Here's the question that prompted me to post this Meta question:

Creating a list of instances(objects) of a class in Python without explicit list comprehension or for loops

My question is how we should handle questions of the form:

How can I do A without using X or Y for some reason that I don't understand?

when nobody considering answering the question has a good answer for why you would ever not use X or Y to do A.

I expect that for the vast majority of these questions, the "some reason that I don't understand" is "because my teacher said so without explaining why", but I think it works to broaden the question just a bit. Maybe "my teacher" will sometimes be "my boss", "an article I read", or "the guy in the next cubicle".

There is a sister set of questions that differ from the set mentioned here in that there is an understood reason to not use X or Y, that reason being to explore or prove competence with the use of Z instead. I don't know if that set of questions should be addressed here at all. My main thought as to those is that it should be clearly identified in the question that the reason for the question, and potentially certain answers, is purely academic.

An alternative to answering the question right away would be to work with the OP to improve their question before attempting to answer it, hoping to move it out of the category being offered here before it is answered.

Is providing an alternative approach to a problem ever justified if the approach can't be technically justified under any foreseeable circumstances?

  • 2
    Yeah.. I don't like those questions. 99% are obviously homework, and the only users they will help in the future are yet more cheaters:( I downvote them and, if no code/effort at all, (that's about all of them), vote to close as well:( – Martin James Dec 15 '20 at 1:35
  • 1
    I would be tempted to argue the point that it isn't necessarily up to us to decide whether to answer the questions based on why they were asked. However, I both do not have enough information to be able to reasonably make an educated response, and I also just don't agree. It does not sit well with me the the site and the time of the dedicated answerers is being used for pure laziness or workarounds when completely unnecessary. However, I am also of the impression that it is our job as users to answer the questions being asked as best we can - regardless of the motive behind the question. – CollinB Dec 15 '20 at 1:46
  • I'll just leave that up there in case someone more educated on the topic and stackexchange's values wishes to use it as a stepping stone. – CollinB Dec 15 '20 at 1:47
  • 3
    So... what part of this is the part you're focused on? Can you explain why them not explaining why a certain option isn't allowed matters? For a simpler example, if someone asked "How can I get from NYC to LA without flying?" Do you need to have it explained why flying isn't an option? Does the traveler even need to know why? "For some reason I don't understand, my mom wants me to get from NYC to LA without flying - how can I do this to make her happy?" The point as a reader isn't to change the asker's mind; it's to answer the question. – Catija Dec 15 '20 at 2:27
  • 1
    This sounds like it's derived from our question which asked about this SO question - though obviously it applies to more than one question, and site. – Rob Dec 15 '20 at 3:14
  • @Rob - it's not a derivation. They're based on the same question, of which I was one of the commenters. Someone extracted the other Meta question, and I thought that the question suggested a more compelling and quite different Meta question than that one. That thought led me to post on Meta. So I think the two, while prompted by the same SO question, are different Meta questions. – CryptoFool Dec 15 '20 at 3:34
  • 1
    @Catija - The problem with your analogy is that we can all think of reasons that someone might not want to fly. But what if someone said "I want to fly from NYC to LA, but only on red or blue planes, because my mom says so." If this comes up on a site that is about finding the best deal on travel, does it make sense for someone to answer this question? Would it make a difference if the asker said "because my mom did extensive studies, and red and blue planes crash 20 times less frequently than others?" Wouldn't that extra info make the question more compelling to bother to discuss and answer? – CryptoFool Dec 15 '20 at 3:38
  • Fortunately, moderation and curation is handled by humans, who use their own judgement – user400654 Dec 15 '20 at 3:49
  • @Catija - and also, to your analogy, the asker has explained why they can't fly. They say that they'd really like to fly, but their mom says they can't and won't explain why. That's the only reason they have taken flying off the table. – CryptoFool Dec 15 '20 at 3:52
  • @Steve "the teacher told me I can't" is identical but you seem to not think it valid, so why is my example valid? – Catija Dec 15 '20 at 4:03
  • @Catija - is identical to what? I don't know what you're saying My question is if answering a question by saying "do it this way instead" is valid even when neither the question asker nor answerer can state why doing it that way is better than two proposed alternatives that are tried and true, and that the asker would prefer to use if not for being told to do otherwise (and hasn't been told why). I'm asking if for the answer to be valuable, an understandable reason to choose the proposed alternative over other options needs to be provided. – CryptoFool Dec 15 '20 at 4:24
  • If the answer is an answer, it’s an answer... whether the op finds it useful or not. It’s worthiness to stay is up to the community. – user400654 Dec 15 '20 at 6:48
  • @Steve That's ... not what your title (or the bulk of your body) says. Your title asks whether they should be answered at all. What you're proposing is commonly referred to as a "frame challenge" - that is, it's an answer that says "you say you don't want to do X, but here's why you should do it anyway". There's lots of questions around the network meta sites about that. But the bulk of your question body doesn't address that, it focuses on whether a question like that should be answered, only the last sentence discusses anything about ignoring the limitations of the question. – Catija Dec 15 '20 at 14:55
  • @Catija - I'm not sure what you're saying. All I can think to say is that the Title is admittedly incomplete. A critical part of my question is what I put in bold letters: "when nobody considering answering the question has a good answer for why you would ever not use X or Y to do A". If there's a good reason (or even ANY reason) to suggest a new approach, then I'm not suggesting that the question not be answered. I'm asking if, when everyone has no idea why X or Y won't work for the OP, including the OP themselves, the question should be answered anyway. – CryptoFool Dec 15 '20 at 16:28
  • Thanks everyone for your comments. My take-away is that if there is some alternative way besides X and Y to do A. there's no reason not to present that as an answer to the question, even if nobody knows why X or Y can't be used. I'm good with that. That's why I asked. When I come across these sorts of questions, I'm going to try to insure that such answers state that they provide no advantage over X and Y, if that is the case, and likewise state why the answer is inferior to X or Y, if that is the case. – CryptoFool Dec 15 '20 at 16:36

Should questions of the form “How can I do A without using X or Y for some reason that I don't understand?” be answered?

In the end, questions that can be answered are the ones for which there is no reason they should not be answered.

If the question has sufficient details, isn't too broad, isn't opinion based, isn't a duplicate, and not off-topic on the site it's asked on, it can be safely answered.

If you feel you can't answer because the question lacks details about why X and Y aren't options, and you need to know in order to know if Z is an option or would be dismissed for the reasons as X and Y, leave a comment and vote/flag accordingly.

  • Thanks! I'm going with this answer. My take-away is "If a valid alternative exists, go ahead and present it, even if most readers should go with X or Y and no reason can be presented as to why one would want to use the alternative". I really am good with that. That's why I asked. Thanks again! – CryptoFool Dec 15 '20 at 16:44
  • @Steve It really depends on the site you're on, and the exact question. Just remember that. My answer is generic, written in reply to a generic question with a generic example. Specific sites or questions will likely have more specific caveats! – Tinkeringbell Dec 15 '20 at 16:55
  • Yeah, I have that. I might seek to improve the answer if I thought it was going to cause undue harm or if it violated clear rules for the site. – CryptoFool Dec 15 '20 at 17:47

I think a question like:

How can I do A without using X or Y for some reason that I don't understand?

distills to a title of:

Doing A without using X or Y

and the onus should be on the asker to explain in their question body:

I am trying to do A but I cannot use X or Y because ...

I tried ...

but got stuck when ...

If they don't fill in the ellipses initially, and cannot clarify them when asked, then I think a close vote for needing more details is appropriate, if you think X or Y is a sensible solution.

  • @Steve because 9 times out of 10, their reasoning for not using X or Y is self imposed due to a logic error. – user400654 Dec 15 '20 at 3:30
  • Sorry all. I deleted my comment to contemplate a rewrite, not seeing that @user400654 had responded to it. My original comment was "Ok, but why does the asker need to answer those questions?" or something like that. – CryptoFool Dec 15 '20 at 3:42
  • @user400654 - but their stated reason is that someone told them to not use X or Y, but didn't explain why. Also, they have a perfectly acceptable solution that they themselves would love to use, that is either X or Y. If X or Y are the two ways that 99.9% of the community would approach the problem, and nobody can explain that last.0.1%, including the OP, is the question worth answering? – CryptoFool Dec 15 '20 at 3:49
  • 1
    The "someone [who] told them to not use X or Y" is not the person asking the question. If the question asker does not provide sufficient clarifications to their question, when asked for them, then they risk potential close voters deeming their question to contain insufficient details to be worth answering. – PolyGeo Dec 15 '20 at 4:34

You must log in to answer this question.

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