To give some context, I have a quite simple question (i.e. the number of international doctoral students in the US), but I have two different sources that give apparently conflicting figures. Would it be appropriate to ask a question about it on this website?

I asked a similar question on the opendata stackexchange website a few weeks ago without getting answers. But now I'm wondering if the academia website would be more appropriate for this question, as the bottom-line issue is not strictly about getting data, but rather about understanding why sources are conflicting on this subject.

Anyway, besides my particular question, I guess that it's interesting to know if we can ask this kind of academia figures/statistics question here, or if it's off-topic.

I'm not used to this website at all, so forgive me is my question is ignorant. The pages https://academia.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic and https://academia.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask did not really clarify things for me, even if the "vibe" I get from them is that this kind of question would be off-topic.


2 Answers 2


This is a good question. I'm not aware of any past discussion on this topic.

My view is that "questions about academia itself" are manifestly on topic on an Academia StackExchange. This includes the history of academia (see this interesting question) as well as requests for statistics about academia (like this one), in addition to various questions about "how academia works," which are somewhat more common here. But this is just my view, we will see if others disagree.

Even given this view, though, I would add two cautions:

  • Most of our users are practicing academics (professors, researchers, college instructors, students, etc.). We don't really know these statistics offhand, and our "back-of-the-envelope" estimates are probably the sort of estimates you could make yourself. We could search Google and read the reports we find, but you could do that as well. So, while I think such questions should be allowed here, it is true that our expertise in this topic is limited.
  • Statistics change over time and methodologies vary. This is not the best fit to the StackExchange format. Ideally, answers should provide enough detail that future readers, years from now, should still be able to benefit from the answer even if the bottom-line number is no longer reliable. But this guidance applies more to answers than to askers.
  • Thanks! This is a quite clear answer. I note the two caveats you mention. I'll also wait a bit before accepting your answer, to see if others disagree. By the way, thanks for pointing to the question on student international movement, I'll have a look at it (and may even answer it as it's a subject I work on, even if the question is 10-years old).
    – J-J-J
    Mar 10, 2023 at 20:36
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    There is surely some useful insider insight that we practicing academics could provide, for instance observations like "maybe source #1 reports a larger number because it does not count co-supervised PhD students", or "the data about research assistants in Sikinia is high because it includes PhD students under third-party grants". From reading the question, it looks like this is exactly what OP is looking for. Mar 11, 2023 at 8:58
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    So I eventually posted my question, here is is the direct link if someone were to search for it in the future: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/194192/… . Thanks again for your useful answer!
    – J-J-J
    Mar 11, 2023 at 19:51

Just a caveat. While your question seems fine and didn't ring any alarm bells for me, I appreciate it when the asker of such question says why they want to know the information. Sometimes it is just curiosity and sometimes there is an action item behind it. Normally fine. I don't (can't) require that information, but appreciate when it is given. It sometimes helps one to format an answer also.

But it isn't our job here do so research for those asking questions. So if a question seems like the asker is looking for research data here, I'd consider it off topic.

That's not intended to disqualify questions the answers to which might appear as, say, a reference or explanation in a paper, however. It can be a bit subtle.

  • Thanks for the advice! I added an explanation to my question (I originally omitted it to avoid making the post too long).
    – J-J-J
    Mar 11, 2023 at 20:17
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    Related to this is the XY Problem I often point askers to. Often when askers pose a question without context of "why", they are asking about their proposed solution to a problem when it would be far more useful to them to instead get answers about the original problem. If someone asks "how much force does it take to puncture 0.5mm tin" they may get answers, but would be helped far more if answers realized that they needed only to be introduced to the concept of a can opener.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Mar 22, 2023 at 16:02

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