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I've noticed that heavily downvoted answers tend to have one thing in common: they do not have any quoted material or links that would incorporate an in-universe primary source (or behind-the-scenes interview with the creators).

It seems like it would be very easy to eliminate all such answers by preventing an answer from being submitted unless it has at least one quoted passage or external link.

Would this be an effective way to maintain a standard of answer quality?

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  • -1 with friendly disagreement – AncientSwordRage Apr 2 '14 at 0:23
  • This should be phrased in neutral tone so people don't DV just because they disagree with the idea – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 2 '14 at 2:00
  • @DVK, I changed the tone of the last paragraph; did I make it more neutral? – sigil Apr 2 '14 at 3:50
  • Downvoted due to the lack of a quote or external link. Just kidding. I did downvote though, for the same reason as Pureferret. – James Sheridan Apr 3 '14 at 3:01
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    @DVK, except on Meta, one of the standard ways to indicate disagreement is to downvote the question. – Martha Apr 3 '14 at 15:54
  • @Martha - that's the point. The question should be worded neutrally, so the only "disagreement" can be with "you shouldn't have asked it"; and sides should be taken by answers – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 3 '14 at 16:08
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As someone who frequently demands (in polite form, in comments and not always DVs) backing up one's answers with primary sources, let me clarify both why that's a good idea to prefer, and why it's a bad idea to demand the way Skeptics demands their answers' assertions to be proven.


Why is source citing deemed a good idea in general? (an answer citing a source is more likely to be upvoted[1] than one that doesn't, leaving aside downvotes)

  1. Most people who have good questions posted here are specifically interested in things from the point of view of a source material. Any answer not based on source material may very likely be off-topic for any given specific question.

  2. Moreover, it's very likely that a random question that is NOT interested in an answer based on source material is a bad fit for SE format; as any random speculation is an "equally valid" answer.

    Please note that this is not a hard and fast rule - some genuinely great questions violate it - but it does seem to be a good first approximation.

  3. If an answer is based on a source material, but doesn't cite, there's no way for a reader to ascertain whether the answerer made things up, or made a mistake, or was 100% accurate; except if the source material is universally well known (Vader being Luke's father can slide by without a citation... Darth Plagueus being a Muun is a lot less well known).

  4. Some people may actually misunderstand the nuances of the source material; and answer incorrectly even with correct source material in mind (because the critical detail they are missing was in 1-2 words in the quote). Lacking said quote, people won't be able to catch the error.


Why is demanding a source material reference in every answer not a good idea?

  1. First, because of exceptions. Some (admittedly rarer) questions aren't necessarily based on source material.

    For example, this one - while not great, it's not bad IIDSSM - asked for a logical explanation of something; none of the good answers needed or had source citations except for one. Many were out of universe.

  2. Some (again rarer) great answers aren't necessarily based on source material (see Izkata's meta answer for an example of this). They may be based on pure logic; or some "real life" fact; or general knowledge synthesis.

    Additional examples: Based on real life comparison; another one based on logic and real life comparison - though the latter one also falls under #4 below.

  3. Sometimes, you can have a good answer based in source material; but where the answerer has no easy way to access the citation (no softcopy/searcheable text; no googlable screenshots). They remember the basis of the information; but have no tangible proof of that.

    Admittedly, such an answer isn't fully good until the citation is fully added; but if the answer is detailed enough, the citation merely adds finish to already good and correct content.

    For example, see my (correct and based on recalling the source) answer here - and a better answer with more votes with an actual cite of the fact in the same question.

  4. A variation of that is an answer referencing extremely well known facts from canon that are useless to cite (e.g. my answer here - one of my most highly voted - referenced well known Yoda behavior and other SW facts with zero cites).

  5. It would be incredibly difficult to implement correctly via technology. Even Skeptics does it by hand.

  6. There's no great need. We have reasonably decent community moderation; a vast majority of speculative answers with no cites are commented on and don't gather many upvotes (and sometimes gather DVs, though rarer).


[1] - For example, see some of the top users by rep - Thaddeus ([in]famous for posting answers with tons of comic book illustrations); Slytherincess (who was the first user on the site to obtain per-tag gold badge; and [in]famous for quoting HP books verbatim); and yours truly (also generally attempting to post quotes in good answers).

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  • This makes sense--the point of the site is to encourage good discussion, and the exceptions that you mention are ways of responding that accomplish this even without citing sources. As I mentioned in my comment to Izkata above, though, citations don't detract from an answer (when correct), and are helpful for readers who have little familiarity with the source material. I'd really like to find a way to make this a more strongly research-based site, as I feel like that will make the content more useful. – sigil Apr 2 '14 at 2:04
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    @sigil - it's actually to discourage discussion (whether good or bad) (there's even a VTC reason for it), and a sourced reference can help with that, but despite this DVK has the main bases covered well here. – user8719 Apr 2 '14 at 9:06
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    Plus this would prevent primary sources, which we would love to have more of - e.g. authors or other people directly involved, who simply know or have the authority to state, or questions where someone can do primary research. We are not Wikipedia, and don't want to be. – Tony Meyer Apr 2 '14 at 9:24
  • @TonyMeyer, I'm always extremely skeptical when someone claims to be a primary source without authentication, but I see your point. It seems that the type of Q&A environment that the current user group is seeking does not lend itself to the type of automated governance that I proposed. I'll need to think more about how to achieve quality control while preserving the desired functionality. – sigil Apr 2 '14 at 18:34
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    @sigil We had a person claiming to be the writer of Groundhog Day post an answer before. The answer was interesting, it made sense, and it matched up against the supposed blog of the writer - but in the end, there was really no reasonable way of authenticating them. – phantom42 Apr 2 '14 at 21:36
  • @phantom42, for that reason I don't think that claiming authorship adds any real value in a forum like this. An answer is either interesting and logically correct on its own merits, or it isn't, regardless of whether the answerer identifies her/himself as the author. Being the author shouldn't get you off the hook for citing your sources--if you didn't put it into the canon text, that's your problem, and if you're really the author you should have no trouble creating and publishing a new piece of canon to prove your point. – sigil Apr 2 '14 at 21:46
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Very no. Those heavily-downvoted answers are generally so because they're proposing something that doesn't make sense, or that other users know to be wrong due to more familiarity with the source material. Those are the times when linking to a source is a good idea.

Good answers don't necessarily need to have any sources at all. For example, my highest-voted answer, to In “The Matrix Revolutions” How Does Neo Stop the Machine Weapons in the Real World? (+55/-2 at the moment) has no links to external sources.

For a second example, I once answered a Fringe question with no links or quotes. It was entirely about reasoning how the plot of a single episode could have made sense.

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    That Matrix answer has no links, but it has quoted text from the film dialogue, and screen shots--which I think makes it a strong answer because it cites a source and develops a theory based on the citation. – sigil Apr 2 '14 at 0:47
  • @sigil In general, an unsourced quote is not a good idea, because there's no proof that you're not making it up. This one works because it was a very well-known line from the movie itself. But yeah, that was why I added the second example, too. – Izkata Apr 2 '14 at 0:48
  • @Izkata - I think you're missing the point, sorry. The percieved problem isn't that you can't prove that you didn't make up the quote - worse comes to worst, someone can verify that by Googling your quote - but that you (notional answerer) based your answer on BS inside your own head and not the source material. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 2 '14 at 1:33
  • As for the Fringe answer, I haven't seen the show, but your answer seems to rely heavily on events and in-universe rules as they are described in the source material, so I understand why it was upvoted. On the other hand, a quote supporting that the paradox happened that day wouldn't hurt, either. I'm just trying to figure out how to alert a responder that their answer has too much conjecture before they post it, and I thought making them add a quote or link would help screen for that--kind of a CAPTCHA for crackpots. – sigil Apr 2 '14 at 1:50

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