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More than once I've seen accepted answers which suggested bad practices or were plainly wrong in some sense. In many cases, there was a better, not accepted answer (which often had more votes).

An example of such a question is "A cron job for rails: best practices?". The accepted question currently has 29 upvotes, the following three answers have 103, 60 and 30 upvotes respectively. The fact that there is a 70 votes between the accepted answer and the highest voted answer suggests to me that, well, the accepted answer is just not as good, or even bad. In this particular case, this is backed by the comments on the accepted answer, such as

This old question is the top google result for "rails cron". This answer is far from the best approach. Please see the other responses for more sane suggestions.

When I flagged said question for moderator attention, some time later the flags page told me this: "flags should only be used to make moderators aware of content that requires their intervention". In my opinion, however, a low quality/bad accepted answer very much requires moderator intervention (though I don't even know if they can un-accept an answer...)

So my question basically is: Is it okay to have answers which are wrong, suggest bad practices or are simply low quality marked as the accepted answer?

As someone who has frequented SO for some time, I know that it is usually a good idea to read past the accepted answer and read a few comments as well. But for someone who happens to come to SO for the first time (possibly through Google), it might be difficult to notice that there is actually a whole lot more information than the answer which is marked with a big green check mark (which suggests "Hey this is a great answer", even when it might not be).


In response to some answers

All an acceptance means is that "this answer helped me the most" and it's totally in the question posters control.

For someone who knows the community, this is indeed true and known. However, for someone who simply doesn't know SO, an accepted answer might mean a lot more than "this helped the OP", that is, it might suggest that the accepted answer is actually correct and verified and what not.

Note that I am by no means suggesting to remove the "accepted answer" mechanism from SO. I just think that it might be worth a moment of our time to think about how to prevent the spreading of "bad practices" in this manner.

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You can't expect the moderator to know what's best practice for each subject. That makes it very hard to overrule the OP's decision. –  Bo Persson Feb 26 '13 at 12:39

4 Answers 4

The answers are sorted by votes, but with the accepted answer pulled to the top. Maybe this should be changed for anonymous viewers, so they're sorted merely by votes.

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This sounds to me like a good solution. Stackoverflow is more than a site to answer questions. It has become a knowledge base. The answer with the largest support should be most prominently visible. –  David K Feb 26 '13 at 11:45

The user chooses to accept an answer. All other answers, some of them presumably better, are available to all other users visiting the question, so I guess everyone is free to decide whether the accepted answer is good for them or whether they would use a different answer as their preferred approach. Also everyone sees the vote-up count for each answer and in general better answers are voted up more.

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Its essential for the person who actually asked the question to be able to select an answer. This is a pretty essential thing for SE to work, and well, if we don't allow questions with no answer to have a answer assigned to them, it makes little sense to change the answer.

Where a question has a less than perfect answer, the best thing to do is to comment to that effect - point out what's wrong, and recommend another, better answer. Sadly enough, we can't be a resource thats going to spoonfeed the perfect answer to a new user - he or she is going to actually bother to look at the answers and decide which is best.

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All an acceptance means is that "this answer helped me the most" and it's totally in the question posters control.

If the answer is bad down-vote it and/or leave a comment explaining why it's a bad answer, or better still provide your own better answer.

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