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    There was a little spat here, and I'm starting this thread on meta in case it needs to continue.


    I would say no, calling someone out on downvoting without commenting is not equally acceptable as downvoting: Downvoting a question or answer you don't like, disagree with, or think is wrong is an integral part of how mathoverflow works, but picking fights about it is a distraction from what we're trying to do.

    Furthermore, I think the real issue here is that saying "have some courage" could easily be interpreted (remember, this is the internet) as incivil, or at least near the lower bound of civility on MO. In fact, this comment was flagged as potentially offensive, which is what brought this thread to my attention. Let's set aside this issue as a example of a being misunderstood on the internet, and just thrash out the "downvoting without commenting issue", if it needs that.

    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeNov 23rd 2009 edited
    Fine, I've removed the comments, but it seems like downvoting an answer without also leaving a comment is improper etiquette and passive-aggressive nonsense. Then again, rules are rules, and if those are the rules, then I will comply.

    Err, feature requests?
      CommentAuthorJon Awbrey
    • CommentTimeNov 23rd 2009 edited

    I don't know what kinds of Social-Technical nudges or kludges might work best here, but a similar situation developed at PlanetMath, where it became clear that some people and topics had become targets for anonymous masses of knee-jerk negative ratings based on some kind of personal animus or subdisciplinary rivalry. They eventually had to change the rating questionnaire at the bottom of every entry so that raters had to give reasons for their votes, positive or negative.

    It might be necessary to examine whether rank opinion polling really makes such a good fit with mathematical reasoning.

    • CommentAuthordjordan
    • CommentTimeNov 23rd 2009
    Dear fpqc,

    I was the person who flagged your comment, although I hadn't voted on your original post. I am grateful that you removed the flagged comment. The reason I flagged the comment is that I would really prefer not to see words like "courage" on math overflow, especially in the context of an applied lack thereof. This also applies to your use of the word "peer pressure" in this post:

    where you were either making fun of the student who posted the question or else making fun of people who downvoted the question and flagged it as inappropriate.

    I would like to make three points:

    1) It is very hard to run a website based on user-generated content, and steer clear of distracting and irrelevant personal spats. Fortunately in mathematics, there is really no reason to go in this direction, and so we can simply avoid it. I think the moderators are doing an excellent job filtering these things out, but they are full-time mathematicians with their own research to conduct, and we can all do our part to alleviate their workload both by avoiding personal comments, and also flagging inappropriate ones.
    2) I don't vote as often as I should because I'm not used to doing it instinctively. However, I strongly feel that voting up and down on posts is an excellent way to sort the scientific content for accuracy and usefulness. Therefore, challenging someone's decision to vote something up or down is counterproductive. While your post made a valid point about the differences between the category of sets and a general category, I guess it received a down vote because the poster was really interested in the set theory underlying the very definition of a category, and avoiding various logical pitfalls along the lines of Russell's paradox. I'm sure no one meant any personal slight to you in downvoting; I disagree that it is passive-aggressive not to write a comment about it, though I agree with Scott that it would be more helpful to do so. It is along these lines that I am writing now to clarify what about the subsequent communication I found inappropriate.
    3) It cannot be overstated the dangers of text-based rapid fire internet communication. It is very easy to write a light-hearted quip, with a grin on your face and the best intentions, and have that misread due to the cold and impersonal nature of text on the internet. While the medium of internet forums and our experiences on most of them encourages less formality than we would maintain in a "real-life" social setting (imagine, you are in your common room at your university, your Professor is to your left and another student asks a question about set theory), we should instead do the opposite: we should be more formal and more careful with our speech on MO, since we don't know one another, don't have a common experience to rely on for our senses of humor, and don't even get to see one another's facial expressions.

    All that said, I've noticed several of your posts which were enlightened and interesting, especially for a 19-year old second year student, and I don't mean by any of this to tell you how to communicate on MO, or to discourage you from adding to the content of the site. I only wanted to explain what it was about the post that I deemed inappropriate, in the hopes you'd be more cautious in the future.

    -david jordan

    Fine, I've removed the comments, but it seems like downvoting an answer without also leaving a comment is improper etiquette and passive-aggressive nonsense.

    You seem to have a very different perspective on downvoting than myself, and I would guess most of the site users. Downvoting is not primarily a message to the writer of the post, it's a message to the rest of the site that says "I don't think this post is worth reading." It seems pretty strange to characterize that as passive-aggressive. It might be if it were all about a communication between the downvoter and the writer of the post, but it's not.

    The note about "peer pressure" is because there is a badge on mathoverflow called "peer pressure", which you receive for deleting one of your own posts that has more than three down-votes, of course. Although my answer was certainly making fun of the way the student asked the question, something like "Can anyone explain x?", the obvious response being that, of course somebody can, but it's unlikely that he will.
    • CommentAuthordjordan
    • CommentTimeNov 23rd 2009
    Thanks for the explanation; I didn't know about the badge, and thought it was a joke. Nevertheless, I would personally prefer it if we avoided making fun of people on the site. Usually when someone asks an off-topic question, a moderator closes the question and politely refers them to a more appropriate spot. This results in less feelings of inferiority on the part of the questioner, who in all fairness is just trying to learn about mathematics and happens to be at a different point than you or me in their learning. It also makes it less likely that they will respond with a flare-up/flame war which would be yet another headache for the moderators, who are full-time working research mathematicians who do this as a service to the community in their spare time. Does that seem reasonable?

    Okay, I think djordan's point 3) above covers the "peer pressure" comment. Stuff on the internet gets misread, and I had no idea you were talking about a badge, and as such I thought it wasn't the most appropriate comment either.