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A few hours ago, I flagged an answer because it had no sources. The contents seemed plausible in part, but without sources an uninformed reader cannot quickly check for him/herself or dig deeper without a lot of googling. My flag was declined with the message:

declined - flags should only be used to make moderators aware of content that requires their intervention

However, in a comment on another meta post I was informed by a mod that unsourced answers can be flagged. The comment was:

Just as an option for you to consider, you can flag a question for not containing sources and I will put the citations required post notice on it. So you don't necessarily have to post a comment if you are wary of the usual interactions that ensue.

The last sentence of this comment is very important because when I've commented on answers lacking sources, I've sometimes had, shall we say, less than appreciative responses.

Note: I'm not saying that mods should accept any flag on an answer with no sources; some members here intelligently put bits of common knowledge together to produce solid answers, and I'm happy to upvote such answers (though such cases are a distinct minority). I am left wondering, though, why we don't do more to urge posters to improve the quality of their answers (as we seem to more consistently do with questions).

The above raises a number of issues, some of which have been commented on extensively in other meta posts, but for now I'm just looking for clarification on my main question because at the moment I'm a little confused.

Can we flag answers because they lack sources?

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    As you wrote yourself: "we can flag" those. Problem here is they are handled at least intransparently, and that then looks like arbitrary. As 'mod declining a flag' cannot be discussed properly without going to open sth on meta. This needs more guiding. Since it now seems to hinge on '1 particular mod agrees with flagger' & 'declines if not' (big problem if mod should share the same bias as OP) – I'd suggest a rule of thumb: flags for src-req should err (almost always) on the side of accepting them. If A writers refuse inclusion, we need much more banners. Occasional opinion fests be gone! – LаngLаngС Aug 23 at 12:14
  • @LangLangC In regard to your suggestion of more extensive use of post notices, I assume that you haven't yet seen the latest blog post about Improving feedback,and making it less "unfriendly"? – sempaiscuba Aug 23 at 13:55
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    @sempaiscuba Now I have. Doesn't change a thing about my preference for having less opinion, less unsourced assertions, more supporting sources in posts. The blog may perhaps indicate that the banner text might need improvement, but posts lacking sources still need some banner…? Requesting sources is not unfriendly, putting up that banner if requests aren't followed up isn't either. Other sites are much quicker to use them (for & remove). Why should History of all sites be so much more lenient on insisting for robust evidence over hearsay from bro-science misheard once on a bad TV channel? – LаngLаngС Aug 23 at 14:05
  • @LangLangC I don't think that we are more lenient. Of course the banner should be applied when appropriate, particularly when requests for sources receive no response. But if a request has been made, then imo we should allow the OP to respond to that request before flagging for a banner. – sempaiscuba Aug 23 at 14:09
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    @LangLangC Personally, I would like to see every question and every answer include cited detailed sources to support every non-trivial assertion. I'm not convinced that liberally sprinkling banners around the site will achieve that. Others may feel differently. – sempaiscuba Aug 23 at 14:12
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You can definitely flag answers for lacking sources. If nothing else, moderators would, where appropriate, put up the "citation needed" post notice.

However, as far as I am aware, there is currently no community consensus to use moderator powers for removing unsourced answers. Accordingly, outside of certain extreme situations (e.g. holocaust denialism) these flags would not lead to deletion. Speaking personally, though, I would not decline such flags.

In general, whether you flag them for it or not, please downvote answers without citations for being low quality.

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    Thanks for confirming that, and I would certainly not flag for deletion purely on the basis of lacking sources - there would have to be something else badly wrong for deletion to be reasonable. – Lars Bosteen Aug 23 at 14:41
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What follows is my personal take on this. Other moderators may take a different approach.


You can absolutely flag answers that lack sources. Those answers will then be reviewed by a moderator. If appropriate, the moderator will then add the "Citations required" post notice:

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.


However, sometimes the answer may actually include a rather vague 'citation', for example something along the lines of:

"See memoirs and other literature from the period"

That answer would certainly lack specific sources, and would undoubtedly be improved by adding examples (if they exist), but it does complicate the question of whether it is really an 'unsupported assertion'. In such situations I will review the flag on a case-by-case basis.

If the content of the answer is very contentious or controversial, then I would generally still add the post notice.

However, in less contentious cases, my preference would be to add a comment pointing out that the answer would be improved enormously by citing specific examples of those "memoirs and other literature", rather than just adding the generic post notice, which has frequently been claimed to be an unfriendly form of feedback.


Which then brings us to the question of how I would deal with the flag.

In most cases, I would probably mark the flag as "helpful", but I am also aware that the system maintains a record of 'bad' flags against accounts (I don't think it necessarily does anything with them other than keep count, but I am nevertheless aware that a record is kept).

If I feel it is appropriate to add the post notice then the flag was clearly helpful, and will be marked as such.

In other cases, I will usually look at the context. For example, had there been any other comments asking for clarification, requesting sources, or pointing out errors prior to the flag being raised, and had the OP been given a reasonable time in which to respond?


Just as a side-note, I would argue that it is always important to allow people a reasonable time to respond to requests for improvement in comments (for both questions and answers) if we are to be seen to be treating them with "fairness and impartiality" (to quote the Theory of Moderation).


So, to follow through on that example, if I feel that the issue had already been raised in comments, and that the OP hadn't had a reasonable time to respond, then I may decline the flag. Simply put, at that point, the issue doesn't yet require moderator intervention.

But I will always try to deal with every flag on merit, and on a case-by-case basis.

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    Interesting. 'Helpful' and 'action' are a separate thing? Thought they were tied by design. Plus: the system also and definitely keeps track of 'declined flags' (although I certainly do not know all of the consequences involved in that). Concerning 'time to respond': 'unregistered' seem to ignore this to 98% of cases, and other users 'seen twice' after comments seem certainly unwilling to edit. I also assume the lack of 'expired flags' indicates mods here err on decline? – LаngLаngС Aug 23 at 13:47
  • @LangLangC What effect do you think a post notice will have on unregistered users that never return? What would be the point of adding it? I believe that most flags raised on History:SE are actually helpful. The lack of 'expired flags' probably indicates that mods are fairly active here. – sempaiscuba Aug 23 at 13:52
  • Mod activity is excellent, but lack of 'expired' may as well indicate an assumed 'forced decision' mental model of actions to take. If that concerns declining flags because a user had presumably not enough time to respond, that seems to me a prime example for this. The banner can be added and removed. And I guess it is both incentive for the poster and a sign for readers that they should take various doses of salt when evaluating posts. The latter being much more important for 'unregistered' posts that don not get deleted outright. – LаngLаngС Aug 23 at 13:56
  • @LangLangC I would suggest that downvotes are equally an ".. incentive for the poster and a sign for readers that they should take various doses of salt when evaluating posts". I would also suggest that giving someone time to respond to existing requests in comments before raising a flag for moderators is not unreasonable, bearing in mind as I said, that banners and post notices are frequently criticised for being an unfriendly form of feedback – sempaiscuba Aug 23 at 14:04
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    Waiting to raise a flag in these cases is appropriate (often). But TTR is not stopped when the banner is up. What concerns me is that eg War/WWII/Nazi/Soviet/Communism posts full of myths attract enough upvotes even if completely unsourced and 'popular, but wrong'. – LаngLаngС Aug 23 at 14:11
  • @LangLangC That is, of course the flaw in the SE model. History isn't (or at least shouldn't be) a popularity contest. We live in an imperfect Universe. – sempaiscuba Aug 23 at 14:14
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    Also imperfect in those parts and in the way we actively construct it. Here we allow too often inferior posts to gain UVs. That is more social science experiment in futilities than is good for a History site. Being fully aware that then there might still be terrible answers that do add some (equally if not worse, terrible) external support, I maintain: more banner-activity (in quicker adding and removing) might help to improve our universe. – LаngLаngС Aug 23 at 14:26
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    @LangLangC Perhaps you should create a meta question to that effect and see whether there is a consensus to support it. – sempaiscuba Aug 23 at 14:32
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    Thanks for investing your time and effort in a detailed answer. I certainly see where you are coming from but have become wary of posting comments as they are rarely well-received by the poster, especially for answers and may lead to retaliation. Perhaps a more politely-phrased banner would be appropriate, or an anonymous comment allowed for downvoters? I would really like to see the effort put into dealing with 'questionable' answers at least equal that put into dealing with 'questionable' answers. – Lars Bosteen Aug 23 at 14:38
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    @LarsBosteen I can empathise with your concerns about a less-than-friendly response from the poster. Even moderators need a thick skin in that regard! I think that changes in the wording of banners & post notices, together with more anonymity for those providing feedback seem to be the direction of travel suggested by the recent blog post that I linked. For now, we will just have to wait and see what follows. – sempaiscuba Aug 23 at 14:47
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    Contemplating your new-metaQ suggestion: 1. Isn't what I suggested implied by other meta posts (require srcs, more like Skeptics with 32 UV etc? 2. If that blogpost announces 'changes soon to be' to post-notices, would this now be the right time to now open another meta about them here? What is the timeframe or discussion/input channel for what's to change on the network level (plus they always talk SO, not SE)? – LаngLаngС Aug 23 at 15:00
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    @LangLangC 1. No, I don't think so. 2. If you think that moderators adding more banners to answers will somehow improve the site, then now is probably as good a time as any to make your case. I suspect that there will be a number of changes coming our way in the near(ish) future anyway, now that we have graduated, so changes to feedback will just be one more in the queue. Beyond that, these seem to be questions better suited to the blog post itself (admittedly a bit clunky), or Meta:SE. – sempaiscuba Aug 23 at 15:13

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