This is pretty simple. I heard through the grapevine about a feature on a common piece of lab equipment (in this case a liquid N2 freezer). There are so many vendors so I want to simply ask if anyone knows if that exists and where I could look. Is that appropriate for this forum?


This is one of those "off topic" areas which is (mostly) regulated across the network. Just like "big list" questions are not accepted anywhere with a few notable exceptions, so are "shopping recommendation" questions not accepted by default, based on Jeff's blog post, with some sites explicitly allowing them.

But the network has evolved since then, and recognized more about he trouble/usefulness of certain types of question. We even have a whole Software recommendations site. The way I have seen it, and it may make good sense on Biology, is:

  • if you are faced with a problem of discovery, then it should be OK to ask it. This means that you know your needs well, can formulate them, and ask if there is at least one product on the market which covers them. For example, "Is there a freezer which can maintain two different temperatures in two drawers?" Some preliminary research should be expected of the asker, similar to homework questions. "Which lab freezer can keep a temperature below 0 Celsius?" is clearly not useful, as basically any of them should do this.

  • if you are faced with a problem of choice, then it should be off topic. This happens when you have no idea what you need and want somebody to make your buying decision for you. Example: "Which is the best lab freezer under $XXX on the market?"

This is a criterion geared towards dividing recommendation questions into the ones which are objectively answerable by experts' knowledge, and the ones which are totally subjective and based on too little information. It has also proven itself in practice - Software recommendation uses it, and seems to be doing well so far.


I might be wrong, but my feeling is that on SE/SO product recommendations should be requested via following pattern:

What should I look for buying X for Y? My additional requirements are a, b, c, and d

Answer might look like:

For a and b optimal parameters are $\alpha$ and $\beta$, however equipment that can do that simultaneously is very expensive.

For example of question (maybe off-topic on Bio@SE):

What parameters are most important in modern PCR machines? How to discern bad scientific journals from good? What to beware of looking for cheap -20 freezer for general lab stocks?

Because these things have more or less definite and measurable (quantitative) answers and less prone to personal biases (e.g. I like eppendorf and hate VWR).

  • $\begingroup$ Good point. I've seen it used on other sites, and when the asker really does not know what he needs, it can work (although not always). $\endgroup$ – rumtscho Jun 7 '15 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ thats the problem, if asker dont know what is needed, everyone is just wasting time debating pepsi vs cola $\endgroup$ – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Jun 7 '15 at 20:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ We've had cases on Cooking where people come with no idea what they need in equipment, but when they tell us what they are planning to cook with the equipment, we can tell them which features will be useful for them. This is what I meant with the "can work" comment. If they don't have a strict use case, it's hopeless though. ("What will you use your mixer for?" "Baking.") There are interesting cases like "How important is RPM on a mixer", but sadly they don't get answered well, because none of us has that much knowledge about what makes a good mixer good. $\endgroup$ – rumtscho Jun 8 '15 at 15:32

From the help center asking, it says

What topics can I ask about here?

Biology Stack Exchange is for people studying biology at any level. Questions are from students, academics and active researchers in biology and closely related fields, including:

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

Questions on interdisciplinary subjects like bioinformatics are also welcome, as long as they focus on the biological part of the subject.

Which questions are off-topic?

  • personal medical questions and health advice
  • philosophical or ethical questions related to biology

Please see these tips on writing a good question before posting.

Please look around to see if your question has been asked before. It’s also OK to ask and answer your own question.

If your question is not specifically on-topic for Biology Stack Exchange, it may be on topic for another Stack Exchange site. If no site currently exists that will accept your question, you may commit to or propose a new site at Area51, the place where new Stack Exchange communities are democratically created.

For more help, see "What types of questions should I avoid asking?"

So what does this tell is about your question? Well, not much of anything since it isn't expressly forbidden or allowed. That is, it is a gray area. The community may perceive it as a decent, worthy, or acceptable, but there is the flip side as well. It could be perceived as not a good fit. As long as you show research effort, it may fit in and be okay.

My advice is to post it but not as a problem statement. The worst that will happen is closure and maybe advice on where else to try and ask. I can't think of another SE that it would fit in though.


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