There is a conflict going on with regards to the cstheory site at the moment on area51, that needs to be resolved.

cstheory.SE is a research-level only site. It allows only questions that "can be discussed between two professors or between two graduate students working on Ph.D.'s, but not usually between a professor and a typical undergraduate student". So a question an undergraduate student would ask, is not allowed. And indeed, questions are closed because of this: 1, 2, 3, 4

Now there have been two proposals on area51 to start a site that is about cstheory, but not research level. The first one had the unfortunate "beginners" designation: http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/29144/beginner-theoretical-computer-science

But the second one, by me, did not: http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/29282/computer-science and it is explicitly about non-research level questions, and hence NOT a duplicate. Both got closed as a duplicate anyway, even though they aren't.

From the discussion it is clear (and I agree) that the area51 community think that we should not split topics up in research-level and non-research-level. However, there is a vocal community on cstheory that does not agree. The effect of this is that it is currently impossible to create a site about cstheory that is not research level.

Hence, some discussion on the topic is required, a decision needs to be made end enforced. Either a non-research level cstheory proposal must be allowed, or the cstheory site's scope must be changed. The current deadlock just leaves everyone frustrated.

There has been discussion on area51, for reference, mostly here and here. I personally don't really have very strong opinions either way, especially about cstheory which I'm not really interested in, although I don't think the arguments for research-level only sites have been very strong. But the current situation makes it impossible for people who are not currently working on a Ph.D. to have a site on computer science, and that seems awfully silly.

  • I think you should change the title; it is way more general what we discuss here.
    – Raphael
    Feb 15, 2011 at 13:23
  • @Raphael: I don't agree, this is not just about cstheory, and that it is limited to both theoretical and research level computer science. One thing at a time. :) Feb 15, 2011 at 13:31
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    "The current deadlock," eh? Sounds like a question for... CS Theory SE!
    – Pops
    Feb 15, 2011 at 14:33
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    @Popular Hardly. Deadlock is a trivial problem suitable for undergraduate students. >:-( (I have to add a /sarcasm, don't I? sigh Text is so limited...)
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 15, 2011 at 15:40
  • @Polly, what? I... oh, sarcasm. And here I was just going to think that you're really really smart.
    – Pops
    Feb 15, 2011 at 15:42

4 Answers 4


cstheory.sx is out of beta and a live site. Extending its mandate is something that needs to be done with the support of its community, if it is not to do irreparable damage.

And indeed, Joel has asked a question, Is “theoretical” computer science too narrow?; I think that the answer to this question turns on the outcome of that discussion. Note that Joel there says I think that sticking to research-level conversation is a great common denominator, which implies that there is no great sticking point with research-level sites.

  • That discussion is about striking the "theoretical", though. Not about removing the "research-level". But yes, obviously it's important to have the community with you, but right now there seems to be two communities at loggerheads, and this must be resolved. Feb 15, 2011 at 11:49

Lennart, I appreciate you efforts, but I have to clarify a very important point.

The existing cstheory.SE is in two ways a subset of the whole area of computer science.

  1. It is research-level only
  2. It is theoretical computer science only

Point 2 seems to be ignored consistently. If you visite any website of any computer science department, you see the difference.

I know that for practitioners, anything going on at university is theory. People at university use the word "theory" in a different way. In natural and computer sciences, a good heuristic is an inherent closeness to mathematics.

Be assured that cstheory uses the word theory in the academic sense, not the real-world sense. That is, a general computer science site would be larger in scope than cstheory in both aspects stated above, but still be mostly disjoint from the programming sites since it would use the academic definition of computer science.

  • 2
    All good points, and this is of course why Joel started a discussion about removing the "theoretical" from the name, to make it bigger. Also the closed proposal was indeed about computer science in general, although the example questions was mostly theoretical. It was therefore not a duplicate in two ways, but still closed. Feb 15, 2011 at 13:08
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    Where the cstheory.SE community seems to stand, removing "theoretical" is not an option at this point in time (see discussion linked by Charles). The example questions in the CS proposal were theoretical due to the preferences of followers then, it seems. Closing a proposal with as few as five followers and nine questions does not give it a chance to differentiate itself, and that makes me angry. If we had had no differentiation after the definition phase, I would have agreed with a close. But not before we have had a chance; as it is, the closing was premature.
    – Raphael
    Feb 15, 2011 at 13:12
  • I interpreted the mood of the cstheory discussion more in the line of "not now" than "not ever". Feb 15, 2011 at 13:51

Theoretical programming questions are NOT allowed on stackoverflow, so using stackoverflow as a model of "all inclusiveness" is misleading at best.

Further, theoretical researchers are a special breed. There is a vast ocean between the kind of problems a researcher is concerned with, and the knd of problems a practitioner is concerned with, and trying to culture both in the same petri dish is going to lead to the theory culture dying out.

So the title of this question is spot on point:

Should research level only sites be allowed?

The answer is no.

Stack Overflow Internet Services' (SOIS) business model depends on getting large groups of people together in specialized niches to help solve each others, and by extension the world's, problems, within their niche.

Research level, or theoretical sites are, by definition, closed communities.

Maintaining such exclusive sites would actively hurt the inclusive sites, and eventually the exclusive sites would defend their turf to the point of building monolithic glass tower communities that violently react to what they perceive as not-related.

They may survive in academia, where high expectations are warranted, but they do not fit within the ecosystem of sites which SOIS is attempting to create.

It is very true that researchers will not participate in the inclusive sites to the degree they would in exclusive sites. The inclusive sites will necessarily lack many things that the theory site would be.

However, it's simply not the business model of SOIS, and trying to make it so would damage the inclusive sites, in addition to requiring more moderation and SOIS employee attention.

  • 2
    "Research level, or theoretical sites are, by definition, closed communities." however they can still be large communities that job adversitors will pay a lot to reach. Feb 15, 2011 at 16:17
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    @Ian Companies that sell Windows based systems make a lot of money. Does that mean Apple should change their business model to incorporate Windows PCs? Yes, an expert site will raise an interesting advertising demographic, but that doesn't mean that it's the best solution for everyone. Eating into the bottom line of an inclusive site (which, arguably, is likely to have more pageviews from a larger demographic) simply to hold onto a small portion of experts doesn't do anyone any good, especially since many experts will come to participate in the inclusive site.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 15, 2011 at 19:20
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    I don't understand what you mean by “closed community”. Also, how does CSTheory.SE's elitism differ from Server Fault's (or do you think it doesn't and SF should be merged into SU)? Feb 16, 2011 at 0:20
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    @Gilles You cannot participate in such a site until or unless you have a certain level of knowledge and understanding. An inclusive site, such as Stack Overflow, allows beginners to participate with simple questions.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 16, 2011 at 1:43
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    "Further, theoretical researchers are a special breed. There is a vast ocean between practice and theory" -- oh, what a poorly developed (computer science) world view you have.
    – Raphael
    Feb 16, 2011 at 1:44
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    @Raphael Would you care to enlighten me so I can expand my poor world view? Some research topics get used right away, some take years before someone finds utility in them, and others still are interesting topics but have limited practical value. There is a gulf between the two.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 16, 2011 at 1:51
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    As you say, some results are immediately applied. CS serves the whole "usability" spectrum. In fact, much CS research is directly driven by industry's desires (thanks to poor funding), even in TCS. Therefore, your metaphors implying a huge gap between research and practice are unsuited, imho. If there is one, it is much smaller than suggested.
    – Raphael
    Feb 16, 2011 at 9:48
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    @Pollyanna: “You cannot participate until or unless you have a certain level” → Again, how does this differ from Server Fault? “There is a gulf between the two” → This is absolutely wrong, researchers cover the whole spectrum: a few are firmly ivory-tower theoreticians, a few others are only motivated by concrete applications, and many span a wide region somewhere in between. Most good CS research departments (in decently-funded places) cover the full spectrum. Feb 16, 2011 at 21:31
  • @Gilles a beginner to system administration is welcome to ask simple system admin questions. If, as so many people posit, there is no gulf, then there is no need for separate sites. This only validates my point. Let the hardcore researchers mingle with the masses, as long as everyone stays on topic.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 16, 2011 at 22:29
  • @Pollyanna: A beginner researcher (i.e., PhD student or maybe Master's student) is welcome to ask simple research questions on MO or CSTheory.SE. CSTheory.SE rejects applied CS questions, but this could change once the community becomes larger. What is highly unlikeley to change is the requirement for research-level questions. Feb 16, 2011 at 22:37
  • @Gilles ... So, there is a gulf between a researcher and a user...
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 16, 2011 at 22:41
  • @Pollyanna: Yes. What you wrote, and I was refuting, is “There is a vast ocean between practice and theory”. Feb 16, 2011 at 22:46
  • @Gilles very pedantic, but I've edited my answer to better convey the issue.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 16, 2011 at 22:50
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    @Pollyanna: Your answer is still conflating research with theory and practice with use. There are such things as applied research and non-research theory! Feb 16, 2011 at 22:55
  • @Gilles I'm speaking generally. Shal I add a three paragraph disclaimer that the two have an overlap in interest? Would a venn diagram help clear things up? I'm not saying nothing exists in the gulf or ocean, but that the two are very, very different in terms of what questions and answers will be expected. Beyond that, I suppose we'll have to disagree.
    – Pollyanna
    Feb 16, 2011 at 23:03

This is really an appreciable question. Please have a look at this discussions :

However, this is not related to completely but will be helpful to figure out the distance required between specific proposals of Area51.

Thank You.

  • 3
    I honestly don't see how the proposal Computer Science comes close to any existing site or proposal. If anything, cstheory.SE would be a subset. But it would be so tiny a subset (maybe comparable to Superuser and Apple, Unix&Linux and Ubuntu) that I think that could be ignored, especially given that cstheory is running fine as is.
    – Raphael
    Feb 15, 2011 at 13:22

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