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Once in a while I see a suggested edit that claims to "correct a formula" (this is usually written in the edit summary). Is there a general "rule"/recommended procedure for such edits?

I usually skip them, because I am not familiar with the formulas involved, so I don't think I can properly judge such an edit. However, if we let that aside for a moment, are such edits to be considered to be against the author's intention? Even if the edits make an obvious correction (let's for example assume someone forgot the $^2$ in $E=mc^2$), it could be the case that it wasn't just a typo, but the question arose due to a misconception based on a wrong formula.

So, how should one proceed with edits that claim to correct a formula?

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    $\begingroup$ Well, does it actually correct the formula? $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 3 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ @JonCuster As I tried to explain in my question, I am in most cases not sure. But even if an edit corrects a formula, I wonder if it would still be "against the author's intention". $\endgroup$
    – Jonas
    Sep 3 at 19:11
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I don't think formulae are really special in this regard:

  1. If you see an edit but you cannot tell whether it actually improves the post or not, skip it. Whether that's because you're not familiar with the formulae or the topic of the post in general is immaterial.

  2. If you see an edit that corrects a typo, approve it.

  3. If you see an edit that actually alters the substantial meaning of the post (such as changing a formula when the post is actually based on the original version of the formula), reject it as conflicting with author's intent or as not improving the post.

If you can't judge whether the correction is a typo fix or the post is actually based on the uncorrected version, that's just the first case again.

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    $\begingroup$ The distinction I have trouble with is changing equations to be correct. Part of me feels like such edits should be suggested/pointed out in a comment, since it could be going against what the OP intended. At the same time, one could view errors in equations as typos, especially if it's in a well-known equation or an obvious mistake in a derivation. I usually reject such edits, but maybe I'm being too harsh. $\endgroup$ Sep 4 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist The author can always revert the edit - I don't see a lot of benefit in erring on the side of caution when reviewing edits. Our goal is to produce valuable answers, not to preserve mistakes. As long as the change in the equation doesn't change the rest of the argument in the post (e.g. if the linearity of $E=mc$ is part of the argument, then correcting it to $E=mc^2$ obviously conflicts with intent), I see no reason to reject edits just because the mistake might not have been a typo. $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind Mod
    Sep 4 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ The author may no longer be active, so there'd be no one to revert a wrong edit, since no one knows the intent of the author. $\endgroup$
    – Ruslan
    Sep 10 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Ruslan If they are no longer around to notice, and no one else thinks the edit is wrong, was it really wrong? (If a tree falls in a forest...) $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind Mod
    Sep 11 at 14:10
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I think you got the most important part right about reviewing edits: if you can't tell whether the edit is an improvement or not, skip it and let it be reviewed by someone who can. This applies to any edit on any SE site, not just formulas.

Having said that, formulas are used in a context, at least in good answers. That context often allows you to distinguish typo fixes from edits which change the intention of the post:

  • "energy is proportional to the mass: $E=mc$", corrected to $E=mc^2$ - typo fix
  • "energy is proportional to the velocity: $E=mc$", corrected to $E=mc^2$ - changes the meaning
  • "energy is proportional to the velocity squared: $E=mc$", corrected to $E=mc^2$ - typo fix
  • "mass-energy equivalence, $E=mc$", corrected to $E=mc^2$ - typo fix
  • "I found this formula in a book: $E=mc$", corrected to $E=mc^2$ - changes the meaning
  • "I found this formula in a book: $E=mc$", corrected to $E=mc^2$, with the comment "formula fixed according to comments" - typo fix

etc.

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