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It's becoming clear that some people don't like our current policy on sources. To quote from a comment on our meta discussion titled What can we do to help Mythology Stack Exchange grow?

I'm glad to see someone else also think the restrictions and demands placed on asking and answering are hurting us.

My question to the people who think our requirements are hurting us is this: what would you like to see changed? Preferably, these suggestions would be accompanied with examples of questions/answers that were closed/deleted but which you feel shouldn't have been (that way we'll have specific examples of the policies we are debating).

The sooner we get some concrete suggestions, the sooner we can change our policies.

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    Come to think of it, when did this ever become a "requirement"? – Semaphore Oct 7 '15 at 15:31
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The issue to me isn't whether sources are a "requirement" or not, but rather how we deal with answers in general. Personally, i believe what we should do is:

When you see a dubious statement, call it out and ask the poster if they can back it up. Otherwise, judge an answer on its raison d'être: How well it answers the question.

An answer that is wrong should be downvoted. A correct answer should be upvoted. Everything in between depends on how well an answer has made their case. Now, I agree the existence of authoritative sources or persuasiveness of logical reasoning that supports an answer is a strong factor in its quality. Doubtlessly higher quality answers are better than low quality ones, and I have absolutely no problems with people who are fastidious about providing sources.

Nonetheless, this site exist not as a platform for exchanging research, but to provide answers. Simply demanding (non-Wikipedia) sources, as some members like to do, is unhelpful. Leaving aside the topic of answers based on logical derivations from first principles, sources are only really most useful when they (a) addresses the question at hand, and (b) supports a point in actual dispute.

Unfortunately, what some of our members have been doing is to leave generic comments to "require reputable sources". This is almost totally useless. It doesn't point out what is factually erroneous about an answer. Often it is left on answers that have more glaring issues than lacking substantiation. It is little more than a lazy copy-paste hazing of new users.

Anyone who took the time and effort to write up an answer deserves enough of our respect that critical comments should offer concrete guidance on where and how to improve.

What we can and should do instead, is to encourage sources on factual points of contention.


Exhibit A: Are there any creatures based on breath or air, and specifically stealing these if possible?

This is a poor answer because it failed to separate sleep paralysis creatures from what the question actually asked, creatures that steal breath. At the same time, it correctly points out that the category is night hags. Answers to the question can easily be found by perusing the linked list of night hags.

Yet, rather than the answer's actual failures, the comment instead fixated on sources. This is frankly inane. What is actually in doubt here? The existence of night hags? How is Wikipedia insufficient in proving that? That comment offered no meaningful guidance on improving the answer, when the answer's main failing is that it skirted the actual question.

(On the other hand, I would consider a request for sources on the mouse breath stealing myth appropriate - it seems to be a misinterpretation of a Yichang folklore that attributes sleep paralysis to being tranced by mice.)


Exhibit B: What was the purpose of the Labyrinth built by Daedalus?

This answer offers a concise summary of the relevant myth. At first glance nothing looks controversial. How exactly should a summary of a myth be sourced? Perhaps there are ways of doing so that doesn't defeat the purpose of a summary. It's also possible that the answer got something wrong.

Yet the complaining comment and downvote does neither. It doesn't point out anything factually wrong or in dispute with the answer. It also did not offer any guidance on improving their answer, with sources or otherwise. The unfortunate user who has never ever returned to our site is not informed on how they might improve their answer, while to a passerby, the comment is pure noise.


Exhibit C: Are there any myths we can plausibly trace back to a common Proto-Indo-European ancestor?

This is again not the best answer ever, although it does provide a couple of examples and point out that European and Indian mythology could be traced back a common origin in the Proto-Indo-European peoples. However, while there are several avenues for improving the answer, a comment instead demanded sources for this statement:

By last research, some historians suspect that origin of Indo-European folks come from Urals(Russia), southern area.

Except this has essentially zero relevance to the answer. And while its location is slightly off (but I do believe corresponds to some researchers' views), the mere existence of an idea is hardly in dispute. Sourcing this statement would have been of no material improvement whatsoever to the answer.


Sources are not a panacea to poor answers. We should stop obsessing over them. No amount of new traffic will save this community if we do not build up the content and environment to actually retain users.

  • To be very clear, I am by no means saying it is "such a bad thing to suggest" citing source. What I'm saying is that requests for sources ought to be made with the goal of improving an answer. In practice, it looks like "suggestions" for sources have become an ends unto themselves. It may not be a huge factor in the low level of activity on our site, but it is certainly doing us no favours. – Semaphore Oct 7 '15 at 10:01
  • Semaphore -- you make some good points. I think your points about the fact that asking for sources might not be the feedback that will improve the answer the most are sound, and I will adopt them. – user62 Oct 7 '15 at 14:22
  • I also agree with the following point: "No amount of new traffic will save this community if we do not build up the content and environment to actually retain users." True. However, I strongly believe that changing our sources policy, even if it's the right thing to do, will not change our levels of activity. Our problem is that we aren't attracting people who care enough about mythology to stick around for the long-term. To fix this, we need to create more questions and start appearing on google search results (or get other sites to link to us). – user62 Oct 7 '15 at 14:24
  • I feel like in the past few months, me and HDE have been the only people regularly asking questions. For example, I was the only person who participated in our last myth of the month. It would be great if we could get more people asking questions, and I think that would do more than changing our sources policy. I wish you would use your position as a moderator and leader of the site to get more people asking questions, and to get people trying to get other sites to link to us. – user62 Oct 7 '15 at 14:27
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    @Hamlet Increasing traffic, and dealing with unsourced answers, are two distinct issues. I do not think it is constructive to conflate the two. – Semaphore Oct 7 '15 at 14:30
  • This is going to be the last comment I make on meta in a while, because lately I have been spending more time on meta than on the main site. I'm planning on asking some questions on the main site tomorrow; it would be great if other people could join me in doing so. – user62 Oct 7 '15 at 14:30
  • to quote from you: " In practice, it looks like "suggestions" for sources have become an ends unto themselves. It may not be a huge factor in the low level of activity on our site, but it is certainly doing us no favours" – user62 Oct 7 '15 at 14:31
  • @Hamlet Notice how I did not claim that our activity level will fix itself if we deal with the issue of sources, whereas you're arguing that resolving the sources dispute wouldn't help our traffic. That's what I meant by conflating the two issues. Unless you are claiming that not requiring sources would hurt our activity level, the question of how to attract more visitors clearly belongs in its own (already existing) thread. – Semaphore Oct 7 '15 at 14:42
  • I'm certainly one of those (as Exhibit showed) who used a comment to request sources, so some blame rests on me there. The point of the comment in these cases isn't to try to make parts of the answer more rigorous, it's to impress upon users that answers should be sourced well. If we simply pass over a new user's answer that uses only Wikipedia, then we're not telling them what sources are optimal for future use. I didn't address the drawbacks in the answer because I hoped that subsequent revisions would address them. – HDE 226868 Oct 7 '15 at 15:00
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    @HDE226868 Yes, I'm aware that improving the answer was not the intent. I'm saying that it should be that, instead of "impressing upon users". – Semaphore Oct 7 '15 at 15:23
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Just as one user, I dislike the 'all posts must be sourced' policy in toto. There are many good reasons why I might want to post something without an academic reference: for example, speculation or something that is well enough known not to need a source. Such a post would, of course, risk downvotes from those who want the site to be purely academic, but I might be prepared to risk that. Unfortunately, whenever I have posted, I get a curt 'We want all posts to be sourced'. I asked in chat about the origin of this policy, but got only a brush-off from somebody who obviously wasn't very good at recognising irony.

If you really want this site to stay at the level of an academic common room, I do not see why you are surprised that it is dying. Conversely, if you want it to thrive, everybody has to accept the legitimacy of posts you personally dislike.

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I actually hadn't considered this before durron597's recent answer, which made it clear to me that my original stance - a suggestion for a fairly rigorous policy on sources - was flawed. I'm active on a number of Stack Exchange sites where rigor is key, and perhaps that influenced my position on the issue. At any rate, I think that we should relax the requirements a bit, which is why I'm answering this.

The suggestion that was the most hardline was put forth in Should we require questions and answers to quote from actual stories - a suggestion I disagreed with and that seems to have been shot down by the community (judging by the voting on Luna's answer, and the fact that there were no answers that agreed with the suggestion). At any rate, I have yet to see this implemented/enforced on Mythology Stack Exchange, and I see no reason to use it in the future. I, for one, will not downvote, delete, or close a question/answer that has no quote(s) in it.

As per What are good sources when answering questions?, the best possible source is the actual myth in question. I still agree with this, as I think most people would. However, it was never a requirement for an answer, and so I think we should still keep it as a recommendation - nothing more.

"Scholarly articles" seem to be other accepted sources in answers, and they are the result of the "rigorous policy" I described earlier. Again, I think that these should be recommended as sources, but not required. I'm actually a bit reluctant to put this idea forth, because these analyses are the best secondary sources that exist. But restricting answers to using them - and I think that we have, subconsciously and perhaps intentionally, restricted answers to using them - might be a bit much for many users.

So, what sources would I advocate a bigger push for? Well, mythological encyclopedias come to mind. They are generally well-researched and well-referenced, and I see no reason to doubt them - at least, the ones I've seen and used. It would be great to have a second (reliable) source confirm information found in one of these, but I think that they should still be allowed. I can't really find a good example like the ones you asked for because it seemed that these were restricted from the start, and thus they weren't used much, if at all. There's not much precedent here to work on.

My stance on Wikipedia is pretty much the stance mentioned in the community wiki answer: Sometimes it can be wrong, and sometimes it can be right. Be careful if and when you use it; if possible, I would recommend checking the sources it cites.

  • Mythological encyclopedias can be good, but they can also be flamingly wrong: The last time I remember someone citing an encyclopedia was you in a comment to one of my questions (mythology.stackexchange.com/questions/1009/…), but it turned out that the encyclopedia was making things up. – user62 Oct 7 '15 at 0:56
  • But before people jump on me, I'm not saying that I'm going to downvote every answer that cites an "encyclopedia" , I'm just saying that those sources can sometimes be wrong. – user62 Oct 7 '15 at 1:13
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It is true that I may have been overzealous in promoting sources in the past -- I apologize. It seems like several people are upset about this, and again, I apologize. In the beginning of the site, I took the policy too far, and downvoted otherwise acceptable answers because they didn't use sources I liked. Again, I appologise. I have stopped doing this.

That said, I feel like people are exaggerating both the extent of our sources "policy" and the effect it has on new users. I'm going to quote some of the answers that "violate" the source "policy", and you can tell me if I'm being unreasonable.

From the question Why was it a good thing that hope remained in Pandora's box?

I just read a version that said FORBODING was what was left in the box, and if it had gotten out, there would be no hope left in the world.

From the question Does Poseidon rule over all the sea gods?

I can't really confirm my words with any source, but by the logic of events Sea god can't rule over River gods just because rivers are not taking the beginning from seas.

From the question Was Achilles really motivated by eternal glory?

Peter's answer suggested to me that the character, Achilles, may have gone through more than one thought or feeling at different times. I'm not sure this is the way that someone trying to teach a lesson about dealing with life via a story, would write, or a form that a story that was retold through generations would take. Maybe it is autobiographical in a sense, or cathartic. I like the idea though of not thinking in an "all or nothing" way.

These are all answers that have been posted recently. I did not downvote these answers; they were deleted by mods.

I think it's fair to say that all of these answers could be improved by citing a reputable source. I'm not quite sure why it's such a bad thing to suggest this. And I think the best way to make this clear to new users is to leave a comment along the lines of

Hi, Ben, welcome to Mythology. We want answers to have reputable sources - e.g. beyond Wikipedia - not merely opinions

At the end of the day, we are a Q&A site, and our goal should be to generate interesting questions and answers. Citing sources is an easy way to do this. I may have taken this position to an extreme, and I think I have dialed back on the issue (I no longer indiscriminately down vote answers without sources, for example). But at the end of the day, I stand by the idea that citing sources is a good idea.

To quote from shog:

Consider the advice you've encountered, which suggests that new users should be treated specially by: * not leaving feedback * not fixing problems * fixing problems but not explaining why * not rating their contributions honestly

Even if one or more of these strategies "worked", they're all actively harmful to your site. So what if you could "convert" 1000 new members tomorrow - you now have 1000+ new posts that need fixing and rating, and 1000 new members who're about to run face-first into the realization that what they thought was acceptance and recognition of their expertise was actually just a patronizing front put on to lure them back.

And it's bullshit anyway. A couple years ago now, we did some analysis of new user retention on Stack Overflow. Some forms of feedback tended to result in folks coming back more than others, but the single biggest way to keep someone away was to just ignore them. Don't vote - up or down. Don't comment. Don't answer. Don't close. Just... ignore. While you're busy walking on eggshells in fear of offending someone, they're seeing a blank page, an empty inbox, and they're walking away.

...

Will this work in all cases? No, absolutely not. Will this even work in the majority of cases? No. But it will work, and if your site has an audience, then it'll work often enough to retain the folks who actually love the topic, care about presenting good, high-quality answers, and are able to understand why y'all are doing things the way you are.


Lastly, the people who are against sources are cherrypicking quotes from durron597's answer. I think an equally important part of his answer is the following quote:

I began to feel like the majority of questions were either asked by me, or answered by me. We must have a core community of people invested in producing content, otherwise it's just a waste of everyone's time. With just half a question per day, that means that not even one person is even trying anymore.

People need to start asking questions. It's the only way we can build up content, which will then be indexed by Google, which will then lead to more traffic and publicity for us. We can talk about sources until the world ends, but it wont change the fact that we need to get more content out there. I wrote an entire answer about that, and no one seemed to care. Sure, we can relax the rules about sources (to the people who feel strongly about this, please write an answer detailing what you would like to see -- we can't read your mind), but can we please start creating some actual content?

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    I'm not advocating abandoning the StackExchange format per se, but I wonder if it really is the best format for a discussion on mythology. – C. M. Weimer Oct 7 '15 at 4:56
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    @C.M.Weimer The SE format really isn't well suited (or designed) for discussions. I still think there's a place for a Q&A platform for mythology, though. – Semaphore Oct 7 '15 at 10:17
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    There is a big difference between 'This answer would be improved by a reputable source' and 'We want answers to have reputable sources - e.g. beyond Wikipedia - not merely opinions'. If you don't see it, perhaps you need to be less zealous. – Tim Lymington supports Monica Nov 29 '15 at 18:32

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