Brahms' music is rich and interesting, but not easily accessible to a layman. Justin Bieber's is not very interesting, but he gets downloaded from iTunes a lot.

In the last week or two, there have been a lot more questions at the advanced and research levels, and a number of professional physicists have been answering them. I almost never vote on these questions and their answers because I can't distinguish good from bad. It seems to be a rough general trend that the more advanced the question, the less voting there will be.

This might be construed as a disincentive to post research-level questions and answers as compared to more broadly-accessible ones. Someone who provides a lot of helpful, interesting answers to questions in their field might still wind up with low site reputation, especially compared to the high effort they put into answering technical questions. (I'm personally the opposite of this - I answer mostly basic-level questions and don't have a field.)

I would guess that if you ask most individual users, they would say that this isn't a problem for them because they don't care about reputation, except maybe to have enough to get full participation privileges. (That's what I would say, if you asked me.) However, as a whole, the behavior of users of StackExchange must be affected somewhat by reputation, or it wouldn't be recorded, displayed, and put up on "top user" charts.

Is this effect an issue that may affect the quality of the questions and answers? If so, is there any particular thing we should do, or at least be cognizant of?

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    $\begingroup$ It happens on other StackExchange sites as well. And if you try to vote up answers you don't understand, you may end up voting up some answers by some of these posters who manage to write a lot of technical-sounding nonsense, which would be worse. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 4:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Peter Good point. It's worse to have uninformed voting than too little voting. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 4:42
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    $\begingroup$ Your question is very relevant. The effect you describe is easily explained by the "principle of least effort" when applied to human behavior. For instance, the longer my comments are, the less likely they are to be read ;) $\endgroup$
    – Deepak Vaid
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ I'd suggest listening to some of the late Intermezzos by Brahms. $\endgroup$
    – pho
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Jeff I can't wait until another 40 years pass and I can listen to the late intermezzos by Bieber. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 19:47

4 Answers 4


I have a feeling that the problem is not in "advanced vs basic" dichotomy in the first place.
Nor it is about "specialized vs broad" or "professional vs amateur".

The point is that people tend to vote up "fun" posts. There are posts that have a lot of upvotes, while I doubt that there are many people (or at least that many people) that are able to assess the quality of these questions or answers. Posts about black holes or entanglement are more likely to be popular than about classical mechanics or RLC circuits. Also in your answer you can write a lot of nice "bla-bla-bla" around the topic without actually getting to the point. And you'll get much more than short and concrete answer on the question.

Populism. Every community-driven site is affected by it. I think that it is unfair. And the only way to at least reduce this unfairness is to keep that in mind, when you vote.

Let me finally note that the idea behind the SE sites is learning. So if you feel that you have learnt something new -- why don't you vote it up?

  • $\begingroup$ I would add "entertainment". $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 30, 2011 at 0:48
  • $\begingroup$ but the <b>answers</b> to posts about classical mechanics or RLC circuits, at least, are more likely to be upvoted, and upvoted correctectly. So, there's at least that. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 23:02

As an partial aside, we have noticed that our hard science sites tend to naturally striate into "research-level advanced topics" and "typical entry college level topics".

I am not entirely sure the needs of both audiences can be realized on a single site.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think there is a clean dividing line between the two regimes, at least not in physics. $\endgroup$
    – Deepak Vaid
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ Stack Overflow has this problem too, to some degree. But the user base is big enough, to live with it. We can only wait and see here. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2011 at 4:38
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    $\begingroup$ This way you produce one active community and one almost dead community. $\endgroup$
    – user68
    Commented Jan 28, 2011 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ I changed my mind on this largely because the site is sufficiently small right now that there's plenty of room. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 30, 2011 at 0:48

This is only a problem caused by people who really care about their reputation.
BUT - for people that really care, they will answer any question they can, so there is no problem.

Only a minor effect if people tend to prioritize answering easier question, I think the opposite is more true.

A real concern that may degrade quality is that the fastest (and thus often not the best) answer tends to get mroe upvotes.


I think that we need to focus on building a stronger community - clearly if advanced questions get less votes, it can only mean that we have still too few advanced users.

As the community thrives, inclusively, both kind of answers will get voted. However I do agree that we will see some striation of users. It doesn't worry me, because as soon as the community is strong, a more specialised site can emerge and succeed.


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