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Recently on biology SE there was a question evolutionary biology which generated a lot of interest. Often these sorts of questions attract a lot of opinionated and flawed answers, and answers that don't actually (attempt) to answer the question. Unfortunately they generally get well upvoted because there are not enough people capable of finding the flaws or understanding the question properly*, and they are still interesting.

Essentially the question asks "Previously I thought that evolution was about improvement, but someone corrected me - it is not actually about improvement. So why do we see so much improvement?" and a correct answer would show that, first of all, evolution is a process of change, and the reason we see so much improvement (adaptation) is because of selection, a mechanism of evolution. In other words, selection, not evolution, explains the frequency of improvement.

Many answers came (and went) that were wrong or long opinion pieces. Some have persisted though, and in fact there is an accepted answer with a score of 52 (54 up, 2 down). That answer doesn't, in my opinion**, answer the question. It explains that selection doesn't necessarily lead to increased complexity, which is another issue entirely. I think it has got a lot of upvotes because it is in an interesting post and generally well written, but it would answer the question "Does evolution always increase organismal complexity?"

Would it be correct to flag answers, which have been heavily upvoted and accepted, as not an answer? Even though it is well received, and may be interesting to read, it does not even attempt to answer the question.

I've read some posts on meta about how to deal with accepted answers (such as this, a question where it is possible to clearly define a correct asnwer) but it's a bit different with such highly upvoted answers and questions which may garner some opinion in the answers, and whether an answer does indeed answer the question is less clear cut, so I'm unsure what to do. I would really appreciate some guidance - I'm not comfortable leaving such answers on a subject I care about, evolution is subject to a lot of misconceptions in the public and such answers won't help in stopping that. I have tried downvoting and commenting on the post but with no success, my comment saying explaining why I think the answer does not answer the question is multiple upvoted.


* Understanding the true nature of the question requires a deep understanding of the subject because, in large parts, it is down to subtle differences in two processes.

** Opinions formed by doing a PhD in evolutionary biology studying the process of adaptation

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As a moderator (not on that site) I sometimes get Not An Answer flags on posts like that -- highly upvoted, seems to be relevant, might or might not actually be an answer. I almost always decline those flags, unless it's clearly NAA like a rant, and this is what I see from other moderators too.

You can express your objections through downvotes and constructive comments, which you've already done. Especially if it's a case where special expertise (that you have) is relevant, you can write a competing answer and explain your position. (Be sure to answer the question; don't use an answer just as a response to another answer. But it's fair to refer to answers with which you disagree.)

You can also raise the subject on meta or in your site's chat room. If you can explain to people why it's wrong then some people might remove their upvotes (or add downvotes). If the community reaches consensus that, with your new information, this post really isn't an answer and should be deleted, then you'll have a better shot at asking moderators to do so. Moderators are generally reluctant to act unilaterally in ambiguous cases, but if you show them that the community supports the action, that's different.

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That answer doesn't, in my opinion, answer the question.

It clearly does in the opinion of others. Flagging it as NAA is of no use. It will get declined. Foremost because it attempts to answer the question at hand.

You may disagree it entirely answers the question, but the NAA flag is only for answers that do not attempt to answer the question or 'answers' that don't qualify as an answer, such as link-only answers.

If you think it is 'not useful' as an answer, just downvote, which is entirely what the downvote button says.

  • But my point is that very few can properly judge the validity of the answer (I have a phd on the subject - I only point this out because I mean to say that I do see why the post doesn't answer the question) and while it is a very nice answer (therefore attracting upvotes), it does not attempt to answer the question - people can upvote even if they have no idea whether the post answers the question. – rg255 Feb 19 '16 at 9:18
  • It is true anyone can upvote. That is a problem that is hard to fix. You can post an answer pointing out why that other answer is wrong and what the correct answer should be. – Patrick Hofman Feb 19 '16 at 9:27
  • Also done that, I think I have exhausted all of the normal routes to solving the problem. – rg255 Feb 19 '16 at 9:27
  • I think so indeed. – Patrick Hofman Feb 19 '16 at 9:29

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