How strict should we be about references?

When someone makes a claim, should we require them to support that claim with a source? If so, to what extent should we go? Must all claims be referenced or just some?

merged by Mad Scientist Apr 11 '11 at 16:30

This question was merged with Discussion about requiring references for all claims because it is an exact duplicate of that question.

  • Why was the discussion tag removed and the bug tag added? – Fred Nurk Jun 20 '11 at 0:14
  • It started as a discussion, and I wrote an answer, which was upvoted. But then, some moderator changed it to community-wiki and added the faq-flag, and deleted my answer, because it was a different opinion he didn't like to see in the FAQ. So I asked what's the point of a discussion, if you ban opposite opinions, and said, that we then have to remove the discussion tag. He agreed, but on meta, every topic needs a tag of a small susbset of tags: (discussion, bug, ... and some more) and nothing really fitted. But at least, removing the discussion-tag was needed to show my protest. – user unknown Jun 20 '11 at 15:38
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    @Fred, @User, I raised a separate question so this discussion need not occur here. – Oddthinking Jun 20 '11 at 16:37
up vote 19 down vote accepted

Wikipedia has had a huge influence over the development of Stack Exchange. This is another instance where we steal page from Wikipedia's book. After all, why reinvent the wheel?

The Wikipedia community relies on the No Original Research core policy to combat unsubstantiated claims from finding their way into articles:

Nutshell http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ce/Nutshell.png This page in a nutshell: Wikipedia does not publish original thought: all material in Wikipedia must be attributable to a reliable, published source. Articles may not contain any new analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position not clearly advanced by the sources.

The very purpose of this site, as defined by the FAQ, is to combat unsubstantiated claims:

Skeptics - Stack Exchange is for skeptics, rationalists, free thinkers, or anyone who questions pseudoscience. Skeptics is about applying skepticism — it's for researching the evidence behind the claims you hear or read.

The voting system of Stack Exchange is largely meant to relax any need for specific policy regarding what constitutes a valid answer (and by and large it accomplishes this) — however, due to the nature of Skeptics, the community needs to enforce the idea of no original research to encourage healthy voting.

Users are required to reference all significant claims they make in their answers.

There are some types of questions that we can safely answer without needing references, however, such as claims that blatantly violate some laws of nature or known scientific facts (around high school level). For example, debunking a claim about a perpetuum mobile, linking to Wikipedia's article about the laws of thermodynamics might be advisable, but only for the reader's convenience.

Bad:

  • "...since I have personally experienced it numerous times"
  • "Anecdotally, I've seen it..."
  • "I heard that it was also caused by ..."
  • "I'm not sure if this idea comes from some research"

Good:

  • "There is a fairly comprehensive article on the topic at..."
  • "A recent Argonne National Lab study concluded that..."
  • Even better, multiple sources

Original answer by Renesis and edited by Borror0

  • I also think that claims you hear or read should also be referenced. Otherwise I could start a question like: Is it true that ants live on Alpha Centauri? besides never hearing of that. – Jader Dias Apr 14 '11 at 16:43
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    This begs the question of why not just use wikipedia. The point of most other stackexchange sites is to have a meaningful and informative exchange on the subject. If somebody makes a pivotal claim, of course it should be backed by references. This place should be able to put more meat on the bone. I see little gain from the live nature of this site in if all we do is seeing how quickly we can compile a wikipedia like page. I think that a more productive relation to wikipedia would be to expect people to read the wikipedia article on a subject before asking the question. – Tormod May 1 '11 at 22:34
  • @Tormod - you'd best be trolling there... – Khanzor May 10 '11 at 0:22
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    No, I am not. I don't see much added value in using a stackexchange site if you plan on using a format that WOULD be best served and IS best served using the wikipedia stack. – Tormod May 11 '11 at 14:40
  • The question asker should provide an example of "notability" (i.e. who made the claim) but not necessary from a "reputable source" because this is what the answers to Skeptics questions will do. Answerers should reference reputable sources to support/refute the claim, and those should be upvoted. – user2547 May 16 '11 at 6:44
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    @rwong: you're kidding, right? Or do you actually propose pulling the (horrible, horrible) notion of "notability" over from WP too? – Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 29 '11 at 17:22
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    @jae, too late. It hasn't yet reached official FAQ status, but the issue of notability has come up several times. If you have a justification for calling it "horrible, horrible", I suggest that is where you put it. – Oddthinking Jun 30 '11 at 12:19
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    @tor: funnily enough, the idea of this site is not to simply answer any question, but to do so skeptically. I suggest you read up on Wikipedia what skepticism is before bringing up comments that suggest that speculation is the "meat on the bone". Facts and reliable references are the "meat on the bone". – Sklivvz Jul 28 '11 at 8:17
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    Citation are not facts. Worse, they are really mere arguments from authority which are the very antithesis of skepticism. A true skeptical argument should stand on its own. Every major bad idea of history e.g. eugenics, was once rigorously supported by the intellectual and scientific authorities of its day. The claim that a "skeptical" argument hinges on whether someone took the time to slap up a Wikipedia page is risible. It raises the question of why anyone should bother to contribute to site when they can only provide answers available by a google search. – TechZen Jul 12 '12 at 20:21
  • @TechZen but an answer without citations is an even worse argument by authority: the OP's own. – Sklivvz Oct 22 '14 at 13:46
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    @Sklivvz - No, my argument relies on common knowledge and logic. It's validity is utterly unrelated to my person. E.g. It should be self-evident that 1) most people obey seat-belt instruction and that 2) in flight or crash injuries of people not wearing seat belts are a small subset therefore 3) small existing numbers of injuries under current rules cannot be used to extrapolate to the safety of having everyone go without seat-belts. – TechZen Oct 22 '14 at 17:40
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    @Sklivvz - Besides, the OP ask if the FFA is correct and the sources sited when I wrote above basically boil down to "well, the FAA says the FAA is correct!" Conceptually, if start out to question the FAA and other regulating bodies, what data could you get that didn't come from the suspect institutions, directly or indirectly? If you find and outside source, how do you vet them? No, you first start with common knowledge and methodological logic, divorced from any central point of control or contamination. That is how "skepticism" is supposed to work. I'll take it to meta. – TechZen Oct 22 '14 at 17:45
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    Apologies for last, I thought I was on the thread that trigged my coming here. I should say here that: @Sklivvz - No, all confirmed data relies on having started with correct methodology. As such, arguments about methodology, assumptions, axioms etc, stand on their on divorced from the person making them. That is the core concept of science and the core concept of skepticism. Anyone, anywhere should be able to question any assertion on those grounds, because who, where, what they are or their knowledge or motives are irrelevant to the integrity of the argument. – TechZen Oct 22 '14 at 17:54
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    @TechZen I agree, and in fact such arguments are OK here as long as they are about a cited reference (within limits of staying within layman levels of expertise). On the other hand, methodology/assumptions/axioms are not the correct way to argue about claims. You can't disprove an anecdote by saying it's not statistically significant, for example. – Sklivvz Oct 22 '14 at 19:51
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    Defaulting to "We do it as Wikipedia does" without proper supporting reasons is not the way to go. Wikipedia is a project dedicated to the collection of published claims, not facts. This is elaborated at meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/617/…. The question is, Is skeptics.SE's goal to become a collection of published claims or a collection of facts (the logical analysis of those claims)? – Pacerier Sep 19 '15 at 16:16

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