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This is part of the second step into an attempted reboot of this community: Rebooting Cognitive Sciences: a Suggested Approach


Since the very beginning of this site, there have been differing opinions on how inclusive we should be towards non-professionals. This discussion is summarized in the recent community review:

The next step now is to collect concrete proposals for a potential different (or same) target audience, addressing how to tackle the issues mentioned above. Besides an argumentation clarifying a new vision for Cognitive Sciences, a proposal would do well by including the following:

  1. An updated welcome message, focusing on expertise: "Cognitive Sciences is a question and answer site for researchers, academics, students, and enthusiasts needing expert answers to advanced questions in the "cognitive sciences": I.e., TO BE DISCUSSED IN SCOPE. It's built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about cognitive sciences."
  2. An updated don't ask about, currently: "(1) Anything not directly related to cognitive sciences; (2) "Self Help" questions which are personal in nature; (3) Questions that are primarily opinion-based; (4) Questions seeking medical or professional advice; (5) Questions with too many possible answers or that would require an extremely long answer"
  3. A suggested close reason to handle questions no longer in scope due to the refined target audience. For inspiration, look at efforts towards this goal so far. Keep in mind that this close reason should be disambiguated from the other close reasons currently in place.

Please discuss this process as comments to this post (e.g., to mention other things which need to be mentioned in the proposals), and post proposals as answers.

  • I think it may be a good addition to also mention possible downsides of the suggestion. – Robin Kramer Jul 27 '16 at 12:41
  • "Don't ask about" is not the topic here. The issue here is quality. Content is covered by scope. Maybe change point 2 to: "An updated how to ask, currently: "Is your question about cognitive sciences? We prefer questions that can be answered, not just discussed. Provide details. Share your research. If your question is about this website, ask it on meta instead." " – Robin Kramer Jul 27 '16 at 14:02
  • @RobinKramer Don't think we can modify that one. – Steven Jeuris Jul 27 '16 at 14:39
  • Not an immediate solution, but it's worth noting that both math and computer science have distinct SE sites for experts vs mere mortals (who are still willing to do some work to ask and answer interestingly). – Mars Aug 6 '16 at 4:35
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I believe that the target audience should stay the same, but more emphasis on the academic part. That is, we definitely want/need researchers, academics and students. Enthusiasts are very much welcome as well, as long as they are capable to ask questions that have a sufficient level of quality. To formalize it a bit:

  • High quality entails both initial research and scientific relevance.

  • Sufficient quality entails relevance and deliberation about possible answers.

The proposal

  1. The welcome message is perfect as is.

  2. The close vote reason I would like to propose is derived from this topic (and is edited based on suggestions from Seanny123):

Insufficient context: This questions provides insufficient Cognitive Science specific context to be satisfyingly answered. Please modify your question according to this FAQ. Currently, the question shows no initial research and/or relevance to CogSci.SE.

  1. The content for the FAQ should elaborate on the following

Tips for improving the question, such as:

  • What level of answer do you expect?
  • Why would someone want to answer your question?

The FAQ should also emphasise that the more context you provided, the better we'll be able to answer your question.

Upside

This close vote is clear and gives sufficient feedback to the OP to improve. Moreover, the close vote is flexible: it leaves room for a minor "slip-up", where relevance is only accompanied by deliberation/popular science references; These questions may still be interesting and answerable. Another benefit of the flexibility is that we can close questions of which the quality is questionable.

Downside

  • I've used a variation of this motivation a couple of times when asking the OP to improve his/her question, but it was not well received. They replied with rather grumpy comments that did not entirely fit the kindness rule of SE.

  • There is no fundamental change except for extra emphasis and a new close-vote reason. Will that be enough?

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    This assumes that our current target audience is academics and students. Is it? Is that our actual audience? (Spoiler on my guess: if so, we're doing badly at targeting them, and not by numbers, no.) – Krysta Aug 4 '16 at 12:12
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    @Krysta indeed. We constantly ask well researched and referenced answers and questions and we will only (or mostly) find that in the academics. The laymen should be welcome, but not the sole focus, because otherwise we are no different from Quora or Reddit – Robin Kramer Aug 4 '16 at 20:03
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    I've been thinking about this close vote reason for a month and have made this MindMap summarising my thoughts. Basically, I love the idea of the proposal, but I'm unsure if it's nice enough. I'm also iffy on the title "Below quality standards". But these are all nitpicks that I will diligently try to resolve. – Seanny123 Aug 5 '16 at 21:01
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    @Seanny123 We can not modify how to ask. We can however set up an authorative meta post (partially what answers to this question are after) outlining what is expected. – Steven Jeuris Aug 6 '16 at 12:09
  • In the MindMap, I've come up with some alternative phrasings. Should I put this into the comments or make another answer? – Seanny123 Aug 6 '16 at 14:14
  • Another answer may not be very handy, because if fundamentally different ideas are posed it becomes rather unclear whether people like the idea or like the phrasing of the idea. Perhaps we can make a new question that is linked to this proposal where we discuss alternatives. – Robin Kramer Aug 6 '16 at 14:30
  • But a comment may also be fine I guess :) – Robin Kramer Aug 6 '16 at 14:54
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    I've continued the discussion of this specific answer in another post meta.cogsci.stackexchange.com/q/2134/4397 – Seanny123 Aug 7 '16 at 16:28
  • Robin, would you like me to propose an edit based off of our discussion in the other meta post? – Seanny123 Aug 9 '16 at 12:51
  • @Seanny123, I was just about to propose that. Perhaps we can copy my phrasing to the other post so that it is clear to others why we have that second topic. – Robin Kramer Aug 9 '16 at 13:17
  • I thought I did? If I missed something, feel free to edit. – Seanny123 Aug 9 '16 at 13:18
  • Oh, yes sorry. Apparently I missed the whole bunch – Robin Kramer Aug 9 '16 at 13:19
  • Hi Seanny, I edited to post according to your suggestion. – Robin Kramer Aug 13 '16 at 15:51
  • Just wanted to link the following answer, which also discusses motivation of questions: cogsci.meta.stackexchange.com/a/255/11318 – Robin Kramer Jun 20 '17 at 11:27
  • To remark, the term "cognitive science context" must be made more concrete – Robin Kramer Jul 18 '17 at 16:46
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I generally do not disagree with Robin's proposal and do not feel we should tailor the site entirely to experts (but we should tighten expected question quality), however, I feel it is lacking in specifics. I hope a more elaborate description as provided here can form a suitable basis for a new FAQ post on how to ask questions on this site.


The welcome message is extremely important. This is the first message shown on the 'tour', and in the best case scenario as far as most new users will read. I therefore believe it should not only convey the scope (allowed topics), but also a clear indication of how questions should be formulated. More important than emphasizing who is welcome here (in fact, the current list indicates everyone is) is emphasizing what type of questions are welcome here (expected expertise). In other words, the welcome message should give a good first impression of which questions are bound to get closed when asked.

Cognitive Sciences is a question and answer site for anyone interested in the "cognitive sciences": I.e., [to be discussed in scope]. As long as your question is framed within one of these scientific disciplines, your question is welcome here. It's built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about cognitive sciences.

Notice the irrelevant list of who is welcome here is replaced with a stronger emphasis on which questions are welcome here. Our primary concern should be to have valid, answerable questions, something we can all agree on regardless of expertise. Obviously, this begs the question what it means for a question to be 'framed' correctly. This is where an updated "Don't ask about..." list can provide more details.

  • Pseudoscience or fiction
  • Questions which do not clarify or reference underlying assumptions within the context of the cognitive sciences
  • "Self Help" questions which are personal in nature, seeking medical or professional advice
  • Questions that are primarily opinion-based
  • Questions with too many possible answers or that would require an extremely long answer

This is different from the original in the following ways:

  • It is already stated in 'ask' you should ask about cognitive sciences. I therefore replaced "Anything not directly related to cognitive sciences" with "Pseudoscience" making it much more concrete.
  • Aggregated 'self help' and 'seeking medical advice'.
  • Addition of requiring referencing of 'underlying assumptions'.

Again, this begs the question to which degree 'underlying assumptions' need to be 'clarified or referenced'. This is where the addition of a new close reason and associated Meta page would come in: Not framed within the cognitive sciences.

This question is not framed within the cognitive sciences. It is based on assumptions which are not made explicit, are not well-motivated (e.g., referenced), or are not held to be true within the cognitive sciences.

As I argued in an older post:

We should make it very clear that although non-expert questions are welcome, we shouldn't allow questions which aren't founded in any way. Even non-expert questions shouldn't be hypothetical. Stating you heard something once, but don't recall when or where doesn't constitute a good question. Non-expert and expert questions alike should show proof there is reason to ask the question.

The difference lies in what proof. If a non-expert can link to dozens of articles/forum-posts/TED talks and the like, there is reason to believe his question is founded. There is nothing wrong with being skeptical and asking for more scientific resources. They usually don't expect a very broad answer, just a push in the right direction so they can attempt to look into it themselves. This will guide them into self-learning and being able to ask a more professional question on the topic the next time around.

Adjust your answer to the level of initial research

This leads me to a tip for those answering questions with non-professional initial research. Don't answer them as if it is a professional question. Just point them in the right direction. My guess is it constitutes a good answer just as much as a more extensive answer would. Save your time for the more detailed questions.

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Exact copy of here

I understand Jeromy's concerns:

[...] the purpose of this site is not to help the person asking the question (helping the OP is a merely a nice side-effect). [...] the purpose of the site is to generate re-usable content that will help hundreds and thousands of people searching for answers on the internet.

In that sense, questions which show lack of initial research can still be useful since they would still generate re-usable content.

However, I do feel the "there's no such thing as a stupid question" argument can be taken too far.

What really grinds my gears, are unmotivated questions, generally a side effect of not having done any initial research. Do such questions really contribute to "help hundreds and thousands of people searching for answers on the internet"? Do we want questions formulated from individual perspectives (think the old "too localized" close reason), based on their own individual unsubstantiated hypotheses?

At a minimum, I believe the user's motivation for asking the question should be clear:

  • Why are you asking this question?
  • Who else has been asking this question?
  • What would answer the question?

This does not imply elaborate research, rather requires a minimal level of logical reasoning and relating one's own opinion to that of others.

This could be phrased in an off-topic close reason as follows:

This question provides insufficient motivation. It provides no information on why the author is asking the question, nor why others would be interested in it.

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    I am not able to vote, so by comment I would like to vote for this close reason – Robin Kramer Jul 18 '17 at 16:44
  • Mmm, I guess I should vote for my own post. :) – Steven Jeuris Jul 19 '17 at 9:09

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