I have been on enough web boards in both the arts and sciences that I have learned not to be bothered by downvotes in and of themselves.

What does bother me is a downvote without an accompanying rationale in a comment.

Why? For the simple reason that no one can learn anything from it.

In my opinion, if a downvote appears without an accompanying rationale in a comment, the questioner should have the right to petition the mods for a reversal of the vote. This protocol will prevent ANY site from that well-known death-spiral in which the social psychology of the site gradually becomes more important to its members than the value of any shared content.

What do you think?

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    $\begingroup$ Whence the assumption that the only possible value of a downvote lies in its ability to educate? $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2017 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenLandsburg - unless you're thinking of downvotes as a control mechanism for preventing trollish contributors from gaining certain privs that would increase their capacity to harm the site, or for discouraging their further participation at the site, I don't see what purpose a downvote could serve OTHER than educative . .. . $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2017 at 23:54
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    $\begingroup$ Bravo to the downvoter of THIS question !!!! I like and appreciate his or her sense of humor, very much ! $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ Your list of (good) reasons omits these: 1) Sending a message to new visitors that this is not the typical quality of question you're going to find here, so you might want to stick around; 2) Keeping the question off the front page, so those new visitors don't see it in the first place; 3) Keeping the question off the front page, so existing users don't have to deal with the clutter. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 1:49
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenLandsburg - all good points which completely eluded me. Thanks! BUT- all three of your objectives, in my opinion, could actually be better accomplished if a rationale was required as to why a particular question was deemed "not typical of quality". In the absence of such rationales, I believe I was correct to say that all boards beoome more prone to degeneration in their social psychologies. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 1:55
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    $\begingroup$ Somewhat related older discussion from this meta: Completely Unexplained Downvotes. As a side note - would the same apply to upvotes? (Would you expect people who upvote a question to leave a comment explaining why they upvoted?) $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 2:34
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    $\begingroup$ I will add to your comment about control mechanism that downvotes can work this way. If a user has many downvoted/closed questions, they automatically get into question ban. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 2:38
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak - thanks so much for taking the time to recall and post that link. Regarding upvotes, I could actually see a small pop-up (such as those which hotels etc. use to get after-visit feeback) in which the upvoter was required to choose at least one of multiple categories indicating reason for upvote - as polar extremes in this pop-up, one might have originality and technical virtuousity (since these are all too often mutually exclusive) $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 2:39
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    $\begingroup$ Probably it's worth mentioning that users below 2k reputation are shown a tooltip reminding them that it might be useful (but not obligatory) to accompany downvote with a comment. For more details, see this meta.SE post: Encouraging people to explain downvotes. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 2:48
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    $\begingroup$ "I have been on enough web boards in both the arts and sciences that I have learned not to be bothered by downvotes in and of themselves." I have been on enough internet groups not to be bothered by people who have been here for a week trying to tell people who have been here for years how to run their business. But I still am. Anyway, this has been discussed to death on many previous occasions. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 7:07
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson - I feel very bad that you chose to interpret my comment as arising from brashness, and equally glad that others apparently have not. If you take a moment to visit my FB page, you'll see that I'm more than a bit of a Graecophile, and it is in an Ancient Greek context that I assure you of the fact that for me, this site is truly a gift from the gods for people in my particular position. That being said, I feel compelled to ask if you recall the famous story about Bolyai's son (I think it was Bolyai's son, if my memory serves me correctly.) $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 8:41
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    $\begingroup$ David: Because you are new here, you might not be aware that , by long-standing tradition, downvotes have a different meaning on meta than they do on the main site. On the main site, downvotes mean something like "This is not a good question". On meta, they mean something more like "This might (or might not) be a perfectly good question, but I disagree with the opinion it expressses." I mention this to help you put the many downvotes you've gotten here in context. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenLandsburg - thanks for the clarification - I assumed that was the case, so am glad you confirmed it. As I said earlier - downvotes don't BOTHER me, but I do want to understand them correctly, and you're helping me to do that . . . $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 16:31

2 Answers 2


I find this proposal completely unreasonable: "the questioner should have the right to petition the mods for a reversal of the vote."

For one, think of the amount of workload this would add for the moderators. Moreover, moderator might not be an expert in the area of the question. I think it is optimal if much more moderating is done by community than by moderators (and moderators are only needed for exceptional cases). This is exactly why there are close/reopen votes, delete/undelete votes, review queues, etc. And, to some extent, also downvotes fit under community self-moderating.

From the top of my head I can think of only one situation where you should contact moderators in connection with downvotes on your question - if you suspect serial voting which went undetected.

Of course, nobody prevents you from flagging a post and asking moderators to revert the votes - but I am pretty sure that such flag would be declined.

If you want some feedback on reasons for downvote, you can simply ask in a comment to your question - maybe somebody will mention why they find the post problematic (be it the downvoter or someone else). Other options, although probably less optimal, are asking on meta or in chat.

I will add that if I ignore the part of the question I quoted in the first paragraph, then I consider this to be quite reasonable question for meta. However, I am not sure whether the discussion will add much to the previous discussions about downvoting without a comment (both on this meta and on other meta sites). To list a few:

1It is explicitly mentioned here that for users below 2k reputation points, casting a downvote leads to displaying a tooltip reminding them that leaving some feedback in a comment might be useful. Although the discussion is primarily about the feature requestion, you can find there comments and links to other discussions related also to downvoting without commenting.

(I am perfectly aware that MathOverflow is a separate site which differs in customs and culture from other sites in the Stack Exchange network, at least in some aspects. Still, I found the linked discussions from other metas quite relevant here. One additional reason to link posts from Mathematics site is that the OP seems to be active mostly on MathOverflow and Mathematics.)


Take a look at the downvotes here:

$E_6$, $E_8$, and Coxeter's (anti-)prismatic projections of the n-dimensional cross-polytopes

In a case like this, how can a downvote without a comment possibly be justified?

Either the question is well-formed or it isn't.

Either the given answer is correct or it isn't.

And in the absence of any comment, one must assume that the downvoters did not find the question ill-formed nor the answer incorrect.

But if so, why the downvotes?

Please forgive me, but I really don't understand the mind-set of certain MO contributors, and I am honestly trying to understand it.


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