Proposal: Theoretical Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, Theoretical Physics, etc.

Recently there has been a number of cases where people from SO/SU/SF sites have criticized the two level model which is being used by MO/cstheory/Math.SE. I want to understand if there is serious reasons for this repeatedly occurring objections or if it is just a philosophical/feeling-based thing.

For those not familiar I will try to state the two models (as far as I understand) briefly:

  1. SO model: there is one site for both advanced and beginner level questions.

  2. MO/Math.SE model: there is one site for researcher level question (MO) and one site for non-research level questions (Math.SE). The sites have interaction, a question on MO that is not research level is directed to Math.SE and a question on Math.SE that cannot be answered by users on Math.SE or in the case that the question is a research level question it is directed to MO. It seems that both sites have good acceptance rates and do attract users, moreover the researcher time is better used.

So here is my question:

What are the serious problems that the two level model is creating? (that one level model would avoid)

I really want to understand the problem people have with the two level model so please stay cool and respectful in the discussion. Please also state only one problem per answer. Thanks.


Please also see the related question by Lennart Regebro:

What problems does the two-level split solve?

Premise 1. is wrong. StackExchange main page currently lists: StackOverflow, Programmers, Game Development, Wordpress, Code Review (Beta). –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 11:05
@Raphael: That is not a split in levels, it's a split in topics. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 11:38
So you claim that questions about Software Development/Engineering are not simply questions an advanced programmer runs into, maybe when involved in his first big project? I think the definition of "topic" you use incorporates "levels", so we should be fine. –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 11:45
Clarification: I am interested in the models, the examples are for demonstration of the concept. Also the two site model I am talking about is based on a very specific distinction: research level/non-research level, other or more general kinds of distinction like expert/newbie are not the topic of this question. –  Kaveh Feb 11 '11 at 12:56
@Raphael: No, the topics on programmers.SE are not a sort of advanced level version of the topics on SO. They are different, subjective questions about programming. In relation to physics.SE, it would rather mean a site about the philosophy of science. So once again, and hopefully for the last time: Those sites are not a split into level. It is a split into topics. And no, levels are not a sort of topic. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 13:45
status-declined? Declining what? –  DIMension10 Nov 8 '13 at 7:06
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6 Answers

Math Overflow is not part of any "model". It is not part of the Stack Exchange network. It is not run by the Stack Exchange team. It is not subject to any of the rules and processes of Area 51. It is a private site, run by a private group of people, that happens to use an older version of the Stack Exchange software from back in the day where Jeff & Co allowed it to be licensed in that way.

I respect the people over at Math Overflow for having been on the bleeding edge and creating a community that is successful in its own right. But there was never a proposal. The definition was never vetted. The operation of the site is entirely up to the whims and fancies of its creators and moderators. And between MO and Math.SE (which shares certain members), there's been a whole lot of drama, and they've managed to rub several people the wrong way. That's OK, that's their prerogative - it's their site.

Math.SE is simply a different animal. It is not the beginner version of Math Overflow, as some of you so dearly wish it to be. It is all-inclusive, like Stack Overflow. It says right in the tagline that it is for all levels of math, and yes, they do suggest that if you have a research-level question, you might get a better answer on Math Overflow because that's where the professors and grad students hang out, but no legitimate math question is off-topic on Math.SE, and MO can't migrate questions there either.

Math.SE is also the only math site that is actually part of the Stack Exchange network and thus subject to SE policies. Math Overflow, for all practical purposes, simply doesn't matter as far as Area 51 policies and decisions are concerned. They aren't some special exception or experiment that people tried. They're just a group of very smart people who formed their own elite community using the original SE 1.0 software. If SE 1.0 had never been released, they probably would have eventually turned to one of the Stack Overflow clones, or maybe even a forum, who knows. The point is, that community would have existed and arguably already existed independently of Stack Exchange.

That's not germane to the issue of whether the Stack Exchange network should include two sites for every branch of science with communities who simply wish to exclude others. So just stop talking about Math Overflow already. Please.

The problems are really rather clear-cut:

  • The line between "research-level" and "beginner-level" questions is blurry and subjective. It's easy to point to extremes, but in the middle it can (and usually does) become a pissing match with both sides walking away frustrated and angry.

  • Even if the boundaries are well-defined, there will be a non-trivial subset of people who simply don't or can't understand them. There already tends to be confusion between, say, Super User and Server Fault, and their scopes differ by more than just skill level.

  • The experts on both hypothetical sites are the same group of people. The difference is, essentially, that fewer of the experts will participate on the beginner site, and those who do will participate less than they do on the research site. Low/tentative commitments are a serious threat to the survival of a site proposal.

  • Segregating by skill level runs completely counter to the Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange philosophy. It's been enshrined in culture and policy since the very first elevator pitch. The SE model is: Most traffic comes from search engines (not regular members), and no question is too basic (unless it's trivially answerable with a well-known reference source like Wikipedia). You may not like or agree with this approach, but again: If you want to be part of SE, you need to take the fundamental SE philosophies and practices to heart.

  • There's simply no evidence to date to indicate that skill-level segregation is actually beneficial to either community. I'm appealing to facts and data here, not opinions. Area 51 has already staged several sites and the data is pretty clear: larger communities do better as long as there's a clearly-definable group of experts and significant skill overlap (i.e. same profession, same university department, etc.).

In closing: You want to put the onus on us to prove that the segregation is bad, but that's not how it works around here. There are plenty of problems created by insulated information silos, but in the end, that's all irrelevant; getting your own site isn't a civil liberty, it's a privilege granted to those who can prove their worth.

You tell us how your proposed division is going to benefit either community. Prove that it's going to be more than just a dump site for questions deemed unworthy by the research community. Because we already tried that a few times, and the results were not spectacular.

Around here, the default mode for similar proposals is "merge". The simplest and most important reason why skill segregation is bad is that no evidence has been presented to the contrary. As I've stated in previous comments, if you want our support, then you'll want to demonstrate (a) that they are truly separate and distinct communities with no real overlap, and (b) that a "beginner-level" proposal is actually viable on its own merits.

'The line between "research-level" and "beginner-level" questions is blurry and subjective. It's easy to point to extremes, but in the middle it can (and usually does) become a pissing match with both sides walking away frustrated and angry.' That's just like, your opinion, man. Do you have any evidence that this occurs on CSTheory, or are you just speculating? –  Mark Reitblatt Feb 10 '11 at 18:58
"no question is too basic (unless it's trivially answerable with a well-known reference source like Wikipedia)." This is one of the primary deciders of a question being research level or not. If it can be answered by a standard introductory textbook or wikipedia, it's not research-level. A massive percent of the questions we close as off-topic are of this variety. Unlike a lot of SE sites, we have a rich collection of well-written references available for introductory questions. I imagine a majority of the "low" questions we close can be answered by a single text: Sipser. –  Mark Reitblatt Feb 10 '11 at 19:04
@Mark: I have no idea if it happens on cstheory, but it sure did happen on Math Overflow, several times, and you guys have been heralding that as the example of greatness. If it hasn't happened on cstheory, it could simply be because the site is still new or because people who are research level are afraid of wasting their time. That is all speculation for cstheory of course, but it's based on real history from MO. –  Aaronaught Feb 11 '11 at 0:12
And, @Mark, the key word is trivially answerable by a well-known reference source. A textbook is not Wikipedia, and having to learn and memorize and apply several chapters of a textbook in order to answer a question is not trivial. Trivially answerable means, "What is a derivative?" not "How do I solve this differential equation?" (and yes, I am aware that neither of those are even close to research-level math, I'm just trying to provide an accessible example) –  Aaronaught Feb 11 '11 at 0:14
@Mark: What exactly is your point? Nowhere did I say that your contributors aren't research level. Is there anyone from the cstheory community who is actually willing to address our points directly rather than try to shout us down? –  Aaronaught Feb 11 '11 at 1:03
@Mark: Don't put words in my mouth. I never said you're running your community wrong, and I never said that you should change the existing format. Every site has its lower limit - for example, the cooking site doesn't allow recipe requests because those simply don't make for viable Q&A. That's fine. However, when the same group of people say straight up that the questions they refuse to accept on their site actually are viable (just on some other site) then suddenly it calls their motives into question. –  Aaronaught Feb 11 '11 at 3:12
Simply put, @Mark, either beginner Q&A is viable or not. If it's viable, then a mixed beginner/expert Q&A is also viable. It seems to work for every other site, but if you want to toss out basic questions and sacrifice page views because you don't think experts will want to answer them, and the SOIS team is okay with it, then all the power to ya. Seriously, I wish you all the best. Just don't come out afterward and say, "Oh, actually, we think people should be able to ask those questions, just not in our backyard." That's bad juju. –  Aaronaught Feb 11 '11 at 3:14
@Everybody: The line between beginner level and research level is not blurry, it does not exist. It's like talking about the border between New York and California. After programming for 30 years I'm not a beginner, but have never researched or been interested in CS theory, so I don't do research. They are both the small and extreme ends of a wide spectrum. So the two-level split has nothing to do with beginners vs research nor beginners vs experts. It's rather experts vs research. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 8:03
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------‌​-------------------------------- Administrative Note: The extensive and multi-branching discussions beyond this point were unmaintainable in this venue. I know it is not always an ideal solution, but please feel free to continue this discussion in a chat room or other forum. –  Robert Cartaino Feb 11 '11 at 21:32
This answerr's out - dated . . . –  DIMension10 Aug 4 '13 at 9:42
@Dimension10: Even if this is no longer the case, one really can't ignore the extensive history of MO; they do things very differently from most parts of the network. –  Aaronaught Aug 4 '13 at 13:09
@Aaronaught yep, MO does the things that would not be compatible with a free research-level rather academic in spirit community different, and they have a special agreement with SE. So ...? It is their right. –  Dilaton Nov 10 '13 at 0:38
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Problems stated so far:

  1. it hurts users' feelings when their question is moved from the research level site to the non-research level site

  2. the name of the sites can be misleading

  3. dividing questions based on the skill-level required to answer them is a subjective decision

  4. deciding where a given question should go can be hard; especially newcomers might have problems deciding where to go (i.e. the scope of the two sites are not clear)

  5. the experts for the topic of the sites are the same, research level site might consume experts' attention, leaving less experts on the non-research level site (i.e. questions on non-research site might not get answers)

  6. separation by level is contrary to StackExchange's philosophy (not a real problem, a philosophical problem)

I took the liberty to add the (potential) problems pointed out by Aaronaught. –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 12:23
Thanks Raphael, this post is CW exactly for that reason. :) –  Kaveh Feb 11 '11 at 12:34
Not a very good list. In particular, it's hard to decide whether to down-vote or up-vote as some stuff does makes sense and some doesn't. E.g. 5. is actually the reason for the very existence of the research site. It's simply not the case that research site steals attention from the non-research site. The expert people who want to answer low-level stuff still can and do (and there are MO users at math.SE too) but most of those guys simply don't care about the non-research site anyway and absence of research site wouldn't make them lower their answering standards... –  Marek Feb 11 '11 at 15:47
@Marek, thanks. This answer is just summarizing the stated problems, I am not saying if they are really serious problems or not. (I asked people to submit one problem per answer so voting and discussions about the stated problems would be easier, but so far people haven't followed my request and I don't have powers to force them follow it). It would be better if you move your comments about the stated reasons below the answers that have stated them (we have linked to them), this post which is just a summery. –  Kaveh Feb 11 '11 at 16:01
@Kaveh: fair enough, I'll try to move my comments. –  Marek Feb 11 '11 at 16:08
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An additional problem is in naming. What should you call them? There is no obvious separation in naming between math.SE and mathoverflow. In this case the problem is minor as the lower level site has a generic name "Maths", (and also because despite the claims of a two level system in maths, the fact is that math.SE is generic, and takes any kind of math question. It's just that mathoverflow might be a better place for advanced questions, because researchers hang there. But advanced questions are not off topic on math.SE.)

But with cstheory.SE we have a real problem, because it's research level, but there is no indication in the name that this is so. So what should you then call a site that is not research level? It leads to proposals for beginner sites, which is a bad idea, because in a site with only beginners, who answer the questions? So that doesn't work.

IMO it would have been better if cstheory was called "Computer Science Research", and the site csresearch.SE. I have no idea if such a renaming would be supported, but that's how it should have been done in my opinion. Then a generic Computer Science Theory proposal could be made.

You are correct, the present naming is unfortunate. –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 11:26
A good point. But still, once the sites are up and going, it's not that important. Everybody knows what MO and math.SE is now, no need for explicit names. In the end we would be using acronyms anyway... –  Marek Feb 11 '11 at 16:11
@Marek: It's very important, as evident from this discussion, where people can't separate two completely different issues: The two-level separation issue, and the question about beginner sites. People seem to think it's the same question, which it is not. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 16:14
@Lennart You seem to be obsessing about the use of the word "beginner". I don't think that is the point here. The question is research-level versus not. I think the word "beginner" was just stuck in as a proxy for the complement of "research-level". –  Mark Reitblatt Feb 11 '11 at 18:28
@Mark: Yeah, well don't. :) Then you add in another separate issue, namely that beginner sites are pointless, as there are nobody to answer the question. Call it something else. That's not obsessing, it's clarification. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 19:05
@Lennart I'm sorry, I don't quite understand your reply. Could you say that again? –  Mark Reitblatt Feb 11 '11 at 19:11
@Mark: Yes, but I can't be clearer. Stop calling it beginner sites, when that's not what it is. The name "Beginner sites" is very bad. See… I really don't see how I can make myself clearer. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 20:27
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I don't have any strong opinion in this issue, although I do feel the two level model is pointless. Arguments have been that the experts don't want to answer beginner level questions. Well, so then they won't. It's as easy as that. I sure don't have the time to sit and see if there are new questions in my tags Stackoverflow every five minutes, so I don't, with the effect that somebody else has answered most questions withing my expertise before I see them. So? Is this a problem? If I feel I can provide better answers, I do. Otherwise I don't.

So I'd rather want to reverse the question: What problem does the two-level model solve?

But to answer the actual question, I do think there are some drawbacks with it, and that is that most people who pose a question on a site and get it closed get upset about it. In the case of getting the question moved to the research-level site, then it is unlikely to be a problem, since you are being told that the question is too advanced. But it's rather more likely to be the other way around, and people being effectively told "your question is too stoopid for this site", is going to leave a lot of people uninterested in continuing to contribute to the site. It creates a culture of separation instead of inclusion.

Now this may not be a serious problem, but then again the two-level model isn't in my opinion solving any serious problems either.

That is a valid question, "what problems does the two level site solve?", but for now lets focus on the current question, "what problems does the two level site create?". And it would be nice if you post one objection per answer so we can keep a reasonable discussion. Right now there are two: "who answers the questions on the non-research-level site?" and "it hurts users' feelings when their question is moved from the research level site to the non-research level site" so it would be nice if you move one of them to another answer. Thanks for spending your time in answering my question. –  Kaveh Feb 10 '11 at 8:29
People aren't hurt when there question is moved from one site to the other. They are hurt when the question is moved to trash. –  user14156 Feb 10 '11 at 10:26
@TheMachineCharmer: I don't agree. Being told "Your question is too stupid for this site" will be taken by most people as a blow. This is just how people work, not matter if it's logical or not. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 10 '11 at 10:30
@Kaveh: This answer does not include the "who answers the questions on the non-research-level site?" because I don't believe that is a problem. That is a problem with beginner sites, and that's why you can't have sites saying "XXX for beginners". But it's not a problem with two-level sites per se. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 10 '11 at 10:33
@Kaveh: The other question has been posed here:… –  Lennart Regebro Feb 10 '11 at 19:33
We tell nobody his/her question was stupid, but that it is off-topic. We have not handled every situation perfectly, but lately most users understand that. As for "who answers?": I myself do not have much to contribute on cstheory yet, I am not quite on that level. I would like to be able to help beginners, and would certainly roam a beginners site. We need that kind of "advertisement", and I think quite a few users share that sentiment. –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 11:18
You don't need to say "It's stupid". You are saying "That question is not advanced enough for this site", which is a nicer way of saying it, but still makes people feel a bit stupid. You can't get away from that when you have a rule saying that questions have to meet certain criteria of difficulty/complexity. Also see the discussion (which is a completely different discussion) on the futility of "beginner" sites:… –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 11:26
@Lennart Regebro, thanks again for your help and interest, I am a little bit busy today, but I will post my opinion on the benefits of the two level model as an answer to your question on the weekend (hopefully). –  Kaveh Feb 11 '11 at 11:58
@Lennart: I don't understand how you came to question being "stupid" just because it is low level. The knowledge in this world is ordered by difficulty, you know. That's why we have high schools, undergraduate, graduate, research, etc. and it's not done in reverse. If someone comes to MO and asks "1+1=?" then their question is definitely not stupid. It's just too low in the ladder of knowledge. –  Marek Feb 11 '11 at 15:23
@Marek: I never claimed that question was stupid. I claimed that saying "your question is to simple to be on this site" will make people feel like they are being told that they are stupid. This is how people react, logical or not. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 15:51
@Lennart: I know what you meant and that's precisely what I was referring to. If I am told "this question is too simple" then I will take it as "this question is too simple". Similarly, if they told me that "this question should be asked at XYZ.SE because they do foo there and we do bar here" then I would take it as that and go to the XYZ.SE. I would not interpret it as "your question is stupid and your life sucks and you should die". I just don't get how you arrived to this strange conclusion. People don't work that way, at least not from my experience at physics.SE. –  Marek Feb 11 '11 at 15:59
Marek, you and I would read it like that, but a growing number of people nowadays expect to be pampered with a sense of appreciation. Demanding rational thought is not pc. –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 16:21
@Marek: That's great if you will take it like that. Now please understand that you are in a vast minority of people. Most people will not take it like that. They will take it like "Your question is stupid". In fact most people will take any counter argument or criticism like that. This is why people refuse to change their mind even when encountered with overwhelming evidence. People go into some sort of lock-in mode where any argument is seen as a personal insult. Again, logic does not come into this. This is just how people are, and we must deal with it. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 17:00
@Lennart: while I can acknowledge that stuff like this can happen with certain people, it's absolutely contrary to all my experience with SE. I don't know perhaps it's because I am mostly dealing with hard science sites and people deal with such things better there? I don't know. All I can say is that I've never observed the behavior you describe. –  Marek Feb 11 '11 at 18:26
Lennart, these people exists, yes. That does not mean we have to try and placate them. If he thinks I consider him stupid when I soberly critisise his work, then he is stupid. (modulo misunderstandings, of course) –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 19:31
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I have posted here already what I think of the issue.

I think simply having two sites for two levels is not meaningful. I propose we create an encompassing Computer Science site for all subtopics and all levels, per se. I would expect niveau to be lower on average, much like on SO (imho), than on a specialists site (such as cstheory).

Once certain subgroups on that site feel the need and have the volume for a specialists', higher level site, they can try and move on with their own proposal.

That model would be very natural: All computer scientists enroll in the same course, but research communities are more separated later.

Renaming cstheory might be appropriate.

Obviously, if you allow "lower" questions the average will be "lower". The question is why this would be a problem, outside of snobbery. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 11:40
Why would elitism be a problem? That is what research is about. Currently, cstheory is a highly appreciated meeting place for researchers in TCS, something literally nonexistent in the real world. You can take that away from us, but don't expect us not to find a new place to be. I think a site for lower-levels can profit from having the experts on the same platform, if maybe in their ivory tower. –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 11:49
Raphael, you are not answering my question. I have a very specific question, I don't want a general discussion on what is meaningful/good/bad/better/worse/... I am trying to understand the serious problems created by the two level model, if you think the two level model creates a problem just state it here in an answer. Otherwise your answer and comments are irrelevant to my question and this post. –  Kaveh Feb 11 '11 at 11:52
You are right, I am not identifying a problem but proposing a compromise/solution. –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 11:58
No, research is not about elitism, that is an absurd statement. Research is about finding out how things work. And I didn't say elitism, I said snobbery. Elitism can indeed mean snobbery, and elitism in that sense is an exclusionary "holier than though" attitude used to create a close club of mutual admirers. Compare this to another sense of elitism, namely meritocracy, such as SO, and you'll understand why it's bad. Meritocracy is good. Snobbery is bad. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 14:30
@Lennart: well, elitism isn't a requirement for research but it surely is a consequence. Research in hard sciences simply requires a great deal of knowledge and guys who have it are elite by the very definition. And while you're right that there is a risk of snobbery, it's simply the case that research community is a community like any other (i.e. a group of people sharing something mutual). Moreover, you'll find that e.g. MO isn't snobbish at all; the community is on the contrary very helpful. They are just strict about level which is natural because it's level what defines this community. –  Marek Feb 11 '11 at 16:08
@Marek: No, elitism is not a consequence of research. That's utter nonsense. The existence of an elite does not force elitism or snobbery. I don't know if MO is snobbish or not, that's irrelevant. Anyway this discussion isn't about MO, as it's not a part of the SE network, it's about cstheory. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 16:19
@Lennart: well, if you read my whole comment, you'd find that I am saying something similar but I digress... But I completely disagree about this being only about cstheory. It's about two-level model in general and there is currently nothing else than MO/math.SE in place (SE or not, that's pretty irrelevant). Moreover, this discussion is very relevant also for TP.SE/physics.SE. –  Marek Feb 11 '11 at 16:24
Lennart, please keep in mind that some here (me included) are not native speakers and might get subtleties wrong. Me, I wanted to say that research implies elites. I would also claim that in their field, researchers tend to elitism, and maybe justifiably so. That does not, however, include treating others poorly, and I am certain nobody here wants to advocate or protect such behaviour. Calmly refusing to answer off-topic questions, pointing to a place better suited, is certainly not "snobbery". Instead, my impression is that you (and others) get very defensive when you see an elite. –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 16:32
Raphael: It might imply elites, but so does everything. There are an elite of SO as well, and elites when in comes to programmers in general. That does not mean we need elitism. That does not mean we should be snobbish. That does not mean we need separate sites. Refusing to allow questions because they aren't difficult enough is snobbery. I certainly do not get defensive when I see an elite. I am in many way a part of several elites. I get perhaps defensive when I see snobbery, and there is definitely plenty of that here. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 19:13
"That does not mean we need separate sites." -- That is not for you to decide, but for the affected. "Refusing to allow questions because they aren't difficult enough is snobbery." Your opinion. Directing questions is part of academia, so no person involved in academics will share your opionion in that extreme. (Note that I assume there is a suitable other place to ask.) –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 19:24
@Raphael: Sure, it's for the affected. But isn't the natural way at least to first make a general site, and then make a research-level site if researchers doesn't think the general site works for them? But that has never been tried. MO is older than math.SE, there is no general audience alternative to cstheory. You claim that a general cstheory site wouldn't attract the top level of expertise. But that's just conjecture, you don't know that, because it wasn't ever tried. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 20:19
And your statement about directing questions is more nonsense. That is when you personally get asked a question, then you can direct it somewhere else. That simply doesn't apply so an SE site. Again you presume that experts somehow are forced to answer the questions on an SE site. They are not. If they feel a question is below them , they can simply quietly ignore it. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 11 '11 at 20:21
1) You are right, it has not been tried. So we are both conjecturing. Your point being? 2) I consider showing somebody to the correct place to ask a more helpful, friendly and unsnobby behaviour than silently ignoring. –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 23:46
@Raphael: You forget that it wouldn't be the wrong place to ask. And you also again forget that nobody has any demands to answer a question. This comes up again and again in the argumentation here, that low level questions somehow can't be allowed on the sites where researchers hang out because "they don't have time" or other nonsense. Nobody is forcing them to answer low-level questions. It's not rude to let other people answer them. –  Lennart Regebro Feb 12 '11 at 10:00
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Two more:

  1. "Research level" sites tend to become a ask-expert sites, and such have obvious audience limit, biased voting and higher enroll barrier.
  2. High level questions often end up as discussions, and such are badly supported by stack exchange engine (by design) -- the final effect is a total clutter unusable for future visitors. Broad site can survive some amount of them diluted in the mass of just-answered questions, narrow ones would work better realized as normal discussion forums.
1. I fail to see how this is a problem. 2. That is indeed the case. The voting functionality is very handy, though, and absent in any forum software I know. So far, it works out. I consider this a technical problem that can be solved by extending the comment function. –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 19:27
@Raphael About one, how many experts do you need to resolve 10, 20, 40, 80, 120Q/day? Answering must be spread across whole audience to sustain unlimited growth -- thus I think that limiting site to certain level imposes some size limit. And SE is an Ad-driven business, not charity. –  mbq Feb 11 '11 at 20:43
Thanks for explaining. I still do not consider it a problem per se. The idea of "unlimited growth" is a stupid premise for any enterprise. Sure, |research TCS| < |TCS| < |CS|, but every number involved is finite. Me, I'd rather have a healthy equilibrium than forced growth. Note that amongst researchers, answering is mutual. How many research questions will be answered by undergrads? –  Raphael Feb 11 '11 at 23:41
2 is actually a good argument for a split. If the research-level questions doesn't have a correct answer, then the whole stack-exchange model is wrong, they should be discussion sites. But apparently MO and cstheory is working well despite this? –  Lennart Regebro Feb 12 '11 at 10:04
@Lennart They work because of small traffic and strict (self)control; this is, let's say, a creative use of SE model -- whether/how wrong it is a question to SE team. And again, CrossValidated is a mixed model site, hosts even publication-level questions and is also working well despite of continuous growth. –  mbq Feb 13 '11 at 12:35
@Raphael First it is no about forcing anything, rather not imposing limits. Second, the size is just required for vanilla SE model to work. Third, if you kick undergrads out, you won't find out ;-) –  mbq Feb 13 '11 at 12:43
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