# CrossValidated's rather extreme up-voting problem

Users have pointed out that it is very difficult for beginners to comment on questions, see this thread. These users particularly seem to emphasize that it appears Cross Validated has separate policies regarding comment permissions compared to other stackexchange sites, even though this is actually not the case. The problem actually appears to be that it is much more difficult to get reputation on Cross Validated than it is on other stack exchange sites, because people don't vote as much, as can be documented in this thread.

It is extremely frustrating for a generally trusted stackexchange user to not be able to comment on the answers to questions or even be able to ask for clarification on other people's questions. Could this be addressed by giving reputation a bit more generously or perhaps doing something else. Maybe saying something on the sidebar like, "please up-vote all well researched on topic posts even if you don't feel qualified to do so (it is especially important that you up-vote reasonably worthy newcomers, as their participation is greatly inhibited without up-votes)". The point is, we are all able to tell whether a question is well researched, a duplicate, or reasonably on topic. Down-voting is a bit different you should be qualified in the subject at hand, but our users should feel comfortable up-voting anything they think is appropriate.

We really need to do something about the lack of up-voting in our community. This answer to a previous thread really strikingly uses stats to show just how much of problem voting is. Looking at the first 50 posts on the main-page right now, I see 14 net up-votes given with shockingly 1 up-vote being the max given for a single post!

Other things we could post on the sidebar is (note there may be some disagreement on this suggestion) "You should up-vote every question you answer". The reason for this is that you should not be answering bad questions anyways because (1) it prevents the user from deleting the question and hence decluttering the site (note that bad question clutter makes it difficult for users to tell if their question is a duplicate), (2) It can easily be stated in a comment, (3) It encourages users to ask more bad questions (the main reason question askers come here is to get answers not rep).

• I stumbled several times through the first paragraph because nothing in it is correct! There is no difference between how our site functions and other SE sites; beginners can comment in their own threads (provided they log on with the same user id); and it is not more difficult to get reputation here than on most of the other SE sites (you misinterpreted Katey's meta question about low-voted threads). There is additional misinformation in your third paragraph. These bad "facts" just detract from your message, which is spot-on: it would be nice to see more generous voting. – whuber Jan 8 '14 at 22:03
• I think you missed "even though this is actually not the case" during your first read and also my guess is that you misinterpreted "more difficult to get reputation" and "less points are rewarded here for various actions". I added "because people don't vote as much" and also edited the parts about comments in one's own thread. Only 1/3 of the "facts" were actually incorrect, although I agree that my presentation should have been more clear. Thank you for the comments. – WetlabStudent Jan 8 '14 at 22:16
• Thank you. Your best point is in the middle: "We are all able to tell whether a question is well researched, a duplicate, or reasonably on topic." Concerning the last paragraph, I suspect you (and other readers of this thread) might be interested in closely related meta threads including meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/1819 and meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/1599. Incidentally, any "generally trusted stackexchange user" automatically gets 101 rep when they link to their other accounts, which is enough to comment. – whuber Jan 8 '14 at 22:43
• I'd like to second @whuber's points here. I wish upvoting were more generous on CV, but my impression is SO (the only other site where I'm moderately active) is less generous than CV. Eg, on CV there are 6,210 answers under the [r] tag, w/ 344 nice answers (5.5%), whereas on SO there are 70,474 [r] answers, of which 3,051 are 10+ (4.3%); & 19.1% <=0 on SO, but only 13.8% on CV. The 50 reputation requirement is frustrating, I recognize, but it is set by the SE team & is system-wide. W/ reasonable contributions, 50 is doable. – gung - Reinstate Monica Jan 8 '14 at 22:49
• @whuber I'll add that the comments are increasingly becoming a place where valid answers are being left to languish. Often, yourself included, a very concise answer is supplied in the comments where it should have been an answer. Meanwhile, subpar answers are selected as correct (mine included) even when the poster has not provided sufficient detail or explanation of the problem. I think we should strive to ensure that all SE posts are of high quality. Abstaining from upvotes (and answers) seems to be a consequence of that. – AdamO Jan 8 '14 at 22:50
• @gung Thanks for the research. I have been active on several SE sites; we're in the middle in terms of voting generosity. It's substantially harder to get rep on the GIS site (but I think that the kind of person that site attracts is a confounder, because the upvote:answer ratios for my posts on GIS and CV are identical) and much easier on the Mathematica site (my own upvote:answer ratio is 50% greater there). I would hold out the Mathematica community's behavior as somewhat of an ideal to strive for. – whuber Jan 8 '14 at 22:51
• @AdamO Yes, I know I'm guilty of such things :-). I try to avoid using comments to answer, but there's a conflict: if I'm leaving succinct answers in comments, it's because I haven't the time (or in some cases the interest) to fashion a high-quality answer but I don't want to leave the OP in the lurch. In most cases my comments really are requests for clarification and (partial) answers just seem to emerge as part of the justification of those requests. – whuber Jan 8 '14 at 22:54
• @gung Hmmm, that is very interesting. In my experience on stack overflow it is rather easy to get up-votes. I think that due to stack overflow's popularity, there is a lot of junk that gets posted there from non registered users, but I could be wrong. Also, are you including "questions" in your term "answers". It would be really interesting to statistically test if there is a difference between the rep/vote ratio for users of SO compared to CV. Maybe the voting problem is really just a traffic problem. – WetlabStudent Jan 8 '14 at 22:54
• This was a very simple data collection effort, @user1544793. I didn't use SE's SQL database, just some searches & arithmetic. My searches were answer only. My impression of SO is that it's much less friendly than here; I see a lot of downvotes, eg. My vote/answer rate is much lower there (although, I'm a lousy programmer, so it's not a clean comparison). – gung - Reinstate Monica Jan 8 '14 at 23:00
• I think it is easier to post a quality question on SO because if you reference old posts, quote some of the documentation, and include code that can reproduce your error, you usually have a cut and dry good question. In CV you actually have to understand stats to some degree, and many people use stats without understanding it. You could argue that people have to understand programming, but usually its much easier to get clear cut answers googling programing issues than stats issues. That's just my opinion as someone who is rather lousy at both. – WetlabStudent Jan 8 '14 at 23:05
• From your comment, @user1544793, I wonder if your primary concern is more upvoting for questions (whereas I tend to think primarily about answers by default). If so, you may be interested to read my thoughts on upvoting questions here: if a question is good enough for you to answer should you up-vote it? You'll see that, in general, I think we should have more upvoting of questions, & that I tend to think the # of upvotes on Q's should typically be > the # on answers. – gung - Reinstate Monica Jan 9 '14 at 0:21
• +1 This thread has an upvoting problem. It is one of the major demotivation issues for me to provide answers to reputation 1 members, because I know with high probabiliy I will not get the credits. More generally also experienced users seem to be slow to upvote in my subjective impression. This thread cannot be voted highly enough. – tomka Jan 9 '14 at 20:19
• thats a great point tomka. Perhaps we should up-vote questions for rep<15 users as long as they are not "offensively bad" or "editable to the point of being good" so that these users can actually up-vote answers. – WetlabStudent Jan 9 '14 at 20:26
• MHH While I understand your question applies to the overall behavior at the site (and might be read more constructively as 'how do we encourage more voting?'), I do wonder why you have passed up the numerous opportunities you've had to vote yourself (40 allowed votes a day times the 5 or 6 days you've had the reputation to do so), of which so far you seem to have exercised only 4. Your own votes could have been encouraging the very people you seek to encourage. – Glen_b Jan 14 '14 at 2:07
• That rep was not gained on CV, it was gained while on another stackexchange site. Its very difficult to vote on CV posts while not physically being on CV :\. Every time I have visited CV, I have up-voted nearly every question I read. So yep in one visit I voted for 4 posts. – WetlabStudent Jan 14 '14 at 2:19

CV's a democracy of a kind, so many standard political points arise. The first lessons in politics include learning that many other people are very confident in telling you should be voting this way or you shouldn't be voting that way. Excuse me: they're my votes, or not. Within the rules, I vote as I like. (I don't impute or infer attempts to offend, naturally.)

Here are some of my views:

1. I won't vote for anything I have not the time to read.

2. I won't vote for anything I don't think serves the long-term interests of the forum.

3. I won't even necessarily vote for anything I think is worth answering or commenting on. Sometimes, indeed often, the question is lousy, but it is worth trying to produce a good answer for the sake of the forum.

4. When people want to focus on how or whether reputation can be enhanced, their emphasis is in the wrong place.

CV is a success, mostly, but I think the central problem remains one that is more or less inevitable and has been pointed out many times. Many questions are really rather poor. They suffer from one or more of

a. The poster's weak understanding of statistics.

b. Excessive focus on immediate details (e.g. a particular data set or a particular research question) which reduces the general or long-term value of the question.

c. The poster's lack of effort in learning or reading.

d. The poster's failure to understand how CV works best. This can even apply to people who have been on the list for some years, yet ask the same vague, cryptic or over-general questions, or the same kinds of questions, again and again. Some of these people are seemingly indifferent to the evidence that they are way out of line (as shown by voting, answers, comments).

Of these, a is often the main reason the question is being asked and b is the way it arises. So, these weaknesses are understandable but they don't often lead me to feel that an upvote is deserved. c is even more of a reason for not upvoting. Conversely, d is a reason for downvoting!

On the whole, the tone of CV is frank yet civil and positive, and that's a good thing. But there is a certain timidity about very firmly discouraging outlier posters and/or removing very weak questions.

There are many strong technical questions too, naturally.

• I appreciate the thoughtful and cogent views expressed in the second paragraph. I would ask you to reconsider the fourth one, though. The reason is that although reputation for its own sake is worthless, reputation as the granter of powers to improve the site has great value. Even after more than three years we still need more people able to engage fully and actively in the curation of our content, and that means people with 10K or 20K+ reputations. I also believe there is positive feedback: people who receive many upvotes may be more inclined to stay active on a regular basis. – whuber Jan 9 '14 at 15:34
• But I agree completely. My point and yours is that reputation is just a means, not the end. Acquiring reputation isn't difficult if you put in a bit of spadework and, as you say, getting upvoted repeatedly is very encouraging. But we're looking at different ends of the spectrum: if the question is Why aren't there more upvotes?, then a partial answer is because many questions just don't deserve them. – Nick Cox Jan 9 '14 at 18:00
• I agree that ultimately votes are in the hand of the voter. Wikipedia has a general policy of "do not bite the newcomers" and I think if newcomers after a few questions posts/answers aren't granted commenting power, they leave. We might be shoeing away amazing future editors, who just need to learn what makes a good question or answer. Just a thought. Of course individuals should be able to vote how they please, but they also can be recommended to vote a certain way. No one is holding a gun to the voters head. – WetlabStudent Jan 9 '14 at 20:35
• I am for respect so long as it is a universal right, for established users too. Newcomers who expect substantial reputation for almost nothing don't understand the SO model. Many would be well advised to look around and to read the help before posting. It's not clear that many occasional posters are discouraged, as is often alleged; often they just fade away, for example, not developing initial questions despite requests to clarify, so we rarely get explicit feedback on their experiences. – Nick Cox Jan 9 '14 at 21:50
• @whuber, is it not that the thresholds such as 10K are inspired by the main site of the SE network, viz. SO, where I perceive to be agreement that gaining reputation is easier on that site? If that is the case, could one make a case that there should be site-specific thresholds for privileges? (Obviously, it is unlikely that such a proposal has any hope of being implemented.) – Christoph Hanck Mar 15 '16 at 16:01
• @Christoph I think there is a very strong case to be made for site-specific thresholds. The powers-that-be implicitly recognize its merits by using lower thresholds for Beta sites. I do not know why this argument hasn't resulted in individual site thresholds, especially in the less popular SE sites. – whuber Mar 15 '16 at 17:11

"...I think that is partially a function of the nature of statistics and the questions we get..."

Many users agreed with him and I believe this reasoning of thinking also applies (up to a certain level) to voting. Statistics is not that trivial to most of us mortals.

There are times which I read an well formatted answer but can't vote for it because I lack background to understand its content.

If I partially understand an answer, but there are comments of trusted users saying it is a good reply I am also inclined to vote for it.

As far as possible I try to contribute by voting for correct and trivial answers under the following situations:

1. It is the first answer in a thread and it does have none or few upvotes;
2. It adds something different from other existing answers and it does have none or few upvotes;

Important to say is that generosity has a limit. Correct information always need to be preserved so we can keep the site's credibility.

2- Voting on questions:

Now about questions I do a lot of voting. Like to think that if I am spending my time to read a question my "null hypothesis" is initially to vote for it, unless it does not follow the site's guidelines (poor formatting, duplicate, etc.).

Despite we already have here a mixture of friendly environment with good professionalism level, I agree we can improve on encouraging more users to actively participate here (voting, answering, asking, editing, chatting, flagging, etc).

I hope you keep helping us on this task from now on.

I think a decent compromise to the SE upvote famine is the following: edit confidently and often, downvote uneditable posts or remove them early and often.

On editing: The poster is responsible to ensure both that their post is of top quality and that the substantive question remains correct. Very few new posters put the requisite time into asking a high quality question. If quality editing compromises the latter, then the poster needs to correct the editor. I've often imputed large amounts of context, inventing variables and study settings, to make a question readable and contextually appropriate.

On downvoting/removing: we are at odds with making a community usable for beginners and keeping our quality up. Cluttered low quality posts are a huge issue here. As far as statistics are concerned, I'm curious whether we take overly dramatic (or not dramatic enough) action to remove irrelevant posts.

• Re "cluttered low quality posts": would you minding linking to a few examples so that we can better understand what you are referring to? Re "edit confidently and often": that seems counter to the SE system of using the comment system to request clarification. Edits, although reversible, tend to surprise and offend many people, especially when they induce even the slightest change in a post's meaning. Moreover, if between an (invalid) edit and its rollback somebody posts an answer, we get into big trouble, because now we have a confusing discrepancy in the thread. – whuber Jan 8 '14 at 23:03
• @whuber Very good points. It's seemingly rare to have an OP come back to edit their post. See this post for a (somewhat weak) example of what I mean. Inconsistent jargon heavy question, no clear objective, and long meandering answers from myself and others with little feedback. This is clutter, to me, and a waste of everyone's time. – AdamO Jan 8 '14 at 23:11
• That's a worthwhile example to consider, because it really is marginal and people could decide either way (to keep or to close). I personally would love to delete such questions, but I generally do not because I am deeply concerned about the effect that would have--if consistently done--on the accessibility of our site. We have a need to welcome people with questions, for otherwise we will stagnate, as well as to inspire people who are experts in statistics and statistical explanations to provide high-quality responses. But most people with stats questions will need help formulating them. – whuber Jan 8 '14 at 23:20
• While it's true that many people don't put in the time to ask good questions, I think it is easy for those of us who know a bit about the subject to forget how hard it may be for newcomers to ask good questions. Often, when I ask questions on StackOverflow or SAS-L, it turns out that I left out something critical. – Peter Flom Jan 9 '14 at 11:32