FAQ: Welcome to New Users links to How should we enforce notability? in which the accepted answer includes the following:

It is not required to have an explicit cite for a claim in questions, though it is very helpful if the notability of the claim is questioned.


If you suspect that a claim is not notable, you should perform a minimum amount of research before acting. Performing a quick google search using search terms taken from the question is a good idea.

Is it true that an explicit citation is not required in questions? Even if it wasn't required in the past, should it be required in the future?

People have difficulty answering the question when there's no citation.

A typical example is Can the UK fire its nuclear weapons without US agreement?

The problems, the reasons why I think that all claims should include a reference by default, are:

  • When a user posts an unreferenced claim, then the claim as it's phrased is often very brief, vague or imprecise ... which means that people need to use comments to question what the question really means and exactly what it's asking.

  • If you do a quick Google search then you may find many slightly different variations on the claim, and it's not possible to know which one to answer

  • The person who is asking the question should be able to do the Google search themselves, if the claim is notable. Their doing that minimum of research improves the question; but if/when someone else does the research and edits the question, that is a perhaps unwarranted change to the meaning or intent of the question.

In contrast, a referenced claim is better:

  • The original reference is longer (with more text), so that people can read it to understand the context, the exact words being used (not a semi-accurate paraphrase which is merely the understanding/memory/summary of the person asking the question here) and therefore the implied or exact meaning of the claim.
  • If or when the meaning of the original reference is unclear, nevertheless the reference itself is then ipso facto on topic (the fact that it's referenced makes it notable almost by definition, except when it's from a joke or fictional source which nobody was meant to believe). The lack of clarity or ambiguity then becomes on topic, and deserves being answered in an answer instead of being questioned in a comment.

Alternatively, is it appropriate to simply flag a moderator if you think that an unreferenced question should have a reference: instead of posting a comment to the user, which the user may not reply to? Moderators have the ability to post a standard/canned/boilerplate comment, and/or to put a question on Hold, which may be better than (or supplement) a user comment.

I don't understand why the "rule" is ambiguous: why or when is it "should" (usually) provide a reference in questions, instead of "must" (always) provide a reference?

See also FAQ: Must all questions be notable?


1 Answer 1


As agreed in that answer, it is essential that a claim be notable. It is important, but not essential, that the claim be represented with an example.

For all the reasons you give, and more, it is important to have a notable reference:

  • Makes the question more specific, which in some cases it's necessary
  • Helps identify strawmen, where the OP has misunderstood the original claim.
  • Demonstrates notability in borderline cases

Therefore, it is better to have a notable reference. Where a question without a notable reference suffers from any of the above problems, and only where there is sincere doubt about the notability of the question (for example, after performing a google search and not finding examples) I think it is appropriate to vote to put it on hold until a reference can be found. (Slight tweak to your suggestion: The number of non-mods who have the privilege to vote to put a question On Hold outnumbers the mods. I would encourage them to directly vote to close, rather than flag.)

However, there are oral memes as well as written ones, and I am hesitant to exclude those as valid questions.

Here are some examples (and, yes, some of them suffer badly from a lack of agreed definitions, but there is no doubt the claims are notable):

The hurdles for asking a valid question on Skeptics.SE are high, and we almost certainly lose potential new users because of it. I don't propose that we should let through bad questions just to make it simpler, but I am wary about making the hurdles even higher.

In fact, we should struggle to make asking valid, notable and answerable questions as easy as possible, by collaborating with people asking questions rather than simply enforcing a rule.

If no-one but the OP has heard of a claim or if there is doubt about the meaning of the claim, let's push back (or find a suitable reference ourselves). But, where the meaning is clear enough and the claim is widely heard, there seems little reason to refuse the question.

  • 1
    IMO, a meme (the moon is made of cheese) is not even a claim, let alone notable. there is no doubt the claims are notable Your first paragraph of skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/5437/2703 proves my point IMO. Any prior web search by the OP for a claim would have either improved the question, or avoided it as pointless/off-topic. The OP's intent IMO was to use the meme as a trojan horse to ask three specific questions about apples, none of which were notable claims.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 11:09
  • Re. the second claim on your list, if the OP had searched google.com/… before asking the question, in order to discover whether it is a notable claim, then they would have found the opposite: i.e. that there are many notable claims to the contrary ... so again, regardless of whether "it is a very commonly held belief in America", it's not a question worth asking/answering for anyone who has access to a web browser.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 11:13
  • The hurdles for asking a valid question on Skeptics.SE are high -- I doubt that: The bar for notability is very low. Having a very simple guideline (i.e "cite the claim which you want to question") about how to ask an on-topic question would IMO make questions easier to ask as well as easier to answer.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 11:28
  • if there is doubt about the meaning of the claim, let's push back IMO any and every valid question is a doubt about the meaning/truth/scope of the claim. So, let's always see the claim.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 11:33
  • push back What should one do to "push back" on skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/17425/2703 for example? The OP has had some time to edit it, but hasn't done so yet. It's highly upvoted and/so I don't want to vote to close: because my vote to close wouldn't be justified/appropriate given the current policy (lack of policy). It would be a more effective 'push' if it were semi-automatically put on hold, pending the appropriate edit.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 11:49
  • (or find a suitable reference ourselves) I did so and supplied the reference in a comment. That reference was very easy to find. The reference which I found also started to answer the question: so if I changed the question to cite that reference, I would subsequently be answering a strawman of my own devising/choice. Therefore it would have been better for the OP to do have done that Google search, until he found a specific/notable claim which he himself doubted. After too many meta-questions made in comments, all users including the OP may be losing interest in the actual topic. Because ...
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 11:56
  • ... there is no topic: no actual, notable, claim.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 11:57
  • Does the status quo include "if there's any doubt - if one person shows up and disputes the claim (leaves a comment, or flags for moderator attention) - then it's the responsibility of the asker (or your friendly neighborhood editor) to dig up a real, verifiable source"
    – user5582
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 16:28
  • @Sancho Unfortunately the current "Off-Topic" close reason says, "Questions regarding claims that are not widely heard or read are off-topic; please see Must all questions be notable?." I can believe that some or other claim, especially an implicit claim, about Montessori is widely heard or believed. My problem is that, with no citation, I don't know what the claim in question is. For example a more usual Montessori claim might be that it's developmentally (age-) appropriate, and not that it better-prepares children for subsequent schools or "leads to higher educational achievement".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 12:24
  • @ChrisW: Do you want to start a meta-question to improve that text?
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 12:32
  • I started a meta-question at meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/2500/2703
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 26, 2013 at 1:00
  • What is a notable reference?
    – user5582
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 18:42
  • 1
    @Articuno I expect it means "a reference to a notable claim".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 23:22

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