Prompted by the difference between Skeptics and Snopes question.

This question reminded me of our own Do you eat a certain number of spiders whilst you sleep?, where the accepted and heavily upvoted answer cites Snopes as a primary source. The problem is that Snopes' source cannot be tracked down, (see our question related to Snopes'answer) and they haven't responded to requests for clarification for nearly a year. It appears on the surface that their answer to this question is wrong.

Should we accept Snopes as a primary source, or should it be treated similarly to Wikipedia?

  • 4
    P.S.: there is a YouTube video regarding Snopes and the spider question, "Looking for Lisa Holst", where we get a brief mention ;)
    – Oliver_C
    Commented May 3, 2012 at 11:28

2 Answers 2


I would that it is not. I think we ought to view it as we view Wikipedia: a good starting point. First of all, there is no certitude that the answer is indeed correct. Secondly, by using the answer only as a starting point, there is a high likelihood we will improve it even if only slightly so.

I'll take the highest rate answer to Does wearing headphones for long periods increase dangerous bacteria in your ear? as an example of what I mean.

The original answer was a copypasta of a The Straight Dope article by Cecil Adams (I know, it's not Snopes but bear with me). I viewed it as unacceptable, even if informative, I I edited it drastically. I looked up the sources cited by Adams, cited them and hyperlinked to them and summarize Adams' article. You end up, I would argue though I certainly am biased, with a more authoritative and succinct text than the original The Straight Dope article by Cecil Adams.

I think that is the better approach to high quality texts by other skeptics, Snopes or otherwise.

We should not treat those articles as gospel, because they are not. Hell, we don't treat peer-review articles as gospel and Snopes is nowhere near that point. While they are usually of high quality and likely correct, there is no reason for us to not double check the validity of the information.


Is snopes a valid primary source? Well, no of course not. It is by definition a secondary source because it is an accumulation and summary of primary sources. (except in rare cases in which they do original research - like mythbusters do). But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered a valid reference for Skeptics.SE.

I would suggest that it's fair game to directly cite well versed breakdowns of myths from Snopes and other secondary resources (to avoid plagiarizing), providing you are able to include references to their primary sources in your post as well. Furthermore, as indicated by the Spider question debacle you mentioned, I should think it necessary to personally verify that their primary sources are real and contain the facts that the secondary resource claims they contain.

It's pretty clear to me by now that many things can be found on these myth-busting websites that can easily be mistaken for truth when they are in fact fiction.

  • 1
    Your last paragraph is a bit misleading; there's obviously a difference between The Straight Dope publishing a tongue-in-cheek letter that they received (with the staff reply, "Sure, Dad. Whatever you say"), and an actual article on that site.
    – ruakh
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 3:19

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