Something came up in the comments on this answer to a question on whether to close controversial questions that I feel deserves its own question:

What is the ideal response to a question based on a premise one does not accept?


  • What is the best way to introduce my 6yo to firearms use?
    When encountered by someone opposed to exposing children to firearms

  • How can I help my 2yo transition from crib to a "big girl" bed?
    When encountered by a proponent of co-sleeping

  • Is it normal for my newly-circumcised son to experience mild swelling?
    When encountered by someone opposed to male circumcision

  • When is the best time to instruct children on the use of contraception and other safer sex practices?
    When encountered by someone opposed to the use of contraception and/or in favor of abstinence-only instruction

  • Is Ambrose Bierce's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is appropriate for middle school age children?
    When encountered by someone who knows that "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" was written by Mark Twain

  • Now that we know that HIV is totally unrelated to AIDS, is there anything we can do to protect our children from AIDS?
    When encountered by someone who knows that extensive research has shown that HIV is the virus responsible for AIDS

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    My answer below, as an answer, to make voting possible.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:09
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    Related: meta.parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/166/…
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 17:02
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    Glad to have stumbled across this - this comes up frequently on Writers.SE too, IMHO. Very good issue; very good response.
    – Ziv
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 20:30

8 Answers 8


I think that we should look at this as two different, but related cases:

The disagreement is over an objective, verifiable fact.

As with the AIDS and Tom Sawyer examples above, sometimes we disagree with a questioner over a matter of verifiable, objective fact.

In these cases, I believe it is best to use comments or editing to correct the questioner (politely!). The Tom Sawyer bit is probably tame enough for a quick edit -- the author's name has no direct bearing on how a potential answerer would evaluate the content of the work. The AIDS one would probably be better served by a comment, because it is a difference that has direct bearing on how one would answer the question.

The disagreement is over a subjective issue, such as a cultural difference, or over an issue of fact that remains controversial in the field that studies it.

The firearms, bed, circumcision, and contraception questions above fall into this category. All are questions that may or may not seem appropriate based on the culture and beliefs of the person reading them.

In these cases, I feel it is best for the offended party to pass the question by. If one doesn't practice $whatever, then one is not likely able to provide expert-level advice on it. All that is accomplished by soapboxing is to create a community with an agenda, instead of a community that provides information. I believe that responding to "How do I $x?" with "Doing $x is inexcusable and/or evil." is inappropriate, and should be dealt with using downvotes and/or deletions to prevent shrill bickering over our differences from obscuring useful information that the questioner is seeking.

Most importantly, it is never appropriate to post an answer that does not directly answer the question asked.

That is the point of StackExchange, remember? To answer questions.

In case anyone is curious, I came to the above opinion after two of the three people I first introduced to this site (one of them an attachment parenting proponent) left the site without even registering when they saw the rants in favor of co-sleeping posted in answer to every question about childrens' bed-time by parents who do not co-sleep. This is what happens when we allow soapboxing: we tell people that this community isn't about providing information, it's about being the one and only right kind of parent as dictated by the group.

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    I'd do +2 if I could. Agree with you 100%! When my wife and I were planning during pregnancy, I wanted more information on what age a child should be before starting the Furber method. The closest search result I received was answers.yahoo.com, and was answered by dozens of people explaining how evil the Furber method was, and how anyone who used it was an abusive parent. This is exactly what we need to avoid here.
    – user420
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 15:24
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    Can't agree more!!! Excellent response! Soapboxing and bickering are detrimental to this site! Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 12:27
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    Isn't it our obligation, when we know, to point out that the question does not make any sense? How do you answer a question first, where the question hints that the asker has gone down the wrong path? Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 16:41
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    @funkymushroom Parenting is largely subjective, so when you say "when we know... that the question does not make any sense", you actually mean "when we believe". Telling someone that they are wrong in their approach based off of your subjective opinion is called soapboxing, and leads to unproductive arguments and hard feelings. As for "how do you answer a question" when you think the asker has gone down the wrong path, HedgeMage states quite clearly that you don't:
    – user420
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 16:56
  • @funkymushroom continued: "In these cases, I feel it is best for the offended party to pass the question by. If one doesn't practice $whatever, then one is not likely able to provide expert-level advice on it. All that is accomplished by soapboxing is to create a community with an agenda, instead of a community that provides information."
    – user420
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 16:56
  • @Beofett, I understand now. Thank you for the enlightening response and guidance. Commented Mar 29, 2012 at 21:56
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    Disagreeing isn't always soapboxing, though. Controversial subjects are...controversial, so it probably should be expected that there will be counter points. The biggest challenge with the parenting site is that very few of the questions asked are simple questions with simple answers. Alas, babies still don't come with instruction manuals.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 12, 2012 at 22:08
  • Mostly agreed, but -1 for suggesting the edit of the Ambrose Bierce example. We don't know whether the questioner actually meant the Mark Twain novel, or actually meant another work by Ambrose Bierce. When an edit could change the meaning of a post, don't edit, comment.
    – Warren Dew
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 4:20
  • I am confused by the last point "post an answer that does not directly answer the question asked, that is the point of StackExchange". On StackOverflow, IIUC, the community welcomes what we call A-B answers or frame challenge answers, so perhaps Parenting.SE users need a bit more explanation, or a fictionalised example, showing why challenging the premise of the question doesn't work here.
    – Qsigma
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 13:12

There's a difference between disagreeing with a issue that the poster has made a conscious decision about and an issue that the poster has made an unconscious assumption about. It's perfectly reasonable to suggest something that you think the poster hasn't thought about.

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    If the question is "a is an issue, so we're addressing it by trying x... what are some good ways of doing x", and you have a suggestion for trying y to address a instead, then you should not post an answer. Make a comment instead, or even post a new question and then answer it. Someone searching for "how do I do x" will most likely not find your answer useful, which is the whole point of this site.
    – user420
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 17:09
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    @Beofett I disagree. Take a different forum...such as the home building one. It's common for people to want to fix 'a' by doing 'y' and ask a question on how to do 'y' but the reality is that 'y' is the WRONG way to handle 'a'. It's incredibly important more so for the rest of the people visiting the site for someone to point that out. After all, answers aren't just for the original poster, but for all future people that stumble upon the question.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 12, 2012 at 22:10
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    @DA01 the problem with that analogy is that parenting is a far more subjective, personal, and generally sensitive subject than DIY. It's far different to say that bottle-feeding is "wrong" than it is to say that using a mitre saw to cut floor tiles is "wrong". This site has the history of flame wars (which, incidentally, stopped around the time this policy was agreed upon) to prove it.
    – user420
    Commented Apr 12, 2012 at 22:30
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    I'm not sure that's a problem with the analogy as much as it amplifies it. It's important on the DIY to tell someone that that 2x6 won't support the load even though they think it's the right solution...the question itself is dangerous if the misconception isn't addressed in the answers. I think the same holds true for any topic, really. It's just that with parenting people are obviously going to be more emotional over it. (Not a solution, more of an observation...)
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 12, 2012 at 22:57
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    Agreed. But be very careful about assuming the asker hasn't considered something unless it's pretty obscure. We should assume that everyone participating is reasonably intelligent and thoughtful unless there's some evidence to the contrary. It's a real pain to have to qualify every question with (yeah yeah I already considered the obvious x,y,z...)
    – Kilo
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 6:44

In short, it is ok to help an asker to clarify their question, but it is not ok to tell them to alter the essential purpose of their question... it's their question which they are just looking for a real answer to. (Though, as HedgeMage noted, if the premise is provably wrong in some objective way, that's fair game.)

You should try to answer the question that was asked, even if you disagree with the premise (you can just mention your disagreement parenthetically, very briefly).

If you can't (aren't willing to) respond to the question that was actually asked, then just move along. You don't need to respond to questions you don't like.

If you wish they had asked a different, question, then post it yourself, as a new question.

If you wish to soapbox about the premise (that no one asked your opinion on), then do that on your personal blog, etc.

If you absolutely can't restrain yourself from suspecting the asker is stupid and not even aware of their own premises, then you might comment as briefly and humbly as possible that "some people" may disagree with the premise, adding only, "of course you already knew that", so they don't have to reply back to defend their intelligence.


While HedgeMage's answers has long been our standard for answers that argue with the premise, I think we've been exposed now to a potential exception to this rule:

When the question is about solving interpersonal issues, such as conflict resolution or communicating to others.

The thing is, we're already considering these types of answers as acceptable on a case-by-case basis, apparently. "How can I say?" or "How do I tell?" questions inevitably garner answers along the lines of "Don't, and here's why..." or "Don't, and here's what to do instead"

How can I convince my parents to accept my approach on school?

How do I tell my parents I'm no longer Christian?

How can I tell parents of a 1-year-old that they're doing it wrong?

What is a polite way to ask others not to comment on baby girl only for her looks?

How to spank in public without having everyone around you assume you're a child abuser?

How should a stepfather respond to "You are not my Father!"?

Teaching children how to fight back

The reason why these types of questions attract counter-points as answers is because, by the nature of the question, the user is seeking the best way to navigate an interpersonal situation. They're not always about enacting the proposed solution, but solving the underlying problem. That is, they're a type of XY problem.

Unlike some of the other types of answers that argue with the premise, these responses are given as the best way to navigate social and family dynamics faced by parents and children. I would say that, as a community, we already recognize that these answers are a good way to resolve the problem, and even get accepted by the person asking the question.

I think we should make this an "official" exception, so it's not a grey area or one looked at on a case-by-case basis anymore. As it stands now, some upvoted answers of this type have been deleted or greatly altered for having a stance counter to the actual question. I would say this is not uniformly applied.

To reiterate for clarity, this exception would only be for resolving interpersonal issues, not other types of problems. Common tags we see on these types of questions are and , but such questions aren't necessary limited to those tags. Other tags, such as and have questions that would be of the same nature, but are generally asked in a more open-ended manner than clearly indicates they are okay with answers to "...and should I?".

The caveat would be if the user's original question specifically states they don't want such advice.

  • Having thought about this a lot the last couple days (while largely offline), I think this may be best as its own meta question rather than an answer. While I generally agree that this interpersonal-communication questions are a different class than things like firearms, sex ed, or co-sleeping, it still may need some discussion and refinement to be workable; I'll leave a few additional comments to help highlight what I mean.
    – Acire
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 12:56
  • We may require more clarity of what "should I" entails. For example, the "academic failure" question attracted "don't fail" answers rather than "don't talk to them" [and note that academic strategy isn't even topical for Parenting, but that was what was being answered!]. In contrast, "I'm an atheist" didn't have "stay Christian" answers, although there were multiple "don't even bring it up" answers. It requires fairly clear distinction of what the premise(s) of the question is, and also clear understanding of what the question is.
    – Acire
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 12:58
  • Secondarily, interpersonal relationships other than parent-child or child-parent are generally off-topic, which may be a different way of dealing with some such questions. (For example, "How do I talk to parents about their bad parenting?" That really isn't "how do I parent", it's more an etiquette issue -- should we start being more strict about that?)
    – Acire
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 13:01
  • @Erica A new meta may be best, yes. My net is limited this weekend, but I'll work on something. I say interpersonal because some issues, such as interacting with other parents on a playground, or communicating with your child's teachers or doctors, fall under our domain (as best as I can tell). I'd want to clarify that and take input. Then obviously refine based on the examples you mentioned and others we can come up with.
    – user11394
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 17:16

I've noticed that this seems to be almost the typical type of question now being asked in here. Perhaps parenting is simply too much opinion than is suitable for a StackExchange format.

That said, SE typically wants to have discussions that are based on some observable starting point. So, perhaps the best thing to do is simply mark them as off topic if the premise is based on some assumption or misinformation.

  • 1
    What is the typical type of question now being asked? One whose premise you disagree with? There's no problem that I am aware of with questions based on subjective stances (i.e. asking for advice on how to proceed given a certain subjective stance). Saying "I believe x is right; how should I address this situation with that in mind?" qualifies as "some observable starting point". Not everyone will agree with that starting point, but if the question is good, some will. If not, it will get few votes. We can't mark as off-topic simply because someone disagrees with the premise.
    – user420
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 14:54
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    I'm suggesting we do just that as that is the intent of SE sites. It's supposed to be a simple Q&A format where the question has a specific answer. When the premise is one that is flawed, then that is what has to be first resolved before an answer can be given. Stating "I believe 2+2=5, how do I convince my teacher to teach that?" isn't something that can be properly answered in this SE format. We can only provide opinions. That's FINE, but not in the context of SE.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 15:22
  • You are confusing objective fact vs. subjective opinion. 2+2=5 is not a subjective stance. It is an inaccurate representation of objective, verifiable fact. HedgeMage's answer above addresses that quite clearly. If you have any examples of questions based upon inaccurate facts, as opposed to subjective opinions you disagree with, feel free to point them out, or, better yet, use comments or edit the question (politely!) to fix them. You can't label something as "opinion" (per your answer above) and then call it "flawed" because you don't agree with it.
    – user420
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 15:37
  • If we're bringing in 'cultural values' then we're bringing 'religious beliefs' which means that, if my bible says 2+2=5, then I can argue that. And, as you can see, now the question is going to revolve around arguing whether 2+2=5 is a fact or not. I agree, with the example, it seems silly. But extend that a bit...I believe spongebob is bad...I think being gay is abnormal...I think learning arabic is evil...we can laugh at these, but the reality is there are people that truly believe these types of things due to cultural and religious beliefs. It's hard to debate beliefs in the SE format. IMHO
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 15:44
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    It is exactly that difficulty in debating beliefs that prompted the support for the suggestion that instead of engaging in a pointless debate which neither party can possibly "win", and which will only result in bickering and possibly users taking offense, simply pass the question by and do not respond. However, a fundamental difference of opinion is different than your answer's claim that there is no observable starting point for questions that have a subjective element, and should therefore be closed as off topic.
    – user420
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 15:56
  • Subjectivity seems (traditionally) off topic on SE. Granted, comparing "How do I write the JavaScript to be most performant" is a lot different than "How do I push my religious dogma on other people", so maybe it's time for SE to rethink some of these more subjective topics and set them up with slightly different models.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 16:30
  • Related to your comment.
    – user420
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 16:37
  • Ah! Yes, that question does sum up my thoughts on this fairly well.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 17:22
  • If you have a chance, would you mind popping in to chat? I have a couple of questions that would more suitable there.
    – user420
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 17:45
  • Sorry @Beofett, just saw this now. I'll linger in chat for a while. Another thought...it seems like one challenge here is to get everyone to agree on when to downvote and when not to. I think that'll be tough, especially for those that use many different SE sites.
    – DA01
    Commented Jan 4, 2012 at 0:29

My answers:

  • In the firearms and contraception examples I think it's appropriate to downvote if the question is posited in such a way that it presumes it is a good idea if you don't agree that it is a good idea. Somebody is asking how to do something when you think doing it is harmful or evil. Since it's subjective, the question is OK, but I think it's OK to downvote.

  • In the HIV example: Vote to close and explain. Such a question is beyond help, and most likely so is the poster. (Update: In the case of less paranoid factual inaccuracies see next point.)

  • In the Tom Sawyer example: Edit and comment. It's just a factual mistake.

  • In the circumcision example: Do nothing. It's not a question if you should circumcise or not, it's already happened. Any opinions on that is too late anyway.

  • In the sleeping example: Do nothing. Nobody that advocates co-sleeping claims it's for ever or for everyone. You shouldn't have to explain yourself for why it's not working for you. I've encountered that attitude twice now, and it's annoying. It's my life, my kids and I know that I have no choice in the issues. Being questioned isn't helpful.

Update: Some notes after reading HedgeMages answers: The HIV question would likely be asked by a conspiracy theorist, and they are not receptive to rational argumentation. From HedgeMages answer I realize that is perhaps not what the question was intended to be an example of.

Also, before somebody accuses me of bias or other straw men (which I've unfortunately come to expect of this site already) I disagree with introducing kids to weapon and agree with sexual education.

  • I already agreed with you on Tom Sawyer, and could agree with your response to the HIV example, however, I fail to see how the firearms and contraception examples are any different than co-sleeping: these are cultural values that cannot be objectively proved right or wrong.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:49
  • @HedgeMage: I can't really agree with that. Especially not with the contraception question, where it objectively has been proven that sex education is good. But the difference is that in one case they are asking for how to do something that some people think (rightly or wrongly) is harmful or evil. In the co-sleeping case, nobody claims sleeping in your own bed is harmful or evil. It's not a cultural value at all, in fact, it's a personal family question. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:56
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    Continued: Now, sexual education probably should be viewed like that too, a personal family issue. But that isn't how it is viewed. It's viewed like an evil soul snatching idea from satan, and if you teach your kids how condoms work they will end up in hell. That's the difference from co-sleeping. :) (I clarified the answer a bit I hope). Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:57
  • @Lennart: when discussing controversial subjects, try to avoid building strawmen to justify your own position. If we're gonna handle subjects like guns or sex here, we're gonna have to at least respect the views of people we don't agree with.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 17:08
  • @Shog9: I haven't. Firstly, this is hypothetical questions, so I can't build straw men against them. The only straw man I can build here is against HedgeMage, which I in absolutely no way have built any straw man or woman against. And if you refer to my view on people against sexual education that's not a straw man. It's possibly sharply formulated, but it is not a straw man. One argument from the religious right really is that sexual education tempts kids to sin. Honestly. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 18:43
  • Cont'd: And my position is that since they do view it like this, which is similar to how I view giving guns to 6yo kids, but without any god involved, I feel it's appropriate for them to down vote questions that assume sex ed is good. Hardly a straw man. :) Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 18:53
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    @Lennart : If we do that, then instead of voting being a metric of how complete, clear, and relevant a question or answer is, it becomes a metric of which political or religious beliefs the members hold, which is not useful information to record.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 1:32
  • @HedgeMage: I don't agree. I think that a controversial questions that doesn't acknowledge the controversy is less useful than one that does. I think a question about introducing firearms to 6yo is a stupendously bad question that won't get many relevant and useful answers either, for example. Also, the fact is that people will downvote questions they don't like no matter what. You don't think they should. I think it's fine. In one way it's just an acknowledgement of human nature. :) Downvoting is also a non-rude way to express frustration. Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 6:24
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    I don't think down-voting a question based upon disagreement with the premise should be encouraged. That being said, I think it is far preferable to down-vote the question rather than add comments or, even worse, answers that simply denigrate those who agree with the premise.
    – user420
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 15:28
  • "these are cultural values that cannot be objectively proved right or wrong" and if that's the case, the question simply doesn't belong on SE.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 22:17
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    @DA01 If that were the case, questions like this one would be off-topic, as they deal with cultural values. On parenting, just about everything is rooted in cultural values. However, so long as the answers address the perspective implicit in the question, and are based upon either referenced research or personal experience, per our FAQ, then they represent content with objective value to at least some of our users. No one expects every answer to be applicable to everyone.
    – user420
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 15:04
  • It's not an issue of applicability, but rather answerability. Your example of the unclean hand is fine. It's answerable. Whether or not a 10 year old should watch Spongebob...well, that's mostly just people's personal opinions.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 15:23
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    And personal opinions are actually off-topic, and should be downvoted when present in answers. Per the FAQ: "Please note that opinions shared here should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally." I think the real difficulty is maintaining that requirement, which requires active community participation in the form of downvoting answers that violate that rule, regardless of whether the answer supports a stance you agree with.
    – user420
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 18:19

If you can't accept the premise of the question for argument's sake, don't answer it.

If you can accept the premise of the question for argument's sake, first provide an answer based on accepting the premise. Then, if you wish, provide your reasons for questioning the premise, couched in a constructive way that the questioner might accept.

If there appears to be a factual error in the question, don't edit, but add a comment asking for clarification. In the case of "Ambrose Bierce's 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'", one might point out the error and ask, "did you mean Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer", or Ambrose Bierce's "Tales of Soldiers and Civilians"?

  • This remains a struggle. If the premise of the question is objectively false posting an answer drawing attention to this will still be deleted. It begs the question of how we can get objectively true information into the question without having it deleted as off-topic. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 20:14

You really should edit the question, to take the imposing premise out of it.

If that makes it "not a real question", then close it.

This can be done with each of your Examples:

I would like to introduce my 6yo to firearms. Advice? (ppl with experience in firearms use, please)

  • When encountered by someone opposed to exposing children to firearms
  • If the person opposed to children using firearms wants to voice his opinion, he should say "Never. Children should not be exposed to firearms at all, ever." People from the other camp can also respond.

I would like to transition my 2yo from crib to a "big girl" bed. Advice?

  • When encountered by a proponent of co-sleeping

We circumcised our son. Is it normal for him to experience mild swelling?

  • When encountered by someone opposed to male circumcision
  • Actually this question should be closed because it's very clearly asking for medical advice

I would like to instruct my children on the use of contraception and safer sex practices. When is the best time to do this?

  • When encountered by someone opposed to the use of contraception and/or in favor of abstinence-only instruction
  • That person can now voice their opinion in an answer. And that's what it is, an opinion in an answer. The user should back their opinion and if people agree, there will be upvotes. We can agree to disagree on this site, and that is all what having conversation is about, with a large group of people there are bound to be differences in opinion. No need to shut down the site, just state your opinion and cast your votes.

Is "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is appropriate for middle school age children?

  • When encountered by someone who knows that "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" was written by Mark Twain
  • Simply take out the author, or correct it in an edit.

Now that we know that HIV is totally unrelated to AIDS, is there anything we can do to protect our children from AIDS?

  • When encountered by someone who knows that extensive research has shown that HIV is the virus responsible for AIDS
  • Quote a reliable source in a comment that states what you have stated, and close the question as "not a real question"

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