# Should we close questions that can be easily answered by Wikipedia or Google?

Suppose, someone asks a question that can be answered very easily by using either a textbook or Wikipedia or Google etc. (See this question for an example). Should we close this type of question?

My 2 cents: yes.

Reasoning: If we allow questions that can be easily answered using another source then I think there will be a proliferation of such questions. I think we should encourage posters to ask questions that are difficult and for which there is no standard resource.

Of course, if they have overlooked a resource then we can point to that resource in the comments when closing the question.

Edit:

I would like to bump this up as we have had some more experience with the kind of questions that are being asked. See this question on AIC as another example of a question that can be answered by Wikipedia.

In addition to the reasons I mentioned earlier (see above), looking at the wiki before asking the question will also make the question a bit more focused and useful both to the poster and to the rest of the community.

Should we have a policy for these type of questions?

• By the way, +1 because the question is important and the answers are good, and not because I agree with the specific suggestion of the OP (I disagree). – amoeba says Reinstate Monica Nov 14 '16 at 22:31

You usually have to know what something is called before searching for it, and even then, some common names become impossible to search for without the right additional keywords. So just because you can quickly find the answer in google does not mean someone else with less knowledge can.

I consider that a case-by-case approach be used. You never know when an apparently trivial question will get a surprising or interesting answer.

I don't think that having too many questions will ever be a problem.

I disagree (disclosure: I posted the question you're using as an example).

It is certainly annoying to have duplicate questions within a StackExchange, but if the question is original and on-topic, I don't see the problem in having it here.

Remember that the StackExchange engine has an advantage over random Google search results and Wikipedia entries; namely, that the answers are voted upon by knowledgeable users, so that incorrect (or unhelpful) material is less likely to appear at the top. With Wikipedia, it can be harder to know whether or not an entry is correct.

• I don't agree with this generally: wikipedia is accurate because it has a large community of people who are vigilant about keeping it that way (several studies have found this). Having a voting system won't make definitional questions any more correct. – Shane Jul 20 '10 at 17:11
• I agree that the voting system has advantages. However, do note that we have to draw the line somewhere. To take an extreme view point I can dig up every Wikipedia article on statistics and ask questions regarding them on this site. A much better approach to such questions is to encourage the following process: 1. Poster does a search (in books, Wikipedia, Google etc) on some topic. 2. Digests the material and tries to resolve any issues on his/her own. 3. Is still stuck then he/she will post a question seeking clarification on this site. – svadali Jul 20 '10 at 18:17
• 4. When asking the question, the poster should be encouraged to show their steps/thoughts on the issue. Such a process would ensure that the Q&A we have on Statistics Analysis are useful to not just the poster but perhaps to future generations as well as someone else may be stuck with the same issue. – svadali Jul 20 '10 at 18:18
• I think this type of question should be allowed if the poster can show some disagreement between two or more sources. "It says here that the foo function is [bar] but this other site says it is [baz]. Which is right?" This may lead to a discussion of which method is suitable for different situations (eg large and small populations, known complete population versus small sample), rather than a black and white "site X is wrong, Y is right" – AdamV Jul 22 '10 at 16:04
• @AdamV The way you phrased the question is perfectly fine as the poster has done some work before posting the question. But, what about questions that can be trivially answered by the wiki? – svadali Jul 27 '10 at 18:38

I agree with Larry Wang and I want to add my two cents. As Larry noticed, to search something you need to know its name. You need to have access to the appropriate sources (e.g. textbooks). Yes, there is Wikipedia, but since almost everything nowadays is already covered to some extent on Wikipedia does it make literally any question invalid and too obvious? Sometimes Wikipedia articles are not clear or low quality. Sometimes even if you find relevant resources on the web you may need them to be explained to you in different words.

You don't need to upvote such questions (you may downvote if you really consider them too obvious) and you don't have to answer them. However if something is unclear for someone and there is a person willing to answer, then it seems that this site was created for exactly such a case.

Moreover, even if we closed such questions this would not lead to OPs learning the answers (unless provided as comments, but then why not post as answers?). If we close such questions, then new questions will appear (I strongly believe that the probability of basic questions appearing again is greater than in case of hard questions), so we would close them over and over again rather than posting a single answer that can be searched. Or in the worst case, we can close those questions as duplicates, so to make searching easier in the future.

I think no general rule can be applied here.

As some people already mentioned especially in statistics it is often hard to google since you do not know the exact term to search for yet.

For some users the question will seem stupid, while for other it is not.

This is is highly user specific.

• When I recommend a source I found using Google I know what key words I used to find it and I convey that to the OP. Also I sometimes give the URL as a direct link. I am not really adept at it but many experienced users on the site are great at it. – Michael R. Chernick Jan 4 '17 at 1:04

I agree. I don't see any reason for us to recreate wikipedia here. People should do a little bit of homework before asking a question.

The fact is: this is a community driven process. You can vote to close a question, and you just need 4 more people to agree. So go ahead and give it a try. Getting people to discuss it on meta won't change behavior as much as trying to actually do it on the site.

• ok, Voted for closing the question to see whether the community agrees with me or not. – svadali Jul 20 '10 at 15:10

I completely agree with Larry Wang. I'd also add that if you see my question here you'll see a good example of what he is talking about. I lacked the correct name, and my guesses as to what would be correct approach were off. If you want to answer with a link to a wiki page, go ahead, but I'm not sure the question should be closed. Besides, going out of our way to close a question that is simple, but otherwise within our scope is more trouble than it is worth. Closing questions should be reserved for questions beyond our scope or that are otherwise unredeemable.

I disagree.

Interesting example you gave. Look at the unresolved issues with AIC on the Wikipedia talk page. The quality of posts on CV for AIC is distinctly better, e.g., Is there any reason to prefer the AIC or BIC over the other?

There is not the same quality democratic structure on Wikipedia as there is on CV, and a good deal of bullying on Wikipedia that we do not permit here. Wikipedia has self-appointed authorities, which can result in some really heavily biased opinions. On CV who has authority is much more refined, obvious and commonly understood. This issue is important once it is understood what the strengths and weaknesses of democracy are. Democracy is good for identifying points of agreement, but democratic discard of ideas tends to be highly flawed as it cannot easily identify common misconception due to the logistics of discrediting confirmation bias. For discard of bias, a good structure for recognizing earned authoritarian status is needed, as a "leader" in a democracy has a better chance of identifying when common opinion is incorrect than a simple vote would allow.

Summarizing, I trust CV but not Wikipedia, and I take Wikipedia with a grain of salt. Google is all inclusive, and does not differentiate between quality of opinion, or for that matter, quality of scientific journal opinions, which, BTW, has deteriorated with the inclusion of predatory publisher's listings.

Having democratic features on a site is good when a consensus can be achieved, that is, majority opinion is good at finding true positives. However, expertise weighted opinion is better than majority opinion at identifying false negatives. Read this article for specifics. I mean it---read it! We sort of know this, as downvoting costs us 2 reputation points, and only penalizes at 2/5$^{ths}$ to 2/10$^{ths}$ of the rate of positive voting. Moreover, voting to close or open a question requires a reputation of 3k+, downvoting requires a reputation of 125+ whereas upvoting only 15+. I would argue that voting to open a question should require less reputation than voting to close one. PS @NickCox RE: "interested in seeing that evidence", as above.

Our current policy is 'already answered by CV.' I would suggest that we continue that. When we give an answer that refers to another source, that source has been screened by the person answering, and if there are problems associated with that source, we have a democratic procedure for disagreeing with that screener's opinion.

• (+1) Nice points. But Wikipedia is not that bad. It has many very high quality articles (e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beta_distribution), moreover, it's a great source for searching for references (the part of Wikipedia article I usually check before reading the article itself, often the only part I check), etc. Moreover, it's open-sourceness often leads to non-mainstream but important issues being described in the articles. – Tim Nov 19 '16 at 11:53
• @Tim Wikipedia is useful, but the review policy is biased, and not necessarily truthful. That is why it requires filtering before citing it. In the usual peer review process, an editor will choose to accept or reject a reviewer's opinion, which obviates much misbehavior and poor judgement. On CV our moderators fulfill that role, on Wikipedia, that role is poorly enforced. – Carl Nov 21 '16 at 20:06

If it can be answered with a web page, then simply put the link in an answer with a minimal comment on what is to be found there. This is like putting a signpost where at least one person got lost, which in an immaterial realm is welcome and not problematic.

• Link-only (or almost only) answers are frowned upon and are often forcefully converted into comments. – amoeba says Reinstate Monica Mar 3 '17 at 10:07
• @amoeba A comment seems all right to me. – Alfred M. Mar 3 '17 at 10:09