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I posted this question, Can fracking help reduce CO2?. It got 3 interesting answers, all of which provided some useful information, from users LShaver, Brythan, and Randy Orrison.

Since then, it appears that Randy Orrison's answer has been deleted without a trace. I only found out about it from another user's comment. In fact, the comment also mentions deleting Peter's answer, which I haven't seen at all.

So my questions are:

  • Why was Randy Orrison's answer deleted?
  • Can it to be reinstated, and if so, how?
  • Was another answer also deleted (from Peter)? If so, is there any way I can see what it was?
  • There seem to be a lot of Meta questions about deleted answers on this site. What's the deal?
  • I haven't got a chance tonight. I hope to address this tomorrow if no other mod gets to it first. – Oddthinking Apr 30 at 9:57
  • @Oddthinking: The smart thing to do at that point would be to undelete the (meanwhile improved) answer by Peter, something that would take you but a single click. But I guess you're hoping that, by then, attention to that question / answer will have dwindled, so that your preferred political POV was reinforced and the critical voice goes unheard. Nice move. – DevSolar Apr 30 at 14:36
  • One of the answers I saw only seemed to address the title of the question, not the actual notable claim that was presented. The person who wrote the answer even commented that they were only addressing the title. I flagged it as not an answer for that reason; but I have no idea if that was actually relevant to what happened. – JMac Apr 30 at 15:13
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As the author of one of the deleted answers: My answer didn't address specific merits of fracking but focused on the point that fracking increased the oil supply to a degree which made it a global game changer; or rather, a global game perpetuation mechanism. That claim was actually referenced with a direct quote from a IAEE publication.

The real environmental impact is not related to the specific technology bu to the "perpetuation of the environmental death march" it caused. I used that exact wording which I still find memorable. Adequate as it may be, it apparently didn't go down well with Oddthinking, the deleting mod.

An additional issue is the bit of lateral thinking away from the specific merits of fracking which he understood was avoiding an actual answer (we obviously disagree about that).

As a side note, let me add that I understand what oddthinking is trying to do. The Skeptics SE focuses on sober, reliable dissection of clear facts, and my answer is all soft economy and environment. That is partly because the question fits already only so-so. So while I still really like my answer I can understand if the mod community does not think it has a place here.

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    Not the deleter, but your answer was basically unsourced: you claim multiple things but give no evidence of them -- this is just one example: your answer claims that "the biggest environmental impact from fracking is that it lowers the fossil fuel price", but it can't merely point at the falling price and conclude that "the decline in oil prices is mainly caused by fracking" - it's a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Also, you are not even considering the direct environmental impact, so I don't see how any conclusion can be reached about what is the biggest factor. – Sklivvz Apr 30 at 9:55
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    @Sklivvz I hopefully don't need a source for the basic supply/price/demand relation. So no matter what other influences there are on the oil price, today it is lower than it would be without fracking. That's not a fallacy, that's economics 101. (ctd.) – Peter - Reinstate Monica Apr 30 at 11:53
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    @Sklivvz The more specific impact of fracking on the oil economy was specifically sourced with the quoted IAEE paper. It's not that long; did you read it? Money quote: "Among our key results, there is a statistically significant negative long-run relationship between increased U.S. oil production and global oil prices." That is, increased supply led to lower prices. Duh. That "significant relationship" was clearly visible in the two graphs I posted. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Apr 30 at 11:54
  • Please reread my comment. You are claiming that the BIGGEST impact is from fracking and that the falling price is MAINLY caused by fracking, none of which follow from Economics 101, and are in fact, non-trivial to demonstrate. Furthermore, this was just one of the many claims I read that come out of your pocket and are not supported by the facts you present. We have specific policies to deal with this kind of answers (e.g.look up "theoretical answers" and "original research") – Sklivvz Apr 30 at 12:54
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    @Sklivvz I actually wrote "The biggest environmental impact from fracking is...", which is a subtle but important difference. It also appears self-evident because it concerns the fossil fuel economy wholesale which is on an altogether different scale than any specific, gradual technological differences. Prices falling "mainly" because of fracking is debatable, true. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Apr 30 at 13:28
  • Skeptics SE focuses on sober, reliable dissection of clear facts, and my answer is all soft economy and environment -- maybe I don't understand this site enough, but I don't see it. Afaict, all answers to my question are "soft economy", as the remaining answers both seem to make the unfounded assumption that fracking replaces coal on a 1-for-1 basis. Why are these assumptions allowed and yours aren't? – krubo May 1 at 10:34
  • @krubo Presumably because the claim is that more fracking could reduce the rate of CO2, so to refute or prove that claim, it would make sense to show that the most extreme version of that statement is either feasible or not. If you can show that even under the assumption of all other CO2 emitting sources being replaced with fracking, it still doesn't help emissions, then you've implicitly debunked the softer unstated claim that fracking will reduce CO2 emissions. The claim even mentions being optimistic, so debunking the most optimistic version of the claim makes sense here. – JMac May 1 at 10:45
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Let's start with the focus of this site.

It isn't for subjective discussion.. It isn't for sharing political opinions.. If your answer is based around what option is better, or what social ill is most important, it doesn't belong here.

Subjective discussions and political opinions are important too. But, they aren't on-topic here. Please do have them, elsewhere.

Here we want definitive answers based on empirical evidence with references that address notable claims.


Why was Randy Orrison's answer deleted?

@RandyOrrison's answer [10K rep required to read link] was unreferenced, and purely based on Randy's own speculative theory of what the effect of fracking would have. It does not belong on the site.

Unfortunately, the question appeared on the Hot Network Questions list, which means it got a lot of attention from non-regulars who don't understand the purpose of the site, and subsequently was upvoted.

Sklivvz deleted it as it was a broken window - unsourced, but getting upvotes.

Can it be reinstated, and if so, how?

Randy, or another user with at least 10K rep, could edit it to include references to (a) support the claims, and (b) better address the actual claim rather than the title, and flag it for moderator attention.


Was another answer also deleted (from Peter)?

Yes, @peter-a-schneider posted an answer [10K rep required to read link]

It did have some references. It didn't have references to support many of the paragraphs which contained several claims. The first thing I did was to add a "citation needed" banner.

It explicitly dismissed the question ("Discussing specific merits of the different ways to produce fossil fuels is beside the point") and avoided addressing it.

I went to edit it, planning to save it by removing the political claims, and leave the substance. However, I could not see a way to fix it without substantially re-writing it and changing the tone. I elected to delete it.

If so, is there any way I can see what it was?

Other people's deleted answers are only visible to users with at least 10K rep.


There seem to be a lot of Meta questions about deleted answers on this site. What's the deal?

People post off-topic items, and get upset when they are removed. See the individual meta-questions for individual details.


What can be done to fix this?

It seems to me a good answer would have these elements:

  • explain the hypothesis behind the original claim, with a reference to someone making the argument - i.e. burning fracked natural gas releases fewer CO2e gases than burning coal, so fracking will reduce emissions.

  • explain that the evidence doesn't support this hypothesis. Show that production (or better sales) of coal has not reduced as fracking has increased. [Avoid using prices as a proxy - the price of fidget spinners has dropped dramatically since 2017, but that doesn't mean sales have increased.] Alternatively, if coal production has dropped, show that it hasn't dropped enough - I would be quoting an expert here who has done the calculations.

  • Conclude that the hypothesis that fracking can reduce CO2e emissions is wrong.

  • Stop there.

(This section is based on the premise that Peter's answer was substantially correct. I don't have a personal position on this before I see the evidence.)


Dealing with other comments:

The smart thing to do at that point would be to undelete the (meanwhile improved) answer by Peter, something that would take you but a single click.

  1. The answer was not substantially improved. A dig at me was added to the top suggesting I wasn't aware of climate change.

  2. A policy of undoing all deletions while they are argued about isn't sustainable. It will just mean every political rant and spam source will remain on the site while complaints are dragged out on meta.

But I guess you're hoping that, by then, attention to that question / answer will have dwindled, so that your preferred political POV was reinforced and the critical voice goes unheard. Nice move

  1. Assuming my political POV is pro-fracking is not a safe assumption.

  2. I'd appreciate an assumption of good faith motives.

  3. I prioritised spending my evening having a lovely dinner out over dropping everything to defend myself against insults on a site that doesn't pay me for the time I spend keeping it tidy. That was indeed a nice move, and I would make the same call again.

I feel that moderation is needed when there is an actual problem, not when a statement goes against the grain of a moderator's world view.

The relevant world view here is not about fracking. It is about what this site is for.

That's what the voting system is for, which doesn't deny even the OP to as much as read what a user took some effort to formulate.

Should I post my Game of Thrones slash fan fiction up on this site? It took a lot of effort to formulate. Shouldn't we let the voters decide?

No, on second thoughts, there are plenty of other places I could post it. We should keep this site for applying scientific skepticism.

  • That first paragraph is at the core of the main Skeptics.SE problem. If you have not yet realized that this site is routinely used to disseminate political opinion, much supported by the "question as asked" policy enforced by certain moderators (which is akin to allowing an accused in court to only answer "yes" or "no" to the question of the prosecutor), then that is a problem as well. The policy you describe here means that the whole tone, actually everything that can appear in an answer, is predefined by the OP, with you mods backing that up. That's turning Skeptics into... (ctd.) – DevSolar May 1 at 8:38
  • ...just the kind of opinion echo chamber that you want to avoid. – DevSolar May 1 at 8:38
  • It sounds like this site takes more work than other stackexchange sites I'm more familiar with. Anyway, since I still haven't been able to see Peter's answer, I can't compare it with the answers that have been allowed to remain on the site. But my question didn't mention coal or other ways to produce fossil fuels. So I don't understand why answers are required to discuss coal. – krubo May 1 at 9:32
  • @Odd: Let me assure you that I appreciate the work you do, and I think that Krubo's assumption is correct that moderating Skeptics takes more effort than other sites which aren't as prone to derailing. My stab "must no have been paying attention" was aimed at anyone who would find "death march" a non-factual term for the current trajectory of climate change. That said, I still think that the answer was correct and reasonably well sourced. I also think that your reading of the question is too narrow, so that an overall look at the impact of fracking on CO2 emissions is a valid response. – Peter - Reinstate Monica May 1 at 12:32
  • Oh, and thank you for this detailed answer specifically as well. – Peter - Reinstate Monica May 1 at 12:32
  • @DevSolar: Putting aside whether this is the main Skeptics.SE problem (I would suggest (a) the SE model of assuming popularity=correctness, and (b) the reversal of the burden of proof making preposterous ideas impossible to answer are both bigger issues,) how would you propose we solve this. Open slather posting would make this just /r/skeptic. – Oddthinking May 1 at 14:19
  • @Oddthinking: Right now you are the one holding the judgement over Peter's answer. Have you realized that even the OP is voicing confusion about why "answers are required to discuss coal", when his question "didn't mention coal or other ways to produce fossil fuels"? The ones bringing in other fossil fuels were the two non-deleted answers, yet you judged Peter's answer to "avoid the question" for pointing out that any fossils will only increase CO2. That's more than just heavy-handed, that's POV-pushing, especially combined with mod-deletion instead of commenting to that effect. – DevSolar May 1 at 14:34
  • @DevSolar: Until you understand that my deletion had nothing to do with pushing a POV about fracking (a topic I don't have a firm POV about) and is about a POV of what Skeptics.SE is about, I think we are headed in circles. Given the claim is essentially about how fracked natural gas compares to the existing mix of fossil fuels, I would expect every answer (whether it supports or refutes the claim) to mention coal and oil. – Oddthinking May 1 at 22:57
  • Oddthinking, we have two "answers" that work on the unsourced assumption that more fracked gas means less other fossil fuels burned, looking at whether CO2 savings of fracked gas vs. coal are marginal or non-existent. That's OK for you, apparently. Then we have an answer that attempts to point out that consumption of fossils is increasing, and that fracked gas has lowered oil prices, making oil more attractive as an energy source. And you go ape-shit about it, even in the face of the questioner pointing out confusion about why an answer should go into "effectiveness"... (ctd.) – DevSolar May 2 at 4:59
  • ...of coal vs. fracked gas in the first place. I.e., on a rather rickety understanding what is actually asked, you judge what may be answered. This is by far not the first time where you're riding the high horse of claiming to know "what Skeptics is about" while we others don't, and completely missing how this site is being repeatedly used as a tool to disseminate misinformation and spins under your tutelage. – DevSolar May 2 at 5:02
  • Aside: Just read a Twitter thread where a Reddit mod took similar actions to me, but turned out to have an ulterior motive: twitter.com/unabanned/status/1123596561685078018 - I maintain the circumstances are different here, but it is anecdotal evidence against my approach. – Oddthinking May 2 at 8:21
  • @DevSolar I commented this on your answer too, but you seem to be pushing the same misconception here. The claim was that fracking "can help accelerate the reduction of CO2" and the question was "Is there any validity to those claims?". You seem to be addressing if fracking currently is accelerating the reduction of CO2, which is all that increasing CO2 emissions proves. The answers that stayed seem to be addressing the most feasible model given for how fracking could help accelerate the reduction of CO2, then explain why that logic is flawed in terms of the environment. – JMac May 2 at 11:39
  • @JMac: And I answer the same here. What you are looking for is pure speculation that goes against everything we know about capitalism. If the resource is there, and getting cheaper to boot, that resource will be used unless outside pressures (laws and fees) reverse the effect. You don't like that take, and are quite vocal about it. That's OK, to a degree, but it gets problematic when moderators think disagreeing is grounds for deletion, which this meta is about. – DevSolar May 2 at 11:44
  • @DevSolar My issue is that all of this is technically irrelevant to what was asked. The claim is that fracking "can help accelerate the reduction of CO2". The question was "is there any validity to this claim?". You just mentioned that outside pressures can reverse the effects you claim are preventing this from happening. This means that it is possible, and there is some validity to the claims. Showing that current trends imply we won't reach that point doesn't mean the statement has no validity. It means it's misleading, and the existing answers even show that. – JMac May 2 at 11:58
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    @DevSolar: I don't think the deleted answer achieved what you say it achieved. I don't think "ape-shit" describes my actions well. More importantly, the fact that the questioner apparently can't understand what coal has to do with it is precisely why they claim was unclear to them. An answer should explain that link, steelmanning the original claim before tackling it. The original claim relies on coal being supplanted - explain that before then showing coal hasn't been supplanted, thus undermining it. – Oddthinking May 2 at 23:32
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As far as I can tell:

  • Randy's answer was deleted because it didn't link to any sources. That's understandable, since it looks like providing sources is a firm requirement on this site.

  • Peter's answer was deleted for unknown reasons. A comment claims that it did link to sources. So far I can't find a way for me to see Peter's answer.

  • It seems like a lot of answers on this site are deleted for various reasons, which are hard for new users to understand. Some rules are extremely clear (answers must link to sources), but other deletions do not appear to follow such clear rules.

  • The argument that's been made is that mods want to hold this site to a set of high standards. I understand that, and sympathize. However, sometimes I get the feeling that the mods themselves have a rather specific view on what is "correct", and come down pretty hard on anything that doesn't quite fit the mold. Peter's answer, for example, aims at the fact that fracking does drive down oil prices (as it reduces demand), but does not drive down fossil fuel consumption. It uses strong wording, but I feel the assumption is fair (and sourced). It was closed as... (ctd.) – DevSolar Apr 30 at 9:35
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    ..."avoiding the question" and being "a political rant" (as if the claimant's statement weren't, just more carefully worded). -- I feel that moderation is needed when there is an actual problem, not when a statement goes against the grain of a moderator's world view. That's what the voting system is for, which doesn't deny even the OP to as much as read what a user took some effort to formulate. – DevSolar Apr 30 at 9:36

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