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The first two paragraph of our FAQ read like this:

Skeptics - Stack Exchange is for skeptics, rationalists, free thinkers, or anyone who questions pseudoscience. 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.

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.

We feel that it doesn't make it clear enough that the site's purpose isn't to answer your "I was wondering..." or your "what would happen if" type of questions. In fact, while these are off-topic, there's nothing addressing this type of off-topic question specifically.

I have considered changing the first paragraph to:

Skeptics - Stack Exchange is for skeptics, rationalists, free thinkers, or anyone who questions pseudoscience. Skeptics is about applying skepticism — it's for researching the evidence behind the claims you hear or read. It is not for speculation nor for philosophical discussions.

However, I am not sure whether that would be clear enough.

Do you guys have any better ideas?

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To suggest a more drastic turn (mostly just to see what sticks):

Skeptics - Stack Exchange is for challenging unverified claims, pseudoscience and biased results. Skeptics is about applying skepticism — it is for researching the evidence behind claims you encounter. It is not for speculation, philosophical discussions or investigating original claims.

This attempts to focus more on the activities and subjects we care about instead of the labels of people we are trying to attract.

  • "Questioning" instead of "challenging"? "Finding and sharing evidence about"? I agree with de-emphasising the labels applied to people. – ChrisW Jul 1 '11 at 18:10
  • @ChrisW: I prefer the stronger word but am not attached to it. – MrHen Jul 1 '11 at 18:17
  • I think it's stronger in that challenging means "accused of being false" (or being unsubstantiated, which is similar). Whereas possibly questions should be more neutral. Too, it may set a combative tone (which would IMO be quite the opposite of the tone in the SO FAQ which I cited). – ChrisW Jul 1 '11 at 18:30
  • @Chris: Eh... "challenge" means exactly what we are doing here. It isn't so much combative as it is... challenging. In other words, if challenging is combative, so is questioning. My two cents. (Also, the idea that immediately after this word are three very obviously negative things...) – MrHen Jul 1 '11 at 19:03
  • "Unverified claims" aren't bad, in real life: you don't go around verifying and defining everything (in conversation, in news articles, etc.). "Pseudoscience", I don't know: I don't think it's a good word, precisely because it's perjorative and un-neutral (it implies that you've already decided that it's wrong: that you're not just temporarily unconvinced or biased against it based on current knowledge, but permanently and on-the-record prejudiced against it). "Biased source", meh: everything human has some bias, that's in our nature, IMO ... so again, not "very negative": just normal. – ChrisW Jul 1 '11 at 20:33
  • @Chris: I don't feel like splitting hairs. Like I said, I have a preference but am not attached. – MrHen Jul 1 '11 at 20:48
  • I went with this, but used "unreferenced" instead of "unverified". I think it can be improved upon, but it's better than what we had before. – Borror0 Aug 11 '11 at 20:26
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I would change the last sentence from

It is not for idle speculation nor for philosophical discussions about skepticism itself.

to

It is not for speculation nor for philosophical discussions.

Let's not beat about the bush here: surely we don't want discussion about what skepticism means, but we don't want any discussion about any purely philosophical discussions just as much. I've always found that this sentence is not strong enough when having to close philosophical questions as off-topic.

  • Agreed on all points. Changed. – Borror0 Jul 1 '11 at 11:06
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Drop the "skeptics, rationalists, free thinkers" part, unfortunately these are words are often misused for auto-identification by political extremist. If they come here, they'll turn this site into a sewer.

  • Apparently (I haven't seen it, so this is garbled hear-say) there was some discussion when the project was on Area51 about whether the forum was for a class of people or for a class of topics? And it was decided that the forum was for people? – ChrisW Jul 1 '11 at 12:53
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I agree with a more general version of vartec's answer.

Inviting people based on how they self-identify will bring in a wide variety of people (and of questions), and might even exclude others ("I have a question but I'm not a sceptic"). If you want the content (questions) to be more focused, then the FAQ must concentrate on defining the content and not the users.

Consider the opening section of the StackOverflow FAQ (and compare it with the Sceptics FAQ).


The SO section titles are a different color (blue), so they stand out better: and the title is "What kind of questions...?" (not what people).


The StackOverflow audience is described in one line: "Stack Overflow is for professional and enthusiast programmers, people who write code because they love it." The line includes:

  • one subject noun (programmers)
  • two adjectives (professional and enthusiast)
  • one verb and one object noun (write code)
  • one motive (because they love it)

Contrast that with the Sceptics opening sentence which has:

  • four subject nouns (skeptics, rationalists, free thinkers, or anyone)
  • no adjectives
  • one verb and one object noun (questions pseudoscience)
  • no motive.

As a lay person (not a professional sceptic) I find too that the terms used in the Sceptics FAQ are less well-defined (IMO everyone would agree on what 'code' is but not everyone agrees on 'pseudoscience' ... in fact maybe one reason for the forum is that people can't always tell the difference between science and pseudoscience).

So enough criticism: try to be constructive, offer an alternative.

"Sceptics is for sceptical and curious ?noun?, who question pseudoscientific claims because they want proven evidence."

(Did I get the motive right? Or is a sceptic's motive "want the truth" whereas "proven evidence" is a means not a goal? Or is "sharing" the real motive? Anyway: the above sentence is a good format/grammar IMO).


The very next sentence of the StackOverflow turns to describing the topic, i.e. the questions. Whereas the Sceptics FAQ rambles on for another two sentences, describing activities ("applying", "researching", "hear", "read", "discussions").

So if StackOverflow starts like this:

We feel the best Stack Overflow questions have a bit of source code in them, but if your question generally covers …

  • bullet list

Then the corresponding Sceptics text might be like:

We feel the best Sceptics questions are about ?what's best? but if your question generally covers …

  • Assertions published in the media without their having referenced their sources
  • Pseudoscientific claims which seem to contradict the general scientific opinion
  • Commonly-held beliefs for which there is no obvious evidence
  • ?

The StackOverflow fourth bullet point is interesting: "matters that are unique to the programming profession": top that! Is there an equivalent summary/community for the sceptics forum?


The rest of that first section of the Sceptics FAQ is way, way too wordy (Physics, Dr. Plait, a long quote): it's a manifesto, and an apology, about, "What is scepticism". It is, therefore, off-topic (my apologies to its author for saying so): the topic is "What questions...?"

So, cut all that out.

Maybe one paragraph:

This forum isn't for asking questions about science (for example "How do magnets work?"): science questions belong on other StackExchange forums, for example the Physics and the Fitness and Nutrition forums. Sceptics is especially for questioning whether various claims are even true.


Finally invite people to look around by linking them to https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/search (see the StackOverflow FAQ for how to do this; though you might not want to do it yet if you're not getting many duplicate questions and if a typical search doesn't return many matches in practice).

Add a link to "What are the attributes of a good question?":

Before you post a new question, we invite you to read this FAQ entry: What are the attributes of a good question? Questions which don't have these attributes are probably not answerable (cannot create the high quality answers which we require), and must be improved on or closed. If you have a question to ask here please understand how to make it answerable.

(Above paragraph might be edited for tone: a trade-off between brevity and friendliness, e.g. "which don't have" -> "without", etc.).

  • A phrase which might be worth preserving / inserting into the above somehow/somewhere: "finding and sharing evidence" (an activity). I say that in case you 'really' want to describe an activity; because the existing FAQ has many sentences which describe activities. The StackOverflow FAQ has, I think, one: "write code". – ChrisW Jul 1 '11 at 14:49
  • "subject noun" - Technically not a subject (grammatically more genitive or dative in that sentence), but it feels like the first-person/nominative subject because they/we will be the agents on the forum (and because that noun is highlighted). – ChrisW Jul 1 '11 at 15:23
  • What's up with the Sceptics? Is it not Skeptics? – MrHen Jul 1 '11 at 17:54
  • @MrHen - Another US/UK thing. I'm Canadian, so I and my dictionary apparently veer towards UK spellings (except when I'm trying professional technical writing when the client may prefer the US variants). – ChrisW Jul 1 '11 at 17:57
  • Hm, interesting. Thanks for the tip. :) – MrHen Jul 1 '11 at 18:01

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