Skepticism is supposed to be about challenging truth and dogma. Applying a critical eye.
Yet looking at the site I see.

  • lots of snopes style questions.
  • answers challenging dogma are uncommon and quickly dogpiled with retorts of "consensus" and "accepted" science.
  • lots of answers in the strawman template of "I'm not aware of (viewpoint) but would assume (trivial points to argue against) and here's (pontification on the strength of SCIENCE) and (implication that anyone who disagrees can't be reasoned with)

It seems that the site is primarily focused on building strawmen skeptic viewpoints to debunk. Questions that challenge dogma are sparsely answered or closed.

  • 7
    Could you provide some examples for questions that challenge dogma that were closed?
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Commented Mar 9, 2011 at 6:58
  • 8
    I agree, without specific examples it is hard to comment on the claims you make
    – Casebash
    Commented Mar 9, 2011 at 7:47
  • I'm not a native english speaker and like to know, what are 'snopes style questions'? Is it maybe related to my question here: skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/534/24 (Pseudo- and dummy-questions) Commented Mar 9, 2011 at 19:00
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    @user Snopes.com is a popular website dedicated to debunking urban legends.
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Commented Mar 9, 2011 at 20:22
  • Thanks, Fabian. Commented Mar 9, 2011 at 20:45
  • 4
    Scientific consensus is not "dogma"
    – Blorgbeard
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 11:09
  • @Blorgbeard: Could you define 'scientific consensus'?
    – oosterwal
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 23:11
  • @Blorgbeard, from the dictionary : Dogma - An authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or opinion, especially one considered to be absolutely true. So to the extent that science cannot be challenged, it is dogma. As "consensus" is used almost exclusively to refute challenges, it's dogma. Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 18:19
  • @oosterwal @russell A scientific consensus is a viewpoint which must have been arrived at independently by many people, through scientific means. It has therefore, a very good chance of being true. Because of this, it is very often the best answer to a question. Ie. it has the most evidence and reasoning behind it. Skepticism is not about "challenging truths", you are thinking of crackpottery. Skepticism is about finding the truth; and so is science.
    – Blorgbeard
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 7:58

8 Answers 8


I agree. Half the questions could be answered with a simple Google search, no critical thinking required. The other half are questions where the answer is being researched, but hasn't been proven one way or the other.

In the first case, what the hell does that have to do with skepticism? In the second, why ask us? Like the "Homosexuality" question. There is some evidence that there is a genetic basis for homosexuality, but no specific gene sequences have been identified. The only rational course of action is to wait for further research, not to sit and baselessly speculate.

Lot of Wikipedia citations around here, so here is one more: Contemporary skepticism (or scepticism) is loosely used to denote any questioning attitude, or some degree of doubt regarding claims that are elsewhere taken for granted.

This whole site is supposed to be dedicated to questioning truths, and all I see is a site dedicated to providing the (well cited) dogmatic answer to every question.

  • I don't think I have seen you comment about someone repeating dogma before, and I read most posts. Please call them on it in the future. We must point to each other when one falls prey to confirmation bias. That's how we'll grow into a great, useful site that cares about the truth rather than dogma.
    – Borror0
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 19:18
  • Regarding my homosexuality question: I didn't ask for baseless speculation. I merely asked if any of the many varied dogmatic views regarding the subject had any merit. I raised the question as to whether questions like it are appropriate in another meta question.
    – Patches
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 5:55
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    Regarding questions that Google can answer, see this meta question: meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/71/… Commented Mar 12, 2011 at 2:53
  • Same observation here so far. Quite disappointing
    – Sylverdrag
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 10:27

I think that at this point we are seeing a lot of low-hanging fruit. There are likely better questions. That said, most of the questions here are about things that people truly believe. The site is for the promotion of reason, and debunking woo. Once our user base increases, I believe that we will see more fine-point questions raised.

I personally think that s.se is great even if it is mostly snopes type questions, since there is a reason that snopes is so popular. It's needed and used. This site affords a more broad inclusion of sketchy info and myths and explanations as to why they are garbage.


Let me answer point by point

  • lots of snopes style questions.

The site is still in beta and as such we absolutely need two things:

  1. Build a good community (constructive behaviour, people staying and participating, etc...)
  2. Get visible: we need popular questions in order to grow.

I strongly advocate steering the community, not designing the community. It may be that a large positive community can only be formed if there are lots of simple questions (think of SO), or it may be that the simplest questions will be replaced by much more subtle ones once the community is mature (think of physics.SE). We can't know that, and certainly, we can't force the site and its community to be the way we like.

  • answers challenging dogma are uncommon and quickly dogpiled with retorts of "consensus" and "accepted" science.

This is mostly related to the simplicity of the questions. For example, as a skeptic I am not going to doubt evolution because someone asks about ID. It's ridiculous. You will see more nuanced points of view once the questions get more subtle. You can't speak of "following the dogma" if people stick to theories supported by tons of evidence in the face of some crackpot delusion.

  • lots of answers in the strawman template of "I'm not aware of (viewpoint) but would assume (trivial points to argue against) and here's (pontification on the strength of SCIENCE) and (implication that anyone who disagrees can't be reasoned with)

I think we should trust the community to do the right thing, up vote good answers and down vote bad ones. The premise of Stack Exchange is that this mechanism works - people are motivated by up votes to produce good quality answers.

  • I'm not sure the community has settled yet on the right balance between questions that are interesting (and therefore popular) and ones that are specific. Too specific makes them uninteresting; too general makes them unanswerable. I think the site should be a reliable repository of skeptical analysis on important topics. Even some dumb questions deserve a reliable answer.
    – matt_black
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 21:50

I don't see what dogma you have noted.

But you're right with the observation "It seems that the site is primarily focused on building strawmen skeptic viewpoints to debunk.", and I have a problem with that as well.

For example the don't bath after eating. My impression is, that user smzs doesn't believe in that advice (his mother does). So you can't convince him from the opposite, but only participate in a mock battle, like catching.

Towards a real believer you could ask back, what the underlying problem is, what evidence he has for his claims. Real questions would come with more resistance than these dummy questions, and with more real stupidity.

But the rules to get out of beta-status somehow force to come up with mock-questions.

  • 11
    No, no, no. Coming up with mock questions is NOT the rule that gets you out of beta-status. But it is the quickest way to help a site fail. Mock questions and uninspired, off-topic questions are not a sustainable way to build a site. They may pump up the question count in the short term, but users will quickly tire of the banality of it all and leave in droves. That will be the end of the site. The absolute lowest priority of all the analytics for this site is to force lots of questions. Pity that people think that is the end goal. Commented Mar 9, 2011 at 22:19
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    Well - I guess that should be discussed. Look at all those skeptic people, coming up with popular myths. Commented Mar 9, 2011 at 22:38

From the FAQ:

Skeptics - Stack Exchange is for skeptics, rationalists, free thinkers, or anyone who questions pseudoscience.

People who question pseudoscience tend to be conformists. Conformists like to label themselves as skeptics. Thus it's only natural that they seek themselves to a site like this.

Also, there are a lot more conformists than real skeptics. That's why you get a lot of conformist answers here on this site. And that's why I will get a lot of votesdown for this answer.


tldr; -- We're doing an OK, but not great job policing things.

To be a skeptic is to, in some way, challenge a widely held belief. And not just of the "oh look at the stupid rubes" variety. Challenging AGW is skepticism. Challenging the tenets of Islam is skepticism. Challenging the divine nature of Jesus is skepticism. Challenging the idea that electric cars are environmentally good is skepticism (Kudos to Borror0 on answering that one). Asking something debunked on Mythbusters yesterday is not skepticism. Trying to justify a political viewpoint is likewise not skepticism.

Examples of IMO - not skepticism (some of mine as well)
How is this even on topic?
Thinly veiled political debate, 0 votes
Similarly problematic, 0 votes
My mistake, 13 votes
Just asking for scientific consensus is almost anti-skepticism

The word "consensus" appears under 7 questions, usually as part of a question, though occasionally even otherwise good posters answer with consensus as the answer. However there does not appear to be the problematic trend of people using this who are also getting upvotes for using it.

The word "majority" appears 12 times, with little direction (ie, used for other things besides claiming majority as an answer. Again no trend of upvotes for relying solely on "science says so"

Having now gone through this myself, while writing thing post, here is my conclusion.

  1. We get a lot more bad answers, which are usually not upvoted, except for hot political topics -- I see no way to avoid that on political topics where emotions will rule. Generally our community is working when it comes to upvoting good answers.
  2. We get some bad questions, which usually are not upvoted. -- Therefore community is working here.
  3. We are getting a lot of filler questions (i've been guilty of this), which really should be just closed because they are just not on topic. Of these, our biggest problem is the snopes/mythbuster variety of urban legends.
  • tldr ;)
    – morganpdx
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 22:47
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    Since I'm not connected to american broadcasting: What is wrong with something, debunked on Mythbusters yesterday, or with snopes? Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 4:43
  • @user unknown -- It's kind of a second meta discussion, which I think I'm in the minority on: ie - is debunking urban myths skepticism. In my opinion it's not, but the weight of the board seems to be that it is. Mythbusters is an american TV show dedicated to debunking urban myth in fun ways. Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 18:45
  • here's a problem when coming late to questions like this: many of the links to example questions have been deleted so we can't understand the points being made. Any chance of some special archive of posts deleted from the main site but preserved when linked to by meta?
    – matt_black
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 21:40

I think I'm doing a good job at arguing contrarian viewpoints without any regard to dogma. If you want to challenge the consensus, do your homework. Gather sources. Use your research to write the kind of answer that you want to see.

On the same token you should vote for those answers that fulfill your own standards. If someone only makes a trivial point and provides no sources for his answer vote it down.


I actually asked a question specifically about scientific consensus and if there is a...well...consensus on it's meaning. Maybe that would help in a broader context.

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