A comment below the currently deleted just now undeleted question How did the US military "put the 'go slow'" on the use of force in the Vietnam War since the Tet Offensive? begins

History doesn't work like skeptics,...

and continued with advice on how to edit the question to make it more suitable for the site.

I gathered that this refers to History SE and Skeptics SE, but I don't didn't participate in the latter (no longer true, joined 2 months afterward) and my profile shows this. To me, it feels like this is meant as as offhand, somewhat derogatory comment about the nature of my question meant to signal to others that "this is one of those crackpots".

I am probably overreacting, but I would never explain something to a user comparing a site to another unless I'd first checked to see if they participated in both sites referenced sufficiently to be able to parse my comment without risk of ambiguity or misunderstanding.

And I assume any seasoned user would show the same caution.

This is what makes me think that the comments was more of a nudge-nudge, wink-wink to other users than something meant to be helpful to me.


  1. Am I wrong? Does "History doesn't work like skeptics" carry a meaning that should be obvious to me even though I'm unfamiliar with that SE site?
  2. Regardless of the answer to the above, what is a good, helpful and actionable way to understand what "History doesn't work like skeptics" likely tries to convey?
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    Skeptics questions are often phrased “highly specific minutae” “prove it wrong.” History questions require a documentary context fit for the context laden question, with a question matching the limits of historical discourse. Which is why I suggested editing directions early. It wasn’t intended to indicate crackpot status, but a difference in kind of rigour expected here. Skeptics is widely known due to the standards they adhere to, and the homologous nature of your questions specificity and simple negation or demonstration to the nature of questions on Skeptics made me think it from there. Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 5:12
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    The editing suggestions were made to drive your question towards site suitability for history.se. History is discursive, context laden, driven by issues and theories emergent from the documentary record of the past. Individual past opinions leave most historians asking, “and their opinion was relevant because they were a participant in massacre x or war theory y?” More over the standard approach to a discourse debate is to ask about the debate rather than one utterance. Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 5:14
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    @SamuelRussell thank you for taking the time to comment! Maybe it's me but I don't see any of this captured in What types of questions should I avoid asking? or in What topics can I ask about here? so maybe there should be a canonical place that one can direct question-askers to that explains what you've laid out here and what's in the answers below. The short comment was probably instantly understandable to people already familliar with the issue, but to someone who isn't...
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 10:52
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    it's not actionable. While the comment says it is a poor match, it does not say why in any way I can understand. The proposed alternate 'Try rephrasing around "What foreign policy has the US military advocated around expanded uses of force since 1968?'" is not helpful because I'm interested in the interactions between individual military advisors and US presidents, not summaries of policies. Making that clear is the purpose of the bit beginning with "What examples are there of military advisors..." and I get the impression that asking for examples sets of alarm bells here.
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 10:56
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    What your interests are aren't necessarily on topic. Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 19:35
  • @SamuelRussell true for everyone, but simply put, OP is in the drivers seat, community controls the traffic signal. Drivers choose destinations, signals decides if they can go there or not.
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 2:57
  • My question asked What examples are there of military advisors "putting the 'go slow'" on the use of force in the Vietnam War "since the Tet Offensive"? Are there specific individuals who are noted for cautioning US presidents Johnson or Nixon to "go slow", and records of what they said or wrote to the president to this effect? isn't that pretty much what Are there any accounts written by torturers on their actions? is doing? Both ask for factual accounts by people who did the thing. I think my question is absolutely fine. So I've undeleted.
    – uhoh
    Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 1:16

2 Answers 2


There's no need to take such offence at Samuel's suggestion. Don't assume malice.

While I can't read Samuel's mind, I suspect he may have been prompted by how your question seems phrased to be fact finding for evidence to prove/disprove a claim. For example, you make reiterated requests for sources. This is the kind of question people generally associate with Skeptics, and I say this as someone who do not use that site either.

In general, History frowns upon requests for sources. While sources are integral to answering History questions, we generally prefer neutrally phrased questions that ask for one definitive, explanatory answer (backed, as a matter of course, by sources).

In your case I'd suggest asking "What did the US military advocate on the record regarding expanding the use of force in Vietnam since Tet?" would serve your inquiry.

  • hmm... I think the edit history will show that at least one mention of sourcing was added after that comment, as an explanation that I wanted to read further rather than to do any fact-finding mischief or call historical information in to question. Making it clear that I'm looking for sources is also a way to try to avoid a question being closed as likely to produce answers that are primarily opinion based.
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 9:21
  • I'm not seeing a distinction; those are all part of what I'm referring to as fact finding. Again, the point is that History prefers explanatory answers rather than source finding.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 9:24
  • ah, that last bit is both extremely helpful and actionable. Thanks! But I will be surprised if questions in History SE should not want to seek sources behind those explanations.
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 9:25
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    Again, History expects answers to naturally come with sources. I said both of these things in the answer as well....
    – Semaphore
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 9:27
  • Indeed you have. I'll have to think about this and see if I can rewrite the question in a way that doesn't seem "phrased to be fact finding for evidence to prove/disprove a claim" while still including the quote as background and explaining that I'm looking for specific examples of this simply because I find it very interesting.
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 9:31
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    No disagreement about para3, but it could be phrased even stronger. The Q in question shows in its phrasing an example: that a lot of users here post and a lot of users expect to read too many answers here that simply decline any need for 'sources'. This kind of request should be just superfluous, as such a requirement 'is the baseline'? (Well, or should be?) Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 10:02
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    @LаngLаngС Yeah, that's basically what I think about the situation. I do think all non-trivial claims should be supported by evidence and strive to do so myself, but it's something users have to promote with their primary tool, their votes.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 10:07

Most likely the poster was just under the impression you are very likely to be more familiar with Skeptics. Checking a profile for accounts only tells us that you haven't posted there with these same credentials; it doesn't mean you don't hang out there to read.

Skeptics is also in many ways a similar site to us thematically (compared to say StackOverflow, or SciFi), and has been around longer. So if one is going to make a comparison with other sites, its a good choice.

Further, pretty much every regular user here is familiar with Skeptics. This may have led to a bit of cognitive bias, thinking everyone who's here naturally knows all about that site.

Lastly, I'd postulate that perhaps users here have a bit of an inferiority complex wrt. Skeptics, and feel that everyone knows about it, but few know about us. It got out of Beta way before we did, and has its own custom theme and everything.

I'd suggest to our users that we ought to get over that. Skeptics only had about 9 questions successfully posted in the last 3 days. In that same time, we had 13. In fact, we've been getting more questions per day than them for years, even before we left Beta. In many of the ways that count, we are a bigger site than Skeptics.

  • Thank you for the thoughtful explanation and background/context, it's very helpful.
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 14:13
  • I've just now undeleted, see comments 1, 2
    – uhoh
    Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 1:22
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    we are a bigger site than Skeptics - Might want to be careful about such ill chosen statements; after all, it doesn't seem to have ended up so well for poor Lennon either.
    – Lucian
    Commented Oct 19, 2021 at 10:49
  • @Lucian - Hopefully not a lot of people have that level of emotional attachment to Skeptics.SE. As far as my actual point goes though, it seems to be holding up better than ever. We've had 9 questions asked since October 15th (4 still open). They've had 2.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Oct 19, 2021 at 12:51
  • @T.E.D.: So, you're skeptical of the level of emotional investment into Skeptics.SE ? They've had 2. - Most likely a political statement.
    – Lucian
    Commented Oct 19, 2021 at 14:20

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