# Proposal to make the site more useful for experts (PhDs, academics, professionals)

## Problem Description

There aren't enough experts and expert-level questions on the site.

A long-standing criticism of this site is that there are too many non-expert level questions. This makes the site less appealing towards PhD students, academics, and professionals. There are some high level questions here and there, but you have to sift through a lot of lower quality questions to find them. Some others may not feel the same way, but I suspect that many PhD students and academics who are NOT currently regular users don't participate because of this. I suspect those many of those that are regular users begrudgingly accept it. Here are some previous meta posts that cite this problem:

The anecdote told in the second post is telling:

This week I actively approached a couple of professors and working economists I know and told them about the site. Most of them nodded their heads and said "yeah sure whenever I have time I'll check it out". One of them told me he heard of the site but was not impressed by the content to actively participate.

## Past Attempts at a Solution

Here are a few solutions that I believe have been tried or proposed in the past, as indicated by relevant meta posts.

I believe that these previous attempt have had a hard time succeeding for the following reasons. Inviting more experts is hard and experts are in relatively short supply relative to, say, undergraduates asking homework-style questions. A separate site for experts would be nice, but seems unlikely unless there is far more participation from experts on the site than there currently is. Maybe this would be viable in the future, but there needs to be a way to attract more experts now. Creating a separate tag for expert-level questions might work, but it takes more buy-in than we currently have. Furthermore, and this brings me to my point, adding a specific tag to these questions puts an additional burden on the person asking the question.

## Proposal

Short description: Require that each question that isn't an "expert-level question" be tagged as a question.

Detailed description: We should continue to strictly enforce the policy of closing off-topic questions, poorly crafted questions, and pure homework questions. We should also continue to invite experts, etc. I propose that we also institute a policy that every question that doesn't meet the standards of being considered an expert-level question MUST be tagged as . We would need to decide on what is considered an expert-level question, which is admittedly subjective. However, as a rule of thumb, I would suggest that if it is the kind of question that a PhD student or higher would ask or encounter in a PhD-level class, then it counts. This includes questions about institutional details that might be important to PhD level research as well. Essentially, I would want to exclude questions that an undergraduate would ask or that a student would encounter in an undergraduate-level class.

Why I think this works:

• The previous solution of giving expert level questions their own tag put the burden of tagging questions on the author of the question. We want to make this site as friendly as possible towards experts, so the burden should be put on the writer of beginner-level questions.
• A question writer only gets 5 tags to apply to their question. This requirement automatically takes away one of them. This burden should be imposed on beginners.
• Furthermore, the site provides the ability to hide or "gray-out" questions that belong to a certain tag. You can also add certain tags to you "Watched Tags" list, but this only sends you notifications or emails. If all beginner-level questions were tagged as questions, then you could hide or gray-out all of these questions on the home page. For example, the image below demonstrates what the home page will look like when I choose to gray out all questions tagged "macroeconomics". If I wanted, I could choose to hide them entirely:

• This is a low-stakes change to the site policy. It doesn't require us to all-of-the-sudden start closing a lot of questions (though we should likely adopt a more strict policy in this regard at some point). For now, all this requires is adding one simple label to each question. This can be done by any user easily by simply suggesting an edit to a question and it can be undone easily if it was mistakenly applied.

## Do you agree?

I believe that adding these tags should be relatively easy to do. It's pretty easy to spot a beginner level question and suggest an edit. It's fairly easy to edit a question for the purposes of adding a tag. We don't necessarily need to update old questions to have this tag, as long as we are strict about requiring it on new questions. If we want, we can slowly update older questions over time.

There may be other solutions out there. Please offer solutions if you have any in the answers to this post below. I will post a copy-pasted excerpt from my above proposal as an answer below. Upvote it if you like my proposal. Suggest another solution or vote on other given answers if you like another solution better. Upvote this question if you believe that at least something needs to be done. Thanks!

• I really like most of your ideas here, I would like to hear from more people but otherwise I am on board. In addition, I think our community should be more stricter with closing down questions. As a mod I try to always err on the side of caution and hesitate voting to close but I would like to see community voting to close bit more harshly.
– 1muflon1 Mod
Feb 23, 2021 at 22:09
• Thanks @1muflon1 ! Yeah, I should do that. I'll try to start being more careful about adding close-votes. Feb 24, 2021 at 1:58
• you are welcome also consider using this new generic response whenever you see unsourced and not self contained answer. I think this will help to improve level of discourse as well and in addition it encourages participation on more academic level economics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2084/…
– 1muflon1 Mod
Feb 24, 2021 at 2:04
• @1muflon1 Thanks. That's helpful! Feb 24, 2021 at 2:08
• I am sympathetic to what you are trying to achieve, but isn't beginner-expert more of a spectrum than a clear dichotomy? What about, for example, the sort of question that might be asked by a thoughtful undergraduate who understands the basic material? And what about questions that might be considered beginner-level within some specialist area of economics, eg housing economics, environmental economics, but which show a good knowledge of general macro and/or micro economics? Mar 1, 2021 at 12:19
• @AdamBaileyThanks for the comment. Surely, there is a spectrum. The idea is create a cutoff or set of easily interpreted criteria. Naturally, it will be imperfect and fuzzy. The benefit of this approach is that it's just a label---the stakes are low. A person can always petition to add/remove the label. Ultimately, something needs to be done to raise the level of discourse on the site so that it will attract experts. Again, this is a low-stakes way to do it. Mar 1, 2021 at 17:53
• I'd also point out that, per the parameters of Stack Exchanges "Area 51", the site is meant to exclude basic, beginner level questions: "The questions on your site say a lot about the community. To attract experts, you need a site where people are asking very interesting and challenging questions, not the basic questions found on every other Q&A site. Your goal is to make it clear that this is a professional site." area51.stackexchange.com/faq Mar 2, 2021 at 17:44
• Also good and from the same place, "Remember, pro sites WILL attract the enthusiasts, but not the other way around!" area51.stackexchange.com/faq Mar 2, 2021 at 21:51
• If I were to change only one thing about this proposal, I think some people might not like the idea of tagging their answer as "beginner". Maybe a label like "undergraduate" would be a little nicer. Overall, I'm a big fan of this proposal even as it is though. So I give it my upvote
– Kitsune Cavalry Mod
Mar 5, 2021 at 18:14
• Though, we should definitely amend the help page if/when we adopt this rule. The help page should reiterate the point made in area51.stackexchange.com/faq that the site is a professional site for experts. It could then also include something to indicate that the label is not meant to be offensive. Mar 5, 2021 at 19:27
• @KitsuneCavalry Thanks! Yeah, I think there's some room for improvement. I don't want to tie the label to academic rank, though. This came up in another comment below. "Non-expert" seems ok, but I don't like that it's hyphenated. It should be a word that immediately comes to mind so that's it's easy to discover (to attract new experts to the site). This means it shouldn't feel strained or overcomplicated. I hope people don't find "beginner" offensive. It should be clear in the help section that it's not meant to be. Other options are "amateur" or "novice." Mar 5, 2021 at 19:59
• @jmbejara Re your comments referring to Area 51, I think we should also have regard to this question in 2016, which received considerable support and led to our broadening our stated purpose to "For those who study, teach, research and apply economics and econometrics". Keeping that broad purpose is I think quite consistent with your proposed low-stakes change to try to make the site more useful for experts, ie tagging "beginner" questions. Mar 5, 2021 at 22:41
• @jmbejara I would not mind narrowing the focus of the site, perhaps this is just survivorship bias but looking back it seems that there were more users providing expert answers and questions were of higher quality
– 1muflon1 Mod
Mar 5, 2021 at 23:40
• @AdamBailey I myself was a proponent of expanding the scope of the site back then. I have since changed my mind and now believe that it was a mistake. I agree with 1muflon1 in observing that the quality of questions and answers on the site has dropped a lot since the site began. I wish I had really thought about the Area 51 instructions/warnings back then. This one really sticks out to me right now: "Remember, pro sites WILL attract the enthusiasts, but not the other way around!" Mar 6, 2021 at 3:04
• "A long-standing criticism of this site is that there are too many non-expert level questions." - criticism from whom? From people actually asking questions, or from those who don't like certain kinds of questions? Also, doesn't this show that the primary demand is for answers on matters of economics that are broad and simple to ask, and that experts need to concentrate primarily on providing this? Mar 6, 2021 at 12:36

# Tag all beginner questions with beginner tag

My proposed solution, copy-and-pasted from the question.

Short description: Require that each question that isn't an "expert-level question" be tagged as a question.

Detailed description: We should continue to strictly enforce the policy of closing off-topic questions, poorly crafted questions, and pure homework questions. We should also continue to invite experts, etc. I propose that we also institute a policy that every question that doesn't meet the standards of being considered an expert-level question MUST be tagged as . We would need to decide on what is considered an expert-level question, which is admittedly subjective. However, as a rule of thumb, I would suggest that if it is the kind of question that a PhD student or higher would ask or encounter in a PhD-level class, then it counts. This includes questions about institutional details that might be important to PhD level research as well. Essentially, I would want to exclude questions that an undergraduate would ask or that a student would encounter in an undergraduate-level class.

• It may be worth considering alternative wording for the label, albeit with exactly the same purpose. A possible drawback to "beginner" is that it could be taken by some as labelling the person posting the question rather than or as well as the question itself. Possibly it's far-fetched to suggest that some might take offence, but I'm not sure. Anyway, I tried to think of alternatives and came up with "elementary", for which there is some precedent on Mathematics SE which has heavily-used tags such as "elementary number theory" and "elementary set theory". Mar 1, 2021 at 19:58
• @AdamBailey. Thanks. Definitely open to suggestions. Ideas: Elementary, Non-expert, Introductory, Pre-graduate, Undergraduate. I still like "beginner", but I'm open to ideas. "Non-expert" might be good. The help page could make it clear that "beginner" isn't supposed to be offensive. Mar 1, 2021 at 20:24
• @jmbejara I think using academic ranks sound better, we could have even both pre-undergraduate and undergraduate at the same time
– 1muflon1 Mod
Mar 2, 2021 at 12:31
• @1muflon1 This sounds like "scope creep" to me. IMO, adding more labels puts more burden on the labeler and doesn't serve the original purpose. The purpose is to attract experts with as little effort as possible. Plus, the academic distinctions feels too narrow. A person can be a Physics PhD but still ask undergraduate econ questions. For this reason, I like beginner (or maybe non-expert). Mar 2, 2021 at 16:14
• @jmbejara oh I probably wasn't clear enough I did not meant to say we should use ranks based on peoples education, but we could have more labels than just academic-graduate and pre-undergraduate.
– 1muflon1 Mod
Mar 2, 2021 at 16:17
• Other options are "amateur" or "novice." Mar 5, 2021 at 19:47

# Tag all beginner questions with nonexpert tag

Short description: Require that each question that isn't an "expert-level question" be tagged as a question. Expert-level questions are the kind of questions that are more likely to be asked by PhDs/PhD-students in economics, academic economists, or research professionals in economics. Detailed guidelines are provided below to provide for a more objective-based classification.

Detailed description:

Guidelines: An "expert" question should contain ONE OR MORE the following properties.

1. Deals with a formal economic or econometric model. This includes questions about mathematical or statistical techniques.
2. Questions about computational implementation.
3. The question includes a reference to a peer-reviewed journal or a high-quality working paper series.
4. The question is about a data standard or data codebook, provided a link to the data codebook or data reference guide is provided. This does NOT include questions about a particular event in a data set. Such questions must satisfy one of the previous three criteria to be considered.

Commentary

• The criteria defining an expert-level question is seen as a set of guidelines. This may be modified in the future if it is too inflexible. As a rule of thumb, I would suggest that if it is the kind of question that a PhD student or higher would ask or encounter in a PhD-level class, then it counts.
• A question can still be an expert question without having any mathematical rigor as long as it references a research paper (peer-reviewed journal or high-quality working paper). This acts as a way to signal quality of a question. Remember, signals must be costly to be credible!
• The set of criteria defining an expert-level question is fairly objective, which should help to resolve concerns about meta-tags.
• We should continue to strictly enforce the policy of closing off-topic questions, poorly crafted questions, and pure homework questions. We should also continue to invite experts, etc. I propose that we also institute a policy that every question that doesn't meet the standards of being considered an expert-level question MUST be tagged as .

Examples of Expert Questions

The following illustrate questions that satisfy one or more of the above criteria:

• This first question is an example of an expert question because it is a question about an econometric technique, satisfying criterion (1). It doesn't specifically reference a particular paper, but deals with a specific econometric technique. Bartik Instrument Intuition
• This is also an expert question under criterion (1). It doesn't include a reference to a specific peer-reviewed paper, but it is a question that mathematically describes an economic model. Optimal consumption in Merton-like portfolio choice model with constant wage
• This question satisfies (1) because deals with a mathematical technique. It doesn't include questions and doesn't outline a specific model. However, it does reference a mathematical concept. For this reason, it's an expert question. Note that it does include a reference to a textbook, but this book is NOT a peer-reviewed journal article as required by criterion (3). Intuition of the Kolmogorov Equations
• This question is an expert question because it concerns the computational implementation of an econometric model. It provides some example code and a description of what they are trying to accomplish. This qualifies under (2). Extract residuals from Uhlig's rejection method - Lag selection
• This question somewhat broad and does not include equations or a specific model. It's a somewhat "chatty" question. However, it does reference a specific result from a peer-reviewed paper. Admittedly, it could be improved by providing a reference to the specific paper---but it DOES include a link to the Wikipedia page about the specific set of papers.. This is an expert question under (3). The Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu results, what are the implications for macroeconomics?
• This question doesn't pertain to a specific model nor does it include a reference to a peer-reviewed journal article. However, the question regards interpreting a commonly used data set/data standard and it does includes a reference to the data guidebook. This qualifies as an expert question under (4). What's the difference (if any) between "fixed assets" and "fixed capital" in the UN SNA?

Acknowledgment: This proposal was formulated in conjunction with @1muflon1. It is a slight modification of the other proposal about the "beginner" tag.

I support the idea of using tagging as a low-stakes way to make the site more useful for experts. I wasn't previously aware of the facility for a user to have questions with selected tags greyed out or hidden altogether, but having tried it (it's on the right hand side of the site's home page) I find it's easy to use (and has improved my experience by hiding certain topics in which I am less interested).

In order to a) comply with the SE policy of discouraging meta-tags, and b) avoid a tag which could be taken to label the person asking a question and not the question itself, I propose adding two new tags elementary macroeconomics and elementary microeconomics. This follows precedent on Mathematics SE which has tags such as "elementary number theory" and "elementary set theory" which are heavily used and seem to work well. Those two tags might not cover all beginner-level questions, but they would cover a very high proportion, and others could be added later if necessary.

With up to 5 tags per question allowed, there would still be plenty of scope to indicate more precisely the topic of a question within the broad categories of macroeconomics and microeconomics.

Edit (in response to comment by @1muflon1).

My suggestions for descriptions for the tags are:

Elementary macroeconomics

For questions on topics commonly found in introductory or first degree courses in macroeconomics including GDP and its components, the determination of national income, the business cycle, inflation, the balance of payments, fiscal and monetary policy, and economic growth. Also questions about particular countries or real world situations to which such topics are relevant.

Elementary microeconomics

For questions on topics commonly found in introductory or first degree courses in microeconomics including consumer and firm behaviour, supply and demand, market structures, international trade, welfare, market failure and policy responses. Also questions about particular markets or real world situations to which such topics are relevant.

These are just a first stab: I'm sure others will have improvements.

• I would be happy to add these as well, could you please propose description for these tags as well? Naturally, there will be some degree of subjectivity here but it would be best if the description could have some sort of litmus test. The elementary number theory is from Math.se is good example of proper tag for this as it clearly defines what is elementary number theory math.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/…
– 1muflon1 Mod
Mar 10, 2021 at 15:12
• This uses $N$ new tags to accomplish the same thing that you could accomplish with 1 new tag: "elementary." You achieve the same result by labelling a question with the two words individually, e.g., "elementary" and "macroeconomics." What if you want to filter out elementary macro but not elementary micro? You can do this using the "custom filter" button on the right-hand side of the screen. Mar 10, 2021 at 19:03
• @jmbejara Agreed on your first point, but I'm trying to offer an approach which addresses SE's discouragement of meta-tags. And yes, it would be easy to filter out elementary macro but not elementary micro or vice versa if desired. That's a small benefit isn't it? Mar 10, 2021 at 19:53
• Thanks. I see your point. Though, IMO, the benefit of having only one tag is that it makes it easy for incoming experts to easily filter out all the nonexpert questions. I want to make it as easy as possible for newcomers to the site to filter out these questions---there's just use one tag you need to worry about. Plus, we don't want proliferation of "elementary [insert_topic_here]" tags. Mar 10, 2021 at 20:30
• @jmbejara I agree with you that enforcing too many elementary tags would become cumbersome, however, I think we can strictly enforce the nonexpert tag and have these tags as additional tags, as a matter of fact with these tags, I had look at math SE where these tags seem to work and even be used by the people who ask questions, I think I can see even a bsc. student asking question here wanting to use such tag to indicate that the answer should also be appropriate.
– 1muflon1 Mod
Mar 13, 2021 at 12:09
• @1muflon1 This solution tries to solve one problem by creating another. Ppl in the community seem to dislike "compound tags". See meta.stackexchange.com/questions/93607/… and this comment on it: "These are such a pain... You can't just merge 'em, 'cause there are questions with nothing but this tag - and a lot more with neither [jquery] or [ajax]. See also: [javascript-events]" The fact is that the two parts of this proposed tag can live separately. If they can, they should. Mar 13, 2021 at 19:22
• @1muflon1 Also, I don't think that math SE is a very good comparison for this site. Just because they do it, doesn't mean that we should. (1) Math SE has a separate site for experts in Math Overflow. (2) Math SE has no problem attracting enough experts and is not in Beta. This site is dying for more experts. (3) Economics tends to attract cranks. In Math SE, each question has to involve math and thus has a built-in way to increase the quality of questions. I think we need to "tighten the belt" and be more strict about what questions we allow. Mar 13, 2021 at 19:29

I like the idea, and it seem to be well received on the net basis, so I think we should move forward in this direction, but at the same time it needs some modifying.

For better or worse, current policy of SE is to explicitly discourage meta tags.

From this point on, meta-tagging is explicitly discouraged.

How can you tell you’re using a meta-tag? It’s easier than you might think.

If the tag can’t work as the only tag on a question, it’s probably a meta-tag. Every tag you use should be able to work, more or less, as the only tag on a question. Meta-tags, like [beginner], [subjective], and [best-practices], are useless by themselves — they tell you nothing at all about the content of the question.

If the tag commonly means different things to different people, it’s probably a meta-tag. In a cruel, ironic twist, the meaning of the tag [subjective] itself … is actually subjective. Ditto for [best-practices] and [beginner]. Best practices to whom? Beginner by what criteria? These tags are impossible to define by anything remotely resembling an objective metric. In comparison, the the meaning of tags like [java], [c#], and [javascript] are crystal clear to all but the nuttiest of nutbags.

My Proposed Alternative

My proposal would be to have tag:

With the following tag description:

For questions that are not about formal economic or econometric models and techniques, their implementations using programs and languages or do not include references to, or are not based on academic sources.

(by the way suggestions to improve the tag description above are welcome).

Advantage of this tag are in my opinion following:

1. The tag is fairly objective, it has clear unambiguous criteria for what is nonacademic question.
2. The tag has less negative connotation, beginner could be considered offensive by someone who takes the tag personally. While, I think most people would be reasonable enough not to take offense it is better for us to cover all bases.
3. I do not believe the tag would qualify as meta-tag. The tag can stand on its own in the same way as a self-study/homework question tags can. Self-study/homework question tags are common across science stack exchanges. The nonacademic tag is informative about the fact that the question contains nonacademic content, in same way as self-study/homework tag is informative about the fact that question contains homework exercises, even if further tags should be used to clarify nature of that nonacademic content.
4. I think it is fully in line with the spirit of the proposal here. The tag effectively applies to any laymen question. It might not apply to beginner level science questions, but those usually fall under self-study, and we can simply start to enforce the self-study tag as well. This is actually already being done on other science stacks such as Physics.se where their homework and exercises tag is more strictly enforced.

Alternatively, we could have tag:

with the same description:

For questions that are not about formal economic or econometric models and techniques, their implementations using programs and languages or do not include references to, or are not based on academic sources.

Per suggestions this might be better as word academic can suggest that it has something to do with workings of academia.

PS: In comments there was complaint that Non-expert is hyphenated, nonacademic does not suffer from that issue :) (Apparently, nonexpert is not hyphenated as well).

After discussions between mods and also @jmbejara and other community members the was now added.

• Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
– 1muflon1 Mod
Mar 7, 2021 at 9:42
• Thanks for pointing this out. This certainly does pose a problem for my original proposal. Mar 7, 2021 at 20:32
• How about another approach? We can write it up in a separate meta post, but I thought I'd run it by you here first. Suppose we add another custom close reason, as done here: economics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1464/… The new close reason would state "This question does qualify as an expert-level question. For more information on what kind of questions are accepted on this site, see the help page here." (There would then be a link to the help page that describes that this site only accepts expert, professional-level questions.) Mar 7, 2021 at 20:32
• @jmbejara we could do that as well but that would actually require additional meta because then we should also change the scope of a site and people who upvoted your post and answer who were on board with just adding tag might not be on board with going this far (or add another answer to this post).
– 1muflon1 Mod
Mar 7, 2021 at 20:42
• @jmbejara Also, I am not sure if you read the whole answer or only first half of it - I think we can start with your tagging proposal right away, my point was rather just that the name 'beginner' is problematic when tagging because it is too subjective. This is why I proposed the nonacademic tag name instead but from the above it would work very closely to what you intended. Given how well was your Q and A received I think that if we settle on right tag-name and description we can start using it. Non-expert tag would in my opinion work as well, laymen would be problematic in my opinion
– 1muflon1 Mod
Mar 7, 2021 at 20:44
• I agree with what you say in the comment starting with "we could do that as well...". Just wanted to get first impressions from you before creating any new meta posts. Mar 7, 2021 at 21:06
• Regarding the comment starting "Also, I am not sure...": Your critique that "beginner" is subjective doesn't seem to be a problem. Site policy should strive to be objective, but I believe that at some point subjective rules cannot be avoided. As described in Area 51, the site should be for experts and professional level questions. There doesn't seem like a great way to objectively determine what expert and professional level questions. I see it like this: if we recruit a critical mass of experts on the site, then they can subjectively decide this democratically. Mar 7, 2021 at 21:10
• @jmbejara I agree with you completely here, but there is always a place for subjectivity. Tags are supposed to avoid the problems mentioned in the first 1/2 my A. Of course, voting is great way to express subjective opinion, and even voting to close. For example, if we would add to the rules that non-expert/beginner questions should be voted to close, it would be fine to have that as a rule for closing even if it is subjective - it is just bad rule for tags.
– 1muflon1 Mod
Mar 7, 2021 at 21:13
• Mar 7, 2021 at 21:14

Disclaimer - I'm only a casual user of this site and no economist.

My recommendation is to do nothing.

As someone with an interest in economics, but no formal education, it's really helpful that a forum like this exists. While I can read up on things online, it can be hard to know the right search terms, or to piece multiple sources together when no single source directly answers the question. It seems that some experts are willing to answer beginner questions, and I feel we'd lose this if the site was segregated by a "beginner" tag. This works both ways - some of my answers have been well received, suggesting there's merit a in layman's answer that strikes a different tone to a formalised academic one.