Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Get all your Questions Answered

When I have a question I usually ask the internet before bugging my neighbor. Yet it seems like Google's search results have become increasingly irrelevant over the last few years, and this is especially true for searching anything related to R (and previously mentioned Rseek.org doesn't really do the job I would expect it to do either).

The last few years has seen the development of several community-powered Q&A websites, and I'm not talking about Yahoo Answers. Here are a few that come to mind that I've used and found extremely helpful.

Biostar (biostars.org) - a Q&A site for bioinformatics. The site's focus is bioinformatics, computational genomics and biological data analysis. A few of my favorite threads from this site are one on mapping SNPs to pathways, and another on mapping SNPs to genes using tools like the UCSC public MySQL server.

CrossValidated (http://stats.stackexchange.com/) - a Q&A site for for statisticians, data miners, and anyone else doing data analysis. This one's relatively new but already has many very talented and extremely helpful users. Last week I asked a question about R², about the difference between variance explained and variation explained, and how that related to Random Forests. The question was answered merely a few hours later.

Finally, there's Quora (http://www.quora.com/). Quora's a little different from the others, and you can ask just about anything you want here. Quora's also still young, but seems to have lots of science/tech geeks like us using it. I recently asked a question, requesting a lay explanation of how Random Forest works, and got a great answer. There was also a good thread about whether current customers found 23andMe to be worth buying.

There's an FAQ on all of these sites that explains how to ask a good question. You might even try answering a few questions yourself and find it rewarding. It's a lot like playing a game, with rather odd goals. You get reputation points and "badges" for answering questions, having your answers voted on, commenting on others' answers, etc. You'll also find that as your own reputation increases by providing good answers to others' questions, your own questions will be answered more quickly. If none of these are quite what you're looking for, check out the stackexchange directory. You'll find Q&A sites that all use the same engine dedicated to topics from photography or cooking to programming and web development.

*Edit 2011-02-22* Thanks to two commenters for pointing this out. There's also a good Q&A community for next generation sequencing, including a forum (http://seqanswers.com/) and a StackExchange site (http://i.seqanswers.com/)


  1. Try googling with "R-help". Also checkout http://seqanswers.com and http://i.seqanswers.com/.

  2. I'd second seqanwers. Ironically most of my contact with seqanswers has been through using google search to find answers to issues I've had in nextgen analysis.

  3. I agree about your impressions about google. I also increasingly use a local full -text pdf search as implemented in Mendeley. Especially as there are very many great R text books available as pdf this answers many questions quite fast. Additionally, I increasingly use the book search of google which still serve as a certain quality filter

  4. I had a similar post about Analytics Question and Answer sites. I included a few similar sites and some R specific sites.


  5. Thanks for the post! I'd always not taken commenting or asking question a serious thing but as you can tell from this comment, I gonna get into the habit of commenting, asking and answering questions. Thanks again!

    iThink, iAct!

  6. I usually google anything I need to know and find the answer, however, when I have more specific questions I usually go to Q&A sites and find what I need.

  7. Sadly, http://biostar.stackexchange.com/ doesn't seem to be running any more :/

  8. I've updated the links to point to biostar's new home at biostars.org.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Creative Commons License
Getting Genetics Done by Stephen Turner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.