High quality answers are the life and blood of our site. If we continually produce high quality content, we'll attract more experts who will want to help fellow skeptics. On the other hand, if low quality dominates the site, an expert who visits the site will conclude this site is a waste of time and never come back.

How can I help?

There are many ways in which you can help. Flagging low quality, offensive, abusive, or hate-filled answers is one way - oh, and spam too. We don't like spam. Please flag it. Leaving comments to other users on how they can improve their posts is another way. Editing works well too.

However, the prime way by which you, the community, affect the quality of the content on the site is voting*. Voting drives the economy on the site. If you see a great post, upvote it right away. By upvoting a great answer, you send the signal that you want more of these and get the user closer to new privileges. Meanwhile, if you see an answer you think is low quality, downvote it immediately.

In other words,

  • Upvote great content.
  • Downvote answers that obviously wrong.
  • Downvote answers without references.
  • Downvote upvoted partial answers down to zero.
  • Don't upvote partial answers.

Authors of good content should never go unrewarded. Conversely, it should be made clear to everyone that poor content is not tolerated here, that poor answers will be met by a downpour of downvotes.

Upvoting great content is easy. Downvoting is harder - it costs reputation, after all - but it's just as important. The presence of an highly upvoted question tend to deter other users from writing a new answer. If that highly answer is of low quality, that's a huge loss for the site, because we might never get an actual great answer. Downvoting bad answers is paving the way for better, more informative answers, and that makes the site better.

Oh, and leave a comment explaining why you downvoted. With luck, the author will learn from this mistake and correct his post or write better answers in the future.

But what about the rep loss?

While downvoting costs you a tiny bit of reputation, it is still, by a very large margin, a net gain. Think of how much time you've spent on this website already. Think of how much you've learned since you're on this site. Think of how we're making the Internet a better place. As Phil Plait said, we're making the world more reality-based, post by post.

In other words, downvoting is good for you (and for the site)! You trade a bit of reputation on this site for heaps of knowledge and hours of entertainment.

So I say: go forth and downvote!

*Actually, that's a lie. Writing good answers is, but that sentence sounds so much better if I pretend voting is.

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I believe you could make it more clear this is all about downvoting answers by adding that keyword to the title. I was reading it and thinking about posts in general - and that makes a big difference. –  Cawas Mar 28 '11 at 3:44
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3 Answers

I agree with most of what you have written, but not necessarily the following:

Downvote answers without references

Sometimes a question can be answered using pure logic. Instead I'd rather "Downvote answers that don't back up their claims"

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If a question is answered with "pure logic", then that answer should be downvoted. I'm not alone to think that. If the question can only be answered through logic, there's a pretty high chance that it should be closed. –  Borror0 Mar 26 '11 at 10:35
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@Borror0: You would exclude Eratosthenes' measurement of the earth's circumference en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eratosthenes if he presented it here without citation? I prefer a short reasoning over a long research. Shall the side just be a link collection and the users act as librarians? –  user unknown Mar 26 '11 at 15:36
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@userunknown: Yes. I would. Without hesitation. This is no place for original research. The reasoning is quite simple: it will be evaluated (i.e., voted on) by laymen on the subject. Most users don't have the required knowledge to evaluate whether the "pure logic" is correct, or if it just sounds true to the uneducated. That's why citation are necessary. –  Borror0 Mar 26 '11 at 15:49
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But the magically gain the knowledge, if confronted with the reasoning on a different site? Because it is PDF? –  user unknown Mar 26 '11 at 15:59
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@userunknown: Using reliable sources, like peer-reviewed journals, significantly reduce (but not eliminate) the chance that the claim is false. It's the Wikipedia philosophy, basically. –  Borror0 Mar 26 '11 at 17:23
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"Pure logic" itself is a philosophical concept. I have seen way too many internet arguments by someone who thinks their logic is "pure" and that everyone else's isn't, and they go around and around. –  NickC Mar 26 '11 at 17:33
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@Borror0: You still can vote down something, if you think the evidence is too spongy, or the reasoning wasn't correct. –  user unknown Mar 26 '11 at 17:54
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@userunknown: If I think the evidence is too spongy? See, that's the problem. You leave people who have no formal training decide whether something is or isn't correct. People will vote according to their own personal biases, me included. That's why we ask for references. –  Borror0 Mar 26 '11 at 18:04
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The same people have the same brain when they look at the same text at Wikipedia or wherever. The main difference you're asking for is trust in authority, which isn't a primary skeptical virtue. –  user unknown Mar 26 '11 at 18:23
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@userunknown: I don't trust authority. Rather, I require evidence. Then, I'll take a look at the evidence to see if it's solid. Rhetoric and logical arguments, however agreeable they may be, don't cut it for me. I know they can be, and often are, wrong. I want concrete evidence. That is skepticism. –  Borror0 Mar 26 '11 at 18:59
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Now I'm puzzled. I would translate concrete evidence to original research, not to a link to a scientific paper. However - some questions deal with topics, which aren't subject to scientific investigations. Of course they could all be closed: crop circles skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/650/24 Kindergarden drug dealers skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/1366/… for instance. –  user unknown Mar 26 '11 at 20:55
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@Borror0: I agree with User unknown. Relying only on sources sounds like having authority instead of a reason to be a primary criterion to judge false claim. Evaluating reputability and reliability for a given source sounds no easier to me than following a logic proof (for me, given my maths education and no academical natural science experience I would even say following a proof is often easier). The question seems related to meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/5/answer-referenced and meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/80/original-research –  Suma Mar 27 '11 at 7:19
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To rephrase: "You leave people who have no formal training decide whether something is or isn't correct." - This is a kind of a catch. Are people with no formal training able to recognize reliable sources, or is it easier for them than to find reasoning errors? –  Suma Mar 27 '11 at 7:23
    
Obviously, this is something that the community has not yet reached consensus on. Comments are not the place to settle this. I opened a new question to discuss this. –  Borror0 Mar 27 '11 at 11:29
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Of course, the "downvote pure logic" logic doesn't apply to some other SE sites like Math.SE, or everything would be down voted. –  muntoo Apr 11 '11 at 3:39
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I've actually added to this by taking up the stance of downvoting all answers I see that only use Wikipedia as a reference. Wikipedia is a reasonable place to start, but I personally don't want to see a site filled with answers where wikipedia links are cited as sole references. Anyone can go to wikipedia and get the popular answer to any skeptics topic. Being skeptical isn't about echoing the vox populi.

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I agree with most of what you said there, Borror0. downvoting is indeed important for the site, though I can't tell up to which point and I may even sound hypocrite with what I'm going to say below because I've chosen to not cast downvotes almost ever. I just believe it's not needed and the whole system could live pretty good without it. I just hope I won't fall into my own fallacies in this answer! :P

I disagree with downvoting "partial answers down to zero". Most partial answers are plain bad and if you're willing to downvote, do it regardless of current score. I also disagree with downvoting answers "without reference" as a golden rule. But I know this subject even led to another question so I'll skipt it.

The focus on downvoting should be on the user. The author of the answer.

Just consider the effort made. A well thought bad answer, even if incomplete and unreferenced, deserves at least a comment with the downvote, explaining why.

Care for the author

To me, that's the golden rule, both for questions and answers. Downvoting can generate a lot of hate, specially on new users. And for a good reason - when we have "proved our value" in just 1 any other stackexchange site, then we go to a new site, we begin with 100 points! Brand new users to the whole SE don't get that bonus. And it is a strategic value to have access to minimum basic features. Below 100 users are basically considered spammers and treated as trash by the system.

There are new users who will come in just to answer (unlike than the vast majority that comes to ask questions) and not everyone is well versed (I'm sure not!). But most people who care enough to create a login are well intended. Or at least it's a good law to go: consider everyone innocent until proven otherwise.

With that in mind comes all the rest you said. Low quality answers should be downvoted. I just don't think there is any checklist we can go through to evaluate an answer as being bad. That's a matter of opinion and that's even why downvoting makes you lose score - because it should be a well thought trough vote.


Lastly, I trust we need to make this pretty clear:

  • Downvoting on questions should follow a complete different set of rules.

Because new users mostly ask questions. And they should feel welcome. The more brainstorming there is for questions, the more good questions will come by. Let the upvoting be the filter on the questions, it is good enough already. I believe there is no bad question, just inappropriate or off-topic, which should be dealt with the reporting tool.

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1) The suggestions are the "most bang for your bucks" - you can certainly be more strict than that. I put in the OP is the minimum I think everyone should do. 2) There is such a thing as a bad question. A good question will carefully cite the claim that's being questioned. It will stay away from vague terms like "bad," "harmful," or "good"; instead, it will use precise terms like "lethal," "causes cancer," or "increases lifespan." See: How to Ask –  Borror0 Mar 28 '11 at 5:26
    
@Borror Well, I think this will be good learning material 1 year from now. At least for myself. :P –  Cawas Mar 28 '11 at 19:53
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