I'm confused about what references are always required.

This answer was deleted by a moderator (Borror0). It was in reply to this question. I transcribe it for you below.

My confusion is that in this answer on Meta, Borror0 wrote,

Obviously, not all claims have to be backed up. If the question can be answered with high school level science, no references are needed. The asker can always browse Wikipedia if is still skeptical.

I tried to question/clarify that via comments, but with no answer.

The thing is that it seems to me that my answer below contains nothing but high school level science (and therefore no references are needed).

I said that I'm willing to find references if someone wants to express any kind of actual specific scepticism. In this answer I make 5 claims, all of which IMO are based on high school science. Did you expect 5 sets of references as 'proof' of each claim, even though so far as I know no-one has or would dispute any of these claims?

I would sometimes, for claims which seem to me entirely uncontroversial, prefer to wait for someone to ask for a reference:

  • It's not worth providing a reference whenever no-one is interested and/or if everyone already agrees
  • More importantly, until I know the nature of the disagreement I don't know exactly what I'd be trying to prove: what argument I'd be trying to provide a counter-argument for.

I don't know how to satisfy someone who says [citation required] for the whole post, without saying which sentence[s] of the answer needs a citation, and/or what the object and nature of their scepticism is.

Here follows the deleted answer in question. The moderator's comment was,

You should know by now that, with skeptics, it's [citation needed]. meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/5 This is, at best a comment. I'm deleting this, because you should know better.

I have heard this argument time and again.

I heard it from my dietitian. I complained I was sleepy after lunch: she told me to eat smaller meals, more often ... starting with breakfast.

Having a more constant supply of fuel to your body is helpful when you want energy to work all day.

Human race started off as hunters.

Really. They might have started off as prey. And the reference which you cited about homo habilis said "scavenger".

Doesn't this mean that humans are genetically tuned to eat heavy meals once in one or two days?

No. Do you think we're genetically tuned to sit around on the cold, wet grass in the dark? Just because we had to put up with it doesn't mean it was good for us or that we're suited to it.

The presence of canines in human teeth indicates meat eating capability

Canine teeth are also present in horses, antelopes, etc.


3 Answers 3


First of all, the major claim is not high school level:

I heard it from my dietitian. I complained I was sleepy after lunch: she told me to eat smaller meals, more often ... starting with breakfast.

That isn't something that we teach in high school. At the very least, we have no such classes in Québec. I'm sure you'll agree with me, since you took the time to refer to your dietician.

While it's good you've got your information from an expert, I'm gonna need a reference. Whatever makes logical sense may be wrong. Without empirical data, we cannot know whether our assumptions are correct. That's more or less the basis of skepticism. This is missing.

The high school clause is for really basic stuff. If we get a question about perpetual motion, we're not going to ask references. It's pretty basic physics. That's not your case. The claim which truly answers the question in your post is not this basic. That's why it does not meet your standards. (In general, when discussing nutrition, it's best to cite studies. To be blunt, it's not the most exact natural science there is.)

  • So that one is the questionable claim, is it? Not the other four? Now that I know which claim you're disputing it's at least five times as easy to find some corroborating reference. And, it would be even better if you'd mention what it is about that claim that you find dubious, and/or why? Without any specific scepticism to address I can just quote basics e.g. from the Canada Food Guide: "Have breakfast every day. It may help control your hunger later in the day."
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 12:38
  • Also I thought (perhaps wrongly) that information on the level of the Canada Food Guide also counted as "really basic stuff": that's it's information covered during middle-school phys. ed. class.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 17:01
  • 2
    @ChrisW: Beyond being basic, it also has to be correct. The plum-pudding model may be high school level, but it's also a gross generalization. The same thing can be said of the Canadian Food Guide.
    – Borror0
    Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 19:28

It's not worth providing a reference whenever no-one is interested and/or if everyone already agrees

If no one is interested in anything that you have to say in your answer and/or everyone already agrees with everything your answer is superfluous.

  • That would be true: so to say "deleting this post because it's stating the obvious" would be fine. But I find that "citation required" without saying which bit of it is controversial (and if possible also what's questionable about it) is insufficiently informative.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 13:06

You are misunderstanding what this site is about

Scientific skepticism means:

Scientific skepticism is the practice of questioning the veracity of claims lacking empirical evidence or reproducibility, as part of a methodological norm pursuing "the extension of certified knowledge".[1] For example, Robert K. Merton asserts that all ideas must be tested and are subject to rigorous, structured community scrutiny (see CUDOS).

So let me repeat this again:

  1. Back up ALL your answers with reputable references. Any answer to an on-topic question should have at least one reference.

  2. Answers based on logic alone are philosophy. Leave them for another site or forum.

  3. Personal anecdotes are not valuable answers.

  4. There are NO exceptions.

  5. Expecting moderators to question your answer before providing references is bad form and it will treated as such. Repeat offenders beware.

  6. A lazy answer provides at best marginal value to the site. Avoid.

I hope the policy is clear now.

  • I thought it was clear now, but at the risk of being a repeat offender I have one more question: this question asks people to interpret a specific study. Interpretation (e.g. quoting results and 'explaining' them) may be done without referencing anything except the study in question. Here is another example of that: just analysing/interpreting the study that's the subject of the question, without further references. Hm?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 14:47
  • I agree that answer to those question could be better if they included references to other studies of similar topics, and/or to "peer" reviews of the studies in question: and that those answers therefore may include references.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 15:34
  • I think both cases need references: "yes, this study is reliable because {link}", "no, this study isn't reliable because {link}". Note that for example valid sources can be something different than other papers, for example, in one case (I'll dig it up if you need) we debunked some actual papers based on the bias of the authors (they were paid handsomely by a million-dollar grant by an interested party and also did disclose bias plentifully on the internet).
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 19:04
  • I used to agree with this, but I now disagree with the rejection of logic. I find it silly, and that the requirements for references are going overboard. Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 8:32
  • The rejection of logic is insane, and equating it with philosophy is showing a lack of understanding. Logic is a proper branch of mathematics. I.e. a claim is sufficiently dismissed if we show it assumes both A and not-A, even when there's no reference to be found that proves either A or not-A.
    – MSalters
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 8:06
  • Logic is ok when based on fact. Logic alone is a rejection of skepticism and does not belong here. Go on phi or Christianity etc if you enjoy mental masturbation :-) @MSalters, lennart
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 8:46

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