Are specific questions regarding law and the interpretation thereof on topic? I can see it both ways. On the one hand, there are some widespread, but incorrect beliefs about some laws which I think would be good to address. On the other hand, such questions will almost necessarily be regional, and -- being subject to interpretation -- may not have good objective answers.

Some example questions that come to mind:

  • If someone tells me they are going to commit a crime, and I do not report it to the police, have I committed a crime?

  • Was the (US) Income Tax Amendment (16th) properly ratified?

  • Is it illegal to take pictures of police headquarters?

2 Answers 2


Yes, some are.

Totally bizarre claims about the law probably do belong on a skeptics site because skeptical research and skeptical patterns apply more than any specific legal knowledge or training:


  • I read that some people oppose a yellow fringe on the US flag, when used in the courtroom. Does this signify anything sinister? Some people think it means their rights will be ignored. Is there any evidence that is true?
  • This website says when a person receives legal papers with their name in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, like JOHN DOE, that really isn't their name and they should not answer it. Is some sort of legal fiction involved? If John Doe answers the papers addressed to JOHN DOE, are they taking responsibility for this alleged JOHN DOE? Is there any evidence that John Doe != JOHN DOE before the law?
  • This website about forfeiture says the US government sued a "misplaced" moon rock to get it back... instead of suing the owner. This sounds ridiculous and violates due process of the owner, doesn't it? Did the moon rock take the stand? Did it have counsel or represent itself? Is there a copy of this proceeding somewhere or is it a myth?

One of these is true, two are BS. None have been asked yet on SE... all are amenable to Skeptical research methods and levels of skill.

Things like "I heard you won't go to jail in California on your first shoplifting offence, is that really true?" probably should be migrated to a more professional site.

But Are there public laws dealing with extraterrestrial contact? was answered with reasonably authoritative references for that kind of subject matter. So it seems practicing Skeptics can do legal research for the sort of things that ought to show up here instead of a more professional-oriented site.

That is my sense of where a line might be drawn. Let's see if we can apply it to the examples of the OP

  • If someone tells me they are going to commit a crime, and I do not report it to the police, have I committed a crime?

As is probably belong on Law and Legal questions. Depends on what the crime is, and phrasing to cite skeptical claims. If someone asked "On a TV drama they prosecuted J for murder because he knew K premeditated to murder L and J did not report K to the police. This fan's blog claims that is not realistic. Has anyone gone to prison for not reporting a murder attempt?" it probably belongs on Skeptics.

  • Was the (US) Income Tax Amendment (16th) properly ratified?

Maybe belongs on Skeptics. Is there a highly improbably claim, e.g. "This website says noone has to pay taxes because the 16th amendment wasn't properly ratified? Is that true?" This might be the kind of question passed from Law and Legal questions to Skeptics. It is straightforward to research as other sites have done most of the work already and discerning the truth boils down to reading, evaluating sources, and logic. It could be migrated if Skeptics felt they couldn't answer, but I think it could be answered just fine.

  • Is it illegal to take pictures of police headquarters?

Even if phrased as a claim for Skeptics, it is likely to devolve into a discussion between rights and security, and won't revolve around the likelihood of highly improbably claims. How rights and security currently get balanced in recent decisions is a better question for the experts at Law and Legal questions. It is the kind of question that would probably be migrated to Law and Legal questions. The answer to this question is probably "it depends" rather than "thats BS".

  • Great examples. Some of these do lay in a middle-ground, in my view. For that reason, I would LOVE to see Laws and Legal Questions become a full site. You should consider posting those questions there.
    – Ustice
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 15:50

All of the examples listed, and all of those that I can think of would be based on legal decisions, and not evidence and rational thought. While there might be valid questions in the form of reasoning for laws being based on science or not, the laws themselves are not scientific in nature, and therefore outside of the scope of the site. They would all be great questions for Laws and Legal Questions. If you are interested in that site (and I like the idea of it myself), be sure to commit to it, and provide some of the questions.

  • 1
    Claims about the law can be claims about facts. The existence or nonexistence of a ruling or an authority is a fact that can be fact checked or held up to the light of reason. "Scientific" Skepticism refers to a methodology for debunking claims involving method of null hypothesis and alternative, otherwise knows as the "scientific method". This can be applied to facts about the law.
    – Paul
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 20:28
  • There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but I think that they are rare. The existence of a law or a ruling body is also very localized, and therefore likely to also be outside of the scope of the site. Also, once again, these are more legal questions than questions pertaining to skepticism and bad science.
    – Ustice
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 15:47

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