12
\$\begingroup\$

I (and presumably other users) have been discouraged by the answers given on EE that don't really answer the question but dispute the method/solution to the problem. For example, in this question the OP clearly already has a communications system developed and wants help making it robust, however, in this highly up-voted answer the question seems to be avoided and the answer is "you don't have enough knowledge/practice to do what you're doing so don't try". Granted this might be true and another solution might be more practical. The practical trouble is this: no real answer can be accepted since the original question is not answered. Someone who might have the expertise & need, who visits our site later on will glean no valuable information from this question only an answer with a lot of up-votes saying "don't try it rookie". I've had this problem with my own questions, for example here and here. Even in situations in which it is acknowledged that the proposed solution is most likely not the best solution, but other constraints apply, answers seem to consistently dispute and try to re-engineer the approach rather than aid the solution. I notice this more on the EE site over any other SE sites. Can anything be done to help avoid this? Is this a problem at all?

| |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ No surprises it was Olin's answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Rocketmagnet Oct 25 '11 at 11:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The majority of SE members are sheeple, and will high-five anyone who posts first or has a little gold circle and 5-digit rep next to their name, even if their content is flat-out wrong and misleading. \$\endgroup\$ – travisbartley Aug 9 '13 at 2:31
9
\$\begingroup\$

This is completely allowed and expected:

Is "Don't do it" a valid answer?

I wouldn't say it is encouraged, but you should always speak your mind and be honest (but civil) in your answers -- even if that's not what the asker necessarily asked for.

| |
\$\endgroup\$
5
\$\begingroup\$

Not all things are possible. How much the OP wishes they were possible or protests there not being alternatives is irrelevant.

How do I change a tire with this soup ladle? No, that's the only tool I have and I don't have time to run to the store to get something else. I need this tire changed now.

Then there are things that require too much knowledge and would be impossible to explain in the necessary depth in a post here.

My friend has these frequent headaches. I've heard snipping out the right part of the brain will help. How do I know which part is which, and what's the best style of wire cutters to use? Yes, I know everything needs to be sterile. Also, what's the best way to put the skull back together afterwards. I understand about stitching soft tissue, but couldn't find anything about stitching bone.

Certain things are over your head if you have to ask on a forum like this.

| |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ Strange. Must have missed that lobotomy question ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – stevenvh Sep 10 '11 at 12:09
  • 13
    \$\begingroup\$ @Olin re: "Certain things are over your head if you have to ask on a forum like this" - I've read that a few times in your answers, and it runs contrary to the goals of this site. It's true that university education and on-the-job experience are the traditional ways to learn Electrical Engineering and related fields, but they don't have to be the only way. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Sep 13 '11 at 13:02
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Stack Overflow has shown that software engineering can be taught to some degree in a Q&A format. You have 30,000 characters (about 10 pages of text) to express your answer, and are free to link in descriptive images, hyperlinks, and write equations. You're right, we can't teach a class or contain a degree in a single answer, but any properly focused question should be able to be covered in 30,000 characters. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Sep 13 '11 at 13:05
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ If a question is too broad to be answered, then say that it's too broad (Flag it! I'm perfectly willing to close these as "Not a real question - This question is ... overly broad ... and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form.") If a question is truly difficult, and not just overly broad, we want to answer it. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Sep 13 '11 at 13:09
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ "This is not possible" actually means that the answerer can't think of a solution. So, that begs the question: "Why is he answering?" \$\endgroup\$ – Rocketmagnet Oct 25 '11 at 12:04
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Rocket: Knowing something can't reasonably be done is useful information. Realizing that what you are trying to do is a lot more complicated and will take a lot more work than you think is also useful. Just because someone can ask something doesn't mean they can pull off a solution, at least with the level of help we can afford to provide here. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Oct 25 '11 at 12:41
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Olin: I disagree for two reasons. 1. The question in question was not asking something impossible. There are several effective solutions to it, which only require a moment's thought. 2. Not knowing that something is impossible is often the key to a breakthrough. \$\endgroup\$ – Rocketmagnet Oct 25 '11 at 13:15
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Olin: eskimo.com/~billb/weird/skepquot.html \$\endgroup\$ – Rocketmagnet Oct 25 '11 at 13:18
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @KevinVermeer: I completely agree that "Certain things are over your head if you have to ask on a forum like this" is absurd. On the other hand it's frequently the case that "Certain things are over your head based on the lack of fundamental knowledge exhibited in your question". For example if someone on math.se asked for a "simple" explanation of Euler's identity, because every explanation they've found is "complex". Olin just needs to find a different way to explain this, that highlights good next steps toward learning the requisite fundamentals. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Voigt Nov 1 '11 at 19:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @BenVoigt - I completely agree. I tried to explain this in my "If a question is too broad..." comment, but you've stated it well. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Nov 1 '11 at 22:06
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ There are of course many cases where a poster embarks on a course of action that isn't the most wise, and that is their right, just as it is the right of others to point out the problems with that course of action and recommend something more practical. However, making absurd analogies like this soup ladle line shows an insulting contempt for other's ideas and the role of mistakes in the learning process - most of the actual cases are merely suboptimal, not impossible. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Dec 31 '11 at 22:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Are there no questions whose only answers are physically impossible? I feel like suggesting an alternate path is appropriate in those cases. An explanation of what makes it impossible or impractical from your point of view would be helpful too. There doesn't need to be contempt in this sort of guidance. Some level of ignorance is impossible to avoid in the face of this level of complexity. Clearing up that ignorance is our purpose in communing here. We all have bad days, though. If you actually believe there are no stupid questions, you might learn something by trying to answer them. \$\endgroup\$ – Argyle Jan 9 '12 at 3:37
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @Josh: Of course there are stupid questions! \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jan 10 '12 at 23:22
4
\$\begingroup\$

This is a tricky question to answer. My view is that the person who asked the question has full power in these situations. By that I mean you have full right to down vote answers that don't answer your question, which you haven't seemed to have done in yours. And if your question still isn't answered then say so and try to clarify what you want.

Many times the best answer is "don't try it" and as long as there is good reasoning given behind that answer then I have no problem with it. In fact I would be there would be cases that someone would be happy they received that answer because they were not aware of certain issues.

For the specific case of the communication system question, Olin didn't specify any information as to why it was out of his league which doesn't help with learning much. So in this case I do have a problem with the answer.

| |
\$\endgroup\$
2
\$\begingroup\$

If the actual question is not answered, the poster is not obligated to accept any of the offered answers, no matter how much they are upvoted. If anyone starts to pressure them to do so with comments, they are free to point out with their own comment why the answers are not suitable for their purposes, or even just ignore them.

Certainly it could be wise to carefully read and contemplate comments from experienced engineers, but at the same time, answers that are arguably technically poor, off-target, or even simply insulting do occasional achieve undeserved vote totals. Voting up or down is ultimately an expression of personal opinion, and unlike voting to close it does not interfere with others' ability to express a contrary opinion or choose a different course of action.

And sometimes, the process of learning requires making your own mistakes, and learning from them.

| |
\$\endgroup\$
0
\$\begingroup\$

I think this is the difference between answering the asker's question, and provide a general solution which is useful for everybody. "Don't try it" may be useful for the asker, but not a general solution. General solutions can get upvotes, the solution to the asker's problem can get an accept.

| |
\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ General warnings "This may not be a good idea, because [...]. Here's a better alternative [...]." Have a long term value too. If it's useful for the asker (and fits the format of the board) it may be useful for somebody else too. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Alexeev Aug 11 '13 at 2:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe the bone of contention is questions that do not actually state a problem and ask for a solution, but that presuppose a solution that is simply not workable, and the OP is not willing to accept that the problem may be valid but the predicated solution is not. In such situations, "don't do this" is a legitimate answer and one that I would accept, especially if the answer adds "do this instead" \$\endgroup\$ – Anindo Ghosh Aug 22 '13 at 5:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .