7
$\begingroup$

Have a look here and scroll to the bottom. You'll notice that (as of the day of this post) Cross Validated has the 3rd worst record for percent of questions answered among SE sites. Only 61% of questions have been answered (that's 39% unanswered questions). Compare this to the average across all sites: 88% (SD=10.3) answered.

  • As of Mar 23, 2016:
    • Questions Asked: 76360
    • Unanswered Questions: 30017

I'll save you all the additional stats (for fear of this question remaining unanswered) and instead will use a picture to sum the issue up well:

%Answered questions on SE sites

The question is WHY?

This question was actually originally asked 3 years ago. In that time, the % of unanswered questions has actually increased: from ~25% unanswered in Feb 2013 to almost 40% in March 2016!

Why do so many Cross Validated questions continue to go unanswered?

  • What's changed in the three years since this issue was last discussed?

Possible causes:

  • Not enough expertise (no one knows the answers).
  • Not enough experts (the ratio of questions : those knowledgeable enough to answer is too low)
    • The same 20 people can't answer 30k questions...
  • Not enough people willing or interested in answering questions.
    • Perhaps due to laziness, lack of ease to answer, simplicity of the question (the "they should know that!" excuse), length/complexity of question asked, lenght/complexity of required answer, etc.
  • Too many people know too little about stats (this one falls on the schools)
  • Too many questions. Questions get bumped down too quickly for people to see, and perhaps too few people are scouring older questions among relevant tags.
  • Too many duplicate questions that are not immediately apparent as duplicates.
    • Complex questions or too-specifically context-dependent worded questions mask the underlying statistical concept, which otherwise could be more easily searched
  • Answers are not useful and require people to come back for more
    • No need to flex your stats muscle if the person is a beginner
    • Alternatively, vague answers or those that don't really answer the OP's question seem to be somewhat frequent.
    • Perhaps more questions that involve specific scenarios should have discussions in chat so that all aspects of an OP's issue can be addressed, instead of the need to create a half dozen specific questions.
  • Others?....

I promise the purpose of this post is not to attack anyone or ruffle feathers. Cross Validated is to be a helpful source for stats information. If more than a 3rd of the questions continue to go unanswered (and that amount keeps increasing) the site is not doing its job as well as it could.

We have the responsibility of recognizing why this might be the case so that we can adjust the site's approach or its users' approach to using the site in order to improve the overall helpfulness & utility of Cross Validated.

| |
$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Many of us are quite sympathetic to this question and the concerns it expresses. It's not a new conversation, though, by any means! $\endgroup$ – whuber Mar 23 '16 at 19:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Perhaps I should change the question to why do so many questions continue to be left unanswered? :p. (Actually, in fact, the % of questions answered has worsened since that previous post!) $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Mar 23 '16 at 19:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If you were to modify this question slightly to ask us to focus on what might have changed in the three years since this issue was last discussed, we might be able to justify reopening it. For instance, I could supply information about changes in the kinds of questions we are attracting. E.g., throwaway homework questions have contributed to substantial growth in the rate of closed posts. I believe a large minority of all posts currently coming in are duplicates--but it takes tremendous knowledge and effort to identify them as such and close them. $\endgroup$ – whuber Mar 23 '16 at 19:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ BTW, your data may be misleading in two ways. (1) They cover almost six years, not just recent activity. Our answer rate has gone down, so these figures are surely (substantial) overestimates of the answer rate. (2) They appear to include closed questions among those that are unanswered! Currently, we are closing 20% of all questions. The net effect is that recently we are answering 66% of all open questions. Note also that (3) it's meaningless to compare us to SE sites focusing on games, cooking, etc. where no special expertise is needed to answer (and nobody posts homework). $\endgroup$ – whuber Mar 23 '16 at 19:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @whuber I've updated the question to focus more on why the problem continues to exist. Will that suffice to re-open it? $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Mar 23 '16 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ @whuber all fair points. Still 66% isn't so great. Feel free to incorporate your points (or otherwise underlying knowledge about the site) succinctly in my question if you feel it would improve the overall point. $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Mar 23 '16 at 19:33
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ There are a lot of unanswered questions because you didn't answer them yet. The reasons why you haven't are probably fairly common reasons for other readers of the site. There's a lot more call for high levels of statistical expertise than there are experts with the time to give it, in a way that few other areas experience; it's not like the econometricians are bugging the chemists or the astronomers are bugging the psychologists so they can do their research/job or understand an article -- ... ctd $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Mar 23 '16 at 22:26
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ ctd ... -- but those areas all want to analyze data, they mostly want different procedures, and even when they're not different they want to call them different things and know different things about them. To answer even a modest fraction of the posts on site you have to know large amounts of stats but also a little about everything else. I've answered quite a few questions on other sites, and none of them require the level of study* it takes to give a good answer here, and yet this is the area I've been working in for decades.$\quad$ *(a good answer can take a very long time to construct) $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Mar 23 '16 at 22:35
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Indeed, often 80% of the work is simply trying to get to the point of having an answerable question. If I have a problem in cooking, I can probably clearly explain the exact issue in 5 or ten lines ... and often the answer takes less than twice that. Here, a typical poster starts by asking a completely different question to the one they need answered, they begin from false (but rarely stated) premises, and include almost none of the necessary information ... by the time you figure out what the actual issue is -- three days later -- several hundred more questions have posted. $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Mar 23 '16 at 22:44
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ ... because they are unanswerable is unfortunately the best first approximation. There could be a taxonomy of reasons why questions are too difficult to be able to answer or be worth trying an answer. More positively, don't underestimate the extent to which comments convey information to the OP and to others (even if it is not the information sought). My impression is that comments are more important here than in many other forums. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Mar 24 '16 at 10:06
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I wonder if users at other sites are more prone to closing & down-voting questions they judge not up to scratch, & less prone to using comments to try to improve them. A question with zero up-votes will be deleted automatically only after a year (if it wasn't closed or commented on more than once), & a couple of comments are enough for it to linger on indefinitely. $\endgroup$ – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Mar 24 '16 at 14:26