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Do mathematics researchers regularly solve problems like the ones from Project Euler? asks a very objective answer: is it possible to be a professional researcher working on topics similar to contest maths. There has been some good answers, stating that (to sum up very briefly), it could be possible, but hard (since it's quite hard to be a professional mathematician in general). In that regard, I believe it's a good question, that attracted good answers.

Now, this answer is more like a piece of advice, stating (again, summing up briefly) that one should keep an open mind, and that there are plenty of jobs where you can use critical thinking, citing a specific example of a programmer (even though the OP stated that he didn't fancy becoming a professional programmer). To be honest, I think it's a good piece of advice (but at the same time, it's very general, I don't see someone giving the advice of keeping a close mind ...), and would be a good comment, but it's too long to be a comment. This answer has been up voted several times (which is not surprising, it's a good piece of advice).

My question is the following one: what should we do with answers that do not answer directly the question but can still be seen as interesting?

If we allow them, then we take the risk to become a discussion board, where everybody comes to share their own experience, and discuss the question instead of answering. If we forbid them, then we could lose some useful content.

EDIT For that particular example, it's worth mentioning that the advice applies well to the particular situation of the OP (who is in high school), but wouldn't apply well (at least, in my opinion) to a 40 years old programmer who is tired of his job, and would like to know whether there is a possibility to live from something he enjoys doing (and the question, as it is now, would be a perfect fit for that situation too).

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what should we do with answers that do not answer directly the question but can still be seen as interesting?

I think due to the nature of our site (questions being mostly rather "soft", and advice-related more than asking for specific facts), we literally cannot strictly "forbid" what you call advice answers. Relatively often, we get questions that ask how to best do a specific X, where it is clear that X is something that the OP should really better not do. In these cases, strictly answering the question, without explaining that one should not do X but rather alternative Y, is a dis-service to the OP.

So, what I generally do when reading answers that don't really answer the question, is roughly the following:

  1. If the answer is still really good, I upvote it anyway.
  2. If the answer is still good, but more or less ignores the question, I don't vote up or down. Maybe I'll leave a comment.
  3. If the question asks for a very specific advice, which the poster ignores and berates him instead, of if the post seems like bad advice otherwise, I downvote and leave a comment.
  4. If the advice is just really bad and entirely misses the point, I downvote and flag as "Not an answer".
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I think this is something that hasn't been a big problem so far. For now, I'm content to let users flag answers they think aren't helpful or on-topic.

If we start getting a rash of unhelpful answers, we can revisit things. But for now, I don't see how a blanket policy—either restrictive or permissive—solves the problem.

  • I don't think it's a problem either (although I think I remember we discussed in the past about answers questions the question rather than addressing, but I can't really remember when), and I didn't flag this answer. I just wanted to know what the community was thinking rather than establishing a blanket policy :) – user102 Aug 27 '14 at 18:37

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