I have been thinking about the general model on which the stack exchange sites work and I feel like academia.stackexchange is rather flawed. The model is essentially that lay practitioners are able to prove their experience in a socially recognized way (upvotes) and are therefore granted corresponding privileges. In this scenario, academia, however, the qualifications of the people answering ought to be more important. After all, the social consensus will only point to the answers which ought to be how things are, and might not really reflect reality. Without going into the details, if someone who has never been on say, a faculty hiring committee, rushes to answer how one's research might be judged and gains upvotes (or simply has no downvotes which are visible), then the person asking the question is not getting a good answer.

The gist of it is, that for this particular stack exchange, proving credentials ought to be linked to reputation stakes, atleast in terms of downvotes. Given that the number of faculty active here is at any point in time going to be fewer than the number of students and academic staff (research assistants, like myself), I feel that verified faculty ought to be awarded downvote rights.

tl;dr: Is it meaningful to allow answers from people who may not have experience in the area in which the answer is being sought?

  • 9
    This definitely belongs in meta, not here, but you might be surprised just how many of the regular contributors here are faculty, many of them senior faculty. Askers are more slanted towards students.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 1:15
  • That's not what I meant. I am well aware that there are very highly decorated contributors as well. I just pointed out that it's probably relatively lower. Also even if it were exclusively based on the contributions of faculty it would probably not make sense to force every contributor to spend enough time answering questions to be allowed to down vote answers they know from experience are not true.
    – HaoZeke
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 1:30
  • 7
    I don't think you understand, I really mean that the most active voters and answerers here are faculty. Not that they are rare decorated contributors. The downvote threshold is very accessible. If you can't downvote you haven't spent much time answering or asking. In any event, SE isn't going to get in the business of verifying credentials, so what you are suggesting is a nonstarter.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 1:41
  • 3
    On the contrary, it doesn't matter who wrote the answer, if people are upvoting it that's an agreement that it's a good answer. Hopefully people who have no idea as to how good it is won't upvote. Stackexchange is in some ways like Wikipedia, of which it was said that it's an idea that only works in practice, not in theory ;-)
    – Flyto
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 2:03
  • 6
    Are you suggesting that people who, out of the sheer kindness of their hearts, answer random strangers’ questions on the internet, be required to be held accountable/prove their worth? I guarantee you that you’ll see a dramatic drop in the number of qualified posters.
    – Spark
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 4:06
  • 1
    I'm not sure if this a comment only thing but all these comments seem to be snarky attacks and weirdly defensive statement. Yes my only intention is to have people who can't be bothered to come up with a real answer come and rail on the question. Yes of course I'm trying to insult people. You geniuses of the comment section have caught me out, all out of the kindness of your strange heart.
    – HaoZeke
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 4:13
  • 3
  • 2
    The reasons for your skepticism apply to most stackexchange sites, of course: Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Maths, history, politics, even physical exercise: The "expert answers to your question" may or may not come from official experts, and the upvotes sometimes don't reflect what real experts think is a true answer or, more often, what experts think is an interesting question. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 11:48
  • 2
    When someone with experience and certain grade of expertise answers a post, you can tell. You don't need proof of identification. I have been a member of academia for nearly five years but I have answered only six questions because I am not qualified, and it would be quite difficult for me to fake it, even if I pretended to. Oh, and by the way, people online can lie or embelish their credentials.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 12:38
  • 1
    @henning, yes they do indeed apply to those sites. I haven't actually ever gone to them yet. My concerns are not valid on the best known sites (StackOverflow or the other programming sites), since there it is easy enough to test to see if the answers work. Anyway I shouldn't continue, someone has been stalking my profile to down vote all my posts anyway, I had heard the Academia SE was toxic but I had no idea how much.
    – HaoZeke
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 12:45
  • 1
    The flawed premise appears to be on your part. How StackExchange works is pretty clear, and if you have a question you can go to the Mother Meta. You seem to want it to work differently. SE isn't going to change. You may feel free to start a new website to operate as you see fit.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 13:40
  • 3
    Only this question has been downvoted; on meta that indicates disagreement. No one has gone through and downvoted your other content. You have hardly participated here so it doesn't quite seem you are prepared to suggest changes. You then accepted an answer that the community seems to disagree with, so yes, if you are trying to model a broken aspect of SE you've found one, but it's not an issue with 99% of the legitimately asked questions.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 14:47
  • I don't want to go over this again. Someone down voted 3 of my old, answered questions on stack overflow as a result of this wretched question and I'm sick of being pushed around and edited by the helpful community here. Thanks everyone but I think I'll stick to my IEEE network.
    – HaoZeke
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 14:51
  • Making good research in a particular field does not automatically give you a full understanding on how the academic world works
    – David
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 14:29

4 Answers 4


I see the stackexchange system rather like a very democratic and efficient spam/filter system. The best answer might not appear always at the top, but in top 3. So I don't see how a premise is not fulfilled. It's a better filter/ranking system than google page rank at least ;-)

academia stackexchange is as democratic as all other stackexchange sites technically, but I would judge voting here as rather aristrocratic, on many non-popular important and academia-specific questions mostly knowledgable users are voting like on expert sites like mathoverflow.se. Unknowledgable don't even understand the question. A downvote is pointless. A downvote doesn't exist also in real academia, there are papers which get cited, there are no papers getting down-cited. Would be a pointless feature. Positive feedback is enough. The downvote here rather points moderators to remove obvious spam/off-topic. Important content you find here and in literature via search algorithms and upvotes/citations/likes/links to a website etc...

Last but not least, if a stackexchange site attracts experts depends on a lot of things. Mathoverflow.se works, theoreticalphysics.se did not and was closed:

Why did Theoretical Physics fail?

But here the premise was wrong that high-level physics can work with a stackexchange format. For phyiscs in comparison to math/CS a forum format is much better. The physics.se site rather pushs professional physicists away due to the mass of laymen, popular and homework questions. This risk is not so high on academia.se as most questioner are PhD students, also for my taste the amount of undergraduate low level questions here in comparison to beta launching of this site is annoying, e.g. "How do I know if I have passion?" and alike questions.

Don't think in premises, it's complex technology and hundreds of users here, sometimes it works for a distinct site topic, sometimes not. No reason to become philsophic or too academic :-) I'm much more surprised a site like politics.se or skeptics.se is working with the stackexchange format than academia.se. Most answers here are rather simple to vote in order of correctness/importance...

  • @user111955 my answer is not really an answer but an explanation to OP, most user think what StrongBad wrote about the status quo of academia.se and that OP premise is plain wrong (me too, also low-level questions are increasing here imho exponentially) and upvoted accordingly, but I think it doesn't give OP really an explanation like I tried how and why this site works. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 15:23

I am still amazed that the community works and attracts high quality questions and answers and knowledge people. Further high quality answers tend to get up voted and low quality answers tend to get down voted, or less heavily up voted. Only rarely does something I think is wrong gain lots of support and it is usually a result of the HNQ list.

I am not sure the issue is specific to Academia.SE. There are lots of site, including so called "hard" sites where people could vote based on what they want to be true. It just doesn't seem to happen.


A few considerations:

  1. Not every question here is only answerable by faculty. What you'd propose would actually have to have a level and field specific filter. Can I credibly talk about the experience of say, a graduate student in linguistics? Nope. How many years do I get before my postdoc certification expires?
  2. I think people are not particularly shy about expressing their credentials if they think it matters for the question at hand.
  3. Beyond whether or not StackExchange would even do it, tying an account's capabilities to a credential inherently creates identifying information for the account. There are those who would not participate in the system if that was a requirement.

Overall, I think it's pretty rare for me to find a question where an obviously wrong, "How I imagine academia to be" lingers as a top voted answer for very long.


No. Decision making in academia is not based on credentials. It is based on peer review. Peer review is the best system we have for curriculum development and research. So it seems reasonable to assume it is the best system we have for stack exchange is also peer review.

I hope for a better system some day, as peer review has many flaws. But credentialism does not work. For example, the well-known error by Einstein that was rejected following peer review. https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/1.2117822?journalCode=pto

  • A crucial part of peer review is that it is based on peers who are technically proficient in your own field. When I submit to say, ACS nano, I do not expect a lay person to review it, nor do I expect someone in a completely different field to review it either. So I am unsure as to how peer review is equivalent to getting concensus based answers from people who may or may not be peers.
    – HaoZeke
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 6:11
  • 1
    @HaoZeke, "On the internet, nobody knows you are a dog." Journal editors also do not know if you are a dog when they ask you to peer review. And certainly they invite reviewers who are not faculty or PhDs. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 6:13
  • 3
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._D._C._Willard If Willard had an email address, he would be getting peer review requests. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 6:15
  • No, I did not say they get lay people to review. But they do not have the filter proposed by the asker. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 6:15
  • As my previous comments have been judged to be insulting. I will restate them. Please give examples where peer-reviewed journals have used animals as reviewers. Furthermore, please give verifiable examples of cases where the reviewers are not qualified (as in they are invited to review but not experts). Do note the difference between peer-reviewed journals (which have verifiable editors, who are not animals). Additionally, Willard may have appeared on a few papers, but I doubt he was offered an editorial position in a known journal.
    – HaoZeke
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 10:51
  • Actually, I would be very pleased to see any example of a person on an editorial board of a journal (lets say, Wiley, ACS, APS, AIP, or Taylor and Francis) who nobody knows if they are human or not, or if they have falsified their academic credentials, or that they have been given their position without any form of filtering other than volunteering anonymously.
    – HaoZeke
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 10:53
  • 3
    @HaoZeke Your comments no longer have anything to do with my answer, or even your initial comment, and they are disinteresting. I will not respond further. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 11:28
  • 2
    Peer review would be much more effective when double-blind. Also here on stackexchange the user with a lot reputation gets much more easily much more upvotes. High-rep users like you who always post what they think and not what gets most upvotes are the minority. Imagine every user here would be anonymous and rep not shown. Would be very interesting experiment. Academia the same, researchers with high rep easily get more funding. [personal accusation removed by moderator] Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 12:17
  • 2
    The quality of single stackexchange sites could be much improved with different/specific boundary conditions for Q&A and voting, then maybe even a site like physics.se would attract professional physicists like mathoverflow, not some few dozen as currently. But this will not happen due to technical and community reasons. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 12:19
  • 2
    I will give an example of me for someone who was asked to do peer review well prior to my PhD.
    – Fomite
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 6:35

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .