# More Downvoting Issues

As I mentioned in my previous question, there have been some issues on the site with downvoting without the addition of comments.

Unfortunatley, we still have these issues. Take, for example, this question. It currently has $3$ downvotes (at least) and not a single comment. The OP has no idea what is wrong with the question and does not know how to improve it. Downvoting (without constructive criticism) is not the answer.

How can we encourage individuals to leave comments along with their downvotes?

• Plenty of downvotes with no comments on answers, too. Unproductive, and very unhealthy for a young site. How will standards raise if there's no communication about how to raise them? Dec 30 '14 at 18:06
• That question really should´t be closed. It´s a perfectly valid question - if it touches on an embarrassing problem for economic theory as we currently know it, that doesn´t make it any more invalid than criticisms of string theory in physics are for example.
– Lumi
Dec 31 '14 at 2:37
• Here's an example of a question with plenty of effort put in and, at time of writing, at least two unexplained downvotes economics.stackexchange.com/questions/1846/… Jan 2 '15 at 7:50

Not everyone will comment when they down vote. That's unfortunately a fact of life.

This is a bad question because for a number of reasons.

First, it's very nature is subjective.

Further, as a community we have largely agreed to focus on positive questions as opposed to normative (observation v. policy recommendation).

Lastly, the question is not expert level because even ignoring the frequent pounding capitalization of "elegant", if any such theory existed it would be lauded by the Sveriges Riksbank in Nobel's memory, and taught in high schools the world over.

I'm surprised this hasn't been flagged to close.

• First, I realize that some people will still downvote without commenting; I believe that it would be good, however, to have more people comment after downvoting. That is the prupose of my question. Second, don't tell me what's wrong with the question; my whole point is that there are no comments telling the OP what is wrong with the question so that he can correct it. BTW, do you mind if I take what you have said and post it as a comment on the question? Dec 27 '14 at 16:43
• I hadn't voted yet, which was why I answered your question. But feel free to use any of this you think is helpful. Dec 27 '14 at 16:46
• Why not send downvoted questions to a question menu that solicits users to see if they agree with the downvote or not? Apr 25 '16 at 20:37

Jason said why its a bad post, but here I'll say why I down voted and didn't comment.

Initially I wanted to comment/edit out the ELEGANT, but then I read more and more of the post. In the end I had the impression that it was rather a know-it-all type of post of rant-ish type. So I spared my breath.

And, to be fair, I don't think the issues are that big. You put out this one post as an example, while I believe it to be the unique example over the past two weeks or so.

• For the record, I have actually found that downvoting without commenting is becoming quite a big issue. This post is unique because it has a negative score. Also, I have continued to have people downvote my questions without leaving comments on how to improve it. I shrugged it off and figured that it was only one or two people that downvoted every post for the fun of it. However, this question showed me that many people are downvoting without commenting to help improve the question. Dec 28 '14 at 12:30

The problem isn't the downvotes themselves. Downvotes are an integral part of SE.

The problem is the low levels of constructive feedback, which is essential for a young site to set and then maintain the high standards of quality which will attract good users. I've been involved in several SE sites as they went through the public beta phase. The high standards users of established SE sites rightfully expect don't happen by magic: it takes effort.

On established sites, there's enough activity and enough high-quality, highly-viewed content that most new users can quickly twig how a site works and what is expected. On a young site like this, the majority of new users won't spontaneously infer SE's standards, expectations and quirks - it takes time to build standards and momentum.

It takes seconds to write concise, simple comments like "This question isn't sufficiently focussed" or "It looks like you're not familiar with the basics of [topic] - please show what research you've attempted and why you're having difficulty" or "This answer is speculative. We expect answers to be based on empirical evidence", and they're crucial to setting the standards and tone of the site:

1. Obviously, they help the user they're addressed to. Most first-time users of young sites won't yet know the ropes the first couple of times they post.
2. They also provide signposting for other new users - reducing the likelihood of other new users making similar mistakes.
3. They fix "broken windows". If a poorly written post on an interesting topic has [+3,-2] and no comments, it'll look like a typical example of the standard of this site. If it has [+3,-2] and an upvoted comment saying how it should be improved, it's clear what the preferred standard is.
4. Finally, they help the community consensus evolve. Important disagreements become visible, and the community will become stronger for it.

The good news is, during Beta, the rate of new content is slow enough that it's easy to give constructive feedback. Economics.SE currently has 5 questions per day. That's tiny - for comparison, Stackoverflow.com has 5,000 questions per day, Mathematics.SE has 370, and most other "full" sites have 20-40. With posts sitting on the front page for days, points 2. and 3. are particularly important.

Downvotes with no comments are a bit like tutting or grunting at someone in the street. It's normal in busy bustling cities, where there's no time to stop and explain, and where people can quickly realise what the correct behaviour is from all the activity around them. It's incongruous and unhelpful in small, growing communities where there's easily enough time to state what the problem is, and where it's not easy to infer the expected behaviour by observation.

Most downvotes without comments on a young Beta site are a missed opportunity to improve the site. By adding a comment, you'll either help set the standard the site aims for - making other users better users - or (and please do be open to this possibility) prompt someone to point out that, actually, you're the one out of kilter with the community on this - making you a better user.

One problem with commenting is that the OP will then think about how to respond to the comment and try again, either with an edit or a new post. Of course, sometimes this results in a good question. But often it results in another question just as bad as the first. In this particular case, it appears highly unlikely that the OP is capable of (or interested in) formulating a good question, so I think that any kind of feedback at all is likely to backfire.

• I see your point, and I believe that it does have merit in some cases. The problem that I have is "how do we know that the OP will inappropriately handle our comments?" I have asked "bad" questions before and they have been closed. I wanted to fix them but I didn't know how because no one gave me any comments. I, personally, don't think we can judge how the OP will act until we give them a chance. Does that make sense (or have merit)? Dec 28 '14 at 22:01
• Re. "...another question just as bad..." - not if the comment is a simple "Sorry but we don't welcome questions like this, because...". In fact, useful comments like this reduce the likelihood of a bad second question. Dec 30 '14 at 18:13
• @stevenlandsburg Its like you're saying 'The problem with giving someone advice is that sometimes they'll take it, but sometimes they won't.' That's the crazy part of this whole building an online community thing; you don't know how people will respond, and you have to take that risk. Please, don't let the reality of that risk dissuade you from coaching new community members.
– Ana
Dec 30 '14 at 23:10
• @AnaHevesi: I understand your concern, but for what it's worth, I'm speaking from considerable experience as a longtime active member of MathOverflow, where it's very clear that a small number of low-quality posters can do a lot of damage, and that some of those low-quality posters will a) never become high-quality posters but b) keep returning as long as they receive any sort of constructive feedback. Dec 31 '14 at 0:33
• @AnaHevesi: Moreover, it is frequently possible to know from a single post that this is not a user who is either capable of --- or interested in --- participating in on-topic discussion. In my opinion, this was one of those cases. Dec 31 '14 at 0:37
• @StevenLandsburg These prejudices against that user appear to be unfounded - they'd already posted two uncriticised questions with positive scores that attracted useful answers. MO is very unusual (and unlike this site) in being exclusively for research-level professionals. I'm sure it's easy to spot non-research level mathematicians on MO - but on every other SE site I've participated in, there have been many excellent users who didn't ask perfect SE questions first time Jan 2 '15 at 9:49
• @user568458: There are undoubtedly going to be excellent users who didn't ask perfec SE questions the first time. There are also users who ask questions like this one: economics.stackexchange.com/questions/1915/… . I think it's clear we don't want to do anything that might encourage such users to "try again". Jan 6 '15 at 14:09
• what @StevenLandsburg gets here but I think others miss is that econ.SE will inevitably, in the initial stages, be at risk of invasion by non-expert commenters with little specialized knowledge about economics using it as a platform to discuss their own views of the world. I think this is structurally much more of a threat for economics than most other disciplines, since economics has such a high public profile. While the site is still being established, more aggressive policies may be needed, perhaps even more than the already aggressive policies of mathoverflow. Jan 7 '15 at 0:50
• In a number of cases, questions (and more rarely answers) have resembled those you'd find on yahoo answers or a message board populated entirely by amateurs. In such cases, it's not always clear what constructive criticism to offer aside from "please acquire some field-specific knowledge before posting on a site that claims to be for experts"; casual observation suggests that many downvotes are cases like this. Jan 7 '15 at 0:55
• @nominallyrigid I completely agree - so I'm baffled that Steven and others argue against posting comments explaining the site's policies. On the question Steven linked to, a user posted a comment "This question does not meet the standards for homework question as spelled out in the relevant meta posts". Surely this sort of comment is to be encouraged? I'm genuinely baffled at the resistance to simply stating what the site's standards are when enforcing them. Jan 12 '15 at 12:03
• @user568458 : I can only reiterate that, based on my experience on MathOverflow, some posters will take "This question does not meet the standards...." as an invitation to rework the question and try again, which is a waste of everyone's time in those cases where it's crystal clear that the poster simply does not have the basic understanding necessary to formulate an acceptable question. Jan 12 '15 at 15:59

Downvotes without comments are always allowed and should be appreciated and not discouraged. If you see something has been downvoted with no extra comments then the downvote tooltips should be considered to provide sufficient reasons for the downvotes.

• "Allowed" isn't the same as "useful" or "productive". Grunting at strangers is legal, but it's not a good way to build a healthy, productive community. Young sites need to give users constructive feedback on how to make better posts - high standards of quality don't happen by magic or telepathy.. Jan 2 '15 at 8:31