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I've seen many questions, which have no solutions, answered as "Sorry, there's no answer to this question" or something similar. The original poster often accepts this, since they have understood that their question is unsolvable. A few reasons why this shouldn't happen:

  1. Unanswerable questions appear in the collapsed view as answered.
  2. Those answers don't even attempt to answer the question, as it cannot be answered

Moderators reject NAA flags because "technically incorrect answers should not be flagged and they should only be downvoted" etc etc etc. But as long as the answers exist on the site, it will appear as an answered question - when it should not be.

If people wish to clarify why this question is unanswerable, shouldn't they do so in the comments of the question?

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    Naa - this means not an answer. You can't flag questions with that. Are you referring to otherwise on-topic questions which can't be answered - but for what reason? Some sites eg. Science Fiction & Fantasy have a future-works close-reason because the answer may in future be forthcoming. Opinion-based is fairly ubiquitous on most sites I'm aware of. What sort of question are you referring to - could you give us a broadly applicable example or two?
    – W.O.
    Oct 22 at 0:48
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    On some site of course, such as Worldbuilding - "this is impossible and here's why...." answers are considered perfectly valid, where the question is on-topic and has all the right tags etc.. Can you clarify what you're asking - else risk closure as needs details and clarity... ;)
    – W.O.
    Oct 22 at 0:54
  • Of course, if you wish to suggest the addition of a flag-to-close reason on a particular site (that can't be covered by a custom flag to a mod), then the best place for that would be on that site's meta to see if the idea gets traction.
    – W.O.
    Oct 22 at 1:15
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    @Rob, it's not clear what in that thread you think relates to this question.
    – fixer1234
    Oct 22 at 2:25
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    @fixer1234 It seems that Rob's interpretation of this question is at variance with the first-look interpretation of it I've gleaned. I'm still not clear if the question's about flagging reasons or about the unanswered-questions tab. My comment was addressing the former possibility. The OP needs to make it a bit clearer what they mean.
    – W.O.
    Oct 22 at 2:37
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    @W.O., Arguably the takeaway of the question is: "Should unanswerable questions have answers? ... But as long as the answers exist on the site, it will appear as an answered question - when it should not be." - that premise isn't correct, how things actually work is explained in the suggested duplicates. --- Those appear to be the only questions, the remainder seems to be what the OP understands to be true.
    – Rob
    Oct 22 at 3:41
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    I get what you mean. In an ideal world, I'd want the OP to accept the duplicate, but I'll continue following in case they don't. @Rob
    – W.O.
    Oct 22 at 3:53
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    The OP has an imprecise understanding of what "unanswered questions" means and how they are handled. And the linked thread explains that. But that isn't really what this question is about. The effect of this kind of "answer" isn't zero, and just the fact that it exists as an answer can be irksome to users concerned about content quality. The linked thread relevance is "don't worry about it because it doesn't have the impact you thought it did". That doesn't really answer what the OP wants to know.
    – fixer1234
    Oct 22 at 4:31
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    @W.O. I'm not asking to close questions. I'm saying answers to questions which can't be answers shouldn't exist/should be deleted. Oct 22 at 4:32
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    How precisely do you mean can't be answered? That's what I'm getting at with my first few comments. Some sites allow it because it adds value, what's your reasoning for dismissing that possibility?
    – W.O.
    Oct 22 at 4:37
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    @W.O., The question is clear that it refers specifically to a different case, an answer consisting of nothing more than "Sorry, there's no answer to this question". I also think there's a disconnect with Rob's link. That refers to the SE definition of "unanswered questions" and how they're processed, while this question is mainly referring to questions with no answers.
    – fixer1234
    Oct 22 at 4:48
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    @W.O., we might be talking across each other. :-) No argument about your last comment, but I don't think it's relevant to the question. It doesn't matter what the specific unanswerable question is, or how it might be replied to in a useful way. An answer post containing only "That's not answerable", is not an answer to any question (even if it might happen to be correct). That's what this question is limited to. So the fact that there are other possible situations or answers doesn't make this question unclear.
    – fixer1234
    Oct 22 at 5:12
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    @W.O., agreed. :-) re: NAA, if it's clearly a comment, then yeah, it ought to come under NAA. But the interpretation of whether it might be considered an answer can be in the eye of the beholder. For some of your example questions in the other comment, the moderator could agree that it's a correct answer, even if it's a low quality one, so they might reject a NAA flag.
    – fixer1234
    Oct 22 at 5:37
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    Do you have a particular site in mind? Mathematics? Stack Overflow? Oct 22 at 13:17
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1 Answer 1

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"Unanswerable questions"

You're conflating two issues, and it might help to differentiate them. Your title and the body of the question aren't necessarily the same thing.

Not all "unanswerable" questions are actually unanswerable on a Q&A site. For example, questions based on misconceptions or thinking about a problem incorrectly are often recognizable, and a legitimate answer is explaining why the question is unanswerable. That can be just as helpful to the OP and other readers, especially if it involves common misconceptions. Similarly, subject matter experts may know that certain questions are not currently answerable for one reason or another. Again, explaining that is a legitimate answer.

Those kinds of explanatory answers would make it an answered question, probably on most sites. Just because it isn't answerable doesn't mean it isn't answerable. :-) So the title doesn't accurately introduce the actual question you're asking, and was a source of confusion for some readers.

Non-answer

The body of the question makes clearer what you're actually asking. What you describe is different, and it focuses on a specific type of post -- someone using an answer post for what is essentially an opinion comment that the question isn't answerable ("opinion" because it includes no supporting discussion or evidence).

What you're really asking about is a kind of "non-answer" in an answer post. And because the question is one that is not answerable, this has additional ramifications. It has the side effect of messing with how the question is treated (no longer "unanswered" because there's an answer post, possibly complicating getting it Roomba'ed, etc.).

Clarification of impact

Just FYI, the actual operational impact may not be as great as you might anticipate. For example, assuming nobody upvotes such an answer, the question would still appear in the "Unanswered Questions" list. But you're right, it should not be treated as "answered", and it does have some effects on the question's handling or potential handling (not to mention that it can be irksome to see that as an answer, and it doesn't help the site's content quality).

So how do you fix it?

You were on the right track with moderator flags, but you need to accurately classify the issue and use the right type of flag. Some insight into the process:

Even with the wrong type of flag, there's a good chance the moderator will recognize the actual issue and take the appropriate action. But their feedback to you will reflect whether the flag was correct. If nothing else, that serves as a teaching tool to improve the quality of flagging; "you flagged it as X, and that is not an example of X".

What can make picking the right flag a little tricky is that NAA and VLQ have specific definitions that don't cover things people often think ought to be included. And whether or not a specific answer meets the definition can be somewhat in the eye of the beholder. The safe flag for the case in this question is a custom flag (needs moderator intervention), in which you can briefly explain why the answer should be a comment or deleted. The moderator can choose either action, the result of which will be that the question is again unanswered.

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