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I have only really been active here for about 3 months, so I’m not very familiar with this site’s policies and ambitions. On some sites I participate in, there is a vision that seems to be shared, reflected partly by the comments certain kinds of questions get, by how quickly they're put on hold, etc. I don't have a good sense of what the vision of this site is.

Sometimes I see questions that are of poor quality, probably because of a lack of understanding of science in general or biology in particular, as with this question and this one. Sometimes it’s both, or there is some other reason to object to the question. For example, incomprehensibility. Sometimes a question concerns me because I know the OP can answer it himself with a bit more thought, or because an OP posts a flurry of similar questions about slightly different drugs that have the same or similar mechanisms of action. I see some good questions closed, and I don't understand the reason. Sometimes, I see comments that lead me to wonder what is expected in the level of expertise of users here. (I think there is more expertise here than is sometimes recognized.)

What is the vision this site has for itself?

I'm clearly missing something here.

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    $\begingroup$ With regards to the tea question, this seems to be an issue where the community disagrees to a significant extent with my own policy, even though I received significant support for the general idea on meta. I'll take this issue to meta in any case, though probably not today anymore. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Dec 9 '14 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ The author of the two pharmacology questions seems to be exceptional. I've noticed this person frequently asks such specific, technical questions which seem like they have a straightforward, technical answer (they remind me of textbook review questions or perhaps exam questions from an advanced course). I haven't made up my mind yet about whether I think this is a good thing or bad. $\endgroup$ – Superbest Dec 18 '14 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Superbest - That's a kindly way to look at it. My concern is that when any OP states they are doing research, then their questions should reflect understanding in that field. I think people commonly overstate their familiarity with the issue here because of whom this site is supposed to attract. I don't want to pick on this OP; I actually answer some of his questions. So, lets invent one: I am researching viral-immunoglobin interactions. Can someone please tell me how to introduce a plasmid into a virus so I can develop a model for antibiotic resistance of viruses? It does not compute. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Dec 18 '14 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse I'll try being devil's advocate again (I do see your point and agree) - in your example, perhaps the real question includes "I'm considering joining a lab working on this as an undergrad researcher, but want to learn the basics first..." but this was left out for brevity and to avoid tangents. $\endgroup$ – Superbest Dec 18 '14 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse just a 2c worth: Your answers are often pretty awesome and I think you are doing a similarly awesome job on SE (but admittedly, I have been around less long than you :-) $\endgroup$ – AliceD Dec 22 '14 at 14:10
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The audience I wanted this site to have when I committed to the A51 proposal was undegraduates, PhD students and PostDocs in biological sciences. I'm obviously biased as I'm part of that group, but even then I think that this group should be our core audience. They have the knowledge we need, and also have still enough questions to ask. I'm generally skeptical of targeting a site too high, most professors are extremely busy and it would be exceedingly difficult to get them onto a site like this to answer questions (unless we would achieve the kind of professional standing a site like Math Overflow has). PhD students and PostDocs are the users that in my opinion could benefit the most from this site, and at the same time have the knowledge necessary to provide great answers, and more likely also the necessary time and inclination.

This site was targeted towards all users in the A51 proposal. So of course we received a large amount of questions from users that are not professionals. I did ask about this on meta early in our beta phase, but there was no real conclusion to that.

While I'd personally like to lift the minimum entry barrier a bit, I'm also hesitant to actually propose this as I fear that this could get out of hand quickly. If there are no clear lines, this kind of decision gets rather arbitrary, and we end up with a pretty hostile site.

I think that this is one of the topics we have to seriously discuss at some point, but I doubt there is an easy answer.

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    $\begingroup$ I guess I should tell you that that I am an MD. Ph.D (with the Ph.D. in molecular biology). So I like medical questions, and many others. I like teaching. But the quality of the poorest homework-level questions is startling to me. I'd kind of like to know where the site is headed to know if I fit here. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Dec 9 '14 at 22:37
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    $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse I agree that some homework Qs are depressingly poor. Ones that completely lack effort are closed, but you can still get discouraged by the ones that include some basic thought and are therefore kept open. I think finding a balance for homework Qs is really tricky, and the problem is also that many can be reformulated into "general curiosity" Qs that are poor in background. We don't want to scare all of these away, but they can really drag down the question queue. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Dec 9 '14 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ As I'm sure you're acutely aware biology diversifies into niches very quickly after undergrad. If a PhD student has a problem, 9/10 times the only people that can help them are their supervisor or immediate peers. So this SE becomes a last resort for quality "askers" rather than a go to like the programming SEs. The knock on is that the specialist questions are very VERY obscure albeit well formulated. There lies the problem I think. Quality questions are rare and obscure by the nature of the community outside the SE. $\endgroup$ – James Dec 10 '14 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse Do you mean you would you rather teach from the ground up to correct the most basic biological misunderstanding (life from an egg stuff) or do you want to enable undergrads and up to do better research (minor errors about biochemistry etc)? $\endgroup$ – James Dec 10 '14 at 2:14
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    $\begingroup$ @GoodGravy - I've been away from research long enough that I can't help with the obscure questions. Otherwise I'll answer anything from the ground up, if it's sincere or funny or interests me in any other way. But what I'm very reluctant to answer (and concerned to see) are the "gimme teh codez" type questions. I like SE and am used to a wide spread in the quality of the questions, but am accustomed to doing more to discourage them, like ask what research the OP has done, etc. I don't see a lot of that here. So I thought I'd throw this out there. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Dec 10 '14 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse All good points and I agree! $\endgroup$ – James Dec 10 '14 at 4:46
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    $\begingroup$ @GoodGravy I would have wanted this site for people with at least some level of education in biology; so that we discuss real matters not reiterate textbooks and provide trivia. I personally detest popular questions about cats, masturbation, humans eating grass etc. I don't know if it is justified to keep such questions out but if I set the rules, I will. These questions also skew the vote metrics and good questions and get shadowed by drivel. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Dec 11 '14 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG I agree there should be a specific rules that allow them to be closed down. Perhaps people should and could be more liberal with the "too broad" close. Also worth pointing out that BioStar.org don't have this problem in anywhere near the same scale. $\endgroup$ – James Dec 13 '14 at 6:01
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    $\begingroup$ @GoodGravy Biostar is a very specialized community. It is almost a stackoverflow for bioinformatics. We had to close down certain questions that were long unanswered and there was no response from OP to when clarifications were requested. Broad questions demand considerable effort from the answerer- they are closed only if the OP refuses (or does not respond) to narrow down. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Dec 13 '14 at 6:18
  • $\begingroup$ You say professors are unlikely to find time for this site, but there are actually many very active professors (including some biologists, I believe) on Academia@SE. I think the general rule of SE sites is very apt - focus on building a core base of expert users, and everything else will follow. Also, current postdoc users may soon become professors - and keep posting. $\endgroup$ – Superbest Dec 18 '14 at 22:08
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I think the general aim of answering bio-related questions is pretty clear. The field is rather big with a lot of specialities - so a lot of questions will not be answered, especially when they come from a highly specialized field. For example we get quite some questions about deveopmental biology with only very few developmental biologists around.

Then there are quite a lot of questions which clearly lack at least a bit of research - some due to not doing anything, some due to a lack of background (sometimes even Wikipedia is hard to understand without basic knowledge). But I agree, there could be more effort put into this.

Some questions get closed which not necessarily have to (I have voted to reopen your example) because they can get a bit of editing to remove the "personal medical information" part and then answer them. For me it is perfectly ok to answer such questions to fight urban legends or esoteric claims. I oppose answering questions about serious personal medication or health questions.

Summarising this, I think we should probably be a bit slower in closing fresh questions and on the other hand ask the posters to either remove content, clarify the questions or to show some effort in basic research. If they do not respond, we can still close this questions rather fast. But I think they should get a few hours to respond to critics. And we have to make sure that they get the critics - otherwise they will turn away and are lost as active members (at least some of them).

Additionally I think we should go through old, unsanswered questions, which will not be answerable because of missing input and so on and close these.

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    $\begingroup$ I have been working the close queue, too. Unfortunately some of them, while specific, are very good. This is where knowing the level of expertise on this site, and editing to move to the top of the page for a second chance, come in. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Dec 9 '14 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ I agree. I have been working the close cue as well and some fruitful questions are closed within 24h. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Dec 21 '14 at 12:56
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First meant as a comment to the answer by @MadScientist, but became to long


I generally agree with the answer by @MadScientist and the comment by @WYSIWYG; my vision would be that the site is aimed for undergraduate students and up, or people who can frame their questions at the same level from their own studies. I wouldn't like the site to devolve into basic trivia, similarly to Quora. We could of course allow some of those questions, if they show a basic understanding of related topics and some background research, but they should be the exception, not the rule. At SE-Academia there are pretty strict guidelines that questions should deal with upper level academic issues (graduate students and up), and questions on e.g. general study techniques, non-academic careers or undergradute issues are off-topic. Over time, I would like to see something similar here, so that questions at the level of what you can pick up in a highschool textbook on biology or a glance at Wikipedia should be off-topic.

I can also sympathise with this and some other answers to a similar question from the private beta of BioSE.

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    $\begingroup$ I have a lot to think about. when EL&U gets a basic question, we have lots of specific close reasons that explain why you don't want to be here. But as new people join every day, they answer the bad questions until they learn, and when they learn, nOObs are still pouring in. It's relentless. I'm into most branches of biology (loved every college course I took bar none). I would feel a loss if coming here was like going to medical conventions or a weekend at Cold Spring Harbor watching Watson dig ear wax out of his ears while speaking. But I like to see people excited about stuff- $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Dec 12 '14 at 10:02
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    $\begingroup$ -And would probably miss the variety of questions. I don't know. I'm not sure you'll get there, though. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Dec 12 '14 at 10:04

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