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Inspired by some of the recent questions about MHA370 (here and here), I'm thinking we should establish a more-or-less official stance on questions about accidents or incidents currently under investigation - particularly the "How could something like this happen?" type of questions.

What's the consensus on these -- how much discussion and speculation are we willing to entertain prior to having the facts?

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  • $\begingroup$ Do people think that my "can a commercial airplane stop being tracked" question is grey or is seeking speculation? Sure I referenced MHA370 in the intro, but I quickly moved to a generic question. The resulting top answers (yes there were some flak answers that needed removing) were concrete and quite timeless. Also, as it became a Hot Network Question, 6k+ people have been better educated about plane tracking and systems! How exciting! $\endgroup$ – andrewb Mar 12 '14 at 9:40
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    $\begingroup$ @andrewb Personally I think that question is fine - it's more about how RADAR/ADS-B/etc. work than "Hey what do you guys think happened to flight whatever $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Mar 12 '14 at 15:53
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Speculation, by its very nature is opinion-based, and probably not a good fit on those grounds. If the question is very specific, and there are facts available to base an answer on, then I think it's a valid question just like any normal question.

The questions about how could x happen (without asking for speculation on a particular incident) are a grey area, and I think it depends on how many possible causes there are. For example, how can an airplane be lost on radar in the middle of the ocean? has a fairly specific and informative answer. Obviously, how could an airplane crash in the middle of the ocean? is not specific enough, and would be closed.

Basically, I'm saying that the ground rules we already have apply pretty well to these questions, and I'm not sure we need to have a specific policy on it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I definitely agree that "Opinion based" or "Too broad" close reasons & ground rules cover this sort of question - this is more a "Should we have a statement on why the "bad" questions are too broad / opinion based, and if so what should that statement be?" issue to me (and to that end I like the way you broke it out in your second paragraph - Good Subjective vs Bad Subjective/Wild Guessing) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Mar 12 '14 at 15:52
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I'm not really a fan of speculating about accidents under investigation - I generally don't engage in that kind of speculation myself, and on the rare occasions I do it's always prefaced with "we won't really know what happened until the investigating agencies sort out the facts".

I'm not opposed to general questions that may arise as a result of accidents or incidents (e.g. How do commercial pilots send distress signals?), but questions specific to the accident/incident really can't be answered without the pertinent facts.

I would prefer to see speculation questions on the main site closed/deferred until at least a factual report (or factual statement) has been issued by one of the investigating agencies - the NTSB or equivalent - and we have something of substance to discuss rather than just guessing at "what might have happened".


I do have less of an objection to discussing this sort of thing in chat (I could even see spinning up a separate chat room if the discussion becomes significant enough), though if we start seeing crazy alien conspiracy theory stuff showing up I might discover a new objection...

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There are quite a lot of places where 'experts' are guessing for reasons behind accidents. Sticking to facts seems the best way forward as far as I am concerned. In the end it will serve users better.

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    $\begingroup$ The "experts" (the professional accident investigators) are actually being quite tight-lipped with respect to MH370, as they usually are when they have no real facts to speak of :) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Mar 19 '14 at 1:42

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