11

I'd just like to get some clarification in our own META on what qualifies as "not an answer". Even before becoming a moderator, I struggled with certain types of answers - specifically those that attempt to answer, but misunderstand the question.

Examples:

Question:

What is the LDS teaching on the doctrine of the Trinity?"

Answers:

  1. Mormons are heretics!
  2. Yeah, I wonder that, too!
  3. The LDS teaching is different than the "mainstream" definition because...(and goes on to provide a good answer)
  4. The Trinity is (and then gives a perfectly good, well sourced answer to the "mainstream" definition of the trinity, missing the point that the question asks for the LDS view.)

The first is clearly not an answer, and is also in violation of the "We don't debate who's right" principle.

The second is clearly something that's meant to be a comment, and fits a clear-cut definition of "not an answer".

The third is just what we're looking for.

The fourth is where I struggled with whether or not it should be flagged as "not an answer". So I'd like to get clarification on that. I posted an answer below based on how I understand the Help center and the precedent on META sites. The way I see it may be wrong.

9

Here is my take:

  1. Flag as Not An Answer. To boot that attitude is not welcome here. Mod or community delete¹.
  2. Flag as Not An Answer. Give 'em a newbie help link. Mod delete¹.
  3. Give the kid a cookie. «— This is where SE lives and the vote system does it's job.
  4. Flag as Not An Answer. Remind them about our guidelines. Mod delete¹.

Obviously your question is mostly aimed at #4, so I'll skip talking about the others.

To some extent we do already deal with these as NAA. We talked about this in the early days of the site and agreed answers should match the scope of the question:

If this site is going to succeed, it is absolutely essential that questions be answered specifically within the context of the belief system they are asked. This is not optional or reserved for the people you agree with; It is a basic tenet of the site.

As for as the SE network goes there are only a couple sites out there with stricter enforcement of such a a policy (Skeptics, Software Recs, Biblical Hermeneutics, and a couple of the "hard" science sites). However it is still one of our biggest problems. Historically, this is where most newcomers to this site struggle, and honestly I think our biggest failure is actually in not cracking down more on this issue.

On a case by case basis, it seems like an innocent problem. Whoops, they just missed the "LDS" target an gave an "Evangelical" answer. No blood no foul right?

Wrong.

If you step back and look at what that does no the site (on a case by case basis where these have been allowed and on a wider scale like homepage trends), these are really a problem for us.

  • They attract more of their kind. In your scenario it's not long before another visitor comes by and disagrees with the way the Evangelical formulation of the Trinity was presented and wants to give a more accurate answer. This breeds more answers. Sooner or later (sooner in the case of Trinity questions, later in the case of many others) this always leads to more off topic answers. People come here with a forum mindset where threaded discussions wander from topic to topic. If they read through a couple answers and one of them goes off on something about the Trinity they thing they could explain better, they are going to and completely ignore the fact that the question was about LDS.

  • They attract debate in comments. This is actually most noticeable between less divergent groups because they assume the other answers should be comparable with their own and are less likely to notice that they are in an apples to oranges situation, but answers that don't match the perspective requested in the question almost ALWAYS are catalyst for ongoing stings of debate oriented comments.

  • They turn everything into a vote war. Allowing these answers to stand invariably turns perfectly good question into exactly what we are trying to avoid with our "No Truth Questions" policy. You suggest that the community should be able to deal with these by voting on them, but the fact of the matter is they don't. Not only does this not produce a clear distinction between answers that match the question and ones that do not, it doesn't even come close. We simply do not have an educated user base that knows what to vote on and does not vote on agreement with the theology.

    I'm not talking about an off balance equation here. This isn't a ship that almost floats and just need some bailing. This is a rock. And not dealing with this is totally unfair to every minority we claim to welcome. If we're going to say we allow question about all perspectives, it's jolly unfair of us to allow the answers to fill up with posts that support the most popular views by number of visitors, which is overwhelmingly non-description generic Protestant (that might not even know enough to know what makes them Protestant). I'm sorry if that sounds disparaging, but that's the spade I see.

    On the other hand our voters do fine when presented with answers that are on equal footing. When all the answers are answering the same question, the voting system works great. The Stack Exchange platform works wonders in this department and the best quality and most accurate answers usually get to the top and others end up at the bottom.

As moderators I think it is our just to foster an environment and enforce guidelines that play to this system's strengths. I adamantly believe that for this to happen moderators should not be moderating based of their doctrinal beliefs just like nobody should be using that as criteria for votes. In order for this to work, however, we must moderate based on scope of questions.

If we do not insist that answers that do not purport to represent the perspective requested be removed, we make it much harder to moderate the problem cases and this whole places turns back into "Survivor".

I don't care if it's LDS answering an Orthodox question or Evangelicals answering LDS questions -- either way the main thing keeping this site from falling apart at the seams is setting boundaries:

If you are more inclined to resent rather than celebrate the differences between us, then this may not be the site for you. Our differences are more than divisions between us, they are boundaries that define us. I think there are more boundaries than is necessary, but the only hope we have of crossing them is to identify and respect them.

I think the only hope for this site is to stick to our guns and insist that ALL answers at least attempt to respect these boundaries and match the scope of questions. This should include flagging ones that do not as NAA and deleting them.

Depending on the situation of the user we can redirect them. In the case of innocent mistakes we can educate them with comments and meta links on why their answer is a miss-fit. We can help them find (or even ask) questions where their answers will fit. As the mistakes become less innocent and more blatant attempts at fixing "somebody is wrong on the Internet" by providing what they think is the right answer no matter who the question was targeted at, our education and redirection can switch from newbie directions about how we are different to more directly explained reminders about what were here for. Follow that scale down the road a bit and you end up at #1, which we started out in agreement on so I won't follow that rabbit down the hole.

Occasionally it has happened that somebody whose answer I've deleted accuses me of moderating based on content and deleting their answer because I didn't agree with. The hilarious thing is how little these people know about my own theology. As mainstream Protestants are the worst offenders by volume, often I've deleted things I agree with. I've been accused of being in league with the Pope in a plot to undermine Protestants (by somebody who didn't like their non-Catholic answers to Catholic tagged questions being removed). Several times. I've been accused of being a Mormon. I've been accused of being a Jesuit. I've lost track of all the things I've been accused of being for deleting answers that didn't match the question scope.

The point is, in none of these cases is it really about my beliefs. That is not the factor in deciding whether an NAA flag is warranted or not. If the question asks for X perspective and they are given Y instead, it's NAA in my book. If they attempted to give X perspective but just happen to be wrong (or do a bad job of it), then I leave the post, decline the flag, and usually DV.

TL;DR: We cannot be fair to the broad spectrum of traditions we claim to allow if we don't allow their identities to stand. If we're going to allow LDS questions to be filled up with Nicene answers (whether innocently or deliberately) we might as well just say they aren't welcome here. If we're going to answer Catholic questions with nondescript Protestant personal exegesis, we might as well tell them to get another site. Deleting anything that does not both recognize and respect these boundaries as NAA is the only fair thing we can do.

Notes:

¹ For situation #1, 3 high rep users can vote to delete downvoted answers. This works well enough for situation #1 as those deserve to be downvoted, but it doesn't work very well for #2 as those answers don't necessarily deserve downvotes, and certainly not for #4 where they often get upvotes from folks agreeing with the theology in spite of being out of place.

  • 1
    I can't argue against that at all. I guess I'd say that my question wasn't based on whether or not I or anyone else agrees with the view posted by the wrong answer, but rather a clarification on whether it's really "not an answer at all" worthy of a flag or "a bad answer" worthy of down-votes and comments to the effect of "you missed the point". That aside, given the site history, I think that your point about strictly insisting that answers address the view asked for is correct, and therefore, that it is appropriate to treat those as non-answers, and flagging is approipriate. – David Stratton Jul 12 '14 at 20:31
  • 1
    Sometimes I see things around here that are really good answers that are still NAA flag worthy. They are just good answers—to different questions. Being NAA doesn't mean "bad" or "censored", it just means "out of place". Whether an honest oversight in reading the question or a lack of understanding of site guidelines or a deliberate troll of opposing beliefs, I think the only way we can moderate well is to be consistent in not allowing them. Obviously the comments may vary, but the flag is the same. – Caleb Jul 12 '14 at 20:40
  • @DavidStratton Maybe so. I've also thought that a replacement for this meta post for current use would be useful. That one was perfect and did it's job in the formative days of the site, but I've wished for one with wording more directed at newcomers that are missing that mark would be a useful thing to have lying around to point people toward. – Caleb Jul 12 '14 at 20:59
  • @Caleb Can you weight in on this answer, whether it is NAA or legitimate. – fredsbend Jul 13 '14 at 16:00
  • @fredsbend that is one of the stranger cases as the poster clearly intended to answer somthing other than what was asked but along the way included some tidbits that happen to fit (naming Arianism for example). In the end though I think the truth bits and the too localized bits put it over a line and it needs fixing before re-instating. – Caleb Jul 13 '14 at 19:10
  • Thank you for pointing out that standards are much stricter here than on other sites. I really like our NAA standards and get frustrated when other sites let answers which don't address the question remain. – curiousdannii Jul 13 '14 at 22:48
6

I actually highly disagree with this:

Do not use this flag when:

  • You have to consider the question, other answers, or even the comments on the answer itself in order to determine if an answer is not-an-answer

Let's take your example, and suggest a certain sort of answer.


Question:

What is the LDS teaching on the doctrine of the Trinity?"

Answer:

Python was created in 1991 by Guido van Rossum. (blah blah blah...)


Well, to me, that is totally not an answer. But wait, we can't say that if we have to consider the question, other answers, or comments. Oh, it's totally an answer then. (It's just an answer to absolutely the wrong question.)

Well, maybe we can use one of the other flags.

  • Spam - nnnope, it's not spam.
  • Offensive, abusive, or hate speech - not that either.
  • Very low quality - not that either; it's well sourced and well written.
  • Other - now the only option. "This doesn't answer the question at all."

Well, if it doesn't answer the question, why not call it "not an answer"?


As for your fourth example answer, I would have flagged that as "not an answer". I am of the opinion that the Other option should be reserved for more nuanced issues. I absolutely think that an answer that explains and provides support for the doctrine of the Trinity should be considered "not an answer" to a question asking for an explanation of Mormon doctrine.

  • 1
    I'm glad you posted an opposing view! It's hard to get a consensus when there's only one site represented. I do have some issues with the part of the META.SE post that you disagree with too. Your example of answering a trinity question with a Python answer is a bit of a straw-man argument, but it does make a valid point. Perhaps it is necessary to consider the question when determining if the answer is "not an answer". – David Stratton Jul 12 '14 at 19:55
  • Yeah, that's kind of what I was getting at. You need to consider the question. Other answers, not really. Comments might point out a way that the answer doesn't answer the question. – El'endia Starman Jul 12 '14 at 20:00
  • 1
    When responding to NAA flags I always read the question first. I follow the flag link which takes you to the answer, but I always scroll up, check the tags, read the title, and at least skim the question looking for interrogative statements before hitting the flag link again to go back down to the answer and evaluate whether it belongs or not. Most of the review queues, in contrast, are useless for evaluating NAA issues because they don't show the question! You can catch other issues, but not this one. – Caleb Jul 12 '14 at 21:23
  • I think your argument here would mean more with a real example. – fredsbend Jul 13 '14 at 16:02
  • 2
    @fredsbend: Probably, but I was mainly intending to point out the absurdity of not considering the question in the course of determining whether an answer is "not an answer". – El'endia Starman Jul 13 '14 at 18:10
  • @El'endiaStarman Ok. I can respect that. – fredsbend Jul 13 '14 at 22:45
-3

From the Help Center:

Why and how are some answers deleted?

Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed. This includes answers that are:

  • commentary on the question or other answers
  • asking another, different question
  • “thanks!” or “me too!” responses
  • exact duplicates of other answers
  • barely more than a link to an external site not even a partial answer to the actual question

This covers examples one and two above, not option 4.

Further, from a Meta.StackExchange question of a similar nature:

What is the Not an Answer Flag?

The Not an Answer flag is a moderator flag that community users can use to notify moderators that a posted answer is not an answer, and should be deleted.

What is the purpose of the Not an Answer flag?

To identify attempts by community members to use answers for any purpose other than answering questions.

When should I use this flag?

Use this flag when an answer is being used to:

  • Ask a question
  • Communicate with another user
  • Say "thanks," or confirm that another posted answer worked for him.
  • "Bump" the question, as in "I have the same problem, have you found a solution?"

When should I not use this flag?

Do not use this flag when:

  • The user posts a partial answer
  • The answer is wrong or inaccurate, or you disagree with it
  • You have to consider the question, other answers, or even the comments on the answer itself in order to determine if an answer is not-an-answer

Therefore, it's not appropriate to flag as "Not an answer" for a genuine attempt at answering the question, but which misses the mark, or is of otherwise low quality.

  • 3
    In shoe-horning religion into a format designed for technical discussion, we've had to adapt a little bit. The definition of what "NAA" means to us is one area where I think that description originally written as help for Stack Overflow doesn't cover the use case we happen to run into far more often of "valid answer to a different question". You just don't have hordes of people running around SO answering questions about Java class inheritance with ERLANG functions and then insisting that their answers are the "right" ones. Okay so there are a few, but that's not their main issue like it is ours. – Caleb Jul 12 '14 at 20:27
  • I think the problem with this approach is that it only allows completely off-topic answers to be either (1) downvoted - which I think has undesirable effects in updating the question's activity for the front page, (2) left alone - which I think is Decidedly Not the correct response, or (3) flagged as a "low-quality answer" - which appears to go against the guidelines we have for "what constitutes a good answer". I agree with @Caleb; we need a slightly different approach than the standard design. – Matt Gutting Jul 12 '14 at 20:36
  • @MattGutting Voting actually doesn't trigger a bump to the home page (editing or new answers do), but I agree that downvoting such answers is actually undesirable. They might be good answers, well researched and high quality. They just happen to be in the wrong place. Conversely they might be lame answers, but the place to give them a fair shake (and in the case of minority views they might be much better received) is on the appropriate questions. – Caleb Jul 12 '14 at 20:45
  • Ah, my mistake. writes down note. As I say, being unable to mark these as "not an answer" makes them "a low quality answer", and based on our standard description of what makes a high quality answer, they're clearly not low-quality. – Matt Gutting Jul 12 '14 at 20:47
  • I disagree with it's not appropriate to flag as "Not an answer" for a genuine attempt at answering the question, but which misses the mark -- NAA is a judgement against the answer, not against the genuineness of the answerer. or is of otherwise low quality -- if the answer actually addresses the question but is of low quality, it should not be flagged as NAA, but rather downvoted (and ideally commented for improvement suggestions). – Flimzy Jul 14 '14 at 18:38
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    @Caleb, then should the help center language be changed? Currently, it explicitly supports David's answer. We can't (shouldn't) refer people to a help center with inaccurate content. – Paul Draper Jul 21 '14 at 9:04
  • @PaulDraper - The help center text in that section is universal to all SE sites, so it's not likely we'd get far in getting it changed. Also, as I read it, it doesn't explicitly support my answer. The list isn't necessarily all-inclusive, not could we expect it to be for all SE sites. The Meta post I referenced does seem to explicitly support my answer, but that was for StackOverflow. Several other SE sites have interpreted rules in ways that make sense for their SE site and not for others by posting Meta posts asking for clarification on how the guide should apply to their site – David Stratton Jul 22 '14 at 11:36
  • 1
    I think that this is one of those cases where a meta post on our own Meta is sufficient to clarify the rules, and this post qualifies. If there's confusion on the issue, we simply link back here so that people can see what the guide is for C.SE and why it is that we expect answers to match the question. – David Stratton Jul 22 '14 at 11:37

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