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I flagged two almost identical posts (first and second) to a question that asked about a non-trivial way to get around a language limitation, which the OP apparently fully understood. It was obviously not a "why doesn't this compile" question, but it did had a code example to illustrate the problem. The posts pointed out some syntax error that doesn't have to do with the actual problem of the OP. As if this wasn't enough they proposed invalid syntax themselves, as Class is not a valid C++ keyword.

Both flags were declined because

flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer

I understand that bad answers are supposed to be voted down and not flagged, but these weren't answers, they were comments at best as they pointed at circumstantial issues with the OP. The fact that they're inaccurate has nothing to do with them being not an answer to this question, in my opinion.

Can somebody explain me how the decline reason applies in this situation?

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No, they are still answers. Bad, technically inaccurate answers, and answers to the wrong question, but they are still answers to what their author understood the question to be. – Martijn Pieters Sep 3 '12 at 20:41
@MartijnPieters: That is very strange because the review tool (for example) tells us to suggest deletion with the reason: "This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post [..]" – bitmask Sep 3 '12 at 20:44
@bitmask: That reason is there for "answers" which don't attempt to answer, but rather ask additional questions or request clarification of something in the question. – animuson Sep 3 '12 at 20:45
It does provide an answer to the question though. The wrong answer, but still an answer. – Bart Sep 3 '12 at 20:45
Mods don't make any kind of judgement call on the correctness of an answer. It's up to the community who have the domain expertise to make that call by voting to close/delete. Moderators are not delete-proxies. Not should we be asked to use our casting vote to protect users from the negative rep they perhaps deserve for posting technically incorrect answers. – Kev Sep 3 '12 at 22:33
@Kev: If mods are supposed to act as expertise-less clean-up persons, why do their VTC count five times as much as a normal user? You do require at least some expertise to determine if a question is nonsense and especially to determine if a question is a duplicate of another. – bitmask Sep 3 '12 at 22:39
Do you seriously expect mods to know the technical ins and outs of every language and technology on Stack Overflow? Our VTC's aren't 5 times anything, they are just overriding casting votes. We use them to quickly rid the site of junk like spam, abuse, misuse of features (such as comments as answers). But when it comes to judging the technical accuracy of answers then that's not our call. – Kev Sep 3 '12 at 22:46
Most questions we close are immediately obvious as bad questions - such as no effort made, no code sample, unintelligible, poll/list NC stuff. But even with dupes and questions where on the surface they generally look ok we don't always pull the trigger unless it's pretty obvious from the community there is a big swing to close/delete. – Kev Sep 3 '12 at 22:49
@bitmask It doesn't require expertise to see that (for example) "Can you suggest me a good book about C#?" is not constructive. I could even close it as NC, and I know few of C#. – kiamlaluno Sep 4 '12 at 12:52

Well, they are answers. Wrong, lousy answers perhaps, but still answers.

For example, this (as you link) is an answer:

You have to inherit publically;

Class Child : class Parent {...


Class Child : public Parent {...

This is not an answer:

Hey, I have the exact same problem. Did you manage to solve it?

Nor is this:

You should really Google that

The first one you downvote. The last two you flag.

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I see. Well, at least that's a good guideline. Thanks for the clarification. – bitmask Sep 3 '12 at 20:49
If I ask "What time is it in Italy?" and somebody answers with "The grass is green." that answer should still be flagged. An answer that says "It's 6:00 AM." would be wrong, as it is 11:00 PM right now, but it would still be trying to answer my question. A "The grass is green." type of answer is answering a question I didn't ask. – kiamlaluno Sep 3 '12 at 21:02
Though "What time is it in Italy?" should really be closed as "too localized". ;) – Bart Sep 3 '12 at 21:09
@kiamlaluno: That can be a fine line, though. If the question is "Can I make this framework class do something particular?", and the answer is given "You should totally drop that and try subclassing.", or "...and try regex." (10k only link), are those answering a question that wasn't asked? – Josh Caswell Sep 3 '12 at 21:11
@kiamlaluno: No, that green answer should NOT be flagged. You have to have domain knowledge in time in order to determine that is not an applicable answer. That's not our job as mods. Our job is to clean up the sick off the floor. Its up to people with domain knowledge in time to downvote that answer into oblivion. That's how it works. – Won't Sep 3 '12 at 21:14
@Won't: Making a statement about grass does not answer what time it is. You do not need domain knowledge: You don't have to know what time, grass, green or Italy means. You only have to know that grass is not a synonym for time. – bitmask Sep 3 '12 at 21:29
Though in the case of grass and time that is obvious (or at least I hope it is), you can't defer such decisions to moderators in actual programming cases where this might not be immediately obvious. We have downvotes and possibly comments for exactly that. – Bart Sep 3 '12 at 21:30
@bitmask: Excuse me, that requires domain knowledge for both grass and time. Again, not our job. Remember, sick on the floor, mop. If we have to know "Well, hell, class isn't a keyword in C++" then it isn't our job to clean it up. – Won't Sep 3 '12 at 21:40
@Bart I was referring to your, "Well, they are answers." That could be said for "I like programming in C#." which is an answer for "Do you like C#?" but probably not for the question asked from the OP. The difference is between a wrong answer, and an answer for a different question the OP didn't ask. It is true, there are answers that don't answer what the OP asked, but say what the OP should preferably do. Still, being an answer is not a sufficient criterion. I know, it is not all black and white, and moderators are not required to have the necessary knowledge in the domain of the question. – kiamlaluno Sep 3 '12 at 21:42
Besides, downvotes can be quite effective. It takes away rep of the user who posted garbage, whereas simply deleting the answer does not. In most cases, a user will delete his/her own post if the community quickly gives it a -2 or a -3, which is just as effective, if not more effective, than having the busy moderators do it. The non-answerer quickly learns what is acceptable, and learns not to do it again. – jmort253 Sep 3 '12 at 21:43
@Won't I make exactly that example because in English "the grass is green" doesn't reply to "What time is it?" and there isn't any specific knowledge you need, to understand that green is not a way to refer to time during a day. – kiamlaluno Sep 3 '12 at 21:47
@kiamlaluno Don't get me wrong. I know what you're getting at and have seen similar cases myself. But it's simply not considered a mod's job to handle those in my experience. So better just downvote (and comment if you must) and be done with it. Sure, it doesn't always feel right, but it's the most practical solution for all parties. – Bart Sep 3 '12 at 21:50
@kiamlaluno: Your example is still an answer, just a wrong one. Wrong answers need no moderator attention. Just downvote. We only need to be involved if the answer is a comment "you should just eat grass, forget that time stuff", a question "Are you sure you aren't talking about grass and not time?" or a link "". If it isn't one of these three, just downvote it. – Won't Sep 3 '12 at 21:53
@bitmask: Look, you can ask a [feature-request] for mods to judge the technical correctness of an answer when deciding whether or not to delete it. Until that time, bad or incorrect answers are not our job to deal with. If you flag an incorrect answer as "not an answer" your flag will get declined. We are volunteers and don't have time researching every flagged answer to determine if it actually was originally meant to be an answer to the question. Just downvote the thing and move on. That's the way the system is designed. – Won't Sep 3 '12 at 21:58
@bitmask A rough guideline I use myself when flagging as "not an answer" is "Does a mod need to consider the question to determine if my flag is appropriate?". If he does, then I would think twice about flagging it as such. But that's purely related to successful flagging. And I'm doing pretty okay with that guideline. Sometimes I do test my luck though. – Bart Sep 3 '12 at 22:00

Moderators should never be called to judge the correctness of an answer; for that there are down-votes. Furthermore, they should not be required to read both the question, and the flagged answer before to decide if a flag for "not an answer" is useful, or it should be declined.

This means that "not an answer" should be used for the following answers:

  • "I have the same problem. Did you find a solution?"
    This should be a comment, even if it is not a helpful comment. (If the OP found a solution, s/he would probably wrote a comment about that, or an answer.)

  • "Nice answer! It saved me the day!"
    It is rather a comment, and it is not a helpful one.

  • "I have the same problem, but differently from you, these conditions apply: [description of the conditions].
    This is a different question, if the user is able to make an answer that is not a duplicate.

  • "I like C#."
    It is a comment, if the question is not "Do you like C#?" In this case, it should be the question that is voted to be closed.

  • "@kiamlaluno I did what you suggested in your answer, but it doesn't work for me. May you add more information?"
    It could be a comment for a given answer, or a different question at all. For sure, it doesn't answer the question asked from the OP.

  • "I like cheesecake."
    On Stack Overflow, that surely doesn't answer the question. (I hope there isn't any programming language called Cheesecake. ;))

On a site like Stack Overflow, requiring that moderators judge the correctness of an answer (which is not required to any moderator of any Stack Exchange site) would be crazy: Considering the various questions that on-topic on Stack Exchange, they should be expert in Drupal, Lua, Wordpress, C#, Ruby, Perl, etc.
As normal users, moderators are still able to votes on answers they know wrong, especially in those questions for the topic they have their expertise, but flagging an answer as "not an answer" is not a way to get their down-vote on an answer.

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