The flag reason for non-answers is the following:

This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to answer the question. It should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether.

Seems clear, doesn't it?

So I read this post, and I flagged it as a non-answer, since it didn't attempt to answer the question. Let's see, point by point, the post:

  1. In this part, OP ask specifically for a mathematical analysis of his problem. But the post doesn't present a single formula. Zero. Just a collection of generalities about diffraction. Maybe fine as a comment, but doesn't attempt to answer the specific question of the OP.
  2. "Sorry, I don't know". Is this an answer?
  3. OP asks for boundary conditions for the Schrödinger equation. But the post talks about solenoids and water waves. No relation at all. Clearly, the post isn't attempting to answer the question.
  4. "Sorry, I don't know". Again.
  5. In this last part, we learn that a wave function is... a wavefunction! This is Physics.SE, not the tautology club. Even worst, it says "So you might think the electron is pointlike", but OP didn't say a word about electrons being pointlike: the only purpose of this post is to say "I'm smarter than you". Again, the post isn't attempting to answer.

Rather unsurprisingly, the flag was deemed as disputed. Yet I don't see even a minimal attempt to answer the question.

So, what are the requirements to flag non-answers? Is it OK to answer "I don't know"?


1 Answer 1


Yes, it is okay to answer "I don't know." It's the least helpful answer possible, but it is an answer.

I could see making an exception for an answer which says "I don't know" and adds absolutely nothing else. But I have never seen an answer posted which would meet that criterion. At the very least, someone who posts "I don't know" will typically use that as a springboard to some useful analysis of the issue.

Anyway, when it comes to flagging answers as "not an answer", we're talking about things that are not answers even in the remotest sense. Separate questions, for example. Or requests for clarification of the question. Or additions to the question, which should have been edited in. Basically, a not-an-answer flag means the poster probably didn't understand the purpose of the form field they were typing in.

The specific post you're asking about does not even come close to meeting the criteria for a not-an-answer flag. One giant clue is that it is written in a quote-response form, where it quotes the question parts of the question-post and includes responses to them. A post written in that style is pretty much always an answer, because you generally don't write that way unless you understand that you are answering a question.

From your question, it sounds like you're considering the answer on its technical merits, and whether it is sufficiently helpful to the questioner. Generally speaking, you shouldn't consider those factors when deciding whether to flag. You should consider them when deciding to vote up or down, though.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I'd say that an answer that only exist to say the answerer doesn't know is clearly "not an answer". But an answer that exists to say that some or all of the problem is an open question is "an answer" within the meaning intended for the site. Backing that claim up would, of course, be a good thing. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that would be the exception I mentioned. An answer that only exists to say the answerer doesn't know the answer is not an answer. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 19:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ, I understand your reasoning, but the answer given clearly does not answer the question as you and I would think of it. It doesn't "not answer the question" in terms of a few implemented stack exchange rules, but it doesn't help the OP in any way, shape, or form. Could you flag this as very low quality? Probably not. And, apparently, you can't flag it as not an answer, either. I don't think it's about technical inaccuracies...the answer doesn't say anything "wrong" as far as I can tell (though I did skim). Shouldn't you do something beyond downvoting about an answer like that? $\endgroup$
    – auden
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 20:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @heather That's the thing, though, it's not clear that this doesn't answer the question. Sure, you may not think it does, but someone else may think differently. Anyway, downvoting is for answers which are not useful, not only for those which are wrong. Even if the answer doesn't actually say anything wrong, if it's not helpful to someone trying to find the answer to the question, that makes it suitable for a downvote. Nothing about this answer qualifies it for moderator action. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ, I see, thank you. $\endgroup$
    – auden
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 20:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In order to separate answers from comments, you have to consider them on their technical merits. And when I comment some post, I usually quote parts of the posts to address them, but that doesn't make them answers. In addition, I think that you're opening a dangerous way to game the system: Why it is OK to talk about water waves and solenoids in this answer? Why not black holes? Tides? What not? Absolutely anything could be considered as an answer by someone. (BTW, I haven't downvoted your answer) $\endgroup$
    – Bosoneando
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Bosoneando no, we really don't. I have a lot of experience separating answers from comments, and I can do it without considering the technical merits of the post. I don't understand your argument about gaming the system. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 9:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ Imagine that I open the first question of classical kinematics, and I write an answer about non-commutative algebras. An excellent answer, with lots of references. It could get some upvotes. It wouldn't really attempt to answer, but it would satisfy the requitements of your answer. IMHO, the "does not attempt to answer the question" part implies a certain degree of on-topicness. If completely off-topic answers are OK, this site could become a mess. $\endgroup$
    – Bosoneando
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Bosoneando That's not what I'm calling "technical merits". It would be pretty clear even to someone without much of any relevant technical knowledge that the answer you're talking about does not address the question. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 7:19

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