Sometimes I read questions here on the site which require thought, and empathy, and are helped much by varigated experience. And if I have an answer for those, I'm glad to get some upvotes (and I often do).

But quite a few questions on the site really seem to me like "There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza"-type questions. And if I provide a "Then fix it, dear Henry" answer, occasionally those get massively upvoted, as if I've found a cure for cancer.

Here's a recent example:

Q: Professor is upset about student comments about her lectures. What should I do?
A: You're not even in the same university, so do nothing.

I think it's ridiculous this gets over 60 upvotes within a couple of days while, say, this answer or this one have barely a single upvote.

Am I wrong to perceive this as anomalous, or undesirable?

Edit: Trivial answers win again... reputation for nothing, badges for free.

  • 31
    You're seeing the effect of the "Hot Network Questions" sidebar.
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 17:55
  • 6
    It seems to me if you're worried about having provided bad information that seems popular, two options are to edit the information to make it good, or to delete it entirely so it reduces the amount of bad information on the Stack. Another way to look at it is that maybe the collective thinking is actually smarter than your own thinking, and you're wrong about how bad your answer is. On that note, imagine my surprise when I actually went to look at the answer in question and found out that I have upvoted your answer. Are you saying I was wrong to do that? Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 17:15
  • 2
    I think that's actually an excellent answer. Learning to sympathize with other people's problems without always trying to fix or help them fix their problems is a very important and valuable life skill. I got into my 30s before I was told that when people talk about their troubles, it doesn't mean they are asking for help. That was a big surprise to me and I still struggle with empathizing over fixing. Also, 60 votes can seem like a lot, but in the grand scheme of Stack Exchange and even on just Academia, it's not huge. There's an active Q&A now with 250+ votes. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 17:21
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    @ToddWilcox: So, different ideas of what's a trivial answer. But, you know, in hindsight, I lifted the answer straight out of the Kobayashi Maru scenario - Sulu's strategy.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 17:36
  • @ToddWilcox It's an interesting one - I'd say this was a good answer to a question that, as written, is a better fit to interpersonal.SE. In my opinion the question needs editing to make it more about academia and less about the interpersonal relationships of academics. But I guess a good answer to a bad (or at least inappropriate) question still deserves an upvote!
    – arboviral
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 9:48
  • I see that Heinrich and Liesl have switched roles in the decades since I heard that song as a child. It seems to be an improvement over the old version, which had "Lieber Heinrich" and "Dumme Liesl", but in the old version Heinrich ended up looking "dumm" because all his trivial suggestions don't work. In the new version, does Liesl end up looking dumm? Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 0:23
  • @AndreasBlass Ja, aber ich denke dass es ist only die englische Version. ("Yes, but I think that it is only the English version" with English substituted for unknown German words. I tried.)
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 21:56
  • There are two preconditions for the upvote: first, someone read the question and your answer (the number of people who do that is completely outside your control). Secondly, they liked the answer. They probably didn't think very deeply about it; it's just a "hear, hear", or "well said" reaction. In this case I suspect they thought the OP was making a fuss about nothing and that you had found an elegant way of saying so. Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 18:03
  • I think you're confusing common sense for superficiality ;-) Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 18:31
  • @MassimoOrtolano: I was talking about cases where these coincide. Next we'll have questions like "I can't find my advisor, where could he be?" And we could answer "Have you tried his office?" And "Email him to ask where he is" and get a ton of votes too.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 18:33

4 Answers 4


It seems like this is common. In the SE system, the questions that get the most views (and hence upvotes) are the clickbait ones: those that end up in the hot network questions list, and/or those that tend to attract strong, polarized opinions (for instance, those about sexism, just to cite a recent example).

In other SE sites this effect is even more pronounced. In Mathoverflow, for instance, the most popular questions are superficial questions on recreational math games, or "soft questions" on writing papers, or "big list of all examples of ". A genius answer on a deep, technical topic will typically get you ten votes or fewer. In Physics.se, an enlightened discussion on the fine points of quantum field theory will attract much less attention than a simple explanation on "why does a feather fall slower than a ball".

I find that this is true also with academic papers: my most cited papers are not the ones I am most proud of --- and every time I speak about this fact with a colleague they tell me that it's the same for them.

It's just life, in my view. The most popular movies or songs are not the favorite ones by critics. The politicians that get the most votes are not the most suited persons to run a country. And we could go on listing examples forever.

I don't think there is an easy way to fix this phenomenon. The only ideas that spring to my mind are a more nuanced rating system (bad-meh-good-genius), or a "pagerank-like" voting system (the votes of "experts" on a given topic count more). Both ideas would change SE radically, though.

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    Indeed, this has been my experience across the board, including doing technical work in industry. People generally only read/share/laud work that they understand, so accessibility is a key factor in acclaim. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 20:02
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    +1 I've had a saying for some time: "Your best stuff will go almost totally ignored". Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 1:55

Q: Is life fair; more specifically, does the work I do which I highly value get the same recognition as a quick one-off that happened to go viral?

A: Nope. cf. Charles Dodgson

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    +1 for the name-dropping. He did actually get some recognition for his real work. Moreover, he got paid to do it...
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 22:46
  • I'm pretty sure that the recognition differential was pretty similar to what you're describing, though. It is hard to doubt that he worked much harder to produce a work such as "The Formulae of Plane Trigonometry" and his other mathematical work, but their recognition is close to zero compared to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland which has never been out of print.
    – msouth
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 16:22

You are being a bit superficial when you describe your example answer. It was, IMO, more constructive and helpful than the somewhat derisory "then fix it dear Henry" would suggest.

So I think you earned the points fair and square.

And in any case, sometimes people need to get a straight and simple answer like that and the votes are, I suspect, for you being the one who phrased it best.

Even the OP in that case accepted the answer.

So, somewhat in the same vein as "well fix it dear Henry", drop the guilt trip and accept the points as a mark of respect for your common sense from the OP and your fellow users.

I think it's ridiculous this gets over 60 upvotes within a couple of days

One of the examples you gave of a post you seem to think got few votes but perhaps deserved more (remember that's a decision for other people to make, not you !), was made 2 days after the higher voted accepted answer. I think perhaps you have to accept that stuff falls off the radar for most people.

That doesn't make your post less useful (and someone clearly thought they were), so I think you may need to treat this as karma that balances out - you got more points that you think you should for one answer, and less for another couple - the net effect was maybe just right.

Personally I am constantly surprised by which answers get votes and which don't on SE generally. It's never quite what I expect and often the highest votes I get will be on answers which I regard as trivial or obvious.

  • +1 for your point regarding timing. The effect of an early answer gaining some points and then always appearing before later ones is so powerful it's scary. And takes quite a lot of discipline to resist deciding what to upvote before you've read a bit further down.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 14:36

I think your upvoted answer deserves its votes, even though it was easier to write than the others you link to.

This kind of effect often happens on the more technical SE sites: short, easy to understand answers to beginner questions get a bunch of votes; difficult, technical answers to highly specific questions take an hour or two to write get crickets and tumbleweed, because it's not worth the effort for most people to read them.

Broadly speaking, the two effects balance each other out. Look at your rep as a whole and think of the rep you got but "didn't deserve" for this question as making up for the rep you "deserved" but didn't get on the other questions.

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    Like the "balance" idea - easy answers can give just as good value to the OP as more developed answers ,accept the votes : don't worry...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 11:21

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