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.