I've read numerous SE questions that are based on information provided by unreliable sources. Examples:

I've provided answers to these questions. In both cases, my answer rightly scrutinized the credibility of these unreliable sources. In the replies to my answers, I've been attacked for scrutinizing these unreliable sources. Further, in the white genocide question, the replies to my answer attacked MY sources, which were the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, (three sources which collectively have many Pulitzer Prizes for journalism) and Wikipedia.

These replies suggest to me that bad sources are good (and can be used to support a claim and must be beyond scrutiny) and good sources are bad (and must be attacked at face value without even a link to support the claim that they are bad).

Does stackexchange have any guidelines regarding acceptable sources? Also, do I have any recourse to report replies that are bad faith attacks on good sources? Or would this sort of report be going too far?


3 Answers 3


Does stackexchange have any guidelines regarding acceptable sources?

Not really. politics.SE doesn't even have a strict requirement to use any sources in answers, though they are recommended (see here and here).

However, politics.SE is bound to the Code of Conduct of stackexchange, which forbids bigotry.

If an answer uses white supremacist sources, I would flag it and maybe additionally use the "Contact us" option to make sure the appropriate action is taken. For questions, I personally think such sources may be acceptable, depending on the question (if it's not representing the issue as fact, but indeed questioning it, it should be fine).

do I have any recourse to report replies that are bad faith attacks on good sources?

Comments are fleeting, so the standard for deletion is lower than for answers.

Personally, I would delete such nonsense comments, because they don't add anything of value ("reputable news organizations are biased" could be added as comment on almost all answers) and they reflect badly on the site. You can try to flag them as "no longer needed", I wouldn't get my hopes up though. But if the discussion about the validity of sources gets too long, it will likely be moved to chat.

These replies suggest to me that bad sources are good (and can be used to support a claim and must be beyond scrutiny) and good sources are bad

Politics.SE always had and always will have a certain amount of politically motivated votes on comments and answers. In the current political climate, certain groups will not accept any credible sources as good sources. They will say that we cannot know anything, and that what white supremacist groups say is just as trustworthy as what the New York Times says.

Certain questions will attract more people of this group, and will be of little interest to anyone else. The South Africa question is sadly such a question. The current state of the question is a shame for politics.SE, but such occurances are in a minority. Generally, these groups will get outvoted, and generally valid sources are more welcome here than post-truth musings about the unreliability of all sources.

  • w.r.t your consideration to I would flag it and maybe additionally use the "Contact us" option to make sure the appropriate action is taken. I don't think that stack exchange has the ressources or willingness to adjudicate which sources rise from merely arguably inaccurate to bigoted (enough) to warrant account action against the person citing them. That seems like a massive can of worms. Even the moderators here don't seem to want to touch that, as it falls more into the "factual inaccuracy" bucket which as Sam I am mentions is traditionally not the purview of mods, but of the community.
    – Magisch
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 13:09
  • @Magisch For isolated incidents you may be right. But a number of the people that are creating OP's problem are not the transitory, isolated incident type. They create many posts and comments, and the sum of those parts can translate into a much more obvious violation of the bigotry rule (or other rules) than any individual one would. And if they are getting flagged regularly, the mods notice that, and can be expected to investigate the flags and what/who caused them. This has happened before. Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 5:22
  • 1
    The code of conduct is pretty vague about what constitutes bigotry, saying "We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion". That's a lot of room for interpretation. Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 3:51

Ideally, we rely on gamification to encourage people to use good sources. If your sources are bad, then people (should) downvote. If your sources are good, people (should) upvote.

Moderators are here in case things get out of hand, but it shouldn't be our job to be the deciders of which sources are good and which are bad.

If you think a source is not good, then you can leave a comment on the answer, and hopefully, people will see that comment and vote accordingly. If they don't down-vote the bad source, then you might just have to accept the fact that you're not the sole decider of quality of sources around here, and that the community thinks different.

  • Input received. But what is the recourse for bad faith comments? If someone uses a comment to attack good sources in an answer, you can't downvote comments. Or if someone uses a comment to attack your scrutiny of a bad source, then again, you can't downvote comments. So I mean... is it tolerable to report these sort of comments, or does that exceed the limits of what I report can be used for?
    – John
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 0:07
  • 7
    -1 for the snark about being the sole decider of sources. We are talking about a white supremacist source vs the New York Times and Washington Post. The gamification system is obviously failing on that question; the question here is only if we accept that the system will fail on (hopefully a small) number of questions, or if there are options to correct it.
    – tim
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 12:53
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    And I think that there are options in this case: 1) Comments about the reliability of reputable news organizations can be deleted. Such comments could be added to almost all answers, and it would always be the same pointless discussion which leads nowhere. That's not what comments are for. Comments about the actual content of the sources can of course remain. 2) The answer which doesn't answer the question, but only further questions the reliability of sources, can be deleted as "not an answer".
    – tim
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 13:05
  • @tim The second option is a two-edged sword: it applies both to questions that use good sources as well as those that use bad sources. There are times when the question is fundamentally flawed, and the premises and origins have to be analyzed to make this clear. After which point the original question may simply disappear. They're basically loaded questions: you can't simply answer them at face value without implicitly or explicitly admitting to some crazy claim. Ignoring them does much the same thing. You either delete them, or you address the faulty basis. Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 5:28

On the English Language SE Meta site the highest-voted question is a large list of sources (community-wiki). Perhaps we could make a similar post for sources that can be used here.

If we do this, we should decide on a number of categories (e.g. facts & statistics, News outlets, Voting records) and make a CW answer for each category. Alternatively, each category could get its own question so that we can vote on individual sources (though then we may get too many answers seeing how many sources are out there). Since things may get political here, I think it's best that we at least require mentioning an entry's affiliation and add a short description. For example:

The World Factbook by the Central Intelligence Agency: "The World Factbook provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities."

While this may not directly solve the problem of users using bad sources. It does help others find sources to counter false claims or to back up dubious claims.

  • 1
    That doesn't work (unfortunately) because you could never list all the reliable sources and you could never get consense on what these should be. If anything one could maybe think about a blacklist (sources that are regarded by most as unreliable) but even that could become complicated. I understand the idea, but I don't think this is the way to go. Better to judge the given sources each time anew. Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 20:13
  • @Trilarion you don't need to list all sources. Just add some good ones you encounter so that others can use them as well. I think you focus too much on the 'good' (or bad) when it's mostly about the sources. Take a look at the ELU site, some of the sources there a worse than others but it gives user a handy list of sources to consult.
    – JJJ Mod
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 20:23
  • A simple sources list decided by mere vote is exactly as biased as the voters that make it. Instead, if a sources list is to be considered, something at least vaguely scientific should be used. Media Bias Fact Check isn't really that great, but it ain't that bad. It's at least a scientific attempt to quantify bias and therefore qualify sources. If I had a complaint, their reliance on "failed fact checks" needs a lot of work.
    – user2578
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 17:17
  • @frеdsbend please note the criticism of MBFC cited on Wikipedia. It's not a scientific attempt at all, it doesn't even claim to be scientific.
    – JJJ Mod
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 17:22
  • They say "MBFC follows a strict methodology for determining the biases of sources." Strict methodology is the basis of good science. It's not science per se, but it's a start. It's certainly how you would collect and collate data. The information they have put together I think might be used for good science by someone clever enough. With the fact that it is methodological, and assuming they stick to it, you can rework the data into something else.
    – user2578
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 17:26
  • My initial point is that there's options much better than a voted list.
    – user2578
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 17:27
  • @frеdsbend yea, that's true. My suggestion was not necessarily to rank sources, it's more of an idea to give an overview of sources that could be used, similar to the list on ELU. In the end, users will make their own determination regardless of how some list or website says they should view some publication.
    – JJJ Mod
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 17:30

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