Understanding the brain is a great challenge that is all the more interesting because no satisfactory theory has been found yet. For that reason, all brain sciences are, in my opinion, one of the most interesting thing you can study. As a result, there is a lot of scientific literature about it, but the stack-exchange community for cognitive sciences is so small (about 170 questions). Why is that ?
I can give you an answer from the perspective of a formally active user that is becoming progressively more passive.
Although there is a large amount of activity on the internet about mind & brain sciences, the overwhelming majority of it is at the level of popular science. People who have an understanding of the mind/brain at this level, are often not qualified to provide quality answers or even ask interesting questions. In terms of the academic and professional communities, neuroscience & psychology are actually not well represented on the internet. Compared to mathematics, computer science, and physics, there is very little (from my experience) academic discussion outside of the standard published format. Most that exists seems to be targeted at the lay audience, popularization, and policy (i.e. explaining catchy studies) and not discussion of problems and methods of importance to active researchers.
Neuroscience/psychology seems to be slow on the uptake of open and non-standard publishing techniques and discussions through open platforms like SE & blogs. This can be seen by the lack of widely accepted pre-publication archives in the brain sciences, in contrast to the ArXiv used by mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists. As such, it has been difficult to build and retain a technical user base on this site. Unfortunately, at this time, I do not see how to overcome this. Although we still have a core group of amazingly dedicated and knowledgeable members, this group does not seem to be growing or expanding to represent the wider scientific community.
We have had many theories on what might be the culprit (my pet theory is the name), but we have not had much success in solving these problems. In the process, we have received very little support and encouragement from the overlords, having to fight needlessly hard to achieve even basic changes (like MathJax being enabled).
I do agree that CogSci.SE could be an amazing resource, and a great community. I sincerely hope that my pessimism will be proven wrong.
First off, the site is still in beta, and at the time of writing only exists for 270 days. Everyone active here wished it would grow quicker, but we aren't doing that bad. We still aren't decreasing in size. P.s. I suppose you were referring to the amount of questions on meta, instead of the amount of questions on the main site, which is much higher. (529 at the time of writing).
Having that little peptalk over with, the topic has been raised before in several different formats:
The main problem in my opinion is we are trying to reach out to an audience which isn't used to the SE format. I do believe we will get there, but we just have to be patient. However, proactively suggesting ways in which to reach out to this audience is more than welcomed. Ideas/suggestions are a better approach than starting a discussion on why.
I'm really glad to have you on board and actively wanting to participate on meta. That's what we need! Be sure to drop in on chat from time to time as well.
I believe that
(a) Professionals in the field (academics) have so much pressure on them that they simply have no interest in answering questions by laypersons. They barely have time for their students.
(b) Professionals in the field are often extremely specialized and unqualified to answer professional level questions in other areas of their field.
(c) Professionals in the field are well networked [is that English?] and have a lot of pertinent experts to discuss their questions with without coming to the internet.
I also think that
cogsci.SE could be great for students of psychology, cognitive sciences and neighboring fields. We might consider promoting our site among this group. There are lots of Facebook groups where students of one semester of one field of one university collect to discuss questions about the topics they have to learn. We could recruit there. Or we could send an invitation email to relevant student organizations, student self-government etc.
I doubt I will fit this into a comment, so I will add an answer.
I was working with search engine optimization for a while, and a page that is human readable would look very different to a web crawler. Until these crawlers start to rank cogsci questions higher, the community would stay small.
Sites like stackoverflow are very useful, and the questions asked there very quickly rise to the top in google. So any time a new programmer searches for an answer online, the programmer is likely to find stackoverflow, get hooked and stay for a while.
I think part of stackoverflow's success is due to a wide variety of tags and keywords that are used for search engine optimization. Some of those tags are "popular" enough and would match more search queries.
For example, the iPhone tag and having iPhone in the question name provides great visibility from google. Having iPhone and iOS means even better visibility. Such specificity means that SO dominates the programmer QA field.
Personally, I don't know how people search for cogsci related info on the web, but if there's little search engine optimization, then other "popular science" sites may rank higher than cogsci, for the same search terms.
I suggest broader use of tags, and better titles\ keyword density, so questions are more visible from search engines
Why do we use SE at all?
When I go to stats.se or StackOverflow, it's usually because I need an answer to some concrete problem. I need to produce or alter some graph, get best practices for reporting or interpreting, consider limitations, etc. I think this sort of structure facilitates the creation of "hook" questions, such as the 10,000 view question about Lumosity. These hooks guarantee a stable influx of people to the site. For us, as long as Lumosity is popular and the question of brain training remains controversial, it will probably continue drawing members. I think the most appropriate way to frame the problem is therefore as one of change in membership. A concrete problem for us is that we don't have enough of these member attractors. Rather than waiting for the right question to roll around naturally laissez-faire style, we might want to consider just designing some.
For long-term stable member attractors, there are a number of candidate topics we might consider that people are almost universally interested in, such as academic/sports/artistic expertise acquisition, sex/love/attraction, decision theory/biases and mental health. Well-formulated, broad questions on these topics with well-referenced answers that cover a lot of theoretical ground, sprinkled with a touch of coordinated publicity effort, would guarantee a constant influx of new members. The downside to these questions is that they would take time and effort to design and answer in a satisfactory way, but I think they would be an excellent investment.
Another option in-between the "big questions" approach and the "laissez faire" approach might be to utilize current events, e.g. taking a few swings at Bad Science. You know the ones I mean: minimal findings about some topic, which was obviously selected for its sensationalist potential in the first place, stretched to their theoretical limit by the magic of science reporting. "Meat eaters are mean, says science", "Sitting on a wobbly chair makes people prefer unstable relationships," etc. By addressing these thoroughly and in a timely manner, we would provide easily digestible answers for interested parties, which would guarantee an influx of members for as long as the topic remains relevant. These would be trivial to design, but still might take some time and effort to actually answer. It wouldn't have to be about bad science, it could just as well be exposition on any cogsci topic currently in the news.
Obviously these two types of member attractors can be implemented independently, and I think the idea of designing and implementing some of these attractors has merit in general. They should attract both lay people and professional academics--at least I know preciously few academics who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to dispel a few popular misconceptions within their field of expertise. And then they're hooked ...