Yeah... we should. Why not?

I've been on a spree of downvoting off-topic and very low quality questions (LQQs), so I was expecting to see my reputation drop but it didn't. I also downvoted six answers on this post.

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Answers that ‘forgot’ to include supporting evidence, links etc. with the result that I was down -6. But I don't care about the rep, I care about the quality of posts and about fairness, and I think if I downvote a question I should also lose -1.

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Having immunity is an open invite to downvote questions without ever having to explain why. Yes, there's the tooltip message that appears if you hover the cursor but that's just a catch-all.

Meta Stack Exchange has the following info in a FAQ

How does “Reputation” work?

Before May 2011, downvoting questions cost the downvoter one reputation point (source). (Since May 2011, there is no cost for downvoting questions.)

And an explanation for the disparity is supplied here

Why do I not lose reputation when I downvote posts?

Downvotes on questions are free. This was done in an attempt to encourage more people to vote on questions, and so far, it appears to be working.

Downvotes on answers still cost you -1 rep point, just as you expected […]

@Cody Gray (May 28 '11)

All very well but this is not Stack Overflow so their huge influx of off-topic questions (literally thousands of questions posted daily) is not comparable to ours.

Over at Stack Overflow the 2011 change made sense, they needed desperately to separate the wheat from the chaff, but is it fair here?

Why downvoting a question should cost the downvoter -1

First and foremost, it's fair and balanced. Lose -1 for downvoting an answer, the same ‘price’ goes for downvoting a question. It also carries greater weight and responsibility. It's easier to downvote a question without giving it two thoughts if you don't sacrifice something in return. And if we're convinced a question is low quality and off-topic on EL&U it should either be edited to meet minimum standards and migrated to ELL or be closed.

The most effective tool we have to deal with off-topic LQQs is close votes.

Casting a vote to close doesn't carry any penalty, doesn't cost the voter any reputation. If the OP cares, they will come back and edit their post. If the attempt is successful, users should cast to reopen the question. Sometimes a question is reopened but it doesn't happen very often, as anyone can tell if they visit the reopen review queues.

In the last 90 days, EL&U has closed around 45% of questions. Stats page (only visible to 10K users)

Questions Closed:  Asked:        percentage:
2334 Questions     5263Close     44.35 %

The number one reason for closure is lack of research

Closed   % of total  Edited  % of closed   Reopened    % of closed  Edited and Reopened    % of edited
705      30.21 %      33      4.68 %        5          0.71 %             2                    6.06 %

To be absolutely clear, I am asking why downvoting an answer detracts -1 but not for a question. Is it fair? Is this system working for EL&U?

I understand why no rep detraction was a necessity on SO but on much smaller sites such as Parenting, Travel, Christianity and on sites that do not have the same impressive numbers as SO, e.g EL&U, is following SO's lead the solution?

Perhaps losing -1 might encourage more users to consider fixing low quality questions that show potential rather than casting a downvote in order to get rid of it from the home page, which is a chimera because only questions with a score of -4 actually disappear from the homepage.

Finally, despite the opposing arguments, I don't see these LQQs being downvoted. Why? Maybe because they're on the cusp, they're on-topic but they don't show much effort, if any. Maybe regular users are hesitant to downvote these type of questions. Maybe users are not aware they can downvote without losing rep?

Let's hear some ideas.

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    You mean we don't have a large number of poor questions?! – Andrew Leach Apr 30 at 10:18
  • @AndrewLeach yes, but it doesn't run into thousands on a daily basis. If we lose -1 for downvoting an answer, why not a question? Maybe losing -1 would make more users actually consider fixing LQ questions? – Mari-Lou A Apr 30 at 10:20
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    Most are unfixable or don't actually merit the effort, in my experience. – Andrew Leach Apr 30 at 10:23
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    But some questions do merit a quick lick of paint and a better title. – Mari-Lou A Apr 30 at 10:25
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    It is fair here, and for the same reason. It’s not about scalability, it’s about sorting the wheat from the chaff, so everyone benefits. Voting on question makes it easy to find the useful questions, allows answerers to find those Qs which will make best use of their time, and encourages OPs to up their game. Our major pain here, even at our scale, is OPs don’t seem to feel any obligation to “bring something to the table”. It’s all “here’s my problem, call me when it’s fixed”. As for why only Qs and not also As: because we also “optimize for pearls, not sand”. – Dan Bron Apr 30 at 10:46
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    @DanBron I'm not saying LQQs shouldn't be closed or DVted, it just seems the system is open to abuse and for users to continually DV questions w/o ever explaining why. – Mari-Lou A Apr 30 at 10:48
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    @Mari-LouA I’m of the opinion that explaining why is neither mandatory nor productive. It’s not mandatory because the DV is not for the OP, it’s for everyone else. It’s not productive because in 99.99% of cases, the OP never comes back, or comes back but refuses to improve his Q, or comes back, refuses to improve his Q, and then argues with you about it. I think we talk a whole lot about how we, the long term users, can do a better job, and barely at all about how to get new users who are asking for our help to up their game. – Dan Bron Apr 30 at 11:39
  • @DanBron Sometimes a comment, if worded well, can spur an OP to make clarifications that's not a bad thing, but I'm no saint. I downvote w/o saying why b/c it's really not worth the time. I agree that a lot of users post their one line or two lines questions and vanish. – Mari-Lou A Apr 30 at 11:43
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    I'm having trouble navigating the direction of what you want. Do you want 1) down votes on questions to have -1 rep for the voter and 2) have this just for ELU? And the reason is to discourage downvoting of questions? – Mitch Apr 30 at 13:35
  • @Mitch I explain it again. Why shouldn't I lose -1 rep for downvoting questions? I understand and appreciate why this was implemented on Stack Overflow in the first place but why was this regulation made across the network? Isn't EL&U different from SO? We're not all the same. Or are we? – Mari-Lou A Apr 30 at 13:44
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    @Mari-LouA The software platform is the same for all sites. There is some minor configuration that you can do per site (eg the close reasons), but the voting mechanisms are pretty much set for all sites. – Mitch Apr 30 at 13:57
  • @Mari-LouA Just trying to get your motivation, do you think the downvoting on questions is being abused? Too many people doing it? Or do you see the possibility of it being abused (being unfair)? I could make a case for a -1 charge (like for answers) but also for asymmetry (questions are different from answers). Mainly what I'm getting out of this meta-question is that ... wait, do you want more tolerance for questions or less? Or is that not the point, just fairness? – Mitch Apr 30 at 14:02
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    The blog on why this is the case may be helpful: stackoverflow.blog/2011/06/13/optimizing-for-pearls-not-sand “Fundamentally, answers can be filtered in ways that questions cannot.” – ColleenV May 1 at 12:42
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    @Mari-LouA It’s the statement of why they made the choice to make questions and answers asymmetrical, and if you had indicated in your question that you had read it, I wouldn’t have burdened you with it. I did UV this question because I think it’s a good discussion to revisit in modern times. – ColleenV May 1 at 20:27
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    Not sure if you have read Revisiting free downvotes on questions (in 2014), but Shog's answer was: "This site is full of crap, but there's no way to identify it. People just don't downvote enough." – Andrew T. May 2 at 4:00

Let me turn this around and ask: what impact does the existing -1 penalty for downvoting an answer have on user behaviour?

Well, for a high-rep user who might be accruing (say) 3 upvotes a week from their historic answers, they can cast 30 downvotes on answers and their total rep remains unchanged. And they already have access to all the tools/privileges available to an ordinary user. No impact whatsoever.

For a low-rep user, it's a very different story. Unless they're very active and on a meteoric rise up the rep league tables, every single downvote on an answer is a real sacrifice, delaying their acquisition of the next set of privileges. In the end, the user has to decide: squander their precious rep on this aspect of community moderation, or focus on building their rep to unlock the next set of community moderation tools that don't have a rep penalty.

I've been using this site for 8 years now, and I've been a registered user for 3 years. I spend a lot of my time on review queues and posting (hopefully) helpful comments. I used to downvote bad answers, but I mostly stopped doing so because any points I'd gain from posting an answer quickly disappeared. And on the other sites I have even lower rep on, I almost never downvote answers: I can't afford to spend a rep point or two a week (50-100 pts a year) when I don't have the expertise (e.g. on Physics) or the confidence (on Astronomy) or the time (ELL) to build my rep with Q's or A's of my own.

In fact, when I finally got to within sight of the magical 3000 mark here on EL&U, I actually went back through every downvote I'd cast and undownvoted those I could (i.e. that had been edited). Picked up a surprising amount of "lost" rep, catapulting me towards my next set of privileges!

I recommend we keep in mind how valuable every single rep point is for low-rep members of our community, and how important it is for them to be able to participate in one of the essential community moderation tasks – downvoting a bad question. A -1 penalty for casting such a vote would inevitably discourage downvoting, and transfer even more of this community moderation burden to high-rep users.

And if you think bad questions are getting closed and/or downvoted, go to unanswered questions and scroll down to those with 0 votes (roughly page 36 if you're seeing 50 per page). It's staggering how many questions there are on where a comma should go, or can you use past and present tense in the same sentence, or "which of these sentences is right". No votes; no answers; sometimes not even any comments; none on hold or closed; slowly clogging up our site. Why would we want to add a disincentive to downvoting questions when we're not downvoting enough of them already?

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    The thing is when a post is deleted, the lost rep is regained. Admittedly, not every post downvoted is then deleted. As to users not wanting to lose rep because of a lowish rep, well you can make the same identical argument for downvoting answers. Can you imagine how many more DVs answers would receive if there was no penalty involved? – Mari-Lou A Apr 30 at 13:21
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    "not every post downvoted is then deleted" - indeed not! But I'm struggling to understand what you want to achieve by imposing the -1 penalty, especially when one outcome will be that fewer DVs will be cast and fewer questions will therefore be eliminated by the system. – Chappo Apr 30 at 13:56
  • @JJJ answers don't enter the HNQ. Questions do, and when they do it's because they have been upvoted by the community and received at least two answers, also upvoted by the community. – Mari-Lou A May 1 at 5:31

We don’t need more LQQs. We need fewer. The best way to deprioritize the ones we get, and preempt getting any new ones is to downvote them.


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    Disagree. The best way is to close them. Downvoting helps but it is not the solution. – Mari-Lou A May 1 at 5:01
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    In fact, closing LQQs has not solved the problem either, the flow of LQQ continues without slack. I'm seeing more and more 1 rep users. Sometimes a new user may get upset about a DV or two but their rep never falls below 1. 15 new users post their questions and abandon the site only to be replaced by another 15 new users. This cycle cannot be broken by downvoting alone. But I also see half decent, goodish and perfectly on-topic questions receiving downvotes, maybe losing 1 point might make a down voter, who's into rep, badges etc, think twice before casting a downvote. – Mari-Lou A May 1 at 5:27
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    @Mari-LouA Closing is slow and unreliable and in the cases where it happens, when it happens, usually the damage is done. The OP is long gone by then anyway. Plus CVs are invisible, DVs are visible and (a) better at getting OP’s attention and (b) send an active signal to the wider community (not just 3000+ rep’ers) that the Q is not worth their time, and the consequent lack of attention reinforces the message to OP and similar people who follow in his wake. – Dan Bron May 1 at 12:41
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    @Mari-LouA If you don’t downvote them, they stay on the home page and bury more deserving questions. Also, questions that don’t get downvoted don’t get automatically deleted as quickly. Questions have to compete for attention in a way that answers don’t, so it makes sense to make it slightly easier to vote on them. – ColleenV May 1 at 12:42
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    I actually abstain from DVing even basic Qs when the OP has shown some evidence of putting work into it, and framed it in a way that makes it clear that he knows he’s asking strangers for help, and engages them as any adult would to another adult he doesn’t know and is asking a question or favor of. – Dan Bron May 1 at 12:43
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    @Mari-LouA The answer you’re getting to your Q is it’s irrelevant, because people agree with the current policy because it lowers the cost and therefore raises the frequency of downvotes on LQQs. That is: it is this way because we want it this way. The implicit question underlying your explicit one is “shouldn’t we change it?”. The answer to that implicit question is “no”. To get an answer to the explicit question is not relevant until you change that “no” to a “yes”. And as you see, that will be a hard sell. As for people not downvoting Qs: people are hesitant to downvote in general. – Dan Bron May 1 at 16:00
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    @Mari-Lou so you're saying it's not fair, but making it fair would make LQQs live longer. Which do you want? – Mitch May 1 at 16:01
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    @DanBron - Maybe we need to change the system so that we get +1 rep for downvoting a truly LQQ. (That suggestion is intended to be more tongue-in-cheek than serious). That said, I really do agree that LQQ's aren't usually downvoted aggressively enough, and putting a -1 rep on the action would only worsen the problem. – J.R. May 2 at 21:54
  • @J.R. downvoting questions, which is free, hasn't made an iota of difference. Because if you're a newcomer with 1 rep, getting DVs is not going to affect your score. Secondly, a user who cares or really wants to understand will respond to comments and/or ask why their question has been downvoted. I am seeing less and less of this type of behaviour. The number of 1 rep users posting and permanently leaving the site the next day is staggering; hardly any one upvote and as a result the homepage is very depressing to look at. There's more activity in the reviews than there is on the homepage. – Mari-Lou A May 6 at 8:39
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    But paying a -1, which is nothing unless you're downvoting thirty a day, will make some users think twice before downvoting half-decent questions that could be improved on with a little TLC. – Mari-Lou A May 6 at 8:42

There are a few things that need to be considered here.

The first is that questions are easier to ask than answers, and answers have more innate value than questions. Everybody has questions, and anybody can ask, but answering a question correctly requires knowledge. As such losing a questioner is not going to be as much of a problem as losing an answerer. The aim of the voting system as it pertains to questions is to help guide our users to the better questions so that they do not get bored of the website. Jeff Atwood mentions that the website has a preference to answerers in Are Some Questions Too Simple, and goes into greater detail regarding the principle in Optimizing for Sand, Not Pearls. Things were equal, but he rebalanced them to be reflective of the value.

The second thing is that questions and answers are motivated differently. Questions are inspired by a desire for knowledge, and receiving a satisfactory answer is reward enough irrespective of what other people think. Answers on the other hand are motivated by the desire to be helpful, and if people indicate that you have done more harm than good, then they might stop to think why should they even bother trying to help? Voting against answers has a greater prospective harm against user participation than voting against questions, so there are a number of protections against it that Jeff mentioned in The Value of Downvoting. Jeff also notes how indifference is also a valuable data point there, so the penalty against voting down also discourages voting against answers simply because they are not great.

The third thing is I doubt that closure is really supposed to be the mechanism that separates the good questions from the bad ones. Closure reasons are usually implemented because certain categories of questions are so problematic that they are likely to receive problematic answers. Also there is a penalty for everybody involved, in that answers can not be submitted to a closed question, and we can not simply ask a new question free of defect because the closed one remains a potential duplicate target. The end result does not only punish the questioner in a much more real way than reputation deductions ever could, by possibly denying them the best answer, but our entire community. Any insightful person who might wish to answer the question can not do so, and our general readership, including thousands of non-contributors, are unable to benefit from it. On Stack Exchange, questioners are not considered the sole beneficiaries of a question, or even the most important ones, so closure needs to be used in a way.

Having questions in a permanently closed state is perhaps the very worst outcome for our website, since it is letting one rotten apple spoil the whole bunch. The system was designed so that closed questions would either be eventually deleted or reopened, as noted by Gracenote in Off-topic questions should be deleted rather than closed (top voted answer at general S.E. meta; supported by Shog9) and Why is this question not being deleted? (Security Information meta), and while she does mention the term "off-topic", that is term unlikely to carry its usual meaning. Every closable question is considered off-topic in the context of Stack-Exchange, even if it would be within the scope of the subject matter. Evidence to this is found in the closing and flagging interfaces, which have "off-topic" submenus, and to a lesser extent in the subjectivity guidelines which also show that "opinion based" questions are subject to possible deletion on that basis alone. As a matter of fact, the help center page that mentions this presently has a U.R.L. that titles the page as "dont-ask" [sic].

Considering this, if we were to introduce a new deduction, I would prefer for it to be imposed on close voting until the question is either reopened, in order to encourage commentary, or deleted, in order to encourage clean-up that permits new questioners to try and ask again until somebody gets it right, if possible. Yes, closing questions is more effective at eliminating bad questions, but in the same way that a bomb is more effective at causing destruction than a handgun: The greater potential for unintended collateral damage is very, very large and we should probably have a preference for the more selective weapon, that only targets the questioner with negative feedback, rather than denying others the opportunity to teach and learn. I would greatly prefer if we reserve closure for questions which must be fixed in order to be productively answered in accordance with our goal of sorting the best answers to the top.

The final thing is that there is a distinct difference between our corner of Stack Exchange, and the network as a whole. We have a general reference type closure reason, but that closure reason is not a network wide closure reason, and it never was. Other websites which opt against having such a closure reason may still need a way to deal with under-researched questions, and may have a greater need to vote against them with impunity. Jeff thought we set a bad example for what a Stack Exchange website should be, we kept ours as a custom closure reason due to special need (dictionary questions, mostly), and that merely voting against answers is the way other websites are meant to deal with poorly researched questions as evidenced by the tooltip. The first point is important because we probably won't persuade the rest of the network to implement a general reference closure reason, and the latter point is important because it demonstrates a difference in attitude towards closure (we're one of the most agressive sites to my understanding) and how a difference in closure reasons changes the dynamics of voting:

Without a relevant closure reason, other websites are expected to vote against under-researched questions as the primary method of quality control in that regard, as the tooltips for voting for and against questions explicitly mention research efforts on every website and for those rare occasions when a question is really bad.

The way we do it has merits for very well documented sciences, where persuasive answers from authoritative sources like dictionaries are immediately on-hand, since the risk of a useless or outright harmful answer can outweigh the prospective benefit of a rare gem of an answer. We want to sort the best answers to the top after-all, but that might not happen if we merely repeat a trusted, yet incorrect or under-detailed source. However, at the same time I suspect that the current state of affairs, where closed questions are left to simply languish lowers the average site quality since it prematurely forecloses upon good answers, and for other subject matter that is less well documented that closure reason is a pretty bad fit. When misapplied, our system can be counterproductive to Stack Exchange's general goals of making the internet a better place by creating a comprehensive reference work indexed by google. Having a general reference closure reason makes sense in our case because language, and especially the English Language is already a very well documented science, and we merely aim to be more of a supplement to existing works because there is no need to tread the exact same ground twice. However, I would not recommend our approach for less well documented subject matter: Anime and manga does not currently have such a closure reason, and I would recommend against them implementing one if I were to see the matter brought up there.

Anyway, my point in bringing the difference in closure reasons up now is that the voting system as it currently stands is balanced for the network as a whole, and not just in consideration of our specific circumstances, and while you could perhaps make an argument for per-site voting scores, you would also have to make an argument against having a consistent scoring system giving users a consistent experience across the entire network. When votes are the only practical control against some categories of questions, more aggressive use of the voting system is needed to sort out the good from the bad, and I believe that the 0 point score is intended to encourage that.

Addressing Mari-LouA's comments:

There is nothing easy about writing good questions, I sometimes spend hours, for example, in doing research before writing the final draft A good question will nearly always receive at least one answer, and if it doesn't it will nearly always be upvoted, it will generate excitement.

I agree Mari-Lou A, but to clarify, "easier" as I put it earlier, is not necessarily the same thing as "easy". The assessment is comparative in nature, and generally holds true irrespective of how hard the question is to ask. Why do I say that? Part of the reason is because many of the difficult aspects of both are shared in common, however in addition to those it is because a research effort is an effort to find an answer. Answering a genuine question requires an extra bit of knowledge that asking the question does not, which is the answer itself. All of the effort a person may put into researching those questions which remain genuine before asking them here are an effort to produce the answer that have failed, so there is no need for me to "test drive it" because it has already been tested. When people show us everything they have tried, it shows us how hard it is to satisfactorily answer a question in the first place.

Even in those cases where you ultimately do find an answer, then the only reason you would ask a question here is to share it in recognition of how hard it was to find in the first place, in the hopes that your question would make the answer easier to find.

Granted, there are other factors which make writing good answers hard, such as proper presentation, so it is not my intention to over-marginalize the value of good questions, however factors such as presentation apply equally to answers, and, we are discussing the penalty systems, so good questions are a secondary consideration at best. We are primarily concerned with the bad ones, since somebody voting against a question is of the opinion that it does more harm than good, and is hence bad. Good questions are only a concern for cases when that assessment is incorrect, and our solution for that is to hope that the aggregate sum total of votes corrects for the marginal defect.

Yeah, Stack Exchange does not value questions b/c on SO answers are far easier and quicker to verify or not.

I don't even really see why that matters.

The system is flawed, downvoting doesn't work. The flood of L.Q. banal-beyond-belief questions continues uninterrupted. The site still looks horrible, there is no incentive to answer because these drive-by users drop their questions and leave the site.

Stopping the questions isn't the sole goal of voting. Votes serve as a system of feedback which help users to improve, and also affect sorting. If I see a question that is rated 11, and a question that is rated 10, I should be able to presume that the question rated 11 is of greater interest than the question rated 10, which is to say nothing of questions that end up going into the negatives. People don't really have to bother clicking into a question if they suspect it's going to be bad from the start, and the system even sorts negatively rated posts away from the front page so you don't even have to see it.

Also, I wouldn't be so quick to assume that it isn't stopping some bad questions. We'd only know if that is a fact if the change was implemented and the rate of bad questions didn't exceed the projected expectations of the current system.

Some questions appear deceptively easy when in reality they are reveal more complex issues.

Yes, I know that. Sometimes I spend days trying to write detailed answers to seemingly simple questions, and sometimes I am greatly disappointed to see those questions closed before I can even post them.

However, just because a question has some deeper interest does not necessarily mean that it will be conducive to our goals. The problem with deceptively easy question is that they are deceptively easy, which has a detrimental effect on the ability for votes to sort out the best answer. The obvious answer can be given immediately, even if it is problematic, and place a burden on more insightful answers that get less exposure later down the line. Closure gives us a chance to fix the deceptiveness by establishing that further insight is needful.

It's one of the main reason I often insist that some questions should be closed. Voting alone can't be trusted to sort out insightful answers from uninsightful ones. Ultimately, closing a question puts a stop to answers, not questions.

There are no upvotes, only when a question hits the HNQ. Note, it's called Hot Network Questions. Then answers consisting little more than a line can be wildly upvoted. Some answers can be brilliant and enlightening but if they don't see the HNQ they attract maybe 5 upvotes from the same users.

H.Q.Ns. are a separate issue in my opinion, but my opinion of them is that they break the balance of the system. They generate a whole bunch of artificial interest in a question, only to have them rated by people who are less likely to possess insight regarding the subject matter, since their fields of interest and expertise regards other subjects on the network. I don't think they're very conducive to our goals.

Paying 1+ for downvoting a question is peanuts.

Every penny adds up. If you vote against as many questions as you can in a day, it costs 40 rep, which is 80% of the lowest bounty. Since we have so many poor questions in need of remedy, there is no need to risk making the system even less effective than it already is by adding an associated cost to one of the controls against poor questions.

Besides, the same thing can be said about voting against answers. The only difference is that we have more reason to penalize that.

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    There is nothing easy about writing good questions, I sometimes spend hours, for example, in doing research before writing the final draft A good question will nearly always receive at least one answer, and if it doesn't it will nearly always be upvoted, it will generate excitement. Some questions appear deceptively easy when in reality they are reveal more complex issues. Paying 1+ for downvoting a question is peanuts. Yeah, Stack Exchange does not value questions b/c on SO answers are far easier and quicker to verify or not. You just test drive it. – Mari-Lou A May 4 at 11:20
  • The system is flawed, downvoting doesn't work. The flood of LQ banal-beyond-belief questions continues uninterrupted. The site still looks horrible, there is no incentive to answer because these drive-by users drop their questions and leave the site. There are no upvotes, only when a question hits the HNQ. Note, it's called Hot Network Questions. Then answers consisting little more than a line can be wildly upvoted. Some answers can be brilliant and enlightening but if they don't see the HNQ they attract maybe 5 upvotes from the same users. – Mari-Lou A May 4 at 11:30
  • @Mari-LouA I added some response to your commentary, a link and tacked a sentence onto paragraph 3. Do you have thoughts regarding that? – Tonepoet May 4 at 14:42
  • Well, it's very clear we disagree and that's fine, We can leave it at that. – Mari-Lou A May 4 at 15:46
  • This is a thoughtful and well-argued response. The effort you’ve put into this is much appreciated. +1.618034 :-) – Chappo May 5 at 13:50

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