I just got a deserved downvote for an incorrect answer I gave years ago, and honestly had forgotten about.

Is it better to delete the answer or leave it and decisively, visually indicate that it is wrong so perhaps others will avoid my mistake.


EDIT Thanks for your advice and links. I did as suggested with a bold heading and a direction to see the relevant comments.

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    $\begingroup$ Related question. It's up to you. If you think it's a mistake others are likely to make too, it would make sense to edit the answer to explain why it's wrong and leave it up. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 '17 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ See also this related question. $\endgroup$
    – davidlowryduda Mod
    Aug 12 '17 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ Definitely fix it if it a minor arithmetic error or something like that. Everyone knows how to avoid those or at least notice them later. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Aug 12 '17 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ If I make substantial mistake (like logical mistakes in deduction, invalid assumptions) then I prefer to update the answer striking out the wrong part so that my mistake is remains visible after the update also. Further I also add some details about how I realized my mistake (like comment from a user, new information /knowledge obtained, or just plain aha moment when when I see the mistake). In general one should strive to give as correct an answer as possible. Correctness is especially important here on MSE. $\endgroup$ Aug 19 '17 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ @ParamanandSingh I don't think any of the answers have yet mentioned striking out parts. Perhaps you could make an answer of that. $\endgroup$ Aug 19 '17 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ @SimplyBeautifulArt : it seems to small in length to look like an answer and just right to fit in a comment. Maybe if I get more ideas I will combine to form a reasonable answer. $\endgroup$ Aug 19 '17 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ There's a badge called "Disciplined" that may be relevant. $\endgroup$
    – Wildcard
    Aug 24 '17 at 1:45

Disclaimer: Like all good things on Meta, this is an opinion. Feel free to disagree.

Never leave an incorrect answer (even with a note). Consider it this way...

I ask a question where I know the answer but cannot seem to obtain. I get answer saying something along the following:

I did x,y, and z (incredibly detailed steps) but I didn't get the right answer either. I hope this helps the OP with their question.

Then I never receive another answer (because let's face it posts with answers get less traffic).

So basically I get the short end of the stick in this whole thing. Eventually the bots or users will hassle me about "accepting the most helpful answer" and so I'll eventually have to accept the answer. Flagging will do no good as the post has to be intentionally irrelevant (not just incorrect) to be removed by moderators. Therefore, my question is rendered unanswerable as the only way to get an answer at that point would be to bug people about it.

So yeah, don't do that. Make the post contain the right answer. If you want to preserve the old answer refer people to the history of the post. Seriously, just say:

The old answer was incorrect. If you wish to reread it for reference of what not to do click here.

(Put a link to the appropriate history revision in "click here")

But don't refuse to fix the post. Even with a note, you still deprive someone of an answer...

  • $\begingroup$ You don't eventually have to accept the answer. Just don't bother if the answer isn't correct. All that does is incentivize people to give bad answers. $\endgroup$ Aug 17 '17 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ @ChaiT.Rex You don't understand. People will literally start leaving 5 or 6 comments saying "Please accept the most helpful answer to this question by using the green checkmark.". It isn't even the answerer that does this. It could be weeks or months later. I think it is either bots or people in C.R.U.D.E. doing it. It's more than just minor annoyance. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Aug 17 '17 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Typhon Is that really the culture over here? That is certainly NOT the culture in SO, CSSE, CR, or SESE. I've also not noticed this behavior over here either, but I rarely post. $\endgroup$
    – Krupip
    Aug 17 '17 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Typhon I'd recommend either ignoring the comments or flagging the comments that merely repeat earlier comments. You can add a reason (such as that the comments are repetitive, annoying, and probably automated) if you choose 'in need of moderator intervention', and then the moderators can investigate. $\endgroup$ Aug 18 '17 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ChaiT.Rex I will do that, thanks. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Aug 18 '17 at 3:23
  • $\begingroup$ @snb to the credit of this community, it tends to happen more when my reputation drops into the low numbers. People probably think I'm a new user or something. Still annoying though. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Aug 18 '17 at 3:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Typhon EDIT: Never mind, I've never seen any one give so many bounties away! I thought you were just really bad at Math stack exchange and got lucky rep or something. $\endgroup$
    – Krupip
    Aug 18 '17 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ @snb Nope. I tend to ask pretty challenging questions every now and then, lol. Sometimes a bounty becomes a necessity (cause nobody answers or attempts). $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Aug 18 '17 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Typhon No wonder people think you are a new user, you'd have like 2k rep now at least if it weren't for all of those bounties. I guess I think of rep differently since I mostly hangout on SO, where rep has rewards in the real world as well. $\endgroup$
    – Krupip
    Aug 18 '17 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ @snb yeah, over here it is pretty much just an arbitrary number. It's about as useful as recording a count of every time you've used a google search, lol. Totally meaningless here (aside from self-pride and being able to then show off). $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Aug 18 '17 at 15:32

I almost never delete anything. There can be a value in having trains of thoughts which turn out to be wrong which you can explain why it's wrong to help others not fall in the same trap. Just make a visible edit explaining what went wrong and where. If you don't know exactly which part is wrong at least note why the results are unreasonable.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a bad approach. That's not the purpose of this site. A wrong answer does not turn into a good answer if one states that it is wrong. For me it seems that you overestimate the value of your errors for other users. We all make enough errors that we can use to learn. $\endgroup$
    – miracle173
    Aug 15 '17 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ Then what is the purpose of the site if not to learn? Is it better if people spend their time remaking the same errors of others? I think it would be a waste. I don't see why I should have the right to remove my answers. $\endgroup$ Aug 16 '17 at 5:49
  • $\begingroup$ The purpose of the site is to build a library of mathematical questions and answers, as evidenced by the tour we have new users take. $\endgroup$
    – Michael L.
    Aug 17 '17 at 1:04
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelLee: I was never made to take any tour. The train of thoughts from coming up with a question to an answer is everything in mathematics. Answers are useless without them. That is often forced on questions with a hanging "lack of context" closure otherwise and answers that are not clear enough often suffer for it too. $\endgroup$ Aug 17 '17 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that the answer to a question in mathematics is useless without a solution, but your original point was about leaving up a non-answer, which defies the stated purpose of the site. $\endgroup$
    – Michael L.
    Aug 17 '17 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ In that case I am sure the claimed purpose can be improved. If I make a wrong turn at step 6 in a chain of reasoning - that does not invalidate the previous 5 and there can be a value for someone with another attack angle than I have to be able to continue where I missed rather than have to redevelop the first 5. There are quite some challenging questions on this site which can benefit from having something else than a "correct answer or nothing!" attitude. $\endgroup$ Aug 17 '17 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ @mathreadler then those answers should clarify that they cannot proceed further as it is beyond their ability but that they do know the steps they have taken are provable by others. For instance, a sequence of sub-theorems used to prove a complex statement. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Aug 18 '17 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ @mathreadler I never took the tour but I try to make everyone else take it. Personally I'm a firm believer that stackexchange is both a floor-wax and a desert topping (both learning and legacy). However, in the not-so-distant future AI will be eating stackexchange for breakfast, so the two categories will merge somewhat. We will then live happily ever after, all watched over by machines of loving grace. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 18 '17 at 5:43

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