Currently almost everything a celebrity says qualifies as notable here. The only exceptions that I've seen applied (until yesterday) are:

  • what a celebrity says in fiction (e.g. in a magician's show or in a comedy show [contextual]) or
  • says with a disclaimer that what [s]he is not being rigorous / scientific.

But I wonder if that is good enough for some famous "shoot from the hip" talkers. Today we had a question closed on Do you need photo ID to buy groceries in the United States? The extra test that was applied was the "widely believed" criterion. It's hard to argue that anyone who has been to the US would think this true (for all grocery trips), so if the extra criterion applies, I think it was correctly applied.

But should it apply?

I can see the point that there's no harm in having fairly trivial questions, presumably as long as they don't start dominating the site. And particularly since there's sometimes external debunking, that might show the question/answer pair is notable.

The flip side is that such questions are fairly often an echo chamber; the asker has already read the trivial/obvious answer somewhere else, and sometimes even posts a link to the easy-debunking answer in the question itself (yeah, I've seen it, it's not hypothetical)... so answering could be a copy paste exercise from the exact same [short] source as the question. There used to be a "not a real question" close reason on SE in the old days, that's probably the closest reason to look down on such questions, i.e. they are nearly rhetorical.

I personally don't feel strongly about this either way... So, are there other, perhaps less ambivalent views on this issue?


4 Answers 4


Addressing the claim that no-one would actually believe what Trump says in this example, it's not clear to non-US people that it isn't true. Some places are mostly cashless now (parts of Europe, parts of China) and thus all transactions do require some kind of ID, even if it's just the details on the contactless card or WePay account.

Also, the Trump administration has done some fairly unbelievable things. Few people thought that the wall was serious, but now Trump is threatening to shut down the government if it doesn't get funded and prototypes have been built. The government was caging children and has now "lost" hundreds, maybe thousands of them with no way to reunite them with their parents.

From the outside, these kinds of things make it seem that requiring ID to buy groceries is actually something that might reasonably happen, and certainly something that Trump might support implementing given his policies on voter registration and creating a "hostile environment" for immigrants.


I'm against giving a free pass even to famous politicians.

Not everything anyone famous says is notable--they need to convince a bunch of people. In this day and age of shooting claims on Twitter like there's no tomorrow, there is no guarantee that people take this stuff seriously.

  • 1
    People won’t take this stuff seriously is a forlorn hope I’ve long given up on.
    – Golden Cuy
    Aug 4, 2018 at 0:04
  • Are you saying "yes" to the question's title? (+1 if so)
    – user5341
    Aug 17, 2018 at 1:16
  • I am 100% against using a person's title as a sole proxy for what people believe. The golden standard has (and has always been) that a claim should have widespread belief. The example in the OP shows that not all that Trump says is notable, contrary to what the majority of this community thinks.
    – Sklivvz
    Aug 17, 2018 at 8:11

Trump's politics may be rather strange but they have carried him into arguably one of the most powerful positions in the world. POTUS used to be be regarded as the leader of the free world, and although somewhat diminished now is still a powerful and prestigious role.

More over, the rest of the Republican party and the wider far right movement in the US and Europe have adopted some of his techniques and ideas, particularly post-truth politics and a strong distrust of the "mainstream" or "legacy" media. Alternative facts, aka lies, are considered legitimate political discourse and given that people like Trump lie habitually yet voters consider them trustworthy and honest we can't dismiss them with hand-waving claims that no-one could possibly believe such an obvious falsehood.

In other words, this is the nature of politics now and we can't simply dismiss stuff because it seems outrageously stupid to us.


TL;DR: This particular grocery question isn't helpful because there is no good evidence anyone believes the claim. This reveals a problem with the rule we have been following; we should fix the rule.

The General Case

I think the Photo Id for groceries question is a clear exception to the original rule, and therefore I would like to see the original rule updated.

Here is the original rule from the question: What is a 'notable' claim?

The main way of demonstrating notability is showing the claim being mentioned in the media. Examples include: books, newspapers, mainstream television, or widely-known web-sites including major blogs and Wikipedia. Claims put forward by a celebrity are also automatically considered notable. The idea here is that once a large number of people are exposed to the claim, it is of general interest to validate the claim and either confirm or refute it.

To be clear, this is a situation where I did break the rule, openly, but I think that it was warranted, because the rule lead to a situation that contradicted its intention.

There are several reasons for requiring notability.

One reason is to ensure that the original claimant actual made the claim (and not as a joke, fiction or simply misspeaking).

Another is to ensure that many people believe the claim - enough to warrant spending the effort to investigate it properly. (I think this might be one area where people disagree about what should be in scope, because they have different understandings of how long it takes to edit a good question, and how long it takes to write and edit a good answer. I don't want >1 hr to be wasted by others on answering rubbish questions.)

We have accepted a celebrity saying a statement as a short-cut for showing many people believe it. However, in situations like this one, the short-cut is inappropriate. We need to have an exception clause for the rule.

I am open to suggestions on how that is worded.

The Specific Case

Several commenters have disagreed with my assessment on this particular Grocery Id question.

Let me start with: Sorry, but we don't care about your political opinions I am not here to support Trump and I am not here to attack Trump. Where politicians express opinions or morality, this site should keep clear. Where politicians demonstrate some aspect of their personality that some people like or don't like, this site should keep clear.

Sure, where politicians express factual statements about the world that people believe, that might be on-topic.

Sure, the OP might not be confident a politician's claim is false, and be looking for quality evidence to support that belief.

But, if it is straight political "gotcha" questions where the OP knows perfectly well that it is false, and just wants to share a laugh at a mistake by a politician on the other team, I don't think we need it here. Take it to Twitter.

Arguing that everything from President Trump, in particular, is on-topic because he makes so many misstatements is an ad hominem attack, and I don't think it warrants a special policy.

In this question, it is blatantly obvious to everyone - Trump supporter or no - that the literal claim that you are required to produce id to buy groceries in the USA is false.

We aren't "making the Internet a better place" by debunking the claim here.

For most people in the USA, it is clearly false from personal experience. But, we don't accept that argument here (although one deleted answer tried to). The level of rigor required for definitive answers on Skeptics.SE is very expensive for such an easily dismissed claim.

Several people have tried generously interpreting the claim to make it somewhat true - oh, he was referring to alcohol, he was referring to cigarettes, he was referring to using some forms of credit cards, membership cards, SNAP etc. That's a fun game to play, but this isn't the site to play it.

Some people have tried understanding what Trump's beliefs are - does he really think that id is always required? Did he misspeak? None of that is on-topic here.

Some people have argued that other sites have debunked it, therefore it is notable. I think that is wrong on three grounds:

  • This doesn't show anyone believes it. It shows people don't believe it. (If an OP, in good faith, believed a debunking was wrong, it would make a great question, but that isn't the case here.)

  • Other sites may be politically motivated - shooting down Trump's statements may make them more popular amongst readers that are Trump detractors, even if none of them believe the statement in the first place.

  • If anything, it is an argument that we don't need to solve this one, because anyone searching finding our site would also find these others. We aren't making the Internet a better place.

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    Regarding the suggested modification, perhaps you could add a "very obviously false" clause to the rule. The "very obviously false" clause would let you close questions regarding outrageous statements made by notable politicians of all ilk who have a get out of jail free card with regard to lying in protected areas, or by notable non-politicians who have a get out of jail free card in freedom of speech. Aug 2, 2018 at 4:58
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    This is better than asking for proof that people believe it. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a good number of people in the US suddenly do think you one has to present an ID in the US to buy a loaf of bread. On the other hand, this claim is very obviously false, no matter how it is spun. So just close such questions out of hand. This may put a burden on you for having to judge what is "very obviously" false, but probably less of a burden than dealing with arguments about how a large number of people suddenly do think one has to show an ID to buy a loaf of bread. Aug 2, 2018 at 5:06
  • @DavidHammen: when I was composing my question I initially thought to ask/propose an obviousness test. But after a bit more reflection, the "widely believed" test includes "not obviously false" as well... in the the obvious way :-) As for example, I was considering something like "[all] swans are white". In the shoot-from-the-hip statements we often get stuff like that, usually without the "all" quantifier, but implied. Aug 2, 2018 at 9:51
  • I'd think a lot of people would believe it if you asked them. After all they believed Trump when he said other seemingly unlikely stuff about electoral fraud, other countries, his inauguration, the law... Remember that his advice to supporters is to ignore reality and believe him instead, because reality is biased against him. That's his political philosophy, the foundation of his world view, and it's got him to arguably the most powerful position in the world. So I think we have to take it seriously. Aug 2, 2018 at 9:51
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    @dont_shog_me_bro: the reason I'm ambivalent about such obviousness tests is that a lot of people who never set foot in the US [recently enough] might not instantly recognize such a statement as obviously/instantly false. It's hard for me to know what the proverbial child from Africa (a meme used on Wikipedia in estimating the potential audience) would think upon hearing such a claim. Aug 2, 2018 at 9:56
  • @DavidHammen: I see you actually propose to use the narrower obviousness test instead. I think it would be better if you wrote that as an answer instead of comment; it's a sufficiently distinct viewpoint on this matter... Aug 2, 2018 at 10:00
  • @Fizz I agree completely. As someone who isn't from the US it's not entirely clear to me that Trump is lying. I kind of feel like maybe he is because needing ID would be cumbersome, but then again the US is a country that cages children and I though no western democracy would ever do that either. Also, some countries do require ID for even groceries, so it's not without precedent, and I read that Visa was pressuring some shops to stop accepting cash which effectively means you need ID. Aug 2, 2018 at 10:17
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    @Fizz: I am unfamiliar with Wikipedia's "child from Africa" idiom, but the quickest way to get this question reopened without fuss is to quote some of those people who believe the claim, and show it truly is notable.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Aug 2, 2018 at 21:27
  • @Oddthinking: regarding the meme, Jimbo started it many years ago: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Jimbo_Wales/… Aug 3, 2018 at 1:56
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    It's hard to find specific references to people stating that they believe this specific claim. Why would people affirm that, generally speaking? But here is a lot of evidence that Trump supporters believe the crazy stuff he says, and much more besides. QAnon posters at rallies, or his claims that there were millions of illegal voters for example. Also some people are obliged to at least pretend to believe him, such as his press secretary. Maybe I should quote mine her. Aug 3, 2018 at 9:15
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    @dont_shog_me_bro do you literally believe that the USA is the only western democracy that cages children, or at least children who aren’t facing criminal charges? Have you heard of Australia?
    – Golden Cuy
    Aug 3, 2018 at 23:57

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