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12.1 years ago

The reason to ask this was that I saw an in principle very interesting question being closed.

That question was indeed formulated extremely bad. "Can you please help me to know more?" is not a real question at all, it is just a way to show politeness before asking something real. That might be a cultural thing. In some cultures it is not even polite to ask questions to an expert. After all, as was explained to me when young students in Asia did not ask anything after a talk, that could be considered as doubting the expert. It might also simply be inexperience, but is that a reason not to be allowed to ask questions?

Content wise I tend to say "Bad questions do not exist, only bad answers do". The fact that most people know an answer to a question does not make it a bad question. If the question was already answered we can just refer to that older answer, and if not, it might be a good idea to have that simple answer on Biostar. I think you should not need at least an MSc title in Bioinformatics, be fluent in English or be well adopted to the scientific culture to ask a question here; just being interested should be enough. It would be nice if young students started to ask the really basic questions and received the really basic, well accepted answers. That would make this site more worthwhile. Of course it would often also allow us to explain why these really basic answers in reality are only half the story.

I saw that there are a lot of questions about resources to study (courses, tutorials, books). To a certain extend these questions could be rephrased to "Could you help me find the answer to questions I don't dare to ask here?".

I would like to encourage administrators to not close questions to easily and to edit them if needed and all of us to help make such questions better, by adding comments and the right tags for instance. Improving things in general helps more than voting them down,

biostars general education • 5.7k views
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I think asking to make the question clear is great.

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I see trolls of various kinds looming on the horizon!!! They don't edit, don't read comments and have very short memory, forgeting to check for answers as fast as they post it. Should we care? No! They will ask it again . . .

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I strongly agree with the Chris, the moderator sometimes don't see beyond the horizon and if it's not to their preference then they suggest to make question clear, negative vote or even close. I have to delete my last question due to same problem which I thought was relevant enough!

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Hey guys! It's just a question! If someone really wants to know the answer, some effort will be needed (clarity included). No harm intended. Postingm editing AND deleting are part of life.

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I do agree with the overall sentiment - a question formulated using poor English is often indistinguishable from a poor question. Plus in a forum like this we lack metacommunication (body language and other subtle cues) that we can rely on when judging intent.

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12.1 years ago

I am almost always disappointed to see a question closed. Usually there is something salvagable about even extremely broad questions ("How do I analyze microarrays?"). Someone is looking for help. Closing down a question from a first-time visitor is also a good way to make that person feel unwelcome.

I'm also personally sad to see questions that are immediately shot down if they're mostly biology questions that are called off topic because they aren't obviously bioinformatics. I've gotten great help with the right command-line parameters or software package recommendations here, and those nitty-gritty questions are the primary purpose of this site for day-to-day use. However, I think most practicing analysts would benefit from seeing a few questions answered about how cell lines are immortalized or how RNAi works. There's always a path from those questions to immediate bioinformatics consequences (how do expression profiles change when cells are immortalized? How does the mechanism of RNAi inform how we look for binding sites? etc). I think of it like reading a paper outside of my own specialty; you often get really good ideas about your own work that way.

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I have to disagree regarding the biological questions. The usefulness of a forum like this rests very much in it having the right scope. I think general biology questions are better asked elsewhere. If one wants to know how cell lines are immortalized or how RNAi works, I see no point in asking on a bioinformatics forum.

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That's a reasonable point of view. I think it depends on why the biological question is asked. If the query is because someone is doing a bioinformatics analysis and doesn't understand a crucial piece of the biology, then I think in that context it's a reasonable question, even if the answer is "Go read this Nature Reviews: Cancer article or the MBoC book". If it's just a generic question, or some detail of a lab protocol, then I agree it's off-topic.

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I agree with David. I spend most of my time doing bioinformatics, and most of my questions/answers on BioStar reflect that. But every now and again I come across a biology question related to whatever I'm doing, and I think it would be great to be able to ask them here (since others in this community will no doubt have the same questions). To date, I haven't found a biology version of BioStar that works as well as this.

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I agree with David. I spend most of my time doing bioinformatics, and most of my questions/answers on BioStar reflect this. But every now and again I come across a biology question related to whatever I'm doing, and I think it would be great to be able to ask it here (since others in this community will no doubt have the same questions as me). To date, I haven't found a biology version of BioStar that works as well as this.

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I agree David. I think the problem is that some of the people who ask the general biology questions are also the ones who do not explain why.

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12.1 years ago

Maybe we should not talk about bad question, but rhetoric questions. At the same time is it encouraged to follow the following guidelines:

Is your question about bioinformatics or computational biology?
We prefer questions that can be answered, not just discussed.
Provide details. Write clearly and simply.


If the question does not follow these instructions I would propose to annotate it as such.

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Yes :-) "Meta" questions about BioStar are best discussed at the Google Group.

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I probably broke all these rules with this question...

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Andra, I agree. I wish first time users would just care to read the FAQ.

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I prefer to see discussions of common interest in this Q&A site, instead of in the google group. Mailing list is difficult to follow especially when there are multiple threads related to different opinions. The structure of this Q&A site is of much clarity for discussions like this one.

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12.1 years ago

Another good resource for question askers is Jon Skeet's guide to writing the perfect question. It's very Stack Overflow oriented, but a lot of the advice applies.

While I think most of the 'bad' questions on Biostar could well be improved to the point where they would be useful to the community, it requires the questioner to have the will to improve them, and not to simply fire a badly phrased question into the ether and forget about it. The job of the moderators is to filter those out and close them.

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+1 for pointing out that it requires that the questioner has the will to help improve the poorly phrased question.

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12.1 years ago
lh3 33k

Firstly, I prefer to see discussions of common interest in this Q&A site, instead of in the google group. Mailing list is difficult to follow especially when there are multiple threads related to different opinions. The structure of this Q&A site is of much clarity for discussions like this one.

The arguments by Chris Evelo and David Quigley make good sense. My fear is if we do not regulate poorly formulated questions and purely biological questions, BioStar will gradually lose its focus and then the quality, which is the last thing we want to see.

Perhaps the administrators may close questions in a little less agressive way and see how things evolve in the near future.

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I totally agree. I am concerned about the loss of focus and especially of quality, which on bad days makes me consider if it is time to quit.

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12.1 years ago

Yes bad questions exist on the net, as do bad answers. Espeacially when the question is (almost) incomprehensible or shows not a minimal attempt to solve the problem themselves, if the user posted the same question multiple times, as here. Also, how am I supposed to help someone incapable of using google or pubmed?

Another example for bad questions is the 'trolling question':

How can I solve <put any complex bioinformatics topic here, preferably with lots of typos> by using <any programming language> codes! (sic)

This I regard simply as spam and would close without further notice.

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I think originally the two questions were really different. The first was "how do I find information for?", the second was "what does the Biostar community think about?". The first has now been formulated so it actually asks the same as the second. My answers to the two questions would have been really different.

Personally I can't help to sigh about lots of typos either. But please realize they are often the result of bad English knowledge not bad intentions. In some countries good training in scientific English is not the rule yet.

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Michael, I think that sums it up perfectly. I personally hate the "using [?] codes" part. Are you trying to solve a bioinformatics problem or not? If you are, why must it necessarily be done in a certain language? I assume that most of the time, the answer is either 1) because the person cannot be bothered to learn something new, or 2) because the person wants me to do their homework for them (and the course requires that you use a certain language).

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Alse me, a long time ago, even had to LEARN how to use google and pubmed. Since it is our daily job it may seem very easy to us to find the right keywords to make an effective pubmed/google search..

If it doesnt take you more than 30 seconds to answer: you can find answers typing in google wordA and wordB, why not just answer it? Like this, the question is covered in an apporopriate way

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I did exactly this often, like knowing the right search terms fixes it the problem. And I don't want to bash anyone (at least not too often), the original question was simply: 'do bad questions exist?'. I say yes to this and gave an example, but I wouldn't this is a real big problem. More often than not, I personally try to edit the question to make it better, and that is what I suggest everybody should condsider.

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12.1 years ago

A question is never 'stupid' or 'bad', but there are a lot of 'poorly posed' questions. Those are the ones that are being down-voted and closed by the moderators.

I am going to propose to write a simple article in the style of PLoS computational 'Ten Simple Rules' to provide some guidelines for scientists on how to use forums and mailing lists. I am currently on it but facing some administrative problems - will let you know soon.

Meanwhile, I recommend you to read Eric Raymond's document "how to ask questions the smart way", where you can learn how to avoid badly posed questions. Most of the times, if you follow all the steps required to formulate correctly a question, you end up figuring out the answer by yourself.

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12.1 years ago
Mmorine ▴ 280

I agree with Michael that bad answers exist. True, there are many instances on BioStar where 'best practice' was clearly not followed in formulation of the question, but more often than not these questions are completely well-intentioned. Rude and accusatory answers do nothing but discourage people - particularly younger people and non-native English speakers - from asking further questions. And as for typos, they used to bother me too until I learned a second language.

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12.1 years ago

I would say that while bad questions do indeed exists I believe their impact is far less negative than I initially thought.

In fact some of the "bad questions" are almost therapeutic in nature - it reassures those that might be less confident and may give them an avenue to contribute/correct these.