This question is about how people should behave on Stack Overflow? More specifically, when you ask a question, do you have any right to argue (in writing) against the people that answer your question? (read the next example before making up your mind)

I ask this question because on more than one occasion I have provided somebody with an answer and they did not agree with it. But, instead of just ignoring me, or even just showing their strong disagreement by down voting me, they persist on trying to argue with me in their comments. As though they believe that, despite the fact that they asked the question, they still know better.

My Opinion

The way I see it Stack Overflow has in implied question asking 'contract' if you will. The person that asks a question is implying that they do not know the answer; thus the question. So they are not an Expert and have no place arguing against answers. The people who answer are experts (maybe not, but the contract assumes they are). Therefore their advice should be listened to and taken under consideration. You can comment on why you agree / disagree, you can upvote or downvote to the same effect but under no circumstances should you argue with them. If you want the contract to be that you are the expert and everybody else should learn from you, then write a blog post, Stack Overflow is not meant for that.

NOTE: Please notice the fine line between a statement of (dis)approval and an argument. Where I am okay with the former but not the latter.

I know this may sound like a rant but it is important to me and I really want to know what everybody else thinks. So please, what do you think, yes, no or maybe?

P.S. Because this is SO I will agree using votes; I promise I will not argue against or for anything you say.

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6 Answers

If someone has a logical case to make when they disagree with someone else, I think it entirely appropriate for them to express that disagreement in comments. From my point of view, the benefits are twofold:

  • If the "expert" is right, then the person disagreeing is more likely to learn if they express that disagreement - because it is likely to become clear where the disagreement is, and why.

  • If the questioner is right, the "expert" can modify or delete their answer: it's in no-one's interests for an incorrect answer to stay up and incorrect.

Certainly if anyone disagrees with me, I'd rather they express that than bottle it up. Just because they ask a question that I think I can answer doesn't mean that they don't actually know more about it than me.

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I've had people point out problems in my answers, fixing some, and deleting others. –  Lance Roberts Oct 22 '09 at 23:19
    
Learning is good; and disagreement is okay, I just felt it was nicer to voice that disagreement as a question rather than take an argumentative stance. Other than that your post is well reasoned (as usual I might add) so thankyou +1 –  Robert Massaioli Oct 22 '09 at 23:28
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I think you're wrong. You should never disagree with someone answering a question. ;) –  Brisbe42 Oct 23 '09 at 3:08
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I think your use of the word argue is wrong, think 'discussion' and 'questioning'. I ask more questions than anyone I know, because I need to find the 'exact' reason backed up by logic and rational thought as to why it's that way. I'm not saying their wrong, in fact, I usually assume they're right, but I ask the questions so that I can get the details figured out.

It's all about understanding a problem, which is usually based on thinking about that problem right. In your answer here, you could have just gave more exact reasons and examples to show the questioner why his understanding of the problem fell short.

It's not about 'knowing better', it's about wanting to understand better.

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That was the final one that prompted this post, correct. And I agree, 'discussion' and 'questioning' are good and should be continued. –  Robert Massaioli Oct 22 '09 at 23:14
    
Note, that I'm not saying that he's that kind of seeking questioner, just that someone might be. I get people thinking I'm arguing all the time, when I'm just trying to fully understand how things work. That's why I'm an engineer. –  Lance Roberts Oct 22 '09 at 23:16
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The answer you referenced involves a religious argument. You're never going to win those, and you can never expect people on the other side to be silent about them. –  Robert Harvey Oct 23 '09 at 4:18
    
@Shhnap: There is no right or wrong answer on these kinds of arguments, so you can't just expect people to acquiesce. Have your say, let them have their say, and move on. –  Robert Harvey Oct 23 '09 at 4:19
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There are a lots of possible scenarios here, but I think a couple stand out:

If an answer is blatantly incorrect, then the poster may not know the right answer, but they might know that that one is wrong. In which case the OP could politely inform them of that fact.

On a Community Wiki question, debate (within reason) could be a normal part of the process.

For any situation, though, the discussion should be civil and well-intentioned. Anyone being a jerk--whether it's the answerer or the asker--needs to be checked, and it's up to the community or the mods to do so. We're all adults here (except for the genius 13-year-olds that will steal all our jobs...)

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I could not agree more. And +1 for pointing out that the Community Wiki style questions are the time and place for even more debate; while still remaining reasonable. –  Robert Massaioli Oct 22 '09 at 23:35
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I've had that happen where the OP down-voted my answer, eventhough it was a plausible solution, then told me in a comment why it wasn't. I've then either expanded my answer, or replied in a comment (depending on which I feel to be more appropriate), and have seen them then get defensive and keep going with comments as to why I'm wrong, or it can't work, etc.

I have no problem with being downvoted if I'm actually wrong, but if it's a matter of the OP not listening, and just blustering-on, then I feel it's undeserved and discourteous to the community (not merely me, I've seen it happen to many others, too).

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I believe I would be irritated if that happened to me.

That said, I have answered over a thousand questions on SO, and not once has it happened to me. Not by the OP anyway. If an OP argues with me, it's because I misunderstood or misread a question, or I did in fact give the wrong answer (which almost never happens :).

It has happened a couple of times with someone who was not the OP. Without mentioning names, I'll just say that it happened to be a particularly thorny issue with which I have had first-hand experience and understanding, but my opinion in this area is controversial and the guilty party wanted to try and tell me that I was an amateur and that I should leave this kind of work to the experts. Which, given the nature of the software in question, I was quite happy to do.

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So they are not an Expert and have no place arguing against answers

Often, but not always true. It's perfectly fine to argue against an answer - if your argument has merit, of course.

When I ask a question, though, I feel contractually obligated to a basic standard of politeness and a small ounce of gratitude to people taking the time to consider my question.

A notable exception is when I have the feeling that somebody didn't really read the question, or posted a shallow answer that doesn't match the depth of my question. In those cases, a downvote is perfectly in order, and it's not necessary to be too friendly either.

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