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Introduction

Today I saw the Q&A How to compare power towers in Mathematica?. In the comments of the question, our users show that they are upset how math.SE handles what is essentially the same question.

Now it seems the bad answers there were downvoted and/or removed, a victory for the SE model!

I do not know which factors caused a good resolution of this problem. Whether that is the good discussion in the comments mentioned above, or the total bounty worth 850 points (500 if you do not count reinvested bounty). But offering 500 points to settle a discussion is not usually sensible.

Another Q&A

The whole ordeal in links above reminded me of this answer (by Andreas Lauschke, for reference). In my opinion, this is a bad answer, as the answer may mislead people to think the output of FindShortestTour is wrong in this case, which I think is incorrect. I share Oleksandr's views in answer and I feel this explains why the output is correct. The tools to which the answer refers may be nice (or may not be), but it seems irrelevant to Q&A if FindShortestTour behaves as expected. Nevertheless, the answer got 7 upvotes and a total "score" of +5.

I was considering asking a less general question on the meta, just to ask users to look at it and see what they think. Furthermore I considered flagging it for a moderator. I also considered suggesting an edit to see if that got enough support, but now that I have the privilege of editing myself, I did not want to bluntly edit it without consent. Another alternative might have been to discuss this in chat.

Note that Stefan also commented on the answer by Andreas Lauschke in his answer in italics, as can be seen from the revisions of his answer. It was suggested that such comments should be put on the meta site. I am glad that when Stefan posted his answer, Oleksandrs answer was not the top answer, but now it is.

Caution / tact

I guess I feel a bit awkward and uninformed about how things work here. An example that made me a bit nervous is this Q&A. I made a rash comment there and my answer needs some work. I hope I did/do not come across like soliciting for upvotes.

I want to be careful before "asking somebody to downvote something", or before using moderation tools. But I am very interested in this kind of thing and I want to be more able to contribute/participate in discussions and issues concerning voting. I hope this question will resolve the issue around Andreas Lauschke's answer as a side effect. In fact, if you agree with me I would have you upvote my last comment to his question (rather than downvoting the answer).

My more general questions

Should moderators ever delete/edit a question because of its technical (as opposed to textual/grammatical) contents, and if so should the cooperation/activity of the OP be a factor?

What steps should we take if we feel a particular disagreement on technical contents deserves a resolution?

P.S

I have many more questions about voting, but that may be something for other Q&As :)

  • 2
    I'm not posting an answer because I haven't taken time to reflect on this yet, but my gut reaction is: No, it is not appropriate for moderators to edit (or censor) questions based on technical contents. A down-vote and a comment explaining why an answer is incorrect should be sufficient. Only if there is en masse voting from non-regular users (e.g. a question that has "gone viral") that directly contradicts the opinion of our contributing users would I even consider taking any moderator action, and then I'd have to consider very carefully. – Mr.Wizard Jul 12 '13 at 1:58
8

There's a lot in this question

1. Moderators deleting answers for technical content

I agree with Mr.Wizard on this, and I've also taken the same stance in a few other meta posts of mine: Moderators shouldn't be forced to delete answers for technical content. Of course, "technical content" might be broadly interpreted by some to mean anything not spam, so let me further clarify how I view it:

  • If the answer genuinely tries to address the question and is wrong because of lack of knowledge/misunderstanding of the question/certain non-obvious pitfalls/etc., then I usually comment and don't downvote. I usually reserve answer downvotes for cases when the user refuses to acknowledge that there is something seriously wrong or if the answer is wrong and snarky/rude/etc.

  • If the answer makes no attempt to answer the question, but is otherwise not spam (e.g. comments/clarifications from new users or new questions as answers), they're either deleted or converted to a comment if it adds something of value to the entire post and has not already been mentioned by someone else.

In fact, IMO moderators shouldn't really be asked to do something the community can do, just because it "gets done faster". In this case, 20k+ users can also vote to delete answers if their score is negative and they don't necessarily have to follow the same policy as moderators. If only they just cast a downvote + delete vote for every "Not an Answer" flag they cast, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. (Of course, exceptions exist for when something is "too old" to get the community's attention.)

2. Soliciting for downvotes

I think this has the potential to make this place toxic and would not advise it. Instead, just explain why you're downvoting (allowing the other person to make a rebuttal/improvement) and if others agree with your assessment, they can downvote as well.

Also, if you've removed your downvote after the OP successfully improves their answer such that your comment is no longer valid, then please flag for a moderator to remove the previous comment thread (use the text box to explain). Many people don't read all the comments or expand all the comments and the last thing you want to happen is for someone to downvote based on your old (and now invalid) comment. At the very least, delete your comments.

3. Recommendation of proprietary tools

I'm the moderator involved in resolving the issue with the set of answers that you link to, and let me explain a bit more.

In a comment discussion with Stefan, it became clear that his main objection was that Andreas' answer was rather tangential to the question and it seemed to be primarily about the proprietary software that Andreas develops and sells. Note that it is expressly allowed to mention your products in your answers if your participation here is in good faith and not all your answers are about your products. I removed that paragraph because if a user has a point to make about a certain issue or "voting policy" (we don't have anything like that), then meta is the place to discuss it, not an answer on main.

I believe Andreas' intentions were honest and barring the clause about disclosure, he satisfies all requirements re: participation. I discussed this with Andreas and he apologized and said he was unaware of the disclosure requirement. He agreed to add a disclosure to his future posts (see his latest answer) and also edit it in his previous ones. I was the one who told him to not edit them all at once and flood the home page, but instead stagger them or edit them in when he revisits his answers. I've added in the disclosure for the specific answer and feel free to edit it in if you come across other posts, but please don't go on a witch hunt and make things unpleasant. Hopefully, we can consider this matter settled.

4. Polling in the comments

I've removed the poll comments from under Andreas' answer, since my edit to the answer (as explained above) renders them unnecessary. I don't think any good can ever come out of an instant comment poll on a certain user/behaviour/answer (they're more likely to take it the wrong way).

If you have something to discuss, bring it up on meta and discuss the behaviour in general terms, rather than focusing on a specific user (unless if it is absolutely necessary to discuss the user, which is not the case here). The reason I always insist on bring it to meta, is because it necessarily forces you to write a question. It forces you to think through the implications of what you're accusing the other person of, and it forces you to articulate why you think such behaviour is unacceptable.

Not everything is black and white. Not everything can be resolved by a simple up/down vote. By phrasing your entire argument as "Vote this up if you don't like this sentence", you've reduced the intellectual content of your "poll" to the equivalent of "Vote this up if you don't like blue bubble gum". I think it's better if people state their opinions in clear terms and discuss/argue for/against something rather than blindly upvote a yes/no question. Two people can have two entirely different reasons for agreeing/disagreeing with something and one might be much more important in real terms than the other.

  • Thank you for the elaborate answer. I must say I was not aware that Andreas was the owner of the proprietary software. I'm glad that he and I both learned about the rules concerning this. It is unfortunate I mention his username in my question, but the reason I do so is because I refer to multiple answers in the same Q&A and I wanted to have a means to refer to his answer. I wanted to avoid silly awkward terms like "the alleged bad answer" and I hope my parentheses and "for reference" helped a little here. But maybe I should have been more creative. W.r.t to the poll: You are right that this.. – Jacob Akkerboom Jul 13 '13 at 19:40
  • ..can be easily taken the wrong way. I just wanted an easy way for people to show that they felt something should be changed, without soliciting for downvotes, as my comment first two comments alone did not do the job. I hope noone took it the wrong way. W.r.t to deleting comments/flaggin comments: Thank you for pointing out the option of flagging a comment thread. That is helpful, sometimes comments depend on each other and it strange to remove just your own. I have now removed some of my comments in "the StringJoin Q&A" now.. – Jacob Akkerboom Jul 13 '13 at 19:51
  • One last thing is that the second sentence in Andreas answer still remains. Thank you for referring to his latest answer, that shows that he agrees on the difference between a tour and a path. Also I think this answer of his is probably pretty helpful. Maybe he thinks you fixed his "controversial answer" (look, even controversial sounds bad :P. maybe: "answer that caused all this fuss") with your edit or something. Oh well I guess as both the "top comment" and "top answer" are correct in my opinion, I can let it rest. Finally, if you think Andreas's intentions are good, then I am glad, as... – Jacob Akkerboom Jul 13 '13 at 20:11
  • I think you are a good guy and these things tend to be transitive :). I wont go on a witch hunt and its settled as far as I am concerned. – Jacob Akkerboom Jul 13 '13 at 20:11
  • @JacobAkkerboom It seems like your disagreement with Andreas' answer is not for the same reason as Stefan's (I mistakenly thought it was, since you referred to Stefan's blurb). Stefan mainly objected to it being tangential and the author's software being promoted (the comments are now deleted). Your objection seems to be on the technical content of the answer. If that is the case, then adding a comment and explaining, or if it's seriously flawed, posting your own answer that you believe is correct, is the right course of action. If there's a disagreement, oh well, just -1 and move on :) – rm -rf Jul 14 '13 at 4:49
  • Just to be clear: I did not remove that paragraph for any technical reasons. In fact, I did not even read the question or either answers, so I don't even know what's said in them. All that I was attending to was the fact that user A objected to the promotion of proprietary tools with a vaguely worded answer by user B and user B objected to the veiled criticism and comments on "voting policy" targeted at their answer by user A. To reach an amicable ending, I removed the blurb and added in disclosure. That's about all the involvement I've had w.r.t. that question and set of answers. – rm -rf Jul 14 '13 at 4:53

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