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Just in the last day or so, the following extremely low-quality posts have all received upvotes:

https://mathoverflow.net/questions/190836/how-to-calculate-math-expectation

https://mathoverflow.net/questions/190787/maths-to-take-a-user-chosen-number-to-a-predictable-number

https://mathoverflow.net/questions/190844/how-can-i-calculate-the-significance-of-an-acquisition-test-campaign-on-facebook

I just happened to notice these, so I suspect there are more examples.

I wonder who is upvoting these, and whether that person ought to receive some gentle discouragement.

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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately "pitty upvotes" are quite wide-spread. I think it is good that you draw attention to the problem. At the same time I doubt anything direct can be done about it. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Dec 16 '14 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: You "doubt anything direct can be done about" this? -- I think it can: just by downvoting such questions! $\endgroup$ – Stefan Kohl Dec 16 '14 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ @StefanKohl my "it" refers to the problem that some users (seem to) upvote for the sole reason of counter-acting downvoting that they find too harsh or unwelcoming. I do not see how downvoting the questions could help to solve this problem. [Except on the off chance that pitty-upvotes start to generate an avalanche of additional downvotes, and the pitty-voters will then realize they have the opposite effect and stop. This however is not quite what I consider as direct.] $\endgroup$ – user9072 Dec 16 '14 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ @quid also, considering that an upvote is worth more than a downvote, a war over a question is rigged to give the OP a lot of reputation. $\endgroup$ – Steven Gubkin Dec 16 '14 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenGubkin very true, unfortunately. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Dec 16 '14 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ The basic conflict is between StackOverflow interest to make community bigger, and MO interest to keep the community somewhat elitist. Hence penalty for downvoting, and the larger effect of upvoting in the long term reduce the level of participants. $\endgroup$ – Boris Bukh Dec 16 '14 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ @BorisBukh: There is no penalty for downvoting questions since the move to MO 2.0. $\endgroup$ – Stefan Kohl Dec 16 '14 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ @StefanKohl: Thanks for info. My point still stands: the system is designed to build the SO userbase, not to maintain a certain minimum level of discourse. $\endgroup$ – Boris Bukh Dec 16 '14 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ One more add-on (then I will shut up, for a while at least): it might be worth recalling that there was considerable complaint by part of the MO community when the effect of an upvote for questions got reduced on MO (to what it was on SO and in the SE network more generally since a long time). Even arguments were made why this is not suitable for MO and many (yet not me!) want back the old system Some think there are too many points, some think there are too few; fortunately they can at least find agreement that SO is to blame. ;-) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Dec 16 '14 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ While pity votes are very common, it is also true that some low-quality off-topic questions receive upvotes before any downvotes. These votes have been around for quite a while and, in my personal opinion, the situation is not getting any better. $\endgroup$ – Ricardo Andrade Dec 16 '14 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ No matter how great system or community agreement we have, there is always room for differences. If a single person decides to upvote all questions with negative score for whatever reason, we can't help it. The questions you mention don't really have a heap of upvotes in comparison to the downvotes. Reputation gain of the OP is irrelevant; points are eventually lost in deletion and low reputation users only see the total score of posts. Is it worth trying to do anything, given that there is only so much we could ever achieve here? $\endgroup$ – Joonas Ilmavirta Dec 16 '14 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ Some above have said there's not much to be done, but that's not quite true. If a user is plausibly suspected of downvoting many of another user's posts for personal reasons, my understanding is that the moderators can and will reverse those downvotes. It seems to me that if a user is plausibly suspected of upvoting a great number of posts for equally bad reasons (e.g. attempting to "welcome" users who should be unwelcome), the moderators ought to do the same. Of course I do not know whether all these upvotes are coming from the same person, but I'd guess it's likely. $\endgroup$ – Steven Landsburg Dec 16 '14 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ The point of my comment was, among others, to let you know that the moderators in fact cannot do what you propose (even in case it should really be a single user, which I rather doubt) as they have no means to find out who it was that cast the votes in the first place. Voting data is personal, and moderators have no access to it on an individual basis. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Dec 16 '14 at 22:51
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    $\begingroup$ To add to Quid's comment, while we don't have access to the voting, when we are concerned about some voting pattern, we wrote to the very helpful stack exchange folk. We don't ask about, and they don't tell us about, specific votes, but it's usually straightforward to identify any problem should it exist $\endgroup$ – Scott Morrison Dec 17 '14 at 1:33
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    $\begingroup$ In this case I'm not convinced it's likely that it's a single user at work, so won't bother, but if there's concern I'm willing to pursue it. $\endgroup$ – Scott Morrison Dec 17 '14 at 1:34
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(First of all, let me mention that I did not upvote the questions mentioned.)

Two of the questions you mentioned were from new users (those with 1 reputation and asking a question for the first time in MathOverflow). As you probably know, StackExchange currently has Winter Bash 2014. There is a secret hat called Warm Welcome (https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/245397/177408) and it is earned by upvoting a new user's first post.

One possibility is that some MO users don't know that MO is not participating in Winter Bash 2014 and they upvote these questions in an attempt to get this hat.

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually, the other question mentioned is also from a user asking a question for the first time in MO, but the user started with a reputation of 101. $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Dec 16 '14 at 22:46

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