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On April 9, in response to flags, I deleted an answer on What is the least expensive way to annihilate humanity?. The answer reads, in its entirety:

Fund global warming denialists, then if you have investments in the fossil fuel industry, you can actually make a profit. See e.g. the Koch brothers.

It had received this comment from the OP:

This isn't about making the money though: it's about utilizing the available resources ($1 bil) to, y'know, kill everyone.

The answer is more of a proto-answer/outline -- not developed (presumably why it got flags). Also, according to the OP it's not an answer to his question. As noted in the "insufficient explanation" post notice, we're looking for answers that provide explanations (and answer the question), not just one-liners. In contrast, this answer along the same lines was added later.

Often, when moderating these kinds of one-liner answers, I'll add the post notice, leave a comment guiding the user, and leave a flag active to come back in a day or two to see if it got fixed, deleting if it didn't. There were three reasons I didn't do that in this case: (a) the answer came from an experienced user, one we would generally presume to be familiar with site expectations already; (b) the comment from the OP; and (c) the question was drawing a lot of attention (and answers) on what for some are hot-button topics. So I added the post notice (as explanation) and deleted the answer.

This decision has been challenged, so I'm bringing it to the community: What should have happened with this answer? And what should happen now?

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    $\begingroup$ Not an answer in and of itself, which is why I'm posting it as a comment, but do note that What types of questions should I avoid asking? says that among other things, constructive subjective questions (which arguably covers a lot of what we're doing on this site) inspire answers that explain “why” and “how” as well as tend to have long, not short, answers. It seems fairly clear to me that regardless of any concerns about correctness, the specific cited answer does not meet these two criteria. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 14 '15 at 7:43
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I started writing this thinking it would be a couple of paragraphs.

I was sadly, sadly wrong. So I've divided it up a bit. Hope you don't mind. I do have a summary at the bottom and a "TL;DR" at the top.

Too Long; Didn't Read:

Keep the answer deleted. Get rid of some other poor answers, and improve similar questions.


Does it answer the question?

The answer answers the question, technically. Funding the fossil fuel industry would, in the long run, hurt the human race. 'Course, we're already doing that. But this would accelerate it. So I feel like it's an answer, from a certain point of view.1

What about these ones?

Let me give some other answers to the same question (some deleted, some not):

  1. Fund analysis and development of the next Candy Crush.

  1. One: Create an internet virus. Use stuxnet as a template.

    . . .

    Four: Hide until the holy war is over.


  1. Start a website where you can ask or answer strange questions. Call it "QueueExchange".

These are some examples of joke answers the question received. While I hate to call out specific posts, it should be clear that these were not meant seriously. There was at least one other answer that I feel is extremely poor, but I won't quote it because I don't wish to embarrass that person.

Yet all of these answers answer the question. They could, in principle, happen.

It should be clear that we don't want the site to descend into a bunch of jokes. Yet it seems that at times, we don't quite take things seriously. Is this the fault of the asker or the answerers? Could the asker have done a better job of posing the question, or should the answerers just kept quiet? Is it that the question is too broad, in the sense that there are too many possible answers?

How can I . . . ?

Perhaps the question is too broad because it is, like many other (popular) questions on Worldbuiling, a "How can I . . ." question. This one doesn't literally use those words, but it's in the spirit of them. It sets a task and asks for ways to accomplish that task. These questions seem to be too broad. Just look at the list!2

These questions do inadvertently encourage jokes. Are there some gems? Absolutely. Are there some awesome answers? Yes! But there are a lot of joke answers, too.

So what?

What I'm trying to say is that there are poor answers to these sort of questions. We need to re-examine them and perhaps do a bit of cleanup. I don't just mean mods and high-rep users coming in a deleting stuff (though that may happen); I mean a concerted effort by everyone - askers, answerers, editors - to fix up these questions.

I didn't answer your question

I don't think I actually answered your question yet. Perhaps near the beginning. But I digressed.

Actually, looking back, I did answer it. I think that it's not fair to this answer to delete it when there are other, shorter, joke answers that are still up, and getting votes.3

So I vote that we either A) undelete this one or B) significantly improve/delete other non-serious answers. Not just on the question at hand, but on other past questions.

I'm actually much more in favor of B).


Summary

  1. This answer addresses the question but was deleted.
  2. Other answers are jokes, but (also) address the question and stay up.
  3. "How can I . . . ?" questions seem to get a lot of poor answers.
  4. Let's address these poor answers.
  5. Either undelete this answer or (as I would favor) get rid of the joke answers, too.
  6. We have to improve the "How can I . . .?" questions to avoid getting joke answers.

1 Possibly from the same point of view that Darth Vader killed Anakin, admittedly.
2 A couple of mine are in there, unfortunately.
3 Fortunately, the really good answers are being rewarded a lot more.

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  • $\begingroup$ I may not be able to get back to comments on this for about an hour or so. My apologies. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Apr 12 '15 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for answering. Most of the time when a post like this gets deleted it's because flags brought it to our attention. We have a lot of questions and answers; none of the mods are doing a systematic study. This shouldn't just be on mods in any case (as you point out); if there's a category of problem, somebody please bring it up on meta with specific examples. Flags are good for bringing specific cases to mod attention, but don't rely on us to notice patterns (especially as not every mod sees every flag). $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Apr 12 '15 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ If you by "relate questions" in the TLDR mean the "Related" section of the sidebar, note that that's automatically generated (I think based on tags). $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 12 '15 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling A) Typo. B) No, I just meant questions of the same ilk. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Apr 12 '15 at 19:48
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I think the real question here is how far an answer can and should go in echoing what should be common knowledge to any educated person. Seems to me there are two possible ways of doing this answer. One would be for me to write a tome on the process by which burning fossil fuels causes global warming and its long-term consequences (that is, probable extinction of higher life forms, including humans), adding a long digression into the psychological and economic motivations of the denialists. To do this adequately would not only take months (likely more space than StackExchange provides), it has already been done by others, who've made a much better job of it than I could.

The other approach is simply to point out that the answer exists, and details can be found elsewhere. That merely requires two sentences.

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    $\begingroup$ We've been burning fossil fuels for over two centuries. While this has had some marked effects, and it's certainly possible that burning more of them will cause the situation to get plenty worse rather than better, it's still quite a leap to go from "give global warming denialists $1bn" to basically "doing so will kill all of humanity". It's that particular leap that is worth explaining in more detail than a single sentence, IMO. Why is it so that giving global warming denialists $1bn will kill more people than doing something else with that same amount of money? $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 12 '15 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ Also compare Are answers solely referencing novels/movies/etc. okay?. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 12 '15 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ See what I said about long-term effects that should be obvious to an educated person. Note also that the original question doesn't specify a time frame: as I said in comments on the original thread, I don't think there's any way to kill off all of humanity in less than centuries, given the limited budget and current technolory. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 13 '15 at 4:21

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