I have always been of the opinion that requests for book recommendations did not fit on SE biology, and have voted to close them on the technical basis that they are matters of opinion. My broader objection is that they are clearly not problems in biology, but problems of biologists. Answering is also difficult because a good recommendation requires knowledge of the educational background of the poster, and that the answerer is familiar with more than one book.

Hence I have no problem with the current SE Biology policy of closing such questions, as was done recently with one about Lewin’s Genes v. Alberts Molecular Biology of the Cell.

However, while on another SE site I frequent — English Language & Usage — I was reminded of the fact that that site allows such questions on Meta. I wonder whether that has ever been considered here. I had my fingers burnt during the covid pandemic over promoting Meta for a repository of reliable information. However my faith in human nature continues undimmed (or something).


2 Answers 2


I think the Meta site should be used for what it's meant for, namely to ask questions or start discussions related to the main site. To me, Meta shouldn't become the scrap heap for borderline ontopic questions left for the Jawas to scour. If the reference-requests are declared offtopic (I still don't really know whether I agree or not) and we still want to address them nonetheless, they should go to chat instead. And because the main reason to reject them from the main site is probably the opinion-based character of any possible answer, chat is a good place to ask and discuss them I reckon.

First we would need to make a definite decision on the reference-request ontopicness. If declared offtopic, we should think about what to do with the existing tag. Possibly, given the fact there are quite a number of question tagged as such, we should leave the existing questions for what they are, and just edit the tag and clearly mention these questions are offtopic and need to go to chat. Perhaps even change the tag itself by mentioning offtopicness or something, because tag descriptions are more often neglected than read.

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    $\begingroup$ On Health/Medical Sciences, in order to encourage folks where they might look for information before answering, we posted a fairly extensive list of sources. It was helpful to refer to them when closing a question for lack of research. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 4:50
  • $\begingroup$ To the down voter, voting on a meta answer like this (where there are two opposing answers) should be either an upvote or no vote. Upvote only the answer you agree with. (I've done it, though, too, but "unthinkingly".) $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 13:42

I would suggest we consider the way SE English Language and Usage operates on this. I posted a question on Meta there and received an instructive answer from one of the Mods. From this, the essence of the way they operate involves the following, which is different from our practice:

  1. Resource requests are off-topic on the main site and there are no tags for them.

  2. There are resource tags on Meta, but this is only to allow the question of resources to be indexed when discussed on Meta.

  3. When a question is closed as the equivalent to our homework question the close notice specifically indicates that resources are available and links to them:

Please include the research you’ve done, or consider if your question suits our English Language Learners site better. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic.

  1. The link from the above is to a single answer that may be edited and embellished over time.

In our case the close text would be modified to include something like:

Questions on book recommendations are off-topic on SE Biology, but a commented list of texts in different areas of biology can be found in Meta.

So it only takes someone to list a few books in his area and write a brief description focussing on level and scope, rather than subjective preferences. I might do this in biochemistry, someone else would then add books on general biology, ecology, neuroscience, evolution, physiology etc.


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