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What is the ethical thing to do when you realize that your answer is wrong? Or someone pointed it out to you and you realize they are right? I'd delete it but I think it would be rude, especially if somebody posted a comment to it already. But then, I don't want the downvotes, too. What would be the ethical thing to do?

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    Deleting the answer would be in best interest of both you and the community. It would show that you have accepted your mistake and acknowledge it.
    – Mohit
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 8:34
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    @Mohit Why not... fix it?
    – badp
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 9:37
  • Yes, fix it when it can be. If it is outright wrong and doesn't "deserve" to be corrected, and particularly, if someone else has already provided the right answer, it makes more sense to delete it. Also, I am slightly against keeping the older version if indeed the edit situation happens. Edit the whole answer if you must, so that the future visitors don't get all confused up while searching for answers and visiting the site for the first time.
    – Mohit
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 10:09

3 Answers 3

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If I realize my answer is incorrect, I might delete it. However, if it's already started a conversation that may prove useful to future visitors, I'm more likely to edit it instead of deleting it.

If a comment to the question won't make sense after I've fixed my answer, then I might decide to leave the error in the answer, and then make an edit underneath.

Let's say I made the following erroneous post:

One of the most famous pangrams in English is:

  • The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog.

And then somebody (probably Robusto; he's got a keen eye for such things), might say:

@J.R. But there's no "s" in that! – Robusto

At that point, I have two options. I could reply with a comment, and edit the question as well. The end result might look like this:

One of the most famous pangrams in English is:

  • The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.

@J.R. But there's no "s" in that! – Robusto
@Robusto: Oops! Thanks for pointing that out. Now it's fixed. – J.R.

Or I could edit the question with an addendum:

One of the most famous pangrams in English is:

  • The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog.

EDIT: I got the tense of that verb wrong, and messed up my pangram. It should read:

  • The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.

@J.R. But there's no "s" in that! – Robusto
@Robusto: You're right; I've edited my answer. – J.R.

As for which option is best, you have to decide that on a case by case basis. I try to make sure it will be easy for future visitors to follow the dialog and figure out what happened, thereby keeping the usefulness of the site as a whole as the primary consideration.

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  • Nice answer. This culture should be followed in any SE site.
    – Mistu4u
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 14:58
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In the past I have deleted answers (including questions which had been upvoted) when it became apparent that they were wrong or misleading. Recently however, I decided to leave an answer in place, because the comments contained substantive discussion which I thought would be of value to future readers; in this case, I edited the answer to include an explicit retraction in boldface.

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  • I've done the same before when my misunderstanding was something that was likely to be be repeated by someone else because "no that's not a valid example of the subject" was valuable information to have paired with the question. Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 16:17
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From the other side of the fence. In addition to the above, when pointing out someone's slip, it's helpful to keep that separate to other discussion in comments. This allows for non-destructive deleting of your finger pointing after the answerer has made their correction.

This is the sort of thing it's worth trying to avoid:

Do you think this rule applies in all cases (btw, there's a typo in 'adjective') or only when the adjectival form is used?

Because you can delete comments after five minutes, but can't edit them, I try to keep the adminstrivia to its own PS: in your second example there's a typo in 'adjective' comment

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