I asked a question recently about a rumored biological mechanism that I was ignorant about.


My question was answered and I am satisfied with the result, but it was put on hold, for what I feel, was the wrong reason.

The question is duplicate of a question asked over at skeptics, but it was put on hold for being off-topic. After consulting the help center more closely, I see that it is indeed off topic.

  • general questions about biological concepts
  • questions about the biological mechanisms behind medical conditions
  • questions about techniques in a biological or biochemical laboratory

I love SE. I think it has the potential to be on par with wikipedia and youtube when it comes to educating the planet.

My expertise is in the computer field, not biology. There are SE sites that welcome different degrees of educated questions.

I've seen questions on UX that don't know enough to know what they don't know, and have their questions welcomed and answered with open arms, even though the question could be interpreted as off-topic if someone felt like doing so.

I've also seen questions on programmers and security that require a stretch of the imagination to interpret the question as off-topic.

Ultimately, I've learned that what is off-topic is largely a reflection upon what kind of questions the moderation want to be asked. Of course that makes sense, these beta sites are created by those whom choose what kind of questions they want to welcome.

Biology is for academics. I didn't have any hand in the creation of this site, but I like any human, being a biological creature with things happening within me that I don't understand, will naturally have questions about it.

My big criticism with the SE network isn't that it enforces quality, thats the reason I prefer it, but rather that many of the sites have an ignorance barrier of entry. If you don't know enough to know what you don't know, its very difficult to formulate a question that meets the criteria.

For non-academics, if one has a question based in ignorance, which is a perfectly natural expectation for someone asking a question, SE is not for them.

Imagine back before you knew anything about biology. Anything at all, complete smooth-brained, wide-eyed student. Except you aren't in school anymore, you're an adult with a job and a family, and you have a question, but you aren't entirely sure what it is you're question is about. You don't know enough to know what you don't know, but you would like to know. Ideally, I would love for that person's questions to be welcome at SE, but ultimately, they are not. For them.. I guess they would need to use yahoo answers, or ask their (probably) ignorant friends on facebook.

And is that what we want? More people graduating from the University of Facebook?

Anyways, just a suggestion, broaden the scope of biology to not so narrow.

  • general questions about biological concepts
  • questions about the biological mechanisms behind medical conditions
  • questions about techniques in a biological or biochemical laboratory

Just be more open to questions about biological systems and mechanism. I think if someone has a question to how something within their own body works, even if its based on hearsay (remember, facebook university), it should be welcomed and answered here.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I've voted to reopen - see also argument/comments at the original question. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Mar 3 '15 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ You've touched on somewhat of an ongoing debate here that frequently comes up but never gets resolved. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Mar 6 '15 at 7:31
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    $\begingroup$ One huge problem with biology is that, very very unlike programming languages or operating sytems, many many mechanisms are yet to be discovered. In medicine many conditions are explained only by theories which have not been proved as of date. By theories I mean hypothesis which best explains the symptoms of a condition and applying which works partially while treating. So "we don't know the answer and therefore the answer would be opinion based" is one of the major reasons for which questions are closed here. $\endgroup$ – One Face Mar 7 '15 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ That said we are not at all proud to confess this, but ya know, we can't help it!. We try our best to accommodate questions. There is no logical way to derive answers here. So our community will start accepting more questions of this nature as the researches on such questions get published. There is simply no way to answer questions of this nature otherwise $\endgroup$ – One Face Mar 7 '15 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @OneFace The fact that the answer isn't known yet is not a reason to close a question. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Mar 7 '15 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ Many opinion based closes occur due to that reason, I think? @MadScientist $\endgroup$ – One Face Mar 7 '15 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ btw... I too voted to reopen the question $\endgroup$ – One Face Mar 7 '15 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ I VTC simply because it had been more than adequately answered on Skeptics. Why should the work be duplicated on another site? $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Mar 7 '15 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ I'll vtc it as dupe as well, I just suggest changing the scope of biology so that it isn't considered OT $\endgroup$ – Andrew Hoffman Mar 7 '15 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse Cross posting is not a close reason, at least according to the SE devs meta.stackexchange.com/questions/87739/… $\endgroup$ – March Ho Mar 8 '15 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ @MarchHo - Hmm. I'm not aware of it being a close reason; I VTC because it already had been perfectly well answered on an SE site. I was more concerned with someone duplicating work done by others already. If that's not an acceptable reason to close, I do want to know that. (For example, what's to stop someone who's rep-mining from visiting one site, selecting a highly voted question and posting a similar version of it on another SE site?) $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Mar 8 '15 at 8:02
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    $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse Sounds like a good question to post on Meta SE. I personally don't know the answer(s) to that. $\endgroup$ – March Ho Mar 8 '15 at 8:05
  • $\begingroup$ @OneFace we had this discussion about unanswerable questions. Have a look. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Mar 8 '15 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG Read it through. Thanks for the link. $\endgroup$ – One Face Mar 8 '15 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ As others have mentioned, we've talked on this a lot. My previous thoughts. I think your question could use some editing, but could be on topic, and given the meta SE @MarchHo posted, perhaps duplicate is not VTC reason ether. As WYSIWYG pointed out, if you included other biological examples on spontaneous abortion, it could be made into a legit question. That all humans share biology and could therefore have biological questions doesn't make Bio.SE work on a practical level. $\endgroup$ – Atl LED Mar 12 '15 at 15:36

Andrew, your concerns are genuine. At this moment this site is still broader than many others. The problem is with questions that are very trivial. Some of these questions are not more than one line long which shows that the OP has not even made an attempt to look for the answer (No it is never the case that they are perfectly worded). Basic questions are not unwelcome but one should make it evident that the question is based on genuine curiosity and not a random thought of a Facebook graduate (I love that term :) .. ).

Your question does not qualify as the abovementioned kind. I did not downvote it; my reason for close vote was this:

It was based on a claim by a person who probably doesn't even have the rudimentary knowledge of biology (it is sad that such people are in high positions). Your question sounded like : "is this person saying the right facts?", which is mostly the domain of Skeptics-SE. A question about biological mechanism would sound like: "Can pregnancy be controlled by voluntary nervous system/pathways". This should be followed by some justification on why you think it is even possible ("Mr X said so" is not one of them). Moreover it had an answer in Skeptics-SE.

Since you are from the field of computer science I would want to ask what would your reaction be if I asked this question:

My friend (who has not studied computer science actually) told me that with the right computer programming you can convert normal printers to 3D printers. I found it ridiculous because I think that 3D printing requires special devices. Is there any element of truth in this? Can someone provide me details so that I could silence idiots like my friend who are spreading wrong information?

  • $\begingroup$ I don't know if I agree with that comparison. Educated adults have a general understanding of the reproductive system. The assertion of the existence of an at-will conception mechanism to invalidate concerns of rape-pregnancies also invokes strong emotional reactions. And the example you give about the difference in word-smithing the question, is in part what I am talking about when I reference not knowing enough to know what I don't know. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Hoffman Mar 5 '15 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ Would it be preventative or a form of aborting? They never specified. Would it be something controlled by a voluntary response, or an unconscious mechanism? This is what I mean by ignorance barrier to entry. There does exist a question, and it is concerning a biological mechanism, the person asking the question just doesn't know whether or not its a fictitious mechanism. Normally I'd agree with you if the asserted existence of a mechanism had no reputable backer. Whats the name of the system that digests diamonds or something, but when a lot of people believe it, I make an exception. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Hoffman Mar 5 '15 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ In which case, its useful to have someone familiar with the history of the premise. I had no idea a senator was behind it. Its very fortunate that skeptics happened to have answered it. Arguably it could go either way. It was tagged [biology] after all. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Hoffman Mar 5 '15 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewHoffman On the matter of wording the question, I do believe that your comment sounds that you do have enough knowledge to think of multiple possibilities: "Would it be something controlled by a voluntary response, or an unconscious mechanism?". This is sufficient. A justification can be an short expansion on why you already think it should or should not be true. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Mar 5 '15 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ @AndrewHoffman On being more tolerant... You were actually curious and interested and it is evident by this meta post. There are many others who just post some random stuff and don't even listen to comments. When majority of basic questions are like that the rule should be fashioned to eliminate them. Interested people such as you would discuss about the reasons for closure etc. Then the post can be suitably edited and reopened. These are rare cases. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Mar 5 '15 at 20:58

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