I cannot help but feel as if every new question here is voted to be 'closed' for one reason or another. Given that CogSci.SE is still in beta and really does benefit from the traction that answered questions bring, I am thinking that this can do more harm than good to the community. I feel as if close votes are discouraging to the new members who are unfamiliar with the 'rules' of this website. I myself have been here for a few months now, and I still find it difficult to ask an 'acceptable' question.

Here are the types of questions that are often closed prematurely, in my opinion:

  1. Self help questions. While it is clearly not in our best interest to provide medical or personal advice to other users on the forum, I do think that we are far too quick to close questions like this. For example, this user asked for the meaning of a memory test that they took, and thus the question was immediately rendered unanswerable. Though it was phrased as a self-help question from the get-go, I see questions like this that often begin from a personal experience and end on a very interesting question that could be answered in a very generalized way, thus benefitting future users, as well. Looking at the most popular tags on this website, we have 'cognitive psychology', 'social psychology', 'perception', 'emotion'...all very personal subjects. It makes sense to me that a large portion of psychology-related questions would come from a personal experience or a personally-relevant curiosity, and I fear that we are too quick to close questions like these. The idea is that we do not want to offer personalized advice, but in the instance of the question I mentioned earlier (and even in questions like this one), wouldn't it be just as easy to provide the answer instead of a 'self-help' answer? And furthermore, could we not simply edit the question to make it less personalized and more broad? As far as I know, this is the only SE forum that is so vehemently against personal posts. And yet, the subject matter we deal with is highly personal in nature, so I fear that this is the wrong approach.

  2. Questions that are too vague and/or broad. I think that we should exercise our abilities to compensate for the lack of experience of others regarding terminologies and overall field etiquette. I think that with a lot of questions in fields as broad as psychology and neuroscience, we have a lot of perceptions that we 'pick up on', yet don't know how to formulate in words that are rigorously scientific. Sometimes, we use metaphors to explain what we mean, which sometimes can seemingly slip back into self-help territory. It can be discouraging to receive a close vote despite an honest attempt to explain the question. Instead of voting to close these questions, why don't we ask for clarification beforehand, and then edit the questions ourselves? Or, better yet, we could ask the original poster to edit the question to be a bit more specific? I don't see this as a forum of academics asking other academics, per se; I moreso see it as a forum for the inexperienced to ask the marginally more experienced.

  3. Questions that are similar to other questions. This is a given, but at the same time, I think that the best approach would be to first consider what kind of answer you would have given to the current question. Unless you would respond short of copying and pasting an answer from another question, I think it would be better to answer every new question afresh. After all, we are still in beta and its not like we have a wealth of similar questions on the forum already. I also (more often than not) see some sort of follow-up response following a 'my question is different because XYZ...' format when a duplicate question is suggested. Another thing to consider is the fact that we have a new batch of members coming in and out all the time, and so the answers that one similar question from December '12 received might be different (and perhaps less insightful) than the answers that question might receive today. There is also newer and more relevant information that is constantly being released in the fields that pertain to cognitive sciences.

These are just a few examples I can think of on the top of my head. What do you all think?

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    Regarding 'vague' or 'too broad', "Instead of voting to close these questions, why don't we ask for clarification beforehand, and then edit the questions ourselves? " ... this is what happens (or should happen), while a question is on hold. It simply means it can not yet receive any answers.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Sep 7, 2015 at 13:04

2 Answers 2


I disagree with the sentiment here, and generally think that we've finally got appropriate quality control going on, and our questions per day have gone up accordingly. We don't want to retain just any user as a regular, we want to retain specific users: those who can ask good questions and/or those who can give good answers.

The 'good lay question' is a bit of a unicorn around here, in my view, and I'm not at all motivated to retain this nonexistent type of user. In my view, we've slowly driven away great regulars in a vain attempt to preserve this unicorn for years.

1) I actually thought your comment on the memory test question was very much ethically inappropriate. We are not a second opinion source, nor should we try to be. When you give a person in distress this sort of narrow information, you're ethically responsible for what happens with that information, which is why we do not answer these questions. That person now probably thinks their working memory is terrible, whatever that means to them (tip: it does not mean the same it would mean to someone who actually knows what WM is). This is a much more delicate question than you give it credit for, one they should have asked their therapist, who's actually in a position to answer it appropriately. You've inadvertently taken a risk and made their client-therapist relationship if not situation worse, while not really helping them at all.

2) This is just a subjective thing, but in my considerable experience with trying to get people to re-state their questions here, it just doesn't work. They often genuinely want to and just can not. A person can certainly be taught a method for generating scientific questions, but it is difficult to explain or articulate, and virtually impossible to "make" a question scientifically viable. Unless I can see the point of the question and edit it down to an appropriate form myself, which I sometimes do, then I vote to close, which I do more often.

3) This one I do somewhat agree with, but mostly because I think questions from 2012 could just as well have come from a different site altogether. A lot of them are cringe-inducing. However, questions which are essentially the same as another should still be closed; any new information can be added to the existing question so it's all in the same place.

  • I agree with the specific user point, though I do think that those users would be easier to reel in if this stack were held in higher regard. Perusing related stacks (Biology, etc.), there appears to be a greater answer-to-question ratio, with a higher percentage of 'good' questions being asked (relative to closed questions). I think that this is in part due to the general traction that the Biology stack gets, which may not have initially stemmed from an influx of 'specific' users. Sep 7, 2015 at 20:31
  • In the case of the WM question, I disagree that answering questions like those is unethical, because the WAIS test does measure WM in the way that the OP had described, and thus it would not be a second opinion answer (though I could have cited a source). Furthermore, we really can’t control whether or not someone believes that their WM is bad based on an answer, similar to how we cannot help someone from self-diagnosing after listing symptoms of mental disorder. Sep 7, 2015 at 20:33
  • I generally agree with your second point. In the case of your third point, I do think it worth mentioning that older questions typically have ‘accepted’ answers, as judged by the user themselves and not the scientific community at large. For that reason, people may be less willing to contribute further, better answers to the older question, and a better answer would never reach the top anyway (thus it would not be held in any higher sort of regard than the accepted question). Though I suppose that there is little that can be done about that. Sep 7, 2015 at 20:33
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    @SydneyMaples Technical and ethical correctness are not equivalent. I agree that many of the '12 high-vote/accepted answers are a bit silly. In these cases, I think I could easily be persuaded (on a case by case basis) in comments to retract a close vote for duplicate. Sep 8, 2015 at 11:52

I completely agree with the sentiment about self-help questions. I think the problem is that there is a focus on the phrasing and nature of the question rather than the answer.

If the questions requires an answer that is tailored to a specific person, then it's a bad question for the site. But if the question is something like 'I noticed that a friend of mine always thinks a coin is going to come up heads after it comes up tails a few times. Why is this?' then there is clearly a general answer that applies.

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