I'm a new user on this site. I recently provided an answer and linked to several online articles. However, my answer was downvoted 2x because two people didn't like that I used a non "scientific sources" and/or chose to link to Livestrong. (All of the articles I provided, however, reference university and medical journals.) Following the new user FAQ, I found this page regarding references. Here is another discussion on references.

While I do see that there's a preference for peer-reviewed articles, I not see anything on the new user FAQ or the references page requiring the inclusion of "scientific" references or anything specifically banning Livestrong or non-peer reviewed articles references. Does SE.skeptics specifically require "scientific references"? If so, where is the page explaining that? Also does se.skeptics ban certain websites from serving as resource material?

  • 1
    Just a comment (which I admit I don't know if it is allowed in meta) but as a physician, I have seen way too many scientifically unsupportable information on Livestrong.com presented as fact. Dec 9, 2015 at 20:54
  • My point is that you and/or other users of SE.Skeptics have previous knowledge about the nature of material on Livestrong that is not blatantly obvious in the FAQs for this site. A reasonable person viewing the FAQs would not draw the conclusion that Livestrong is not to be trusted. In addition, whether or not you are a physician doesn't improve the validity of your opinion more than anyone else, simply due to the rules of the site. You must be able to provide proof of your references; "I am a doctor" or "My doctor told me so" is not good enough.
    – user70848
    Dec 10, 2015 at 15:44
  • Please don't misunderstand me; I was commenting only on the quality of Livestrong, not SE policy or FAQ. Being a doctor buys me nothing on Skeptics, however, it certainly does enable me to have a more informed opinion on the information given on Livestrong, just as a professional photographer would have a more informed opinion than mine of what was written on Improve Photography. If you want Livestrong to be mentioned specifically in this site's FAQ, that's a different issue than the one I'm commenting on. Dec 10, 2015 at 20:00
  • Thanks for the explanation, but I didn't misunderstand. It is perfectly fair for you (or anyone) to have a greater context of a subject due to your profession. Most people on Skeptics are critiquing Livestrong because they are frequent users of Skeptics, not due to their professional opinions. I cannot read an FAQ and legitimately learn medicine, but I can read an FAQ and get a sense of what is or is not favored on a sub-forum for a website. The FAQs give the Ps & Qs of Skeptics and since Livestrong isn't mentioned, I find it unfair to downvote based on this implicit knowledge.
    – user70848
    Dec 11, 2015 at 17:26
  • Ah, I understand now. Thanks. Dec 11, 2015 at 17:34

3 Answers 3


However, my answer was downvoted 2x because two people didn't like that I used a non "scientific sources" and/or chose to link to Livestrong. (All of the articles I provided, however, reference university and medical journals.)

Livestrong is well known for claiming a lot of unscientific stuff. We have many questions about their various outlandish claims.

Does SE.skeptics specifically require "scientific references"? If so, where is the page explaining that?

No. However they are highly preferred.

Also does se.skeptics ban certain websites from serving as resource material?

Certainly so:

  • We require all references to be reputable. In practice, more reputable than the claim in question. This excludes, for example, answers which merely repeat the claim.

  • We don't allow linking to sites which are spam, or hate speech, or other nasty stuff.

  • We don't allow undisclosed self-promotion

More in general, posts are upvoted or downvoted based on the perceived quality and reputability of the given links. Answers which contain strong, conclusive evidence are generally highly upvoted. Answers which contain notoriously or obviously unreliable sources are going to be tanked. This is the purpose of the site!

  • "Livestrong is well know for claiming a lot of unscientific stuff." No offense, but that is an entirely subjective and opinionated statement. Further, if this specific website is not allowed or is not recommended as a resource, then it should specifically be mentioned in the user FAQs. As of now, it is not. Lastly, in this particular case, the only source of the claim in question were Amazon reviews for a product, so I'm not sure if that even counts as "reputable". I would appreciate if you can clarify for me what "reputable" means, or point me to the FAQ explaining this term.
    – user70848
    Nov 20, 2015 at 16:10
  • 6
    "No offense, but that is an entirely subjective and opinionated statement" It's factual statement because there are many examples of unscientific material on Livestrong. It's well known to us as a bad source of evidence, which is why you are getting downvoted. As simple as that.
    – Sklivvz
    Nov 20, 2015 at 23:32
  • @user70848 Whether the claim in a question is not from a reputable source doesn't have any bearing on whether information in answers should be from a reputable source.
    – Erica
    Nov 21, 2015 at 16:12
  • @Sklivvz Saying that there are many examples of "unscientific" material on Livestrong is moot, because it has apparently been already demonstrated that answers on SE.skeptics do not need to be scientific. As far as this continued negative view of Livestrong, specifically, you continue to reference implicit knowledge - i.e., "It's well know to us" - that I have yet to find explicitly stated in the FAQs. Is this community not open to everyone? Where is this information for people who are not "us" to read and understand?
    – user70848
    Nov 22, 2015 at 5:07
  • @Erica That's fair. I read up on it - Facebook posts are considered "notable" enough for a claim, so I guess Amazon reviews count too.
    – user70848
    Nov 22, 2015 at 5:08
  • 2
    @user70848 there's nothing in the faq because livestrong is just one of many sites with a bad history of claiming false, anti scientific stuff as true. The whole Skeptics is dedicated to finding out which is which, so you'll find examples on main, not here. The site is open to all practitioners of scientific skepticism, and everyone is expected to stick to it. This doesn't mean having scientific sources all the time, but it does mean having reliable sources, and livestrong is not reliable.
    – Sklivvz
    Nov 22, 2015 at 23:52
  • @Sklivvz So why isn't the site just outright banned?
    – user70848
    Nov 23, 2015 at 15:00
  • 5
    @user70848 we don't keep a list of sites which are unreliable, it would be absurd.
    – Sklivvz
    Nov 23, 2015 at 17:37
  • @Sklivvz I didn't ask why aren't all "unreliable" sites banned. I asked why you don't Livestrong isn't banned? You stated that Livestrong is not reliable, meaning that you believe that 100% of the time, Livestrong is not a reliable site. If it's always unreliable, then why not ban it?
    – user70848
    Nov 23, 2015 at 18:18
  • 6
    @user70848 If the Livestrong article you link really bases itself on peer-reviewed scientific publications, refer to those directly, or possibly quote a Livestrong passage including its reference to peer-reviewed sources.
    – gerrit
    Nov 24, 2015 at 11:53
  • 4
    @gerrit, indeed; and it's very common for the mass media to misinterpret scientific papers (heck, even proper scientists are known to misinterpret scientific papers, too!), so just because some third-party source claims to reference a peer-reviewed article, doesn't at all mean that such source can be fully trusted.
    – cnst
    Nov 24, 2015 at 20:16
  • @gerrit "Scientific" is not a requirement. Besides that, it's fair point to say that that if it's possible to link to a peer-reviewed article directly then you should, and it's a point that could easily be included in the FAQs. As it is, it's not and so the FAQs are unclear and/or incomplete, which is a point I'm making.
    – user70848
    Nov 25, 2015 at 1:49
  • @cnst I wouldn't say that Livestrong is "mass media"; it's just not a peer-reviewed publication. It's also not a good argument to dismiss a claim or reference from a 3rd party source just because it's a 3rd party source. It could be perfectly accurate.
    – user70848
    Nov 25, 2015 at 1:51
  • @user70848 Sure, livestrong could be accurate, and it is a source, therefore it is on-topic to reference it. However, based on prior experience of livestrong making inaccurate claims, some people distrust it as a source, which is way they downvote the answer.
    – gerrit
    Nov 25, 2015 at 10:47
  • 2
    @user70848 Whether or not Livestrong is perfectly accurate in this case is not relevant. What is relevant is that some users do not consider it a reliable source. If a source is sometimes right, sometimes wrong, then the source as a whole can be considered unreliable. For the same reason, unsourced statements on Wikipedia may also be considered unreliable. A reliable source is one that is perceived to be almost always accurate. Generating a complete list of sources that some users consider unreliable is impossible.
    – gerrit
    Nov 25, 2015 at 15:42

There are several questions here:

  • Are some references required, or else the answer will likely be deleted?

    –– Yes!

  • Are peer-reviewed sources required, or else the answer will be deleted?

    –– No.

  • Are "scientific" sources required, or else the answer will be deleted?

    –– No.

  • Are sources containing empirical evidence required, or else the answer will be deleted?

    –– No.

  • Will regular users downvote answers that, when addressing the claim in the question, depend on references that:

    • are unreliable.

    • that cherry-pick or commit other fallacies of logic.

    • that don't explain how they know what they claim.

    • that are biased, and make no attempt to counter that bias.

    • that don't include empirical evidence or contain references to empirical evidence.

    • that are tertiary sources (like Wikipedia), etc.?

      –– Yes! Oh, yes! (Thank you, Skeptics.SE community, for your diligence! You are what makes Skeptics.SE such a great place to find definitive answers.)

  • Can you please answer the questions asked, rather than use questions that have been qualified for answers you would like to provide? Can you also define what makes a reference "unreliable"?
    – user70848
    Nov 20, 2015 at 0:34
  • 2
    @user70848: Your questions were inadequately specified. An answer of "it depends" would have been less useful that breaking them down into subcategories.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Nov 20, 2015 at 2:57
  • I did not ask, "if X, then Y". I simply asked X. I also never asked about empirical evidence. I am asking about how the site works, in relation to the facts stated within the FAQs. As it happens, the Livestrong article references other reliable sources, and so fits the first bullet in your link for "reliable": "Look for sources that explain how they know what they say is right...by referencing other reliable sources".
    – user70848
    Nov 20, 2015 at 16:13
  • @user70848: Your meta-question pointed to the way your answer was treated, and made a hasty generalization that formed the premise of your meta-question. This premise was wrong, and as a result, your question was inadequately specified. My answer demonstrated that, and attempted to provide enough background so you could see that "scientific" is not the specific criterion, but there are related criteria (including "empirical"). If you would prefer to self-answer with "It depends", on the grounds it doesn't give away any extraneous useful information, go for it.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Nov 20, 2015 at 22:10
  • I'm sorry but I have no idea what you're talking about. How was my question inadequately specified? What do you mean by "self-answer"? Where has it been stated that references must show empirical evidence? My answers fit the FAQ definition and they fit the definition of reliable you provided, and yet still somehow do not fit the rules of the site. Where in the rules for the site does it state that references must be empirical in nature? It is stated that claims and answers must include reliable references, but it is not stated that references must be scientific or empirical.
    – user70848
    Nov 20, 2015 at 22:37
  • self-answer; post an answer to your own question. It isn't stated that references must show empirical evidence. I've trying to explain that it doesn't violate the rules of the site to post an answer with poor/non-empirical/non-scientific or unreliable references. However, users are encouraged to use that fact when deciding how to vote.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Nov 21, 2015 at 4:20
  • Yes, but I don't understand how people are able to understand what is considered to be a "poor" or "unreliable" reference if it's not clearly defined. In addition, Livestrong seems to be a hot button for everyone, so why is it not explicitly stated that Livestrong is not allowed? The definition for reliable/unreliable in the link you gave doesn't seem to disqualify the article I posted, as an example, so I don't understand these implicit criteria. Does every question need to be answered by a peer-reviewed article, or does every answer simply need a reference?
    – user70848
    Nov 22, 2015 at 5:13
  • Let's move this to chat.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Nov 22, 2015 at 11:15

Health.SE was heavily modeled on Skeptics. We do have a page of suggested acceptable sites to draw information from. Livestrong was not one of them. Nor was Web.MD, or any personal blog site, any site which was for profit (usually selling a product to help cure an illness), etc. But to list every possible website which is not a good source would be much too long, hundreds of times longer than the list of those which were acceptable. I mean, we'd have to list The Daily Mail.

However, Health concentrates only on one area of information. If you allow any area, that problem is amplified tremendously.

No one likes down votes, but everyone gets them, especially users who are new to a site, because they don't know precisely stuff like this, which I suppose can be called site norms. It happens on every site I'm active on. The people who rarely got downvotes are those that stick around and just observe for a while before answering to familiarize themselves with a site's expectations.

That's not a recommendation - I don't follow it myself, I like to dive in - but then I've gotten my share of down votes. It comes with the territory in a system with the choice of up votes and down votes.

  • I think it's possible to give a framework of a type of site to avoid that Livestrong would easily fit. That hasn't happened on Skeptics. Actually, what it says is: "anecdotes, personal stories and testimonials are not allowed... Ideally, we would like to see links to peer-reviewed empirically-based evidence." Ideally is not the same as must. In my case, Livestrong was one of several sites that basically said the same thing; but the only criticism was for that one site. So, the issue is with Livestrong, not with the actual answer.
    – user70848
    Dec 11, 2015 at 20:20

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