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It has been mentioned several times on MSO about downvoting incorrect answers but what is the reason for suggesting people only downvote instead of voting to delete, thereby leaving incorrect answers as still present on the site?

It costs reputation to downvote an answer, so it feels wrong to me that people are punished for pointing out obviously incorrect answers in the hope that they'll be rectified (so they can then remove the downvote if they notice it's been improved) or deleted (so the downvote is then nulled).

Why to we suggest people shouldn't vote to delete bad answers and to only cast such votes for non-answers / spam etc? Do we want StackExchange to be a repository for both correct and incorrect answers?

Yes, I know that the good answers will surface to the top and the bad ones will sink to the bottom, but that only assumes people are willing to sacrifice reputation to downvote - it is possible that such answers will get mixed in with the genuine low-vote answers that aren't actually wrong, just not very good.

Also, speaking as a moderator, why should I not delete obviously wrong answers that have been flagged as such by the community?

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Because not everyone is in a position to judge what is a wrong answer. Voting makes that determination much more democratic. Don't agree an answer is wrong? Vote it up! –  Martijn Pieters Jan 16 '13 at 12:34
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And showing a wrong answer can in and of itself be informative too. "This is how not to do it." –  Martijn Pieters Jan 16 '13 at 12:35
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@MartijnPieters: Well yes, but Stack Exchange is a repository for questions and answers, not examples of bad answers with reasoning. Wikipedia doesn't retain the rejected edits in plain view for people when someone adds a citation that is wrong or irrelevant - it gets deleted because the overall article would suffer as a result. –  JonW Jan 16 '13 at 12:37
    
Note that you get a badge if you delete your own down-voted answer, so owners are encouraged to do so. And I do vote-to-delete 'non-answers', posts that do not contain an actual answer (wrong or otherwise). –  Martijn Pieters Jan 16 '13 at 12:39
    
Wikipedia citations are not that good an example though; and WP suffers from the occasional edit war as different factions disagree over what makes a correct edit. We don't have that problem here; both sides add an answer and the rest of us vote. –  Martijn Pieters Jan 16 '13 at 12:41
    
+1 Good question. I had assumed that a lot of people habitually click arrows and ignore the small text links with "close", "flag", etc but maybe there is more to it. –  tripleee Jan 16 '13 at 18:09

5 Answers 5

An incorrect answer sometimes illustrates a common misconception or anti-pattern. In these cases, it's useful to have the incorrect answer there (with all its downvotes) to show that the community thinks the answer is a bad one, so that when someone visits the page suffering from the same misconception they can see that their idea is wrong.

For example, here's a question that received several plausible but wrong answers, and it's a shame that they've mostly been deleted.

So downvote the wrong answer and leave a comment explaining what's wrong with it, but don't delete it.

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  1. Just because an answer has a score of -1 or less doesn't always mean it's wrong (or at least not entirely wrong). Sometimes an answer is misunderstood. Sometimes it has spelling/grammar/wording/formatting errors that can be fixed. Sometimes it is mostly correct but has one or two little mistakes that need to be fixed. All of these are issues that can be fixed either through good comments and/or edits to change the answer into something worth upvoting. If it's deleted, doing so is not possible.

  2. Sometimes the users judging the answer are just wrong. Perhaps the answer is controversial, innovative, or not interpreted properly by the readers and downvoted despite it's correctness. While this isn't a common occurrence, deleting such an answer has a very high "cost" to the value of the site.

  3. Leaving an answer that is just wrong on the site with a lot of downvotes, but not deleted, does not have a high "cost". It's clear to anyone coming to the site to look for an answer that the community feels that this answer is wrong, harmful, of low quality, or for some other reason shouldn't be acted on. Even for users not familiar with the site, the UI is very good at conveying that information to people. Combined with (one would hope) comments to further explain what the problem(s) are, readers can recognize that they shouldn't use that answer unless they know something the other readers don't, and even then such an answer should be used with much caution. (An example of this is that sometimes an answer is downvoted because the answerer misunderstood the question. The answer isn't wrong, it just doesn't answer the proper question. If a reader doesn't have the same question as the OP, but instead the question this answer answers, it can be useful for them.)

  4. As others have said here, there is value to be had in keep around answers, even when they're just wrong. It shows you what not to do, and such answers also frequently have a lot of value in their comments in which users often explain why the answer is wrong and shouldn't be used.

  5. Sometimes an answer has one or more mistakes or aspects of it that are wrong, but it still contains some information that's correct and valuable. Perhaps the approach isn't flawed, just the specific implementation and another person may come along, get an idea from that approach, and come up with a good implementation of it. Or, perhaps there is code that is fine but a poor explanation, or a good explanation but a poor example code snippet. The point is that some of the answer can be worthwhile (at least enough to not delete it), even if the entirety of it isn't.

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There is value in not deleting them as they author of the incorrect answer still incurs the penalty. The author is more than welcome to remove their answer. –  user7116 Jan 16 '13 at 17:19

Trusted users (20K+ on graduate sites, 4K+ on betas) can vote to delete negatively scored answers, and they should, when they honestly feel that the answer is harmful.

Every other user needs to flag for moderation attention to get an answer deleted, and moderators are not arbiters of correctness, that's not our role. We can downvote, comment or edit, as every other user, but not unilaterally decide whether an honest attempt at answering the question is correct or not.

Incorrect answers should be downvoted, that's exactly what downvotes are for. Even if you're a trusted user and you've decided to vote to delete an answer, you should also downvote it, you can't really assume people will agree with you that the answer should be removed.

Furthermore, the rep cost is minimal. Calling it "punishment" is an extreme exaggeration that sends the wrong message, most people avoid downvoting even the most obvious crap, no need to further encourage that. A far better description I've read recently for that 1 rep cost is that it's an investment in the site's quality, you give a little rep and get a better site in return.

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True, but a 1k user is still able to determine if an answer is wrong. Yes, they can't vote to delete but should mods be rejecting flags raised suggesting deletion? –  JonW Jan 16 '13 at 13:20
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@JonW Yes we should be rejecting those flags, a 1K user may be able to determine if an answer is wrong, but if I delete the answer, I'm taking full responsibility for the deletion. Flags aren't votes, they are just helpful (most of the times) pointers, the decision is 100% the mod's. Also, and this might be a detail but I feel it's an important one, the community can't reverse mod deletions. –  Yannis Jan 16 '13 at 13:25
    
I'm not referring to actually deleting the post due to a raised flag, but more about whether the flag raised should actually be rejected for suggesting it be deleted. Usually I would check the answer in question and leave a comment / downvote myself. There are plenty of occasions when flags get marked as helpful but are not directly acted upon, why should suggesting deletion be different? It brings bad answers to mod attention which is a good thing. –  JonW Jan 16 '13 at 13:56
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@JonW In that case, do whatever feels right. I marked a "not an answer" flag as helpful about an hour ago, even though all the answer needed was some editing love (well, it could have gone both ways, I was in a good mood it seems). Flags are just a communication mechanism, the only thing you need to ask yourself is if you want to encourage the flagger to continue pointing you to similar answers or not. –  Yannis Jan 16 '13 at 13:58
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@JonW - Flagging technically wrong answers for deletion places an additional burden on a moderator, in that they have to understand the subject material at hand to know that the answer is truly wrong. I know that I can't judge if an answer about Perl is right or wrong, and wouldn't want to have to make that call. Due to the way that flags are now feeding into the review queue safeguards, we are encouraged to be more strict in the way we handle them. –  Brad Larson Jan 16 '13 at 16:16

You can learn a lot by reading an incorrect answer that has a comment or two explaining why it's incorrect. If it's bad enough to be embarrassing, can't the OP delete the answer?

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Maybe because thhe answer still has some valid information? And even if it wouldn't, simply removing it removes all trace, while leaving it there with a comment can actually make a bad answer educational for both the person asking the question & the person providing the bad answer.

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