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I've received a flag for the following answer:

My own personal experience: I learned about "sending energy" in massage school, and experimented with sending it to people I knew, just to see what would happen, and have gotten definite confirmation that they received it, never discussing with them that I sent them energy.

I have also heard many stories of people "knowing" something (usually "bad") happened to someone they knew at the instant it happened. I had 2 very definite moments of "knowing" (instead of "observing"), one of them completely innocuous, the 2nd a family member dying.

It is easy enough to do your own experiments with sending energy. The message may be delivered, the response you get may not be what you would expect--it is important to see if there is SOME response to the message sent, not if it's the response you were expecting.

Such an answer could be critiqued for many reasons. However, my question here concerns what is the appropriate action for a moderator:

  1. Rely on downvoting: Do nothing and let down votes and comments operate as they are intended
  2. Delete: Respond to the flag and delete the answer

More broadly, under what conditions should a moderator delete rather than rely on downvoting?

Initial thoughts

In relation to Spam, it is clear that we delete. However, in general I think we need to be careful of censorship in relation to answers that are provided in good faith. I think downvoting and comments provides a powerful mechanism to communicate disagreement with an answer.

  • I agree with you. Comments are the best way to deal with these situations. Also, down voting below 0 is overkill in my view. – bfrs Jul 26 '12 at 9:16
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    @bfrs I completely disagree; wrong answers should be downvoted to at least -3 (where the text fades, giving the impression that it's "wrong" or bad). Pseudoscience answers should be judged as harshly as possible like all pseudoscience. – Ben Brocka Jul 26 '12 at 13:17
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Full disclosure; I flagged for deletion (with a note of "maybe 'citation needed'").

So there's two mod actions that are possible here: deleting the post and adding a "Citation Needed" post notice. These are in addition to the downvoting and commenting that the community can (and should) do when it finds wrong/pseudoscience answers.

Due to comments above, let me reaffirm that bad content should always be downvoted. Downvotes are good for the site! You should not "stop" when the score is 0; a score of -3 at the least shows an answer is "wrong" as the text fades out; if you're going to arbitrarily stop downvoting at least use that threshold. Downvotes are not rude.

All of these posts should get Citation needed, so I'm not going to argue about that.

When we should delete or not is touchy; I think people should be given the benefit of the doubt... when there's a reasonable chance their post could be supported by scientific evidence. Leave a citation needed notice and give them a chance to edit, sure.

But this isn't one of those answers. This is pseudoscience (at best) and is complete, laughable noise. If this isn't a joke it's extremely depressive. Pseudoscience and crap should not be allowed on our site. When an answer is so insanely outside of accepted science that it is unbelievable that the poster could rephrase their answer to include (valid) supporting the pseudoscience answer should be deleted. Leave a comment before you delete the post explaining the problem and delete it.

As an additional note, I am very annoyed that the user in question is gaining priviledges on a site for science with pseudoscience answers. The user has gained 24 rep in upvotes from untrue garbage. That's not something downvotes can prevent unless they're extremely disproportionate to upvotes. All it takes is a couple of cooks to break reputation here, so setting a strong precedent is important. If you can earn rep on this site by talking about chakras and sending energy and crystals the site is a joke. We can't let that happen.

If the poster actually has evidence, they can edit their answer and can flag it to be undeleted. Pseudoscience should be treated as if it were a complete non-answer, the standard procedure for which is to delete the post.

Also note these posters pretty clearly fail the Pee-Wee Herman Rule:

Does this user belong here on this site with us? Or is it the guy in the nerdy suit who just walked into the biker bar?

This is a site for professors, researchers and students of science. If your post doesn't sound like it came form one of those and it doesn't have any research at all to make it look like it might possibly stand up to objective scrutiny...it doesn't belong here.

As an addendum, let me quote the Citation Needed post notice (emphasis mine):

This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

Sure, it's stolen from Wikipedia, but it does express that unsourced material may be challenged and removed. This is that challenge. It remains without a valid source. I will be so bold as to say it will never have a valid source. Thus the unsourced material (the whole post) should be removed.

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    I completely agree with this sentiment. It is the responsibility of the pseudoscience answerer to go above-and-beyond standard amounts of citations to justify why a crank-friendly answer should be considered. Bold claims need bold evidence. If your answer requires that we have a complete overhaul of the standard understanding of science, then you should provide a lot of evidence. – Artem Kaznatcheev Jul 26 '12 at 13:34
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    I agree with deleting it as well, but perhaps wait a bit longer out of courtesy for the user to possibly respond first. – Steven Jeuris Jul 26 '12 at 20:33
  • @StevenJeuris my general justification for on sight deletions of these is that it's so absurd no reasonable person can really assume there is anything to back it up with – Ben Brocka Jul 26 '12 at 20:56
  • @JoshGitlin not sure what you're talking about; A) this user can now vote and commenting comes soon after, voting is perhaps the most dangerous though; a userbase upvoting pseudoscience is a big concern. B) they only have two posts, both are answers. – Ben Brocka Jul 26 '12 at 23:02
  • I'm reviewing things @Ben, updated comment to follow. Nope. No updates. I concur with you now :-) – Josh Jul 26 '12 at 23:06
  • @JoshGitlin the update that was just added makes an even stronger case for deletion – Ben Brocka Jul 27 '12 at 1:07
  • I agree with the imporance of nipping the problem in the butt. We have already seen several users that are not here for science making it past the voting rep and encouraging other pseudoscience. This detracts from the site, and is discouraging to the people that put effort into legitimate questions and answers. – Artem Kaznatcheev Jul 27 '12 at 3:17
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    @ArtemKaznatcheev "nip that problem in the butt" – Ben Brocka Jul 27 '12 at 14:06
  • Thus the unsourced material (the whole post) should be removed does not necessarily mean the whole post. This site is community edited, and a post with a mix of information may have the unsourced information edited out. – Josh Aug 1 '12 at 20:03
  • @JoshGitlin That's how it works on Skeptics. Answers that don't cite references or anything remotely approaching common knowledge in the field aren't answers – Ben Brocka Aug 1 '12 at 20:09
  • That's not the impression I got from this post on their meta – Josh Aug 1 '12 at 21:39
  • @JoshGitlin it's a year old, don't think they do that anymore. I had two (terrible, practically trolling) answers removed from my own question. They were basically of the same quality of the answer being discussed, on this question – Ben Brocka Aug 1 '12 at 21:45
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I have given this issue quite a bit of thought and have had discussions with many other Stack Exchange users, some who are high-reputation and long time Meta Stack Overflow members, some who are community moderators on other sites, and some who are actually Stack Exchange employees.

It is my strong opinion that these posts should be dealt with as follows:

  1. The posts should be downvoted heavily.
  2. Constructive comments about why these posts are not welcome should be added. ("These answers are pseudo-science, this site expects answers backed by verifiable research", etc)
  3. A "Citation Needed" post notification should be added. (Please do flag these answers and ask for a mod to do so)
  4. The user should be warned via a private moderator message that their answers are attracting flags and downvotes, are low quality, and must be improved or their account may be answer-banned or suspended.
  5. The answers should not be deleted by a moderator. If the author deletes the answer, this is an indication that they recanted and is acceptable (actually, desirable)

I know my view on this matter is extremely unpopular with many of the higher reputation members of this site. I do fully understand that as a community moderator it is my responsibility to act in the best interests of this community. As I am going against the popular opinion of the highest reputation users of this community, please allow me to explain why I feel that I am not "ignoring" the community views and why I feel I am acting in the community's best interests.

First, let me make it clear that I do not feel these answers are valid and I do not feel the are good answers. That being said, I am a long time user of the Stack Exchange system (starting on Stack Overflow on March 9th, 2009) and I believe that the score of answers on stack exchange sites is the greatest strength of this system. I feel these answers are bad, but the negative score next to the answers shows that they are bad.

Left on the site, these negative score answers show that they are incorrect and not welcomed on our site. If these answers were deleted, the message that they are not welcome here is deleted also. Some have said that new users do not understand the score. To this I say new users need to learn what the scores mean early! If you don't understand what the score next to posts n a Stack Exchange site is, you're not a useful user. Post scores are at the very core of our system!

Also, these answers should have many comments explaining what is wrong as well as a "Citation Needed" notice. It should be abundantly clear what the negative score means. These answers *should also have a competing positive score answer. If these answers are left alone, then they do gain credibility and deletion should be seriously considered. But I think it is abundantly clear when these answers compete with good, positive score answers that they are incorrect and that his site is showing they are incorrect.

This sort of bad information exists. People believe it and people spread it. By deleting it from our site we lose control over it! if we instead keep it on our site, we gain power over the bad information and we can demonstrate that it 8is not correct*. Deleting the information makes it appear that we are somehow frighted by it, at least in my view.

The other major argument I have heard is that somehow these users posting bad information will accrue massive reputation and will somehow take over the site. I can't see this happening; if this were to happen we have a much more serious issue. If this is the concern than deleting the content is simply sweeping the problem under the rug.

Firstoff, these users should by far be the minority. The users posting good information should easily be able to overwhelm the bad users and downvote the answers into oblivion. The only users upvoting bad answers should be other bad users, which constitues a voting ring and is grounds for suspension and automatic vote reversal.

Second, there are lots of users on lots of Stack Exchange sites that upvote crap. There are sympathy upvotes, incorrect upvotes, etc. As a community we have to have the majority of users voting well so we can overrule the bad upvotes. This is the nature of the system.

Third, if these users continue to contribute nothing useful to the site, as I said in the bullets, they should be warned, suspended, and deleted. Therefore, they will rapidly lose any power and privileges they might have gained. As is, the user in question has a measly 24 reputation, and has already been warned to clean up her act or go play elsewhere.

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    +1 Thanks Josh for a really thoughtful answer. I note that I have also +1'd other answers here. And I think there is a lot of common ground in the sentiments being expressed. One main thing I take from all this is just how passionate we all are about maintaining a high quality site. – Jeromy Anglim Aug 2 '12 at 0:52
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Trash has to be taken out, if not right away then eventually. With extremely poor answers (whether they be the specific pseudoscience ones here, or any other answer with a score of -3 or lower) the question is not if they should be deleted but when they should be deleted.

By keeping a pseudoscience answer around, you are simply keeping it accessible to search engines. That means when some crank searches for "iodine infused tin-foil hats", he gets out site as the top result (since SE has such high SEO). The user then comes to our site with no knowledge of what upvotes/downvotes mean. Even if they did know, cranks are usually used to getting downvotes from the 'man/establishment suppressing' their ideas. Have you ever seen a pseudoscience proponent go: "oh yeah, that's logical, notable scientists disagree with me, I should rethink my position or take my comments elsewhere". I have never seen this happen, when they see crap on our site (even if it is downvoted) it will just encourage them to post more crap (and then upvote old crap when they get that easy-to-get 15 rep; we have seen this upvoting already on the case of the specific questions of this topic).

Who does keeping trash around send a message to? Users that are regulars to the site (and understand how downvotes/upvotes work) already voted on the answer to deem it as crap. Once the question is off the main page, people rarely see it unless they get a link to it or search. Very few people link their friends to bad answers going "hey, check out how bad this answer is". It is much more likely that a link will be given as "hey fellow tin-hatter, look at the establishment at CogSci suppress our ways with their orthodox narrow-minded scientific ways".

Lastly, at least 3 high rep users (Ben, Myself, and Jonsca) have expressed a very strong opinion in support of having these 'answers' deleted. We are the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th highest rep users, the only user of higher rep is a moderator. We cannot yet cast delete votes, and so we have flagged the question for deletion by the moderators. As soon as we get 4k rep (to vote to delete questions), all 3 of us will vote to delete the question. Why do the moderators ignore us? Only one user (9th by rep) has expressed a strong opposition to deletion.

  • Agreed; these are dissenting opinions or uncommon beliefs. Removing them is not censorship or limiting the flow of information. It is removing complete garbage from a site for high quality content. The fact that those answers are on the site is a disgusting joke. – Ben Brocka Aug 1 '12 at 13:16
  • The moderators do not ignore you, I have discussed this quite a bit in chat. I have posted my own answer explaining how I feel. – Josh Aug 1 '12 at 13:21
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    Just to confirm, I have been following the discussion quite a lot. There are clearly strong arguments for both deletion and down-voting/commenting. That said, such answers make up only a tiny fraction of our site. If such answers were compromising the scientific integrity of our voting system and our site, I'd be worried, but at least at the moment I think that down voting and comments are generally working well. But I'm happy to be persuaded otherwise. – Jeromy Anglim Aug 2 '12 at 0:49
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One reason not to delete such answers, is that once they are deleted, the lesson is deleted for everyone. Having such posts visible with many downvotes demonstrates what is not acceptable. It's not that experienced users need to know such things, but new users coming in are going to try and get a handle on what this community is about. Seeing highly downvoted posts about psuedoscience shows them, "we do not tolerate such things here". It's the inverse of seeing a highly upvoted post, which shows users what kind of things are desirable here.

I'm not against deleting this post, but this should at least be considered.

  • This is my personal view. Bad questions should be closed and later deleted. bad answers should be downvoted into oblivion and maybe the author will delete. But, this is just my personal stance. – Josh Jul 30 '12 at 16:21
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    As I had mentioned in chat about this, I don't need to keep old pizza boxes around as exemplars to remember to throw the newer ones away when I'm done with them. Garbage is garbage, and even new users should have an intuitive sense about it. Keeping something around on the site keeps it in the search engines (SE has very strong SEO), and when pulling that question up on Google, there's no giant "but it has an answer with a -6 score" neon sign next to it." So, if I'm into underwater basketweaving, and I find an (off-topic) answer that has that subject on CogSci, I'm going to stop by. – Chuck Sherrington Jul 31 '12 at 22:11
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    @ChuckSherrington Perhaps a better analogy would be to have the pizza boxes in the trash, to show new users that they should clean up. It's not that regular users need to be reminded what's what. It's just for new users I suppose. If someone finds their answer on a search engine, it should be clear that it was undesirable from the negative votes and from comments too. – Preece Jul 31 '12 at 23:17
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    Most people know to throw the pizza boxes away already from having had pizza in their own homes, though. If they've never had pizza, they can still generalize that it's garbage. – Chuck Sherrington Jul 31 '12 at 23:20
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    @Preece you still take the trash out eventually. It is nice to show the community that we disapprove of the answer, vote it down into oblivion, and when it disappears from the front page/gets old-ish we need to delete it so that "how to improve my tin-foil hat?" Google searches don't lead to us. – Artem Kaznatcheev Aug 1 '12 at 12:06
  • Except we're not talking about old pizza boxes. We're talking about incorrect answers. The analogy is inherently flawed. Pizza boxes are containers used to bring pizza to your home. Bad answers on the site are like bad pizza, not old pizza boxes. – Josh Aug 1 '12 at 20:08

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