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It is obvious that voting patterns differ dramatically between topics. From my personal experience, answers that lie closer to my own work and the ones I put most effort into receive relatively few votes. "Softer" answers in popular science topics ('I saw this weird thing... how does that work?') get more votes. Even if it is not important per se (votes that is), it can be a bit annoying, since higher effort to answer specialized questions does not translate to higher payoff. The obvious reason for this is that fewer people understand or find specialized answers interesting. However, this voting pattern will not encourage higher-level answers.

I realize that this is a well known topic on SOmeta (simple answers - more votes), but just wanted to bring it up here at BioSE as well. Is it a problem? Should we, as a community, do anything about it, to (in the long run) attract more specialists to BioSE?

Note: originally posted as comment here

Note 2: I realize that this issue partially runs counter to Vote early, vote often

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    $\begingroup$ I have the exact same feeling but i think the best thing would be to not compete for reputation scores / badges and just focus on science.. As with the democracy, the most popular is not always the best :) $\endgroup$
    – WYSIWYG
    Oct 5 '13 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ had tolerated this for a while but this is extremely annoying.. Many of us spend hours finding out answers and this ridiculous question and an equally elementary answer makes the most popular post of the month. +10 votes for this nonsense.. i can't believe it. The mods have to do something. $\endgroup$
    – WYSIWYG
    Mar 8 '14 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG Agree about that question. Excellent proof that vote count does not measure the quality of questions. $\endgroup$ Mar 10 '14 at 11:58
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I think that "do we need to change" is the wrong question. "How can we change" is more appropriate. For that question, I think there is a good answer, which is for you to publicize the site. Each question has a "share" link. Share those links with your colleagues.

We receive a large number of questions about "pop" science topics. This is natural and, I think, a generally good thing. Interested non-biologists can ask questions and get scientifically based answers that get read by a lot of experienced scientists.

I think that you are looking for more "hard" biology questions and answers. I think that comes with (1) time and (2) spreading the word. You can directly influence the latter.

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  • $\begingroup$ I realize that my title is a bit argumentative. My main point was to start a discussion, and to see if others see this as a problem. I agree that publicizing is a generally a good idea. The problem I see is that voting on "pop" science topics seems to be driven by wow-that-was-cool (even if voters cannot evaluate the validity/truth of the answer), while more specialized questions/answers are only voted on by people who feel that they can evaluate the actual post (at least to some extent). Therefore, there will be a voting bias. $\endgroup$ Sep 25 '13 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly. Publicizing the site to those who can evaluate the actual post benefits everyone. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Sep 25 '13 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ Popular science questions could also use rigor/expertise. (That I have an accepted 11-voted answer based only on generic reasoning [no research, no knowledge of organ evolution] is kind of sad--even if it feeds my vanity. [It is not a bad answer, but it is purely speculative reasoning based only on very limited general knowledge. An expert should be able to do substantially better.]) $\endgroup$ Nov 2 '13 at 3:26
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I tend to blindly upvote any technical question I find. The more technical the better. I think it is important to do so because this site was originally intended to be a site for experts, and not one where non-experts can ask the experts.

That said, I enjoy answering laymen's questions and I think that should also be a part of this site. In fact, I think we should encourage people who support intelligent design for example to ask questions. If they want to step into the rink with us and play by our rules (the scientific method) please let them do so! As long as a question about creationism and intelligent design is posed within the domain of science it is easy to answer and debunk and I believe such answers given by actual scientists are very useful. But I digress.

I think we should all make an effort to single out and upvote technical questions on principle. It doesn't matter if we don't understand what the issue is, as long as the question is clear and a minimum effort has been put into it, upvoting it encourages other biologists to participate. When trying to get friends to join biology.se it is often an issue that many/most questions on the front page are from laymen and not interesting to them.

Answers, of course, are another matter. I will not upvote a technical answer unless I am qualified to judge it and I believe that no one should upvote answers they cannot judge.

Finally, I think we should also make an effort to add more self-answered questions. We have a pool of experienced people here, some of whom are students and others are working scientists. We each have our area of expertise and the best way to encourage technical questions is to ask them and answer them ourselves if needed. I admit I have only done this once but I'll try and do more of them. If each of us posts a question on something we are experts on and answers it, that will add some great content to the site and could encourage others to post as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good point on the difference between questions and answers. I've also been thinking about adding self-answered Qs (to add content/set tone) but haven't tried this yet. $\endgroup$ Oct 24 '13 at 12:26
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As @kmm said, publicizing is probably the best route, but I don't feel that your issue is counter to the VE/VO post. We can easily reward the hard time and effort users put into thoroughly researched answers, even to poor questions; look for the diamonds in the rough. upvoting any good effort, even if you don't care or if it's already higher than your average work, is a first step.

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I think another point to make is "who is we" (poor grammer intended). I certainly upvote good technical questions, and even have a few more I've been thinking about asking should I run into the time to jot them down. But I think a lot users are going to come in here with an association bonus from another SO site and be able to vote off the bat.

While it's true that after a certain amount of time you can pick out the more professional users here, I don't know if that same group can be said to be the majority of "voters." Popular question topics/awnsers will get more traffic, and probably more votes. I'm not really sure there is anything we can do about that, even bringing more scientist on board.

As long as people can get enough rep to mod as needed (and I suppose, obnoxious users don't get the rep), I really don't worry over or evaluate things by a person's rep. I don't think you are going to get head hunters / recruiters coming in here looking for hot shot biologists.

But then again I'm a glass half empty of 5% milk kind of guy.

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I agree with kmm that publicizing the site is important but there is one more thing that is important. Lets take an example of a productive SE site such as stackoverflow. What I notice there is that there is participation of experts. For e.g. I asked a question there regarding compression and Mark Adler answered me which kinda elevated my respect for both Mark and stackoverflow community. In here most of us are students, including me, and we have limited experience. There are some experienced people here like Shigeta and Alan Boyd and if they can get their colleagues to participate then we can have more expert opinion on different topics. Moreover we can convince our professors to participate in this site. Since the site offers answers to textbook questions and not really research problems, the askers who are interested in research opinions get discouraged. For an instance, there is rarely anyone who asks questions such as "what is pointer", in stackoverflow. If we discourage very basic questions or redirect the askers to wikipedia or other such sites, and encourage more research type questions we can tackle the problem that fileunderwater highlights.

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    $\begingroup$ A quick look at the top 16 rep users shows 4 students (most of whom are PhD students, in other words, experts in their particular field), 4 working researchers (post-docs included), one MD and one Biology graduate (the rest don't specify). I don't think that most users here are students, relatively young perhaps but not necessarily students. In any case, the answers of many of you student types are great so I see no problem with that at all :). $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Oct 24 '13 at 1:30
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First, I would like to address the topic of obtaining more professional Biologist. I recently came back from a trip to Georgia, US. My flight coincided with the Experimental Biology Conference 2015 in Boston, MA, US. On this flight, there was about 50 attendees and something like 6000+ scientists will be attending and presenting. Myself and Anne were seated next to one of the attendees a 5th year PhD student. We started talking to her and later asked if she was aware of Bio.SE. The answer was never heard of such a think, and in fact, she never heard of SE. She thought the site sounded great and none of the other attendees in our vicinity new about SE (about 10 people). We told them about the site but I doubt they will join. They were nice, but to me, they didn't have attitude or drive of someone who would later look up the site and join. I could be wrong though.

This interaction had me thinking. In mathematics, many students, even non SE users, know of SE. Why is this? One reason I could think of is that when you google a math problem, you will get hits from universities and hits from SE, physicsforum, and mathhelpboards at the top all forums designed as Q&A. Therefore, math students become familiar early on about these sites and turn to them as lurkers or participants.

What can we do about this? Or more like what can professional Biologist do since I am not one. By professional, I mean post docs, PhDs, and graduate research biologist. They should attend these conference and socialize. Get emails, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Once you make that connection, introduce them to the site. Create a Bio.SE shirt to ware at this conferences. The shirt alone should start conversations.

As for the voting anomaly of basic question, that happens on every SE site. My hypothesis is that higher rep user upvote answers less often. Not sure why though. For awhile, SO had the stigma of being very unhelpful and inclusive of new and inexperienced members since they (established users) only knew one thing downvote. However, after numerous meta debates, they are trying to be better. I doubt Bio.SE wants to follow that path. However, TeX.SE, to me, is about the positive of all SE since downvotes are seldom and upvotes are plentiful but that is the environment they want. The top users carry the most influence and since they upvote many good questions and answers new user learn to do so as well. If this is he environment Bio.SE wants to foster, the influential users need to take a proactive approach to lead the upvoting way. Communities are like business. Everyone learns and takes the lead from their boss. If the boss is positive, hard working, and friendly, the employees will be to since that is who they look to. If the boss is not, well we have all being in contact with a company where the employees don't care and the environment is bad. Besides the two extremes there is indifferent not taking a stand either way; that is, not voting often and early and new members see that too.

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  • $\begingroup$ What may drive the relative unawareness of biologist for SE is that the main site, namely SO is extremely well known among programmers and computer scientists but not really by the biology community. Biologists are always a bit slow to modify their habits, the use of wikipedia being an example as for very long time it was considered non-scientific and now everybody uses it. This is changing as more and more biologist are becoming pluri-disciplinary researchers (especially becoming more computational) and I expect a lot more people coming into SE.bio in the coming years. $\endgroup$ Mar 31 '15 at 2:54
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I do not genuinely believe that top notch experts or scientists are going to come to this site by mere advertisement, since they hardly have the time or probably the inclination. Even if they come out of charity starting with one reputation will be demeaning. Imagine getting a down vote for a right answer; since they are unlikely to take the trouble to give proper references.

These experts with deep insight have nothing much to gain by coming in here at the beta stage. So I think they should be identified and dragged in by those in control here giving bonus starting reputation of 10000 or higher, pointing out if necessary their moral obligation towards the advancement of science. This is if the site is to take off within a minimum time frame.

Otherwise you will have to be persistant enough to get to the point of critical mass.

At least they should be senstised to responding to the tougher questions, or questions to which there are no accepted answers which are directed to them when necessary.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry but that is a horrible idea. Great scientists are often wrong, just like anyone else. Think of Watson's comments on race or Lynn Margulis's position on HIV and metamorphosis or Karry Mullis's defense of astrology. I see no reason to treat people any different just because they have more Nature papers than I. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Oct 24 '13 at 1:07
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    $\begingroup$ Also, great scientists are very often horrible teachers who are unable to get their point across. Questions here can usually be answered by facts, not by novel research. Giving people rep here just because they did some good research in their careers makes no sense at all. Rep should be gained by offering good answers not because you have published good papers. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Oct 24 '13 at 1:09
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I think a better idea would be to give a new previlage to people with >3000 reputations by which every vote they put should count higher(like 1 upvote = 2 upvotes). I feel that most of the guys with more than 3000 are quite " sensible " in upvoting.

However, this idea may sound unfair to some of us.

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