To emphasize, this question is about downvotes on questions, not answers. Downvotes are great, e.g., for answers that are coherent and well-written, but are factually wrong. The utility of downvotes on questions is less clear to me.

As discussed recently (e.g., here and here), we have a pretty aggressive closure policy on Chem.SE, and per my answer to one of those questions I think that this is probably for the best. An implication of this, though, is that a lot of questions that might just get downvoted on other SE sites end up closed on Chem.SE. The most prominent example of this is the "Off-Topic: Homework" closure-reason, by which questions showing insufficient research effort are scrubbed. Absent this particular closure feature of Chem.SE, I would think such questions would get downvoted and (if I understand correctly) eventually garbage collected by the system. So, the outcome would be the same, just on a different timeframe by a different method. For every other reason for downvoting I can think of, there are similar direct-voted closure mechanisms.

Similarly, I would hate to bring the SE user-lockout hammer down on someone who has lots of genuine, but misguided, chemistry questions, and who ends up with a raft of downvoted questions barring them from engagement on the site. On the other hand, I guess there's value to the site in keeping people with misinformed/misguided questions from flooding the zone with such.

So: Why bother downvoting questions, instead of just closing/flagging? Conversely, what are circumstances where one would downvote but not vote/flag to close? Is there some aspect of the inner workings of SE, such as user censure, which makes downvoting both useful in a way other than triggering closure and desirable in terms of maintenance of quality content/community?

To note: It doesn't bother me hugely that people do downvote questions; I just rarely see the point in downvoting them myself.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I should downvote this for the sake of irony. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ @IͶΔ I thought it unnecessary to specify "non-meta questions". Appears I was incorrect.... :-P $\endgroup$
    – hBy2Py
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


Closure and downvotes are meant to be very different things for very different purposes.

Closure is the process that stops some questions from getting answers. Closing is the official "sorry, this doesn't fit our model and hence we refrain from answering it" response. It's not related to how useful a question is.

Downvotes – votes in general – are means of separating good content from bad. Note the word "content"; this isn't about the person. It never was. If people get hurt feelings because they got downvotes, it's not because downvotes are evil, but because they don't understand the SE philosophy. 1

I see where you're coming from: The questions that get closed these days are mostly those of poor quality, hence they also deserve the downvote. That doesn't mean all questions that get closed are bad ones, and that doesn't mean all low quality questions deserve closure.

Also forgot to mention (thanks @Lighthart) that close votes aren't visible on question unless they take effect. So your arguments would work for veteran users with more than 3k reputation, not people with less.

1: Almost everyone gets downvotes.

  • $\begingroup$ Again to the point. +1. Downvote means either voter doesn't like the question to be too worthy to be a question or is not impressed with the efforts or thinking of OP on the problem. But that need not mean the question is incompatible for the site. Nevertheless, downvotes can be correlated to closure, also. $\endgroup$
    – user5764
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ @user36790 I think that this correlation might be the core element of my musings: that for Chem.SE, presently, downvotes almost without exception lead to closure. $\endgroup$
    – hBy2Py
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 15:25
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Brian that is because folks are treating basic questions as homework, as the meta consensus seems to agree upon. Until we come up with a policy for this, it's how it's gonna be. That's why I rarely downvote these days too, but it doesn't mean downvotes have lost their purpose at all. Think of it like this: How easier and clearer is it to deduce the quality from the score rather than the number of close votes? $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @IͶΔ Visibility is significant, very good point. $\endgroup$
    – hBy2Py
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ Some of us can't figure out how to see the number of closed votes. $\endgroup$
    – Lighthart
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 21:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Lighthart I think the "close" button under each question isn't visible until 3k and one can only see it on their own question after a certain rep threshold (250?). You're not much left to that number. :) $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ I'm patient, I and I don't care so much for status, but perhaps this discussion should consider the limited visibility of said voting as it relates to very new users. $\endgroup$
    – Lighthart
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 21:04

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