I'm getting tired of the clickbait titles when users ask questions about quotes from famous people. Current examples from the front page:

What did they say? It's not hard to summarize the main issue in the title:

  • Did Paul Offit, MD, say that aluminium plays an important role in the development of a healthy fetus?
  • Did Martin Schulz say that it is not the EU philosophy that the crowd can decide its fate?
  • Did Donald Trump say that the law allowing a baby to be born from his or her mother's womb in the 9th month is wrong?

Doing this would make it possible for a user to see from the title what it's all about, not having to click through to see the details if you are already following the news.

This is not a question but a discussion to see if people agree, or if you don't agree - write an answer explaining the benefits of keeping shorter and less descriptive titles.

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    Ironically, I would like to request that this post be similarly retitled, because I had to click through to understand what you were asking. How about "What is our policy on question titles that force you to click through to understand them?" (Or maybe you are a genius of sarcasm and it went over my head. :)) – Anko Mar 9 '19 at 3:22
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    @Anko I spent some time thinking about the title, indeed. Thanks for noticing! :) – pipe Mar 9 '19 at 9:45

Yes, these are click bait crap titles that need to change. I've gone ahead and edited these three titles to the suggestions you made in your question.

Skeptics isn't a tabloid seeking cheap clicks. We're a Q and A site that strives to bring a higher level of criticism to notable claims. Our titles should reflect that. Our titles should be descriptive, such that reading them should give you a clear idea on what the question actually is without having to click through. I understand that some topics may be too complicated or very difficult to make a descriptive title, but our best effort clearly would never look like any of the three that you've made as examples. I suggest that all users make descriptive titles, and edit non-descriptive titles when they are found.

I would like to take this opportunity to steer the conversation in another direction. I think we need a tighter scope on allowing quote verification questions in the first place. A quote by Paul Offit? Who cares. Plenty of intelligent people have said dumb things after they've had their moment of greatness (not that Paul Offit is a household name or that this particular quote is dumb). Same for Martin Schulz, a random politician talking politics. Don't get me started on Donald Trump questions. They've toned down in recent months, but during the 2016 election Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump questions were constantly asked with only one apparent purpose: to bring publicity to some dumb thing one of them said. This Trump question is no exception.

One of the hallmarks of appropriate skepticism is divorcing the source from the claim. Who said it is usually far less important than the substance of the claim itself. Paul Offit may or may not have said X about aluminum in the body. It's far more useful to know the veracity of that claim itself. Same with Schultz's quote, it's more useful to know the EU parliament's values.

There is one exception to quote verification: the quote is inherently surprising coming from that person. Case in point, that Schulz would criticize the EU in that way is surprising because he was EU parliamentary president at the time. The others are not surprising. If Paul Offit said vaccines are junk, that would be very surprising. If he gives a medical opinion on a very technical and still not understood bodily process, that's not very surprising. That Trump would say something about abortion and possibly misspeak is also not surprising.

In other words, the Offit and Trump quotes aren't even notable, and I favor that we close the questions or edit them to be about the claims themselves. Offit's claim on Aluminum would probably work on this site. Trump's certainly would not work here. Schulz's quote is surprising coming from him, so it's notable as is, but the title still needs a change.

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  • I'll use the Schulz one as an example, and I think when a major newspaper like Le Monde bothers to do an article about debunking this quote, this counts as notable. Some cases are better off looking at the actual claim inside the quote, but some are more about the consequences and implications of the specific person actually saying it. And this is an international site, so a topic only of interest to Germany (or actually the EU in this case) still can be notable. – Mad Scientist Mar 8 '19 at 8:50
  • @MadScientist You bring up a good point, the one I tried to cover the exception paragraph. I'm not in tune with EU politics, so perhaps schultz saying that is surprising. - I didn't mean to say that Germany doesn't matter too this site, but was trying to draw a parallel to any questions about politicians saying X. Not everything a politician says is fodder for the site. - You know what, I have to edit. I didn't notice that schultz was EU parliament president at the time. That makes the quote surprising indeed. – fredsbend Mar 8 '19 at 15:28
  • While I agree with the headlines getting fixed, my assumption would be that they weren't intended to be a misleading headline, which is what "click bait" usually means. – Andrew Grimm Mar 9 '19 at 5:49
  • The feeling presented here is quite agreeable. But do you plan to incorporate a how2fix? IMO, notability aside, the title should give you a much better understanding of 'whats inside', ie, to-click-or-not. Currently this A is leaning towards dismissing type and content of the Qs, while the title problem is a lttle bit underdeveloped? – LangLаngС Mar 9 '19 at 20:52
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    @LangLangC I think the suggestions in the question are appropriate. I don't think we need much discussion on the specifics; descriptive titles seem self evident to me. This is a question on whether we should require them, and my answer is "yes, definitely". The bulk of my answer is testing a tangential issue (whether quote verification is useful here in the first place), which I'll make a separate post for if this is well received. So I don't think I'm leaving anything undeveloped, but I'm definitely trying to steer the conversation somewhere. – fredsbend Mar 9 '19 at 21:22
  • Yeah, that's really a problem I have with metaQs already proposing sth. I never know how to read the votes in such cases. Is the Q as such a topic 'useful' to discuss? (That's how I'd spend a vote or not) Are the proposals already worthwhile, or not? (urgs, like answereing the question "are you a boy or girl" with 'no'; maybe acceptable now, but quite unclear and almost requires further elaboration in most cases) –– It's much easier if an A takes a stance, pro or con, and the votes on that reflecting community opinion, disregarding what a Q presents? – LangLаngС Mar 9 '19 at 21:31
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    @LangLangC I've edited this answer. – fredsbend Mar 9 '19 at 21:32

In general, I agree - I prefer strongly titles that actually include the summarised claim, so people can accurately decide if they want to click on them, and I make those sorts of edits frequently.

However, there is a counter-argument that is worth weighing up before editing them.

I am speculating about the OPs' motivations here, but:

I believe some questions are from people who hear a quote and think "Given what I know about that person, it doesn't sound plausible that they would express that point of view. It would change my view of them if this were true." They come to ask here, and, yes, we should edit these questions so the titles summarise them.

However, I believe some people are finding poorly attributed quotes that they wish to use and correctly attribute in an essay, speech, web-site etc. They don't want to know if Abraham Lincoln expressed this general point of view. They want to know if Lincoln used these exact words. Summarising the quote in the title may make the question confusing.

Just something to keep in mind before editing.

Declaration of bias: Should we limit [quote] questions?

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    "Summarising the quote in the title may make the question confusing." I'm having trouble seeing how, unless it's a very long quote. Can you give an example? – fredsbend Mar 16 '19 at 13:31
  • @fredsbend: even a relative short quote can be difficult to summarize. I invite you to prove otherwise on skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/47294/… I mean sure: "Did Einstein say that everything seemed superfluous when he reflected on how God created the universe upon reading Bhagavad-Gita?" I prefer the less explicit title in that case, because in the inverted "question form" it's rather hard to parse. – Fizz May 21 at 22:21
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    @fredsbend: perhaps clearer: "Did Einstein say that everything seemed superfluous when--upon reading Bhagavad-Gita--he reflected on how God created the universe?" Still reads pretty cumbersome to me. – Fizz May 21 at 22:24
  • @Fizz Yes, I can see your point on that one. It's a short, but compact quote. The current one is okay, but isn't a summary: "Is this quote about the Bhagavad Gita properly attributed to Albert Einstein?" I think "Did Einstein praise the meaningfulness of the Bhagavad Gita creation story?" would be better. The phrase "praise the meaningfulness" summarizes the tone, while the subject and object are both still mentioned. That's good for SEO, I think on the face it's intriguing, and most importantly, it's not dishonest, vague, or a misrepresentation on what you'll find if you click. – fredsbend May 21 at 22:55

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