It ought to be common knowledge that you should answer only questions that you know an answer to. Well, sometimes mistakes can happen and the answer becomes erroneous. That usually happen because

1.) You were simply mistaken, the question turn out to be harder or more subtle that you originally thought.

2.) You misread or misunderstood the question.

3.) Your hand-waving is not logically valid, leading to false answer.

Even the best mathematicians are sometimes tainted by these mistakes. I've once seen a very high rep user answer an easy question on the continuity of some function wrongly because he was very tired and sleepy (that's what he claimed).

However, there some certain people that attempt to answer questions that they have no clue about. Examples are

1.) Trying to answer a question on integrability without even knowing the definition of Riemann or Lebesgue integral.

2.) Answering question about well-defined-ness of a function while not knowing when a function (on an equivalent class) can fail to be well-defined.

3.) Justifying a vague answer using some philosophical stance that no one seems to share.

4.) Having bad grasp of real analysis in general, leading to wrong ideas of concepts in calculus i.e. limit, differentiation and integration.

It seems that they never had a proper systematic education about the topic they were trying to answer and, instead, basing thier answer on factual facts that they don't fully understand. The problem is that this kind of people tend not to delete their answers even when they're downvoted into oblivion, and usually stay true to their faith even when people are explaining to them why they are wrong.

What is the best way to deal with this kind of people? It is true that the voting system is already there to screen off bad answers and it seems to be working quite well. However, I believe that this kind of behavior should be discouraged. Indeed, the previous 4 examples come from the same person. The page Help Center > Answering doesn't seem to have a clear policy on this so I am asking it here.

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    $\begingroup$ What happens when they have a clue, but they have no glue, so the clue doesn't stick? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect I know what you're talking about. I don't see it as a very big problem though: Even a few downvotes with comments explaining the downvotes already signal to an unsuspecting onlooker that the answer is not trustworthy. If somebody can withstand being downvoted into oblivion while standing their ground... as perplexing as I find it, more power to them. So, as long as somebody speaks up on the answer, I don't see its deletion as that pressing of a matter -- it's got to get old sometime, right? $\endgroup$
    – pjs36
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ The worst case of this that I recall at this moment was when someone posted that the way we know that $\pi$ is irrational is that many digits have been computed and no pattern has been found. Several people down-voted it (even I did so, and I rarely down-vote things) and several people explained his mistake to him. The latter seemed to suffice. However, down-votes without explanations are worthless. $\qquad$ $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 0:20
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    $\begingroup$ I found another strange phenomenon where the answer by user "A" (with good rep) had a very deep subtle mistake and I posted an answer without mistake. By luck A's answer had the support from a very high rep user B via comments and upvote. I was however able to convince supporter B via chats and comments that A's answer was wrong, but this did not have any effect on A's answer. Normally downvotes/comments/chats are sufficient to convince users, but this was a bit weird case. $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 9:03

2 Answers 2


In addition to explanations and downvotes:

  • If there is clearly nothing to salvage in the post as is and you are convinced OP is unable or unwilling to rewrite it, flag as "very low quality." (Some might disagree with this as they have a more formal view regarding VLQ.) This can lead to deletion.

  • In very extreme cases when OP is not only incompetent but is willfully disruptive you can consider a flag "rude or abusive." This can also lead to deletion and would inflict a points penalty. It does not seem like this is warranted in your description. But to repeat reserve this for contributions that are in bad faith. If it is just terrible non-sense posted in good faith do not use this flag.

  • In case of a long-term pattern of behavior you can also signal the problem to moderators via an "other" flag. But be prepared for a reply along the lines: we know but it is not quite extreme enough to warrant taking action. But use this very sparingly if at all.

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    $\begingroup$ Concerning the specific user I was referring about, I am quite sure that his/her action falls into "terrible non-sense posted in good faith". Also, when I tried to flag the user in question, the choice "very low quality" doesn't show up. What could be the cause of this? $\endgroup$
    – BigbearZzz
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean you wanted to flag an answer of that user and it was not available? Reason for this could be the score of the answer is positive or the answer is old. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ The score is certainly not positive, maybe oldness is the reason here. How old must it be in order that the flag is not applicable. $\endgroup$
    – BigbearZzz
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ Empirically, it seems to be a week or something like this. I'll try to come up with a definite source. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ Turns out this is a recent change. It is at 7 days at the moment but this may change. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 1:27

I am assuming that "when someone is answering a question that he/she has no clue about" refers not to meta questions but to maths questions ? @Asaf Karagila

As a new user one might attempt to answer maths questions beyond their ability, in an attempt to learn and to participate. "How it works - anyone can ask questions/ anyone can answer questions."

It seems to me that Stack Exchange makes it hard for Math learners to gain reputation if they don't yet know enough math to answer interesting questions. The simplest questions get many answers very quickly - it would not be helpful if I answer these.

It is my experience that a confused question, posted in good faith, can attract comments that are not helpful or respectful. Please put any mistakes I have made in posting down to inexperience.

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    $\begingroup$ You can get upvotes for good questions, too. Phrase a question well, show what you've tried, and the rep will flow in. $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ You seem to be answering this meta question without having any clue as to what and how the site should work. The fact that someone needs "more hours as a surgeon" doesn't mean that they should preform a surgery if they don't really have the skills for it (e.g. brain surgery when you're a plastic surgeon). If you don't know something, don't answer it. You also don't know how the site works, literally, meta votes do not generate reputation so voting this answer will not change your reputation at all. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ What do you need the reputation for, then? Suppose that someone just want to be able to comment, getting merely 50 rep would not be hard at all. Asking few nice questions or editing some typos usually do the trick. Higher reputation correlate with better understanding of mathematics, though. $\endgroup$
    – BigbearZzz
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 10:03

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