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OK, this is perhaps a provocative question. But looking at this question I think it is a fair one. The question "How many people's DNA were involved in the compilation of the reference human genome?" is reasonable, and so is the answer.

However, the answer is taken more-or-less verbatim from wikipedia. In this situation, why didn't the questioner just look at wikipedia? If we go down this route, SE Biology simply becomes an online forum where we get others to do research for us rather than doing it ourselves.

Shouldn't SE Biology be about asking questions and giving answers which can't be found by a quick google, but can be clearly and concisely answered (with citations where appropriate) by experts?

Please don't get me wrong, this is not a criticism of the users in the above question, simply I am trying to understand what our purpose is.

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In this case, the asker seemed to think that this information was unknowable after looking through the literature.

This kind of question looks like a drain on the experts in the community, but might actually be closer to the cultivation of new experts if handled correctly. In general, I think jumping down amateur/beginning researchers' throats for being inexperienced researchers might be a little too much, 'cause in a short 6 to 12 months they will be much better at asking questions and could be driving some of the best content in the community. I think the best approach is to consistently make a note on such questions to discourage their continued appearance, but in a way that keeps people coming back.

To that effect, perhaps we should add something to the FAQ / community guidelines about questions that are too simple to answer with Google.

We could then comment with something like: "Hey, don't dismiss a Google search just because your question seems like an obscure detail. Remember the FAQ point #XX!"

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  • $\begingroup$ Our aim is to create an exchange for experts. By teaching amateurs how to become experts, we are really not getting closer to that goal. Amateur questions are a nice bonus, but if they're easily googlable (as is the case here), they should be closed as general reference. $\endgroup$ – user24 Dec 22 '11 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ So a further question is: when is someone an expert? Is a bacterial geneticist with 25 years of experience who is having trouble with a YAC protocol an expert? This genre of question could be posed just as easily by an undergraduate with very little experience. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Ingalls Dec 22 '11 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, I should have said an exchange for expert questions, not experts :) $\endgroup$ – user24 Dec 22 '11 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ This is a very useful distinction. Thanks for clarifying! $\endgroup$ – Thomas Ingalls Dec 23 '11 at 1:26
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Too long for a comment, so I'm spinning this into a full answer. There's a few problems I have with a community eager to close "non-professional" answers:

  1. Everyone goes through a "talented amateur" phase before they can really be considered an expert. In that time, they'll probably ask some super-dumb questions that will be obvious in retrospect. I don't think this is a bad thing. Hell, I will probably ask some super-dumb questions that will be obvious in retrospect, because of the breadth of a site like this.
  2. There isn't a clear, defined threshold for "expert" on this site - or any StackExchange site. I think if someone takes the time to answer it - even if its pretty obvious in retrospect where to find that answer - it may very well have been worth doing. Because you don't know until you ask. For example, this question of mine is probably something that to some people is "not expert" even though it had me a bit stumped.
  3. Whether we like it or not, its contrary to some of the other things that exist in the SE sphere of sites. I've asked some genuinely dumb questions on StackOverflow. I've answered some dubious questions on CrossValidated. The whole beta process pretty strongly emphasizes the need for traffic - I'd rather take an active site, where people are learning and becoming more useful contributors over an "Experts Only" ghost town.
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