# Should we encourage upvotes on more advanced questions, that are seemingly well written, even if you don't understand it?

Something I notice is when there's an advanced/specialized question, it often receives very few upvotes. Even if it is seemingly well written. I try to upvote advanced questions that I might not even understand, if they appear well written.

Is this good behaviour? Should we encourage upvoting seemingly well-written questions even if you don't understand it?

• It's a little risky. Well-written advanced questions could just be well-written advanced nonsense. – Gerry Myerson Feb 26 '18 at 1:43
• I guess it depends on what you mean by "understand it". If you're completely clueless on the content, then I'd avoid upvoting. If it's something that sounds interesting, though, then perhaps you're OK. Often, I can tell if I'm interested in a topic before I've fully digested it. – Mark McClure Feb 26 '18 at 2:03
• @MarkMcClure If you're completely clueless, what's the harm in upvoting? – user223391 Feb 26 '18 at 2:10
• @ZacharySelk I think the rule of thumb is that if you are completely clueless about something, you should just leave that to others. – user99914 Feb 26 '18 at 2:18
• Well, I have to say I am quite generous in up-voting good questions in advanced topics, even for subject that I do not quite understand (for example, those that I only took a course in grad studies, like alg. geometry, quadratic forms). But if it is really too far away from my expertise (in my case e.g. financial math., set theory) I feel like I can't even judge if it is good or bad (for example, there are terms that I cannot even guess what that is). In that case I really don't feel like voting on those questions. – user99914 Feb 26 '18 at 2:50
• Not that common, Zachary, which is why I wrote that it's a little risky. – Gerry Myerson Feb 26 '18 at 4:33
• What would be the goal doing so? – Did Feb 26 '18 at 6:49
• One goal is that others won't see that a calculus 1 question got 10 upvotes while an advanced interesting question got 1 vote. @did. – user99914 Feb 26 '18 at 10:01
• @JohnMa Ha. But this leaves the root causes untouched, only masking them, it seems. – Did Feb 26 '18 at 14:21
• @ZacharySelk If you're completely clueless, what's the harm in upvoting? Unconditional approval for questionable content? Doesn't that strategy skew the quality signal? I would expect stuff that is hard to understand to get fewer votes for exactly this reason... There are other ways to draw attention to it, if it is deserving (comments, bounties) so it doesn't have to rely on upvotes for attention. – rschwieb Feb 26 '18 at 14:50
• @rschwieb I think it's the other way around. I never vote on answers I don't understand. However I think you can assess a question whether you understand the material or not. Is there context? Is there an actual question? How's the formatting? – user223391 Feb 26 '18 at 15:16
• I agree that is not an "active" approach, but instead of masking it, I will say I accepted that some characteristics in SE site are so fundamental that there is no way SE team would change it. For example the voting system: as long as the voting system are kept as it is, a well asked questions about (e.g.) why $0.999\cdots=1$ will get a lot more upvotes than a well-asked questions about (e.g.) the use of W-functional in Ricci flow (Indeed I think it is true even in MO). @Did – user99914 Feb 26 '18 at 19:18
• @JohnMa Your fatalism would probably be somewhat lessened if you took a tour of other SE sites (with the same voting system), some of which are enforcing much stricter anti HW policies, with quite visible, different, consequences. Actually, the "SE team" might be somewhat bemused by the direction the "math SE community" (whatever that means) has taken this particular site into. Over time, some outsiders even tried to mention the fact, politely, discretely, as is befitting when you are at somebody else's place... They were squarely ignored. – Did Feb 26 '18 at 19:41
• @JohnMa The "argument" is trivial and hardly merits a post, imho: in a nutshell, a continual flood of no context HW questions is a strong deterrent to posting more advanced and/or more researched questions. Gives the tone of the site, if you like... – Did Feb 26 '18 at 21:03
• @JohnMa Yes MO has its own problems. – Did Feb 26 '18 at 21:16

First off, you explicitly mentioned this suggestion a while ago, and the community seemed to think it is valuable.

That said, as the comments imply, it can be a little risky... but I don't think it is a significant risk. From my personal experience, any "nonsense" is swiftly dealt with by the community, regardless of how advanced it is. I don't know if this should be intuitive for some psychological reason, but people seem to be more active towards things which are significantly wrong than giving praise for something (for better or for worse). Furthermore, advanced topics will naturally have a lower rate of nonsense (or simply be completely nonsense, spotted even by people who don't know about said advanced topic), merely because of the level of intimacy with mathematics as a whole that it requires.

So, I don't think the risks are significant at all. However, one pertinent question remains: "what is the goal on doing so?"

It is a fact, no matter how we try to mask it, that reputation points are valuable. Be it because of the points numerically, be it simply because it is a ratification of the fact that your spent time was recognized by someone else, or some other reason which is specific to each one. If you spend time somewhere and you get no feedback on it, this will eventually wear you out. And this may eventually decline the number of answers/questions on specific topics. Likewise, if questions/answers on a topic are upvoted, there is an underlying motivation for them and also a feeling that said topic "is alive". This is less abstract than it seems.

Having made explicit my opinion of the little risks and of the goal, I say that this can be a good behaviour for the site... but I don't think this should be encouraged to the community as a whole, since an en masse upvoting of this sort could be potentially disruptive (this would never happen, but...). It also has "ethical" problems which were mentioned in the comment: upvoting something can be interpreted as you signing your name (anonimously, as oxymoronic as that might sound) under the post saying it is good quality. If you don't understand what you are signing under, this is bad. If you don't think of upvotes that way, I think you are fine.

I think that the general guidelines for "asking a good question" on this site are nearly content agnostic. I might write a horribly thought out and poorly reasoned question about category theory which belies a fundamental misunderstanding of what a morphism is, but that isn't grounds to call it a bad question. The only real reason a question might be a bad question and require you to know a lot about the subject is for the question to be so fundamentally confused that it's unclear what is being asked. However, I think that this is generally a rare phenomenon and so I would be comfortable with people upvoting questions based solely on their non-mathematical content, such as their context, attempts at work, formatting, and length.

Not a perfect remedy for precisely this issue, but a nice feature that would help with this and bring other benefits for the community, would be to give a few users exceeding some reputation threshold or some maths skill threshold (e.g. holding certain badges) limited numbers of say $+5$ votes.

Not sure how well the sits with the idea of democracy.

To some degree I've seen users use the bounty functionality to this end which impacts reputation but doesn't have the same longstanding effect on question rating.

• I don't believe this will ever be implemented but I do like the idea. – user223391 Feb 27 '18 at 14:35
• I suspect the official SE answer would indeed be that bounties are the proper way to do this. Of course, you can't award a bounty to a question so, as you note, they can't be used to permanently boost a question's score. And the temporary boost they provide to question visibility really isn't as effective on large sites as it was probably meant to be. Now if we had, say, a "bountied questions" sidebar above HNQ, that might make them a bit more effective. Or not. I might try and write a user script prototype to test that. – Ilmari Karonen Mar 1 '18 at 11:53

Should we encourage upvotes on more advanced questions, that are seemingly well written, even if you don't understand it? ... Is this good behaviour? Should we encourage upvoting seemingly well-written questions even if you don't understand it?

The lack of voters for some questions is discussed here: Why aren't people voting for questions? - at length. If it's a bad question it should get voted down, if it's a good question (see: How to ask a good question?) it should be voted up. If you don't know don't be embarrassed (no one knows) just move on, you don't want to upvote nonsense.

It would be great if there was an "Interesting Questions" Tab that Mods and a group of designated experts could tag questions for, so the question would get more exposure (without necessarily having many views or upvotes).

If Mods could be given a "Bounty Wallet", so they could add a bounty to a question without pulling the cash from their own pocket, and a question received an "Interesting Question" flag from a single person (from a small group of designated experts), the wallet could supply a couple of hundred rep to at least get the question some views.

The actual upvoting should be reserved for the so-called "good question" (as understood by the voters).

A prime example is some people can take a good photo or are skilled at Mathjax, that doesn't make the question they ask useful or good. Some people need help taking photos or using Mathjax, that doesn't make their question bad or not of general interest; unless it's a FAQ or dupe.

A means to toss a 'good question' with few views or voters into an additional Tab, even to push it into the "Hot Questions" (when it's cold), would be helpful.

Voting for things you don't understand (up or down) puts an odd spin on the ball. You wouldn't wash your neighbour's car if it looked dirty, walk their dog if it looked lonely, take their wife out to dinner if they appeared hungry - if you shouldn't mess with stuff you don't know about then don't.

Those points were made in the links listed, if you're going to answer why not upvote the question, if you choose an answer why not upvote it also. If you don't know that's OK, but adding random votes or answers doesn't help the majority.

Unfortunately the asker will have to ask 'popular' questions for more votes and easier questions for more answers. Spending 10 minutes to get 10 rep is something each must decide for themselves if it's worth it.

• Mods (note: no apostrophe) are not expected to make judgements on which questions are interesting. – Gerry Myerson Mar 5 '18 at 22:27
• @GerryMyerson - Thanks. I've reformulated that portion of my and to add an 'expert group' - the intention was to permit Mods to be included in the list but also be the holder of the pursestrings (while the rest of the group do not, though if they choose they could still pay with their own rep). I can appreciate that some subjects are quite technical and a single person (or very small group) can not be all-knowing - often getting more views pulls in someone days or weeks later whom will notice an improvement; since "Me too" and "Thanks" are prohibited from comments on most of the sites. – Rob Mar 5 '18 at 23:12
• There must be some idea of "Interesting Question" flag around. How are chosen the 6-7 featured questions in the weekly e-mails each Tuesday? Those which have the most upvotes? – Wolfgang Mar 8 '18 at 14:44