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I deleted this answer to the question

Is it wrong to buy a Buddha statue in Thailand from a Buddhist point of view?

The answer is brief enough to quote

Yes it's wrong. Throw away your statues and burn your dharma books.

To me it just looked unhelpful and so I deleted it. Robin pointed out that it's probably got merit as a zen type answer. We've discussed this before but I think it's worth revisiting in the light of welcoming all traditions. Should we accept these kind of more cryptic zen style answers and specifically should this answer remain on the site? I've undeleted for now to be as fair as possible.

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TL;DR

Current consensus is to delete short answers.

My personal vote would be to allow some (not all) short answers, only if they are good answers.


The moderators should do what the community decides

Moderators shouldn't delete answers which their community would want them to keep. I assume we can take it for granted that no-one wants spam, nor anything unintelligible nor utterly off-topic, but apart from that we should look for some community consensus (which is why you opened this meta-topic).

For example see how its author worded this comment:

That notice is pretty much designed for Skeptics, which does have such a policy because of the inherent nature of that site. Skeptics specifically want citations for claims, and their community allows their mods to delete uncited answers.

That says "their community allows their mods" because that community discussed and voted on that policy on their meta site (for example, here and here and here and not to mention all of these).


Maybe moderators should wait until a user flags an answer

FWIW in the past if I disliked an answer, I decided to delay deleting it (i.e. not delete it now) and instead wait to see whether someone else flags it. Because if someone else flags then at least I know there are two people (i.e. me and someone else) who dislike it.

The answer you're talking about was flagged, but it was flagged by the 'Community' bot for being short, not flagged by a real user who could read it.


Just because it's short doesn't mean it's good

We should try to reserve the right to delete some short answers: not every short reply is in any way a useful answer.


Current or previous community consensus

This topic has been discussed before: Should we allow/encourage short answers?

It seems to me that:

  • Several people answered that we should allow them
  • Two people (Hrafn and you) answered that we shouldn't, and those answers got by far the most votes

So I think that the current or previous consensus was that short (mysterious) answers are never allowed.


Just because it's short doesn't mean it's bad

yuttadhammo posted links to where this has been discussed on many other sites, and wrote

I've taken a look around SE, and it seems the consensus is actually to allow very short questions, as long as they do actually answer the question. Here's some of the reasoning.


Just because it's short doesn't mean it's mysterious

I might agree that a mysterious answer isn't helpful.

But this answer wasn't very mysterious, it was on-topic, it was about the same length as the question, maybe just long enough to express their considered opinion without starting to write a thesis on what else you could to be doing instead of buying a statue (which would be an answer to a different question).


What about voting?

Theoretically, instead of deleting an answer, people can downvote bad answers.

If the users on this site would upvote (good answers) more and downvote (bad answers) more, that would help in many ways.

This help topic suggests that answers can be deleted if they have a score of -1

Moderators can delete any answer, and trusted community members can vote to delete answers scoring -1 or lower (3 votes will result in deletion).

On a mature site people would vote; on a beta site there may not be enough people actively voting yet, and for that reason moderators intervene with their unilateral/binding actions.


Why are answers ever deleted?

This same help topic says,

Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed. This includes answers that are:

  • commentary on the question or other answers
  • asking another, different question
  • “thanks!” or “me too!” responses
  • exact duplicates of other answers
  • barely more than a link to an external site
  • not even a partial answer to the actual question

Note that "too short" is NOT one of the reasons listed above.


What about posting a comment?

I think we should use comments, to ask for any specific clarification or to suggest some specific improvements. If you don't delete an answer then someone can post a comment, and/or upvote or downvote. A comment that just says "this answer is too short" isn't necessarily constructive (everyone can already see it's short, what's less obvious is what if anything ought to be added to make it longer).


What about turning the answer into a comment?

One of the moderator tools lets you convert an answer to a comment. If it's short then physically it's not too long to be comment. If it doesn't answer the question (if it's "advice instead of an answer") then maybe it shouldn't be posted as an answer (regardless of its length) but could perhaps be posted as a comment under the question.

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Conclusion: specific proposal

I propose the following new policy:

  • Don't automatically delete a short answer (unless it's spam or unintelligible or utterly off-topic)
  • Anyone (i.e. users and/or moderators) can upvote or downvote (and/or post a comment)
  • If the answer has a negative score (more downvotes than upvotes) then any 'trusted users' can vote to delete it – there are only 4 trusted users (i.e. with reputation of over 4000) at the moment, and 3 must vote before an answer is deleted, but there will be more such trusted users in future.
  • If the answer has a negative score then any moderator can delete – before deleting, a moderator should perhaps consult the other moderators to see whether they think that the answer has value
  • Sometimes moderators will convert an answer to a comment

This isn't a formula for deciding whether an answer has the following desirable attributes:

  • Is not too "mysterious (and often incomprehensible yet seemingly wise)"
  • Addresses the question
  • Leaves little unsaid

... but if we just delay, for a little while, deleting an answer which some people could find valuable, that would let people assess such answers on a case-by-case basis, with up- and downvotes and comments.

  • If people voted more regularly/freely it might be easier to moderate. I was thinking that if an answer has any upvotes, but still more downvotes than upvotes and therefore a negative score, the fact that someone found it useful and upvoted is a hint that maybe it should stay, undeleted even with a negative score. Conversely if everyone downvotes and no-one upvotes then that's a hint that no-one finds it useful and that it ought to be deleted. But if no-one votes up or down then that's not much input fro the community for the moderators to act on. – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 10:29
  • The moderators themselves are users and members of the community when it comes to voting. I think that ideally they should express their personal opinion by voting, and do moderator actions (e.g. deleting answers) based on community input (i.e. make decisions based on the results of all the votes including their own). – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 10:32
  • What about "is informative/constructive/useful"? I mean an answer of "Yes." does answer the question, but what good is it? – yuttadhammo May 31 '15 at 12:04
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    I think I pretty much agree with this. But I think the lack of voting remains an issue, I think this is a good example buddhism.stackexchange.com/q/9321/157 - 5 people have found this question interesting enough to write an answer to (so presumably has merit) but none have them have as yet upvoted it. There is one upvote and that is mine. Maybe it doesn't deserve it but i think the lack of voting makes quality control harder. I think this issue is also worth a revisit at some point to be honest. – Crab Bucket May 31 '15 at 12:26
  • @yuttadhammo Do you have an example? At the moment I'm unable to imagine a circumstance for which I'd feel inclined to upvote "yes". I'm not sure it would satisfy the "leaves little unsaid" criterion. Though (off-topic) I remember a novel about Alexander the Great, where he visits an oracle, who gives him two bits of folded lead, one in each hand, and says to him "Here are two answers: one for the question in your head, and one for the question in your heart", and when he unfolds the lead to read the answers he sees, written on the lead, that both the answers say "yes". – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 12:27
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    Well, my point is, maybe we should be deleting "Yes" answers because they are useless. Unless you are an established authority, like an oracle, what good is it to anonymous internet person? – yuttadhammo May 31 '15 at 12:30
  • @yuttadhammo If everyone agrees that some particular answer is too short, unhelpful, cannot be salvaged, has no redeeming value/virtue/meaning, is useless, then they'll downvote it, no-one will upvote it, and we'll delete it. If someone actually likes some answer for any reason (and it wasn't instantly deleted) then they can upvote it, and then we should think twice before deleting it (or we might convert it to a comment). Or if there's an important problem with the answer, we can post a comment (or not delete and let other users post a comment) to give people a chance to address that concern. – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 12:58
  • Whether an answer might be useful even if it's not from an authoritative guru is a bit difficult to answer, isn't it? The three answers in question which we identified so far (about not buying a statue; about miracles; and about the poem) each IMO at least have echoes in the allegedly-zen stories that I've read. The whole thing is a bit of a mystery (c.f. the parable of the elephant's parts) but maybe you recognize bits of it. Some of your answers are unavailable to people without prior knowledge of the subject; similarly some of these short answers rely on someone having a prior exposure ... – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 13:07
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    ... so it's true they can't be guaranteed to be "good to any anonymous internet person" and only some (if any) might see any value in it; but then Robin pointed out that by excluding any answer of this form (i.e. "short") categorically then we may be excluding an entire tradition (zen), and/or excluding people, and so we should try to see whether or how i what circumstances they could be accommodated. Opening it to community voting on individual/specific answers (to assess them individually instead of condemning them categorically) seems maybe one way (in fact the canonical SE way) to do that. – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 13:13
  • @yuttadhammo I agree with you that simply "Yes" or any other one-word answer has little to distinguish it from a coin-toss (except the authority of whoever says it). An answer that's a bit longer than that, though, for example a whole sentence (which would still be "short" compared with paragraphs) might have enough shape to (by matching something which the reader already knows) say something. – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 17:29
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I'm going to propose the opposite of @ChrisW, just to see which one is preferred. It seems to me, there is an argument for deleting short answers, simply for the reason that they are useless.

Unless one is an authority on a particular subject, what good is it to the OP that someone they don't know on the Internet says the answer is "Yes."? The use of short Zen (not Zen-like) answers hinges on the authority of the guru; unless they actually provide an argument, they are useless out of the context of one's assumption that one's teacher is enlightened.

I agree with this answer:

Yes.

...that wasn't very helpful in answering your question, was it? If someone asks a yes/no question there's always an implied "and why" even if they don't ask for it.

Even if the original asker only wanted one data point with no reasoning behind it, showing the reason for a yes/no answer makes the answer useful to more than just the single asker, which is the whole point of Stack Exchange.

  • I don't know. This was pretty much my previous opinion but people seem to be saying that these kind of answers have value. I think there are 2 issues 1. Should mods delete short unhelpful answers that aren't actually spam (probably not - that's why people vote - chris's answer has convinced me). 2. Are zen type answers short and unhelpful and deserved to be deleted. They are certainly short but are they unhelpful? I'm not sure – Crab Bucket May 31 '15 at 12:22
  • The accepted answer to this question is interesting. As far as I could see, it wasn't even an answer. But the OP accepted it above others. So "helpful" is in the eyes of the beholder maybe. – Robin111 May 31 '15 at 12:30
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    @Robin111 In that example, I think the key is the content. An answer of "Mu", for example, isn't about content, it's about context, which I think we have to assume is lacking on an Internet forum like this. – yuttadhammo May 31 '15 at 12:34
  • I can see that single-word answers are usually unsatisfactory, but in an earlier answer on meta you did suggest we could condone, "very short answers, as long as they do actually answer the question". – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 13:21
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    Would it be reasonable to delete short one word answers such as "yes", "no", "mu" that have no context but to leave something like "Yes it's wrong. Throw away your statues and burn your dharma books." to see how the community receives it? Low voting (in general) really does makes this more difficult, but not giving the community a chance to vote on something doesn't seem quite right either. – Robin111 May 31 '15 at 13:28
  • I agree with robin. I don't see much of a problem to leave a short (but context-rich, even if unfamiliar to many) answer just...be (and let its score be its score). Is there a reason to delete such answers so quickly? We can even learn if leaving them degrades future answers (like "thank you" answers, which pretty much smells like "lessons learned" in S.E) -- I'd guess probably not. – Thiago Jun 4 '15 at 2:05
  • Having one lose his "possession" could be a heavy fault, not to speaking about having such a tasks as livelihood (even in a destructive way like deleting, taking, "killing"). Such as the questioned quote was a hint to start to think and be a little bit mindful, this comment also needs no guru to actually has its reason and benefit of understood. Appamada! – user7555 Jan 6 '16 at 14:53
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I'm obviously new to this board, so I don't know the history of your policies or why they were implemented. The only reason I see to delete any answers would be in cases where they were patently offensive- sexist, racist- or personal attacks, etc.

If people don't like a response, they can downvote it or respond in the comments that it was unhelpful. If the forum were flooded with answers similar to my own in such a way as to inhibit the exchange of ideas, then there'd be a valid reason for tighter policing.

I'd like to coin a phrase to describe this sort of answer- a short pithy response that attempts to dress itself in Zen robes but isn't helpful. I think the term "Zen Burp" is nicely descriptive..

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    Hi todji, and welcome! As you can see, we are still learning and trying to elaborate the policies as we go. There has been several discussions in the past, both about policies in general and about policies for specific cases (feel free to browse and participate), but it's an on going process. Having said that, I'm pretty much in agreement with your position above. – Thiago Jun 7 '15 at 18:59
  • Thanks for the welcome. And of course I'd include myself in the "we who are still learning". – todji Jun 7 '15 at 19:28
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The particular answer above is problematic because it doesn't answer the question, it gives advice. (Don't worry about statues or studies, go meditate! is how I interpret it.) So the answer is problematic and we'd want to guide the brand new participant in the site expectation that all responses actually answer the question.

But I think where caution is needed, is that the language (or brevity, or cryptic-ness or whatever you'd call it) used in zen is so different that if we're quick to judge what is and isn't an answer, we're likely to reject virtually anything written in this style and push away potentially great new participants to this site.

I've already accidentally chased away someone who answered in zen style and I'm hoping not to do so again. User 5129 deleted his profile after I criticized his answer; but the OP actually chose his answer as the Accepted answer; so it had value that I didn't recognize.

My suggestion would be to err on the side of caution and let people vote up (or not) answers they find helpful (or not) rather than delete them in this type of situation.

  • You say "it doesn't answer the question" ... your complaint about it isn't that it's short, it's that it's advice rather than an answer: as described in the Answers vs Advice topic. – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 0:32
  • This answer too probably isn't the kind of answer you had been expecting, given that you used the theravada tag on your question. – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 0:51
  • @ChrisW, you are correct on both of the above comments. However I'm inclined to leave both answers up to be voted on, etc. I think with zen style responses the meaning is not always clear to everyone. A good example is the answer you accepted in the example I linked. I would not have realized that was an answer. But it was apparently a good answer to you, the OP. I think these answers require a bit of special handling. – Robin111 May 31 '15 at 1:18
  • But it does answer the question... it says "Yes". That's an answer. If it had said, "Don't ask this question, just go meditate." Then you might have a point, but as it stands, this is an answer. Just not a very good one. – yuttadhammo May 31 '15 at 11:59
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    Yes, I suppose that's true because the question didn't ask "why" its wrong to buy a statue. – Robin111 May 31 '15 at 12:04
  • This answer is more interesting (don't think anyone but the mods can see it, since it was deleted). It answer the question with a question, then provides reasons why Buddhism doesn't jive with statue worship. It doesn't ever actually answer the question "in a legalistic sense" (words of a commenter), but I would upvote it. – yuttadhammo May 31 '15 at 12:08
  • Non mods (with sufficient rep maybe?) can see deleted answers. They have a pink background. – Robin111 May 31 '15 at 12:34
  • @yuttadhammo I wonder why that answer was deleted: perhaps the reason why its author deleted it was the comment from the OP ("this is interesting but not exactly related to the question"). Maybe this would "open a can worms" i.e. allow answers to stray too far off-topic, but perhaps we should consider whether an answer might be useful to any of two kinds of reader, i.e. the OP and/or everyone else who reads it (for that reason I wouldn't decide unilaterally to delete it as not-an-answer). – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 13:38
  • @ChrisW, both of the first two comments seemed to say it wasn't an appropriate answer, so I'm not really surprised the owner deleted it. But the third commenter and also Ven. Yuttadhammo as stated above, saw value in it and others might have too. It sort of falls into that "advice vs. answers" category, but the advice might be very useful to someone if not necessarily the OP. Very hard for one person to judge if something will be useful to someone else. – Robin111 May 31 '15 at 14:03
  • If the author had been bolder, then they could have replied, "Well (even if this doesn't answer the question you were asking) I'll leave this answer here in case it helps someone else." ... and then, maybe, deleted the answer later only if it received a few downvotes with no upvotes. – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 14:12
  • This community hasn't really supported answers that don't directly answer the question, so maybe it's not surprising a poster would take down his answer rather than argue the point. But it's another area to possibly revisit. Do we want to accept answers that offer advice/related teachings in place of a straight answer to the question? That's really also the tone of the answer we're discussing in this thread. Advice vs. Answers. – Robin111 May 31 '15 at 14:22
  • Answers vs Advice seems conclusive/definitive because it has many associated votes. One caveat though is that the OP wrote that it was "triggered by a response to my own question" and so it may have been based on a single case. Maybe everyone agreed that in that case they wanted an answer but not advice, but maybe it's going too far to assume that this site never wants people to post advice instead of an answer. – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 14:42
  • A moderator from another site wrote this advice for us in a chat (not about that specific policy but about creating policies to handle specific answers versus types of answer): "you don't want to base a policy on a single data point, but you need to consider policies in light of real live data. Expect to iterate some. :-) So you can draft a policy, and then as you apply it you might need to refine it -- that's all good and normal for beta sites." – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 14:43
  • For sure. Many people voting on the early Meta posts are no longer active. It seems sensible to revisit certain topics with people who are currently active and interested. This answer seems to be more advice than answer. – Robin111 May 31 '15 at 14:45

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