I've been noticing that occasionally poorly written questions that clearly go against the guidelines for writing good questions still receive answers, sometimes numerous answers. Mostly I will simply downvote or leave a comment and move on (Edit: Just realised this is a bit ambiguous, I mean here that I downvote the question and not the answers), but I was looking through the list of badges and noticed the following two:

Lifejacket: Answer score of $$5$$ or more to a question score of $$-2$$ or less that goes on to receive a score of $$2$$ or more.

Lifeboat: Answer score of $$20$$ or more to a question score of $$-3$$ or less that goes on to receive a score of $$3$$ or more.

Before I go on I have to say that, as of writing, these badges have very few recipients; Lifejacket is barely limping towards $$300$$ and Lifeboat only has $$6$$. So there's every possibility that this is a non-issue. However I'm wondering if users are using these badges as an excuse or motivation to answer questions that really shouldn't be answered, in the hope that it will later receive upvotes.

What does the community think? Do these badges encourage bad behaviour? Do the positives outweigh the negatives? The positives being (I assume) giving people incentive to answer questions that have been erroneously, or prematurely downvoted? Or is this not worth worrying about due to the low number of recipients?

• Both badges were introduced last year. See this post for more information – Arctic Char Aug 12 '20 at 12:44
• Anecdotally I have the Reversal badge ("Provide an answer of +20 score to a question of -5 score. This badge can be awarded multiple times") which was retired when (I think) the Life* badges were introduced. Getting it came as a surprise: I certainly wasn't looking for questions I thought were poor and hoping I could save them with a good answer. What I experienced was that the question was understood differently after some answers were provided and that change of viewpoint caused the change in votes. – postmortes Aug 12 '20 at 12:47
• Thanks for the article @ArcticChar I'll give that a read! – SeraPhim Aug 12 '20 at 12:51
• @postmortes Yeah that sounds like the kind of thing those badges were intended for. And it's entirely possible that your experience with it is what happens with most people. I'm just curious if it's given any users incentive to answer poor questions. Just as a hypothetical, If I had a completionist attitude to the badges for example, I might be tempted to take a scatter-shot approach to downvoted questions and give answers to as many as I could, hoping that a decent answer would cause people to upvote the question. I'm probably overthinking it but that's the idea :') – SeraPhim Aug 12 '20 at 12:59
• It probably says more about my inability to answer questions well but I think it would be very hard to achieve those badges deliberately. However, if someone is willing to write such excellent answers that it elevates a poor question then I'd also upvote them :) – postmortes Aug 12 '20 at 13:20
• Maybe answerers who answer a question which subsequently earns $\leq -3$ downvotes, and who subsequently deletes their answer,should get a badge akin to "peer pressure", but called ... ? Maybe: Dis-enabling badge? – amWhy Aug 12 '20 at 13:23
• @amWhy a better badge would be for editing their post after it receives a score of $\leq-3$, then having that same post gain a score $\geq 0$. This would show that the answerer was learning from their mistakes instead of just deleting them. – user400188 Aug 13 '20 at 11:09
• @postmortes Yeah you're probably right! And yeah if there is a really good answer to a bad question then I think I'd probably upvote them as well. – SeraPhim Aug 13 '20 at 11:44
• Honestly, I like those badges. I think they are a smart way of ensuring downvoted questions can still be answered and rephrased. – Burt Aug 23 '20 at 20:59

The StackOverflow blog post containing details on the introduction of these badges, is here.

As the writer Jon says,

These badges reward reversing the score of a negative question by answering it in a way that sheds new, positive light on the question, raising its score. It’s an answer so good it makes the question look good by association!

I just had a look at the questions on which the Lifeboat badges were earned. See here for that page.

For example, see Why is $\pi$ irrational if it is represented as $c/d$?, where a question concerning an elementary doubt(and why not : the OP was $$12$$ when he asked it) received downvotes (I would like to hazard a guess that people thought the answer was silly and hence downvoted, as the comments there say), but was rescued or swayed by the answer. That, I think is the right use of the badge, it was awarded to a question that chose to elevate the question to a higher importance with a good answer.

Similarly, most questions which had answers that were awarded this badge, were "diamonds in the rough", which is what Jon intended them to be, prior to the answer being posted.

With this in mind, I would like to think that the lifeboat badge is well merited, because it is awarded to questions which are following site standards but are misunderstood or undervalued by the community, and each of the answers is worth the reputation it got. Therefore, the lifeboat badge is a badge which is earned through effort, and not by answering a bad quality question in typical fashion.

I would like to point out at this stage, that these misunderstood/undervalued questions are often "broader" (non-specific) in nature, so as to provoke deeper discussion and allow for multiple viewpoints (including the "new light" viewpoint), or are well-written with thought-provoking conclusions, thereby stimulating discussion.They meet the standards of the site, and in fact elevate the level of discussion as well, so are worth keeping. The OPs of these questions have also participated in discussions. These questions were worth answering. OP of this meta question had asked if the Lifeboat badge was provoking people to answer bad questions : no, I don't think so.

We move to the Lifejacket badge. I attach the page of awardees of this badge here.

Here, one sees that the last five questions which contained answers awarded the badge, are closed for not meeting MSE standards, for lack of context or for being duplicates. What one notices is that these questions are more specific, and more PSQ like (go through like $$20$$ of them to see this), but it is obvious from their closure that standards are off. Now, a question like this , it can be debated if it is a "diamond in the rough". Is this a diamond in the rough?

The point I am making is this : if a good answer worth the badge comes, the resulting question should be up voted because the OP realizes that it is getting attention so must get it to meet basic standards : there should be subsequent improvement in the quality of the question, something that is not seen.

I would like to say that in this case, the answers are not always showing the most effort(some of them are not even that long or tedious) but because they are comprehensible to a large audience, the question gets the attention even if it is not good quality, and the answers get upvoted. Examples include here (where the question doesn't have the best quality, and the answers do not "polish a rough diamond" in the least) and here(same).

Basically, these questions were not downvoted because they were misunderstood : they did not follow standards. The fact that a user can elevate such a question by answering it (and that too, not that well) is definitely a sign that people could use this badge as motivation to answer bad questions.

But I don't think they do : they answer the question because (at the first level of thought, and going no deeper) they know the answer to it and want the reputation they get from it, not because they want that badge.

There are only $$278$$ awardees of this badge. In contrast , how many poor questions in a day get ordinary answers which are upvoted, taking the question up along with them, simply because they are understood by a large audience? Users wanting reputation answer these poor quality questions with bare minimum answers,knowing that the OP will give them an upvote and accept, and other users who just like the question and the answer will chime in (on both Q and A), cancelling out any downvotes received for poor quality. I am not sure the badge is motivating them.

On the other hand, there are good questions as well, those of the kind we saw in the Lifeboat page, like this (good question of effort concerning an elementary topic which was probably scatter downvoted, and comprehensive) and this (good question if slightly vague and misunderstood, but again a comprehensive answer).

So, simply because of the low number of awardees, I am going to say that this badge is not necessarily motivation for anybody to answer a low quality question. However, it could do with a little pruning, probably a little modification which ensures that only those answers are rewarded, which answer questions which subsequently meet MSE standards, after productive edits and/or OP participation.

Of course, if these requirements are too ideal, my take is that the Lifejacket badge issue is slightly being blown out of proportion at the moment, and evidence is too little to make conclusions. However, if this badge ever sees $$1000$$ awardees consisting of $$600$$ closed questions (or whatever C.I. someone proposes), I would not rule out the kind of behavior OP proposes!

• This is a great answer, thanks for taking the time to write all this out. I wasn't actually aware that you could see the answers that the badges were awarded to so thanks for bringing that to my attention! Re your last paragraph, I just want to be clear that I don't mean to say that these badges definitely cause this behaviour. I'm a relatively new member to the community and was just curious if more experienced members had any thoughts about it. I agree that the criterion you propose would be good evidence to imply what I've suggested here. – SeraPhim Aug 14 '20 at 11:34
• @SeraPhim you are welcome!I also don't write many meta answers, but I make sure I am thorough before taking a stand. – Teresa Lisbon Aug 14 '20 at 14:06
• "OP was 12 when he asked it" -- I thought the SE Terms of Service required users to be 13 or older to use the site. – E.P. Aug 20 '20 at 9:21
• @E.P You are right on that one, but then again the age of a person cannot be verified, so we can't do much about it. Having said that, an OP of any age and exposure is allowed to have a doubt like that as long as he is willing to follow rules on MSE, although as I point out, such doubts may appear silly so will be downvoted by some users. – Teresa Lisbon Aug 20 '20 at 10:27