Is it ethical to downvote a question and recommend closing it simultaneously?

The reasons for downvoting a question are stated as "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful". These to some extent overlap with the reasons for closing questions: "Duplicated/Community-specific reason/Needs details or clarity/Needs more focus/Opinion-based".

While technically a question may fit both categories, two simultaneous actions violate the principle of double jeopardy, that is judging it twice for the same shortcomings.

What is more important for the community functioning, is that

  • closure typically aimes to help the OP, either because the answer already exists, or because they are more likely to get an answer in a different community, or by suggesting improvements to the question, which could be a reason for its reopening.
  • downvoting is a punitive action, whose main goal is a small, but diagreeable hit on the user's reputation. In other words, it does little to help improving the question.

Is it ethical to downvote a question and recommend closing it simultaneously? Should the moderators pay more attention to such simultaneous action, the same way as they discourage recommending closure and simultaneously answering the question?


Short answer:

Yes, committing both actions is not only OK but preferable when appropriate.

Voting of any kind should be made in the interest of maintaining a high-quality site of accurate and on-topic biology information. Voting is not meant to relate at all to personal judgements or individual punishments (and as such any discussion about ethics, double jeopardy, etc. is just not in alignment with the purpose of these privileges).

Long answer:

Building off @Chris's answer:

You have to remember that the purpose of the Stack Exchange websites are not strictly to answer people's questions. Instead, (as stated in our Tour for example) the purpose of this site is rather to build a repository (i.e., a "library") of detailed answers about biology. The goal is to maintain a high-quality source of such information.

As a result, neither general voting (up or down) or voting to close should ever be made from a personal standpoint but only from the standpoint of maintaining a clean and high-quality site of biology info.

(This is reflected, by the way, in the purpose/action of moderators -- mods are not here to "police" people's action as much as mods are tasked to maintain high-quality community and post standards that adhere to the previously decided-upon standards of the community and SE network as a whole)

  • It would be very useful if all (or at least more) community members knew our guidelines and voted to close posts that fail to meet the site's standards. (However, individuals should only vote to close posts that properly qualify for such voting). In fact, SE sites are meant to be moderated primarily by the community (and only secondarily by mods).

  • If a post is bad enough to vote to close, it likely qualifies for a downvote as well*. (Because, remember, the purpose here is for the community as a whole to maintain high-quality posts).

    • Downvoting in conjunction with voting to close has the added benefit -- as @Chris mentions -- of helping the system to eventually delete low-quality posts automatically after closure.

    • It also sends a strong signal to other users who are new or otherwise less familiar with the site's standards that the post is not the quality the site is looking for. This is especially important since many posts linger in the VTC queue for some time. Downvoting helps to stand-in during this time to send the message to the OP as well as to try to convince other users not to "waste time" answering the post without some adjustment from the OP.

*From my own personal perspective, I don't think downvoting good questions is necessary if they meet all of our criteria except that the question would be better fit on another SE site. I understand why some people do it (again, to send a clear message of what's on topic and what's not), but I don't vote these posts down. If they truly are a bad fit, they'll likely get moved.

More generally, I personally think that any downvote or vote to close should be accompanied by a comment to help teach/remind both the OP and any other visitors or community members of the site's standards and expectations.


I don't see any reason why you can't do both. In general I reserve such a dual penalty only for the worst cases. When there is still hope, downvote and comment. If there is no hope for rescue, close vote. If there is reason to believe the question has serious issues, for instance OP doesn't respond to constructive comments, you can do both. If there are even more serious issues, for instance OP starts ranting against downvoters, flag the question for mod attention.

I personally really appreciate downvotes as a mod, as they draw attention to poor questions. In general, on this site, people downvote too little. Don't hold back! As Chris says in the comments, downvotes help to auto-delete poor questions by the bot, even when there are no close votes cast.

  • $\begingroup$ To tell the truth, I find the standards for questions and answers in this community to be already very high. It serves well to my professional interests, but I see how it can be discouraging to laymen and students. $\endgroup$ – Roger Vadim Dec 23 '20 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Vadim Others argue they should be even higher. Our main standard for questions is that people demonstrate their prior research, which lets us filter out the people who are trying to cheat on school work or who just haven't put any prior effort in to constructing their question (which often attracts poor answers, or causes answerers to waste their effort before the asker edits to what they 'really' wanted to ask). For answers, we ask for references for things outside basic textbook knowledge. These separate Biology.SE from similar but lower-quality sites. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Dec 23 '20 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Vadim When you go to the top menu bar, click on the icon farthest to the right, and scroll down to Biology, its description is "For biology researchers, academics, and students." Back when the site was still in beta, we specifically decided to exclude terms like "enthusiasts" or "laymen", as we aim to be a very high-quality site, not one that continually has to explain basic, basic biological methods or principles to people that have no background in the field. This site was never intended to be an "Ask a Biologist Anything!"-type of place, which unfortunately it too often is. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Dec 24 '20 at 4:33
  • $\begingroup$ @MattDMo Thanks for clarifying this. One could still argue that this still leaves students in a limbo or that very high standards can undermine the very goal. However, the point of my question is different - I have never questioned the existing policies, accepting them as they are. $\endgroup$ – Roger Vadim Dec 24 '20 at 5:34

Downvoting ensures that the question is eventually deleted automatically as abandoned/low intererest by the system if it is not edited in the meantime. Otherwise these closed and not answered questions will accumulate over time and they are not useful for the site.


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