As this site is aiming to be a verifed reputable source of information I think we need to discuss what to do with answers that are clearly not based on science, but rather on some spiritual guru's teachings without any kind of research or paper or even as much as a Wikipedia article backing it up.

Yesterday I encountered an user danny_boy. Some of the claims he made are:

Healthy kidneys can work out 6 cups per day comfortably
Eyes are connected to the liver. Weakness in the eyes means weakness of the liver, and vice-versa.

In one of his comments he said the most disturbing claim I've seen regarding the human body:

For example, people like kissing because tounge is connected with the heart, and that is why during kissing people feel their heartbeat increase, and "butterflies" etc... In the same way there is a connection between eyes and liver. One example is my friend who was drinking coca cola extensively and damaged his liver that way - he has poor eyesight now

The source he mentions is http://thegreattao.com. On the site there's no citation to any paper or clinical trial.

So the question is: Should we require users to cite a credible source in their answers? What if they don't have one? Or if it's not deemed credible? What sources should be consider credible?

3 Answers 3


I'm not sure if we can require citations on every answer, because some questions are mostly based on experience and are likely to vary between users (i.e. there isn't one best training plan)

I would simply refer to this blog post about Good subjective, Bad subjective, which talks about the Back It Up! Principle.

Back It Up! means that your answers must be based on either:

  • Something that happened to you personally
  • Something you can back up with a reference

They talk about how “opinion, by itself, is noise.” They’re not saying that subjective opinions are to be avoided; they’re attempting to mold and shape their inherently subjective Q&A into something constructive, informative and helpful. As it turns out, there is an entire field of subjective “expertise” that has the hallmarks of making great Q&A sites:

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Currently, I leave comments trying to get users to elaborate on their answer, with varying degrees of success. This is something which every user can do (and I know a lot of you do). The only other tools regular users have is downvoting an answer, because its either wrong or lacks sufficient 'backing up'.

While we moderators have the possibility to delete really bad answers, this both requires us to see all the bad answers and be able to judge that it is bad enough to warrant deletion. Some, if not most users, don't take deletion very well, because they feel more entitled to having their answer around than the requirement of improving their answer into something decent. So while I'm not really sympathetic to their arguments, I'd prefer to give users a chance to redeem themselves before acting on their posts.

So I propose that if anyone encounters an answer they think is not sufficiently backed up, they leave a comment asking for valid references or sources and flag the post for moderator attention. If the post isn't edited within a certain grace period, we can consider deleting it.

  • That's usually the typical process I have seen for improving posts: comment on post, edit or update, and then leave downvoting and deletion as a last resort. Downvotes and deletion are very harsh, and I would rather encourage people to produce good content and improve themselves and the site through this kind of growth.
    – user241
    Apr 2, 2012 at 15:02

Requiring sourcing from a narrow pool of accepted sources would very quickly make this community inbred. Just as a counter example, I consider any reference to calories to be dubious for a number of reasons, and have yet to see anything that comes even remotely close to convincing me that the calorie hypothesis has any place outside of physics and in nutrition, yet plenty of people seem perfectly content to repeat it as if it were a theory.

Flagging any post talking about calories has as much merit as flagging a post that talks about meridians, and which hypothesis wins out and gets treated as a theory here depends not on any sort of scientific validity but on opinion of the people who happen to have been selected as mods (which I know from the RPG stackexchange to sometimes be incredibly arbitrary). I'd much rather it be left alone, so people can be exposed to conflicting opinions, do their own research and draw their own conclusions.

  • I understand where you're coming from, but what would you do about clearly idiotic advice (like the 6 cups max a day above) that may even cause someone to get sick.
    – anon
    Jun 25, 2012 at 8:45
  • 1
    I dunno, what do we do about clearly idiotic advice like suggesting someone who wants to lose weight keep going into a calorie deficit? That'll definitely cause someone to get sick if they lack good sense to realise it's stupid before they drop down to less than 1000 calories a day. Evidently, clearly idiotic is in the eye of the beholder. Hell, what do we do about John Berardi in Scrawny To Brawny saying it doesn't matter the quality of food you're eating, just the amount? That's "clearly" a load of horseshit too.
    – Robin Ashe
    Jun 25, 2012 at 8:51
  • I see that you really dont like calories :) I mean I know that losing weight is more than calories in/out but it seems that you entirely dismiss the idea. Can you point me to an article that summarizes your views about it? Or if there isn't are you interested in writing one? I would like to read more about this.
    – anon
    Jun 25, 2012 at 9:01
  • Sure, I could write one. Give me a few days/weeks to gather my thoughts and put them coherently into text, organise it and get it proofread. I haven't seen any article yet that summarizes all my thoughts, only some that address one or two points.
    – Robin Ashe
    Jun 25, 2012 at 9:05
  • Great! Just don't forget to ping me when it's done :)
    – anon
    Jun 25, 2012 at 11:02
  • How about this?fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/5791/…
    – michael
    Jun 25, 2012 at 19:57
  • Oh, that definitely covers one of my objections to the calorie hypothesis, but I have quite a few more on top of that.
    – Robin Ashe
    Jun 25, 2012 at 20:12

I agree somewhat with @RobinAshe that requiring sourcing from a narrow pool of accepted sources would be relatively bad. However, it is my opinion that there should be some substantial evidence pointing to anything that is given as an answer. Someone somewhere should have done some sort of study on the topic at some point in time. If absolutely nobody has researched it or done any scientific study on it, and there are no sources whatsoever, then the given answer is strictly opinion, and has no factual or provable basis.

Answers that have absolutely no provable basis would (in my opinion) be best left as comments instead of answers. Even if the answers have questionable sources, some source is better than no source at all, especially when the answer given flies in the face of modern known and proven science.

I am absolutely against requiring sources from a selected pool of "accepted" sources, but I think that anyone answering should be able to quote and cite a source as the basis for their belief on any topic when they answer, and I don't think that's unreasonable.

While I also agree in principle with @IvoFlipse that personal experience is a valid "source" in many cases within the realm of fitness, (I was (scrawny, fat, out of shape, etc) and I (worked out, dieted, quit bad habits, etc) and I (gained muscle, lost weight, am in better shape, etc) after having done so.), if it worked for you, then I can guarantee without any doubt that the same thing has worked for others, and someone has done some sort of scientific study on why it works (if even for only certain people), and therefore, your "personal experience" will be backed up somewhere by someone using an entirely rational scientific explanation.

Obviously, using your power to upvote and downvote answers will be the biggest help in identifying people (via their reputation) who are known to give well documented sources and those who give nothing but opinion. To cite @IvoFlipse's answer:

So I propose that if anyone encounters an answer they think is not sufficiently backed up, they leave a comment asking for valid references or sources and flag the post for moderator attention. If the post isn't edited within a certain grace period, we can consider deleting it.

  • I like this approach. Other users can definitely challenge a point that they think needs more support, but it shouldn't be a requirement. If there are reliable sources that counter the point being made, then just give a better answer and wait for the upvotes to come in.
    – user3085
    Jul 3, 2012 at 20:03

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