But that has no bearing on whether the site is actually presenting comprehensive or accurate information.
If users act as though it's a dodgy site, how is google supposed to know whether it isn't? You could argue that the wrong heuristics are being used, I'm not sure the technology is there to do it any other way though?
If you are actually doing research on some subject and are actually prepared to read and obtain new knowledge then yes, your cursory first look is going to be about the content and sources/references, and if you're still going to bounce on the looks then either you're not really trying or you are still just looking for a simpler bite sized easy answer (which pretty much do not exist in this field of science).
By that logic, Google could penalize every site that has in-depth knowledge about some subject.
And now that I think about it, these are EXACTLY the kinds of websites I've been missing from the Google search results in the past years. Most people first stop for "in-depth" knowledge would be Wikipedia (try defending THAT one, 6 years ago ...) and if you really want to, maybe that PDF of a publication is not behind a paywall. The web used to be full of pages that just were made by people crazy smart about a subject and they wrote about the thing they love ...
Just for illustration, I went through my old bookmarks, the original link was dead but the page still exists: http://gernot-katzers-spice-pages.com/engl/index.html Just browse a few pages and see what a quality site it is. It even has each page in both Germand and English.
This page used to pop up all the time when you searched for spices way back in the first half of the 2000s. Try googling "fenugreek" now and cry ...
And the majority of this quality content is not even ad supported at all. That is the worst part. So many people seriously argue that you need ads to support the internet. Well, THIS is the internet that I want, the good one, the promised internet. And look at that "fenugreek" search result page again, it's being fucking buried by this shitty ad supported internet of hollow articles about "fenugreek health benefits". THAT is the internet you get, you support by supporting ads. For every starving quality journalist at the news websites that argue they have to serve you megabytes of adtech with a two paragraph article, there are a thousand regurgitated content farm bullshit sites, easily consuming the vast majority of this internet advertising pie ... it's like cheering on mass murder because the obituaries make such nice haikus some times.