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This question is related to Answering etiquette

After a helpful answer and some helpful comments to my other question, I realize I need to articulate an additional question.

On the flip side (and this is what motivated my inquiries):

Suppose I have written a careful answer to a question. It gets several upvotes. Then someone with a fancy academic position and a massive reputation score comes along and writes an answer which is (in my opinion, of course!) essentially equivalent to mine. His style is more authoritative than mine, but we are using the same logic and reach the same conclusion. Neither one of us cites any links. His answer gets upvoted like crazy. Is there anything I can do about it? Can I at least take the moral high ground in my own thinking? Or is this a perfectly ethical artifact of the SE system? Do I just need to be patient and slowly amass more points?

(Please note, I do realize there may be more differences between our answers than what I myself was able to perceive. But I'm trying to figure out how things work here, so for the sake of argument, could you please try to give an answer based on my premise? Thanks.)

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Due to the nature of the topic there are always going to be bigger reputation effects on this site than many other stackexchange sites. This isn't like StackOverflow, where there is often a "right" answer that you can check works correctly. A lot of the questions here deal with cultural customs, traditions, expectations, etc. that don't have verifiable answers. It's very possible to have two well-written and sensible answers, but still have one of them be completely wrong just because it isn't "how it's done" in academia.

In this situation, that "fancy academic position" and "massive reputation score" are the best indicators we have that the person answering is actually knowledgeable about the topic. If I see two functionally identical answers, but one is from someone unknown and the other is from a known academic who has a history of giving reliable information, the latter actually is more helpful.

Of course, there are other etiquette methods around this. Perhaps high-rep users should focus on +1-type comments on good answers from less-known users in these kinds of situations; giving a seal of approval instead of writing another answer with similar content (in fact, I think this is already done to some extent, and I rarely see a redundant answer like you describe from a high-rep user).

In general though, I don't think the hypothetical you describe happens that often. Well-written and well-researched answers usually rise to the top regardless of the author. If anything, timing tends to have more of an effect than author (a well-known SE bias, early answers quickly rise to and stay at the top).

  • It's only happened to me once, but I took it harder than I might have if the person who wrote the functionally equivalent answer hadn't written something extremely rude about me previously. I would suggest that "high-rep users should focus on +1-type comments on good answers from less-known users" be added to the SE documentation. I'm not sure how to make this suggestion formally. – aparente001 May 20 '15 at 21:20
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    @aparente001 Making a post on the meta is how you propose it to the community. If it's widely accepted and possible to do then it will probably be implemented. However, I personally think this is a pretty niche issue that doesn't have that big of an impact, and almost certainly isn't worth formalizing anywhere. – Roger Fan May 20 '15 at 21:23
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I do not know what specific answer you are referring to, I am only addressing the hypothetical situation you have described.

Per What are we generally looking for in answers, one thing we look for is:

A fresh take on a question

so yes, users are encouraged to post answers that add new information.

However, you mentioned "someone with a fancy academic position and a massive reputation score." Note that another thing some people look for in answers is

A user that, based on her/his bio and SE habitus, seems trustworthy to answer the question

With the following rationale:

given that we usually deal with rather subjective topics, I usually take into account who posts an answer if it goes against my own opinion or seems counter-intuitive. Yes, that's unfair towards new users, but I have certainly seen new users post, well, stupid things much more frequently than high-rep users, who, often, also happen to be senior academics.

Regarding "Is there anything I can do about it?" - I can't think of anything in the hypothetical case. In a specific case, there might be something you can do to engender trust in your answer - for example, you could mention (in your answer or your bio) the relevant experience you have that qualifies you to answer the question authoritatively.

  • Oh dear. It sounds like I can't even take the moral high ground... but thanks for answering. – aparente001 May 20 '15 at 17:28
  • This was helpful, thanks. – aparente001 May 20 '15 at 21:17

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