When I open the Stack Exchange app on a mobile device it quickly shows a view with the following motto:

Expert answers to your questions

I have recently raised a question that got more attention than I and moderator expected (24h comment lockdown was required) that is clearly something a knowledgeable person would not ask.

However, I often hear similar questions and I think these deserve an authoritative answer, rather than opinions, whenever possible.

Also, virtually any science has an interface with the regular folk and it should be able to both show its beauty with less jargon and demystify some things.

Just some quick examples:

Coming back to my question: Is Biology more like "expert answers to your questions" or more like "expert answers to your expert questions"?

  • $\begingroup$ So much of the interaction on Biology SE is procedural. I wonder whether it would suit users to fork a "Biologist SE" from "Biology SE". This way you can reduce noise in one channel and still try to answer questions from people without much background knowledge. $\endgroup$
    – J--
    Mar 29, 2020 at 22:36

1 Answer 1


From the on-topic help page:

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

We tend more towards "Expert answers to your questions" (note also that this is StackExchange boilerplate, not something written specifically for this site) rather than "expert questions" - I think most of the regulars here are each the only expert here in their narrow field of interest. If I have an expert question needing a super expert answer, I go to my network of contacts rather than SE biology. Experts may ask questions here, too, but they are more likely to be outside or at the fringes of their particular expertise.

That said, we also have fairly high standards for askers. Just like SO requires askers to put in a bit of research effort and describe their problem well, SE Biology doesn't respond well to questions that are asked without any thought or prior research put in. It's useful, though not always necessary, to include references to that prior research, but often it is visible just from the quality of the question asked. We also have a strict policy against homework questions that come without effort. I think it's unethical to provide answers to questions that might prevent students from actually learning the material they study, and rude to their instructors as well.

My personal preference is that question askers not request an "ELI5" answer - the answerers can decide based on how the question is asked what level of explanation to provide.

And I'd also disagree with your characterization of your own question as one "a knowledgeable person would not ask", if we define "knowledgeable person" as someone knowledgeable about some aspect of biology. From my own perspective, though I had some general idea of what the answer would be, your question elicited an answer that gave some references and more detailed explanation than I could have. I think that's perfectly fine and valuable here.

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    $\begingroup$ "...we also have fairly high standards for askers." This sounds good in theory, but in practice I feel like I have seen people who are punished for asking questions that seem reasonable to me, but they simply have no idea where to start, due to issues of vocabulary or similar. In practice, it does seem to come down to "expert questions" not infrequently; only "expert" for SE, rather than for "biology". This worries me, and may contribute to the negative rep that SE sites have- e.g. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/254355/… $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2020 at 1:53
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    $\begingroup$ @MaximillianPress My experience is that the people reacting negatively don't have any business here - they want an ABCD answer to pass a quiz without understanding, they want an answer to a question that came up over dinner without any research, they took a class on computer science so they want to know why people studying the brain didnt figure it out yet because it's so easy $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Mar 24, 2020 at 2:46
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, those folks are out there as well, possibly a majority of the novice askers even. But I'd argue that even some of those people deserve a good-faith answer when they pose certain questions (if anyone coming to SE Biology deserves anything). The tour: "we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about biology." One of my first (and most-upvoted) answers was to a question that is absolutely in your "over dinner without research" bin: biology.stackexchange.com/questions/53809/… $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2020 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ 2/2: but there are also (to me) perfectly good questions that some SE Biology people won't deign to answer based on what seems to me to be a quibble: biology.stackexchange.com/questions/90949/… . It seems to me that the outcome of that kind of gatekeeping is a Q+A site full of lacunae and omissions. I am much less interested in arcane SE principles than I am in answering actual questions that the world has about biology; when the principles interfere, I lose the principles. YMMV. $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2020 at 18:47

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