I recently answered a question without providing specific sources. @MattDMo helpfully responded asking for me to update with sources, which seems appropriate, and I've added references. However, my answer received a negative vote as well, which seems strange as the answer is correct and there are no other answers on the question.

I certainly approve of the push for proper sourcing, and think that answers with sources should receive more credit than those without. I also approve of this idea to improve popular posts that have a lot of speculation or unsourced answers. But it seems to me that there's at least some space for an appeal to authority. The question I answered is about host-pathogen interactions, and I have a PhD in immunology and have taught several courses on precisely this topic.

It takes far more time to properly source an answer. This additional barrier, particularly on questions where I do not need to do any research to know the answer, makes me less likely to put in the effort. Again, I'm 100% on board with someone that does put in the effort to get more credit than me - I'm not saying that my authority should trump a good source. But I could use some of my own papers or course syllabi as a source for this question, so it seems silly that I should lose rep for answering it.

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    $\begingroup$ The point about adding references is not to prove that you are right, but to give readers a chance to have some further reading. This is easiest done by somebody who is an expert in this field - and yes, this takes time. I would still appreciate it, if you could do that. If you look at the site, you will see differently referenced articles - also depending on the question. A question from a 16 year old needs a different depth here than one from a student. $\endgroup$ – Chris Mod Dec 16 '16 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris As I said, I went back and added references. I agree that it's worthwhile. As to links that students can have for further reading, these are not the sorts of citations I can necessarily provide - I linked to articles on pubmed. I assumed that the reason the question was being asked is because they didn't find a source that matched their level of understanding, and that's what my answer was intended to provide. $\endgroup$ – kevbonham Dec 16 '16 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ I hate when they do that. Downvoting a good answer that required work, only because it's not 100% perfect, like if it was a piece of garbage. It's really really discouraging and yes, it's rude and hostile. The clever way to do that would be to have a comment asking to improve the answer, and downvote after a while if the user refuses. But many users just like to downvote anything without using their wisdom, its like a kind of sport...It's one of the reason why stackexchange is so hostile to new users. $\endgroup$ – Quidam Dec 18 '16 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ @PERCE-NEIGE It also costs -1 rep to the downvoter. There are some mechanisms to discourage indiscriminate downvoting but people do not have to justify their votes. Sometimes the votes can be baseless. This kind of stuff has happened with many of us (including myself). I can only suggest kevbonham to move on. I am sure a person with their level of knowledge will not be impeded by these minor issues. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Dec 19 '16 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ -1 is nothing. And it is a sanction only for new users (once again). When you get 47854788 points, you don't care downvoting even 50 persons. $\endgroup$ – Quidam Dec 19 '16 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @PERCE-NEIGE speaking both for myself and many other users I know with high rep, voting is taken seriously. Yes, we have rep to spare, but we don't go around randomly downvoting every other answer we see just because we don't like the author's profile picture, for example. On answers, the mouseover text on the downvote button says This answer is not useful. I'm a big stickler for the rules/community-agreed norms of Stack Exchange and this site, and if an answer has significant problems I'll think about downvoting it. If the problem is lack of citations, I'll leave a comment, and if [...] $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Dec 23 '16 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ [...] the answer is updated and the author responds to my comment, I'll usually reverse the vote. Sometimes I don't leave a comment - it varies. I don't watch every single post I've downvoted to see if it changes. Typically the posts I downvote for other reasons have not had a lot of work put into them, which is why they're worthy of downvoting. Don't take voting personally - typically they're a sign that something is wrong with the post, which is why [...] $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Dec 23 '16 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ [...] users should always take the tour and carefully read through the help center to learn more about the site, including what is on-topic and what is not, along with how to ask a good question and write a good answer. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Dec 23 '16 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree, people votes down for nothing. For instance, I'm on another site where I'm able to make quality answers. People downvotes sometimes only for an example they disagree with. You have an answer that asked you a lot of time, checking links, explaining, etc, and still people downvote sometimes because they don't like you, they don't like an opinion you've said on another page, because a little example is not 100% what they think, and of course, they don't let any comment to discuss. $\endgroup$ – Quidam Dec 23 '16 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ People have a lot of rep for humiliating other users, it's pleasant for them to pay, they pay to have fun. $\endgroup$ – Quidam Dec 23 '16 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ For instance, an user upvoted several of my answers, but few days after, she had a misunterpretation of one of my word, and started to remove every upvotes and downvoted any of my answers. It's an example, but I met several cases here, on this site. People are all after their ego, they are not able to make the disctinction between a good answer, and disagreeing with other opinion from an author. Really, I met many very childish people on this site, so I don't think the users are like you think they are, adult, ethics, and responsible. $\endgroup$ – Quidam Dec 23 '16 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ @PERCE-NEIGE I'm sorry you've had some bad experiences on some other sites. You should note that there are automatic systems in place to overturn so-called "revenge downvoting". If you suspect someone is doing that, simply wait 24 hours and the system should catch it. If it doesn't, feel free to flag one of the posts with a custom moderator flag and explain the situation, with links. Moderators and Stack Exchange staff can look into voting patterns and such. Most of my SE experience has been on Stack Overflow and here, with several other 1k+ accounts at other computing sites [...] $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Dec 23 '16 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ [...] and people generally seem better-behaved (although there are obviously problems here and there). Perhaps it's because the hard sciences and computing lend themselves to specific, fact-based answers, while French Language (I'm assuming based on your profile) and other "softer" subject sites are much more opinion-based and open to interpretation. If you are having problems with specific users, take it up with a moderator - that's what they're there for! $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Dec 23 '16 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ Ahah, I can't even go on my grumble, because you are very nice. $\endgroup$ – Quidam Dec 23 '16 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ I think this has been discussed before, and neatly answered by @WYSIWYG and myself. When are citations needed in an answer? Note that in both answers there are some occasions when no citations are needed, and over-citing is more hinderance than help! If any UG textbook on immunology would have the info, then no problem. To be helpful you could refer to general wikipedia, or mention the textbook of your choice. If you reference an interesting tit-bit, or interesting article, do try to cite. $\endgroup$ – James Dec 28 '16 at 10:48

I understand your sentiment but voters do not have to justify their votes. It would be ideal if they could comment about why they think your answer is insufficient so that you can improve it but not many are like that (and there is no obligation to do so). Downvoting an answer costs the voter 1 rep point. It is basically to discourage baseless downvoting of answers. Downvotes on answers are therefore likely to be less indiscriminate than on those on questions. However, I do agree that sometimes some people downvote without a proper justification or thought. It has happened to many of us not only in this site but other sites too.

Unless there is a clear malignant serial downvoting going on, there is nothing much that would require a moderator's intervention. Moreover, moderators do not have the power to check each person's every vote. They can only look at trends.

I am sure a person with your level of knowledge would not be impeded by these minor issues. Since you said you used to teach courses, I assume you must have had students who would always be uncooperative and irritating no matter how much effort you put in to educate them. Such elements are present everywhere but there is a vast majority of good people too. So don't worry. I hope you have an overall good experience in Biology.SE.

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    $\begingroup$ To be clear - I'm not worried about this particular post and answer. I'm asking here on Meta to have a discussion about community norms. It does not seem sensible to me to vote down answers solely for lack of sourcing, which is how I perceived what happened. If that's not the norm - is there an agreed-on norm for what "deserves" down votes? $\endgroup$ – kevbonham Dec 19 '16 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ @kevbonham As I said, people do not have an obligation to justify their votes. That's how stackexchange is. Nothing peculiar to Biology. See this answer to know what downvotes are for. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Dec 19 '16 at 14:08

Appeals to authority are fairly useless on a question and answer site on the internet. For example, many people who don't know medicine will pass themselves off as doctors; it's fun to play doctor. They even get upvotes; users vote with what resonates with their mistaken beliefs. When these users' (unbeknownst to them) wrong answers are challenged in comments, they often resort to an appeal to authority.

The SE model of requiring sources levels the playing field; appeals to authority are not respected because the user - however reasonable the answer sounds - can't show us their diplomas.

When I first started posting here, I never posted without sources to back up my answers, even though I can make an appeal to authority. Yes, posting sources takes longer. But your familiarity with the material also makes finding sources a lot easier.

Once in a while I do post common sense answers without sources, but I'm fully prepared for those answers to receive post notices or be deleted. After years on this site, most users familiar with me know my background and I don't get too much flack, but I don't abuse it either. Sources, not credentials, are expected on SE sites.


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