I'm interested in making this site a better place and I want to make sure that if I'm asking a question this is the right place for it.

My main angst comes from trying to understand exactly what is on topic and trying to avoid having a 10 comment discussion each time I post a question because someone feels like it is off topic, and I feel like it is on topic.

Some questions like the "When should I water my grass" I feel are way off topic, but they get 7 upvotes, but then there is a question like "Do teddy bears help you sleep better" which was initially closed by 4 people and now it has 5 upvotes after being reopened.

Maybe this has been defined elsewhere, but what separates an on-topic question from an off-topic one?

The next thing I suggest is being vigorous in closing any question that is off-topic reasonably quickly. The first place I compare my close voted question to is other questions on the site that haven't been closed. If I feel they are more off-topic than my own it only causes confusion.

1 Answer 1


The topic has been touched many times in the past. For example, in How to deal with medicine questions and the like, I argued that:

The scope of the site shouldn't be limited to known pseudosciences like homeopathy, intelligent design and astrology. If we do agree on that, though, we'll need some criteria other guidelines to determine what is or isn't on-topic. Otherwise, the scope of this site would be, well, everything.

As I said in What should be in our FAQ, I believe Skeptics.SE should be to science what factcheck.org is to politics.

That is, I think we should cover the basic questions on science that are propagated by non-scientists (Al Gore, Jenny McCarthy, mainstream media, etc.) and hearsay ("you get a cold from being cold" and the like), but we leave the real questions to the real pros (i.e. Physics.SE, Biology.SE, Chemistry.SE, etc.)

By those guidelines, "Is it dangerous to have several vaccines at the same time?" is on-topic, but not all medical questions will be.

On the other hand, question around the lines of "Is there a substantial difference in rehabilitation therapy and expected outcome for a hemorrhagic stroke patient versus an ischemic stroke patient?" would belong elsewhere. They're too technical and thus beyond the scope of this site.

Basically, there are two steps for a question to be on-topic here:

  1. It has to be a claim, addressed to laymen, that can be empirically verified.
  2. It has to be a belief or claim that has at least some notability. Questions like "This homeless person told me there is a unicorn on the moon, and that it's made of waffles. is it true?" are off-topic, for hopefully obvious reasons.

Skeptics.SE could be thought of as Fact-Checking.SE.

The two questions you linked to are on-topic, as far as I can see. The one about teddy bears, though, could be far better written than it is.

As for closing off-topic questions quickly, I agree but we (the moderators) are trying to let the community moderate itself (like it's supposed to be). I'm trying to step in only if it takes a while, or if it's blatantly off-topic. Feel free to flag broken windows, though. In fact, I encourage you to flag problematic questions. We're not all seeing, but we do want to maintain an high quality standard.

  • +1 - Lovely clear breakdown.
    – user2466
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 1:04
  • @Borror0 - Thanks for the feedback, from your response it looks quite moderate. But I'm getting frustrated with having to explain myself after each time I ask a question. Something that nearly made me leave previously. I'm also seeing close votes without explanations. I think it would go a long way if we could draw the line somewhere and if a close vote is given it could point to a more detailed explanation.
    – going
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 1:27
  • @xiao: If you receive a close vote that isn't obvious to you, invite others to explain their close vote. It should be good practice to explain your close vote.
    – Borror0
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 1:36
  • @xiao: I'm not familiar with your questions but I think, generally speaking, people want to clarify exactly how they might possibly be able to answer a question before they commit to writing a long, detailed answer that's shot down with a one-liner, "No I didn't mean that". I'm not saying you're doing this. I'm just trying to think of why people may want to clarify before jumping in.
    – user2466
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 3:33
  • 1
    The "just one thing" here is that someone must be able to point to a lot of evidence that people believe this, or that this claim is actively promoted. The idle daydreaming and "is it really true that.." has to be stopped. Commented Jun 11, 2011 at 9:11
  • @Jeff: I agree.
    – Borror0
    Commented Jun 11, 2011 at 10:58
  • @Borror0, Regarding "Skeptics.SE should be to science what factcheck.org is to politics", Isn't SkepticsSE also for politics?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 9:02

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