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I’ve been reading and answering questions on Quora.Com for some time. Due to my interests, credentials, and activity, I receive many requests for answers on various subjects. They seem to fall into one of several categories.

Thoughtful Questions

Some questions are truly imaginative. They ask for the origin of, the evolution of, or relationship between various things that are well known but not well understood. These are usually in the areas of Anthropology, Sociology, History, and Futurism. They ask the writer to consider things they may not have before, or would deserve its own show on an egghead-targeting cable channel.

Rhetorical Questions

These are usually trolls looking for confirmation or a debate on something of which they’ve already made up their minds. It often starts with a statement of fact, which, in fact, is not a fact at all, or an incorrect one. Or it begs, “in light of x” why do some people still believe “y”. However, this latter scenario allows for people to give legitimate responses, as it deals with social psychology and epistemology. It just might not be the answer they want to hear.

Stupid Questions

These are ones you wish were rhetorical, or meant as a joke. Things like “why did we kill all the dinosaurs in the Crusades” that indicate somewhere our education system has utterly failed someone. Sometimes it reveals exposure to fake science or misinformation, but I’m not talking just false assumptions or conspiracies like “why did aliens build the pyramids”. I’m talking about things that really are mind-blowingly ignorant without any reasonable, or even unreasonable, context.

Homework Assignments

These are usually simple, like,e “How did this or that obscure person affect some nation in Africa.” And yes, it’s almost always Africa. And some of these can be answered by a simple Google search or Wikipedia entry. Some you can tell are for specific classes and subjects, but would not be asked out of general curiosity. You can tell it’s paraphrasing their professor’s request. But sometimes it’s really transparent, like “Give five examples of the impact of x on the development of y.” I’m tempted to just make stuff up and have them get kicked out of their class, or hopefully their school.

I don’t want to give specific examples here, and I can’t recall any questions that don’t fall into one of these categories, but time will tell. I may revise or add an addendum to this post. All I know is that there are definitely stupid questions, and it’s hard to decide which to ignore and which to openly apply ridicule to.