Lately, I have increasingly seen this behavior on the main site: some users, especially high reputation ones, posts pseudo-answers as comments on questions.

Is this something that we want, as a community?

3 Answers 3


Let's avoid that, please.

  • If you know the answer, and could back it up with facts, write it in the answer box and add a reference or more. You get upvotes for that and make the site better.
  • If you think you know the answer, but you don't really have the will/time to verify that by looking it up, you are fundamentally speculating. That's not the content we want here. Even if you are right, even if you could back it up but you don't, you are setting a bad example. Don't.

Besides that, it's painful for the asker. On some questions I asked, I have had dozens of comments containing attempted answers. Did that answer my question in any way? Not only it did not, but also makes the community seem effectively dismissive, hostile and insular.

Think about that, your off-hand comment is going to sound either obvious and stupid ("Isn't the answer obvious?"), or witty but hostile ("What a stupid question").

Let's use the site features in the way they are most effective:

  • Such comments should be avoided, flagged and deleted.
  • Use comments to talk about how the post can be improved (or even better, improve the post directly by editing)
  • Use answers to provide definitive, evidence-based content. Nothing less will do, anywhere.
  • The chat is your friend if you want to discuss something more in depth.

PS: You are not seriously trying to avoid downvotes, right? =)


It depends and I say that mostly because someone could have enough to write up a quick comment with a possible source (e.g. "I don't think that's the case because I seem to recall seeing [source] that said otherwise.") but not enough time to write up a formal and well sourced answer and the circle back around when they have more time to write up an answer, or someone else can work off the comment to be able to write up a formal answer.

In general, they aren't something we should encourage or want to keep around though.

  • The point is that "knowing" the answer before looking up the sources is a bit disingenuous.
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 17, 2013 at 21:51
  • @Sklivvz But on the same token, people tend to have lots of random knowledge running around in their head as subject area experts without knowing all of the attributed sources off of the top of their head.
    – rjzii
    Dec 17, 2013 at 22:11
  • Surely, but how would that help anyone? It can't be used in an answer because it's unreferenced, and creates bias or aggro.
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 17, 2013 at 22:15
  • @Sklivvz Try looking at it from this perspective, how does simply sitting on the knowledge help anyone? If someone is able to give enough information that someone can take it and use it to develop a fully sourced answer then it is contributing to making the internet a better place. I'm not advocating for keeping the comments around but if someone types something up quickly and notes they will circle back around later to write up a proper answer then leave it up for 48 hours or so and give them a chance to develop the answer.
    – rjzii
    Dec 17, 2013 at 23:00
  • That only follows if these comments contain true and valuable information. In many cases, instead, they contain only opinions of people that are honestly convinced they know something, but are just adding noise because they didn't check, nor they are called to actually back it up with evidence.
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 17, 2013 at 23:18
  • @Sklivvz So it sounds like we basically agree with varying degrees of projection towards how often useful comments will appear.
    – rjzii
    Dec 17, 2013 at 23:25
  • Without sources, how would you suggest we determine what constitutes a useful comment?
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 17, 2013 at 23:30
  • @Sklivvz I don't know, reputation of the user, the actual comment itself? If someone posts something like "I don't think that's the because 'Skeptical Inquirer' did a write up a couple months ago and said [explanation], I'll see if I can find the article later." it's going to carry more weight than a new user saying "That's not true because I'm a doctor!"
    – rjzii
    Dec 18, 2013 at 0:37
  • 1
    I'd rather just wait until the person finds the time to write a proper answer. There's no rush. If it takes 48 hours, so be it.
    – user5582
    Dec 18, 2013 at 2:33
  • As well-intentioned as the commenter may be, memory is fallible. If they can't remember the source of their beliefs or can't remember the information in a source well enough to write an answer, it's not useful as a comment either. The highest reputation users should be the most aware of this aspect of human memory. See More evidence our memory stinks.
    – user5582
    Dec 18, 2013 at 2:48
  • @Articuno That's a fair point, but if someone is able to provide enough information that someone else can use the comment as a starting point for their answer the net result is that a question may get answered faster as opposed to just remaining unanswered. Plus, we are all in agreement that the poorly written appeal to authority comments are unwelcome and we are mostly just examining well written comments that point at the location of potential information.
    – rjzii
    Dec 18, 2013 at 2:57
  • @Articuno There have been some questions here with comments along the lines of "People looking to answer this question may want to look into source" which are generally welcomed as useful comments.
    – rjzii
    Dec 18, 2013 at 2:58
  • 1
    I'd agree with that. A source is the exact opposite of an unreferenced comment.
    – user5582
    Dec 18, 2013 at 3:07
  • Although, speculation about what the source says or whether or not it supports the claim may as well wait until the answer.
    – user5582
    Dec 18, 2013 at 4:03
  • I see your point after your edit, but those would not be "pseudo-answers" as defined (see the link in the question).
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 18, 2013 at 9:45

I often have no time to do thorough research, or only have a few old written sources (or museum artifacts) as reference material, which are not acceptable (maybe they should be, there's more information that's not online but might be found if someone went looking for it in a dusty old library than there is online and it's often more accurate, especially for older things).
Posting that as an answer only gets a spade of downvotes and deleted posts, so I tend to post it as a comment to the question (or to an answer that might benefit from the additional information) for others to use as a basis for their own research.
Disallowing that would weaken the site.

  • Written, offline sources are completely acceptable as references. We aren't limited to referencing online material.
    – user5582
    Dec 17, 2013 at 8:47
  • I believe we follow a rule similar to Wikipedia in this regard: see their policy on access to sources, and an essay on offline sources.
    – user5582
    Dec 17, 2013 at 8:50
  • @Articuno I've had more than a few answers deleted and downvoted for referencing printed books, complete with page numbers, ISBN (if available), etc. because "it's not online so we can't verify it". Ditto with references to museum collections, mentioning the museum in question where the objects can be found. It's sad but that's how things happen here.
    – jwenting
    Dec 17, 2013 at 9:34
  • Here.
    – user5582
    Dec 17, 2013 at 9:52
  • Also, I couldn't find an example of one of your answers being downvoted because it used an offline source.
    – user5582
    Dec 17, 2013 at 10:09
  • @Articuno These are the non-deleted answers which reference an offline source: skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/1221/2703 skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/5796/2703 skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/7966/2703 ... comments to these answers don't complain about the reference being to an offline source.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 17, 2013 at 12:15
  • 1
    jwenting, when you do reference an offline book I suggest you include a page number and ideally a little direct quote, as suggested in Fabian's answer.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 17, 2013 at 12:20

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