David Hedlund suggested that claims should

have adherents among the influential grown-up otherwise-educated public that will tenaciously defend their truth values.

I propose we make it a rule that, in order to be notable, claims should be made by influential adults, in apparent good faith.

Should we make this a rule?


First of all, let me comment that the wording in that quote did not anticipate their possible extraction to a general rule. While I think there may well be rule-worthy stuff in that line of reasoning, wording such as "influential adults" is probably not fit for FAQ, but rather just adds another layer of subjectivity.

What I'm trying to get at is the intent parameter, that I think lies at the very core of scientific skepticism. We don't have a problem that Tolkien writes about elves as though they existed, because he never explicitly claims that his work is anything but fiction. This differentiates from when Hubbard writes about Xenu. We don't have a problem that Derren Brown and James Randi perform their stunning tricks, because they never call them anything but tricks. This differentiates from the psychichs who use the same stunts to claim supernatural powers.

We currently exonerate Randi and Tolkien by referring to the claims they are (or, critically, aren't) making, but I think this reliance upon claims is an abstraction of a more fundamental rule, which we need to identify. It seems to me that no sound skeptic would make a big fuzz about toothfairy claims, and I think that this is by means of the same mechanism that motivate us to accept Randi and Tolkien. But if that is the case, then the claim had nothing to do with it, it was merely a somewhat strong correlate of another parameter, which is the true differentiator, because in the toothfairy example there are truth claims (made by parents), but we still don't really object to them.

I think it would be desirable if we could get to this parameter, and use that as a rule, rather than something that often correlates with that parameter.

If some random lunatic happens to believe in something new that they've conjured themselves just now, then that may also be a non-issue to a lot of skeptics. I suspect that this is by the same unnamed reasoning. This leads me to thinking that the claim should be made by a legally competent adult in order to be a valid subject of skepticism, and further, that this adult should somehow intend for the listener to adhere to that belief as they grow up.

It would be compelling to say that the one advancing the claim should believe in it themselves, but in that case we'd probably disqualify psychics whose elaborate reading techniques renders them unlikely to believe in their own claims.

So what we want to get at is the claims that are obviously made just for the entertainment of it. Perhaps the "apparently in good faith" clause is sufficient coverage of this. In that case, is "legally competent adult" ubiquitous enough and sufficiently specific? If so, then my answer is yes, questions should be able to reference that the claim is being made by legally competent adults, apparently in good faith.

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    +1 Awesome deconstruction. – Zano Dec 23 '11 at 16:56
  • +1 from me too. Very well put – user288 Dec 27 '11 at 18:30
  • I don't really like this... Neither Randi or Tolkien claim anything whatsoever. They don't say: "I am doing real magic" or "Elves really exist". As such, their intent is irrelevant as there is no claim. – Sklivvz Dec 29 '11 at 10:30
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    @sklivvz: I address that in my answer – David Hedlund Dec 29 '11 at 11:19

I don't think it makes any sense to limit claims to people who have made them after a certain age. Claims should meet the existing guidelines and that is enough. Why limit a perfectly good claim from someone simply because they are not legally an adult in a given country?

What benefit would be derived from restricting claims by age in addition to making sure questions adhere to existing guidelines?

  • Many kids believe there are monsters hiding under their bed. Should we go ahead and debunk their monster under the bed theory? Of course not, that would be silly. At that age, children have yet to fully their cognitive capacities. The age is somewhat arbitrary, but there should be a minimum threshold. – Borror0 Dec 27 '11 at 1:05
  • @Borror0 I don't think a monster under the bed claim if it is concrete enough, e.g. boogeyman, is any worse than doubting we landed on the moon or such. Even so, anyone old enough to post a quality question on this site would be unlikely to have such a belief. That works as a better filter than trying to enforce a minimum age would. – Sonny Ordell Dec 30 '11 at 0:33
  • I'm using this old answer of your to communicate with you. We noticed you tend to engage others in discussion in comments. Comments are not for discussion. For those, we suggest you use chat instead. The Stack Exchange engine works best when comments are kept to a minimum. If you're unclear on what I'm talking about, try reading this page first. – Borror0 Apr 2 '12 at 9:26
  • @Borror0 if you are talking to me as a mod and not personally, why do you not use the mod messaging system? Just curious. I don't engage in general discussion in comments, I only discuss the points of an answer or comment. Which is what comments are for. Such as making a point that a question is not a dupe. When a suggestion to open a chat comes up, I generally go for it. Maybe you could show me an example of what you mean, where I am not discussing a point in a question or answer? – Sonny Ordell Apr 3 '12 at 0:34
  • Messaging is used only for serious offenses. Commenting a little too much is hardly an offense and even less a serious one. As for examples, I don't have any in mind. (I did two days ago, but ran into computer problems in-between.) I'll let you know next time I see it. – Borror0 Apr 5 '12 at 1:16

Yes. We're are not interested in what children believe since they are easily deluded and accept whatever authoritative figures tell them.

In the same spirit, what insane people believe aren't notable (e.g. "Are disembodied voices controlling people?"), but I'd guess that exemption is covered by "influential".

  • How would you treat sleep paralysis sufferers? Would you treat their beliefs as sane or insane? – Andrew Grimm Dec 23 '11 at 12:18
  • @AndrewGrimm They are mistaken, but in good faith. Sleep paralysis causes hallucinations, not insanity :-) – Sklivvz Dec 23 '11 at 12:45
  • I need to google what is meant by insanity. :| – Andrew Grimm Dec 23 '11 at 12:54
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    If there's anything that skepticism has consistently shown me, it is that the world is not black or white, but everything is gradients. For every rule, there will be corner cases. We can live with this. So perhaps sleep paralysis sufferers will be border cases. In that case we will perhaps have to judge every question on that topic individually. If the rule helps us discern the validity of 90% of the questions, it's still useful. – David Hedlund Dec 23 '11 at 13:14
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    "...since they are easily deluded and accept whatever authoritative figures tell them" This statement can be applied to most adults. – Sam I Am Dec 23 '11 at 15:09
  • @sam, that's another problem, that adults throw away one of the main things that defines them a such. – Zano Dec 23 '11 at 16:18

Are people young enough to believe in Santa Claus likely to view (but not post to, unfortunately) this site? If so, then it is useful. If they don't then the question is less useful.

  • Is everything that is "useful" in scope of skepticism? Unless we agree that it is a bad thing that children believe in santa, and that we should actually try to do set children straight about that, their likeliness to read it may not be of importance to whether or not we want questions like that on the site. – David Hedlund Dec 23 '11 at 13:10

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