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The Skeptics.SE community has had high expectations of its answers; that they be based on science and not conjecture. In particular, this means providing references to empirical evidence (that can be reviewed by others) to support any significant claims. Sometimes, answers will be posted that do not meet these expectations, by new users not familiar with the community standards. Such answers act as broken windows, attracting more poor examples.

This post describes how users and moderators should normally treat answers that have insufficient references. These are not hard-and-fast rules that cannot be broken; moderators need to be allowed to apply their discretion and common-sense, and everyone involved is just a volunteer with limited resources that can't always find every problem. However, this post should give a firm idea to both the community and the moderators what is to be expected.

Inadequately Referenced Answers can be divided into three categories:

  • Relies on logic.

  • Relies on unproven general facts.

  • Relies on personal anecdote.


Relies on logic

Example:

Q: Will you get shocked by lightning in a car?

A: You are isolated, therefore no.

Actions:

  • Someone should politely ask for references to be provided, as soon as this is noted.
    • (Note: It doesn't have to be a mod who asks; anyone who notices may add this comment. Similarly, it doesn't have to be the author who adds the references; anyone who is interested may do so.)
  • A mod may add a "Citation-Needed" post notice.
  • Everyone can still see and edit/fix the text. Authors who dispute the banner should flag it for moderator attention or take the issue to Meta.
  • Note: Answers that have had the notice added, been fixed and had the notice removed are likely to have left-over downvotes. Readers are encouraged to reconsider the answer, and to change their votes when this happens.

Unproven general facts

This includes unreferenced facts and inappropriate references.

Example:

Q: Has there ever been a person 3m tall?

A1: No human has ever been taller than 2.72m.

A2: No human has ever been taller than 2.72m. (Ref: Do a Google search)

A3: No human has ever been taller than 2.72m. (Ref: http://www.ebay.com)

Actions:

  • Someone should politely ask for references to be provided, as soon as this is noted.
    • Note: It doesn't have to be a mod who asks; anyone who notices may add this comment. Similarly, it doesn't have to be the author who adds the references; anyone who is interested may do so.
  • If one week has passed and no-one has added references, or if the author explicitly declines to add references before then, that the moderator feels is necessary, then the moderator may add a comment and delete the post.
  • If a reader sees such an answer, they should flag it.
  • If the original poster can still see and edit the text. If they wishes to have the post reinstated, they may edit the post and flag it for the attention of a moderator to reinstate it.

Suggested texts for comments: (Feel free to customise.)

Welcome to Skeptics! Please provide some references to support your claims.


Could you please provide a reference for your claim that the tallest ever person was 2.72m?


I can't find in that source any evidence to directly support your claim that the tallest ever person was 2.72m. Could you please quote the relevant section or find another reference?


Anecdotes

Example:

Q: Are skeptics sexier than believers?

A: Well, I used to be a believer, and I couldn't get laid. Then I became a skeptic, and now I can pick-up attractive sexual partners whenever I want.

Note: Such stories are unlikely to ever be adequately referenced, and suffer from the fact that, on the Internet, it is very difficult to verify that they are honest and true.

Actions:

  • If a reader sees it, they should flag it.
  • The moderator may immediately add a comment and delete the post.
  • If the original poster can still see and edit the text. If they wishes to have the post reinstated, they may edit the post and flag it for the attention of a moderator to reinstate it.

General Deletion Policies

Particularly poor questions and answers (e.g. those that have been voted down into oblivion, spam, non-answers, etc.) are routinely flagged by users or noticed by moderators and cleaned-up. The above guidelines don't affect this.

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