In this question, a close-vote was justified as follows:

The question is too broad. But, more importantly, it is not at all an expert-level question, to the degree that intermediate undergraduate courses in Economics should discuss this topic. Hence I voted close under the off topic reason.

It is clear then that the specific user sees this site as a site only for "expert-level" questions.

I disagree, for the following two reasons:

A) An "expert-level" only site will have too small a potential target popualtion from which the community members will come. "Expert-level" rules out even graduate students -what is being taught in various masters around the world is not at all expert-level. "Expert-level" is equivalent to "professional academic level", so full time academics, PhD's, late-phase PhD candidates, early-phase PhD candidates (grudgingly accepted), and maybe the occasional amateur who is really inamorata with Economics and has studied the field deeply. My forecast is that with such a restricted target audience, the site will eventually die.

B) More personally, this is not my vision for this site. I see also an educational aspect to it. I believe that this site should accept any question that relates to the scientific study and scientific application of Economics and Econometrics.
But of course, my vision is not the "vision-to-be-formed" by the actual community that just started to materialize.

So I am putting this up for discussion, comment, answer, up-voting, down-voting (remember, votes in the meta-site predominantly mean "agree-disagree", so if you don't want to write an answer expressing your opinion, you can just up-vote or down-vote this question).

This is the defining moment people! Here in private beta. So please, participate in this discussion.

  • $\begingroup$ Would it be possible to create a system of tags that would distinguish expert-level questions from the rest? Maybe a single tag called "research" or "expert" or something? $\endgroup$ – jmbejara Nov 19 '14 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a straight duplicate of How technical must the questions be?, isn't it? $\endgroup$ – 410 gone Nov 19 '14 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers Looking at the answers to the post you link, (its title is misleading) yes, they ended up treating the same issue. The difference is that I have put forth a specific policy proposal for voting, while the other post asked a question. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Nov 19 '14 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers Except linking them, can they be merged somehow? $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Nov 20 '14 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ given there's only one short answer here, with a single vote, I don't think a merge is justified - normally, questions are only merged if there's a lot of good content on both, as i understand it. $\endgroup$ – 410 gone Nov 20 '14 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers Indeed, but this is meta, not the main site. Discussions here have also to do with decisions, or emerging consensus, and this is the case here. The three upvotes to the question itself are of value in the on-going discussion. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Nov 20 '14 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ The simplest thing is probably to delete this question, and post an answer to the other. The other option is to flag this question, and request a merge. While it's probably fairly easy for an SE employee to merge answers from two questions, I'm not aware of any mechanism for merging the bodies of the questions themselves, so I don't know what would happen there. $\endgroup$ – 410 gone Nov 20 '14 at 0:17
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    $\begingroup$ My god, someone actually voted to close a meta question... $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 20 '14 at 5:43
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    $\begingroup$ @LateralFractal Voting to close meta questions as duplicates is appropriate sometimes. $\endgroup$ – curiousdannii Nov 20 '14 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think its a duplicate. Experts can post non-technical questions, (as in: What are references, whats the intuition of..). Non-expert can ask technical questions (as in, beginner material, but in the proper framework). $\endgroup$ – FooBar Nov 22 '14 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ Does an upvote on this question mean "Yes?". $\endgroup$ – Calmarius Mar 11 '15 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Calmarius In meta, upvotes have that meaningm ("yes" or "I agree") and likewise for downvotes, as written in the body of the question. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Mar 11 '15 at 16:35

Just my thoughts:

I think the point is that a stack exchange site can easily lower it's expertness (if that is a word) but it is much harder to raise it.

During private beta we are time and population limited and so things are somewhat artificial. A number of questions are clearly being asked for the sake of asking a question, not driving a real research need. We need this, otherwise we probably wouldn't have enough questions. On the other hand, when it goes public, if the questions are mostly "expert-level" then the hope is that experts might use the site to ask their questions. If experts start asking questions, then they might answer them as well.

On the other hand, if we go public and a quick browse shows what looks like lots of undergrad/lay questions then that will imply that the site is not of the caliber to answer expert level questions.

Non-expert users will be very easy to attract, and won't be put off by the presence of expert level questions.

After beta, we should relax our "level" bar, but the bar should be higher during the private beta.

  • $\begingroup$ (+1) A sensible remark, and an indication of strategic thinking! $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Nov 20 '14 at 14:20

Well, what constitutes an "expert-level question"? Clearly, that definition is a bit of a moving target.

The beautiful thing about most major Stack sites is that you can show up with any level of proficiency and receive expert-level feeedback and information.

For instance, when I was learning R (right out of school and an expert at SAS), I could go to StackOverflow and say, 'How in the world do I aggregate on multiple conditions?' and I would get a concise, expert answer that never exceeded the bounds of my limited knowledge.

Now, I can go there and ask, 'Is aggregating a dataset larger than 6 GB using 'Obscure Package B' more or less resource intensive than using data.table, and why?' and I get a much more technical answer that understands my current level of knowledge and answers accordingly.

That, to me, is the power of these sites- accessible, concise, and in-depth. A college freshman, senior, grad student, doctoral candidate, and 45 year professional can all walk away with actionable, professional answers to their queries, without fear that they will be chased off-site with torches and pitchforks because their question failed to meet some esoteric, ego-inflating idea of "expert-level".

I say, bring it on- nearly all of it. The beauty of these sites, at the core, is the idea that experts enjoy sharing knowledge and helping folks solve the very same problems that once stumped us- let's continue that tradition.

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    $\begingroup$ +1. I've been trying to wrap my head around why some people want such a narrow requirement of expert questions for economics.se even if this kills community engagement and diversity. I've come to the revelation that a minority are mistaking this site for a journal. The journal paradigm is an exclusive rather inclusive paradigm in which content snobbery and reputation is vital - birds of feather flock together / the protruding nail gets hammered down / what will mother say. A paradigm that's become broken if we're honest about it - and entirely unsuited for Q&A pedagogy and problem solving. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 20 '14 at 14:13

Expert is a wishy-washy term. My preferences are as follows:

  • I strictly oppose to Econ 101 questions and their intuitions [1]
  • I dislike, but not completely oppose to questions of intermediate Economics undergraduate levels

I'm happy to see any question that is above that level. If you refer to this level as "expert" questions, yes, that's what I would prefer most.

[1] And this is because I personally find no interest in them. This would make me indifferent. But I have the big worry that having them here would make it more difficult to actually find questions that interest me, which renders me against them.

See also Mathematics and Mathsoverflow, where they have noticed that expert level content and normal content cannot coexist, and hence decided to split it up.

Expert level Questions versus Expert level Answers

The level of OP makes a huge difference. If I can expect a certain level of familiarity with Economics, I can provide much more compact and precise answers using the proper terminology.

A question that implies that OP had very little exposure to Economics will need an answer that is either very long (to introduce relevant concepts and/or terminology) or will be too short and vague.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think we are really far apart. I guess "Econ 101" has to do with US curriculum. I am not familiar with it but I suspect it is the firs-first Economics course taught at undergraduate University level? If this is the case, then "Econ 101" questions are bound to be either trivial "homework" questions from students or questions from "interested outsiders". Such questions may create the temptation to "preach the Principles to Laymen" (excuse the arrogance please), but indeed, this is not the core staff that would really give value to this site. (CONT'D)... $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Nov 19 '14 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ (CONT'D) The problem is what to do when such questions relate to issues that permeate all economics. For example, the question which you vote to close and I answered, has to do with the trade-off between present and future. Should we perhaps treat it as "too broad" rather than "off-topic" and attempt to communicate to the OP that he should really narrow the scope of the question or go read his books? $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Nov 19 '14 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ Why do you oppose "Econ 101" questions? $\endgroup$ – datahappy Nov 20 '14 at 4:10
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    $\begingroup$ The frustrating thing is we all agree that expert well-curated answers are of value; but we seem to disagree on whether questions need to be expert in to order get such answers. I feel the attitude that only expert questions deserve answering (from the onset, I might add) flies in the face of three principles: 1) There no such thing as a stupid question (pro-learning principle); 2) A diverse community is more healthy than an academic clubhouse (we can coexist harmoniously); 3) Half of the beta committers agreed on a diverse site from the onset (participation in good faith). $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 20 '14 at 5:52
  • $\begingroup$ @datahappy I thought the pros and cons of selective questions were already known; I updated my answer to give short reasoning. $\endgroup$ – FooBar Nov 20 '14 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ @LateralFractal The level of OP makes a huge difference. If I can expect a certain level of familiarity with Economics, I can provide much more compact and precise answers using the proper terminology. $\endgroup$ – FooBar Nov 20 '14 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ @LateralFractal Non-expert questions cannot be answered both at good quality and at short length, this comes from the background that those OP will bring. I updated my answer. $\endgroup$ – FooBar Nov 20 '14 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ That is a pedagogical hypothesis that implies that scaling is impossible. If that was actually true, then no one would learn anything. At least you are honest that you only want an academic post-grad economics stack exchange; even if this desire is simply unreasonable. Such a site would enrich only the fraction of the people that a general economics site would; and isolates the many economists willing to "lower themselves" to answering economics questions asked by the general public. Ivory towers haven't done anyone any favours in increasing the macroeconomic literacy of the wider community. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 20 '14 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ This is not about scaling being impossible or not. I'm just disagreeing that quality of an answer is independent of the quality of the question. If I have to introduce demand and supply or other relevant basic economic concepts into every answer where they might be relevant, every answer is either blown out of proportion or just vague. $\endgroup$ – FooBar Nov 20 '14 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ Mechanisms for duplicate questions exist. If non-duplicate questions dovetail into the same class of answers; well this is to be expected as most disciplines strive for general purpose solutions and unified fundamentals where possible. This then becomes a discussion about what questions may bore post-grads seeking to grow or prove their engagement in the outer edges of their discipline - not what questions serve as useful on a Q&A site. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 20 '14 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ The only relevant part of your next comment (as a response to my previous) "this is to be expected". The rest is irrelevant. To sum up, you claimed that non-expert questions can still result in expert answers. I provided the reason why I disagree. And your answer is "[this is] to be expected". Well then, I don't see a point in arguing here anymore. Especially given your subtile puns on ivory towers and bored grad students. Im out of this discussion. $\endgroup$ – FooBar Nov 20 '14 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ Not exactly puns; rather genuine concerns about the risk of selective commitment. Bore, as I hope you read the comment rather than skimmed it, means the risk of members that don't want to answer the same questions in-depth (i.e. expert) multiple times when they could answer interesting questions (expert-to-expert, which they always could). @corone's answer is the best I've seen so far in balancing the concerns of the prosumers and general public. Some other answers reek of the very unfunny ivory towerism I'm worried about. You do know that economics, unlike biology has an image problem? $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 20 '14 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ You keep ignoring my concern about lengthy and incorrect answers. The past responses have been mixtures of rhetorics and aggressive platitudes. That's of course one way of "winning" an argument, ignoring the point and insulting the other side. Given that you're a representative of the company, that's it for me, I'm out. You win. Perhaps I'll sometimes ask or answer one question or two, but given this attitude, I'm not interested in "shaping a community" for you. $\endgroup$ – FooBar Nov 22 '14 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ Huh? I answered it thrice on length. Once on pedagogic grounds (long answers are not bad); again on infrastructure grounds (econ101 questions are usually repetitious and so we can use the duplication feature to weed the site); and again on grounds of choice and autonomy (no one says you personally have to be a teaching-orientated member; just focus on the questions you want to answer, the site is inclusive). As for incorrect, well, I dunno, isn't that within the control of the answerer? Unless you feel only people willing to answer novice questions are novices? $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 22 '14 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ @LateralFractal, keep in mind that non-economists who complain about how economics has an "image problem" are pretty much the last thing that a site like this needs. $\endgroup$ – nominally rigid Jan 7 '15 at 1:40

I think lay questions should be welcome because of the profound links between economics and policy.

For policy, economics is a lot more directly important than physics or astronomy. Consider that newspapers have daily economics sections, but at most weekly science sections. Economical knowledge is used to take policy decisions that affect everybody on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, in a democracy, it is important that laypeople have some understanding of economics.

For example, in the Eurozone, there is a debate ongoing in how to improve the economy: austerity or stimulation? Austerity has been the main policy so far, but many — including people with Economics PhDs — disagree. If I am to have a fact-based opinion, I need some understanding of the situation.

Therefore, I very much hope that lay questions will remain welcome here.


I fully agree with datahappy and LateralFractal's response.

I think the site should be as open and accepting as possible. The fact that there was an Econ SE beta before that didn't make it (despite the fact that economics is a very widely spread subject) is another manifestation of the usual snobbery that is so common among some (majority of?) economists. I say this as a student, as a researcher and as a teacher of the area.

Please, please, let's not go that way.

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    $\begingroup$ I think it's exactly the opposite: the previous site didn't make it precisely because it wasn't snobbish enough, and by failing to provide enough expert-level content discouraged all experts from participating. No researcher wants to wade through vague popular-level questions or ideologically tendentious tirades to ask her question about a specific model or institution or algorithm or data source. $\endgroup$ – nominally rigid Jan 7 '15 at 1:35
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    $\begingroup$ @nominallyrigid The problem with that outlook is you assume the site is just for you. It isn't. Precisely because there is otherwise nowhere on the Stack Exchange network to park "non-expert" or "non-mainstream" economic questions. A academic boys-club of sorts is of little interest to me and adds less value to the internet than a broader site; and so I've not generally revisited this site in weeks. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Jan 10 '15 at 0:58

Expert question or not, the question must be interesting enough to be useful for a more broad community. The main entry points of the site are the search engines. So try to find questions that people ask often (in other forums for example), and ask here, and provide good answer for it. Even if the questions are trivial, often the trivial looking questions are the most viewed and highest voted ones on the sites.

If we can't turn all the stats "okay" or better, then we risk that the site fails again. I think pushing the site through the Beta status should be the top priority isn't it?

  • $\begingroup$ If you scroll the questions, you will see mainly "undergraduate theoretical" questions (educational aspect) and "current issues" questions (applied economics aspect), rather than "research-level" questions. As I wrote in another thread, SE is about getting expert answers to any questions -and this is what is happening, on its own. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Mar 11 '15 at 21:01

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