Seriously, does "Be Nice" = "Be Mean" on this site?

Sometimes I just have to shake my head at the lack of simple kindness shown on this site. What pushed me over the edge into posting was this question. Some poor soul wants to know if a technology is safe. That gets them 4 down votes and 2 close votes without any helpful advice whatsoever. What's worse is the close reasons are that the OP is seeking medical advice. This seems to be commonly used as a cover when one can't close for failure to show research. Maybe it's just me, but I don't know how this can be considered a request for medical advice. I've seen people comment on Giant Hogweed/Water Hemlock (here, and in a comment to an identification question here, and that is only the very very tip of the "medical" iceberg (which I notice probably because of my profession.) It seems a double standard to me.

How hard is it to be nice? This seems to translate easily to how you would like to be treated if you asked a question. Is it how you would like to be treated if you asked a question? (Judging the quality of the question is not an excuse.)

We are often accused of being an unfriendly site, because we can easily be perceived that way. Yes, we all have the same right to down vote and close vote, and I use both of those options liberally, so it's not really about that (or maybe I'm just justifying my voting pattern.)

There are active users who are very kind in their comments and explanations of DV and CVs. It wouldn't be hard to copy one or two of those comments and keep them handy to paste when appropriate.

It's possible that this is the culture that most of the community wants. I really don't know, because I took a fairly long hiatus and missed all the meta posts for years. Is the culture here unfriendly? Is it what most active users want? (As usual, DV my question if you disagree with me.)

It's ironic that I ask this question when I can be quite unkind. What might not be known is that I have a long history with this particular user from when I was a mod on what was then called Health (now Medical Sciences.SE.) Generally I'm not quite so unkind. I hope, anyway.

There was such a to do over the new CoC a while back which caught a well respected moderator in its tangled, sticky web that SE lost a lot of users, including me for a while. Clearly TPTB at SE weren't taking their own advice. Has this been let go of, i.e. are we no longer accountable to be kind?

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    $\begingroup$ This is a very unwelcoming site. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Feb 19, 2022 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ I'm trying to organize a meaningful response, but in the meantime there is this handy set of response templates :-) $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Feb 21, 2022 at 2:50
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    $\begingroup$ @tyersome - Nice link! Thanks. (Obviously I wasn't the first to use the copy/paste idea.) $\endgroup$ Feb 21, 2022 at 2:56
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    $\begingroup$ @canadianer Very wield. The site academia stack exchange is super friendly. About half of academic researchers are related to biological science nowadays. I thought the culture of this site should be very similar to the academia site, but I was wrong. $\endgroup$
    – High GPA
    Mar 21, 2022 at 10:10

5 Answers 5


Unfriendly? No, I wouldn't go that far. Not universally (especially compared to other SE sites).
Needing improvement? -- certainly!!!

This has always been an issue I've been passionate about across the network (e.g., here and here). It's especially an issue on SO and stats.SE, in my experience, and I agree it's becoming worse here. I think Bio.SE, like those other sites, has slowly devolved from experts interacting with experts to a shrinking number of increasingly exhausted experts dealing with an overwhelming number of bad questions. At some point, I'm afraid, it seems that time to be nice is -- well -- exhausted.

To compound the issue, I think the sense of being a professional community has likewise dissolved here. So few individuals stay engaged, and those that do are increasingly limited (for example, ignoring chat, or meta, etc.). Some of this is due to the exhaustion, while certainly changes in perceptions, priorities, or life circumstances are at play, too. This shift or degradation in sense of community (and an increasing number of one-time posters) leads to a lack of understood commonality/connection from which to form respectful (and nice) discourse. Also, fewer people likely read the rules!

Further, I think across the board, those that do linger here increasingly think of this site less as a professional/scholarly endeavor (or perhaps never did) and treat it more like a hobby (this, again, mostly owing to the points I make above). With that shift in focus comes a shift in attitudes and demeanor. Much of it subconscious. We all act differently in professional settings than otherwise.

I would welcome you, @anongoodnurse, to once again become more engaged here. Sometimes communities just need a good kick in the rear (this post) and then a breath of fresh air. More experts means less work, and more experts passionate about explicitly calling attention to this issue is necessary to rejuvenate our Be Nice culture. I think we should all be calling out perceived issues in one another's behaviors, and certainly raising moderator flags or meta posts helps to broaden the scope and enact some more purposeful change.

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    $\begingroup$ I, too, have posted some version of this comment on every site I have been very active in as well. As both a (former) mod and (previously) active user, I understand growing annoyed/burnout. But, wow, it's not a friendly site. I've been shocked at some of the comments, and I don't shock easily. I do flag, and sometimes take a swipe at the commenter directly. I've never thought of this as a site for professionals despite being one myself and having recognized quite a few here. Maybe that's the cynic in me, or maybe when something is open to everyone, it's rarely the case. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2022 at 2:01
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, just so it's clear, I'm not trying to defend or excuse mean behavior in my post (especially due to burnout etc.). This post is just trying to give a starting point for discussion about why we got less nice. As I indicate in my post, I think it's multi-faceted. Certainly, addressing exhaustion, community erosion, and professional perception are not things that we can easily address. However, each and every one of us making it priority to act in a professional and nice manner at all times and flagging otherwise mean behavior is the best starting point we have. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2022 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't take this as an excuse or a defense; I understood it to be an explanation, one with which I'm very familiar with personally. My first SE site was EL&U, which I loved, but it was so, so very unfriendly I finally couldn't be there anymore. $\endgroup$ Feb 20, 2022 at 15:21

For those that think this is an unfriendly site, could you please elaborate?

Without including any specific user names, which of the following are of biggest concern?

  1. individual "mean" users
  2. moderator attitudes
  3. moderator actions
  4. downvoting
  5. close-voting
  6. lack of comment regarding voting decisions
  7. not-nice comments regarding voting decisions
  8. or something else?

Please include in a comment under this post which numbers above you think need to be addressed. You might even rank the numbers from biggest problem to those of lesser concern.

  • further elaboration is helpful, but -- again -- please do not include specific usernames in your responses.
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    $\begingroup$ To my perception, in order of importance: 1, 7, when (4+5) occur together, sometimes 2 (sorry), 8 (other: when users make comments which might not be intend as, but could be read as, deprecatory, e.g. "Never heard of that (and/or) can't understand how that could be the case..." or "text, more text, includes *of course*/*obviously/other". (emphasis mine.) And I admit I have commented in this way at times. I'm no saint. $\endgroup$ Feb 20, 2022 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ Another "other": when questions are closed for unclear or untrue reasons. Not the close-voter's fault, per se, but could be explained by lack of proper choices or proper understanding of the close vote reason itself, e.g. why some questions can easily be construed as seeking medical advice are answered, and others are closed for same. $\endgroup$ Feb 20, 2022 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ IMHO, 1, the rest are negligible or infrequent and excusable. $\endgroup$
    – S Pr
    Feb 21, 2022 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe this should be a separate question? $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2022 at 3:00

I beg to differ!

Some people seem nice, with a friendly fake smile, but you don't know if they are telling the truth.

Some people seem harsh, but they speak the harsh truth.

Truth is usually hard to accept.

Being frank usually hurts people.

But, as an adult, I need truth much more than sweetness.

Just my personal experience on this site and in society.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what you're differing with. Are you saying the site is unfriendly, but that it's preferable to fake sweetness? I'm assuming you think this site is unfriendly because of your comment to @canadianer. If that is what you're saying, that's fine. Every opinion counts. But it's not clear (to me) from your post. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2022 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ Just to clarify, I value the truth (maybe too much.) I can be too blunt. I don't have a lot of tact. My preference is to be respectful, not fake. They are different. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2022 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse Of course, truthful and respectful is the best. Other than that, I prefer truth over sweetness. $\endgroup$
    – High GPA
    Mar 22, 2022 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ I have edited the English of your answer in order to give it the full impact to a native English speaking audience. If you think I have altered your meaning in any way, do say. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Mar 24, 2022 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ @David Thanks! That helps $\endgroup$
    – High GPA
    Mar 25, 2022 at 2:08

Apart from the general discussion whether we are nice or not (some users are more so than others), and homing in on your linked sample post from this lost soul, deserves immediate closure imo. It is a self-help. If it is scientific interest, it should be framed like the weed question you also link; there it is evident there is a scientific discussion between two people where help is sought. The decision how to use that information may indeed be step 2 in this process, but that is OK. Likewise, why would any plant species ID question be self-help? IDing a tiger as a felus catus may be likewise 'dangerous'. Is that a tip of a medical iceberg? Nah. It's not self help, nor medical advice. It can have remote consequences if a poor soul uses an answer to do silly stuff. If a tiger ID was framed as I found a wounded cat-like animal and I wish to bring it home. Can anyone help me find out what this species is so I can properly give it aid'? Yeah, that would add to a medical iceberg perhaps.

In the ion question, the link to use or not use this technique (self-help / medical advice) is too closely intertwined with this Q. Downvotes help the mods to home in on self helps and close them, and it aids in the bot to auto-remove these Qs after a while. Downvotes are awesome in this case. Why would it be mean? It would be mean to leave dangerous self-helps standing strong on this site.

In all, while your point may be valid in terms of niceness, none of the linked posts deserve to be added in this discussion imo.

  • $\begingroup$ I do think identification requests are often self-help. Look at the recent spate of "What plant is this?" from someone who took a bunch of photos in Ontario. Do you think they were driven by scientific curiosity, or a desire to label them so he could, I don't know, upload them somewhere? Of interest is how unevenly our guidelines are applied. I actually like helping (most) people; I'd have been terrible at my job(s) if I didn't. Given, poor Q choice. Had I waited, I could have done much better within a day. Some people don't know how to frame a question "scientifically"... $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2022 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ They're not often given any benefit of a doubt. The main point is that this site is unfriendly, and is rightly perceived as such. Bad example, granted. How unevenly our guidelines are applied also doesn't help the site, though often I'd rather help the person (which would make the site friendlier.) I'm not asking that we not DV and CV, or that we always leave a comment when doing so. I really dislike true homework questions, the ones where no attempt to figure anything was made. The ones who are struggling, I can empathize. Key concept: empathy. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2022 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ "Tip of the iceberg" point: lots of questions which could be interpreted as seeking medical advice are answered. Depends on how they are interpreted. About self-help: when you think about it, every question on this site is driven by self-interest. That's ok. That's how we get ahead. You didn't become a neuroscientist without any self-interest. I went to college to try to escape serious poverty. Self-help is ok. Anyway, my point stands. We're not a very friendly site. Occasionally, terribly rude could be an honest impression. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2022 at 14:16

Scope of this ‘Answer’

The title of this question asks what “be nice” ‘means’ to “you”, and is followed by an opening sentence asking whether it means “be mean”. From this — and the subsequent content — I conclude that the question is about the friendliness of the site, with the poster suggesting that it would be less unfriendly (she writes that the site is often perceived as unfriendly) if (among other things) down-voters or close-voters explained the reasons for their votes in comments to the poster.

That is a valid topic for a discussion on Meta, although I choose not to engage in it. My reason for posting an answer is because the poster cites a concrete example of behaviour “lacking in simple kindness” (and as it follows from the first sentence, presumably “mean” behaviour), and makes a remark that I interpret as meaning that the reasons given for closing are dishonest. I was one of those who voted down and voted to close this question and this answer is a statement of rebuttal.


  1. The term “Be nice” was at one time part of the SE Code of Conduct, which has now been replaced by a list of what is regarded as unacceptable behaviour (see Appendix I). Thus, the term has a specific as well as a general meaning.

  2. By US dictionary definition (the poster is from the US) the word ‘mean’ is pejorative (see Appendix II).


  1. (a) In terms of the SE Code of Conduct, there is no requirement to provide explanations for down-votes or close-votes. It has been pointed out numerous times by list members and moderators that some people choose not to provide explanations in comments because of the antagonistic responses they can engender. That was why I did not comment on my down/close votes, especially as if, as I expected, the question were closed as a request for medical or health advice, a boiler-plate explanation would automatically be appended.
    (b) In terms of the common English meaning of the words, I resent any imputation that not commenting in this case was ‘mean’ or reprehensible in any sense.

  2. My reasons for interpreting the remarks about the reasons given for closing as imputations of dishonesty are this statement:

    “What's worse is the close reasons are that the OP is seeking medical advice. This seems to be commonly used as a cover when one can't close for failure to show research. … I don't know how this can be considered a request for medical advice.”

    (a) The SE wording for this option to close is “Personal medical questions and health advice”. The poster asks whether a particular technology “can harm human body”. This clearly means “if I use this technology will it harm me?” and I fail to see how it can be regarded as other than a request for health advice.
    (b) The suggestion that this is “a cover” because some other reason to close cannot be used is completely unjustified. I resent it and categorically reject it.


It is conceivable that the poster did not intend to imply that the down-voters and close-voters in the example that provoked her question acted in a reprehensible and dishonest manner. If that is the case the only solution is to remove the example from the question. Disclaimers in comments are not enough — in the question as it stands the implications are clear to me and, I think, the average reader. If the paragraph is removed or replaced, this answer/statement will become redundant and will be deleted.

Appendix I: Stack Exchange Code of Conduct

This is described in terms of unacceptable behaviour:

  • No subtle put-downs or unfriendly language

  • No name-calling or personal attacks

  • No bigotry

  • No harassment

It lists what not to say or do in comments. It does not include refraining from commenting.

Appendix II: Dictionary definitions of the word ‘mean’


: lacking dignity or honor : BASE

The Free Dictionary

  1. a. Lacking in kindness; unkind
    b. Cruel, spiteful, or malicious
    c. Expressing spite or malice
    d. Tending toward or characterized by cruelty or violence
    e. Extremely unpleasant or disagreeable
  2. Ignoble; base:
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    $\begingroup$ This comment isn’t directed at you personally, but since your answer brings it up, the code of conduct also lists some acceptable behaviours which include being welcoming. I don’t think that downvoting and closing questions is inherently unwelcoming, but put yourself in the shoes of a new user whose first and only question has been downvoted 4 times with no explanation whatsoever. Or a user whose answer/comment/question was deleted, often arbitrarily and often by a single user, with no clear articulation of what precise rule has been broken, if any even were. Would you feel welcome here? $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Feb 22, 2022 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ Of course the quality of questions and answers on the site should be maintained, to whatever extent that quality even exists, and the mechanism to do so is voting and moderation (ostensibly by the community). However, stringent application of these mechanisms comes at a cost. I personally have long passed the point of really caring about any of this (I just like biology) but, since it is being discussed, there it is. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Feb 22, 2022 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ I've removed some comments that could invite further debate; I'm certain that those who they were directed at have read them and taken whatever use from them that they will. It's tricky because I'd like to allow for more open discussion among the veteran users here on Meta than would typically be allowed on the main site; on the other hand, I think we'd like to avoid passive-aggressive endorsement of certain comments over others. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Feb 22, 2022 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause - My comments weren't passive aggressive. Also, that first comment under the now deleted post was rapidly gaining upvotes. Now what? The OP gets to delete and start over, changing the conversation and not allowing comments ("nor does it invite comments unless...") which he does not like. Too bad everyone that gets comments doesn't have the luxury of placing restrictions on comments. Also, I addressed why that question tipped me into posting, and believe that comment should be restored. $\endgroup$ Feb 22, 2022 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse I was not referring to anything you said as passive-aggressive, I was referring to the potential for my own action of removing some comments and not others to appear to endorse the ones that remain and argue against those that are removed, when that's not necessarily the case. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Feb 22, 2022 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ @David - Do not put words into my mouth. "Whether or not this was intended, it is a reasonable interpretation of what was written..." That is your interpretation; own it. Every time I have tried to explain that I do not consider that in and of itself to be mean, my comment has been removed, but you must have seen them. I don't care if you DV or CV without explanation. I do so myself. $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2022 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ If you think that is the only thing I'm talking about, you are deceiving yourself, and depriving yourself of the opportunity to engage in honest and straightforward reflection on what it means for this site to be unfriendly, and what I mean by mean. $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2022 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ I saw this comment today: “Welcome to SE Biology. Please finish reading the Tour and the Help section on asking good questions. In the latter you will see that you are expected to conduct your own search/research before posting and show evidence of this in your question. The Wikipedia entry for ribosomal RNA answers your question. Please read it and repost in a modified form only if there are specific areas on which you are still unclear and cannot find an answer elsewhere.” This is a very kind and helpful comment from anyone. May I ask what determines the tone of your responses?… $\endgroup$ Jun 27, 2022 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ …I would like to understand it as clearly you have the capacity for great kindness and patience. I hope you see this in the positive light in which it is intended. (Though there’s an implied criticism, I’m not focusing on that. I wish I could ask in a manner that doesn’t carry any implications.) $\endgroup$ Jun 27, 2022 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, and apologies in advance if my question has offended you. I’m actually trying to empathize, not criticize, though from our history, I would understand completely if you see this differently. $\endgroup$ Jun 27, 2022 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse — I accept and appreciate the positive nature of your recent comment, but prefer not to pursue this, other than to quote the line from Some Like it Hot: “Nobody’s perfect”. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jun 29, 2022 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ Wonderful movie! If I remember correctly, that was a response to “I’m a man!” ;) In any case, thanks for responding. We are all imperfect, for sure. $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2022 at 11:40

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