Is it acceptable for users of this site to post un-referenced responses to questions which can be answered objectively?

That is, are responses along the lines of "based on my experience and research, the answer to your question is [blah]" acceptable? Or, instead, will we try to enforce a standard around the user of references - ie., "here are some papers which I have published, that answer your question"?


6 Answers 6


I think this is a diffcult problem to come up with a general policy decision on, because it has many depths.

For one thing, there are the rather basic questions, where there's a simple explanation you know to be objectively true, but you can't find any papers on it because it's been unquestioned truth for a century, OP might just not know his physics (say) well enough. For these things, I think we'll need to accept a leisurely "explain this and move on" attitude; the community shall surely be inhibited by anything else.

Other than that, there are so many levels of quality when it comes to research. If you set a rule where accepted answers must cite a peer-reviewed research, you may think you're doing so in order to establish a definite quality marker, but that is in fact a very arbitrary line on a quality gradient.

There will be good answers out there that will not be able to cite the necessary research. In the soft sciences particularly, you'll find a lot of things are exceedingly difficult to quantify. At the other end of the spectrum, in the hard sciences, you'll find a lot of published papers that simply aren't very good.

I have a feeling that any definite policy here, though well intended, will be to the detriment of the entire community, because the world simply isn't black and white, and you can't draw a line between good and bad answers on the basis of references. Surely, if there are contradicting answers, the one with the most reliable references should in the end be the most upvoted and eventually accepted answer.

I think the process of voting, and of being able to contribute to an old question at any time, and to change which answer is accepted at any time, will prove to be a more flexible and reliable measurement of quality at the end of the day, and if an answer suffers from its lack of references, that will surely be reflected in the number of upvotes it receives.

  • 1
    "where there's a simple explanation you know to be objectively true, but you can't find any papers on it " - exactly. This is what I meant in meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/5/… as a "common knowledge", but your explanation here is a lot better.
    – Suma
    Commented Mar 3, 2011 at 8:10
  • I concur, and per the disagreement about original research re. Blackle HERE, I think the route used plays a huge role. Using a device to simply go and measure (Kill-A-Watt) is significantly different than positing conjectures from an arm-chair. I have no problem with the former -- plus, providing the data allows others to replicate as desired anyway.
    – Hendy
    Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 20:24
  • This calls to mind the question from the RPG stack exchange, Can you drink a potion one-handed underwater? Brilliant example of original research. ;)
    – Wildcard
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 2:35

There's no way we can check the credibility of random internet "researchers" nor the credibility of their "researches". But we can check the credibility of provided sources to some extent.

Allowing original research undermines the very principles this site is based upon.

We have no way to know if the random "researcher" guy really did the research, if the research was valid, if the results were as he said, if the guy is unbiased, et cetera et cetera. If the asker wants to really evaluate the research and decide whether it's good or not, the asker must do the research himself and/or find credible sources to see if their research results match random internet "researcher". But why ask then? Why not do all the research yourself in the first place?

Also, this was already discussed. Sources are must = no anecdotal evidence, no original researches, seems clear enough to me. So I am going to continue to downvote every unsourced answer as I did before, no exceptions.

  • 2
    Often, when I check the sources of several highly voted answers on this site which cites a seemingly reliable references, they are citing the source out of context. On the other hand, there are several well thought out answers that are voted down by the "unsourced" zealots and "no original research" zealots. I enjoyed my time here, but I'm starting to doubt that Skeptics.SE has any value at all for the Internet and Skepticism.
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 19:40
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    @Lie: Feel free to make your case in an answer of your own. As for me, +1 to Sejanus for expressing my own opinion well.
    – MrHen
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 20:06

Some are applying a strict "no original research" policy and down-voting anything which fits that rule. I find this ironic. Down-voting original thoughts and experiments? Isn't skepticism all about not implicitly trusting what you read, finding out for yourself and publishing your thoughts, rather than just regurgitating what someone else said?

Wikipedia is always wheeled out as a fine example, but I think it's a poor one. Wikipedia's "no original research" policy is sometimes to its detriment: it is basically a glorified link farm with executive summaries. A very good one, to be fair, but it'll never generate anything new.

So, does this site want to conform to the currently accepted wisdom, or expand on it? If there's no original research, then we'll never move forward. We can never answer a question which is outside of the contents of Wikipedia.

I think original research is wonderful, so long as individual claims are backed up by independent research (as @Solus links: FAQ: Must all answers be referenced?). This is something we should encourage: gathering together existing research, adding your own, and then making a deduction to answer something new. Otherwise, we're just a glorified http://lmgtfy.com

  • 4
    Original research is great, in the appropriate forums - professions, research foundations, universities. But if original research is posted directly to this site, then to everyone else it becomes "what some guy on some message board said" - which is exactly the type of nonsense skeptics are constantly fighting against. If you are deducing something new then its far too easy (especially on internet sites) to jump to unproven or unreliable conclusions.
    – Nicole
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 17:08
  • 2
    If we can only link to existing research, then we're just selectively linking to parts of the "average wisdom" we agree with. I claim that posting an answer here is publishing. If each answer with original research ended with a link to itself, in addition to references backing up stats, would that suffice? There is absolutely no usefulness to this site - and I find this in practice - if it can only link to other research, because pretty much every answer is a duplicate of: 1) Google keywords, 2) Click on wikipedia, 3) Read references. Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 17:20
  • @ Renesis: Amen.
    – user288
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 19:15
  • well then answerers need to do better (vote them down). Or the questions are too easy. Either way, that's not a problem solved by original research.
    – Nicole
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 19:50

Is it acceptable for users of this site to post un-referenced responses to questions which can be answered objectively?

I suspect that (unlike on Wikipedia) it ought to be OK to post original research, instead of just citing research already published elsewhere: provided that the research is referenced and peer-reviewable.

For example, I recently asked the question, Does the "Eatwell plate" cost £16.70 per week?

For this question, original research could provide a useful answer, if the research were referenced. For example, someone could say:

  • Here's a shopping list I invented (publishes the list)
  • Here's what it costs (links to grocery store costs)
  • Here's showing that this list meets the definition of an "eatwell plate" (shows diatetic calculations)

In that case their "original research" would be peer-reviewable and reproducible (perhaps, even, more practicable even if less authoritative).

It depends on the subject: I couldn't "peer-review" an answer to question about rockets, but, this isn't rocket science.

Some (not all) "anecdotes" are verifiable and reproducible, for example, "I've found that you can buy 2.5KG of baking potatoes at Tesco's for £2.00".


I think it's fine. I think it would be better if the answerer also posted the published research which prompted their unpublished research.

And of course, if there is published research which answers the question, someone else might post that. I would be inclined to give that one my upvote, all else being equal.


Yes, permit "original research"

What's wrong with "original research"? Let the voters decide if it has the merits you're otherwise looking for. Why do you need to solidify your idea of a "good answer" as the only acceptable for of an answer?

If I see a claim,

A half dozen is 9 eggs - ACMEw York Times

I may chose to say,

ACMEw York Times is wrong, a "half dozen" seems to be 6 eggs on my reading of the statement and not 9.

I'm confused as to why simple multiplication and division should not be permitted on Skeptics.SE. We're a community of laymen trying to get to the truth, not mere volunteer human Google Scholar assistance. Different questions will have a different standard of establishing a valuable answer and even if we should hold scholarly articles supreme, we shouldn't exclude other valuable contributions.

  • That somewhat agrees with my answer: which is to allow it, if the topic is simple enough that we can "peer-review" it ourselves: which is probably true for school-level topics such as arithmetic and simple physics; and much less true for university-level topics such as medicine (and economics).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 23:53
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    This highlights the difficulty with the term "original research". We have several answers that use simple multiplication and division that have garnered votes without controversy. That appears to be community supported. The problem starts occurring when (a) the premises aren't referenced, and (b) the CHOICE of which operation to apply isn't referenced (or immediately obvious). We get answers that, while more sophisticated, are equally unjustified as answers to "How old is the shepherd?"
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 0:06
  • @Oddthinking If you are exercising skill and judgement that is not so trivial that it could be characterized as a purely mechanical exercise, I would consider that original research.
    – user5582
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 0:20
  • 1
    IMO this question is an example of why original research should not usually be allowed. If you do the exercise in your head ("More fibre causes bigger stools which are harder to pass: that's obvious!") then the answer is purely theoretical and is also wrong (contradicted by experimental fact). Conversely if you try to answer by experiment, your result is probably worse that any 'real' (publishable) experiment: for example because you'd be using a sample size of 1, lacking a proper control, etc.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 0:31
  • @Articuno Conversely I thought that this answer was an outstanding example of "original research": using well-referenced high-school physics and web sleuthing. IMO it's an example of why the accepted answer to this meta-topic is that original research should (occasionally/exceptionally) be allowed.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 1:57
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    Also I thought that this is not a very good question. But, better to give such a question no answer (and a downvote if you want to) than to give it a poor-quality answer.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 2:00
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    Evan, this is arithmetic, not research. Nobody is discussing the use of arithmetic. Your answer doesn't make any sense with this example.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 10:44
  • @Sklivvz so what, what did I utilize to answer your question? multiplication and division are just arithmetic too. Then again, I don't for a second think you rejected it because of the method. It was the conclusion.. Essentially, "FIND A WAY TO VERIFY MY BIAS, OR I WILL MOD-DELETE YOUR ANSWER." Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 0:18
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    Evan: Yes, it could be that @Sklivvz is acting completely out of character, and every single, ostensibly sensible, reason he is giving to explain his actions is to hide his secret and unrelenting campaign to grab power by... um... validating the claim in a tweet, but until you have any evidence apart from personal incredulity, please stop the character attacks.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 7:15

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