Example: The question and my answer. I was writing a lengthy post about "Why downvotes? Please explain so I can improve!" but I noticed it had a very nagging character. Instead, let's do it more professional!

So image I have posted an answer that isn't well received by the community, getting below score of -5 and some comments pointing things out I may have missed. I reacted to the comments explaining, but the community seemed to agree with the other commentators (e.g. 12 upvotes on one) but almost always disagree with my answers (no upvotes), or they simply didn't read them, I don't know.

So since I'm a beginner academic (if anything) and can be easily influenced by nature, I'm starting to believe I either made some grave mistake in the answer I cannot recognize because of my lack of ability to do so, or I have some extremely unorthodox point of view that is frowned upon (or both), but I don't know which and asking the community on meta feels like nagging and inappropriate. Either way, the community convinced me to believe that my answer is bad. Should I now delete it, even when I can't understand why it is bad? On a technical note, having answers with heavy downvotes is likely to decrease my answer score and I may face repercussions from the site?

I should mention, on Math SE I'm usually either wrong about what was asked, my solution attempt was wrong or I didn't explain well. In that case given a comment I can either improve my answer well or, if I realize I actually don't know an answer, I just delete my answer, because I can see that it doesn't help anyone. But here at academics, I'm at loss.

Related Meta-Post.

  • 3
    If you are a mathematician, you might find the following paper of interest: google.it/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://… Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 0:40
  • 12
    You can delete it if you want. You are not required to. Neither are you required to keep it. But I think the key concept here is you say your answer was downvoted but you don’t know why, yet you also mention that there are a series of comments explaining why (ie critiquing your answer), at least one of which has 12 upvotes? Epistemologically speaking, I do not see why you simply aren’t considering that your answer is wrong for the reasons people are telling you it’s wrong, or at least the majority perceive that to be the case, and maybe it’s worth reflecting that there’s a reason they do.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 7:55
  • 1
    @DanBron Simply because I argued against it. It started with "It isn't even a theory" and arrived at the conclusion " you're wrong about relaxing our epistemological principles to some lowest common denominator" That doesn't mark my answer as wrong, but just possibly naive as Massimo put it. I perceive it like I said something like "To improve the world, we just need to be nicer to each other." which I can see as clearly naive. Anyway, your first 3 sentences are a fine answer I think. Yes, there is a key concept, but I wanted a question that doesn't only apply to myself, in the spirit of SE.
    – SK19
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 23:32
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    I think skepticism of the presuppositions of a question is appropriate and valid. I see two reasons for the downvotes: 1) I think you shared that skepticism in a poorly received way, and 2) The original question contained sufficient detail and coincides well enough with crackpottedness that most people (perhaps with more experience) had no issue with accepting the question on it's face, and therefore your answer came off as a defense of treating crackpots as equals, even if that was not your intent.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 21:30
  • 4
    As an example of the dangers of crackpottedness and the extent to which scientists who actually have really powerful ideas are willing to go to show they are not crackpots, Darwin dedicated a decade of his life to studying barnacles (ordinarily not the sexiest of creatures to a lay audience) just to build the scientific credibility in the biological world to not come off as just some crackpot geologist.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 21:32
  • @BryanKrause Your comments are interesting. They sound like an answer, to me. Perhaps you should post it as such. Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 15:50
  • @Discretelizard, they sound nothing like an answer to me, they sound like an explanation of why the answer may have been seen as bad. Could you explain how Bryan's comments address "Should I delete a bad answer even though I don't understand why it is bad?" Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 1:07
  • Well, I think they address part of the actual question asked. My answer is "People don't like your answer because X". I think the pair of comments I refer to give another (though perhaps less focused) answer to that question. No-one here is actually answering the question from the title Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 6:53
  • Please don't delete. It is interesting and valuable. Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 8:00

3 Answers 3


I think the main reason your answer is rather massively downvoted is that in addition to the naïveté you're a bit too positive about people academics call 'cranks' and also that your first phrase sounds like an accusation and immediately triggers an emotional response (retracting the accusation doesn't retract the emotions I'm afraid).

So it's mostly the severe cultural mismatch (with academic culture) and lack of neutral tone in the answer that gives the downvotes, I presume. I can edit the post to be more neutral and more 'culturally fitting' if you'd ask. (I propose this here instead of editing myself, as this would be (at least likely perceived by reviewers as) conflicting with 'original intent')

Although actually, that likely won't remove the downvotes. You could consider deleting your answer and starting over with a new one, rewriting it from scratch with what you learned here and take care to be neutral on this slightly sensitive issue where your view can be easily seen to be controversial. If you do that, I don't think you'll reach as much downvotes again.

  • 1
    This. The "Conclusion" section of your answer was useful, but the opening and closing commentary asking people to acknowledge their epistemological fallibility was far too broad. That is, by my read of the question, the outline-writer was not directly challenging existing science, but rather did not seem to understand existing science ("electrons being defined as the antiparticles of protons") enough to helpfully critique it. I agree with your spirit of treating the outline-writer kindly. (FWIW, I saw existing downvotes and did not pile on.) Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 21:26
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    @cactus_pardner Just for the sake of clarity, by 'your answer', you refer to SK19's answer, right? Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 21:36
  • Yes, thanks for clarifying that! I wasn't quite meta-enough in my comment! Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 21:40

I think that your answer is not bad but a bit naive, as coming from someone who hasn't really seen how much time and energy a crackpot is able to drain if one tries to be understanding. During the newsgroup era there were crackpots who went on for years with the same arguments. But I also think that your answer doesn't deserve so many downvotes, and there's no need to delete it.

  • 12
    +1. Also note that once downvoting starts its not uncommon to get a "pile on" effect, I wouldn't worry about them.
    – eykanal
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 2:08

Since your reputation balance is not very high yet, if I were in your shoes, I would delete it. That's what I personally would do. However, if you want to leave it up, that would be fine too. If your reputation goes too low you lose certain basic functionalities and that would not be fun.

I disapprove of massive downvoting (except perhaps in Meta). So, for me, another reason to delete would be to stop massive downvoting in its tracks. To me, massive downvoting is like chicken pecking. Once the chickens have smelled a drop of blood, they all have to descend on the poor chicken with the drop of blood, and have at him themselves. I'm not happy when I see Academia SE participants behaving in such an uncivilized way.

Now, in general terms, if you've written an answer that you think is going to be helpful for someone, then you might want to leave it up despite the damage it's doing to your numerical rep (and your street cred reputation).

Some small suggestions to facilitate more successful communication here: use a spell checker. Work on your English, outside Academia SE. Until your English is more reliably understandable and less annoying to read, try to stick to simple sentences. (Think Hemingway.)

  • 1
    If one really wants to look at the reputation, that answer has 4 upvotes and 15 downvotes, and the overall rep balance at the moment is positive. Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 3:31
  • @MassimoOrtolano Exactly! I have a -7 post on Meta.SE that yields me net positive score. Users really overestimate the effects of their downvotes :) Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 6:54
  • Was your last paragraph about spell checker etc. a general tip or critic of my post? I can't tell :/
    – SK19
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 11:48
  • 4
    I am trying to help you have a more satisfying, rewarding experience with StackExchange. Communicating with strangers over the internet is fraught with challenges. Make it easier, for yourself and others, by using a spell checker. It's so easy to set up a browser to spell check. Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 16:16
  • 2
    One final remark. Suggesting self-censorship is very bad advice! There is a reason downvotes have only a minor rep impact! Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 7:18

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