I have a question about something I'm skeptical about, and being a SE user, I naturally immediately checked the Help Center and FAQ. I found this FAQ post, and I'd like a bit of clarification for my specific case.

My question is about a sign I found in a museum. Now, this already seems dangerously close to the "idle speculation" mentioned in the linked post, but seeing as it was posted in an official museum (Museum of Health and Medical Science in Houston) it seems to be more that just "speculation."

However, the thing I'm more worried about is the fact that the answer suggests that it is crucial to link to references within the post. I don't have a reference. I found this sign in the museum, and I didn't take a picture or anything, and I can't find the sign or the exhibit mentioned anywhere online.

So, would my question be on-topic here? Is a question on-topic if it does not have a source that is easily accessible (unless you happen to live very close to the museum :-P)?

  • 1
    ... you didn't search hard enough. WHAT DID YOU TRY? Check Google Street View, etc.
    – hichris123
    Apr 15, 2014 at 1:56

1 Answer 1


Ooh, tricky one!

Let's go back to our motivations for the rule here, to see if they help.

One reason for asking for notability references is to demonstrate it isn't just a speculative idea of the poster from the equivalent of a drunk discussion in a bar. The problem with those types of questions is:

(a) there is an infinite supply of them. If we accepted them, we would be spending all our effort on inconsequential ideas that no-one but the original theorists care about - and be spending much more effort than the person who thought them up. We would rather focus out efforts on the questions that actually make a difference in the world; ones where many people will be interested in the result.

(b) many of us would like to see the number of wild, unsubstantiated claims in the world reduced, not increased, and offering a forum to share them isn't our goal.

If you saw a sign in a museum, it is clear you aren't suffering from either of those. Depending on the museum and the location, a sign would presumably be seen by at least dozens - maybe hundreds - of people per day. That's tiny compared to some of the claims we see, but I think big enough to deserve a question.

The other major reason for asking for notability is to check the context has been adequately conveyed. What definitions might the original source have been using? Was it intended as a joke, or a real claim? Is this simply a misunderstanding of the claim by the poster, and we are about to attack a strawman*?

So, the question back to you is can you accurately describe the claim and the context? If you question is going to be "And the sign said something along the lines of 'you can get fuel from water'", we probably won't be able to understand the claim well enough to respond.

* Some people have objected to my usage of "strawman" in this sense, but I haven't found a better term yet.

Of course, if the sign is like the one in the Ornithology section of a museum local to me, it will be closed as not a real claim:

Why don't seagulls live near bays?

Because then they would be called 'baygulls'.


  • Thanks! Heh, no, it wasn't a joke sign or anything. It was making a claim about the technology that was being used in the demonstration it was referring to that I thought unlikely. And many people were indeed looking at the sign and saying something along the lines of "fascinating!" So I'll go ahead and post the question! (I'll wait until tomorrow, when I have time, so I can respond to replies)
    – Doorknob
    Apr 15, 2014 at 2:20

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