Is it just me, or are we seeing a substantial uptick in very quick down-voting of questions by fairly new users who post ill-formatted, ill-motivated, or ill-posed questions? This question got a very quick vote-to-close (with a comment) and a downvote within the first ten minutes.

The OP has only been registered for 2 days, and this was his second question.

I'm not saying "absolutely no downvoting questions by new users" (though I try not to do it). I'm just wondering if others have noticed the same sort of trend, and what they think about it.


It is not just you. My impression of recent activity is similar. Perhaps it is time to compose another boilerplate standardized meta comment addressing this (recall the prior proposal on standardized meta comments). Your boilerplate comment on imperative-mode, homework, etc seems to be working well. An analogous comment addressing these matters might also work wonders.

Update $ $ Due to the puzzling downvotes here, to avoid possible confusion, let me make clear my position. I think we should strive to be as welcoming as possible to new users. Otherwise we run the risk of forever alienating potentially valued contributors. Whether one is a retired professor or a budding undergrad, it is equally unnerving to see one's initial post(s) highly downvoted, e.g. due to choice of language. One goal of the standardized meta-comment proposal is to minimize these risks by making available polite and fair boilerplate comments that can easily be located and quickly posted when need be. Hopefully this will help to alleviate said problems.

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    $\begingroup$ If you don't mind me asking, what are your general standards for voting? I've noticed that your voting profile is quite different from most users, and you're the only high-rep user I'm aware of who has given more downvotes than upvotes. $\endgroup$ – Alex Becker May 4 '12 at 7:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Alex My primary goal here is to teach. In order to optimize my limited time, I generally read only those threads whose title hints that there is a strong chance for me to teach. So, generally, the only answers I see are the few which might have already appeared in such threads. I presume that others browse much wider classes of threads, so they have many more opportunities to vote. But, alas, if I did that I would lose precious time available to teach. That's not a compromise I wish to make. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 4 '12 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Alex Re: up/down vote count, ratios: There are front-page users with 3 to 4 times more downvotes than I, and some with fewer upvotes. The reason that my ratio is different probably stems from various factors. 1. Said different thread selection criteria. 2. Many of my downvotes were in the volatile early days of the site when there were some prolific misbehaving users. (continued below) $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 4 '12 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Alex 3. I keep an eye out for well-known errors, conceptual misunderstandings, etc, so that I can help students avoid these problems. But, conversely, I don't have time to actively seek out good answers, whether for learning or voting purposes. Thus, due to this, I may tend to see more bad than good answers. Probably those who are here also to learn (vs. only to teach) do seek out good answers too. Thus they will have a very different up/down vote ratio. There may well be other factors too. But that's my best guess after a few minutes of contemplating the matter. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 4 '12 at 21:36

Downvoting of poor questions has its place, and I absolutely agree that it is useful.

However, I think that with new users our first instinct should always be to gently explain how the question can be improved rather than instantly reaching for the downvote button. Many users will simply not be aware that copying the question from their textbook with no contextual information is frowned upon.

This goes double for questions where the main problem is poor formatting. I contest that questions from new users should never be downvoted for poor formatting. Instead, the potential downvoter should take the time to edit the question to conform to our standards for formatting, and perhaps leave a comment reminding the user that we prefer to use LaTex for formatting math on this site.

Many people will simply never have heard of LaTeX or MathJax. I didn't learn LaTeX until after I had completed my undergraduate degree. It's unreasonable to expect new users to be familiar with it.

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    $\begingroup$ "I contest that questions from new users should never be downvoted for poor formatting." and "Many people will simply never have heard of LaTeX or MathJax." - very good points, and ones we should keep in mind before clicking that down button. Any fool can click a button, but fixing things to be better (and educating the OP on proper formatting besides) is a high road one can take. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician May 4 '12 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ +1. My personal guideline for poorly formatted newbie posts is: if it can be fixed, fix it; if it could be fixed but only with more effort than I'm willing to spend, ask the author to fix it. Only if the post looks so badly mangled as to be incomprehensible and unfixable do I reach for the downvote (and/or close) button. $\endgroup$ – Ilmari Karonen May 7 '12 at 15:05

I think such behavior has been relatively incentivized with the removal of a reputation penalty for downvoting questions.

Anecdotally, I have noticed what appears to be a general trend toward increased downvoting of questions on this site and others in the SE network since that change was made. Indeed, this was more or less the intent of making the change. (It is actually more noticeable to me on stats.SE, but this may be because the question volume is lower and people vote less often over there so downvotes appear to stand out more.)

Someone enterprising enough could probably try to statistically test for such an effect (which I would guess would be pretty obvious) using the monthly data dumps.

At any rate, I agree that, in general, somewhat gentler treatment of new users would be nice and beneficial for the long-term health of the site. Without (good) questions, we have no site. So, we should seek to help new users improve their questions before initiating a lot of negative feedback.

That said, downvoting certainly has its place and is still a useful feature.

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    $\begingroup$ I've only seen it for the past week or two, to be honest, and the removal of the penalty for questions dates back far longer than that. My very haphazard impression that a lot of the votes-to-close that are cast with comments are being cast by users with relatively low rep, indicating they are new to the ability; I wonder if it might be a relatively small group who has "come of age" reputation-wise and is skewing things in that respect. (We've always had un-gentle comments, as witnessed by Bill Dubuque's frequent complaints about it) but the downvotes and votes-to-close seem to me to be recent $\endgroup$ – Arturo Magidin May 3 '12 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ Could be. I don't think it takes too many users doing this for it to become noticeable. The downvotes should be more noticeable than actual full closures since the latter at least requires five votes to cause definitive action. $\endgroup$ – cardinal May 3 '12 at 19:11

I think it may be important to remember the advertised purpose of the site "This is a free, community driven Q&A for people studying math at any level". It took me some mathematical education to organise my mathematical thoughts with conceptual clarity.

There are clearly some mad, mistaken or ill thought-through comments on the site. I've made one or two myself.

It might help to think what response should be given to a bright high-school student: I would suggest encouragement. Tone is important as much as content.


I have noticed this trend, and don't think it is helpful. I would echo Eric Naslund's answer (paraphased):

[W]e are far too harsh to new users, and questions posed in that manner. ... [T]his elitist attitude is toxic. Being friendlier, more understanding and more constructive is always better...

About my voting specifically (though I know you didn't ask):

I don't know how to sort main users by (down)votes, but I suspect that I am one of the most frequent down-voters. However, I do not typically downvote such questions, especially if there is any chance of "good faith". Usually I downvote something like this and leave a comment somewhere between "snarky" and "a-hole" on the diplomacy scale.

I have also tried to upvote any moderately helpful (well posed) answers (questions) recently.

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    $\begingroup$ To spring off of the comment about newer "closers": I have voted to close 16 times since March 22, and 13 are closed. Not sure when I crossed the 3000 rep mark... $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 May 3 '12 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ The fact that the vast majority of your close votes have actually resulted in closures is indicative that there was good reason to close (though it is also my impression that after 2-3 votes to close, others follow more quickly); my (again, haphazard) impression is that there are a lot of single votes-to-close and single downvotes (of the same questions). My guess is that it is done as a way to express disapproval of the badly written questions. The main problem with votes to close is that they cannot be taken back even if the question improves. $\endgroup$ – Arturo Magidin May 3 '12 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that close votes beget (more) close votes. I also really like the (your?) standard boilerplate for poor questions. What would you think about adding something like "As it stands, this question is likely to be closed on the grounds of _____."? Then closers could upvote your comment in agreement, then eventually vote to close if nothing changes. $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 May 3 '12 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ The boilerplate is near the character limit, so there's no room to add more; a separate boilerplate is possible, of course (and, just to repeat, I stole^H^H^H^H^Hborrowed it from someone else myself). $\endgroup$ – Arturo Magidin May 3 '12 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ Ah yes, we all stand on the shoulders of giants it seems :) $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 May 3 '12 at 19:40

I disagree with one thing - new user or not. We cannot tell the OP is really a new user. I think we should pay attention to the questions themselves. If the question is ill-formatted or poorly written(some users' native language is not English), we should help to edit the questions so that they are answerable. New user or not should not be the reason to downvote or not to downvote.

I just exercised my very first downvote because the OP did not bother to read the related questions. Related questions is a very nice feature. When you write a question, once you finish entering the title and start to write the question body, a list of related question will pop up. If the OP did not bother to read them, he deserves downvotes. I myself use the related questions feature very often and learn a lot from this site. If a user is ignorant, what can you do besides downvoting? Tell the OP to use that feature?

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    $\begingroup$ "If a user is ignorant, what can you do besides downvoting? Tell the OP to use that feature?" Yes, I think telling OP to use the feature, or, better yet, telling OP the feature exists and a little bit about what good things it does, is far better than downvoting. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson May 5 '12 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry, the user is supposed to know that feature. We are not helping people to learn how to use Internet. We want to help them to learn math. $\endgroup$ – scaaahu May 5 '12 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ While we cannot tell if someone is a new user, we can tell if they are not in some circumstances. Certainly, in my opinion, it is more reasonable to downvote/chastise a user of long-standing who has posted many questions already (and been told many times of appropriate ettiquette) than someone who at least appears to have just joined (or very recently joined, or have had very little activity). I think that if there is an absence of evidence that the user is not new, we should "assume good faith" (as in Wikipedia) and proceed from there. Chastising via comments is IMHO a better first step. $\endgroup$ – Arturo Magidin May 5 '12 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ note ironic downvoting of the newest member trying to contribute to the discussion. $\endgroup$ – Ronald May 6 '12 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ I just read math.stackexchange.com/q/141631/17111. The OP asked a real math question and all answerers provided real math answers. I cannot tell if the OP is a new user or not. But he is newly registered. No downvotes that I know of. I gave the qustion and all answers upvotes because they are helpful to my understanding of math. This is why I like this site and I would like to see good quality of the questions on this site. Not the quantity. $\endgroup$ – scaaahu May 6 '12 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ Is there anything that prevents new users from being polite, constructive, reading the FAQ and searching the site before posting and thus becoming good citizens from day one? No, of course not. Is the world like that? No. There is, I think, a substantial number of people who will mend their ways once their "transgressions" are pointed to them, people who were rude through carelessness rather than nature. It's those people we want to not scare away, I think. $\endgroup$ – Arturo Magidin May 6 '12 at 20:03

Downvoting and upvoting is a system or punishment and recompense! If we start to punish the new users it will push them away the site. And besides give a bad idea of what our community is.

Everybody loves an upvote, I think a good idea is to put a system more expensive for the downvoters that is charge more for a downvoter.

A different system where you lose more point downvoting a question than an answer. Because question are never wrong but answers are. Questions are just important or not, with typo, in a rude way, maybe the language is not too familiar to the user and by language I don't mean English but the language proper of our community, the kind of acceptable behavior here.

I propose to "charge" 4 to downvote a question and to charge 2 to an answer as it is, if it didn't work then double "taxes".


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