As a novice I asked a question - “E Numbers” list - is the bad reputation justified? - and I was answered with hostility. I have largely edited the question after the first wave of criticism and I have expected some help from the community to improve the question but it was simply voted to close. No helping hand was given - not even from the moderator who only voted for closure.

I think the question was wrongly interpreted by some, I was not asking about any specific substances but credibility of the list as whole and this was used as the main argument against the question.

Generally speaking I am disappointed by the hostility of this community.

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    I'm sorry you feel the reactions were hostile, but I think they were not meant to be.
    – Nanne
    Mar 6, 2011 at 16:29
  • 4
    I've found any site that deals with Sketicism, humanism, atheism, etc is hostile on S.E. Sad but true. I'm not comfortable either.
    – RolandiXor
    Jun 6, 2011 at 5:13

7 Answers 7


I can understand why you feel that the reactions are hostile, but they are really not meant this way. Closing a question is not meant to be personal.

The problem is just that your question is very broad and cannot be reasonable answered in that form. You're asking essentially about the safety of around 300 completely different substances. I know that some people just bunch all the E numbers together and declare them bad, but such broad claims are just not practical to counter.

There were also multiple other issues embedded into the question, the specific claim of causing hyperactivity and the E-Number free sweets. Mixing multiple questions into one does make the whole thing confusing and is discouraged.

Your sub-questions, e.g. the specific claim of hyperactivity for certain additives are perfectly acceptable question for site.


In my opinion, there was no hostility. Yes, there was constructive criticism, and yes, you did edit your question.

But you didn't address the suggestions in the correct way: we repeatedly told you that the question was too general:

  • What is there to discuss about the list as a whole? It's a list of food additives, they are bound to have different effects.
  • Did you want to discuss a particular additive? Specify so in the question.
  • Did you want to discuss the "bad name" that the list has? What does that mean at all? Some additives are neutral, some others are beneficial, while some other are harmful. In most cases it will also depend on the assumed quantities. People do not like additives because they like genuine food.
  • Did you want to debunk the numbers-free-diet? Say so.

All in all, I felt it was not possible to give a non-subjective, well referenced answer to your question.

The main discriminant is that we want to have good quality questions that produce good quality answers. Stack exchange sites are meant to become a reference for a particular topic. How many qualitative answers did your question produce?

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    Why is it that I am not allowed to ask about the list? No I really don't want to discus any particular additive. It's the list that is issued by EU agency and it's the list that people trust / distrust. People don't think "hmm this product contains E129, I'm not gonna buy it", instead they think "this product is E Number free". Why do you think that is? How come the list has such bad reputation? My question was meant to become a reference for the EU issued list of food additives, whether it can be trusted or not, that are two qualitative answers. Mar 6, 2011 at 14:23
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    @daniel.sedlacek: If you want to refute a belief, then citing op-ed in newspaper that talk about the belief is a good idea. We need context, or else we can't understand what you're asking.
    – Borror0
    Mar 6, 2011 at 14:51
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    @daniel - nobody is hostile towards you or the topic. Just rephrase your question to reflect exactly what you want to ask. Make it better and you'll get up votes! You have to understand that our community needs good questions during beta because this period will set the bar for when we go live :-)
    – Sklivvz
    Mar 6, 2011 at 14:54
  • @sklivvz - I can't, it's closed now :( Mar 6, 2011 at 17:17
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    @daniel: if you edit the question so that it's suitable, people can vote to reopen it. Mar 6, 2011 at 20:33

Regarding your specific question, I think the main issue was one of language: the question as worded is pretty tough to answer, and it sounds like the question you want to ask is:

"Does adding chemicals to food make it inherently unhealthy?" (the bits about E-Numbers and brands marketed as "E-Number Free" are really examples of what prompted the question, not the question itself).

Another possible phrasing could be "How skeptical should someone be about food additives?"

This sounds extraordinarily pedantic and childish, and I think it probably is. On the other hand, the people who answered, moderated, etc. are all (so far as I'm aware) volunteers who are giving you some of their free time for some fictional points on a computer somewhere, so if they don't like the particular form of your question they aren't compelled to answer it.

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    Sorry, no. I was asking about the list because I wanted to know how is it possible that a list of additives allowed by EU body is so controversial. I don't understand why some substances are allowed while potentially harmful. how would you phrase that? Mar 6, 2011 at 23:14
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    "Why are harmful substances allowed as additives by the EU?" :-)
    – James Cape
    Mar 7, 2011 at 0:41
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    that's much better except they are only potentially harmful. And I am afraid people will have the same objection as they have now. Mar 7, 2011 at 11:03
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    Just cowboy up and ask the question you want to ask directly---the simplest possible version of your question that covers the bases is the one to use.
    – James Cape
    Mar 7, 2011 at 13:11

I just read that question a few minutes ago, and one thing I found off-putting was there were two premises in the question that were included without explanation.

First of all, you presume the reader knows what "E Numbers" means. I can tell you as a US resident that I had never heard this term before. This is a global website, so you are going to have many US readers. Explain your terms, and don't bury the explanation in a hyperlink.

The second premise I see is that the E Numbers have a "bad reputation". I see one link to an Independent article, but no other evidence of said bad reputation. Never assume that your reader has the same perception of something that you do. Explain it, even if it seems like you are over-explaining. There is always going to be someone who needs the explanation, and those who don't can skim over it.

Just one man's angle from the US side of the pond.

  • Have a look how often American-centric questions are asked. This might be a reason to set a tag or to edit the question - closing it is a very harsh reaction. To the second part: Most questions just claim something, like 'lunar cycle and men', 'lunar cycle and birth' and so on. You could close more than 50% of all questions with the same reason. Mar 22, 2011 at 4:24

I think there is an additional point to make here in that for many people who believe in pseudo science, alternative medicine, conspiracy theories etc they see things exactly the way this question was asked, ie. they do see 'E' numbers as bad, pharmaceutical companies as corrupt, conventional medicine as dangerous etc etc rather than being more analytical about it and breaking them down further.

Therefore this site must expect to get questions asked like this and in fact I believe should welcome them as it is a chance to educate people in the ways of skeptism. e.g why is it wrong to lump all 'E' numbers together in this way.

Although skeptism is about analysis, science and facts its fight is against vagueness, misinformation and lies and therefore we must be prepared to accept that some of that will come onto this site.

  • To your knowledge I support the skeptic movement for many years and one think I have learned is the tactic used by some of accusing opponents of pseudo science etc. This is exactly your case. Skepticism is not only about fight against misinformation and lies, it's also fight against tyranny and monopoly on truth. Instead of writing insults you could read my explanation on why my question is about the list, not the additives. Mar 8, 2011 at 10:36
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    I think you have missed my point Daniel. I am supporting your question. I also cannot see where you think I have insulted you. My point is not specifically about you or your question more that this site could become a place for non-skeptics concerned about a subject to come for answers, and in that case they may well ask general questions.
    – Si Keep
    Mar 8, 2011 at 10:45
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    To specifically answer your point about the list not the additives. I'm saying the community reaction was wrong, for me the question is perfectly valid in the context of this site.
    – Si Keep
    Mar 8, 2011 at 10:52
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    Sorry, to me it seemed as if based on my question you counted me in to the conspiracy theories supporters. I agree with the point about this site being "place for non-skeptics concerned...". Mar 8, 2011 at 12:14
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    no probs, probably just my inability to explain myself clearly.
    – Si Keep
    Mar 8, 2011 at 12:49

You posed a question that could not be answered because it treated "E-numbers" as if it was one coherent group of chemicals. The closure and answer pointed that out, but did not do so in a hostile way. You still felt that it was hostile, because it is a normal human reaction to feel that you yourself has been attacked/insulted/degraded when you are told that you are wrong.

But it is very important for skeptics to accept when they are wrong. In my opinion it in in fact the most important part of being a skeptic, as you otherwise cling on to beliefs even when they are disproved, which isn't very skeptical. :-)

We can't allow ourself to get angry when told we are wrong. We are skeptics. It's our business to find all the incorrect assumption and point them out. Even when we ourselves make those incorrect assumption.

I think we will see a lot of these kinds of reactions here. This site is about skeptics, it is people who come here asking a question about statement "X" because they believe something about it. They may believe it's false, and they may believe it's true. And sometimes they will get their suspicions confirmed, and sometimes they will be told "no, you were wrong" and sometimes they will be told "You misunderstood something and your question is incorrectly posed". And most of these peoples immediate reaction will be "Oh, that is SOOO rude!" Because that's how people are, and that is how we react.

But as skeptics it's important that we always at that point remember to step back and look at things objectively. Was the other guy rude, or did he just explain to me that I was wrong? Is my indignant reaction correct?


I sympathize entirely with the questioner here. To be sure, there were multiple issues with the question, but all of them were minor. "Overbroad" is a valid issue, but very easy to deal with - you give an answer pointing out that E numbers cover a whole variety of substances and it's a generalization to say whether they are "bad" or "good". There was such an answer posted. It would have made a good reference answer

If we are going to close all questions like this because essentially the questioner wasn't fully informed about the subject of their question, then we are defeating one of the important points of this site - to bring answers to those who don't know them.

  • You're absolutely right! Mar 22, 2011 at 4:27
  • Just because "multiple issues" were "minor" to you doesn't mean everybody felt that way. It's just that many people probably left silently without bothering to discuss more. Most of them may not have had a sense of humour to be sure, but thats besides the point. Hence -1
    – user288
    Dec 27, 2011 at 18:33

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