35

This issue has been pointed out before--someone noted in a comment that any question can be made into a "skeptic's" question with the inclusion of "really".

Right now, in the list of the 15 active questions, 3 include "really" in the title question and would be just fine without it:

  • Do mobile phones really cause heart troubles?
  • Is a vegetarian (vegan) diet really more healthy?
  • Does vinegar really help with dandruff?

Should we be editing the question titles to reduce the number of "really's" that show up on the front page? There are certainly times when "really" adds to the question, but I suspect that the vast majority of questions on the site don't need it.

Update: A search for "really" returns 187 questions. Update: Down to 11 questions, many closed.

Update: This issue has been folded into an answer to a FAQ question

  • 10
    Really??? :-) – Sklivvz Apr 5 '11 at 14:55
  • 8
    Really! :-p – oosterwal Apr 5 '11 at 14:58
  • 1
    At the moment there are 43 questions containing "really" in the title: skeptics.stackexchange.com/search?q=title%3Areally – Mad Scientist Apr 5 '11 at 18:27
  • @Fabian: Thanks for the correction. I only searched on 'really' without filtering for title only. – oosterwal Apr 5 '11 at 18:34
  • 6
    Some other problems words to look for are actually and truly. (I know this because I just removed them from my posts. ^_^) – Patches Apr 6 '11 at 11:00
  • I feel so proud that my first post did not include the word :) skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/18162/… – Hackmodford Oct 22 '13 at 16:31
  • There really is a reason: because this is how people express themselves. No Way! Way. – user29285 Apr 21 '16 at 4:25
31

Whether it is inadvertent or intentional, what the author is doing is adding a bias to the question.

In courtroom parlance, that is called "leading the witness." It's a way to guide those being questioned to tell a pre-planned story. This is not generally allowed when first posing a question (direct examination); although, it is generally allowed in follow-up questioning (cross-examination) so the participants can more closely parse the exact wording — but that's just an interesting aside.

Adding that type of bias is not what we want to do here. Those leading references should be removed.

7

My opinion is the underlying problem is even deeper, and in an inherent way. Skepticism is not a subject like cooking, it is a method. Such method can be used to deal with any question (sometimes you will show the question is in some way bad, or the answer cannot be given, and sometimes there may be some answer as a result).

Moreover, I think the word "really" appearing that often is a natural thing, as this is actually what this site is about. Frequently used "citation needed" is one prominent way how to check if something is "really" true or not.

That said, I agree having "really" in each title adds no real information, it does not magically turn bad questions to good ones, and most often it is best to edit such questions to avoid this word.

5

Really is not the only word not adding any real information. Other phrases exist:

"Is there any evidence to the claim that" ...

Can you successfully treat a burn by covering it in ordinary flour?

In this case, a simple "Can you treat a burn by covering it in ordinary flour?" would not change the nature of the question at all. To me both "really" and "is there any evidence" look the same - like a mechanical way how to comply with the requirements of the site.


And there is another one, hugely popular now:

Is it true ...

I have edited out a few of them, and I will probably do some more, but it gets boring quickly.

  • 3
    On the plus side, it earned you 8 rep. – Borror0 Jun 27 '11 at 21:21
2

This answer started life as a comment on Robert's answer but grew too long (and it is itself an input into this "discussion"-tagged meta post.)

I don't quite understand how the inclusion of the word "really" can be uniformly considered as adding bias. Bias on which side?

The guide for new users explicitly states that one should express the claim (with references and exact quotes), and then "Express some doubt and ask if it is true."

If the claim is stated in the title of a posted question, the word "really" serves to express doubt about it. Likewise, the phrase "Is it true that..." asks if the claim is true.

I don't claim that "really" is a necessity to include in every question title—but my reasons for wanting it gone have only to do with the noise and clutter it adds, nothing to do with any perceived bias.

At the very least, if it is broadly agreed upon by community members that questions should not have "really" or "actually" or "is it true" in their title, then the FAQ for new users should be updated so that such redundant word inclusions in question titles aren't in direct, literal compliance with the instructions given to all new users.


Including my response to @Sklivvz's comment:

The difficulty with the bullet point "Express some doubt and ask if it is true" is not just a matter of phrasing. It's a higher-level policy point that needs to be agreed on.

Do we want people to only ask about claims that they personally doubt?

If that's what we want, we can hardly complain when they communicate "I doubt this," can we? Or do we simply want people to ask about claims that may be subject to doubt, whether theirs or another's?


Perhaps, after the first two points as written:

  • Point to a statement that someone well-known has made (or a number of less well-known sources)
  • Quote from it (a direct quote, not just a paraphrase)
  • Express some doubt and ask if it is true.

We could include a modified third point like so:

  • Point out the lack of cited evidence in the claim, or express doubt about the trustworthiness of the cited authority. Ask for reliable evidence that the cited claim is either true or false.

But that's a bit wordy.

  • Can you suggest a better phrasing? – Sklivvz Oct 7 '16 at 10:02
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    @Sklivvz, I don't think it's just a matter of phrasing. It's a higher-level policy point that needs to be agreed on. Do we want people to only ask about claims that they personally doubt? (That is the literal meaning of the instructions given to new users.) If that's what we want, we can hardly complain when they communicate "I doubt this," can we? Or do we simply want people to ask about claims that may be subject to doubt, whether theirs or another's? – Wildcard Oct 7 '16 at 10:14
  • @Sklivvz, I've edited my answer to more completely respond to your comment. – Wildcard Oct 7 '16 at 10:23

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