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This answer (10K only; screenshot) is an example of a "super wrong" post. For the purposes of this discussion, a "super wrong" post is an answer which not only is factually incorrect but is incorrect in such a manner as to contribute to the spread of some popular error in physical understanding.

These errors tend to come in two forms. One, the passively harmful form, consists of popular simplifications of advanced physics concepts being consistently applied outside the realm in which they are useful. The linked answer is an example of this, I think, as is the explanation of airfoil mechanics panned in this xkcd comic. These kinds of answers are super wrong by accident, but unlike regular wrong answers they are tapping into something in the way people think about the world. They are super wrong because, for whatever reason, a lot of people think these things and keep convincing other people that they are true.

The other form is the actively harmful form. This is stuff like 'harmonized water' and other pseudoscientific scams, as well as 'the second law of thermodynamics means no evolution', where an explanation for how something works is not only wrong in a way that, for whatever reason, popularizes it, but also the error in thinking is actively perpetuated by people who know or should know it is false to serve their interests (e.g. the guys selling the 'harmonized water').

In either case, such answers are liable to be downvoted heavily on account of the site community being healthy. This leaves us with answers in situations like the linked one, with the option of deleting such an answer as very low quality. Should we delete such material to avoid potentially spreading it or should we leave it up very downvoted in the hopes that a very negative post score will help combat the spread of that misinformation in site visitors / broader society?

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    $\begingroup$ For prior discussion on wrong answers, see e.g. physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/4751/50583 $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Mar 13 '18 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ One thing I'll add is that I think I've seen basically that same answer before, elsewhere on the site. So if memory serves, in this case, it's not a one-off thing, but actually a longer-term attempt to promote a specific theory. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Mar 13 '18 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 yes, you are not crazy for thinking that, I recollect it too $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Mar 13 '18 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 Right, that's why I defined super-wrong like I did. If it's not a pervasive repeating idea then I don't see any reason why we'd not just delete it normally. $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 13 '18 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ What's even more annoying is the following situation. There is a completely wrong answer that is immediately accepted by the OP. Then a right answer comes along and gets heavily upvoted. The wrong answer ends up with low but positive net positive moderation, say +3, and is listed first because it was accepted. The right answer gets moderated up to +27 but is listed second. As time goes on, the wrong answer gradually gets upvoted to +4, +5, and so on, because people see it, see that it's accepted and upvoted, and think it's right. $\endgroup$ – Ben Crowell Mar 15 '18 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ @BenCrowell Yeah, drive-by upvoting sucks. Happens on all the best SE sites, too :( You can fight it with early downvotes, but it's always there. Those, however, aren't subject to deletion because an answer needs a score of no more than (I think) -2 for users to be able to VTD, or (I think) -1 if you've 20K rep. $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 15 '18 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ For a minute, imagine John Duffield's well thought out response "deleted" just because it got a bunch of downvotes. That setup feels very jarring to me. I would much rather attach a moderator's note pointing to a community-accepted answer/comment, and leave the questionable comment grayed out. Anything beyond that would feel like heavy-handed moderation to me. $\endgroup$ – Siva Mar 26 '18 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ In an educational site, incorrect ideas must be openly dealt with, with correct explanations and shared insight. Further, the discussion must be archived for newer participants to see and learn from. When something is a common flawed approach, it is definitely worth having a clear recorded explanation for why it is wrong and what the correct approach is! That way, all related debate is isolated to one page, and effort needs to be invested in explaining the right answer only once. $\endgroup$ – Siva Mar 26 '18 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Siva but that could be accomplished instead by asking a self-answered question on the topic of the common misunderstanding, rather than leaving a wrong answer with many downvotes. Indeed, the Q&A format would be much better if you want to explain why rather than just that it is wrong. $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 26 '18 at 6:46
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I used to be of the opinion that we should keep such low quality answers since it's at least an attempt to answer the question, as misguided as the answer may be.

But after talking with other members and thinking on it more, I have come to realize that these types of not-even-wrong answers should be deleted because leaving them would provide a platform for printing incorrect theories/understandings to such misguided individuals. Even heavily downvoted, it's still promoting an incorrect answer that may sway some of the more susceptible individuals who come across it.

Thinking of it another way, if we're trying to build a reputable database of answers to physics questions, then we shouldn't want disreputable answers trickling in, we should prune them out. Otherwise, we're not actually making such a database.

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    $\begingroup$ For once-off answers, I agree. However, we also have users with a long track record of building up their reputation with easy mechanics questions half of the time, while on the other half they post extremely harmful pseudo-science or non-science answers; for those, I would rather have that track record out in the open (including the downvotes and the unanswered criticism) than do those posters the favour of scrubbing their record so they can look respectable the next time they feel like posting harmful content. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Mar 13 '18 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ However, there's a crucial aspect to keep in mind with respect to deletions of low-quality answers, and it's that we do not yet have a system that can self-correct on that score. Currently, if a question gets incorrectly closed (say, because five hasty close-voters didn't understand what was going on, then it stays publicly visible where people that do get it can edit to clarify and vote to reopen. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Mar 13 '18 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ Deletion doesn't yet have that: we don't have a critical mass of moderation-active 20k+ users with undeletion privileges, and we don't have a workable review queue where we can audit what's gotten deleted to try and catch oversteps, let alone an active 20k+ community to do that review work. It's partly a community-growth thing and partly a lack of suitable software on SE's end, but if we don't have the community to make full use of it then it's fairly pointless to ask for the software (though we have). $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Mar 13 '18 at 12:59
  • $\begingroup$ Those are all very good points Emilio. I wonder how often the 20k+ members we do have visit the Tools page in review because I know I don't go as often as I should. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Mar 13 '18 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ Well, the 10k tools aren't the most usable aspect of SE's software, that's for sure. I haven't pushed for a concerted campaign for 20k+ folks to do more of that moderation because we don't yet have the numbers, I think, but we're slowly building up to that. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Mar 13 '18 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty on RPG before we got that critical mass we used mods for that. Anyone with 10K+ can view deleted answers, and that's enough to start a meta on it being like "Hey, I think X should be undeleted because Y, what do y'all think?", which works fine because the 10K community doesn't really get too many false positives and the incorrect close rate is really low. I imagine the same would be true here, if y'all went that route. $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 13 '18 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ @thedarkwanderer There's a very clear consensus (particularly from the side of the mods) that moderators on this site are not and should not be arbiters of technical correctness. On the second point, I don't feel that relying on 10k users to wander onto deleted answers (in what might be long-dead threads otherwise) and raise the alarm offers enough of a guarantee that we can catch any undue deletions. We need a variety of different eyeballs on contentious deletions, and (sorry to say this but) we do need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than what RPG can afford, I should think. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Mar 13 '18 at 23:05
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty You misunderstood my point; I'm not saying the mods should in any way arbitrate technical correctness, I was saying you can use them to help out with the undeletion process in general if you find the lack of 20K users to be an issue; mods can undelete with a single vote and 10K users can raise potential answers for undeletion via meta (flags are bad for this because there's no room for community discussion). Also, I hope you guys reach a higher standard than RPG! XD It's one of the best/most stringently curated sites on the network, so that'd be awesome. $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 13 '18 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty This is unrelated to the discussion at hand, though, so I'll drop it for now. If there's an issue with the community not having enough high-rep users to undelete things appropriately that can be discussed elsewhere, but I imagine you'd need a problem with your deletion process for that to be the case. $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 14 '18 at 0:01
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    $\begingroup$ @thedarkwanderer It's not a matter of the number of 10k+ users, it's a question of the number of 10k+ users that take an in-depth interest in community moderation to the point of regularly auditing deletion lists. I don't know to what extent the RPG site has an ongoing issue with pseudoRPG answers and RPGific censorship, but deletion of content isn't a simple matter. The point I was trying to make is that making it a thing to delete incorrect answers without having a working review & appeal mechanism and a community to manage it isn't unproblematic. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Mar 14 '18 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Kyle Kynos : the issue here concerns "super wrong" answers, not low-quality answers, and you're missing the point. If you think some answer is wrong, particularly when it contains references to papers and scientific evidence, then if you can delete it without explanation, the site is providing a platform for your own incorrect theories/understandings. See my answer below, a don't be too sure that your own understanding is correct, because scientific progress occurs when it isn't. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Mar 14 '18 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ I've removed about ten comments that were devolving into a personal argument. Keep it civil, please. $\endgroup$ – rob Mar 15 '18 at 14:41
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Should we leave super wrong highly downvoted posts visible or should we delete them?

We should leave them. I say that because science is not a democracy. All the upvotes in the world won't make a wrong answer right, and all the downvotes in the world won't make a right answer wrong. In addition ignorance can lead to correct answers being downvoted. It would be wrong to delete such answers. That sort of thing belongs in a religious theocracy, not in science.

This answer is an example of a "super wrong" post. For the purposes of this discussion, a "super wrong" post is an answer which not only is factually incorrect but is incorrect in such a manner as to contribute to the spread of some popular error in physical understanding.

I can't see any "super wrong" answer there. I can see an answer by Rob Jeffries which looks correct. Am I missing something here?

These errors tend to come in two forms. One, the passively harmful form, consists of popular simplifications of advanced physics concepts being consistently applied outside the realm in which they are useful. The linked answer is an example of this, I think, as is the explanation of airfoil mechanics panned in this xkcd comic. These kinds of answers are super wrong by accident, but unlike regular wrong answers they are tapping into something in the way people think about the world. They are super wrong because, for whatever reason, a lot of people think these things and keep convincing other people that they are true.

Wnat if the answer is super right, and you're super wrong?

The other form is the actively harmful form. This is stuff like 'harmonized water' and other pseudoscientific scams

Yeah, things like wormholes and time travel and the multiverse. But we have free speech in science, and I'd like to keep it that way.

actively perpetuated by people who know or should know it is false to serve their interests

There's a lot of people peddling woo, IMHO we need to explain why it's woo, not censor it.

In either case, such answers are liable to be downvoted heavily on account of the site community being healthy.

And what if correct answers are downvoted correctly on account of the site community being unhealthy?

This leaves us with answers in situations like the linked one, with the option of deleting such an answer as very low quality. Should we delete such material to avoid potentially spreading it or should we leave it up very downvoted in the hopes that a very negative post score will help combat the spread of that misinformation in site visitors / broader society?

We should leave it. I don't agree with scientific censorship.

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    $\begingroup$ :/ The linked answer has now been deleted. You need 10 K rep to view ^^; sorry $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 13 '18 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ I think we can differentiate between an actively harmful snake oil salesman routine and ordinary wrongness in an answer. And the idea that if we decide to censor some content we necessarily impune the ability to freely discuss science seems ill-founded to me. For example, we already disallow racist hate speech in answers. More relevantly we disallow the more flagrant variety of spam, where the spam has nothing to do with the question at hand. $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 13 '18 at 8:37
  • $\begingroup$ That said, I agree it's better to leave a post with a giant pile of downvotes as a sign of resounding rejection than to cut that bad content as 'very low quality'. I don't think it's appropriate to explain why it's 'woo', as you call it, on such answers, though; that would be a misuse of comments in my opinion. It would be appropriate to link to an externally or internally hosted explanation, though. $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 13 '18 at 8:40
  • $\begingroup$ Lastly, I think you might want to review the 'very low quality' deletion reason; there's a reason we have it. It might not be appropriate to this specific situation, but in general we delete low-quality answers. For example, if an answer had a score of -9 and was just really wrong, viz. demonstrating a fundamental lack of subject knowledge, but not in a common-misconception/populist sham science way, rather than super wrong it would certainly be appropriate to delete it. $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 13 '18 at 8:44
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    $\begingroup$ @the dark wanderer : no, you can't differentiate between "an actively harmful snake oil salesman routine and ordinary wrongness in an answer" And IMHO if you can't and/or won't explain why an answer is wrong, you definitely shouldn't be allowed to delete it. Like I said, that sort of thing belongs in a religious theocracy, not in science. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Mar 13 '18 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ Again, we regularly delete spam without feeling obligated to explain why we're deleting it as spam. It works because the false positive identification rate is essentially nil and any false positives could be discussed on meta by the poster in the extremely unlikely event that ever happens. That's just standard SE operating procedure. Also, please stop insulting religion; it's kind of annoying and entirely irrelevant. $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 13 '18 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ Also, where do you think we should explain that answers are wrong/spam/hate-speech? I had assumed you meant in comments, but you didn't actually say that and you seem to be wanting something more thorough and systematic. $\endgroup$ – the dark wanderer Mar 13 '18 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ @thedarkwanderer: don't bring spam and hate speech into this as some kind of excuse for scientific censorship. Yes, people should say why an answer is wrong in the comments. Or if they prefer to be more diplomatic, they can give their own answer, with references. Just declaring that that's wrong and must be deleted will not do. Because all too often the person who wants it deleted is wrong. The parallels with religion are not irrelevant. Religion practices censorship, science does not. Religion brooks no dissent. Science does. That's why we have scientific progress. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Mar 14 '18 at 8:14
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDu actually, sciences also practice censorship which is why you don't hear about such fake things as phlogiston, telegony, steady state cosmology, etc. When these theories are promulgated nowadays (and not in the sense of 'this used to be thought as true but isn't anymore because if X'), scientists censor that person's teaching on it (and would be justified in doing so), just a the Bishops would censor someone promoting bad theology (I can only speak of Catholics, know little of Protestants and non-Christians theology). And suggesting that only science 'progresses' is extremely naive. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Mar 15 '18 at 12:34

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