I think this question conflates several different issues which makes it more difficult to answer.
Are we all about science?
As far as I understood it (so far), Skeptics.SE is essentially about science in the broadest meaning of the term, or rather, for answering questions about "pseudoscience and biased results".
I think focussing it around "science" is the wrong emphasis. Absolutely, many of the questions are about scientific topics, and we apply many of the techniques of science in coming up with answer [but not all scientific approaches are acceptable here - particularly, original research is deliberately limited.]
Instead, I would focus on the phrase "scientific skepticism", which Wikipedia describes as "an epistemological position in which one questions the veracity of claims lacking empirical evidence".
We don't do science here. We report on the empirical evidence that other people have found. That empirical evidence may be to support (or refute) claims about classical science topics, but it might also be used for claims that are not directly in the domain of science.
Examples of on-topic sciency questions:
Examples of on-topic non-sciency questions:
Should quote questions be on-topic?
At one far edge of the non-sciency questions are the "Did this author/politician/celebrity say this thing?" questions.
They are (only) answerable with empirical evidence and references, so they fit our approach, but they aren't about scientific hypotheses. There has been a lot of suggestions that they be limited or removed:
I asked the May 2015 question, and based on the comments and answers, I was convinced I was in the minority. These questions have been considered on-topic from the beginning, and remain so.
Should issues from today's newspaper headlines be left open?
This is a separate issue.
Where there is an unsubstantiated allegation in the media, and the journalists are rushing to find the answer and be the first to report it, there is nothing that Skeptics.SE can do. We don't have an army of investigative journalists that can interview people. We don't have an army of detectives with badges that can search premises. We don't have an army of prosecutors that can compel people to answer questions at risk of perjury. We don't have an impartial jury to decide on issues of fact.
Such questions are closed until they can be answered by referring to other sources (by which time the OP will probably find the answers have already appeared in the media).
Are "loaded" questions on-topic?
A loaded question is one which presupposes a controversial assumption.
There are several approaches here:
- These can be answered by pointing out the false assumption behind the question - but be careful that you aren't simply dodging the question.
- It may be possible to be edited to be about the assumption itself.
- It might be appropriate to close the question - especially if the loaded claim is coming from the OP and isn't widely believed.
Are slanderous questions on-topic?
Generally the advice is to defer the controversial issues of whether a question violates the law to Stack Exchange staff.
These questions can be edited to make it clearer that the claim in the questions is unsubstantiated and likely untrue (unless an answer substantiates it!)
Should we be afraid that repeating a claim in a question will serve to promulgate the claim?
**WHOA! APPARENTLY I WAS WRONG! HOW EXCITING! **
I originally wrote here:
I think so, yes. It continues to concern me that debunking here might not serve the purpose of changing the minds of people who believe in falsehoods. There are studies [citation-needed] showing that an article stating a false claim and then debunking it can actually backfire and reinforce the claim. There are techniques [citation-needed] that are recommended to journalists to identify a claim is false before stating it that this site does not follow.
But I was challenged in a comment to actually fill in those [citation-needed].
Here are some sources for the "Backfire Effect" I was describing:
But it seems that there has been some newer evidence that suggests it isn't common!
It is late, and I haven't evaluated these articles properly yet, but I remain excited that the depressing concept of the Backfire Effect might not be as bad as I thought.
This is the "mud sticks" issue, and it isn't limited to claims about politicians. It is a concern, and the solution isn't clear.
Once a user asked a question about a claim about a celebrity that I thought was rather offensive and perhaps defamatory. I didn't close the question, but I made a comment (actually, I think it was in chat, but I don't recall clearly) expressing displeasure at the question, only to feel chastised when the user pointed out that he also found the claim offensive and was really hoping for a clear debunking. Within 24 hours, he had an accepted answer that showed the claim was unsubstantiated. I have tried to learn my lesson from that, and not assumed that every post about a nasty personal claim is actually intended as an attack on the subject.
In each section I describe how we are currently dealing with such questions. This is "how it is", but not necessarily how it "should' be. That is up to the community to decide.