It seems to be the case that we get too many answers that do not adequately cite their sources or do not present enough or any evidence from external sources to support their arguments, assertions and narratives.
Should anything be done about this?
What could be done about this?
Related to Can we flag answers because they lack sources? I would argue that we might be better off as a site if we would add the citation needed banner (post-notice) more often. And remove it equally swiftly if these quality concerns are mitigated by edits.
Unless an answer uses quite simple but ingenious types of logic or other prolegomena, like "No, you just need to boil that egg…" on a very fundamental level, history answers need supporting references from primary or secondary sources. If an answer seems to not be in need of supporting external evidence, I guess such an answer falls under what we write to close certain questions: "it is too basic" to be useful here.
That the current community consensus at least strongly supports a certain level of citations as a requirement I conclude from these meta posts:
Our answers need to be more like skeptic.SE's answers (32 upvotes):
- Every answer must have one or more references.
- Its references must support the argument, and should be verifiable.
Correcting wrong answers: a question of trustworthiness of history.SE
Do we expect answers to cite sources? (13 upvotes for question, highest voted answer 17 in support of sources) and a mod comment stating:
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.
This need for citations is in my opinion quite direly needed as a general minimum yardstick for answer quality. But it gets even worse for cases were the SE model of voting fails egregiously. A lot of answers under tags of military, war, nazi, Germany, Soviet Union, Hitler, World War, attract a multitude of opinionated answers. Answers that lack sources in support of their argument. Answers that are just popular, and gather upvotes. Answer that are popular, and just wrong.
For these cases I suspect that the citation needed banner –– and possibly a following deletion, either regardless of upvotes, or especially because of these upvotes! –– should be helpful for the site health and reputation.
That banner works both ways:
as a stronger incentive than mere comments for the poster to improve the answer with an edit that adds supporting and verifiable or falsifiable external evidence
as a reminder for readers and potential voters that the post contains either unsupported controversial, probably wrong, or otherwise lacking information
For these quality reasons I suggest that answers lacking references
- should be commented on, addressing their shortcomings
- should be downvoted, depending on level of perceived wrongness or cooperation by the poster either immediately or after the poster was given enough time to react to complaints
- should gather flags
- should almost all get eligible for flagging, and
- should be flagged for 'needs citations', and
- should be handled by moderators still on a case by case basis, but with a strong positive preference towards adding this removable post-notice
Requesting references/sources/citations via a banner may be received as being unfriendly now. This might then need improvement in the text, as preliminarily discussed in Suggesting improvements to the "Citation needed" label or post notice
But insisting on this quality standard to avoid upvotes on mere opinions is not 'unfriendly'. Waiting a while before flagging may be really polite, but shouldn't be a requirement. Even with the banner in place every poster still has chance and time to improve the posts with proper edits, adding references.
In chat (where I typically cannot find it anymore) as well in a comment below an answer for How to enforce much stronger standards for answers touching Nazi/Holocaust topics? it was said
flagging them I assume, but more importantly by putting a banner on the answer in dispute (that's as close to Skeptics as y'all got I guess … that's all I can offer you for help to understand this community, which is now all of SE thanks to the HNQ.
Users and mods seem to have different opinions and existing practices for this in place, which seem to be according to personal preferences and not always entirely transparent.
Two aspects I know exist and might need addressing, but about which I lack the expertise to evaluate them properly: - flags raised against one account do accumulate as a negative record behind the scenes - flags raised for the flagger are also recorded, counted and 'declined' flags might also have negative consequences (they certainly do 'not look good', and decrease motivation for further flagging)
So, I'd like to know the opinion on this or other options suggested from the current community:
- Should more banners be added to answers lacking references – that is: should we flag more and mods become more inclined to add banners after flags?
- What should be aspects of proper procedure for both flaggers and mods reacting to them – mainly concerning content, timing, phrasing?
For a more general comparison, we should keep in mind what the stated goals of this StackExchange are. We may have to meta-meta discuss this à la What is the purpose of this site? Or we might look elsewhere for inspiration. We hear often that the SE model is "flawed, but better than any other site out there I've ever seen". For a comparison: SubReddit Rules for AskHistorians / Answers. Where we can read quite something we shouldn't be aiming for much lower…