We get some answers that are of very low quality, that are making significant claims without bothering to reference them. Those answers just assert some claim without backing it up it any way, which is not how it should work on this site.

Those answers are often flagged as "very low quality" or with similar explanations. What usually happens with those is that we moderators or sometimes other users add a comment requesting the user to back up their claims. Additionally those answers are often downvoted, though not as heavily and consistently as I'd like. We also tried adding a banner warning about the unreferenced claims to some answers.

But we are not doing anything else at the moment. As long as the answers try to actually answer the question we don't delete them. We delete answers that are not actually answering the question, or we convert them to a comment. We usually don't delete bad answers if they actually try to answer the question.

The purpose of flags is to notify the moderators of situations where they are needed and should intervene. If you're flagging those answers you are expecting us moderators to take some kind of action. But at the moment the only actions we usually take, commenting and downvoting, can also be performed by any other user, they don't require any moderator powers.

What are you expecting us moderators to do about those answers? In general, how should we, the community, handle those problematic answers? Is our current approach enough, or is there anything else we can do to improve the quality of the answers on the site?

  • Do these answers tend to get a lot of unreasonable upvotes, or do they usually remain with negative scores? I've seen both here but I'm not sure which ones get flagged.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 11:42
  • @Aaro The voting is all over the place on those, often they are slightly below zero, in very active questions they sometimes get heavily downvoted, but occasionally they get also quite some upvotes, usually when the question is linked from the supercollider.
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 12:16

3 Answers 3


I think your explanation has already helped me, at least. Knowing that flags are specifically for moderator action is helpful. I will say that when my reputation was high enough to monitor review items, it was not clear exactly what I was supposed to do. Typically these are edits by a new user and easy to approve. Yesterday (perhaps prompting this post) there were several that requested someone either flag them or something else (maybe override an existing flag?). I agreed that the answer was low quality, so I flagged it.

Having this post is much more helpful for knowing that instead of flagging, I myself could take the necessary action to fix the issue.

Perhaps the only response, then, is to make the intended possible actions more clear somewhere. Namely:

  • Flags: flag answers/comments that require action on behalf of a moderator. Statements that are not actually pertinent, abusive/offensive, or similar. Namely, something that should no longer exist or is a repeated offense from a given user. Also, if you think an answer should really be a comment, flag it and a moderator can convert the answer into a comment (it will be as if the user posted a comment from the beginning -- thanks Borror0).

  • Comments: Used to add information or input to a question/answer, or in situations where a full answer is not able to be given but some tangential information (LINK) may be helpful.

  • Downvotes: Used for poor answers (lacking sources, anecdotal, etc.). Essentially answers that are on-topic, pertinent, but are just not good answers (LINK).

Caveat: I'm not sure what sort of reputation points are required for deleting an answer after making it a comment. Perhaps situations where reputation is not high enough to pull off the desired action is also a case for flags for moderator action.

  • Only moderators can convert an answer into a comment. Whenever you feel an answer should be converted to a comment, flag it so we can address the problem.
    – Borror0
    Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 18:50
  • @Borror0: Does it really "convert" or just make a comment in the name of the moderator? I swear I just saw a moderator tell someone they were going to make the person's answer a comment... but the comment was in the moderator name, not the person. I could have been hallucinating. If moderators really can convert, then I'll update my answer. If not, can a regular user just copy/paste/summarize, make a comment, and then delete the answer?
    – Hendy
    Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 18:54
  • It deletes the answer and post a comment in owner's name. To users unable to see deleted posts, it's as if the user had wrote his post as a comment all along.
    – Borror0
    Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 20:16
  • Great -- then I'll update the above. I must have hallucinated after all.
    – Hendy
    Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 20:18

As a guideline for users, not moderators:

  1. Don’t flag the answers. Instead, comment with an explanation and a link to the FAQ. Furthermore, add a banner to the answer saying that it lacks references. Downvote to show your disapproval and to prevent this answer from rising to the top if other people upvote it.

  2. Remove the downvote and the banner (and perhaps the comment?) as soon as the answer has been amended to your satisfaction.

I’ll try to remember doing that as well, I do it not nearly often enough.

I think deleting answers is only rarely necessary (and this is the only kind of action only a moderator could do here) and I agree with Fabian about the cases where deletion is a good path of action.


My philosophy here is that there is a difference between bad and embarrassing.

The key decision to make is:

Does this question and its answers, on the whole, make the internet better ... or worse?

If the answer is so bad that it sours the whole page, it should probably be flagged and removed. If it's just "not great", so long as there are other better answers, and a constructive comment is left for the OP on some ways to improve the answer, that's OK.

  • 1
    Jeff, with all due respect, without a practical example, your answer is actually not very useful to me. I am all for implementing principles, but I strongly believe this is a matter of gauging the correct response. Can you give us an example of "bad" and "embarassing" answers, possibly not using extreme examples? :-)
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 19:19
  • @skl bad would be an uncited, unverified opinion presented with no evidence at all. Embarrassing would be an uncited, unverified opinion presented with no evidence at all that evangelizes scientology, creationism, or other things that actively promote ignorance. Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 20:28
  • Thank you very much.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 20:57
  • @skl I'd say anything that is overtly anti-science, directly or indirectly, would move an answer from bad into the embarrassing category. Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 21:05

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