I found this point in the new user welcome confusing:

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.

My reaction was basically... "wait, what"? You're allowed to challenge basic science? I find this strange because it raises a sort of "where's the line?" question. Can I challenge basic logic? Can I challenge geometry? Can I challenge other mathematics?

The second point seems to contradict the first. This is resolved by giving me a link to the "don't be a dick" question, because of course, just what I wanted, a long unrelated piece of literature to read to alleviate my understandable confusion.

After skimming this article I still don't know whether I'm allowed to challenge science or necessarily what that means in this blurb. I'm partly curious for an explanation of this but more concerned that the New User intro is confusing. One solution would be to answer here then link to that answer.


You are allowed to challenge science in a question, but not in an answer, unless it's with more science. For example:

  • "My science textbook says the Earth 4.5 billions of years old. Is it even possible?" is a valid question on this site, but

  • "It's wrong, the Earth is actually 6,000 years old" is not a valid answer.

  • "It's wrong, the Earth is actually 4.556 billions of years old [Ref]" is a valid answer.

The rationale is that we don't presume the answers to be negative in order to allow the questions, or in other words, not all questions should be about claims that we debunk. We also allow claims that we confirm. Those are typically science :-).

Mathematics is not on topic here because it's not fact based. Logic is, again, a subset of maths or philosophical in nature and not appropriate here. We draw the line in a very simple and clear place. It must be possible to answer based on reproducible and reviewable experimental facts. There must be a null hypothesis that can be proven or disproven.


Can you challenge basic science?

Yes, you are allowed to challenge basic science. I have addressed this issue in detail on a different meta-skeptics question, and it seems to have enough upvotes to have community support.

For example: if Barry Marshall had posted:

Science says [ref, ref, ref] that peptic ulcers are caused by stress, but I am skeptical. I can't see how infectious agents have been eradicated as a potential cause. Is there evidence that stress causes peptic ulcers?

that would be acceptable. (Perversely, his anecdote about swallowing Helicobacter pylori wouldn't be accepted in an answer!)

Can you challenge mathematics? geometry?

In principle, I would say yes. For example, it was only relatively recently (i.e. early 19th Century) that Euclid's fifth postulate was challenged and (to a limited extent) overturned.

Similarly, maths proofs can be flawed, and challenged.

However, there are better places to issue these challenges, where there are more experts to look at it: http://mathematics.stackexchange.com and http://mathoverflow.net. I would recommend posting such questions there.

Can you challenge logic iself?

This is a little more contentious, in my mind. Such a challenge would almost certainly be beyond the ability of our tools to tackle it, because our tools are rooted in the very logic being challenged. If you want to challenge the legitimacy of inductive reasoning, for example, then http://philosophy.stackexchange.com is going to be a better place.

Second point

The link to "Don't Be a Dick" is actually more appropriate to the 'community being respectful' sentence. I agree that it is misplaced, and should be has been edited.

As to the contradiction, I think it boils down to this: Science can be wrong. The way science fixes itself is with more science.

So, if you think a particular scientific theory is wrong, welcome. If you think the hole it leaves should be filled without reference to the scientific method, you will be disappointed here.

I am open to wording to better cover this in the New User Welcome.

  • I would argue that challenging mathematics and logic are not valid skeptical questions. Clearly science and skepticism can't bootstrap themselves.
    – Sklivvz
    May 12 '13 at 0:36
  • @Sklivvz: Challenging the core concepts of logic: I agree. Challenging the core concepts of mathematics: I agree. Challenging a proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, because you think there is a mistake in the 35th step? (i.e. an application of the core concepts of maths) Legitimate question, but probably better directed to a more expert group.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    May 12 '13 at 1:12

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