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In the past days I've encountered a particular user who has made a "serial answering": he has answered several different (even uncorrelated) question with almost the same answer and the same sketches. The problem is that some things in those answer are misleading, and some others plainly wrong.

When I first saw one of these post, I downvoted it and left a comment explaining the downvote. Then encountered (by chance) other similar answer, and I find that very weird. So I looked the profile of this user, and I found that at least three more answer have the same content.

I think that all of these post are worth downvoting (and that this user's actitude of spreading the same answer only makes it worse). But I don't want to commit serial downvoting. What should I do?

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  • $\begingroup$ I've deleted an off-topic comment discussion because it is better placed in chat. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 5 '15 at 9:48
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If you think the answers are incorrect, downvote and comment are the correct actions (flagging as not an answer could apply, if it's way off base to the question). No one knows what the formula for serial downvoting is, but I would think that a few in a day probably isn't going to trigger it.

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In addition to what Kyle said, feel free to flag one instance for moderator attention with a custom flag reason. Giving us some links to the others in the flag is helpful.

We'll look at them for:

  • appropriateness to individual questions.

  • the degree to which they might constitute spam.

  • the possibility that if they really are warranted on those several question we should be merging the questions as duplicates (and then killing the duplicated answers).

and so on...


I'd also like to add that the policy of voting the content and not the user is usually interpreted as implying that you should not single out a single user for down-votes. If you find yourself using the "all actions" tab in another user's profile to hunt down post to dislike you are straying into the dark side.

Vote the posts that you see as you judge them and trust in the crowd to do the right thing in the long run.

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If you downvote with a valid explanation, I really don't think you will fall foul of serial downvoting. There's so many questions on the site that concern say electromagnetism that we're bound to see some similar answers. It's a fact of life. And of course, you could always refer to those similar answers. In addition you could spread your activity over a few days. On top of that it might help if you could refer here to examples of this "serial answering" so people can gauge the situation for themselves. Do note that answering questions is what Physics Stack Exchange is all about.

Another thing you could consider is giving a better answer that explains things in a superior fashion. If your answer has sufficient clarity and logic it will surely show why the other answer is wrong without any descent into unseemly unprofessional animosity. I would urge you to put some effort into this, because in my experience it can be most rewarding. Feynman was known as the great explainer, and there's a saying which is sometimes attributed to Einstein: "You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother". I think it's true. We might think we understand something, but if we can't actually explain it, then we don't. So if you find yourself struggling, you need to stop and think. Particularly if the other answer is clear and simple, and refers to Maxwell/Minkowski/Einstein/Jackson/etc. If your answer is as clear as mud, or is full of "it just is" mathematics that confuses field and force, or says these guys are wrong, it's possible that your answer is wrong.

Don't discount this possibility. We are all wrong from time to time. Knowing this and admitting to the possibility is what distinguishes the scientific community from a medieval theocracy. Indeed, it's why we have scientific progress. Remember: it's the Physics Stack Exchange. Not the Spanish Inquisition.

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    $\begingroup$ I didn't refer to any example on purpose, because my intention wasn't pointing some users (I'm not a fan of Inquisition myself), but asking the community about a fairly common issue. And by the number of upvotes on my answer, I think that I'm not the only one with thos doubt. $\endgroup$ – Bosoneando Jun 30 '15 at 0:00
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    $\begingroup$ So if you're assuming that I'm ranting about a particular user, maybe you're wrong. So please make your answer as general as possible. $\endgroup$ – Bosoneando Jun 30 '15 at 0:03
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    $\begingroup$ I offered an answer that I hoped would be useful to you, and you did say "particular user". I agree that downvoting is an issue, see the related questions. But it's a symptom of an underlying issue of dissent. And as scientists we should address that in a rational evidential fashion rather than an emotive fashion. Can I also mention that despite the voting system here on stack exchange, science is not a democracy. It's evidence that distinguishes truth from falsehood, not popular opinion. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Jun 30 '15 at 7:29
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    $\begingroup$ Excuse me, I made a mistake in the first comment, I meant my question (i.e, this meta question), not my answer. And of course I agree that science isn't decided with popularity, personal likes/dislikes or arguments from authority. Only with evidences. $\endgroup$ – Bosoneando Jun 30 '15 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ "If you downvote with a valid explanation, I really don't think you will fall foul of serial downvoting." Do you have any evidence of that? I believe that serial downvoting detection is automatic. Having left comments would be useful when challenging the system's decision that you were serial-downvoting but it's not clear that it would stop the decision being made in the first place. (Also, posting the same comment with all your downvotes might look serial; posting different comments would be time-consuming.) $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jul 1 '15 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ Yes he might be picked up by the serial downvote detector, but then he could appeal it. The problem then comes when he can't demonstrate that his explanations are valid. Then we're back into the dissent, where we have answers with robust references to Maxwell/Minkowski/Jackson/evidence etc versus comments that say "to hell with Maxwell etc, that's all wrong because I was taught different". There is no easy solution to this. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Jul 1 '15 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ I'm rolling back the edit because that's not useful information for the general issue of proper downvoting etiquette. That should go in a separate meta question. (mod edit: actually, maybe it doesn't need a separate question; in any case, I did read it and we're looking into it.) I've also deleted a few off-topic comments. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 6 '15 at 4:53

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