One of the moderators has decided to delete two answers to the question on the popularity of boys names in the UK (this one Is Muhammad one of the most popular names for boys in England and Wales?) on the grounds they constitute "original research".

It seems to me that this ruling is both unprecedented and ridiculous and runs the rim of turning everything on this site into original research.

Both the deleted answers (one of which is mine) were highly upvoted (which sometimes happens for answers that violate the site principles but can also indicate that there is an issue that needs to be clarified in the site rules).

What is particularly bizarre in this case is that the two deleted answers are the only ones that actually answer the question or refer to the definitive source of evidence for an answer. Both refer to the ONS data which is the definitive source for children's names in the UK (or names used more than twice to be precise). Both answers simply describe the content of that definitive source in ways that actually address the question. My answer does involve some data visualisation of the data over several years (maybe drawing charts or redrawing charts now counts as original research) but this is simply a way of making the content of the definitive source easier to grasp and absolutely no new analysis has been done (unless ranking some numbers counts as original research). Everything is directly checkable by any user of the site simply by downloading and looking at the data themselves.

As far as I can tell neither answer violates this, previously stated, rule that creating a figure based on referenced research is OK. The example used by the moderator there is significantly more complex than the relevant examples in the disputed question. The rule in the standard "original research" FAQ states:

It is up to the answerer to provide valid, verifiable and potentially replicable evidence, and to show convincingly that it is relevant to the question. Every answer should be suitable for review and voting by our community of experts in evaluating evidence. Answers which require non-trivial specialist expertise or are anecdotal in nature are not acceptable due to the nature of this community.

My answer violated none of the rules and the other deleted answer uses nothing more complex than a search rule for similar words.

No explanation has been provided as to which aspect of the rules on original research have been violated and this attempt to discuss them has been flagged as a duplicate before any discussion of the rationale for the decision.

Consider how this ruling would affect any other answer here. The writer of the answer finds some scientific reference that addresses a question. But, rather than merely quoting its text, the writer paraphrases the content, perhaps in simpler, more accessible, language. They have now done what both the deleted answers did for this question and nothing more. Is that, therefore, original research? This ruling seems to imply that it is, which is ludicrous.

Again, the only thing the two deleted answers did was to explain in simple terms the content of a significant source (and, in this case the definitive source relevant to the question).

If this is now what counts as "original research" I think the site has a serious problem. We need a clearer ruling on what original research means and, hopefully, one that does not bring everything here into disrepute.

  • No, this is not a duplicate. It is not remotely covered by the cases linked in the other answer and you are avoiding a serious issue by denying an important discussion by marking it as a duplicate. – matt_black May 27 '19 at 10:31
  • Please take a step back and move the tone down a notch, thank you. Right or wrong, let's try to be kind to each other. – Sklivvz May 27 '19 at 10:36
  • I'm happy to modify my language if it is in any way extreme, but you just deleted two good answers and immediately closed down the discussion of why this was done. I'm not the one with moderator power here. You seem to me to be trying to close down an important discussion on a judgement you reached in haste. – matt_black May 27 '19 at 10:40
  • Perhaps I should also have quoted your own judgment in this meta answer which uses one of your answers to justify a more sophisticated user-generated chart/analysis of published data than any of the analysis used in the deleted answers. – matt_black May 27 '19 at 10:48
  • I agree that this discussion is not duplicate. (I even disagree that writing regular expressions to filter an existing database is to be considered "original research", but that's another matter). We should use this opportunity to reconsider and maybe fine-tune the rules we set for ourselves as a community. Every answer on this Stack includes a considerable amount of time and research. If this effort is going to waste because someone has a different interpretation of those rules, it causes contributers to write answers of lower quality or no answers at all. – Elmy May 28 '19 at 7:32
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    We have a ton of questions debating this policy so we will not open another question on the same topic. If this question is about how to apply this policy specifically to this question we have a dupe this is closed of. – Sklivvz May 28 '19 at 9:05
  • What dupe? There is no due on this question. If you have confused it with the German version of the question that is just a plain error as the issues are different. You have offered no explanation of why this question was closed and which rule it violated. That is why I raised it. Perhaps the rules are fine and you misapplied them. In the absence of any explanation at all it needs to be discussed and it needs to be resolved. If that means the discussion is not about the original research rules but just about how they apply to these answers, then fine. – matt_black May 28 '19 at 9:11
  • @matt_black Unfortunately I don't have enough reputation to actually see the deleted answers. Did anyone write any comments pointing out your "original research" before deleting the answers? Did anyone ask either of you to provide any original sources or present your results in a different way? If not, this meta question is justified to clarify why the admins ruled that way in this particular case. From reading through meta discussions about "original research", it sure feels arbitrary which answers are accepted and which are deleted. – Elmy May 28 '19 at 11:11
  • @elmy This entire meta question would have been entirely unnecessary if there had been any explanation of which rule was violated. – matt_black May 28 '19 at 11:47
  • @Sklivvz I've read through a lot of the "ton of questions debating this policy". The fact that there are so many of them is proof that there's a problem either with the understanding of this policy or with its execution. This post is still not a duplicate of any of them. Deleting answers without notifying the poster first is extremely frustrating, especially considering the amount of time invested in an average answer on Sceptics compared to other Stacks. Posters of questions are regularily asked to clarify their posts. Why are answers deleted without the same courtesy? – Elmy May 28 '19 at 12:58
  • Both answers had banners for some time before deletion, they were ceratinly given an opportunity to fix. In fact they have the same opportunity now. Eventually though we can't keep answers breaking rules and having a lot of votes. – Sklivvz May 28 '19 at 19:57
  • In fact they had a banner for 4 days before being deleted and the users were notified with a comment of the deletion reason. We acted based on flags and complaints as well. – Sklivvz May 28 '19 at 20:03
  • @Sklivvz The answers had already been deleted by the time I saw any notification. And I still have not seen any explanation of which particular rule on original research has been broken. Hence my frustration. In fact I have already quoted an answer by you that explicity allows the approach I took as not being a violation of the original research rule. – matt_black May 28 '19 at 20:42
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    Two mods and other users all agreed that the OR rule is the problem to address. I am sure that someone can help you in chat to improve the answer, but tbf your post above is more a of a rant and expression of disagreement than a sincere request to help ameliorate your answer. If we don't agree there is a problem, we can't fix the answer. – Sklivvz May 29 '19 at 8:13
  • @Sklivvz I think you are very quick to take offence when a simple explanation of what rule was broken would have killed the issue. But, I've rewritten the question as a new post here in terms I hope you find neutral enough to provide a decent explanation. – matt_black May 29 '19 at 13:07

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