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In reference to Create gold or lead from other substances, all but the most recent few answers have been tagged with the hard-science warning. You all know it:

This question asks for hard science. All answers to this question should be backed up by equations, empirical evidence, scientific papers, other citations, etc. Answers that do not satisfy this requirement might be removed. See the tag description for more information.

I understand moderators manually add this notice to answers that do not meet the hard-science criteria, so unless there's a new script I'm not aware of (possible), a real-live moderator believed my answer didn't conform, right?

My answer (+47/-1, no comments, as of this post).

While I did certainly add some creative flair to my answer to address the soft aspects of the question, I'm confident that the meat of my answer (gold plating) was well supported by science, with links to relevant articles. I don't know how I could reasonably include more science without the answer being much, much longer, and/or not answering the spirit of the OP's question as well. What I could do is swap out the Wikipedia links for some more in-depth articles. In this case I chose WP because the specific article has the right amount of breadth for the question, in my opinion, but I'm not opposed to changing it if that's why it was flagged.

Since all answers older than about 5 hours old have also been flagged (as of this post), perhaps it's a new policy or script or something, but I quite like my answer and obviously want to make it fits the tags regardless, and doesn't get deleted at some point.

Does my answer conform to hard-science, and if not, how can I improve it?

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  • $\begingroup$ The same happened to me. Apparently links need to go to 'hard-science' sites, the facts do not speak for themselves. $\endgroup$ – Bookeater Oct 10 '16 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ I added the notice to those posts. I'll see if I can write up an answer to this, but it's important to note that all post notices are added manually (with the exception of those added to questions retrospectively by Shog9, a Community Manager, when we adopted the policy). No scripts are used; that would be ridiculous and unfair to users. So yes, a real mod (me) added it. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 10 '16 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @HDE226868 I really appreciate it. Maybe it's the softer nature of this specific question (alchemy meets hard-science!) that was a bit problematic for me to reconcile, but whatever I can do, just let me know. $\endgroup$ – type_outcast Oct 10 '16 at 19:57
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As I wrote in a comment to this meta question, I was the one who added the post notice to the answers, roughly six hours ago.

First, we don’t use scripts. That’s extremely unfair, in my opinion, because it’s not easy for a script to figure out if a post meets certain criteria. There are exceptions, in the case of spam answers, but it’s much harder to evaluate whether a post needs a custom notice like this one. I generally check the tag a couple times a day to see if there are new answers, but sometimes I miss some. This is one of those cases, where a user flagged the question and noted that many of the answers needed the post notice; I took five or ten minutes to evaluate them and then did so.

Now, I don’t like subjectivity, because subjectivity leads to inconsistency, which is a bad thing when moderating. Sure, most moderation decisions are subjective, to some degree, but that can be mitigated. When it comes to considering adding this post notice to an answer, I like to follow a mental flowchart of sorts, based on information from the tag wiki and previous meta discussions. Here’s my impression of what it looks like:

enter image description here

In your specific answer, I read the Wikipedia pages you linked to. The one on gold plating isn’t that well sourced, and the specific section that mentions acid gold plating is unsourced entirely. The one on mercury poisoning is much better, but the link doesn’t support any of your conclusions, though I find some of the cases amusing. Therefore, as per the informal flowchart - which I do, by the way, make exceptions to - I added the post notice on your answer.

I see your rationale for using Wikipedia as a source in general; in this case, I feel like it’s not enough. Normally, I would recommend replacing - or, better yet, augmenting - the link with links to the reputable sources the article uses for the specific point. For the article on acid gold plating, this isn’t an option, so I think you’ll have to dig deeper. I wouldn’t remove the Wikipedia reference, but I’d try to find some hard evidence to support the points that acid gold plating is possible with the technology of the alchemist. There’s not much else you need to do for the answer. It’s brilliantly simple, but the key to it should be backed up. With that done, you’re golden (pun intended).

The same basic rationale applies to most of the other answers here, and I’d argue that they can be improved in the same way yours can. Some involve more complicated arguments, and so more individual claims need to be backed up, but on the whole, the same issue applies.

For the record, unless things change in the future, I will never delete an answer simply because it doesn’t have enough . I brought that up from a neutral perspective in the meta post you linked to, and there was no clear support; thus, I see no reason to delete answers. I did delete one answer to the question you answered, but that was for a different reason: It was completely unrelated to the question.

I'll be a bit more specific by what I mean by "popular science", as Peregrine Rook asked about. If I had to define the term, I'd say

Any secondary source which reports on an unaffiliated scientific investigation and translates the conclusions there into something understandable by the average member of the public.

Some keywords there:

  • "Secondary source" - This is not a short article written by scientists about their work, which you might see in certain magazines. This content is written by someone else, who may or may not have experience in the field.
  • "Unaffiliated" - This is not a public outreach page written by, for instance, NASA, about work by NASA scientists. Again, the person writing this may not have experience in the field.
  • "Translate . . . conclusions" - This may sound harsh, but a lot of popular science pieces jump straight to the conclusions of a scientific paper or journal article and extrapolate from there. I originally inserted the phrase "content, ideas, and" before "conclusions", but in my experience, the intermediate steps are often skipped. This leaves the reader with a poor understanding of the concept.
  • "Average member of the public" - You're not likely to see technical terms in a popular science article; if you do, they might just be buzzwords, added to make the piece look cooler.

Well, that was a striking indictment of popular science writing, perhaps a bit on the harsh side. I'm primarily targeting online articles on places not normally devoted to science, or which generally only lightly dip into the actual science. News sites (e.g. bbc.com), general non-science sites (I can't think of a better term, but see e.g. wired.com), science sites that skim the real science (e.g. space.com or universetoday.com), and others all fall under this definition. Some are better than others - the last two are decent - but many are fairly terrible.

The definition excludes things like scientific journal websites. I don't mean vanity press sites; scirp.org has been cited in non- answers, and it's absolute crap. The same goes for viXra.org, founded by those who didn't like arXiv's (limited) peer review system. Even arXiv.org isn't always reputable; it doesn't have a full-fledged peer-review system, and I've seen terrible stuff there, though those are edge cases. Papers from proper journals, though - Nature, Science, etc. - are not popular science, obviously, and even lay articles on these journals' websites can be decent.

NASA's website (and, of course, other space agencies, although NASA's is pretty awesome) is not popular science if (and only if) the article focuses on work done by NASA scientists, or if it contains data from peer-reviewed papers. For instance, I recently wrote an answer on Astronomy Stack Exchange including data from this index, which is an informal repository of NASA's Kepler data. The ESA website has something similar for data from Gaia (with an awesome interface I'd recommend checking out).

Websites from institutions of higher education may or may not be popular science; it depends on whether the page is an article written for the university or college's general website or whether it's a page designed as part of a course for a specific department or as supplementary material. This is perhaps hard to explain, but it varies on a case-by-case basis.

Now for Wikipedia, which I grouped separately from popular science. Personally, I agree with Tim B's comment:

I think the main point here is that Wikipedia is NEVER an authoritative source on anything. It's a great reference and a good place to start looking but you always need to dig to the authoritative sources behind it. And be aware of https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/citogenesis.png

I would advise, if you choose to start at Wikipedia, looking at the references it cites, while being clear to evaluate that those references are valid (checking that they're "reputable scientific papers", as they flowchart shows). I would not recommend using Wikipedia itself as a primary reference, only as a secondary one to explain a side term. That said, I feel that the community is a bit divided on this; that tag wiki even says (per ArtOfCode's suggestion)

Wikipedia is usually OK too.

I strongly disagree; even the best Wikipedia articles link to primary sources that are loads better. Take the time to read them and fully understand them; don't just be lazy and rely fully on a secondary source.


After you edited your answer yesterday, I removed the post notice from your answer, which now has a reference supporting exactly the part of the answer I felt needed referencing. I hope other answerers will do the same.

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  • $\begingroup$ By "popular science" do you mean things of the calibre of Scientific American? I would have put that on the other side of the line -- stronger than Wikipedia (in general), weaker than a peer-reviewed journal article in the field. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Oct 10 '16 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio I'd file that firmly in the Other category. I've seen some very good articles from Scientific American and a few not-so-good ones. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 10 '16 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ As usual you've gone above and beyond with this answer. Thank you. I appreciate the transparency with your thought process (and flowchart). I will add some better sources for the acid gold plating point. (You're right about the mercury poisoning link; that was just for a bit of tangential fun.) $\endgroup$ – type_outcast Oct 10 '16 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868: I don’t have a horse in this race; I just stumbled across this because it was a “Hot Meta Post”. That said, (1) I believe you could (should) do more to answer Monica’s question: what sorts of things do you mean by “popular science”? (2) I would like to suggest that the upper-right quadrant of your flow chart should look like this (the diagonal line is the only change), and that the paths that currently lead to the “Add post notice” at the bottom should actually snake around and back up to the top, … (Cont’d) $\endgroup$ – Peregrine Rook Oct 14 '16 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ (Cont’d) …  to “Are there any numbers to back up the claims?”  (I suspect that those changes would more accurately describe what you actually do; if not, I suggest that you should modify your process in accordance with those changes to the diagram.)  (3) Thank you for posting this; I have bookmarked it.  Transparency, clarity and illumination in moderation are good things (which sometimes seem to be in short supply). $\endgroup$ – Peregrine Rook Oct 14 '16 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ @PeregrineRook I agree, that's a good change to the flow chart and better reflects the real decision making process. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 19 '16 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ I think the main point here is that Wikipedia is NEVER an authoritative source on anything. It's a great reference and a good place to start looking but you always need to dig to the authoritative sources behind it. And be aware of imgs.xkcd.com/comics/citogenesis.png $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 19 '16 at 10:33
  • $\begingroup$ @PeregrineRook I addressed both your points in an edit; thanks. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 19 '16 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB I agree with you about Wikipedia; I talked a bit about that. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 19 '16 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 I think we both hold a similar position with regard to Wikipedia. I think it is worth re-iterating though as people give the site rather more authority than it deserves. It's a useful resource, but not an authority. I like the edit you've added, sums it up pretty well I think :) $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 19 '16 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ It might be worth a separate discussion about changing the tag wiki to reflect this. One of the problems with wikipedia is that even if all the claims are correct and sourced at the time you link to it, bizzaro-land claims can be added at any time. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 19 '16 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB Indeed, that is an issue, and linking to a specific revision can be annoying. If you want to bring this up as a meta question, that would be great; I sometimes feel like a broken record when asking about the tag on meta. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 19 '16 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ I feel xkcd Dubious Study would make a nice addition to this answer. Just because it looks scientific doesn't mean it is a good citation for a [hard-science] answer. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 7 '17 at 6:36
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB -- Late to the party, but I concur with revisiting the tag description. Wikipedia itself claims that it is not a reliable source for academic writing or research. They consider themselves a tertiary resource and a ready reference. A hard science tag should demand the most rigorous resources available. If someone places a WP link in their answer, as a sort of shorthand, they had better back that citation up with proper journal articles, etc. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 27 at 17:45

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