Rules For Debate (Got a Cite?)

This concerns debating tactics employed in this forum. Specifically the requesting of cites or sources. I would suggest that there are (at least) two examples in which sources cannot be demanded, though obviously they are helpful in any circumstance.

  1. If Poster A is stating a widely known or accepted fact and Poster B is disputing this, the burden of proof is on Poster B to disprove the fact, not on Poster A to prove it. This is not to say that every widely accepted fact is true - far from it, and in fact one of the great thing about (and purposes of) this forum is the demonstration of this. But I think it is reasonable to consider the widely accepted fact as a sort of null hypothesis, to be accepted until disproven.

So that, for example, if Poster A, in the course of some debate, say “since lawyers make, on average, more money than taxi drivers, it follows that…”, Poster B is not entitled to ask for a source of the relative income of lawyers and taxi drivers to confirm that the stated fact is indeed correct. The reverse is true - Poster B would be required to show data to support a denial of this claim.

  1. If Poster B is offering an original interpretation of available evidence, no source can be required. This seems self evident, but I have seen posters demanding sources in such cases.

So that, for example, if Poster B is mitigating the apparent income disparity between lawyers and taxi drivers by saying that “lawyers have to dress well and appear prosperous for success in their careers - taxi drivers do not. Therefore the difference in income seems greater than it actually is”, Poster A is not entitled to ask for a cite for this. It’s an interpretation, a theory, and stands on it’s own, to be accepted or rejected as appropriate.

I think both these rules are common sense ones and are widely applied in real life situations. But on this forum, which has a justified emphasis on sorting out what is actually true from what only seems to be so, there is a tendency IMHO to blindly use this “show me a source” argument even in cases where it is not appropriate.

IzzyR, I totally agree with you on # 1, if it is indeed a widely accepted fact. A much more common tactic during debates is to assert something as “common knowledge” that is not quite true. For instance, I would be perfectly justified in asking another poster to support the statement that “everybody knows the Chinese government forces women to abort pregnancies after the first child.”

As for # 2, I disagree. Just because I assert that “statistic N” is an available fact doesn’t make my figures trustworthy. I’ve just asked someone in a different thread to support some violent crime statistics they used to justify their opinion on the death penalty, and I don’t think I was being unduly insistent.

IZZY, I too agree with No. 1 and with No. 2 in theory, with a caveat. Your example is one of logical progression and it seems to me as well that such statements do not need a cite: “Lawyers have to dress well, taxidrivers do not; therefore lawyers bear a cost of doing business that taxidrivers do not; therefore lawyers can off-set their perceived income by such a cost but taxidrivers cannot.” If, on the other hand, a poster is pulling an “original interpretation” out of his ass (“lawyers dress well because they like to make taxi-drivers feel inferior”), then a poster challenging that “interpretation” as inaccurate is entitled to ask for a cite. IMO.


You would be right in your example, where someone is producing numbers without a source. But if someone said “I think the fear of the death penalty would reduce crime” it would not need a source, although you would be perfectly free to disagree with him.


Maybe I should worry less about sources and more about expressing myself clearly. What I meant was that lawyers need to project their wealth more than others do, thus seem richer.

To use this example, if the poster can’t give any reason to explain why lawyers would want to do this, the argument will fall flat on its face in any event. If he can, then the argument could stand on its own.

In my opinion, Rule #1 is incomplete. It should read:

Party A asserts a widely accepted fact. If Party B challenges and demonstrates, through evidence, that the theory is flawed, then the burden of proof should shift to Party A.

I’m assuming that this is, at least partially, in response to the “The ‘Good Ol days’ Weren’t That Great” thread. I’m sorry Izzy, but Maeglin did use evidence to show that your statement was over-generalized and weak. The burden of proof was placed on you legitimately. At that point, asking you for a cite was not inappropriate. Hwoever, accusing her of using faulty evidence to further an agenda, while using not evidence at all to further your own, is very much a cop-out.

And if someone states a fact or an idea which is not part of the main thread, no asking him to back that up with a cite, or saying that since they refuse to back that fact up, they must not have any cites.

For example, in a thread on great generals of the Civil war, I might say that “Nathan B Forrest, like Rommel in WWII, was greatly overated, and subject to a cult of personality”. It is impolite, and just plain wrong to demand that I back up my factiod about Rommel with cites, as the thread is not about Rommel, or WWII. Does not mean you can’t disagree with me, or ask me to back up the part about Forrest, of course.

For another immediate example, in a thread on Paganism, and whether or not folks discriminate against them, and generally hate them, I mentioned that that was not the case here on the SDMB-- unlike what I felt was the attitude about Christians. A “certain poster” immediately demanded I back the 2nd factiod up with cites- which I quite rightly would not do, as that was NOT the thread under discussion. Starting an arguement about whether or not the SDMB is freindly to Christians is entirely different that whether or not it is freindly to Pagans.

Next, if you’re not disagreeing with someones opinion, then don’t demand cites. I said , in that same thread, that Wiccanism/Neopaganism is actually a fairly new religion, going back to the 19th Century , at the earliest. Another Poster agreed with me, but wanted to say that is was a REALLY new religion, and insisted I back up the part about the 19th century. The point was- “Neopaganism/Wicca is a new Religion, that does not have provable roots back to the Paleolithic”- so why argue and demand cites, when you agree with that point?

I am of two minds on the subject. On the one hand, it seems that some people (not me, mind you), will make wild, unsubstantiated remarks. Asking them for a cite seems a polite way of telling them to get their head out of their arse.

On the other hand, the fact that a cite exists, and you can quote from it, does not make that cite any more accurate. Any yahoo with a computer can put stuff on the net, as this post proves. (self-depricating humor!) I see certain posts, and I want to join the discussion, so I search the net. I find lots of impressive sounding info, often contradictory info. Often, which info I believe is based on my pre-concieved ideas.

Do you have examples of these from other threads? It would be helpful if you could list the url of the post.

Yes give us a cite.

I believe the thread that started this all for IzzyR was the The “Good Ol’ Days” weren’t so good.

The difference I see is that he stated a widely accepted theory as if it were fact. There were some challenges, Party B present evidence, he didn’t back down, but couldn’t explain his position.

If he had just stated it as his opinion, that would be one thing, but he kept insisting it was fact. That’s why there was a call for cites. It seemed a fair request, as the debate had stalemated and couldn’t go any further without contradicting evidence.

Sorry, but we are on this board to fight ignorance, and if someone sees something they believe incorrect posted as fact, I think they have every right to demand that the poster back it up or correct themselves, no matter how offhand the reference or whether the rest of their statement is correct. Otherwise the original person will never know they are incorrect, and other people might assume it is true because it passes without challenge. I’m not about to keep my mouth shut when someone says, oh, “discriminating against people becuase they don’t have sex with people of the opposite sex since they find them unattractive is as silly as discriminating against a person because they don’t eat rabbits since they’re cud-chewing animals.” Now, while I may even agree with the sentiment, I don’t want misinformation like “rabbits chew their cud” (they actually produce special feces and eat those) floating about and I would speak up to correct this. If the person continued to insist that yes, rabbits chew their cud, I’d ask them to prove their statement. This is Great Debates, and I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask people to furnish proof for their assertions. I can’t think of a reason why I wouldn’t be willing and able to support any of my statements if challenged.

True, but their can be cites that are not on sites. And even if the cited site was biased, someone could point that out, which would lead to more investigation and more debate, ultimately, until the truth-or the nearest representation of the truth-can be found. That’s part of fighting ignorance.

  1. I’m with beakerxf.

  2. pepperlandgirl,

presumably a cite that was not on a site would be a sight to behold (worthy of a citation…)

Well, I disagree with the phrasing of the OP; while there are certainly times in which asking for a cite is inappropiate, that doesn’t mean that you “can’t” ask for a cite. When asking for a cite, often the implied and/or inferred meaning is “if you can’t provide a cite, your argument does not stand” (one may simply be asking whether the other person has a cite for purely nonrhetorical reasons, but that is rare). Now, for an argument to work, all of the suppositions must be reasonable statements. So to say that an argument does not stand is to imply that one or more of the suppositions is not reasonable. Asking for a cite therefore gives the author of the argument an opportunity to establish the reasonableness of a suppostion. If the author believes that the supposition is already sufficiently reasonable, he is certainly within his rights to turn down this opportunity, and the challenger is ceratainly within his rights to disagree that the supposition is already sufficiently reasonable.
If the claim in question is outside of the original topic, it is still reasonable for one to state that, in the abscence of a cite, the claim is dubious, but it is not reasonable to demand that the author of the claim correct this.
I would like to add another category of innapropiate requests for cites: if a claim is used for illustrative purposes, and not to establish a conclusion, then it is innapropiate to demand a cite. For instance, in one thread I stated that just because the government declares something to be true, that does not make it so, and I gave the example of the government declaring a plane to be “guilty” of smuggling drugs. Even if there were no such case, that would not in any way weaken my original claim, and therefore the demand for a cite, and the reaction to my refusal to provide one, was inappropiate.

Hold on. Rabbits eat their own feces?

Oh wise & powerful moderator: Yes- BUT- I said I have no problem with someone disagreeing with a tangential point, but going so far as to demand cites or a retraction most certainly leads to a giant HIJACK. And altho we are here to fight ignorance- there is an unlimited supply of it, so we should pick our battles. When someone clicks on a thread about Civil war generals, he generally wants to read a debate about Civil war generals- not WWII generals, or rabbits eating their feces. :smiley:

(you do have a cite about those feces-munching lagomorphs, right? :smiley: )

This is an unjustified conjecture. In that thread, I do not think Maeglin or John Corrado were unjustified in asking for some evidence, as I believe I acknowledged in one post to that thread. I actually looked around a bit, and failed to find anything one way or another about that issue. So I had to resort to at least disputing the import of their evidence. I believe this also carries some weight, along with what I believe were logical reasons for believing as I do. But I would have been happier had I found some actual documentation of some sort.

The impetus for this thread is more related to general observations about this board.


Change “unjustified conjecture” to “incorrect conjecture”, in my last post.

Well, generally a person can back up their statements relatively quickly if there is factual merit to them. If the argument on one issue would be too much of a distraction to the main debate (although lord knows we go wildly OT sometimes) the posters should start a new thread and link to it in the original thread. But I definitely think that if someone posts something you believe is incorrect, you should challenge it.

Cites on rabbits eating the special feces they produce :smiley: :

…and I raised dwarf rabbits for 4-H, so I have first-hand knowledge too. Now, if anyone wishes to seriously contest this, we can take it to another thread… :wink:

Maeglin is a bona fide male.

Thank you for listening.