I recently received two down votes in one day on an answer that was submitted more than a year ago (accepted answer), unfortunately without any comments. At the same time as the down votes, the question was marked as off topic (homework like question...). So I have two questions:

  • Is there an active community policy to discourage users from replying to questions that later might be closed as off-topic?
  • Is there a way to forward comments/ask for clarification from anonymous users who voted on a question or answer? I know that I cannot see who voted on a post, but it would be nice to be able to ask them to give a hint of what I am doing wrong.
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding "Is there an active community policy to discourage users from replying to questions that later might be closed as off-topic?" physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/10811 covers something similar. $\endgroup$ – Chair Dec 16 '18 at 9:39

Is there an active community policy to discourage users from replying to questions that later might be closed as off-topic?

No. There is an active community policy to try to close all off-topic questions as and when they arise and before they get answers. Unfortunately we can't get to all of them in time, and we're sometimes late by a few hours / days / weeks / months / years, but when we see an off-topic question which hasn't been closed yet, the question's age (together with the presence or not of answers) does not factor into the decision of whether it should be open or not.

If you want to avoid posting on threads that later get closed, the surefire way is to not post answers to off-topic questions. This can sometimes be tricky, but the example you posted is a textbook case (ho, ho) of blatant homework, and it is very clearly off-topic.

Is there a way to forward comments/ask for clarification from anonymous users who voted on a question or answer? I know that I cannot see who voted on a post, but it would be nice to be able to ask them to give a hint of what I am doing wrong.

No, by design. This is something that we as a community have no control over, and SE has made it repeatedly clear that they are not going to consider changing these mechanisms. The best you can do is to add a polite comment asking for feedback and hope that people answer it. Or, if it's really bad, you can come here to meta and ask.

In this particular case, there's a high chance that the downvotes represent people who think that the question is particularly bad and that by answering such bad questions you're encouraging the OP, and others who see the question, to post similarly bad questions. If you want to avoid this type of downvote, I would recommend not answering bad questions.

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    $\begingroup$ As one of the downvoters: exactly this. I actually like Andrei's answer, but I think that having answers to low-quality questions like the one in this case encourages such questions and makes the site a worse place overall. $\endgroup$ – rob Dec 15 '18 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @rob I would have appreciated a comment to explain that. In a similar way, when you submit a paper for publication, if they say "no", they usually give an answer such as "The research is interesting but it does not fit with the expectations of the audience for this journal" $\endgroup$ – Andrei Dec 15 '18 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Andrei There's a bit of a huge difference between a journal-article rejection and a downvote - I imagine you didn't lose job prospects over this particular incident ;-). It's a downvote, it's not the end of the world. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Dec 15 '18 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, ok. I know that was a little over the top :-), but the idea for voting is to make the community better. When people vote to close the question, they give the user the reason why. A downvote for an answer means that there was something wrong with it. Since I've spent some effort to reply in such a way that help the user without doing the homework for them, at least an explanation would be nice. How can one otherwise learn? In the more than one year since that answer I might have made the same "mistake" more than once. $\endgroup$ – Andrei Dec 16 '18 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ @rob That is surely a bad way of using downvotes, and seeing a mod voting in this way is... bah! I've virtually stopped participating to Physics SE exactly for this kind of attitude from the high-rep members, and reading such a comment reinforces my choice. $\endgroup$ – Massimo Ortolano Dec 16 '18 at 4:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Chair As has been repeated many times across all SE sites, one should vote on content, and clearly this is not how some people vote here. Moreover, this way of voting is not informative at all: in fact, the reason for the downvote was not understood by the OP, who felt the need to ask on meta. If rob wanted to better educate a new user on how answering certain questions is discouraged, they would have better left a comment under the answer (without downvoting), explaining the policy. At least, this is what I expect from a mod. $\endgroup$ – Massimo Ortolano Dec 16 '18 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Chair Note also that the link you posted is irrelevant here. I'm not advocating that one should explain the downvotes. I'm saying that downvoting to say "You shouldn't have answered this question" is misleading and wouldn't be understood as expected, especially by new users. And it doesn't either discourage random users from posting homework questions. As has been written by someone else here: "The voting culture varies a lot between sites and this one is on the least enthusiastic side of the spectrum". To me, is simply dysfunctional. $\endgroup$ – Massimo Ortolano Dec 16 '18 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Chair Why on Earth would it be "improper" to criticise voting tendencies? If there's a part of the community that feels that aspect X of the site is problematic, they absolutely should be able to voice their concerns. You're conflating a pointwise personal criticism (which isn't happening here) with an observation about a broader trend. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Dec 16 '18 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ And, frankly, I find the request (if you're going to vote for reasons other than the post's correctness and usefulness, then that does come with a raised expectation that you explain what additional concerns drive your vote) to be perfectly reasonable. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Dec 16 '18 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Chair for your links. The most useful thing for this conversation was that I've found the guidelines for downvoting at physics.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/vote-down It states Down-voting should be reserved for extreme cases. It's not meant as a substitute for communication and editing. $\endgroup$ – Andrei Dec 16 '18 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Andrei To put it plainly, that's an unrealistic expectation. Other sites have a fountain-of-rep, everybody-gets-upvotes voting culture that explicitly discourages voting down on content that's incorrect or otherwise bad for the site. We don't. And taking a confrontational attitude is unlikely to get you useful feedback. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Dec 16 '18 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I agree partially with what you said. But a down vote, without any explanation is definitely not a useful feedback. Especially for people new to the site. Suppose I am a student and I land on this site from a search engine. If I see an answer with downvotes, should I take it seriously? Is that answer wrong for some reasons? $\endgroup$ – Andrei Dec 16 '18 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Andrei The request that downvotes be required to come with feedback has been discussed a number of times, both here and on Meta Stack Exchange (see e.g. here and the links therein), and there are very good reasons that make it a bad idea. If you want to add to that debate, read up on the previous contributions. But one central tenet is: downvotes are not (primarily) feedback, they're a content-sorting mechanism. Complaining that a downvote is "not useful feedback" is a moot complaint. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Dec 16 '18 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @EmilioPisanty. The remark about content-sorting was probably the most useful thing in this thread, even if I don't necessarily agree with that. $\endgroup$ – Andrei Dec 16 '18 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ As a mod, I leave a lot of explanatory comments on downvoted or deleted posts. I agree that such a comment would have been helpful in this case: I imagine it was especially confusing for @Andrei because the deleted bad answer which brought me to the post is invisible to him. I'm glad to participate in this clarifying discussion, and I'm taking the suggestions here seriously. $\endgroup$ – rob Dec 16 '18 at 16:59

One reason I rarely leave comments or details on my downvotes is precisely to avoid entering in the kind of discussion that this question poses. It’s two downvotes: it’s not the end of the world. You probably received some suspicious upvotes, so just think of those two downvotes as part of a random walk in reputation space.

  • $\begingroup$ Armageddon is around the corner :). It's not the end of the world. But it was confusing to receive two downvotes in a day, more than a year after the post. One I would have just ignored it, as you suggested, but the probability of getting two for an accepted answer, 13 months later, both on the same day, is quite low. $\endgroup$ – Andrei Dec 17 '18 at 4:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrei yeah you got bad luck. It happens. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Dec 17 '18 at 6:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Andrei Clusters of downvotes on an old and inactive thread are indeed surprising (often coming from e.g. a new question closed as a duplicate and pointing fresh traffic at an old thread). In this case, though, the thread wasn't inactive - as rob points out, there was a (now deleted) answer, which bumped the thread to the front page. Depending on how exactly the timings worked out, that activity may well have been hidden from you, but the activity marker on the top right would have shown "active today" as an indicator that this was on the front page. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Dec 17 '18 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the explanation. That's what I understood from Rob's message as well $\endgroup$ – Andrei Dec 17 '18 at 13:57

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