2016, a year in closing demonstrates that out of 10448 questions asked on the main site on 2016, 5,621 are either closed or unanswered. That is, 53.8 % of more recent questions didn't end up with an answer, let alone an upvoted one. That's more than half!

$$\mathrm{\Huge{\color{red}{PANIC \bf}}}$$

No no no, wait. Biology is next, with a 53.7 percent. What if that's just the way science sites are? So I needed more numbers to gaze at. I asked zaq for the same stats for 2015, since I was sure that was a prosperous year for the site.

\begin{array}{ccc}\hline \rm year & \rm C~or~NA & \rm C & \rm NA\\\hline 2016 & 53.6\% & 34\% & 22\% \\\hline 2015 & 38.4\% & 28\% & 12\% \\\hline \end{array}

Note that the sum of C and NA is different from the C or NA data because some questions both have no answers and are closed. There has been an increase in questions that get closed, and questions that don't get an answer. While the former isn't really surprising, as we're expected to attract a bigger proportion of low quality posts than before now that we're a 20k-question site rather than a 5k, the latter is very concerning.

$$\mathrm{\Huge{\color{red}{PANIC~AGAIN \bf}}}$$

No. NO DAMMIT. Panicking doesn't solve anything. Heck, we should first agree that there's a problem first. There are two possible PoV's here:

  1. I'm pretty sure all the questions that have gone unanswered have had a shortcoming on the asker's part. The question was uninteresting, vague, or rudimentary. Those are not the questions we seek to attract experts with, so we shouldn't concern ourselves with anything. If anything, it's the asker who should make sure they have phrased the question adequately to garner a good answer.

  2. Those askers who didn't get the answer for their questions provide the crux of our site's traffic. We shouldn't let people down as long as their question abides by the rules. It's also not healthy for our site's image.

If you agree that there's a problem, what should be done about it? Let's discuss in the comments and answers below. Possible solutions, each with their own downsides, are:

  • A chat session where we'd organize interested answerers to answer stuff
  • Upvote answers more to incentivize answerers to answer more
  • Encourage avid askers who rarely answer, possibly with a meta post, to answer at least the rudimentary questions.
  • Come up with a public medium where everyone can collaborate in providing a long answer to a question that someone couldn't write on their own, for cases where a long-time user has seen a potentially interesting question with a tough answer
  • Organize introduction of questions to Dainty Bounce so they happen more regularly than now
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Note that (at least during the last three months) more than 50 % of the closed questions have been closed as off-topic homework questions. Thus, a large fraction of this issue can be traced back to the well-known but unresolved homework issue. $\endgroup$
    – user7951
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 20:29
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think, bounty dancing questions should be the actually interesting and good ones. I mean, for quite a few questions we all know very well why they were <del>banhammered</del> closed instantly … Considering the success Melanie had with the unanswered popular questions, I think gentle, recurring nudges are the way to go. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ How many of the closed ones got deleted in the end? Any word on that? Maybe we are just not deleting the questions fast enough... $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Mart I believe the fact that zaq, a normal user, provided the stats, means only the non-deleted ones are taken into account. BTW, I think people don't think this is an issue considering the lack of input here. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ Dainty Bounce? I assume you meant "Bounty Dance" $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ Bahahaha @M.A.R. on Dainty Bounce! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 21:09

2 Answers 2

  1. Science is hard.
  2. Not every question can actually be answered.
  3. Answering takes time.
  4. It's not about statistics.

With that out of the way, let's focus on the problem at hand: We could do better. The question now is how. Well, there is the obvious: answer them. What seems to be happening is that the number of people asking grows a lot faster than the number of people answering. This is obviously a mismatch that is not going to disappear in the short run. This is mostly due to 1.
On our site we provide high quality answers, that often require extensive research and/or preparation of additional graphics or materials. Often my answers take a whole day to write, and while I am interested in answering a lot more than I do, I simply don't have the time (see 3). Last year I only provided 79 answers in total, that's down from 111 in 2015 and 139 in 2014. And as much as I like encouragement as anyone else, there is really nothing anyone can do about it to change this. I am pretty sure I am not the only one having this problem. (I looked at some of the users I know longest and see the same trend, maybe even worse.)
The fact that I am still ranked in the top 10 (yearly reputation league) with these meagre results is indeed a troubling perspective.
Life is a constant flux and so is this site. Unfortunately we won't get many new people to answer questions when the existing crowd doesn't answer the new questions. This is a problem, a vicious circle indeed. And I don't know what we can do about it.
One bitter fact is that we cannot answer all questions (see 2). There are high scoring questions from 2012 that still have no answer. The rest we can tackle and we do: 20 most viewed questions that need answers (NEW ONES!), Let's do the bounty dance! (this one needs entries).

But there are a couple of things we can do immediately to make the new user experience a good one: Vote, comment, edit. (Especially on new questions.) Show new users that we see them, that we care, and even though we don't have the time right now, we don't want to leave them standing in the rain. That will often mean to be lenient towards new users, guide them when necessary with friendly words. The internet can be a rude place and it's very nice, that this site is somewhat an exception to that rule. (I know I can come off harsh, too, but I'm trying.)

$$\Huge{\color{red}{\textbf{It's not all doom and gloom:}}} %I can abuse MJ, too.$$

With all the problems we have/ we are facing there is one thing we really need to keep in mind: What we do matters. Many people come here for advice and we are slowly but steadily building a library of excellent questions. If you doubt that, I played a little with the live search. Before I present the results, a few notes: 1. this is probably far from complete 2. I consider a good question a question with a positive score 3. A question is answered if it has at least one positive scoring answer 4. A question only counts for the year it was created, no matter when the answer was written.

\begin{array}{lrrrr} \text{year} & \text{answered} & \text{increase}& \% & \text{total} & \text{global increase}\\\hline 2012 & 617 & \text{n/a} & & 617 & -\\ 2013 & 1167 & 550 & (+89\%) & 1784 & +132\%\\ 2014 & 2831 & 1047 & (+59\%) & 4615 & +159\%\\ 2015 & 4064 & 1233 & (+27\%) & 8679 & +88\%\\ 2016 & 2842 & -1222 & (-30\%) & 11521 & +33\%\\ \end{array}

While this looks terrible for last year, there are two things to consider: 1. The number of answered questions will rise 2. The year 2015 was the year of our graduation and everybody was highly motivated to achieve new h(e)igh(t)s. I consider it somewhat normal that we have a little drop after that. As long as the arrow is pointing upwards, I think we are doing our very best.

While it really isn't about statistics (see 4), there is something you can do:

Vote Vote Vote Vote Vote Vote Vote !

There are currently 795 questions out there, that are considered not answered because the existing answer has no positive score. You can use is:question created:..2017 isanswered:0 answers:1 to find them. Read the answers, give them a vote. Also down-votes are important; once you already read the post, click that little button. Who knows, maybe you find a hidden gem, maybe you find a question along the way you can answer. It's all in the details. If you find something that doesn't belong, earn a couple of helpful flags.

Just for the record:
A total of 10428 questions (created 2016) have been asked on chemistry.se. Only 6854 (65.7%) survived, while 3574 (34.3%) have already been cleaned.
In 2015 8296 questions have been asked, 72.0% survived.
A total of 26380 questions have been asked, 27.8% of which are deleted.

  • $\begingroup$ “we are slowly but steadily building a library of excellent questions” – This also increases the probability that a new question is closed as a duplicate, which may have an impact on some of these closed/unanswered statistics. $\endgroup$
    – user7951
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, there could be a reverse effect, too. I know I first stumbled on this site when it was still in beta, seeing a rather interesting homework-tagged question that was still unanswered, so I decided to answer. I think that every now and again there will be an unanswered question that sparks somebody’s interest so that they’ll start answering. (Of course, giving new answers feedback by votes quickly is all the more important.) $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Loong Surviving duplicates: 2016, 330; 2015, 207; 2014, 50. Yes the probability increases, negative scoring questions will also be deleted, so the actual number will probably be higher. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 4:56

I don't see closed questions as too much of a problem. Correct me if I'm wrong, please, but the closed questions with low traffic get removed after some time, right?

My thought is to first go to the unanswered questions and start with the ones with negative votes. Are those questions that should be closed? If so, let's close them.

The unanswered questions that could use an answer could be done on a big answer day. Could we hold an event perhaps with small prizes for things (like site stickers and t-shirts) for new, well-thought out answers that garner upvotes? Or perhaps, I could slowly find questions that need editing and bump them to the first page.

In addition, if we found ways to advertise this site, especially within academia, we might find more people to answer questions. That would be fabulous, but that's a topic for another thread.

  • $\begingroup$ Is there a thread that advertises this? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ @PrittBalagopal No, but if you wanted to make one, go for it! $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 20:46

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