From what I can observe, unlike the economics SE, cross-validated SE, Theoretical Computer Science SE a lot more questions on this site aren't research-level. Given the functionalities of this site I feel that this is a missed opportunity and this leads me to the following questions:

  1. Might we know what fraction of the active users are researchers? (It might be possible to give a reasonable fermi estimate here.)
  2. Have there been previous coordinated efforts to increase the involvement of the research community?
  3. How many Psychology and Neuroscience undergraduate programs advertise the existence of this stackexchange as a potentially useful resource?

Unlike the economics stackexchange which has more than one new question per hour ~ 24 questions per day, this site appears to have ~4 questions per day. This is even after lumping Psychology, Neuroscience and Cognitive Science together.

A number of neuroscientists and cognitive scientists that I've reached out to have informed me that they are happy to answer research-level questions on this site. But, less than half the questions asked here are masters-level.

Thoughts and comments are welcome. I'm sure that other members of this site have given this issue careful consideration.

Note: I must clarify that I'm not trying to say that the moderators have done a bad job. Clearly, a lot of work has been done to maintain the standards here.

  • I think that research level scientists would have minimal interest or motivation to engage with this SE specifically. I think other SE groups have done a far better job in explaining and "onboarding" new users to the intricates of StackExhange style of Q&A and also make explicit what is acceptable and what is not in the group. This group really struggles with leadership and higher level engagement in terms of the direction of the group. I think this group needs to target lower level scientist who are keen to develop a community and also educate the public about their field of expertise.
    – Poidah
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 13:26
  • This community review should be made a FAQ for example. Yes the community is messy but previous discussions need to be declared rather than suppressed like it is now and for newcomers to keep falling into the same traps as previously discussed and made fun off by the community - psychology.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2097/…
    – Poidah
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 13:30

5 Answers 5


Solely addressing question 2:

This 'meta-Meta' review post should give you a reasonable overview of what has been discussed in the past.

This review was part of a larger process to try to breathe new life into this site. You could try following a similar process, but reach out to more experts through your personal connections.


I'll talk a bit about why I think this is so difficult, though I don't mean to say that this is a reason to not attempt to make the site more professional, just why I think it hasn't become that way, because I think it's important to think about these things if you want to make something change.

Neuroscience/psychology is very big...this site is very small

I don't have much experience on all the other sites you mention, but here we are very small. I do have a little experience at Cross-Validated and my experience is that nearly all the questions there still come from students, with the majority of those coming from lower-level students. Occasionally some research-level questions come up, but that community is just so much larger than this one and still most of the questions are very basic.

I respect a lot of the other contributors here, but frankly, I'm not qualified to answer questions in their neck of the woods and they aren't qualified to answer questions in mine, at least not better than I can answer them myself.

Answers at the forefront of neuroscience rarely fit the SE mold

Even if experts exist here on a certain topic, the correct way to summarize the state of research in a field is by writing a review article. I'm hesitant to ask advanced questions, especially in unsettled fields, because I know the level of effort an answer takes is not appropriate for this site.

I often find the more advanced questions people ask here fit into this category. They are looking for the "real answer" or the "definitive state of the art ideas on ______" - these questions tend to go unanswered not because people here don't know how to answer them, but because they aren't going to spend hours explaining why there is not agreement and the range of existing evidence. I find they are often asked by people outside of neuroscience, approaching from a machine learning/computer science/mathematics background, looking for an easy answer by which they can avoid learning biology from the ground up.

I have tons of questions about research in my field. The way I get answers from other people on these questions is through things like a journal club, where a bunch of people get together and dive into a paper or group of papers. Unless we decide we hate a paper and therefore the summary ends up being "this paper sucks," there is no way to distill that hour-or-two discussion into a SE answer. SE is not designed for the type of back-and-forth discussion that I find actually leads to better understanding in those contexts.

Experts are good at finding their own answers

By the time someone is able to ask research-level questions, they have a lot more experience in finding research-level answers. If someone here has a research-level question, they are definitely more motivated to find an answer on their own than anyone else here would be, more familiar with the precise type of answer they need, and also likely to be interested in any auxiliary information they come to along the way.

That doesn't stop many of the experts here from asking good questions, but those good questions tend to be asked outside their specific field of expertise.

As an exception, I love the example that AliceD linked in his answer: good question, good answer...and the answerer inadvertently used as support a reference (patent) on which the question-asker was an author.

  • 1
    This is a very thoughtful answer. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    – user3503
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 18:16

I'd like to reiterate @AliceD's gratitude for your interest and involvement in this community.

  1. It's easier to tell with long-time active users who have discussed their professional life at some point. This is a tiny community of people however, and even counting students, only a few are cognitive science researchers - I would estimate less than 10%. For the larger community of active users, we can't know unless they tell us (and even then, let's keep in mind the level of anonymity involved online).

  2. I guess just to summarize some of the information from the posts that @StevenJeuris linked to: Some consideration was given to splitting the site into a lay-person oriented stack and a professional-oriented counterpart, as some other SE communities have done. However, as you've noted, this community is already very small, so splitting it further did not seem appropriate. Lay people do occasionally ask interesting questions, and some non-professionals on this site have provided good answers, so it was thought that perhaps they can coexist.

  3. I'm not sure how we could know this, but in any case, as with the previous question, marketing efforts over the past few years have been minimal as far as I know.

My 2 cents: Marketing efforts really should be the biggest focus (of virtually any growing venture!). Growing the community should take precedence over system tweaks - those will be easier to do with greater participation.

A recurring theme in past discussions regarding attracting professionals to the site has been the separation of lay people from professionals, and your question about research-level vs masters-level touches on the same topic. My recommendation for any type of separation that might be proposed is to take advantage of question tags: We can create new ones as needed to accommodate researcher interests, and by subscribing to only those tags that they are interested in, researchers can get a feed of only relevant questions.


I am glad that you care about this site and try to make things better. Thanks!! Also your answers are much appreciated and seem well researched. Kudos. Referring other folks to our site is a very good thing and I think I should do that more often as well.

However, in general I have some critical comments that perhaps would have suited better as a comment, but I find are worth of an answer, as you seem to engage in this and other posts a lot in:

  • Referring to people by their full names and linking their web sites. Be aware that not everyone may appreciate this.
  • Praising some researchers into the heavens about how good they are. Remember that that's an opinion and that you admire them.
  • Saying that most questions are poor and not at master's level, but they don't have to be. What is a good question and what is not has been topic of a lot of discussion here at meta and we have been very active at closing poor posts. I think they have to be reasonably researched, not self-help, not too broad, and framed within the site's scope. If they meet those criteria, then many a Q fits imo, even if they are at high school level. Of course PhD level Qs are nice, but they are scarce and you are certainly right at that point. Further, I myself often refrain from sharing PhD level Qs as they are simply too focused and they will remain unanswered anyway, although I sometimes do over at Bio simply because the community is so much larger - but even there I mostly need to bounty them royally before getting an answer that may come even close.
  • Lastly, comparing this site with other quite unrelated ones. Every site is different and I think this site has been profiling itself more and more like a scientific site, akin to Biology, Physics, and Chemistry. You don't have a lot of rep on this, and other sites yourself. For instance, your Qs over at Bio are overall of good quality, but I found for instance a question from you there, and it appears under-researched and it's certainly not at master's level. Does that make it a bad question? Why did you ask if you are so keen on top-notch questions?

It's all just food for thought, though. No offense, and above all thanks for your efforts here and I hope we can improve the site further!

  • Regarding your last point, I don't think users should be chasing after high reputations. There are very good researchers on this site who might not answer more than 10 questions a year. I believe that the contributions should not only be counted, they should be weighed.
    – user3503
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 9:59
  • 2
    @AidanRocke - I was in the middle of an undergrad math program that's entirely my point. Therefore the Q may be assessed less stringently.
    – AliceD Mod
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 10:00
  • 1
    That biology question you point out to was asked five years ago. I was in the middle of an undergrad math program. :) Otherwise, I think it's fair to say that these researchers I name are generally people whom I respect and have communicated with in the past. I'm mainly trying to give credit where credit is due.
    – user3503
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 10:00
  • 1
    @AidanRocke - I don't think users should be chasing after high reputations. - I have never said they should. Please don't put words in my mouth.
    – AliceD Mod
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 10:01
  • I'm not trying to argue with you. This was something I could infer from: 'You don't have a lot of rep on this, and other sites yourself.' What did you mean?
    – user3503
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 10:02
  • 3
    @AidanRocke - low rep generally means people don't spend a lot of time on a site. Hi rep means that people have answered a lot of Qs and therefore know how a site works. It's not a measure of knowledge, it's a measure of participation.
    – AliceD Mod
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 10:21
  • 4
    Thanks for clarifying that point. I also want to say that I respect the work of all the moderators here. You guys have put in a lot of work to maintain site quality.
    – user3503
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 10:37

Improve gradually. Not as a leap. First cater the curiosity of students, amateur enthusiasts, layman technicians, common people.

Once a knowledge pool develops, gradually more researchers will contribute.

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