I suppose we can't change the way reputation works on just our site so eventually if this became a serious proposal change it would have to happen on the mother Meta. But before I go and get flamed there, I figured I'd start a discussion here.

It seems that on our site in particular, we don't have a hard time generating high quality answers but it's hard to find high quality questions. When a question is upvoted, the asker gets 5 rep. When an answer is upvoted, the asker gets 10 rep.

This seems to imply that answers are worth more than questions. In some sense I agree, answers take a lot of work to put together. But a good question often times takes more work to put together than a good answer, particular in physics. We have previously discussed (ad nauseum) the fact that there are people who only answer questions and don't ask, and that there are many more lower quality questions coming in.

So would changing the reputation earned (and lost) on questions to match answers encourage more questions? Or would it just inflate reputations because the majority of people wouldn't change their habits? Would we want to encourage more questions (which by default would also bring in more lower-quality questions as well)?

  • $\begingroup$ I think rep per Q and rep per A is a site parameter (StackApps has 10 per Q and 10 per A, for example), but I doubt that a site-specific change will be made. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth: Well, on StacK Apps, the questionsj are more important, so that it makes senske ther.e $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ Forgive the lateness of my comment, I was on vacation last week. Speaking for just myself, I don't usually ask questions. The reason has nothing to do with reputation, I just either know the answer to questions or know how to find it without asking SE. I assume the same is true of other answer-only users. If you're studied, you can easily give answers, but it's often hard to know what might be a good question to ask or you might not have any questions you can't find the answer for. This is natural for a Q&A site. Some people need to be the knowledge bank. Those people need not ask questions. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 13:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Jim: I disagree about your statement that the knowledgable people don't ask many questions. Dilaton, for example, asks a lot of questions, but does that make him not knowledgable. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @DImension10AbhimanyuPS it wasn't a general statement, it was a "there exists a subset of knowledgable people who either do not feel the need to or have trouble with asking questions". Seeing as I am one such person, the statement is necessarily true $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ "Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.'' ___ Voltaire $\endgroup$
    – user28737
    Commented Oct 19, 2013 at 7:52

3 Answers 3


I don't ask questions or refrain from asking questions on SE based on the amount of rep I will gain. I ask a question if I want to know the answer.

High levels of activity are not necessarily a sign of health, so it's not obvious to me that a low number of good questions is a bad thing, to be remedied by fiddling with rules. One of the reasons I stopped being very active on WP and physicsforums.com is that the structure of both of those sites seemed to encourage a lot of "churn." Physicsforums probably has 20 threads on the Ehrenfest paradox, each with 300 posts. This is not a good thing.

It seems that on our site in particular, we don't have a hard time generating high quality answers

Not sure I agree with this. Easy questions get good answers. Hard questions often don't. This is just the logic of the bell curve. There are few experts in the world and many novices.


When Stack Overflow launched the scoring was the same for questions and answers. This eventually became a bit of a cause for concern when a number of users who had

  • never offered an answer
  • mostly had zero or negative net scores on their very many poor questions

but were still accumulating enough rep to access some important site privileges. There rose a movement to increase the power of down votes on questions, which was for some time after which the team suddenly decided to reduce the upvote value on questions instead.

I believe that this slightly increased the quality of questions on Stack Overflow (mostly by discouraging hoards of bad questions, rather than by generating a lot of really good ones), but it was a small thing.

So, my expectation based on that ancient history on a different site is that while this proposal might bring in a few more good questions it would also bring in many more bad ones.

That said, we have more tools for dealing with problem users now, so maybe would could handle it, but I don't know for sure.

  • $\begingroup$ Somehow I spent 45 minutes searching the main Meta and couldn't find questions on point. I am really bad at searching meta... $\endgroup$
    – tpg2114
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ It really helps to have been part of it and therefore remember that the question was about changing the downvote value instead of the upvote value. And besides meta is really hard to search. Half the questions are about site mechanics, so any search involving terms the represent site mechanics is always swamped. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ @dmckee Use search operators. [discussion] -[support] does the trick, usually. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 11:00

My problem with this discussion is that I wonder about the correlation between votes and quality. Admittedly I can only read fairly elementary topics. But I find that questions that give me a lot to think just get downvoted, and I also find wrong answers at the top of the votes. And the vote ordering is often not the quality ordering (when I think I can estimate it with fair reliability).

The problem is that science has never been a matter of opinion, or of vote. The usefulness of vote is more sociological than scientific. Interestingly, the rep gives you a right to manage, not to decide on scientific issues, which is probably a good thing. But it is also a bit of a problem since users can confuse rep and scientific reliability.

There is also the problem that quality is not easily measured. So many users think that a formula is an explanation ... sometimes they do not even bother defining notation, assuming some universality of it. Ther is also the opposite: answers by someone who has an opinion though he does not really know anything on the topic and does not have half an argument to back his opinion.

Now, as I said, I can only read the more elementary topics, and I have been wondering whether the situation is the same for the more advanced questions. My guess is that one can talk nonsense at any level, but what is it actually?

Regarding specifically the quality of questions, what matters most is the sexyness-entertaining quality of the question, not actual content or preparatory work. I will take the example of two questions that are exactly on the same topic, but were not flagged as such: Origin of motion and relative speed of bodies in the universe and Why are there no asteroids or meteoroids with relativistic speeds?

The first question was mine, actually my fist post on physics.SE after doing no physics for more decades than I care to tell. It took me a long time to write that question as I was trying to understand first what issues could matter, what kind of data and question might be sensible.

I was very lucky to be upvoted once, and to get a nice answer.

The second question was asked 2 month later. It is exactly the same issue, presented as a disaster movie. It was not detected as duplicate and attracted much attention and 20 upvotes.

So should I try to ask questions as a scientist, or as a showman ?

The other issue, directly related, is the questions removed as duplicate. First, it is inconsistant (see above) and sometimes inaccurate. Answering old questions is a waste of time. I know as I did it more than my share. Thoses answers do not get votes or comments, and I personnally hate writing for a black hole.

So the practice of stopping duplicate question is just the best way to ensure that further input will not come, of that a different perspective will be avoided. What would have happened if the second question above had been detected as duplicate, as it should have ?

And I am really wondering what is the purpose, and the dangers, of such a site.

  • $\begingroup$ While there is validity to this point, it's not entirely true. Good quality questions are frequently upvoted and are usually the highest voted on the main page. That being said, I agree that a large number or truly good questions are ignored due to their advanced nature. And it is true that many low-level questions are highly upvoted sheerly because they are entertaining. We may not like it, but as social animals, how can we expect any different? Que sera. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim I am replying by editing the end of my answer. I do not think that showmanship should dominate the game. It does. And probably more for questions than for answers as question title and first sentence is the primary path in the system. That should actually be an objective reason to reduce its role, for what it matters. $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ You seem to have turned your answer into a question now. But there are still some valid points raised. As a scientist, I personally would love to tell you to ask questions as a scientist. I believe that a concise, clear, and scientifically meaningful question (with a bit of humour added in) is the best kind. But I'll cede to you that the best way to ensure exposure and vote (which increases probability of getting good answers) is to be flashy, only slightly technical, and ask questions that allow the reader's imagination to go nuts while still presenting an interesting physics challenge $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ On the subject of duplicates, I'm sure you'll agree that it is necessary overall to remove them or else we'd end up answering "How come things can't go faster than light?" a million times a day. Not having much experience with the duplicate removal decision process, I can't speak to its efficacy or to its cost/benefit ratio. As with any system there are bound to be some problems but I assume that at the moment the benefits outweigh them. If you can think of any major specific problems or any possible improvements, it would be a great idea to start a new meta post about them $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim My question about alternate reality is obviously not a question, but rhethorics. Of course, information should be consolidated. But the method used to achieve that is far too simplistic. The questions could be put together with a table of content for the various titles. I have no ready made solution, and it does require experimenting. There is already a recent question about duplicates: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/questions/4853 Regarding possible solutions, I will not fight for one here. As a citizen, I do not think it is the right place, and the site has a more urgent problem $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 15:22

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