Recently I invited one of my colleagues to CS.SE to improve her ideas while doing cognitive neuroscience research in the graduate school. I usually use StackOverFlow website more and get answers very quickly there. I also used Stats.SE and get good results. But I feel that the community here is not as lively as them. Of course it's not a reasonable expectation that this new beta website work as the other more established do and the comparison with SO is not fair at all. But this issue led me to think about a probable cause that I want to share so that it could help this community grow and flourish:

I myself was introduced to CS.SE through familiarity with SO. I haven't noticed it til I looked at why my colleague doesn't know about the website. Then I looked around and saw that this seems to be the rule instead of an exception. Like many others in the field of cognitive science, I have a programming/engineering background. I was a 'programmer kind of kid'. After working with several programming language, I finally find SO a place I can speed up building my programming skills, seek advice from the experts of the field, and resolve bugs and problems without costing myself an arm and a leg. But in graduate school I become interested in psychology and cognitive science and this has led me here.

I took a look at the profile of some of the reputed people here and I've found a similar pattern. I mean it seems 'it is more likely' for people who have or had familiarity with programming (through SO) to come here in CS.SE. Of course these people are experts of the field of cognitive science right now but they have more or less programming background and surely the presence of these people (including myself) is of enormous value and I don't want to belittle their effect or presence at all. But there are many other professionals who are more medically or psychologically oriented but have expertise in CS and can make this community more vital and yet we miss them. But it sees it is less likely for them to be attracted to CS.SE.

The last 'sad thing' is that many of people who ask 'bad' questions here (e.g. not enough researched, not scientifically answerable) are people who are just 'interested' to know more about 'the mysteries of human mind', but they are not familiar with the scientific discipline related to these matters. Some of them just want to do some 'psychological things' in their spare time after they are finished with resolving their bugs or having tough time in the huge SO. So we end up in a bunch of closed or on hold questions everyday and even many of those that are not closed are more related to 'pop psychology' than to serious cognitive science, but again this is just the tip of the iceberg. I think we would get better results if we focus on the cause rather on fierce moderation. If there are more professional people here, there will be more professional questions.

So after this long statement of the problem, Do you agree with me upon these things or you see things differently from mine ? And after all, what could we do about it to improve the situation if we should.

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    Some of them just want to do some 'psychological things' in their spare time after they are finished with resolving their bugs or having tough time in the huge SO. Like any other site (including SO), sites on Stack Exchange are designed to cater to experts. While no one expects the average user to have a degree in these fields, there's a certain expectation that questions be "professional" (well researched, thought out well, formatted correctly, etc.) in nature so that they are of interest to others. May 2, 2014 at 12:42
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    We would certainly warmly welcome more people who are "medically or psychologically oriented", but if you examine some of the profiles of the users with the highest reputation, you'd find that many of us have this background already. Any suggestions you have for recruiting users would certainly also be welcome. May 2, 2014 at 12:44
  • @ChuckSherrington exactly I meant this. Again I guess the problem is that probably some pop psychology seekers are more attracted to CS than experts. Of course this may be due to the smaller users population as experts are always quite a minority.
    – Ehsan88
    May 2, 2014 at 17:09
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    You have jumped into a conversation that has been on-going from the start of this SE. We are all aware that we need more professionals, because our current set of power-users is insufficient to sustain the site in the onslaught of pop questions. This is not news. The difficult problem is figuring out how to attract qualified people to the site. I will leave more thoughts on this later today. May 2, 2014 at 19:54

2 Answers 2


Jeromy Anglim is a doctorate-holding psychology lecturer, and like me, has his highest rep score (for whatever that's worth) on Cross Validated. Artem's expertise bridges both computer and cognitive sciences. @what has his second highest rep score on Writers, and has some professional experience in clinical psychology if I'm not mistaken. According to their profiles, Ben Brocka has a degree in psychology but works as a programmer, Keegan Keplinger and Ofri Raviv are neuroscientists, and Alex Stone is both a programmer and sleep researcher. H.Muster and John have much higher rep scores on SO, but only Josh Gitlin states that he is a software developer and not a cognitive scientist. I don't think your perceived rule holds very well at all; most top-scoring users seem to be "exceptions" in some sense.

Personally, I found this site by exploring the long list of sites on Stack Exchange after getting involved in Cross Validated, which is about statistics, not programming. I am not much of a programmer, but I have a doctorate in social and personality psychology. This beta site isn't really new (it's over 2 years old now), but some have said it doesn't retain professionals and experts very well. I will probably stick with it myself though, and I see others with plenty of credibility popping back in once in a while.

@Artem, whether we're doing enough to sustain the site is debatable. I think we're hanging in there so long as SE doesn't get tired of waiting for us to reach "critical mass". We may not graduate anytime soon, but I don't see any indication that we're going downhill. The basic design of the site produces cumulative growth, so I hope we can at least trust that what we have accumulated here so far is generally appreciated and will be supported in its growth at whatever rate it can manage.

I agree that site promotion is a priority, but I don't think it conflicts with "fierce" moderation (nor do I find our moderation particularly fierce; are you sure you spend that much time on SO?). I'm still having a hard time recommending this site to my colleagues because, at any given moment lately, most activity seems to be from new users without a grasp of how to ask a clear, appropriate question. Promoting this site probably won't make that problem go away IMO. We will continue to have a lot of moderation work as long as the system for it remains unimproved (this reminds me, I owe meta a proposal for guidelines regarding tolerance of new users' undesirable contributions and for making the account suspension decision). If we accumulate more professional (or at least dedicated and competent) users though, they may dilute the overall level of dubious content and help shoulder the moderation workload.

Generally, I wait for contextual excuses to promote this site's content. I've linked specific pages with answers of mine when I've answered other, similar questions on ResearchGate (e.g., "Can a psychopath be cured?" there, and "Is a person with a psychopathic disorder aware of it?" here). I shared a technical question with a couple colleagues whom I thought could answer it, but that question was deleted by its author. In my experience, most recent questions are either not really worth sharing, easily answered by myself, or pertain to some topic that neither I nor anyone I know would likely be able to answer without doing some research. Challenges like these incline me to spend most of my time on creating new answer content or working on existing content (e.g., voting, editing, reviewing, etc.), not on promoting the site in general as is. I know others are working on promoting it though, and I depend on them somewhat to keep at it so I won't feel the need. I think when the site is in better shape in general, I will spend a little more time recommending it to colleagues without any particular contextual excuse though. I.e., presently I wait for some specific topic to come up and respond by linking relevant content here if I know of any; in the future, I will just initiate correspondence to recommend the site in general to my colleagues regardless of whether they are actively pursuing particular queries that we address already.

Any increase in this site's popularity probably entails some increase in the influx of pop psychology, self-help, and pseudoscientific questions, not to mention questions of other problematic genera. This is somewhat of a crisis of the science itself, not just this website. Psychology is relatively young and very broadly appealing. It pertains to a lot of very challenging, esoteric questions that are difficult (maybe even impossible in some cases) to answer scientifically, so it becomes a de facto harbor for all sorts of underdeveloped and sensitive questions and attracts a lot of frankly half-arsed answers. The challenges involved in producing strong evidence and conclusive answers are substantial, but many questions appeal to intuition in ways that make them seem deceptively easy to answer. Many people who are fooled by these appearances are also naive about the limits of their own knowledge and understanding of pertinent epistemic issues.

It takes a certain amount of experience, and maybe even some talent to recognize common limits of cognitive scientific evidence, such as those restricting causal inference and cross-cultural generalizability. These inherent challenges plague professionals and novices alike, but novices less often realize this until their attempted answers face some external test, such as the feedback of the community or our moderating actions. Even professionals often fail to realize their own errors until their manuscripts are rejected or criticized after publication. We can't expect much to change anytime soon with respect to these problems, so to some extent we have to accept and work with them.

If you have any specific criticism of present moderation practices, you should probably elaborate. I'm not sure who you think is focusing on moderation anyway, aside from the moderators I suppose. Regardless, I get the impression you're unaware of ongoing efforts to promote the site that have coexisted with moderating work for quite a while now. You may want to have a closer look around at meta-questions that share your question's tags.

  • I can't agree enough with this answer. Aug 14, 2014 at 3:15

I wrote extensively elsewhere on this. In my opinion, the problem is twofold:

  1. The stakes for answers are extremely high. On Stack Overflow, even hobbyists can contribute a piece of code that they happen to know. Here, you have to find a published research article that supports your knowledge. This makes sense, because everyone can test if that piece of code works, which will be proof enough, but a claim like "women are more socially competent than men" needs to be proven in an experiment, or better yet a series of them, to be reliable. But you need to have access to those paywalled journals, and you need to know how to research and read them. This is a threshold that most non-specialists cannot or do not want to cross. Even experts think twice before they spend an hour of their time to research a question on this site.

  2. Professionals in computing are online. Its their job to be at a computer. The internet is computing. Professionals in the cognitive sciences are in the lab doing research, their office writing papers, or treating patients. If they need to discuss their job, they don't go to newsgroups online, but talk to their research team or hold a presentation at a symposion. The affinity for computing, internet and being online is just not as high in the cognitive sciences, as it is in computer sciences. There even is a large number of people among psychologists, who are deeply sceptical of the internet and especially social networks. Recent research (by psychologists!) has shown how using Facebook makes most people unhappy! Why would a researcher finding this out go on a similar site to discuss this?!? Psychologists know that physically being with people makes you happy, so they do that.

Personal note:

I'm a 5th semester student of psychology. I came here through Stack Overflow, which I found trying to resolve some private web programming problems. For me, "we are all from SO" holds true.

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