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Being a peer-reviewed question and answer site sounds really good on paper (and works fantastic on Stack Overflow, where I am a major contributor). Unlike SO, where answers can be verified in a timely fashion (does it compile? does it look the way you expect? etc.), many questions require a significant amount of time before they can be verified (behavior or training related). Answers containing misinformation can be backed up by incorrect sources just as easily as correct answers can be backed up by good sources.

Related: Why should I back up my answer with references?

My primary concern is over questions related to dog behavior. Everyone and their mom knows Cesar Millan. His show, The Dog Whisperer, is all about helping dogs with behavioral problems. As a celebrity dog psychologist (note: not a dog trainer or behaviorist), he has more credibility than he deserves. He has a cult following and any professional (trainer, behaviorist, veterinarian, etc.) who speaks out against him is accused of being jealous or wrong or whatever.

None of these sources are as sexy as Cesar Millan, despite having science to back them up.

  • 1
    Very good question. As a moderator, I have to be careful not to be seen to be using my position for my own advantage in these sort of situations, so I need to tread carefully. However, the concern is valid, especially when dealing with behavior modification or medical advice. – John Cavan Nov 27 '13 at 14:18
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    LOL @ comment meta concept : moderator inferring not dominating / abusing position in a question where dominating is debatable as not the correct answer. – JoshDM Nov 27 '13 at 19:27
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    @cimmanon - if you have an issue with a reference provided for an answer, and you can't find (or don't care to find) an alternative, downvote, then post a comment similar to "-1; please cite an additional reference from a reputable secondary source and downvote will be removed". Then, make sure you practice proper follow-up. – JoshDM Nov 27 '13 at 19:32
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I fear it will be very difficult to clearly define a policy for answers which contain "misinformation", as this site falls into the category of SE sites that tolerates some degree of subjective content.

Using your specific examples, I'd hesitate to automatically call anything referencing Cesar Millan's beliefs about dominance "misinformation".

While I agree wholeheartedly that the relevance of dominance is overblown in the vast majority of canine behavior issues, and I agree with the sentiment and conclusions of each of the four links you provided, they can't be taken as conclusive "fact" that anything disagreeing with those views is "wrong".

The first link makes repeated mention that there is disagreement in the training community. The second is a list written apparently from the perspective of responding to assumptions from pet owners, not professional pet trainers (although those pet owners may have very well picked up the assumptions from pet trainers). The third link, in my personal opinion, extrapolates a bit too much from the single referenced study. The fourth seems to be largely opinion (albeit very articulate and well-informed opinion).

Again, though, my intent in pointing this out is not to disagree with the messages those links are communication (I happen to agree with them), but merely to point out that there may be valid reasons why someone else might disagree.

This means that options which require an objective judgement, like flagging for moderator deletion, is somewhat impractical.

Which brings us back to the primary question: what should we do when we see an answer which contains information we believe to be incorrect?

There are three things each individual can do.

  1. Provide your own answer to communicate what you believe to be the correct information (don't do this last one if you only want to address points that are tangential to the original question, though; e.g. don't post a new answer just to explain why "dominance" is not the answer to "why is my dog peeing on the floor?", unless you can also provide an alternative answer to "dominance").
  2. Down-vote.
  3. Provide a comment politely pointing out your specific concerns and/or alternate viewpoint. Do not get dragged into an extended discussion on the topic in comments, though. If you really need to get into a debate, bring it to chat immediately (i.e. as soon as someone tries to counter or dispute your first comment).

Options #1 and/or #2 are preferable, and play to the fundamental mechanics of the SE platform. Comments are the least attractive option, as they frequently wind up encouraging debate (a.k.a. "unwanted noise"), but may be appropriate, particularly if you'd just like to provide a link to an alternate viewpoint, such as the examples above.

  • If Cesar was just another trainer and not someone who has book deals, a reality TV show, and their own line of dog accessories, this particular problem probably wouldn't exist. My down-vote is just a drop in the bucket compared to upvoters who see fame as meaning the same thing as authoritative. – cimmanon Nov 27 '13 at 16:11
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    Ultimately, you have to trust good content to float to the top, and bad content to sink to the bottom. We can't start deleting things that we think are wrong, though, and we shouldn't allow debates on controversial topics. Which leaves the suggestions Monica and I have put forth. – Beofett Nov 27 '13 at 16:15
  • Thank you for this answer. There are no absolute truths or absolute fallacies in dog training. Dog trainers do not universally agree or disagree on some of Cesar Milan's tactics. Extremist views cannot be given special case to bypass the democratic process of this site. – maple_shaft Dec 3 '13 at 12:17
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This answer is about the general "misinformation" part of your question. (I don't know enough about dog behavior to evaluate your specific example.)

This is a problem faced on many of the "squishier" Stack Exchange sites. You can't compile and unit-test an animal behavior, a biblical interpretation, a narrative style, or an HR policy. Better answers show their work (how do we know you're right?), but many fail to do so or use bad sources.

The tools available for these cases are:

  • comments explaining what the problem is
  • downvotes
  • edits (if you can fix the problem and it won't be controversial, which may be a hard call)
  • write a better answer (can combine with commenting)

If it isn't an answer then there's a flag for that, but if it does attempt to answer the question but it's just a bad answer, that's not mod-deletable. In egregious cases you can try to mount community support for deletion; eventually we'll have enough users who can vote to delete posts that the mods wouldn't need to be involved, but we're not there yet.

Note: on some sites moderators delete comments even though the issues they raise haven't been addressed (usually because the answerer disagrees with the criticism). I feel we need to be careful to preserve comments like that, as they are an important clue for readers. A user may not be able to write a better answer but may still know that an answer is dangerous.

  • In general, I think we try to keep comments that are relevant to hold on to. For the most part, deletion of them is a result of flag indicating it has become obsolete. – John Cavan Nov 27 '13 at 18:16
  • @John yup, I haven't seen this be a problem on this site. (I've seen it be a big problem on one other, hence my cautionary note.) – Monica Cellio Nov 27 '13 at 19:22
  • I don't think it's a big problem here either, There are differences of opinion, but that can be a good thing. – user87 Nov 28 '13 at 14:50
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Instead of arguing in the comments, chat or meta, I recommend people post an alternate answer. Simple.

Peer review is only as good as the group or peers reviewing.

Some of what I was taught at university over 2 decades ago has become unpopular or been debunked, much of it has remained the same. I choose to research the new theories and make informed decisions about whether I choose to follow them, or accept the debunking.

It is like research on vitamin c and the common cold, there is research both proving it helps the common cold and that it makes no difference. Scientific research is just that, research. The only real truth about science is, it is a growing subject, it is not static. What people will believe to be the latest or ground breaking research today, generations will look back upon and think were backward.

Not all progress is a movement forward. Many people have much to gain by creating new popular theory and people need to be mindful of this also.

I remember thinking that there were many farming practices that were inhumane when I studied vet and I didn't return for second year. Years later people are now rallying about many of the practices, that to me back then, were obviously inhumane. The problem is, popular opinion is not always the best opinion and there is no way around this, it is the human condition. We will not all agree or subscribe to the same theories. We can only trust that there is enough intelligence and expertise on the site to maintain good standards and produce a good flow of ideas, as you have done in posing such a question.

The thing that will happen, the site will grow and perhaps achieve something a little better than the average (like Stack Overflow), or it will be average and not attract or maintain people who are interested in raising the bar.

This may seem like an offbeat answer, but if you think about it, the question is a philosophical one really, as who determines what is right? I have never seen Cesar, I do not agree with many of the current ideas on dog training and yet, with have successfully taught puppy training classes and obedience trained dogs. Does this mean I am right? This is one person's education and experience.

One thing I do know, is; it becomes tiring arguing over differences, and the community will not thrive on this. Reiterating, people will think what they want to think and vote the way they want to vote. Arguing over behavioral theories and what is appropriate is only turning people away from the site. The site is new and needs supportive voting and feedback, not a people being jumped on with debate or criticism. There are many devoted Stack users on this site, but really we have to ask, is this going to attract a passer by to stop and ask a question? Do we need people jumping on each post, asking for justifications over which links have been used or asking for citations and proof? To my way of thinking, to a google passer by, it might be too hard to want to actually post here, if that were to continue (and it has died down a lot). Instead of arguing in the comments, I recommend people post an alternate answer. Simple. This way the OP is presented with more than one idea, and that is a good thing. The more perspectives the better.

Sometimes people just have to agree to disagree. Unfortunately, only time will tell if there are enough community minded people who will vote according to merit, as opposed to personal feelings, whether it be about a theory, person (on or off the site) or own vested beliefs.

This is also, an unfortunate side effect of the gamification and competitive side effect of Stack Exchange. It works well to motivate people, but can have a backlash in some people begrudging voting, for fear of pushing other users higher in the rep count. This interferes to a small extent with how information is floated (in terms of popularity). Once again, this is a fact of life. We are dealing with human beings and it is impossible to have any system free from corruption (as in corruption of data).


TLDR

It's easy to be an arm chair critic. Rather than complain, post a better answer :)

  • Ha, reading these answers one by one I ended up with upvoting them all :) About science I have an example. During the WW2 heroin was just another painkiller. Now it is a dreaded drug. – Esa Paulasto Dec 11 '13 at 17:39

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