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Mi Yodeya works very well as a motley crew of advanced Shas learners, regular run-of-the-mill Torah students, and even complete beginners such as myself. What do we do, though, when a user with wonderful intentions but a middling or even lower knowledge base starts posting unsourced opinions as answers on a pretty regular basis?

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Give feedback. This is why votes and comments exist.

More specifically, diagnose whatever the problem is (unsourced opinions in this case) and offer a possible solution if the answer can be fixed.

To quote someone else on a recent answer as an example:

A source would greatly improve this.

And myself on a different recent answer:

In this answer you quote Maimonides, the ancient rabbis around 70 CE, Abravanel, and the Midrash, but you don't provide references for any of them. It's hard to evaluate the correctness or quality of the answer without knowing your sources

I think that if the author edited the answer corresponding to comments like those, the answer would no longer be problematic.

This doesn't mean that the user would necessarily fix previous posts or post better answers in the future, but there is really nothing else to do. Users can be suspended by moderators, but I don't think that writing bad answers alone should be enough to warrant that.

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    Excellent advice, thank you @b a. I suppose the underlying issue is that I resent having to sacrifice a point of reputation every time I downvote. Completely agree suspension is not warranted in this case. – Josh K Jul 30 at 13:53
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    @JoshK As silly as it sounds, I agree and also find it annoying that I lose a point every time I downvote. I find that means that I limit my downvotes to things that egregiously erroneous/borderline (or way past the borderline) heretical. There are quite a few 'wrong' answers that I see which I don't want to downvote due to the 'hit' to y own reutation, as silly as that is. And somehow I'm still finding (almost daily) posts that I feel 'warrant' a downvote. – Salmononius2 Jul 30 at 14:37
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    Neither one of us is lacking in reputation points, @Salmonius, it's a silly psychological reaction. And yet... – Josh K Jul 30 at 14:50
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    @josh if you downvote 500 deserving answers I'll recompensate you with a 500 pt bounty – Double AA Jul 31 at 1:09
  • I'm honored you trust my judgement to that extent, @Double AA – Josh K Jul 31 at 6:12
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    @JoshK in fact, I'll also give you the 500 back, so you'll have incentive to downvote bad posts... – רבות מחשבות Aug 2 at 2:25
  • How exactly would this work, רבותי? (@Double AA & @רבות מחשבות ) – Josh K Aug 13 at 1:30
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    @JoshK comment here with the 500 links and I'll pick a post of yours to bounty. Same to anyone else. (If I trust you I'll consider waiving the link listing and revert to honors system) – Double AA Aug 13 at 2:37
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This is not necessarily a problem (in my unsourced opinion).

Consider the following possibilities:

  • You don't trust me to answer a question on my own but you do trust me to apply a source from one case to another?

  • You don't trust me to apply a source from one case to another but you do trust me to accurately summarize what a source actually says?

  • You don't trust me to accurately summarize what a source actually says but you do trust me to translate a source?

  • You don't trust me to translate a source but you do trust me that a translation I quote is an authoritative translation?

  • You don't trust me to quote an authoritative translation but you do trust me to quote someone authoritative certifying a translation as authoritative?

Where does it end? At some point you either have to trust me, or better yet, have to be somewhat skeptical of everything I say. Just like you should be skeptical if I say "There is a commandment of hearing Shofar" you should be skeptical if I say "Maimonides states that there is a commandment to hear the Shofar". Again, you should be skeptical if I say "Maimonides states in Hilchot Shofar 1:1 that there is a commandment to hear the Shofar", and you should still be skeptical if I say "Maimonides states in Hilchot Shofar 1:1 that there is a commandment to hear the Shofar: מצות עשה של תורה לשמוע תרועת השופר בראש השנה". And you should be skeptical if I say "Maimonides writes: מצות עשה של תורה לשמוע תרועת השופר בראש השנה - there is a positive command of the Torah to hear the blast of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah (my translation)".

In all of these cases you should check to the best of your ability to make sure that what I'm saying is correct. Your method of checking might be to consult someone else's translation, read the original passage, see what other users have commented or voted, etc. You should never accept something just because I claimed it.

Looked at in this light, there is not much difference between a sourced answer and an unsourced opinion. In the former you have to make sure that my answer accurately represents the source, and in the latter you have to check that my answer accurately represents Judaism. In either case, if what I wrote seems wrong you should downvote it and leave a comment explaining the problem.

Of course, answerers should as much as possible let readers know which parts of an answer need to be checked the most (e.g. by saying "this is my own application from one case to another"), but as long as an unsourced answer doesn't pretend to be an authoritative statement I don't see anything wrong with it.

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    But a sourced answer is somewhat easier to look into: you know where to look. (Of course, you still don't know whether the answerer accurately picked it as the right place to look. But still.) – msh210 Jul 31 at 2:57
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    None of this addresses the aspect of the question that focused on the user: what to do about a user who consistently answers unsourcedly. – msh210 Jul 31 at 2:58
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    If you misapply a source text, I can counter that, "No, Rashi does not state that Tehillim 90:5 "Shouvu benei adam" is actually a reference to people going back for thirds at the kosher Chinese buffet spot in Great Neck, rather, he ties it to repentence". If you simply state an incorrect opinon with no backup, "Some rabbis in ancient times said that we can just skip the story of Yosef in Egypt", what can I say to that? – Josh K Jul 31 at 6:21
  • @JoshK How do you know it’s incorrect? If you know everything that every ancient rabbi said then you can downvote and leave a comment saying that you know that no ancient rabbis said that. If you don’t know what every ancient rabbi said then you can ask the answerer to be more specific so that you will better be able to evaluate the claim. – Alex Jul 31 at 12:07
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    The issue is not whether posts' assertions are correct or not. It's whether posts are useful or not. Note the tooltips for upvoting and downvoting. Assertions of personal opinion, by themselves, generally provide very little value to readers and are therefore generally not good additions to our repository of Judaism Q&A. It is worthwhile to try to educate users and guide them toward providing more valuable posts and fewer value-less ones, in the interest of maximizing both the value-to-noise ratio of our content and the happiness of community-members in the community. – Isaac Moses Jul 31 at 17:58
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  • @IsaacMoses My point is that I don’t think this is a major problem that we need to “do something” about. If a post is not useful it can be ignored or downvoted. You can always comment if you think an answer is wrong, and you can always point out that sources would make an answer more useful. There are also some instances where sourceless answers are apparently useful (e.g. here where it’s highly upvoted and accepted). – Alex Jul 31 at 23:03
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    @Alex Whether there's a problem that needs to be addressed at the user-behavior-pattern level depends on the volume. – Isaac Moses Aug 1 at 2:15

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