I'm wondering what is the similarity percentage of answers and opinions, which are given on Academia Stack Exchange to users, to the opinion of academic community as a bigger entity? In other words, do the answers here necessarily reflect the accepted answers to questions or problems of whole academic community?

The reason why I’m asking this question is that when I see the profile or background of people who give answers to the question on this site, it seems the active people here are the individuals who really care about computer stuffs but their research is not necessarily about computers or computer science. So, maybe this similarity could bias the answers in a certain direction, which may not reflect the opinion of the academic community as a bigger entity. I mean, a lot of experienced and old professors in the academic community don’t even know this site exists. My question is basically: if someone answers a question, how similar is this answer to a hypothetical answer if you would ask someone in academic community who is not on this site?

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    Why downvote?! If someone thinks this question has some problems, please discuss it here... Sep 21 '18 at 18:45
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    I didn't downvote, but I don't see how this is really answerable. Most people here are pretty open about their background, give answers as people with those backgrounds, and probe question-askers for context so they have some idea of how close they are to their own context. Often questions have different answers posted from people with different backgrounds.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Sep 21 '18 at 21:07
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    There are (more than a few) questions on this site I didn't have an opinion on before reading others' answers. Assuming I'm not unique in this respect, how would you define the "opinion of the whole academic community" on such a question? For other cases things are so field-dependent that there certainly isn't a single "academia-global" opinion. (I also didn't downvote by the way.)
    – Anyon
    Sep 21 '18 at 21:15
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    I also don't understand the 4 downvotes, especially since this place is supposed to be frequented by researchers. Knowing biases is important, that's interesting question. Oct 16 '18 at 5:08

In other words, do the answers here necessarily reflect the accepted answers to questions or problems of whole academic community?

No. There's no reason or evidence to believe that this community is a representative sample of academia as a whole. And, as you note, a number of reasons to believe that this isn't the case - namely, that many of the natural "feeder" sites to introduce someone to Academia.SE are computational in nature.

To be frank, there's not even a guarantee that the answers to the questions reflect the whole community of this site. For example, if you ask a question about a field without particularly high coverage (my own, for example) and I'm not on the site for whatever reason, it's possible that that absence will skew the answers. We're not, when it comes down to it, a very large site.

That being said, there is a reason so many of the answers on this site boil down to: "It depends." and "Have you asked your supervisor?" Academia as a field is hugely diverse, and even among fairly homogeneous groups the answers to questions will vary considerably.


First of all and just to clarify, the goal of this site is not to collect personal opinions, but facts and best approaches to certain problems. Given the nature of our subject (academia), this is only an ideal and often the best we can offer are educated opinions. However, you will not find questions like “Should pay-to-view journals be outlawed?” or similar on this site (if you do, please flag to close as primarily opinion-based).

do the answers here necessarily reflect the accepted answers to questions or problems of whole academic community?

Of course there is a certain bias to the answers and votes given by this community due to its tendency towards computer-heavy fields and people who become active on such websites in the first place. Here is an example, where a custom or rule completely differs between fields and this wasn’t reflected in the answers for about four years (still, all the previous answers did make appropriate disclaimers, so nobody can complain that we spread false information).

However, quantifying this bias would be largely infeasible: You would have to make a large-scale survey soliciting the stance of a representative selection of persons from the academic community on a representative selection of questions on Stack Exchange – and ensure that you do not get a bias due to who will participate in such a survey.

That being said, we do not exist in a vacuum. If there is a huge amount of people with differing opinions, some of them are bound to eventually stumble upon our site, and some of them in turn are bound to tell us that we are wrong on the Internet. (And just in case we are censoring any dissent, somebody is bound to start a website informing the Internet about this – which hasn’t happened yet as far as I know.) Now, for most of our questions, the general directions of answers align and votes merely indicate which answer presents the best reasoning or simply was first. Cases with strongly dissenting answers are rare, and it rarely happens that somebody joins our site just to tell us how wrong we are. I would consider this a good indicator that the aforementioned bias is not a huge issue when it comes to the correctness of answers.


All sub-samples contain bias unless inclusion is random - and inclusion to academia.stackexchange is anything but random. Certainly there is observer bias.

academia.stackexchange also contains feedback mechanisms like up/down voting, which like many online communities reinforces founder-behaviour: ideas, viewpoints, theories, etc that are majority-held views are promoted, while minority opinions are generally not. This is kind of the point of up/down voting, to rank answers by popularity as a proxy for validity.

Having said all that, the mods at academia.stackexchange try really hard to allow opinions from all sides of the discussion. Even if no one likes an argument, it will be allowed to remain up on the website. In other words, you will at least be exposed to a wide variety of opinions on SE, even if the results of voting are somewhat biased. It's not quite as wide as i personally would like, but I also think it's pretty ahead of the curve in general.

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