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I've been informed by @whuber that a comment I made on over a year ago about a topic that is still important and contentious to the Cross Validated community will be deleted. Moreover, he notified me that my other comments on the topic under discussion may be subject to deletion.

Although I appreciate that notice was given, I question the appropriateness of the decision. Specifically, I hold that regardless of whether you agree with my comment or its accuracy, as a matter of principle comments should not be deleted by moderators so long as they comport with what we consider to be acceptable user behavior.

Although I agree that my comment is pointed, it is not so uncivil as to run afoul of requirement to 'be nice'. Moreover, in my opinion it is honest. I fully allow that others may have a differing opinion... that is their right. However, it seems that if my comments are viewed as 'misinformation' that then the guidelines would suggest that the appropriate response is to "vote it down. Add comments indicating what, specifically, is wrong. Provide better answers of your own" - not to delete it.

Three questions arise in this post.

  1. Is it appropriate for a mod to delete a comment that they believe to be potentially confusing to others?
  2. Is it appropriate for a mod to delete a comment that they believe pulls up old discussions on settled matters? [As a matter of evidence supporting the view that it is not appropriate I would note that the very topic under discussion in those comments represent an old discussion on settled matters being dredged back up and a different conclusion being reached.]
  3. In specific regard to this item, is it acceptable to delete it? That is, is it sufficiently confusing, is it bringing up an old discussion on a settled matter, or uncivil as to warrant deletion?
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    $\begingroup$ As a general reminder, comments on stackexchange sites should be considered temporary and disposable. They have no revision history, may be deleted without warning by author, moderator, or after flag review, and have no direct effect on reputation. Contributors intending to add to discussion in a more lasting manner should do so through the editing or creation of a post. See stats.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/comment, meta.stackexchange.com/q/19756, and meta.stackoverflow.com/q/255821. This very comment should probably be in a post rather than a comment. $\endgroup$ – jthetzel Jun 17 '14 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ Just because the software allows for deletion doesn't mean they should be deleted. The software also disallows editing after a period of time, so they are relatively permanent. $\endgroup$ – russellpierce Jun 17 '14 at 16:52
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    $\begingroup$ @rjpierce: "Just because the software allows for deletion doesn't mean they should be deleted." True, but the established precedent on stackechange sites is that comments should be made under the presumption that they may be deleted at any time without warning and will not be around forever. See "When should comments be deleted" section of the StackExchange FAQ on comments. $\endgroup$ – jthetzel Jun 17 '14 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ No intention of being argumentative, just drawing the attention of future viewers to settled StackExchange policy regarding comment deletion. $\endgroup$ – jthetzel Jun 17 '14 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/2072/… ; policy appears flexible across the entire cross exchange space ... and that may be a good thing. $\endgroup$ – russellpierce Jun 17 '14 at 17:52
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To those who might just be jumping in here, please note that the thread in question is our list of alternative internet resources that we maintain to help those with software-specific questions. It is not an ordinary meta discussion. In this light, I think the answers to the three questions are simple and obvious:

  1. Yes, it can be appropriate for mods to delete irrelevant, tangential, or distracting comments (see #2 below): since only mods have the privilege to delete comments, the burden of cleaning up comments falls on them alone.

  2. This depends on context. In the current context, the comment was clearly out of place and detracted from a thread intended to serve as a resource for many visitors and not as a meta discussion.

  3. See (2).

Please note that comments cannot be voted down, so the proposed correction for misleading or "misinformative" comments is inapplicable. In the present case, adding more comments would only further detract from the mission of the thread. That is why the comment section will shortly be cleaned up.

I would also suggest--and I think this is evident to all--that "being nice" is not the sole guiding principle of our site, although it is a fundamental one. Others that are equally important include maintaining useful and clear information. (In the present situation there is no conflict among these principles: as far as I know, there is nothing posted in the thread in question that violates the norms of courtesy.) One reason that extensive privileges to curate the site are granted to high-rep users and moderators is that some judgment is needed in balancing these principles. In the present case, though, given the very special nature and status of the thread in question (it is explicitly linked from our help system, for instance) I think there ought to be no controversy about deleting any off-topic comment in that thread. Those who have a taste for discussion can always start new meta threads like this one or create a chat room.


Because the comment in question has since been deleted by its owner, and Nick Cox has rightly pointed out that this discussion would be difficult to follow without it, I will quote it in full for the record:

I see this is where by fiat it was decided that the purpose of the site should be changed. Despite the claim that it didn't really reach a conclusion, the final moderation there was 6 in favor of keeping such questions on the site and 3 against.

Although I respect and appreciate the motivation for raising issues about the purpose of the site and how that purpose is decided, I felt that bringing them up in a place dedicated to redirecting newcomers was inappropriate, so I responded:

In the interests of avoiding any confusion here--where your comment does not really belong--I feel obliged to point out that it misrepresents the conclusions of the discussion I linked to. The present thread achieved nothing "by fiat" and it certainly did not unilaterally change any policies on our site, as you seem to intimate. This thread is offered as a service to our community, not to dredge up old discussions. After a brief interval I will, therefore, delete both your comment and this one (and any others on this subject that might appear).

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    $\begingroup$ Clear and understandable answer. In that case I have no problem with the deletion of the offending topic and subsequent clarification comments once I've had a chance to offload that knowledge to one of the threads in that historical context. $\endgroup$ – russellpierce Jun 17 '14 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ I am happy with this outcome and would be pleased to wait until that happens before I take any action with the comments. Thank you for your gracious understanding. $\endgroup$ – whuber Jun 17 '14 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ This discussion is pleasantly civil and the outcome looks very satisfactory. However, as the comment in question is now deleted, most users have no way to judge whether or to what extent it was inappropriate. I am not asking for it to be reinstated, but just pointing out that we can only judge this discussion in abstract generality, whereas it is the concrete detail that would allow the comment to be regarded as a test case. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Jun 17 '14 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Nick I have edited my answer to provide that context. $\endgroup$ – whuber Jun 17 '14 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks personally and behalf of others for those changes. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Jun 17 '14 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ I would note that while I have once or twice raised concerns about what I see as some drift in the line beyond which questions involving programming are closed, I think it may be more an issue of users with the reputation to do so more frequently nominating closure (most especially when first gaining that privilege - and for which I must accuse myself as much as anyone), assuming I am not mistaken. I don't see a substantial movement in the actions of individual moderators, nor evidence of anything happening by fiat. $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Jun 18 '14 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ As everyone participating here knows, it takes the votes of possibly 5 members to get closure; in many recent cases of closure of software-related questions the requirement for 5 has been made unnecessary by the vote of a moderator. The issue revolves around how to interpret a stated policy and some of us draw the line in slightly different places. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Jun 18 '14 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Glen_b: The entire discussion is moot. Nevertheless, perhaps we disagree about what constitutes a by fiat change - but I think we agree about the actual mechanism that sets where this line is (after accounting for the detail mentioned by Nick Cox). $\endgroup$ – russellpierce Jun 18 '14 at 10:33
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps 'De facto' would be better than 'fiat'? $\endgroup$ – russellpierce Jun 18 '14 at 11:09

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