I am wondering as to the exact policy of flagging answers. I have flagged answers which promote non mainstream science four times. Of these four times, the first three times the flag was accepted. However, the fourth time the flag was declined with the following message: "flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer." I am thus wondering why the first three flags were accepted instead of declined with this reason. What is the exact ruling with regards to flagging answers involving non mainstream science? Has there been a change in flagging policy (and what is the relevant meta post), or should the first three flags have been declined.? Thanks for any clarifications on the ruling, I will for now down vote instead of flag answers outside the mainstream.

Here are the relevant flags:

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  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Related: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/4431 meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/4584 In particular I stand by the idea that a community rejection voiced in downvotes is more emphatic than a moderator action. $\endgroup$ Sep 20 '15 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee it appears that the consensus among the mods is that non mainstream questions should be downvoted, not deleted. However, manishearth appears to disagree. I will from now on downvote non mainstream answers per consensus, but there appears to be some controversy. $\endgroup$
    – Cicero
    Sep 20 '15 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee I agree with you now that I have seen the arguments. I merely was asking whether there was a ruling or a preferred course of action. Is there any way to make sure that this is applied more consistently however (it clearly wasn't applied to my first three flags)? $\endgroup$
    – Cicero
    Sep 20 '15 at 21:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @dmckee According to this meta post flagging non-mainstream answers is OK. Have the policies changed? $\endgroup$
    – Bosoneando
    Sep 20 '15 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Bosoneando More like there is confusion. Strangely the two I linked above bracket the one you point at in time. I've been processing non-mainstream flags on questions as valid and mostly leaving them on answer unless the other have all looked at them without acting. $\endgroup$ Sep 20 '15 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Cicero : yesterday ManishEarth was telling me time travel is mainstream. I wouldn't want him deleting any answers that challenged his belief in time travel on the grounds that they're not mainstream. $\endgroup$ Sep 20 '15 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Cicero : yes, I agree with dmckee and davidz. I don't agree with what Emilio Pisanty said about pet theories, usually proven wrong, very aggressive, and rarely enter constructive discussions. Maybe there were people like that in the past, but I haven't seen much of that. On the other hand I would say that there are people who are too quick to make "not mainstream" accusations about some answer that has good references because it doesn't square with what they think they know. $\endgroup$ Sep 20 '15 at 22:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Cicero : I don't think the status of time travel matters that much. What I think does matter is how physics stack exchange is perceived. If moderators go round deleting answers saying "non-mainstream" with no justification, they lay themselves open to accusations of censorship / playing thought-police / protecting pseudoscience from criticism / etc. It's a huge can of worms, see this meta question. A better policy is to demonstrate free speech in science. $\endgroup$ Sep 20 '15 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDuffield Okay. However, that does imply that the policy on questions should be changed, since all the mods agree that questions dealing with non-mainstream science should be deleted. (perhaps a meta post on this). $\endgroup$
    – Cicero
    Sep 20 '15 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Cicero : I'm not sure they do agree about that. For myself I don't see much of a distinction between questions and answers when it comes to deletion. Yes, maybe a meta post on that would be a good idea. $\endgroup$ Sep 20 '15 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDuffield Well dmckee stated he accepts as valid questions flagged as non-mainstream in the comment section in this post, and I have seen meta posts where every other mod (davidz, manishearth, mechanic) has agreed on this point. Davidz and dmckee are okay with flagging questions but not answers as non mainstream. $\endgroup$
    – Cicero
    Sep 20 '15 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Cicero : sorry I got confused somewhere along the line. In the second comment above you said it appears that the consensus among the mods is that non mainstream questions should be downvoted, not deleted. Did you means to say answers rather than questions? $\endgroup$ Sep 20 '15 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDuffield I meant answers, not questions. I made a typo $\endgroup$
    – Cicero
    Sep 20 '15 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDuffield Re: this comment: keep in mind that there is a lot of content which you may not see because it has been deleted but also simply closed or downvoted (making it less visible on the site); long and bitter discussions in comments are also rightfully deleted over time. This search turns up questions; answers are harder to find (by design). $\endgroup$ Sep 21 '15 at 16:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JohnDuffield As I said, most of the unpleasant stuff will be either hard or impossible to find (by design). This is hard to test, but I suspect most of the persistent posters (e.g. posting essentially the same pet theory multiple times) tend to do so as answers rather than questions. I do think, though, that we have had a relatively quiet period lately w.r.t. disruptive, argumentative posters. $\endgroup$ Sep 22 '15 at 13:26

Note: my answer is about the site and how it works/should work; it is NOT about any user or group of users.

In my opinion, wrong answers and non-mainstream answers are completely different, and should be dealt with differently. The definition of non-mainstream physics given in the FAQ

What defines mainstream physics?
Mainstream physics is physics which has been accepted by a significant portion of the physics community. In the case of modern physics, if a theory has not been published in a reputable journal, it is not considered mainstream.

is rather objective: the papers backing your answer either do exist or do not exist. It's not subjective, and has nothing to do with squaring with personal views.

I, personally, think that bad answers should be downvoted and non-mainstream answers should be flagged.

  • The scope of this site (as discused in the tour, the help center and several meta posts) is only mainstream physics, not physics in general. Therefore, any non-mainstream answer is off-topic, and should be removed. On the other hand, a wrong answer is perfectly on-topic.

  • Non-mainstream answers harm this site. Imagine that someone answers that "the Earth is flat", and that answer is not deleted. It will attract some downvotes and will be grayed out, I know, but it will be still hosted by our site, and with our logo as a kind of seal of approval. This site is a reference of good content, and has a potential audience of thousands of people. We are saying to that audience that the whole community (except the few downvoters, who disagree) regard the "flat Earth theory" as acceptable for our site. If non-mainstream physics proliferate, the reputation of the site will suffer, and we won't be a useful resource anymore. Non-mainstream physics is an attack against Physics.SE, and the community should defend itself, and that's the purpose of flags. On the other hand, a wrong answer, marked as such, can have an educational value (showing common pitfalls, teaching something to both OP and answerers...), and be benefical for the site.

  • Downvoting has a cost (yeah, I know, only one little shiny internet point, but that's the point of gamification...) which discourages downvoting. In the case of wrong answers it makes sense: you have to ponder if the answer is bad enough for a downvote, or if it needs only a comment. But pointing non-mainstream answers always helps the community, and shouldn't be punished. Using flags seems to be the best option (better that meta or chat, that are too public for sensible matters).

  • People who get downvotes tend to regard them as personal attacks. Non-mainstream answers usually attract lots of downvotes, and they might think that that is the result of some sort of non-existent collusion. If their posts are dealt with by the site instead of some of the users, that (hopefully) would ease their mind.

  • $\begingroup$ I disagree that the definition of mainstream is objective. People can be very quick to say that's not mainstream about anything that disagrees with what they think they know. Then they vote emotionally rather than investigating. See for example this question where David Hammen received 19 upvotes for the wrong answer, and I received 2 downvotes for the right answer, even though my answer contained valid mainstream references to Einstein, Shapiro, and others. $\endgroup$ Sep 22 '15 at 16:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ with our logo as a kind of seal of approval er, no it won't. The upvotes are what give something a seal of approval; a strongly downvoted (-3 & below) answer gives a seal of disapproval. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Oct 1 '15 at 12:43

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