My question was triggered by the following question, as it serves as a good example case applying to a general issue:

What is Psychoanalysis

I voted to close because it is poorly researched. OP basically asks for a definition of psycho-analysis. I am not a cognitive scientist so I may be off, but my reasoning was that it is such a popular topic, and such a basic terminology question, that one Google search will definitely yield an extensive list of sources with a surplus of definitive answers. Moreover, psychoanalysis has its own tag wiki, making me inclined to believe it is used as a handle to ask a question and should not be the core of a question.

Now another user came back and said that it should not be close-voted because google'able answers deserve to survive, based on two meta questions: Embrace the non-Googlers and How should we deal with Google questions?.

I think this general meta opinion is helpful, but every SE site is different and hence I thought it wise to ask it here within the confines of Cognitive Sciences. For example, if a biological equivalent of the above linked question would appear on Biology.SE it would be downvoted and closed within a day. There we have a "Homework" close reason, which is loosely used to close poorly researched questions that can be answered easily by picking the first hit after copy-pasting the question title in Google. However, it is definitely a gray area, because that 'first hit' may be a wiki page that is often cluttered with information and perhaps difficult to understand for a layman. However, in the case of the above linked question, I am inclined to close-vote because it is such an elementary question.

What is the norm here at Cognitive Sciences for poorly researched questions - should we close such questions?

2 Answers 2

  1. We should be encouraging new users to participate in the community, and many such people have questions that might seem very basic to users with more experience and expertise in the field.

This question seems to be suggesting that Stack Overflow should only be used as a last resort - when an answer cannot be found elsewhere on the internet.

Surely this is the opposite of the site's intended purpose. I thought it was supposed to become the first place people would come for answers. To quote the FAQ,

"No question is too trivial or too "newbie"."

  1. The suggestion that an answer can be found by using Google is actually all the more reason to answer basic questions here. We want people to see our site in the Google results, don't we? Imagine a person who has never heard of SE. This person googles "Psychoanalysis", and the third result is the question linked above. This person now knows about us, and it is at least possible that he or she will join the site. This is something to be desired, not discouraged.

Part of the thinking behind Stack Overflow was for those Google searches to link somewhere useful.
By answering questions properly, instead of saying 'just Google it', you hopefully set up a definitive answer that Google will find for evermore.

Seriously, read the article linked in the middle of that quote. One of the original principles on which the SE network was founded was "Make sure that Google searches produce useful results - namely, our results". I see no legitimate reason to change this fundamental principle now.

  1. The most basic questions are likely to be the questions that are most common. All the more reason to answer them here so people have access to the best information available.

  2. Meta Stack Exchange has made it abundantly clear that it is unacceptable to close questions simply because the information is already available elsewhere. The general guidelines are quite emphatic about this point: we should embrace the non-googlers, not shun them.

  3. This site is a community of like minded people who are interested in the subject at hand; we are experts, amateur enthusiasts, students, professionals, scholars, and lay people. We are not the "Did you do enough research" police. It isn't our job to punish strangers for not doing what we might do if we were in their position. We are here to provide answers to relevant questions. We are supposed to make information readily available to whomever needs it. We are not supposed to make sure everyone does their homework.

  4. We have to keep in mind that we are, in a sense, fighting a battle against ignorance and error. Google is a useful resource, but it also doesn't discriminate between good information and absolute rubbish information. In many cases, a person googles a subject because he or she needs to find the best available information about a subject. We have a choice to make. We can either:

    • Argue that some extremely relevant questions are too basic to bother with, and therefore, let this person take pot luck and run the risk of being grossly misinformed, possibly with serious consequences.

    • Acknowledge that basic information is the information most commonly sought after, and provide easy access to it, which will allow this person to be better informed about an important subject, potentially providing some incredibly valuable insight into significant problems.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I don't see any legitimate reason to deny people access to valuable information, especially not on the grounds that it is too rudimentary to be bothered with.

  • Again, I appreciate your vigor. However, I am very keen to hear other's opinions on this. There is a continuing discussion as well that we should be different from fora such as reddit that basically allow every question.
    – AliceD Mod
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 1:02
  • 1
    @AliceD - I understand how SE works, and I welcome other opinions (I'm a relative newb here, but I have almost 15k rep on SF&F). I have to point out, though, that you are painting a false dichotomy. There is an enormous amount of middle ground between "allow basic questions" and "allow every question".
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 1:11
  • Oh yes I agree, that's why I put the tags discussion and support in. I am also quite newbie here and I just happen to really like this site and wish to contribute positively.
    – AliceD Mod
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 1:21
  • Thanks for this answer. That's really helpful. I might be bringing this topic to Bio. I must say I am on the lenient side of things there, but should be more so here. That's good.
    – AliceD Mod
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 6:45
  • @AliceD I'm not sure that at 4,000+ rep you really qualify as a newbie. :v Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 7:07
  • @ChristianHummeluhr - thanks :) but rep and experience are not the same. Experience-wise I'm quite newbie, which this question reflects :) I'm just a humble Biologist intermingling in the complexities of CogSci.
    – AliceD Mod
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 12:10
  • "we are experts, amateur enthusiasts, students, professionals, scholars, and lay people. We are not the "Did you do enough research" police." There would be no problem if that is who we are, however, if we are 1% experts, and 99% lay people, that does pose a problem. See this post.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 19:12

As a behavioral site, I agree we are different from other science SE sites, but we are different in the sense that we have a greater, not lesser responsibility to answer ostensibly trivial and 'negative' questions. This is not a burden, but rather an interesting aspect of the site--one of the primary reasons I come here.

There are so many who are interested in behavior, but who simply lack the concepts and language to properly talk about it, and behavioral science as a framework is extremely inaccessible to the public. People may at best be familiar with a little Freud or tidbits of cognitive neuroscience that they consider to be more or less unassailable fact; contrast this with their understanding of physics, which they generally understand that they don't understand. There's a very steep learning curve between the stage of learning where we accept theories as 'true enough' and the stage where we can account for their surrounding uncertainties.

That's where we come in, and we are really the only actor here. Scientifically I am not interested what psychoanalysis is or whether Spiral Dynamics is a credible theory, but we need to answer trivial and negative questions because no one else will. "Psychoanalysis" has a specific technical/historical meaning that's easily grasped, true, but to many people, it can also mean anything up to and including "behavioral science." Answering it resolves maximum uncertainty for minimum work. That's SE in a nutshell, and I for one relish the opportunity.

  • Thanks Christian for answering. This sounds great. I'm just trying to get a hold on ontopicness. I'll remove that vote.
    – AliceD Mod
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 6:42

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