I think penalties are the problem. Positive scores for relevance work well enough. Negative scores for relevance don't work.
Yes, well said, thats really the fundamental shift thats been going on over the past 2 years. The moving away from a long history of measuring and rewarding signals of quality, to seeking out and punishing behaviors and site traits that Google sees as artificially inflating the ranking of sites that dont fit their idea of quality.
Panda, Penguin, EMD, links that dont pass the sniff test da jour.
I get it, and what the hoped result will be but its an approach that is worthy of debate, "if we can figure out how to remove all the stuff we dont place value on - whats left should all be of high quality"