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Recently a question was posted on MathOverflow, which received (I think) more than an average number of upvotes. There was an answer to the question, by someone other than the OP. Next day, the question was deleted by the author (without me seeing any reasons for that), and the answer got thereby deleted as well. I then looked at the OP's page, and he seemed to have gotten a "Disciplined" badge for this action!

It does not seem right to me when a person can so easily delete others' work. Moreover, this seems to contain a serious potential for abuse. E.g., it is easy for one to get an email account, open a new MathOverflow account with it, post a question, get an answer, then delete both, and retain and use the undocumented answer.

I am not sure what would be a good way to deal with this problem. I know that, e.g., once a paper appeared on arXiv, it may be withdrawn but never deleted (as I recall, arXiv says it is done in the interests of good scholarship). Of course, SE's goals and operating model are different from arXiv's.

Yet, I think something should be done to prevent the OP from being able to delete others' work, whether in answers or comments.

Perhaps, more radically, deletions may be abandoned altogether (with poor, inappropriate questions to be placed into some special places, such as the bottom of the list, or into specially labeled folders).

Or am I missing something?

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    $\begingroup$ Just two points: firstly, questions with answers with score $>0$ cannot be deleted unilaterally by the OP; secondly, nothing is really deleted -- i.e. deleted questions and answers remain visible for users with at least 10000 points. $\endgroup$ – Stefan Kohl Apr 10 '16 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ If you remember anything specific about the question (e.g., number, URL, user who posted it, identifying phrases in it) you can try to contact the site moderators via a flag who may deem it appropriate to simply undelete it. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Apr 10 '16 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ Even the rough date or time of the post would be helpful. $\endgroup$ – S. Carnahan Apr 11 '16 at 3:03
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    $\begingroup$ Also, something not entirely dissimilar came up on Meta Stack Exchange recently, and there's a chance that the rules about self-deleting answered questioned will be tightened up across the network. Read through this question and its answers, and vote where appropriate: Should heavily-edited answers block self-deletion of questions? $\endgroup$ – user642796 Apr 11 '16 at 10:09
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Here is a specific example

Embed a bordered Riemann surface into punctured Riemann surfaces?

The user apparently asked only one question, it scored 4 and was deleted 2 minutes after I entered the answer.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you. I undeleted and upvoted your answer. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Apr 13 '16 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you Alexandre for providing a good example. $\endgroup$ – Iosif Pinelis Apr 13 '16 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Todd, here's another question that was asked, answered, and deleted by the person asking. mathoverflow.net/questions/235944/… $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Apr 14 '16 at 0:25
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson Thanks; I took care of it the same way. (But if this is a very common trend, then there should be a little more community oversight, along the lines of reopening closed questions, perhaps.) $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Apr 14 '16 at 0:46
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you Gerry for providing another such example. $\endgroup$ – Iosif Pinelis Apr 14 '16 at 3:43
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    $\begingroup$ I think these examples do show that there is an issue to be answered. And I tend to agree that, once an answer is given, a question author should lose the right to delete their question. $\endgroup$ – Lasse Rempe-Gillen Apr 17 '16 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ I agree: there should be a rule that if the question has >0 up votes, and answers, it should not be deleted. $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Apr 18 '16 at 11:58
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What Stefan wrote in his comment is germane: if an answer has a positive net score, then the OP cannot delete the post: How can I delete my post on Stack Overflow?. Moreover: the moderators get a lot of requests from OP's to delete their posts in such cases, and usually (in fact, almost always) the request is rejected, largely because of what you say: people do put time and effort into answering. Also, not only does deletion entail removal from view for those with less than 10k rep, but also rep accrued from posts is typically nullified by deletion (the link below gives more info on this). Occasionally the OP has a compelling reason for wanting deletion though.

For more information on the mechanics of deletion, see this post: How does deleting work? What can cause a post to be deleted, and what does that actually mean? What are the criteria for deletion?

In cases of repeated self-deletion, or 'vandalizing' one's post when deletion doesn't work, moderators may send a private message to warn against such behavior, sometimes accompanied by a suspension.


This may be repetitious, but I mentioned this meta concern to the SE Community team, and one of them wrote back with this:

The reason is simple: folks often write stuff without realizing it's worthless until after they've posted it. IOW, the same reason why we allow authors to delete their answers (unless those answers are "accepted").

Over the years, we've added a lot of restrictions to this for question authors, bringing us to where we are now: no more than 1 answer, which can't score more than 0. I tend to think of this as a balancing act: loosening these restrictions allows (formerly allowed) a lot more of this sort of abuse; restrict it too much and you put folks in the position where they can't remove an obviously-unwise question even as it attracts useless answers.

If you see it being abused, don't ever hesitate to undelete such questions.

So they've tinkered with this over the years, and I think they consider it something like throwing a baby out with the bathwater if the restrictions were made any tighter than they are now.

The best thing to do, if you see a question with answer being deleted which is actually usefu, to our attention by raising a flag.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. In the case I briefly described, the question (and thus the answer) seem to have been deleted very quickly, possibly before the answer had a chance to get an upvote. In any case, even an answer with no upvotes may have value for the OP, which may easily exceed the value of the points he could lose with the deletion (in that case, the OP didn't seem to lose any points, and he even got a badge). Also, I think there are rather few users with $\ge10$K rep. I would like to hear why deletions cannot be abandoned and replaced by other measures, such as I suggested. $\endgroup$ – Iosif Pinelis Apr 10 '16 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to take a guess, which I think is the norm in these cases, that OP was simply embarrassed by the question and 'got out' while it was still possible. This by SE standards is justifiable if the post adds nothing of value (in this case, in the eyes of the OP). In view of this general standard, I'd be leery of proposing your suggestion. But if you honestly believe a user is intentionally gaming the system (e.g., getting an answer quickly to a homework problem and violating an honor code), I think it would be better to bring this to moderator attention via a flag. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Apr 10 '16 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry Todd, I don't know how to flag a nonexistent (to my view) post. I believe (as, apparently, did other upvoters) that the question I mentioned was interesting and nontrivial,nothing like a homework problem. I still don't understand how one's deleting an answer to his question, even if it has not been upvoted (yet), can be justifiable. $\endgroup$ – Iosif Pinelis Apr 11 '16 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ You can also write the moderators (moderators@mathoverflow.net) if you have some information which can be used to identify the post, along the lines of what arjafi suggested above. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Apr 11 '16 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ @IosifPinelis You don't have to flag the post in question. You could even flag your own question above and use an "in need of moderator attention" comment to explain the situation. (There are no repercussions to simply having had some of your posts flagged.) Using the information from your question, I believe I've narrowed the "suspects" to only a short list, but I personally cannot see anything or do anything about it. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Apr 11 '16 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the additional comments. I still don't understand why the OP should ever be allowed to delete others' work. More generally, I still don't understand why deletions cannot be abandoned altogether and replaced by other measures, such as I suggested. $\endgroup$ – Iosif Pinelis Apr 11 '16 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ How do I find a deleted question? As a user with $\ge 10K$ reputation I can see those, but have trouble finding them. Where are they kept? $\endgroup$ – Igor Belegradek Apr 13 '16 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ @IgorBelegradek Have a look at meta.stackexchange.com/questions/117892/… $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Apr 13 '16 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ Related feature-request on meta.SE: Disallow deletion of questions for 24 hours after last answer was posted $\endgroup$ – Ilmari Karonen Apr 15 '16 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if it would make sense to have a policy where in order to delete an answered question with 0 upvotes, the OP would put in a request, which would be acted upon once the answerer approved the request. $\endgroup$ – Anthony Quas Apr 17 '16 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ @AnthonyQuas: I don't see much point to that, as opposed to just making zero-score answers block deletion outright. If there's a single answer preventing your question from being deleted, and you think the answerer would agree with the deletion, you can already contact them via comments and ask them to delete their own answer. $\endgroup$ – Ilmari Karonen Apr 19 '16 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ @IlmariKaronen: what you're proposing sounds like an indirect way of implementing what I am suggesting in a direct way. $\endgroup$ – Anthony Quas Apr 20 '16 at 4:10
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    $\begingroup$ Just one additional point: it has happened to me once, a while ago, and I don't actually remember, when and where. I was taking some time to prepare an answer to a question, and when I wanted to type it in, the question was gone. So I have wasted some time. For the OP, this is a matter of netiquette. Whenever a question might just have a sensible answer (i.e., one cannot prove there is none), it is always better to improve the question or at least edit and say I don't really need an answer any more at the very beginning. $\endgroup$ – Sebastian Goette Apr 21 '16 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ It might be reasonable to enforce a timelag: the OP could request deletion and if there is no answer yet, then this would be automatically granted, solving the "I just realised I asked a silly question" problem. However, if there is already an answer with no upvotes, then it would only be granted two or three days after the answer was given, and only if it still doesn't have any upvote by then. $\endgroup$ – Martin Hairer Apr 21 '16 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ A time-lag could be workable too. However, I think a case can be made that, if you asked a silly question, and someone has taken the time to provide an answer to said question, you shouldn't be able to delete. $\endgroup$ – Lasse Rempe-Gillen Apr 22 '16 at 10:35

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