I asked a question last week, and the only answer so far gives a summary of "[t]his is emerging science, and it is too soon to know one way or the other". It is a well-written answer which lays a lot of groundwork, but it doesn't "definitively" answer the question. On the other hand, "science just doesn't have the answer right now" is often the only answer that a skeptic can give to a claim.

I plan to give it more time for someone else to answer, but my question here is whether I should eventually accept the answer as "we don't know right now", or if I should leave the question without an accepted answer (potentially for years) until more work has been done on the topic. The claim in question comes from a paper that is currently under peer review (according to the author's CV), so I would think it would be good to at least give it some time to see whether it gets published or withdrawn.

Apologies if this is a duplicate meta question. This is a pretty common answer given by skeptics, but I couldn't find a meta question about it.

For reference, I found a few questions from 2011, but not much more recent than that.

1 Answer 1


I am going to start with an aside. Writing a good "no-one knows" answer is tricky. We sometimes get people giving non-answers that boil down to "I don't know" or "I couldn't find the answer", which is very different to "no-one knows".

This issue is addressed here: What makes a good "the answer is unknown" answer?

So, if the answer is not a good "no-one knows" answer, please don't vote it up nor accept it.

Assuming it is a good answer, should you accept it?

I looked to the advice on what "accepting" means in the StackExchange tour:

Accepting doesn't mean it's the best answer, it just means that it worked for the person who asked.

That doesn't help much, except it reinforces my initial gut feel which is that it should be about whether the questioner found it satisfying. Hitting accept rewards the answerer and signals to other people considering an answer that you are already satisfied.

I would personally be satisfied with a high-quality "we don't know" answer, and hit accept, but it is up to you.

Of course, anyone can add another answer later as more information becomes available. Also, remember that the questioner is only one of the people who is interested in finding the truth about a topic, so feel free to post better answers even if the questioner has accepted the answer and/or moved on.

  • 5
    I think the "it worked for me" part is too SO-focused. For a lot of other SE sites it doesn't make much sense. Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 16:05
  • 2
    Thanks for the answer, and the perspective. Over the years of browsing SE, the ingrained idea of having single canonical questions/answers, and discouraging duplicates, has gotten me to the point of thinking that "the answer has to work for everybody".
    – RToyo
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 19:32
  • "Hitting accept rewards the answerer and signals to other people considering an answer that you are already satisfied." And this is part of why I want to be very very confident anything I may write as an answer is either an improvement or dramatically different than the accepted answer - if I merely have some suggestions / improvements to the existing accepted answer, I'll make comments or suggested edits.
    – warren
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 18:02

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