The most common problem I see on this site is that many poor questions/ solutions are highly upvoted and many great questions/ solutions are downvoted. I have no problem with the highly-upvoted poor questions, but why the good ones are downvoted for no reason? For example, look at this question ( closed few mins ago ) and its two solutions:

On the harmonic sum $\sum_{n=1}^{\infty} \frac{\mathcal{H}_n \mathcal{H}_n^{(2)}}{\left ( n+1 \right )\left ( n+2 \right ) \left ( n+3 \right )}$

and many other examples we all are familiar with.

If the question is missing some context and deserve to be closed, why the two solutions were downvoted for no reason? why do not the community investigate this frustrating annoying frequent issue? At least the community should come up with a system that asks the user why he wants to downvote the question/solution so that the askers/answerers know their issue to improve their future postings.

I am sure this puzzle kept a lot of good contributors away from this site and we can see its already dying as we barely see interesting questions like we used to see two year ago. The community should come up with some methods that encourage the users to do more participations not shunning them away by letting these users downvote whatever they want after all the hard work accomplished by the posters. The community should also make a good decision regarding this mess to improve this site, otherwise more good contributors will pack up and leave.

Contributors' hard work should be appreciated, or at least left undownvoted to push them to participate more and keep this place alive and fun like it used to be.

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    $\begingroup$ While I haven't interacted with the linked post in any way, I don't think it's reasonable to say that the downvotes are "for no reason". There's a comment on your post linking to the meta post Enforcement of Quality Standards and it would be reasonable to infer that the downvote is because you're answering a question that the voter thinks should not be on the site. $\endgroup$
    – KReiser
    Nov 26, 2021 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ What I think should happen is that the users hit with EoQS come forward and bring something new. Actually tellling what kind of concessions they would agree to. Then we could finally make some progress $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen I've proposed three such "concessions" in my answer. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 5:29
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    $\begingroup$ @MathematicsStudent1122 I appreciate your post in the sense that it draws attention to the general development on internet sites. But your items (1), (2) and (3) look more like demands for relaxing the "current" rules rather than something that would look like concessions from the position "it is my inalienable right to answer any question I deem to have valid math content" that I oppose tooth and nail. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ (cont'd) Also, no offence intended, for the concession to be meaningful it needs to backed/cosigned by those six digit rep holders who have answered banal questions en masse in the past. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 5:45
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    $\begingroup$ Re: concessions. I have witnessed a few occasions, where former "answering machines" actually try their hand with hints/suggestions for improvements. Whether they come forward to talk it over in meta is, of course, not nearly as important as their actions in main. That is, after all, where the site culture develops and is tested. Any formal concession is irrelevant. My optimism has been going up lately. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 5:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Jyrki Your complaint that users opposing PSQ policies don't show up to discuss this on meta omits important context. Surely one of the main reasons many don't show up is because in the past those who did were viciously attacked - including having their questions quickly closed and deleted, subsequent "punishing" downvoting on their (main-site) questions and answers, and insulting attacks on their character (e.g. accusations that they are motivated primarily by rep). Alas, based on recent comments etc, it appears that such unscrupulous tactics are still being used. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Jyrki, to add to Bill's last comment, I was subjected to three personal attacks on this page today. You won't see them – I flagged them for moderator attention, perhaps other users did as well, and they are gone (or maybe the person who posted them calmed down and deleted them without any prompting) – but they were here. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque I'm aware. Those discussions are not fair because on one side there is a single complainer, and on the other side is a platoon of meta regulars. That is something that should be addressed. One reason for the reactions has been that the complainers hardly ever searched for older discussions. It is usually about a few isolated posts. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not even sure if I agree or disagree with "PSQ policies" and I've already gotten plenty of downvotes after a certain answer and most recent question on meta. Someone bountied some of my downvoted questions, which was amusing. (Please no pity votes; just adding data points. Personal attacks would be a nice change of pace :) ) $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ The accusations about rep are more difficult to manage, @BillDubuque. You have spent a lot of energy seeking to convince me of the opposite. Actually that has not all been in vain. Towards the other direction is Occam's razor. Because the rep game is a strong driving force, we cannot ignore it. And when some want to play that game by a different set of rules it will caus friction. And that cannot be ignored either. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry I'm grateful I don't have to see them. Internet brings out the worst in many of us. These discussions also suffer from inertia. The years of bickering have made people dig deep into their respective trenches. I don't know how to improve the matters. EoQS is still a new thing, and we need to put some effort into finding a new equilibrium, if at all possible. I spent a lot of energy, trying to find a synthesis of the opposing views. When no concessions were made by one side, it failed. When the compromise was inadequately communicated, new users entered never learned about the history. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ @CalvinKhor Honestly, I really dislike the policies regarding context, but they are compromise policies designed to make no one happy. The context standards exist because one camp sought to get rid of homework questions entirely, while another actively encouraged them. The compromise is that we still allow homework questions, but all questions must provide some context (this is, I think, a "proof of engagement" kind of measure). I would rather delete all homework-style questions, but that is the nature of compromise---no one is entirely happy. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Nov 29, 2021 at 14:27

2 Answers 2


There has been a broad cultural shift on this website over the past several months (years? it's hard to evaluate when exactly it started getting bad, but I suppose this post is really the main turning point).

Basically, the problem is being incredibly unwelcoming to users who are alleged to have "violated" rules vis-a-vis "context" or "quality". Something similar happened to StackOverflow some years ago, and it's a pity that math.se has gone effectively the same route. One might argue that this emblematic of a very broad trend of toxicity, adversarialness and a broad rejection of amicability on many online platforms (Twitter, Reddit — indeed, even Wikipedia, as those like I who actively edit it are well aware of).

I don't have a problem with the principle of closing low-quality questions. I can assure you that no one here wants to see "integrate $\int_{0}^{1} (x^2+1)e^x dx$" or something with an empty question body. But there are limits, and it is very well possible to apply a reasonable principle in an unreasonable manner.

I've been active, to varying degrees, on this website since 2015. I became recently active again just last month. I was genuinely in awe after having received two close votes and one down vote on this question, henceforth "the inequality question".

Being very mindful of trigger-happy closers, I explicitly used the word "context" in the problem description when I initially submitted the question: in this case, the context was made manifestly clear, as the problem arose from a previously asked probability theory question (henceforth "probability question"). This probability question was something I thought of myself (in the context of TA work in an algorithms course), and, in the question, I gave some brief, albeit somewhat obvious, intuition for why the result ought to hold. A partial answer to that question was given, and I myself managed to reduce that answer to that of solving an inequality, as indicated in the comments. Thus I posted the inequality question, with some further thoughts (e.g., providing a graph of the relevant function, and observing that a naive differentiation would likely be of no use since the graphed function wasn't monotonic — as it turned out, differentiation was sufficient to solve the inequality, but one needed to modify it to an equivalent inequality first). To put the icing on the cake, I posted my own answer to the inequality which generalized another person's solution in a natural way. In brief, I hit most of the "good question points" in the oft-cited "How to ask a good question?", and as far as I can tell this was a superb collaboration between multiple users, and several upvotes indicate that others agree.

And yet not one, but two, people voted to close it. And, of course, they voted to close it without providing a clear rationale or feedback. In other words, despite being a highly experienced user who made a conscious attempt (as I usually do) of providing high-quality context, the closers and downvoters refused to provide any sort of explanation.

This hasn't been the only case. I have seen several such cases, of seemingly reasonable questions being closed out of the blue.

Once more, I don't have a problem with the principle of closing low-quality questions, or even downvoting answers to low-quality questions. I have voted to close many questions myself. But it's clear to me that that there's a deeper problem here.

Here are some concrete steps the community ought to consider.

(1) Policies shouldn't be treated as doctrine. E.g. some of the best and most highly voted questions lack context. It is important to understand that particularly for sufficiently advanced questions, the expectation of "what did you try?" becomes less compelling and frankly a bit patronizing. I don't think it's healthy to regard these policies as doctrine.

(2) The mercilessness of the prospective closer or downvoter should be proportionate to the lack of effort in the question. In particular, if there is any doubt as to whether to close, don't close but instead leave a comment.

(3) There are questions at all levels which are hard to provide context to, for a variety for reasons, and this should be taken into account. For instance, something like "Why is $\varnothing$ a subset of every set?". It's not clear to me how you would "attempt" this problem. (To be clear, this particular question would be closed as a duplicate today — imagine for sake of argument that this question hadn't been asked before). Or, for another example, consider this problem I asked 4 years ago, regarding intuition for the prime number theorem. It's not clear how I would provide context for this.

UPDATE: It seems the "context crew" is mass downvoting/close-voting my recent questions, even those not discussed in the above answer, and even those where the context is, once again, manifestly apparent, as retribution for this. It's simultaneously sad and amusing. I suppose this is to be expected when you hand over a bit of power to those who have never experienced actual power in their lives. The irony is that by engaging in such actions, they simply prove my point and bolster my argument.

Some of the other recent close-votes I've received could be instructive of point (3) above. See e.g. this question of mine, where I ask for a clarification of two similar and commonly confused definitions. There is literally no way I could provide more context for this than I already have, because the question simply pertains to a definition. But obvious facts such as this escape the context-crew, who take joy in removing mathematical content from the site.

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    $\begingroup$ Well said .. thank you. As you can see my question is about to be closed as three users voted to close it... totally unfair and the community is watching doing nothing. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2021 at 2:23
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    $\begingroup$ I'm quite puzzled why you rate "best" a question that states "Is it possible to evaluate the following integral in a closed form?" then states the integral and nothing more. No doubt there are many good questions where it is difficult to supply context, effort etc, e.g. questions about intuition, e.g. the intuition behind Vieta jumping is a rich question for number theory students. But the question you supplied is among the worst possible one could imagine supplying in support of your argument. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2021 at 6:06
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    $\begingroup$ "providing context" doesn't mean showing an attempt. That's one way to provide context, but not at all the only way. See math.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9959/… Another thing: rightly or wrongly, the "provide context" brigade likes to see the context provided in the body of the question, not in the comments, and not just pointed to via a link to some other site on the web. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2021 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque I suppose we mean different things by the word "best". By "best", I don't mean questions which adhere to the codified norms of the community. I mean those questions which have contributed to the reach, influence and credibility of this website, as measured by the number of views, upvotes and quality of mathematical work. My point here is that, on occasion, there is an incongruity between the quality of a question and the amount of context it provides. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2021 at 6:28
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque The integration questions are interesting ones. Many such questions utterly disregard the "include context" rules, as you note. And yet, these questions (and their corresponding answers) often reflect brilliant mathematical work. We've all seen the work of people like Jack D'Aurizio, Rob Gordon, and robjohn. This is all good mathematical content. It has a place on this site. Thousands have viewed such problems, only to be left in awe at the breadth, elegance and beauty of various integration problems and their solutions. These are among the most popular questions on the site. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2021 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ We'll have to disagree about "brilliant mathematical work". Integration problems usually succumb to a standard bag of tricks so require little ingenuity. Further, most can by automated by using algorithms (Risch-Bronstein, holonomic functions, multidimensional residues, etc). There is usually little correlation between votes and quality (or anything). $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2021 at 6:35
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque Suppose this question was posted here today. It has some context (like a graph and a numerical calculation), but frankly I am inclined to believe that "include-context" crowd would still vote to close. We would have missed out on the beautiful answer of Ron Gordon. You might argue that it isn't actually beautiful. I think that's just a place where we'll have to agree to disagree. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2021 at 6:39
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that the enforcement may have been implemented wrongly : but the truth is that it (at least in my view) came in because many of the questions that were of the form "integrate $\int_0^1 (1+x^2)e^x dx$" were getting answered, and that too by high rep users, that you would assume have read the guidelines. I think the intention was to remove blanket violations, and what we're seeing is a margin that errs on the side of removal over retention occasionally : basically because earlier, it was retention over removal even for the "worst" kind of questions. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2021 at 7:34
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    $\begingroup$ @MathematicsStudent1122 I have no opinions re closure of that Qn, but: You say we would have "missed out on the beautiful answer of Ron Gordon", but that misses the point: questions which are closed are (a) told the issues with the question, and (b) give (generic) suggestions on how to improve it. So ideal workflow: 1. poor question posted, 2. answer closed, 3. answer edited+improved, 4. Ron Gordon posts brilliant answer. The issue is when we go $1\rightarrow4$, so the user has no reason to improve their question, and so...what? We leave the poor question alone as it is "saved" by the answer? $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Nov 28, 2021 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729, what bothers me is when it goes, poor question posted, Ron Gordon posts brilliant answer, other users downvote Ron's answer to oblivion, and close and delete the poor question; Ron's brilliant answer is lost, and Ron gets a message from the moderators threatening him with suspension for answering poor questions. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2021 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson What bothers me is that people choose to answer poor questions regardless, knowing fine well the EoQS, and then portray themselves as an innocent party. People are under no obligation to answer questions, but I think should be obliged to help users improve their questions. Heck, helping users improve isn't even that hard - they could just link to the constructive feedback chatroom, where other people will give constructive feedback to help improve questions. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Nov 28, 2021 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ @user, keeping bad questions damages the site. Deleting good answers damages the site. There is a conflict between deleting poor questions and not deleting good answers. In my opinion, the balance has swung way too far in the direction of deleting poor questions, regardless of the quality of the answers. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2021 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Para, here are some possible reasons for users acting that way: 1) the user sent the question to multiple sites, got an answer they liked on one of them, and no longer cares what happens to their question here. 2) the user managed to figure out the problem on his/her own, or in discussion with classmates, and no longer cares what happens here. 3) the user posts a question, goes away to do other things for a few hours, comes back and sees the question has been closed, gets angry, goes off and badmouths the site to anyone who will listen. There may be other reasons. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2021 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Ekadh, yes, users generally choose from among a number of generic options when voting to close a question, but the person posting the question doesn't see that until after there have been enough votes to close the question. And even then, the reason given is stated in very general terms, not pointing to any specific shortcomings. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2021 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Jyrki, true, EoQS does not apply to a single post. But it doesn't take too much more than that. Also, note that whether a question is poor or not is often a matter of opinion, a matter on which users acting in good faith can differ. $\endgroup$ Dec 1, 2021 at 6:27

Downvoting and closing contributions and questions always means hurting the author to some extent. Several times I have resolved to ignore voting altogether. But it didn't work out, after all ... so I try to adopt a mixture between ignorance and tolerance, and sometimes self-criticism, of course.

I, personally, would like to have an explanation of a downvote, which, in my understanding, is as a question of honesty. If there's a good reason for downvoting just tell it, otherwise why not simply stay silent (as wise men use to do).

For closing I would like to have more time allocated to the discussion. The item in question here I found very interesting, a bit too hard for me, to be honest, and some experts have made valuable contributions. I was some time offline, and the whole material is now no more accessible for me. A pity. I would appreciate to have the possibility to see closed items in a kind of "paper basket".

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Nov 30, 2021 at 13:54

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