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Lately I have come across several answers and comments from a user, that doesn't seem to understand the questions, often gives rather bogus suggestions and generally shows not-so-great fluency in a lot of topics he's responding to (he's got some nice answers though).

Now, I understand that everybody has a different degree of knowledge and enthusiasm and sometimes these two don't meet at the best spot, but the answers/comments I'm talking about basically just generate noise and might be even confusing for the asker or casual visitor. What is the right way of telling such a user to hold his horses and only reply when he's reasonably convinced he's right? I don't want to dissuade him from contributing, but sometimes he just seems not to even understand how wrong he is.

  • idk, experienced users seem to do this on stackoverflow... – xenoterracide Oct 9 '13 at 15:22
  • @xenoterracide what exactly? commenting on things they don't understand? – peterph Oct 9 '13 at 16:18
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    basically, and things they have no expertise on. – xenoterracide Oct 9 '13 at 16:24
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    example, recently someone (10k or 100k user forget which) commented don't make an API that allows transmitting SQL over XML, my question was about how to sanitize the SQL I had to send over XML... and clearly linking a product I didn't create. The guy got +1 on his comment. The reason they make these comments, IMO, is so that they can get drive by +1s which will eventually give them lots of points. – xenoterracide Oct 9 '13 at 16:29
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    @xenoterracide how do you get points from comments? – terdon Oct 12 '13 at 14:39
  • @terdon maybe I'm wrong and you don't get any points from having people +1 your comments. (maybe it used to be a thing and isn't now) – xenoterracide Oct 12 '13 at 17:11
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    You don't get to be wrong, you're a mod! No, comments don't give rep. – terdon Oct 12 '13 at 17:16
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    @xenoterracide : I think there are significant numbers of people on S.O. that have accumulated rep from simple but canonical questions answered years ago -- a negative consequence of the S.E. system is that it is sort of a pyramid scheme in this sense. Que sera sera. So I'd agree with what I think is your main point: a dumb answer/comment is a dumb no matter what the rep of the person who wrote it. – goldilocks Oct 14 '13 at 19:51
  • @goldilocks the pyramidal effect is not exclusive to SO (although it is manifested there the most, due to its extremely high traffic) - many of U&L 10k+ users have gained lots of reputation for answers to rather generic questions. Which is perfectly ok, since the answers (at least those that I saw) are really good. The trouble I actually feel with U&L is, that the lower traffic means generally less votes (in both directions), which means 1) coarser resolution on the good-bad answer scale, and 2) less feedback (especially for the authors of bad answers). – peterph Oct 14 '13 at 20:33
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    Actually I wrote that about the S.*E*. system, which includes U&L. Just the empirical observation was about S.O. because I think the consequences are more apparent on the oldest and biggest site. S.O. has become too big and would benefit from being broken down more. If questions were more aggressively migrated to U&L from SO, U&L might gain enough traffic to reduce some of the problems you observe here -- but keep in mind more votes is not necessarily more better votes. The pace on S.O. doesn't always seem beneficial to me; too many half-assed answers get upvoted too fast. – goldilocks Oct 14 '13 at 20:50
  • I agree, wish they'd migrate aggressively... (ok so comments to give rep, then I wish we could downvote the shit out of them) – xenoterracide Oct 15 '13 at 19:29
  • @goldilocks "So I'd agree with what I think is your main point: a dumb answer/comment is a dumb no matter what the rep of the person who wrote it." -- Well it seems we agree on something! – Jason C Oct 22 '13 at 18:36
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U&L is a paltform for learning. I think the best approach is to downvote and leave a comment that addresses any factual errors, thereby providing the well-meaning but misinformed poster with an opportunity to increase their understanding and also alerting any other visitor to the page that the answer is erroneous and why.

The second point is important because often seeing how an incorrect answer is wrong is just as helpful in understanding an issue as a correct answer is. What matters most is that there is a very clear delineation between the two.

Hopefully, over time, the hapless poster will find their niche on the site. Irrespective of that happening, the overall quality of the site will improve with both correct answers and well annotated wrong ones.

Of course, if the answer is egregiously wrong and contains potentially harmful or damaging material—or it is just completely irrelevant, it should just be flagged for deletion. Not every wrong answer is worth making into an exemplar to avoid or learn from.

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    I like this, with the caveat that comments are second-class citizens. therefore, I'm not entirely sure that commenting is the right way to record why the question's wrong. I'm not entirely sure there's a "right" answer to this, though. – strugee Oct 11 '13 at 23:18
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    +1 @strugee : Seems to me comments and answers are apples and oranges -- after all, if you can add a comment, you can add an answer, so you are not in a "second class". Just your answer shouldn't simply be a refutation of someone else's. I pay attention to comments and if someone says, "Hey this is wrong" and the main author refutes that or fails to correct and I agree with the critical comment, I'll re-enforce it with my own. Given time, "the truth will out" for the most part; people can and do delete answers. – goldilocks Oct 14 '13 at 20:00
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I think the idea behind the StackExchange format is that downvotes should deal with eliminating the noise.

If an answer is not getting the downvotes it deserves, it would be nice to have a way to attract the attention of other high-rep users.

Is there a way for a user to mark an answer for review by the community?

  • One could use flagging, but that would only go after the moderators, I believe. Normal user wouldn't notice it (or would just see a flag somewhere). – peterph Oct 11 '13 at 11:46
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    We should be able to flag it to attract other users' attention. – rahmu Oct 11 '13 at 12:14
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    @rahmu you can sort of do that in chat. Just post a question's URL in the Unix & Linux Chat room and explain your issue with it and people will see it. – terdon Oct 12 '13 at 14:40
  • @rahmu - use the chat room to help facilitate any down or up voting of answers. – slm Oct 22 '13 at 20:44
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There are a lot of "experienced" users that are not knowledgeable and give incorrect answers. The voting system on SE sites is not perfect but is intended to help that (although I do think downvotes should be weighted equal to upvotes, also you cannot downvote comments).

Some of the things you can do about it are the following:

  • Trust that if the reader does take incorrect information as correct, eventually at some point down the line, they will realize it was incorrect and all will be right again.
  • Politely explain in a follow-up comment why the information is incorrect. If your explanation is effective, a reader will be able to discern for themselves what is correct and what is not.
  • Downvote if possible, not to "punish" the offender, but to indicate to other readers that the information may not be valid.

One thing that I think is easy to forget is that while a reader may not be knowledgeable on a subject, they are still a human with at least some ability to either make their own conclusions, or learn later that their conclusions were incorrect. Too often we try to convince the person who made the incorrect statement that they are wrong, and completely forget that a reader may not need as much convincing.

So I would say, point out the mistake (in an effective way), let it slide (don't spend time arguing), and trust other readers to be the judge. In the worst case, a reader may have the wrong idea for a while, and eventually they will make their own observations that challenge what they read in the past.

In general, the internet is full of misinformation and it is an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of the social freedom it provides.

  • I like your point about high quantities of low-quality information on the internet generally. – peterph Oct 22 '13 at 15:33

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