As an exercise I initiated in order to stimulate dialogue about the nature of how affairs happen and are governed here most notably the sequence below, I introduced a simple question with the following post for empirical and demonstrative purposes:

(to provide an example related to:)


As of 2020-11-07 10:08 CST, we can conduct an initial analysis.

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The obvious summary is we have a question that a person of average philosophical knowledge might ask. It's sufficiently ambiguous because most people who might use our site (read as draw traffic on behalf of SE), certainly answerable by both anyone on the philosopher-SME spectrum, and was selected partially on the grounds that there didn't seem to be a related question in the PhilSE knowledge base.

We have 1 upvote, one vote for closure, 6 responses, the first of which received 3 additional upvotes, and precisely 0 answers. Perhaps this question will be answered, and perhaps it won't be answered in the way intended by the designers of this technical forum. Perhaps I'll answer it.


  • While six individuals, notably Conifold, a high-performing contributor, has replied in comments, none has replied as intended.
  • The likely presumption is that I'm looking for an answer, rather than looking to build a Q&A entry in the database to draw traffic and build our userbase.
  • That should this question be closed, it's unlikely a cabal is at play, but rather something more in the spirit of Hanlon's razor, but that the charge that game-theoretic considerations encourage closure and discourage upvotes is likely a dominant principle.
  • That all of the knowledge in the comments forms an excellent basis for shaping this knowledge-base entry adding value to the collection of the community assets, but investing time and energy in developing this particular Q&A could be greeted by closure and a failure to re-open DESPITE it violating a reasonable NPOV of policy.
  • That any response to any beginners at best points to the FAQ page which requires a certain skill set and investment of time and energy to decipher (though I'm not sure after a year given my experimentation here exactly what to make of the contents of the FAQ and it's relation to actual technology-practice here.
  • The collective knowledge of these 5 mere respondents in the comment section is of more value pedagogically (given a cost-benefit analysis and accessibility) than that of any traditional institution of philosophy.


I make the following claims:

  1. We have a two-fold mission here: A) To build a knowledge base amenable to being competitive in search engine rankings for the broadest possible demographic to benefit our benefactors and keep this forum open. B) We do it in such a way that we encourage not "right" and "wrong" answers, but by cultivating a collection of votable answers across the philosopher-SME spectrum that leads to collaboration, quality, and comprehensiveness: our knowledge-base should be pedagogical in nature (and constructed in the Vygotskian sense for those with an interest in the philosophy of education). There seems to be a general sense of metrics from beta performance to guide that.

  2. The best use of the MetaPhilSE is to foster democratic participation, debate, and coordination of those goals by means of A Mission Statement, By-Laws, Things-To-Do List, Best Practices, and References created by consensus and enforced by moderators and users collaboratively.

  3. That despite almost 10 years, while a vast body of questions and answers have been created, a lack of coordination has resulted in a sub-performing community in terms of SE metrics, and led to an inconsistent system which produces inconsistent results from voting obviously on-topic questions off-topic by applying wildly different interpretations of neutral POV (NPOV), to having fantastic answers which demonstrated what could be done.

  4. That there has to be a core of committed people to some sort of principles. That any one individual trying to bring about systematic change will meet with failure, but a recognition that the Pareto Principle is at play here. The focus of that core devoted to revitalizing this community has to accept that the starting place is organizing an effort on meta on some prototypical body of principles built consensually that resembles the above.

  5. My efforts on this site over the last year are essentially culminating in this attempt, but it's an empirical question for me to see if it is possible. Herding cats is no small feat, particularly on a volunteer basis. Perhaps a grant is in order, and certainly plenty more reflection and dialogue.

  • Your question: You accepted my answer and below it you commented: "This answer has been most illuminating, thanks" (my emphasis). And now here a couple of days later you say: "...unlikely a cabal is at play..." The most reasonable, charitable, goodwill-assuming response from me: "After due thought, reflection and data-collection, I've changed my mind" ie "has" to "had". So my request: Kindly un-accept that answer so it may easily be deleted.
    – Rushi
    Nov 8, 2020 at 5:23

1 Answer 1


Short Answer

We see some typical results.

  1. Most readers simply read the question and move on without voting. It is not clear if this is a postive or negative.
  2. Some readers users read the title and attempt to make sense of the question quickly and vote for closure based on personal heuristics. This is good, because the intention is to weed out poor quality entries, but bad because those same useres almost never make any effort to improve a question.
  3. Many contributors who frequent this site read the questions, largely I suspect, to see if they can answer the questions, provide a short-form answer in the comments below the question, and may or may not upvote the question. These users usually do not provide answers in the way the site intended, which is as actual quality responses to the question replete with references and editorial perspective. This is a negative, however:
  4. We can note that many of the answers in the comment section are absolutely the start of good answers. Our resident encyclopedias do an excellent job of providing in-line links to answers, and I myself have often been influenced to refer and consider such material. This is a positive.
  5. It is possible, but unusual for a user to answer their own post. This of course makes sense since the majority of questions posted are not to build the knowledge base, but rather to genuinely answer questions for the user. This is a negative.
  6. There are many types of questions not just by topic, but by level of subject-matter, and there is no mechanism on the surface to classify whether a question is from a beginner, intermediate, or expert contributor.

Long Answer

  • I'm not really understanding... Were you assessing the performance of the site as far as questions generating good answers and a reasonable upvote rate and helpful comments? And you got poor or mixed results? Yes, I've often been disappointed by SEs in general, although the Buddhism SE was pretty high quality (as you would expect :-) ) Was something to follow "Long Answer" above, or something missing near "Short Answer"? I have found your posts to be interesting and helpful, so maybe we just have to take what we can get from mere humans? I try to remind myself to do that, anyway.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 13 at 2:28

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