Although a context would be helpful, but a general trend I have noticed on SE sites and not this in particular is the fact that a perfectly valid question/answer gets downvoted due to nature of comments which goes south. No doubt etiquette and politesse is important but shouldn't we judge q&a on merit of it's content instead of the baggage of etiquette that comes with it?

Also, it seems questions that are in the line of -I apologize if this is too basic for this site -I am sorry for this dumb question

or any self-deprecatory ones that goes defensive quickly for appeasement of others seems to be looked favorably. Again from psychological point of view, this sort of kowtowing is held laudably because voters don't get offended.

Tangentially, all the sensationalist questions dealing with major unsolved problems that claims to have a solution also gets downvoted pretty quickly. Again from psychological point of view it seems that voters get offended implicitly with the assumption: If you are a genius why not submit to journal? This only prevents from creative output and yes, a downvote for violating the FAQ rules that SE is generally not for review is perfectly valid, but it seems to be an issue of ego.

Coming back to original point, if comments have some negative quality they should be flagged or removed instead of impacting the user's main point.

(Btw, it seems to me a bit ironic that sometimes the sheer number of negative votes actually cause me to click the questions instead of avoiding them. Yes, I know purpose of downvotes is quality control.)

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    $\begingroup$ This has been discussed here before. Votes are not immediately linked to mathematical quality of the post. People have to stop thinking that. I am certain that you can easily find examples of good mathematical posts whose vote count is of a single digit; and populist posts which have no deep insights, and are rather short and easy on the eyes, which has over 50 votes. How does that correlate for you? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Oct 29, 2012 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough! Didn't consider it that way. $\endgroup$ Oct 29, 2012 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Mahmud The point you raise is quite valid. Votes should be strongly correlated to the mathematical quality of the post. Unfortunately a minority of users often vote otherwise, e.g. voting based on spite, history of the OP, tangential comments, etc. This should be strongly discouraged, since it greatly harms the site. Extra-mathematical problems independent of the mathematical content of posts can (and should) be handled either by flags and/or posts on meta. $\endgroup$ Oct 29, 2012 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Asaf You linked twice to the same answer. $\endgroup$ Oct 29, 2012 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill: Really? Minority of people think that? Do you really think that in mixedmath +52 answer is mathematically better than Brian's unvoted answer that clearly shows a lot of effort being put into? If you think that, then something is weird. And if you think these are the only two exceptional examples, then you should take a look again. Perhaps visit more threads than the ones you answer or audit as a moderator. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Oct 29, 2012 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael: Thanks! I have corrected that. (Silly ctrl key) $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Oct 29, 2012 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill, that votes should be strongly correlated with anything in particular is your personal opinion. This is, above all, a social site. Please do not try to force your particular vision on everybody else, or at least do it without the should tone... :-/ $\endgroup$ Oct 29, 2012 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ A lot of the users of the site in fact lack the mathematical maturity required to evaluate mathematical quality, whatever that might be! $\endgroup$ Oct 29, 2012 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ To add on @Mariano's first comment, in particular when you are a moderator less-experienced users (in particular people that do not have the internet experience of three decades) often perceive moderators words as semi-absolute. Please be wary of using your powers in such manner, it does not suit this site. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Oct 29, 2012 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ There is more to consider than mathematical quality. I often see very nice answers that are pitched much too high for the OP (for example, answering a routine calculus question with heavy-handed real analysis). It is not obvious (to me) whether such an answer should be encouraged with upvotes. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2012 at 18:09

1 Answer 1


I can describe three specific (and IMO, justifiable) behaviors that fit into the category.

The first is a way of reacting to problems with the question. Often, they aren't so terrible to warrant an immediate downvote, and so commenting on the problem is appropriate to explain the problem to let the poster fix his post.

But when it becomes clear the poster is ignoring the criticism -- or actively denying it (without reasonable justification) -- downvotes become the more appropriate response.

The second is a sort of thresholding effect. There might be a problem which is almost -- but not quite -- bad enough to motivate one to downvote, but the negativity in the comments gives them that little extra push to make the downvote.

The third is spite. A negative response to antagonistic comments by the poster will prompt people who otherwise might not have cared enough about the question to instead pay attention, and look for valid criticisms that they might have otherwise ignored.

(Just to be clear, I am referring to spite providing motivation for reasonable behavior, rather than to people acting unreasonably out of spite)

While these are examples of how comments influence behavior, strictly speaking, neither of these behaviors apply to "perfectly valid questions". But there are, of course, many different opinions on what makes for a bad question (e.g. copy-paste homework) -- so while you might think a question perfectly bad, others may disagree with you.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 especially on the last paragraph. I would +2 if I could. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Oct 29, 2012 at 19:19

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