I notice that CS.meta is heavily focused on question quality, and has virtually no discussion on answer quality. This is exemplified by @StevenJeuris's excellent comprehensive summary (and continuing discussion), that links to dozens of posts on questions. I suspect this focus is at least partly due to the way CS.SE's performance is tied to reducing the ratio of questions to answers, so there is incentive to reduce low quality / unanswered questions, but less incentive to reduce low quality / bad answers.

However, the purported benefit of reducing questions for attracting professionals to the community is only speculative. The science-minded of us know that to really find out how much it would benefit the community to tighten down on questions is to test it. I suggest that the quality of answers may also play a part in attracting or repelling professionals. That said, I hope this post might be useful for starting a discussion.

Note that the example answers I include below are still there as of this writing (several are upvoted and one of them is even an accepted answer!), so I don't think the current system of flagging, downvoting, and moderating is as effective as it could be. I myself have been discouraged from flagging or recommending for deletion non-scientific answers on the grounds that they don't violate any of the forum's policies, and would like to see that changed. This is my proposal:

The "flag" link for Answers has the following options:

  1. spam
  2. rude or abusive
  3. not an answer
  4. in need of moderator intervention

Additionally, when reviewing Low Quality Posts (ie, flagged answers), the "Recommend Deletion" button has the following options:

  1. No comment needed
  2. This is commentary on another post, not an answer
  3. This is a “thank you” comment
  4. This is an “I’m having this problem, too” comment
  5. This is a different question posted as an answer
  6. This is a link-only answer (and not spam)

My suggestions:

  1. I would like to see a "flag" option: "not a science-based answer" - in addition to or in place of the current "not an answer" option - to discourage / remove unscientific opinion answers.
  2. "Recommend Deletion" options 2, 3, and 4 are basically the same (this is a comment, not an answer - common for new users without sufficient reputation to comment), and should be merged as there is little reason to differentiate between them.
  3. In their place, I would like to see the same option: "not a science-based answer" - to support the proposed "flag" option.

These suggestions address the case where users treat the forum like a social media site (eg, reddit or slashdot), and post "opinion" answers, with no attempt to suggest that they have any grounds or basis for their assertions (example, example, example, example, example). Related to this, and possibly covered by the same option, are "data point" (anecdotal) answers that merely share personal experience (example, example, example).

Note: This case is different from the one mentioned here - the latter implying that answers make assertions based on unsourced / uncited evidence (and are not recommended for deletion), which is perhaps due to laziness rather than lack of scientific rigour, whereas the option I'm proposing is for answers that make assertions based on personal opinion / experience / belief, with no indication that supportive evidence even exists (and should be recommended for deletion).


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    My thoughts are "yes please", but as usual I'm interested to hear what the rest of the community thinks. . . – Krysta Aug 3 '15 at 14:29
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    I always place badly referenced question under the "This is commentary on another post, not an answer" option. So far I've had no troubles with doing it this way. However, I can understand that a clearer categorization may be beneficial. A "yes please" for me too :) – Robin Kramer Oct 9 '16 at 11:16
  • By the way, sometimes people give a case-study like answer, by telling how they (being the subject of interest) behave in such situations (e.g. cogsci.stackexchange.com/a/14160/11318 or cogsci.stackexchange.com/a/16028/11318). Although these answers are not scientific based I do think they are very valuable, assuming they are real. What do you think about these kind of answers? – Robin Kramer Oct 9 '16 at 11:20
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    @RobinKramer These kinds of answers are exactly the kind I would like to see done away with. Clearer categorization is not just for convenience, it is also for making it clearer what kinds of answers are discouraged (which is apparently not obvious, as your comment suggests). Anecdotal answers (in whatever form) are problematic for many reasons, including placebo effect, lack of control, personal biases, and not being open to peer review. If we are seriously discussing attracting professionals to the site, then I do think they should be removed. – Arnon Weinberg Oct 9 '16 at 16:46
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    Good point. Case study answers should (and can) also be cited indeed. If more people agree, I'd say Let's make work of this. – Robin Kramer Oct 9 '16 at 16:54
  • Just for the sake of completeness, @RobinKramer also added a collection of meta posts on answer quality, which simply did not get incorporated into the 2016 review yet. – Steven Jeuris Jan 9 '17 at 22:53

I agree that this issue needs sorting in some way, but there is a problem using the low-quality flag approach when we have answers upvoted by others as the low-quality flag isn't given as an option.

The question arises whether a separate flag can be created in the first selection list for sites like us and MedicalSciences without affecting non-scientific sites which don't have the references requirements.

If that is possible, then I would go down that route and have that put in.

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