# Why isn't bad content downvoted and commented on enough

In SE sites other than SO, there is a less strict "policy". Less down-votes, easier to up-vote, more "caring" people.

Good:

There is a big upside for an SE site to being less strict:

• it promotes growth. Not displeasing users will make them come more often.

Terrible:

Also, there is a huge downside to it: Quality goes down.

• Users that have no understanding of physics get easily voting rights, because most of their questions will get up-voted.

• Then they ll proceed to up-vote any answer they see in a post since "it looked like the writer knows what he is talking about". As a consequence, actual scientists will be disheartened by the low quality and many of them will never come back, lowering quality even further.

The damage will be long lasting, or even worse, permanent.

I have even seen moderators that protect questions because of a 1 rep user posting a useless answer, without commenting on it and (seeing the answer had 0 score and the user had 1 rep) I assume he didn't down-vote either.

Question:
What makes you avoid casting a down-vote or commenting on a bad answer?

Note 1:
There is great content here, I am not implying the opposite. But there is also bad content, more than there should be and this is what bothers me.

Note 2:
Down-vote statistics are of no use since there are many factors that can't be quantified. E.g. we might be having a higher down-vote ratio than other SO, but then again we could be getting much more low quality answers.

Related 1: Pretty much the opposite of this "question", and perhaps my "question" could have been an answer there. However, I decided to post it as a question to encourage others to down-vote more.

Related 2: A good post on what should be done (more frequently) with bad answers.

• The fact that my answer to the first related question is highly upvoted indicates that the impression that there are not enough downvotes/too many upvotes on bad content is shared by a sizable set of users here. – ACuriousMind Jun 23 '15 at 10:10
• @ACuriousMind Yes but unfortunately so is the question, which encourages exactly the opposite. – Fermi paradox Jun 23 '15 at 12:22
• Part of the problem is that downvotes don't actually do much. It's entirely possible to be downvoted more than upvoted and still get away with positive rep. Getting 5 or 20 rep for a +3/-5 post seems wrong, but that's the system we're stuck with. – user10851 Jun 23 '15 at 16:08
• @ChrisWhite I agree that positive rep for negative score answers is a problem, but the good thing is that when an answer is negative users know that this answer is bad. – Fermi paradox Jun 23 '15 at 16:22
• There was a Mother Meta post on increasing the weight of the downvote, but was ultimately declined (despite strong support): meta.stackexchange.com/q/7322 – Kyle Kanos Jun 23 '15 at 17:52
• For protection, it may be that there are other reasons to protect than one bad answer (e.g., several bad answers with a set of deleted ones that only 10k+ and mods can see). – Kyle Kanos Jun 23 '15 at 19:22
• @KyleKanos But that discussion was responsible for the difference in weight for up-votes on questions and answer (both used to be +10) and for the free-to-cast downvotes on questions (which used to cost -1 the same as downvotes on answers). So it wasn't a total loss. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jun 23 '15 at 19:41
• @dmckee: I recall reading the meta posts on those changes, but I wasn't aware that the one I linked to was the progenitor of those changes (wasn't around then!). – Kyle Kanos Jun 23 '15 at 20:04
• @JohnDuffield What do you mean by "loaded"? (English is not my native language.) Down-votes are anonymous so we can't know if they come from voters that dont contribute. My guess is that many down-voters don't comment to avoid arguing or fighting. – Fermi paradox Jun 23 '15 at 22:02
• @JohnD: Random downvotes on a good posts is really a non-issue (there's usually a net positive score (votes & rep) in this case), not downvoting bad posts is a Very Bad Thing™ (and a different case altogether from your point) because it literally works against the intent of the site. – Kyle Kanos Jun 24 '15 at 1:51
• @JohnDuffield That's kind of funny because the very reason I dont contribute much here is because I dislike seeing inaccurate content being up-voted. This question is not designed to trap readers. If you disagree with it you can create a full answer explaining why you do so. Also, you should down-vote if you haven't done already (in Meta down-votes can be used for disagreeing with a post). – Fermi paradox Jun 24 '15 at 8:54
• @JohnD: the other meta post was about good posts with robust references receiving spiteful downvotes Er, it had one example of a question that was downvoted once (and, due to the Meta post, upvoted 9 times, despite its closed stated). That's not really robust evidence of anything (including "spiteful" downvotes). – Kyle Kanos Jun 24 '15 at 13:41
• @JohnDuffield Thank you for sharing your opinion on whether I protest too much. I shall continue protesting as much as I wish though :) Also, this question is not about "spiteful downvotes". It is about bad posts that don't get down-votes. And since you tend to make it personal, I wouldn't down-vote unless a post is bad. We should accept our imperfection, don't you think? Since this is getting too chatty, I'd rather use the physicsSE chat. Invite me there if you wish. – Fermi paradox Jun 24 '15 at 14:07
• user 5061 : I'm not making it personal, I'm being factual. As for the chat, I don't think I can say much more. Apart from this to @Kyle Kanos: there's obviously some issue with downvotes, see google. Again, I share John Rennie's sentiment on this. – John Duffield Jun 24 '15 at 17:10
• @JohnD: Well now you're giving (potentially) more evidence, which is fair. But previously you were citing one meta post that contained one example and extrapolating well beyond a sample size of 1. Even with the Google search, I simply disagree with your conclusion because the data is heavily biased towards downvotes: why would anyone complain about getting upvotes at all? The fact is there nearly 5x more up than down votes on Physics. There's no basis for believing we downvote "too much." – Kyle Kanos Jun 24 '15 at 17:29

TL;DR: Voting is one of the things that makes the SE sites work (the review queues being another big one); if you aren't downvoting, you are not helping this place work; so downvote on the bad answers as you see them.

What makes you avoid casting a down-vote or commenting on a bad answer?

Interpreting "you" here as plural (rather than me specifically), I can think of three reasons why one would avoid downvoting: (1) time (2) knowledge (3) low score. For commenting, only (1) and (2) apply and for similar reasons to what I'll write below, so I'll be skipping out commenting (unless someone cannot infer correctly, then I guess I'll edit it in).

# (1) Time

There are almost 56,000 questions asked on this site. At almost 3 answers per question, that's around 150,000 answers to scroll through. Since we're only allowed to vote on 30 posts per day (combined up & down, there are 10 extra votes for questions-only, however) and assuming that 20% of the answers are "bad," that's still 30,000 answers and at a maximum of 30 answers per day, it'd take almost 3 years to downvote each of them.

So while we're never actually going to get to downvoting all the bad answers on this site, however we should still downvote the bad answers as we see them; it is, after all, the means by which we let future visitors know what is a good/correct answer and what is a bad/incorrect answer.

# (2) Knowledge

I think that bandwagon1 voting is bad way to vote, but it is something we have to live with on this Q&A site (e.g., the hot-network-question effect). So the best (only?) way to vote on a post is to have some knowledge on the subject being asked; if you don't have the knowledge you probably shouldn't vote.

This might seem to contradict the previous assertion to downvote bad answers, but I'd say it does not contradict it because in order to discern what makes a bad answer, you need to have knowledge in the subject matter. So, again, downvote the answers you know are wrong as you see them.

# (3) Low Score

Answers with less than -2 net score are faded to suggest that the answer is bad and could/should be ignored. Some people may think that downvoting it beyond that mark isn't necessary because it's already in an "ignorable" state. However, there are a small subset of users on this site who make it their goal to upvote all posts especially heavily downvoted ones.2

We should not let a <-3 score stop us from downvoting an answer we know to be bad; it's a bad answer and the (minimal) appropriate response is downvoting. Similarly, we should not let a positive score affect our voting; if it's wrong, it's wrong and should be downvoted.

NB: I'm not suggesting that we downvote to -infinity here, only that the current score on a question should not be a deterrent from our voting (this goes for up as well as down); the basis of our vote should be on the quality & content of the answer.

1 A bandwagon vote is one in which a person votes (either direction) simply because that is the "popular" consensus
2 The thought is that the arbitrary scoring system of a website can, somehow, be psychologically damaging to the user; upvotes are some sort of positive reinforcement. There is no evidence for this position, despite continued requests for some (other sites that use voting systems, like imgur and reddit, do not seem to have this "problem;" users often make fun of themselves for getting downvoted).

• I agree on those 3 reasons mentioned. There are a few more though. "Feeling pity"; down-votes aren't pleasant to the receiver and some users dont want to make others feel bad (ignoring of course the quality downgrade). Another reason is rep loss when down-voting answers. – Fermi paradox Jun 24 '15 at 14:12
• @user5061: I think that losing 1 rep (for downvoting) loses its scale as your rep increases, but it could be that some of the lower-rep users who populate this site find losing that 1 a bit of a deterrent. – Kyle Kanos Jun 24 '15 at 14:18
• @KyleKanos Having down-voted 500 answers on SO, I lost about 1/4 of my rep. I don't mind, but I am pretty sure many users mind losing that much rep. I think losing rep when down-voting affects most users, in various degrees. – Fermi paradox Jun 24 '15 at 14:24
• I think keeping your rep at a nice multiple of 5 is reason for some to avoid downvoting – Jim Jun 30 '15 at 17:25

It's easy to become too focused on specific issues like downvoting, and as a result lose sight of what we are trying to achieve. Downvoting is after all just a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

Actually I'm not sure a mission statement for the site exists apart from the relatively anodyne statement in the tour:

Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics and astronomy. ... With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about physics, astronomy and astrophysics.

However I suspect that most of the hardcore users would agree that we want the site to be a definitive collection of information about physics, for people who are serious about physics. So the key points are:

• you have to be serious about physics: beginners questions are welcome, but you need to be prepared to put some real work into researching and writing your question, and probably some real work into understanding the answers.
• the questions have to be about physics: science fiction may be fun, and you'll find many of this site's members on the Science Fiction Stack Exchange, but questions and answers here have to deal with established physics.
• the answers have to be definitive: answers have to be well enough written to be unambiguously understood by anyone knowledgable (though not necessarily expert) in physics, and of course they have to be correct.

Downvoting is one of the ways we try and ensure posts on this site meet these goals:

• downvoting questions is a way of saying this question is wasting the time of site members

Assuming you're still with me, the original question then becomes Are we downvoting and commenting enough to meet these goals?. And I think that generally speaking we are. I certainly find that if I post an answer that others consider misleading or oversimplified it will very quickly be commented on to point out my error. I rarely see bad answers that haven't received some attention.

Questions are a slightly different matter, because we aren't going to dissuade people from asking bad questions no matter what we do. The best we can do is close and downvote them quickly then let the automatic deletion do it's work. The key task is getting the question closed as fast as possible to stop it being answered. The limit here is not enough people willing to vote to close. Downvoting is good because it gets the question off the home page, but I'm not sure I'd go along with Kyle's view of downvoting to infinity. IIRC a -3 score is all it takes to get the question off the home page, and any negative score will qualify a question for automatic deletion.

So on the whole I think we are downvoting enough. In fact, as I have mentioned before I think we are over eager to downvote questions. The priority should be to get the question closed, and I don't think vast numbers of downvotes achieve anything.

• This mission statement is quite funny, in fact. "... a library of detailed answers to every question about physics, astronomy and astrophysics." ! Gross underestimation of the vastness of knowledge! – 299792458 Jun 24 '15 at 13:22
• To be fair, I didn't say that we should vote to -infinity, only that a negative score shouldn't be a deterrent from voting. Also, <-3 questions are only removed from the main page; they still appear on the questions page. And you can't close answers, so bringing up closing questions when OP is querying answers is kinda a moot point. – Kyle Kanos Jun 24 '15 at 13:56
• I think there should be quite a few down-votes on a single bad answer/question, so that users that up-vote blindly or out of pity don't manage to revert our this-is-bad-content mark. Also, down-voting questions can be effective as well, since too many negative questions would lead to question ban. Most users will get the message, for those that don't, making a new account every time they get question banned would discourage them. – Fermi paradox Jun 27 '15 at 8:15

What makes you avoid casting a down-vote or commenting on a bad answer?

I doubt if any of the regulars here avoid casting downvotes on answers they believe to be bad.

What one regular considers bad 'enough' for a downvote may not be for another user.

And, as others have pointed out, one must first find the questions and answers interesting enough to read and evaluate before the question of whether to downvote or not comes into context.

Couldn't something like "verified accounts" help? If an account could be verified as belonging to someone holding a PhD in physics, either the daily voting limit could be extended or the weight of the vote could be increased.

There might be people who would see this as "undemocratic", but the main purpose of Stackexchange is not to simulate a direct democracy. In science, the answer of a (verified) expert should have more weight than the opinion of a random user with possibly no understanding in physics.

• You might want to review your logical fallacies, specifically the Appeal to Authority. – Kyle Kanos Jul 7 '15 at 14:47
• Just because it can be used as a fallacy, it doesn't mean we cannot assign more weight to the words of an actual expert of the topic, rather then to random strangers who think they know physics because they've seen a few random youtube videos. While being an expert doesn't necessarily mean they're right, it has a much higher prior probability of them being right. – vsz Jul 7 '15 at 19:38
• I've killed a few comments which may have been intended as part of an effort to either improve this answer or explain downvotes, but were phrased a bit too argumentatively. I know the participants are both well meaning users, so consider this a chance to start over with a clean slate. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jul 7 '15 at 21:43
• I totally agree with your answer. I was thinking about suggesting something similar in SEMeta and/or physicsSE. The benefits of having experts' opinion being stronger, along with different types of votes (clear/unclear, research/lazy, etc) could help sort newer users more accurately and faster. – Fermi paradox Jul 24 '15 at 16:22

I never downvote questions, and in many cases questions that are in the negative I will upvote unless they are so stupid I don't bother. IMHO too many questions that are quite reasonable from a non-scientist perspective get downvoted because they are not framed in the approved language of science. Or you get comments like "I have no idea what the question is about" (downvote) when it is quite clear to me what is being asked, albeit in an unorthodox manner.

• "... I don't bother." - Why not? – Fermi paradox Jun 26 '15 at 10:29
• So you are okay with the fact that your voting habits are actively working against the interests of the site? – Kyle Kanos Jun 26 '15 at 11:52
• The interests of people asking questions comes first. I don't like a lot of the snobbery I find on stackexchange sites, including this one. – user56903 Jun 26 '15 at 14:24
• Except the founder of this site has made it pretty clear that the site is for the 100s of people who visit later and not the "people asking questions" now. – Kyle Kanos Jun 26 '15 at 14:44
• Then the hundreds of people who visit later will see a meaningful question that has not been fully downvoted by the local snobs – user56903 Jun 26 '15 at 15:40
• Oh... and feel free to downvote my response simply because you don't like it - that's the Reddit spirit! – user56903 Jun 26 '15 at 15:40
• feel free to downvote my response simply because you don't like it - that's the Reddit spirit I downvoted because I disagree with your sentiments that downvoting is somehow intrinsically bad. Downvoting is also the SE spirit as well, shame that you've been here nearly a year, gained almost 5k rep and still don't feel a part of the community, but that's your problem. – Kyle Kanos Jun 26 '15 at 16:20
• Well, given how useless this is for the kind of experimental research I'm doing I have decided you won't have to put up with me much longer. As soon as I get to 5000 I'm leaving. – user56903 Jun 26 '15 at 16:32
• One can argue the site is useless for experimentalists because we don't have many experimentalists; because we don't have many experimentalists, experimentalists shy away from the site. If you want more help for experimental work on this site, recruit some experimentalists. – Kyle Kanos Jun 26 '15 at 17:39
• I already have a PhD student doing some of the stuff, and access to Imperial College in London. My questions here seem to fall into two categories - too easy to bother them with, and nobody there knows enough about exactly what I want. Considering it's currently rated as the world's No2 college after MIT it should not surprise me that I don't get much here. What really pisses me off (albeit more in the electronics group than here) are arrogant smartasses fobbing me off with some simple "answer" or comment that shows that they clearly do not understand the complexity behind a simple question. – user56903 Jun 26 '15 at 19:46
• ...arrogant smartasses fobbing me off with some simple "answer".. - Did you down-vote and comment on their answer? Ah the irony :D Beautiful. – Fermi paradox Jun 27 '15 at 16:13
• Accept reality. Not everyone is good,and those that are good will never be perfect. Down-votes don't mean "you are a bad person" it means that you might have made a mistake. As for down-votes on Meta, they are used when someone disagrees with something (unlike the normal physicsSE). – Fermi paradox Jun 27 '15 at 16:16
• I am a big fan of Stack Exchange and enjoy many of the various communities, but I agree with the general sentiment behind Dirk Burere's answer. I have also been frustrated with the way some people are treated merely because they haven't framed a question perfectly, or because it is considered "simple" by whatever arbitrary standard the "downvoter" has conjured up. And many of the other Stack Exchange communities do NOT have this problem. Of those that I frequent, the Physics community is the only one that gives off this uninviting vibe. Downvoting isn't bad, but the way it's done here is. – CaffeinatedPerson Jul 3 '15 at 21:40
• psychologically, for a new user to get a -4 downvote on a question is like getting kicked in the teeth, especially if no reason at all is furnished (i.e., the question is so manifestly stupid that to even point this out in a comment represents a waste of time) or the reason that is furnished is something like the post's title was unartfully crafted. My point regarding up/downvotes is this: do what you feel is right, but it's best if you tell the OP why the downvote. this gives them an opportunity to fix the problem. – niels nielsen Jan 29 '18 at 3:25