I've been delighted to look in very early in the private beta and see lots of questions. However, I'm a little concerned about the nature of these questions.

The majority seem to be at a "popular science" level. They are interesting to me, because most of them are not in my field, and I'm sure they'd be of interest to people finding a geoscience site on Google to answer those queries - but I'm not sure that they are what is going to attract experts to take up residence here.

From the guidelines that we click through to ask a question on here,

Stick to actual, real, objective questions with concrete answers that a working professional or expert in this field might encounter as a part of their actual, real, job. Stock the site with a bunch of on-topic, expert questions and answers, so that when the site opens to the public, it’s already pre-populated with a bunch of the kind of content that will attract other experts.

(emphasis mine).

The important point is that our objective at this stage, AIUI, isn't so much to attract lots of people who are casually interested in the answers to things like "Why is the Earth not a sphere?" or "Why is the inside of the Earth hot?" (not singling those out for any particular reason, there are lots of examples). We want to attract people who know the answers to those, but who want to ask detailed questions that are relevant for their jobs - because they are the experts who, if they stick around, will allow the site to grow and provide great answers to all levels of question. Those people may, I fear, be put off if they see a popular science site rather than one that is useful to them professionally.

-Simon (NB just my 2p, I have no standing with SE or this site, and no past experience with SE private betas. And no, I haven't asked anything yet... blush)

EDIT: This question, and the discussion following it, on meta.astronomy, sums up my concern better than I can :-)

  • $\begingroup$ I think right now better questions are coming out of the wood work. One thing to note, is that when the site becomes open, we will have these simple questions asked again. It is our jobs, as starting members, to link back to close the question if it is to similar to the original one. This way, most of the new questions (like is happening now) will be "expert" level. $\endgroup$
    – Neo
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ See also: Are we an expert site? $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 6:08
  • $\begingroup$ What about the level of answers so far? There are questions where the top (and accepted) answer is just copied from Wikipedia and sometime it's not even the correct answer. $\endgroup$
    – kwknowles
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 16:41

4 Answers 4


As you hint at in your final paragraph, I think you already know the answer to this:

The best and most direct way to get the the the sort of questions you want to see on the site, is to ask them. Remember, you can ask questions that you know the answer to. Indeed, there's even functionality to enable you to answer the question at the same time that you ask it.

You can also vote to close questions that you see as too simple: if they're too simple, and the community agrees, then they should be defined as off-topic: so it's really important to use your close votes and down votes accordingly. As we're in private beta, everyone can cast down votes close votes. This is the best way to help define the site's scope at this most crucial time.

Closed questions can always be undeleted, reopened, or re-asked in a revised form later, after the site scope has settled down and become well-defined.

These first two weeks are crucial for setting the right tone.

So far, we've got quite a few questions would just be embarassing on an expert site. These questions have received very few down votes or close votes. If we continue like this, the chances of becoming an expert site are very very slim. It's up to us to change it, by closing and deleting the hobbyist fluff.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You make a fair point (I didn't realise that everybody has vote-to-close power here at present), but I'm reluctant to do that. The reason is that most of these questions would be absolutely fine on a mature site - even a more established one in beta! I'm just concerned about them setting the tone right now. That... doesn't feel like a good reason to close? (am I wrong?) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 11:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm with you there @SimonW. Coming up with really good, interesting questions is very hard to do, even for someone really knowledgeable (hell, if you're an expert, you're probably studying it, and don't want to give away your next paper). I have a feeling that this is a problem most beta sites face in the early stages. A lot of questions were also copied from the area51 site, and they never had the necessary thought put into them in the first place. I think the problem will get better, it's probably a little premature to get worried on the first day ;) $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 11:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Also, I would argue that a better way of dealing with the expert:basic question ratio than closing basic question is to encourage more expert questions to be asked. We're in private beta, we still need more questions, and since we're mostly people who are pre-committed, we're not turning anyone off by being swamped by boring questions yet. There is still a week or two to build up a good base of interesting questions. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ Even more important than the hobbyist fluff is to close and delete questions with a marked anti anthropogenic global warming bent. The vast majority of experts agree that global warming is real. There are a few questions that have an anti AGW bent to them. It's those questions that would turn experts away in the droves, much more than "hobbyist fluff" questions. $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2014 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen I haven't seen that - where is it? Can you pop over to Earth Science Chat and post some links? $\endgroup$
    – 410 gone
    Commented May 1, 2014 at 19:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen: I'm doing a PhD in climate modelling, I totally disagree. Due to the fairly-permanent, yet editable and commentable nature of the Q&A on SE, this is as close to a perfect forum for these kind of questions as possible. Questions like this clearly have some skeptical assumptions behind them, but there is a lot of value in the question. If we can deal with questions like that in an accurate, genial fashion, addressing the assumptions without letting ideology get in the way, then no experts will be turned away. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ @naught101 - That the question you cited was strongly down voted and closed (and not by me) suggests that your opinion runs contrary to the site in general. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen: Sure. But One Direction is popular. That doesn't mean that their music has any merit. (also, that question has 8 downvotes, and 3 upvotes, it's not all downvotes). $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 14:22

I think one of the best ways to increase the quality of questions is upvote questions that are very good, even if unanswerable. I think we are doing that appropriately, but it might be nice for people to look at all the unanswered questions on the list and keep upvoting them. I think there are some pretty good ones. The front page isn't always where the best questions are.

Edit: I also think it is worth asking very good questions that you already know the answer too just to establish a common level of question. This site right now isn't just about information, it's about building the site.


I see several signs that you don't have an expert site, yet:

Experts are specialized. With only 200 or so participants the chances are slim for much overlap. I would expect a lot more questions without any answer.

There are several questions and answers on the site that aren't even scientific in nature much less expert level. I'm surprised they don't get shut down. They aren't low-level; they're off-topic. They might be about science, but they are not scientific.

[edit]There are questions that are further explained in detail. This level of explanation is not necessary for peers. Anyone that unfamiliar with the context would not be qualified to answer the question.

There are other clues here that would warn off experts. For example, no expert would ever say "period of time". It would instantly label one as a neophyte. In case you guys aren't scientists, "period" means interval of time. There are no other types of period; it doesn't need qualification. It makes no sense to say interval of time of time. (I give this explanation in case you're curious. I'm not interested in lecturing anyone. It's just a clue. It sticks out to me.)

The solution might be different guidelines(?) For example, less emphasis on posting answers. Reviewing questions could count somehow toward commitment(?) It might lower pressure to ask questions just for the sake of asking. Also, more permission to down vote or close.

I'm an old fart who's never participated in anything like this before. Having no standing anywhere on SE, I started with 1 rep point. A few times I got a message "You can't do such-and-such until you have X number of rep points." I was doing things just to get rep points. I asked a question I wanted to know the answer to and couldn't find anywhere else, but was no where near my field of expertise. I did this based on the questions that were up voted and not down voted.

@EnergyNumbers was doing a good job. I didn't feel like I could chip in because down voting costs a -1 rep; significant if you only have 1 and need 5. Perhaps these restrictions could be adjusted for private beta?

Not meaning to rag or be snobby, just trying to help you get what you want.

  • $\begingroup$ Side note: downvoting questions costs you no rep. Downvoting answers costs you 1 rep. $\endgroup$
    – hichris123 Mod
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree with your period of time remark. Redundancy in speech is OK because it is clear, and you know what they say about clarity. It's a barbarity that clarity is a rarity. $\endgroup$
    – Kenshin
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ period is a full cycle of a periodic function. A function can be both periodic around space and time, or whatever really. You make some good points, but you should use correct examples when being critical. That said, this is not an expert site right now. $\endgroup$
    – Neo
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Neo I agree, there's more than one definition of period. I'm not telling anyone how to talk. I'm saying that in my experience, the scientists I've worked with are dismissive of people who use the phrase. Right or wrong, that's the way some think. It becomes a social pressure not to do it in an academic setting. Therefore, some draw the conclusion that those who use the phrase haven't spent significant time (i.e. enough to become an expert) in an academic/scientific setting. Your experience may be different from mine. That doesn't mean I'm wrong. $\endgroup$
    – kwknowles
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Mew Do you disagree that experts are judgmental in regards to this phrase? That was more my point. $\endgroup$
    – kwknowles
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ Google scholar gives "About 3,760,000 results" for the exact phrase "period of time". For example, Newman et al., A dose of 75 μg/kg/d of i.v. anti-D increases the platelet count more rapidly and for a longer period of time than 50 μg/kg/d in adults with immune thrombocytopenic purpura, British Journal of Haematology 112:4 (2002). A scientist wrote that. $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2014 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ I found this answer based on your comment on the butterfly question (earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/245/…). That question certainly was scientific enough for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. At the the 1972 meeting of the AAAS, Lorenz asked Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2014 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ @david-hammen Yep, that's the origin of this myth i.e. the misinterpretation of that paper. Have you even read it? Lorentz himself says the question is unanswerable. $\endgroup$
    – kwknowles
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I've read it. That's exactly what my answer to that question says, that saying the flap of a butterfly's wing does indeed cause a tornado in Texas "misses the point of his talk and of his work". $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ @david-hammen So, I don't get why you still think this question is scientific and not merely philosophical. I'm not saying it isn't "sciency". I'm saying it can't be answered by the scientific method. $\endgroup$
    – kwknowles
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ @kwknowles - You, along with the questioner who asked that question, are reading the flap of the butterfly's wings far too literally. That the weather is chaotic (stronger: that the weather is the quintessential chaotic system) stands as one of the key scientific discoveries of the 20th century. In this sense, the question is extremely scientific. It's only when read far too literally that it becomes unscientific. Since this site is now public beta, it will now receive questions that are simultaneously naive and very deep. $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ @kwknowles - I also think you are reading the scientific method too literally. The scientific method as used in chemistry and physics needs modification for sciences that have a significant observational aspect. Astronomy, the social sciences, the life sciences, and the earth sciences fall in this camp. $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ @david-hammen I don't have a problem with chaos theory or applying it to weather. The problem is how it's presented. I like your answer to the butterfly question I wish it was at the top. Instead we have a pop-sci answer at the top. You should have seen how hard I had to work to get "arbitrarily small" taken out. Yes, I'm taking "arbitrary" literally, too. Is that a fault? The only part of the "scientific method" I'm insisting on is that the questions are testable. Theory leads to expectation leads to observation leads to confirmation. Applies to any science. If not, it's meta-physics. Yes? $\endgroup$
    – kwknowles
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @kwknowles - Now you've opened a big huge can of worms, the stackoverflow model of how questions and answers are rated. The stackoverflow model is egalitarian; the sciences are not. In the sciences, the voice of someone with dozens of highly rated papers on a subject counts a whole lot more than does the voice of Joe "I proudly failed 9th grade algebra" Blow. $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 21:34

Reading the link that Robert Cartaino provided, this paragraph stands out to my attention:

It has long been established that no question is too entry-level nor too basic. Everyone is welcome. But, in these earliest days, we are DESIGNING a site for experts. To attract experts, you need a site where people are asking very interesting and challenging questions, not the basic questions found on every other Q&A site. Remember, the pro sites WILL attract the enthusiasts, but not the other way around!

The earliest questions on a site will set the tone and topic of the site for a long time.

(emphasis in original)


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