy, which is partly what motivated us to propose this change. – Rand al'Thor Jun 17 '16 at 15:14
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    @Randal'Thor There's a difference between "our policies might be too draconian and should be relaxed to fit what users want" and "our policies must not censor people because they might be offended". The first is fine, but it's the second that's implied in the text. As someone who wasn't really involved in any cases of people quitting, I had no way of knowing that's what Null was referring to. It simply appeared to say "we need to think of the feelings of people who violate our rules". – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Jun 17 '16 at 15:25
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    @Randal'Thor - The current policy isn't draconian. It's well described with multiple checks and balances. If some people still want to take their ball home because a single answer got zapped, perhaps we shouldn't be too sorry to see them go. – Valorum Jun 17 '16 at 17:18
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    There will always be a non-zero number of people who join an SE site and then fail to grasp how they work, get in a tizzy over it, start tons of drama, then rage-quit. Keeping those people is far more harmful to the site than losing them. SF/F is in no danger of shutting down for lack of activity. – KutuluMike Jun 18 '16 at 12:16
  • @Null - good edit, thanks! I would propose a minor change to make it default to assume the asker does NOT want non-fictional sources (e.g. if you can't get them to clarify for some reason), but that's a minor edge case either way, hopefully. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 19 '16 at 13:44
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    Regarding your first bullet point, what if it's a text from the Jedi or Sith religions? – Hack-R Jun 21 '16 at 1:30
  • @DVK-in-exile Thanks. I'm glad it seems to have helped. In the edge case you mention (unclear question, someone posts a religious source, and we can't get clarification from the OP), what would you have us do? Delete the answer citing a religious source under the assumption that non-fiction answers are not allowed? I agree that we should assume questions are looking for fiction only by default, but not every user is going to make that assumption. – Null Jun 21 '16 at 3:27
  • @Hack-R Deciding what constitutes a religious work or not is a difficult problem in general. There are some good criteria here. Under that criteria Jediism would not be considered a religion. – Null Jun 21 '16 at 3:31
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    @Null - I would suggest defaulting to "fiction only" and thus deleting the answer. Being very clear and nice and may be even apologetic about deletion, to avoid the downside of ticking off the answerer. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 21 '16 at 3:47
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    @DVK-in-exile I think that is reasonable considering the topic of the site. On the other hand, it's punishing the answerer for the lack of clarity on the part of the OP. On the gripping hand, answerers should realize that non-fiction answers are generally off-topic here. Perhaps it would be good to post your suggestion as an answer to this question or start a new meta question so the community can vote on it. – Null Jun 21 '16 at 4:36

I disapprove of point 1 on the grounds that community consensus is (and always has been) that we're perfectly happy to allows this sort of content. Referencing religious works is only disallowed when they're referred to as being fictional.

As such, a disclaimer would serve no useful purpose.


If they get flagged by someone who isn't aware of the site's existing policies, the moderator can always point the flagee to the appropriate policies (see above) that explicitly state that such content is acceptable.

  • There's a grey area with the current policy, though. Because this is a site about fiction it's possible for someone to flag an answer as offensive if it merely mentions a religious work and does not explicitly say that it's not calling it fiction, and moderators are supposed to delete answers flagged as offensive under the current policy. This is a question of proper enforcement: do we decline the flag because someone is being overly sensitive? Do we delete the answer just to be safe? It seems the best solution in that case is to edit an explicit disclaimer -- which is what we're proposing. – Null Jun 16 '16 at 16:22
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    @Null - I don't think there are any gray areas. Either the OP has said that it's a work of fiction or not. If you're unsure, ask them in a comment. If it gets flagged, delete it pre-emptively and the OP can edit it if they think you've been overly touchy. – Valorum Jun 16 '16 at 16:24
  • The OP isn't always clear what they want. If the OP wasn't clear and someone answers with a religious source we now have to deal with figuring out what the OP's original intent was, possible answer invalidation, etc. Pre-emptively deleting posts is a great way to upset users, and we're trying to avoid that. – Null Jun 16 '16 at 16:39
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    @Null - Again, the magic sword question is a perfect case in point. "What is the first work of fantasy, myth, legend to feature a magic sword?" = Too broad (pun not intended) and not site appropriate. "What is the first known work of fantasy or legend to feature a magic sword?*" = Site appropriate. – Valorum Jun 16 '16 at 16:44
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    @Null - What Chancellor said. Sorry but IMHO the post seems like a complicated jumble that's incredibly hard to read (evidence: my understanding of what was being proposed changed 180 degress after reading comments from OP under the post). I think the proposal needs to be split off into manageable chunks with clear TL;DR policy followed by rationales. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 16 '16 at 17:22
  • @Null - I would posit you should: Separately propose the policy (if I got it right) of NOT deleting religious answers is the question is asking for inspiration (vs. deleting) - while still deleting them on all other questions. Merely mention that a different post will discuss how to determine "inspiration" scope; and yet another different post will discuss leaving the answer alone vs edit/notice. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 16 '16 at 17:24
  • @DVK-in-exile Thank you for your suggestions. The other moderators proofread my question before I posted it and we thought the proposals were related enough (and clear enough) to be posted together. I guess we were wrong... The main proposal is to NOT delete religious answers if the question is looking for a non-fictional inspiration (as you said) and to edit a disclaimer instead. The secondary proposal is to require the OP to clearly state in the question post whether or not he's looking for non-fictional inspiration (rather than making assumptions based on the tags on the question). – Null Jun 16 '16 at 17:33
  • @DVK-in-exile It's easy to distill it into one comment in context and without providing "rationales". I tried to make it concise. :) To help me understand what wasn't clear, what did you initially think was being proposed? – Null Jun 16 '16 at 18:08
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    @Null - Could you provide some examples of answers that would have survived being deleted under this new regime? – Valorum Jun 16 '16 at 18:25
  • @Valorum This highly upvoted answer was self-deleted but questioned due to the religious works policy. The question used the history-of tag but did not specify fiction-only. Other deleted answers to that question had discussions about the tags and the policy implications in the comments (hence the secondary proposal to ignore tags when determining the OP's intent). Your deleted answer on this question quotes the Bible; the question does not specify fiction only and the tags are unclear... – Null Jun 16 '16 at 19:04
  • This answer which you upvoted quotes the Bible. Note that the question did not specify fiction-only at the time the answer was written. There are other such answers that are not yet deleted because they haven't been flagged yet (the policy on religious works in answers is, after all, only a month old). – Null Jun 16 '16 at 19:07
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    @Null - I opposed the need for a separate policy for questions and answers. It seems self-evident that one includes the other – Valorum Jun 16 '16 at 19:08
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    @Null - The poison lipstick is another example of a poorly scoped question spawning a poor answer. We didn't need to fix the answer, we should have just closed the question quicker. – Valorum Jun 16 '16 at 19:10
  • @Null - my initial understanding was that ALL such answers were to be undeleted. I totally failed to parse the combination of "allow non-fiction sources" and "inspiration" later on – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 16 '16 at 22:18

I disapprove of using tags as a way to qualify answers, because we've clearly shown that tags are used inconsistently.

If the question is being asked by an experienced user, they should be familiar with our religious text policy and be clear in their question about what they're willing to accept.

If the question is being asked by a new user, I wouldn't expect them to tag properly, let alone be aware that we have a policy on religious texts. So, we'd be forced to comment on their question to ascertain what they're willing to accept... At which point the information should be edited into the question body, and not left to be defined by a tag.

Asker aside, we also have plenty of users that don't look at what every tag means when answering a question. If the question is asking about the origin of an idea, why on Earth would an average user look to see if or had some additional connotation before answering?

They wouldn't. All the work regarding these policies is going to be done by:

  1. Those in the community that know of the policies
  2. Those in the community that care to enforce them

And those two groups might not overlap. The only thing adding tags into the mix will do is create more work for another group:

  1. Those in the community that care to fix tags

And this 3rd group may not care about anything else!

  • 2
    Yes. In general, asking for explicit clarification from the OP is the only way to be sure. – Rand al'Thor Jun 17 '16 at 20:45
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    I agree with the answer, but I think it's even simpler than that. The purpose of tags is to help classify and find questions. it's NOT to add semantic meaning to the question that is missing from the question itself. Therefore relying on tags to discern meaning shouldn't be done. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 19 '16 at 13:49
  • @DVK Yes, exactly. – Web Head Jun 19 '16 at 18:10

2

As the main topic of this Stack is Science Fiction & Fantasy, all questions should be treated as being primarily about that subject matter.

However, if an idea is older than that, a complete answer should mention the older sources, be they religion, myth, or folk tale, unless the asker has explicitly mentioned they are not interested in that. (And even then a throwaway line doesn't hurt).


A question should make sense even without any tags at all, so I would judge this primarily by the question itself, instead of by the tags.

  • While our topic is Science Fiction and Fantasy, it is quite common to see answers that refer to non-fiction sources. For example an answer to a question about the "out of universe" inspiration for a work of fiction may well point to works of non-fiction, or real world facts. It seems to be inconsistent to disallow such answers only when the "works of non-fiction, or real world facts" happen to be of a religious nature. – Blackwood Jun 29 '16 at 22:16

3

I think a disclaimer should be added by a moderator through a post notice, to stress that it is a stack policy.

A user can flag for "needs attention" or perhaps a custom flag can be added.

  1. I disapprove of ignoring the tag, if it was added by the OP.

If the OP (not another user) includes the tag, it should not be ignored. The chances of a new user finding, then misusing, that tag seem so negligible as to be a non-issue.

Otherwise, I am fine with ignoring the tag.

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    Most new users don't give a hoot about correct tags anyway. – Valorum Jun 16 '16 at 22:57
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    Sounds reasonable, but unless I'm editing tags myself, I'll never look to see who added it originally. – Web Head Jun 17 '16 at 3:12
  • I've seen people add some really weird tags on their early questions. I'm not sure it's a non-issue without actually seeing the data – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 19 '16 at 13:40
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    I think you are dramatically underestimating a new user's capacity to find and misuse a random tag. – KutuluMike Jun 19 '16 at 23:42
  • @KutuluMike Given the chance that a user would accidentally pull that particular tag, out of the 1000+ tags that we have, I think you are being a bit... over dramatic :) – Beofett Jun 20 '16 at 0:27

1

A disclaimer can be useful if the answer is ambiguous about the fictitiousness of the answer.

So if the answer clearly shows that the user uses a religious text as an example to show that an idea is older than fiction, but makes a clear distinction between fiction and religion, there's no need for a disclaimer.

However, if a question asks for the first character in fiction with the ability to throw lightning bolts and the answer reads "Zeus" instead of "Electro", it may need a disclaimer or message to the answerer, reading

Your answer may be interpreted as if you consider Greek religion to be fiction.
Please edit your answer to reflect that religious texts are not fiction.

4

I think the wording should address the use who wrote the answer and should be worded something like this:

Your answer may be interpreted as if you consider Greek religion to be fiction.
Please edit your answer to reflect that religious texts are not considered fiction.

  • The second line pre-supposes that the OP is going to be willing to accept that religious works are not fictional. Heck, they can't all be non-fiction since they conflict with each other. – Valorum Jun 22 '16 at 11:54
  • @Valorum There is a difference between being fiction and being written as fiction. I'll edit to reflect that. – SQB Jun 22 '16 at 12:04
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    Purely apropos of nothing, you might also want to reflect that most religious works contain stories and parables that are considered by all (believers and non-believers alike) to be purely fictional. – Valorum Jun 22 '16 at 12:26
  • @Valorum, yes, but that of course leads to discussions which stories should be considered fictional and which should not. Let's not open that can of worms. – SQB Jun 22 '16 at 12:48

A separate tag should be made to define that fictional answers are desired, IE . Essentially, I disagree with @AncientSwordRage 's decision to use the tag as the differentiator, because it is also usable for a much broader group of cases, and "history of" already has an out-of-fiction connotation.

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