Pete Clark recently asked a question which is, essentially, a list of things. In the past, we've had differing thoughts from the community on this topic (for, against). Thoughts?

  • @PeteL.Clark - See edit. "We've agreed" is shorthand for "this is how all SO sites work, the alternative is kinda unattractive, and last time we talked about it no one cared, so why change from the status quo?" If you disagree, go ahead and post! Last time you and I disagreed the community strongly supported your viewpoint, so historical trends are in your favor :) – eykanal May 13 '14 at 19:05
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    As for the matter of starting the question at hand, I think the better procedure to have followed would be to ask about posting the question on Meta before submitting it to the main site. – aeismail May 13 '14 at 20:38
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    @aeismail That feels somewhat contrary to the spirit of SE sites, and how they work. The entire format favors after-post editing, pulling, etc. over asking permission to post. Beyond that, how would you determine whether to post or not? A plurality of votes? 2/3rds? What the moderators say? – Fomite May 13 '14 at 21:59
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    @Fomite: The goal of Meta is to discuss questions about the main site. If you want to know if it's a good idea to ask a question, Meta is the place to start the discussion. CW questions are also supposed to be exceedingly rare on SE sites-which means a consensus should be sought first. – aeismail May 13 '14 at 22:13
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    @aeismail: Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that my question would not be squarely on-topic for the site. Let me rephrase my previous comment on this, even more personally: the idea that it might not be is very frustrating to me. This (quite recently enacted) business about CW-questions supposed to be exceedingly rare is not the way that the other SE sites that I have used for years function. On a site like this one where the culture is not for all sufficiently reputable users to freely edit every question, it seems clearly poorly thought out. – Pete L. Clark May 13 '14 at 23:28
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    Seriously, though: I am so tired of arguing over things like this. I asked a question purely out of a desire to create useful, extremely mainstream content on the site that would be of evident value to its users. If the moderators feel that the proper course of action would have been to first debate whether this was proper procedure: I don't understand why you're putting in so much effort to cancel out my own good-faith efforts and work. But if you feel that's a good use of your time: go for it. I'm sorry that our visions of what is useful and productive are so divergent. – Pete L. Clark May 13 '14 at 23:36
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    @PeteL.Clark - See this blog post from August 2011 detailing the "new" use of CW. Perhaps the sites you frequent do not follow those guidelines, but many others, including this one, do. – eykanal May 14 '14 at 0:28
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    I am not trying to "cancel your good-faith effort." I am saying what should have happened. There are other advantages to posting here first: you are also creating awareness for the question. and soliciting help. Ultimately, it's about checking if there's enough community support for making a question a community wiki. – aeismail May 14 '14 at 4:39
  • I removed all the comments not pertaining to the topic at hand. – eykanal May 22 '14 at 20:45

I'm rather in favor of this particular big list question for a couple reasons:

  • "Necessitate constant revision as facts change" and "My guess is someone has done a meta analysis" are actually mutually contradictory objections. Either a single, authoritative, static source can (or should) exist, or it's in constant need of changing. It can't be both.
  • There's a steady drumbeat of exactly these questions, and I think there's definitively a place for a thread we can point to and say "Find your field, consult the excerpt, and ponder whether or not you think you have a problem or not". This is, as far as I can tell, our "What book should I pick up to learn C/C++..." question.
  • "a list of excerpts and/or personal opinions about authorship will be of limited value." I don't think a list of excerpts from authoritative sources would be of limited value, and I'm particularly interested in knowing how that would differ from @Strongbad's proposed systematic review.
  • The list has the advantage of being potentially very wide ranging in terms of fields. My concern for these types of questions is always that the answer for one field might not match another, and if we don't have anyone in X field on while the question is active, we lose that information. A persistent collection of said information would avoid that problem.
  • Yes, you understand my intent quite well. It's a good feeling. :) – Pete L. Clark May 13 '14 at 19:28
  • The C++ question is doing a sort of meta analysis in that it is weeding through lots of books and coming to a conclusion/recommendation. It also only has a single integrated comprehensive answer. With lots of "little" answers it will be harder to compare across fields. If they followed a template that would make it easier, if they were integrated together even better. – StrongBad May 13 '14 at 19:37
  • As pointed out elsewhere, the C++ question has had >90 edits, and that is all to a single answer, just adding new books, where thousands of people share a knowledge base (C++). In our case, this would be one question purporting to detail the submission policy of hundreds of journals, with maybe a handful of people who are familiar with each journal, oftentimes only the individual who posted. I fail to see how the two questions are similar at all. – eykanal May 14 '14 at 12:13
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    @eykanal You're stretching the analogy. All I intended to say was that it's a question that's going to continually recur, and could use a "Go here, read this" answer. – Fomite May 14 '14 at 16:07
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    @eykanal As for this: "to detail the submission policy of hundreds of journals, with maybe a handful of people who are familiar with each journal" the excerpt I posted applies to very nearly every medical journal, and most biomedical journals. That's neither a single journal post, and if we only have a handful of people familiar with an entire field, that's our failing as a community, not a flaw with the question. – Fomite May 14 '14 at 16:09

I'm not necessarily against big-list questions, as long as every answer is potentially interesting for all readers interested in the question. For instance, the C++ question mentioned above, or this question about latex editors, if you're interested in the question, then all answers are potentially interesting.

In the case of the question Compiling ethical standards for coauthorship across academic fields and regions, I believe that apart from people who are fundamentally interested in comparing different fields/regions, in general at most one or two answers are relevant to each individual reader. Hence, the voting on each answer does not necessarily reflect the quality of the answer, but more likely the relevance of the answer to the reader.

So as such, it's not particularly constructive, and I think a better place to compile such a meta analysis could be on Wikipedia, where there is no need for a voting mechanism.


CW for a list of things is tricky. (Personally I do like some big lists on SE if they are objective (e.g. list of software to do X).)

CW for a list of subjective things is very tricky. The same things holds for things that cannot be shortened to a single sentence. (While the problem is interesting, I don't feel it will work with SE system; however, I would like to see what happens rather than close it prematurely.)


"Lists of things" is a rather broad category, and there are many different kinds of list questions, I'll restrict my answer to this specific example and similar questions.

The important questions in my opinion here is whether the topic is better handled by a single CW question as proposed here, or by an individual questions for each field.

One large disadvantage is that the big CW question is unordered, the answers are sorted by score, which is pretty much meaningless in this specific case. To find the specific field you have to scroll through the entire list manually.

Another aspect is that I'm not convinced that just the statements of scientific societies are enough to actually answer such questions fully. While I think a good answer to such a question should reference such sources, it often should go above that. The official statements are rather general and might need more clarification or explanation to be really useful.

I think this subject would be better served by individual questions, with appropriate closure as duplicates if the situations and fields are similar enough to an existing question.

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    The fact that the list is unordered is a minor issue--that's what ctrl-f (search) is for. – mkennedy May 13 '14 at 22:21
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    @mkennedy That is not an excuse to make the whole thing unordered and confusing, suprisingly many people would not even think of using the search for this. – Mad Scientist May 14 '14 at 4:50
  • @mkennedy - There are hundreds of journals, each with their own standard. You'd be searching across numerous pages of answers. – eykanal May 14 '14 at 15:54
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    The word "journals" does not appear anywhere in my question. I asked for statements of professional ethics. It seems to me that a journal is not a locus of professional ethics per se: they may set ethical standards for their own submissions, but that's much more localized and was not asked for. What to do when or (more likely if) a question like this gets "numerous pages of answers" is not a serious present worry. – Pete L. Clark May 15 '14 at 5:08
  • @Mad Scientist: I agree that this question will not answer all possible questions about ethics of coauthorship. However I think it can be useful in answering many such questions, which is a much more reasonable standard. About statements of scientific societies not being comprehensive: first, there is more to academia than the sciences. But second: I fear you're right, that there is not enough written literature addressing this. This question gives us a way to find out. One could imagine using it in the future to try to draft a cross-disciplinary statement. – Pete L. Clark May 15 '14 at 5:12
  • @PeteL.Clark The statements will probably all be roughly "all authors must substantially contribute to the paper", the more interesting question is where to draw the line on what is a substantial contribution and what not. That is why I don't think this CW post can answer any but the easiest of these questions (where an author as done nothing at all for the paper). And these details are better served by individual questions in my opinion. – Mad Scientist May 15 '14 at 5:22

I don't like big list question in general. In this particular case, I like it even less. My guess is someone has done a meta analysis, and if they haven't they should, on the authorship requirements of different societies/journals. A question about where to find and how to interpret field specific authorship norms would also be useful, but I think a list of excerpts and/or personal opinions about authorship will be of limited value.

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    The question does not ask for personal opinions about authorship. It asks for links to official statements of ethics. "My guess is someone has done a meta analysis, and if they haven't they should," This is rather ironic: I think someone should do this too! May I ask why you think amassing and collecting in one place information that people regularly ask questions about on this site will be of limited value? – Pete L. Clark May 13 '14 at 19:04
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    @PeteL.Clark the question does not ask for personal opinions, but my guess is that they will creep in there. I am not sure what the added value of copying and pasting from a bunch of websites into a single webpage is. Maybe it would make it easier for people to compare across fields, but I am not sure many people want that comparison. – StrongBad May 13 '14 at 19:16
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    @StrongBad So flag those answers. – Fomite May 13 '14 at 19:18
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    I think it is incredibly important to make comparisons across academic fields. To my mind that's one of the reasons that academia.SE exists. In particular, at the moment the answer to these types of ethical questions seems to be "Well, this is how it is in my field. Maybe this [behavior that seems horribly unethical to me] would be ethical in your field." By compiling the ethical standards across different fields one could imagine responding to this by saying "No, this is unethical in all of academia": see XXX. – Pete L. Clark May 13 '14 at 19:23
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    @Fomite - That's the "constant maintenance" that I refer to. Keeping an up-to-date list is a lot of work, and it's work that's unlikely to be done in a volunteer setting like this, particularly if we end up making a number of lists like this one. – eykanal May 13 '14 at 19:23
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    All questions require a certain amount of maintenance. This particular question is (I think) not of the type to draw off-the-wall answers, since what it asks for is very specific. I honestly think that maintaining this one question will allow for better and more efficient answers to hundreds of future questions. And anyway, maintaining valuable information is part of the work that we do on this site. If a big-list questions gets a lot of spammy answers, sure, we can address protecting it or even closing it. I see no big problem here. – Pete L. Clark May 13 '14 at 19:26
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    @eykanal I'm not convinced the maintence cost of the list exceeds the cost of continually trying to provide high-quality, field specific answers to a steady stream of "Should this person be a co-author?" questions. Especially if those aren't allowed to have opinions creep in. – Fomite May 13 '14 at 19:48
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    @Fomite - I do hear that point. However, I think the cost goes the other way. The C++ question you point to has >90 edits, and that's for a question that thousands of people can assist with. Each answer here will likely have only a handful of people are both (1) familiar enough with the field and (2) care enough to update the answer. I would rather us simply mark the questions as bad questions and leave it at that. – eykanal May 13 '14 at 20:17

My thoughts are that these types of questions are not useful:

  • They necessitate constant revision as facts change
  • They are of questionable use, as few would use that question as the authoritative source
  • The ease of scope creep for the question makes it difficult to manage and requires constant maintenance to keep it clean

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