I've only been using Philosophy.SE for a couple weeks now. I've noticed a trend: when philosophical newbies ask a question, it tends to be downvoted by the "Philosophy.SE establishment" and the discussion becomes all about "should we remove this question?" or "does it fit the mold?"

I realize that not all questions are of equal merit, but I think there's too much emphasis on keeping the site "pure" and weeding out elements that aren't deserving. I've also noticed this pattern on some other SE sites as well.

Has anyone else noticed this, and do you think it's a problem that needs to be addressed?


Here is some quick data - a small set, to be sure, but informative. By my count, currently on the first page of the questions ranked by how new they are, all questions are by newer users (rep < 200, PSE rep < 100). There are currently:

  • 15 questions on the front page
  • 6 questions with a positive vote difference
  • 7 questions with a zero score
  • 2 questions with a negative score
  • 1 has been closed due to quality
  • 1 is duplicate
  • 3 have been downvoted for quality (by my count)

I'm not sure what is the "right" distribution, but 6 out of these 15 questions were accepted as good. So I don't think new questions "[tend] to be downvoted" necessarily.

Otherwise, I think your concern "I think there's too much emphasis on keeping the site 'pure' and weeding out elements that aren't deserving" is addressed on the PSE tour page:

This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat.

I think most new comers that ask bad questions don't understand this.

You say:

I think there's too much emphasis on keeping the site "pure" and weeding out elements that aren't deserving. I've also noticed this pattern on some other SE sites as well.

I would agree with this except for two parts:

  • "too much" - the emphasis on all Stack Exchange sites is supposed to be entirely around making it easy to find high quality questions and answers. The reason for closing/downvoting posts then isn't for the sake of those who ask and answer questions (although, the community wants to give them the right incentives), but rather for people who come along later looking for answers. In the StackExchange model, you find the question that matches yours, and then you immediately have answers to your questions. There's no need to try to re-assemble the answer from some back-and-forth dialog that includes unrelated material. However, these down- and close-votes also serve to benefit new-comers. It says to them: you're doing it wrong, please do it differently. I think people generally are pretty good here about leaving comments that describe what specifically needs to be done to a post to improve it.

  • "elements" - not sure what you mean by elements. If you mean "posts" (both questions and answers), then yes! We want to weed out bad answers and promote good ones, for the reasons said above. If one question has two good answers that include references, are formatted to be able to read easily, and are as concise as possible, what possible purpose does it serve to allow the third answer that is rambling, sprawling, and only cites the author's personal experience? If you mean instead "people," then that is a problem. My experience generally has been that StackExchange communities in general, and this one in particular, tends not to have much in the way of ad hominem attacks or behavior.

So if you instead were to say:

I think there's an emphasis on keeping the site "pure" and weeding out posts that aren't deserving. I've also noticed this pattern on some other SE sites as well.

Then I would say "Yes, and that's a great thing!"

  • 3
    Wow thanks for the data and the insight! I've been quite impressed at the high level of discourse in this site. As a professional musician (and now iOS developer), I've been around a lot of elitism in my career. Thanks for addressing my concerns. Dec 5 '14 at 17:24
  • 1
    I would say in passing that the small data set here is in general reflective of the larger whole. It's not about being a new user per se, it's about asking the right kinds of questions and doing it in the way that works with this site's Q&A format. Some newcomers "get it" right away. A larger proportion of more recent users (people who started within the last few months) seem to have more trouble but that's because our site used to be more niche, and it's now attracting a wider (but concordantly less experienced with philosophy) audience.
    – stoicfury
    Dec 6 '14 at 6:36
  • @WildBill: Kinsbery's answer does not deserve a "Wow!" Unless irony here applies. Philosophers Stack is deeply liberal, relativist, and atheist. Could it be anything else? The site has no use for 'thinking' questions beyond its own 'norm'. Anything contrary is ruled unacceptable. Can you imagine? These laggards want the whole world (the total sand-pile) defined exclusively by themselves: the Google and Wikipedia standard. In posting on Philosopher's Stack, bring the big-bag of Political correctness and be prepared to conform (just like on the university and college campus). Imagine! Dec 20 '14 at 19:27
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    @DarcyDavis, no need to get personal. I haven't done a careful analysis to how extensive there are, but there are pockets of the site that fit your description. On the other hand, there are lots of excellent questions about Aquinas, making more precise arguments for God's existence, etc. I think it's unfair to characterize the site as "liberal, relativist and atheist," and there are certainly some of us who try to pull it back in the opposite direction (objective and theist). I have found generally this site to welcome these ideas, so long as they are well thought out. Dec 22 '14 at 19:48

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