I posted the question Is math truly objective? which has been heavily downvoted (a score of $-9$ at the time of posting).

I have requested the downvoters to comment on the rationale behind their decision but I have received no response. Hence, I have decided to ask my question here.

The only somewhat reasonable explanations for this community mass downvote that I can think of are that the question was "off-topic" or "opinion-based".

I disagree with the above $-$ I believe that the post has explicit references to mathematics and asks a concrete well-defined question that can be answered with facts. Furthermore, I speculate that this is the reason the question hasn't been closed yet. Nonetheless, I can kinda see why one may be inclined to downvote the question based on their perception of it being "off-topic" or "opinion-based".

What I fear, importantly, is that the actual reason for this community mass downvote is because of or a combination of the following reasons:

  1. The question was viewed by some as "stupid" or "trivial" $-$ I assume this because of the use of terms such as "Of course" in the comments.
  2. I made an incorrect statement in my question. I think a phrase that aggravated many could have been "well, it depends". Many may have viewed this as revealing fundamental ignorance and potentially an accusation on the incredible gift of mathematics itself.
  3. The bandwagon effect $-$ from personal observations, at the initial stages of posting the question, I got only few downvotes with a lot of views (I cannot precisely quantify this as I frankly don't remember the exact numbers). However, in the past few minutes, I have received a surge of downvotes with comparatively less views. I believe this may be a result of other people downvoting it validating the notion that this question is bad.
  4. My reputation isn't the highest ($85$ at the time of posting). This may further incentivise people to believe that I am dumb and a math beginner.

I believe that none of the above reasons, if true, are valid reasons to downvote. I have presented an explanation for why I believe this to be the case with the serial number indicating the response to the corresponding reason raised above.

  1. A "trivial" question to you may not be trivial to someone else. We are all learning. The greatest mathematicians on the planet are learning. We make mistakes. By responding to a trivial question with a downvote, you are telling me "You are wrong, and your ideas are terrible and pathetic". You are not telling me "You are wrong but don't worry, this is where you are wrong and here's how you can improve". I fear to say this, but I believe this reason brings out some of the toxic elements of the community.
  2. Okay, if I said something incorrect, I said something incorrect. But what is the purpose of a question $-$ it is to clarify, correct. If every question had to be correct than what is the purpose of asking a question?
  3. and 4. I don't think I need to explain why these are terrible reasons to downvote a question.

I ask then, if there is an objective reason for the mass downvote I have received, what is it?

Additional Comments: I think I have had the privilege of seeing the great elements of the site $-$ it is an absolutely wonderful place with some wonderful people willing to sacrifice their time into contributing to the free acceleration of the beauty of math. Given that I have seen these elements in play, I understand that these seemingly bad elements of the site are unrepresentative of the site itself. Hence, I view this entire mass downvote situation in the most positive way possible, with genuine curiosity and a willingness to learn. I am not offended in any way. And I will continue to use this site just as I did before. But I want to draw on a larger point that I know has already been expressed hundreds of times. Wouldn't a totally new user on this site experiencing the same treatment that I did, with no indication of why he/she received the downvotes be totally broken and may be driven out of mathematics itself? Isn't this exactly the goal the site is against? On an external note, I would also appreciate a note about why my answer has been downvoted as well.

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    $\begingroup$ In mathematics one needs definitions in order to reason about the terms of a problem. One who poses a problem bears the burden of definition, as otherwise Readers are apt to jump to interpretations of terms that the author did not have in mind. The word objective does have a common usage in mathematical optimization, but I feel sure you have a different meaning in mind. So your setup of the problem should include at least links (preferably phrased in your own words) to a definition of objectivity about which we can all reason together. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Apr 2 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ @hardmath Fair enough, I'll add that right away. But a few points $-$ absolutely no one mentioned an issue of definitions in the post itself (if they did, I would have corrected it immediately). Is that a good reason for $\color{red}9$ downvotes !? $\endgroup$
    – user954997
    Apr 2 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not one of the downvoters, so perhaps I'm trying to address the other side of the issue, i.e. what makes a Question worthy of (my) upvoting. It did seem to me that the meaning of your example expression (and how it is defined or not) is central to a couple of Answers posted there. Note that logical objectivism is a philosophical construct, so some disambiguation would be very helpful. You might be interested in foundations of mathematics or constructive mathematics. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Apr 2 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ @hardmath Thank you for your response. If you notice, in my edit, I have mentioned a definition of objectivity in response to Bram98's answer. This should have certainly been at the top of the post and is perhaps not the most appropriate definition in context. However, I believe this ties back to my initial point about a misunderstanding of constructs. My misunderstanding should not merit a downvote because the purpose of a question is to clarify one's misunderstandings, not ridicule them. Not upvoting it - that's totally your choice, but downvoting and not upvoting are different things. $\endgroup$
    – user954997
    Apr 2 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Anon P. Please read How to ask a good question. Secondly, on this site we have a closure reason dedicated to opinion-based questions, and questions which can only be answered by opinions. Objectivity is necessary. Even your question suggests what you want to hear. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Apr 2 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ Requesting downvoters to comment on the reason for the downvotes is a fool's errand and a waste of time. We've all done it from time to time (at least I have, though not in a long time). Unless they revisit the question, they won't see the request; and if they felt like explaining, they would have done so in the first instance. $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ @ArturoMagidin I do it to ensure that I do not repeat the same mistakes (if I made any) in the future. $\endgroup$
    – user954997
    Apr 2 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not saying you don't have a reason to ask. I'm saying it is fruitless, and that this post is just another in a long series of such posts in meta... and yet another fool's errand. You'll get a lot of "I didn't, but this is why I would have..." which doesn't tell you anything. $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @ArturoMagidin I humbly disagree. Even if a past downvoter may not see the post again, a future downvoter may, I believe. In that sense, I could benefit from knowing the mistakes I have made. $\endgroup$
    – user954997
    Apr 2 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ Good for you. With the experience of a much longer presence in this site, I stand by my informed opinion over your naive and uninformed one. $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ As to the specific mistake there: you are trying to engage in a philosophical discussion about the nature of mathematics. That is not what this site is for. $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ @ArturoMagidin Thank you for the response. Things make more sense now. I am still slightly hesitant to believe that a mass downvote would be an appropriate response to a question like this. $\endgroup$
    – user954997
    Apr 2 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ Downvoting an inappropriate question, and for those with the priviledge to do so voting to close it as inappropriate, are in fact the standard responses. Downvoting removes it from visibility. $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ @ArturoMagidin Perhaps my questioning stems from the fact that I did not have a clear picture of why my question had been downvoted and was hence in a state of darkness. I appreciate the clarifications on your part. $\endgroup$
    – user954997
    Apr 2 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ This ended up quite sadly.. OP left the site :( $\endgroup$ Apr 5 at 23:36

3 Answers 3


There are a number of shortcomings in your Question, but I am confident that you have a genuine interest in asking and that there is a good problem involved. However it may be a philosophical problem rather than a mathematical one.

I don't know why others downvoted your Question, and only they could speak to it if they wished. Voting is done anonymously by design. While there are some drawbacks to this, the importance of secret balloting is commonly understood to lie in promoting honest voting and preventing collusion.

There is a chatroom Constructive Feedback devoted to helping newish users such as yourself better frame Questions. Since my advice, to define what objectivity means in the context of your Question, seems to have met objections by @amWhy, let me make here a few observations.

The body of the Question should be edited to provide clarification as to the meaning of terms used, when such clarification is requested. Your definition "freedom from bias". This is normally applied to people, not to inanimate objects. "The computer said so; it must be objective," is not a credible sentiment. So one wonders how it might be applied to mathematics or if your intention was to apply it to people who do mathematics.

Your example of an infinite sum is similarly ambiguous. Without further definition it is the ambiguity of the notation $1 - 1 + 1 - 1 +\ldots$ that leads to confusion, not a lack of objectivity in mathematics (though perhaps a shortcoming of authors using such an expression without clarification).

In that way I think your post did not present a compelling math problem (one that can be resolved by reasoned arguments from assumptions and definitions). So downvoting is unsurprising to me on such posts. It could be improved, possibly to being a good problem in the philosophy of mathematics, by including the results of research on these two points:

  • Who claims mathematics has objectivity (carefully defined)?

  • On what does that claim rest? (Is it supported empirically? Or otherwise?)

Voting serves a purpose as noted in the Site Tour. Good posts rise to the top, and poor posts sink down. Math.SE has a good reputation for quality content, at least on a prominent search engine. Guarding that reputation is important to many of us, though we vote independently and don't always agree.

Good luck in using the site to learn more about math... it is very interesting after all.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 a philosophical problem rather than a mathematical one $\endgroup$
    – GEdgar
    Apr 5 at 16:28

From the Help

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Not all questions work well in our format. Avoid questions that are primarily opinion-based, or that are likely to generate discussion rather than answers.

I think your question does not fit into this place. It's not about one of the topics listed under "Ask about...". And it generates discussion, rather than answers.

Already the first sentences are questionable to me.

Math is described as the language of the universe [...]

that is too much pathos, so I will ignore it.

Math is described as the language [...] [it] has a key property of objectivity

The language has the property of objectivity? Or do you rather want to say the statements of math (should) have the property of objectivity?

$$1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + ... = ?$$ There are $4$ possible answers: $\text{divergent (no sum)}, 0, \frac{1}{2}, 1$

No, not really. If you are talking about real infinite series where this sum is defined as the limit of $$1, 1-1, 1-1+1, 1-1+1-1,\ldots.$$ then it does not converge. This is the only correct answer.

So I think this is actually the wrong place for your question and don't think it can be repaired. But meaning that this question is not appropriate to be posted here does not mean that there aren't places where you can post this question, and where you find people that will discuss about it with you.


Disclaimer: I wrote an answer to the question.

I suppose a possible reason people downvoted the question is due to their lack of knowledge and thinking in mathematics. They just haven't thought of what you have said about and considered it irrelevant question from the starting.

If suppose, they had thought more detailed about these situations, then they would have been more welcoming of the question.

Also, I feel the amount of downvoting done was a bit like bullying due to the mental responses people have towards voting. I mean, what exactly is the point of downvoting after like five or six downvotes?

Also I'd argue that the argument of questions needing to be absolutely objective on site makes no sense as how can a subjective interpreter make an objective judgement?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think Satan chooses his guests based on their scores on math.stackexchange. $\endgroup$ Apr 3 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with the bullying part, especially when it isn't accompanied with good reason. I think there's a good and bad side to the community. The good side can be really good, and the bad side can be really bad. $\endgroup$ Apr 3 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ Score is never an appropriate consideration for voting on a post; every vote should be made as if it was the first, on the post itself. Throwing insults at people based on the singular fact they downvote a post you think is good, is absolutely not appropriate. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    Apr 3 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ You're trying to rip out the fact that it's Humans using site and trying to make it in a way that some robots which evaluates post based on some absolute criteria. The idea of every vote being made unbiasedly is a more of an explanation of what you wish the system was like than what it really is. $\endgroup$ Apr 3 at 21:10

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