Downvote stalkers: Driving members away from the LessWrong community?

Last month I saw this post: http://​​less­wrong.com/​​lw/​​kbc/​​meta_the_de­cline_of_dis­cus­sion_now_with_charts/​​ ad­dress­ing whether the dis­cus­sion on LessWrong was in de­cline. As a rel­a­tively new user who had only just started to post com­ments, my re­ac­tion was: “I hope that LessWrong isn’t in de­cline, be­cause the se­quences are amaz­ing, and I re­ally like this com­mu­nity. I should try to write a cou­ple ar­ti­cles my­self and post them! Maybe I could do an anal­y­sis/​sum­mary of cer­tain se­quences posts, and dis­cuss how they had helped me to change my mind”. I started work­ing on writ­ing an ar­ti­cle.

Then I logged into LessWrong and saw that my Karma value was roughly half of what it had been the day be­fore. Pre­vi­ously I hadn’t re­ally cared much about Karma, aside from what­ever micro-utilons of hap­piness it pro­vided to see that the num­ber slowly grew be­cause peo­ple gen­er­ally liked my com­ments. Or at least, I thought I didn’t re­ally care, un­til my lizard brain re­flexes re­acted to what it per­ceived as an as­sault on my per­son.

Had I posted some­thing ter­rible and un­pop­u­lar that had been mas­sively down­voted dur­ing the sev­eral days since my pre­vi­ous lo­gin? No, in fact my ‘past 30 days’ Karma was still pos­i­tive. Rather, it ap­peared that ev­ery­thing I had ever posted to LessWrong now had a −1 on it in­stead of a 0. Of course, my loss prob­a­bly pales in com­par­i­son to that of other, more pro­lific posters who I have seen re­port this be­hav­ior.

So what con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject must I have com­mented on in or­der to trig­ger this as­sault? Well, let’s see, in the past week I had asked if any­one had any opinions of good soft­ware en­g­ineer in­ter­view ques­tions I could ask a can­di­date. I posted in http://​​less­wrong.com/​​lw/​​kex/​​hap­piness_and_chil­dren/​​ that I was happy to not have chil­dren, and fi­nally, here in what ap­pears to me to be by far the most promis­ing can­di­date:http://​​less­wrong.com/​​r/​​dis­cus­sion/​​lw/​​keu/​​sep­a­rat­ing_the_roles_of_the­ory_and_di­rect/​​ I replied to a com­ment about global warm­ing data, stat­ing that I rou­tinely saw head­lines about data sup­port­ing global warm­ing.

Here is our sce­nario: A new user is at­tempt­ing to par­ti­ci­pate on a mes­sage board that val­ues em­piri­cism and ra­tio­nal­ity, posted that ev­i­dence sup­ports that cli­mate change is real. (Wow, re­ally rock­ing the boat here!) Then, ap­par­ently in an effort to ‘win’ this dis­cus­sion by silenc­ing op­po­si­tion, some­one went and down­voted ev­ery com­ment this user had ever made on the site. Ap­par­ently they would like to see LessWrong be a bas­tion of em­piri­cism and ra­tio­nal­ity and [i]cli­mate change de­nial[/​i] in­stead? And the way to achieve this is not to have a fair and ra­tio­nal dis­cus­sion of the ex­ist­ing em­piri­cal data, but rather to sim­ply Kar­mas­sas­si­nate any­one who would op­pose them?

Here is my hy­poth­e­sis: The con­tin­u­ing prob­lem of karma down­vote stalk­ers is con­tribut­ing to the de­cline of dis­cus­sion on the site. I definitely feel much less mo­ti­vated to try and con­tribute any­thing now, and I have been told by mul­ti­ple other peo­ple at LessWrong meet­ings things such as “I used to post a lot on LessWrong, but then I posted X, and got mass down­voted, so now I only com­ment on Yvain’s blog”. Th­ese anec­dotes are, of course, only very weak ev­i­dence to sup­port my claim. I wish I could provide more, but I will have to defer to any read­ers who can sup­ply more.

Per­haps this post will sim­ply trig­ger more re­tri­bu­tion, or maybe it will trig­ger an outswelling of sup­port, or per­haps just be dis­missed by peo­ple say­ing I should’ve posted it to the weekly dis­cus­sion thread in­stead. What­ever the out­come, rather than meekly leav­ing LessWrong and let­ting my ‘stalker’ win, I de­cided to open a dis­cus­sion about the is­sue. Thank you!