When did you stop beating your wife? Challenging loaded questions in FQ

You keep repeating this, even though OP has been cited several times. Here it is again:

OP has not spelled out what conclusion we should draw from an absence of rigorous studies and empirical evidence. But one could hardly be more explicit in in inviting the inference. There’s really no ambiguity here, and I think it’s disingenuous to keep claiming that this is “not part of the OP”.

Because “not studied” != “wrong”.

Well, thank you. That is exactly what I pointed out in the thread, to add information and context in case anyone interpreted the OP that way. It was reported by OP and moderated as off topic. I’m glad you have come around.

Correctly. Because the OP asked if it was studied, not whether it was wrong. Two different questions.

OP talked about “experts”, in scare quotes. What do you imagine the scare quotes indicate, if it’s not that we should infer that they are wrong, absent the supporting empirical evidence that he demands?

I’m not going to dispute this with you further. I think the meaning of the paragraph from the OP quoted above is quite obvious, and I’ll leave others to judge for themselves.

As well as the implication that you laid down. You also didn’t address the other modification I made to your statement to make it less false.

They certainly were implying that the reason that people taught their children about bodily autonomy was to prevent sexual abuse.

But, that’s not what they asked.

Basic literacy seems lost on many.

Basic literacy seems lost on many…

So, do you think that the OP was great, it was a good question that could be answered factually? If so, why didn’t you answer it? Why didn’t you cite those studies that the OP asked for?

Or are you agreeing with me that it was a bad OP, one that had no answer that would be acceptable given the OP’s parameters?

If you agree that there should have been no response to the OP, that their question should have gone unanswered and unaddressed, then we have little left to disagree on.

That some posters wanted to be helpful in spite of a bad OP is a fault of people wanting to be helpful. Shit like this is why people aren’t, why they don’t want to help others. No good deed and all that. No one likes to be punished for trying to help out, so, they stop, understandably.

Next time the OP has a question like this, they will likely be ignored entirely, as they should be.

I see how you can read that into Tired_and_Cranky’s posts as an ulterior motive. But that would be an assumption on your part, and not a premise put forward by Tired_and_Cranky so far as I can tell.

He (or she) expresses skepticism of parenting strategies but doesn’t go so far as to say all good parenting strategies must be backed by data.

In my experience people who ask for studies in conversation or personal correspondence are usually trying to prove a point, strike down a straw man, what have you. Most people don't ask questions with an open mind; most people ask questions in search of reinforcement. Play their game and they'll twist your words into a cheap victory at your expense.

I try my best to suspend such commonsense cynicism here.* In an organic conversation it would be highly relevant to address someone's true motives rather than their explicit questions. FQ, as I perceive it, is a different environment where addressing an underlying motive would only be appropriate if you have a good excuse for doing so.

* As an aside, Tired_and_Cranky disavowed that specific premise in this thread. Maybe you have difficulty thinking of another motive for the linked OP? Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I suggest a motive of mere curiosity mixed with skepticism, based on this quote:

"There are lots of articles about it but I’m thinking about it now because of this advice column on Slate. I’m wondering if this works."

My opinion is that light discussion of the feasibility of hypotheticals should be allowed, for the express purpose of guiding members who are trying to find such studies, which the FQ asked for.

For example Tired_and_Cranky (the OP) described a hypothetical when asked what kind of study he (or she) was looking for. Chronos (a moderator in personal capacity) responded by pointing out why such a study might not be feasible. This exchange was not hidden by subsequent mod action and is kosher.

(b) appears totally off-topic, unless you went with the angle that an ethics board would reject proposals with a control group (kids who aren’t taught about consent), and that’s why no such studies exist (direct answer to FQ).

I disagree that the poster actually advanced such an agenda. If I look between the lines and squint real hard, I can admit the possibility that Tired_and_Cranky believes valid parenting requires scientific data to back it up. But under no circumstance do I see Tired_and_Cranky advancing that hidden agenda.

Besides, he (or she) explicitly disavowed that position.


And I’ll add that the responses in the original thread were non-confrontational, seeking to add information and context, and I think giving OP more benefit of doubt than they deserved. Maybe it had some chance of getting back on track in FQ if OP had just acknowledged that some of the assumptions and opinions embedded in his OP might be incorrect. Instead, it was OP that turned this into a clusterfuck by reporting every post that sought to reframe the question in a better-informed manner that didn’t fit his preconceptions. People generally don’t react well to having discussion shut down when discussion is warranted.

If someone asks, “Are there any studies that show that water is wet?” then that’s being curious.

If someone says, “People drink water because it is wet. ‘Experts’ get quoted and imply it leads to better outcomes, and people pretend their ideas or personal experience are data. I can’t tell where the research is on whether water is wet. Is there any scientific evidence that water is wet? This isn’t about whether you think that water is wet, I would like citations to studies supported by some science that water is wet.” then it is fairly clear that not only are they starting with faulty assumptions, but that they have some point they are trying to prove.

Then, when someone points to some science that is adjacent to the question, that is rejected as not being exactly what is being asked. As well as pointing out that people don’t drink water because it is wet being rejected as irrelevant to the question.

Like I said, that never belonged in FQ in the first place.

I’m a native English speaker, and no, saying just “people” is more equivalent to saying “all people” than it is to “some people” in my dialect.

For the same reason I wouldn’t need to address the notion that “people go to school to learn organic chemistry” is not made “less false” by pointing out that people also, and mostly, go to school for other reasons. Never mind that most people don’t learn it at all. So yes, people teach hugs to prevent abuse. Whether it’s one, two, or all people, and whether other reasons exist, is neither here nor there when it comes to addressing the factual question that was asked.

does not mean that “a lack of studies would mean the experts are wrong” because that’s not how science works.

Just asking questions won’t identify misinformation that needed correcting.

This part of the OP is really problematic, for a couple of reasons.

First, and most importantly, the idea that people “pretend their…personal experience are data” suggests that making decisions, or offering perspective or advice, based on personal experience is invalid and even dishonest. Of course it isn’t.

Further, the OP presumes that parenting based on scientific research is more effective than parenting not based on scientific research. Where is the evidence that this is true?

Later, the OP states:

This is an absurd excluded middle: either an approach to raising children has rigorous scientific research behind it, or it’s a fad.

The OP continues:

More absurd excluded middle: either there’s rigorous scientific research behind a strategy, or there’s no valid reason to engage in the approach.

I find the basic question mildly interesting, and I think the answer is, “No, there’s no long-term research on this subject, since the specifics of the approach are relatively recent in our culture.”

The deeper question is whether we should prioritize rigorous scientific studies in child-rearing decisions. That’s a GD question, not a FQ question, and I’ve got some opinions about the harm it does to our children to put them in Skinner boxes.

Something I would urge whichever moderators may be reading this thread to consider is that it is possible to discuss a “factual question” without actually answering it. Discussing the question without actually answering it is still on topic in the sense the question is the topic of the thread.

An OP should not get to limit discussion of their topic to the point that false premises (explicit or implied) and/or errors in logic presented by the OP are off limits.

And if those false premises were truly unintended by the OP, they should welcome clarification that those are untrue premises, and that the OP did not mean to imply them, rather than shut down any such attempts at cleansing the well.

@engineer_comp_geek has repeatedly used the word “premise” wrongly to refer to the parenting strategy itself, not to the problematic surrounding assumptions laid out in the OP. And he seems to have just ignored me when I explained this misconception (twice). I would like to see a moderator at least acknowledge that they understand what we mean when we say that false premises were loaded into this OP.

I’d like to see a moderator address what I’ve now asked three times in different forms.

It’d probably get their attention if someone posted with similar assumptions and assertions as that OP, but about guns.

Something like:

“People get guns because they are insecure about their dick size. Is there any scientific research that having a gun makes your penis grow? This isn’t about whether you think having a gun makes you more endowed, I would like citations to studies supported by science that guns increase your manhood. Bringing up any other reasons that people have guns will be rejected, I only want studies showing whether having a gun supplements the male phallus.”

My concern is that since both moderators are of a scientific bent, perhaps they may have a bit of a blind spot here, that they tend to favor an embedded premise that if something cannot be supported by empirical evidence then it has no valid foundation. That’s a perspective I’d share if we were talking about (say) how parents should deal with allergies. And that broad inclination is appropriate to the FQ forum. But not always, and not here.

I don’t mean to be patronizing, but I know these are two very smart moderators, and I’m struggling to understand why they don’t share the concerns that most of use see with the assumptions and false premises embedded in this OP.

To reiterate, an FQ thread is not a Google search, and “facts” do not exist in a context-free vacuum. Surely it behooves us to ensure that facts are presented in FQ with sufficient context that their significance may be understood correctly. And if establishing that context turns out to be so controversial that it overwhelms the thread, the discussion should not be shut down - the thread should be moved out of FQ.

Now that I’ve re-read everything a couple times I think I understand your main concern, but I’m not able to square it with the particular assumption you reference. Instead I can apply it to a different statement from the same post.

In summary, as far as FQ netiquette goes, I frown upon this kind of statement but won’t go so far as to say it is inappropriate. A response challenging this, however, is likely inappropriate unless worked in as a minor aside in a more comprehensive on-topic post.

Not a moderator, my opinions are my own, all that jazz. Long explanation in spoiler below.

Long explanation (click to show/hide)

There are a number of propositions presented in Tired_and_Cranky’s first post from the linked thread:

  • There is a trend in contemporary parenting which recommends that parents teach their kids about bodily autonomy and consent to contact.
  • Some parents help their kids establish and maintain boundaries about physical contact by letting the child refuse hugs and kisses from relatives.
  • Some parents use this childrearing technique to help their children develop personal boundaries and to help guard against sexual manipulation and abuse.
  • There are lots of articles about this parenting strategy.
  • “Experts” imply they believe this parenting strategy leads to better outcomes.
  • Psychology and sociology treats many unreliable studies as definitive research.
  • In the absence of data, some people pretend personal anecdotes are data.

I can also guess at one implied (hidden) proposition,

  • Just because an “expert” believes something, does not make it true.

The member vouches for the truth of the above propositions when he (or she) posts them as facts.

Tired_and_Cranky provided one citation to support some of the above propositions to some extent. If you think you need clarification or additional citations on the above in order to answer the topic question, I think you would be justified in asking in-thread. For example, I think this would be fine:

“I have some experience in this field and access to scientific journals, but I’ve never heard of this trend. Emily McCombs’s column was interesting but she notes that it is a new parenting concept so there might not be any large studies yet. Slate also has a reputation for heterodoxy although this may not apply to its parenting advice column. Can you give me another example of an expert who promotes this parenting strategy? If I read more articles about it I might find some key words and phrases to help search the scientific literature.”

On the other hand I think this response would violate FQ netiquette,

“Cite that ‘psychology and sociology research is a real mixed bag with lots of unreliable studies treated as definitive’?”

Why don’t I approve of this post? First and foremost it potentially de-rails the discussion from a focused research request into a general debate about the reliability of social sciences. Two, it is a low-effort nitpick of a relatively high-effort post. In my experience it is inappropriate to nitpick before the main question has been addressed, unless you go to lengths to demonstrate interest in the topic or otherwise acknowledge your inability to respond to anything else.

Tired_and_Cranky’s proposition about psychology/sociology having unreliable studies is ultimately irrelevant to the topical question. That is to say, answering the topical question does not imply acceptance of this particular dubious premise. If you are compelled to act when someone says something wrong on the internet, work it in as an aside while answering the topic question. If you can’t answer the topic question and have no purpose responding in FQ except to nitpick with some side point, maybe reexamine your motivation for participating in that subforum. You could create a topic in GD or IMHO, or call out a specific poster in the BBQ Pit. Backlinks will notify people following the original discussion. At the very least, if you must nitpick and fulfill no other purpose, phrase it as a “nitpick” or disagreement rather than prodding the person for extended discussion. That way you aren’t actively hijacking the discussion.

There is something to say about Tired_and_Cranky’s posting of “psychology and sociology research is a mixed bag with lots of unreliable studies treated as definitive.” This statement, presented as fact, is difficult to disprove (cannot prove a negative) and may be mildly offensive to experts in those fields (the target audience for Tired_and_Cranky’s post, mind you). My personal opinion is that while ideally the original poster would have omitted that line, my personal experience in life is that mild skepticism is endemic and outright censorship is neither desirable nor practicable. Doctors are expected to put up with mild skepticism of medicine. Psychologists are expected to put up with mild skepticism of psychology. Economists are expected to put up with mild skepticism of economics. et cetera. The fact that a person is coming to you for expert advice is a step in the right direction, possibly the best foot in the door you can ever get. The statement, while potentially mildly offensive, also provides some context that may help an expert tailor his or her answer to Tired_and_Cranky’s skepticism.


Or, neither of them see that “premise” embedded in the post to begin with.

Chronos told you so explicitly, post #2 sentence 1: “I see no such assumption in the OP or in their subsequent posts to the thread.”

I don’t see it, for my part - not as a premise and not as an assumption on Tired_and_Cranky’s part. One could ascribe the position you describe as an underlying motive, but unless you see something I don’t, to call it a “premise” is idiosyncratic usage of language.

The usual definition of “premise” is some sort of proposition used to support an argument or conclusion. (In formal logic there are additional requirements.)

Tired_and_Cranky’s original post contains exactly one explicit conclusion.

  1. “This [thread] is [in] FQ.” (premise)
  2. If “[t]his [thread] is [in] FQ”, then “[t]his thread is not a thread for your guesses about whether [the parenting strategy described] works or is beneficial.” (hidden premise)
  3. “This [thread] is not a thread for your guesses about whether [the parenting strategy described] works or is beneficial.” (conclusion)

engineer_comp_geek has confirmed that the above is what you call a “reasonable restriction on scope”. Furthermore the above premises are distinct from the one you identify as dubious.

Tired_and_Cranky also hints at a number of independent propositions. These are implied through questions, without the support of arguments and without endorsing them as his or her own position:

  • This parenting strategy…
    • reduces rates of sexual abuse
    • leads to earlier discovery of sexual abuse
    • leads to better adult relationships
    • reduces depression among older kids
    • strengthens kids’ relationships
    • has positive effects

These are potential hypotheses or conclusions for scientific research, which research Tired_and_Cranky ultimately seeks. Tired_and_Cranky does not support these with arguments or reveal his (or her) evaluation of them. You are not forced to accept these as premises because they are presented as questions, not statements of fact.

What line of reasoning do you see implicit in the question that assumes any valid approach to parenting must derive from rigorous studies of outcomes?

Here is a line of reasoning implicit in the post:

Emily McCombs (writing for Slate’s parenting advice column) offers expert parenting advice.

Expert parenting advice is not necessarily supported by reliable scientific studies.

The expert parenting advice Emily McCombs offers is not necessarily supported by reliable scientific studies.

The expert parenting advice Emily McCombs offers is teaching children about consent and bodily autonomy by, among other things, deciding not to force physical intimacy (hugs and kisses).

Teaching children about consent and bodily autonomy by, among other things, deciding not to force physical intimacy (hugs and kisses) is not necessarily supported by reliable scientific studies.

The goal (“idea”) of teaching children about consent and bodily autonomy is to help maintain personal boundaries later and, among other things, decrease the likeliness of sexual manipulation and abuse. (dubious)

The goal of teaching children about consent and bodily autonomy by, among other things, deciding not to force physical intimacy (hugs and kisses) is to help maintain personal boundaries later and, among other things, decrease the likeliness of sexual manipulation and abuse.

This was my initial reading of the post (and provided cite) which leads directly to the factual question asked, no other premises involved: “Is there any scientific or sociological evidence that this parenting strategy reduces rates of sexual abuse?”

I marked one premise as dubious. It’s not the one you identified. The Slate piece didn’t actually mention sexual abuse, it is written as if teaching kids about bodily autonomy is a self-evident benefit in and of itself. I did preliminary research and found the premise well supported. Aside from myriad blogs and such, one small (n=7) study involved teaching young kids about non-sexual physical boundaries, and they cited protection against future sexual abuse as a potential benefit. (The study* measured lesson retention, not correlation with sexual abuse.) However if I couldn’t find anybody touting decreased likeliness of sexual abuse as a benefit for teaching kids about bodily autonomy and consent, then I think it would be appropriate to ask for a citation - after the factual question had been answered directly (or after I had done my best to do so).

I disagree with @Left_Hand_of_Dorkness that the Tired_and_Cranky presumes parenting based on scientific research is more effective than parenting not based on scientific research. Where is the evidence that Tired_and_Cranky presumes so?

On my first read I assumed Tired_and_Cranky has had the experience of asking someone if something is supported by scientific data, and getting personal anecdotes instead; that he (or she) is guarding against that here.


* Bell, Marlesha C., “Changing the Culture of Consent: Teaching Young Children Personal Boundaries” (2020). USF Tampa Graduate Theses and Dissertations.