I know that this would also depend on the integrity of the community, but I notice this happening a lot on Quora, and Yahoo answers. A lot of the time, the "best" answers aren't even structured arguments, just another "matter of fact" opinion.

  • While there's a philosophical question tangled in there, as worded in the body, you're just asking a general question and opinions on "how does stackexchange compare to [quora and yahoo answers]... – virmaior Feb 18 '15 at 0:54
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    I apologize, this is the first time I have used this website. My main question is in the title. – user13728 Feb 18 '15 at 0:59
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    I removed the last question. – user13728 Feb 18 '15 at 1:05
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    Seems like a meta-question rather than a question to me. And it seems highly irrelevant, because it does not offer or ask for alternative systems. – tkruse Aug 18 '20 at 1:31

This is a more difficult question than it first appears. Appealing to majority opinion is considered an illegitimate form of justification for a claim. Yet, in the StackExchange environment, we often take the highest-rated answer as definitive.

I'd say the major difference is that the high-rating is not intended to be taken as definitive --it is just there to help you find the best answers. Those answers, however, still need to be strong in themselves --that is, well argued and/or well supported with citations, references, justifications, etcetera. However, no claim is made that the answer becomes right or righter simply because of votes.

It may be a constant temptation to conflate rightness and popularity --but that is a constant temptation anywhere, that's why the fallacy exists in the first place. If anything, I'd say that consistent participation in SE could even reduce incidences of the fallacy, since it encourages the crafting of well-formed answers and also the critical examination and independent evaluation of other people's answers. (For whatever reason, SE seems to have accomplished these last two goals better than some of its rivals.)

  • I suppose it all comes down to the individual's ability to critically analyse the answers given, and if a community happens to be composed of many individuals that have the ability to critically analyse, then this fallacy would not often occur within said community. – user13728 Feb 18 '15 at 4:00
  • +1. Though I would say the relative success of a particular SE greatly varies. I find the more technical ones (here meaning techne) to be on the average better than philosophy in terms of votes identifying quality. – virmaior Feb 18 '15 at 5:08
  • Good point. When it comes to programming, and mathematics, there are a limited amount of ways to come to a valid conclusion, and they can usually be tested. I am new to this site, but it is already looking a lot more promising than quora and yahoo answers. – user13728 Feb 18 '15 at 6:12
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    @virmaior The basic problem is that the vast majority of philosophy questions are a bad fit for the SE format. With that said, I think we do well here --far better than other philosophy sites I've encountered. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Feb 18 '15 at 14:31

The answer to your question is yes, if you are polling a general population.

When it comes to a community of interest, such as Stack Exchange seeks to build, the answer may be less clear. I believe the activities of the moderators and the rules that are enforced seek to avoid this fallacy. We are approaching - though probably not achieving - something like peer review.

However, even the most rigorous peer review can fall prey to the fallacy. Whenever I encounter an up voting criteria for crediting an idea, I think of what I call the Copernicus Factor. Had the survival of Copernican ideas depended on the approval of even his most learned peers, well, it is not that the truth about the structure of the solar system would have never come out, but it certainly would have been frustrated.

It is good to be reminded of your question regularly when communicating in this stimulating virtual environment.

  • Copernicus Factor, I like that. Mind if I steal that term? – user13728 Feb 18 '15 at 4:04
  • Be my guest. Cut me in on any millions it gets you, however. – memphisslim Feb 18 '15 at 4:26

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