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We'd like to use Stack Exchange to support our research. The main obstacle is that the questions we get are inherently cross-disciplinary in nature:

  • Programming questions (all models in current challenge are written in R, and we get a fair number of generic how do I do X in R questions). These seem a good fit for the main Stack Overflow site.
  • Questions on programming specific to our data hosting and analysis platform, (e.g. how do I use your service from the R client). These seem OK, especially if my organization can create a tag for our own platform and be very active in responding to these sorts of questions. I see similar things being done with other commercial / noncommercial products on the site.
  • Questions on statistical issues in processing and analyzing the data, and scoring the submissions. These seem off topic for SO, but could be OK on other stack-exchange sites like BioStars or Cross Validated.
  • Questions on the clinical / biological context in which the data was collected. Maybe appropriate for the biology site
  • Questions specific to Sage Bionetworks and our Breast Cancer Challenge. Not sure these are appropriate on any public Stack Exchange site.

Currently all these types of questions are directed to an email support alias. This isn't great as it makes it difficult for the participant community to help / learn from each-other. We think some sort of Q&A software to help us support these researchers would be helpful.

What is the best way to support this use case with the SO (or similar) technology? We'd like to connect to the broader community on SO and similar sites, but giving users 3 or 4 sites and saying ask this type of question here and this other type of question there seems destined to confuse people, fragment knowledge, and inhibit the type of cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas that quite frankly is the only way to make progress on the types of questions we're trying to address.

The basic approaches I can think of are:

  1. Try to send our users to the right stack-exchange sites to ask and answer various question types, tag the questions appropriately, and then build some sort of aggregator that pulls the relevant questions from each site into a central location. It seems it will be challenging to get users moving around the sites seamlessly.
  2. Run SO or similar software ourselves where our challenges can be the common theme of the questions, but in this case we're not connecting to the broader community that we could engage on the main SO sites.

Additional Background:

I work for a non-profit that is organizing an challenge around trying to better understand cancer data. In a nutshell, we are distributing data to the research community which includes clinical information on the progression of breast cancer from a clinical trial combined with genomic data on the patients / tumors. Participants are attempting to build models of survival time off this data, which can be used to predict aggressive vs. non-aggressive disease progression. The meta-question for us is if framing cancer research as an open-source style project will create faster research progress than more traditional closed approaches of industry and academia. Details at

share|improve this question
(Minor nit: BioStar is no longer a Stack Exchange site.) – Jeremy Banks Aug 7 '12 at 18:10
What impact does this have on my decision? – user192617 Aug 8 '12 at 14:11
It probably doesn't, just pointing it out. – Jeremy Banks Aug 8 '12 at 14:23

A couple of options:

  1. Propose your own topic on Area 51, if you have enough people interested. The benefit is that you don't have to run your own site, just moderate it. The drawback is that you might not get much participation from the larger Stack Exchange community. (There's usually at least a little bit of interest, but it's hard to say how much.)
  2. Set up a page on your site that explains what types of questions to ask on a handful of Stack Exchange sites, then set up a custom filter (requires login) that your group can use to view questions on those sites with specific tags. This gives you the benefit of input from the larger communities. The drawback (as you mentioned) is teaching everyone where and how to properly ask questions.


  • You could do both of the above.
  • Cross Validated is another (better?) place to ask questions about R.
share|improve this answer
I think shunting people around to multiple sites for different types of questions will cause confusion, we have 200+ people from 20+ countries signed up for our challenge. #2 will be a nightmare. – user192617 Aug 8 '12 at 14:14
Am thinking Cross Validated or BioStar might be closer match for topic and we should try seeing if we can fit into those communities. – user192617 Aug 8 '12 at 14:15

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