# Trying to understand why the answer was deleted

My answer to What is special about Maxwell's equations? was deleted by a moderator. The OP asked what is special about the Maxwell equations, which, according to the OP, are basically a combination of "4 equations that were already formulated by other physicists". It looked like the OP was surprised that the equations that did not contain anything new are held in such respect. I noted in my answer that Maxwell was the first to introduce the displacement current (which is a critical part of the Maxwell equations). I believed that was at least a partial answer to the OP's question: the displacement current (maybe among other things) does make the Maxwell equations special. The moderator considered the answer "critique of the question, not an answer". Was the deletion really warranted?

"Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful" and "Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better."(https://physics.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer). I also quoted the Community Manager: (Your answer is in another castle: when is an answer not an answer?): "See, this is an answer: "You probably want a FileOutputStream" And so is this: "Look at manual for preg_split, third argument" Yes, they're both very short, and yes, they contain links. But strip the markup, and you still get at least a little bit of useful information."

So, according to the rules, mine is definitely an answer, not a comment. So maybe some moderators, who have very high reputation and (unlike me) write excellent answers, apply higher standards than warranted by the rules? It may well be that they are right to do that, but in that case should not they have the rules changed first?

• You see, the "rules" are not as clear cut as you think they are. Elsewhere on meta.SE, another faq post says: "When someone goes on Stack Overflow, the question "answer" should actually contain an answer. Not just a bunch of directions towards the answer.", which is a much higher standard than the "if it contains a smattering of information, it's an answer" in the post you keep referring to, so there is definitely room for individual and community standards to vary here without leaving the spectrum allowed by the rules.
– ACuriousMind Mod
Apr 8, 2017 at 12:21
• @ACuriousMind: My understanding is the faq posts, such as the one you quote, are not official: at meta.stackexchange.com/q/7931 they write: "For official guidance from Stack Exchange, visit the Help Center." And I quote the official help and the site management. Apr 8, 2017 at 14:03
• Don't take "link" to mean only a literal html link. You answer contains nothing except a reference to another source and a couple of suggested search terms. Both of those may be helpful to the asker, but they don't hat's constitute an answer. Apr 8, 2017 at 17:56
• @dmckee : your words seem also to fully apply to what the Community Manager says are indeed answers. Apr 8, 2017 at 17:59
• No. Shog's post make a clear distinction between a post with an answer (use this kind of object) and one that only tell the asker what to read. Yours is in the latter category. I mean, seriously, your test reads "you might want to search [these things] and read [this other thing]". Neither of those answer the question even as poorly as "Use a FileOutputStream" answers Shog's example question. You should be comparing your deleted answer to the one Shog starts that post with because the analogy is exact. Apr 8, 2017 at 18:08
• @dmckee: Again, what basis do we have to decide what to do with a specific answer (you as a moderator, me as a reviewer)? I believe our decisions should be used on the site rules, first and foremost, not our personal opinions, however noble. Apr 8, 2017 at 18:11
• You are the one who brought up Shog's post a a site rule, and by that post your recently deleted post is Not an Answer. And going back to the original, moderators are human exception handlers. Among our jobs applying human judgement to the corner cases. As I explained below I personally find the answer you started complaining about to be exactly a corner case and don't see any reason to reverse the decision that was made on it. I understand that you disagree, but I'm not going to change anything. It's time to let this go. Apr 8, 2017 at 18:18
• @dmckee: How is "Look at manual for preg_split, third argument" from Shog9's example is better than my "see Pure Appl. Chem., Vol. 81, No. 1, pp. 19–43, 2009 ("Magnetic field effects in chemical systems"), for effects of magnetic field in chemical reactions."? Or maybe "Look at" is somehow better on this site than "see"?:-) And my answer offers some specific information, unlike the Shog9's starting example. Apr 8, 2017 at 18:24
• @dmckee: Thank you for your time and input. Apr 8, 2017 at 18:26
• @dmckee: That was definitely a partial answer (and much better than meaningless answers, which are found around in abundance). There is downvoting, commenting and editting for such things, afaict. Not that it will change anything, but maybe if users point this out now it will not happen to the next hundred useful answers. Apr 12, 2017 at 9:16
• @akhmeteli, thanks for bringing this to our attention. Apr 12, 2017 at 9:18
• @Helen : Thank you for your interest and support. Apr 12, 2017 at 13:21

That answer is in a kind of hazy place.

It addresses a misconception held by the asker (and one that I agree needed to be addressed—see the subsequent comment I left), rather than quite answering the question.

Now, normally I consider that kind of answer to belong without question, but that is because usually the misconception is about physics. Instead, the misconception is about the historical assignment of credit, so it isn't quite physics.

BTW, I also considered suggesting that the whole question be moved to History of Science and Mathematics, but by the time I looked in there were already four or five answers and the question had been touched by a couple of other moderators who appeared to find it perfectly at home on Physics.

• Let us assume for a moment that my answer belongs in History of Science and Mathematics SE, rather than in Physics SE. But would that mean it should have been deleted for this reason? That does not look logical. And one cannot migrate an answer, as far as I know, only an entire question with all the answers and comments, which is the option that you considered. But I don't think the question is off topic on Physics SE as it is about importance of the key physics equations. On the other hand, one of the key aspects of importance of theoretical concepts is their novelty and (cntd) Apr 2, 2017 at 12:55
• agreement with experiment. Therefore, I believe my answer was quite relevant to the question (and timely, by the way). I wonder if it could possibly be undeleted. Apr 2, 2017 at 12:59

For the record, here are the things we're talking about since only users with more than 10k reputation can see deleted posts:

What is special about Maxwell's equations? If I have read correctly, what Maxwell basically did is combine 4 equations that were already formulated by other physicists as a set of equations. Why are these 4 equations (out of large numbers of mathematical equations in electromagnetism) important? Or What is special about these 4 equations?

I have doubts about your assessment of the Maxwell equations. For example, as far as I know, Maxwell was the first to introduce the displacement current, so he did not just "combine 4 equations that were already formulated by other physicists as a set of equations."

which does not answer the question of why Maxwell's equations are important or special. That Maxwell introduced the displacement current does not answer why the equations are important unless you explain why the displacement current is important. Remarking that Maxwell introduced the current is a valid critique of the assertion in the question that he just combined some already-known equations, but on its own it does not answer anything about the importance of Maxwell's equation. That's what I meant when I wrote my comment:

This appears to be a critique of the question, not an answer to "why Maxwell's equations are special", so I'm deleting it.

• I think mine is at least a partial answer, as it explains that, first, the Maxwell equations contained new physical contents compared to predecessors, and, second, the logic that made the OP doubt the importance of the equations might be faulty . You may say that I did not wrote that in the answer explicitly, but I am not sure the rules require that all answers must be explicit or complete. I tend to read the rules as they are written: "Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful" and "Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better." (cntd) Apr 1, 2017 at 15:27
• (physics.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer). This is a pretty general issue: my answers are often criticized for brevity, incompleteness, being comments rather than answers, and so on. But maybe the critics apply higher standards than warranted by the rules. High standards are, in general, commendable, and I respect the critics who have higher standards than mine and require that I wrote to higher standards than I do. However, those are their standards, not the standards of the site. If they want to enforce higher standards, they probably should do something (ctnd) Apr 1, 2017 at 15:35
• to change the rules. However, until such changes are implemented we should probably apply the current rules, not our noble ideas of the rules. One may ask me, what problem I have with high standards. My problem is, while higher standards may result in better answers, they can also result in fewer answers. Would that be good for the site? Apr 1, 2017 at 15:59
• Let me also quote the Community Manager (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/225370/…): "See, this is an answer: "You probably want a FileOutputStream" And so is this: "Look at manual for preg_split, third argument" Yes, they're both very short, and yes, they contain links. But strip the markup, and you still get at least a little bit of useful information." So the management of the site seems to believe that short answers may be better than no answers. Apr 1, 2017 at 17:21
• This appears to be a critique of the question, not an answer to "Was the deletion really warranted?", so I'm downvoting it. Apr 2, 2017 at 11:49
• ACM, I think that for non-10k users like me, (and prominently for the reason that meta discussions also convey expected site behavior and policies, albeit in specific contexts), it might be useful to bring out clearly if the text-block no. 2 was some part of OP's answer, or was it the entire answer? :) Apr 2, 2017 at 14:25
• @TheDarkSide It is the entire answer.
– ACuriousMind Mod
Apr 2, 2017 at 14:27
• I'm probably just wrong about this but surely something pertaining to correcting the question rather than answering it should be done so as a comment rather than an answer?
– user95137
Apr 3, 2017 at 20:29
• If the question says "If I have read correctly" and the answer says "No you didn't read correctly - here's what you missed" ... how is that not an answer? Further, is an incomplete answer a reason to delete it? I feel answers should only be deleted if they are actively harmful to the site. If they aren't, then the community should decide via upvotes. Unless there's more that we can't see without 10k+, this shouldn't have been deleted. Apr 3, 2017 at 21:29
• @Phase: First, as corsiKa noted, I did emphasize an element that makes the Maxwell equations special (the displacement current). Second, we all may have our own ideas of what is a comment and what is an answer, but I believe at this site we should make decisions based on the site's rules, not on our general ideas. To support my point of view I quoted the rules and the Community Manager. Your comment seems to lack substantiation. Furthermore, if you were right, my answer should have been converted to a comment, in the worst case, not deleted. Apr 4, 2017 at 9:42
• I'm surprised to learn that that memorable answer was deleted. It was both correcting the OP's misconception and providing an answer at the same time. Even if it was not a full answer (it was not), deletion sounds like the wrong reaction. Unfortunately there is still no justification provided. And, as @corsiKa writes, answers should be deleted only when harmful. Apr 12, 2017 at 9:10