When I read Irish cream liqueur I was at a loss as to whether or not to answer or vote to close the question. Ultimately I chose to offer an answer, but only because some commercial brands did list caramel coloring and caramel coloring can contain wheat... My problem was the "Protein Powder" element of the question, as a false premise. The recipe I have used, and all those I could find didn't include any 'protein powder'.

My question here is when a question has a false premise (whether or not it applies to this specific example) should we answer, ignore, or close the question?

Example: How do I remove the natural chocolate from eggs? Since there isn't any chocolate in eggs...

  • I think that question had many, many flaws. Too broad by not specifying a brand, unanswerable because brands (generally) don't release ingredients lists. False premise? More of an unproven premise, it's very possible that some brands use whey powder. – Niall Aug 20 '17 at 9:13
up vote 4 down vote accepted

There is nothing wrong with a question having a false premise. There is this aphorism that the most important word in science is not "eureka" but "that's weird", and it captures something very important: people are usually triggered to seek knowledge by noticing that the world doesn't conform to their internal ideas of how it should be.

Sometimes this kind of question annoys experts. It not only betrays that the asker is a beginner in this specific point, which means that there won't be a mentally stimulating discussion between peers, but more of an educational teacher-student interaction. It is also more work for the expert - he cannot simply describe what the reality is and pat himself on the back for work well done, he has to first engage with the student to help him unroot his false assumptions, and only then say what the right one is. This is much more difficult than lecturing.

However, "making experts happy" is not the goal of our site. It is the cheese in the mousetrap :) The goal is to help the beginners (and the perpetual intermediates) learn. And not only when it is not difficult to do so. Exterminating questions based on a false premise would prevent much learning, and accidentally also mean that a good chunk of our existing questions have to be closed.

Except for a few edge cases, I see nothing problematic with a question with a wrong premise. Such questions require a thoughtful answer which exposes the premise as wrong, explains what thought traps might lead into believing it, and corrects the wrong thinking. It might also arrive at a right answer, which makes it equivalent to the infamous XY problem. In some cases, it will not arrive at a right answer, because it doesn't exist, and that's OK. Even explaining why the answer doesn't exist is very useful for the learners (which is not only the OP, but the thousands of anonymous surfers who find the page).

The edge cases are those which deal with extremely common misconceptions, are very basic and need a thorough explanation starting with the basics, and crop up frequently. For those, we should create a canonical explanation and start closing the new ones as duplicates, without going into the finest details of the original question. This is how we deal now with a lot of the very basic food safety questions here, or how Biology deals with the "why didn't evolution create flyign pigs" sort of questions.


For the concrete question you linked as an example, I find your answer very good and useful. The OP obviously didn't know that there are liquors made without protein powder, and that knowledge seems to be quite relevant to his situation. So you helped him, and addressed the question. Sure, you did not say "yes" or "no", but in life, the answer to most yes or no questions is "it's complicated" anyway.

It's a low quality question, treat it like any other low quality question.

In this specific case, I don't think it's relevant whether "protein powder" is actually present*. OP was is essentially asking if Irish cream contains either gluten or seaweed extract, It doesn't matter whether they're part of one ingredient or added separately. ie. it doesn't matter if the premise is true or false because it's not the premise of the question they're really trying to ask anyway.

Ideally the poster would have used the feedback from your answer and other comments to edit the question into a (hopefully) answerable form, but that doesn't look likely.

IMO, the question should either be edited by someone else or closed.

*FWIW, "milk protein" does seem be listed as an ingredient of mass-produced cream liqueurs, where this info is available. This doesn't mean it's "protein powder", but it at least makes that plausible. IMO, the poster is confused between "protein powder" in the form of whey/other milk proteins used as industrial scale ingredients in a very pure form(ie. no seaweed), and "protein powder" found in shops as a sports supplement which often contains carrageenan(a seaweed extract) as a thickener. It's plausible that seaweed extract could be used to make cream liqueur, but it's very unlikely that it would be part of the milk protein (not that this last point is important).

  • I have trouble understanding the policy you propose in your answer. What means "treat it like any other low quality question"? We don't have a closing reason for a "low quality question". What would an objective definition of low quality question be? Also, you say that the question should either be edited by someone else or closed. Edited how? And if closed, what would be the close reason? – rumtscho Aug 24 '17 at 14:21

There is natural chocolate in a chocolate easter egg, which is by some definition an egg - and eliminating the impossible would leave you with the improbable (someone trying to process a piece of confectionery), which would allow a clarification via a comment, edit suggestion, or edit...

  • really reaching for that one... groan – Cos Callis Nov 13 '17 at 21:26

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