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Note: This question does not aim to devalue the hard work and time moderators are devoting for this site. Moderators will always have my respect (and this community's); however this question aim to criticize their actions imposed on wrong (or flawed) answers.

The point of presenting each case is to point out the new reasons moderators are coming up with to delete an answer (i.e. original research issue, wrong reference, flawed answer, a lot of downvotes).

In each case, it seems like moderators have gone far more reasons for deletion of an answer, where only those exist so far:

  • commentary on the question or other answers
  • asking another, different question
  • “th anks!” or “me too!” responses
  • exact duplicates of other answers
  • barely more than a link to an external site
  • not even a partial answer to the actual question

Below are cases of flawed answers deleted by moderators:

CASE 1:

One single moderator has deleted THREE answers to a question. According to the question asker:

At least one of those answers was imperfect but shouldn't/needn't have been deleted.

The moderator's response was:

I wrote that I would tend to remove all the answer because they're original research, and later another moderator recommended to go through with the deletion.

CASE 2:

The questioner was asking about gold-standard related defaults, the answerer explained why they are not defaults. It got deleted (and converted to comment).

The answerer said:

I believe what I wrote was on-topic and an answer. What I wrote was intended to be an answer, not a comment. It did answer the question as asked. Since I have a pretty good idea of what usually distinguishes a comment from an answer, I'm still wondering why was this converted to a comment?

CASE 3:

Another answerer complained about his deleted answer on this FAQ question, he said:

I don't believe that this was an appropriate use of the moderator power. If there are any issues with this answer, they could have been resolved either by a comment or by making an edit.

The moderator replied:

The purpose of this post is to explain the decision, so that people don't think it's some evil attempt at censorship. It isn't. We just want those questions to look good as they will be heavily linked to.

Another member replied:

I don't understand how questions look good if minority opinions get deleted. They just look undisputed, not good - good is a very subjective category for a skeptics place. As they will be heavily linked to, isn't a real argument too; the 'as' is just a conjunction. For the people who come later, it looks as if there hasn't been a discussion, so they might ask the questions/repeat the opionions, which got deleted, again and again. And why is this announced so shortly before performing the action without discussion? You're very right in your sorrow, this might look like "some evil attempt at censorship". Of course it does, and of course it is always announced as a cleaning process.

CASE 4:

Another answerer got his answer deleted a theoretical answer:

I feel like this is a very opinionated removal of my answer. If you don't think it is helpful and speculative, downvote it. I'm stating that one of the claims in the original citation is wrong. I'm surprised that the only answer supported by actual science is removed as "not based on facts". I'm a physicist by the way...

Moderator's response:

Skeptics' public though are experts in examining evidence, not physics and can't really judge -- we answer questions on any physical science, plus history, social sciences, etc... They might look at the link in the latter answer and ponder whether the "National Lightning Safety Institute" is a reputable source, not whether Maxwell laws allow for it.

Answerer comment:

I believe wrong answers should not be deleted. For that, there is voting system. Moderators are there to clean up spam & misuse of the site, not to judge the answers' clarity and relevance.I do understand your reasoning, I just do not agree with the action.

I find this comment very accurate and true.

CASE 5:

A moderator deleted an answer and said:

An answer like yours is a model of how the system works. That means: if the model is applicable, then the answer is correct. What is missing is proof that the model is applicable with any generality.

In order to prove that one could... go and measure the emitted radiation -- which is all that is needed to answer the question, coincidentally.

The answerer replied:

I can understand the remark, I'm just still very surprised that answer was just purely deleted. Two days ago an unsourced answer was provided. It's still available and voted minus 1. For what reasons should an unreferenced answer be kept on the website and one such as mine be deleted within 27 minutes? Sounds very illogical to me. (Also haven't had the time to edit my answer again yet.)

CASE 6:

A moderator deleted one answer (the other was too similar) and his answer:

The answer wasn't acceptable:

It used the "I could just post a blog article" line. That is covered here.

It used the "But what about the other answer?" line. That is covered here.

Most importantly, I interpreted the comments as declining to provide references, which, according to policy is a trigger for deletion:

Answerer comment:

In conclusion, your answer seems to justify the deletion based on 'Original research' by slyly diverting the attention to a claim I presented which I referenced poorly. If you wish to justify your actions than you should point out why this original research (for that's what it is) is more worthy of deletion than all the other original research out there. In it's current form it's of poorer quality, sure, but suddenly deletion worthy level of different?

CASE 7:

My case: look here.

The list goes on.

CONCLUSION:

By massively deleting flawed, downvoted or wrong answers, you're taking away the opportunity for the answerer to improve their answer if there is a dissenting viewpoint that someone may not have initially addressed in their question, or in the community voted answer.

You are also removing answers which follow the rules. Just because an answer is wrong or has a low score doesn't mean that it is a violation of policies.

Down-voting exists here for a reason here.

Answers should be allowed to stand for judgement by the process of voting. You are preventing this to happen.

If an answer is poor, it will be down-voted. It will not top the list of answers. Its flaws might be explained in the comments. It will get thrown in the bottom. After many downvotes, it will be greyed out. Visitors will surely know it is an untrusted answer.

But, as long as it is an answer which follow the rules, why prevent it to exist?

The answer may provide a source of another skeptical claim that someone can ask and answer, letting more people participate in the reputation process to reach this supposed state of nobility.

Skeptics should allow us to learn as well as be exposed to new information.

Trying to fix the most glaring problems, either through edits or comments, should be the preferred response. If the source is untrustworthy, add a comment pointing out that, or downvote. Edit the answer if you find some flaws, remove the reference entirely if it is truly not relevant to the question.

But deleting a quality on-topic answer related to the question directly without notifying the answerer? This is plain rude and inappropriate.

Your actions are putting SKEPTICS censorship at worst.

Please, stop.

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    If you have a question, feel free to ask it, but this question is just a rant. Sorry you think we are censoring. You can contact the community managers using the link in the footer and complain about us mods. Or, you can actually ask a question or propose a new standard we can vote on. – Sklivvz Aug 26 '14 at 20:46
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Just to present the opposite opinion and allow actual community consensus to be formed here: You're absolutely right. Wrong answers should get elaborate comments by active users (such as the other moderators answering here) explaining why they are wrong. The community should next vote to the best of it's ability in deciding what they think of the answer, whilst taking those comments into account. Having moderators judge what they consider bad and good answers should not be a part of the moderators job. Right now moderators here on this StackExchange site have become their own force, rather than just being a steering force of a far greater community. Take such a thing like their (the moderator's) policy on original research: It's actually against community consensus (that's the highest voted answer on this issue here on meta... I have searched a lot) and yet they keep on enforcing it all the time.

Reasons for deletion should be similar to other SE's, where answers have to be offensive, very low quality, etc. to be deleted. Deletion is not a way to enforce arbitrary guidelines on people, but a way to keep the site looking professional. The disagreement of one or more moderators with an answer should never be the cause for deletion.

  • "that's the highest voted answer on this issue here on meta... I have searched a lot". That is evidence that the Original Research question has not been resolved completely, but it is cherry picking to cite only that answer, and claim it is pro-Original Research. It argues against a hard-defined standard, and several other upvoted answers to related questions take different approaches. – Oddthinking Aug 27 '14 at 14:45
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    "moderators judge what they consider bad and good answers" - I would distinguish between bad/good and correct/incorrect. We don't do the latter. We do the former. It isn't just mods. We respond to a lot of flags complaining about questions. Maybe we should encourage more people to be more directly vocal rather than flagging, so it is clearly a community standard issue not a mod pet peeve. (I remain willing to take the flak for people unwilling to do so.) – Oddthinking Aug 27 '14 at 14:48
  • @Oddthinking: That's why I pointed out it's the highest voted answer to such a question, thus meaning it has had the highest amount of community input. – David Mulder Aug 27 '14 at 14:49
  • That post is from the early beta, most of our current policies didn't exist back then (unreferenced answers were not deleted, and notability requirements didn't exist as well). It is not really representative of the current state of the site – Mad Scientist Aug 27 '14 at 14:53
  • @Fabian: If that is so, then how come the apparent new community hasn't upvoted an alternative answer on such a crucial question and downvoted that one. Beyond a couple of moderators of course. – David Mulder Aug 27 '14 at 14:54
  • @DavidMulder all mods have been elected by the community with the explicit mandate to act as they are. In fact half of us were protem who help shape the site rules in what you are contested. Even then most of us come from an earlier failed experiment ( [atheism.se] ) which failed exactly because of the lack of similar rules. – Sklivvz Aug 27 '14 at 15:40
  • I suggested that this question evidence that the issue hadn't been resolved. Notice there are several pro-OR answers that have between -3 and 1 upvote, so arguing that there is community consensus FOR letting Original Research sit is untenable. – Oddthinking Aug 27 '14 at 15:44
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By massively deleting flawed, downvoted or wrong answers, you're taking away the opportunity for the answerer to improve their answer if there is a dissenting viewpoint that someone may not have initially addressed in their question, or in the community voted answer.

Disagree. We have no mechanism way of "closing" an answer in a way that other people can fix it, but the answer can still be fixed by the OP. Answers are not removed for having a dissenting viewpoint.

You are also removing answers which follow the rules.

Disagree. I don't think any of these examples demonstrate that.

Just because an answer is wrong or has a low score doesn't mean that it is a violation of policies.

Agree.

Down-voting exists here for a reason here.

Agree.

Answers should be allowed to stand for judgement by the process of voting. You are preventing this to happen.

Disagree. Answers that follow the minimum community standards should be allowed to stand.

If an answer is poor, it will be down-voted. It will not top the list of answers. Its flaws might be explained in the comments. It will get thrown in the bottom. After many downvotes, it will be greyed out. Visitors will surely know it is an untrusted answer.

That's an axiom that the Stack Exchange sites are premised upon. If one doesn't think that is true, this is the wrong site for them.

But, as long as it is an answer which follow the rules, why prevent it to exist?

Agree. As far as I can see, in every example you gave, it didn't follow the community standards.

The answer may provide a source of another skeptical claim that someone can ask and answer, letting more people participate in the reputation process to reach this supposed state of nobility.

Disagree. I am a bit flustered by the "supposed state of nobility" part. The idea that randoms can post unreferenced claims in their answers, that we then treat as a notable clam and start again seems unworkable to me. We will be generating gibberish and then chasing our tails to prove it wrong. Let the onus of proof be on the answerer, not the reader.

Skeptics should allow us to learn as well as be exposed to new information.

Agreed, but not relevant.

Trying to fix the most glaring problems, either through edits or comments, should be the preferred response.

Agreed; and it is. Check out the number of edits made by the mods. We can't handhold every bad answer though.

If the source is untrustworthy, add a comment pointing out that, or downvote.

Agreed. If there is a source, and it is untrustworthy, that's what we do. If the source is the poster themselves, we have a problem.

Edit the answer if you find some flaws, remove the reference entirely if it is truly not relevant to the question.

Agreed. Removing a reference doesn't happen often, but yes, that happens.

But deleting a quality on-topic answer related to the question directly without notifying the answerer? This is plain rude and inappropriate.

You haven't shown any examples of quality on-topic answers being deleted. All deletions are notified automatically. Most all get a note of some sort. (Not always practical on mobile devices though.) Sorry to come across as rude.

Your actions are putting SKEPTICS censorship at worst.

Disagree. What is bringing people and keeping people on this site is that the community doesn't tolerate the half-baked nonsense that dominates other Q&A sites. If you want Yahoo! Answers, it is there for you. If you want definitive answers, based on empirical data to questions that are worth answering, Skeptics.SE wins.

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    "If you want Yahoo! Answers, it is there for you." I do not want Yahoo answers. I want a wrong unreferenced answer to be downvoted with a -7 instead of being deleted. My answer has been deleted without a prior warning. It did follow the FAQ guidelines. – George Chalhoub Aug 27 '14 at 18:37
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    "What is bringing people and keeping people on this site is that the community doesn't tolerate the half-baked nonsense that dominates other Q&A sites." Disagree. StackOverflow doesn't tolerate wrong answers, they get downvoted (and grayed out). What made StackOverflow stand from other coding sites is that good correct answers stand out at the top (often with upvotes and a green tick), wrong answers get downvoted. Also, you probably don't have any evidence for this claim. – George Chalhoub Aug 27 '14 at 18:43
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    "You haven't shown any examples of quality on-topic answers being deleted. All deletions are notified automatically. Most all get a note of some sort." Here is one example. Sudden deletion of a quality answer which had flows, but followed guidelines. There hasn't been any prior notifications (The answer will be deleted if you don't fix bla, bla bla). The sudden deletion of this answer is obviously a mistake by the moderator.Having an answer deleted where a lot of effort has been put into is very frustrating for the answerer(and rude). – George Chalhoub Aug 27 '14 at 18:53
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    @georgechalhoub How do you propose to solve the problem that we don't necessarily have experts in the subject here on the site? Plausible sounding answers can get a high score even if they're wrong, especially when a question hits the hot questions list and users from other SE sites see it. – Mad Scientist Aug 27 '14 at 19:25
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    @Fabian, I have something in mind. I'll create a meta question later having multiple solutions. – George Chalhoub Aug 27 '14 at 19:42
  • @george how can you say that the example you give was deleted because it was wrong? There's nothing "wrong" in the answer. It's simply unsubstantiated original research. – Sklivvz Aug 28 '14 at 9:24
  • Also -- it's equally rude, if not worse, to post an answer without reading the community guidelines and then fighting moderators in comments and on meta because one disagrees with the rules, once they are enforced. It is not the job of moderators to hand hold all newbies, tolerating constant abuse. – Sklivvz Aug 28 '14 at 9:28
  • @Sklivvz, Which example? I don't remember saying wrong. I said by "deleting flawed, downvoted or wrong answers". Flawed (include theoretical answers, original research answer, poor or lack of reference). I'm also not a fan of the new title. It doesn't fit with the body. – George Chalhoub Aug 28 '14 at 9:35
  • @Sklivvz, It is not the job of moderators to hand hold all newbies, tolerating constant abuse. I agree, most of the time, newbies post answers that violate community guidelines (mostly a comment, or very-short (two sentences) answers, or thanks). I have no problems with those getting constant deletion. The difference is that the answerers in the cases above were not newbies and answers weren't gibberish (followed guidelines but had some flaws). Thus, deleting them was not a good choice. – George Chalhoub Aug 28 '14 at 9:55
  • Define "gibberish". Are right but unreferenced answers acceptable or not? Theoretical unreferenced answers? Personal opinions and investigations? Appeals to authority? I think that all veterans know perfectly well that these answers are going to be deleted. If they choose to post anyways, are the mods to blame? I find that notion unacceptable. – Sklivvz Aug 28 '14 at 10:22
  • @Sklivvz, gibberish: "unintelligible or meaningless speech or writing; nonsense." Know perfectly well that these answers are going to be deleted. Highly disagree. If you look at the cases above, all the answerers were surprised. – George Chalhoub Aug 28 '14 at 12:47
  • @Sklivvz, If they choose to post anyways, are the mods to blame? I find that notion unacceptable. No one is blaming mods for flawed answers. (On the contrary, we're grateful mods are detecting them). Flawed answers aren't acceptable, no one is saying they are. The argument is, mods should find a way (other than deletion) to deal with non-gibberish (look at the cases) answers; because deletion: 1) Gives an impression to the answerer that his/her can't be fixed. 2) Creates hard feelings, the mods will be more likely subjected to verbal abuse. – George Chalhoub Aug 28 '14 at 12:47
  • 3) The answerer will be discouraged from posting and get embarrassed (imagine a physicist's original research answer deleted). 4) Prevent members or visitors from fixing the answer: giving references (if the answer is unreferenced), pointing out flaws, giving criticism, suggesting removing some theoretical sentences. 5) Prevent more people in participating in the reputation process to reach the supposed state of nobility. – George Chalhoub Aug 28 '14 at 12:48
  • Another moderator has pointed out that some answers (let's assume original research) get a lot of upvotes and that this site does not have enough experts to deal on those. So, mods delete them. I don't think they shouldn't stay on top (upvotes) nor I think they should get deleted, I have something in mind I will later suggest in meta. – George Chalhoub Aug 28 '14 at 12:48
  • @georgechalhoub but that's exactly what we do when the answer is salvageable. If someone is posting their own theory, or anecdote, or experiment, the answers cannot be salvaged - it's not a matter of adding references in most cases. "Are there ghosts?", "yes, I once saw one" – Sklivvz Aug 28 '14 at 15:09
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I've never heard the reason for deletion be "the answer is wrong".

Moderators have always cited a standard (referencing, germaneness, no original research, etc.) that the answer failed to meet.

There can be disagreements (I've been part of them) as to whether an answer actually fails to meet the cited standard. But those disputes are always about the standard, not the correctness or popularity of the answer.

This is why I think your question would be better split apart into individual cases. If you really believe that an answer was deleted because it was wrong, rather than because it failed to meet an accepted site standard, please make the case for that answer on its own.


FYI, deleted answers can still be improved by the author. When they meet the standard, they can be undeleted.

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This site is different than the other SE sites. This site is not about a specific topic, but about a certain way of answering questions. Pretty much anything can be on-topic here, which is part of the strength of this site, but also it's greatest weakness. We don't have experts for everything here on the site, this makes the usual mechanism of dealing with wrong answers by downvotes unreliable here.

That is the reason why we decided pretty early that we need a hard citation requirements. We don't have the experts to judge all answers here, that is why we require the answerers to provide reliable references to back up their answers. All the deletions you listed are in the end due to this policy. Original research is not a valid answer here because we can't evaluate it properly, we rely on outside source like scientific publications to do that for us.

The alternative would be a site that allows every topic, but has no citation requirement. That site would be helpless against plausible sounding, maybe impressively illustrated, but fundamentally wrong answers. We wouldn't add anything useful to the internet, we would be actively harmful by publishing wrong information. That kind of site is not a site that SE would have graduated, but a site that would have been shut down during the beta. And it is not a site that I would want to be a part of.

Removal of answers that don't meet our strict rules is the only way to enforce the rules. The community doesn't have the ability to remove them effectively, and we can't rely on downvotes to enforce our rules.

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    If so. I have some questions. 1) Why in those cases, have you deleted the answer without notifying the answerer about the hard citation requirement. 2) Why isn't the "hard citation" requirement enforced here. 3) Why not keep "This answer does not cite a reference..." box? – George Chalhoub Aug 26 '14 at 20:08
  • 1+3) We generally leave a comment in cases where the answer is salvageable. The "citation needed" notice is the first step to deletion if the answer isn't improved. That isn't happening consistently right now, but that is mostly because we never got the appropriate tools to let the community enforce our rules (a "citation needed" review queue for example). 2) That is a help center page with the default SE text, we can't edit it unless SE makes it editable. – Mad Scientist Aug 26 '14 at 20:13
  • There's no need to imagine such an alternative site. Yahoo! Answers, Google Answers and Quora show us what that site looks like. – Oddthinking Aug 27 '14 at 0:41
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In addition to the other answers, I'd like to address another point you make.

In each case, it seems like moderators have gone far more reasons for deletion of an answer, where only those exist so far:

I assume you are referring to this help center page.

Firstly, I'd like to clarify one thing: the article says clearly that "Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed". This directly addresses case #2.

Secondly, since this site "is for researching the evidence behind claims", we expect all answers to do exactly that: present evidence behind claims. Answers that do not do that, speculation, opinions, original research, "in theory" answers, etc., are not applying scientific skepticism, and do not answer the question given there's an implied "what is the evidence behind the following claim" in all questions. This is why deleting them is not in contrast with any other site. If you go on English.SE and answer according to the German language, your answer will be equally deleted.

Thirdly, we do acknowledge that the "deleted answers" page should be clearer and should give examples specific to our site (I propose three: "unreferenced", "in theory" and "original research"). We are going to fix it. This is now fixed

Finally, please consider that this site does not have a "topic", it has an approach to answering and it has community standards instead of that. This makes it different from other sites in the network and thus a little friction with new users is inevitable. We want to minimize it, however it's not apparent how we could reduce it further -- if you have ideas, it would be great to hear them.

  • Sorry, but moving the discussion to chat and then deleting the link is not acceptable IMHO. FWIW, the discussion was moved here chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/16772/… . – Dikran Marsupial Sep 1 '14 at 16:08
  • Another mod must have done so. Don't assume that I did. – Sklivvz Sep 1 '14 at 16:20
  • I didn't mean to imply that you had deleted it, just that there is a problem with the moderation [reading it again, it is implcit, please accept my appolgies]. Deleting a link to a chatroom containing a discussion is not acceptable, especially as @Articuno asked me a question there and may not have seen the answer yet. – Dikran Marsupial Sep 1 '14 at 16:23
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    I am sure it was simply missed. It's obvious it should have stayed. – Sklivvz Sep 1 '14 at 16:42
  • agreed; the problem is that it implies that comments were deleted without actually reading them first, which is really not acceptable on any blog. I am a moderator elsewhere, and I do know how time consuming it is, but that doesn't mean such corners can be cut. – Dikran Marsupial Sep 1 '14 at 16:52

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