# Why are trivial answers upvoted more than answers that actually contain substance?

I have noticed that a two line answer that anyone can come up with usually has more upvotes than an answer that is more difficult to come up with. Is this trend simply a result of pure laziness as people are less likely to read a longer answer? What can be done to reverse this unfortunate trend?

• Well -- my guess is that answers which many people can understand and verify quickly are upvoted more likely in general. Unless they are too easy, of course.
– Stefan Kohl Mod
Aug 25, 2013 at 21:54
• It is not pure laziness. Relatively standard answers are also understood by more. (And, for in some sense good reasons, not few I think rather hesitate to upvote things the do not understand.) But what you refer to as laziness also plays some role I think. I even believe that it is relevant if an answer is short enough so that on a typical display the voting arrows are still visible at the end of the question. Welcome to MO, this is how it works. :-) [On the positive side, it averages out a bit over time.]
– user9072
Aug 25, 2013 at 21:57
• There are many facets to what you are observing and the facet you're explicitly pointing out is not the prevalent one. Here is another one: generalist answers that any mathematician can understand get more upvotes than technical answers for specialists. Aug 25, 2013 at 21:58
• I think I've found an answer that may have prompted Joseph's post, but I am a bit hesitant to link to it since this question is perhaps intended to be general rather than specific. That said, I'm a bit puzzled by all the upvotes on that particular answer Aug 26, 2013 at 1:35
• @Yemon, it is not difficult to find :) and I think the second comment on the answer explains the reason: it answers the question though not in a way that Joseph would like. If the OP of that question is assuming something extra as Joseph explains then it should be clarified in the question. ps: I think it is a good practice to give examples to support claims like the one that Joseph is making (unless there is good reason not to do so). Aug 26, 2013 at 8:50
• @Joseph, I don't think it is a problem even if users prefer short answers to longer answers. It is not bad quality for an answer to be shorter/simpler/more readable/more accessible. Aug 26, 2013 at 8:55
• I agree with TL's sentiment in his comment under what I presume is the answer being referred to: the question was in fact flawed (and it's no good to say "well obviously OP meant such-and-such class of spaces" because maybe OP simply didn't think matters through). Whether the trivial counterexample is pointed out in a comment or in an answer is up to personal taste; one can sneer at the rampant upvoting but it doesn't seem right to me to punish what is in fact a correct answer to the question as stated. (Also: in MO.1 lingo, this meta post could be closed as "subjective and argumentative").
– Todd Trimble Mod
Aug 26, 2013 at 17:11
• My guess is that for the particular case that we guess is under discussion the high number of upvotes for an answer that should have been a comment may have been exactly because the OP publicly downvoted it. There is a wide, but by no means universal, sentiment that downvoting answers should in general be reserved for answers that are flawed. The trivial answer was correct for the question the OP literally asked and it is not the fault of the answerer that the OP didn't ask the right question. So I suspect people upvoted the trivial answer for this reason. Nb. I didn't vote on this question. Aug 26, 2013 at 19:55
• It took me some time to realize that not everything follows mathematical rules in the world; winning a casting show doesn't guarantee success and, in some respect MO is a casting for mathematical questions. Aug 28, 2013 at 18:58

I wouldn't really bother too much about the unfairness of up/downvotes. It is true that the number of upvotes I receive for my solutions is often (though not always) a decreasing function of the time and effort I spent on the question. However, the questions that attract my attention are about uniformly distributed in difficulty on a scale from $0$ to $1$ and, given that $\int_0^1 x\,dx=\int_0^1 (1-x)\,dx$, I do not think that any "crusade for fair voting" will change my or anyone else's score dramatically.

• This is my experience as well. It's probably healthiest to accept the fact, with a shrug of the shoulders, that MO voting cannot be controlled and is frequently ludicrous.
– Todd Trimble Mod
Aug 26, 2013 at 21:30

I am not too much bothered with this, after all the goal of our activity here is not to "earn points'. The trend you noticed applies not only to MO: I notice that citation of my published papers is also a decreasing function of the efforts spent and probably this applies to many mathematicians. Another trend is that "soft question" usually get more attention, and more up votes than true mathematical questions. It is also easy to explain more people would be interested in a soft question, and more people will understand it.

I think these trends are inevitable, and we should not fight them. If someone really wants many points, s/he may consider asking many good soft questions:-)

While I don't want to endorse the suggestion in Joseph van Name's second sentence, it does seem that answers which are not quite to the point, but "sound good", can get a slew of upvotes. I am currently looking at one highly upvoted answer which seems to me incomplete, in the sense that I think some of its arguments need a bit more justification. It's of course possible that I am being particularly dense today and that the argument is correct, but I think its author has definitely overlooked some details.

As to what one can do about it, the only possible thing is to leave a comment on the answer, downvote if one feels that is appropriate, and so on. One can't go round badgering individuals to rescind upvotes (as in life, so on MO) but one can try to explain one's case and see what happens as time goes by.