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Up front, imo the SE system is better for skeptical questions than whatever i saw on the web. There are some obvious PROS, that i will not describe further...

BUT reading here for a while, there are IMHO some serious fundamental problems one has to overcome, otherwise one does achieve the opposite this site is actually looking for. Verification & Falsification of not existing correlative/causal connections, truthening of prejudices,...

From my POV, as i saw the AREA51 here emerging (which wil get IMO alot used by international students, as i see no competing system on the web) IMO the goal of this section should be:

  • giving concise reliable answers without in-depth expert analysis/terminology (IMO the voting per user per visited question rate could be higher, but i just saw this section is only few months old, so probably be more patient). I dont see here dozens of answers coming on a question like in stackoverflow, where a little better/more detailed answer will often be much more appreciated. Here the answers are principally more different and logically competing, so the qualitative, short, correct answer can be detected with help of linked scientific sources by unexperienced readers and often "wins"
  • give people having a scientific education and interdisciplinary knowledge (which is often crucial for answering/googling appropriate quotes on questions here) the feeling not to read just hoaxes someone heard on a party ;) In best case he should have tried to find some keywords/make unsuccessful google search he can link. That will also show how detailed you can answer, what the pre-knowledge is

How to do this:

  • reformulate bad/vague questions by moderators (closing questions often looks esp. to newbies like shutting the door in front of their nose, so maybe reformulate a bad qestion into a bigger picture/more reasonable question in a scientific context might be a compromise. The Do Teddy help you sleep better question is a good example, likely closed as looking pretty childish, i thought myself, but after reading i fastly remembered a association to this question. Reformulating it in a more general way "Do stuffed animals have a distinct psychological function?" would have been a solution (so its too general for exp. psychology, but a question arising in everybodys life), esp. to attract more other watching the question at all and maybe responding. This also prevents that principally similar questions are appearing on and on.
  • If it is possible (i dont know all options and limitations of the SE System), i would suggest to put a standard bounty on questions like this to force more people writing an answer at all. Or, what imo would be even better, only show all given answers publicly after 12-24h. So the first plausible looking answer has not the biggest chance to succeed. Answering this IMHO from scientific pov very tricky question requires knowledge in social sciences, genetics, behavioural science (why i judge the single and often voted answer incorrect i wrote here). Stating, that religious upcoming or even our genes determine our critical rationality is highly problematic. If this would be scientific paper, no one would cite it, or rate it up. Here due to interdisciplinary lacking knowledge it got the best & correct answer. Thats the beginning of creating prejudices!

I would also ask some of the regulars here to join the AREA51-Natural Sciences and Scientific Method Section as this will likely be a good section where deeper questions can be migrated to and more interdisciplinary knowledge is placed. Non-scientists can gain there then some methodic knowledge they can use to answer more questions on skeptics here. (Would be quite interesting to know how the questioner/answerer ratio here is and how many users here have scientific background - can one do polls here?)

I personally like skeptics.SE especially because of the typical interdisciplinary questions arising here. But alot of skeptical questions are not answerable just by experience/reasoning like in physics/programming. You have to combine scientifc method with reasoning and googled data to be able to draw a valid conclusion. This implies IMHO giving the responding people some time/more incentive (bounty) to do these steps or hold the rating system a bit back on tricky questions.

Thoughts, Critics welcome...

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A lot of different points are raised here that I think have already been considered, discussed and often resolved:

  • Yes, the voting per user per visited question rate could be higher. (It could always be higher.) There are efforts, across the SE sites, to encourage users to vote more. (I was going to push it back on you, and suggest you yourself should vote on more questions, but I checked, and you're doing a better job than me!) Downvotes on questions are now free, so I hope to see more of those where appropriate.

  • You ask moderators to reformulate bad questions. The onus should not be on them. There are only 2 moderators. There are over 40 users who can directly edit a question. Other people can propose edits. (Not sure what reputation is required for that.)

  • In practice, bad questions ARE being edited (and deleted). I think there is a fair amount of activity in that area.

  • Yes, having an understanding of the scientific method helps answer questions here. I'm not sure another SE site is the best way to learn that from scratch. Perhaps we can find a good site that explains it (at a beginner, intelligent reader, level), and link it into the FAQ?

I think it is worth adding: we don't do science here, in the sense of pushing back the boundaries of humankind's knowledge. We popularise science here, in the sense of showing how science has already found answers to people's questions.

I don't find the "teddy bear" question especially childish (obviously the subject is - I mean the language.) but even if it was, there is a reason for leaving it as is. Having a title "Do stuffed animals have a distinct psychological function?", with an answer referencing a journal article: "Foam-Filled Plush Simulacra: A Meta-analysis of Psychological Studies" may be scientifically more precise, but fails at the attempt to "popularise" the result so that others can find it.

  • Yes, the earliest responses have an advantage on the StackExchange system - it is known as the Fastest Gun in the West (FGITW) problem, and it applies across all the sites. There are many solutions to address it (including randomising the display of all questions at the same vote level.) To me, the most important is getting the OP to accept the best answer, so it appears at the top and garners the lazy votes (i.e. people who vote after only reading the top answer). I actually think the problem isn't as bad here - I have seen the direction of voting change when people post comments (e.g. complaining about lack of references.)

  • From previous discussions, I understand you feel strongly that it is prejudicial to claim that religiousity has a genetic factor. I remain unconvinced; you haven't yet made your case, BUT: don't make your case here on meta.

    • Add a comment to the answer you object to demanding references or arguing that it is meaningless,
    • Post a competing answer that makes more sense
    • Add your own bounty to encourage better answers (with a comment on the question explaining what you are looking for)
    • Perhaps even flag the question to the moderators and make your case to them that it is inappropriate.

We have existing mechanisms to address this. No need for new ones.

  • Overall, you are concerned about the quality of the questions and answers. I take a different view. After hanging around Skeptics.SE, I have been spoilt for other Q&A sites (including SE sites). I want to shout at the users "WHERE ARE YOUR REFERENCES? WHY IS ANYONE VOTING UP THIS CRAP?" I think that there is good evidence that your concerns about lack of interdisciplinary knowledge are unfounded; it is working in general. That's not to say we shouldn't try to improve, or it works in every case.
  • 3
    reputation required to edit anything: zero – Jeff Atwood Jun 11 '11 at 10:15
  • Good input. We agree, that SE works pretty fine for simple/middle tricky Q and you explained correctly why. Thats not my point. Im concerned about more tricky Q, which look to somebody without alot interdisciplinary knowledge like any other Q here, because of the mostly simplifying formulating, so he googles for some verificating data as on the mentioned religious question. But same goes for questions on women here. Im agnostic, no militant anti-theist. IMHO one has to be pretty cautious on why/how distinct human groups behave, likely you end in popularising racism/prejudice – Werner Schmitt Jun 11 '11 at 15:55
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I think the bigger issue here is that there is a collision of expectations with regards to what this site is actually for. I wasn't involved in the Area 51 discussion on this site; I discovered it after it had entered beta. For some reason, I assumed that this site was for the deeper, tricky questions. Dropping the good stuff into another SE site seems like it would rob Skeptics.

The idea that answers should be referenced should avoid most of the issues of bias or prejudice. An answer is true or it isn't and it should be providing backing references and evidences. If the wandering SE community flies through a question and systematically upvotes a poorly referenced answer... well, I suppose that is a problem. But I feel your proposed solutions are too complex.

But I do completely agree with the idea of editing or reformulating the bad/vague questions. I believe that questions — not only answers — also need to be held to a higher standard.

  • reading oddthinking post, my proposeds solutions doenst seem to work due to SE system. But than maybe one should just delete questions which will likely imply prejudices/racism. I have never seen a scientifc study correlating human single/group behaviour/properties from the molecular level to the phenomenological human level. To me such questions seem outside the scope of this site, when even scientist dont try to draw such conclusions. At best one can start at the fundamental brain structure level, but not at the molecular level. Genes are necessary for everything in human, but not sufficient – Werner Schmitt Jun 11 '11 at 15:56

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