Perhaps I'm merely annoyed and need morning caffeine, but I'm discouraged by the number of questions that fit the pattern, "Someone once said, or maybe I read that X; tell me more"

This provokes my inner curmudgeon because:

  • Absent a citation, it is impossible to give an answer; it is only possible to discuss. If there is a citation (e.g. "'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' advances the claim of blood libel.") then we can apply scholarship to discuss the credibility, bias and other issues that might cause that source to make that claim. [Please note, I'm using that source not to give offence, but as an example of a place where the source of the claim is very important to the answer].
  • Uncited suspicions are invitations to discussion: Fundamentally the question devolves to "People say X, I think Y, what do you think?"
  • Uncited sources mean that the querent hasn't met the minimum standard recommended by the FAQ - this is not a place to ask questions that could be answered by a simple google search.
  • In general responsible answers to questions without sources require a book length response.

I've downvoted a number of questions that I think fit this pattern, but I'm frustrated. I want the new people, I want them to feel welcome, but I honestly believe that these questions diminish the value of H:SE. They sufficiently fuel my inner curmudgeon that I'm falling below the standard of courtesy I expect from myself in this forum. If I am out of line, I welcome correction. If however others notice this trend I invite anyone who can suggest a way that we can discourage these questions without discouraging the querent. I'm going to continue downvoting them, but I shall refrain from commenting.

@DVK quite helpfully points out that it would be useful if ''I'' cited my sources

I think there were a few more that were closed.

  • 1
    It sounds like a concern worth looking at, but do you have specific examples? There's a big difference between "tell me more" and "this X doesn't seem to make sense in context, can someone prove or disprove it based on primary sources please"? The latter seems perfectly fine even if X is not properly sourced. This is History, not Skeptics.
    – DVK
    Mar 28, 2013 at 15:14

6 Answers 6


I don't see "un-cited arguments" as a root problem, to be honest. We aren't Skeptics, and shouldn't be.

The problem isn't with "harebrained un-cited idea" being used, as TED's answer put it. The problem is with that idea being formulated as unanswerable (usually, confusing or subjective) question.

In other words, it's correlation, NOT causation. Yes, many of the un-cited weird ideas arise in otherwise bad questions (possibly due to the kinds of users who would subscribe to random conspiracy theories?). But they don't cause the questions to be bad.

Let's look at your examples:

  • In all fairness, "Sea Peoples" question is good on the simple and practical ground that it resulted in good answers :)

  • Khazakh and anticapitalism is as much "common wisdom" as "Great Game" among people familiar with the culture. Whatever other faults of that question, if you yourself accept that "common wisdom" needs not be cited, this one fits.

  • I agree that #3 is a bad question, though it has problems galore aside from the one you stated. You can't figure out what's being asked. Nevertheless, it CAN be turned into a good question if someone cared enough, based on that same uncited idea, IMHO.

  • Reasons for the Renaissance - ditto as #1. Resulted in great answers, totally irrelevant as to what the (cited or nor) theory in the question stated.

  • Great Game - you yourself admitted it doesn't really fit "uncited" mold due to being common wisdom.

You seem to be confusing two different kinds of questions (and yes, may be because OPs confused them as well):

  1. Here's a historical theory (cited). Can it be proven/disproved, especially based on research done by the source I cited?

    This one is MUCH better if cited, as then the cites can be checked and peer reviewed.

  2. Here's some random information blob "X" (which could be a cited theory, or un-cited theory, or anything else) pertaining to historical area of study "Y". Can more information of a specific nature be shed on area of study "Y" as it relates to "X"?

    This one can be good or bad, depending on how focused the SECOND part of the question is. But again, there's nothing precluding the second part to be a good question (e.g. Sea Peoples as example) no matter what the excuse/basis for arriving at that question was.

    A good indicator of this is that the second part would work as a question if you completely re-worded the first part as a clarifying part of the question instead of being a theory cited as reason for asking.

In summary: Downvote/VTC questions because they are innately bad (e.g. can not be authoritatively and objectively answered aside from random opinions); don't pay much attention to whether the inspiration or the source of the question is a cited theory or not.

  • 1
    Excellent analysis. I'm not sure you persuade me on the details (I reserve the right to rail, cavil, remonstrate and otherwise glare askance at several of the questions, but I shall do so quietly). I also think the best nugget may be ". . . should work as a question if you completely re-worded the first part as a clarifying part. . . ". I'll have to try that and see if it palliates my ire.
    – MCW Mod
    Mar 31, 2013 at 20:06

First of all, if you believe the questions are inapprpriate, then you are doing the right thing by downvoting them. You could also vote for them to be closed because they do not fit our guidelines.

Secondly, I would suggest leaving a comment indicating that you believe the question is inappropriate and giving the reason why. This serves to help educate the new users as well as those who have been around a while by alerting them to the types of things that do not fit within our guidelines.

Lastly, a link to the FAQ is always a good starting point, because a lot of people never bother going there and instead just look around and decide they want to ask a question, without really understanding what SE really is. I know when I first started using SE sites, I was guilty of that, but others pointed me in the right direction and I finally figured out what I was doing wrong. Sometime they just need a little educating.


I find the tag soft-question ("For questions that don't admit a definitive answer. Please do not ask too many of these.") as used on Mathematics StackExchange (potentially) helpful in this regard.

  • In all fairness, wouldn't a LOT of questions on History be "soft" questions by your definition, due to the fact that history rarely has mathematically provable answers to questions of almost any interest aside from minor trivia?
    – DVK
    Mar 31, 2013 at 16:54
  • @DVK it's not my definition but the one that's used over at Mathematics Stack Exchange. If we were to introduce the tag here, we could adjust the description to fit your argument, which is obviously true. What I like about the tag (and its title) is that it conveys the message the a question is considered somewhat out of scope. It may teach e.g. newer members a much better lesson than downvoting or closing e.g. (some of) their questions.
    – Drux
    Mar 31, 2013 at 17:11
  • SE (look at MSO) is notoriously unfriendly to "meta" tags, and in this case I think I would agree because of how widely applicable such a tag would be.
    – DVK
    Mar 31, 2013 at 17:28
  • OK, BTW how does a meta-question (such as the present one) lead to actions (such as perhaps introducing a new tag, or whatever)?
    – Drux
    Mar 31, 2013 at 17:36
  • anyone can introduce a new tag. What meta does is ensure (if there's consensus) that it won't be deleted if someone disagrees with it. Also, if there's consensus, mods may agree to mass-retag things.
    – DVK
    Mar 31, 2013 at 17:38
  • I'm less concerned about tags, more about the overall community process, but never mind.
    – Drux
    Mar 31, 2013 at 17:42
  • 1
    worth asking as a separate meta Q :)
    – DVK
    Mar 31, 2013 at 17:54
  • Support the meta-q. I wonder if we wouldn't learn something from the questions that were tagged with the "soft-Q" (or "dubious-question" or "marginal question" tag.
    – MCW Mod
    Mar 31, 2013 at 20:09

Great question. On the one hand, as you noted, we want new people. As any stack community grows it is going to get bad questions. As Steven pointed out the FAQ is underutilized. There are definitely questions that provoke discussion, but it seems like the community is doing a decent job of downvoting/closing these questions. Also, some people really don't know how to use Google. I know that sounds crazy, but they could legitimately not know how to find what they are looking for via Google.

Not to downplay Mark C. Wallace's concerns, but do other people feel this is a very significant issue?

  • 1
    I definitely have a class of questions that drive me around the bend. Mostly they are of the "Given that X, then why Y?" variety, where X is in fact something that should not be taken as a given (often something that is just flat out wrong). Phrasing a question like that is the logical equivalent of dividing by zero; you could logically "prove" anything. Its a cheap trick to play on people who may not notice it. Mark's peeving on a similar style of question, but at least in this case the Q's are asking us to debunk X. Not quite as bad IMHO.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Mar 29, 2013 at 20:35
  • @T.E.D. - But those "Given false X" questions are the only realistic chance of people earning "Reversal" badge :)
    – DVK
    Mar 31, 2013 at 17:40

It seems to me that if you suspect this may just be some hair-brained idea he heard from one idiot, it would be reasonable to vote to close the question on the basis of it being too localized. (and of course say so in the comments)

That would properly put the onus on the questioner to show the community that more than one person feels that way.

  • We aren't skeptics. Why would "harebrained idea" be a bad basis for a question, if one results in good answer (see Sea Peoples)? As long as the question is edited to solicit solid historical info and not guesses or subjective opinions that is...
    – DVK
    Mar 31, 2013 at 16:41
  • @DVK - I'm not saying close it because it's a dumb question. I'm saying vote to close it if you think its a question that won't ever help anyone but the one guy and his crazy friend. If its a bizzare question that for some reason loads of people have, that would be a different matter (and a link would help prove that the crazy friend isn't the only person thinking that way).
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Apr 1, 2013 at 16:03
  • @TED - I'm strongly of the opinion that you can't possibly know if a question will or will not help someone else until you see the answers to it. If the answers are junk discussion, the question is unhelpful. If they are incitful analysis, it is helpful, even if the question itself is crappy. Evidence-based approach :)
    – DVK
    Apr 1, 2013 at 16:05
  • @DVK - I'm not sure I agree with that as a hard dogma, but I do have to admit to several instances (mostly on other stacks), where I stopped a question close movement by posting a good on-topic answer.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Apr 4, 2013 at 14:41

Thank you to all for good answers. Based on the meta-conversation, I'll propose that the other answer I'll take away is that when I confront one of those questions that feels like there is a nugget of a sincere question embedded within, but I can't quite winkle it out, perhaps I should just take it to meta and ask for help in identifying what the salvageable portion is.

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