My question is about the effects of the reputation system, and one's reputation being displayed prominently on his screen and all posts. I understand that reputation is a way to keep the website clean, preserve the intended purpose of the website, but it also seems to create a sub-game where the goal is to maximize one's reputation. Why isn't there a maximum reputation, and why is reputation prominently displayed? I am new here so maybe I am missing something, but when you talk to someone off the internet you don't say "Hello, I am __ , with n peer-reviewed papers." or something like that. One of my concrete concerns is that the reputation system might incentivize answering easy or soft questions to get a quick reputation "high", and that it might also promote some group think. If anyone has a behavioral background, maybe they could comment on what the reputation system does, and if it interferes with the math.
'One of my concrete concerns is that the reputation system might incentivize answering easy or soft questions to get a quick reputation "high", and that it might also promote some group think'
I think your concerns are valid and the high-end users probably feel strongly about this.
I don't know how this can be addressed on a grand scale, but I know getting rid of rep system wouldn't be good. Reputation is not only a number for showing but also it identifies users who made significant contributions to the website and determines who should be allowed moderation privileges. The users keep the site running.
Having said that, as individuals we can
upvote more difficult questions and interesting problems
be less tempted to vote for questions/answers which are soft or its answer could have been found by googling. (i sometimes even downvote these questions, especially the ones which shows no research efforts)
flag the easy questions for closure for 'off topic due to lack of context'
I think the main problem is that we are not doing the last thing often enough and answering these questions in a way encourages more people to do the same. I think there are too many people who uses this site to do their homework without having a go themselves.
I personally have rule of only answering easy questions if they are short (less than 5 mins to type the answer), unanswered and motivated. I think this is fine. In a sense, diversity in level is a nature of this site.
I notice the OP has a relatively low rep right now, I actually encourage you to reputation hunt until you get the basic priveleges if you get certain moderation rights, if you actually care about the site and wants to make a contribution to it in long run - in my opinion, at least in this circumstance, the end justifies the means.
Do you feel this policy will encourage you to be a reputation hunter? If you believe that you're above this behaviour - and I certainly believe that I am above it - then maybe giving other people the benefit of the doubt in general is the most consistent way to proceed.
In my short three months here I have found that the reputation system works very well compared with some other places I've been and I haven't noticed any significant negative consequences and it seems pedagogically sound. I particularly like that it's a whole community driven thing and isn't just handed out by moderators.
If everyone that uses this site participates in voting honestly, one way or the other, for what does or does not benefit themselves, or others, in their study of mathematics I'm sure the reputation system will continue to be a largely positive thing.
Addendum 1: I've read the OP again. Bad answers get very quickly voted down. Reputation hunters can make good teachers. You say that a reputation boost makes you feel good. A reputation negative can make you feel bad in equal measure. As a new user here, I enjoyed receiving up votes as confirmation that I was actually helping. Not to steal Git Gud's thunder, who has commented as such already, but bad answers won't earn reputation.
Addendum 2 (16th August 2019): This question has stayed on my mind. Has it been conclusively answered? Who wouldn't want to have a good reputation whatever they do? My original comment that I'm above reputation hunting meant that I believe I'm above seeking a reputation just for the sake of it. Education for me is a passion and I'm a social animal. I desire to make a positive contribution and a positive reputation is feedback that I'm on the right track. A quick look at my answers here will show that I answer plenty of questions that aren't easy.
The point here is to distinguish between desired behaviour and undesired behaviour. The OP was concerned about encouraging people to only answer "easy" questions, but someone has to answer them and they'll only get upvotes if they're useful to someone.
A related problem is the use of down votes. I've just noticed that my answer has attracted a down vote, but what can I learn from that if I don't know why? What concerns me about down votes is the ability to give them anonymously without explanation. Every time I down vote a question, I write a comment explaining why, but there is no obligation here to do so. Surely, if we're a genuinely educational community then we can be open about our criticism?
I don't really see why the fact that the system encourages answering easy questions as well as hard is a bad thing. If this encouragment would not exist, you would have 2 negative consequences:
Less answers to easy questions. A lot of newcomer users would give up because their simple question was ignored. These "newbies" could one day prove invaluable to the community.
Smaller quality of answers to easy questions. In a way, it's just as hard to answer an easy question because you must be sure not to drown the one asking with too much knowledge (you can't just answer "in book A on page x you see that Sterling's formula holds, therefore you..." if someone clearly does not understand more simple things). At the same time, you must keep a balance of what to assume and what not so you don't end up rewriting whole book chapters. Because of this, good seasoned users are needed on easy questions as well as hard.
Reputation systems are problematic and also ubiquitous on online forums.
Reputation serves two purposes:
- reduce spam
- increase posting by top users with gamification
The downside is false consensus and fallacious authority. Upvotes do not mean "correct" or "good" but rather "applauded within this context". Funny answers, 'politically approved' answers, first answers, and high-quality answers which were made by someone else but copy-pasted by the upvotee all yield more upvotes than their "hard" value.
The first end could be served with a limited system like what you are proposing. I believe Hacker News has come to downplay the visibility of points because of bad effects on the dialogue.
In addition to the other answers, to address your problem that
"reputation is prominently displayed", it's because it should be. A user with 10k reputation will likely say something which is true and you can trust. One with 100 is not untrustworthy, of course, but less than the previous.
I agree, though, that often incomplete or superficial answer posted by people with very high reputations will get a lot more upvotes than other better answers posted by recent user, but in the end it's not that big a deal.