Now Bioinformatics.SE has made it to beta, I'm wondering if the community/mods think that the remit of Bio.SE should change? (lets assume for the sake of argument, that Bioinformatics will persist beyond beta).

More specifically, the following questions spring to mind:

  • Should bioinformatics questions be considered off-topic here now?

  • Should legacy bioinformatics questions on Biology.SE be migrated to Bioinformatics.SE, thus centralising all bioinformatics resources and questions for the future?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ A similar case for comparison is questions about the history of biology. These are apparently no longer on-topic here and are migrated to History of Science and Mathematics beta. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Jun 29, 2017 at 23:16

5 Answers 5


Concerning the first question, I suggest to Respect the community – your own, and others’. This post specifically warns against

Scope Gerrymandering: attempting to micromanage what’s on-topic in order to avoid overlap with other sites or simply drive away users seen as undesirable.

I'd suggest editing tag usage guidance to mention the existence of a separate Bioinformatics site, and let the question askers make their own informed decision regarding where they want to post.

The answer to the second question is no for two reasons:

  • Beta sites are not eligible to be migration targets. And discussing what should happen when Bioinformatics graduates is not the best use of time: it will be in a couple of years at best, and by then the composition and opinions of both communities will be different from what they are now.
  • Stack Exchange does not migrate old questions between sites. See Should we migrate old questions to new SE sites?

After all, the bioinformatics questions are already accessible from the same page, namely https://google.com (which is where the vast majority of readers come from).

  • $\begingroup$ Great, I'd say that certainly covers the last point. As for scope gerrymandering, I have to say that has not been my experience on SE (not biology specifically, but on StackOverflow and a couple of the others, the content of a site is sometimes extremely fussed over). I'm not saying we should fall foul of it and do the same, but controlling the scope, sometimes pretty tightly, seems to be the modus operandi for many .SE's $\endgroup$
    – Joe Healey
    Jun 29, 2017 at 18:50

In short: No and no.

First off, the site statistics of Bioinformatics are not too promising [yet] so I do not expect them to graduate any time soon.

But to your question

Should bioinformatics questions be considered off-topic here now?

New questions do not need, and should not be migrated when they are on-topic on both sites.

They should be migrated only when they are off-topic here. A good example of an off-topic, migrateable question is one that is on informatics and informatics only, for example how to code a script that does X to do Y.

For example, here is the newest active question on that site:

Pooling data in metagenome assembly

and the question body contains heaps of lines of code, such as:

for ((i=0;i<=${\#R1[@]};i++));   do    
  /bin/metagenome-assembler -1 "${R1[i]}" -2 "${R2[i]}" -o   ${R1[i]%.*}.contigs.fa;  

This stuff is definitely off-topic here, as the question core is on coding, not on Bio.

Further - regarding migrating old questions retrospectively - questions older than 2 months cannot be migrated anyway, so that should get that question largely out of the way.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think this did exactly answer the question though. Bioinformatics questions were on-topic here, primarily I would argue, because they were more off-topic elsewhere, and Bioinformatics didn't exist. Now that it does, shouldn't that implicitly somewhat tighten what Bio.SE is about? And actually, the linked question about pooling isn't about the code they pasted, it's about the logic behind the approach of pooling - they haven't actually asked how to do it, just logically what is correct/best practice. How it is/was achieved programmatically is tangetial to that particular question. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Healey
    Jun 29, 2017 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeHealey - but the question is approached by providing lines of code. It's a coding-based question and I just picked the first question. It's not about this question, in particular. More and less off-topic is exactly what I am saying in my question. It should be off-topic in order to justify migration. Of course commenting and telling OP there is a better site is fine. Migration is quite a drastic measure and shouldn't be (ab)used as mass-practice. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD Mod
    Jun 29, 2017 at 18:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ But so is something like this one, yet it was considered on-topic on Bio.SE?: biology.stackexchange.com/questions/59493/… I should just add, I don't actually mind either way personally - I'm just playing Devil's advocate. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Healey
    Jun 29, 2017 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeHealey I think questions, even ones that would normally be off-topic, that are answered quickly, like the one you linked, tend to be much much less likely to be closed. (not offering an opinion positive or negative, just stating my observation) $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 29, 2017 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause I assumed that was probably the case, since an answer is an answer. I'm just trying to tease apart the logic a bit. Mainly coming from contributing at BioStars, where biological questions would be closed, it's difficult to not have the opposite mindset I suppose! $\endgroup$
    – Joe Healey
    Jun 29, 2017 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeHealey Understood. In my opinion that question should be off-topic here, but there is a bit of a gray area because we do allow questions about the "techniques" of research into biology. I think there is actually a lot of bias in how we treat techniques for better or worse. Personally if I were to ask a question about the techniques I use day to day, I'm going to be on CrossValidated, not here, even though I would post about the content of my research here. Cheers for interdisciplinary fields! $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 29, 2017 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think the statistics of the bioinformatics site are "not too promising". The answer rate and answer ratio are OK. The other statistics do not seem very relevant for me: I even tend to think that a slow traffic site is better because it is easier to pay attention to a higher proportion of the questions. $\endgroup$
    – bli
    Jul 5, 2017 at 9:12

This isn't a fully thought-out answer, sorry if it rambles a bit (anyone who wants to edit or add, feel free), but I just wanted to briefly draw attention to how we treat questions that fit other sites.

For questions that need answers based purely in biology or physics, without any special biological consideration, we tend to close or migrate those questions out. It isn't sufficient for the original motivation to be based on biology if the question isn't. Same for questions that are purely about statistical approaches, even if those approaches are more relevant to biology, although we do have many questions that we allow that are specific to understanding evolution/natural selection/Mendelian genetics. What distinguishes those questions is that they have a biological question at heart, and statistics just helps you to understand the biological question, rather than the question being "how do I control for a confounding variable in this ANOVA?" where the question isn't actually about the biology.

For questions that could be better fits somewhere like Health.SE or CogSci.SE, we sometimes encourage the OP to delete and repost, but we usually keep them open and try to answer them, as long as they also fit the on-topic criteria here. Even if they might fit better someplace else, they can still be answered here.

For Bioinformatics, I think part of the reason there is a new sub now is that 95% (or 99.9% - calling @GerardoFurtado!) of the bioinformatics questions people actually ask are not on topic for Biology even though we have a tag here. I think future Bioinformatics questions will continue to be welcome here, even with Bioinformatics in beta and even if it graduates, much like the CogSci and Health questions are: as long as they are actually about the biology.

We can inform and encourage askers that there is another SE site, but I don't think biology-relevant bioinformatics questions should become off-topic here.


Bioinformatics has never been on topic here! Only the biological concepts underlying a bioinformatics approach have been on topic so I see no reason to change anything at all. Yes, we have also decided that biological questions that can be faced by a bioinformatician while doing their job are on topic on Bioinformatics, but only if they are somehow also bioinformatics-y.

Conversely, Bioinformatics questions are on topic here only if they focus on the biological issue and not the details of the in silico analysis. This has always been the case.


Either we should make alert BioSE users that "now there is a bioinformatics branch too" ; or beside the bioinformatics-tagged question-answer of BioSE, a poster with link to bioinformatics SE should be given. This would help corelate as well as filter bioinformatics questions.

On other hand the bioinformatics site too should contain a search-filter to visit bioinformatics-related questions remaining inside BioSE missed by bioinformatics community. This will help their-visitors to also visit this branch, and in long term it might improve the the exchange of thoughts.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Perhaps a bioinformatics tag warning which alerts people to the existence of Bioinformatics SE. I'm fine with bioinformatics questions here, but people would likely get a better answer on the other site. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Jul 25, 2017 at 16:32

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