I want to preface this by saying that I have spent about a week on this board, and much of that time has been spent on the meta, trying to understand this board's unique rules and requirements for answers. I consider myself a strong skeptic, and as a scientist, I use this type of argumentation on a daily basis. However, I am very frustrated by the deletion of my answer on this question:

Is the EPA's regulation of particulate matter justified with evidence?

The question challenges the EPA's regulation of particulate matter with one source: an opinion article in a newspaper. There was another answer that cited specific evidence, and went a long way towards actually, "properly" answering the question.

However, when the EPA makes a regulation, the must make public their evidence behind it. My answer cited and explained the structure of this evidence, namely the federal register synopsis of their several hundred page long integrated science assessment, or ISA.

My answer not only directly addressed the question (it cited evidence supporting the regulation), but it also explained how any other person might handily find these scientific summaries for themselves.

My answer was subsequently summarily deleted. No explanation, no comment to ask for edits, nothing.

This type if heavy handed deletion is absurd, and is the reason so many people so quickly abandon this board. If the answer is deemed insufficient, the answer author should have an opportunity to respond, and clarify or edit as needed. That is literally the process, i.e. peer review, that this board claims to hold in such high esteem. Yet, the boards moderators have no intention of holding themselves to the same high standards of conduct that they so readily admit leads to knowledge.

Edit: Thank you for your thoughtful responses. I deleted the last part, as I admit that I had gotten emotional regarding what happened. Some commenters below have said that this discussion is exactly what I say is lacking, but I'm not sure it's the same thing. As a new member, who has read a bit of the background, rules and meta, I had no idea that the answer was just "hidden". In fact, my notification on the app provides nothing other than "not an answer, removing", and then it was gone. If you actually want people to edit their answers, and have the intention of reinstating them, then maybe that should be the communication. I think this could lead to much better, and more thoroughly edited, answers.

In response to the individual who removed my answer, I think I have a more philosophical point, but I haven't seen a satisfactory answer as of yet, so I suppose I will address it here.

To what extent must an answer be, and only be, a direct answer consisting of quoted peer review articles? Part of my reasoning behind explaining the regulatory process was to describe how difficult these questions are to answer. The CASAC, which reviews the scientific literature regarding a particular criteria pollutant, consists of sometimes over a dozen career scientists, with years of review of thousands upon thousands of peer-reviewed papers, ranging from physical chemistry to epidemiology and dose-response. They genuinely read them all and discuss them. Then they write an ISA, or integrated science assessment, which is a 2,000 page document summarizing the literature. When the administrator finally makes a decision on a regulatory limit, he or she publishes in the Federal Register, and a significant portion of that publication is the empirical defense of the rule.

My question, then, is what value is there actually in just quoting a sound byte from the document? I understand the lay person isn't going to read the ISA (nor should they have to), but if they don't even understand the process, or have at least looked at the federal government's defined source of answers to their question, then do they actually want an answer at all? To me, part of being a skeptic is fundamentally about knowing that exceedingly complex questions cannot be answered in a few sentences, or resolved by a single study. If this board is only interested in those types of answers, and not an extra answer defining a broader scope, then I will reserve my opinion on those questions. But I don't remember reading anything that prohibited an extra answer providing background, and the specific page number of the document which exists to answer the original question.

Thanks for your time and comments everybody. Sorry for my original impulsive post.

  • As it sounds like your answer provided sourced references to support a scientific argument skeptical of a claim, it sounds like you were doing well and are well-justified in your concern about the moderation approach taken.
    – Nat
    Jul 21 '17 at 5:28
  • The entirety of your last two paragraphs is nothing but bitter complaint and unjustified abuse. Please remove it, it is irrelevant to seeking an explanation of your answer's deletion, and makes it appear that you do not seek such an explanation in good faith.
    – Nij
    Jul 21 '17 at 5:28
  • @Nij Their concerns do have a bit more validity than might seem appropriate on other SE's; there's a culture problem that we're hoping to improve on. The above's perhaps a bit more direct than diplomatic, though it's an important discussion for us to have.
    – Nat
    Jul 21 '17 at 5:30
  • But that is a separate issue that is irrelevant here, and is largely exaggerated or untrue (moderation lacking integrity? choose not to engage in discussion? that such discussion is the only way to advance understanding? heavy-handed deletion is causing many users to leave? total junk even if it was addressing appropriate concerns). It is simply unnecessary and undesirable, and definitely skirts if not crossed the be nice line.
    – Nij
    Jul 21 '17 at 5:37
  • @Nij I do have to agree that the bit about "lacking integrity" is probably more of a disparagement than a constructive point. Though, the concern about a lack of discussion before deletion or the heavy-handed approach is consistent with other concerns discussed on Meta. I tried to talk this stuff out a while ago following a sudden-deletion instance (related Meta), though I started to lose interest after that too.
    – Nat
    Jul 21 '17 at 5:42
  • Actually, I think that I overlooked the language in the above; while some frustration can be understandable, it seems like a focus on constructive concerns could make this a more helpful post.
    – Nat
    Jul 21 '17 at 5:55
  • Thanks for your thoughts, Nat and Njj. I removed that last part. I have read a number of people who have left this board because of removed answers, without opportunities to address the concerns, so I don't feel that is unjustified.
    – Microscone
    Jul 21 '17 at 13:41
  • @Microscone I like that your answer is restored, but I'm not up voting because I am a gas guzzling cigarette smoking trump supporting climate change denying irradiated haggis that doesn't listen to reason.
    – daniel
    Jul 21 '17 at 17:38

I wasn't involved in the deletion of the answer. I read this meta question, and went and looked at the answer (without following the links). I didn't immediately see any problems. Then I came back here and read Sklivvz's explanation. It's clear he performed a more careful examination of the answer, and I understand his reasoning. I hope this is sufficient to allow the answer to be edited and reinstated, because I agree it offers a different perspective to understanding the issue.

But there is more to learn/unpack here.

You say you've spent much of your initial time on meta. I certainly appreciate people who spend the time to check on the local culture before posting in any online community. However, I would hope that new readers don't need to spend too long on Meta, past the "Welcome to New Users"- and perhaps a couple of links from that if they need more understanding. If there are particular aspects of our community that you feel aren't established (or at least clearly introduced) by the Welcome message, I'd be happy to hear about it, so we can improve it.

No explanation, no comment to ask for edits, nothing.

There was a perfunctory reason given, but I understand your frustration. It probably could have been more helpful.

I confess it is a difficult balance as a mod to get rid of the spam and nonsense quickly but to spend time to water the seeds of potentially good answers (and great users). I particularly feel guilty when I am moderating on my phone. The keyboard is not conducive to long, thoughtful comments. I sometimes delete, and promise myself to post a helpful comment later. You'll notice I used canned comments a lot too.

This type if heavy handed deletion is absurd, and is the reason so many people so quickly abandon this board.

[citation-needed] Before we determine whether heavy-handed moderation is the cause of the high bounce-rate, let's determine if there is a higher-than-expected bounce rate. Why do you think that?

If the answer is deemed insufficient, the answer author should have an opportunity to respond, and clarify or edit as needed. That is literally the process, i.e. peer review, that this board claims to hold in such high esteem.

While I would love a feature that allows us to put an answer "on hold" while it is fixed up, no such feature exists. This is not the process here, even if that would be nice.

Yet, the boards moderators have no intention of holding themselves to the same high standards of conduct that they so readily admit leads to knowledge.

We try to hold ourselves to high standards of conduct (but we are still only human [citation-needed]). However, we never claim that we follow the academic process of peer review.

We are even very cautious of claiming too much about the power of the upvoting/downvoting. In general, it does pretty well, but the system has its flaws. (For example, you'll see people grumble about the distorting effect of the "Hot Network Questions" list on the right.)

Your methods for content editing are flawed

Okay. We can discuss that, but I think we are limited by the software we have, which was ultimately written for answering questions about programming problems. By their nature, they tend to be very different because (a) they are often self-verifiable (either the code change provided works to fix the bug, or it doesn't), and (b) they are rarely run along ideological fault lines, where people are actively working to publish false information.

If we wrote the software ground-up to deal with these topics, I think we would end up with a different solution. (I wonder if it would end up looking more like scientific journals!)

Again, despite the less-than-perfect system, I am proud that the results we tend to get are high quality. I love it when a question comes up on Facebook that I can simply dismiss with a link to one of the quality answers on Skeptics.SE.

your moderation lacks integrity

I am sorry you feel that way. We work to avoid that (avoiding both actually lacking integrity, and also the appearance of lacking integrity).

, and quite simply, you choose not to engage in meaningful discussion; the only type of interaction that may lead us to a better understand of our natural world.

You are right. We certainly choose not to engage in discussion on the main site. This is deliberately not a forum for people's opinions. The meta-site and the chat rooms are more appropriate venues for such discussion (as are skeptical forums, Reddit and the like).

(For what it is worth: Your claim that meaningful discussion is the only type of interaction that leads to understanding raised my hackles, and it took me a moment to work out why. It was a tactic used in a discussion I had with a drunk ideologue some months ago to justify his evangelising of his nonsense world view, and I only realised later how much I disagreed with it. It discounts one of my favourite methods of understanding the natural world: empirical investigation. I realise that you don't mean to discount this and I don't at all lump you in the same boat as him, but I thought you might like to know how I first heard it.)

I don't think this response is going to completely satisfy you, but I hope you can see we aren't monsters and we do put some care into this.

  • 1
    I really did not want to address the more polemic part of the question, but since you took the onus, I'll add a couple of comments here.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 21 '17 at 8:12
  • "I particularly feel guilty when I am moderating on my phone." > guilty as charged. The reason that I gave was short because I was on the ipad.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 21 '17 at 8:13
  • 1
    "the answer author should have an opportunity to respond, and clarify or edit as needed" > the answer author does have an opportunity to respond, clarify and edit, both in the answer (which is not locked), in chat and here. In fact, we are addressing their response right now. The fact that the answer is hidden while we do so is the only way that the majority of users will be incentivised to fix their content. Similarly, peer review happens before publishing.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 21 '17 at 8:16
  • 1
    "you choose not to engage in meaningful discussion" > I'm happy to engage in meaningful discussion, but the only content we got from this author in this occasion was a dismissive answer and an aggressive question on meta, neither of which is very conducive to such a discussion at all, so I preferred to stay away from that.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 21 '17 at 8:21
  • Thank you for your extensive response. I think you really hit the nail on the head with the comment about the structure of the site. I'm sure there are a number of limitations that I don't quite grasp yet, as I am very new. And clearly, I should have thought about that and not just blamed the mods. Nevertheless, I think it is important to think about, and maybe even include in the welcome. The last part, however, is hard to wrap my head around. Is it actually skepticism if we only claim to have answers, but never discussions? I think the CASAC review process is a perfect example of his...
    – Microscone
    Jul 21 '17 at 13:54
  • One study, or even one small set of studies, couldn't possibly answer such a difficult question. The Clean Air Act recognizes this, and convenes a group of expert scholars to review the evidence. Can a one paragraph citation of peer reviewed literature actually address such a complicated topic? And if not, what is the value (or damage) in pretending that it can? As I responded elsewhere, another answer gave citations and provided evidence, but I wanted to provide a broader scope to the answer. But if that is not desired here, I understand.
    – Microscone
    Jul 21 '17 at 13:57

I've re-read your post, verified the evidence you present one more time. I still do not understand how it answers the question, and especially how the evidence you present, in four links, represents an answer to the question. Here's what you link to:

None of the first three links contains any direct evidence. The fourth is not specific enough to address the question. It links to a 300-page book and asks the user to look there. If you can point the answer to the specific places where the evidence is at, and cite the passages that show such evidence, I'd be more than happy to reinstate the answer. As it stands though, it really needs to address the question specifically before it's considered an actual answer.

We do have a meta policy on how to cite books, if that helps.

  • Thanks for your response. I think my edit of my original post addressed most of them,but I would like to say that I am pretty sure I wrote a specific page number of the EPA rule where the defense of the rule starts. I actually follow exactly that meta policy on citing books, save for copy and pasting a citation.Their question was "is the band justified with evidence, and I literally handed them the evidence that EPA published.They only question the validity of that evidence in the last few characters of the question, so I genuinely feel there are two parts, only one of which had been answered.
    – Microscone
    Jul 21 '17 at 13:50
  • @Microscone the pointer to the page was not really clear enough, IMO. I've looked there, read through 30 or so pages until I found a clear example of evidence they used and summarized. I've added it to your answer and undeleted--we need to show that such evidence exists, not exhaustively list all the evidence available.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 21 '17 at 15:26

I'm happy that the comments got nuked (besides the one on how to avoid the pay wall). I read you answer and can see that showing the process the EPA take is partly transparent and 3000 pages long could go to answering the question... maybe your answer was just collateral damage so I'd say don't take it to heart.

  • Comments removal and answer removal are done by entirely separate processes. An answer is not typically removed immediately unless it is glaringly off piste or low quality, which prior moderation history demonstrates. There are answers several years old that have not been improved to the extent necessary to justify being kept, and yet they remain. Supposing an answer to be "collateral damage" for a comment string is well beyond reasonability.
    – Nij
    Jul 21 '17 at 5:26

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