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Down-voting a question or an answer is very easy (at least for those who have more than a minimal reputation on a site); just click on an arrow! But giving a reason for the down vote requires a lot more effort. In response to another question on meta, yoda said

If an answer is incorrect or misleading, downvote it and explain in strong terms, your reasoning for the downvote and why it is inaccurate.

But hardly anyone on dsp.SE bothers to give any reason for a down vote (on questions or on answers), let alone explain why the answer is incorrect or misleading. Furthermore, I participate on some other SE sites as well, and my perception is that there are not only far more down votes on dsp.SE than on the other .SE sites that I visit, but the down votes are almost universally unexplained, sort of like drive-by shootings. This is not to say that other sites don't have down votes, but they are almost always explained. The difference between down votes on dsp.SE and (say) math.SE is even larger when compared on the basis of the traffic level on these two stackexchanges.

Are signal processors just nastier than mathematicians or cryptographers or statisticians? or is it that the ease of down voting, which can be done in anonymity unless one is down-voting an answer by a moderator or person of high reputation, makes people trigger-happy? There were, for example, at least two down votes in the past eight hours or so. Or is it just that dsp.SE is just out of beta (or at the end stages of beta?) and people haven't learned the protocols as yet? Would it be possible to not allow down votes without explanation or increase the penalty for down-voting without explanation to deter drive-by shootings, or better yet, automatically insert a comment like "-1 Down voted without explanation by xyz" when someone simply down votes, so that the victim at least knows who is shooting at him?

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    $\begingroup$ "[...] which can be done in anonymity unless one is down-voting an answer by a moderator or person of high reputation [...]" This is false. Moderators and high-rep users cannot see who cast a vote. It is kept completely anonymous and I'm told even the developers cannot access that info from their regular UI. They'll have to dig in the DB to get that info, which is almost never done. Moderators, however, can see voting patterns to detect abuse. It's hardly the same as knowing which particular question/answer was downvoted/upvoted. $\endgroup$ – Lorem Ipsum Dec 7 '11 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ In light of this comment and this answer which outlines the extent to which they'll go to nudge users, I'm marking the feature-request part of this question status-declined as it will never be implemented. $\endgroup$ – Lorem Ipsum Dec 7 '11 at 23:34
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Reasons for downvoting:

To add to Jason R's answer, a lot of users, myself included, do not explain a downvote if there is another comment that explains it, and they agree with the explanation. In this case, users simply upvote the comment indicating agreement and downvote the post. Here is one such question that comes to mind as a good example of this behaviour.

Some users feel that the tooltip (hover on the up/down arrows) is pretty indicative of why they downvoted. For questions, it reads

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful.

While it would be nice if they stopped and explained, sometimes they just don't have the time to do that, but do want to indicate to other users that in their opinion, that particular answer/question isn't useful. As long as the behaviour is not abusive (i.e., most of their votes are downvotes or all their downvotes are targeted at one user, etc.), we shouldn't be doing much about it. It should really be voluntary.

Do we really downvote all that much?

I have not seen a rash of downvotes as you say you've experienced and here is some data from the moderator tools to back that up. The coloured lines are labeled and the y-axis is raw values for the votes and the x-axis is time (each dot is a day). However, I've removed the ticks on the x-axis, so as to keep the actual dates ambiguous.

enter image description here

You can see from a first glance that far more question/answer upvotes are given out than downvotes. The maximum question downvotes received in one day is 10, and true enough, there was one low quality question that day (deleted now) that got the downvotes. You can also see that answer downvotes are maybe 1 or 2 once in a while (max 6 on one odd day) and not as widespread as you claim. It looks pretty normal to me.

All in all, we've got a set of core users and we've also got a lot of drive-by users who don't spend enough time on the site, yet have enough rep to downvote. What we need to do is to grow and expand our set of core users so that the stray downvotes don't seem like a lot.

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    $\begingroup$ I actually think downvotes should be free, so they will actually be used to help show the distinction between good or bad answers $\endgroup$ – Ivo Flipse Dec 11 '11 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @IvoFlipse Upvoting good content already serves as a free vote not in favor of bad content. This helps distinguish between good and better and even good and bad. It creates a 1 gap between good and other for free. The problem with free downvoting would be that everybody would use it just as liberally as upvotes: which would defeat the purpose because it would quickly be the norm to use up/down votes to create 2 gaps. That ceases to be a useful metric. With them costing a little bit, they get saved for only actively harmful content instead of just not as good content. $\endgroup$ – Caleb Dec 11 '11 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ I guess I should have elaborated, because the biggest advantage of downvotes is that if you collect too many, you start to get locked out. Now I don't mean that users should take it lightly, but most flags we get for "Not a real question/answer" or "Low quality post" deserve to be downvoted, as a sign that we don't want too many of these posts. As it stands, the 'good' users have to waste rep on these posts that may very well deleted afterwards. Perhaps deletion should incur a penalty instead, just like closing. $\endgroup$ – Ivo Flipse Dec 12 '11 at 6:24
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    $\begingroup$ @IvoFlipse There is no need to change the system. Downvotes on deleted answers are refunded when you do a recalc. So most people who don't downvote, but flag, do it because they don't know that they get back the -1. Perhaps a meta post on your site clarifying that would help. $\endgroup$ – Lorem Ipsum Dec 12 '11 at 15:05
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I haven't seen a big rash of negative votes, but maybe I haven't been looking in the right places. I agree that it is annoying to receive a negative vote after spending time to craft a detailed (and correct) answer. I think that it's a difficult balance: the anonymity provided during the down-vote process might help to encourage some negative votes that wouldn't occur otherwise with more stringent requirements, but if there is a requirement for providing a suggestion for improvement, you might not get constructive downvotes when the voter isn't sure what a good answer would be.

There are some cases where I see an answer that is not in my domain (and therefore I don't know the correct answer) that I can tell is not a good one. It might be difficult to constructively say how the answer might be improved, so the question remains of whether to leave it alone or to downvote; I typically abstain, but perhaps others are more trigger-happy when they believe that something isn't "right" about an answer.

I would imagine that since this system has been developed and built over a long period of time across SO and many SE sites, it's not likely to change. One potentially significant difference on dsp.SE is the relatively small crowd of users; the impact of one or two downvotes can easily be felt when a typical good answer might only get ~5 upvotes. Maybe it will get better as time goes on.

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    $\begingroup$ Folks get upset about down-votes on all the sites, no matter how easy it is to get up-votes. That's... kinda ok - it's supposed to sting a little bit. And while constructive criticism is a wonderful thing, even in its absence a bit of self-reflection can do wonders for turning a half-assed answer into something useful. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Dec 7 '11 at 23:34
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In my question, I complained about anonymous down-votes without any reason being given, and asked "Are signal processors just nastier than ..."

Well, the question itself has received 3 down-votes without any reason being given, and so rather than making this a comment on my question (comments cannot be down-voted, only up-voted), I am making this an answer. Go ahead, guys, down-vote away to your heart's content.

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    $\begingroup$ You seem really bitter... please note that downvotes on meta generally mean "disagree with the opinion" or "vote against this request" (see the faq). Votes on meta do not affect your reputation at all. In this question, people could've been disagreeing with your feature-request to now allow downvotes without explanation or to increase the penalty for the same... either way, meta votes should just be taken as a general difference of opinion (or agreement) and not as a statement on the quality of your question/answer. $\endgroup$ – Lorem Ipsum Feb 6 '12 at 23:52

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