# Should I be leery of downvoting 'competing' answers on questions?

A quick bit of motivation: recently a question I answered quite a while ago ( Combining Two 3D Rotations ) picked up another (IMHO rather poor) answer. While it was downvoted by someone else and I strongly concur with their opinion, I haven't downvoted it myself because I'm leery of any perception of 'competitive' downvoting on questions that I've already answered; in general I tend to be very stingy with downvotes (certainly more than I probably should), but this seems like a particularly thorny case.

What I'm wondering is whether this is a reasonable concern (or reasonable approach) on my part; do people concur that this is something to be worried about from an ethical perspective, or should a bad answer be downvoted regardless of whether it might be abstractly 'beneficial' to myself to do so?

• This (and some related questions) was also discussed at meta.SO. See Is it good practice to refrain from downvoting competing answers?, Should we stop people voting on answers when they have a “competing” answer? and the linked questions. They also have a tag competing-answers. – Martin Sleziak Aug 7 '12 at 19:15
• I agree with users who have stated sacrificing expertise of a question over sportsmanship isn't worth it, but perhaps there is a middle ground. Maybe instead of a down-vote, some method could be used to bring the weak answer to the attention of others, particularly those who are more experienced...Something like an "In process of peer review" flag. Then if, say, 2 or more members (having a minimum of $x$ rep points) agree it should be down voted, then the person who posted the solution will receive a down-vote. Heck, you could probably make a badge out of this. Just an example. – TheRealFakeNews Mar 15 '13 at 10:05

Bad answers should be downvoted if you feel you have the expertise to conclude that they are bad with some confidence. This is useful information you are communicating to other users, who may not have such expertise, and it is worth communicating. I agree that there is some conflict of interest here, but it's not enough to end someone's career or anything.

I believe that if one has a "competing" answer, then the task of dealing with a conspicuously weak answer should in general be left to others.

If the question is quite old, so that a new very weak answer is unlikely to get scrutiny, I think one should wait a while, and then perhaps leave a gentle comment.

• If experts adopted this policy then we would lose their expertise in evaluating answers in every question that they answer. In my opinion, that is far too high a price to pay in the name of "sportsmanship". There is no need to view such evaluations as part of some competitive game, so no need to restrict evaluations based on such. More generally, better voting strategies would help to fix the problem that far too often the best answers have the fewest votes, and worst answers have the most votes (only because they were quickest). – Bill Dubuque Aug 7 '12 at 3:00
• @Bill: Experts can write a comment, this is much much more helpful to the community. – Asaf Karagila Aug 7 '12 at 4:15
• @Asaf Of course, but that has nothing to do with what I said, which addresses only the proposal that one should not downvote "competing" answers. – Bill Dubuque Aug 7 '12 at 4:19
• I agree with the sentiment of both Steven and André (if I interpreted it correctly). Having written an answer IMHO certainly raises the bar for downvoting a competing answer. IOW, it has to be an extremely bad answer. Leaving a comment explaining, why that bad answer is not helpful, is a better way of educating the community anyway. So I agree with Asaf, too. – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 7 '12 at 6:12
• @Jyrki I disagree that there should be any such "competition". Rather, I think it would be better use votes to help raise into view the answers that we think will be most useful pedagogically, and to lower answers that are very poor pedagogically. – Bill Dubuque Aug 7 '12 at 13:51
• @BillDubuque: Looks like we hold somewhat different ideas about what kind of answers should be upvoted. I base my decisions on the principle that a useful answer is worth an upvote. IOW it does not have to be a perfect answer to earn a +1. This does have the corollary that a later answer needs to add something extra to be similarly worthy. You yourself seek to do exactly that anyway, so I don't see a great problem here. I do revisit most questions I have participated in for this very reason. – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 19 '12 at 18:24
• @Jyrki Perhaps our views are not so different. To be sure that there is no misunderstanding, please note that my prior comment represents only one of many factors that I take into account when upvoting. It was not meant to imply that I upvote only for that reason alone. I emphasized that aspect of upvoting here because it is severely impacted by the above proposal. – Bill Dubuque Aug 19 '12 at 20:31

Consider the "symmetric" situation: would you hesitate to upvote another--good--answer after you had already provided one of your own? I certainly wouldn't. I put quotes around "symmetric" because it's not completely clear to me that the two positions are indeed equivalent. My feeling is that they are, especially since I can't see how two answers "compete" in any meaningful way.

• I do not think of it as symmetrical. And neither does the system. A few days ago I got notification of a badge I received for upvoting a certain largish number of"competing" answers. Called "good sportsmanship" I think. So that behaviour seems to be explicitly encouraged. Perhaps then downvoting "competing" answers is bad sportsmanship? – André Nicolas Aug 7 '12 at 2:14
• @André If so, then there should also be a badge for "bad good sportsmanship" for those "good sportsmen" who don't upvote "competing" answers of users who they perceive to be "bad sportsmen" (which is often based on a misunderstanding of the other user's voting motivations). Rather than play these silly guessing games, why not simply vote based on the mathematical content of the answer? – Bill Dubuque Aug 7 '12 at 4:32
• Agree that one should upvote good answers even if one has given an answer. Did not many minutes ago, in fact a very recent one of yours. – André Nicolas Aug 7 '12 at 4:36
• @André I'm not sure what your final sentence means. To be sure there is no confusion, my prior comment was not mean to apply to any specific answer or user but, rather, to highlight just how silly voting behavior can get. Generally I think MSE would work much more smoothly if everyone strives to vote based upon purely mathematical factors (ignoring the built-in "gaming" aspects of the SE platform). – Bill Dubuque Aug 7 '12 at 4:50
• I think everyone agrees that voting should be based on purely mathematical factors. The concern is that one's judgement of the purely mathematical factors might be less trustworthy in these cases. – MJD Aug 8 '12 at 13:13

I think that, as long, as you are downcasting indepedently of your participartion, you should be doing it: i.e. would you have downvoted the reply even if you did not post an answer. As long as your reasons for downvoting have nothing to do with yourself having posted a reply I do not see a problem there.

Of course this is offset by your fear of being judged by your peers.

Incidentally this is not limited to StackOverflow, in many fields experts to agree implicitely by fear of being ostracised. This is a suboptimal behaviour for the group, but it is much safer for each individual, so this behaviour can persist.

• Is it even possible for people to see the individual votes cast? What can't be seen can't be judged. – Mike Aug 12 '12 at 22:02