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What is buddhism.stackexchange.com 's policy on providing sources. Should it be mandatory or voluntary.?

If we make it a requirement to provide the source we can clear this website from personal biases. I only know about Theravada and any question related to Theravada can be answered by sourcing the Tipitaka.. It will make the site more reliable and less biased..

But there is a practical problem since it's not easy to point an exact location on Tipitaka unless you are an expert..

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    It is impractical to require users to provide scriptural sources, if only because some questions are eminently answerable by other means (e.g. here). That said, we should strongly encourage scriptural sources whenever possible and relevant, and encourage the provision of sources by upvoting good, well-sourced answers. – senshin Jun 18 '14 at 17:38
  • A related question would be whether we should allow answers in the form Zen koans, as here – yuttadhammo Jun 18 '14 at 18:17
  • @Yuttadhammo I'm definitely out of my depth when it comes to Zen koans - they seem kind of useless to me as a layperson, but I suppose that a practitioner of Zen would find that sort of answer most useful. Maybe post about that as a separate meta question? (btw, I think you meant here.) – senshin Jun 18 '14 at 18:29
  • Whoops, yep :) wrong link. – yuttadhammo Jun 18 '14 at 18:31
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I do not believe it should be mandatory. Personal biases are acceptable in a lot of ways and on a lot of SE sites, we don't need to be purely fact based: we are looking for expert views. Great answers may have citations, but depending on the question they may not.

When sources are relevant then I am fully for encouraging (and upvoting) answers that show a depth of research.

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    I'm with @Hrafn on this one. This is not a Buddhology site to require references. Buddhism is a teaching of awakening and liberation, it does not work by the canons of western scientific method. The problem with Buddhism, most practitioners do not know what Enlightenment really is, what Jhanas really are, what Four Noble Truths are really about, hence expert's interpretation is more important than ever. If we limit answers to copy/paste from wikipedia and accesstoinsight.org, how much value are we really creating? – Andrei Volkov Jun 28 '14 at 1:58
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I think that unless it's a personal account type of answer, there should no doubt be sources. I don't think it can required per say, but strongly encouraged definitely.

I'm not master or guru so I always post a link to someone who probably knows better then me what the topic is about. Even if I somehow become a master I will still most likely do the same if its a topic I think another source will help my students.

When we are talking about "what the buddha said" type threads, then I always make sure I have a link to backup what I say, so people know it's not some joe schmoe named Jayantha saying it, but it is what the suttas say. It is very common on Buddhist forums to see " the buddha said xyz" in threads without any proof, and if people read this and don't know about what the suttas really say, confusion can occur.

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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?

IMHO limiting answers to quotes and references will nearly erase the difference between people with practical experience and mere good googlers or theorists. For example, the following answer about the Four Immeasurables was given by a member who declares herself "Newer to Buddhism. Have more questions than answers." Is this what we are looking for this site to become, a place were newbies can copy/paste answers from wikipedia or books without really understanding them, or do we want to see expert interpretations shedding light on Buddhist mysteries and pointing practitioners in (what experts believe to be) the right direction?

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Based on a few recent events (which lead to this, and this and this chat), I'm submitting the following proposal for a more strict policy for answers.

To better justify it, first some background. As many here on B.meta are probably familiar, there are a number of buddhism discussion forums out there, from dhammawheel.com/dharmawheel.net to reedit's /r/Buddhism. Also, in a 2min search on the internet, I could find at least 3 popular sites that support a Q&A modality: Quora's buddhism, answers.com buddhism faq and (again) reedit's /r/Buddhism.

While it's probably clear that B.S.E. is not useful for open-ended/forum-like discussions, a question here is: what does B.S.E. has to offer compared to the other Q&A sites?

Historically, we have been very liberal in our policies, which makes us a little bit like these other Q&A sites. But given our current moment, maybe it's time for a change.

S.E., as many are aware, has a tradition of valuing quality/expert questions and answers that are (often intensely) reviewed/scrutinized by the community. With these elements in mind, I want to argue here that there are popular places were people can go to ask all sort of questions about buddhism on the internet and we should strive to be a place that these other Q&A sites can never be.

I'd like to make a case to focus this site on information, not on personal teaching. I believe B.S.E. can better serve buddhists and non-buddhists by being a place where they can rely on our content to consistently have higher quality than elsewhere.

By "quality" I mean the degree to which a reader feels confident and instrumented to reasonably assess the content by herself without resorting to overly trust the veracity of the content on the identity of the author or his/her reputation (or on how pleasing his words are, or how aligned to ones [mis]conceptions they are, etc).

I hope it's clear I'm not regarding "quality" to be "truth" nor "what the Buddha meant". One could say that this approach "sacrifices true buddhism", but I believe this strategy, for B.S.E., better promotes an approximation to "true buddhism" than any other alternative.

So, "quality" hints on the idea of drawing from the pool of buddhist written knowledge instead of relying exclusively on one's own word. On that vein, @ChrisW pointed me out to two standard notices that moderators in an S.E. community use:

  • "citation needed: Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted."

  • "insufficient explanation: We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed."

Being "standard" probably means they are often used and are intrinsic part of S.E. I agree with him that moderators should try to use "citation needed" more often than they have in the past. Actually, more than that, I think that claims should indeed be required to have proper sources.

Naturally, I'm not proposing this site to be scholarly-driven, much less an emulation of academic peer-reviewing (it seems no other professional S.E. site is like that).

Also on that note, I disagree with Andrei that requiring references in answers would create a community with newbies coping and pasting from wikipedia without understanding them. I agree that this happens, I could even have done this myself. However, a more knowledgeable user is still able to judge it, flag and comment "this is not an appropriate interpretation for this or that reason". Finally, a reader reaching such content is left with distinct perspectives to explore and is served with references to pursue, in order reach his/her own conclusions.

I'm also perfectly aware that by requiring sourced claims, "buddhist answers" (from personal experiences, however deep) might be rejected for lack of references for its claims. One might consider this to be a risk: sacrificing "true dharma". But I question if that's something we want here, to have readers trust us (these anonymous internet icons) with delivering "true dharma" to them -- I like to think that even if I was an accomplished dharma teacher, I still would not write a post here if I could not find good ways to properly inform people without needing them to know me in order to trust what I say.

The reason is that I find that trusting answers from people we don't know are more harmful than rejecting an expert answer that sheds light on buddhism mysteries but fail to enrich it with the weight of other people's knowledge (in the case the answer can reasonably be supported by others). Also, as I have pointed out, there are other places on the internet that one can go to to have this kind of interaction (or simply go ahead and find an actual teacher). In general, but also specifically for B.S.E., I rather be exposed to many misperceptions of buddhism matters of the many groups and traditions (which would likely expose me to the conflicting views so I can take responsibility for my own direction), than having to trust the words and views of single internet user I never knew (regardless of how his words were aligned to my misperceptions at the time).

From what I see here, an "expert answer" without back up would be mostly unchallenged in comments on a community that easily accepts answers without external information -- why pick up a fight? Upvotes are than easily casted based on how pleasing the words are to the voter, not on how informative they are. Needless to say, it's not that a reference is automatically correct -- obviously not. But it's an element of information valuable by itself in the construction of an actual answer in one's mind.

Finally, just to be clear, I'm not advocating that answers should always be referenced. I advocate nurturing a culture in which references for claims are required. Not all answers make claims. Also, some answers might be very insightful in their perspectives without being based on any point of controversy (so no point in asking for references, they are complete by themselves).

There are a number of other possible good outcomes of being more strict on answers (with a clear policy): avoiding needless debates/polemics, being attractive to buddhists experts (who do not have time for needless debates/polemics) and so on.

To move that plan forward to its fullest, we do however might need to restrict the topics of questions as well.

  • "I'd like to make a case to focus this site on information, not on personal teaching" -- to be clear: are you suggesting that "personal teaching" questions of the form "how should I practice?" or "what should I do?" should be off-topic because they invite unreferenced answers? – ChrisW Sep 22 '15 at 21:53
  • Also I'm sorry to ask you to do more work after you put so much into this answer, but same as with Andrei's proposal I'm not sure I understand this proposal until I see how it might work in practice. If this policy were implemented as you envision it, would you identify what effect[s] it would have on several (past or future) real-world examples of questions and/or answers? – ChrisW Sep 22 '15 at 21:56
  • Hi @ChrisW, sorry is taking too long, i understand this is still too abstract and vague, ill try to find time soon to write more on this. – Thiago Sep 24 '15 at 15:28
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As a practical matter, I've noticed that answers with sources are getting more upvotes for being useful than answers without sources in these early days of this forum.

That could simply mean that right now, quite frankly we don't know each other well and don't know who is an expert and who isn't. All most of us lay people can offer up is our own self image which can range from "I know nothing" to "I know everything" and everything in between.

But self images have nothing to do with being useful and helpful to another being. And some of the best teachers I've had in my life wouldn't consider themselves experts. They were humble and had beginner's mind themselves.

It certainly doesn't have to be an either/or as far as providing sources. Answers that are useful to the op and the community will be upvoted whether or not they have sources. That said, sources are very popular right now.

As mentioned above, my newbie response What are the Four Immeasurables (aka Four Noble Abodes)? received all the votes for being useful (at this moment anyway..that will change of course).

Hopefully, we'll be tolerant of each other'styles and let the community decide which responses are helpful to them.

  • This a valid observation, re: sources and upvotes. As for the notion of expertise, the question is not whether one of us is an expert or not, the question is: do we believe that experience leads to expertise beyond what can be read in books, or do we assume that non-bookish knowledge is unreliable and therefore does not have place on this site? – Andrei Volkov Jun 29 '14 at 19:31
  • I understand. From the first comments, the sentiments seemed to be that it would be impractical to require sources is all cases. Certainly offering answers in the form of both book knowledge or personal knowledge would allow for more answers to be given which could be of greater benefit to the op. Hopefully this matter will be put to rest in a definitive way soon. :) – Robin111 Jun 29 '14 at 19:56

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