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I am a new participant here and find the place somewhat frustrating. It seems that while most of the mods are rational there is a large percentage of participants who seem to have an agenda. These posters post on the same subject over and over, fluoride, climate change, ghosts. They then proceed to provide answers or comments that are not skeptical and have a clear agenda to insert opinion or unverified factoids. What follows is an unsatisfying attempt by the community to answer the insult without breaking the rules.

Here is my question. Is there a way to challenge an askers assumptions, agenda, or interpretation of facts without making citations? Most of the time there is some glaring assumption that goes unchallenged.

I think these people need to face a higher hurdle than they are to continue posting. It would have to apply to everyone but single out questions that stem from a dishonest motive. I realize this is an impossible request, but I do feel this needs some discussion before this becomes the kooks.stackexchange site.

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  • I will add that I think these people are here to destroy the utility of the site. It goes beyond simple naïveté.
    – Tim Quinn
    Dec 31 '12 at 18:40
  • Hello Tim & Welcome! As per the FAQs new users should read the introduction to the site before posting. Yes, I endorse your opinion, chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page. On the other hand, I must say I don't quite understand why gost & fluoride questions might be helpful to future visitors, so, if I were a moderator I quickly deleted them, +1 ... but climate change questions can be interesting to challeng, anyway. Jan 1 '13 at 11:13
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Welcome to Skeptics Tim! :)

If you have been involved in the Skeptic movement for any amount of time, you will notice that this type of behaviour is quite normal for "believers". I have seen it on JREF, as well as on pretty much any blog or website dedicated to skepticism. I think it's part of the standard "woo" strategy of ignore any contradicting evidence or arguments and just pile on all your assertions and blind parroting until the skeptic gives up in frustration.

Generally, the place to address/challenge assumptions and interpretations is to back them up with citations. I know that's a lot more work, but that's the standard of the site, and it should be the best ammunition to dealing with the frankly silly things that some people will actually believe. As to addressing an "agenda" I would recommend against that, just because that opens discussions up too much to interpretation as well as attempting to divine what a person really means when they are using "weasel words" to protect their belief.

As to the higher standards, all I can suggest is that you flag the questions (or even answers) for moderator attention. As soon as you have enough reputation, feel free to suggest edits.

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I think you have a good point: there are people who persistently post low quality questions and answers because they have an agenda. But I think that, over time, the community deals with them well so you might want to wait and see.

The current troublesome one is anything on fluoride, but it looks to me as though that is being dealt with swiftly by a mixture of voting commenting and temporary account suspension for the most persistent poster of low quality questions.

I'm not sure the same applies to questions on climate change (though I am a frequent poster in that category and might be biased). I do have an agenda but it isn't to promote a point of view but, rather, to make sure that lazy acceptance of authority (the consensus) doesn't substitute for proper skeptical thinking. I think if you examine the answers you will not see a persistent push for one view but a good opportunity for people to defend the consensus (or not). It is, I think, healthy to encourage the debate about the evidence to occur in public.

This is more important in areas where there is a consensus as even scientists, being human, are sometimes lazy and can get away with publishing poor, lazy work when it agrees with the majority view.

Again, if you look at the collective response (answers, comments, voting, and questions) I think you will find we do a reasonable job.

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  • I would say you have a focus more than an agenda. :-)
    – Sklivvz
    Jan 2 '13 at 13:14
  • The difference between focus and agenda is often one of perception. Hot subjects such as climate changes and homosexuality will always get some controversy.
    – Zonata
    May 21 '13 at 6:27
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Many of our rules are designed to make it difficult to use our site to publish pseudoscience. We require references for all answers, if you see an answer claiming some dubious stuff without referencing it, just flag it for moderator attention, we'll take care of it.

The same goes for comments, we can't enforce it always but we generally don't want to have unreferenced answers hiding as comments. Just flag them as well and we'll remove them.

One point where we can't do much about it are biased questions that are more about publishing a certain pint of view than they are about actually getting a correct answer. Our notability requirements prevent the worst of this, but we can't do much about the rest.

If you are concerned about any specific user or pattern of questions, don't hesitate to flag or contact us in ans other way,e.g. chat.

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@matt_black said:

I think that, over time, the community deals with them well so you might want to wait and see.

I want to emphasize that point. While I do roll my eyes at some of the posts that people make, the community has proven itself over the past couple of years to be big enough and strong enough to handle the occasional "kook".

Sometimes, they go away as soon as it is clear that our standards require more effort than they want to put in, sometimes we need to show patience until they get bored and wander off, sometimes they overstep and need some enforced timeout, sometimes (not often, but it is great to see when it does happen) they "get it" and become contributors to the community.

Fortunately, the non-contributors never seem to have learned to organise themselves. Until we are attacked by squadrons of trolls in concerted waves, I think we can handle them.

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  • I don't know if this is the place to say it, but the irony is... I am not pro-fluoride! There is a complex value judgement to be made about the cost-benefits, and I have never sat down to weigh up all the evidence and make it. I suspect that if the anti-fluoride campaigners focussed on value-issues, like the role of government, the right to choose, etc., they might even convince me. While they rely only on bad science and logic, though, I can't be persuaded.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Jan 3 '13 at 12:55

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