There are times when I answer here -- but, upon further reflection, it is clear that I'm not the best person to answer the question (because of lack of expertise or just confusion about the question). So I simply delete the answer. However, sometimes I feel this could be confusing to the person asking the question, as all of the commentary that goes with it also gets swept away.

Another issue is you can't leave a comment after which explains the reason for deletion.

Is there a best practice in this situation?


4 Answers 4


You can edit the answer at the top, saying you are no longer satisfied with it, explaining why, and then say you leave the old answer at the bottom for context (marking it well out). This or something like it is done multiple times at the site, but is difficult to search for ...

One example is at What's wrong with ''multiple testing correction'' compared to ''joint tests''? specifically the answer https://stats.stackexchange.com/a/229197/11887

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    $\begingroup$ I think that is probably the best solution. I'll go ahead and do that. Thanks. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ I also like this best. Documenting a wrong approach as such is valuable, especially if the answerer points out where they misunderstood or went astray. This may well save other people the time and trouble of making the same mistake. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 8:23

I'd divide up the territory, without claiming a complete analysis.

  1. An answer you now see as wrong should be deleted.

  2. An answer you now think is irrelevant possibly should be deleted. Irrelevance need not be a matter of blame: often it becomes clear that the original question was not really what most concerns the OP. But sometimes your interpretation of the question remains a possible interpretation for someone else. The OP owns the thread by being the only person who can "accept" an answer, but the OP lacks exclusive rights otherwise.

  3. An answer you now think is partial possibly should be deleted. Sometimes people fill in silence with what they know is incomplete but may still be helpful or interesting. But then better answers may appear. How far such an answer should have been a comment can be a delicate decision. For example, I will sometimes post a partial answer if I have comments and a graph.

  4. An answer you now think is redundant — because later answers are clearer, more comprehensive, or just better while not contradicting your own — possibly should be deleted. But answers can be complementary, a short and sweet answer being useful as well as a lengthier, fuller analysis.

The overall advice is easy — delete if you think that will improve the thread! But as you say deletion doesn't just remove (NB) an answer, it will remove (NB) any associated comments. In statistics it can be true that comments are about as valuable as answers, so thinking about the damage in removing comments is important too. (NB: "remove" is a simplification here, given that much material remains visible after deletion, depending on your reputation.)

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    $\begingroup$ This is the answer for reference. Not sure what the recommended action is here, but I followed the advice of Kjetil's answer: stats.stackexchange.com/a/626791/345611 $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ A short summary, unfortunately, is "It depends"! $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes it is valuable to preserve comments ---sometimes an answer is wrong, but supported by popular (and seemingly reasonable ...) arguments, then pointing out why they are wrong is valuable $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 15:23

Option: don't delete but add a disclaimer

If I feel that an answer is not great but still useful, (and sometimes even a wrong approach can be useful as we can learn from errors), then I leave the question undeleted with some disclaimer at the beginning.

Examples are:

  • Confused about the notion of overfitting and noisy target function https://stats.stackexchange.com/a/625733/

    Edit: Watching the video further, I see that they meant something else. I leave my answer anyway as a useful answer for people that land on this question and have a different interpretation of the question...

    Here I had a different interpretation but the answer is still useful as an approach to the different case. Since more people than only the original poster may have the same question, it can be useful to leave the answer for them.

  • Fitting an Orthogonal Grid to Noisy Points https://stats.stackexchange.com/a/581290/

    This answer is not a complete answer to the exact question but I leave it as it does explain some principles and works well in another related situation.

    Here I answered a question in a way that can be less easily generalized. I left the answer undeleted, because it could help with some intuition and because albeit the path approach not being the best, the question is usefull in explaining that less optimal path approach.

  • What is this "phenomenon" called? https://stats.stackexchange.com/a/401970/

    This answer is not a direct answer to your question, because it relates to a different cause of the pattern.

    This answer was not useful to the original example which had a different cause, but there are many people that may run into the problem with the cause that was dealt with by the answer.

Option: don't delete and add the old answer into the new answer

I am not a fan of it. This can lead to complex and confusing long posts.

I have an example here for the question What is the smallest $\lambda$ that gives a 0 component in lasso? and as you can see in the revisions I have been struggling with it having first deleted the old answer, then re-added it.

Option: delete the answer and leave a comment that explains the deletion.

Examples are:

Option: deletion with an edit/disclaimer in the question that explains the deletion.


deletion with an edit example

Here I had many and long comments which I placed in a deleted question. Possibly it could have been an undeleted question with some different formulation, but I regarded it as not an answer and just a hack to place a more advanced comment.

Option: deletion without any comments, edits, or explanations.

I have examples of this. It is not good practice.

Accepted answer that can't be removed

Here one might edit the question. Either with a small note or very rigorous like here:


alternative delete


In addition to other answers: if you delete or amend your answer because you found out it is incorrect, yet you are still unable to give a correct answer and the question remains unanswered, you could start a bounty on the question. It would help the OP getting an answer, and would make up for the possibly erroneous information you unfortunately temporarily spread.

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    $\begingroup$ That would be noble. In addition, the OP might think of offering a bounty if they had enough reputation. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 12:30

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