I took a quick look around and I couldn't find previous discussion, so I thought I would bring this up.

I was inspired by this question, which asks about whether jet fuel can melt steel beams (yes, it's that kind of question). While that particular question didn't seem to be asked in good faith, there are many people out there who could benefit from some engineering insight into common conspiracies like this.

That question got a lot of downvotes, probably because the asker didn't really put much effort into it beyond giving some statistic on fuel temperatures, and became combative when an answer was given. However, the downvotes may have also been a sign of displeasure from the community; after all the particular "fuel temperature" problem is often discussed and much-maligned.

My question is: assuming the questions and answers are properly moderated (avoiding spam, speculation, and insults) how should the community handle these questions?

Should we try to give a solid engineering answer and move on? Should they be marked as off-topic (maybe Skeptics SE is a better place for them)? Or should we treat them as spam and close them?

I'm looking for some solid discussion about a problem that will likely not go away, we might as well think about how to deal with it now.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The main reason I voted to close is that it was a very naive question and the user had been pretty combative. I think if there's a question about the actual mechanics, and some indication that the user understands enough basic engineering principles that we could answer meaningfully, probably someone should answer it. But I don't think many people who could understand a good answer think the question needs to be answered, and feeding the trolls will just drive good-faith users away. $\endgroup$
    – Ethan48
    Sep 13, 2016 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Ethan48 I agree that the user was very combative, and overall it was not a good question. I'm not trying to question anyone's reasons for a downvote/close vote. However, rather than burying these questions in downvotes, would it be better to have an informal policy of closing them/moving them as they are "off-topic"? That way people who ask won't feel like "those jerks can't see the truth", instead it's just clear we don't answer that type of question. Just trying to start a conversation, that's all $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2016 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Ethan48 Also, about your comment that people who could understand the answer likely don't think it needs to be answered, consider these guys (mind you I haven't really checked their credentials, but they claim to be engineers). Much to my dismay, I have met fellow engineers who have told me "jet fuel can't melt steel beams". I believe it's important to dispel some of the engineering myths around some conspiracies, and provide solid engineering explanations for "suspicious" circumstances $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2016 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ Related, this question also got closed: engineering.stackexchange.com/questions/11472/… . I'm not broken up about it because we know what the OP was working towards, but really if you take it all on its own it's not an unreasonable question and somebody with aerospace experience could have explained why that would be challenging or impossible. $\endgroup$
    – Ethan48
    Sep 14, 2016 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Ethan48 That question wasn't actually closed; it was deleted automatically when the author's account, which was a sockpuppet created to circumvent a network-wide suspension, was destroyed. $\endgroup$
    – Air
    Sep 14, 2016 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ Ahh, that makes sense. I couldn't figure out how it qualified for deletion by community. $\endgroup$
    – Ethan48
    Sep 14, 2016 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ @BarbalatsDilemma That way people who ask won't feel like "those jerks can't see the truth" - you are assuming that the people who ask such questions are rational. Actually they are rational within their own logic system, but that system often contains the axiom "if you disagree with me, you are an idiot". $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Sep 24, 2016 at 12:58

2 Answers 2


In theory, if the technical question in the problem statement can stand on its own merits as a useful bit of Q&A, I think it's reasonable to address any problems with the non-technical portions of the problem statement via edits.

In practice, however, this can be a challenge. Particularly when the author of the question opposes constructive edits and/or technically accurate answers in favor of pushing a non-technical agenda. In which case it's reasonable for us not to invest an unlimited amount of time and effort into massaging either the content or the user's experience of the site.

In the case at hand, the author asked "Is the 911 story plausible?" and wrote not so much an engineering problem statement as a bunch of leading questions. Nonetheless, the author received a high-quality answer from a technical expert and responded by arguing with that expert in comments, eventually resorting to insults. In cases such as these we stop worrying about the question and just smack the user and all their content right off the face of the site.

In a hypothetical alternative case where the author was either genuinely interested in the underlying technical question or not actively opposing constructive edits and answers, our best approach might be to minimize or eliminate the sociopolitical context and focus strictly on the technical aspect of the question. If a question is inspired by 9/11 conspiracy theories, one brief introductory sentence mentioning that inspiration is probably as much sociopolitical context as would ever be useful.


Questions of that sort are usually straw men to validate already drawn conclusions.

If the questions were high quality and heavily moderated by the community, I could see that we might be able to generate constructive questions along those lines.

If the questions aren't high quality to begin with, "off-topic", "unclear", or "too broad" are useful close reasons depending upon how the question is posed.

Generally speaking, the OPs tend to be rather antagonistic which thwarts the community's efforts. And in those cases, we should treat the users like any other user that is actively working against the community - we show them the door.

Community members can flag comments as "rude or offensive" or "not constructive" as necessary, which can be useful for community moderation. Moderator flags are always an option as well; your humble site janitors have additional tools to clean things up more quickly.

In the example case, the OP made it clear that they were not interested in constructive Q&A.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .