This applies to many of us who have been members of this site for many years. Some of my old questions and answers get reviewed periodically. This is fine. Members have a right to upvote or downvote as they see fit. The problem is that I am finding some old and often popular questions and answers are getting downvotes even though they were perfectly reasonable questions and answers at the time. In my case for example an answer given in 2012 is now being downvoted in 2017. The problem is that I answered about SAS software at the time and it is being judged today when changes have been made to other software (especially R) that make it more acceptable in FDA studies.

I don't know what should be done but I feel that such questions and answers should not be judged badly in view of current software developments. I would like to know what others think could be a reasonable solution.

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree. A reader of our website does not care when the questions were asked and answers were posted. If there is some old answer from 2012 that is not applicable today anymore because some software or regulations have changed since then, I believe it's okay to downvote it. Any misleading answer should be downvoted, and the fact that the answer is old does not protect it. If you have an old answer that you believe is not really applicable you can always either delete it, or revise it, or at least edit to insert a cautionary note "This was written in 2012 and might not be true anymore". $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Jan 29, 2017 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ @amoeba But everyone who votes is aware that it was valid then and therefore it should be left alone. $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2017 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I would vote based on the today's relevance. If it used to be valid but is not valid anymore, I don't care. (I should say that in this particular case I did not vote up or down and am not planning to, as I don't know anything about SAS/R; I am just expressing a general policy.) $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Jan 29, 2017 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ In a similar question from other SE community I provided my two cents. I think the best way to go is to edit the answer to emphasize it is outdated; no need to downvote. Moreover, upvote/post up to date questions/answers. $\endgroup$ Jan 30, 2017 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ You could turn your answer into a community wiki. That way, you won't lose rep if it gets downvoted. And, it is essentially acknowledging that it isn't a response that you want to maintain as current any more and are turning over to the community. $\endgroup$ Jan 30, 2017 at 4:07
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    $\begingroup$ Although the point has been made already, there is no notion here on CV of an historic answer which should be left alone because it's out of date or written when different policies held. Besides, there isn't even a workable criterion here. 1 year old fair game, 5 years old should be left alone; so does that mean 3 years is the cut-off and that is a moving cut-off and it should be documented? It's like an old paper that in retrospect is an embarrassment (many of mine): they are visible and accessible in the literature! $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Jan 30, 2017 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ I find myself downvoting a lot of old answers because quality standards today are obviously much higher than they were in ~2010 - 2012. I frequently come across questions from that time period, with a number of sparse and poorly documented answers which still garnered a fair number of up votes. A common example seems to questions like "How do I do xxx in C, Java, C++, C#, or Python?" and none of the answers list which language their code sample is written in, let alone explanation of what the code is doing. $\endgroup$ Jan 30, 2017 at 22:55
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think standards have changed and I don't think we should judge old posts any differently. $\endgroup$ Jan 30, 2017 at 22:59

2 Answers 2


Votes on this site are highly noisy and so over-analyzing one-offs like this is a waste of energy in my opinion (especially because the criteria for what deserves an up/downvote are completely individual specific). I don't hear you complaining about upvotes on ancient posts that may or may not still be relevant.

Just from my own posts, I can see that sometimes off-the-cuff or incomplete answers I've posted have gotten upvotes, while correct answers have been downvoted in retaliation to me criticizing someone else's answer (and, yes, the poster was online at the time, the downvote occurred miliseconds after my critical comment, and I did see the person's rep decrease by 1 at that moment, so...not exactly rocket science). Or this one -- it's the right answer. So, what's the reason for downvoting it? Who knows. Or cares. Yes, having the "-1" stuck to the answer probably damages its credibility to a future reader, but a discerning user can read it themselves and make their own judgment.

I think I've said this to you before, but you'll drive yourself nuts overanalyzing downvotes and worrying about reputation points. Rep points on this site are a currency that's not worth anything. After you have the ability to express yourself on the site (i.e. post answers, comments, and vote), which happens after 125 points I think, I don't see what the big draw is. In any case you certainly have enough rep to do whatever you want (isn't the last privilege granted at 25k?). So, my answer to "what do others think could a reasonable solution" -- this is a not an important issue, so do nothing.

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    $\begingroup$ You make good points. I do think it is appropriate for people to upvote or downvote recent answers even if they are a year or two old. But I don't think upvotes or downvotes on posts from five years ago are not appropriate. I am human and thereforee prefer upvotes to downvotes. $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2017 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ It sounds like you're suggesting disallowing voting on posts after they reach a certain age, which is not how I interpreted your question. If I had to vote for or against that proposition, I would vote against it. $\endgroup$
    – gammer
    Jan 29, 2017 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ That would make sense but it wouldn't be fair. I made some comments along with you on Carl's post. $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2017 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ @gammer I get the distinct impression that some people are trolling. I am not alone in that meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/2198/… Downvoting is broken. It needs a fix. $\endgroup$
    – Carl
    Jan 30, 2017 at 2:08
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    $\begingroup$ Untoward voting patterns are automatically reversed by the system (as indicated by the old post you linked). It is possible certain items were downvoted with reason. It's really impossible to tell. As my answer indicates, I've received some hard-to-understand downvotes recently (and I know who issued one of them and, no, he wasn't a troll..He was just mad at me, I think) but, the fact is, it resulted in a grand total of a 4 point loss of reputation...Hardly important...Rather than arguing that "downvoting is broken" and needs to be fixed, maybe some people need to get a grip... $\endgroup$
    – gammer
    Jan 30, 2017 at 2:15
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    $\begingroup$ Everything you said in this answer is correct and it's very true that upvotes are noisy, but I feel that your answer sidesteps the actual issue here, which is fully addressed in the Glen_b's answer. Incidentally, his answer has 4 times more upvotes, and I do not think this difference is pure noise :-) Not sure why @MichaelChernick decided to accept your answer over Glen's. But given that, it would be good if you explicitly formulated your opinion on what Glen_b wrote. Do you agree? Or do you disagree? $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Jan 30, 2017 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ "his answer has 4 times more upvotes, and I do not think this difference is pure noise :-) Not sure why @MichaelChernick decided to accept your answer over Glen's." -- thanks for that. What I'm not sure about is why your uncertainties are germane to this discussion. To answer your Q: Sure, I like Glen's answer. Honestly, I didn't read it all, but I agree that downvoting old posts is fine, and that's why I upvoted it. However, I took Michael's question to be about what systemic changes should occur to combat this "problem" and I like my answer -- "None" -- better. I guess Michael did too. $\endgroup$
    – gammer
    Jan 31, 2017 at 4:16
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    $\begingroup$ I have noticed on a recent occasion how emotional people can get about a single downvote. Getting reputation points seems to be the ultimate goal then, which could be the problematic issue. When I spot an old answer to an interesting if old question and I deem it poor or inappropriate, there is no more reason for not downvoting it than upvoting other answers. Or than answering old unanswered questions. Or than calling for closing old uninteresting questions which OPs have vanished from the forum after asking this single question. $\endgroup$
    – Xi'an
    Feb 1, 2017 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ Reputation points are the worst way of encouraging people to contribute quality content to a Q&A site, apart from all the other ways of encouraging people to contribute. They are a reward and they do work, if imperfectly - witness the success of Stack Exchange sites where others have failed. Maybe we just don't like being confronted with the evidence of our own shallowness ;-) $\endgroup$
    – nekomatic
    Feb 7, 2017 at 9:14

When a person in 2017 is looking at an answer that may have been written in 2010 (say), it's not that person's responsibility to try to figure out if the answer might have been correct at some time many years previously.

Either the answer is correct right now or it isn't. The correct actions when faced with an incorrect answer are already laid out by StackExchange -- comments and downvotes.

Ultimately StackExchange is meant to be a source of help to people who are searching for answers. The overwhelming number of people helped by StackExchange are not those who come to have their questions answered -- it's those whose questions already have good answers and so they never even need to ask. [StackExchange is not primarily intended for just answering the question people have at the time they ask -- that's merely the source of the questions for the larger purpose.]

This emphasis on people being able to find correct answers via search engines has been explicit in the design since the earliest days - since before any of us were writing answers for CrossValidated.

As a result, old answers that are no longer correct cannot stand "as is"; if the old answer isn't modified when the answer changes, we need a way for currently correct answers to get higher reputation so that when people search for and find an answer, they can identify which one the users on site think is the best one.

Wrong answers accruing downvotes is StackExchange working as intended.

I've been answering questions since August 7, 2010 (though my earliest answer is currently deleted). A lot of my answers are pretty old.

If I gave an answer that was correct at the time of posting that had accrued upvotes, but facts had changed since the answer had been written, then I would sincerely hope that my answer that contained incorrect information would not simply be left alone.

Ideally any outdated answer should be fixed by its author (or at the very least edited with a very clear note that it was correct at the time of writing but facts have since altered), but of course if you have several hundred answers it can be impossible to simply notice and remember. So authors will need a nudge -- something to draw their attention.

As I mentioned, there are two main mechanisms within the stackexchange software for doing so, comments and downvotes. So the person that finds an old answer of mine that's now wrong should choose at least one of those mechanisms to try to redress the problem (that new people searching will see an incorrect answer).

Which mechanism to use?

Comments are good because they might prompt the author to fix their answer. A correct answer is better than a wrong one. They also - at least temporarily (since comments might not stick around forever) - give some indication of what the problem is, but I know from experience* that readers often ignore the comments, especially with longer comment threads.

Downvotes are good because they change the ordering of answers (when sorting by votes at least), and make it easier for users to choose between competing answers. They also work when the author isn't currently active (which is true for the authors of many of our old answers). Sometimes a downvote will come with a comment (after all, if it's wrong, it's wrong), but it's not required.

So both mechanisms are useful but downvotes have the advantage of not forcing the person choosing between the two actions to simply rely on the original author being able and willing to act.

There is a third alternative for people with sufficient privilege, which is to edit old answers, particularly if the original authors appear to be inactive. While we should avoid altering someone's answer substantively in general, it would often be reasonable to add line that the answer may have been correct at the time of writing but which may now be outdated. Such a note would help people avoid relying on presently incorrect answers; additional detail could be added in comments if you're really unwilling to fix the answer.

* specifically I have more than once (twice, perhaps three times) answered questions on other forums which relied on well-upvoted but actually incorrect answers from CrossValidated where the mistake was noted in comments (posted long after). In both cases that I clearly recall at present, the poster of the new question that was relying on a wrong answer didn't read all the comments under the answer (and fair enough, posts are meant to stand on their own and the comment threads were long) or had seen them but concluded they must be wrong (the answer was heavily upvoted after all, a couple of voices to the contrary wouldn't convince someone who didn't understand the explanation of why the answer is wrong). In both cases the author of the wrong answer had not responded to the comments explaining the problem, presumably due to inactivity. In that case the responsible thing to do is downvote the incorrect answer (and it may need a lot of downvotes not to be among the top answers so that people stop relying on it) and if possible, also post a new, better answer.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'd say there are three mechanisms, and edits are more important than comments - especially on an old question or answer where the original poster may not still be around. Anyone can make an edit, it just needs a higher-rep user to approve it. $\endgroup$
    – nekomatic
    Feb 7, 2017 at 9:19

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