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While I welcome anyone to disagree, it is completely plausible to me that scenarios involving a "culture of down-voters" could become a negative burden on the site, and actually discourage potential contributers of positive and/or useful answers to questions. To me, that would not be a good thing.

Overall, I think the SE does a pretty good job of having rules and intentions surrounding down-votes, and outlining these. For example, deducting reputation points from those who down-vote, often can make users weigh their reasons for down-voting more seriously. There are rules regulating serial down-voting in place to prevent such disingenuous actions. I think these rules have clear intentions, in that they are meant to discourage actions that are negative to the site, while at the same time leaving the down-vote in play for the well thought out voter for such things as limiting posts, and responses that are detrimental to the quality of the site.

However, albeit subjectively speaking, I am not lately feeling sufficiently impressed with the voting trends, compared to when I first joined, based on how I see votes assigned to a variety of posts. I also see a number of posts reflecting the dissatisfaction of people who have been down-voted. Of course, that does not mean the down-votes were not for good reasons each case (in many cases they are), nor that my subjective senses are objectively coherent. Never-the-less I raise the question, objectively-- When does down-voting actually harm the site's culture, despite the voting guidelines, and how could such be assessed? How are/ and are voting guidelines occasionally reviewed/ modified to keep things "pleasant" so to speak?

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    $\begingroup$ Your post offers a vague claim that downvoting is harmful without any evidence. What do you expect people to say? $\endgroup$ – dmckee Feb 11 '17 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ Why do you think there is anything unpleasant about downvotes? Can you prove that there is any sort of emotional connection with downvotes or upvotes? $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 11 '17 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ Related: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/6754/50583 $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Feb 11 '17 at 23:31
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    $\begingroup$ I have to agree with dmckee in the sense that I'm not quite sure what you're looking for here. I do see that you've asked whether and how voting guidelines are reviewed and/or modified, which is a reasonable question, though it'd be sort of hard to give a useful answer without having a better idea where you're going with that. (E.g. what sort of modifications do you think should be considered?) Going beyond that, I'm really not sure what to say. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 11 '17 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's pretty clear that this is a question about at what point downvoting can be harmful (as a community/culture - it is understood serial downvoting is not good), not an accusation of downvoting on Physics.SE being harmful or anything like that. $\endgroup$ – heather Feb 12 '17 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ I think a larger issue is that voting isn't meaningfully incentivized, which invites the same problems here that it does in democracies with low voter participation rates. This is, people are more likely to vote when they have strong opinions, incentivizing people to provide answers that provoke sufficiently strong reactions as to earn votes, rather than providing answers that a random cross-section of the community would deem to be of high-quality. $\endgroup$ – Nat Feb 12 '17 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I don't think that down-voting itself necessarily happens too often. The first question I'd answered on this site was What makes cheese so effective at absorbing microwaves?; the top-voted answer there seems pretty popular, though it's factually incorrect. If anything, voters were too lax in their acceptance of incorrect information. $\endgroup$ – Nat Feb 12 '17 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Nat: That question hit the HNQ list, so most of the upvotes come from less-than-knowledgeable people who are not regular members of the site. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 13 '17 at 10:57
  • $\begingroup$ I would agree that it's not an easy question to address, but it is something of a discussion that I think is interesting to have,...definitely not meant in any "claiming" sort of way. I agree with Nat in that some popular answers that seem painfully less correct than some unpopular ones...so mixing voting with physics has some quirky outcomes in places. Is that a scenario worth pondering voter incentives over, or is it best just to not worry about such things? $\endgroup$ – IntuitivePhysics Feb 13 '17 at 20:43
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When does down-voting actually harm the site's culture, despite the voting guidelines, and how could such be assessed?

I would say that downvoting would actually harm the culture if all questions and answers were downvoted into oblivion. As long as there are a few competent voters, I have no concerns this would ever happen. Perhaps a looser constraint1 would be if the number of downvotes over times increases to beyond the upvotes over time (i.e., more downvotes given than upvotes). But that isn't happening.2

A simple way to address such an active harm would be to post it on Meta as you've done (and John Rennie as well). As JohnDuffield mentioned as well, physics chat is another place to bring this up.

How are/ and are voting guidelines occasionally reviewed/ modified to keep things "pleasant" so to speak?

I don't think there are any voting guidelines on any SE site and I don't think there should be any guidelines. Ever. Your vote is yours to do with it as you please, even if it's to downvote an answer that is actually correct or give an upvote to an answer that is strongly downvoted.3


1. I am not sure I'd believe such a statistic, but I think an argument could be made for this one.
2. The number of downvotes is increasing, but at a lower rate than posts made and upvotes granted.
3. Both actions are generally looked down upon here, but there is not actually anything that can be done about it, so we all just live with it.

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When does down-voting become harmful to the site?

When people collude to downvote good answers with robust references for insincere reasons. Of course, the flip side of this is harmful too. If people collude to upvote each other's poor answers, that's not good. Especially since doing this would provide ample "ammo" points for downvoting.

While I welcome anyone to disagree, it is completely plausible to me that scenarios involving a "culture of down-voters" could become a negative burden on the site, and actually discourage potential contributors of positive and/or useful answers to questions.

I don't think anybody could argue with that. What they might argue is that it doesn't happen much so it's not a big issue. I would say stack exchange "officers" have a tendency to downplay any issues and portray the site and the anonymous voting model as more perfect than it really is.

To me, that would not be a good thing.

Agreed.

Overall, I think the SE does a pretty good job of having rules and intentions surrounding down-votes, and outlining these. For example, deducting reputation points from those who down-vote, often can make users weigh their reasons for down-voting more seriously. There are rules regulating serial down-voting in place to prevent such disingenuous actions. I think these rules have clear intentions, in that they are meant to discourage actions that are negative to the site, while at the same time leaving the down-vote in play for the well thought out voter for such things as limiting posts, and responses that are detrimental to the quality of the site.

I'm not sure it does. I seem to see a lot of expert posters who are ex posters, a lot of popscience non-answers getting lots of upvotes, and a lot of good answers getting downvotes.

However, albeit subjectively speaking, I am not lately feeling sufficiently impressed with the voting trends, compared to when I first joined, based on how I see votes assigned to a variety of posts. I also see a number of posts reflecting the dissatisfaction of people who have been down-voted.

Doubtless.

Of course, that does not mean the down-votes were not for good reasons each case (in many cases they are), nor that my subjective senses are objectively coherent. Never-the-less I raise the question, objectively-- When does down-voting actually harm the site's culture, despite the voting guidelines

See above.

and how could such be assessed?

By talking through examples. By scientific debate. In for example a chat room. However in my experience such debate seem to be discouraged here.

How are/ and are voting guidelines occasionally reviewed/ modified to keep things "pleasant" so to speak?

I can't answer that. But I will say this: science is not a democracy. All the upvotes in the world won't make a wrong answer right, and all the downvotes in the world won't make a right answer wrong. Personally I'm perfectly happy for people to know that I've downvoted an answer. When I do I usually say something.

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    $\begingroup$ When I do I usually say something yes, something like "I downvoted you because you downvoted me" Very useful, isn't it? $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 12 '17 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Kyle Kanos : I never say anything like that. Which is why you can't furnish examples of such. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Feb 12 '17 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ You mean you never said this? What, did your account get hacked? Did the Russian's do it? (I initially didn't put this one in b/c I was on mobile and searching there is a PITA) $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 12 '17 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ (That's also saved as a screenshot in case you opted to delete that comment) $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 12 '17 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ What I said was this: I downvoted you, because I presume you downvoted me. And because the "sorta converse" first portion of your answer would be improved with some clarification. It concerns the collapse of massive short-lived stars which are thought to result in GRBs. But the formation of these (and other less-massive stars) was not the result of GRBs. Also note that the second portion might be improved with some more recent references. You will note that I've received a rash of anonymous downvotes today. I gave some good reasons there, and have nothing to hide. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Feb 12 '17 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ You added some BS based on your complete lack of knowledge on the subject to fake justification of your retributive actions. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 12 '17 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Kyle Kanos. I know plenty about the subject. And that there were a lot of supermassive short-lived stars in the early universe that ended up as a gamma-ray burst. The GRBs were the result of star formation, not the cause. Your answer didn't make this clear, and was misleading. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Feb 12 '17 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ And yet your answer is completely irrelevant to OPs question on that post (heck, you even say that you don't know the answer!). You even cite a debunked claim because you don't know any better. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 12 '17 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos : my answer was totally relevant, it dealt with the OP line by line, and it gave references. However there are conflicting references on the subject of the early universe, and the evidence is not conclusive. Hence I said I don't really know the answer to that. And as I said in my comment, the truth is we don't know. You don't either. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Feb 12 '17 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ My answer gave references from scholarly articles that did addressed the question. Your answer gave references to pop-sci articles that did not address the question. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 12 '17 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Kyle Kanos : my answer addressed the question step by step with relevant references. And it avoided confusing cause and effect. Yours didn't, hence your reference to arxiv.org/abs/1109.0990 which said this : "The probable origin of long duration GRBs in the deaths of massive stars would link the universal GRB rate to the redshift-dependent star formation rate density, although exactly how is currently unknown". Do bear in mind what I said above, along with that currently unknown. Especially since GRBs are not fully understood. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Feb 12 '17 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ That quote directly answers the question OP asked: is there a connection between GRBs and star formation; observations suggest there is connection, but the method by which it works isn't known. How you think it doesn't is beyond me. And let's not also forget that you made an equivocation between AGN and GRBs, showing once again your complete lack of knowledge on anything not written by Einstein. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 13 '17 at 11:04

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