One thing I, along with others (you know who you are), can be quite bad at is dropping disputes that arise in commentaries.

Generally one party will say something along the lines of "You clearly don't understand the difference between X and Y", and then the other party feels the need to defend their position. Often the context of the OP gets ignored at this point, which starts to get off-topic.

So, what's the right thing to do here?

  • Ignoring it is difficult, because of concerns about peer opinion (not rep points)
  • Arguing a point is fruitless, because there are often philosophical differences of opinion
  • Deleting comments once you realise it's fruitless would often lead to a trail of @A comments, which is both meaningless, and implies 'A' has somehow 'lost', or been censored.
  • Stating "This isn't going anywhere, let's drop it" seems a bit snippy

Arguably, it might be worth opening a new question to debate the point, but it is invariably debate, philosophy, and therefore not Stack Overflow fodder.

UPDATE For those of us using our real names, there's also the added complication of search-engines finding us at interview time.

EDIT On a lighter note, and somewhat admitting I might take this too seriously.... A humorous example, painfully familiar

  • Just say "lets agree to disagree" and walk away. – Jeremy Heiler Apr 26 '11 at 15:02
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    Why is ignoring it difficult? What peer opinion? – Daniel DiPaolo Apr 26 '11 at 15:02
  • @Daniel Peer opinion in terms of how we perceive someone based on what others say about them. It affects how much credibility we give a user on their other posts. – Phil Lello Apr 26 '11 at 15:14
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    @Phil I'm just not sure how much weight that really has on an internet Q&A site. There are a handful of folks I recognize because we post in common tags and such, but otherwise once the thread is done, I often forget the participants. Could be just me though. – Daniel DiPaolo Apr 26 '11 at 15:21
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    obXKCD: xkcd.com/386 – Piskvor left the building Apr 26 '11 at 15:46
  • @Daniel A very good point, which I'm seriously considering - with added weight as you're here (presumably) under a real name. @PPT Very apt. In fact, I'll link it in. – Phil Lello Apr 26 '11 at 16:34
  • @Phil good point about posting with your real name, since while argument participants may forget, Google et. al. will not – Daniel DiPaolo Apr 26 '11 at 16:41
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    Every time you post an XKCD cartoon, a deity kills a domesticated animal. – Tim Post Apr 27 '11 at 0:43
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    You clearly don't understand that xkcd cartoons should always be posted with their tooltips... I fixed it for you :) – Benjol Apr 27 '11 at 8:14

I usually:

  • Attempt to redirect it back to the topic, "Yes, security is an important aspect of this question, but I purposefully didn't address it here in order to keep the answer simple. I encourage the OP to consider the security implications, and post a new question if they don't understand the points you raised, but it's important to understand the basic principle here before bringing the confusion of security in."
  • Encourage them to directly address the question by having them add a new answer, or edit my answer, "I appreciate your thoughts, but they might be better phrased as an answer. Feel free to add them to my answer if you believe submitting your own answer might duplicate mine too much." (if they have little rep I'll also CW my answer so they can edit it)
  • Explain my answer more fully, either in comments, or by editing the answer. Often I find that many of these cases it's just a misunderstanding. "I've edited my answer for clarity - I hope the edit addresses your concerns, but please let me know if it does not, or if I still appear to be misunderstanding your central point."
  • Explicitly point out that you understand and disagree with their assessment of the situation, or the correct solution, "If I understand you correctly, you suspect that the issue is due to the frobulating coprifier's tendency to destabilize in low earth orbit, and that the only way to stabilize the assembly is to tweak the regeneration parameters. My experience with copifiers, however, suggests that tweaking the parameters without understanding the whole system leads to further problems, and that a better course of action for a beginner is to re-install the coprifier in an orientation that tends to stabilize the platform without tweaking. I agree with your solution in general, except that I believe that this specific situation is better dealt with a less optimal, but easier to achieve solution. The fact that the OP is asking such simple questions about thingadongdongs suggests that they may not have enough understanding to be successful with the tweaking technique."
  • Ignore them politely, "Thank you for commenting on my answer, I appreciate your feedback." The reality is that someone coming later on to solve the problem will find my answer useful or not. They may find the comment to be useful, or not. It's easy to see whether a solution works in the programming world. So I don't worry too much about comments that are off the mark.
  • Flag them - if the comment is abusive, or possibly destructive (not just wrong) then it should be removed. Don't respond, just flag it.

~insert appropriate xkcd comic here~

  • Thanks Adam. Edits to clear up misunderstanding would normally be my preferred approach, however when it's comments on comments, rather than comments on answers, we don't have the option to edit- and I can see arguments on both sides for that feature. – Phil Lello Apr 26 '11 at 16:22
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    Ugh. That "polite" ignoring thing is transparent and almost always comes off as insincere. You might as well type, "You're not worth the time it would take me to read much less refute your arguments." Yeah, thanks buddy, you asked so I took the time you wouldn't to look up the relevant docs, and now find out you don't even care. See if I ever respond to your plaintive "Why the downvotes??" again... (IOW, this is a brilliant way to end a pointless argument with me) – Shog9 Apr 26 '11 at 17:11
  • @Shog9 Thanks, I'll keep that in mind. (not in the face! not in the face!) – Pollyanna Apr 26 '11 at 17:40
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    Even better, flag the whole comment thread for deletion... – Benjol Apr 27 '11 at 8:16

If you want to really dissipate an argument I find the easiest way is to:

  1. Concede on all points
  2. Thank the person for the new perspective
  3. Walk away

It can be very hard to admit you were wrong (especially if you don't think you were), but it is almost guaranteed to clear up any argument.


Me: Ohhh, I see what you are getting at now. That makes sense. Thanks for pointing that out.
Other: *crickets* (or) You are welcome.

  • Very true. I suspect a lot of the time this crops up because of terminology overloading, making general definitions subjective because of different backgrounds. – Phil Lello Apr 26 '11 at 16:25

Ah, peer opinion!

Everything gets a lot easier once you learn to trust your peers. If you think that the other person's arguments are stupid, purely rhetorical or personal and insulting -- you're not the only one realizing that. There's absolutely no need to point that out (and, thus, continue the argument). In fact, contrary to what your "urge to answer" feeling might tell you, not replying can be positive for your "peer opinion". Consider the following two examples. Which one would influence your opinion of A in a positive way?

Example 1:

A: making a technically sound point
B: You clearly don't understand the difference between X and Y.
no reply

Example 2:

A: making a technically sound point
B: You clearly don't understand the difference between X and Y.
A: No, you don't understand the difference!

Trust your readers to draw the right conclusions themselves.

  • My favourite answer so far, however it's more a case of A & B illustrating their reasoning but not getting any closer to consensus. Again, most times this is experience biasing perspective. – Phil Lello Apr 26 '11 at 16:41

Ignoring it is difficult, because of concerns about peer opinion (not rep points)

Yeah, it is difficult. I've failed, time and time again, to do this when I knew I should have. It's one of the big reasons why these sites discourage extended discussion and allow for permanent deletion of comments - it's far too easy to get dragged into a pointless argument that you just can't seem to let go of.

But it's almost always the best way to deal with it. Don't try to "end it" with a final comment, don't insincerely concede, and definitely don't start deleting your comments unless you truly realize that you were out of line in posting them (and then be a man about it and say so).

Just... walk away. Come back if you realize you were wrong and are willing to admit it, or perhaps if you think of a really good rebuttal... but otherwise, just let it drop.

  • Why not delete my comments? – Gabe Apr 27 '11 at 9:13

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