We've had a discussion about the site name a long while ago, and the favorite of quite a few people was "Citation Needed" (see also Do you guys think "Citation Needed" would be a great name for this site?).

My argument for this name is that it is much closer to what we actually do than the Skeptics name. We have a very strict requirement on providing references in answers, this site is all about finding a trustworthy source to back up our answers.

Most people have probably encountered the ubiquitous [citation needed] signs on Wikipedia, to me they are a very succinct reminder of what skepticism is all about. We don't just believe any assertion of facts we read, we question them and demand evidence. We want to know the evidence behind every claim.

One problem with the Skeptics name is that there are skeptics and "skeptics", it has become a popular name for those that question or deny the scientific consensus. I feel that "Citation Needed" is closer to what we actually do here than the more ambigious "Skeptics".

As the design draft was posted recently, I'd like to know from the SE team if there is still a chance that we could get the "Citation Needed" name, and I'd like to know from our community if they still want that name.

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    A problem with the "cute" names has been evident since Web Apps wanted to be called "Zero Installation"--what the hell is Zero Installation? IMO our sites are much more helpful when you can look at them and see "Ah, this is a site for questions and answers about X!" and not having to learn what some weird brand is when it's clearly supposed to be Skeptics.SE. Furthermore is the problem of having 50 non-descriptively named sites on the SE network.
    – Ben Brocka
    Feb 13, 2012 at 22:20
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    @Ben In our case "Citation Needed" is actually more descriptive than "Skeptics", the skeptics label is used by groups that have completely opposite view points (e.g. climate skeptics). The requirement to back up your answers by some sources is the one thing that distinguishes this site from the rest of the SE network.
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Feb 13, 2012 at 22:32
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    That's not entirely true. Although this site is the stricter I've seen regarding the sources, I've seen other sites that tend to ask them. I'm not talking about the name, but just about the reason you provided. :P
    – Alenanno
    Feb 15, 2012 at 17:39

4 Answers 4


I see a number of different issues with the "Skeptics" name (or should I say branding?) which I would like to mention.

1) The term "skeptics" is strongly associated with the concept of "cynics" in the public mind.

  • We can either choose to campaign to "win back" the word, by educating people about the difference, or choose a separate branding.

2) The term "skeptics" has recently (?) been strongly associated with the concept of "denialists" in the public mind - particularly climate change denialists calling themselves skeptics. This is touched on in the question by Fabian.

  • Again, we can choose to campaign, or avoid the negative branding.

3) The term "skeptics" refers to the people, rather than the thing, which is the wrong emphasis.

  • A vast majority of SE sites are named after the field, not the practitioners: Physics, not Physicists; Philosophy, not Philosophers; Photography, not Photographers.
  • Yes, there are some notable exceptions (e.g. Programmers, Writers) but they are the minority, and I think they are poorly (no, that's too strong: how about non-optimally?) branded too.

4) Even "Skepticism" (which I prefer over Skeptics, but this point stands either way) is not the subject of this site! We do not discuss skepticism itself; that is, in fact, explicitly off-topic.

  • I emphasise this point because it is amistake that is commonly made by people new to the site (including by StackExchange employees and me!) We decline to discuss famous skeptics, skeptic history, skeptic meetings, skeptic news, books that skeptics should read. We only discuss claims that people make, and answer by applying our skeptical skills to them.

  • I think a good analogy is Writers versus Literature. We are named after the people who produce the product, but refuse to talk directly about the people or even the process they follow. We ask and answer questions strictly about the product. We are more like Literature.SE than Writers.SE, but we are named like the latter.

In summary, I think the branding of "Skeptics" and, to a slightly lesser extent, "Skepticism" sends the wrong message about what we do and what we welcome.

Strictly, that's not an argument for "Citation Needed", but Fabian covers that in the question, so I don't feel the need to repeat it.

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    [Awkward comment to bring this post to the attention of @Shog9 who is unlikely to be notified otherwise]
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Feb 22, 2012 at 13:40
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    I don’t think this comment notification actually works. Feb 23, 2012 at 0:08
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    Easier to superping him in chat :-)
    – Sklivvz
    Feb 23, 2012 at 9:41
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    I'll just comment on his answer below.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Feb 23, 2012 at 9:48

I think the name should remain "Skeptics"

Skepticism movement ostensibly-began to protect people from the dangers of deluded and incomplete models of the real world. Today is has become a term that attracts zealots (per here, #2), whom think not of themselves as zealots.

In the aim of providing community support that helps such people gain a more holistic mindset, I propose that the site name remain the same so that it is a beacon for people who have these tendencies, and come here to grind axes.

If this site's constituents & managers are not willing to be a community that supports the transition of this commonly-limited-zealous-approach, then it will eventually deteriorate from drawing too many of these people, and so instead the name should be changed.

Alternatively, the site could be called


Since Fact Checking is much of the site's mission deals not with new terrain, but only with providing references to existing mainstream journalism and scientific publications.


I don't think "Citation Needed" is in anyway better than the name Skeptics, or perhaps Skepticism. It could just be that I have become somewhat attached to the current name, although I think there are good reasons not to go with "Citation Needed" and to stick with Skeptics.

Reasons against changing the name to "Citation Needed"

  • Since "Citation Needed" is a term that has become well known due to it's frequent use on Wikipedia, taking such a common wiki tag as our name may link our site with Wikimedia in the minds of many people. Since Wikipedia is widely not considered a reliable source, that may not be ideal.

  • Such a name may exclude more people than we realize. A citation is generally considered to be a reference to an academic work. We require reputable sources for answers, not necessarily academic works. As such, some people may perceive the site to be more academic than it actually is and be intimidated as a result.

  • I don't think the name is as clear as "Skeptics". Had I not known better I would think it is a site to aid in finding citaions for specific studies or authors, as opposed to questioning notable claims. The name "Skeptics" may not be 100% clear, but it clearly notes having something to do with being skeptical.

Reasons for sticking with Skeptics

  • The name is accurate. We are skeptics. The fact that some people misuse the word is not reason to abandon the word. If it is good enough for noted skeptics such as Derryn Brown, James Randi and notable skeptics organizations and publications to stick with the name, then it should be good enough for us.

  • The idea that the word skeptic has a negative connotation with the wider public is not a sure thing. Personally I find this unlikely, although I can't say for sure. I think it is a minority of people that have a negative view of people who identify as a skeptic, generally due to not understanding exactly what being a skeptic means.

I think the name Skeptics should stay. It is clearer in meaning and will help us grow our community by attracting people with an interest in scientific skepticism.


It's not off the table. It's just unlikely...

The site launched as Skeptics, the FAQ is centered around the goal of the site being the application of skepticism, and it's hard to argue that the proper audience for the site isn't folks with at least some serious interest in the philosophical discipline of skepticism.

Yes, you do require citations. Yes, Citation Needed is a pithy name.

But is it really who you are?

When it comes time to introduce folks to the site, what does CN buy you over Skeptics? You could pick any non-obvious name as a means of avoiding the misconceptions of "skeptics" - but you also lose the correct associations that skeptics brings. Is CN worth that?

We've talked this over internally, and for the foreseeable future, it is officially off the table.

As I said above, Citation Needed doesn't really tell us who you are. Our network is built around the "Topic - Stack Exchange" format; if you want to propose "Skepticism" over "Skeptics" as the topic, that's arguable if there's support for it. But you're not Citation Needed, any more than Photography is "What's your Gear" or SO is "Show Your Work". It's a pithy name, but that's not what you need right now - you need folks to understand who you are and what you're about. Skeptics, for all the unfortunate connotations it might have, at least goes a long way toward accomplishing that end.

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    I don't think it's apt to describe Citation Needed as a "non-obvious name." It's a phrase that is associated with a very precise goal: establishing the credibility of a claim. Incidentally, that's what we do here. Therefore, the net correct associations from changing to "Citation Needed" from "Skeptics" is positive, not negative. It's a name that describes the purpose of a site more effectively than "Skeptics" does.
    – Borror0
    Feb 10, 2012 at 22:54
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    Skepticism beats skeptics IMHO and it's not so different to make anyone nervous...
    – Sklivvz
    Feb 11, 2012 at 0:32
  • Skeptical Inquiry would be awesome if it wasn't taken.
    – Zano
    Feb 21, 2012 at 15:24
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    [Even more awkward comment linking to the first awkward comment that some suspect was ineffective.]
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Feb 23, 2012 at 9:50
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    I still don't see how skeptics help "folks to understand who [we] are and what [we]'re about" more than Citation Needed. As I said earlier, to me, it's the other way around. It gets the message across that we're about facts, which skeptics does not communicate as well.
    – Borror0
    Feb 23, 2012 at 22:28

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