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We should start thinking about how our FAQ should look like. It would be nice to have a preliminary FAQ shortly after the start of the public beta.

The general structure (from The 7 Essential Meta Questions of Every Beta) should look something like the following:

Super User is for computer enthusiasts and power users. If you have a question about …

  • computer hardware
  • computer software

and it is not about …

  • videogames or consoles
  • websites or web services like Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress
  • electronic devices, media players, cell phones or smart phones, except insofar as
  • they interface with your computer
  • a shopping or buying recommendation

So we should come up with a short list of questions that would be on-topic and that would be off-topic.

Just post your ideas in this question, we don't have to get it perfect on the first try. We'll see which rules work and which don't during the public beta.

  • Many of the answers below use the term 'woo'. As a native English speaker, I'm pretty sure I know what 'woo' means in this context, but it may be too obscure for many visitors to this site. I suggest that we find a suitable alternative that is more easily understood by a wider audience. Perhaps the sentence in question could be reworded more like "...anyone who questions the claims of pseudoscience and other areas on the fringes of accepted science." (I'm not completely thrilled with that sentence either, but I think it's a step in the right direction.) – oosterwal Mar 25 '11 at 19:32
  • @oosterwal We already removed "woo" from the FAQ, you can see the current FAQ here. – Mad Scientist Mar 25 '11 at 19:41
  • Thanks for the link. – oosterwal Mar 25 '11 at 20:27
  • @oosterwal, Why is "woo" a hard word? – Pacerier Jun 18 '15 at 9:49
  • @MadScientist: the "faq" link now takes you to skeptics.stackexchange.com/tour. Is the FAQ still out there somewhere, or has the tour page usurped it? – tniles May 16 '16 at 15:45
2

Skeptics - Stack Exchange is for skeptics, rationalists, free thinkers and anyone who questions woo and pseudoscience. Skeptics is aimed at applied skepticism, not for philosophical discussions about skepticism itself.

You are in the right place if you have a question about the veracity of referenced ordinary and extraordinary claims that do not come from a reputable scientific source, including, but not limited to:

  • the mainstream media
  • urban legends and myths
  • advertisement
  • activists
  • wikipedia and other non peer reviewed or reputable sources

Questions pertaining to the following are considered off-topic, too general or subjective and argumentative

  • unreferenced questions, when the claim cannot be examined
  • questions about the whys and hows of Skepticism itself
  • questions about non-scientific topics such as philosophy, religious or political belief or theology
  • 1
    How should we address real scientific claims about non-scientific topics? I'm not talking about scientific claims made by religious or political groups, but rather claims made by a scientific journal about non-scientific topics or groups. For instance, what if N. Engl. J. Med. published a paper that claimed that Green Party members have a higher life expectancy than Libertarian Party members? Do we close the question because it is related to political parties, or because it may seem inciteful, or do we allow it because the claim comes from a source deemed to be legitimate? – oosterwal Mar 25 '11 at 20:11
  • Note: I'm not suggesting that your submission is flawed, I'm trying to open up a larger dialog about how to address questions that arguably fall into both categories. – oosterwal Mar 25 '11 at 20:13
2

I like the suggestions so far, but I think they need a few changes.

  • I don't think it is (or should be) just about science. It should be about any kind of dubious claim. Including political or historical claims.
  • It's ok to question scientific sources, if the claim is dubious or contentious or extraordinary.
  • 'woo' is a colloquialism which is more-or-less synonymous with pseudoscience, but less descriptive and more pejorative.

I'm happy for others to edit my answer to make small changes, additions, or clarifications.


Skeptics - Stack Exchange is for skeptics, rationalists, free thinkers and anyone who questions pseudoscience. Skeptics is aimed at applied skepticism, not for philosophical discussions about skepticism itself.

You're in the right place if you have a question about the veracity of claims that don't come from a reputable source, including, but not limited to:

  • the mainstream media
  • urban legends
  • myths
  • chain letters
  • adverts
  • activists

Whatever the claim it must be possible, at least in principle, to evaluate it empirically. Questions about the following are considered off-topic, too general or subjective and argumentative:

  • the whys and hows of Skepticism itself
  • non-factual topics from domains such as philosophy, religious or political belief or theology

Please ensure you provide a source for the claim you're questioning, and details of the claim itself.

You can also ask questions about claims which do come from an otherwise reputable source, if that claim is dubious or contentious or extraordinary. For example, if your doctor claims you must drink 8 cups of water a day, feel free to ask us if that claim is backed by evidence. Or if you see a scientific journal article claiming to provide evidence for ESP, feel free to ask about that too.

However, if your question is prompted by personal skepticism about specific details of a particular field of knowledge, but it is not about a claim which is dubious or otherwise questionable, then please asks the experts of that field. For example, if you are skeptical of the claim that a particular established method of measuring the distance of stars from Earth is superior to another established method, while a skeptic may be able to provide an answer, you're better off asking an astronomer or a physicist.

  • I think we are getting there, I agree conceptually but it can be probably formulated in a better way. – Sklivvz Mar 14 '11 at 9:43
  • @Sklivvz: Yeah, I'm not happy with the wall of text at the end especially. – Mark Lapierre Mar 15 '11 at 6:35
  • 1
    I have a problem with the restriction on non-reputable sources, questions about claims from reputable sources should also be on-topic, e.g. the arsenic-based bacteria story from NASA. We need to draw a line at research-level questions, but I don't think we should restrict ourselves to claims from non-reputable sources. – Mad Scientist Mar 16 '11 at 9:34
  • @Fabian: That's what I intended to account for in the 2nd-last paragraph. Do you have any ideas on how to make that paragraph more concise and relevant, without diluting the fact that most Skepticism does deal with disreputable sources? – Mark Lapierre Mar 17 '11 at 4:15
  • I think @Fabian was referring to the sentence just before the first bulleted list: ...veracity of claims that don't come from a reputable source,... Perhaps this could be more like: ...veracity of claims that come from: and include 'Reputable Sources' as another bullet item. Also, in the sentence following the second list, 'ensure you' can be omitted to sound less demanding, and the last two paragraphs can be omitted as well. – oosterwal Mar 25 '11 at 20:25
2

Another attempt at the FAQ, shamelessly inspired by the others that preceded me.


Skeptics - Stack Exchange is for skeptics, rationalists, free thinkers, or anyone who questions woo and pseudoscience. Skeptics is aimed at applied skepticism — it's for researching the veracity and the evidence behind the claims you hear or read. It is not, however, for philosophical discussions about skepticism.

Basically, if you have a question about the accuracy of public claims made in the media or elsewhere, if you're interested in the evidence behind what you hear or read, then you are in the right place.

If your question is not about a particular claim, or if it is about research-level science, the following sites may be better suited for your needs:

What is Skepticism? It's strongly related to science and the null hypothesis; that is, everything is false until proven true through strong, verifiable evidence. Dr. Phil Plait defines Skepticism this way:

It’s really easy to fool people, and it’s really easy to fool yourself, and if you use these skeptical ideas, you find out what the truth is. The whole idea of skepticism and science is to find out what’s most likely to be true, and what’s most likely not to be true.

That’s the goal: to not fool ourselves, and that’s where the real power of skepticism is. That’s why it bugs me when people think it’s a negative thing — it’s not! It’s the most positive thing we have. It is the search for the real, objective truth.

  • Good. I would add more sites to the list of non-claims - like this it looks like those are the only possible alternatives. – Sklivvz Mar 20 '11 at 10:14
  • @Sklivvz: I tried adding more but couldn't think of any. Feel free to edit my answer and add more. – Borror0 Mar 20 '11 at 10:16
  • I hereby declare any question that's even remotely on-topic for Skeptics, off-topic for Fitness & Nutrition. Our goal is not to validate claims about certain products, so I'd prefer if they would simply be and remain closed on Skeptics. – Ivo Flipse Mar 25 '11 at 21:27
2

Should we also hit the top key things answers are being downvoted for?

  • I know a (insert expert) who says (insert otherwise unsupported claim)
  • I saw (insert example) happen just yesterday so I know (example) to be true
  • ...?
  • +1: I agree that specific questions, or groups of similar questions, that are 1) deemed unacceptable, and 2) show up 'often' should be addressed in the FAQ. ('often' is a relative measurement that is related to the magnitude of annoyance caused by the question or, in extreme cases, the person asking the question.) – oosterwal Mar 25 '11 at 20:02
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Most Stack Exchange site are expert-to-expert sites. An expert asks a difficult question and another expert answers his question. Skeptics.SE, on the other hand, is much closer to vulgarization end of the spectrum: we refute the bad science we hear about on a day to day basis. Skeptics.SE is to science what factcheck.org is to politics. We validate or debunk myths.

I don't think we can, or should, define what is on-topic or off-topic based on what subject it's about. To put it bluntly, the scope of this sites covers all hard science, from physics to biology, and then some.

What really matters, here, is where the claim is from.


Skeptics - Stack Exchange is for skeptics, rationalists, free thinkers and anyone who questions woo and pseudoscience. Skeptics is aimed at applied skepticism, not for philosophical discussions about skepticism itself.

If you have a question about the veracity of scientific claims that do not come from a reputable scientific source, including, but not limited to:

  • the mainstream media
  • urban legends
  • myths
  • chain letters
  • adverts
  • activists

and it is not about

  • skepticism itself
  • philosophy
  • theology

then you're in the right place.

  • Why the focus on where the claim is from? Shouldn't we be considering all claims, regardless of where they're from? Isn't the validity of the claim what's important, not its source? For example, a recent paper about ESP was published is a reputable scientific journal, yet that subject is perfect for Skeptics.SE. – Mark Lapierre Mar 3 '11 at 6:00
  • @Solus: I can't think of a way to categorize on-topic questions other than by source. Otherwise, you could say that all scientific questions are on-topic here. You're welcomed to suggest an alternative approach. – Borror0 Mar 3 '11 at 16:59
  • @Borror0: How about changing "...where the claim is from" to "...whether the claim holds up under scrutiny" or, to stick with the notion of its source, "...whether the claim comes from a reputable source"? And then after "activists" add "or other dubious or contentious sources"? And finally, maybe exclude established/mainstream science by adding "established science" to the 'not about' section (or something similar?). Let me know if you agree, and if not I'll post an answer and see where the votes take it. – Mark Lapierre Mar 4 '11 at 8:32
  • @Solus: I like it. Made some of those changes, but I don't understand what you mean by "established science." Could you elaborate on that? – Borror0 Mar 4 '11 at 12:17
  • @Borror0: By that I mean science which is mainstream, but most importantly, has strong theoretical and empirical foundations. Like evolution. By putting that phrase in I'd hope to include on this site claims that appear in what would be considered mainstream scientific journals, like Bem's ESP paper. Or articles appearing in less mainstream but still "official" journals (every paranormal psychology journal?), e.g., explorejournal.com/article/S1550-8307(06)00327-2/fulltext – Mark Lapierre Mar 7 '11 at 5:21
  • @Solus: I think Bem's paper would be on-topic if we followed my current proposed FAQ, based on the fact that it's been mentioned to many times in mainstream newspapers. As for paranormal journals, open a question about it. Comments are not best medium, IMO. – Borror0 Mar 7 '11 at 17:44
  • @Solus: I think @Borror0 is right to want to screen the source of the questioned claim. There are enough sources that produce obviously outlandish claims so often that they should not be considered as a legitimate source of debate. The stereotypic supermarket tabloid is an example of this kind of source. Other sources, like The Flat Earth Society, are similarly outlandish and unscientific, but because of the harm they can do with their fallacious 'scientific methods', should be addressed with the same seriousness they use to make their claims... – oosterwal Mar 25 '11 at 19:41
  • ...I'd like to also add that popular urban legends that have no published claims should also be addressed. I recognize that other sites, like Snopes, the Urban Legends Archive, and Open Directory, already do a decent job of debunking these myths, it's beneficial to have more answers on this site than to have fewer answers. – oosterwal Mar 25 '11 at 19:55
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I've taken another try at our FAQ, I tried to keep it as short as possible, as I don't think most people will read it if it is too long.

Skeptics - Stack Exchange is for skeptics, rationalists, free thinkers and anyone who questions pseudoscience. Skeptics is aimed at applied skepticism, not for philosophical discussions about skepticism itself.

If you have a question about the accuracy of public claims made by people, groups, corporations, in the media or elsewhere — if you're interested in the evidence behind what you hear or read, then you are in the right place.

Questions about the following topics are off-topic on this site:

  • philosphical discussions about skepticism itself
  • religious questions
  • political questions
  • research-level science questions

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