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We have recently enforced that questions on this site need to be about claims of a certain notability, mainly to limit our scope and prevent that off-topic questions can be rephrased in the manner "I heard from my friend that ...".

We should establish some guidelines on how notable claims have to be to be on-topic here. Do we want only claims that have achieved wide circulation, or do we answer most claims, but just exclude the very fringe of beliefs.

My impression is that at the moment many users are applying pretty different standards, that we don't have a common perception of what a notable claim is. We should find some general rules, to prevent the notability criterion to become arbitrary.

  • How do we define and recognize the notability of a claim, though? I realize that this question is naturally seeking the answer to that, but it's something that should be just as important as knowing how notable a claim would be. A rather pertinent case would be this question, which was initially closed under the assumption that the claim was not all that notable. – Grace Note Aug 29 '11 at 18:26
  • @Grace I have significant problems with the whole notablility concept, though the alternative is certainly worse, without it we would expand our scope indefinitely. We should certainly have some guidelines on how to recognize significance. – Mad Scientist Aug 29 '11 at 18:44
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One problem of 'my friend/mother told me'-claims is, that you often can't nail the claim down to something.

Example: Is Coke bad for my health? Health is very unspecific, Coke is very unspecific. Is it Diet-Coke? Is the person asking anorectic?

Bad for body-fat or bad for the nerves? A claim with links often contains more information, some arguments, in which way something is unhealthy, and for whom.

On the other hand, a very big number of claims are popular enough to find enough sources on the web, but the question seems boring for me, while some other questions, people might have discovered themselves, look more interesting to me, like (Coinflipping, depending on the surface of the coin?)

But a problem here is the answer policy. For a new question someone raises without citation, there might be no ready-made answer, and a self made answer from reasoning about known facts is not welcome for the majority of the site. So that's a second reason to enforce some popularity. I don't agree to this argument, but I can see it. :)

The problem with well-known-skeptic-questions is, that it is more a voting-contest, to find skeptic questions somebody else had, and for which he already found a remarkable number of followers, and if you heard it before, it is just boring.

Moon, homeopathy, Nostradamus, cancer, mobile phones ...

But maybe, the site has to be boring.

  • Exactly. Take for example skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/5861/… - not a notable claim, it even starts with a "He claims that" (ever heard it from other source?). However, most of us reading the question will probably agree the claim is interesting and sensible, and will accept this as a valid question. – Suma Sep 1 '11 at 17:59
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TL;DR

Notable means: the claim and the counter claim are generally acknowledged as existing by the people of at least one country.

Examples:

  • "I am skeptical of the existence of the weak force": counter-claim not notable, who is doubting it?
  • "I am skeptical of the existence of a tachyons": claim not notable, who is asserting the existence of tachyons?

Full version

Out of the following examples:

  1. There is a claim I made up over breakfast, and I can't reference it, except my blog.

    "Is yoghurt good for me?"

  2. There is a scientific claim, I just decided to doubt it, but I can't provide reference of someone doubting the claim ("no counter-claim").

    "I am skeptical that the weak force exists".

  3. It's known in my circle of friends, but I can't find an online reference

    "Does the chi-chi-mocho exist?"

  4. I can provide references but it only applies to the city of Whateverville, Republic of Tongo

    "Did the third Earl of Mongrovia really send 3000 people to die in the copper mines of Whateverville?"

  5. It's a country-wide well known claim, uninteresting outside

    "Did the number of hemp users double, in Portugal, post-depenalisation?"

  6. It's a well known claim, world-wide

    "Does homeopathy work as advertised?"

    • I would vote to close 1 and 2;
    • I would keep open 5 and 6;
    • for 3 and 4, I would likely vote to close, but it depends. Is the claim interesting/fun/likely to get a great answer? Does the author sound sincerely interested in an answer or does the author or the post seem argumentative or trolling? Can the post be edited and made more general and notable?

Of note: If the question is only notable within one country, tagging with the country name should be compulsory.

  • Can you please explain your thinking about #2? Is it not enough to be the lone voice questioning a well-known claim? – Oddthinking Aug 29 '11 at 22:19
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    I think that since the same question (with the same answer, same amount of research, etc) can be expressed as "I doubt that A is true" and "I doubt that A is false", then the "notability" criteria should apply in both cases. – Sklivvz Aug 30 '11 at 1:02
  • Which of these questions do you reject? I can't see, yet, how you distinguish between them. Question 1: 'Oprah Winfrey says "Homeopathy treatment is similar to how a vaccination or immunization works." Is that true?' Question 2: 'Stephen Hawking says "We now understand the electroweak forces which are responsible for electricity and magnetism and for the weak nuclear interactions." Is that true?' – Oddthinking Aug 30 '11 at 2:24
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    So you would make questions like "is it true that the sun always rises from east?" acceptable? Maybe the weak theory question is not a good example, but to me it's quite evident which one to close... – Sklivvz Aug 30 '11 at 6:59
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    @Oddthinking: Oprah Winfrey is not an expert in any branch of medical science - homeopathy included. Stephen Hawking is an expert in theoretical physics. In both cases, such statements would come up if anyone were to challenge the authority of the person making the claim. However, just one authority making a claim do not make it believable - are there other authorities disputing the claim? – user2547 Sep 5 '11 at 3:49

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