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I was reading this question - Why is the nucleus of an Iron atom so stable?

There are two good answers. One explains in words, in a way that might be satisfying to those who have been wondering and come upon the question. The other shows the math in enough detail that one can work the numbers and grind it out. That too would be of interest to some who come upon the question.

It doesn't matter which kind of answer the OP sought; the value of a SE site like this is answering questions of visitors who come along after and find it's already been asked. Some visitors will seek qualitative word answers, just wanting to know the essential point and are perhaps not themselves physicsts, while other visitors will be hungry for the serious math .

Just fantasizing... Could both of these good answers get the hallowed green checkmark? Or different colored checkmarks, say blue for the best mathematically detailed answer and orange for the best qualitative words only question? Would that make sense for more than just a few questions?

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  • $\begingroup$ Simple, just vote up both. There are often the case that correct answer is not the one with the highest vote. So they should also read the second answer. People here find no problem with math, so the clear one win. $\endgroup$ – unsym Dec 11 '10 at 9:20
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I highly doubt that the SE people would change their software to allow us to mark two accepted answers, and in any case, I don't think it'd really be that good of an idea in general. It'd probably be more likely to confuse a lot of people (the "non-regulars") than anything else.

And besides, generally the best answer possible for a question includes both elements: qualitative explanation for people who want the big picture, as well as a calculation (or references to one) for people who want to go through the details.

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    $\begingroup$ I second this.. $\endgroup$ – Noldorin Dec 4 '10 at 16:33
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I recently had a similar dilemma on Math.SE. I had asked a question about how the curvature of a manifold could affect the fundamental group, and I received two excellent answers. If it were possible to merge the two answers, I would gladly accept that one (one dealt with the case of positive curvature and the other negative curvature). I did pick a single answer because one of them answered more of the question I was thinking about than the other. It was more of the type of answer I was looking for.

So not only do I doubt that SE will not change their software, but I think that one answer will probably help the OP more than the other, and that is the one they should pick. Also, you can always comment on each answer about how pleasing you find each in order to reassure the answerer they are appreciated. While they won't get a boost in rep, they will probably feel appreciated.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, you have the option to not mark both of them. Upvote them if you find it good. $\endgroup$ – unsym Dec 11 '10 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ I did. The point is that usually the OP will prefer either the more mathematical or more intuitive answer. $\endgroup$ – Sean Tilson Dec 12 '10 at 1:23
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I think that both quantitative and qualitative answers are acceptable. Note that there are quantitative questions and qualitative questions!

The question in the example seems to be qualitative, so I think a qualitative answer is probably more in tone with it.

In other words, using formulas to answer a qualitative question may not be the best way. The equations do not explain "why something is so", it's the interpretation of them that does.

But then again, SO works in a simple way: the owner of the question should mark the one they feel answers best. Did the owner want a qualitative or quantitative answer?

The upvotes, in SO are merely a guide for the occasional visitor to quickly find the best answers (since the occasional visitor might be looking for something different from what the owner thinks is the best answer) - they also encourage people to give answers that find consensus in the community (so, typically, correct ones!).

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