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I was very surprised to have a popular answer unilaterally deleted by a moderator.

This is an answer based purely on a theoretical model. We expect answers to be based on empirical evidence rather than speculative predictions. The answer has been marked as deleted. Please edit it to add references to empirical data and flag it for moderator attention in order to get it reinstated

I've read the FAQ on theoretical answers and mine doesn't fit any of those categories (it's not a "back-of-the-envelope calculation", "research level", "pure logic/maths" or an appeal to "common sense").

I'd like to improve the answer, but I just can't see how the given reason applies to my answer. It looks like a generic standard comment, so I'd appreciate a more detailed explanation.

I also really can't see how there is anything "theoretical", "speculative" or "predictive" about, for example, the fact that the Boeing 777-200 (like all airliners) has parallel engines but the photograph in the question shows one engine tilted at an angle.

I've already spent a lot of time and effort on this, and at the time it was deleted the community consensus seemed to be that my answer was a good one (+24, no downvotes, no constructive criticism or suggested improvements, no delete votes).

I'd appreciate more than just a throwaway standard comment.


The question was about whether a photo could be genuine or not, and my answer pointed out specific features of the photograph that couldn't possibly be genuine - for example, that the engines of the airliner in the photo weren't parallel, that one wing overlapped the plane's fuselage in an impossible way, that there was a marking on the fin that could not be part of that airliner's livery and could not be a shadow at the time of day the photo was allegedly taken, etc.

So there was empirical evidence: specific details in the original image that contradict firm facts about the Boeing 777-200's design, the airliner's livery, and the position of the sun in that country and that hour.

Is the issue that these facts need references?

I did also discuss how these details support a published speculative theory that was mentioned in the other (undeleted) answer. I can see how this element of the answer could be described as speculative, and I'm happy to edit it if there's a specific problem - but this discussion was alongside hard evidence.


As a side note, I understand that the moderator is probably feeling somewhat exasperated with that question - which appears to have gone viral and which I noticed attracted a number of extremely poor answers along the lines of "I don't think that's how rockets work" around the same time as mine.

This comment they left on the question seems to express exasperation:

Reminder: Answers consisting solely of your opinions about how planes/missiles/satellites/lenses/photoshop work are NOT WELCOME HERE, even if (especially if) you invoke "common sense" or "obviously". You may post those answers on conspiracy theory forums. Here, you need to link to empirical evidence. Don't post your own analysis. Post (preferably peer-reviewed) analysis by people with relevant expertise.

I understand the exasperation, and I've tried to think if any of this applies to my answer, but my answer really was driven by replicable, demonstrable observations, not opinions (except for the semi-speculative elements which could be edited out if they're a problem - but no-one has commented asking me to do so).

The only part that seems applicable to my answer is the line "link to empirical evidence", which confuses me a little. Is the problem that I included the evidence in an answer instead of linking to it? I am someone who works in digital image editing professionally - does this mean that if I had posted my answer as an article on a 3rd party professional site and quoted from it with a link, that'd be okay, but posting identical evidence directly onto this site isn't okay? This also doesn't match the comment left on the deleted answer.


I've also read FAQ: What constitutes original research?, and that seems to not apply either:

  • "It is up to the answerer to provide valid, verifiable and potentially replicable evidence". No problem - my answer included evidence from the original source, with a replicable demonstration of how the impossible features were confirmed.
  • "Answers are original research [not allowed] when they perform non-trivial analysis of available data and present a novel result which requires specialist expertise to review". No problem - nothing in my answer required expertise to review.
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I was very surprised to have a popular answer unilaterally deleted by a moderator.

I was the moderator. Yes, I deleted it. Yes, it was popular with 24 upvotes in under 24 hours. The fact that it was popular did give me pause, and I briefly apologised in the comments. While unilateral deletion is the only mechanism I have available, but given its popularity and also the effort that had clearly gone into the answer I explicitly alerted the other mods to my action, so it wouldn't go unreviewed.

I generally don't like to go against community voting in this way and I welcome the opportunity to explain my actions here. I can understand you being concerned/upset at such a carefully written answer being discarded, and hope you aren't discouraged by it.

I'd like to improve the answer, but I just can't see how the given reason applies to my answer. It looks like a generic standard comment, so I'd appreciate a more detailed explanation.

[...]

I'd appreciate more than just a throwaway standard comment.

You are right. This is a generic template. I will explain further.

I also really can't see how there is anything "theoretical", "speculative" or "predictive" about, for example, the fact that the Boeing 777-200 (like all airliners) has parallel engines but the photograph in the question shows one engine tilted at an angle.

It isn't a fact that the photograph in the question shows one engine tilted at an angle that is impossible for a Boeing 777-200. That is a conclusion that you drew.

I looked at the photograph and I agree that it appears that the engine is at an unusual angle. I wondered if that was just a trick of the light/shadows. Then I wondered if it was some issue with rolling shutters on the camera. Or JPEG distortions. Or do planes have mechanisms to adjust engine angles that I am unaware of? Or any of a number of other issues I can't begin to imagine. To be clear: All of these are wild speculations on my part, and are extremely likely to be wrong; your analysis is far more likely to be correct. However, these ideas show that simply overlaying templates and drawing green arrows is not sufficient.

Is the issue that these facts need references?

It is an issue that this analysis ideally needs peer-review by experts. Failing that, to at least have been written by someone who is an expert in the field, and can sift through alternative explanations before reaching a conclusion. (This is weaker than the peer-reviewed analysis, because it risks the "Appeal To Authority" fallacy, but sometimes it is the best we can hope for.)

There is Original Research here, and we want OR to be done in channels where it can be judged by domain experts, rather than the community here.

As a side note, I understand that the moderator is probably feeling somewhat exasperated with that question - which appears to have gone viral and which I noticed attracted a number of extremely poor answers along the lines of "I don't think that's how rockets work" around the same time as mine.

Exasperated is perhaps a strong word, but, yes, the question now has three deleted answers which relied on the answerer's personal analysis/expertise. I was hoping to head off more. I can understand having an answer deleted is frustrating (especially when as much effort went into it as yours.) This comment was not specifically directed at you.

As skeptics, we have seen plenty of claimed "photographic evidence" of chemtrails, and people arguing that certain vapour trails hang in the air too long to be contrails, so they must be chemtrails. These arguments are spurious. However, if we are to reject arguments like that, we must also be prepared to reject answers like yours. Even though your answer was, to my mind, far more plausible and quite likely correct (and the upvotes confirm that many readers agree), we need to follow a protocol to ensure this family of arguments are filtered out.

The only part that seems applicable to my answer is the line "link to empirical evidence", which confuses me a little. Is the problem that I included the evidence in an answer instead of linking to it? I am someone who works in digital image editing professionally - does this mean that if I had posted my answer as an article on a 3rd party professional site and quoted from it with a link, that'd be okay, but posting identical evidence directly onto this site isn't okay? This also doesn't match the comment left on the deleted answer.

You touch on a common discussion point with the "No Original Research" rule. Is simply posting it on the web and referencing it a simple workaround?

If you put the analysis in a quality peer-reviewed journal, the answer is: yes, it will be accepted.

If you put the analysis in a blog, people will scrutinise the rest of the blog looking for evidence that the author has the appropriate expertise to perform such an analysis. Even if they do, it would be an appeal to authority, which is dangerous, but better than nothing.

If you put the analysis in a screenshot and post it anonymously to imgur, then you'd probably be pinged by the community for including a very low-quality reference.

"Answers are original research [not allowed] when they perform non-trivial analysis of available data and present a novel result which requires specialist expertise to review". No problem - nothing in my answer required expertise to review.

I think this is the point where we disagree; I'd hazard a guess that your level of expertise (well beyond mine, to be clear) is blinding you to how sophisticated the analysis you are doing actually is - particularly in how many counter-proposals you have discarded.

I'm taking away another message from your meta-question: that the standard template comment I include isn't sufficient - especially when it is a long answer like this one. I did include a brief customisation in form of a comment beforehand, but I will need to consider further how I can avoid appearing so dismissive of the good-faith efforts of an answerer. I apologise for giving that impression.

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    I suspect that if a newspaper did the same analysis re. the angle of the engines, then citing that newspaper as "evidence" would be permitted ... and that reason why it's permitted if a newspaper does it is (only) that its being published means that it has been (by the editor) and can be (by the general public) reviewed. – ChrisW Nov 22 '14 at 15:56
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    @ChrisW it would be allowed, but I would downvote it. A newspaper has absolutely zero authority in terms of forensic analysis of pictures. – Sklivvz Nov 23 '14 at 18:36

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