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One of the questions I posted up awhile back was "Is the endurance running hypothesis of human evolution credible?"1 (10k users or moderators only) which to me seems like it should have been a simple and straightforward question to address. Namely, is the theory considered creditable by scientists that actually study the field since it is unlikely to be answerable any time soon and was presented in the book as a developing area of research.

Given the amount of feedback of the question either being "bad" or perhaps more realistically, no a good fit for this site, perhaps we need to determine if such questions have a place here or not and amend the FAQ accordingly.

It strikes me that from a skeptical point of view, asking if a question that is outside your field of expertise is credible is good practice. Also, it is generally fairly easy for us to determine if something not creditable so we should capable for arriving at a way of handling these type of questions.


  1. The question is not so much important as the process behind the revisions. There was a lot of back and forth out of which arose this meta-question.
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    Am I missing something? The question is upvoted, and has an answer! There is a long rambling comment thread which IMO should be nuked from space. – Jamiec Jul 22 '13 at 14:32
  • I agree with Jamiec and I see no problem with the question. – Konrad Rudolph Jul 22 '13 at 14:36
  • @Jamiec The long rambling comment thread is the source of this meta-question. The cited question itself arguably irrelevant to but serves as an example of where it actually happened on the site to establish notability. – rjzii Jul 22 '13 at 14:36
  • @KonradRudolph See the comment I made while you were commenting. – rjzii Jul 22 '13 at 14:36
  • Incidentally, Scientific American and an opinion piece about this very problem. – rjzii Jul 22 '13 at 14:44
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    For the record, I have deleted the comments left over by @rob deleting his own comments. What is left is a reasonable question, with minimal back-and-forth discussion on the subject matter. However, what is left is an answer that the OP does not believe correctly answers his, now reworded, question. This im not sure what to do with. Im tempted to leave it be but can people vote to delete if they think that is appropriate. – Jamiec Jul 22 '13 at 15:35
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There are several levels of depth at which you can examine a claim. Suppose there is a claim "X".

Level 1: Is X true? Did X happen? etc.

Some examples:

These questions directly present and challenge the claim. Answers to these questions will necessarily present the evidence. If there is no consensus in the evidence, a good answer will present all sides, avoiding false equivalencies or undue weight for fringe theories.

This is where this site excels: questions that present a notable claim to be examined.

One-sided Level 2: Is there evidence refuting X?

I think this type of question is not appropriate for this site. It is basically asking for us to find sources for one side of an argument. If a claim is presented to be be examined, it should be available for examination from either side. It would be better to simply ask "Is X true?".

Level 2: Is the hypothesis that X is true credible? Is the hypothesis that X happened credible?

I believe this is the type of question that Rob had asked. He was asking for evaluation of the evidence that we would have presented at a level 1 inquiry.

Example:

  • Is the endurance running hypothesis of human evolution credible?

In this case, we have to find evidence about the evidence. We would need to find sources that make statements about the evidence we would have used at level 1. Second, it isn't clear what the notable claim being challenged is in this case. Is the notable claim "X is true"? Or is the notable claim "the hypothesis that X is true is credible"?

Level 3: Are the sources that claim that "the evidence for the hypotheses "X is true" is credible" credible?

We can just keep going deeper. And what is the point?


Summary

  • Present the notable claim that you want examined.
  • Evidence will be collected and included as part of any answer.
  • The credibility of that evidence will inform upvotes/downvotes/comments on an answer.
  • Answers using more credible or complete evidence will have higher scores.
  • So it sounds like you don't see this site as being very conducive to anything other than the "Level One" type questions. Which is fair I suppose although it does limit the usefulness of the site at times. – rjzii Jul 22 '13 at 17:02
  • @rob Yes, that's a good summary of my position. I think the benefits that you think would come from meta-level examination of evidence will happen in great answers. – user5582 Jul 22 '13 at 17:04
  • +1 - as an additional arguments, a lot (if not most) level 2/3 answers I see center around logical fallacies ("this claim comes from source known for other unreliable claims", "this claim comes from source whose politics I agree/disagree with", "this claim has racist/sexist implications" etc...). The only way to reliably discuss credibility of something is to compare it to all other evidence and see if it agrees - which boils down to an answer to Level 1 question anyway. – user5341 Jul 23 '13 at 13:20

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