Recently I have noticed a few suggested edits that included adding new information to an existing answer. Is that acceptable?

My intuition is that edits should not add new information that the author did not include -- because it may compromise the responsibility and trustworthiness. E.g. if a nonsensical edit is suggested and somehow passes the review, it will look as if the original answerer had this bad idea, while it actually belongs to the editor of the answer. I think that in such situations, a new answer should be posted instead, or perhaps a comment under the existing answer prompting the original answerer to update his answer accordingly (so that the original answerer can decide on it himself/herself).

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    $\begingroup$ If I feel unsure that an original author would have agreed with the addition (that is, the addition is non-trivial, and perhaps expresses a different slant than what the author may have intended) I tend to decline the suggested edit, then paste the suggestion into the comments so that readers can see it, and the author (if still active) can action it if they so desire. $\endgroup$
    – Silverfish
    Feb 25 '16 at 23:01

I'd say No in broad terms, but as usual much depends on the details.

Positively, substantial new information could help a thread considerably, but that should typically be added through comments or very possibly as part of an answer.

But what's substantial? For example, if someone edited a literature reference to add detail or to add a URL, that's an excellent contribution in my view. If the editor wanted to do that without claiming credit, that's fine too.

Negatively, the purpose of editing (see e.g. Editing questions: dos and don'ts) is essentially to clarify a question, including correcting trivial errors, but not to amplify it.

The possibility of a misguided or incorrect edit being accepted by mistake exists always, independently of this issue, and is to be matched by a rollback and/or further editing.

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    $\begingroup$ OK, I agree with you. Including a URL or fixing a reference list is not substantial, that is not what I had in mind. What I am concerned about is amplification. $\endgroup$ Feb 25 '16 at 12:55

I agree with @NickCox that as a general policy answer edits should only be "minor" (copy editing), i.e. improve grammar, fix spelling and LaTeX mistakes, format the quotes and code blocks, insert full references and hyperlinks to papers, etc.

Substantial (major) changes should not be made via edits; if you think that an answer is incorrect or not entirely correct, consider downvoting, and/or commenting, and/or posting an alternative answer.

However, I have encountered some situations where I think it is justified (with extreme care!) to violate this rule. For example, if a highly upvoted / accepted answer in a popular thread contains some sloppiness or misinformation and if the answerer is not with us anymore or simply does not react to the comments, it might be worth to edit. It is practically impossible for a new answer in such a thread to get more upvotes than an existing popular answer; and there might be so many comments already present that a new comment would not be very noticeable.

I did it a couple of times, e.g. with the accepted answer here: What are principal component scores?

Very rarely I have even decided to edit to improve an answer that was correct but I felt could be extended or clarified. E.g. the accepted answer here: PCA on correlation or covariance?

That said, I re-iterate: I do agree that our policy should remain that such edits are generally not allowed.

  • $\begingroup$ OK, that makes sense. $\endgroup$ Feb 25 '16 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ For my own opinion, I am mixed about this, & in particular making it a policy. I can see the argument, & how it may be worth doing under unusual circumstances. I would trust your judgment (& that of other regulars here who are well-steeped in CV) to do this reasonably, but I suspect it would ultimately get out of hand if more widely adopted & lead to charges of inconsistency / favoritism ('but so & so did it here'). $\endgroup$ Feb 26 '16 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ @gung, yes, I fully agree and I think I was very explicit in my answer that our general policy should not allow such major edits; they can sometimes (rarely) be a useful and a good thing to do but with much caution and only when one is willing to take full responsibility. I am not sure if the very presence of my answer here might make it seem as this is allowed more often than it really should be; perhaps it's better if we say that it is not allowed, period (leaving a possibility for anybody to transgress this rule if it seems really necessary). Do you think I should rather delete my answer? $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Feb 26 '16 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ ... If I delete it, it will only be visible for people with over 10k rep, which is perhaps a reasonable threshold for having demonstrated good judgment :) $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Feb 26 '16 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think you should delete. I might change your last sentence to be less ambiguous. Eg: 'I do agree that our policy should remain that such edits are not allowed'. Of course, it's your answer, so I'm not going to change it ;-). $\endgroup$ Feb 26 '16 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ I would suggest that one can always post a comment, and in so doing, either the original author will edit the text, or not, but the comment can help signal others where a correction may be a consideration, so, I do not see any upside to editing someone else's text. $\endgroup$
    – Carl
    Mar 7 '16 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Carl, if there are many comments there already, some of them upvoted, practically nobody will ever see such a correction. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Mar 7 '16 at 9:59

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