I have noticed a number of questions of the following basic form:

  What evidence is there that this [insert reasonable claim] is false?

(A recent example of such a question could have been titled: What evidence is there that Jews are hoarders?)

I propose that this is an unconstructive form of question.

Anyone who (having considered the issue thoughtfully) agrees with the reasonable theory will have no (substantial) evidence that falsifies the theory. They are forced (or at least encouraged by the format of the question) to remain silent.

The only possible answers are unreasonable ones!

I think such questions should be edited to be more neutral - accepting evidence from either direction on the issue.

e.g. "What evidence is there that this [insert reasonable claim] is true or false?" Or even better "Is [insert reasonable claim] true?"

That allows the people who have reached either conclusion to respond.

I also think this should appear in the FAQ, so we can point such posters at it.

If you agree, how about some suggested FAQ text? If you disagree, let me know why.

[This describes a related, perhaps overlapping, but different issue to How should questions with an impossible negation be handled?]


Some additional examples:

  • 2
    I note, three years later, I no longer consider "A question on patents & creativity" to be a 'fine' title, and I no longer consider "Is X true?" to be an optimal format for titles. Both would warrant an edit.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 22:19

5 Answers 5


I agree. A proposed (as in, help me make it better) wording:

Claims and questions should not assume one answer is true. Asking for evidence that directly supports a particular viewpoint is not the best approach for receiving an unbiased answer. Examples:

  • BAD: What evidence is there that the government knew about the 9/11 attacks beforehand?

  • GOOD: Did the government know about the 9/11 attacks beforehand?

  • BAD: How much energy does displaying a webpage with a black background actually save?

  • GOOD: Does displaying a webpage with a black background save energy?

  • That may seem as nitpicking, but your "Bad" Columbus example questions a specific claim therefore is on topic. "Good" example doesn't question anything so it belongs to History SE (if it ever goes beyond commitment). In a case I misunderstood you, see this as helping to make a better wording ;)
    – user288
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 21:14
  • @Sejanus: Eh, yeah, you're right. I knew what I was trying to say but couldn't think of an example. I just trimmed it out.
    – MrHen
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 21:21
  • I like it. I went ahead and removed "in the title", because it applies to the question as well; hope you don't mind.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 1:57
  • 1
    I note that the "BAD" example also suffers from another complaint - the cliche of 'Is there evidence for', which is implied here on Skeptics.SE: meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/445/… - I have taken to editing these question, when I notice them, to remove that wording and make the titles snappier.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 2:01
  • @Odd: I don't mind at all. I just switched it to CW.
    – MrHen
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 2:03
  • @Sejanus: I found the other example. Does this one work better?
    – MrHen
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 13:23
  • Yes I believe that's a very good example.
    – user288
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 16:11

As I said in chat, I'd really like that question to go away. I don't think it makes our community look good, and it's a moderation nightmare. It's just not a good question for the site.

Here's the problem: for what reason do I close it? I can't think of any.

So, I did the next best thing: I answered the question. Honestly, that's probably the best thing to do when you see a question that may cause trouble. By quickly answering the question, it pretty much stops most bad answers from being posted. In this case, a simple Google Scholar research for "generosity by religious affiliation" was enough to find the study in question.

  • I understand. But what you did was answer a slightly different question to the one asked. I am NOT proposing the question be closed, but merely edited to be open to reasonable answers, such as the one you gave. [Okay, I admit I did flag it for closure, but then as I wrote this question I realised I was really asking for people to recognise these are bad questions, and offer a push to edit such questions into good ones.]
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 18:25
  • Well, ya. If there's a problem with the question itself, fix it.
    – Borror0
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 18:31
  • 100% agree, but I am adding a call-to-arms for others to be on the look-out, and an FAQ question to use as a shield when I do.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 18:35
  • 1
    I thought "subjective and argumentative" was sufficiently good reason to close it. If you consider Good Subjective, Bad Subjective I think this one was bad. I down-voted your answer to it too, because I thought it wasn't a good answer (not a good question either). If you want to stop bad answers, closing the question will do that for sure.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 2:11
  • @ChrisW, I think both Borror0 and I would prefer the question was closed (as it currently is), but attempted to resuscitate it into a better question (Borror0 by answering the question that should have been asked, and me by editing the question into the one that should have been asked.)
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 4:56

The purpose of this site is:

  1. to identify a pseudo-scientific assertion, proposition, or belief of which you're skeptical
  2. to request answers which research the evidence behind whether that assertion is true or false.

When you do that then...

  • to clarify the motive for your question
  • to give a specific example of the claim to be supported or refuted (which any answers can address)
  • to satisfy the condition in the FAQ which says that this site is for "a question about the accuracy of public claims made in the media or elsewhere"

... please cite at least one example of where you read the assertion, together with any claim or study which supports the assertion of which you're skeptical -- for example:

Is the moon made of cheese, and did the cow jump over it?

Most people have heard that the moon is made of cheese: and, that the cow jumped over it. That seems to be a widely-held belief:

google search for moon and cheese

and ...

google search for moon and cow

Note that Google returns more than a million results for a cow jumping over the moon ... and, nearly 40 million results that correlate the moon with cheese.

I doubt it, though.

What the truth, falsehood, origin, and/or current consensus on these assertions? What evidence is there for and/or against them?


I think one problem is that sometimes the person doesn't want to be seen as half-believing the claim. Instead of saying

Is the sky green in Paris?

They say

What evidence is there that the sky is green in Paris?

Because what they really mean to say is

I think the idea that the sky is green in Paris is ridiculous. Is there anything that remotely supports this claim?

This'd be especially the case if the claim is offensive, such as the belief that Jews are hoarders.

  • 2
    interesting. You provide a possible motivation for that style of question. I still argue it should be edited, so that a Parisian can publish a photo of a blue (or white, grey, black, or pink & orange) sky, and we can move on without a ridiculous claim sitting open forever.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 8:28

What evidence is there, that mars men are not green?

The problem with such questions is, they tend more to verificate a non existing correlative connection rather than to falsify, giving no evidence people will see their prejudice affirmed, worst case for skeptics.SE

Such "questions" are untruthable, worse they tend more to truthening in the worst case, the problem is u cannot connect human social mass behaviour to superficial properties (religiousness, jewish, republican, creationist.....)

Exactly what happened here:

Answer states, "Religiosity may be primarily influenced by genetics"

Duhhh, can this really make sense? I would have closed the question for above reasons, but the answer even got 5 upvotes, what really shocks me. He gives a source link, from a very doubtful religious study "scientist" who is constantly critized on this scilogs.eu Blogsite for his unscientific generalizing correlations studies. Ironically, if skeptical abilities are determined by genes, does is make sense even trying to convince people, that their assumptions, prejudices are wrong, that they make fallacies, ignore exp. data like creationists? How does it come that nearly all kids in germany are educated in school in a christian way and nonetheless we have pretty successful scientists. How is it, that you can learn formal languages (progamming/speaking languages with diff. logic/grammar/syntax etc.) even at a high age. And where comes the IQ factor in...? Why even try to learn about fallacy types, if ur genes define ur rationality?!! Than one should just close skeptics.SE, because data, reasoning, learning plays no bigger role...

I think the answer shows, there is barely knowledge in what genes can cause, and esp. how statistical analysis works. Thats no offend, we r all here to learn, but it shows the tragic with such Q&A, when people fortunately try to give a answer and invest time, but end in affirmating prejudices on each other. You need clearly defined and measurable termini to be able to make any significant statement in this statistical surveys, than this even doesnt mean, there has to be a causal connection!

I thought about answering the question, but think the time is better invested here to hinder further questions of this type...

If such question arise, i would just close them and point to FAQ - no questions on prejudices/group behaviour correlated to superficial, not clearly defineable measuremnt values. Currently i would add religious studies to pseudoscience, there are no clear definition what religiousness is and a lot of raisin picking of verificating data in brain, behaviour, evolution studies. Very selective perception these scientist have


Answer on oddthinking comment to explain my point/apprehension more exactly:

Ask urself (if u think too the answer is misleading cause implicating genes determine group behaviour or even individual world picture of strongly locally distributed people, so non-religious reproduce with religious on and on, how can u think there is religionsness gene defining how u logical conclude, how much external data u gather to form a opinion??? How to define a statistcal significance here) How would u have structured/formulated ur answer on this question to get a higher vote according to the SE system (high vote means correct answer). U have to use alot of methodism arguing from statistics to usable measurement values in behavioural science, what will, like in any political TV discussion not work, thats why politicans use prejudices when arguing alot, its often simple, fast, effective. If we start here in the answers arguing about methodism in other answers, it gets a mess/war and the answer with the lowest common denominator will often win or, the methodical correct answer (doubting the question is at all answerable scientifically or critisizing other answers given) in best case get as much votes.

I mean, this is SE, alot here are (hobby) programmers and have learned, even as adult different programming languages with diff. syntax, logic. Of course u can learn and change ur mind, ur thoughts are not determined by genes, but by culture, media, IQ, knowledge, learning...

If u allow such questions u have to introduce two very important properties which i expect to be mentioned in many of these questions due to their subject necessarily, otherwise u loose the skeptical view:

Is something a sufficient condition, or only necessary but not implicating specific effect (e.g. religiousness). Not only here, alot of this religious studies results "offered" in blog posts suggest on a methodical inexperienced readers, that a correlation means causal connection. Even the exact difference between correl. - causal most avg. educated people are IMHO not aware of. If u bombard somebody with this correlations on religiousness on and on, at some time the critical treshold will be exceeded, prejudices and necessary but not sufficient correlations will lead to believing religiousness is genetical caused, is natural, is a normal thing. Thats how the fallacy goes on avg. joe and how this religious studies scientist legitimate their "research"

Its like watching complex physical processes/phenomenons and compare them by superficial properties of view, like color. Well, if there are diff. physical processes showing the same color, color has to be a natural thing!?? But its just a describing conceptual value, epiphenomenon of our human perception. Many physical process have a color, thats doesnt mean that a distinct color plays physically any role in this process. Religiousness maybe a necessary condition in many individual and social phenomenons, but not causing our nature like genes are known to do. Even there the term epigenetics exists, as scientiests came to conlusion, that genes alone not always define our nature/behaviour. No complex phenomenon can be simplified to few causal connections. But thats how human mind tries to simplify connections and most animals do, building fast usable rule of thumbs/pseudo-causalities etc. which will work of course only in specific situations but not explain the nature of anything.

So u see how long my explanation got here to make this clear, i dont want to do this methodical rant in every new skeptics.SE question striping and affirmating prejudices, as i will only achieve agreement with scientific educated people. Thats also the reason why seldom a scientist loving his profession goes into politics, its much more forming opinions than arguing & concluding truth. As with most internet boards. The SE system works better, esp. for such vague questions, but IMHO u have to draw a bottom line concerning the prejudice character of the questions, otherwise u get the countereffect and people will quote on other sites something true, as it was accepted here as correct. Then u will loose alot of educated scientists frequenting here and start a downward spiral. The skeptics section is very young, so esp. at the beginning one should draw a higher bottom line and then maybe lower it if at all. But by counting religious tagged post u can pretty well estimate how much popularity u will lose here. Thats the whole point of SE or quora system, at the beginning u have to gather some experts as it will define the quality of the site in the end, the rating system itself cannot guarentee quality, its necessary but not sufficient ;)

So what to do, esp. here? Either u forbid those questions (which anyway will not generate alot of useful information besides statistical noise) or u keep them open to exactly show how scientific methodism and reasoning works. Maybe an option, i dont know, depends likely how eager the most responding guys here are to falsify pseudo-science methodism and truths. Esp. with religious studies its hard, as these are located on true university departments, but often origined and are influenced by theological departments. So I myself would just forbid anything relating to religiousness currently, enough other sites & blogs. I dont think this is the place to missionate or anti-missionate here, belief is no scientific topic, many scientist are practically agnostics or atheist. Why misuse their methods to draw conclusions in mainly truthening questions/prejudices. I dont know how you want to reformulate this questions to make them less suggestive/prejudice affirmating.

  • 2
    @Werner, I am afraid I had a little trouble interpreting your answer. Can I summarise and see if I have understood? You agree that some questions only invite unreasonable (prejudiced) answers. You give an example of a question you think has received a bad answer - one that undermines the whole points of Skepticism. You don't think that question can be edited to be saved. You think Q&A sites have a problem of merely confirming incorrect prejudices. You want an FAQ rule forbidding questions about how groups behave, unless the the criteria for judging that behaviour is defined. Is that right?
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 4:36
  • @Oddthinking edited my post for further explanation to ur questioning comment. A FAQ rule is not the point, but IMHO u have to establish a bottom line by agreement mainly the most responding guys here as explained in my answer Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 15:47
  • 1
    I am sorry, @Werner. I am afraid there is still a language barrier; you are using a number of words that I can't figure out. It seems to me that you are talking about a different sort of question to the one I am complaining about. You are talking about topics regarding religion (or at least "religosity".) I am talking about questions where the person asks for people to response with evidence only if something is false, but doesn't ask for people to respond with evidence if it is true.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 17:37
  • @Oddthinking Maybe one should categorize into unanswerable & untruthable, but where is the difference? A prejudice = prejudice, there is no true/false, thats exactly its nature & self-guard, otherwise u could falsify it scientifically. And im not talking only about pseudo-science Qs, same goes with all the current negative prejudice Qs regarding women here. In best case no one answers, in worst case prejudices confirm each other. Even if u reformulate the Qs more neutrally, only people sharing this prejudice partly will answer. Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 20:34
  • @Oddthinking And the bottom line has to be set on a higher level currently IMHO, otherwise skeptics.SE wil get a midwifery for hoaxes/prejudices due to the each other confirming rating system. Just forbid questions on superficial properties of big human groups (gender, religious, race) "If women drive worse car than men" is ok,but "are women more religious" & co. just skip it. Rule of thumb, if u cant think of ANY reason WHY a Q can be true/false, skip it, cause 90% its a prejudice Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 20:34
  • 1
    tl;dr. (which needs 15 characters)
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 23:02
  • 1
    Okay, maybe this is my fault for inventing the word "untruthable", which may be confusing. I was trying to invoke a separate concept to "unfalsifiable". Some questions cannot be falsified (see Russell's Teapot). They are automatically out of scope: perhaps your example of religiosity fits here - that's a separate debate, not for here. I was talking about questions that DUE TO THEIR POOR WORDING cannot be proven true - the only options are prove them false or remain silent. These questions can be edited to make them better worded. I think your answer is off-topic on this question.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 1:24
  • @Oddthinking Despite you reformulate your question on Jews, it remains based on a prejudice. So my answer was IMHO pretty much on topic. You can only falsify theories, i hope we agree at least here... Truthening factors/evidence one can find for every questions/prejudice if he wants! By using manipulated data, fallacy, etc. So where is the use of the word "untruthable" at all? Untruthable does imo not relate to falsifiable in any way... Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 17:07

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