There was a simple question about the initiation of gut flora, asked by an undergrad student. I just googled it and pasted a simple wiki explanation. On one hand, this site could be a good compilation of interesting but easy to find the answer of questions, which you would normally don't ask yourself unless you read them. On the other hand, the person who asks the questions can very easily find the answers himsefl/herself. I guess, it comes to the question about whether non-expert questions should be allowed, but what I am mostly concerned about is that experts won't find the site appealing.

So how do you think we should deal with such questions? Answer them, but not upvote them for example?

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    $\begingroup$ I am concerned about cutting and pasting text from anywhere. This is borderline plagiarism and in a strict scientific context would be penalized. $\endgroup$ – Poshpaws Jan 8 '12 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ But that's what the quotation marks are, as well as the reference we give at the end of the quote, right? $\endgroup$ – Gergana Vandova Jan 8 '12 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ True. but this doesn't always happen. Also, if you were to submit an entire essay in quotation marks you would get a zero, even though you hadn't plagiarized! My point being, pasting large chunks of text should be discouraged I think. $\endgroup$ – Poshpaws Jan 8 '12 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ I agree, pasting large chunks of text should be definitely avoided and discouraged. $\endgroup$ – Gergana Vandova Jan 9 '12 at 1:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Poshpaws: Wikipedia is licensed under a CC share-alike license. Cutting and pasting (and modifying) from it is allowed, provided that proper attribution is given. $\endgroup$ – nico Jan 15 '12 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ OK, I accept that it may be legal, but it is still not good practice. $\endgroup$ – Poshpaws Jan 16 '12 at 6:38

I know that on English.SE any such question is closed as "General Reference".

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.

This does happen fairly often and the consensus seems to be that a link to the resource in question is posted as a comment on the question. I assume it would be possible to ask to have a similar close reason added to Biology.SE, however so far I am inclined to say that such a move is not necessary.

When I look at the question that I believe you are referring to ("How does the microbial environment in your gut initiate"), Kevin's answer links to research papers that I would argue would be of interest to experts even if the original question phrasing would not.

The approach that Kevin took would seem to be an alternative implementation of the discussion on can we avoid counterproductive disciplinary fragmentation (where the generally accepted strategy was to improve the biology in poor questions rather than simply not tolerating them at all). In providing a high level answer to an admittedly easily self answered question, we have avoided the scenario of alienating users that concerns were raised about in the above meta question.

However, I think your and the communities concerns about attractiveness to experts are also extremely valid, therefore perhaps we should be using voting to greater effect?

The full SE description of the voting arrows as everyone knows is

  • UP This question shows research effort, it is useful and clear
  • DOWN This question does not show any research effort, it is unclear or not useful

So, all considered I personally would be inclined to:

  1. Reward the effort of answers that have gone beyond just what was necessary to answer the question in order to maintain the appeal of the site to experts by strong up-voting
  2. Penalise questions where the asker has not put in sufficient research effort (i.e. bare minimum Googling!) in the intended way by down-voting.

I am a strong believer that, especially at this early stage, questions that can be salvaged and improved by the community should be =)

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think that Kevin's answer, although referring to papers of interest to some, is the one LanceLafontaine was looking for. Thus, by making the answers more expert-like, we actually won't answer them. To be honest, sometimes I really hate people who give one-page answers, although they might be valid and interesting. Because the main idea behind asking questions is that you expect someone to know the exact answer and not share his expertise on similar problems. Bottomline, the person who asks the question won't be happy and will be reluctant to ask another one. $\endgroup$ – Gergana Vandova Jan 6 '12 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps we can post "Let me google that for you" links. But maybe for some people it is more difficult to use the search engines and distinct the relevant information from the useless one. $\endgroup$ – Gergana Vandova Jan 7 '12 at 0:03
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    $\begingroup$ @GerganaVandova: lmgtfy is explicitly globally banned from the SE network. Just link to google directly, being too offensive (even if sometimes adequate) epically fails making the internet a better place. It is also important to note that sometimes while you have a perfect idea which keywords to google for, those asking these googleable questions may not (especially if English is not their first language). $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Jan 9 '12 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ @TobiasKienzler Thanks for letting me know that lmgtfy is banned. I have to disagree that it is offensive. Rather, I think that it shows that with a little time people can find the answer. Also shows that it is easy and very useful to know how to google it yourself. Not every time you will have access to SE to ask your question. But I also agree that for some people this is hard, which I had already expressed in my previous one "But maybe for some people it is more difficult to use the search engines and distinct the relevant information from the useless one". $\endgroup$ – Gergana Vandova Jan 9 '12 at 22:23
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    $\begingroup$ @GerganaVandova Agreed. But instead of adding another site in between you can also directly link to google, like [this](http://www.google.com/?q=are some questions too simple). I just remembered, here is the official stance on "too simple" questions: if you can google it, there are still valid reasons to answer the question at SE (e.g. the answer can only be found in the depths of a forum or hard-to-obtain papers), but if it really is a question of 2 minutes at google and won't make this site more interesting, close it $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Jan 10 '12 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Tobias Kienzler: as much as I understand SE rule of banning lmgtfy (and I abide by it), I personally think some people tend to be a bit too touchy sometimes. If one's question can be answered by a lmgtfy link then that person has noone but himself to blame, and has no reason to be offended because of an Internet link... $\endgroup$ – nico Jan 15 '12 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ @nico that's very true and I agree. But SE answers should be considered as "for everyone who happens to have a similar question" (worst case: from then on that bad posed question is the first google hit...) and a discussion along the lines of "did you try to google for ...?" instead of a lmgtfy link simply gives the idea of the civilized place SE is compared to some troll-infested forums. But if a question really is so much too simple it should actually be deleted (after giving the OP time to salvage it maybe) to avoid google-polution $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Jan 16 '12 at 7:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Tobias Kienzler: good point. Considering that in general I wouldn't think of replying to someone with a lmgtfy link unless the answer is clearly written in the first 2 or 3 Google results... deletion is probably a better option in that case. $\endgroup$ – nico Jan 16 '12 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ Furthermore I'd like to refer people to this SO policy that seemed quite fair to me and we might want to consider adopting $\endgroup$ – Rory M Feb 6 '12 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ @TobiasKienzler Just to make this perfectly clear, LMGTFY links are not explicitly banned. The request you link to has an impressive number of upvotes but a comment stating the opposite opinion has even more upvotes. Granted, those counts are not directly comparable since comments cannot be downvoted but they still show that the community’s opinion on that is far from unanimous. There is no rule forbidding these links, and there’s not even agreement (or a clear majority) that they are rude(r than the question in the first place). $\endgroup$ – Konrad Rudolph Mar 1 '12 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @KonradRudolph That feature-request has 128 up- and 32 downvotes vs the 112 great-comment votes on the other. Obviously disagreeing wasn't important enough for at least 80 users to actually downvote instead of just upvoting the comment. Anyway, here's the more official answer, here another comment by SO co-founder Jeff Atwood. Also, the request is status-completed which means the SE team shares that point of view $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Mar 1 '12 at 20:16

Perhaps the poster himself could clear things up. Keep in mind that these words are only my personal suggestions.

Although I am only an undergraduate student, I am still a student of biology. I can imagine that many other of my fellow students at the university would ponder about a similar question, or in fact that same one. I personally feel as though it was not a Biology 101 question, but more importantly, it is clearly of use to legitimate biology students.

Secondly, this is a questions and answers site. I cannot simply ask Wikipedia a question, and searching through its entire database can certainly be wearisome if you do not know where to start. However, it would ideally be preferable if an expert Stack exchange user posts unique, expert answers, rather than simply quoting Wikipedia word-for-word. As we would like to appeal to expert users, tailored personal answers would certainly aid in doing so.

Lastly, as mentioned early, the integration of particular or current studies into an answer could reinforce even an expert's view on the matter. And in the end, no one is TRULY an expert of all things biology; there is certainly more content to learn about all thing related to biology, even basic concepts.

Please comment your impressions.

  • $\begingroup$ I think the most important thing (even before attracting expert), is to satisfy the person who asks the question. I don't think that people should give complicated answers, only to improve the question. I also don't think that the question itself should be changed. I really appreciate wiki and think that most of the explanations there are correct and clear and, as for your question, I coudn't have given more clear and concise answer. So I am definitely not against pasting text from wiki. $\endgroup$ – Gergana Vandova Jan 7 '12 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ I also think it is important to remember that Wikipedia is sometimes just plain wrong. I always tell my students to use it as a jumping off point for deeper research but not reference it directly. We should also aim to give credit where it is due, i.e. to specific journal articles. $\endgroup$ – Poshpaws Jan 8 '12 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Poshpaws Yeah, I agree with this. We should give credit to the scientists, but in the same time keep the answer simple, so that we target the asker idea. $\endgroup$ – Gergana Vandova Jan 8 '12 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ @ agree with all comments above. $\endgroup$ – LanceLafontaine Jan 9 '12 at 3:51

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