I am referring to this question: Do the mother's genes almost exclusively determine the sons' intelligence?

This question currently garners 9 votes, 1.3K++ views, which shows that this is a good, interesting question.

And when you go through the question, you will see that this is also a notable question, fulfilling the criteria of Skeptic SE; surely questioning a claim published in a highly regarded journal is a notable question, no?

Then why it is closed for "being unclear"? The question is unclear about?

I was asked to look at the comments, because they somehow addressed the issue why this question was closed. From what I can see the closure reason offered in the comments is very weak

In the comments, OP asked:

@Sklivvz Does being published in a well-regarded peer reviewed journal not qualify as notable? What kind of signs of notability do you require in order to reconsider your decision?

Sklivvz replied

Look at what people actually believe. That's the notability standard. What do you expect people will actually answer to your question?

What makes the mod Skivvz thinks that only a negligible minority of people believe in this claim? Major newspaper reported the news, the claim was made in a well established journal, and yet the claim is not "notable" enough to be asked on this site?

I can easily point out there are a lot of questions, which are even less notable than the above one, that are nonetheless well-received on this site. So if you would want to close this question, then you would have to close a lot more, and Skeptic SE as we know it might cease to exist. It seems very clear to me that mods made a mistake in closing this question.

Not only that, my own similar, equally valid question ( I didn't notice this question when I wrote mine) was downvoted for no reason... not too sure what I did wrong.

Can someone restore justice here? And if you feel that the question worth reopening, go there and cast a reopen vote/flag it for mod reopening attention, let's right the wrong!

  • @Jamiec, I can't cast a reopening vote, despite my 1K++ reputation. I've flagged for mod's attention instead
    – Graviton
    Sep 7, 2016 at 9:17
  • Ack, sorry its 3K to cast reopen votes. My bad. I thought it was 1K. Still, hopefully high rep users will cast their vote if they believe this should be reopened.
    – Jamiec Mod
    Sep 7, 2016 at 9:21

2 Answers 2


I've voted to re-open, need four more votes.

It's clearly true that there is some confusion about the implications of Prof. Turner's paper, with sources (including Turner herself writing in The Lancet and at least two major newspapers) talking as if it accounts for, variously, all a male's intelligence, all their genetically-derived intelligence, or ~70-80% of their intelligence; seemingly containing contradictory lines in different places in the same articles.

On the face of it, it looks like a classic case of a researcher and reporters over-stating the implications of some research while summarising it. This seems to be why it was closed: a mod believes these quotes don't reflect the evidence presented in the body of the paper.

A study being exaggerated by popularisers who stretch it to a more attention-grabbing but unwarranted conclusion is exactly the sort of thing Skeptics.SE exists to debunk, and the tool to clear up such a matter is an answer.

If it's true that an author's summaries, press releases etc about their study aren't supported by the paper's own evidence, that's the answer to the question. Hiding that fact behind a close vote doesn't help anyone.

1: Sklivvz says:

The claim seems to be scarcely notable.

...which makes no sense because the question quoted a highly respected academic journal (The Lancet) and a major newspaper (The Independent). Normally, just one of these would be enough.

I've added a second quote from a major newspaper (Wall Street Journal). This is plenty of notability. Each contain at least one quote that appears to state the premise of the question as a matter of fact:

  • The Lancet: "his sons’ intelligence, if that is important to him, is solely dependent on his partner"
  • The Independent: "Intelligent men owe their brains to their mothers"
  • Wall Street Journal: "...all the credit for the [son]'s genius goes to Mom"

If for any reason they're wrong to say these things, and there's evidence demonstrating this, that's the answer to the question.

2: Sklivvz says:

I see no evidence that a lot of people believe that intelligence is solely due to the X chromosome.

Normally, when a mainstream source presents something as fact, we don't also need some kind of proof that readers believe what they read. The fact it's presented as fact is usually enough.

Also, at least four variants of this question have been asked now. Two that asked if "80%" of intelligence is so explained are now closed as dupes of this one, and the question is "Do the mother's genes almost exclusively determine the sons' intelligence?" and says "supposedly his intelligence is dominated by his mother's genes". There's no need to get hung up on "solely".

3: Sklivvz says:

That conclusion is present but it's not coherent with the rest of the paper.

This is an answer not a close reason. Many researchers give their research attention-grabbing conclusions that stretch beyond the logical implications of the evidence, and that's exactly the sort of thing that skeptics should debunk, especially if it's being done in a highly respected journal like The Lancet and being repeated in major newspapers.

A comment and a close vote are not the correct tools for debunking a researcher and several newspapers' excessive conclusions: not only is it opaque and doesn't contain space to summarise the evidence properly, but also, if it turned out Sklivvz was wrong and, surprisingly, the claim was actually true and was supported by evidence (unlikely but possible), it'd be impossible for someone to comment or write a better answer explaining this.

4: "closed as unclear what you're asking by Sklivvz"

None of the stated reasons have anything to do with being unclear, and the fact that it's so easy to identify that a newer question is a duplicate of this one proves that the question is clear enough to understand what's being asked.

5: Latest comment:

Here are a few suggestions on how to fix: (1) "Are the conclusions on this paper coherent with the evidence it presents" -> ask on Biology (2) "Is this reporting of a paper coherent with it" -> reword and ask here (3) "Is this claim in a newspaper coherent with evidence" -> reword and ask here (4) "is there any update on this paper's findings" ask on Biology

This seems to suggest that you need to know what the answer to a question is in order to choose where to ask it and how to frame it, and overcomplicates things needlessly.

Normally, what you need for a skeptics question is, a claim, and proof that the claim is notable. You don't also need to pick one possible reason out of many why the claim might not be true and narrow it to that. In fact, most times I've seen askers talk about why they think a claim might be mistaken, it's been edited out.

The question is, "Do the mother's genes almost exclusively determine the sons' intelligence?". There are three sources proving the claim is notable.

Is it true?

The three sources happen to be different sources' comments on evidence presented in one Lancet paper; but the question would be just as valid if the three notable sources each cited different papers, or if they were unreferenced remarks in things like speeches or viral images.

  • your latest point makes absolutely no sense to me. The OP should know what they mean to ask (1,2,3 or 4). I don't know how to make it easier than this... :-/
    – Sklivvz
    Sep 7, 2016 at 17:51
  • 2
    But how do they know which to ask until they know the answer? When you asked "Does breathing Beijing's air for one hour reduce life expectancy by 20 minutes?", based on a BBC comment on a study, you didn't have to choose just one out of "Does the evidence in the study justify X conclusion", "Does the BBC's comment match the study's own published conclusion", "Does the BBC's comment reflect the best available evidence" or "Is there new evidence since this study the BBC refer to". You're presumably interested in all these things... Sep 7, 2016 at 19:36
  • 2
    ...and the (excellent) answer covers all of them, explaining that the BBC comment refers to a press release about a study, adds a caveat to the press release statement explaining that it's slightly misrepresented and why it goes beyond the content of the study it's linked to, then discusses the evidence in that study in the context of other sources of evidence on that topic. You took a claim, demonstrated its notability (BBC comment) without needing to prove if anyone believed the BBC comment, then simply asked "Is this claim true?", without narrowing how you wanted the claim to be tested. Sep 7, 2016 at 19:38
  • You will notice that my question has a clear claim, I don't publish an peer reviewed article taking a sentence out of context and disqualify evidence, etc. which is why the question is clear, wherease this question is not :-)
    – Sklivvz
    Sep 7, 2016 at 19:50
  • 6
    An uncharitable person could reframe that as, you took an out-of-context remark about an out-of-context comment in a press release, and didn't even find the original study, unlike this question which was more researched... I think both questions are fine, I don't really see how mentioning the original study makes the question less clear than it would be if they'd just taken one of the many unreferenced versions of the claim like, say, this question Sep 7, 2016 at 20:56

I think that its pretty clear that this question is not appropriate for Skeptics, but not for the reasons presented. It should be moved to Biology.SE.

Issue 1: One of the main sticking points is the author's use of the word "solely". There are are serious questions about how this sentence is consistent with the rest of the article (it probably isn't supported by the paper itself).

However, reviewing the consistency of the discussions section of a biological paper with the results section of a biological paper is for Biology.SE, not Skeptics.SE.

Issue 2: There is a question about follow up research. The author makes very sweeping claims based on a fairly limited set of research, so it is natural to suspect that there is a good deal more research in this area.

However, getting the research background of a biological research paper is for Biology.SE, not Skeptics.SE.

Ultimately, we need to remember that there are more specialized science SEs available. If somebody has a question on a paper in quantum mechanics, there is a physics SE. If somebody has a question on the details of extrasolar planet detection, there is an astronomy SE. And if somebody really wants to know if 70%+ of male intelligence is from the X chromosome, there is a biology SE. This SE is for applying scientific skepticism to questions that aren't obviously addressed in those places.

  • I agree with point 1 (in fact I say so in a comment). I think we can maybe tackle point two since there could be further research to report, although you are correct that bio.se is likely better. It was closed as unclear before some edits, but I feel it's still unclear today (the fact that you need to differentiate two possible interpretations seems telling to me!)
    – Sklivvz
    Sep 7, 2016 at 19:48
  • 1
    @KAI, on issue 1: the question is not just dealing with the paper itself-- it also deals with the reporter's claim derived from the paper. So it is not a pure academic debate, which makes it unsuitable for biology.SE because biology.SE deals with the academic part only. Skeptic.SE is, OTOH perfectly fine for this kind of question.In fact if you apply your criteria to the rest of the skeptic.SE, a lot of questions will have to be shifted to physics.SE, astronomy.SE .... skeptic.SE is about being skeptical on anything, if you take science out of it, then why do we need Skeptic.SE at all?
    – Graviton
    Sep 8, 2016 at 3:18
  • 2
    on issue 2: it's not about follow up research per se. It's about whether the claim is valid. One way to check is to see whether the conclusion is overstretched, another way is to see whether other studies can reproduce the conclusion. In either case, an answer is needed, closing the question to prevent answer is simply wrong
    – Graviton
    Sep 8, 2016 at 3:22
  • 1
    If you think that the question is more suitable for bio.SE, then the community shouldn't mark my question as a dupe of this one? My question doesn't' contain any reference to researcher's paper. So either you open the question, or you open mine. Can't have it both ways
    – Graviton
    Sep 8, 2016 at 9:13
  • 4
    I think it's worth discussing where Skeptics.SE should hand over to the "real science sites", especially now they're doing well. I found three meta questions that touch on this but don't really address it head-on. As for this specific question though, it's essentially "Commentary around X study suggests Y counterintuitive thing is true, is Y true?", where the only unusual feature is the study author seemingly joining in the hyperbole with unusual enthusiasm. IMHO this is textbook Skeptics.SE fodder, and the kind of thing that would make a "real" scientist roll their eyes in annoyance. Sep 8, 2016 at 10:34
  • @Graviton The Independent article is redundant with the scientific article (other than a somewhat broad summary which is roughly consistent with the somewhat broad conclusion of the paper). What claims do you think it makes that are unique from the original scientific article that need to be addressed? I can't read the WSJ article since its paywalled. The need for Skeptics.SE while still having other science SEs is addressed in the last sentence of my answer already. I reject the idea that this SE should be for reviewing scientific journal articles.
    – KAI
    Sep 8, 2016 at 15:50
  • Also, closing both versions of this question was probably correct. Your most recent version was closed because it was redundant with the original version. The fact that your question merely a subset of the original question (original contains academic and journalistic coverage, yours only includes the same journalistic coverage) doesn't mean it isn't a duplicate.
    – KAI
    Sep 8, 2016 at 16:01
  • 2
    Skeptics.se is for finding the evidence relating to any notable claim. In addition to being notable the claim needs to be expressed clearly and not be too broad. None of that precludes review of claims made in scientific journal articles. Questions can be on-topic at multiple sites. Just because something is on topic at health.se doesn't make it off-topic here or at biology, etc.
    – user30557
    Sep 8, 2016 at 16:58
  • The point of the SE community is to answer questions in the best place possible. That is, you want the best people possible to be looking at your questions. Do you really think that it is best to be reviewing biology articles at Skeptics.SE over Biology.SE? Really? Especially since the meta rules here prevent a lot of the tools of science from being used in replies (things like quick calculations are VERY important in a lot of fields, see physics.SE as an example).
    – KAI
    Sep 8, 2016 at 18:16
  • 2
    Questions don't need to be in the "best" place. When a question is on topic in multiple places, the asker can choose the venue. Skeptics has a strict reference requirement and prohibition on original research that other sites might not have. That could be a difference maker for people deciding between multiple sites. No, we don't want people here reviewing articles. We want people here presenting the best evidence relating to notable claims.
    – user30557
    Sep 8, 2016 at 19:24

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