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According the this site's tour, skeptics is a question and answer site for applying scientific skepticism, and I understand that this skepticism must be applied to notable claims. These are clear and respectable goals.

However, what I see in this site's answers is mostly fact-checking. As a senior student of science, I learned about the scientific method in many courses. The main difference between what I learned and the fact-checking I see here is that

  • there is little to no discussion and interpretation of the results in the answers.

My question is therefore:

Is it encouraged to discuss and interpret facts and results in an answer? Should answers rather stick to only fact-checking?

Note that I am refering to discussion as is seen in scientific articles. For instance, a discussion, in a scientific paper, can contain accusations of data falsification (although this is exceptional). It can add context and broaden the answer's scope.

Clarification:

My question is wether or not it is appropriate to discuss/interpret/conclude after having done proper fact-checking using credible, verified sources.

Consider, for instance, this question and the first answer. Would it be appropriate for the answerer to state that the publication is misleading? Suppose the answerer found the source of the publication. Would it be appropriate for him to explain the possible motives behind the misleading publication? To put this publication in the context of other rethorics used by the republicans/democrats? To critique the inaccurate style of the publication? This discussion would come after properly exposing the facts, and should be based on the facts.

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    Fact checking. Logic is strictly prohibited, which I find is fundamental to skepticism proper. Original research is prohibited, no matter how valid. Again, a staple of skepticism. Fact checking for a boring clinical experience. It could be better, but it is what it is and is very useful for the fact checking. – fredsbend Jan 4 '17 at 22:54
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    I find your comment intriguing. Even hard science (mathematics or experimental physics) is not just about facts (it is also about explanation), and facts alone carry very little meaning. There is certainly place for rigorous fact-checking, analysis and for the exposition of logical fallacies in society. If skeptics don't do that, who will? – Olivier Jan 4 '17 at 23:18
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    Note: my comment is not meant to say that everything should be done on this site. Its about "skepticism proper" in general. – Olivier Jan 4 '17 at 23:25
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    @fredsbend logic is not prohibited at all. Only pure logic is prohibited. It's a subtle, but very important difference. Proving a claim is illogical does not prove it is false. – Sklivvz Jan 5 '17 at 15:27
  • @Sklivvz Proving a claim is illogical rightly induces skepticism, the site's name. – fredsbend Feb 4 '17 at 13:42
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The site (and proper skepticism!) relies on distinguishing facts from opinions, what is supported by evidence to what is not and what is an appropriate amount of evidence for each claim.

Therefore, a skeptical answer should not present unsupported claims and it should rely on strong logic and scientific grounds. Finally it should avoid personal commentary.

We do leave a little space for people to add in some opinion, as long as it's identified as such, and it does not result in long pointless discussions.

However, one of the problems we face is that people don't really even distinguish between these three very different things and call all of them "logic":

  • real logic (maths, formal logic)
  • common sense
  • rhetoric

In reverse order, "rhetoric" is writing a convincing argument. It might be based on logic, evidence or feelings. It might use fallacies and rhetorical forms to convince readers of something. We certainly do not want this.

Common sense is a form of rhetoric -- I'm separating it simply because it's such a prime example of people calling stuff illogical when it clashes with their intuition or common sense. We also do not want this.

Real logic is a form of mathematical reasoning, and relies on specific rules being applied. To note is that real logic cannot assess absolute truthiness of statements, but only relative truthiness. It does so through theorems: If some specific axioms are valid, and some antecedents are true, then the consequent is true.

In consequence, the use of real logic is a necessary tool to answer, but not a sufficient base on which to answer. Within these limits, logic is allowed on the site.

Let me clarify with examples:

  • Proper use of logic: The question asks whether it is true that all crows are black. If all crows are black then there are no non-black crows. I found evidence that there was one white crow. Therefore, the answer is "false".

  • Improper use of logic (common sense): The question asks whether it is true that all crows are black. There is no evidence of a non-black crow. Therefore, the answer is "true".

  • Improper use of logic (rhetoric): The question asks whether it is true that all crows are black. It is necessary for crows to be black otherwise they would be doves. Therefore, the answer is "true".

  • Improper use of logic (unrooted logic): The question asks whether it is true that all crows are black. This is a "cosmic teapot" question. Therefore, your question is bad.

Does this make us a fact checking site? I don't know - in any case fact checking is a big part of skepticism.

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This site is not meant to do original research, the reasons for this are:

  1. Readers can't judge the quality of the original research.

  2. There is no way to authenticate a claim that exists only in the site.

I'll give an example:

Lets say that a question is asked "Are there white crows?"

Biologists decides to post an extensive analysis of Crow DNA to show that a white crow is biologically impossible, he does really great job, with DNA sequencing, shows pictures, charts and all that Jazz. The problem is that as a non biologist, I won't be able to distinguish it from falsified evidence and someone who has no idea what he is doing and puts gibberish. But if the research is published in a peer reviewed journal, it would be sent to other people with the proper knowledge, training and qualification to understand the material and to judge its merits. If an article is published in a peer reviewed journal, it was checked by professionals, if it is only posted here, it wasn't.

Also, why didn't you submit your work to a journal, everyone wants to get published articles, go publish your article on a credible source, and then come here and link to it.

The same goes for news stories, an answer of "Yes I saw a white craw in my back yard isn't very credible, but an article in the New York Times "White crow seen in somewhere" is more credible, also, there is more accountability, if the report later found out to be false, it's more likely that the New York Times will post an update and clarification than a random poster on the Internet.

Another issue is that the site is anonymous and we can't verify identity. A prominent biologist posting a post on his personal or professional blog saying "White crows exist, trust me" is more credible than the same person coming here and posting "I'm a very well known biologist, and trust me, white crows exist". Simply because on the blog we can be sure that the author is in fact who they claim to be, while on the site it isn't so.

About commentary on the provided sources.

Obviously that if a claim is misleading and the sources show that, you can and should say so, the exact wording is a matter of personal style.

If you want to put the claim in context, then you need to put sources that show what you want, everything that you say must be backed up by sources that show that. If you want to show that this is not the first time that a certain political party put out misleading information, show a source where they did it in the past. If you want to claim that this is a deliberate strategy, this is a very strong claim, and unless you have sources that back that up, you can't say it, please make sure that what you claim is backed by the sources you provide, several instances in the past where a party put out misleading information is not necessarily a deliberate strategy, if something happens very often, then say it happens very often.

Don't put your own unsupported conclusions.

  • Discussing and interpreting facts from credible sources (such as publications from peer-reviewed journals) is not the same as conducting original research. Good answers here collect credible, verified facts and results. My question is wether or not there should then be a discussion/interpretation/conclusion, as is the norm in science. – Olivier Jan 4 '17 at 20:08
  • The credible source already should have a discussion and a conclusion. Can you give an example of what you mean, an actual highly voted answer on the site that lacks a discussion, and what this discussion is? – SIMEL Jan 4 '17 at 20:14
  • Thanks for the question; see my edit. – Olivier Jan 4 '17 at 20:22
  • And no, credible sources usually do not have a discussion about the aggregated facts used to answer a question on this site. – Olivier Jan 4 '17 at 20:34
  • @Oliver, I've added more info to address your edit. – SIMEL Jan 4 '17 at 21:04
  • You forgot that logic based answers are prohibited, which always poses a problem for "not even wrong" questions. – fredsbend Jan 4 '17 at 22:56
  • @fredsbend, what are "not even wrong" questions? – SIMEL Jan 5 '17 at 7:13
  • @ilya en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong – fredsbend Jan 5 '17 at 17:38
  • @fredsbend unfalsifiable claims are off topic tout-cour – Sklivvz Jan 5 '17 at 18:05
  • "But if the research is published in a peer reviewed journal, it would be sent to other people with the proper knowledge, training and qualification to understand the material and to judge its merits. If an article is published in a peer reviewed journal, it was checked by professionals" In a perfect world, yes. In this world, the extent to which this is true varies a lot by publication, the availability of experts in the given subfield, etc. I think most of us who have read many papers in the course of our research have come across quite a lot of junk in our field over the years. – reirab Jan 9 '17 at 22:38
  • @reirab, it's still the best thing we have, there is a meta answer which ranks sources from strongest to weakest. Sometimes there is a Nobel winning meta analysis published in Nature, sometimes all there is is a report at a local newspaper, the availability of sources and the weight of the subject in question is a factor in determining the validity of the source. – SIMEL Jan 9 '17 at 22:47
  • By weight I mean that we expect questions with higher "importance" to be better supported, I put a higher standart for sources supporting climate change, then the answer to "Did a farmer in Iowa grew a 20kg potato?" – SIMEL Jan 9 '17 at 22:51
  • @IlyaMelamed Yes, no disagreement there. The wording used just struck me as a bit idealistic is all. Maybe I'm a bit too cynical after having wasted a lot of time (and sometimes money) reading bad papers, though. – reirab Jan 9 '17 at 22:55

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