If Barack Obama's value as a contributor to our society were measured in similar fashion to DP's rating system, he would have a rating of about +2,734,658! (That's how many "up votes" he got in the November popular vote compared to how many people voted against him.)
Contrary to what the OP opined, this scoring system at DP does not "red flag trolls"; it red flags whomever posits opinions outside the mainstream of the AVERAGE DP opinion. I believe this to be counterproductive as it is built on an assumption that whatever most DP users believe must be the best belief. But when someone suggests an improvement to accepted DP doctrine, he will naturally get voted down, no matter how brilliant his proposed improvement may be. This is because of status quo bias, which is sadly prevalent in practically all segments of our society.
I believe this could be easily fixed by not only tracking the net voting value, but by showing two values: The total up votes and the total down votes--and perhaps even a total count of all votes cast, whether up or down. (This would show how much interaction the post in question has prompted.)
As it is, we may see that a certain post has a score of -3, for example. But that only tells PART of the story. If we learned that the WHOLE story on the post in question is that 100 people voted it up and 103 voted it down, then we would see that the poster had hit right in the MIDDLE of the prevailing opinion at DP. That's a far cry from what we think when we see a "-3".
Further, suppose a post's score is +5. We see that and if we are cognitive misers, we likely think that this person must be really "with it" on this particular post. But let us suppose that 1,000 DP users voted this post down while 1,005 voted it up. Suddenly, this really hip post is revealed to be accepted by only slightly more than half those who voted on it. That puts this poster as average, and not a DP superstar, as the cognitive miser might assume upon seeing the +5.
Thirdly, the present system does nothing to show how MUCH interaction there has been with the post in question. Billy's +3 may have come after 5,000 users voted on the post, while Ted's +3 is the result of only 3 people voting.
Fourthly, the present system encourages manipulation by those with a middle school mentality. They go get their little friends to come vote on a post....and particularly, it seems, when they are under the pressure of a serious debate on the subject in question. Such manipulation says nothing at all about the logic or the merit or the factuality of the post in question, but simply about the motivation of the immature poster to make things APPEAR as if his post is the better one in a disagreement.
Fifthly, the current system encourages pandering as a positive number of up votes becomes something of a trophy for vain participants. Pandering, however, is one of the worst political behaviors ailing the US. Why encourage it at all?
Popularity has ZERO bearing on what is right and true and just and wise and honorable. Of all forums, one would think that a Ron Paul forum would understand this. He is, after all, woefully unpopular given the impeccable nature of his political doctrine. If Ron Paul's value to our society were calculated in the same way as I calculated Barack Obama's above, Ron Paul would get a rating of about -129,064,662, based on the number of votes he got in November minus the number of votes cast for other candidates. Clearly, however, I think most people here view Ron Paul's value as much greater than -129,064,662.
As it is, I think this rating system on DP is counterproductive and it tends to sway cognitive misers who don't want to go to the trouble to judge a post on its own merit, but who find popularity to be an argument in its own right. But if both up votes AND down votes were displayed, I think that could be quite a useful tool.
If our political mess is complicated, the short list of viable solutions is also going to be complicated and will spawn lots of lots of disagreement as we (hopefully) wrestle with our own erroneous assumptions and preconceived notions. It would be nice to have a rating system that encourages people to give each topic some DEEP THOUGHT, rather than one that encourages people to decide on a post's merit based upon what others have already decided.
If 500 people up voted Billy's post, I'd say that's important to know, even if 507 people down voted it. Wouldn't a published score of +500/-507 do more to encourage Billy's continued involvement than a score of -7? I think it would. Yet -7 is how it would show under the current system.
I think so.