What if the answer is wrong? December 14, 2013 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I don't know for sure, but I think an answer to a question on AskMe is wrong. Do I ask about it there or here?

There's an AskMe with a couple of answers which I believe are factually incorrect, but I don't know this for sure. There's a chance I can be wrong. I remember seeing admonitions about people answering the question arguing with each other.

I thought about opening the question up here, but that felt wrong, too.

What's the right thing to do?
posted by Thistledown to Etiquette/Policy at 8:42 AM (63 comments total)

If it's a factual thing, it's helpful to say what you think the correct answer is and give your sources or reasoning or credentials.

If it's a life-advice type of thing, that is trickier. Best to just give OP the best advice you can, and if you need to directly contradict anything someone else said, address yourself to the OP and explain why you think your advice will get them better results.

You can also always ask us about a specific case at the contact form (linked at the bottom right corner of every page), it is no trouble and always fine even for little stuff.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The main thing is, barring unusual cases, we generally don't delete answers just for being incorrect.

And also in general, we don't want AskMetafilter threads to turn into a discussion or debate among the answerers (or between OP and answerers).

So if you're giving the correct answer after someone else has given an incorrect answer, please do it in a way that lets OP decide who to believe (for example, by citing your source for your correct answer), and in a way that is not pointedly directed at the other commenter.

Does that make sense?
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:53 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just eat it.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:01 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unless you shouldn't.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:01 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just eat it.

How come you're such a fussy young man?
posted by Melismata at 9:03 AM on December 14, 2013 [34 favorites]


The threads stay open for a while. If you're not sure if you're right or wrong you have time to do the research.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:11 AM on December 14, 2013


Say what you have to say in the thread. The rough script you could use is something like "The answer is Z. I disagree with the answer X given above because _________. Here is why Z is the correct answer."

And then just leave it at that even if the person who posted X wants to tell you why they think you're the one who is incorrect.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:14 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just one? A couple of answers? You are a very agreeable person.
posted by michaelh at 9:24 AM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


The main thing is, barring unusual cases, we generally don't delete answers just for being incorrect.

Is there something that can be done about factually incorrect answers that get marked as the best answer? It doesn't matter if the asker wants the sky to be plaid. That should never be marked as a best answer; it degrades the utility of AskMe.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:27 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here is a recent similar discussion, although I can't say it helped clarify all that much.
posted by lalex at 9:33 AM on December 14, 2013


Is there something that can be done about factually incorrect answers that get marked as the best answer?

Nope. This is a quirk of AskMe. Most of the time the system works well, but sometimes this can happen. The thing is in general, OP is best positioned to judge how well their question has been answered -- they'll try the advice for how to plug their iPod into their car stereo or whatever, and it will work or not.

Ideally, the correct answer will show up somewhere in the thread, and people can favorite it or second it in the thread with more corroborating evidence.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:33 AM on December 14, 2013


I recently answered a fact-based question wrong in AskMe.

It was not deleted. Instead, there was a chorus of other answerers that gave the correct answer. Making me look dumb and wrong forever thanks to Google.
posted by Sara C. at 9:38 AM on December 14, 2013 [23 favorites]


Making me look dumb and wrong forever thanks to Google.

The system is working!
posted by 256 at 9:46 AM on December 14, 2013 [29 favorites]


Sometimes when I see factually incorrect answers, I'll provide accurate info. Other times I try to remind myself that AskMe isn't an expert resource, it's like a chatty town square. It helps me to envision sitting in a coffee shop and overhearing somebody in the next booth giving bad advice to his friend. How often would I lean over and correct him? The world is full of mistakes. Take a breath, smile, and go about your day.

If I don't know for sure that something is wrong, then it helps me to remember that AskMe is a big pool. It isn't incumbent on me to fix every error. If I've spotted a possible error, then probably other people have, too; and if we're all patient, then somebody may come along who does know for sure. That happens not infrequently. I've kept my mouth shut and then been glad, because somebody else came along and said it better.

And if that doesn't happen? It might be a sign I was wrong and the information was correct in the first place. I learn new stuff all the time, often just moments after thinking to myself, "There's no way that's true."
posted by cribcage at 9:48 AM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


I've posted my share of answers that have gotten in-thread "nope, you're wrong, the correct answer is blah blah" responses. Sometimes I am totally not wrong (or there's no one right answer); sometimes I am wrong and appreciate the correction; sometimes I get embarrassed or my feelings get a little hurt, but I get over it.

As long as you're polite and provide helpful information rather than just bickering, it's fine to answer in-thread.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:02 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


What if you think the answer's wrong:

If you're unsure about the correct answer, but have a hitch that it may be wrong, you should trust that someone else will come and post a correct one. If you think there's a true huge ethical problem, or if it's a question of life and death, contact the mods.

What if the answer is wrong:

If you know you have a better answer, you can just neutrally post that answer in the thread, of course. Happens to us all, that someone else patiently grabs our respective feet and puts them gently into our respective mouths (and no, it ain't spelled "receptive").
posted by Namlit at 10:02 AM on December 14, 2013


If you're unsure about the correct answer, but have a hitch that it may be wrong, you should trust that someone else will come and post a correct one.

As a sometimes-Asker, I disagree with this.

If you have evidence or knowledge suggesting that an answer is wrong, I'd really like to see it - not "trust" that someone else will come along with the PERFECT answer.

I don't think the answerer should have to jump through the hoop of adding additional filler content so the comment will stay up. Especially since it's entirely possible to know that Answer X is wrong without being able to provide the correct answer.
posted by lalex at 10:13 AM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


One of the emergent features of an AskMe, I think, is not that you always get that one good answer to the question, but that the community interaction can triangulate towards something that is helpful for the OP. Sometimes it's the one expert opinion that answers a factual question, but sometimes it's the group dynamic that allows the OP to map their experience onto something that is found in the sum of the parts, rather than in just one answer. Sometimes the truth surfaces as the community interacts and corrects itself.

That being said, the best thing to do, if you think an answer is incorrect, is to post your misgivings based on evidence or experience, and allow it to be part of the discussion. Or, if you don't want to throw that out there for public scrutiny, there isn't a rule (that I'm aware of) against sending a memail to the OP privately.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:13 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nope. This is a quirk of AskMe. Most of the time the system works well, but sometimes this can happen.

Then what do you do with questions that are along the lines of
What is the best crowbar-based solution for plugging my iPod into my car stereo?

I want to plug my iPod into my car stereo using a crowbar. Is it better to pry the stereo open and insert the iPod, or to use alligator clips and a pair of crowbars as conductors? No answers that involve cables or Bluetooth, please—crowbars only.
and that have
You need to pry open the stereo and each of your car's speakers.
marked as best answer? "Tell me only what I want to hear" really shouldn't be allowed to stand.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:27 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Tell me only what I want to hear" really shouldn't be allowed to stand.

IME, people will not only tell the asker what they want to hear! You'll get a lot of answers saying "I don't understand your insistence on using a crowbar -- this will not get you your best performance and may destroy both your stereo and your ipod. Unless there are circumstances that you haven't explained in your question (in which case please follow up!) the cables or bluetooth are truly your best options."
posted by KathrynT at 10:33 AM on December 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Who cares what's marked as best answer, anyway, really? It's not an objective measure of what is the truest or most accurate or most useful answer. It's just the OP's perspective about what they thought was "best," whatever that means to them.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:41 AM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, the customary etiquette for correcting someone on AskMe is to put your answer in the <blink> tag. That way everyone knows it's a correction.
posted by klangklangston at 10:49 AM on December 14, 2013 [19 favorites]


If you're not sure, and you can't provide solid evidence that your answer is the right one, but you remain PRETTY DAMNED SURE, there's a way to present it.

Something like --

< quote the thing you're disagreeing with >

... and then ...

"Well that's not my impression of it. I can't find direct evidence that counters this, but urge you to take this answer with a serious grain of salt."

... and then, maybe back this up with a reason for your skepticism.
posted by philip-random at 10:50 AM on December 14, 2013


Are there any AskMe threads where the entire group consensus is just wrong (according to current best evidence)?

I remember a few CanIEatThisFilter questions which started off wobbly, but they always self-corrected as far as I can recall.
posted by dontjumplarry at 10:50 AM on December 14, 2013


Are there any AskMe threads where the entire group consensus is just wrong (according to current best evidence)?

It was a while ago, but there was this thread in which some people (including the first answer) correctly answered the question, but a good chunk - seemed like somewhere in the neighborhood of half of them to me - were just plain wrong. None of them were marked best answer, but eventually the OP settled on what they believed to be the meaning - which ignored the right answers and was a combination of two wrong ones.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:58 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Other times I try to remind myself that AskMe isn't an expert resource, it's like a chatty town square."

If you're wondering if he should eat that thing,
And other science facts,
Just repeat to yourself "It's just AskMe,
I should really just relax."

posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:08 AM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


If I disagree with an answer, I'll say so respectfully and then follow it up with support on what I find to be the correct answer. If I'm not certain, then I'll qualify it accordingly.
posted by arcticseal at 11:09 AM on December 14, 2013


I think the trick to disagreeing with answers while also not arguing with other answerers is to always address your answer to the Asker.

Question: What colour is the sky?

Answer 1: It's obviously green.

Answer 2: It's yellow.

A potential bad answer: Answerer1 and Answerer2: what planet do you live on? Here on earth, the sky is blue, white and/or grey.

Your good answer: OP, while it depends on what time of day you look, the sky is usually some combination of blue, white, and/or grey during the day, with reds and purples and oranges around sunset or during haboobs. I've never seen a green or yellow sky and I can't imagine the whether conditions that would cause that.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:20 AM on December 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


What's the right thing to do?

It depends on the stakes. If you have reason to believe the asker's tumor is malignant and everyone else is saying it's benign, maybe speak up. If the asker is trying to remember a movie she saw when she was eight, and two people have suggested The Last Starfighter but you're 71% sure that's not it, eh, let it go.
posted by payoto at 11:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thinking about self-correction: wrong answers in can-I-eat-this questions may very well self-correct, but there's a chance that it happens at the asker's end, not in-thread.
posted by Namlit at 11:57 AM on December 14, 2013


Disagree with an answer, efficiently point this out, and give your own better answer — fine.

Attack the person who gave the answer you disagree with — not fine.
posted by John Cohen at 12:01 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Question: What colour is the sky?

Your good answer: OP, while it depends on what time of day you look, the sky is usually some combination of blue, white, and/or grey during the day, with reds and purples and oranges around sunset or during haboobs. I've never seen a green or yellow sky and I can't imagine the whether conditions that would cause that.


Your better answer: What is a colour? Is it like a color? What country do you come from?

Your best answer: The sky is not any color at all. It is made of air, which is transparent. Any color you think you are seeing is reflected or refracted.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:06 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


"OP might consider that Z is a valid answer." That is a more helpful reply than "How come you don't know that. Were you raised by wolves?"
posted by Cranberry at 1:32 PM on December 14, 2013



Your best answer: The sky is not any color at all. It is made of air, which is transparent. Any color you think you are seeing is reflected or refracted.


yeah, but at some point, if you persist with this sort of logic, you're insisting that oranges aren't actually orange, or you know, reality doesn't exist.
posted by philip-random at 1:34 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hi, speciesist much?
posted by Wolfdog at 1:34 PM on December 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


sparklemotion: I've never seen a green or yellow sky and I can't imagine the whether conditions that would cause that.

Then you've never lived in the Midwest or plains states during tornado season, because boy howdy the sky goes flat-out green.
posted by tzikeh at 1:41 PM on December 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


Who hasn't seen a building brooding storm turn the sky yellow?
posted by biffa at 2:01 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just googled "Sara C. is wrong." When did Metafilter's Sara C. advocate corporal punishment ?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:21 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've seen flat-out green skies in Texas too. And if you count the Aurora Borealis, in the Arctic.
posted by spitbull at 2:27 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The correct answer is "Celerity is the principal harvest of Iowa." Submit that as a comment, then move on.
posted by Wordshore at 2:29 PM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Then you've never lived in the Midwest or plains states during tornado season, because boy howdy the sky goes flat-out green.

Who hasn't seen a building brooding storm turn the sky yellow?

I've seen flat-out green skies in Texas too. And if you count the Aurora Borealis, in the Arctic.

This is why I have so few best answers.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:42 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


We've had bad air quality here for a week and the sky has been a distinctive yellow at times. In LA in the 70s, it was brown. I've seen green skies ahead of violent thunderstorms, both in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions - that's a color that's just kind of viscerally terrifying.

I've also spent more time than I would have thought possible arguing (with other birders) about whether something - the legs of a bird, say - is orange or pink.
posted by rtha at 2:46 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


RadioLab did a show on color which featured a professor describing an experiment he and his wife conducted on their own baby daughter, for whom they were exclusive caregivers.

They raised her and taught her to speak as normally as possible except for one thing: they never referred to the sky as blue or specified what color it might be at all.

Then after she was perfectly fluent and could say what colors all kinds of objects were flawlessly, one cloudless day he asked her what color the sky was.

As I recall (don't take this as gospel, please) she looked up at the sky and didn't say anything for awhile, then finally said "white"-- which he did not correct or affirm.

He continued to ask the question over succeeding days, and my memory is that she vacillated between white and blue for a considerable period before settling consistently on blue.
posted by jamjam at 3:07 PM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sigh. I just had this question myself actually - but I was the question asker, and I got a false answer to my question. It was about language teaching, a field in which I specialize. I asked a question looking for possible one-off class topics, and a non-specialist answered my question, telling me that my premise was flawed and it was not possible to teach the class in the way I wanted. I know from both research and from doing that exact thing every day that it is 100% possible.

I didn't really know how to best address that either - fight in the thread? Flag the answer? Open a MetaTalk? None of those seemed really good to me, so I asked the mods and the answer was pretty much to put in another submission with an opposing answer.

But . . . it was my question originally . . . and the incorrect answer didn't even relate to the question at all. So I let it drop.

Still not 100% satisfied, but I understand that you can't go around deleting every single answer that so-and-so says is false, so I guess it's the best way to do it.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:07 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


You are all incorrect. The proper response to this question.
posted by sarah_pdx at 4:26 PM on December 14, 2013


Who cares what's marked as best answer, anyway, really?

It helps me get a really good facepalm going.
posted by Tanizaki at 4:56 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


First, AskMe is only as useful as you make it, so it's best to let the wrong answers stand.

Second, it's up to the OP to figure out which answers are correct and which are wrong. If they take advice from AskMeta without checking in with someone beforehand, they really deserve what they get.

Third, disputing other answers is not something you should do in AskMeta, so the best policy is to avoid reading any of the other answers before adding your own. Most of the time, you don't really need to read the whole question, either.
posted by Nomyte at 5:12 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I disagree that disputing answers is something you shouldn't be doing in AskMe. I think it's precisely what you should be doing if an answer is incorrect. That's different from engaging in an extended back-and-forth with someone, of course, but if somebody posts that mixing ammonia and bleach makes stuff clean better, you can bet I'm going to say "this answer is wrong and you should not listen to it".
posted by Justinian at 5:21 PM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


or you know, reality doesn't exist.

That's what I kept telling people until the mods got all police-state on me. Out in public they're all like "Oh yes, questioning the premise of people's questions is all just fine" but the minute they get you in the back room it's "Derail this" and "Derail that" and "Je pense, donc je suis."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:52 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


the best policy is to avoid reading any of the other answers before adding your own. Most of the time, you don't really need to read the whole question, either

I hope you're being sarcastic. If I had to list the most annoying things about AskMe (and it would be a short list because I love it) the top spot would belong to people who clearly did not read the whole question. Also, I always read all the other answers before replying, because if someone has already said what I was going to, I just favourite it and move on. I never think it's that helpful for the OP to read thirty replies saying the same thing.
posted by billiebee at 3:10 AM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Third, disputing other answers is not something you should do in AskMeta, so the best policy is to avoid reading any of the other answers before adding your own. Most of the time, you don't really need to read the whole question, either.

This is bad advice.
posted by John Cohen at 5:58 AM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


the best policy is to avoid reading any of the other answers

Oy, this is like Kafka: the day the feature became a bug. Policy indeed.
posted by Namlit at 6:03 AM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: You're wrong! No, you're wrong!
plus ça change
posted by theora55 at 7:47 AM on December 15, 2013


It doesn't matter if the asker wants the sky to be plaid. That should never be marked as a best answer; it degrades the utility of AskMe.

Q: I want the sky to be plaid. Can you help?
A: Sure. Here you go.

What's the right thing to do?

I've had no complaints about this style of thing. When in doubt, give chapter and verse.
posted by flabdablet at 8:34 AM on December 15, 2013


Not only are most AskMe answers wrong, most of the questions are wrong too.
posted by ryanrs at 4:10 PM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


All of the hypothetical AskMe questions used to illustrate points in this thread are doubly wrong.
posted by dogwalker at 4:32 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


tzikeh: "Then you've never lived in the Midwest or plains states during tornado season, because boy howdy the sky goes flat-out green."

posted by tzikeh at 1:41 PM on December 14 [marked as best answer] [10 favorites +] [!] [quote]
posted by stet at 5:40 PM on December 15, 2013


One of the really frustrating things about AskMe is that sometimes, you know 100% that a particular answer is wrong, and you can justify your judgment of wrongness with as much evidence or rock-solid reasoning as you'd like- but you're only supposed to post if you can answer the question.

I still think that provably wrong answers may be harmful to the asker, and that debunking such answers would be a net benefit to the asker even if you don't actually know what's right.
posted by Jpfed at 8:56 PM on December 15, 2013


Just remember that if you declare someone else's AskMe answer to be erroneous, they're allowed to challenge you to single combat. You get choice of weapons, though.

this is the music that plays
posted by XMLicious at 10:55 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]




the question was, What were skies like when you were young?
posted by philip-random at 3:10 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The skies were, like, black and white, most of the time, when I was young.
posted by Namlit at 8:06 AM on December 17, 2013


Late to the thread, but here's an example of a question which is obviously very important for the asker and which received a wide range of replies. I feel uncomfortable calling anyone out specifically here, but there were several answers which contained advice that was bad (counter-productive) or wrong to the extent that if the context wasn't so serious, it would be amusing.

I see two problems with letting such advice stand unchallenged. Firstly, the asker lacks the ability to distinguish between the good advice (of which there was plenty) and the no good, very bad advice and might ignore the former in favour of the latter. Secondly, the asker has limited resources to investigate the many options presented and might waste a lot of valuable time looking into the advice that won't work.

I know enough about this topic to tell the difference between right and wrong answers, but not enough to be able to add anything new. So all I could do would be to respond to other answerers, which I understand is not good practice on AskMe.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:57 AM on December 19, 2013


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