This question has emerged again: Will global warming reduce available oxygen?.

The accepted and significantly upvoted answer basically concludes that the claim has been made in a peer review journal. It does not assess the credibility of the claim.

This question Could global warming lead to an oxygen shortage by 2100? has been closed as a duplicate despite it making a much more testable version of the claim based on a direct quote from one of the authors of the paper. All the answers demonstrating the extreme implausibility of the claim have been ruled out as original research (apparently because pointing out that the stock of atmospheric oxygen is at least 10,000 times bigger than the annual consumption of oxygen is theoretical despite both numbers being in the literature and the obvious conclusion being we can't deplete oxygen that quickly).

I've had the date about theoretical answers before and have failed to convince moderators on this topic.

But surely the more significant issue is that the existence of a claim in the literature has no bearing whatsoever on whether the claim is true or plausible? If we took that view as site policy, the site would be filled with contradictory answers. Surely even for claims made in peer-reviewed sources, we need to assess them agains the rest of the literature and the basic accepted facts of the subject area.

1 Answer 1


I see three separate issues tied in together with this question.

The main one is whether citing a single article is sufficient in an answer to provide a credible answer.

That is a duplicate of this question: May I cite a single article?

Another issue is that we get questions of the form "The Daily Planet says that Lex Luthor told them that there is a study that estimates 85% of Metropolis's crime is caused by extra-terrestrial aliens. Is this true?"

Is what true? Did Lex Luthor say that? Is there a study? Does it make that estimate? Is the estimate correctly computed given its stated assumptions? Are the stated assumptions true? Is the estimate accurate? [The last one is toughest of all, because how could we know? If it isn't directly measurable, only by making estimates based on assumptions.]

(This is particularly problematic, because the Daily Planet can deny anti-alien bias - they didn't make an editorial claim, just quoted Lex Luthor. Lex Luthor can deny anti-alien bias, because he is just quoting from the science. The study authors can point to their clearly-stated assumptions that formed the basis of their estimate (that got lost in the retelling). The result can be misleading, while everyone along the chain has apparently done the right thing.)

It looks like the first answerer on the first question has chosen to answer "Is there a study? Yes" rather than the tougher "Is this estimate accurate?". A later answerer has chosen to basically answer "Are the stated assumptions true? No" rather than whether the estimate is accurate.

The third issue is whether we should accept theoretical/"obvious" answers. I don't propose to address that again here.

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