In the case that medical sources are unavailable, are non-medical sources permissible? If so, what minimum criteria must a non-medical source meet to be considered appropriate - for instance, must it at the very least cite sources? Is this okay in certain scenarios such when answering a question on the MOA of a drug (again when there is no alternative), but not in higher risk situations?

My recent answer on Can caffeine induce sleepiness instead of wakefulness? has prompted this query.

Related: Giving sources when you only trust them partially

  • Wikipedia is fine when we talk about something basic. PubChem usually lists MOA as well and is a reliable source. Most newspaper groups are reliable. Otherwise you can cite text books that are not available on the internet. If you can argue that something is common knowledge (water contains H2O and some other stuff), you don't need a citation for it.
    – Narusan
    Sep 8, 2017 at 7:43
  • [cont'd] PubMed, WebMD, CDC.gov, healthline.com are also reputable sources. Usually you find something there.
    – Narusan
    Sep 8, 2017 at 7:44

1 Answer 1


That question is is quite a bit too narrowly phrased. Not everything that might benefit from backup from other sources needs to be 'medical' or sometimes can be medical.

Illustrating a point about different plant species in an answer about phyto-therapy can give you a hard time finding online medical sources. Contrasting supposedly common knowledge or basic facts with medical advice or medical research can give you a hard time backing it up with online medical sources alone. Sometimes a medical source exists, but it is either behind paywalls or it is simply not online at all.

The point is, anyone striving to provide an answer is regarded as someone having a say because she knows something. Something more than the asker, something more or in addition or improving on, correcting previous answers. Furthering the discussion.

Mere statements are not very helpful in these cases. Arguments need some kind of backup most of the time. Pointing out a logical flaw in a line of reasoning might be sufficiently called out by explaining why you think it is flawed. But when discussing the pros and cons regarding certain effects of certain drugs then you have to start to look at hard data, work other people have done, published material. And quote that, refer to that, give links to that. We need the transparency most. Everyone should form his own opinion.

As an answer poster you are also a judge, a gate-keeper an evaluator of the material available to you, of your own knowledge. As such it is up to you to find the best evidence, the strongest argument the best data to backup your claims, your arguments or reasoning. Low quality sources are permitted! Low quality sources are miserable and shine a bad light on your answer and on you.

That is why we need reliable sources. If you want to backup your claim about the molecular weight, structure or solubility of say caffeine then medical sources might not be the easiest to accomplish what you want to say.

Peripheral sources I would like to call them should be fine to illustrate, to give context to weigh the arguments. Central claims need reliable sources central to the field of discussion. One might contrast yellow press articles with what The Lancet or a research run over PubMed has to say about a certain topic. It will be fruitless to just refer to two TV hosts statements to backup your statement.

You do not know or have the truth. Your sources do not have or know the truth.- Everyone is entitled to his own stupidity. Or geniality. There is always room for improvement.

  • 1
    +1 Some great points in here. Thanks for such a thorough answer.
    – user1571
    Sep 16, 2017 at 20:57
  • 1
    I would note that the use of generic, encyclopedic examples can often help expand an answer when seeking to medically frame Q/A and define terms. More definitive conclusions, beyond say basic definitions, should be backed by authoritative sources (Peer-Reviewed or Institutional [CDC, WHO, etc]). If your source is behind a paywall, still but the DOI up, because at least that will bring someone to an abstract 99% of the time. I say thought because I can point to specific points on Wiki that are factually wrong (& thought so by the field), but that we have been unable to change there.
    – Atl LED
    Nov 13, 2017 at 19:43
  • Agreed. And pure/basic WP-links have content changes without noice. But esp sources behind paywalls need the direct citation/quote. (Although I am in a political dilemma here: still paywalled content should fall under damnatio memoriae). DOI the minimal standard then. // Gravity and centrality being the main drivers to judge the claims or conclusions. Nov 13, 2017 at 20:08

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