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Questions that can be verified yes or no (inclusive) make perfect Skeptics questions because an answer can definitively answered one way or the other. The evidence decides; the answer is accepted; everyone is happy.

Questions that only have one verifiable answer don't seem to be a problem as long as that answer ends up being correct. We get a definitive answer; the answer is accepted; everyone is happy.

But what happens to questions where there is no definitive match to the only verifiable case? As in, if I ask "Did X happen?" and X never happened so no one can provide evidence for X happening and no definitive answer is posted... what now?

In the event that some expert somewhere decided to go out and study that particular case and came up empty, that expert could be used as a reference and that seems good enough. But what if the topic just... isn't that interesting?

Some examples of referenced experts:

Examples of questions that seem stuck in the undeniable but unprovable bucket:

Short of finding a specific war, virus, or CIA file, how would these questions ever get answered? It seems likely that someone has studied the CIA's drug habits; an expert may exist. But how are we supposed to verify that Go was uninvolved in every war on Earth? How are we to know the history of every virus written?

The actual question: How do we answer questions that have a reasonable conclusion drawn from lack of evidence but that have no available reference? Should these questions even be answered? How is the person asking the question supposed to know whether the question is answerable?

  • The virus question only cites a forum post, and the Go question cites word-of-mouth. Should people be encouraged to cite the claim to be debunked? – Andrew Grimm May 19 '11 at 10:05
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A good answer does not necessary validate or debunk a claim.

As I said in Should we ask questions that don't have answers?:

In fact, thorough answers explaining the debate and why there is uncertainty make great answers. We are a site dedicated to seeking the truth. As such, there are many times where the answer will be "we don't know." It's unavoidable.

If you posses enough information to form a solid case for "we don't know" answer, then go for it. Similarly, if you possess enough information to write a "we have no evidence of this, so it's probably false" type of answer, go for it. If you don't, then so be it; they just can't be answered. The fact that they go answered is, in itself, a sort of refutation of the myth.

If you're wondering what a good "we have no evidence of this, so it's probably false" type of answer looks like, this quote of m Megan McArdle is a good example.

It's a bit too a propos. What "thousands" would King have been talking about? In which enemy's death was he supposed to be rejoicing?

A quick google search turns up lots of tweets, all of them from today. Searching Martin Luther King Jr. quote pages for the word "enemy" does not turn up this quote, only things that probably wouldn't go over nearly so well, like "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend." I'm pretty sure that this quote, too, is fake.

Of course, there's an even better answer to the question she was answering, but this is a good example.

Let me be clear on this, however: such answers have to be really solid. There is a very fine line between these answers and a pseudo-answer. Don't post such an answer unless you're absurdly confident that you've done your homework. Otherwise, it'll get downvoted.

  • I think you meant to write, "the fact that they go UNanswered" – elliot svensson Nov 8 '18 at 21:19
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The virus question only cites a forum post, and the Go question cites word-of-mouth.

Be careful as some of these are veering into pure hypothetical "what if the sky was green?" type of stuff, which is explicitly disallowed per the faq.

we are being asked an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if ______ happened?”

additionally:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

I'm a lot more open to semi-hypothetical questions when you have a defensible motivation to ask other than idle daydreaming.

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Some of the myths were investigated professionally and debunked, so we can answer that there's no evidence whatsoever that X happened [source]. Or better yet, research Y found no evidence that X ever happened [source]

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