I am often disturbed by how easily the community of Biology.SE close and down vote questions asked by newcomers and layman.

When I go on other SE websites, I often have to ask unclear questions or too broad questions just because I am not able to realize how complex is my question or because I don't understand the epxistemiology of the subject of interest. I think that users of other sites are more welcoming and more willing to formulate answers that give me hints in order to improve my knowledge and eventually my abilities to formulate better questions in the future.

I think that if we want to increase the popularity of BiologyBeta we have to start to offer more help to newcomers and be a bit less strict in how we judge the quality of their questions.

Let's consider the Core Architecture of the Body Encoding post for example. I actually started to write this meta-post in response to 5 closing votes that it received. Of course, it is not the first example of questions that get closed while I would have liked it to remain open. Core Architecture of the Body Encoding post has several issues. It contains several questions and it is extremely broad. However, I think that it actually is quite easy to provide an answer. I know very little on the subject so I formulated a quick answer from what I could remember from my Developmental Biology first year class. I accompanied the answer with a bunch of wikipedia references. I think that my answer can typically help the OP to realize what was wrong with his question and to understand why he touched too many different topics. It also gives the name of the different fields to the OP allowing him to go for some wikipedia reading.

I think that, very often, we should rather offer criticisms, ressources and a sense of the disciplines that are concerned by the question(s) rather than voting to close, leaving the newcomer in ignorance and frustration, pushing him to leave Biology.SE.

From the FAQ:

Biology - Stack Exchange is for people studying biology at any level.

If the reasons for closing questions come from refusing low-level questions because we want to attract a higher-level community, then I think that we should create a new reason for closing: Vote to close because it is a low-level question. Biology.SE is for Biology students and professionals which activities directly relate to Biology.

If we are so strict because we want to make sure that newcomers learn how to use this site, we may eventually be nice at the beginning and slowly get harsher if we see no effort from the OP to improve his/her posts.


What do you think? Should we be more tolerant with newcomers and bad questions?

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    $\begingroup$ No. Bad questions, especially by non-invested users, just make the site look amateurish. Like an invitation to ask a question that makes no sense whatsoever just because you're curious. Is that the site you want? Just my opinion. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Feb 20 '15 at 5:19
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    $\begingroup$ I think you are correct. All the sites have a growth curve unlike what Dustin says. Initially when the site is just beginning many poor questions are tolerated and even voted up. As the community grows it gets harsher and harsher. I think being very strict with new users will severely dampen the growth itself. That said, I do not endorse the above said pattern either. New users must never be harshly treated. I guess the site itself is a mini model of the theory of evolution. Well as most people in the site believe it to be true, I don't know if something better can be expected any time soon. $\endgroup$ – One Face Feb 20 '15 at 7:50
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    $\begingroup$ So are you saying that we should disregard the current close reasons? On one hand, you write that the example Q has problems and is broad (which it is), but on the other hand you think it is harsh to close it. The issue is also not whether Qs can be answered or if an answer can provide help/guidelines to the poster - we need to evaluate if Qs are suitable for the SE-format in general and BioSE in particular, given our stated purpose. Otherwise we could just as well turn into a general discussion forum. [..cnd] $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Feb 20 '15 at 9:29
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    $\begingroup$ [cnd..]: I've honestly gotten more discouraged with the site lately, and it seems like we are loosing serious users (long-term users that provide good questions and answers) at the same rate as we are gaining them. To me, it doesn't seem like the currently active pool of users that answer most questions is growing, and this is a problem if we want the site to grow and become more established. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Feb 20 '15 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse There is already things like askscience and biology subreddits for those sort of questions. Could it be worth redirecting the questions there? $\endgroup$ – James Feb 23 '15 at 1:41
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    $\begingroup$ I think we are pretty harsh and I am probably on the forgiving side. I am struggling most with the fact that mwoa mwoa questions that have potential and are answerable are killed instantly. With a bit of help some questions I fought for actually evolved in interesting stuff. Moreover, simple questions that appear badly researched, may actually prove very hard to answer. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Feb 23 '15 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisStronks - what is an mwoa mwoa question? $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Feb 24 '15 at 3:54
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    $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse - sorry, language barrier, I meant a "mediocre question" :) $\endgroup$ – AliceD Feb 24 '15 at 4:15
  • $\begingroup$ Let me issue my point of view, as a 'closer' in chemistry.SE. If I ask a question that doesn't meet the quality standards of the SE, toleration isn't appreciated, or appropriate. The most important thing to take into consideration is to give hints, as a remark of a friendly and nonattacking behavior. Searching for "closed:yes" shows that you guys are, being as friendly as you can. So, I wouldn't think that keeping someone with low quality questions, that will harm the quality of Bio.SE, with toleration of what they post, is really something that should bother you. [...] $\endgroup$ – It's Over Feb 24 '15 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ [...] However, I understand what may have caused your question. A really nice and caring user in chemistry posted something in our meta that's worth noting: meta.chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/573/… As a side note, @anongoodnurse's first comment, I perfectly agree with. SE sites tend to attract experts, simply because they aren't just "forums", or places that you dump your homework or get a proofreading done. Biology isn't doing very bad about those posts, at least not yet. Just let's not use gruesome language. $\endgroup$ – It's Over Feb 24 '15 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ Okay, so a person who is new to biology asks a "dumb" or seemingly obvious question. Everyone votes to close and doesn't bother to try and answer the question or comment on it. I think we need to be more proactive as far as editing the questions instead of jumping on them to close; we need to look at what this person is really asking and edit so it isn't an amateur looking question. There have been a lot of excellent questions that have been closed because it wasn't obvious what was being asked; all that needed to happen was that someone needed to take the time to edit them! $\endgroup$ – L.B. Mar 1 '15 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ @L.B. - How would you handle questions like "Why do humans need a heart?" $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Mar 2 '15 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ What about a short explanation of the purpose of the blood (transport of oxygen, nutrients, hormones) with a link to wiki. And a short speech just to explain that without heart the blood could not serve its purpose as it would not flow (or at least not flow as well). And a short comment to say that the question is not specific to humans. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Mar 2 '15 at 1:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Remi.b - Seriously? That sounds like the outline to a chapter on the function of the circulatory system. We differ greatly on this matter. Not flow as well? Try, not flow at all. Without the heart, we could not have evolved beyond a sponge. You think all that can be explained in a comment, or would you attempt an answer? Would it be a good one? $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Mar 2 '15 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ I said "not flow as well, just because there are other tissues involved in allowing blood to flow but it is detail compare to the heart role. But anyway this is a meta ost we should not be talking about biology directly. That would be an answer that would at least probably help the OP to seek for further knowledge and it would give him a basic understanding of what blood is for. It would be a short answer and would be satisfying I think. I am not persuaded that this is the best thing to do. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Mar 2 '15 at 18:42

What SE do you say doesn't vote to close quickly? I know that the two biggest SO and Math shutdown poor questions instantly, and it doesn't stop those same users from posting again if they plan to stay. Having a question put on hold isn't the end for the question either. The OP can always read the close reason and refine their question to better suit the community.

If the user is just a hit and run user, they could careless. All they want is an answer now. Considering the OP is conversing through comments they don't seem to be this type so they could be coaxed into refining their questions and a vote to reopen can occur.

You said start out nice and get harsher. That would mean, for those unfamiliar with said user, bio members would have to go to OP account and review their previous questions prior to voting down or closure. Most people are going to see this as a colossal waste of their time.

This type of micro management of action is probably fine now but the moment this site has explosive growth and becomes the size of math or SO it will be impossible to enforce. The user who are scared away from closure are probably hit and run users and tend not to be valuable to the community. The ones who improve their post and stay are the ones you want anyways.

More Thoughts on the Topic to expand on Close Voting:

Let's think of this in an academic setting as well. If a student approaches their professor or TA and just say here is said problem help me, how will a professor or TA react?

  1. Will it be well you asked a question and provided no feasible input yourself so here is the answer, or
  2. What your thoughts on the matter? Did you read chapter so and so? If you didn't, take a look at that come back if you still need help?

I would frankly guess the reaction will be more along the lines of 2. That is, in an academic situation, the professor or TA would put the question on hold (5 close votes) and wait for the student to come back to them. If the student doesn't update their question, maybe they figured it out and didn't run away. If they do update their question, they are now participating in the academic development of their on mind by researching, reading, and learning in stead of wanting instant gratification of an answer now.

Therefore, I don't think close voters should wait x days. The OP will probably see comments and a close reason. If they are true students and driven to succeed, they will take the comments and close reason to heart and edit their question. If they only want instant gratification, the University or self taught education system isn't the right place to be in the first place.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 - If I ask for clarification or sources, and the OP actually makes an attempt (that I see), I will usually attempt to answer their question, because that user is going to ask better and better questions, as opposed to the user who gets defensive. Maybe I should do a little study on this... $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Feb 20 '15 at 5:26
  • $\begingroup$ I tried to answer a bunch of bad questions like this one for example and I end up agreeing with you guys! $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Feb 22 '15 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Remi.b it is better to get clarification first. I have my view points from math, so, and tex which are more active so have experienced this stuff before. $\endgroup$ – dustin Feb 22 '15 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ @remi.b I upvoted for your efforts but the Question indeed is pretty horrendous... $\endgroup$ – AliceD Feb 23 '15 at 12:27

What do you think? Should we be more tolerant with newcomers and bad questions?

In the vein of bad questions or newcomers, i have the following input as a relatively new BioSE user:

A big issue comes in the specific paradigm which poorly founded or researched questions and/or answers are posed. Just citing a recently answered question about narwhal tusks, and their function; it took me approximately 7 seconds in a well-keyworded search to draw a conclusive answer from a peer-reviewed source. This brings us two problems: (a) Some questions invoke the concept of common knowledge, where we can almost immediately find our answer in a respectable source format with a quick search engine query. Some users may find questions like this a waste of time, and honestly the OP may find that putting in the effort before asking BioSE to find an answer may overall improve their understanding of the subject. (b) In some cases a bum source or wiki page on a matter is acceptable. Generally though, some of these sources contain opinion and/or wrong information. It's important to pose questions and answers, keeping in mind they need to be objective, and contain correct, objective sources. When this isn't the case, users tend to find these questions a waste of time as well.

So going back the the initial question: I think what'll be important is emphasizing questions that don't fit the above descriptions, and giving reasonable critique to questions that do whether they intend to be closed or not. I think that to a new user, simply being closed for too broad or off-topic, etc. without adequate background to know exactly what's good enough would be frustrating.

  • $\begingroup$ That is what the comment section is for. Many users do leave comments so not knowing would be more of a misnomer. $\endgroup$ – dustin Feb 23 '15 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ Not everyone can be power pubmeders like us. It's an acquired skill to do a good search. $\endgroup$ – bobthejoe May 18 '15 at 5:38
  • $\begingroup$ Ask the newcomer: "What search terms did you use?" If they used poor ones, suggest some better ones. Suggest in a comment that they copy and paste [ your suggested search query terms ] into $best_search_engine and click the "Search" button, then post their own answer. :) $\endgroup$ – tealhill supports Monica Apr 21 '17 at 3:54

I have been wondering this myself. Questions like this one make me quite sad. Clearly this poster is trying quite hard, but a good question would have to provide so much background information just to get the asker up to a level where the answer makes sense would be too much to ask.

There is just something sad about being a website where you get to share knowledge and questions that are poorly-researched and poorly-posed but very very earnest aren't answered. They're terrible questions but the askers are so enthusiastic and what they are really asking is often quite obvious(as-posed it's hilariously broad but as-intended has a simple answer). It feels cruel in a way to require askers to go back and get a biology education before asking questions that are eminently answerable. I'd prefer biology.stackexchange to be biology.stackexchange and not, perhaps, biologyprofessionals.stackexchange or labtech.stackexchange.

And then of course there's this question which was nearly closed for lack of research. It's a legitimate question, if strangely posed from a biological point of view.

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    $\begingroup$ I have no education in biology. My education is a BS in Math, BS in Finance, and a MS in Mechanical Engineering. If I can I spend less than ten minutes searching to answers questions outside my fields, I am sure a questioner can spend that to learn a little about what they are asking first or after instructed to do so. $\endgroup$ – dustin Feb 26 '15 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking about high school or middle school students with perhaps interesting questions. People who don't even know what they don't know. I'm a little put off by questions with close votes and accepted, upvoted answers, I guess is what I'm trying to get at. $\endgroup$ – Resonating Feb 26 '15 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ If bio can solve the problem to that, I am sure the other SE will be eager to know. There are crazy debates in math meta about closing and deleting questions with good answers. $\endgroup$ – dustin Feb 27 '15 at 2:08

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