I am concerned that this site is devolving into question after question of bickering over perspectives. I think that this endless bickering is distracting us from focusing on improving the quality of questions and answers. In the past when a case was made for the continued existence of this site, it was argued that this site was fun and educational--a good place to learn different historical theories. But it is hard to find that anymore beneath the endless dialogue of what constitutes good history.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for ensuring good academic methods are followed, but if someone makes a cogent argument that is well-sourced maybe we should leave well enough alone in some cases. I think the upvotes will help the best answers rise to the top, and I think we should quit downvoting answers because we disagree with them--as long as the answer is clear and makes an argument from sources.

What do you think?

  • 2
    +1: "...should quit downvoting answers because we disagree with them...sources." Indeed. Downvoting should be reserved for questions and answers that are poorly expressed, poorly reasoned, and poorly substantiated. And if you downvote, best to explain why so the content can perhaps be improved. Still, I believe I've yet to see a downvote retracted even after the OP made a good case that it should not be downvoted. One of the marks of a scholar is knowing when to admit you're wrong and adjust accordingly. Downvoting as retribution or because you just disagree is simply unacceptable.
    – user2590
    Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 17:20
  • 1
    Downvoting because you disagree about something that is a matter of opinion shouldn't happen, of course. Downvoting because the answer is factually incorrect or based on opinions and not fact is perfectly acceptable, and is also a form of disagreeing. Hence, I do not agree that it is unacceptable to downvote because you disagree. Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 12:08

5 Answers 5


Excellent question.

I think the answer isn't upvotes or downvotes, but a collective agreement about what we want. I think you've offered an excellent summary of what I'm looking for, "this site was fun and educational--a good place to learn different historical theories." - a fun place to learn.

Without specific examples, I'm not sure what you mean by the endless dialogue about what constitutes good history, but I'm going to agree with @LennartRegebro that the bickering is what drives me away.

I'm on record as what I perceive to be the critical features that support the kind of community I want to participate in:

  • Questions that can be answered, not questions that lead to discussion
  • Questions with enough preliminary research that I can learn something.
  • Comments and answers that are civil and helpful. Emphasis on civil. Really strong emphasis on civil. Did I say civil? Cause I think civility is important.

On another SE we refer to @CodeGnome's law; decide what you want to do before you devote attention to automating it. I suspect (I may be wrong) that we spend too much time worrying about upvotes and downvotes and other technological artifacts and not enough time clearly expressing what kind of a community we want. If we have a goal, clearly articulated on the help site, then we have a variety of mechanisms to cultivate that goal. (including upvotes, downvotes, close votes, flags, and the option of first recourse - point the OP at the help site and explain why the question is pushing the boundaries).

  • 1
    Yeah, maybe the solution is requiring better questions, that you have to made at least some basic (re)searches before you ask, and point out what information is still missing. Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 20:04
  • 1
    Although it is a different community, I think very highly of the advice on how to write science questions on G+ We could strive for something like that.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 18:01
  • 1
    @MarkC.Wallace: Civility? Ha! As I learned in university, there is no such thing as a Civil Engineer. ;-) Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 0:02

I don't think downvoting answers that you find are incorrect or unhelpful even though they makes argument from sources is the problem. The problem is long discussions in the comments based on peoples prejudice and religion.

It was suggested by someone (though I forgot who) that we make tighter rules for questions about history of religion, which seems quite common, and tend to create a lot of bickering. Perhaps we should simply not allow them.

I know questions about history of religion can be answered in a factual, rational and non-religious manner, but not only does a lot of the people asking these question seem to have an agenda, a lot of the answers, and especially the comments, seem to have one as well.

  • I do agree with you that the majority of the problem is comments. A lot of it does have to do with religion, though some of it also has to do with politics. +1 Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 15:15
  • 6
    Even though I'm one of the poor saps who has to clean up the resulting mess, I'd really hate to see us closing otherwise reasonable history questions just because they have a religous or racial dimension. We might have to do it, but I wouldn't be happy about it at all.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 17:56
  • @T.E.D. I wouldn't be happy either. Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 19:26
  • I tend to agree with Lennart, but T.E.D's point is very valid. The problem is that many important questions of History are intermingled with questions of politics and religion, such that it becomes very difficult to separate the two, both for us trying unravel the problem, and in the source material itself, which is sometimes slanted due to political/religious considerations and sometimes not, making it very difficult to cull History from the what is often the only accessible source material we have.
    – user2590
    Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 17:13

I would like to point out that voting and comments are complimentary.

There is no reason why an answer shouldn't be commented on bit (or even a lot) before settling into a pile of up and down votes. Especially as votes can't be changed easily due to game-theory adjustments made in the early days of the stackoverflow stack exchange.

I think we comment because we are courteous decent bunch of people; with not so much sniper down-voting. I've been to some stack exchanges* with lots of voting and few comments. I didn't like them very much - be that correlation or causation.

I know that seeing how the sausage is made can be disconcerting but as long as the comments don't leak into the answer, they aren't supposed to be authoritative anyway.

I'm not too worried about the quality of questions we have; though we probably don't advertise ourselves very well on the wider internet.

* I won't mention which. No you can't make me. No. Nooo! Not the rats! Anything but the rats! I give in... the sites were <redaction by NSA>

  • +1 : "There is no reason why an answer shouldn't be commented on bit (or even a lot) before settling into a pile of up and down votes.."
    – user2590
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 5:24

What you call bickering may to others be important points of contention, at least until something is thrashed out, and/or perhaps reflected in an edit. Not everyone has the same concerns or interests as you do. And if you see something you think is inappropriate in the comments, flag it. The moderators generally do a very good job of cleaning things up "after the smoke has cleared".

As LF mentioned, better a site with comments where people sort things out, than a site that has lots of votes and few comments. This site is officially "not for discussion," and if there was a large community of professional historians here, swapping expert answers, there might be far fewer comments. As it is, very few of us here, admittedly, are real "historians", but dilettantes and dabblers of various degrees - so the discussion and debate in comments is important and helpful to many of us. And as I mentioned, when things are cleared up, obsolete and impertinent comments can be deleted (yours) or flagged.


There is a terrible, absolutely terrible Answer to a Question with a religious background right now, but since the Mods have censored several of my comments pointing out the outright falsehoods and misrepresented sources (but not the disingenuous replies by the Answerer to my comments), History.SE users are getting a distorted idea of the quality of the Answer and currently it stands at +1 vote instead of -10.

This means that downvoting cannot fulfill its role of quality control. An unfortunate situation.

  • 3
    "This means that downvoting cannot fulfill its role of quality control" Nope, this just means that people don't agree with you that the answer is "terrible, absolutely terrible". It happens, don't lose sleep over it.
    – yannis
    Commented Oct 19, 2013 at 9:09
  • I have rectified the +1. Indeed, that answer is a disaster, as I commented in short there.
    – user2590
    Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 15:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .