The following question has been on the "unanswered" list since the 12th June.

Sci Fi story about AI and flawed religious interpretation

On the 17th June, user Einar Petersen posted the answer below with a link to this forum.

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When I followed the link, I was surprised to see that there was no actual answer stating the name of the story, nor anything additional to go on, other than the assertion that the OP thought that it might be a P.K. Dick story.

Having spent some time researching and cross-referencing stories by Dick, I spotted one that matched the OP's description. I briefly toyed with the idea of adding my findings to Einar Petersen's answer but eventually decided that by doing so, I would basically need to delete his entire answer and replace it with one of my own.

Having posted my answer and mindful of the fact that Einar Petersen's answer didn't actually lead anywhere useful, I flagged his question to be converted into a comment. I was quite surprised to see my flag declined and the note below appended, especially given that his answer was subsequently converted into a comment by a mod.

"Using someone else's answer to write your own, and then flagging theirs for deletion, isn't very nice. The sporting thing to do would have been to edit their answer into better form instead."


Should I have edited their answer to include the actual answer?

Were my actions "not nice"?

  • 15
    I'd consider it "not very nice" to overhaul someone else's post, editing it beyond recognition, like the mod comment suggests doing. Maybe add a note somewhere saying that that user gave you a lead?
    – Molag Bal
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:43
  • 5
    @amaranth - I did. I posted a comment under his original answer that said " Cheers for the assist. This was indeed a PK Dick story". I anticipated that when his answer was converted into a comment, this comment would be appended along with it.
    – Valorum
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:44
  • 6
    @amaranth Overhauling and massively improving story-ID answers happens on a regular basis here. FuzzyBoots in particular does it all the time, turning bad answers from new users into good answers that get upvotes.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:53
  • 2
    Since your nice comment was not added, you could go back and re-ad as a comment or to your answer. That would be the nice thing to do, if you worried about such things. I agree with the other sentiments here, your edit to existing answer would probably have been rejected as conflicting with the OPs intent (if your edits needed to be reviewed that is...)
    – Skooba
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:54
  • 2
    @Randal'Thor Maybe he shouldn't. Did the users whose posts were overhauled actually answer the question in their original post?
    – Molag Bal
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:54
  • 3
    @amaranth - You can see for yourself by following the link he provided (hint, no).
    – Valorum
    Jun 22, 2016 at 21:00
  • Honestly, there's a lot to be learned with a well-edited answer, but I feel this falls short of being something readily edited. Without adding any ACTUAL information in the answer, a simple case of link rot would totally destroy ANY point in the answer. I feel it may not require a flag, but maybe just create a new answer with the actual information and leave the old one alone. Were it a good answer, the question would be answered. As it stands, a semi-duplicate answer will usually draw votes based on the quality of it, not necessarily the duplication.
    – Anoplexian
    Jun 24, 2016 at 15:53
  • Side note: It seems to happen to me every few months that I flag an answer, the flag is declined, and the next day I find the answer is deleted. Jul 2, 2016 at 3:51
  • That's fairly typical behaviour for this particular mod. I would just ignore it. Jul 2, 2016 at 16:24

4 Answers 4


Einar Petersen's post was a link-only, partial answer at best. Valorum used the hints provided at the link to find the story. It would not have been appropriate to edit the information into Einar's answer--that would be overhauling another user's post, which I think goes too far as an edit.

It's entirely fair for Valorum to post his findings, especially since he answered the question and Einar only provided a lead. If Valorum had wanted to, he could have posted a comment giving the title of the story on the original answer, hoping that Einar would edit it in, but there is no need for that.

As for flagging the original post for deletion, it was more of a comment than an answer, so that seems fair. You could interpret it as a partial answer instead, in which case, the post should not have been converted to a comment.

The only thing left to be really nice would be to make another comment or note in the answer giving credit to Einar for the lead. Valorum apparently did that already, but the comment has been deleted.

To answer the question, I declare that Valorum was nice and acted appropriately by not overhauling the other user's answer.

  • 4
    GIF courtesy of Valorum.
    – Molag Bal
    Jun 22, 2016 at 22:31
  • 7
    +1 for GIF LOL. Anyway perfectly crafted answer and I think that answer is no more then a comment and only Valorum deserve the credit in this case. Jun 23, 2016 at 8:19
  • For the record, Einar's answer did not contain an answer or a link to an answer. It was a link to the same unanswered question on a different site. It was probably intended as a comment in the first place. Jun 29, 2016 at 16:29
  • 2
    "but the comment has been deleted" This says everything you need to know about how this particular SE subsite is moderated. The story told on this page is, well, you couldn't make it up. Jul 2, 2016 at 16:26

I'm going to put aside the debate about whether it's good to overhaul answers like this. In your description of the events, the answer you flagged provided a clue, but it didn't actually lead to an answer. As such, at least from your point of view, it wasn't an answer, and you provided an actual answer. Even if major overhauls are preferred, what you describe would arguably be a border case, and I think there's room for reasonable people to disagree about the best course of action.

So I think the main problem here is not so much the action you took or your reasons for taking them as much as how your actions were perceived. Consider the viewpoint from another user:

  • You post a longer answer.
  • You flag the other answer, which at first glance appears likely to lead to the content you posted.

That's it. It's not immediately obvious that you had to put in extra effort to find the answer. It should have been clear to you that your actions would look somewhat suspicious. Knowing this, you should have used a custom flag and provided a brief explanation of the fact that the link contained no clear answer and that you had to do a fair amount of additional research. (You could use that exact phrasing.) This would dispel the appearance of impropriety.

I think I should also mention that there may be an inclination to think, "The mod should have checked on the details." Maybe so. But mods are busy people with a lot of work to do, and they make mistakes from time to time. Do them the courtesy of giving them an explanation to get them started, rather than expecting them to dig up all the facts from scratch.

As the response to your question here proves, an explanation of the events and your thoughts goes a long way toward convincing people that your action was appropriate or, at a bare minimum, at least not malicious. So just be mindful of appearances and provide that explanation up front when needed.

  • Although I agree with you that perception is certainly something to be taken into account, in this instance another mod did subsequently convert the (non-) answer into a comment and deleted my comment thanking them for their assistance.
    – Valorum
    Jun 27, 2016 at 15:34
  • 2
    @Valorum It's apparent to me that the moderator's comment understandably upset you, and since you asked the question of whether you were nice, I was focusing on how that could have been avoided. This raises questions about how appropriate the mod's comment was, of course, but I encourage you to be forgiving. Use this as an opportunity to realize that there are things you can do to prevent these kinds of misunderstandings. An ounce of prevention, as they say; this meta question seems to be a pound of cure.
    – jpmc26
    Jun 27, 2016 at 15:41
  • 1
    When I think there might be a possible or even perceived conflict of interest in a review task, flagging, etc. of mine, I almost always leave it alone. In this case, I would have posted the better, complete answer, and not flagged the bad one. That means that I have not directly "competed" with the other answer and if the other answer is actually that bad, someone else is sure to flag it sooner or later. If it's not so bad that no one else flags, then it's probably best that I didn't flag it. Jun 27, 2016 at 19:46

The link-only answer was not an answer. As it stood, it should have been deleted, or edited.

I say edited, because it did provide additional information. The link doesn't answer the question, but it does provide additional details, and is pretty clearly referring to the same story the OP is looking for.

It's not useless information, so the person presenting the link has made a meaningful contribution.

It would have been appropriate to mention in your answer that you used the additional information in the deleted answer (even if it was just the identification of the author), but not necessary.

I disagree that it would have been inappropriate to edit the link-only answer into a complete answer; the idea that overhauling a new user's invalid attempt at answering a question is going too far is subjective, and can be helpful in showing new users what the expectations of the community are. If the user complains about the edits, it can always be rolled back, and then deleted/downvoted as appropriate.

But... the idea of editing another user's partial- or non-answer should be entirely optional.

No one should feel compelled to take a bad answer and turn it into a good one, just because it provided a hint or two down the path towards a good answer.

Valorum was under no obligation to do more than he did. Mentioning the PKD lead in his answer would have been nice, but not necessary, so I disagree that his actions "weren't nice".

  • "It's not useless information, so the person presenting the link has made a meaningful contribution." On Stack Exchange, links in answers are not considered useful information in their own right. Jul 2, 2016 at 16:27
  • 1
    I think you're confusing"information" with answers. The link provided context which led to Valorum's answer. Therefore, it was useful information. I'm not sure how that's even a point of debate. Note my very first sentence.
    – Beofett
    Jul 2, 2016 at 17:30
  • I'm not "confusing" anything. I wanted to provide you with some additional information that I thought you might find interesting. You can learn something new every day, you know! Oh well never mind. Jul 2, 2016 at 17:35

There are two actions here to consider:

  1. Taking Einar's suggestion and running with it. This is fine. Many people will add a note mentioning that they took the lead from another user/answer and then did their own legwork. I see no issue here.

  2. Flagging Einar's post for deletion. This is not so fine. Einar's post is an answer. It's not a good answer, but it put forth a suggestion of what work it may have been. Downvote it, let it languish, whatever, but it falls on the right side of the answer/comment definition.

Either action alone is fine, but both actions by the same user definitely smells funny.

  • 9
    In what sense is it an answer? It identified a potential author but there's no indication of the title or work.
    – Valorum
    Jun 22, 2016 at 23:39
  • 3
    Actually... deep breaths.. I'm with Valorum here. That answer is a classic link-only answer, which is one of the standard reasons to flag an answer for deletion.
    – KutuluMike
    Jun 23, 2016 at 15:36
  • 1
    It seems to be a common, even majority, opinion (I am tempted to say ‘misconception’) on SE sites that anything that even vaguely references something in the question, even if it doesn’t give the asker any information that helps him answer his question, counts as an ‘answer’, and that ‘not an answer’ should basically only be used for completely irrelevant, random, nonsensical stuff written by bots. I disagree with this, but in that view, Einar’s answer was an answer. Note also that, according to the question here, Valorum didn’t flag for deletion, but for conversion into a comment. Jun 27, 2016 at 7:06
  • "Einar's post is an answer." No, it's not. Period. I'd expect a 83.9k user to know the basics of how Stack Exchange works, frankly. Jul 2, 2016 at 16:27
  • 2
    And id expect a 206k user to not be rude but we are where we are.
    – phantom42
    Jul 2, 2016 at 18:48

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