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Since all level questions are accepted, anyone can ask a question, but only those with training in statistics can answer. As I mentioned in my last question, I am very impressed with how quickly my questions are answered. And, I acknowledge the one-sidedness of my relationship with the community -- I ask questions. I don't have the skill to answer the vast majority of questions asked (and for those I could answer, most people on the site could answer it better).

So I am wondering: how is this site (and others, like math.SE) not entirely overrun with unanswered questions? There is a huge ratio of people trying to learn statistics to people at advanced levels. Is it that currently the site is more well-known among the high-level statistics community than the general public, so it creates a natural balance?

If this became commonplace in high school and colleges (e.g. listed as a default reference by teachers on syllabi) do you think the paradigm would break down? Is a certain ratio of skill levels of participants required to maintain constructive activity?

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, I suspect that becoming well-known in schools and colleges would be a net benefit - we'd have more students coming to the site, true, but they're drawing on the same set of questions over and over; I think we'd have a very low question/student rate. But we'd also get many of those teachers onboard to answer questions, and I expect our answers/teacher rate would be high. Just a couple of users like whuber and Jeromy go a long, long, long way... $\endgroup$ – Matt Parker Oct 14 '11 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that becoming well-known in schools also attracts graduate students - like myself. While inexperienced compared to some here, we've got pretty decent educations, and experience answering basic questions posed repeatedly by undergrads. $\endgroup$ – Fomite Oct 16 '11 at 0:50
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The arithmetic of the balance is simple: most people ask just one or two questions, while a few regular contributors have answered hundreds. Nobody has attempted to answer more than 10% of all questions. You can see this information for yourself in many ways, such as by following links (such as to individual profiles or the "users" page) or through queries on the data page.

The tough issue concerns what happens to a site when (if) it becomes inundated with elementary questions. So far, places where that seems to be happening, such as Math and English, are coping just fine. The community helps tremendously: by flagging bad questions and duplicate questions, we maintain a "collective memory" that keeps new questions genuinely new. Another key aspect of this quality control is our treatment of homework-like problems: the policy is not to answer them directly, but to provide guidance for people who show they are really working on the problems. This keeps us from becoming just a repository of solved textbook questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you think a limit should/will ever be imposed on how many questions one can ask without also providing answers? Or some "cost" deducted from reputation required to ask, after an initial "fist one(s) free period" with a clever design to discourage creating new accounts all the time? $\endgroup$ – OctaviaQ Oct 12 '11 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ @JandR It's not much of a problem. Newbies who ask a lot of questions in a short time usually find most of them quickly get closed because they tend to be repetitive. A few people survive this process, learn to ask good questions, and quickly stop being troublesome. $\endgroup$ – whuber Oct 12 '11 at 16:29

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