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I've noticed that we've been receiving some poorly researched questions and answers written by people who believe in the religion being discussed:

  1. An answer written by a native american with a tribal connection to the "Underwater Panther".
  2. At what point is a question out of scope as being too centered around 'practice'? -- i.e. the deleted "Are Pastafarians required to always be dressed as a Pirate when discussing their religion?" question
  3. Two of the downvoted answers on the Cain and Abel question.
  4. This answer about religious precursors to hinduism -- now deleted.
  5. This answer about the colours of the Hindu gods.

These questions and answers all seem to be written from the perspective of a religious believer. That's not bad in itself, but because the authors believe in the religion, they tend to write from an un-scholarly perspective, and rely on tradition/what other people told them/personal experience rather than academic sources.

(Note: this isn't always the case: TED's question about the underwater panther is a great example of someone with personal ties to a culture asking an academic question.)

I'm not asking for the community to create a specific rule (though that may be the answer to the closed and deleted Pastafarian question). Instead, I'm looking for some guidance and ideas about how we can handle these types of contributions. Here are some points I would like the community to discuss:

  1. I would like to encourage contributions from from people who are part of the cultures we're discussing: these people are obviously knowledgeable about their own culture. In particular, I would like to encourage participation from Aboriginal/Native American cultures: it would be really interesting to read answers from their too-often overlooked perspective, and their answers would be interesting to researchers looking for insights into their culture.
  2. I don't want to sacrifice our scholarly rigor: contributions should use academic sources (for many reason: the big one is that we want to verify these answers and make sure that it's not someone claiming to be part of a culture they are not). However, this may pose a problem for religious believers: many of them aren't used to citing sources when they talk about their culture/religion, because it's so engrained into their culture that they don't see the need to do so. Being part of a culture shouldn't be a "get out of jail card free" card from our usual requirements.

Thoughts?

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    This discussion was prompted by Dee Manatowa's answer discussing the underwater panther. This is an answer that I suspect would be useful to many, but it has problems: mainly, we have no way of verifying that they are who they say they are, and because they don't cite any sources is they aren't who they claim they are the answer is useless. – user62 Jul 22 '15 at 2:56
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    For the record, I'm personally a practicing Christian, as are most Osages today (and whether I count as an Osage is another long discussion). – T.E.D. Jul 22 '15 at 19:14
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    I'll note that after some thought, I deleted the fourth post, on the basis of it being not an answer, as opposed to the way it was written (i.e. from the perspective of a believer). – HDE 226868 Jul 22 '15 at 22:56
  • @T.E.D. sorry, fixed. – user62 Jul 23 '15 at 3:40
  • Another thing I think we should try to do is ask more questions about Native American myth/culture. I feel like we could get a lot of Google traffic that way, as not many online sources exist and I'm sure many Native Americans have tried Googling questions about their myths/cultures. – user62 Jul 23 '15 at 3:48
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This is all written without my moderator hat on, mostly because none of my thoughts on the matter have affected my way of moderation.


Normally, I don't care what an answerer believes in. I really don't. What I do care about is whether or not s/he knows his/her stuff. If that means that s/he must be intimately familiar with the culture at hand, then being a believer can become important.

The religious Stack Exchange sites have, of course, all discussed the practice of citing sources, what kinds of sources should, be used, and related topics, with varying results. A few touched on the idea of expert answers, so I think I'll summarize the ideas they came up with1:

  • Buddhism: The general consensus, as given in What about providing sources?, seems to be that answers should not have to require sources, because expert answers are more important. Andrei Volkov's answer touches on the fact that people with no experience whatsoever in Buddhism could simply come up will well-referenced answers that wouldn't be written by experts. He brought up a point similar to yours, and yet different still:

    The basic question is: do we trust our experts, and do we believe that the reputation-based open community will correctly identify experts as such -- or do we presume that only published authors can be trusted?

    The main relevant point here is that answerers should be experts, and, in the case of Mythology, we need to know that they are experts.

  • Christianity: What is "mainstream" Christianity? is the most important post on the site in this regard, as far as I can see. Quoting the main, community wiki answer,

    What we are trying to do is differentiate between the belief of an individual (which is not a scholarly pursuit) from those historical groups of Christianity which are the subject of of scholarly study.

    The important thing I got out of this is that it is important to show that what you write is that of the mainstream view. Extending this to posts on Mythology from believers, like the ones listed in the question at hand, it is important to show that you speak as all members of your group would speak. Sources can help convince everyone of that.

  • Mi Yodeya: What is considered a Jewish source? brought up a viewpoint I did not expect: the decision should go to the asker. As Mike wrote,

    Someone who posts a question asking for "Jewish sources" might get the Shulchan Aruch, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rashi, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Moses Mendelssohn, Martin Buber, Anita Diamant, Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart, Joe Schmo, or his brother Sholom Schlepper.

    If they want to get a specific type of source, they should specify what they want. If they aren't specific, they shouldn't complain if they get stuff they are not interested in.

    . . .

    Edit:

    The above reads harsher than I might want. If it is a new user to Mi Yodeya, I hope they get a source they want, since they won't know to ask specifically. I guess throw them what answers we can or ask what kind of source they would like in comments.

    This expresses a view contrary to all others: It's up to the asker. Specify the level of rigor you want and will accept. My take on this matter is that questions are for everyone, not just the person who asked them (this justifies closing questions as duplicates; if the answers were tailored to the asker, then they might not satisfy future askers/readers).

    However, this is not Mi Yodeya's policy on sources; it is only - as Monica Cellio pointed out - a small part of the discussion, and I don't mean to represent it either as their policy (it isn't).

Putting all of this together, my take on the matter is that answers should provide proof that what is written therein is the mainstream interpretation of the matter at hand, that the story they give is what has been agreed upon. To do this, sources are generally needed.

But this isn't the whole story. In a comment that he since deleted2, femtoRgon wrote

I'm sensing a bit of cognitive dissonance on the negative reception of Christian testimony vs the positive reception of Sauk tribal testimony. If a testimony from the standpoint of faith is acceptable, I would call this a good answer. It's complete, direct, and provides supporting citations. The answer that prompted this question is interesting, but barely addresses the question, and provides no external sources. Hard not to see a problem there.

I don't agree with all of it, but I agree with some of it. One thing I disagree with (but was brought up in this) is that we perhaps should treat answers coming from different belief systems differently. In one of my earliest answers, I began by writing

The Aboriginal people are protective of their culture, and they do not share all of their stories with the rest of the world. For them, much of what transpired is a private matter, and so only some stories can be accessed.

All four of our questions have been answered, two apiece by femtoRgon and me. I can say without doubt that I am not by any means a descendant of indigenous Australians, and while I can't speak for femtoRgon, odds are against him being one, too. All of our answers were cobbled together from various sources, many of them written by outsiders studying various cultures. I brought up pretty much the same issue in What sources should be used for answers to questions about Scientology?:

I'll quote senshin from that question:

I'd try and read up on this myself, but, you know, I'm not an Operating Thetan, so this stuff is hard to find.

Replace "Operating Thetan" with "member of culture with hard-to-find myths X" and you describe a number of situations3. What, then, do we consider accurate?

Quoting femtoRgon's answer there,

My opinion in this case (and pretty much all cases, really) is: Use the best sources you have available.

In cases where all relevant information is mostly oral history, then we should require minimal citations. This introduces loopholes, as was pointed out in this question (such as the fact that anyone could pose as a member of the Osage tribe and get away with spreading falsehoods).

Taking all of this into account, I suggest that we work off of the following policy: If there are substantial amounts of documents available (as in Christianity, for example), then we should be stringent about our requirements for sources. If there are little to no documents available, then we should require proof that the answerer is an expert in the topic at hand. As you said in this question, Christofian, we need to keep our scholarly rigor.

This has been written over the course of about ninety minutes (including time for dinner), so I apologize if some bits are a little confusing. I can clarify and edit as needs be.


1 I understand that the issues brought up in these posts differ from the one at hand. I used them to illustrate some key ideas that are relevant here. Also, I left out Biblical Hermeneutics, Hinduism, and Islam, because I could not find relevant posts there.
2 I'll remove this quote if he asks me to.
3 It is important, of course, to understand that I consider Scientology little more than a load of fetid dingo's kidneys, and not something I respect, unlike the culture of Native Americans.

  • "If there are little to no documents available, then we should require proof that the answerer is an expert in the topic at hand." What would that proof look like? – user62 Jul 23 '15 at 0:28
  • @Christofian That's part of what made me spend so long on this. I don't know. – HDE 226868 Jul 23 '15 at 0:29
  • I've been thinking about this: it's true that in many oral traditions academic sources don't necessarily exist. However, I would feel comfortable if a user uploaded a video/audio clip of an interview with a relative, or if they took pictures of artwork, and used that as a source. Maybe the answer involved expanding our list of recommended sources? – user62 Jul 23 '15 at 3:39
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    For the record, I deleted my comment because on rereading, it came across too negative on Dee Manatowa's answer. I didn't want to come across as saying I thought it should be removed or downvoted, because I don't. In trying to emphasize my point, I just came on too strong. You are, however, entirely fine quoting me. Also, while I'll admit I haven't investigated my genealogy much, I would be somewhat surprised if it included any recent links to aboriginal Australian culture. – femtoRgon Jul 23 '15 at 4:57
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    I think you've misunderstood Mi Yodeya's policy. The question you linked wasn't asking when sources are required; rather, starting from the assumption of sources, it asks what counts. A better post to look at would be this one: meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/a/1445/472 – Monica Cellio Jul 26 '15 at 3:10
  • @MonicaCellio I didn't see the other one, but I think that this makes point similar to what I want to make. – HDE 226868 Jul 27 '15 at 19:49
  • But you seem to be representing it as "this is Mi Yodeya's policy on sources", where in reality this is a small part of Mi Yodeya's policy and addressing a side issue. Do we expect sources? Yes. What exactly counts as a source? That question is part of that discussion. – Monica Cellio Jul 27 '15 at 19:53
  • @MonicaCellio ah, sorry about that. I'll change the phrasing. – HDE 226868 Jul 27 '15 at 19:54
  • Thanks! Sorry I wasn't clear earlier. It's all good now. – Monica Cellio Jul 27 '15 at 20:17
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tl;dr: an answerer's religious perspective doesn't matter as much as whether they answer the question with references.


As a moderator on a religious site, Christianity.SE, I can say that we deal with contributions from the perspectives of religious believers almost exclusively. Even when it comes to specific traditions, most often, good answers are from someone who adheres to that tradition.

I've picked a different Meta post than HDE 226868 did. That one dates from a time before the community gradually decided that "mainstream" was still too broad for most questions. I think a better choice is What Christianity.StackExchange is (and more importantly, what it isn't). I've quoted the first few paragraphs of the top answer below.

I've come to understand what is and isn't acceptable in a way that can be expressed in two images.

In one, I picture a seeker, maybe coming to their Pastor or Priest, or maybe climbing a mountain to ask a guru the secret of life, or hoping the heavens will open up and divinely reveal absolute truth.

In the second picture, I see a giant person peering into a box with a magnifying glass, viewing all the little Christians running around with their various beliefs, saying "Oh, hey, look at this. That bunch over there believes in predestination while these ones over here don't. I wonder why that is. Hey, little guy: Why doesn't your group believe in predestination?" The little guy answers, and maybe triggers another little guy to ask a question of another, and sooner or later, all understand each other just a little bit better.

This site is more like that second picture.

I want to emphasize that Christianity.SE does not focus on Truth, but rather truthful statements (one of the bullet points in that answer). That is, we don't answer questions like "What do I have to do to be saved?", but rather questions like "According to Catholic doctrine, what is necessary for salvation?" The former is extremely subjective and the latter is perfectly answerable as the Roman Catholic Church has documents that answer precisely that question.

Thus, answerers are expected to use facts or expert opinions/statements to back up what they say. The community tends to steer away from too much personal opinion in an answer.

Application to this site

First, the litmus test: does the answer actually answer the question? If it doesn't, downvote and scrap it.

Next, look at how much actually answers the question. If it's less than half, that's a pretty good indication it's not a good answer. (Arguably, you could set the cutoff to 60-70%. Any higher, and it's probably better to just edit out the irrelevant stuff.) If the fact that the answerer is part of the religion serves to "flavor" the answer, so to speak, then that's not a problem, and might even be desirable.

  • Underwater panther - that answer is, I think, like 25% actual answer and 25% related information, with the rest being a defense or irrelevant information. It could be edited to strip out the unimportant information.
  • Abel vs. Cain - Hazel's answer is purely opinion (key phrase: "The way i understand it"). I mean, I pretty much agree with the reasoning they gave, but they could definitely back it up with at least one reference. anna v's answer answers by looking at an example in a pagan religion and drawing inferences from that. I don't think it's really an answer. Also, no references, and she says "Always in my opinion." too. wooohoh's answer actually has an answer to the question (Hebrews 11:4), but again, it's like 20% actual answer, if that. I'd comment and prompt wooohoh to clear out the cruft.
  • Hindu god colorings - R Vaidyanadhan does answer the question. His only critical fault is not providing references, and that's reason enough for me to delete an answer on Christianity.SE.

The issue here is not that the answerer answers from the religion's perspective or doesn't. It's whether they actually answer the question and they represent that religion's perspective accurately, if needed. On Christianity.SE, we do have a sort of notability requirement, so it is usually not enough for someone to simply claim that they are from this or that group; they have to prove it by answering in a way that is consistent with the rest of the group's teaching and beliefs, and the best way to show that is to cite sources or provide references.

I think something along these lines will suffice for Mythology.SE. Require references, with few exceptions. Thinking about it again, Dee Manatowa's answer doesn't fully answer the question. He gives one location of a tribe that had that belief, which doesn't answer how prevalent the belief is. So, even waiving the references requirement, his answer isn't up to par.

Of course, there will be a few edge cases, but I think this should be a sufficient rule of thumb for at least 90% of cases.

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