Subway magnetic fields and laptop hard drives

I wish to improve, and this is why I reacted poorly on my answer being deleted. I've read the "no theoretical answers" several times, but one thing I find odd is that several are still accepted. If a question can not be answered completely, such as "research indicates but does not prove...", it's theory. Yes, I get some may pass for various reasons, but I am more interested in the thought process here. Even more on why my question is marked as unaccepted.

I provided sources, some vague, but the question came from a myth, something that rarely provides enough, finite evidence. Conclusion is actually finite. The fact HDD's need strong magnets to even get affected is evidence 1, source indicating the magnetic fields in the subway may be lower than what you'd find occurring even natural at specific points was evidence 2, leading to conclusion that no, there was no danger. I wrote "extremely unlikely" as a kick to the fact it was based on a myth, and a vague source for the magnetic fields in subways. What I should have written there was of course that global location of subway may make the values vary from what was provided in the source I linked.

In short, what I ask is why I got no warning, such as "better\more sources" required... I wish to know what made my answer seem theoretical.

  • Cant speak for the mod that deleted, but your answer looks somewhere between "Back of the envelope" and "Common sense answer" on the linked FAQ.
    – Jamiec Mod
    Jan 29, 2015 at 15:15

1 Answer 1


Scientifically: models and theories are made to make predictions, experiments are made to validate predictions and invalidate models.

Skeptics questions are about models which make predictions (claims). In this case, the following prediction: a hard drive is more likely than norm to be made faulty by a trip in the NY subway.

Skeptics answers are about validating these predictions looking at the evidence, ideally through reporting third party experiments, or as a weaker form of evidence, expert opinion.

Given the above we can not allow presenting a second model and using its predictions as evidence! If you present a model and you make a prediction with it (such as "hard drives won't fail in the subway"), you can't use it validate or deny another prediction (such as "a hard drive is more likely than norm to be made faulty by a trip in the NY subway"): if you do so, you've just added a parallel competing theory, not provided a viable answer.

We need a higher level of evidence, hopefully experimental evidence to refute a prediction. That's the basis of the scientific method and the foundation of scientific skepticism: validating what we know with evidence. If we refute a prediction based on another prediction we are no better off than we were initially.

This is why we don't allow theoretical answers. They confuse evidence with theories.

Furthermore, raising the bar on evidence is even necessary for this site to survive at all, because a lot of people come to the site (and often attempt to answer) convinced of crank theories.

Now -- the community can't be expected to decide which theories are feasible and which are crank, so we ban them all as answers. We let the scientific/specialist community at large attempt to answer, and report here their findings.

  • Thank you for cleaifying. I have yet some to learn when using this site, it seems, indeed.
    – Sharain
    Jan 29, 2015 at 18:35

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