I'm very glad this site finally launched after the long area51 odysee. But one of the first and highest voted questions I saw today looks very dissappointing to me, esp. when trying to attract experts to this place.

Can scientists create totally synthetic life?

The author asked this imho important question, but then copy-pastes a prefabricated answer after 1 MINUTE and accepts his own (sry, imho mediocre, as some blog and newspaper articles without really giving deeper context or a exact scientific definition/discussion, what synthetic life is, "what is life" is already a pretty controversial question) answer within 3 DAYS?! No professional scientist can look up internet boards every 2-3 days! Thats not really inciting to contribute to this place for a newbie. Keep questions open, min. 1-2 weeks and wait at least 3-4 days before answering yourself, if it is not a super urgent problem, which is obviously the case.

If this is the demand and level of authoring, I havent seen this style very often on any other SE sites so far, and even if than rarely upvotes to such "self-authoring", then I already regret pushing this site in area51. Funnily my question there to unite forces of chemistry, neuroscience commiters got deleted. Super-Moderation is sometimes somehow strange on this place.

You can interpret this self-authoring also as seeding the site with information, but I havent seen a meta-question here concerning this topic and there seem to be enough good not self-authored interesting Q&As here, so this seems to be the exception of the rule.

I simply want to point out that answering such fundamental questions in this phase by non-experts in a self-authoring copy-paste style is the best way to keep off experts and newbies to this site but joining Quora or reddit...

The wikipedia article on synthetic biology is much better than the current answer, but I'm especially coming to SE, Quora, reddit to read different views from different experts and not to read wikipedia style...

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    $\begingroup$ Just to allay your concerns about the lack of a meta question regarding self-answering immediately, it has been briefly (very briefly) discussed on chat with a view to opening up a meta question at a later date (which appears to be now!) See chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/2862307#2862307 & (only) response chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/2889559#2889559 $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    Commented Jan 4, 2012 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ @rory i browse SE, quora, reddit quite alot for research, but self-authored Q&A make imo less than 1%, I really dont see them often, as it is wikipedia style, Im a author at wiki, I come here for special questions, not general overviews or link collections $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 14:24

5 Answers 5


I have no problem with questions which are answered by the questioner. I am sure Socrates popped himself a few along the way.

However, I am fed up with seeing large chunks of wikipedia pasted into the answers. This is shoddy scientifically and also lazy. If you did this in a professional context you would at best be told to do a rewrite, and at worst get in hot water with your supervisor.

I think we should actively discourage this in a scientific forum.

My two pennies.

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    $\begingroup$ Strongly agree with the direct quoting of Wikipedia being undesirable. $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    Commented Jan 9, 2012 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Rory see my analysis of the blog post in my answer. IMHO backing up your answer with wikipedia is fine, but the current accepted answer is mainly a collection of so much links that I can not really check if the information in those is correct and backing up the author. IMHO Aleksandra Kos answer is better explaining the problem and process of synthetic biogenesis, but earned only half the votes, I bet mainly for being 2 days later, there wasn't a competing answer... my main concern is quality by competition, not a general ban of WP links or self-authoring on those questoins $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Definitely agree with above. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ I am not saying ban all links to wikipedia, but it certainly should not be treated as a primary source. Try this exercise: go to a wikipedia page on a topic in which you are an expert and count the inaccuracies. There will probably be many. As I said, use it as a jumping off point and nothing more (in my opinion). $\endgroup$
    – Poshpaws
    Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 19:18

Answering your own questions is accepted practice on all SE sites, there's even a blog post by Jeff Atwood, one of the co-founders of StackExchange, on the topic. The requirements are the same as for any other question and answer, if you post low-quality questions and answer them yourself, you'll get a reaction from the community, or even from the moderators. I personally apply a higher standard to self-answered questions when deciding to upvote, but they are an accepted part of StackExchange sites.

Voting is determined by much more than just the quality of the posts, the popularity and accessibility of the topic play a very large role, as well as the amount of traffic the question received. The highest voted posts are usually not representative of a site, they often represent questions with a large popular appeal or significant external traffic. They are usually not expert-level questions.

The answer is obviously a popular science answer by a non-expert, but it works reasonably well in that regard. It links to a variety of other sources, so it's a good start for someone interested in the topic.

This site was not created as a site solely for experts, so it will always have a popular biology part. Popular biology questions by laymen are on-topic here, so if they threaten to overwhelm the site and drown out the expert questions, the only way to counter that is by posting more expert questions. We need to arrive at some healthy mixture in the end for the site to succeed.

This is just one single question, I wouldn't worry about it too much. The popular science questions are explicitly on-topic here, and as long as they don't drown out the expert questions I see no problem. I do think that we could use more expert-level questions here, but that is another topic altogether.

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    $\begingroup$ I widely agree with what SE is and what votes mean - popularity - but at this stage such a copy-paste self-authoring style of shortened wikipedia stuff is imho pretty counterproductive and looks more like rep gaiming to me. I appreciate Larians effort, but maybe he should then become a wikipedia author or make his answer a community wiki or at least wait before answering himself. This way no one is incited to post a detailed further answer as he already earned most votes and the question is "solved"... at least I expect a definition what life, synthetic life is (no linked info) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ @WernerSchmitt: I can't see any reason to delay answering your own question; doing so would 1) deprive others of the answer, and 2) duplicate the effort in case someone else writes an answer. $\endgroup$
    – user24
    Commented Jan 7, 2012 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ @TimN The point of SE is to yield high quality by competition in answers and gaining rep. Self-authoring is the most counterproductive thing you can do here, as you gain a huge time and voting advance vs. competing answers. Fact. Thats why often edited answers become CW automatically as shorter answers below with much less votes are often no more read. Following your reasoning of "duplicate effort" it the aim of SE to yield not many different answers and self-Q&A the most natural way to contribute to this place. This site wants exactly to animate people putting effort in additional answers!? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2012 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ It's commonly known that the first quite correct well-formatted answer on SE will yield the most votes and attention, especially if this answer is early accepted, old voters will not come back very often to vote the other answers, the top answer gets more votes, faster accepted than with competing answers, this is pretty obvious and how many rep-gaimers try to yield high rep, by fast and fairly correct and complete answers. If you are a expert you don't come here to ask questions and answer it yourself,how does this make sense? SE would be full of self-authored Q&A.Do you want to duplicate WP? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2012 at 4:08
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    $\begingroup$ Keeping this question open I bet we might have got a much more detailed and up to date answer by a student or professional working in this field. Popular Science is fine, but please no guardian articles on key questions of current research, I can google this myself, you drive experts away this way. Even reddit has a higher level of info, we need insightful opinions with arguments and no link collection most hobby interested viewers here will not look up at all, but thank-vote for effort $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2012 at 4:16
  • $\begingroup$ @WernerSchmitt I really don't think self-answering discourages expert answers. If I see a question where the answers aren't as good as they could be, I write a better answer. Time elapsed since the question was asked is a factor is how much recognition a good answer will get, but someone asking a question and answering it is better than the question not getting asked, and better than it being asked and not getting answered. I agree it's unethical to accept your own answer with say 2 weeks of asking the question, as you don't give other answers a chance - the votes should speak first. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ And I agree that in general, citing the scientific literature should be preferred over linking to websites. But there's nothing to stop a more expert user writing a better referenced answer, or from commenting on a bad answer to explain the referencing policy (which we should have in the FAQ). $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 17:54

Well, I had time now to read the linked article and comments by "Mad Scientist" and decided to make a own answer now, as the upvotes to my question can mean "agreement" or "this is a important question for yielding high-quality and attracting experts on this site and we should set up a guideline". I think it's rather the first (people agreeig with the points in the question), but no one really wants to make very critical comments concerning other user for obvious reasons. But this is no personal accusing of the author here, as he can direct to the blog post for this style.

quote from "Mad scientist"'s linked blog article:

The guidelines for private beta, when sites are empty and in the formative stages, are a bit different than the guidelines for a mature, launched site. In general I am referring to launched sites here, or sites that have at least been in public beta for a while.

Probably "a while" here means more some months, not few weeks, as you need that time to attract outsiders and newbies to this place. Also Atwood is referring mainly to solutions in answers of problems of programming, he generalizes this in the comment for all launched sites, arguable if this is a good generalization for all kind of questions and topics imho.

While I agree that answering with a solution is ok (but not very often of general interest and lowering the signal-noise-ratio of interesting content), that you found out yourself when facing a programming or math problem and you know the solution is correct, as it worked, I still don't think questions like the one on "synthetic life" have a single correct answer, Venters achievements were discussed strongly and put into perspective in the blogosphere. They are issue of different scientific views, what the term life means. In the current accepted answer, maybe this information and set of difficulties are covered in the given links, but I'm not going to read all those links, this info should be given in the text of the answer, otherwise comparing answers and voting for correct ones becomes impossible. If this is popular science level, what does from scratch mean? I think most laymen don't know, I'm not sure what actually the answer is, it looks like read all those links for exact definitions, then it should be community wiki imho, the answer mainly consists of links anyway. The purpose is probably to back up the answer, but I miss more the info in the answer itself. How do hundreds of papers to artificial life and abiogenesis really help me on this specific question? I have no problem if people disagree and vote this up, as they did, for good starting points or info, but the author accepting his own answer because of more upvotes (and here the temporal advance plays a huge role as explained above) is really problematic to me. There was no fair competition which would imho have generated even better answerS and more discussion in the comments. Compared to the discussion in the blogosphere the answer looks amazing simple here.

One of the commentators points out in the blog, often user answering their own question give very little context, what the motivation of the question is or why it is interesting. That's actually something I like the most on SE, questions give more context and are often closed for being unspecific, while on Quora and Reddit you often read very poor questions more asking a expert to make the work for you.

So from these points, one can deduce what may be a better kind of self-authoring and what type of questions are suited for it. Well, obviously Atwood likes users to seed his network with questions on their own (I would too ;) ), will raise the number of google-hits. But more important to me is, how will this affect quality of a site or community dynamics at early stages of a beta, that's probably why he sees here a exception to his rule. Is it productive, attracting experts? Quality of accepted answers comes from competition between diff. answers, and with this big temporal and voting advance and many interested voters on the current site (often voting for effort people put into Q&A), this competition pretty much vanishes. I can't argument vs. links given in the already accepted answer nor will this question attract much of the former voters anymore, I read max. 2-3 answers of a question. So why waste my time? I kills competition, for tricky scientific questions, this is the worst case, seems Atwood is not aware of this or amount of content is more important to him. But it's anyway more the question what the community of commiters wants to achieve here, they invest their time here. If you want popular science level, fine, I will rather read blog, news articles for such content or a text book and more frequent quora. But then really try to create competition, so the answers of popular science questions will be correct or not arguable as lacking detail, deeper insights and exact definitions. Otherwise I fear your top voted Q&A and user will rather scare away people than make them joining this place. That's the main problem to me, it kills a lot competition, for math/prog. questions this is no problem, as the answer is often a result being true or false, while many questions on physics, biology, chemistry really need discussion and agreement in definitions for a correct explanation. Look up some of the discussion pages on wikipedia, if you don't think so. My aim would be insightful detailed posts with links, as you find them sometimes on Quora with a big info/links ratio in the answer itself and well explained questions that really help you understand why the answer is good and important. This seems unlikely for self-authored Q&A. What I miss on this question is discussion and explanations what synthetics life is and the problems of producing it are. And it imho mainly developed to a list of links to lectures and videos because of this self-authoring non-competitve way of asking it. I would make the answer CW or even close the question for being to unspecific or not really explaining the problem/misunderstanding. Most of current links are very googable.

But this is of course a matter of finding a common denominator in a community, I'm not versus popular science at all, but we should really try reaching a level higher than google link collections or newspaper articles for the top questions to keep this site alive. Every average student (should) know how to find keywords and use search operators.

(Sorry this got so long, but I rather do write complete analysis on meta than breaking it up in dozens of comments where everybody loses overview and the depth of discussions is limited, a discussion format would be better here. Alot of meta and area51 Q&A seems rather redundant and pointless because of this)


Answering your own question is allowed and encouraged. You should, however, try to make it a high quality answer. You can go to the Help Center for details on how that's done.

See It’s OK to Ask and Answer Your Own Questions, by Jeff Atwood ♦ (co-founder of Stackexchange).


As an outsider just beginning to visit your stack, I have to say I'm disappointed.

Some people seem to ask questions not wanting to make an effort themselves, others seem to think this is either a Wikipedia mirror and have no problem answering and accepting their own answers, multiple times.

Such behavior just seems weird.

Again, this is the first impression I got, as an outsider. I think it should be taken into consideration.


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