I have seen a few posts around here that don't necessarily fall into the homework category, but would fall into something worse. I've noticed quite a few questions that are basic GIS concepts that people are asking - when they're employed in a GIS position. I know everyone has questions now and again, but to what extent is GIS SE responsible for keeping your job?

When looking at the post history of certain users, there will be multiple questions in both GIS SE or Stack overflow that reflect how little the user knows about their given field. Is it then unethical to decide not to answer these questions, because "they should know better"?

Here's one example and another

I've also seen a few questions about statistics and research that are basically asking "what should my methods be?"

As a researcher, shouldn't you already have an idea of what the methods used in existing literature are? Interpreting results,Example, Example 2, Example 3

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    This might be a duplicate of meta.gis.stackexchange.com/questions/3076/…
    – Chris W
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 19:35
  • Definitely similar to help vampires, but I meant more along the lines of should there be a limit for the number of questions a user can ask (in a day, with a certain rep, etc)? Especially when these users are supposed to be GIS professionals and are getting paid for the work SE is providing.
    – GISHuman
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 19:45
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    I think that boils down to more a "you" thing. As metioned in my answer, we've both dealt with someone you describe. Yes, the thought has occured to me 'why am I solving this guy's problems for free instead of getting paid as a consultant.' Bottom line, 'because I choose to' (marketing services, etc. aside). At a certain point, I'll choose not to. Question spamming does draw attention, and part of the voting system is "this question shows research effort". If someone posts six questions in a row, each a step to a single problem, I might answer the first and say see how far that gets you.
    – Chris W
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 20:08
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    This might be a little off-topic, I found myself in a situation once where a co-worker had educational qualifications which couldn't be verified as they were international. He relied on Google and theft of my and others ideas to do his job. We (the other co-workers) had a lunch-time meeting and decided to report him to our superiors; long story short his lies caught up with him and he was dismissed immediately. Point is you can only carry a lie for so long before it catches up with you, it becomes obvious quickly when an OP wants you to do it for them and they will find interest drying up. Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 5:02

3 Answers 3


We're not responsible for anyone keeping their jobs. I can think of one person in particular who falls into the category you mention (and we've both dealt with him).

My approach is this - if they've asked a question that might be beneficial to others, I'll try to formulate an answer regardless of how many similar questions they've asked. If the question is poor, I'll vote to close/flag/downvote it and move on.

At some point they get called out - comments are left that they're not accepting answers or providing feedback/clarification, and if you see enough of them to notice the name keeps popping up, odds are others do too. Questions start getting downvoted or simply not responded to. If you've noticed a problem, you're not obligated to answer anyone's questions. To me, there are no ethics invovled on your part unless you're knowingly decieving a third party. That's all the asker, be it cheating on homework or getting someone to teach them how to do their job (which they should have already known how to do - sometimes you do get new things you have to figure out how to do).

This is also a similar situation to RTFM questions. I really don't know why I see some of those questions get upvotes, and if I see a number of them from the same person I mention it. I've seen other community members moderate in a similar fashion (comments to the effect of what have you tried, did you look at the help, this site isn't really for that kind of thing, etc.) with varying degrees of tact. This is admittedly one of the things I sometimes struggle with, because RTFM seems so much more succinct and appropriate in some cases. :)

As for statistics, research, and methods... One thing you might want to keep in mind is that researchers don't always know GIS, and GIS users don't always know research fields. They may know the method to use, but not how to apply it spatially or with specific GIS software, or they may know what tools they have available but not which is best for a specific application. This applies even moreso to students. As a "GIS Guy", I look for how to solve a problem or apply a field solution in GIS. I don't know anything about the math involved or the formula itself, but if I understand the concepts I might be able to figure out an implementation - and learn something about a new field along the way.

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    Just had to google what "RTFM" stood for... haha. It can be especially irritating with questions like "What tool in ArcGIS should I use for ______? " There is so much documentation online!
    – GISHuman
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 17:44
  • RTFM = Read the f-ing manual.
    – csk
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 18:19

I have a different take on this. I feel that we should judge a question on its own merit, and not pay attention to the person who asked the question or his or her older questions.

If the question is a good question, i.e. It is clear what the person is asking, the scope of the question is narrow, and it gives us all information necessary to answer it, I have no problems with it. Similarly, if it is a bad question, it doesn't matter who wrote it or how many times the OP has asked questions on this site, it is still a bad question and it should be closed.

In my experience it is far too common for individuals to be put into positions where they know little. That's just how it is. It is not possible for us to know the individual's conditions, and hence it would be wrong to say, "I will not answer this, because you should know about it"

This was all in theory. My message to these kinds of Posters is that In Practice, the system of reputation definitely works. People judge you by your previous contributions to the site, and will treat you accordingly. If you Post good questions and answers, people will tend to help you out. If you just try to mooch off them, contributors won't put in efforts to answer your questions and help you find the solutions.

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    I agree - judge the question and try to be impartial to its asker
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 8:07
  • I just want to mention that I agree with this and don't really see it as much different than my answer, less the 'RTFM' paragraph. Perhaps just a little more clearly and succinctly stated, and properly emphasized. :)
    – Chris W
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 3:28
  • @ChrisW: While I agree with the essence of your Answer, your first paragraph as well as the point about RTFM, were the reasons why I posted this as a separate answer. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 3:31
  • Totally agree. Questioning the motives of the asker is a slippery slope to a dark, dark place best avoided. If a supposed GIS question asks a newbie question, then the important thing to decide is: is it a good newbie question? Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 12:16
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    I agree as well. From my experience, someone who is truly an incompetent moocher will ask questions that blatantly show their lack of effort, which ultimately get downvoted or otherwise shunned. The work and attention required to consistently get someone else to do one's job vastly outweighs the work it takes to learn it oneself, and such people are by nature averse to working hard, so will choose the easier path (or simply fail out of the position altogether). While these people may pop up occasionally, I'd say they will ultimately get what they deserve regardless of what you do :)
    – thanby
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 14:06

@ChrisW has already made many points that I endorse, so here I will just point out that the design of the Stack Exchange network already has some inbuilt features that we can help to do what you are seeking.

On the Question Bans page of our help it says:

Stack Exchange has automatic filters in place to ban questions from accounts that have contributed many low-quality questions in the past. These filters help keep the quality of our sites high. The exact formula for the bans is not disclosed, but users are only banned if they have a significant number of heavily down-voted, zero-voted, or deleted posts. One or two bad posts will not cause you to be blocked from using the site.

If you see questions that you do not think are useful for the reasons that you cite in your question here, then a simple downvote will help to bring it to the attention of the filter described above. The wording of the mouseover on the downvote button encourages its use when you think insufficient research effort has been put in before asking.

As an aside, if you are looking to improve your question here, I think it could benefit from revising it to focus more on the type of questions with which you/we are taking issue rather than the askers of those questions.

This Meta SE Q&A may also be relevant: Breaking down question blocks - let's talk about rate limits

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    +1 for using downvotes. I feel like we don't downvote almost anything here, even if it would be deserved.
    – underdark
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 18:13
  • @underdark I agree, and when it is used it is often met with hostility. (I've been guilty of it as well). I think a feature where if you downvote you're required to give a reasoning or comment would make it more efficient.
    – GISHuman
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 17:48
  • @GISKid There is often a case for silently downvoting - gis.stackexchange.com/questions/107923/…
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 21:37
  • Added a few more examples of posts per your suggestion.
    – GISHuman
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 15:28
  • Unfortunately, a user has to be truly awful before they will be banned based on downvotes. I don't know where the bar lies, but it's so low it has never applied to any user on GIS@SE.
    – whuber
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 21:29

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