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"Real questions have answers, not ideas, items or opinions" is the only rule I've been looking at when moderating questions accused of being subjective. However, it turns out "opinion" isn't that clear cut of a term.

(How surprising: there is no objective definition of what belongs to the realm of subjectivity.)

  1. What is an opinion?
  2. What makes it different from an answer?
  3. Can a subjective question have answers and not opinions?

Hint: if your answer to point 3 is "no" then you're probably on the wrong path.

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    That question reminds me of dating my now-girlfriend. 6 months and at least 1000 hours of discussion time just on point 1. Also on proving the comment. Mathematically, at that. Once I did that, she agreed to go out with me. – Ritwik Bose Mar 30 '11 at 23:10
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tl;dr: An opinion is not falsifiable (e.g. "I like X better than Y"). An answer is (e.g. "X is better than Y").


The term "opinion" is an umbrella that contains two sort of statements:

  • Analysis
  • Preference

I think this is really what Robert Cartaino was touching on in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. An opinion can be grounded in facts, explaining the how and the why, a thoughtful analysis that weigh each factor carefully - or it can be a mere statement of one's tastes.

The best display of the difference I can remember of right now is Roger Ebert's I'm a proud Brainiac blog post, where he does show there are two kinds of opinions:

So let's focus on those who seriously believe "Transformers" is one of the year's best films. Are these people wrong? Yes. They are wrong. I am fond of the story I tell about Gene Siskel. When a so-called film critic defended a questionable review by saying, "after all, it's opinion," Gene told him: "There is a point when a personal opinion shades off into an error of fact. When you say 'The Valachi Papers' is a better film than 'The Godfather,' you are wrong."

Ebert makes a distinction between a good film and enjoying a film. The former requires an analysis of the craft behind the film; the latter is a summary of your own personal experience.

An analysis of the craft behind the film can be wrong. There is certainly room for healthy and reasonable differences of opinions, but past a certain point you're just flat out wrong. There are some films which are simply masterfully executed and other films which certainly are amateurish. You can say that of your own personal preferences. It's your preferences. Preferences can't be wrong. And that is where the problem lies. It's an answer that can't be wrong.

I think that's the litmus test for an helpful subjective answer: while the answer is spot on, it could have been wrong, if the author had a poor grasp of the subject.

Opinions can make very good answers, if they care thoughtful analysises. Strategies often are subjective in nature, yet are extremely useful answers. The answer to How do I know when it's time to push? is subjective in nature, but it can also be wrong. Pushing at level 1 is a very bad idea.

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    this is an amazingly great answer – Jeff Atwood Mar 31 '11 at 7:50
  • I fully agree with your thought process; I would also submit that what you're calling a good "opinion" answer is in fact an analysis, or an evaluation, not simply an opinion. If the opinion is the entire answer (in reference to the now-widespread "real questions have answers, not [...] opinions") then it will ipso facto be devoid of any pertinent facts or logic. – Aarobot Mar 31 '11 at 22:09
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If you can't cite hard data or reference articles to support what you wrote ... it's probably an opinion.

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    I think that here on gaming, a lot of answers are lessons learned from personal experience. Then again, these probably appear in questions that are usually not problematic. – Oak Mar 31 '11 at 7:40
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    @oak well if you want my honest opinion, this site should not work at all on our engine. That it does even a little is a testament to the strength of the community, but I still have reservations about it personally.. and I'm saying that as a gamer myself. – Jeff Atwood Mar 31 '11 at 7:50
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    @Oak there's a difference between verifiable in practice and verifiable in principle. Good, useful answers on Gaming.SE are verifiable in principle: play the game and if the strategy works, it's right. To that end, answers on Gaming.SE aren't writing the Great American Novel: there will have been many people who have done it, verified it, and documented it elsewhere on the web. So answers should always be verifiable in practice as well: if one can't find any external sources verifying an answer, it's either an untested opinion/guess/speculation or one hasn't looked hard enough. – user3389 Mar 31 '11 at 12:38

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