Can we ask questions about historical individuals?

  • Could you give e an example? In general when there is a strong CogSci relation, eg, questions on the teachings of Freud, that's fine I guess.
    – AliceD Mod
    Jun 21, 2017 at 6:55
  • @AliceD no i don't mean what did X say. biographical details
    – user7852
    Jun 21, 2017 at 6:56
  • This meta-question may be somewhat related: cogsci.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2160/… , as it also asks about individual events. I think we can discuss individual historical persons also, but it should have some general relevance. Normally, questions about the individual, that do not show relevance, are closed as self-help questions. Jun 21, 2017 at 7:27
  • @RobinKramer this issue has nothing to do with self-help, I'd urge OP to give examples as to what they wish to know.
    – AliceD Mod
    Jun 21, 2017 at 7:39
  • @AliceD I am well aware of that. What I was saying was that normally on CogSci question about individual behavior are closed. The close-vote we use for that is self-help, even though it is not always self-help per se. However, I believe that questions about historical figures can be interesting, such as the question about Nash the OP linked to. The premises and relevance should be clear though, in my opinion. Jun 21, 2017 at 7:47
  • @RobinKramer wait, are you suggesting that i ought not ask questions that are generated by a personal interest?
    – user7852
    Jun 21, 2017 at 7:54
  • Questions should be answerable with scientific evidence (or interpretations thereof), indeed. If that is not possible, i.e., answers can only be speculative and based on people's opinion, I think the question would not be a good fit for CogSci. There are as many opinions as there are people, and as stated in the Tour: "This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat." and "Avoid questions that are primarily opinion-based, or that are likely to generate discussion rather than answers." Jun 21, 2017 at 8:01
  • @RobinKramer i'm not sure that the question was opinion based. there could even be a broad consensus on questions like how good a mathematician is / was X
    – user7852
    Jun 21, 2017 at 8:02
  • I'm leaving my previous comment to answer your initial (pre-edit) comment. I definitely think you should ask question based on personal interest. Each one of my questions are personal interests. Not each one of them is top-notch of course, but each/most do include a section on why I want it answered or why it is interesting from a scientific perspective. Jun 21, 2017 at 8:07
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    So, in short, I agree with you user3293056. I could really appreciate questions about historical figures. But do make sure that the questions can be answered objectively :) Jun 21, 2017 at 8:08
  • @RobinKramer the pre-edit question maybe wasn't of scientific evidence because it was only about one individual
    – user7852
    Jun 21, 2017 at 8:09
  • Your initial research was very good, using scientific references and all. That is better than many other questions. The way you initially phrased the question seemed primarily opinion based, however. After your edits, it was a lot better and I also voted to reopen the question. Jun 21, 2017 at 8:12
  • One further note, please expand your question with a bit more context. Explain (1) why you were triggered to ask this meta-question (i believe the closure of your Nash-question and why it is you think it should not have been closed), (2) what you would like to see/do instead, and (3) how you would like achieve that given the rules that apply here on CogSci. If you include these things in your question, answer will be much better and clearer. Jun 22, 2017 at 9:26

1 Answer 1


It really depends on the question you ask. Questions such as "wasn't _____ the best?" will be closed (should be closed, anyways). The question "Was John Nash a worse mathematician after..." can't be answered objectively. Why? Because definitions of "better" and "worse" differ by individuals. Perhaps you think he was a better mathematician because he was more relatable, while I think he was a worse mathematician because his work was at a lower theoretical level. Because of this lack of consensus, I would view these questions as inappropriate for SE.

Your first question in the linked post: "What do we know about mathematical ability pre and post psychosis, in schizophrenia?" seems much more answerable to me. Why? Because the terms psychosis and schizophrenia have a standard definition, unlike "worse" in the above context.

Long story short: yes, you can ask questions about historical figures if they align with community guidelines (I can't think of a good example right now that doesn't involve some kind of speculation). But no, you should not ask questions that are primarily opinion based (about historical figures, or anyone/anything else).

  • hm i get what you mean, but disagree
    – user7852
    Jun 21, 2017 at 15:58
  • @user3293056 Awesome, thank you! With which piece?
    – mflo-ByeSE
    Jun 21, 2017 at 15:59
  • there's really no need to be sarcastic right? just because very many definitions "differ by individuals", and this doesn't mean they are unanswerable. if there's a broad consensus, in the academic literature, then it's not opinion based. i thought that's what was meant on stackexchange, not something about the epistemological status of what we ask
    – user7852
    Jun 21, 2017 at 16:04
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    @user3293056 I apologize: no sarcasm meant. Is their a broad consensus on what makes a better mathematician? More specifically, is their a broad consensus on how to define if a "great" mathematician was better or worse than their "usual"? And all of this, based on a specific event (and not alternate life changes that went along with it)? I know of (and can imagine) no consensus here: thus the vote on opinion based.
    – mflo-ByeSE
    Jun 21, 2017 at 16:08
  • :) i don't there's a broad consensus on what makes a better mathematician, genius is intolerable. i think there's a definite consensus that e.g. einistein was a better at math than my friend dave
    – user7852
    Jun 21, 2017 at 16:09
  • @user3293056 :) There we can agree! Though I'm not sure there is a broad consensus in the academic literature on what this means (so a question of "was Einstein a better mathematician than John Nash" I would view as unanswerable: too much individual preference goes into "better" here).
    – mflo-ByeSE
    Jun 21, 2017 at 16:13
  • agreed it's a difficult question, and likely that opposing views have broadly similar prevalence. but i wonder if the question gets asked and answered anywhere? given it has been, then i think it's good opinion based, not bad
    – user7852
    Jun 21, 2017 at 16:15
  • @user3293056 Aha: then perhaps this is the deviating point. For me, it can be asked and answered somewhere else, but not on CS (which has stated that questions that are primarily opinion based are out of place). As you mention: opposing views, each with (potentially) equally valid evidence, and little to decide between them (other than that each faction has a different definition of what "better/worse" means). If we asked: "which has more publications", this could be answerable (operationalized definition of "better").
    – mflo-ByeSE
    Jun 21, 2017 at 16:21
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    @user3293056 the argument of mfloren is similar to what I mentioned in the comments. There should be an objective answer which is supported by scientific evidence. The question "what is the effect of scizophrenia on math abilities" can be objectively answered, but the question "how good is Nash" cannot. In my opinion he was amazing, but someone else may think the research was simplistic. To repeat, this site is for answers, not for discussions. Jun 22, 2017 at 9:22