One of the key themes of Stack Exchange right from the start has been that you can't have a site about everything. Each SE site has a topic, users who are devoted to that topic, and who will ruthlessly exclude questions that aren't on that topic. This can be a bit confusing at times, especially to new users, but the value of a focused community that knows its specialty and works to emphasize it outweighs this...

In the League of Justice, each hero combines forces to make something greater than the whole — without sacrificing their original identity. The power of the League is self-evident and testament to the individual strength of each member.

Stack Overflow Blog: Why Can’t You Have Just One Site?

Skeptics is a bit of an odd duck in this, since its topic isn't quite as obvious as, say, Cooking or Gardening. This site isn't about medicine, or history, or nutrition, although questions on all of those topics can be on-topic... It's not even about Skepticism!

Skeptics is about applying skepticism — it's for researching the evidence behind the claims you hear or read. It is not for philosophical discussions about skepticism itself.

That said, it does have a topic, a set of questions that are on-topic and a much larger set that aren't - just like every other SE site. The key is in that first paragraph from the FAQ I just quoted: it's about claims heard or read.

It's tempting to let this scope just keep expanding until it does cover everything... Now, I don't pretend to know every claim ever said or written. But I've spent a lot of time engaged in idle speculation, and I know what that looks like:

This is dangerous. With no burden of proof on the asker that someone else believes the claim they're asking you to fact-check, you risk losing your specialty... And eventually, your experts. D'ya think Superman would keep showing up for the League of Justice if folks were bugging him every time they needed furniture moved or a jar opened?

Now, that doesn't mean every single claim has to be backed by a New York Times article making it. You could probably even let "It's commonly said..." claims slide, if the claim is actually common knowledge. But if there's any doubt - if one person shows up, searches for evidence that the claim is notable, and then disputes the claim (leaves a comment, or flags for moderator attention) - then it's the responsibility of the asker (or your friendly neighborhood editor) to dig up a real, verifiable source. After all, if it's actually common knowledge, then there should be some reference to it out there...

Please, don't let this site become SE Answers, the dumping ground for idle curiosity and pointless speculation. Don't cripple your superhero: cite, flag, or close, and let your experts focus on real claims.


3 Answers 3


I would suggest our policy is similar in principle to Wikipedia: Skeptics.SE is about addressing notable claims.

References in questions are unlike references in answers:

References in answers are used to provide evidence that a claim being made in the answer is correct. We expect the sources have a level of scientific validity.

References in questions are used to provide evidence that a claim is notable. We don't expect the sources to be scientifically valid, but to demonstrate either a lot of people have heard of the claim, or that some notable person(s) make it.

  • 15
    Skeptics.SE: Stealing pages from Wikipedia's book since February 2011.
    – Borror0
    Jun 18, 2011 at 18:56
  • 3
    This Wikipedia-inspired quotemanship is a unilateral, unfair scepticism. It dismisses unpublished expert opinions, but admits various junks from popular culture. Restricting to only “notable” claims is stupid: wouldn’t Wikipedia be better in it? Oct 19, 2014 at 7:02
  • 2
    I'm sorry, @Incnis. I don't understand the complaint. What does "quotemanship" mean to you? "Unilateral" to which party? Does "dismisses unpublished expert opinions" refer to the other key rule instead of this answer? Calling something "stupid" isn't an argument. As to whether Wikipedia would be better at it, I would point to our track record at accuracy, and the number of questions we cover that Wikipedia does not.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Oct 20, 2014 at 2:05
  • I know this is from ages ago, so I hope it's okay to still comment on it. I've got to say that I've always seen the "notable" requirement to be very flaky and stop a lot of good questions. People very frequently post a question based on a Facebook picture that's currently going around, so apparently that's somehow "notable" (despite myself usually never having seen the picture...). Is a blog post notable? Is a Youtube video? Because then it seems like I could just (anonymously) make one of those sources and post it as an example. Where is the line drawn? Mar 19, 2016 at 22:33
  • @YungHummmma: It is not clear that your concern that any Facebook picture counts as notable matches the outcome of good questions being stopped. When a claim is posted on social media, we look at the number of likes/shares/votes etc, to see if it has been widely distributed (and hence notable for our purposes) or not.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Mar 19, 2016 at 23:49
  • 2
    You just violated your own rules here by closing this question. Any public statement made by any sitting US President since the 1940s is notable, by any notably meaningful definition of "notable". A notably ludicrous statement made by a sitting President is doubly notable. Aug 1, 2018 at 18:14
  • @DavidHammen: Ask a separate question. The comments are no place for this.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Aug 2, 2018 at 2:49
  • @DavidHammen: See here
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Aug 2, 2018 at 4:17

I believe that, being a skeptics site for the people, not for top-notch scientists, everyone should be allowed to have an inquiring mind and a skeptical attitude and manifest it in here through a question. Restricting this based on how notable a claim one makes will no doubt discourage people from asking obscure, undiscovered, or too localized things that may prove quite valuable for the site, as they would gather people that know more about the topic than most of us.

Questions with no context demand answers that supply different contexts with their different particularities. I believe that a passionate skeptic is a curious fellow, who wouldn't mind doing some research of his own, not relying on the OP to have done this. Absurd claims would quickly turn out no results upon trying to research them, so there is no real danger here of wasting vast amounts of time for nothing.

Besides that, what's the difference if I claim some absurd theory and ask about it here, or I find someone else on the internet that makes some absurd statements, promotes them heavily and I reference my question with a copious amount of links? The nature of the claim is the same: bullsit will remain bullsit, no matter how referenced or notable it is, good, interesting facts with curious outcomes will still be interesting to research and discuss, even when not referenced. The rest, is just the digital equivalent of bureaucracy.

[Taken from my answer for this question]

  • 12
    I strongly disagree with these sentiments. The answerers here already have a higher burden of effort. Expecting the asker to do a little research is good for any number of reasons. The idea that questions with no context is a good thing blows my mind. Questions with no context is very, very bad.
    – MrHen
    Jun 19, 2011 at 15:17
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    @MrHen "The answerers here already have a higher burden of effort" - This is what happens when they try answering anything, irrespective of their interests. Let people that are interested in a topic find pleasure in researching it and posting answers. If you expect the same people to be interested in answering all the questions, then, yes, no doubt, this will be a burden. But this is not the point in the long run. Think of it like it's on Stackoverflow: people have certain preferences and specialties; a C++ expert won't be as interested in Objective-C questions and won't answer those.
    – luvieere
    Jun 20, 2011 at 9:44
  • 6
    The higher burden of effort has nothing to do with interest. A well-formed answer here needs references and fact-checking. It is likely to be much longer than an answer at Stack Overflow.
    – MrHen
    Jun 20, 2011 at 13:24

When I grew up I encountered a lot of what you may call "childhood myths and mysteries".

Some of them were simply wrong, because they were outright lies told by adults or because they were a result of our imagination. (Sorry, kids, there is no Santa Claus...) We either found out about the lie, were told about it or the idea became so "unplausible" to the adult mind, that we didn't think about it any more.

On the other hand, some of those mysteries we later found out to be true or at least highly plausible. I remember my grandfather always wanting beer from brown bottles - not green ones because - as he said - it tasted better. I didn't drink beer back then and don't do now, but I never understood why this should be true - and I wouldn't have found out unless some people actually researched this: Brown bottles protect their contents better from ultraviolet radiation which in turn may influence taste. (Since taste is highly subjective, I suppose this question would be off topic, and I agree with that.)

Finally, there are some things that seem to have been forgotten. Can you grow Garden cress on a sheep? This claim was made by a friend of mine, recently, and I remember, that we talked about this during our childhood, too. Too bad we didn't have internet back then to discuss this topic online. (It might have given me a valid answer or at least a "notable claim".) This stuff would grow on sheep fur once it's separated from the animal so why not on a live animal? Sure it would be interesting and fun to simply try, but besides the need for a sheep and irrigation, I wouldn't be sure if this doesn't hurt the animal in any way.

I do not oppose the "notable claim" requirement in general. I would suggest some more "flexibility" when it comes to enforcing it. Does it really serve the community if a specific question is put on hold within minutes? Is it perhaps better to at least have the option to see if the question is voted down (or up) or maybe even answered?

I'm German and one of the stereotypes associated with us is that we love obeying rules simply "because they exist". If the traffic lights show red, we wait. Period. We do so at 2 a.m., no other cars in sight and with our wife in labour on the back seat. Of course that's an exaggeration, but the attitude is out there and personally, I don't like it.

Among sane and "cooperative" adults - which I think we all are - it should always be an option not to enforce a certain rule - no more, no less...

Personal opinion... Feel free to vote it down if you don't agree. One of the first things I learned on SE is not to take down votes personally. ;-)

  • 1
    1) If lots of people believe the claims about beer bottles and sheep cress, it is on topic here. (Tasting "better" is tricky, but it turns out we already have a similar question.)
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Jul 31, 2018 at 3:02
  • 2) Our experience is that bad questions that aren't immediately closed tend to draw bad/conflicting answers, and then it is very hard to untangle them fairly. Far better to put them on hold immediately, so they can be fixed with less hassles.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Jul 31, 2018 at 3:04
  • 3) I, alone, come up with hundreds of random "shower-thoughts" questions in a year that I would like someone else to do the hard work of answering, even though they are just idle curiosities. Should we burn out the answerers' limited time by wasting it on such nonsense?
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Jul 31, 2018 at 3:06
  • @Oddthinking I'm with you on 1, somewhat on 2 but I have fundamentally different thoughts on 3. However, I'm aware, that it's the community making the rules - not me, so this is not meant as a complaint but just an opinion. Obviously the community may have made experiences that I couldn't even think of and it's nice to have people explain it to unexperienced, but interested and curious people like me.
    – Thomas
    Jul 31, 2018 at 6:49
  • 3a) No answerer is forced to "burn their time". There were - very few, admittedly - questions that I was fairly confident I might be competent enough to answer. Still, I made a personal choice not to answer it for personal reasons. (Usually someone came up with an answer at least as good as what I could provide and much, much faster.) Nobody pays me to answer questions and the idea that there're people out there committed to answer questions just because someone asked (and phrased a good question) seems a bit weird to me.
    – Thomas
    Jul 31, 2018 at 7:04
  • 3b) (And I think that's all I have to say and from then on I will "shut up and read".) There is a community out there capable of voting. I know it's not a primary intention of votes but OTOH I don't see anything wrong in voting up a question because it is of personal interest for me. Yes, there are millions of idle curiosities, but maybe some of them happen to be really interesting for others and thus of value for the community - which could show their interest by using votes.
    – Thomas
    Jul 31, 2018 at 7:15
  • Remember that the purpose of stack exchange is to create a library for helping many people, not to answer questions to help a few.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 31, 2018 at 20:53

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