There will doubtless be hundreds of questions from old and new users about claims about the war in Ukraine, and it might be good to discuss how to handle them before it gets out of hand.

Personally I do not think Skeptics.SE is a good place to discussing real-time events like this, and the close reasons agree:

Questions about unresolved current events […] are off-topic because there is insufficient data for a meaningful answer.

It's a far better place to discuss the war after things have settled down, and well researched and peer reviewed sources can be compared. There is of course a meta discussion about it, and probably more.

However, there is a reason someone drew this excellent comic: XKCD Comic #386

There will be a lot of information posted that is clearly wrong, and the urge to have someone else say it's false is strong. There is however a time and place for everything, and I don't think that "something is trending on twitter and it looks shady" should be enough to immediately post it here, at least not if it discusses something that just happened.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this. At the moment I've flagged everything about the war as "current event", I guess I just want to know what others think about it.

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    Isn't the russo-ukranian-war tag misspelled (or misspelt, in that other English)?
    – shoover
    Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 4:53

3 Answers 3


I think this is a good question. It is a hard question. It gets to what people need from us versus what we can do to help them.

There are competing forces here we need to balance, so ultimately my answer is "It depends."

I think we want to fight misinformation as part of our raison d'etre, but that misinformation comes in many forms.

  • Some of the claims we tackle are pure, innocent Urban Legends. Someone thought a story was true. Someone didn't understand a legal term.

No-one is working to defend these errors, and we can easily correct them.

  • Some of the claims we tackle are scams and marketing tripe. They are deliberate lies, but they only exist for a simple profit motive.

I think we do well against such claims, showing that they are not supported by evidence.

  • Some of the claims we tackle are more about bolstering people's ideologies - e.g. that statements in the Bible are all literally true, that Ayurvedic approaches are more effective that modern medicine, that Germ Theory is wrong.

Not only are these claims harder to persuade people about (because changing your mind means changing who you are as a person), but, more relevantly here, they are promoted by organised groups of propagandists.

  • Some claims, however, are put out by nation-state level propagandists. It is difficult to pin down motivations, but it is understood that for this level of propaganda, it isn't necessary for people to trust these claims; it is sufficient that the targets no longer trust any claims. The goal isn't to promote a particular lie, but just to obscure true information, so people can't act on it.

The idea of tackling such machinery is daunting, but throwing up our hands and saying "It is too hard to even bother" is precisely what the propagandists are aiming for. We should not give up so easily; showing that evidence-based approaches can cut through lies is important.

So this is an argument FOR letting recent claims about the Russo-Ukrainian War be tackled here.

[These categories aren't hard and sharp. For example, I would suggest US political parties (and their donors) have greater funding for propaganda than many nation states. I also am a big fan of answers that show the claim is true, despite my doubts when I first saw the question; let's not forget them!]

Skeptics.SE users are not forensic investigators who can examine on-scene evidence and have powers to compel people to answer. We are not journalists, funded to rush into war-zones with cameras and microphones. We are not Internet sleuths, coming up with our own amateur theories and original research, like Reddit.

We largely popularise the evidence-based conclusions that have already been reached.

So, when people ask questions that try to pre-empt the conclusions of court cases, of official inquiries or are likely being investigated by dozens of international journalists, I think they somewhat overestimate what we might be capable of achieving.

We have a close reason for current events, precisely because it is too early for firm conclusions to be published.

So this is an argument AGAINST letting recent claims about the Russo-Ukrainian War be tackled here.

So, how do we balance these two forces? I think it depends on the question...

These questions strike me as relatively simple yes/no fact-based claim that should not take very long to be confirmed or refuted by journalists:

This (currently closed) question doubts the existing output of journalists, so will take longer to resolve:

This (currently closed) question asks about the motivation of an army. It might one day be the subject of a War Crimes tribunal, and we would get an answer then.

Because these are line-ball decisions, I think we can have legitimate (hopefully minor) disagreements about where the line should be drawn, and I hope regulars will help keep the mods in line with the community here. Close/re-open votes are the ideal mechanism, but with comments and meta-questions too.

A similar question was asked in 2014: Should we handle Ukraine-related propaganda. My thinking on the answer has changed slightly, but not a lot.

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    My main concern is with everything that is going on what could be accepted as fact/truth today could be shown as false/misinformation tomorrow and we should not rush to answer.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 27, 2022 at 17:09
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    @JoeW: That is true of every answer here. If we have good evidence, we should answer with the good evidence. If better evidence comes along later, we should update our understanding. If we don't have good evidence, it shouldn't be answered. If we are confident we can't get good evidence YET because it is too soon, close it as Unresolved current event.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 0:11
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    But we should not just say "There is misinformation out there, so there is no point applying scientific skepticism to a claim."
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 0:12
  • I think that this is a special case and there is more evidence of propaganda on both sides spreading and masquerading as questions on various stack exchange sites.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 0:47
  • Maybe we are talking at cross-purposes here. I am concerned about bad actors posting on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Tinder. Are you concerned about bad actors posting on SE?
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 0:50
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    What's true of answers here: If we have a popular question, we tolerate & even upvote answers long enough even without good evidence. If better evidence comes along later, we should update our answers, but all the votes that accumulated in the meantime make that futile. Without good evidence, it shouldn't be answered, but we vote so much into HNQ that our own knees are riddled with self-inflicted bullets. We can be confident that in war there is lots of lying & propaganda, & the emotional side-taking on SE will trump reason & rationality & that CV takes often too long to avoid HNQ damage. Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 12:36
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    Yes, I am concerned about bad actors on SE. Get a question posted and provide an answer saying that the claim is false and a few days later information comes out that the claim might be true. When that happens it hurts the credibility of the site. An example of this is the claim about the island where the Ukrainian soldiers died and how that might not have happened as people initially claimed.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 13:20
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    @JoeW: Firstly, do you mean this question? It was closed within hours; are you happy with its treatment? The idea of bad actors using Skeptics.SE is a concern, but not enough to block off a whole facet of misinformation, IMO. The notability demands are the first protection. The second is that the truthful answers tends to leave the propagandist very embarrassed. This isn't the greatest place to try that sort of game.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 13:56
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    That was just one of many questions and we already do have a close reason of this is a ongoing event and I see no reason to not use it here.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 14:10
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    "I see no reason" Welp, I just wrote a few hundred words giving a reason: to fight misinformation.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 14:21
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    @Oddthinking That goes back to why I posted the image about "someone being wrong on the internet". There's a lot of places to fight misinformation - Stack Exchange is a very bad place for doing that in real time. That's why there's a "ongoing event" reason.
    – pipe
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 14:31
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    @Pipe: I am not arguing against using the Close reason for a particular question. I am arguing against a blanket rule for Ukraine or a policy that ends up devolving to "You may only learn the truth when it isn't important or when it isn't relevant any more".
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 16:29
  • With this "may only learn the truth when it isn't important or when it isn't relevant any more" we tarnished the site already with all the CovidBS. Has truth an expiration date? To the contrary. How would you have spotted Saddam's WMDs, the other lies when 'they were relevant'. The war mongers & lockdowners & maskers & national-vaccinists & other PsyOps have much better PR than homeopaths & lizard spotters. A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on. And the side-takers are rife on SE, look at our record or PolSE. Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 14:33
  • @LangLangC: Lost me. I understand you don't agree with the consilience about COVID-19, but that is not relevant here. No-one is suggesting the truth has an expiration date. I am suggesting that life is a "real-time system"; one in which a late answer is considered "wrong". If propagandists can make it so people only understand the truth after the election/war/whatever, they have won. The propagandists won, IMO, with the WMD story. There's a balance: We can't answer questions before the evidence is in, but it is pointless to be 20 years late.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Mar 2, 2022 at 22:55
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    @LangLangC: I don't feel wanting to know the truth in time to make decisions is having an agenda. I continue to reject your characterisation of the consilience around COVID-19 as insane, so I reject that we have failed here. I don't know what the pattern is you are talking about. That particular answer is from a first-timer, and has already been marked as not having references. I fear we are going in circles again.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Mar 3, 2022 at 15:35

It is a current and ongoing event which is already one of the accepted close reasons. For now that is how I would suggest dealing with these questions as the answers could change hourly/daily depending on what new information we get.

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    Couldn't agree more. I'm surprised that we're not already closing questions about it for this very reason.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 15:43
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    It could be useful to create a meta post addressing this and feature it so that users will see it on the front page.
    – LShaver
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 19:23
  • @LShaver I recently made another question about related issues as well that I saw on another site hit with questions about this.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 19:35
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    @F1Krazy Yet it doesn't seem like a high priority judging by the front page. 4 out of 5 Ukraine questions are still open, two posted by a user with a very high reputation, and they have obviously been seen by a diamond-mod. I guess there's a lot of users who think this is ok and don't chime in.
    – pipe
    Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 11:18
  • @pipe Even on politics the most that is being done in a lot of questions is just protecting it.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 15:31

This close reason is certainly not ipso facto applicable to questions on the Russo-Ukrainian war.

Take for example the question Was Kyiv's Babyn Yar memorial bombed by Russia in the 2022 Military Operation? This we can speak of with relative certainty: there is no more information that will come of this. There is no ongoing investigation and all sides have spoken about it and reached consensus. If this kind of question is not on topic here then whatever logic is being used to close that question would be applicable to far more.

And if it remains closed, then at what time would these questions be on-topic?

  • Frankly your question seemed rather cheezy/gamey. You already seemed to know the answer. Yeah, there's the "self-answers are ok" policy, but if I had 5c every time something posted already on fact-checking site gets self-answered here... Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 10:18
  • @Fizz it wasn't on a fact checking site. And, i didn't know the answer. That's why I only answered it myself after researching it for a day. Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 15:41
  • I mean the BBC report that you linked in your Q (rather than A) had plenty of details: "Staff were initially unable to access the Babyn Yar site to assess the damage. However, it is now known that the most iconic memorials in the park are unscathed. These include a large menorah, newly built synagogue and a monument honouring the Soviet citizens and prisoners of war who died, which is located closest to the TV tower. A museum building which was not yet in use caught fire [...]" And yeah, that link was even in the 1st revision of your Q skeptics.stackexchange.com/revisions/53082/1 Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 6:48
  • @Fizz That it didn't damage the "most iconic memorials" doesn't mean the memorial wasn't bombed. The question is principally was it bombed. There is a difference between bombing a memorial and not damaging anything, and bombing a TV tower near a memorial. The argument that the memorial itself was bombed is simply incorrect. The grave site was bombed. This would be egregious and antisemitic imho if it wasn't for the fact that a strategically important TV tower was built on top of the site in 1961, AFTER the graves were moved. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 16:19
  • This is where this site shines. I clarified all of this in my answer, and I think fairly. I feel we lost something great closing that question. I put a lot of work into it and it's fair to be skeptical over the claim "was the memorial bombed", and there was enough information to answer it then. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 16:19
  • Just to be clear, this is a case where I evaluated a claim I was skeptical of made by Ukraine and came into it very harshly critical of Russia, and left thinking they did nothing wrong. MSM infrastructure (though not the journalists) has always been a fair target in war. In any conflict TV towers are the first to go. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 16:23

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