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Consider this question:

Are you allowed to withdraw from 401k for no reason if leaving the company?

and the ongoing chat about the correctness of the currently top-rated answer:

http://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/42516/discussion-on-answer-by-littleadv-are-you-allowed-to-withdraw-from-401k-for-no-r

The question here should be a straight question of fact. There's no real opinion involved - Either the law requires plan sponsors to allow participants to get out or it doesn't. There are two answers that differ on which is allowed. For sure, one or the other is factually wrong. "Voting" is not going to resolve this in general.

Whether or not it's elevated the correct answer in this case is mostly beside the point for this meta question. On the other hand, this specific question is a good case study, IMO, because

  • User Chris has taken some effort to provide evidence for his position, which is the answer with many fewer votes
  • The "other side" is a high "rep" user and a moderator, who have ("High Rep User") essentially called Chris stupid ("I'm not here to teach you to read, if you're more than 3 years old that ship has sailed.") and have ("moderator") told Chris that he must be wrong because high rep users on this site haven't heard of this ("I guess what I am stuck on is the idea that if this were true, wouldn't we have seen it?"). (In light of the comment, I want to be clear that's two different things done by two different users.)
  • This dynamic, IMO, is consistently repeated on this site, which has a strong tendency toward "the community" self-reinforcing its own idiosyncrasies and bullying users who (with evidence on questions of fact!) don't go along with the high-rep users / moderators.

Sub-questions:

  • What other mechanism is there for resolving such issues here? Should something like this be elevated to the SE ownership?
  • Do members of this community care that factually wrong answers will at least occasionally get elevated, or is that just considered a possible consequence of free, online help?
  • In the case where a answer is clearly wrong as a matter of fact, are the moderators expected and/or obligated to delete it? In a case like this where one must be wrong but they are no sure which, how to proceed?
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    brick, I'd be happier to see your second bullet broken into two. I have not called anyone stupid, nor implied that. I didn't answer the question myself as I believe that @littleadv has the right answer. The two answers below address the issue of removing wrong answers. More than anything, I find it remarkable that no one else has been able to provide independent confirmation for the other answer. I really hope you don't leave us, based on this one disagreement. – JoeTaxpayer Jul 19 '16 at 12:02
  • @JoeTaxpayer I'll edit the paragraph, as you suggested, since as you correctly point out here the insult and the appeal to authority were separate things done by separate people. – user32479 Jul 19 '16 at 13:19
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    The decision to leave is not based on a disagreement on a single answer but a belief developed over time that this topic area is not well-suited to this format and that there's consistency in the problems over many month, topics, and question. Originally I was "in" to try to make things better from the inside, but at this point I think whatever time that I have to help people in this topic area will be better applied in a different form. – user32479 Jul 19 '16 at 13:23
  • And there he goes, off into the night. – quid Jul 22 '16 at 18:29
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In the case where a answer is clearly wrong as a matter of fact, are the moderators expected and/or obligated to delete it?

The system is not designed for moderators or Stack Exchange to delete incorrect answers. The correct way to handle an incorrect answer is to downvote it, preferably with an explanation why. If there is an existing explanatory comment (as there is in this case), you can upvote that one.

Consider what you're saying. Of people who have expressed an opinion on the question, a net fifteen have currently upvoted it. But you want to reject this consensus. Any governing system can make a wrong decision. The Stack Exchange system at least allows for a decision to evolve if evidence shows it to be incorrect.

Deletion is intended for things that are only pretending to be answers, not answers that are incorrect. Example:

LULZ YOU GUYZ ALL WRONG

That is pretty clearly not what we mean by an answer. So we delete it.

This example shows why we don't delete incorrect answers. It's still not clear who's right. There is considerable disagreement in the chat and no citations to non-primary sources. It may be that plans can restrict exit, but that none do so. In which case this is a purely academic distinction. It may be that the argument against the answer is based on an incorrect legal reading.

There should be some citable example of a plan that has that kind of provision and has enforced it. Or a citable example of a plan that tried to enforce such a provision and failed. Two answers that disagree may be the correct thing for now until such proof can be generated.

The "other side" is a high "rep" user and a moderator, who have essentially called Chris stupid ("I'm not here to teach you to read, if you're more than 3 years old that ship has sailed.") and have told Chris that he must be wrong because high rep users on this site haven't heard of this ("I guess what I am stuck on is the idea that if this were true, wouldn't we have seen it?").

If you think that a moderator is abusing moderator powers, that is something that you can escalate to Stack Exchange. It's not clear that you are claiming that moderator powers were used inappropriately (e.g. by deleting an opposing answer). It looks like you are just saying that some of the chat comments were inappropriate. That's just something to handle via the normal flagging system at worst. And often it's easier to just move on.

You should have more evidence for moderator abuse than just one event regardless. They would be looking for a pattern of behavior, not a single instance.

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    Dealing with wrong answers is a topic that has been discussed a lot across the S.E. network - I can't find a really good canonical reference, but here's one example: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/255198/… – Ganesh Sittampalam Jul 19 '16 at 5:08
  • @GaneshSittampalam Are moderators indemnified by the SE terms of service? I thought it was just SE employees. Given that the stakes on this site might be higher than some of the others, perhaps a more cautious approach is warranted? In any case, 15 up-votes certainly doesn't make an answer correct. If these answers cannot be handled, then maybe they should be off-topic. (The question that I picked as an example - arguably - could have been called a question of law in the first place and closed.) – user32479 Jul 19 '16 at 5:23
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    @Brick: I don't think we are, but I'm also not worried about getting sued for not deleting it :-) Personally I think the question is on-topic and both answers plausible. While it might be nice to have a better system than voting to identify the "right" one in this particular case, it's good enough in general and not too awful in this case. – Ganesh Sittampalam Jul 19 '16 at 6:00
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    This is inherent in Stack Exchange's attempt to be a fully crowdsourced FAQ repository. Voting hopefully eventually evolves toward consensus, but that doesn't happen every time and consensus is not guaranteed to be correct. Answers can be commented on (politely) and edited in an effort to clarify/support them and draw more consensus, or entirely new answers can be offered... Working (or Broken) As Designed. – keshlam Jul 20 '16 at 2:25
  • "If you think that a moderator is abusing moderator powers" - I don't think he's suggesting that. The only mod action I performed here was to move a long comment thread to chat. Any comments I've offered were as a member. I expressed my incredulity at the fact that a definitive answer didn't materialize quickly. In the time I've been here, 6+ years, wrong answers have shown an average time to correction measured in hours, at most, not days. That's not me saying Chris is wrong, only that we've hit upon a very tough question. In my opinion, the system is still working very well, despite (cont) – JoeTaxpayer Jul 21 '16 at 14:11
  • the hard feelings caused by this one question's discussion. At this point, Chris has proven his case, in my opinion, but my inclination is to want something from IRS.gov to confirm, if possible. – JoeTaxpayer Jul 21 '16 at 14:13
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I think you misunderstand the term "straight question of fact". When it comes to laws, especially the US tax laws, there's not really such thing in many cases.

Even in this answer, you yourself were not able to chase down some of the terms defined in the statutes we linked. I keep mentioning this all the time in many answers - in taxes a lot of things are issues of "facts and circumstances", and it is rarely "straight question of fact".

Regardless, many times people give incorrect answers. Many times they end up being the most upvoted. Sometimes it frustrates me because these are cases where people upvote what they want to be the truth and not what it really is. So this time it's my turn.

That's how this site works, for better or worse, that's the whole premise of the system. You can upvote/downvote what you deem right or wrong, leave comments justifying your position, and that's how it is supposed to be. This time you guys dragged me into the chat, which is something I usually don't do. If I think an answer is incorrect - I downvote it with a comment about what I'm disagreeing with - and move on.

  • If "a lot of things are issues of 'facts and circumstances'" why are you so sure your hard and fast yes-always answer to the question can't be mitigated by facts and circumstances like a plan document? Especially considering that you also haven't produced a definition of "eligible rollover distribution" specifically forbidding a plan sponsor from requiring something in addition to termination of employment before funds are eligible for rollover? – quid Jul 22 '16 at 3:31
  • @quid why not?. I feel like this whole discussion is more about me than it is about the actual answer... You can disagree with me all you want, but as I said multiple times, including in this discussion, none of us are lawyers and I have no intentions of becoming one just to prove you wrong. You disagree with me? Fine. – littleadv Jul 22 '16 at 3:53
  • It has nothing to do with agreeing with you. This just strikes me as ironic considering the exchange that prompted this thread. – quid Jul 22 '16 at 16:28
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    @quid I used to write a disclaimer that "I'm not a tax adviser... etc" in my answers, but found it too tiresome and serving little purpose. It now permanently lives in my profile. This should address your concern. I provide answers to the best of my knowledge, and may sometimes be wrong. If someone takes my answer as an authority - it's their problem, not mine. That said, in many cases despite the ambiguity of the law the real life situation is well defined. I believe this to be one of such cases. – littleadv Jul 22 '16 at 16:38
  • I agree, adding a disclaimer is cumbersome and it should be implied that asking strangers on the internet won't constitute professional advice. – quid Jul 22 '16 at 16:57
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The "other side" is a high "rep" user and a moderator, who have essentially called Chris stupid ("I'm not here to teach you to read, if you're more than 3 years old that ship has sailed.") and have told Chris that he must be wrong because high rep users on this site haven't heard of this ("I guess what I am stuck on is the idea that if this were true, wouldn't we have seen it?"). This dynamic, IMO, is consistently repeated on this site, which has a strong tendency toward "the community" self-reinforcing its own idiosyncrasies and bullying users who (with evidence on questions of fact!) don't go along with the high-rep users / moderators.

Firstly, I'm sorry you get that feeling from interacting on the site. I've also seen other people say similar things occasionally. It's obvious, but worth saying explicitly that no-one - whether a high-rep user, a moderator, or anyone else - has a monopoly on the truth, and this site should welcome conflicting views that are reasonably backed up and politely put.

I would also be a little careful about lumping classes of users together. Each individual contributor has their own style. In this question, you happen to have wound up in a position where the two highest reputation users on the site both think the same thing, but that's certainly not always the case. Either way, I think you can expect different users to approach conversations in different ways and I think it's best to look at what each is saying separately.

For myself as a fairly neutral observer (while a moderator, I don't have a high reputation nor any significant experience of the topic), it feels like both "sides" have reasonable points and it's worth continuing to dig for something more definitive.

I don't see the comment about "if this were true, wouldn't we have seen it" as an appeal to the authority of the person making the statement, but rather suggesting that there aren't any other examples of this happening, either on this site or elsewhere. While not having seen something happen is not a definitive proof that it can't happen, in the right circumstances it can at least be a strong indicator. Of course, the opposing point here is that these circumstances would actually be rare by their nature, so there might not be many other examples to find.

  • I'm holding on for a few days to let this thread go, but then I'm personally leaving this SE site for good. There are definitely some people here who seem sincere in their desire to help and capable - but there are too many people pushing bad information. Why they are doing it, I don't know. I've been around enough to have a guess on specific users - especially those with the highest "rep" since they are by nature the most prolific. Apparently I have to write to SE to have my profile deleted, so I'll be briefly documenting my experience to them when I go out. – user32479 Jul 19 '16 at 6:08
  • Thanks for this answer. It characterizes my view correctly. And I still find it curious we have an issue that has risen to this level with no definitive answer, first I've seen this in my 6 and 1/2 years here. – JoeTaxpayer Jul 20 '16 at 3:27
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    @JoeTaxpayer when it comes to the IRC - you can end up with discussions such as this on almost anything. Some things ended up being decided this or that way in courts, and maybe so has this - but since, apparently, none of us are lawyers or practicing tax accountants - we lack the resources to find these things in the legal libraries any professional must be subscribed to. – littleadv Jul 20 '16 at 6:07
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Member @Brick has left. To the question here, SE expectation is the voting system will most often rank the best answers with upvotes and incorrect ones down. That's the nature of crowdsourcing.

Part of the system is that anyone can edit anything. So when I make a mistake, I expect to get a comment or suggested edit that makes the answer correct.

There were multiple things going on with this question. An issue that most members thought was an easy fact, and a voted up answer reflecting common wisdom. A single member providing the Black Swan disproving that 'fact'. Comments that got a bit heated as we tried to settle the issue and solicit facts.

As it stands, the initial answer remains voted +14 vs the 'correct' answer at +3. (And to be clear, the 'correct' answer warns of an issue that's not common, even the posting member implies this, as his evidence offers a different box choice checked)

In the end, I'd like to say the system works, and that Ben's examples (he lists 3) are part of the fraction of 1% that are not perfect. Let's keep in mind, as of this moment, there are 14,957 questions. Overall, the membership here has a track record I am proud of.

  • +1. Keep in mind that in my three examples, I consider each of them to now be "fixed." So the system works pretty well, in my opinion, even if it isn't perfect. – Ben Miller Jul 25 '16 at 3:13
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There is misinformation everywhere on the internet, and our site is not immune. Stack Exchange is written by people, and as a result, it is not perfect.

Having said that, I think Stack Exchange, and our site in particular, has a lot of good features that make the information here more reliable than many other sites. The voting system, the editing system, and the reputation system all work together to provide good answers to people and make the internet a better place. But it is not perfect, and there are some incorrect answers on here from time to time.


Here are a few examples from questions I have answered:

I recently ran across this question from 2010 after a duplicate question was asked. It only had one answer that was highly voted and accepted from that time. However, in my opinion there were some problems with the answer, so I downvoted it and wrote a new answer, 6 years later.

Another example: This HSA question was asked last year during tax season. I wrote a good, convincing answer. My answer was the only answer, and it got upvoted and accepted. However, six months later, I had done some more reading and came to the conclusion that my initial answer was completely incorrect, unfortunately. So I did the only thing I could do, which was to edit and rewrite my answer with the opposite position. I pinged the OP to notify him of the change. It is unfortunate that the question had a completely wrong answer for 6 months. I wish that an expert had come along before then and downvoted my answer and offered the correct answer, so that the question hadn't sat with misinformation for so long, but that's the way it goes.

A final example, involving Littleadv and me, is this question, on which I wrote one of my first answers on this site. Littleadv also wrote an answer that is different than mine. I came out on top with the voting on that one, but which answer is really correct? It is hard to say. We both cite sources supporting our positions. In the end, hopefully the OP and anyone else reading that question can get some good information from both answers, and they would be best advised to seek professional advice. (Unfortunately, some comment flags were thrown that day, too. The mods did a nice job of cleaning up the mess, and I learned how to react (and not react) to comments.)


Even a professional can get these things wrong, and sometimes there is no right answer. Legal opinions are called "opinions" for a reason. Two lawyers can read the same law and come up with two different interpretations for it, ultimately requiring a court to decide. Whoever wins the court case is called "correct," but that simply means that the court had the same opinion as the winning lawyer.

In the end, if you encounter an answer you believe is incorrect, vote it down, upvote a different answer (or offer your own correct answer), and move on with your life. Despite its quirks, I believe that this site is a wonderful resource and provides a lot of help for people, and I'm happy to be a part of it.

  • The difference, if any, is that the impact of all three of your linked questions is not such an overwhelming shift in something we've believed as fact for so long. – JoeTaxpayer Jul 21 '16 at 16:36
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    Thanks for bringing the exact example I referred to when I said "these are cases where people upvote what they want to be the truth and not what it really is". The S-Corp tax avoidance/evasion difference is one of the most frequently misunderstood on this site and there are frequent clashes about it. – littleadv Jul 22 '16 at 7:58
  • Just to be clear, on the question in my final example, I do still stand by my answer and personally believe it to be the best answer on that question. But I'm not going to argue about it anymore either here or there. – Ben Miller Jul 25 '16 at 3:07
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The question here should be a straight question of fact. There's no real opinion involved - Either the law requires plan sponsors to allow participants to get out or it doesn't. There are two answers that differ on which is allowed. For sure, one or the other is factually wrong. "Voting" is not going to resolve this in general.

I think voting does resolve this. In general, there maybe an answer that is 99% right all the time. There could be few exceptions that by and large don't matter and apply only to complex individual situations. Hence at times having a generic answer is right.

User Chris has taken some effort to provide evidence for his position, which is the answer with many fewer votes

I don't see any evidence in the answer. It maybe in chat, generally evidence should be linked up.

The "other side" is a high "rep" user and a moderator, ...

SE enforces that no one [moderator/high-rep user] can indulge in such things. Flagging etc ensure this is removed.

Do members of this community care that factually wrong answers will at least occasionally get elevated, or is that just considered a possible consequence of free, online help?

I don't think this is the right question. But there are question in past I have seen where incorrect answers [in my view] have got accepted. I would say that is the nature of things.

In the case where a answer is clearly wrong as a matter of fact, are the moderators expected and/or obligated to delete it? In a case like this where one must be wrong but they are no sure which, how to proceed?

There is individual wisdom and collective wisdom. On specific cases collective wisdom can equally be wrong, individual wisdom can be wrong. Even expert opinion can be wrong. Deletion is not the way to address this.

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