Our Questions stats are pretty bad, currently 2.3 questions per day.

How can we encourage more questions on the site? Has anything prevented you from asking questions? Do you think anything is intimidating other users from asking questions?

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    why is that bad? How does 2.3 questions per day compare to other sites with similar user-bases and days-in-beta? The 15/day is an arbitrary metric that is not strictly enforced by SE. For instance, cstheory.SE graduated at 7.4/day and has remained around 7-8/day since while being an extremely useful tool for the theoretical computer science community. Mar 13, 2012 at 17:38
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    I think the biggest problem is not a lack of questions, but a lack of quality questions-- which I attribute to the lack of 'experts' on this site (grad student or higher in a related field). Notice that Artem has asked many interesting, quality questions-- and roughly half of them don't have a single response. Beginner/novice questions are totally fine, but a barrage of beginner questions wouldn't solve what i see as the biggest problem with this site so far: a diverse user base in both expertise and specialization.
    – Jeff
    Mar 14, 2012 at 2:46
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    Looking at our Area51 sats, everything is pretty bad, I'm afraid :-( Not only are questions/day low, but answer ration is low (I'd really like to see this raised), percent answered is way low, user stats are low and vists per day is horrible. I think that last one is a big source of our problem. We need a lot more traffic and a lot more activity...
    – Josh
    Mar 14, 2012 at 21:31
  • @JoshGitlin I think you have it backwards; we need more users and more content before we're going to be getting more visits. Showing up in google is a big source of traffic for the successful sites, and at the moment we don't have much of a chance of doing that, so we need sharing to fix the visits issue, and good content to share.
    – Ben Brocka
    Mar 14, 2012 at 21:41
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    @BenBrocka I see it as a chicken-and-egg problem: We don't have good content because we're not getting visits from the users who can create good content... We don't disagree Ben :-) My only point was everything needs to improve. We need more questions and visits and users and answers...
    – Josh
    Mar 14, 2012 at 21:43
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    @Jeff thanks for the kind words. I totally agree that we need more regulars. I would argue that is our biggest concern: how do we attract professors from the cognitive sciences to this site? Mar 15, 2012 at 2:10
  • @JoshGitlin I don't this is a chicken-and-egg problem. BIG visits come not from a regular user-base but from drive-by googlers. To get drive-by googlers we need links and mention on the web, for that we need quality content. Quality content DOES NOT COME from drive-by googlers, it comes from the core userbase... from the regulars. To make someone a regular, we need to make it attractive for them to come to the site everyday and read the new questions. If new questions are poor (or common) then reading them gives nothing to the user. If the questions are quality then just reading them is fun. Mar 15, 2012 at 2:15

4 Answers 4


Hmm. I have earned 12,200+ rep points in four months on another SE forum (under a different handle), so I am an active participant on SE in general. I was thrilled when I saw cogsci.se available. As a psychology graduate with almost 20 years experience in the criminal justice field, I thought I would enjoy cogsci.se -- I've always been fascinated by topics in neurology, psychology, psychiatry, addictions, and forensic psychology.

Unfortunately, I don't enjoy it at all. :( I'd like to be part of your community, but . . . the questions that come up are so far removed from anything I know or care about that I just toggle over to the other SE site I frequent (and absolutely love)

Throughout the day my RSS feed hums with the same question coming through again and again as people tweak the title. And then, inevitably, it comes through one last time as "closed".

Frankly, there's little chance I would ask a question here (although I certainly have questions). Why would I? If I did it would likely be closed. I've been reading cogsci.se for a couple of months and, as a lurker, I don't see any room for my professional expertise here. The overall consensus seems to be that researchers and professors are the only types of professionals worth attracting to cogsci.se. I've already been to college -- I don't want to go back.

I encourage the community to allow growth, not discourage it by closing half the questions people post. It's okay to not be perfect.

Please accept my bluntness in the spirit it is intended, which is to be helpful to those trying to understand why more questions aren't being asked. Mine is but one opinion and probably not a popular one at that. Nevertheless, I'm going to stick my neck out there and share my experience with cogsci.se.

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    But why do you think your question would be closed? I'm not disagreeing with you, but trying to think how we can change this perception and become more welcoming while maintaining quality content.
    – Ben Brocka
    Mar 31, 2012 at 21:48
  • @Ben Brocka - Why? Because tons of questions are closed here. The percentage of closed questions at cogsci.se, compared to the other SE site I use, is astounding. What constitutes quality is completely subjective and what applies to one professional does not apply to another, and vice versa, but who's to say which question is "bad" or "good"? I'm talking about subject matter, not grammar, etc. It seems there are 3-4 people here controlling all content. That does not nourish a community. It propagates an oligarchy, which fosters resentment, reluctance, and indifference. (CONTINUED)
    – Catharsis
    Mar 31, 2012 at 23:50
  • @BenBrocka - I truly want to be helpful and suggest the perfect way to become more welcoming; however, I can't think of tangible steps to take because, for me, it's more of an overall feeling. Personally? I'd love it if the site were less pretentious. It doesn't feel welcoming to read that the only valued new members of this site would be professors or researchers. Credentials do not guarantee quality per se. How about attracting a variety of knowledgeable, enthusiastic, intelligent, and active users with different experiences? We're here because we care. We'd like to participate too.
    – Catharsis
    Apr 1, 2012 at 0:02
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    @Catharsis Please consider participating in these discussions, .... I feel the general consensus is to be more welcoming. The impression people get might be different from our intent, but I don't recall any question where we didn't close a question without detailed guidance. Regarding over-moderation, consider reading my answer here.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Apr 2, 2012 at 9:21
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    "I encourage the community to allow growth, not discourage it by closing half the questions people post. It's okay to not be perfect." You are the community. It's not only by posts as this on Meta, but also by guiding users yourself on the main site that you can help make this community 'more friendly'. However, we do have to keep in mind bad questions do get asked, and SE is not fine with keeping those open. If you know of any closed questions which shouldn't be closed, you can flag them or vote to reopen.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Apr 2, 2012 at 9:23
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    I'd like to address some of your concerns, Catharsis. As a moderator I work for you. If you feel that we're not doing a good job, please tell us! If you're not happy with the direction the community is going, please discuss it on meta! The guidelines we're given by the Stack Exchange team is to aggressively close questions that the community feels are off topic, but I feel the community is not giving us enough guidance. Please do ask your questions. If they are closed and you don't feel this is right, ask on Meta to have them reopened!
    – Josh
    Apr 3, 2012 at 15:55
  • I'm also available in chat a lot of the time. Please do stop by, I'd like to see what you feel we could be doing better!
    – Josh
    Apr 3, 2012 at 22:53

The reason so few questions are asked is because this site has a high initial research requirement. This means that people do the research, find the answer and so don't ask the question. Or, alternatively, never get round to the research, so never ask the question.

I actually think the decision to make this a research based site (like MathOverflow), as opposed to a more popularist one like StackOverflow may have been a mistake. For a research based site to succeed, it is important to start with a core group of researchers, which recent meta posts seem to indicate that we don't have. With a more popularist site, you still need experts, but they can be workers in related fields who studied psychology in college, rather than researchers. Nonetheless, this is a research based site, so it is vital to get a critical mass of researcher as quickly as possible.

  • Excellent point Casebash. Note that we're still deciding many aspects of how this community functions, so questions like What level of research is required for questions are still open for discussion!
    – Josh
    Mar 21, 2012 at 13:39
  • Having requirements for basic initial research and having a research-based site are very different. I don't see how cogsci.SE is a research-based site (as much as I might wish it to be). Mar 21, 2012 at 14:31
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    @ArtemKaznatcheev: I guess you are right - this is neither a research nor a populist site - it is a site that doesn't quite know what it wants to be
    – Casebash
    Mar 21, 2012 at 22:22
  • you seem one of the few who understands why area51 is actually so crucial. I elaborated quite a bit :) on your points in my answer Mar 22, 2012 at 3:11

For me there are three issues:

  1. asking/answering questions is an autocatalytic cycle (at least for me). When I see well-research, and thought-provoking questions, or when I read their great answers I get new ideas for questions, try to research them and ask them. Seeing well researched questions also makes me want to dedicate the time to ask new questions, or to answer the question.

  2. With questions related to my research, I have a backlog of questions that I want to ask, but no time to carefully formulate them. Since it doesn't seem to me like the site has developed a sufficient user base of experts, I do not expect to get answers to technical questions quickly, and so usually chose to invest my time otherwise.

  3. Seeing posts where it seems like the user spent only 10 minutes thinking about the question discouraged me from investing time in formulating my own questions. However, I am (usually) not willing to post 10 minute questions associated with my name, so this does not lead to me asking lots of quick easy questions, but instead leads to me not asking any questions.

An issue some people I talk to in my lab raise (and I am sure will come up in other answers) is that people are afraid to ask a stupid question. The knee-jerk reaction to this (and one we have embraced) is to say "no question is stupid; ask questions at any level". Unfortunately, this does not help people that will ask good questions. People are their own worst critics, and the reason people that will potentially ask good questions are afraid of asking a dumb question is because they have internal high standards for questions, not because they are afraid of what moderators or users on a random site will think of them. Thus, lowering the threshold for participation, will not help us grab these people.

However, ensuring a high standard of questions and answers will let the people that are willing to invest time (and it does take time!) into asking questions see that their investment will not be in vain.

Thus my (slightly-paradoxical) suggestions for encouraging questions on this site:

1. Take the time to ask, answer, and upvote good questions, and

2. Discourage, close, and down-vote the easy-to-ask, unresearched, and low-quality questions

I will try to contribute to this, by investing more time and energy into asking questions, but I do not support the idea of seeding with questions that we already know the answers to, or don't care about.

  • Why would seeing low quality posts make you not want to bother to post your own questions regardless of time invested?
    – Ben Brocka
    Mar 13, 2012 at 18:28
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    @BenBrocka seeing low quality posts makes me not want to invest time into making my own posts. Just like if nobody is working, I feel less inclined to work. If I don't invest time into making my own posts then they don't clear my internal (and very arbitrary) threshold for quality and I never ask them. Mar 13, 2012 at 18:33
  • Took a peek at other Beta sites around our level of progress. We're fairly average in number of questions, but traffic still feels light, and limited content also limits our appeal to users and generally affects factors which will likely delay our site's graduation.
    – Ben Brocka
    Mar 13, 2012 at 19:18
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    @BenBrocka I totally agree, except for me the key issue really seems to be a lack of 'regulars', but maybe I am just not being attentive enough. Mar 13, 2012 at 19:20
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    Standards are not purely internal, they are derived from external sources as well. People want to avoid embarrassment, and to get a post closed can be fairly embarrassing. I think your method is more than slightly paradoxical, it's actually discouraging questions. This is related to another post I made on here, but instead of discouraging "low-quality" posts, why not gently teach those people how to ask a better question? I totally agree with point #1, paying attention to good questions is a great idea. #2 however, I completely disagree with.
    – Preece
    Mar 13, 2012 at 21:29
  • @ArtemKaznatcheev I agree with you: it feels like there's only a small group of us who visit the site regularly enough. We need a much larger active userbase, in my opinion...
    – Josh
    Mar 14, 2012 at 21:27
  • I agree with everything you say, good methods, but this only works when you have gathered enough academics during area51. This site has a serious chicken and egg problem. Im not putting 15-30 min in a question, when there are no experts to answer them, then I will google myself Mar 22, 2012 at 3:09
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    @WernerSchmitt I think a lot of people that are willing to invest time in asking good questions are willing to invest that time because just asking a question in public forces you to learn and understand your problem much better. Mar 22, 2012 at 5:41

Casebash made some very important points on the present & future situation. NOBODY is really responsible for this. Creating a high quality site is very tricky. The problems of this beta site lie all in the failed area51 process. There are many proofs:

  • extremly few prof. & academic commiters and current users
  • no clear and very broad scope (good questions implying good answers implying new good questions doesn't work, no community dynamics) here you read questions on highly tricky theory of mind concepts next to facebook activity and job performance...many questions are not interesting or understandable for single users...
  • many unanswered but high voted questions (look at the currently started computerscience.SE to see a counter example)

Now you will say, how does this information help us? That's not my point. But the question is "Why arent we asking more questions". Because most of professional commiters left the proposal, after it was merged with psychology/psychiatry (much bigger branches than cognitive science) and renamed to cognitive science. Dont put this into question. They told it explicitly. Read the answers and comments. I dont see any of the user in the linked thread on this site, and a lot commiters who didnt uncommit or follow area51 proposals discussions (most) think probably the same way. So, due to the merging, this site went into private beta with probably more than 80% complete laymen if you look up "commiter roles" stats. Nonetheless the mods here still try to establish here very high or research level questions (which is admirable but tilting at windmills).

Even the SE creators noticed that more and more proposals fail to generate enough traffic and community regulars that keep a site alive. (SE grows expontentially, so does the amount of laymen and therefore these laymen ("hey brain research is cool and I can commit to 3 proposals!") commiters "dilute" the expert rate for a proposal, so wisely they set the number of questions up to guarentee this clear common scope and enough good questions in private beta).

This site started at the same time as biology.SE, but that proposal had nearly 50% academic and professional commiters. Chemistry.SE is starting soon, also 50%. Biology has very much high rep users with academic background near or in biology. It has good quality and future. Chemistry too. The big problem for humanities is, there are currently nearly zero experts on the programming network SE, but many natural and computational scientists. That's why these sites are successful, not because they attracted experts by clever twitter/facebook advertising, they had experts already in private beta! This is necessary.

This site reminds me on philosophy.SE. A sexy topic many SE programmers wanted to have like "brain research" (which seems to be the main topic here). BUT, really only less than 5 user seem to have expertise and good questions here. No philosophy student has ever joined philosophy.se. The level is much too low, and they would only join if other students would have participated already in the private beta and created good content. If you don't have this high quality content and user when going to public beta, these sites are doomed to popular science level or even worse.

That is the whole point of the area51 process, to bypass the chicken and egg problem by creating that very important attracting high quality content and user base.

This huge problem is even more strengthened by the experimental character of of many research fields in cognitive sciences. It's seems a lot of current high voted but unanswered questions, sound interesting, are asking for correlation of X & Y, are probably matter of current research, but it isn't clear if there is really data or experiments carried out to answer this stuff. You have to ask mainly questions, which can be answered by explanations based on background and experience user here have. A "search a appropriate paper" site does not work. Those questions are too localized and special for such a small and broad user base, again its the point of area51 to bypass this problem. As Casebash said, it will be faster for a researcher to search literature to answer his question than formulating a question here and waiting for an answer. Research questions communities work for math, informatics and physics, because there is a underlying common methodology and theory in solving such questions and such questions are answerable by reasoning and experience. Psychology and especially neuroscience is currently not more than experimental trial & error. Even theophys.se has problems to generate enough questions vs. healthy research sites like mathoverlfow. Because most questions in theo. physics better fit a discussion than a question & answer format. This is due to the nature of these disciplines.

I really would like to see a high quality humanity proposal on SE, believe me, I'm really interested when and how a high quality scientifc discussion forum can work, thats why I observe from time to time the science.SE metas and stats. But with current mods and scope (trying to establish research level but not having really serious background like most here) this site cannot reach this level. You should really think about stopping "overmoderating", charging initial resesearch effort and make this a popular science level site or stop wasting your time and trying to reach the utopic level above.

My biggest problem is that new and more narrow specialized proposals on area51 like social psychology, sociology, will be closed as duplicate of this site, which IMHO cannot reach high level or attract any experts cause of reasons explained above. Even with high quality, no social psychologist joins a brain research site. There is marginal overlap in research questions and expertise. If you want that high quality, the best you can do is probably abandon this project and restart a clearly scoped new proposal (neuroscience or psychology/psychatry) with more participating and professional experts in private beta. But as said, its hard to get academics in humanities to SE. But having student-level sites like physics.SE or SO is highly productive to be able at all to start research-level sites like theophys.se or tcs.se. Cognitive sciences missed that step and is thematically much broader than these sites. This cannot work. It has never worked on SE. A healthy area51 process is crucial.

I dont have really much time to discuss my thoughts if anyone strongly disagrees, thats why I listed some facts and threads above, its a fact driven meta analysis. But the community mechanisms and prerequisites I explained above seems something which is not really known or considered by the discussing user or many SE regulars at all on other SE betas, even the SE owner (they wisely raised the area51 requirements and quoted a new area51 2.0 process, something I called for months ago, as cognitivesciences.se is not the only site with this problem, poker.se etc.) My analysis will not show you a way to "solve" your problems, but there seems to be more meta then main site discussion/traffic, confusion what is the way to go, if to go. But maybe the community will stop this endless meta discussion how to pull itself by its own bootstraps (failed area51 process) and focus on a lower popular science level or the tricky (imo impossible) way towards academic level.

Good luck

@Artem I knew this answer would only get downvotes, nonetheless I wrote it, take this in consideration plz :) I made some Q&A on area51 and other SE sites about quality problems and improvements. They are often very polarizing, highly up or downvoted, because I never draw optimistic pictures (which IS more constructive for meta discussion and favorised by mods (for good reasons)) and say, quite lenghty, what I see and think. But the voting on my answers and over 15 years of discussion from usenet, bulletin to q&a show me that I have some understanding of the underlying social patterns of online communities. And this site doesnt seem to be in a situation for optimistic improvements anymore, as the voting on Casebashs answer shows. There is no common denominator in the community

You deserve a respond for investing time into your comments, although I know we will not find compromise. I didnt ask you to abandon cognitivescience.se. But to rethink the scope and quality that you want to reach instead of additional redundant meta discussion why this site has a serious experts traffic problem. Your counter-arguments dont really falsify the stats/links I quoted above. Some ad hominem attacks and minor corrections on categorization what humanities or semi-sciences like psychology mean in Germany/US. The area51 process obviously failed here, many left, some stayed and recognized in private beta that this site will not be about the type of psychological questions they thought. It was the (wrong, instead they set up now the requirements) decision of the SE creators to merge these sites, as they recognized that sites needing 2-3 years to finish commitment phase will have lost most of its initial commiters, when going finally to private beta. Its tricky to create high quality communities, even they have to learn this :) The questions you seem interested in (theo. neuroscience) fit this proposal title, but not at all the level and scope of questions most commiters where interested in or have any basic understanding. IMHO a explicit neuroscience proposal where computational scientists, physicsists, biochemists doing research in this highly tricky and interdisciplinary branch commit to, can reach that quality with the new area51 requirements, but this site doesnt.

You made a comment above, why no phd/profs are joining this site. Why they should? No philosophy graduate joins phil.se. They are ONLY attracted by good content and colleagues. This is a chicken and egg problem

cstheory.se, physics.se was possible only because of stackoverflow, thats why computersience.se now is successful, dont mix cause and effect. You dont create a working site like theophys.se from the nowhere. Many physicists do professional programming, this is the simple reason. Mathoverlfow started like a private beta with many experts.

I'm sorry, I really would like to see this work, I'm really interested in neuroscience, but this is a tricky topic, which does per se not create so much good AND ANSWERABLE questions like math.se or physics.se (even math much more than physics)., so you need even more very good private beta stats than those sites to get the community going.

  • I didn't realise the situation was so bad with regard to professionals leaving. I do agree though that it is easier to found a general level site, than to form one with researchers. One point though: MathOverflow formed before Math SE.
    – Casebash
    Mar 22, 2012 at 5:48
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    this 'answer' is completely non-constructive, littered with misconceptions, a lack of a basic understanding, and an abscence of even trying to look at how our community is functioning. If you have a problem with how area51 works, raise that discussion there, not on the meta of a functioning site. Telling us to abandon our site, is completely pointless and useless comment. Mar 22, 2012 at 6:04
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    Now, since I am bored, I will go through a subset of your misconception and false beliefs. First, cognitive science is not a 'humanity', neither is psychiatry, not psychology. Psychology is sometimes considered a social science, psychiatry is a part of medical sciences, and cognitive science belongs to both natural and social science, depending on the choice of methodology. Mar 22, 2012 at 6:06
  • Second, of the top 10 unanswered questions, not a single one is about correlation studies. Further, only 4 (maybe 5, depending on how you read one of the questions) even ASKS for experimental evidence. The rest of the questions are inherently theoretical in nature. Mar 22, 2012 at 6:09
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    There is no counterexample in CS.SE. How do I know? Because I have the highest voted unanswered questions there AND here, and because unlike you, I actively participate in both sites. The reason CS.SE has such a good answer rate, is because it was heavily seeded with questions everyone knows answers to during private beta. If you actively participated in the community, you would notice that. Further, CS.SE is able to generate quality answers, because it has support from the academic community at TCS.SE. Which has actually been a bit of a problem, because the site has become too theory heavy. Mar 22, 2012 at 6:13
  • If you believe that there is only experimental work in cognitive science and neuroscience, then I highly recommend searching for terms like 'mathematical psychology', 'computational psychology', 'theoretical neuroscience', and 'computational neurosciece'. Or taking the time to educate yourself by looking through the papers at (for example) CogSci2011 and counting how many papers are experimental and how many are computational or theoretical. Mar 22, 2012 at 6:17
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    And on a personal note, a piece of unsolicited advice for you. If you want to have influence over how communities are formed, try contributing to the communities first, maybe then people will listen to you on area51. I cannot speak for the rest of the visitors of meta, but your negative, nonconstructive comments are completely unwelcome by me. If you want to participate in our community, I am happy to answer your questions and read your answers, but if you want to complain about area51, please take it elsewhere. Mar 22, 2012 at 6:21
  • @ArtemKaznatcheev thx for your effort/time, I added above a response to your comments. The OP didnt ask for constructive comments, but why this site has so few questions and experts Mar 22, 2012 at 14:27

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