10

Wikipedia (strongly) and Skeptics.StackExchange (weakly) have adopted a policy of "no original research" for their articles; since this is a policy, one would assume that original research is problematic.

Wikipedia's article on No Original Research gives scant justification. The closest it comes is the following trichotomy:

  • If your viewpoint is in the majority, then it should be easy to substantiate it with reference to commonly accepted reference texts;
  • If your viewpoint is held by a significant minority, then it should be easy to name prominent adherents;
  • If your viewpoint is held by an extremely small minority, then — whether it's true or not, whether you can prove it or not — it doesn't belong in Wikipedia

So it doesn't make any claims about the reliability of the information, just that if it's worth knowing, it's already known. It is unclear, to me at least, what the problematic downside is, however. (Simply a technical limitation of disk space or search times for Wikipedia?)

Skeptics Meta includes, as an answer from a moderator, the claim

however, due to the nature of Skeptics, the community needs to enforce the idea of no original research to encourage healthy voting.

Given that the other StackExchange sites, most notably StackOverflow, are positively full of "original research" (e.g. on how to solve a particular type of programming problem) and have healthy voting, this claim seems, at first glance, to be questionable.

Thus, I wonder whether it's been observed that presentation of original research causes problems, and under which conditions, or whether the belief is not currently supported by evidence.

migrated from skeptics.stackexchange.com Apr 29 '11 at 20:57

This question came from our site for scientific skepticism.

  • Subjective and argumentative. – Christian Apr 29 '11 at 18:49
  • 4
    @Christian - How so? I'm specifically asking for objective data/research on a factual claim being made. I've tried to go out of my way to make it non-argumentative while still illustrating that one can have reasonable doubts about the claims and citing sources. – Rex Kerr Apr 29 '11 at 19:08
  • 1
    I agree with Rex. It's a specific question about a claim. I don't see it as likely to have an answer, but it doesn't seem misplaced at all. – Josiah Apr 29 '11 at 19:40
  • 3
    I disagree that Skeptics.SE only “weakly” opposes original research. Ideally, we oppose it even more strongly than Wikipedia since by its nature every single issue discussed here is contested. No original research. Full stop. – Konrad Rudolph Apr 29 '11 at 20:23
  • 1
    @Konrad - I was referring to the stated policy. Wikipedia allows exceptions only for things like addition (!), while here the guideline has been that we get to take things like conservation of energy for granted. There may be a difference between stated policy and practice in both cases, but it's a lot harder to cite practice than stated policy. Thus the phrasing as it is. But, anyway, what the policy should be is a topic for Skeptics Meta. I was concerned with the evidence in favor of the policy. – Rex Kerr Apr 29 '11 at 20:29
  • 1
    @Rex I agree with what Konrad said and while your last comment wasn't wrong, it's important to remember the distinction between no original research and unverified claims (the latter being correctable by simply finding the source or absence of it, the former not). – Nicole Apr 29 '11 at 23:44
  • Well, I see that it was decided that this is more of a meta question about this site than a general sociology question. Fair enough, I suppose; there aren't that many examples of sites with this policy, and I accept Josiah's assessment that finding an answer to that question may be unlikely. – Rex Kerr Apr 30 '11 at 2:33
  • 1
    I am ambivalent about Wikipedia's No Original Research and Verifiability. Sometimes, I find that there are no reliable published sources for some topics, and this complicates things. – apoorv020 May 1 '11 at 9:01
  • @apoorv020, That's simply how Wikipedia is meant to work. Wikipedia is a collection of published claims, not a collection of truths. There are some overlaps, but they are not equal. This "problem" is particularly evident in WikiQuote, but as for Wikipedia, the response is WONTFIX (reason: by design). – Pacerier Sep 19 '15 at 16:02
5

Given that the other StackExchange sites, most notably StackOverflow, are positively full of "original research" (e.g. on how to solve a particular type of programming problem) and have healthy voting, this claim seems, at first glance, to be questionable.

One of the guiding principles behind Stack Exchange is that it is difficult - if not impossible - to consistently garner high-quality answers on a site dedicated to everything. Stack Overflow works by remaining narrow enough in scope to attract and retain a large population of experts on the topics that are in scope... But a site like Skeptics is problematic, since providing an answer to a question on "the accuracy of public claims made in the media or elsewhere" can and does require expertise from a vast range of individual fields.

In theory, it could still work... provided we were able to attract a sufficient population and diversity of experts. In practice, that's highly unlikely.

Furthermore, on SO answers can almost always be verified to some extent by the person who asked the question... This is also much less likely to be feasible here.

How then can this site function at all? By building a population of users skilled in finding, referencing, and compiling answers from existing sources. Experts, not in individual fields, but essentially in fact checking. Expertise in a given area can still help, by allowing you to more easily find and explain the facts that support a given answer... But ultimately, it is those sources that must either make or break your conclusion.

"No original research" shouldn't be taken to mean that the only valid answers are those that consist entirely of quotes or summaries of some other publication; indeed, that would make this little more than a content farm. However, it should be possible to verify any significant claim by looking up the relevant (and properly-cited) references, not by recreating experimental results. This allows readers - you and me - to properly evaluate individual answers, just as we can on more traditional Stack Exchange sites.

  • +1 - This makes the most sense of any statement I've seen regarding this site. It might not be correct (e.g. it may be that the site can attract enough experts in each field so that most questions can be addressed by at least a small number of people who know the area in question). But it lays out the position clearly and justifies it. – Rex Kerr May 1 '11 at 16:50
6

The reason that other Stack Exchange sites can handle original research is that information is peer-reviewed by experts and other users knowledgeable on the topic. Answers on Stack Overflow, for example, are voted on by programmers. Those users have the knowledge required to evaluate the veracity of the answer.

On Skeptics, however, that does not apply as applied skepticism is not a field of knowledge. You cannot knowledgeable about applying skepticism. It's a methodology. Peer-review, here, thus needs to be done through use of references.

  • Wouldn't people like The Amazing Randi, Penn Jillette, and Adam Savage and Jaime Hyneman from Mythbusters be counterexamples to this statement, in that they do original research and are card-carrying skeptics? Also, aren't many articles in magazines like the Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic original research? – Rex Kerr Apr 30 '11 at 2:45
  • @RexKerr: No. They are not experts on skepticism. You can't accumulate knowledge about skepticism. You can accumulate a great deal of facts which will help you in your skepticism, but that's completely different thing. The distinction is important. A SE site on chemistry will be composed of people knowledgeable about chemistry, which is the topic. Skeptics, on the other hand, require knowledge in medicine, chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, and economics, history, etc. to evaluate answers. It's many times a larger in scope. Hence why references are required. – Borror0 Apr 30 '11 at 5:57
  • So you are claiming that on Skeptics.SE, people answer questions despite having no particular knowledge of the area in question, and rely upon argument from authority in lieu of argument about the data? – Rex Kerr Apr 30 '11 at 15:12
  • @RexKerr: No, I'm saying that people on Skeptic.SE may vote on answers on which they are not knowledgeable, based on whether it sounds plausible. Wrong answers aren't a problem, provided they are heavily downvoted. – Borror0 Apr 30 '11 at 19:32
  • So you are saying that in cases where people's expertise does not cover most questions, votes based on "original research" are likely to be swayed by "sounding plausible" to a substantially greater effect than votes based upon a reference plus whatever the poster has to say about it. If this is what you mean, I at least grant that it is a coherent position--a good reason to choose the policy if true, and a statement of the state of affairs of the world that could be tested for validity. – Rex Kerr Apr 30 '11 at 22:06
3

In my view, what it really comes down to is whether you believe that original research will not mislead you.

Questions on politics, religion etc. arouse strong emotions in people, so original research can become problematic because of two reasons.

  • People are likely to lie. (God exists, dude, I met him just yesterday and he gave me the key to heaven).
  • People may upvote simply because it is what they want to believe in. Such answers may then be downvoted because of no reference reasons. (See this answer).

Questions that do not seem to arouse strong emotions can allow for original research (since people are probably more rational when it comes to such questions and additionally such topics seem less likely to be studied scientifically). For example this question I asked about trees shedding leaves in autumn was asked based on my personal experience(and not any research papers) and answered based on a site that would probably not be a good reference on argumentative questions.

Now as to policies you can't really say original research is allowed or disallowed depending on the emotions the question produces in you. Wiki and skeptics take the conservative route, but as my examples show, this policy is not applied consistently here. I actually feel this inconsistency can sometimes be good.

I should also add that the parenting site of SE allows for answers only if they are based on personal experience or backed up by reference.

  • Regarding the consistency - you unknowingly suffer from confirmation bias (you don't see how many answers mods deleted or converted to comments). I can assure you they are large numbers. Also, in quite a number of cases, people do respond positively to comments and fix the answer... Our guideline for the community is "fix it and/or downvote it to zero at least". Mods normally step in for egregious cases. – Sklivvz May 1 '11 at 9:55
-1

Accepting original research would be against what scientific skepticism is about.


Wikipedia on Scientific Skepticism:

Scientific skepticism or rational skepticism (also spelled scepticism), sometimes referred to as skeptical inquiry, is a practical, epistemological position in which one questions the veracity of claims lacking empirical evidence or reproducibility.

[...]

Scientific skeptics attempt to evaluate claims based on verifiability and falsifiability and discourage accepting claims on faith or anecdotal evidence.


From the OED:

fact, noun: a thing that is known or proved to be true

speculation, noun: the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence


From Carl Sagan, "The Demon-haunted world", p.198:

The reliance on carefully designed and controlled experiments is key. We will not learn much from mere contemplation. It is tempting to rest content with the first candidate explanation we can think of. One is much better than none. But what happens if we can invent several? How do we decide among them? We don’t. We let experiment do it. Francis Bacon provided the classic reason:

Argumentation cannot suffice for the discovery of new work, since the subtlety of Nature is greater many times than the subtlety of argument.

  • 3
    Your arguments don't support your thesis. If one presents original research, documenting one's methodology and findings, then one would not be accepting claims on faith or anecdotal evidence, it would not be a conjecture without firm evidence, and it would not be based upon mere contemplation (unless in fact the "original research" was finding a logical error in someone else's claim). So while I fully agree with your points, I don't think they have anything to do with the question of allowing vs. disallowing original research--just of disallowing unsupported claims. – Rex Kerr Apr 30 '11 at 2:49
  • Original research which is peer reviewed then yes, it's acceptable. Original research which is unreviewed by experts in the field is too poor for this site. – Sklivvz Apr 30 '11 at 10:48
  • @Rex In other words, this is not a journal in which one posts research for review. It is a place where the existing reviewed research is analyzed. – Sklivvz Apr 30 '11 at 10:49
  • @Sklivvz - You are stating your conclusion rather than showing your reasoning. In particular, the "how do you know that work is valid" question is not addressed at all. And note that of the last 10 non-closed questions on the site, only two cover areas where research is done in a rigorous way by experts in the field (i.e. the research itself takes considerable expert training). – Rex Kerr Apr 30 '11 at 15:06
  • @Rex: Feel free to downvote - I am stating what I perceive to be the correct answer. – Sklivvz Apr 30 '11 at 15:27
  • Note that I am answering on meta and not on main. I do not need to "prove" my opinions. They are opinions, and the policies on main do not apply here. – Sklivvz Apr 30 '11 at 15:31
  • @Sklivvz - Fair enough. This is why I originally asked the question on main. As a consistent skeptic, I am not particularly strongly swayed by opinion, especially without at least a robust argument to back it up. Especially when the opinion runs counter to the two major ways of obtaining reliable knowledge about the world as synthesized by the scientific method and the rules of argumentation. – Rex Kerr Apr 30 '11 at 16:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .