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Let's take the example of this answer to How is Bell’s Inequality converted to the CHSH inequality?. It says:

If I have answered my own question, the answer is that the CHSH experiments have a fatal flaw. No one has addressed the observation that CHSH calculates “a” from 2 different scenarios, then use them interchangeably. A Smoke and Mirrors technique that allows the generation of impossible results.

This is high school level math and under graduate level logic or in this case illogic.

To me, not only does this answer seem blatantly incorrect (i.e. fits in the completely out of the ballpark category), but it is also misleading and non-mainstream. And judging from the downvotes, at least two other users feel the same.

Questions:

  1. How should the moderators deal with such answers? Do we outright delete them?

  2. If your answer to 1 is "Yes", then at what threshold do we decide than an answer is blatantly incorrect and misleading?

I'd say that 3 downvotes should hit the threshold, as that's the point where even the system fades out the answer. But I'd like to hear the community's opinions.

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I like the top answer to the question linked to (in the comments) on chemistry a lot. I also go to the meta post How do I properly use the “Not an Answer” flag?

The main thing to take from the above meta post regarding this particular question is:

When should I not use this flag?

Do not use this flag when:

  • The user posts a partial answer
  • The answer makes an attempt to answer the question, even if it is wrong or inaccurate or you disagree with it
  • The problem with the answer is subtle and would benefit from additional explanation [...]

That is, just because an answer is wrong doesn't necessarily mean it should be deleted.

My personal reasoning for this is simply that showing someone what's wrong/what not to do is often as important as the right way to do something. We signal that an answer is wrong by downvoting and comments can be used to clarify what exactly is wrong about the answer so that (if the answerer doesn't improve their wrong answer, which is the ideal case), this can be used to tell the OP (and future readers) what not to do if something similar comes up again, as well as why not to do so.

The above is all well and good but we also have other policies, in particular, the one equivalent to the one linked to on chemistry: non-mainstream questions are not allowed.

My view (and indeed, the principle I've been trying to work on until now) is in how the above are combined: if an answer is just wrong (i.e. 'blatantly incorrect' or 'misleading'), it shouldn't be deleted purely for being wrong, although should be downvoted. If however, an answerer starts pushing a non-mainstream theory in an answer, it should be deleted.

The difference between 'wrong' and 'non-mainstream'

I'm not aware of any hard-and-fast rules that help determine this and to me at least, this is a judgement call - if something's wrong, it shouldn't be published in a mainstream journal, so you could argue is non-mainstream. However, this is what I use as a basis for defining the difference/making the appropriate action:

  • If an answer contains a relatively small conceptual/mathematical error, typo or similar but overall is right, then it's 'not actually wrong' and the appropriate course of action is to make/suggest an edit and/or leave a comment explaining the problem (I don't even downvote these).

  • If an answer contains a fundamental problem that can be fixed with editing (i.e. that makes the overall answer wrong), then suggest/make an edit or leave a comment. If the answerer refuses to accept the edit/comment, then downvote as the answer is wrong, or flag for mod attention if it's causing an 'edit war'.

  • If an answer contains a fundamental problem that can't be fixed with editing (or would require far too much editing to fix), then it's simply wrong and should be downvoted. The answerer may or may not wish to either try and salvage their answer, or just delete it entirely.

  • However, if an answer links to a non-mainstream theory in any way, it should be deleted. If the non-mainstream theory is that of the answerer and the answerer doesn't disclose that it's their theory, it's actually spam.

  • If an answer contains content that's part of a non-mainstream theory that the answerer has published (e.g. online, in a blog, on vixra, in a non-reputable journal etc.) but doesn't actually link to the non-mainstream theory, this is still based on a non-mainstream theory (as opposed to the answerer merely making a mistake or getting confused or mislead), so will similarly be deleted.

Essentially, my view is that, if it's clear that an answer is based on or otherwise involves a non-mainstream theory (and isn't just the result of the answerer making a mistake or getting confused/mislead in some way), then it should be deleted for being non-mainstream.

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  • $\begingroup$ NAA may be not possible but what about VLQ? “severe content [...] problems [...] and might need to be removed.” $\endgroup$ – MEE - Reinstate Monica Mar 8 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ @MEEthesetupwizard VLQ is a bit of an odd one (and a VLQ flag will send to the same review queue as NAA) - it's still not to be used for technically correct questions and e.g. is for posts that are complete gibberish, or can't even be understood because the writing/formatting etc. is so bad. It's exactly the same principle - it's not about what flag you use, it's that we don't want wrong answers removed just because they're wrong. Other sites do have a 'back it up' rule though, which states that if an answer doesn't contain solid references, it's liable for deletion $\endgroup$ – Mithrandir24601 Mar 8 at 7:18
  • $\begingroup$ Oh sorry, you are right. There is even a standard decline reason for this. See my comment on DaftWullie's answer though. $\endgroup$ – MEE - Reinstate Monica Mar 8 at 7:24
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I think in this particular case, the OP has not set out with an agenda to mislead or to promote some non-mainstream theory, there's just something they've misunderstood. Then it's the community's job to persuade them of that so that they remove their own incorrect post. The waters are perhaps muddied somewhat here because I don't see that their issue is really part of the question, so how does one answer?

Discussing this specific case doesn't necessary answer the broader issue, but if you were drawing a line somewhere, perhaps helps to clarify my view on where it might be drawn. More broadly, I suppose a question in return is why do you feel the need to do anything? Isn't that exactly what down votes are for?

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. As for your 2nd question: I just wanted to verify whether everyone is okay with heavily down-voted answers like these lying around on the site. These often end up misleading students e.g. Should I prefer the most up-voted answer or the accepted answer?. But if the majority is okay with it (i.e. just down-voting and nothing more), so am I! We do have a suspension reason along the lines of "consistent low quality contributions", but we wouldn't use it for anything apart from the very serious cases of abuse. $\endgroup$ – Sanchayan Dutta Mar 6 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Blue IIRC 4K users can vote to delete answers. The base for this seems to be whether the question has any further value or not. In some cases others might actually profit from seeing a wrong answer (with proper notice) and are so prevented from making the same mistake again. $\endgroup$ – MEE - Reinstate Monica Mar 8 at 6:59

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