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I have had about a dozen Not An Answer flags on this site disputed or declined. In most if not all of those cases I thought that it was pretty straightforward why the post was not an answer, and in some cases I left a comment explaining why. I would therefore like to understand where I am going wrong.

I see a few possible options:

  • Some reviewers/moderators disagree with my assessments of the specific posts.
  • Some reviewers/moderators disagree with the underlying premises of what makes a post not an answer.
  • Some users/moderators misunderstood what the questions were asking and therefore thought the posts did constitute answers, or I misunderstood what the questions were asking and therefore thought the posts did not constitute answers.
  • Some users/moderators misunderstood what the answer posts were saying and therefore thought the posts did constitute answers, or I misunderstood what the answer posts were saying and therefore thought the posts did not constitute answers.

I know from other Meta posts, both here and on the network-wide Meta site, that the second option has been subject to various debates. Particularly in this post and its follow-up post there was much discussion (including in the comments) about whether an answer post must be recognizably not an answer even without the context of the question in order to qualify for a Not An Answer flag. on this specific Meta site there have been at least two general discussions (here and here) about what makes something not an answer, and (to my understanding) the top answers to both assume that an answer post has to specifically address the specific question asked in order to qualify as an answer.

However, the parameters of that are still somewhat vague. Answer posts can look like actual answers to a question because they discuss the topic in general, or related issues, or cite many sources, yet still don't actually tackle the question head on. Particularly in the comments here there seems to be some confusion about answers that address a question's title but don't actually address the elaborated version of the question in the body of the post.

Here are a bunch of examples:

  • Spell Propagation Speed? asks about the speed at which spells travel from the caster to the object being acted upon. This answer discusses the speed at which the acted upon object travels back to the caster. At a quick glance it seems like an answer. It discusses the general topic and it cites an authoritative source, but it doesn't appear to address the actual question that was asked. My flag there was disputed.

  • Why did Dumbledore place a guard for the prophecy at the ministry? asks how a single guard for the prophecy would be of any value. This answer explains why Dumbledore wanted the prophecy to be protected in the first place, but does not discuss the value of a single guard. My flag was disputed (though the answer was eventually deleted by the owner).

  • Why did Voldemort need to get the prophecy from the Ministry? asks why Voldemort needed to get the prophecy from the Ministry if he had already gotten it from Snape. This answer explains why Voldemort needed the prophecy at all, but does not address why he had to get it if he already had it. My flag was declined as: flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer. In fact I do not think the answer is wrong or inaccurate; it's just an answer to a different question.

  • Should Quirrell Have Survived Harry's Touch? asks why Quirrell died if he had unicorn blood that should have protected him. While this answer talks about Quirrell and cites sources, making it look like an answer at a glance, it does not address why Quirrell died. My flag was disputed.

  • Why did Harry Potter take place in 1981? asks why Harry Potter took place when it did. This answer explains how we know that it took place when it did, but offers no explanation as to why.

There are more examples, but I don't think it is necessary to list all of them. A common denominator that I see here is that it is not immediately obvious that these answer posts do not actually address the question. If you only look at the answer post, or look at the answer post after a quick glance at the question title, the answer posts seem relevant. But (at least in my opinion) once you carefully read the questions you see that these answers don't actually address the specific points being raised.

So, what is actually going on here? Am I missing something that makes these types of answer posts actually considered to be answers? Or are there simply reviewers not reviewing carefully enough, or perhaps reviewing on topics that they don't know enough about to evaluate the answers? Either way, what if anything should be done?

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    Disputed means the community not the mods handles the flag, you can look at the review for the post to check. Declined is from the mods. I haven’t read the whole thing cos effort but as a rule something with no evidence is a reason to downvote not delete. – TheLethalCarrot Aug 25 at 18:34
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    @TheLethalCarrot Indeed, I have not used the flag for answers with no evidence. – Alex Aug 25 at 18:35
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    @Valorum None of the flags in question have anything to do with questions. They are all flags on answers. In any case, a possible answer to this Meta question could indeed be that my flagging practices are perfectly fine and all those answers should be deleted. But there is also the possibility that my flagging practices are not in sync with the rest of the community, in which case I should probably change them. – Alex Aug 25 at 19:19
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    The cynic in me thinks that you're not really seeking information about how to improve your reviewing practice, but simply trying to bring attention to answers that you think should have been closed, noting that this isn't the first time you've started collecting or manufacturing evidence to try to prove a point. – Valorum Aug 25 at 19:23
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    @Valorum Answers can’t be closed, only deleted. In any case, the cynic in you would be partially correct. I do think that these answers should be deleted; however, I don’t actually care if they are deleted because I don’t think having a few non-answers sticking around makes much of a difference. – Alex Aug 25 at 19:30
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    @Valorum: I see no evidence in this post that Alex is "manufacturing" evidence, "collecting" evidence is a Good Thing that we want to encourage, and I refuse to vote on the basis of the person who wrote the question. – Kevin Aug 25 at 22:10
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    Always worth a read on NAA/LQP flags (from Meta.SO): A plea for sanity on LQP – Machavity Aug 26 at 18:25
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    @Alex How is that related?? – Rand al'Thor Aug 27 at 8:11
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    @Randal'Thor It seems pretty relevant. While not from the perspective of a flagger, much of the discussion there relates to what makes something not an answer. My answer there (+3) and your answer there (+18) both assume that an answer can discuss the topic of a question without actually addressing the question, thus qualifying it for deletion. I don’t see any comments there expressing dissent with this premise. By contrast, Mike’s answer here (+5) seems to be saying that an answer does not have to actually address the question that was asked. – Alex Aug 27 at 12:37
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    @Alex I've upvoted Mike's answer because it's mostly absolutely right on the general principles. But on this site at least, "answering a completely different question" qualifies as NaA, regardless of what a main meta FAQ might say. And Mike's answer doesn't mention "discussing the topic of a question without actually addressing the question" as something that's not NaA. That wouldn't count as "at least trying to answer the question", surely. – Rand al'Thor Aug 27 at 12:41
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    @Randal'Thor Thefirst sentence of his first paragraph, the first bullet, and the first sentence of the second to last paragraph imply otherwise. – Alex Aug 27 at 13:08
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The Not An Answer flag has nothing to do with whether the answer answers the question. It has to do with whether the answer is an answer. That is, was the person posting it at least trying to answer the question, even if they got it completely wrong.

In general, the following things do not fall under the NAA flag, because they all represent a misunderstanding on the answerer's part, and not an intent to post garbage:

  • Answered a different but similar/related/tangential question
  • Answered the question based on a flawed understanding of it
  • Answered the question with flawed evidence or no evidence
  • Just flat out gave an incorrect answer.

The NAA flag is intended for posts that are not answers -- to anything. Rants, should-be-comments, follow-up questions, meaningless rambling, your favorite pet theory, etc. And as always with SE, we are supposed to presume good intentions unless there's clear evidence otherwise.

As far as I can tell, none of those answers you cited meet that bar. The author may have been completely off base -- which is why we have downvotes -- but I see no evidence that they didn't think they were answering the question.

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    We have to distinguish between partial answers and answers to related questions, but if it really is an answer to a related question without making at least a partial attempt to answer this specific question the NAA flag should be used. See this post on Meta.SE. The other three dot points are correct. – curiousdannii Aug 26 at 23:58
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    Quibble: I think "your favorite pet theory" comes under the heading of "trying to answer the question" - specifically, it is an answer with no evidence. – Harry Johnston Aug 31 at 22:30
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It was already mentioned in comments that "disputed" and "declined" are slightly different things: for this type of flag, "disputed" means the community voted not to delete through the review queue while "declined" means a moderator manually declined your flag. You've only ever had one NAA flag declined, which was the flag I recently declined on this answer:

  • Why did Voldemort need to get the prophecy from the Ministry? Here the question is, in its entirety, "Snape had already delivered the entire prophecy to Voldemort while still being a Death Eater, so why did Voldemort need to get the prophecy from the Ministry?" and the answer is, in its entirety, "He needed it to know how to kill Harry." This is, in fact, essentially the correct answer, just not properly explained or backed up and without the extra information which proved part of the question's premise wrong. It's a very poor answer, but it is an answer.

The other flags you mention were disputed by the community, so I'll just link you to the relevant Low Quality review tasks without trying to explain the reviewers' reasoning. After moderator review and/or further flags, all four of these have since been deleted.

  • According to KutuluMike’s highly voted answer should any of those actually be deleted? – Alex Sep 3 at 23:41
  • @Alex Mike's answer with curiousdannii's addendum is fine as a general principle. But a number of users on this thread seem to have assumed that you were talking about wrong answers, or unsupported answers, rather than actual non-answers like these. – Rand al'Thor Sep 4 at 6:52

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