A long time ago the WB.SE community was discussing whether to adhere to the Back It Up! policy or not. Those discussions are not very relevant today since most participants are long gone now. And the current generation of users has very different standards compared to the early days of the WB.SE. I think that it is time to talk about answers and their quality again.
The WB.SE tour says: 'With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about worldbuilding.'
I believe it is an admirable goal. But it does not say whether this library should contain answers with good, reliable information or it can be made of speculations and wild guesses. The Help Centre is also not very specific:
Read the question carefully. What, specifically, is the question asking for? Make sure your answer provides that – or a viable alternative. The answer can be “don’t do that”, but it should also include “try this instead”. Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful, but do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer. Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better.
As it is now there is no formal rule addressing the quality of the answers. There are also no guidelines for answers, except for those stated in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective, but it is a rule that is systematically ignored on the current WB.SE (some high reputation and active on Meta users do not even know about its existence).
Today's WB.SE has a great number of answers that appear to me as poorly researched, based on speculations, unverified assumptions, personal preferences, 'common sense', ideologies, tropes, and so on1. As a result, it is not possible for me to trust the answers (not to mention that TV Tropes is a much better source for tropes). Their best use is to test the audience, their preferences, values, and beliefs.
Speculative answers and wild guesses are not bad per se. And they can be immensely helpful. Even answers based on wrong assumptions can be helpful if those assumptions are clearly stated. The problem is that they do not work well with the existing requirements for questions. The WB.SE does not welcome speculative questions and requires prior research. There is also a rule against opinion-based questions, but at this point of the WB.SE history, it is not clear what constitutes opinion-based.
I do not have a clear position on this. I would like the expectations for answers and questions to match each other (researched questions and researched answers, for example) because I believe in reciprocity and it seems to me that it would be easier to keep the quality of the questions high if the answers are of equally high quality. However, I do not expect the community to support this view or the WB.SE to uphold it. At this time I am trying to learn what other people think about the answers and whether there should be some guidelines for them.
The purpose of this query is not to start a debate about my own position regarding the quality of answers or my evaluation of answers. The former is not possible as I do not have a clear position (which I stated before) and I am not proposing any policies or guidelines. The latter is something that I wanted to avoid because the discussion will turn to be about specific answers and their merits rather than the general quality of answers and whether any guidelines are needed.
My intent was expressed in the last sentence of the original version: At this time I am trying to learn what other people think about the answers and whether there should be some guidelines for them. In other words, I wanted people to share their thoughts about answers and their quality and whether any guidelines are necessary.
Since @elemtilas insists on providing specific examples of what I would consider a low-quality answer and explicitly states that they would want to hear my opinion about their own answer, I will use their answer to this query (as of 4 February 2022, 18:20 GMT) as such an example.
There are 2 big problems with this answer:
it is a response to the linked Back It Up! policy discussion, not this query (and @elemtilas does acknowledge this)
It is worth noting that @elemtilas justifies this approach by saying that my query is unfinished and not clear enough to them. They even threatened to VTC it.
It should be mentioned that @elemtilas is the author of Is it Fair to Encourage People to NOT Answer Questions that Need to be Closed?, where they advocate for not answering questions that they find to be unsatisfactory. Therefore, their own response is not only inconsistent with the WB.SE guidelines for answers but also with their own position regarding answering questions.
in their response @elemtilas does not represent the original Back It Up! policy or discussion about it accurately (and they agree with this evaluation)
The way @elemtilas builds their argument and formats their post distorts the original meaning of the Back It Up! policy and may lead readers to believe that it was an attempt to require references for every single answer. It was never the case. The core of the policy was: Every answer needs to justify the conclusions it comes to.
I see this kind of answer not only as poor-quality but detrimental to the WB.SE. It sets a precedent for being off-topic. It also misleads the readers. In addition, it makes it impossible for me to trust the author's words even when it comes to their expressed attitudes and positions on issues because their acts are not consistent with their words.
I will not provide any additional specific examples of low-quality answers as I do not believe that it would be very constructive to this discussion. However, since @elemtilas has difficulty understanding my point about disaster myths I will add a note on this.
Every answer that features mass panic or social chaos as inevitable and 'natural' (as in 'it's human nature') outcomes in disaster scenarios is an answer that lacks research because both of these notions are among debunked disaster myths. There is even a Wikipedia article about this. Moreover, these answers are, if I put it kindly, irresponsible since the propagation of disaster myths worsens the outcomes for real people affected by real disasters.
1 My personal favourites are mass-panic and social chaos. These myths were debunked so many times (please google for 'disaster myths'), yet, almost every question related to disastrous scenarios will have answers suggesting that mass-panic, looting, rioting, and social collapse are inevitable.
This lack of research is not limited to social phenomena, it shows in answers to questions that are related to natural sciences as well.