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I was recently reviewing this answer, and I got into a bit of a debate with @JBH.

He posited that "Not all questions can or should be answered here", and that it is low-quality due to the low quality of the question it was answering. While I completely agree with him that the question was bad, I personally think that this answer made the best of a bad situation.

In the end, JBH recommended that I bring the question to y'all: Should we give new users the benefit of the doubt when they do a minor infraction like that one, or do we need to use greater measures?

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  • $\begingroup$ Why did you change the nature of the question? It was focused on downvoting a response because someone doesn't like the question. Now you're just asking a generic how do we treat new people question. I think you should revert the title edit. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jul 9 '20 at 0:54
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas It was my opinion that the answers were addressing "benefit of the doubt" more than "should we downvote", so I changed the title to reflect that. I have reverted the title since then. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Jul 9 '20 at 11:11
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It's not a matter of new user vs experienced user. This is really more a matter of confounding one person's work with another: and I think JBH is wrong on this account.

We can debate whether or not the query was good, bad, or could be improved elsewhere. You two obviously think the question itself was bad while I think it's a good question and a line of inquiry worth exploring.

Fair enough! But you know what? There's a way of dealing with questions that we think are bad. We can engage the OP in discussions on how to improve the question. If it's bad because there's no research, we can downvote the question. If it's poorly written or a bad fit for WB.SE, we can vote to close.

So to me, it looks JBH's real gripe is with the querent. Going after the respondent is just bad form, and I'm surprised he went so far as to downvote the answer. I think his well received comment ("The Help Center teaches us...") is more than enough of a response. And as a matter of general principle, I agree with him 100%!

The real question to be addressed here is: does the answer in question warrant a downvote on its own merit or not?

I think the bit about movies, though an interesting aside, is beside the point, but the respondent does actually provide a reasonable answer with a solid rationale. If bleeding & infection are more or less removed as expeditious ways of killing or incapacitating an enemy, then you need to come up with a different way of doing things! Bashing their heads in is a pretty good alternative!

The way I see it: if someone takes the time to consider a problem and offers a well thought out response to a question we don't like, it's not really our place to punish the respondent. In my opinion, this was a gross overreaction to a response; and I actually request that JBH rescind the downvote.

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  • $\begingroup$ How do you know that JBH downvoted the answer? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jun 27 '20 at 6:57
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica -- A working assumption based on the comment. As with all working assumptions, it could prove to be either true or false. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 27 '20 at 14:16
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The answer was written by a new user who is almost certainly unfamiliar with the standards and scope of the site. This was their first time posting anything on Worldbuilding or even the Stack Exchange network as a whole. The question they answered isn't amazing, but then again, a new user likely doesn't know how the Stack Exchange format works. I agree with you; I wouldn't be too harsh on them for a misstep like this.

I strongly disagree with anyone who downvoted the answer on that basis. That's arguably an abuse of downvotes. (Heck, even if the answer had been written by an experienced user, it's possible that they could have answered because they thought the question was fine.) Regardless of the user's background or experience, there's no need for someone to punish an answer because of the faults of the question. Not what downvotes are for. I've seen great answers to not-so-great questions before. Why judge one post by the content of another?

Above all . . . maybe some folks could have been gentler to both the question asker and the answerer. They're both first-time posters, and I think they got met with a bit of an undeservedly harsh reaction. Phrases like "Are you serious?" and "sorry, brutal truth" are not the ideal greetings. I personally would have been a bit off-put if I was in either of their shoes.

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    $\begingroup$ Concur. I thought the question itself was fine (though I am somewhat biased in having people of that sort in my own world, and thus fighting tactics that take into account a more robust immune system and quicker (yet not instantaneous) healing are the norm are of considerable interest). I like the answer, too, and coincidentally, largely concurs with what I'd already come up with. That said: no, we oughtn't be punitively downvoting a well written & thoughtful answer that actually addresses the question, just because we think the question was in some way bad. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 25 '20 at 20:19
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I see two things here.

Not all questions can or should be answered here (...)

That sentence is correct, but that is a generalization that we should handle with care.

(...) and that it is low-quality due to the low quality of the question it was answering.

We award the lifejacket silver badge and lifeboat gold badge for giving good answers to bad questions (and which later become good questions). Badges are awarded for behaviours that we encourage, so by all means, let people answer negatively scored questions. And don't vote on answers based on the quality of their questions, vote on answers based on their own quality.

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    $\begingroup$ Those badges are not exactly for good answers to bad questions. That was the old Reversal badge, now retired, awarded for +20 answer to -5 question. The Lifejacket/Lifeboat badges are more for good answers to questions which seemed bad but turned out to be good, or perhaps were rescued by an edit - in any case, their score should start negative and then go positive, meaning it's not really a "bad" question. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Jun 29 '20 at 6:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor thanks, I've edited my answer to include that info. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Jun 29 '20 at 10:23
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As someone who uses this site sparingly, these meta questions always baffle me. What kind of a community doesn't give new members the benefit of the doubt? Looking at the question (both this and others like it) without focusing on SE's specific rules, it's kind of silly.

Of course you should give new users the benefit of the doubt! Obviously rules need to be enforced, and spam questions, gibberish, completely unanswerable questions should all be removed immediately. But rules like "be specific" are themselves not specific and widely open to interpretation. JBH spent >300 words lecturing the OP on the poor quality of the question and how unaswerable it was which takes far more effort than just voting to close or leaving a comment asking clarifying questions. Two other users had no problem providing decent answers, so clearly the "unanswerable" quality was subjective. Ironically, those 300 words of complaints contained some ideas that would have made part of an interesting answer!

The specificity rule is particularly confusing for a new user, as this is worldbuilding SE, a site for figuring out problems related to worlds that don't exist, and therefore are inherently open-ended to some degree. But some more specific-minded users seem to treat it like reddit's AskScience community. The linked question seems specific enough for me - they've provided a time period and specific details about the effect they're interested in. It could have been rephrased as "how many soldiers during (time period) died from blood loss and infection during battle?" but that just asks the same question in different words that could just as easily be closed with "unanswerable" or "do research first".

So look at this from the perspective a new question asker. Say you forget to describe some background information. In one school of thought, you get a close notification and/or a comment asking for more information on the parts you left out. In JBH's, you get a long series of comments chastising you for interpereting "specific" differently and then a debate between users about how the rules of the site should work, which makes it immediately clear that nobody agrees on the rules so studying them isn't necessarily a great use of your time. Which site do you want to be part of?

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  • $\begingroup$ Personally, I want to be a part of a site where I have a say in making the rules, one of the reason's that I've stayed here, but you're right, interpretation is a big part and we don't always agree. (Don't forget that the comments beneath the question relate to a time before it was edited.) $\endgroup$ – Rottweiler on market-day. Jul 9 '20 at 19:39
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This question isn't really asking whether or not you should downvote answers on bad questions. This question is whether or not we should cut newcomers to the website slack when it comes to gray infractions. But to discuss the later, I need to discuss the former, and more specifically, how gray it is.

Is answering a bad question wrong? Yes, absolutely. This is a Q&A site with specific rules and one of those rules is that certain questions aren't allowed on this website. Answering such questions encourages this behavior. Thus, even if you can answer a question in full detail, if it breaks the rules of this site, you really shouldn't. Rules don't exist to be bent, they exist to be followed. Of course, though, these situations falls on a spectrum with a double axis - one axis is the question and the other is the answer. On the one side you have the extremes - a glaringly bad question and someone answering who is doing so in bad faith, i.e. said member knows he shouldn't be doing it. On the other hand, the other end is a question which is possibly a little too vague but you, in good faith, think you have an answer that works.

In the case of the former, I'm all for downvoting. It doesn't matter what your content is, if you're flagrantly breaking site rules in bad faith, a penalty is required to try and maintain order. I'm sure if a user does it repeatedly enough then the mods will step in and ban the user, but in the time being, I would argue that a downvote is justified. In the case of the later, than a downvote seems inappropriate - there was no bad faith and the user was justified in believing that site rules could be followed. Just vote to close and be on your way.

The gray area comes in the space between these extremes. If a question is sufficiently bad, is good faith enough of cover or should we say that at a certain point good faith can't protect you. On the other side, if you're answering a question you think is unsuitable, does the fact that it might actually be suitable save you? I think that can be a discussion for another time, but I would agree with The Daleks position in regards to new users - they just haven't had the time to experience the website yet. Certainly they should read the guidelines in the Help Center, but the guidelines are just that - guidelines. Veteran users of this site will have a much better feel for what is acceptable and what isn't.

Basically, the axis here, and consequently the gray area within it, should be expanded for the newcomers to the website. It's really not fair to hold them up to the standards of a veteran and we don't want to scare them away. Close down the question if it violates site rules, fine, but that's just a consequence. I don't think a penalty is in order unless we actually have reason to believe bad faith, and it's unfair to assume bad faith towards newcomers.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't see the grey area. There's troll and spam questions, but if you exclude those two, then every other question by definition, no matter how egregiously broad or unfocused, was asked by someone who did not know what they were doing wrong. Similarly, answers to those questions, when not troll or spam, were similarly asked by people who did not know that the question was wrong. So that answer is a mistake, not a crime. Mistakes warrant education, not punishment. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Jun 26 '20 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, your answer directly contradicts what Renan revealed about the life jacket and life boat badges: SE actually rewards answering "bad" questions! (With the caveat that the answer itself is good.) Now, there are bad questions and there are truly horrific cock-ups. This was not of the latter persuasion by any stretch of the imagination. It is a good question that can easily lead to a dozen more considerations of worldbuilding juiciness. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 27 '20 at 2:05
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas I understood the 'Lifejacket' and 'Lifeboat' badges for answers that reveal a depth to the question or an ability to provide a concrete answer where it was assumed one didn't exist and thus proving the question to be a good question. If it's actually about providing an answer to a bad question which is so good that people decide to upvote the question anyway, then I'm going to be consistent in my opinion and I'll be against it. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Jun 28 '20 at 2:52
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Actually, SE got rid of the badge for answering "bad" questions (Reversal) and replaced it by the Lifejacket/Lifeboat badges which are for answering questions which seemed bad but turned out to be good, or got rescued by a good edit, whatever - questions which start negative and go positive. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Jun 29 '20 at 6:42

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