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I have only taken introductory statistics courses, and those were several years ago. I haven't taken any other advanced math courses either, so my math skills are clearly not strong enough to answer questions. I tried to participate by engaging in a softer question, but it is clear I don't even have the knowledge to add meaningful insight there.

I've also tried to contribute by flagging obsolete comments, but scouring older posts for obsolete comments doesn't seem like a good use of my time nor the flag reviewers' time. Furthermore it seems like I don't have a good handle on what is considered obsolete here because I have a 33% decline rate (although a sample size of 6 isn't very large).

I know there are badges for asking questions but seems like all I'm doing is taking without contributing. I don't want to just take if it can be avoided because that seems parasitic, but I don't know how I can contribute without spending years studying statistics first.

Is it possible for me to contribute, or should I just get comfortable with the idea that all I can do is ask questions periodically?


This post is in no way related to my current negative score on my answer to the question linked above. I didn't realize my answer was negative when I posted, and it wouldn't have been a factor regardless.

Nor is this question driven by me feeling mistreated at anytime.

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  • $\begingroup$ There's a related question somewhere I'd like to link to that has some relevant things in it, but its not in "Related" and after several searches I can't seem to locate it. (This is in part a reminder to me to look again) $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Sep 17 '15 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Glen_b, I also have a feeling of deja vu here. I seem to recall a comment from whuber in response to the question. I bet the related question does exist, but I can't think how to find it. $\endgroup$ – gung - Reinstate Monica Sep 18 '15 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ I did think of one other page where a few things are mentioned -- my Q&A answers at the moderator election; that lists 4 things to do, at least three of which you only need quite low reputation for. $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Sep 18 '15 at 4:20
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    $\begingroup$ CV's a Q & A site: you're giving, not taking, when you ask a question. $\endgroup$ – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Sep 18 '15 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Scortchi Agreed. It takes two to tango. Without questions then the site couldn't function. That being said, the ability to answer questions is a great way to pay forward the help you receive, or (might) request. I'm not saying questions have no value. I'm saying my limited ability to answer questions prevents me from paying forward the help I receive in the most direct manner. I think this is reflected powerfully in the rep system since acceptance rep doesn't count to the daily rep cap. $\endgroup$ – Erik Sep 18 '15 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ Every insight counts in my opinion! Furthermore, questions are a good source of knowledge for everyone: the fact they had already been asked has saved me a lot of time. $\endgroup$ – mickkk Sep 20 '15 at 14:08
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Firstly, thank you for contributing to our site already. I've noticed you several times and have already been glad of your positive presence.

  • there are a good number of more or less easy questions here, but they tend to come in "waves". In particular, there are lots of self-study questions, some of which are quite simple (posted by students at the start of a subject like one you've completed). If you keep in mind the guidelines on answering such questions there's often a useful contribution to be made.

  • there's thousands of unanswered questions; our unanswered questions rate is one of the higher ones on the SE network (for a variety of reasons). The high voted ones won't likely be ones you can respond to (since they've been looked at a lot, so high-voted ones that don't have an answer are probably tricky to answer for one reason or another), but among the ones with few votes there's quite a few which are simple to answer and some of those will be within your skills.

  • more votes are sorely needed. On questions where you are able to tell a more helpful answer form a less helpful one, vote up a good answer. Vote up interesting, well-researched or thought provoking questions, or ones that generate interesting answers.

  • Your English skills are apparently excellent, so there's the opportunity to suggest edits; often questions are in terrible shape and every bit of that stuff helps.

  • sometimes linking to a related answer (or flagging a duplicate) can be very helpful. If you remember a relevant answer to a different question, a link in comments can be an important contribution. The value of that sort of 'site curation' is easy to underestimate.

  • even when a simple question has been correctly answered, sometimes a correct but more technical answer is less helpful to an OP who has few mathematical skills than a wordier one pitched at the "right" level.

  • don't worry too much if some of your answers generate discussion, disagreement or even downvotes. I can point to plenty of my own answers that were wrong, or where I misunderstood, or gave a poor answer, and some of those were quite rightly downvoted. Being wrong is a crucial aspect of learning, and many of the most valuable contributions on the site are in the discussions in comments over a contentious point. I've learned a lot from being wrong!

  • Wrong or contended answers are actually more broadly helpful in their own way - as long as someone explains why they're wrong or not the whole story - since that will correct not just the misconceptions of the answerer but also misconceptions of later readers that might otherwise never have their understanding challenged. So I've also learned quite a lot from other people being wrong too.

  • ask good questions! We have lots of questions, but not always so many good ones. Having some people around who can express a question clearly and thoughtfully is the lifeblood of the site (it's hard to answer a question if it doesn't get asked). If you have something you want to know about that you can't find a good answer by searching, go ahead and ask. Getting someone else to give a good answer is adding value we wouldn't have otherwise.

  • you can also contribute here on meta. You represent a lot of the readership/users of the site, but that readership is vastly under-represented as far as guiding how we operate. Opinions given on meta are part of the guidance on how the site works (upvoted answers to meta questions are actually a way to guide the informal policies under which we try to operate), but they mostly come from answerers, rather than askers and readers.


In respect of the first two points above, here are some useful searches which might suggest other searches to try:

new unanswered self-study

relevant unanswered self-study

relevant unanswered "beginner"

relevant unanswered "basic"

Search engines can also be used fruitfully in ways the on-site search does less well on (searching information in comments for example). If your Google-fu is good, you can get good results that way.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your detailed answer. There is certainly a lot more for me to contribute than I originally thought! I'll definitely start following the self-study tag for questions that I can potentially answer. $\endgroup$ – Erik Sep 17 '15 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ Lot's of good points here. I guess we don't do bounties on meta, but otherwise I would offer one for this. $\endgroup$ – gung - Reinstate Monica Sep 18 '15 at 3:45

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