# Is Stackexchange a good idea?

I am only in my second week with this site and I have enjoyed many of the questions and answers and discussions but as I get to understand the purpose of the site and how it is being used, I have some concerns.

1. The site provides experts in all disciplines prepared to answer technical questions. The experts strive to provide the best possible answers. My experience with Cross Validated is that there are a lot of smart people with specialized expertise in R, classification/machine learning and many other important applied areas in statistics. This provides a great opportunity for someone who is stumped on a problem to get top-notch consulting advice for free. So I ask whether this is really a good thing since it could take away work people who do professional consulting for a living. Also are we encouraging laziness as someone who has a problem they find to be difficult might instead of thinking out the problem and doing their own research to find the solution decides it is much easier to raise the question here and just see all the great ideas poor out with practically no effort. We even help them reformulate poorly posed questions.

2. Some students come here for free tutoring. There seems to be an awareness here that this poses problems. Students should study the course material and try to solve the problems themselves. Cross Validated asks that these questions be labelled as homework and the approach to answering is to give guidance rather than a complete solution. Nevertheless doesn't this also also encourage laziness as the student can just pose it here or in several places on StackExchange to get as much help as possible before doing any of the work on their own?

• My thanks to whoever moved it. Macro I believe. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 14:58
• Migrations are made by the community, Michael. A record of the voting appears beneath your original post at stats.stackexchange.com/questions/28107. And yes, @Macro, you do have the ability to migrate posts--just not unilaterally. – whuber May 9 '12 at 15:03
• @whuber Yes I suspected a migration was appropriate. I am just guessing that Macro moved it because he made the suggestion. Do you know for sure that he was the one? – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 15:35
• As I wrote, Michael, the migration is made by the community, not an individual (except when a moderator is solely involved as a representative of the community). In this case three people migrated the question, as documented beneath the original post. Given your active and intense involvement in our site recently, I think you will now find a close reading of the entire FAQ to be rewarding because it will help you understand how the site works and how to optimize your interaction with it. – whuber May 9 '12 at 15:40
• I agreed with the migration of this question. There is no complaint here. I was asking for it to be moved where it would be appropriate. I think looking through the FAQs could be rewarding but too time ocnsuming. I am already concerned that I am spending too much time on this site. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 18:36
• With respect to question 1, you may be interested to know that a number of our top contributors here, in fact, work as private (self-employed) statistical consultants. There are a number of very strong answers already, but, curiously enough, not by any of the ones that I know are consultants. I'm guessing they just don't have this problem w/ the site, but it might be interesting to hear what they have to say. Paging @[name-redacted]. – gung - Reinstate Monica May 10 '12 at 3:17
• I guess this is general enough and should be migrated to meta.stackoverflow.com. – Curious May 30 '12 at 16:46

Your notion of stealing business from consultants is predicated on the weird but commonly-held notion that the work is theirs to begin with. To me, that's akin to saying that people who have potluck dinners are stealing business from caterers. It's not their business in the first place but rather a task that is outsourced to them when it's convenient, and any caterer who blames potlucks for their lousy business probably has much greater problems.

The very first step into commercial food provision entails a very significant amount of work - finding a trustworthy company, agreeing on contract terms, payment method, coming up with the cash, conveying accurately what you want done, etc. That initial cost gets easier to swallow as the scale of the project grows, but for small questions it's absurd. Potlucks mostly just need a venue (conveniently provided for us by Atwood and Co.).

Potlucks also have all kinds of benefits that aren't really available in the market - a greater variety of dishes is possible (some good, some bad); the satisfaction of human connection, community, reputation; an opportunity for people who can't or won't be caterers (which can be for many reasons other than skill) to share their talents; cooking for the simple joy of it. I bet most professional cooks love potlucks - it provides an opportunity to experiment outside of work, get new ideas from others, cast aside the restrictions that constrain commercial cooking, and do something they enjoy in a low-pressure environment. Is there a risk for freeloading? Sure - but the community can regulate that without contracts and legal enforcement of obligations.

The bottom line is that this site provides something that consultants do not, which is low-friction, zero-cost access to a diverse body of self-validating experts who do this for the love of it, with great potential for learning, reciprocity, pride, community. Whether this site exists or not, that's a service that can't be bought.

• (+1) Well said. – cardinal May 16 '12 at 23:35
• This type of consulting is valuable. Hence giving it out for free raises questions and does cut into legitimate business. I volunteer here quite a bit and I also do private consulting. It is not like comparing a cheap pot luck dinner to a catered affair. This is valuable high quality consulting coming very cheaply. But I do agree with Macro that the work is not to the detailed extent of a typical consulting project. Still i do think it might take away some business from consultants and I do not necessarily see that as a good thing. – Michael R. Chernick Jun 21 '12 at 21:48
• Yet you're the most active user on the site. Why? – Matt Parker Jun 21 '12 at 22:49

One thing that comes to mind is that this site doesn't really provide "full service" consulting - we answer conceptual questions, and leave it to the poster to do the more time consuming work (e.g. implementation, writing up the results, making it all into a coherent story for a manuscript). If we were full service consultants, and commanding a large hourly rate, we'd likely be doing all of that work as well, which makes it sort of fundamentally different in my opinion.

Saying that we provide free tutoring reflects a pretty broad definition of tutoring - many of the homework questions presented here are ones many of us can answer at a glance, so simply asking leading questions (which is generally how homework is approached) requires very little effort on our part, and, in my opinion is not close to as involved as actually tutoring someone. In the case where the poster doesn't have the background to understand the leading questions, the question sort of "dies" - if we were tutoring, that would be the time where we'd have to step back and review more basic concepts.

• I like your answer Macro but what you would do and what I would do may be different from what others do. My main concern is about the consulting issue and not the tutoring of students part. But my point is that the service we provide on homework can encourage laziness. Not all student problems are trivial that can be abswered at a glance and many times we probe to help us and the student understand the problem. We give detailed hints and sometimes full solutions. I find myself giving full solutionsin some cases. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 15:48
• @Michael, When a homework problem is nontrivial, wouldn't such probing--and indeed a full solution--be of use to the solver and of interest to the community? I would have little concern about whether this encourages "laziness" on the part of the original proposer: how they go about learning is up to them. And surely you don't find yourself giving full solutions in the trivial cases! – whuber May 9 '12 at 16:13

I don't see any problem.

Any site where people can learn will be targeted by the lazy as well as the diligent, the homework-answer-seekers as well as the professional and hobbiest. Nothing can be done about that except community self-policing. Which seems, in my opinion, to be remarkably effective.

In terms of stealing business from consultants, none of the questions I've asked over time have any budget to hire a consultant to answer. I'm a student and hobbiest in statistics, and if there were any budget for what I do, it would be for university classes or a new computer, not a statistical consultant. (Unless there were an absolute statistical expert in my area who for some charitable reason would tutor me for a fee I could afford.)

I also do my best to answer questions that I have learned about or have experience in. (I'm an Artificial Intelligence guy by training.)

• I will agree that the self policing helps. Again i think the main issue is stealing business from consultants. I don't agree with those of you that say it can't happen. Why do we put in so much time to this site with little or no reward. I can't figure it out. I am as guilty or more guilty than most at this. As a person who does part time statistical consulting I am sensitive to this issue. I have seen many people try to take advantage of consultants for free advice. The reason it doesn't happen on this site may be that those people are not aware of its existence yet. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 18:03
• Re: "...with little or no reward. I can't figure it out" - what is there to figure out? We are all statistics enthusiasts and have a lot of fun talking about statistics. It's a great reward to me since I sure can't talk to my wife about statistics. Also during relatively uneventful days at work like today, this is a great way to pass the time. – Macro May 9 '12 at 18:10
• @Macro And a great way to learn something new in the way! This site is full of new challengues and more to come! – Néstor May 9 '12 at 18:41
• @MichaelChernick: I agree that if the site were very well-known, we'd have about 10x the number of homework questions and questions by folks who simply want a "press this button" statistical answer and are sure we have it here. It also makes me a bit nervous, but as long as it lasts, we can simply think about it and not worry. – Wayne May 9 '12 at 18:55
• @Wayne: I think this is one reason it is important to have a clear vision regarding what we want the site to be. That can evolve with time---and it has---but should be done with care. This is also a good reason for having good procedures and content scoping. If you compare us to the math.SE site, we get a lot less traffic but they seem to have much more of an issue with homework and help-me-right-this-instant questioning. The policies for treating such questions are a continuing matter of lively and spirited debate over there. Moreso now that they have an election in progress. – cardinal May 9 '12 at 19:07
• @cardinal The way Cross Validated handles homework is indeed a very good way to avoid the problems you mention. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 19:29
• @MichaelChernick, in response to your question in the top comment, "Why do we put in so much time to this site with little or no reward", you may want to read this question. Speaking for myself, I put in a lot of time on this site (I keep thinking I need to spend less time here...), but I certainly wouldn't say I've gotten no reward; I've learned an enormous amount & especially about things that don't necessarily come up in formal classes or statistics textbooks. – gung - Reinstate Monica May 10 '12 at 3:00
• @MichaelChernick: "stealing business from consultants"? How? The market for consultants mostly is people/businesses with no expertise in stats, and no interest in learning it. This site is not threatening that market. I can't see why they would even come here, and I doubt someone could learn enough stats here, from scratch, to put a consultant out of work, at least not without lots work and other learning resources. The only thing I can see happening is this site improving the quality of consultations, and maybe helping a few new consultants of their feet. Scared of a little competition? :D – naught101 May 16 '12 at 6:07

To address various problems brought up by your question in turn, from my perspective:

"it could take away work people who do professional consulting for a living."

Frankly, if the services of a particular statistical consultant can be replaced by a few questions on CrossValidated or StackExchange, they're not providing enough service for their clients for me to feel bad. Beyond that, there are a considerable number of answers on CV that amount to "You're in over your head. Go find a statistician, use these words, and they'll be able to help."

"Also are we encouraging laziness as someone who has a problem they find to be difficult might instead of thinking out the problem and doing their own research to find the solution decides it is much easier to raise the question here and just see all the great ideas poor out with practically no effort. We even help them reformulate poorly posed questions."

It's possible, but if they don't put the effort in, they'll get little lasting knowledge from 'Give Me the Code' questions. For example, I on occasion post questions like that, but generally it's "I don't even know where to start with x..." and the question is meant to be something I can build off of and learn from. It's very hard to distinguish between that and a 'lazy' question.

Beyond that, being neither their boss, professor or mother, I don't care. Laziness as a vice is a particularly...puritanical notion. If someone just wants to get their plot, p-value or test name and go away, it's little enough to me. And I'd rather tolerate that than turn away someone genuinely floundering who could use a hand to produce a meaningful, robust and thoughtful analysis.

Some students come here for free tutoring. There seems to be an awareness here that this poses problems. Students should study the course material and try to solve the problems themselves. Cross Validated asks that these questions be labelled as homework and the approach to answering is to give guidance rather than a complete solution. Nevertheless doesn't this also also encourage laziness as the student can just pose it here or in several places on StackExchange to get as much help as possible before doing any of the work on their own?

Students also come here to ask questions when they don't have access to teaching resources, are trying to self-learn and have run aground, or are looking for a deeper understanding. I'd suggest the problem of a freeloading student is relatively minor compared to those things - especially as CV is fairly adept at not giving complete solutions.

Students being able to get "as much help as possible" while they learn isn't a bug. It's a feature.

• (+1) I've upvoted nearly all the answers to this question at this point. This is yet another carefully considered and well thought out reply. Thanks for taking the time to provide your perspective. – cardinal Jun 21 '12 at 16:50

Small chipping in: There were similar arguments as brought forth by @MichaelChernick when R started to gain momentum with version 1.0.0. I guess it's just a fundamental issue with community effort like open source software, open access journals, open data initiatives or community-driven open knowledge spaces as this one. Much has been written on what makes contributors tick and how commons influence for-profit competition, so I won't reiterate here.

But for me it is clear: A site like this serves the common good, one way or another. Reputation is the currency and fun and new insights the reward. That's why (most) of us probably do this.

Background: I am an outside professionalist and editor of an open source journal and R contributor and here on cross validated. I don't see my work threatened. If anything, I feel like I learn a lot here that will benefit my clients and my work.

• (+1) I was thinking this whole discussion was very analogous to open-source software like R (which I strongly support). Interesting backstory. – Macro May 10 '12 at 2:00
• Thanks Momo. I wouldn't expect this site would be harmful to journal editors or people who contribute software to the CRAN library. My only concern is for the professional statistical consultant. Maybe my concern is unfounded. That is what I wanted to find out from you and others. What did you mean when you said you are an outside professionalist. Does thaat mean that you do private consulting for profit? – Michael R. Chernick May 11 '12 at 3:33
• Exactly. I do consulting for a living, but am active in community efforts like open access journal or open source software. I mentioned it to show that open knowledge needs not be a threat, that one can do both. The knowledge accumulated and reputation earned actually positively effects my consulting. – Momo May 11 '12 at 23:13
• The development of R did hurt the business of SPlus rather severely. I wonder how those employees and former employees feel about that. I know some went to Google. – Michael R. Chernick Jun 21 '12 at 21:51
• @Michael Chernik: well thats how things is supposed to work in a competitive economy. I doubt those former employees really was hurt! – kjetil b halvorsen Oct 20 '15 at 13:57

Yes, I do not think this site can replace a consultant. It's more of pointing learners and other experts into the right direction and discussing with them. If you are concerned about career implications, the problem might be more that you help rivals for jobs and consultancy opportunities. But to compete with you with just the help of this site, they have to be already more or less in the same league. No company needing statistical consultancy will be able to just use this site instead, it might just help their resident expert.

As for laziness on the part of students, well, in my experience there are always ways anyway. They can write off from co-students or try to find the answers in textbook... If they post here either they are terribly lazy and people will notice and probably not give full answers (that's my experience) or they will format the question carefully, explain where they are stumped and get valuable advice from which they actually learn something.

• (+1) - "But to compete with you with just the help of this site, they have to be already more or less in the same league. No company needing statistical consultancy will be able to just use this site instead, it might just help their resident expert" is a very good point and, in my opinion, there's nothing wrong with the resident expert coming here to bounce ideas off of people - that just makes for more good science. – Macro May 9 '12 at 15:15
• @macro and Erik I understand the value especially in a colleagial setting. But I see plenty of people enter the site who are very naive in statistics but have a project at work that they need help with. Sometimes it is obvious that they don't know much statistics by the way they word the question. What bothers me is that often the experts go to great lengths to solve these problems. Not only do I think people can use it to avoid paying a consultant but I also think they sometimes are demanding too much and we probably spend too much time helping. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 15:42
• @MichaelChernick, if the person is truly clueless in that situation, using this site will not help them much, since any recommendations we give will not make any sense to them. You won't find any examples on this site of someone taking the data provided by the asker and returning an analysis of their data, etc... in the answer. Perhaps you can give an example of an answer you think was going too far? – Macro May 9 '12 at 15:45
• @Macro It is a general impression I have and no specific question comes to mind. But I have been looking at so many questions this week and I think I can find an example for you. I don't see people taking large or moderately large data sets and solving the posters question that way. But many posters ask how to do something in R or whether or not something can be done in R and I am sure in some (possibly many) cases they get a complete solution coded in R. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 16:06
• I know that many of you love this site and so I expect to get some dissent. But is there anyone out there that agrees with me on any of the points I have been making? – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 16:07
• @Michael, as a moderator I obviously have an investment in this site, but nevertheless--or really because of this--I warmly encourage raising challenging questions like yours. Regardless of the amount of agreement or disagreement they evince, such questioning helps us improve the site and the community's experience. – whuber May 9 '12 at 16:16
• @MichaelChernick, there are certainly cases where people write R code as part of their answer, with an example given on some simulated toy data (or publicly available data - not the question asker's data though). This would still require the asker to understand what the answer is saying in order to implement the idea on their own data, let alone write a results and discussion section of a manuscript. I'll wait until you have an actual example of someone doing the equivalent of full service statistical consulting on this website before I'll concede that this could be a problem. – Macro May 9 '12 at 16:18
• @Macro There are some notable exceptions; that is, examples "of someone taking the data provided by the asker and returning an analysis of their data, etc...". A (very small number of) users do take the data and analyze them--or at least pump them through automated software. As to the value or efficacy of this approach, I will leave it to you to decide. See stats.stackexchange.com/a/9017 for a good example. – whuber May 9 '12 at 16:19
• @whuber, that is just showing a generic example with some real data - that's not analyzing the asker's data for them, which is what I was referring to – Macro May 9 '12 at 16:21
• @Macro Take a look at other replies by the same respondent ;-). – whuber May 9 '12 at 16:21
• Who's side are you on @whuber??? ;) Seriously though, IrishStat has over 200 answers so I'm not sure where to look. In any case while I do generally object to doing full service consulting on this site, I think characterizing that as the norm or even moderately pervasive at all (or even common enough to be an issue) would be a major overstatement. – Macro May 9 '12 at 16:26
• @Macro I merely wanted to preempt a possible continuation of this comment thread in which such relatively rare full analyses might be called out as counterexamples to your (correct) characterization of answers on this site. Please bear in mind that as a moderator my first duty is to assure good communication rather than to take sides in a discussion (although frequently I do both, because I am also an active community member). So please bear with me if sometimes my comments don't suggest a clear stand on a particular issue. – whuber May 9 '12 at 16:39
• I appreciate that Bill Huber at least acknowledges that I raise good issues that can be helpful. I don't expect him to agree with me. i don't think I am taking sides or attacking people personally. I am not alone at having some discontent with the site. I am certainly not against you Macro. I thought you did the right thing to suggest moving this question to meta and I think most of your comments and answers to questions are fabulous. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 17:57
• @MichaelChernick: o offense meant!, but: "We probably spend too much time helping" may be more true for someone with > 80 answers in 8 days than for other people... – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 9 '12 at 17:59
• @cbeleities. I agree that in my first week I have spent much more time on the site than most people would. But it isn't just the amount of activity. It takes a lot longer to do things here than what it would take to do the same things at others site. – Michael R. Chernick May 11 '12 at 3:25

Clients who have money find it more reasonable to just pay a statistician and be able to hold him/her accountable for the deliverable, and get it on the agreed time. The CV site provides a rough product, at best, that the OP may or may not use, at their own risk. One cannot always share the complete data set; the posts where the OPs would refer to the data on their webpages are not very frequent, so the answer will inevitably be incomplete.

On top of these reasons against CV being a threat for professional consulting, the OP may or may not be able to discern a good answer from a lousy one if they don't have good enough clue about it to begin with. Professional statisticians are likely deliver concordant answers... except in situations when there's an insurmountable paradigm difference between Bayesians, data miners and/or mainstreamers, for the lack of better terminology. Voting scheme is fundamentally stupid: 10 voices of a rep-1 person are not worth 1 vote of whuber or Michael Chernick, but the system does not allow whuber's vote to be worth 10 points (which has a reverse wisdom, in the sense that whuber still provides professional rather than populist answers). Bad answers rarely receive good scores, but sometimes not-so-great answers receive higher scores than answers that I consider to be a much better fit.

I remember there was a passing discussion of the mailing list of the Statistical Consulting Section of ASA, and there was no sense of a threat coming from this site.

In a way, the website works as an integrator/referer: a lot of my posts would be a reference to Wikipedia and an explanation, in my own words, how the Wikipedia material applies to the original question. It also works as a filter: the task of finding the right paper on arXiv would be absolutely daunting, but there may be somebody on the site who just read it, and can point to it. So it mostly saves the search time, rather than solves the problem fully; and most users are fine with that, and are able to take it from there.

• Good comments Stask! I especially like the part about my answers and Bill Huber's being worth a lot more than one vote. The same could be said for yours. – Michael R. Chernick Jun 21 '12 at 21:58
• I don't believe that last part was what Stas was saying, @Michael. – cardinal Jun 22 '12 at 12:00

I can only speak for myself, but I think stats.SE is a great idea for a third category of people you might not have considered as such: self-learners!

I am a Computer Scientist without any background in statistics, and I am learning lots on my own as part of my recent efforts to get into machine learning. I can hardly go to a consultant when I don't understand a description in a stats book, or when one of my toy algorithms isn't behaving as it should. I don't have a practical problem I need solving, just trying to understand some concept/algorithm. On the other hand, I'm also not a student who has a study group of peers and/or professors I might discuss my issues with.

What should someone like me do? Give up machine learning and all things statistics and leave it to the consultants? :-)

I strongly agree with @Erik and @Macro, but I wanted to point out something else that is intended to answer your question in the title of this question: "is Stackexchange a good idea?"

I think I have a privileged view of what you are intending to say because of my background. I'm not a statistician myself and my background is astrophysics (I only have a Bs. Cs. and if everything goes ok, I'll be in grad school next month). However, here in Chile the college curriculum is in some ways way behind those of the top universities: in my case, we don't even have basic statistic courses, so I've pretty much learned all by myself (reading books, papers, etc.). Think of my status: here in my area, only the professors with who I work have a working understanding of statistics. Everyone else thinks that statistics is some magic "trick-bag".

Because of all of the above, I think I'm pretty much on the middle. In one hand, it is true that I'm not a professional statistician, but I think I can help with some topics that I've studied for the work I do. On the other hand, I also have used this site to get some advice or simply when I get stuck on something. However, there is something nicer that I found here: since I discovered this site two months ago, my knowledge on probability and statistics have improved enormously. I think that's the beauty of this site: it provides not just question and answers, but train of thoughts. I think that's a little different from consultancy, where you just give out a report citing sources and trying to put in simple words to your clients something that you did that in fact requieres a profound understanding on probability and statistics. If you hire a consultant is simply because of (a) you don't have the neccesary background to work a problem by yourself (or not have the time to learn it) or (b) you just need results.

However, in this site that knowledge of the background is somewhat implicit (ok, very explicit in some cases), because you wouldn't get a lot of what is said here if you haven't studied or worked on the area. With this in mind you have two options when an answer to your problem pops out: (1) you try to understand an answer and, therefore, if you don't have the neccesary background you'll have to study it (which is not needed with a consultant around), (2) if you happen to understand what to do you can just take the reply and use it without knowing what you are doing (which is a common mistake in every area but this time, unlike with a consultant, you don't have a safe source to rely on).

As for your point with students, well, I think you can never really avoid lazyness. You could say the same with problems solved in textbooks. I've seen a lot of people that when they see a problem set, they inmediately search on the web for the solution to the problem and when they find it, they just copy the solution don't even understanding what they are doing. However, as I said, here you are unlikely to find solutions. You are more likely to find train of thoughts and from there get to the solutions by yourself.

So my answer is yes: it is a very good idea.

• I really appreciate your response. There is no question that this site serves a very useful purpose for those who use it. I have spent countless hours on here over the past 8 days , mostly answering questions and supplying statistical background. i like teaching and consulting and find what I am doing here very rewarding. My point was really quite different. I am asking whether this is harmful to professional consultants (in any profession on here and not just statistics). – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 18:45
• I am 65 and have been a practicing statistician for 30 years and yet I learn a lot from teh bright people hear both young and old. I am trying to make up my mind whether or not it is worth the effort i have been putting in to stay on the site and when I think about that I think about how it absorbs the valuable time of people who could be spending this time making money working or consulting. I will probably stick with it. I raised the question to hear both sides and make up my mind how much to invest in this. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 18:48
• @MichaelChernick: To be honest, sites like this suck up too much time, if you contribute. The question is: how fun is it, how much do you learn by teaching, and how much do you give back in return for what you learn? The time has to come out of work, home, or something else -- if you have a real life, anyhow. – Wayne May 9 '12 at 18:58
• The other sites I have posted on "suck up" far less time than what I am taking here and people seem to be just as appreciative of my efforts there as they are here. The only difference is that it is directly expressed by some in email on those sites. Here it comes across quantitatively in reputation points that they award to me. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 20:44

May rather be a comment, but there evolves a discussion here (which shouldn't happen anyways...) so my "answers" try to sort the different lines in the discussion:

But I see plenty of people enter the site who are very naive in statistics but have a project at work that they need help with.

But what is their alternative? Usually not to ask the fully-grown statistician next door - I guess most people would do that rather than typing in the questions if they had the possibility.

So the pro of this is that statistics knowledge is spead among people who do not have a statistician at hand. Also, sometimes people are told to go and find a statistician to consult.

About the naive questions: if you're coming from another field you may use a very different language than what is common in statistics. This may add a lot to the naive sound of a question.

• I think I am being misunderstood in a lot of ways. I have no objection to naive questions. I was just saying that those people do come here. There alternative is to find a statistician to hire for consulting. There are plenty of us out there and a few hours of consulting help is not going to bust someones wallet. Again the advantage to the users of the site is clear. That is not what i am arguing about. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 18:53
• @MichaelChernick: What I try to say and what Wayne also said in his answer is that these people do not see the alternative of going to a statistician. I'll try to expand a few points that I have experienced or seen in that respect. – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 10 '12 at 10:15

Students should study the course material and try to solve the problems themselves.

That's notion is wrong. The point of university isn't to teach students to be able to solve problems by looking in a lecture script or their notes from the lecture.

University is supposed to teach students to learn something that will help them in their future lives. In today's world using the internet is a central part of learning.

When I do homework and have a problem with some strange R syntax and spend an half an hour trying to figure it out then it makes no sense to stay offline and reread "course material".

In a perfect world I should be able to solve my R synatx problem by running a Google search and finding some explanation of how that specific R function works.

If that approach doesn't work it makes sense to condense the syntax question to a question on stackexchange. It helps my with my problem. It however also makes the internet a better place. If another person has problems with the same syntax he can now find my question on stackexchange with answers to the problem.

People are using it, ergo it is a good idea.

• People are using it means it is good for many of those using it. My question is addressed to how it affects outside parties namely the professional consultant. – Michael R. Chernick May 9 '12 at 22:12
• People use tobacco, so it's a good idea? Oops. – Peter Flom May 15 '12 at 11:27
• @PeterFlom For tobacco business? Certainly. Seriously, it is just a OA publishing place -- whether it is harmful for anyone or not is irrelevant since it is and will happen anyway. – user88 May 15 '12 at 12:01