The NYT has an article this morning about the rise in Q&A sites, like Quora and Stack Exchange. But in my view, there’s a mistaken assumption behind them: That the answers to most or all of your questions exists out there somewhere on the Net or in the brains of experts, if only you could ask the right person.
My view is the exact opposite: I believe that the set of known answers is very small compared to the set of possible important questions. Most of what we really need to know requires sustained systematic study. In other words, finding out important new answers is expensive.
I worry that Q&A sites help teach people that answers are cheap (or free). And then we won’t be willing to spend the money to get the answers to the important new questions.
I could be wrong. But I know I can formulate many many important economics-related questions for which there is no good answer because no one has done the right research, because collecting the data is too expensive. I assume that any subject matter expert can do the same in their own field.