I am a new user here on Skeptics.SE. What do I need to know?
This answer is written for new users of the Skeptics - Stack Exchange (or Skeptics.SE, for short) - especially those who have just asked or answered their first question, and have been surprised by the feedback.
We hope you find Skeptics.SE enjoyable, interesting and fun… and not too daunting when you first arrive.
Skeptics.SE is different
Skeptics.SE is very different to many online forums (such as mailing lists, bulletin boards, and the commenting systems on blogs.) It is also fairly different to many other web sites in the Stack Exchange family, such as Stack Overflow, that you may be familiar with.
As a result, the Skeptics.SE community can appear to be a little hostile to new users. Many first time users — perhaps even most first time users — are surprised when their contributions are judged against an unexpected set of standards. I urge you not to be disheartened by this. Have a look around, and you will quickly understand how we work. We hope that you will soon learn to appreciate the value that these standards bring in ensuring that the answers you find on Skeptics.SE are very high quality, and, importantly, reliable.
(This is not to suggest that abusiveness is at all permitted. Abusive language is not common here, and if you see any, please bring it to the attention of a moderator and it will be swiftly dealt with.)
Questions must be about a notable claim
One area that is tricky for new users who ask questions, is that we aren't that interested in spending effort researching answers to ideas that no-one actually believes. We want to confirm or disprove real claims that many people think are true. Therefore, we ask that questions address notable claims.
Generally, a high-quality Skeptics question will:
- Point to a statement that someone well-known has made (or a number of less well-known sources)
- Quote from it (a direct quote, not just a paraphrase)
- Express some doubt and ask if it is true.
Answers need references
The biggest surprise to new users is our insistence on references in the answers. Many forums will appear to simply accept at face-value the word of a random internet denizen. Here, we expect to be able to independently check what you are saying — that is a key aspect of being a skeptic — as we want to chase down the evidence, rather than relying on authority or personal expertise. You should expect that people will actually follow up and check your references say what you claim they say.
That means anecdotes, personal stories and testimonials are not allowed. Answers that rely on logic need some evidence that the premises/assumptions are valid. Original research is not generally allowed. Ideally, we would like to see links to peer-reviewed empirically-based evidence. This makes writing an answer much harder, but the good answers are appreciated much more.
This site is about applying scientific skepticism. We only accept answers based on independently verifiable applications of the scientific method ("facts").
In other venues, people can get lost in long discussions about what should theoretically happen — think about questions such as: "Will you get more wet if you run or walk, in the rain?" —, but not here. We don't allow such speculation, we expect only scientific trials of these matters to be discussed, and answers to be fully based on those.
Please be very aware of the difference between theory and practice, because users will challenge you on this!
Given that we routinely tackle "hot potato" questions, it sometimes happens that we get questions challenging basic science, or answers challenging scientific consensus. Both are allowed and welcome.
While you can count on our community being respectful, be advised that, in general, science is the ultimate judge here. If you don't agree with or trust the scientific method, you may be on the wrong site.
Questions often get put 'on hold'. This does not mean the question has been banished forever. It's an opportunity for the community to improve it; wherever we can, we want to have the definitive questions and answers on a subject. Learn more about what 'on hold' and 'closed' means.
(If you are not familiar with the Stack Exchange system, you should note that you are currently on Meta Skeptics Stack Exchange, which is an area to discuss the regular Skeptics Stack Exchange which is where the interesting stuff actually resides.)
There is plenty of extra information, including FAQs and help documentation. Even if you are familiar with Stack Exchange software, you should probably read these guides to good questions and good answers.
If you haven't come across a Stack Exchange site before, Skeptics.SE may seem a little alien.
If you haven't come across a skeptic before, the community may seem very alien!
However, if you hang around for a bit, you will see we take legitimate questions very seriously, and we will likely impress you with the quality and thoughtfulness of our answers. If you hang around for a bit longer, you will soon be spoilt - you'll start to be disappointed that other forums don't demand the same standards. A bit longer still, and you'll start to be shocked that politicians, the media, teachers, celebrities, bloggers and your hair-dresser don't provide verifiable references to empirical evidence for their claims.
That's when you'll know you are one of us!