When there is significant disagreement on an answer, it is often the case that it will have a net score of 0, or 1, or -1. This is a bit misleading, because the actual votes on the answer might be -6/+5, but only the -1 score is visible. Once you have enough rep you can click and see the +/- votes (that's actually my favorite feature!) but not everyone has this ability, and not everyone who has it uses it all the time... I only tend to use it when I already think there is probably disagreement on a post (either from comments or because I think it's wrong) and I'm curious how others voted.

So, would it be worthwhile to have an indicator of some sort that an answer is highly disputed? The actual threshold for "highly disputed" would be up for debate, but when an answer has a significant enough number of votes to be judged as voted on by a "sample" of the userbase and when the upvotes and downvotes are really close to each other (as in my -6/+5 example) it's pretty clear at that point that the voters do not agree that the answer is correct. But this isn't obvious without seeing the vote breakdowns, and we might have a case of -5/+7, where the answer has net +2 votes and so the casual viewer thinks the answer is correct, even though it's highly disputed.

I don't know exactly what this indicator would be; that can be a discussion for once we've decided if we need this or not. But I'm starting to think we kind of do, because the net vote count can be a bit misleading. Thoughts?

To be clear, I am not suggesting that we display the +/- vote breakdown by default on disputed questions. I'm just wondering if we need some kind of visual indication that there is a lot of disagreement among voters. (Perhaps we could also allow the score to be displayed on-click if the answer is disputed. But the actual logistics of how we'd do this aren't the point; we can iron that out before the feature-request :) I'm just curious if others agree that this is something we might need.)

  • 1
    Related (but not a dupe): meta.stackexchange.com/q/197169/162102 Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:10
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    The ability to see vote counts, not the delta should be a feature on the mobile site.
    – Cole Tobin
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:14
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    I vote for showing the vote breakdown by default. If this needs two extra database columns, so be it. Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:14
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    Why don't we just allow viewing vote counts for everybody???
    – Walker
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:15
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    @ChristmasUnicorn "performance issues". Also, I think I've heard "it would be confusing for newcomers". Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:16
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    @JanDvorak - the upvotes and downvotes are already stored (or at least relatively easily found) separately so there'd be no extra columns needed.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:21
  • Disputed questions mostly happen on meta, seldom on SO itself.
    – juergen d
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:23
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    @juergend I'm thinking network-wide, not just on SO (and mostly talking about answers). This has come up pretty often for me on ELL. We'll have answers that are +3/-2 or +2/-2 and so they seem either correct or simply like no attention has been paid to them... But they're just wrong. Sometimes they're right, and have downvotes for some reason. But I just think it would be useful to be able to tell when an answer is disputed, because the net score is misleading in those cases.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:24
  • @juergend but, when a SO answer does get disputed, you better stay away from it. Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:25
  • Wendi, this is an interesting idea. Have you given some thought to how you define what is and isn't highly disputed? What about these cases: +1/-2, +2/-1, +3/-2, +4/-2? Are these the cases included as highly disputed to you? Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:29
  • @MikePennington I've got a vague idea, though I'm sure it will take a lot of discussion to arrive at a good conclusion :) I think that as the number of votes increases, the threshold between the +/- votes should increase as well. Ex. +3/-2 might be disputed, not a lot of votes and they're only 1 apart. Change that by one to +4/-2 and maybe that's not disputed because the numbers are so low. But if there are a ton of votes, let's say +15/-25, that's still pretty disputed even though they're 10 apart. I'm sure we can play around with it to get the numbers to work out right :) (cont'd)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:32
  • @WendiKidd or just show the vote split in every case :-) Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:33
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    @Gilles Unfortunately not everyone comments when they downvote. Or one person comments, and then others see a comment has already been left and find that sufficient (I rarely see "this is wrong" comments upvoted, either).
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:34
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    @WendiKidd I always upvote "this is wrong" comments if they indicate my downvote reason Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:35
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    This might be particularly useful on Per Site Meta posts, which sometimes have hugely controversial answers with close to zero scores
    – Rory
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 0:35

3 Answers 3


The actual threshold for "highly disputed" would be up for debate

Yeah, well... It's kinda hard to determine whether we need this or not without having actual examples of posts that might benefit from it. My gut feeling is that "controversial" is a pretty bad sign; if folks are that divided as to the worth of a post, there's probably something about it that could stand to be fixed.

But hey, let's throw something together and see what pops up:

declare @dumpDate as DateTime = (select max(CreationDate) from Votes);

select top 100 PostId as [Post Link], count(*) TotalVotes,
  Round(count(case when VoteTypeId=2 then 1 else null end)*100.0 / count(*),1) UpvotePct
from Posts p
join Votes v on v.PostId=p.Id
where VoteTypeId in (2,3)
and p.CreationDate > @dumpDate-30
and PostTypeId=##postType##
group by PostId
having count(*) >= 8
  and count(case when VoteTypeId=2 then 1 else null end)*1.0
    / count(*) between 0.33 and 0.67

order by count(*) desc

That'll give you some "controversial" questions or answers (PostTypeId=1 or 2) from the last 30 days of the data dump. Turns out, there aren't all that many controversial answers; here's what I got1 for the last 30 days2:

Now, are those really worth calling out as controversial in some fashion?

Just realized you're thinking about smaller sites; here are all of the answers meeting this criteria on ELL:

Meh. I guess I could see this as perhaps an interesting 10K tool.

1Data.se is in kind of a bad way right now, so I just ran these internally; YMMV.
2There are 5270 answers matching these criteria for all time on Stack Overflow

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    Fair enough. I also note that most of those examples have plenty of comments, so perhaps what I really should be putting effort into is making sure that incorrect answers on my site have comments clearly explaining the problem (especially when the votes don't match the incorrectness of the answer). I agree that if it's controversial there's probably something wrong with it, but sometimes a wrong answer is just a wrong answer (I can't edit to fix without completely changing it) and I feel like my lonely comment isn't enough, especially when the downvote disappears in the net score. But I
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 20:17
  • definitely see the point you're making, and I think you're right that my suggestion is probably overkill compared to the actual problem I'm seeing. I appreciate you pulling up a set of questions to look at; that helped clarify this for me! :)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 20:17
  • See my edit, @Wendi - I wasn't paying attention to who posted this discussion, else I'd have put ELL data in there from the start.
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 20:21
  • +1 for the 10k tool! Highly controversial posts should be a indicative that something weird is going on.
    – Braiam
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 22:21
  • I actually think this would be most interesting (though not necessarily useful...) on meta stackoverflow. Here's where most of the big controversies actually happen. But probably not particularly useful here either, since here it's not indicative of anything very cohesive, and certainly not of something wrong.
    – Ben Lee
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 21:22

This makes sense especially in cases where a now-incorrect answer is accepted. Such an answer can have amassed dozens or hundreds of upvotes over time, and it can take a long time for it to get voted "back down".

On the other hand, suddenly showing the up-/downvote ratio would likely be confusing for many users.

You can also make the case that it isn't really needed: on highly disputed answers, comments will usually show what's up. Also sometimes, people will take the law in their own hands, and apply an edit.

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    Don't think that it'd be confusing. I'd say people are used to seeing vote breakdowns on many places on the Internet.
    – slhck
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:36
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    I don't mean to say that we should show the upvote/downvote ratio; I'm just pulling this out of thin air, but maybe the "indicator" is that the net score is colored red. Some kind of visual indication that says "hey, the net score here might be misleading." (Optionally, on such answers, allow the score to be clicked to view net score regardless of the user's rep.) The comments argument doesn't work for me, at least on ELL; the reason I'm suggesting this is because I see so many wrong answers with disputed votes at +1, -1, or 0, with no comments explaining why they're wrong.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:37
  • @slhck but not on Stack Overflow, where it's a privilege for 1k+ users . It would suddenly show up for only those relatively few highly contested answers.
    – Pekka
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:37
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    So while I agree that comments could alleviate the problem, and possibly should... In my experience, they don't. :/ I'm left with a lot of disputed answers with misleading net scores... And often these answers are accepted, which is troublesome.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:37
  • @Pëkka also, those who have a desktop browser with the right userscript that I constantly use. Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:37
  • @Wendi can you point to a single highly disputed answer where there are no comments that point out what's wrong with it?
    – Pekka
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:38
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    Stack Exchange also decides to color buttons black or change the top bar, or switch all the close reasons and flag dialogs. Seeing all votes would be one of the less confusing things.
    – slhck
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:38
  • @Pëkka do hidden-by-def comments count as not present?? Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:38
  • @Jan not really, IMO. If you are going to use an answer, you better read the comments.
    – Pekka
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:39
  • Agreed. Start showing the breakdown now, when the top bar has recently appeared. Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:39
  • @Pëkka I was just looking at one recently, which is why I posted this... Unfortunately my browser has a million tabs all the time, so I'm having trouble finding it again. I probably should have just included a link in the question. I'll keep looking and come back when I find it.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:41
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    @Pëkka hmm... most people who trust w3schools or use for..in to loop an array don't read comments either. They copy-paste the top-voted or green-ticked answer and move on. I think we want them to get better code from us, too. Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:41
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    To be clear re: your edit, I am not suggesting that the vote breakdown appear on contest answers. I am suggesting that we in some way indicate that there is a dispute in voting.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:41
  • @Wendi OK, editing that paragraph
    – Pekka
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 19:42

Yes, this is an unfortunate artifact of using "upvotes minus downvotes" as your score.

There are methods that are arguably better -- see e.g., Sorting answers, given overvotes and undervotes, which shows how to take into account the statistical confidence in the overall rating, given the votes -- but my impression is that the StackExchange folks have decided the current method is "good enough". That's understandable.

I agree with you that this does come up occasionally and it would be nice to have a way to enable people to notice that the answer is disputed before using it. I wonder if a better way to deal with it might be by improving which comments are shown. Usually a highly-disputed answer will have comments indicating the problems with the answer, so if we can have some comment sorting algorithm that maximizes the likelihood that those comments are noticeable and get noticed, that might be an alternative way to deal with highly disputed answers.

  • I agree with the comment... (ahem) comment Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 2:35

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