I've seen a few questions removed recently because some people feel that the site was not getting questions about Biology in a pure enough sense and that these people should go somewhere else.

E.g. why does an MRI need a stronger magnetic field, How are antibiotic resistant bacteria treated?

I think that this is a very narrow and sad definition of Biology. In the best research universities of the world Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and even MRI machines can be found in daily use. Antibiotic resistance is a hotly researched topic with many papers published.

My personal hope is that this site can be a place where the interdisciplinary biology that is influencing all sorts of ecological, medical, geological and even material science research can be touched upon and where people doing that work will come to check in. Even sociobiology seems to be outside the scope of what some people think this place is about.

Could someone please explain what sort of Biology this site should be focused on ? Is this a taxonomy/ cell physiology/ biochemistry site only?

If this question belongs on the main site, lmk what you think. i didn't want to get closed!


As @poshpaw's put it - and indeed since I was the top voted answer on the meta-question referenced - I must agree that I considered the antibiotics question to be absolutely on topic, and voted to reopen.

There are many answers to that question that aren't "Switch to a 10 day source of ciproflaxin and call me in the morning", but are instead mechanistic answers rather than medical ones, and as such within the scope of this site. Example answers could involve discussions of the mechanisms of action of bacterial antibiotic resistance, and that resistance to one does not imply resistance to all. It could discuss the use of phage therapy as a potential avenue in the future and a relatively common technique in the past.

Just because it involves sick people doesn't mean its medicine.

  • $\begingroup$ I've reopened that question as there seems to be quite some support for reopening it, and doing that only with user votes seems unrealistic at this point on the site. Our boundary to medicine is probably the hardest one to define here. $\endgroup$ Mar 6 '12 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MadScientist It is indeed a very hard line to draw $\endgroup$
    – Fomite
    Mar 6 '12 at 23:38

We've said as a community in the past that its best to make these calls on a question by question basis and give the benefit of the doubt as long as an association is made directly back to biology.

For example, the question on MRI Scanners. If instead of:

In which ways is a stronger magnet better for magnetic resonance imaging?

The question had been something along the lines of:

How does having a stronger magnet in an MRI scanner affect which tissues are more clearly defined on the scan and why biochemically is this the case?

Then I have no doubt that the question would have remained open and received some fantastic answers. However when the body of the question contains clearly physics related content, e.g:

I suppose the dephasing is quicker, reducing the transverse net magnetization more quickly. Does this go for the longitudinal net magnetization too? How would this reduce motion sensitivity and SNR?

Then the user is likely to get better responses from Physics.SE. The asker is likely to get better responses from a community where all the members will have knowledge of the above rather than just some, and the experience of the user is what we should be aiming to maximise rather than our question count.

Please do not misunderstand me, I'm as keen as you are to see great biology questions popping up and always interested in the answers no matter what domain of biology they are from, however if the asker could get better answers on Physics, CogSci or even Gardening then I think it is only fair that we move them on.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ MRI is not really physics - its a medical technology. You will find them referenced in papers. I think the distiction is fairly piddly. giving them an opportunity to change the question might be more helpful in creating a website with some decent traffic. I think the ideological purity of the question overruled the point of making a useful community in this case. As I commented I was typing an answer when I was cutoff by the summary judgement and lost my work. I went over to physics to answer the question. $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Mar 3 '12 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ @shigeta yes the cut off thing was exclusively my fault, I do apologise. From a site design point of view, were you notified inline with the question as you would be for a new answer or was everything simply lost when you posted the answer? $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    Mar 4 '12 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ The "clearly physics related content" would be part of any introductory course on biomedical imaging. $\endgroup$
    – user24
    Mar 5 '12 at 22:14

Our current policy is that questions about related fields are on-topic, as long as they are more on the biology side. I think this restriction is absolutely necessary to prevent us from broadening the scope of this site too much and losing focus.

Interdisciplinary questions are welcome, also questions about MRI, NMR, X-ray crystallography or any other physical methods that are often used by biologists. But they should have a connection with biology, they shouldn't be purely about the physics of the methods. A question about NMR of a protein would be on-topic here.

Now, after taking a look at Physics.SE I'm wondering if that site is really the best place for those questions. There's hardly any content about NMR/MRI on there, so I don't know if they have the community there to answer those questions. It might be that even though it's deeply-rooted in physics, the method is mostly used by physicians, biologists and chemists. It might make sense to move the boundaries here, but we should think carefully about that before we act.


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