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There have been some discussions as to whether we want to be a site for experts, or a site for all.

There have also been discussions if some questions are too basic.

Are those two discussions essentially the same, or is there some difference between them? Can an expert question be basic? Can a basic question be interesting for experts? Or do we somehowe presume that experts will only be interested in advanced questions, and not in basic ones?

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I think there's too much focus on 'experts'. No-one is an expert on everything, we're all scientists, we're all learning all the time... it's just not a helpful word. (Here's what I really think about experts.)

'Basic' isn't a helpful word either. It's to relative. My basic is your advanced, and vice versa.

I think it's more useful to think about words like useful and interesting.

  • What's this random rock I found? — not useful or interesting, except perhaps to the asker.
  • How do I go about identifying randoms rocks I find? — useful to lots of people.
  • Is this rock really what I think it is, and if so then doesn't that mean everything we know about the Ordovician is wrong? — interesting to lots of people.

The other adjective I'd use to filter questions is informed. Brief, open-ended questions about massive subjects are hard enough to answer, but it's even worse if the poster has not taken some time to read about the subject, so can't even ask a reasonable question. I think we have to resist the urge to try to answer these questions without getting to a better question first. There are actual examples in the beta, but to spare everyone's feelings, I'll make one up: "I have heard that fracking causes earthquakes, so could a drilling rig set off a tidal wave?".

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Often times expert questions are very basic while seemingly basic questions can be very difficult to answer. The later is also the reason why scientists at Universities do research and teaching. Teaching always brings up new, interesting and challenging questions.

Adding to the answer by @kwinkunks I would like to suggest to redirect "what is this rock questions" to: -https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Unidentified_rocks_and_minerals -https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Unidentified_fossils

I definitely think the site should be for everyone. But let's also be strict during the beta, so that we start out with really high quality content.

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Basic questions are great, if they are asked in a short and professional style. That is also why I suggested this edit https://earthscience.stackexchange.com/review/suggested-edits/149

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I am writing as a member of numerous other SE sites. I believe that at the heart of the question is the issue of "what constitutes an acceptable question on SE sites?"

There are several criteria for good, or at least acceptable questions. "Expertise" may turn an acceptable the question into a good one, but is not a sine qua non for an acceptable question. The merit of a "difficult" question lies in how answerable it is, not the degree of difficulty.

General SE requirements include (but are not limited to) the following:

  1. Relevance or "on topic." Is this question about earth sciences?
  2. Specificity. Is this question specific enough to be answered with a few paragraphs? Is it "narrow" enough so that reasonable answers will tend to "cluster" around a limit point (like a converging sequence) rather than being "all over the map" (as in a diverging sequence).
  3. Clarity. Is the question clear enough to be reasonably understood by most people? Can it be answered with facts and references without generating a debate based on opinions, rather than facts? Ultimately, our "expertise" (real or perceived) on the site will rest on our ability to come to a consensus on most questions.

A "basic" question that meets these requirements (and maybe a few others that I've overlooked) will be suitable for most SE sites (members of a given site can make local rules for themselves). A difficult or expert question that doesn't meet such guidelines is not likely to be acceptable. We are not here to debate "how many angels can dance on how many pins?" even though that was regarded as an "expert" question in its time.

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