Take this question:

Dark matter clumping

This is an excellent question and the answer is not at all obvious. I assume it was downvoted just because it's a duplicate, but is this really appropriate? Downvoting can be used to make questions disappear from the home page, and also to deter people from answering, but neither of those reasons apply in this case.

Re Danu's answer: I mention this question because it's the one that caught my eye most recently, but it seems to me I see an increasing trend of downvoting questions that I don't think deserve it. It also seems to me that once a question has attracted the first downvote a slew of bandwagon downvotes rapidly follow.

This isn't really a question, more a rant, so it doesn't really have an answer. But while I'm here ranting let me urge site members to consider whether their downvote will actually achieve anything.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree. Begin rant Downvoting is hurtful to the ego for new users and should be used sparingly IMO. I've always felt that the culture of physics.SE is more negative than other stacks; obsessive downvoting is just one of the places where it shows up. While it isn't part of our mission statement to help inexperienced people learn the craft, we don't have to actively beat them down. End rant $\endgroup$ – Chris Mueller Apr 30 '15 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisMueller, I agree that downvoting should be used sparingly and in fact, that's the policy I've followed but evidently for a different reason; the ego of new users has essentially zero weight in my downvote calculus. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri May 1 '15 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ @AlfredCentauri Why then do you feel it should be used sparingly? $\endgroup$ – Chris Mueller May 1 '15 at 1:09
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisMueller, simply put, the value of one's down vote is diminished if one applies it indiscriminately. That's all I have to say about that. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri May 1 '15 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ @AlfredCentauri I went the first few months on SE never downvoting. At first, I didn't have enough privileges and then because I mistakenly thought it cost me points. But, by not doing it, I realized I really didn't need to do it. I now make an exception merely for poorly asked homework questions but usually I don't feel downvoting actually makes questions better. Simply telling a person to correct through a comment usually helps a lot if they are actually motivated to learn. Down votes tend to just create the bandwagon effect John mentioned. $\endgroup$ – Stan Shunpike May 1 '15 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ @StanShunpike, on my view, a cautious approach like yours is the best down vote policy. That is to say, if one is unsure if one's down vote will add value in fact, don't down vote. Also, on a related note, and to no one in particular, if you find yourself casting many down votes here, consider taking a break from participating in this site for a while (I know, that's easier said than done). $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri May 1 '15 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ I empathize with John Rennie's point. If one downvotes something, I think one ought to make some kind of comment. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield May 3 '15 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ It seems relevant to mention that currently approximately 750 (200) questions out of a total of 53k questions have a score of less than -1 (-2), i.e. 1.5% (0.4%), respectively. (These are mostly questions with answers. Negative score questions without answers are automatically deleted after a month, cf. this meta post for details.) $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic May 3 '15 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ I have 90k rep on Stack Overflow and 2k on DBA. Physics people - be thankful that you have a strong culture of downvoting! It's what keeps SO alive and is noticeably lacking on DBA. Don't discourage downvoting. I know the difference from experience. $\endgroup$ – usr May 3 '15 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ I deleted a, shall we say, overly aggressive (?) comment discussion. $\endgroup$ – David Z May 6 '15 at 4:43
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    $\begingroup$ think these concerns are quite legitimate but think its up to se to build some better tools to understand voting metrics better cross-sites. here is one excellent vote analysis tool by tags which might help to find problem areas. are there tags where the problem is esp bad in? etc interactive se tag graph viewer "tagoverflow" (works on all sites) $\endgroup$ – vzn May 18 '15 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ see also help vampire problem / Meta Stack Exchange $\endgroup$ – vzn May 19 '15 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for this post. People might actually take notice of this problem since a high-reputation user has posted it. And yes I agree with @ChrisMueller that the culture on Physics.se is more negative than others. On the math.se, questions are appreciated or at least left alone as long as the OP shows some effort in trying to understand, or shows elaboration on his/her problem. $\endgroup$ – Airdish Apr 9 '16 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ I wrote the same post on meta physics, physics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9984/… $\endgroup$ – Ajinkya Naik Jul 9 '17 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Airdish: Re "On the math.se, questions are appreciated". Indeed they are. That site is one of the few sites on Stack Exchange network that also gladly accept any straight homework dump. $\endgroup$ – Peter Mortensen Feb 23 '18 at 14:27

11 Answers 11


Alright, everyone, I'm the bad guy: With 2314 downvotes I am the user on this SE with the most downvotes, not counting the Community bot. In only 10 months of activity I've cast more downvotes than any single one of you. I've also cast 1126 upvotes, for whatever it's worth. So I'll tell you why and how I vote, and you may decide if "we" are indeed overky eager to downvote. But let me tell you from the start:

I think that we are too reluctant to downvote and too eager to upvote low-quality questions.

And here's why:

First and foremost, votes are quality indicators. When I pass through and see a highly upvoted question, I think "Oh, nice, this is what physics is about, what physicists find interesting and how questions here should be". When I see a highly upvoted answer (without fights in the comments), I think: "This is probably correct and/or a useful way to think about the question - why else would they all upvote it?" What votes are emphatically not are judgements of the users.

I understand it may be disheartening to get downvotes, but votes are, not counting revenge voters and other "illegal" schemes, really just relating to the post they are cast on. They are no judgement of the user as a whole, and not casting a downvote because you are afraid of the effect it might have on the user just defeats the whole purpose of downvoting in two ways:

  1. You let content you do not actually believe to be a good fit for the site slide by without an indicator (the -1) saying so. This, in turn, might invite more questions like it (since people can see similar questions have not been badly received). Additionally, it makes low positive vote counts essentially meaningless - if almost no downvotes are cast, votes in the 1-4 ranges are quite meaningless, because one or two upvotes are often quickly cast on almost all types of questions, even the blatantly off-topic and the really bad ones.

  2. By making downvotes rare, you intensify the psychological effect a downvote has when it is actually cast, leading to "Why -1, step forward, cowardly downvoter!"-type comments and accusations for merely casting a downvote. This, in turn, leads to people thinking it is actually a grave decision to cast a downvote (since other don't seem to cast them lightly), and they might grow to use them more sparingly themselves.

I hope it is clear from this why I think that not downvoting because of the effect on the user is a Bad IdeaTM.

Let me finish with personal anecdote time for too eagerly upvoting low-quality questions (just as John's opening post is also rather anecdotal ;) ):

  • I very often see blatant homework questions which are just the exercise text pasted into the question box with a "What do I do?" tagged on that have one or even more upvotes. My propensity to downvote is partly so that a positive score might tell me that a question is not of this type. (To be fair, such blatant do-my-work questions usually end up at a negative score, but the fact that they are upvoted at all still bothers me.)

  • The general vote score on questions that are technical (or "high-level", but I don't want to use that notion) is very low, and I've seen many worthy questions sit only at +2 or +3. At the same time, I have seen absolutely crap technical questions (no research effort whatsoever, no indication what the question is actually about if you don't already know it, etc.) also at +2 or +3. This is another reason I am quick to downvote - if I, personally, can make a score difference of 2 between these questions, then it is best that I do. That one vote cast is an up- and the other a downvote is tangential.

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    $\begingroup$ In all seriousness, I'm happy you posted an answer, as I, too, find the lack of downvotes on most bad questions rather disturbing! $\endgroup$ – Danu May 4 '15 at 6:28
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    $\begingroup$ Not all questions that don't show what physics is about, what physicists find interesting deserve a negative score. What might be an stupid question for you can be a genuine question for a high school student. And your let's-insult-each-other-till-it-gets-normal line of reasoning is worrisome $\endgroup$ – Azad May 7 '15 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ Why don't you use your instant question deletion privileges instead? It doesn't even cost you rep. $\endgroup$ – Calmarius May 8 '15 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Azad: I did not say that all questions not of that type deserve a negative score, I said that a high positive score should indicate questions of that type. I don't downvote questions for being basic/"stupid" (and I never said I did, neither of the two types of questions at the end are genuine conceptual physics questions from high schoolers), I downvote for not making sense, lacking effort and lacking context. Also, I have been explicit about a downvote not being a judgement of the user, but the quality of the question, so my reasoning has nothing to do with insults at all. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind May 8 '15 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Calmarius: You probably overestimate the power of deletion votes. Three are needed to delete something, only very high rep users can cast them, there is no review queue for them, so they go unnoticed most of the time, and they can only be cast on closed (and negatively scored) questions. Also, not every question I downvote is so bad I would want to delete it, and certainly not everything I downvote should be closed. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind May 8 '15 at 11:24
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    $\begingroup$ Downvoting low-quality solutions is one thing; I certainly think it needs doing. Downvoting questions is another. $\endgroup$ – Peter Shor May 11 '15 at 4:26
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    $\begingroup$ If it is of any interest, apparently there is a 20k downvotes club (scroll down in the user profile). $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Jun 22 '15 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ With 2314 downvotes... and in 10 months you've more than tripled that number. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Mar 20 '16 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos: That fits with my subjective impression that the quality has gotten worse in that timeframe. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Mar 20 '16 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ Pretty sure I've doubled my number since this post as well, which is to say I think I'm in agreement with your impression. I imagine we can partially test that theory with SEDE, but it'll be skewed with deleted content :/ $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Mar 20 '16 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ I totally agree with the point said by Azad, being a high school student this is what I exactly expected, this site is never stated as a high level "ask only research questions" website. The downvotes given to a question decreases the reputation and ultimately kills the user's curiosity to ask more question (SAME CASE WITH ME). What I think is that a question should never ever be categorised into bad or good. $\endgroup$ – Ajinkya Naik Jul 9 '17 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ It is imbecile to say "Yea...thats a very good question you asked" or "What stupid questions you are asking?" Come on!! If we were to think and put effort into asking questions, we would instead put that effort into finding an answer to that question. If this site provokes users to think and research on your question before asking the answers supplied are moot. $\endgroup$ – Ajinkya Naik Jul 9 '17 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ Hah, you've passed Community by 1k votes. I'm number 3 with a full 10k votes less than you. You are amazing. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Nov 4 '17 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind Your point make sense in a day by day basis. But the number of down vote your are having seems to suggest an obsession. Also do you see the trend? The world can be split in two categories: the idiots and you (adopting your perspective). As the OP mentioned, there are excellent questions down voted. As you claim to be the one that down vote the most.. To me, there a no questions that deserve a down vote. You have either the choice to ignore the question or to like it. But the former require not to have an ego. I guess you are proudly showing to your wife your vote $\endgroup$ – Hey StackExchange Feb 22 '18 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ @HeyStackExchange That's great if in your opinion there are no questions that deserve a downvote; but in such a site, things would look very different. Downvotes are extremely useful for users to mark content that they do not think is good here. It's through this method that the community is able to establish the questions that it's members want to see. It's not about egos; it's about making a site that we would like to be a part of. Sometimes, that requires you to show that not every question and answer is good quality. In my (and many others) opinion, many posts deserve downvotes. $\endgroup$ – JMac Feb 23 '18 at 15:21

This isn't an answer, but I can't post it as a comment. Danu's comment "I think it's simply too little evidence to draw any serious conclusions from" reminded me of an earlier post on meta.tex.stackexchange.

Evidence is pretty easy to get using the DataExplorer Query. Here are some statistics on questions:

                neg     zero        pos         total       %neg            %zero           %pos
tex             313     15317       189068      204698      0.1529081867    7.482730657     92.36436116
mathoveflow     1582    12921       145288      159791      0.990043244     8.086187583     90.92376917
ux              811     14175       47473       62459       1.298451784     22.69488785     76.00666037
math            14317   262857      779308      1056482     1.355157968     24.88040497     73.76443707
biology         260     2342        16344       18946       1.372321334     12.36144833     86.26623034
chemistry       411     2913        15248       18572       2.21300883      15.684902       82.10208917
super user      15751   252728      410831      679310      2.318676304     37.2036331      60.4776906
programmers     4917    28655       132933      166505      2.953064473     17.2096934      79.83724212
stackoverflow   738773  10471867    13648708    24859348    2.97181165      42.1244636      54.9072475
physics         4700    29547       101190      135437      3.47024816      21.81604731     74.71370453
English         10230   38334       136987      185551      5.513309009     20.65954913     73.82714186

(Data collected 4/29/2015.)

So, yes: physics.stackexchange users down vote questions more often than other "technical" stack exchanges. [Of course, that isn't necessarily bad, but it might be...I don't know!]

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting, thanks! I personally think that our (slightly) higher tendency to downvote is actually a good thing, but that's not what this question was about :) $\endgroup$ – Danu Apr 30 '15 at 5:05
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    $\begingroup$ Correct me if I'm wrong, but this lists the amount of posts that sit at negative, zero and positive scores respectively, doesn't it? That we have more questions with negative score doesn't necessarily mean that we downvote more than others - it could also mean that the downvoted stuff is more uncontroversially bad, and hence more posts are sitting at negative score even if we don't downvote more than others. Is there are query for number of votes? $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Apr 30 '15 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind Yes, this is questions. I will clarify. I think that's certainly a plausible explanation. It seems reasonable that physics.stackexchange gets more "HW help" or "passing interest" questions than some other stack exchanges. $\endgroup$ – Chris Chudzicki Apr 30 '15 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ I'd say this compares apples to oranges, as physics isn't really that far off (percentage-wise) from other non-science fields. How to Chemistry, Biology, Earth-Science, etc fare in this list? I'd rather see physics compared to not-programming-related things. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Apr 30 '15 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos That's a good point. I've added Chemistry and Biology. One reason I didn't initially include these is that I suspected that Chemistry and Biology had many fewer users (which they do). Still, the trend is the same. PS: Feel free to add more data. $\endgroup$ – Chris Chudzicki Apr 30 '15 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Another relation to think of (partially mentioned by you earlier) is that PSE doesn't do HW while Math does, hence the higher rate of DVs. IDK about Chem & Bio policies to comment further about that, but it could be an avenue of discussion. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Apr 30 '15 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I'm actually the most surprised that StackOverflow isn't higher because of the enormously more strict rules on on-topicness. $\endgroup$ – k_g May 3 '15 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ note, these statistics can be tricky to interpret because of something similar to "survivor bias". se automatically deletes certain negative-vote questions & they disappear from some statistics. ie the system is already biased against keeping around downvoted questions. $\endgroup$ – vzn May 18 '15 at 22:31

I'm not sure if you're trying to make a broader argument here, but I don't really see any serious issue with the question you've linked. It was only downvoted once, which may just as well be explained in a number of different ways (e.g. someone thinking dark matter is a myth, personally disliking the OP or other kinds of uninteresting stuff).

I think it's simply too little evidence to draw any serious conclusions from: Every experienced user knows that unexplained and seemingly unreasonable downvotes are part of the game, and that's just how it is. To me, it seems clear that there was no excessively negative response to the question. If you think that we're dealing with a larger trend here, then maybe it would be a good idea to address that in another meta post.

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    $\begingroup$ See my answer, evidence is easy to get: physics.stackexchange does have more down votes than other "technical" stack exchanges. (I don't know if this is a bad thing.) $\endgroup$ – Chris Chudzicki Apr 29 '15 at 23:51

(The mentioned question does not have my downvote, so this is not a response to that. I only flagged it as a duplicate and moved on.)

While any individual user can not (and should not) create an official voting policy which is followed (in general) by others, I would still like to advance my personal viewpoint regarding voting on (obvious) duplicates.

I don't think it is reasonable to suggest that duplicate questions should be sitting on a positive score. Using the search bar on right-top is intended to be a precondition before posting a question, and in the case of obvious duplicates, going through this procedure would lead them to the answer that they want. If that doesn't address the OP concerns completely, he/she can always post a follow-up question (liking to the original, of course).

If people start upvoting (obvious) duplicates, based on the argument that

it is an excellent question and the answer is not at all obvious,

it creates a possibility of gaining unfair reputation from the system in the following manner:

Step 1 - I use the search bar to find "excellent" questions, let us say of around 3 years back (so that only a few (old) users have seen them before. Others can only use the search bar to find out whether that has been asked before, but that's extra effort, which most people won't do. So, chances of being caught reduce.)

Step 2 - I rephrase them in my own words, making them the proverbial old wine in new bottle.

Step 3 - Wait for John Rennie to visit my post! There will be at least one upvote. (And/or) If an occasional answer comes along, even better. I'll upvote it/accept it, and the post won't be deleted then.

Thus, by carrying out the above procedure, I have shown no research effort, yet I get a positive score (+5, or +7, depending on whether or not it got answered.)

Caveat - maybe if I keep posting duplicates, I could be in trouble with some automatic scripts on SE. But all such scripts come with certain thresholds, and one such "game" post, followed by three/four normal posts, can always escape detection.

Please note - When I say duplicate questions should not be sitting on a positive score, I am not suggesting that they deserve to be sitting at -1 or -2 either. The right score for them is 0, no gain and no loss. Therefore, the best policy here seems to be:

Flag, and move on!

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    $\begingroup$ I don't really agree that duplicates should never have a positive score. I've found plenty of duplicate questions (on all SE sites, not just physics) that have plenty of (well deserved in my mind) up votes. Yes there was another question two years ago that got answered, but that answer was lacking and no where near the caliber of the answer on the 'duplicate'. Sometimes, newer users will come along and answer a question in a much better (or more thorough at least) way. These 'duplicate' questions add good content to the site and I think they definitely deserve a positive score. $\endgroup$ – jkeuhlen Apr 30 '15 at 1:13
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    $\begingroup$ I would say that with your method of gaming the system you did quite a bit of research effort - certainly more than many other users... $\endgroup$ – Floris May 3 '15 at 3:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Floris - Yes sir, but that research effort is still aimed at gaming the system! (Am I wrong?) It would have been fair if the OP came up with a question on his own, then did this research effort, came across the original, and then behave in the manner I've indicated in the first paragraph. But here, the intention is totally different, and that doesn't seem right to me. $\endgroup$ – 299792458 May 3 '15 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ Also, just stumbled onto an example - without wanting to sound cranky, what do you think is cooking here, @Floris? The search bar would have got OP where he wanted, if he/she had bothered. We probably won't make any fuss out of it, considering that OP is new on Physics.SE, but this can also possibly be an example of a game post that I've talked about above :) $\endgroup$ – 299792458 May 3 '15 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ I have found a few times that enthusiastic duplication points to posts that may have similar content in the main question but the answers are inadequate, not upvoted for example. One should look at the content of the answers of the duplicate before calling it. Otherwise a loop of badly answered questions is created for the searchers. Once I went and answered the two year old question to set some balance. $\endgroup$ – anna v May 5 '15 at 6:32
  • $\begingroup$ @annav - I agree. My post didn't address that. I focused more on questions like the example quoted in response to Floris, where Ron's answer was more than sufficient, and duplication was either laziness on the part of OP, or the game. Thanks :) $\endgroup$ – 299792458 May 5 '15 at 6:36

I think the content of the Physics Stack Exchange may be the reason for the "unusual" down-vote percentage. For one thing, I think the Physics Stack Exchange is going to attract more quacks than, say, the Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange for obvious reasons. This could be what increases down-voting relative to other technical Forums. Additionally, Physics is also a common "difficult" subject in school and this increases the number of worthless do-my-homework-style question post, which also increases the number of down-votes relative to other Forums regarding subjects with typically less difficult homework in corresponding subject courses. Finally, since every Stack Exchange forum is different, every forum will typically have different down-vote percentages. This would be the case even if the exact same community contributed to the votes on every forum. One of those forum will just so happen to have the highest down-vote percentage, but this clearly doesn't necessarily mean the community contributing to that forum is the pickiest.


Don't be afraid to downvote. Downvotes:

  • quickly notify someone that their post is not good, and enough downvotes should get them to either:
    • remove a bad question/answer, thereby cleaning this site up of clutter, or hopefully;
    • edit their post to be more suitable, and appreciated
  • should encourage more thought put into an answer or question the next time. Hopefully people learn from their mistakes.

Obviously some people will be a bit too sensitive, and take umbrage. I have on occasion, especially when I first joined, but hopefully they will develop a thicker skin, pick themselves up and continue using the site, but be a better poster for it. In extreme cases, they may be scared off, which is a shame, but you can't pander to everyone's sensibilities. There are lots of new visitors each day, so if some get lost in downvotes then so be it, they will be replaced, and maybe they can find a home on some other site, where they feel more comfortable.

It goes without saying that downvotes should always be accompanied by a comment, else how will people know what they have done wrong. However, if a suitable comment has already been left pointing out the error, I see no harm in adding to the downvote cont, without having to repeat the comment, unless more info can be added.


I have a controversial opinion about this. I think there isn't any harm in answering questions that have been answered before. There are usually multiple ways to answer and many different styles of presentation. But it should be acknowledged that the question was answered before.

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    $\begingroup$ This would be viable if the original were closed, but often times the original is open and you can answer that one. Thus, your idea is mostly moot. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Apr 29 '15 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ But, if the person with the question wants to ask any questions about the old answer, the person or people who answered won't necessarily be around to explain. $\endgroup$ – mathmath12 Apr 30 '15 at 7:23
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    $\begingroup$ True, but questions about claims made in other posts are valid questions (has been done in the past w/o closure as duplicate), so your point is still mostly moot. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Apr 30 '15 at 13:53

The question is subjective, but as I'm human, I appreciate being down-voted because I ask stupid questions all the time. I drove my college professors crazy, along with the other students. Should my question be real stinker, I delete it quickly. It is a means of providing feedback to someone.

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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, sometimes questions you think are stupid aren't actually stupid. So I'm not such a fan of downvoting the kinds of questions that people usually call stupid questions. For me downvoting is best used to mark either questions that show a complete lack of effort on the part of the asker, or questions that are far beyond the asker's level of education, to the point where we can't give them a meaningful answer that will be useful to them. (That latter criterion is kind of hard to describe) $\endgroup$ – David Z May 4 '15 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ Remember, there are no stupid questions. There are only answers that really make you think your question was stupid $\endgroup$ – Jim May 6 '15 at 14:12

I haven't enough experience on Stack to have formed a view about down-voting in general, but as personal testimony I was really put off Stack for quite a while - I've only just returned today - by a down-voting event I was at the receiving end of. I will obviously link to the question I had asked at the bottom, and for that reason I won't give details that are available there, and will assume anyone taking an interest in my answer will obviously want to check my account by looking at the question itself.

What happened was I asked a question that was commented on by a user with significant reputation effectively dismissing the question. The user had already been given a significant ++points for his comment, and my question and been down-voted and stood at -1. When I returned, I pointed out that I was literally quoting (well, paraphrasing) a very senior cosmologist and provided the YouTube link. I also pointed out that my question actually supposed what the cosmologist said had to be false and gave my reasons. So even without clarifying, just in the question itself, there were no grounds at all for being dismissed. This matter got sorted out in the question/answer process, in that the answers all confirmed the cosmologist's position.

All of that was fine. But my negative down-vote was not corrected - even back to 0. Nor were the generous number of points awarded the initial commenter who got it totally wrong.

I felt like this totally invaded and violated my integrity. OK I'm just making that up tee hee.....if an isolated event it's doesn't really matter I can see that. But the reason I suspect it isn't, is because that kind of patter, I would imagine, corresponds to one aspect of the negative dimension to any kind of social reputation system. Which o the whole is obviously a great idea and even if it wasn't, it's just a reality for humans anyway. But there are down-sides that should be well understood and taken serious so as to minimize their effects.

One example is over-trusting people with higher reputation. Not a problem for beginners and casuals...but becomes a potential problem for more senior people, such as those with moderating rights in context of StackExchange, if they have the power to down-vote beginner questions based on high-value users if they comment.

Another example is - and this is relevant to the question above - a kind of statistical tendency for people to play it too safe. Reason being there's a lot of cranks and agendas out there, that aren't really very scientific at basis. So there's a need to keep StackExchange scientific in line with its goals, and that tends to make it necessary to quote consensus positions only. And this then tends to intersect with the reputation system with the result the basis of reputation, the higher up you go, becomes all the more squeezed into very conservative non-risk taking positions. Which leaves a lot of questions unanswered or answered in a way that implicitly rewrites the question to exclude components that speculate beyond what is safe.

I want to really emphasise here, that in hindsight I think leaving stack for weeks over this was an over-reaction. I think the system is really fabulous and I haven't observed a single incident involving a moderator or anyone else that can reasonably be called 'badly motivated' Everyone wants to teach and learn and share and that's terrific.

So for that reason I want to conclude by suggestion a solution based on the above personal experience - which may be biased and probably is so please go look - and personal thoughts about 'reputation' which may be wrong and probably is. Furthermore my solutions, for all I know are already in place, in which case....whatever!

My suggestion is for three new workflow components. Both of these changes assume the good-will and best intentions of moderators and others, which I've observed. It's still down to their personal judgement.

  1. Alter the Stack-exchange application, such that a 'down-vote' action is changed from a simple control event, into a process that begins with the down-voting event, and completes a few days later when the task shows up on the same person's 'to-do' list, to simply review the decision based on subsequent events if any. At that point they can either confirm the down-vote, mark it for second-opinion, reverse the decision, change it, whatever.

  2. Have a new status for questions that defaults to something like "answerable within consensus", but other statuses like "speculative/risky" and then "tagged for deletion". Include an explanation about the reality of the world being full of non-scientific explanations and agendas and the need for stack-exchange to maintain scientific integrity.

  3. add a new status to individual comments/answers that corresponds to the status of the question at the time. So in other words, it becomes possible to give a risky answer to a risky question. It's still going to be more risky than answering within consensus, and there are good reasons why it should be. But it will allow people to take measured risks...in the knowledge that anyone judging will have sight of the context that the question itself was risky. It's still down to personal judgement, how risky is reasonable, and how much is too much.

Concluding remarks I think changes like this will have a small but compounding effect. Over time and over many many events and people, the impact will continue to grow and eventually it will become dramatic/striking. This is because it directly mitigates the down-side of reputation without diluting reputation. And reputation is fundamental to human society, so the impacts are larger over larger intervals. Thank you for reading.

The promised link: Why are orbits around black holes stable?

  • $\begingroup$ For some reason the final paragraph didn't make it from Word to the Stack input field. Sorry for that :o) and I paste it below. $\endgroup$ – Lucy Meadow Apr 29 '15 at 23:51
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    $\begingroup$ Changing the way downvoting works has been discussed on Meta Stack Exchange many times, this isn't the place to discuss that, this is about whether or not the users on this SE tend to be downvote too much. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Apr 30 '15 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ Hi Lucy, remember that downvotes here in the Meta just express disagreement not cricism. So the (at the time of writing) two downvotes this answer has attracted just means two people disagree with the sentiments expressed in it. And actually I disagree as well, though I haven't downvoted. The voting system is an essential part of the site and generally works well, and I don't think the changes you suggest would help. My point is just that I think we are sometimes a bit trigger happy, as you suggest in your opening few paragraphs. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Apr 30 '15 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, I do feel the downvoting of your question was harsh, and I suspect the downvotes were mainly from people who hadn't encountered the Gullstrand-Painlevé metric and therefore didn't realise what you were referring to. Actually I think this is a good example of people reaching for the downvote trigger without first stopping to think whether it was warranted. However the fallacy that black holes suck matter in is so widespread that I can see why your question got a knee jerk reaction. In that respect you were just a bit unlucky. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Apr 30 '15 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding your third proposal, this is already well covered by the timestamps and edit histories. On occasion an answer will look out of place w.r.t. the question, in which case one can see the revision history (clicking on the edited... timestamp on the question) to see the version at the time the question was written. It is slightly clunky in those cases, but it keeps the system simple for the vast majority of posts, which do not need anything like that. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Apr 30 '15 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ hi John Rennie thank you for saying that just in case I was a bit uptight about negative marks :o) It's thoughtful. Yeah looking at those ideas I upchucked they look a bit rubbish to me as well. The only part of this I do feel could benefit from some kind of innovation is a sense in which people are averse to speculative answers, where questions are themselves. like I've got a question about the CMB anisotropy cosmically aligned ecliptic thingy. I really want to talk about it and others also. It's been around now since the 1990's, that's 20 years. $\endgroup$ – Lucy Meadow May 4 '15 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ All the attempts to explain it have failed. And possibles currently talked about, go back to the 2000's when the chances of the effect occurring randomly was somewhere in the 1% range. Since then several independent alignments have been found, the odds now of random are millions and millions to one. Why aren't people talking more? I mean, I know why...it's the history and religious dogma. But that's like saying they own it and their made stationary Earth thing is the only possible explanation. $\endgroup$ – Lucy Meadow May 4 '15 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ Science does this a lot in recent history. The big Bang was feared by one camp mainly because it seemed religious. Rare Earth Theory was ignored when it's a an excellent argument. $\endgroup$ – Lucy Meadow May 4 '15 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ @LucyMeadow: You could ask in the Physics Chat. There's a chat session today (05/05/15) at 16:00 UTC. Anything goes in the Physics chat, except of course for gratuitous obscenity and the twin paradox. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie May 5 '15 at 7:07
  • $\begingroup$ oh I'm sorry I missed that. I logged out before you wrote it and I'm just back now. If you remember and have a moment to do it would you tell me the next time you're going to a chat $\endgroup$ – Lucy Meadow May 7 '15 at 13:09

I wouldn't usually downvote a duplicate, but it seems to me that people should be checking for duplicates first, before they upvote any question. I've been trying to do that more myself recently. In response to The Dark Side's point: if a question is flagged as a duplicate, then are any reputation gains for upvotes on the question reversed? If not, maybe they should be?

  • $\begingroup$ Would be interested to know what the downvotes are for ... ? $\endgroup$ – Time4Tea Apr 30 '15 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ It's not really clear how you want to say with this. IF you want to respond to TheDarkSide, why don't you comment on their post? Also, note that downvotes on meta can also just express disagreement with what you have written, there doesn't need to be anything "wrong" with what you wrote. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Apr 30 '15 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ For your questions: No, reputation gain or loss is not affected by closing (for any reason) at all. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Apr 30 '15 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind: Ok, of course that's fair enough if people just disagree. I thought they might have been viewing it as inappropriate for some reason. $\endgroup$ – Time4Tea Apr 30 '15 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ There can be value in a asking a duplicate if the new version has a significantly different title that will come up on searches than miss the original. As such a blanket policy might be a bit much. My personal irritation is triggered by questions with nearly identical titles and by people who habitually answer questions when they could reasonably have assumed to be duplicates. $\endgroup$ – dmckee May 3 '15 at 0:47

Contradictions, contradictions everywhere!

Firstly, note that this is a forum, not a scientific institution. The majority of people use a forum because they want to obtain a solution to a certain problem in cooperation with other people. Facts and solution to most exercises or other scientific data can be found on databases, books etc. If merely I wanted to obtain a solution to a problem there is no need for a forum like this. It is far more valuable to work out the solution under guideance of experienced people step by step, than rather looking it up. It is the responsibility of the commenter not to give a way too much of the solution, but let the questioner think and get the solution himself.

Also, what is wrong about discussions? Again, for example I for myself, joined this forum to discuss and to solve problems with other people. The topics I have seen already in Physics or Mathematics are mostly basic undergraduate matter which can be looked up easily. It indeed are discussions itself and getting to know the view of other, maybe more experience members, that make forums useful.

And people who downvote a question, not formulated perfectly: Every thought about people posting who are, say 14 years old and go to school? Formulating questions and answers understandably for others also needs some pratice. People who try to contribute or extent their knowledge are discouraged if they see like 5 downvotes on their posts. How about teaching or showing them their mistakes and helping them to formulate their questions correctly? This also is a valuable process of learning. Or have you written your first publication with perfect style and experience? If yes, I would really appreciate reading it!

Concerning duplicates: If the question is not completely identical, why downvote it? The above said applies and by the means of a forum, help them people solve it step by step.

I have joined various scientific forums and the quality of the answers are comparable, if not better, although no downvote system is implemented.

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    $\begingroup$ As a matter of terminology, Stack Exchange likes to draw a distinction between the questions-&-answer model we use from the threaded-conversation that typifies a "internet forum". Of course the word still applies in a more general sense, but.... As for discussions: the site is not structured for that and does it very badly; moreover discussion detracts from the core mission of accumulating good answers to good questions. Finally, the site description says that this is a site for physicists. Though it accommodates them to some degree students of any age are not our mission here. $\endgroup$ – dmckee May 10 '15 at 5:17
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    $\begingroup$ You are right about saying that the target audience is physicists or students, though no further steps are taken to ensure that not everybody will create an account. Furthermore, most forums have categories as "school matter", "university", "grads" etc. Tags do not seem to be enough to replace categories. Also discussion is an elastic term. Is for example interpreting a solution considered discussion here? Ironically it indeed are the advanced problems which are discussed the most, so if discussions are not allowed I really doubt this model of forum. $\endgroup$ – EpsilonDelta May 10 '15 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ All I can do is repeat that Stack Exchange sites are intentionally not modeled on "forums", because we don't want this place to suffer the fate of forums. The users of Physics have consciously and intentionally decided not be a homework answering service. Most of the users here are past that stage of their career and are not interested in simply re-hashing it endlessly: they want to conduct interchanges at a more sophisticated level. $\endgroup$ – dmckee May 13 '15 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ I understand your argument and for this intention you are right. However, Stack-Exchange is still stuffed with exercise-like questions and for every other reason to use it, since discussions are not welcomed, it is useless. By the way, in every seriousness, how can somebody downvote my answer, since this question is obviously opinion based? A perfect example to see, that also "quality" is seemingly opinion based. This is getting really ridiculous... $\endgroup$ – EpsilonDelta May 13 '15 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ "in every seriousness, how can somebody downvote my answer, since this question is obviously opinion based?" On meta, downvotes mean disagreement with your opinion. $\endgroup$ – dmckee May 13 '15 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ The Stack Exchange sites are not forums (fora?). They are think tanks. $\endgroup$ – Peter Mortensen Feb 23 '18 at 14:35

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