# Why so few questions from the top 36 users?

Out of curiosity, I checked the number of questions and answers for the 36 highest rep users as of 9:45 p.m. EST (USA) on June 28, 2019. Six of the 36 users have never asked a question, but the number of answers they have provided ranges from a low of 163 up to 821. For these 36 highest rep users, the total number of answers was 13227, with a mean of 367.4, and the total number of questions they asked was 564, with a mean of 15.7. This is a ratio of about 23.5 to 1. A total of 21, of the 36 highest rep users, asked less than 10 questions each.

To me, this seems rather peculiar. In particular, why are there so few questions from the high rep users, given the age-old truism that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know? If the answer is that the 36 highest rep users are simply enormously intelligent and knowledgeable about chemistry, then I have no problem at all with that: kudos to them! Thoughts?

• SE functions as a whole with the help of scores of volunteers. Just as in doing "traditional" volunteer work, some people prefer to help in the soup kitchen whereas others prefer to clean up polluted rivers. No one should feel obligated to do one or the other, and, akin to that, we certainly welcome people to both ask and answer questions, but it's completely up to the individual. Jun 29 '19 at 6:16
• Unless those 36 (by the way, why this number?) individuals decide to come here and post an answer, I'm tempted to close this question as opinion-based. Every user from that list is going to have own reason(s) which he/she isn't obliged to share. Some might prefer quality over quantity, some might have a mindset that asking questions makes them look incompetent as they should've been able to find answers on their own, and some probably have a phobia of big green buttons, who knows.
– andselisk Mod
Jun 29 '19 at 9:28
• Thanks @jonsca and andselisk. I was just curious and did not mean to upset anyone. As for the 36, that is the number of users I see on the first page of the user list. Feel free to close or delete this question!
– Ed V
Jun 29 '19 at 11:04
• "the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know" - Yes and that's one of the reasons. Who's more likely to make a question: beginner thinking that few questions could vastly improve his knowledge or someone who knows that a hundred questions wouldn't scratch the surface of entirety of human knowledge? On more mundane note, there were some askers on the site, just check out "socratic" badges. Jun 29 '19 at 21:42
• Thanks for your response! My apology if I said anything that upset anyone: that was not at all my intention. I retired 4 years ago, after being a chemistry professor for 29 years, and I have been having fun (and learning things) reading loads of questions, answers and comments. So more power to all the folks who make this an excellent site! As for the "socratic badges", all I can say is wow! Kind of like the stack exchange version of running the Sri Chinmoy Self Transcendence race in New York City.
– Ed V
Jun 30 '19 at 0:46
• Many of my questions are related to my original research so there would be no-one who could really answer them.
– Melanie Shebel Mod
Jun 30 '19 at 8:01
• @MelanieShebel Nevertheless, I just filed such a question related to a current "and how to proceed further?" (chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/117960/…) as I don't like to exclude a priori that perhaps someone does know him/herself of/ does know someone "already in the field". Jul 12 '19 at 16:28

I am currently the user with the third-most reputation (42036); I have 50 (non-deleted) questions and 549 (non-deleted) answers. I cannot speak for the other 35 users, but I'll try to explain a little bit about the reasons that apply to myself. Some of these will apply to the other 35. Some won't. As andselisk already mentioned, we cannot definitively give an exhaustive list of reasons, and some may not even be entirely logical. However, maybe this is sufficient as an answer and may give some insight.

The first thing to say is that answers are inherently worth a lot more reputation than questions. This is a conscious decision on the part of Stack Exchange. So, by querying the top reputation users, I suspect that you are likely to automatically select for people who have posted lots of answers as opposed to lots of questions. It's not logically rigorous (lots of answers ⇒ lots of rep is not the same as lots of rep ⇒ lots of answers), but it doesn't surprise me at all.

That said, there are several reasons why I don't post as many questions as I do answers. This list is entirely personal and not necessarily exhaustive:

1. SE is relatively unlikely to give me answers to my real-life questions. I don't mean to say that my questions are exceptionally intelligent or profound, but rather that they require specialist knowledge to answer properly – as is the case with all modern research – and if there is nobody with the necessary expertise around, then they will just lie unanswered for ages. Compare this with just asking my supervisor – that is more likely to get me an answer, and quicker as well.

2. When I find a question I usually try to figure out the answer on my own first. In theory, SE requires this, as is reflected in the treatment of "low-effort" questions. Of course once I find the answer I could come back to SE and post the question + answer pair, and I've already done that on quite a number of occasions: see e.g. What is the mathematical basis behind the Jahn-Teller effect?, Why do stabilised ylids lead to trans alkenes in the Wittig reaction?, etc... but there are countless more questions that I had which I solved myself (or with real-life guidance, cf. point 1) and did not post on SE, purely because it takes time and effort, which are precious commodities.

3. I find that answering is sometimes easier than asking, because there is already a prompt, namely the question: and if I already know the answer to a question, then I find that it is fairly easy to churn out an answer. On the other hand, asking is less easy: I'd need to think about what question to ask, easier said than done, considering that the time I spend on SE is not during work...

4. My main intrinsic motivation for participating on SE is to teach, not to learn. The learning bit, mainly seeing what other people post, is great. But I derive a lot more personal satisfaction from (hopefully) explaining something well and seeing the difference that it makes. I do enough learning in my day job!

– Ed V
Jun 29 '19 at 10:59
• @EdV By the way, you're not the first person to have brought this up: chemistry.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3813/… I think there is a lot of merit in getting regular users to ask questions. The issue is always time and energy, unfortunately.
– orthocresol Mod
Jun 29 '19 at 11:01
• ...and that initiative fizzled out after a few weeks: chemistry.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3878/… where you can see more about my thoughts on the matter.
– orthocresol Mod
Jun 29 '19 at 11:05
• For what it's worth, I'm mostly aligned with item (4) in @orthocresol's answer (I'm presently ranked #40, so just a bit out of your range). I haven't worked in the field of chemistry for about 15 years, and miss it terribly, so this site functions as a proxy for me in that sense.
– Todd Minehardt Mod
Jul 2 '19 at 13:44
• I do not know my ranking nor wish to know.As @orthocresol put in item (4), in answer,it is apt for me.I LEARNT A LOT FROM PARTICIPATION. Jul 3 '19 at 14:15
• Interestingly, this conscious decision has been undone recently. This doesn't affect your logic though, as it applies to a year-old query on the database with old scoring system. Jul 13 '20 at 18:05

As someone in the top 36 I would say that I completely agree with orthocresol's post but also as someone who knows a lot of chemistry there are just things I don't think to ask. Take the two questions below:

They were hot and helped a lot of people but I already knew enough about chemistry that I would understand the concepts to give myself incomplete but satisfactory answers. As far as things that perplex me, my questions tend to be broad thus I refrain. I find the best question posters are one not familiar with the field they are asking about.

• Thanks for letting me know this! After just barely getting over the 1k mark, I now have a much better idea of how much thought and effort the high rep members have invested in making this a high quality resource! It is appreciated!
– Ed V
Aug 27 '19 at 22:14

Well look at that, I’m second-placed.

As for the questions I may have, I can mostly echo Orthocresol although Ortho’s clearly more of an asker than me. But it’s true: a lot of the ones I have I choose to answer by self-research or by asking someone around me. Every now and again I find a question that I can’t immediately find the answer to but notice that it might be a good question for the site. In that case, I stop researching and post it here.

But to me there’s also the side about answering. When I first came to chemistry.SE, it was to answer a HNQ. And in principle, the answering bit is still more prevalent. If I come here randomly, I typically look out for questions to answer. It’s low-effort on my side, just browse and scroll. If I find an interesting question, the process of drafting an answer is fun. Even more so if that answer ends up being well-received.

• – orthocresol Mod
Oct 16 '19 at 15:49

I have a different take on this question being a very low rep user. I have only just discovered Chemistry.SE after many years using Stack Overflow but only registering a couple of years ago. I have a PhD in the chemistry of $$\ce{N2O4/HNO3}$$ mixtures which are (were?) used as rocket fuel oxidant with hydrazine as fuel. There are very few questions in this sort of field. The majority of questions that are asked look to me to have answers in a textbook. I have asked a couple of questions about subjects in the news but got answers for only one of them. I perhaps should find answers myself. In fact all my questions would be like homework questions to explain something I have read in the news as I have not been a practicing chemist for many years - I got involved with the application of computers to chemistry round about the time when crystallographers realised they were useful - the late '70s.

Many of the questions here seem to be on organic nomenclature so answers are much easier!

I share the opinion of most other answers but particularly like A.K.'s answer. Much of the fun of the site is in the broad range of questions that can crop up, and in figuring out where the questions are coming from, and of course taking a break from one's own efforts.

In fact I was inspired to post this answer after a question appeared today that I found particularly mindboggling: Spectra from Dipole Moments . I re-read it maybe 10 times and despite glimmers of coherence could not decipher the meaning of a single sentence.

Yet despite the pain induced by such a question, there is reward in the effort to glean intent, to attempt to understand how someone else views reality. It is a bit like attempting to understand abstract art. Is it garbage? Or genius?

My questions on the other hand tend to be rather mundane, and when they don't get answered it's probably because others feel I should put in the effort to figure it out myself. And that is true of my own questions: usually I feel I should try to answer them myself.