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History is a field where there's a lot of commonly held misconceptions and water-cooler anecdotal information/analysis. As participants in this site, we need to be sure to carefully source our answers and attempt to follow some basic historical methodology. I see this on some answers, but then again I see other answers where people make assertions and don't properly back any of them up. Since I almost always wasn't there in the time/place the answerer is talking about, I have no basis to know whether or not what they say is true. I am therefore skeptical of all History and want to see the proof behind someone's answer. As someone with a degree in History, I have a harder time seeing professional History experts taking the site seriously unless we can provide decent backing to assuage reader's skepticism.

So I envision a good History SE answer to be very similar to a good Skeptics SE answer. To summarize their points

  • It must actually answer the question.
  • It must be factual, not based in speculation.
  • Every answer must have one or more references.
  • Its references must support the argument, and should be verifiable.
  • It must be written in a polite and neutral tone.
  • It must be written in an accessible vocabulary.

I would however be less strict on the "no original research" as I think its a great idea to include some analysis of primary source material in History.SE questions.

How we provide references should be a little specific to History SE based on commonly accepted historical methodology. To back up our answers, I think we should encourage the use of (1) relevant primary source material (quotes from participants, archeological findings, etc) and (2) Works by historians who are experts in fields related to the answer. We should discourage citing Wikipedia and other tertiary sources. Wikipedia may be useful when writing an answer to get at good historical works through their citations, or it may be ok to link in some tangential information, but we should discourage the citation of Wikipedia to directly backup claims. Claims should be backed up with concrete stuff that happened in the past that you can point to, not a Wikipedia page.

I've seen some answers that are great, weigh different pieces of evidence from important sources. I've unfortunately seen other answers that are lacking, contain a simple link to a Wikipedia page, or a blatant statement of fact not backed up by anything other than maybe what Wikipedia said.

I'm not bashing on Wikipedia, I just want to know more. What sources are being relied upon for the information in Wikipedia? What biases/problems might those sources have? Are there confirming sources? What do the experts say? Whats their basis for thinking that?

  • how are they to be less like programmers – Napoleonothecake Oct 27 '11 at 22:47
  • @Napoleonothecake I took out the reference to programmers. I mean in the sense of subjective pontificating about water cooler issues vs evidence-based sound analysis – Doug T. Oct 27 '11 at 23:48
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    I'm mainly using Wikipedia to link to the overview of a large topic that I don't want to explain in detail, it is pretty good for that. However, I try not to resort to Wikipedia to support my answer, usually trying to find more reliable sources instead. – Wladimir Palant Oct 28 '11 at 6:55
  • I think as long as the wiki article is accurately cited (specifically, the arguments you are using from it) it's perfectly fine to use. – corsiKa Oct 30 '11 at 5:21
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    Assuming the wiki article is properly cited, you could also include a direct link to the relevant source, which I've done a time or two. – Travis Christian Nov 2 '11 at 14:47
  • All of your rep on Skeptics is from questions. All of it. Answer a question there, and then you'll know why it can't be like Skeptics; no one would answer questions, because all Skeptics is, is show me the codez - that someone who's an accepted authority said, somewhere, at sometime, that you can cite. Basically, it's reportive journalism. Don't get me wrong, Skeps is awesome, but it's also no fun. – Mazura Jan 29 at 16:10
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I'm a strong fan of sources for everything. Honestly, I find most of the answers I get here very disappointing. I came here expecting to get references by experts or even hints of which Wikipedia entries to read up on the topic, but all I get is speculation.

There are some questions that can be answered with logic (e.g. "How did 14th century naval frigates fight?" or "How did Elbonia stave off communism?")

But citations will always make an answer stronger. History will always have plenty of bias, because the people who study history will have a nationalist appeal to the kind of history which they study.

However, I'd place much less emphasis on "verifiable" because a lot of history books remain as books and most are not even in English.

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I do agree that we should leverage the experience that Skeptics (and we should think about other sites that may have experience we can build from as well!)

I also agree about lessening the restriction on original research. As a moderator on another SE site, I saw someone answering questions that often mentioned the product he writes and sells. At first I was like "ugh, this guy is peddling his product" but after reading a post or two, I realized he was a very smart man who had researched his topic very, very thoroughly and was able to use his experience to help solve peoples problems. Then at the end he kindly put "I solved this problem, and a few more, with my tool -yada yada-". If I would have dismissed his original research right then, three or four people that week would have had a tougher time with serious problems they were facing at work.

But this is uniquely different than Skeptics. To the best of my knowledge (and I stand to be corrected) there are no professional degrees, certifications, or other recognitions in ConspiracyTheoryOlogy". While there are certainly plenty who devote their life to analyzing conspiracy theories (images of guys with huge bushy beards living in trailers in the mountains or underground bunkers come to mind) none of them are accredited by a university or professional trade organization or anything of the sort.

We should take any original research from a non-professional with a grain of salt as amateur. This is not to say completely dismiss it, but to keep in mind that it did indeed come from an amateur. On Skeptics, due to the lack of any non-amateur by definition, it is very easy to say "This will get out of hand, so we will require sources in all instances."

However, we should also point out that Wikipedia does allow for research published elsewhere (journals, websites, etc) to edit the content to include as long as it's done so fairly. This fairness is enforced by the community who constantly review each page (which if you actually look, even the 'forgotten' pages have a fairly recent last update date!!) I imagine if someone on the Skeptics site had published an article in a professional and recognized science journal that they would be able to cite it, and perhaps even include other evidence not published there, based on their obvious professional and expert status.

Here, with the number of professionals we have (and certainly hope to have) we should keep original research on a long leash. That is to say, not unbounded. There should be an expectation that original research is either called out (on SO and other sites, I often put [citation needed] in the comments, especially when someone's like "Java is slow, use assembly, man!" or some other unfounded claim) or backed up by professional credentials. I would not be comfortable with someone being both professional and anonymous. If you want me to trust your original, unpublished research on THIS topic, I want to see your original published research on other topics. In other words, I want to see credible evidence of your ability to perform meaningful research.

In short, laying down guidelines of what is and isn't allowed for original research will help us remain objective. If someone crosses what we define as the guidelines, we can gently point them here (and ideally this would belong in the FAQ, which we know all members of online communities read before they post, right? Right?!)

  • Did I imply it did? I'm sorry if I came across that way (4 years ago... :-) ). Basically, I'm saying if someone is going to post something that we should accept based on their experience they must be able to adequately show that experience, since they're essentially staking their reputation (real life reputation, not imaginary internet points) on it. – corsiKa Oct 25 '15 at 21:21
  • Wow, I didn't even notice the date! I thought I was looking at a more recent post. Not sure how I dug this old thing up. Sorry! – user12566 Oct 26 '15 at 6:06
  • Don't be - there's even a badge (necromancer) for dealing with old questions. I still feel my point stands, though - there should be skin in the game for people who want to post a stack exchange answer without citations. – corsiKa Oct 26 '15 at 13:46

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