There is a lot of downvoting on this site without any constructive feedback. Closings are also frequent. You can see this by just looking around. As I write this question, the three newest questions in meta are addressing (in a different way) all of the downvoting.

A popular justification for the large number of downvotes is that this site is meant for serious questions about English that are of interest to linguists and language experts, but the site receives a ton of basic questions, and it's these questions that are being correctly downvoted. I see several problems with this explanation.

  1. Downvoting without offering feedback is not a nice or effective solution to the stated problem.
  2. There are plenty of nonbasic questions that follow all of the guidelines and still receive downvotes, and there is also much downvoting of answers, so this doesn't account for all of the negative behavior.
  3. When someone does ask a question specifically about the English language and of interest to linguists or language experts, the question gets single-sentence answers from high-rep (5-50k) users, suggested as more appropriate for LinguisticsSE (and now apparently migrated there), or closed as off-topic (and now apparently migrated to LinguisticsSE) -- oh, and of course, it gets plenty of downvotes.
  4. There are tons and tons of open, answered questions on this site that are very basic, have the same exact general answer, and are currently being answered, e.g., "What's the difference between [foo] and [foo with a productive derivational suffix affixed]?", so the downvoting and closing seems arbitrary or worse.

Am I alone in finding this behavior and proposed justification to be inconsistent, not supported by the evidence, and a huge problem for the site? This behavior has at least made me--after only a few days of it--not want to stick around here, despite my love of English, language, linguistics, and sharing knowledge. This site should be perfect for me, but the rampant and inconsistent downvotings and closings are repulsive.

Edit to address some of the answers: I'll give my thoughts on this to see where our disagreement might be. If someone's reason for downvoting is:

  1. It's not clear what this question is asking due to insufficient explanation. Not a reason to downvote. Instead, post this comment: "It's not clear what you're asking. Please give more details." That takes less than 10 seconds and encourages improvement of the site's content.
  2. This question is poorly phrased/has lots of mistakes. Not a reason to downvote. Instead, edit the question and fix the mistakes. This could be quick if the mistakes are minor. If it's just a huge mess, I don't know what would be best. I think it would be nice to be able to flag such a question for other users to edit. In extreme cases, maybe closure or deletion is best.
  3. This question is asking about something that we don't handle here. Not a reason to downvote. Instead, migrate or close. And especially, stop people from answering it (!!), as this only encourages more of the same questions in the future, from this user or others who see it being answered.
  4. This question is asking something that I find stupid or think we shouldn't handle here. Not a reason to downvote. Instead, discuss changing the scope of the site in meta.
  5. This question has been asked and answered here already. Not a reason to downvote. Instead, (vote to) close as duplicate and leave this comment: "I think this question has already been answered [here]."
  6. This question is too basic. Not a reason to downvote. Instead, (vote to) close as general reference and possibly leave this comment: "We don't handle questions that can be answered by looking in [wherever they can find the answer]. If you don't understand the answers in [wherever], please explain your confusion." Especially, stop people from answering it (!!). I also think that the explanation given on the general reference closure notice should be expanded (with a sentence or few words) to be more informative and include a link to a few general references where the question can likely be answered.
  7. This question falls under one of the other reasons that we already have for closing questions. Not a reason to downvote. Instead, (vote to) close for that reason and possibly leave a comment sharing your objection in case it doesn't get closed or for the benefit of others before it gets closed.
  8. This answer is very inaccurate and misleading. Maybe a reason to downvote. I think it's best to voice your objection in a comment for the benefit of other readers. E.g., "That isn't true. A look in a dictionary or a google search will prove this," or "That isn't true. There is much debate about this topic. Google 'chomsky jackendoff'." Usually, I think you should give the poster a chance to fix their answer. In extreme cases or after no improvement has been made, then I think a downvote is a very good way to improve the site.
  9. This post already has comments asking for improvements that only the poster can make, and the poster has had time to make improvements but has not. A good reason to downvote or perhaps delete (I don't know much about how deletions work).
  10. I don't like the person who posted this. Not a good reason to downvote. Instead, discuss your problem in chat or meta if the person has been causing legitimate problems. Otherwise, get over it or take your enmity elsewhere.
  11. I don't like this question, but I can't give any rational reason why. Not a reason to downvote. Just walk away and leave it alone.
  12. I don't think this deserves an upvote. Not a reason to downvote. You don't have to upvote or downvote every single question or answer. Just leave it alone. You also shouldn't vote only to cancel someone else's vote. The net score doesn't have to represent your opinion.

The reason that I posted this question is because it doesn't look like people are following these practices regarding downvoting. Of course, it may be that ELU doesn't want to work the way that I have described, which is fine. But I probably don't want to be a part of the community in that case, so I want to know people's opinions.

  • 6
    When even moderately expert questions get migrated to Linguistics, and marginally basic questions get downvoted and/or closed, it is hard to know where we fit in. But you say that downvoting counts as “negative behavior”, like the downvoters are somehow being “naughty”, like they are “misbehaving” for having the temerity to downvote answers. Is that really what you mean? Would you be happier if downvoting were forbidden? Would that be “friendlier” in your eyes? If so, then I think you are taking downvotes personally — and shouldn’t.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 2:00
  • 1
    @tchrist: Receiving a downvote doesn't keep me up at night, though notably I have only ever gotten any on this site. I don't consider downvoting naughty or unuseful or even unfriendly. I consider the other things that I mentioned negative. Silently downvoting someone with 1 rep doesn't make sense, and silently downvoting a new person who might have not read the FAQs makes no sense. It doesn't lead to the site being full of good questions and answers; [cont...]
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 2:20
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    it leads to a site littered with crappy questions and answers with lots of downvotes and lots of unhelped and frustrated people. I very much agree with KitFox's answer here. I think it is helpful to downvote answers that are blatantly false or inaccurate. And for the benefit of the poster and the future innocents reading the thread, leaving a note would be best.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 2:22
  • As I said in my other answer, I believe this is a two-pronged problem. I also see the number of downvotes increasing; however, I also think a glut of poorly-framed questions is driving that increase. "Silently downvoting someone with 1 rep doesn't make sense, and silently downvoting a new person who might have not read the FAQs makes no sense." Maybe some don't have time to explain, but hope someone with more time will add another downvote, and then explain them both. Just a thought.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 2:42
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    Three quick points. 1) I'd need evidence for the claim that "there is also much downvoting of answers". In fact one could gather evidence to the contrary. 2) As far as questions are concerned, downvotes are free. Never underestimate how much damage can be dealt by just a couple users (or one user with a sock) downvoting everything indiscriminately. 3) Just a few weeks ago, people were complaining how every question, no matter how crappy, would get several upvotes within minutes of getting posted. Looks like the pendulum is swinging back. Though of course I'd prefer it not to swing at all.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 2:42
  • Oh, and one more thing. Questions that reach -5 get automatically hidden from the front page. It could well be that people who are aware of that use their downvotes specifically to try and hide subpar questions, as a reaction to the complaints we had about the front page being full of closed meh questions that push the more interesting stuff off of it.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 2:51
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    @ЯegDwight: Okay, this is what I want to know. Does the community think there is bad behavior going on? Do people want to make excuses for it or do something to fix it? I think it should be fixed. But if others don't agree, I'll just leave you be.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 2:52
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    Also, it seems to defeat half of the purpose of downvoting to tell people to not "take it personally" when they get downvotes. People are supposed to care that they get downvotes. It is a message from the community that they are doing something unwanted. It sounds like you want downvoting to solve all of the various problems that come up instead of having a very specific purpose.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 2:57
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    @Rachel defining a very specific purpose for something that is a) anonymous and b) as simple as a mouse click has never worked and will never work. Not on SE, not on Reddit, not on any site ever. We can only guess at people's reasons, but they are free not to share them, or not to read this post in the first place. Only two things are for sure: 1. there has been a spike in downvotes on questions in the last seven days, and 2. it's too early to tell why. (As I said earlier, there's even a possibility of this being the work of one frustrated user with a couple sockpuppets.)
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 3:12
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    Rachel, two things. (1) As for "taking it personally," I interpret "don't take it personally" to mean: don't feel like you are being attacked; in other words, maybe I didn't like your question, but that doesn't mean I don't like you, or that I don't want you to hang around and try again. (2) As for "Does the community think there is bad behavior going on? Do people want to fix it?" I think better questions would fix the problem. (I can find mediocre questions with a few downvotes, and bad questions with a lot of downvotes, but very few - if any - good questions with many downvotes).
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 3:23
  • @J.R.: I can't see how many downvotes have been cast on posts other than my own; I can only see net scores. I have only asked one question here. Since I asked it yesterday, it has gotten 3 downvotes and 6 upvotes. IMO, if one user upvotes and another downvotes, this is not neutral overall. It's disagreement about what is a good and a bad question, or it's abuse of the system. And I still cannot think of any justification for a downvote of that question. No one who downvoted left feedback, so who knows.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 5:17
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    @Rachel: One other thing: I like your edit - quite a bit. I think it deserves to be its own meta question; I'd like others to be able to discuss your 12 Reasons to Not Downvote treatise. Moreover, I'd also appreciate if you'd add at least 3 reasons where you feel it would be appropriate to downvote, to make your proposal more complete.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 0:24
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    @J.R. Pretty sure that the idea here is that she saying that there never is any reason to downvote, because it hurts people’s feelings.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 0:41
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    @tchrist: No, I don't think that downvoting is always bad. I said so in a comment to you above: "I don't consider downvoting naughty or unuseful or even unfriendly. I consider the other things that I mentioned negative." And 2 of my 12 situations above (#8,9) say that I think in this case "a downvote is a very good way to improve the site".
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 1:22
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    While this is a comprehensive analysis, I am not sure how I am supposed to tell what reason a particular downvote has been cast for — or how you can tell that, for that matter. In fact, most downvotes I see when cleaning up can be attributed to #9, and it's safe to say that I cast more downvotes for that reason alone than for all other reasons combined.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 21:03

5 Answers 5


Alenanno posted even while I was typing. We have some overlapping viewpoints.

From a comment here:

To clarify: by "good", I mean "is encouraged here" (that's the gist of what upvoting is supposed to mean, yes?), and by "bad", I mean "is unacceptable behavior here" (that's what downvoting is supposed to mean, yes?). I have see several posts flipflop up and down with votes. So it seems the voting users either don't know what is supposed to be on this site or they are misusing the voting system.

Upvotes and downvotes can mean different things to different people. Heck, downvotes can mean different things to me, even!

The user Hugo once took the time to post this graphic in a meta question, which depicts the mouseover tool tip for the downvote button:

enter image description here

So, what does a downvote mean? It could mean:

  • (a) the question is hastily presented
  • (b) the question is poorly written, to the point where it's confusing
  • (c) the question is not useful

That last one – "not useful" – is subject to interpretation; one man's trash is another man's treasure. I think this explains why we see some questions upvoted and downvoted: it's not "misuse" of the voting system, it's simply two differing viewpoints. Let's say someone asks a basic question about verb tenses:

What's the difference between the following constructions of present perfect:
- I've been waiting for you for seven years.
- I've waited for you for seven years.

Some might see this question, and be annoyed: There's no real difference at all! This is a waste of time – why is this even being asked here? There are plenty of basic grammar sites that explain verb tenses. Others may think: I've always wondered about this! I can't wait to see the answers!

Either way you think (and, by the way, this was a real question that got +3/-5), I tend to think the question is what I call hastily presented; in other words, it shows little to no research effort.

I sometimes downvote questions when my first reaction is, "Why are you asking us this? Can't you look this up yourself?" which is why I encourage users to include specific findings from their research. (If we regulars are all evil vampires, including such research is like putting garlic around the downvote button.) Let me offer an example:


What is the difference between a king and an emperor?

My answer? Probably a downvote, and comment: What did the dictionary tell you? (except, I'll bet someone else would've left that comment already, so I might just upvote their comment instead).


What is the difference between a king and an emperor? I tried looking in the dictionary, but I couldn't really find much difference between the two words.

My reaction? Well, at least a dictionary was consulted – allegedly – but the O.P. still hasn't told us what was found, nor done a good job of explaining why this would interest the community as a whole. In this case, I might not downvote the question, but, in a debate on meta, I'd still probably side with the downvoters.


Oh, fiddlesticks, I won't even try to duplicate the question here, I'll just provide a LINK to Question #63039 instead.

My reaction to that? I think it's a piece of art; I'm one of the 40+ upvoters. It follows this basic formula:

  1. Let me explain why I'm asking this question.
  2. Let me ask the question.
  3. Let me tell you what I found when I tried to find the answer myself.
  4. Let me explain why I'm still confused.

Note, too, the reaction by this so-called "negative community": 11 answers in less than 48 hours – three of which racked up well over 10 votes – plus more than 40 upvotes on the question itself.

As for the rash of recent downvotes being discussed on meta? I double-dog dare one of our discouraged, downvoted O.P.s to frame a question that well, and see what happens.

Footnote to Rachel (who I believe did ask a very well-presented question recently): Even the emperor/king question got two downvotes, which shows that you can't please all of the people all of the time.

  • 2
    It's interesting that you cite one of Yoichi's questions as "best". His rep is almost entirely down to asking "good" questions (of his total 10K rep, only 11 points come from 5 answers). Perhaps Rachel should go and learn at the feet of the master! Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 17:02
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    @FumbleFingers: Although there are several users I'd like to see take a page out of Yoichi's book, I think Rachel did a pretty good job on her first ELU question. As for Yoichi being "the master," I've said this before: sometimes I learn more from his questions than I do from other people's answers!
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 17:45
  • 1
    Truth to tell, I've voted to close more than one of Yoichi's questions. But I'd be surprised (and saddened) if he took this personally, as I hold him in high regard, and think many of his questions are excellent. Anyway, even Yoichi has had a fair few questions downvoted and/or closed, and I doubt there's total consistency there either. Some days some people are more tetchy than others, I guess. Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 22:53
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    @FumbleFingers: I'm guessing that most of those votes to close were because the question itself, even though carefully presented, was only asking about something very basic – i.e., a "general reference." But even when Yoichi does ask a trivial question, he almost invariably does so in a methodical, exemplary way (click HERE for an example).
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 23:18
  • Absolutely. I'm pretty sure I've never actually downvoted any of Yoichi's questions - he invariably does his homework first, and the questions are well presented. In fact, I've just had a look at his "least-upvoted" questions and noticed one which I think shouldn't have been closed - what do you think? Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 23:27
  • I edited my question to include my thoughts on this. I guess I have a different idea of the purpose of downvoting and other SE tools for dealing with posts.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 23:36
  • 1
    The only difference between the highly-praised Mr Yoichi question and the 'bad' "What is the difference between a king and an emperor?" question is in the rhetoric. Is that how we are supposed to grade questions here - the level of language displayed in asking them? If so, I wonder who the site is intended for. Maybe Mr Bad Poster simply can't do any better, and you all punish him for it. It also seems to be missing Rachel's point. If you don't like a post, tell them why in the comments. You don't expel ESL students for getting answers wrong. You tell them why they are wrong. Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 9:45
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    @RoaringFish: I'm tired of being accused of running Mr. Non-Native out of town when I've gone through great lengths to do the opposite. What I like about Yoichi's questions is how they follow the 4 steps I outlined in my answer. You don't need to be a native speaker to copy-and-paste what you found in the dictionary before you ask your question, and I don't think it's an unreasonable thing to ask an O.P. to do. I'm not missing Rachel's point, I'm just unwilling to take the I'll-never-ever-downvote-again-unless-I-leave-a-comment pledge. Downvotes ≠ "punishment."
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 11:08
  • 1
    How is a new-comer to the site supposed to know he should follow your four steps? I have been here for months and I didn't know about them. If the new-comer has been learning English for only a few months, or even a year, how is he supposed to emulate Mr Yoichi? Or even read your 4 steps? The point I am making is that if you don't like a question, tell him why and how to improve it. Don't slap him around the face with a down vote. That is not help, but it is punishment. Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 11:16
  • 1
    @RoaringFish: There's a balance, that's all I'm saying. I've left almost 1400 comments since I've been here, and I've cast around 200 downvotes. I've often done exactly what you suggest. But don't admonish me for leaving a downvote on a crappy question when I have to run out the door in 5 minutes. That's all I'm asking. Sometimes one comment and two downvotes can be very effective in sending a message to try harder. I don't expect everyone to follow my steps exactly, but I'd like this to be an environment where newcomers look around and think, "I should be careful when I ask a question here"
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 13:14

Downvoting without offering feedback is not a nice or effective solution to the stated problem.

Sure it is. Or rather, it's part of the solution. The problem is complex - expecting one tool or tactic to be the primary or only solution would be naive.

So you describe a situation where very knowledgeable folks find themselves faced with trivial and poorly-asked questions, lazy and incorrect answers...

Part of the solution is education - this is where commenting has its role. Help folks learn what they're doing wrong, and they'll do better as a result.

Part of the solution is simply separating the wheat from the chaff, so the experts can chew on that good, good grain without choking. This is where voting comes into its own - by helping to rank posts according to their perceived quality, you can help separate those that are worth reading from those that aren't.

In summary: commenting is primarily for the benefit of the author; voting for the benefit of other readers. The effective use of both is critical to a healthy site. If you can't make effective use of one, then use the other - and respect that others may do the same.

  • I agree with you completely about voting. I suspect then that we disagree that downvoting is just as good of an idea as is upvoting. I think that a better way to separate good from only-good-enough-to-not-be-closed questions is by upvoting the good ones rather than downvoting the worse ones. I have read in the SE guidelines somewhere that upvoting is supposed to be the focus, and this is reaffirmed in how downvoting affects reputation. Also, I have an idea for making poor questions easier to improve, and I will post this in meta soon.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 1:28
  • 1
    Trying to up-vote all of the good posts past the mediocre ones is... Really hard. If you refrain from down-voting posts that aren't useful, we've lost half of the information you could've shared - and you've lost half of your influence. Stop and think about that: if you don't down-vote, you're effectively a second-class citizen with half a vote as far as the voting system goes. It's your choice - but why would you opt in to that?
    – Shog9
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 1:37
  • From the article: "[W]e realized the intrinsic informational value of full range post scores. Downvotes give you the critically important ability to distinguish between the good, the bad, and the ugly. Without downvotes, how can you possibly tell the difference between a post that is harmless but uninteresting, and one that is actually wrong or harmful?" [orig emph] I completely agree with this. I object to downvoting "bad" posts or posts that should be closed or deleted. Downvoting bad posts makes it harder to separate them from the ugly ones. Deal with bad ones another way.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 2:29
  • 1
    I would argue that a post that should be deleted is one that is generally one that is pretty ugly. Granted, closed posts should eventually be deleted, and not every closed post is worthy of a down-vote - these are two different rating systems, and need not be linked. But if you see a post and think, "this should be removed" - you should probably down-vote it before doing anything else.
    – Shog9
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 2:57
  • 1
    Down voting without comment is no solution. It equates to marking an answer as wrong without providing the correct answer and an explanation, and only very poor teachers do that. If you must have down votes, link them to comments and limit them to users with reputation above, say, 2000. As things are at the moment, it is more of a popularity contest. The down votes are meaningless, with nothing to say that they are justified, or that the down voter is qualified to make that judgement. Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 10:09
  • @RoaringFish: a single downvote without a comment may not help that particular O.P. with that particular question, but many downvotes across several bad questions can help establish a trend and a community standard. Not everyone will be enlightened during their first month here, but, given time, they'll learn what works and what doesn't, if they pay attention. All that said, your idea to require more rep in order to cast a downvote might be an interesting experiment; I'd be interested to see how things would or wouldn't change with that system in place - although I don't think it'll happen.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 15:42
  • Several helpful comments across several bad questions would help establish a trend and community standard too. The only useful function of down votes that I can see is getting a dumb question closed, and a plain old 'vote to close' button would do that just as well. Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 15:47
  • @RoaringFish: please read this answer. Votes are there for the benefit of other readers, not as a stick with which to beat your students. If you're looking to teach, comments are more appropriate. And not comments of the form, "if you don't fix this, I shall down-vote you!" Confusion between ranking and punishing is the root of the problem here.
    – Shog9
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 16:14
  • How many 'other readers' choose what to read on the basis of votes? Have you done some research into this? Nor can you separate ranking from punishing when the punishment is a reduction in the ranking. Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 5:59
  • @RoaringFish: I can only speak anecdotally, but I often use the vote totals when perusing questions, sometimes choosing what to read on the basis of votes. Perhaps you could open a new meta question if you're truly interested in collecting that data. I'd guess many regulars do the same.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 10:02
  • I choose purely on the content of the title. Whether other people like that question or not doesn't really come into it. I would guess most people do the same, based on the way an individual question can receive both up votes and down votes. Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 10:05

You said

It is a message from the community that they are doing something unwanted.

Actually no. It's the evaluation of a single user, not the community. If, at the end of the day, the balance is positive (you had 6 upvotes and 3 downvotes), there are more people that liked your question. And it's not doing about "something unwanted".

I can downvote your question (I never did, I'm just proposing example reasons) because there is low research effort, because I think your question is not fit for the site, or even because I wanted to. You'll always meet that kind of people, everywhere.

About your question: it's the perfect example of a borderline question that gained quality because it's full of detail and research. I think you did a really good job with it. If your question had less detail, it would have been closed. I probably would have voted too. Some people think it's still not good for the site (hence the downvotes), but look, it has 6 upvotes. The community did give you positive feedback.

I've received my share of downvotes too and they won't be the last ones... I just kept on posting.

I am a moderator on Linguistics SE and you said there were 0 Q's with negative scores. I think this site receives much more poor quality questions than we do. I'm not saying there might not be some bad tendency to downvote everything, rather I'm saying that it's not all "bad tendency". There are also bad questions.

You also said

It's disagreement about what is a good and a bad question, or it's abuse of the system.

It's not abuse, as far as we know, some people downvote, others upvote. It's the system. But you're right: it's disagreement. We cannot all agree on a certain thing. Many users have complained to me saying that their question shouldn't have been closed. It's normal, we all have a mind each. And while I understand that you wished for all upvotes and no downvotes, after all it's good that there is disagreement. It means that the users judge independently.

Now, how to address the bad tendency? Well, you can't force others to do something but you can set a trend. When you see poor quality questions, go comment. When you see a good question (for you) that is being downvoted, you could ask "why is this question downvoted? I think it's good because A and B"... Some banal and stupid ideas, but it's just to get my point across.

Hope it helped... If I forgot something, let me know in a comment. :)


Please see this answer for comparative data on how ELU stands up to the other 89 SE sites. Here are the ten SE sites with lowest means, sorted on mean then median, ascending — notice how we are #8/90 in that ranking:

    Site                              Min  Max    Mean  Median  Stdev  Mode
 1. SharePoint                         -4    1   -0.02   0.0    0.62   46 × 0
 2. WordPress                          -1    2    0.00   1.0    0.45   43 × 0
 3. Server Fault                       -2    1    0.04   0.5    0.49   41 × 0
 4. Stack Overflow                     -2    2    0.08   0.5    0.59   41 × 0
 5. Game Development                   -8    9    0.14   0.0    2.33   17 × 0
 6. Drupal Answers                     -1    2    0.14   0.5    0.49   43 × 0
 7. Web Applications                   -4    2    0.16   0.5    1.30   23 × 0
 8. English Language and Usage         -5   14    0.18   8.0    3.34    8 × (-2, -1)
 9. Super User                         -2    3    0.20   0.0    0.72   36 × 0
10. Meta Stack Overflow               -14   19    0.30  -5.0    5.23   12 × 0

What you’ll notice is that all the big sites have lower means than we do, and that we have a much higher median than they do.

What you are noticing is probably our (currently-)unique mode. On the other hand, look at the very high mode-zero sites, where the overwhelming majority of their questions are sitting at zero.

If you look at the full dataset, we are only #12/90 when ranking by the lowest minimum;, meaning that 11 sites have lower minima than we do.

And when ranked by maxima, we come in at #17/90, with only 16 sites having higher maxima than us.

Apart from the mode, it is hard to find anything here that we stand out in. Maybe our high median, where we are tied for second place. But that sounds like a good thing, not a bad thing. A high median score looks good to me.

  • 2
    I appreciate the effort. I have seen this data before and don't know enough about where it came from to draw any conclusions. If it counts total scores, it's irrelevant. I visit the math and tex SE and MO sites, and they don't have negative vibes. They do get routine, sloppy questions from new people, but they don't handle it negatively. MathSE users downvote constructively and have an incredibly lovely and productive community. Just count the number of downvotes on the first page here. I bet at least half have mixtures of ups and downs, and that seems like a sign of a problem.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 2:46
  • 2
    Checking the 50 active questions pages now: LingusticsSE has 0 Q's with a negative score. The mean score looks around 4.5 (rough estimate). MathSE has 0 Q's with negative score. The mean looks like 2. TexSE has 0 Q's with negative score. The mean looks like 4ish. ELU has 14 Q's with a negative score. The mean looks to be 4ish. People who say "EL&U feels extremely unfriendly to newer users compared to the others I've used" (2011) are not imagining things.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 3:39
  • 5
    @Rachel: Math has been through quite some drama. More drama than most sites of the network, actually. Certain high-rep users would threaten to leave on a weekly basis. Quite a few people eventually did leave in frustration. Some are ELU regulars now. Lovely and productive, too. Which is not to say that Math is not lovely now, but rather that you should be careful about not comparing their omelette to our cracking eggs.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 3:47
  • @Rachel Here are other sites with high numbers of subzero questions in their fifty newest questions as of this writing: 16:Quantitative Finance 15:Programmers 13:Theoretical Computer Science 12:Meta Stack Overflow 11:Skeptics 11:Game Development 9:Sports 8:History 7:OnStartups 7:Seasoned Advice 7:Web Applications 7:Code Golf. Do you feel that this is some sort of problem, too? As for this writing, ELU’s fifty newest questions have have 4 0’s, and min=-5 max=14 mean=0.16 median=2.5 stdev=3.38 mode=9 × -2. Do you see that one’s guesses are subject to bias? Your idea of the mean was quite off.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 3:49
  • @Rachel: quite a few of the subzero questions on the ELU front page right now are blatantly off-topic. Others are dictionary lookups. I am not seeing blatantly off-topic questions on Maths right now, or questions the answers to which I could look up in any maths book. Perhaps they delete them right away, I don't know; I do know I can delete them here. Hold on a minute and run your stats again.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 3:57
  • 1
    @tchrist: Perhaps I should point out that I didn't check other sites and only report on the ones with 0 negative questions. I only checked the sites that I listed (which are the ones that I visit and enjoy). So, fine, ELU is not alone in its high negativity. It's just among the most negative. Anyway, I give up.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 4:00
  • @Rachel Why don’t you look again now?
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 4:28
  • @tchrist: I think it looks much better now. But I don't think it solves the underlying problem. I think downvoting is not the best way to handle off-topic or GR questions from new people, not that I think that is the only large motivation behind downvotes.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 5:30

I agree with OP's saying that 'a popular justification for the large number of downvotes is that this site is meant for serious questions about English that are of interest to linguists and language experts. Only that it took me some time to realize it but watching legitimate posts being downvoted and closed, both mine and others, it has become clear what SE stands for. So, before it becomes complicated, I decided to request deletion of my SE account (which is not yet taken up by the moderators). After all, I am neither a linguist nor a language expert but luckily for people like me, there are other places to discuss English.

  • 3
    Sorry to see you run off. I've enjoyed some of your comments and questions.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 12:29

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