I came onto this site with the understanding that it had a scholarly orientation. Unfortunately I have discovered that it is as much a popularity, 'who got there first', and elbowing contest. Plagiarism, underhanded criticism, retributive down-voting, and unbridled personal remarks are also quite rampant among some members, while scholars are supposed give credit to their sources and respect other answers that don't necessarily agree with them.

In short, this site seems to be plagued by behavior which is anything but scholarly. This undermines the integrity of the entire site.

So this site has proven to be a great disappointment. Instead of history we end up with food fights. As long as such behavior continues, this site has no hope of ever achieving its goals of being some sort of authoritative repository for History.

As such, I am seriously considering resigning. I have no time or patience for the childish petulance of some members, who apparently have no training or understanding regarding what constitutes scholarly discourse.

Everyone who frequents this site knows that I take a different approach to some issues. However, I think most will agree that I document my sources and give a nod to other answers in a respectful way. I challenge all members to show any post of mine that has not been substantiated or, if it was some sort of attack, it was not done in retaliation to a previous "broadside".

I will probably make some members these very happy if I resign, thereby allowing them unbridled license to spew inaccurate, biased, poorly researched, superficial answers and win the points popularity contests.

Perhaps I should gratify them with resignation?

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    Sorry to see you quit, you were an immensely valuable contributor to History Stackexchange. You raised the level a notch or two during your tenure. To answer your qzestuin, though, no this is not a scholarly site. Stackexchange is a business and every site in their universe must make a contribution to the bottom line, directly or indirectly, as an advertising magnet like Stackoverflow, as a prestigious "loss leader" like Physics.SE, or as a cheap -- dirt cheap -- playground for programmers to relax (this site). You put too much work and commitment into this, it was bound to end in heartbreak. Oct 8, 2013 at 8:02
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    Just to make it clear, your problem was not another contributor. You personalized and channelled your problems with History.SE on one particular co-user, but that was misguided. Rather, it was the discrepancy between effort and reward. But that's life in the Web 2.0 era, where more and more of us work for free, while public libraries lay off reference librarians, newspapers fire journalists, enc<clopedias close down and their entire staff loses their jobs. For Ariana, Jimbo, Jeff and Joel, it's turning out very well. Oct 8, 2013 at 8:11
  • Reason to sign back in? Untittle the first "i" you find in the title. ;) Dec 20, 2013 at 17:11

1 Answer 1


I will probably make some members these very happy if I resign, thereby allowing them unbridled license to spew inaccurate, biased, poorly researched, superficial answers and win the points popularity contests.

The question you need to ask yourself is: will you be making yourself happy?

Presumably you signed on here because you did want to participate in the creation of "some sort of authoritative repository for History". And unless you were exceedingly naive back then, you must've realized how monumental a task this would be...

The study of history has always been fraught with controversy and bias, even among trained scholars. Would you expect anything different on a website open to the general public and (at this point in time) populated by folks for whom it is primarily a hobby? I don't think you would, and I don't think you did - from what I can see, you're a pretty savvy observer. So you knew what you were getting into...

...But of course, that doesn't make it any less frustrating.

Here's the kicker: we don't know if this idea will pan out. There's a big blue "Beta" label in the title because we don't know if it'll work. Enthusiasm and hope don't always translate into something good... Sometimes, the problem is too hard, the goals of each individual too much in conflict with one another, and that initial optimism dies along with any hope of making The Internet a better place for finding good information on a topic. If History Stack Exchange falls apart, descending into partisan bickering and irrelevance, then... Well, it'd hardly be the first such community to do so.

But here's why I think it has a chance:

I have no time or patience for the childish petulance of some members

Neither do I. And I don't even participate on this site. I signed on to Stack Overflow five years ago because I was sick of lazy questions, poorly-researched opinionated answers, and endless bickering... About computer programming. The software here allowed for a few things that weren't possible elsewhere, and with them a chance at producing something other than yet another group of misinformed jackasses:

  • Questions can be edited to clearly state a problem without unnecessary cruft.
  • Answers are not locked into a fixed chronological order, but can be posted at any time, edited and improved, and elevated based on their usefulness to others.
  • Threads can be closed and removed if they become opinion-heavy train-wrecks.
  • Comments are optional, and voting - the means by which useful answers are elevated and misinformed ones are buried - is strictly anonymous.
  • Civility is required. If you can't criticize constructively, then don't say anything at all; if you're just here to troll for knee-jerk responses or get up on your soapbox, you can go somewhere else.

Of course, as useful as these tools are in overcoming some of the worst tendencies of online (or other...) communities, they're no magic pixie dust: folks can and do misuse them or fail to utilize them at all. It's not hard to find lousy questions and useless answers on Stack Overflow or any other SE site, and sometimes that ends up being all a site can produce... Sometimes, these beta experiments fail.

But this one hasn't yet, and doesn't need to. Maybe it has for you, and that's your call - if you're done trying to make this place something better, then you're better off walking away now; this should never be something you aren't doing out of love for the topic and hope for the creation of a better place for it. But if you do stick around - and for the rest of the folks who are sticking around - I have a few suggestions that might make it a bit less of a painful experience for you...

  1. Vote! Vote like the outcome of a Chicago election depends on it. You think you know what a good question or answer looks like? Then make that known: vote up everything good, and down-vote everything bad. What's that? You don't think a lazy, unsourced but nominally-correct answer is worth a down-vote? You're afraid of driving away new members by rating their poorly-asked questions honestly? Then you deserve the crap-fest you get as a result.

  2. Write the best damn answers you can. You can't control what other people do, but when it comes to writing your own answer you have the final say in what it looks like: use it. Be your own worst critic, and lead by example: if you're concerned about bias and lack of citations elsewhere, make sure your own answers are factual and clearly drawn from reliable sources. Respond to external criticism by going above and beyond to edit in relevant information and present it in a clear writing style.

  3. Leave concise, factual criticism on misleading answers. But don't get drawn into arguments: say your piece and walk away. If someone can refute your critique, they're free to do so, but make it clear by your actions that you won't be drawn into pointless debates. By the same token, don't respond to criticisms on your own posts unless you can refute them with facts and without becoming emotional or defensive. Don't Feed The Trolls: if you observe a particularly inflammatory or nonconstructive comment (on any post), flag it and move on. Ditto for questions or answers that are clearly, irredeemably inflammatory.

  4. Voting is anonymous - keep it that way. The reputation and scoring systems here are fun, and serve a useful purpose in controlling both the privileges assigned to members and the status of individual posts. That said, they are not the primary focus of this site. If you end up fixating on them - or encouraging others to do so - everyone will suffer for this. So leaving comments like this:

    -1: [actual problem goes here]

    or this:

    Downvoting because... [reasoned critique goes here].

    or even this:

    +1: [reason why you think a post is valuable goes here].

    ...is all counter-productive. Instead of leading with the information you most want to communicate, you're starting right off with a distraction - and an implicit invitation for the reader to engage in some tit-for-tat rather than calmly addressing or refuting your criticisms. Even if everything else you write is constructive and well-reasoned, you're subverting this tone right from the start - stop doing that.

To summarize all this: if you're going to participate here, do your best to work with the system, to use the tools given you, and to set an example for others to follow. It's not easy, and there's no guarantee of success, but very little of value in this world comes easily or without effort; if you think this is important, then work to make it happen.

In closing, I'd like to thank you for raising this topic here. Even if you did so in an unnecessarily dramatic fashion, the fact that you decided to take a matter that's been troubling you before the community here rather than passive-aggressively working it into your communication on the site itself speaks to a level of respect for others that, IMHO, would be nice to see more of.


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    Good answer but downvoting without a good explanation should be ruled out - can be anonymous, that's not the point: It minimizes frivolous downvoting. If privileges and access rights are based on rep, the voting system is not just "for fun":reputation determines power on the site. So, the voting system must have some control. "You think you know what a good question or answer looks like? Then make that known: vote up everything good, and down-vote everything bad.": +1 . :-) Frivolous downvoting and the 'whoever gets there first gets the most votes' concept have driven me off of this site.
    – user2590
    Nov 13, 2013 at 6:45
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    @Coelacanth: No. Explaining a down vote should not be done if the recipient of the down vote is not likely to deal with it in a constructive and rational manner. Many people take any criticism, even constructive such, as a personal attack. Some people take even the fact that somebody disagrees with them as a personal insult. It is essential for the sanity of the site and it's members that you are allowed to downvote these people when they make bad answers without having to explain yourself, as an explanation will lead to what you call "a food fight." Nov 13, 2013 at 11:41
  • @LennartRegebro - so IMO we are 'stuck between a rock and hard place': Unexplained down-voting leads to political shenanigans, explained down-voting leads to 'food fights'. I think my point, that voting is not just for fun because it impacts one's power and influence on the site, is a good one. As you like it...
    – user2590
    Nov 13, 2013 at 22:30
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    @Coelacanth: I think you're ignoring a third way here... Vote according to how accurate and useful you see a post, critique to highlight problems, but don't tie the two together. Vote when you feel confident in your evaluation of a post, and critique when you have something worth saying. If you can do both on a single post, great! If not, so be it.
    – Shog9
    Nov 13, 2013 at 23:45
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    I disagree: If you can't explain briefly and clearly what's wrong with a post, you have no business down-voting it.
    – user2590
    Nov 14, 2013 at 4:07
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    @Coelacanth "Unexplained down-voting leads to political shenanigans". No it does not. I agree you shouldn't downvote a post unless you can explain what is wrong with it. What I'm pointing out that explaining what is wrong with a post is only meaningful if the person writing the post is open to constructive criticism. Nov 14, 2013 at 12:04
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    I think the problem here, @Coelacanth is partly that you assume that whenever someone down votes you it is because of maliciousness, not because your answer simply isn't very good. The same view of things leads you to ignore criticism and take disagreements as personal insults. Not only do I think you are wrong, I also don't think explaining down votes would prevent "political shenanigans". Just because you can come up with a somewhat plausible excuse to down vote doesn't mean the down vote isn't prompted by something else. Humans are good at rationalizing. Nov 14, 2013 at 12:15
  • @LennartRegebro - "The same view of things leads you to ignore criticism and take disagreements as personal insults" - much projection here, little truth. "it is because of maliciousness" - that would be because of your repetitive pattern of engaging in such behavior... "Humans are good at rationalizing" - indeed they are, Mr. Regebro....
    – user2590
    Nov 17, 2013 at 22:30
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    @Coelacanth, Lennart, this is exactly what I was talking about - you both wrote reasonable comments disputing or in support of explaining down-votes originally; further discussion has degenerated into speculation and borderline personal comments. Further discussion is unlikely to accomplish anything positive - so end it! FWIW, I recommended that folks avoid attributing votes based on personal observations; until you see the problem yourself, you're unlikely to agree... But my hope is that now when you do see it, you'll be able to recognize it. Trust that you won't be the first one.
    – Shog9
    Nov 17, 2013 at 23:23
  • Please refrain from lapsing into moral equivalence: Note which one of us started using the second person/personal language references in their commments: "I think the problem here, @Coelacanth is partly that you..." That's why I don't frequent this site much any more... I am not going to go over the whole history now. It is on the record for those who are interested - I personally am not.
    – user2590
    Nov 18, 2013 at 19:51
  • @LennartRegebro: "I'm pointing out that explaining what is wrong with a post is only meaningful if the person writing the post is open to constructive criticism"... Wrong: Even if the poster doesn't get it or take it to heart, you improve the site and educate others by explaining what's wrong with a post. The comment is not just for the OP, it's for everybody.
    – user2590
    Nov 18, 2013 at 23:18
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    @Coelacanth: Sure, you have a point. But I think the negatives created by constant bickering is worse. Of course you have to learn which people can't take criticism and then avoid them, but the point is that you should be able to downvote without explanation. Also because otherwise people would just come up with bogus explanations (they do that anyway when down voting answers because they don't like the truth). Also you should be able to downvote things where somebody else already provided the explanation. There. The end of this pointless discussion, repeating this again is useless. Nov 19, 2013 at 6:15

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