I want to ask here, where you draw the line between cognitivesciences.se and biology.se, as there is some interdisciplinary overlap, when it comes to

  • Evolutionary Psychology
  • Ethology/Sociobiology
  • Neuroscience (-Physiology/-biology)

Seems tricky to me to find clear guidelines, esp. as cognisciences.se also has a neurobiology tag and some questions here I looked up would imho better fit biology.SE and yield better answers (The user overlap on both sites seems marginal). Taking this question as a example, every Q&A on human abnormalities in my humble opinion belongs to cognisciences.se, as from a methodological point of view biology deals with comparing characterics between different type of organisms. So as physics is a underlying key discipline for biology, biology is a underlying key discipline for Psychology. But purely human abnormalities therefore cannot be analysed by physical or biological theories. There is no methodological way in biology to explain and categorize autism between different organisms. This belongs to psychiatry or human medicine. Emerging field of epigenetics has shown that genetics is no "theory of everything" in biology and psychology, esp. for evolutionary psychology and religious studies. There are strong external environmental factors. But is epignetics on topic on cognitivesciences.se?

To my knowledge Autism is also no behavioural disorder, it is a development disorder, but Im no expert of exact terminology here. I dont have to explain in detail how much and hard discussion on a link between genetics and human behaviour there is, the blogosphere is full of blogs on evolutionary psychology and religious studies ("using" evolution theory as explanation) with superficial generalizations. So it may be crucial to establish some clear guidelines the user of this site can rely on, to keep pseudo-sciene and generalizations as much as possible from this site away. Therefore I would rather tend to migrate or close questions on human behaviour and esp. purely human characterics of behaviour to cognitivesciences.se, if there is not really a clear specified context in the question with neurobiological basis/context.

Just my thoughts what answers here should regard besides problems and factors I missed. I think for neuroscience the guidelines are more intuitive, theory of mind, neural networks belongs to cogniscience.se, while neurophysiology of course better fits biology.se. We probably should find a agreement, so neurobiology doesnt become splitted 50:50 on both sites. IMHO with merging everything of psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience this site has a pretty big scope now. Do you want to keep neurobiology questions here?

TL:DR What guidelines exist to migrate a question tagged with neurobiology, animal/human behaviour to biology.SE/cognisciences.SE? Alot neuroscience experiments use monkeys, where to ask such questions? If the questioner thinks he will get a better answer on this site, one may think its ok, but what I personally dislike strongly it splitting up complex topic like neurobiology on 2 sites.


2 Answers 2


I did my phd in a psychology department and lectured in a psychology department for several years. I've attended many psychology and cognitive science conferences. Thus, when I look at a question on this site, I think about whether it would feel natural to be thinking about the question in such departments, conferences, etc.

So here are my thoughts about specific types of questions

  • Animal cognition: There is a history of studying animals in psychology (e.g., Skinner). Thus, I think if a question pertains to cognition or is designed to make analogies with humans, then the question is reasonable for the site. That said, I imagine questions about non-human animals would also be well suited to biology.se. If you thought such questions would get better answers on biology.se, I'm open to that suggestion.

  • human brain: Questions about the human brain are in scope on this site. If there was a dedicated neuroscience stack exchange, then I guess they would have greater expertise on the topic. I imagine questions more at the behavioural end of the spectrum would be more at home on this site rather than those at the cellular/molecucular end.

  • brain size correlates with mental functioning: I believe this can be answered objectively. Measure brain size; measure intelligence; correlate the two. questions of causality remain, but I think the question is both capable of objective answer and on topic for this site. It's already got one great answer.

  • clinical psychology / psychiatry questions: These are in scope for this site. The site was formed from a merger than included psychiatry, and psychology includes clinical psychology. That said, there might be a cellular - behavioural continuum that is of relevance.

A/Q ratio and expertise of community

I wouldn't judge a site too harshly that's only been in public beta for 9 days. I think that as stack exchange moves away from its programming roots, into scientific fields such as psychology and cognitive science, it takes a little more time and effort to build up a solid community. We can rely less on existing stack exchange users and need to more actively introduce outsiders. That said there's an enthusiastic core group on this site who are actively promoting the site to new users.

In the first day of private beta, one user asked 9 questions that they had saved up. Most were a little left-field and were fairly poorly asked by stack exchange criteria.

Moving forward on the issue of cogsci / biology

Cogsci (at time of posting) is too young to currently have moderators or our own question migration tools. But I imagine we'll get them soon.

I'm not an expert in biology, but if you feel that a question would be better answered on biology.se, then perhaps leave a comment. I imagine there will be some clear cases of biology questions, some overlap questions, and some clear psychology questions; and likewise, this might occur on biology.se. In the case of the overlap questions, I'd be inclined to give the cogsci community a day or two to provide an answer and if that fails, consider migration. Ultimately, I think that if a person posts a question on a site, whether it be biology.se, or cogsci.se, it is for the community that receives the question to decide whether it is on topic.

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    Though I have no doubt that biology.se could answer some neurobiology questions, even some already asked, I think it would be harmful to remove such questions from this site. This site should be a complete site for Cog Sci questions, not a site where certain cog sci questions are "too biology" and fragmented away.
    – Ben Brocka
    Feb 5, 2012 at 3:28
  • I think this is especially true of any question that has already received a good answer here. To date, I think that almost all existing neurobiology questions are broadly in scope for this site. Feb 5, 2012 at 3:57
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    Above all else, these StackExchanges are not about a topic as much as they are about a community interested in the topic. It is fine to have overlap in topic between biology and cogsci, and the individual user can decided where to ask based on the community they feel more comfortable with. Feb 5, 2012 at 19:43

I will answer your comments with an answer, as my comment became too long and took a look on most neurobiology tagged questions and site statistics. Still I would like to hear thoughts from other user here with a neurobiological background, I'm a physicist, but regularly read books & journals on brain research cause of personal interest

Questions that in IMHO clearly belong to biology.SE and would yield more upvotes and better answers there:

Why does neuroplasticity decrease in adults?

"Neuorplasticity" can only be defined from a biomedical/chemical pov. Aging is a biological/genetical process

What do the super-large brains of whales and elephants map to?

Biophysics, comparing sizes and evolution of brain of different animals, this can only belong to biology.SE

Is variation in human brain size related to mental functioning?

Asking on superficial correlates. Does behavioural disorder X, brain parameter X correlate to mental Y. There will probably come a lot more questions of this type, which sound interesting, but cannot be answered in scientific way. From molecular level to behavioural level there are several emergent level in between, you are creating pseudo-correlations/-science by ignoring epigenetics, social learning/culture here.

What are the effects of implanting electrodes into the brains of monkeys?

You really need knowledge on behaviour and anatomy of monkeys to answer such questions, I doubt any group doing such experiments doesnt have well-experienced physicians and biologists in their group.

I think the best criterion if a category of questions really belongs to a site/audience is the number of different answers is gets, and here looking up all questions tagged as neurobiology look disappointing to me.

On comments and linked meta questions: I'm not surprised you want this topic here. But to me question remains, will a neurobiologist joining stackexchange visit biology.SE or cognitivesciences.SE or both? Is it prosperous to ask questions on human behaviour yielding answers on autism/savantism (clearly neuropsychiatry/-medicine to me) on biologly.SE and questions about experimental setups with monkeys (electrodes in Brain, biochemical, -medical background, fMRI data interpretation,...) or evolution and biophysics of human and animal brains on cognisciencs.SE. Im not saying one site should skip this tag, but an agreement and "correct" migrating might yield better answers and more votes on those Q&A. Neurobiology is a interdiscplinary field, but also a very big field and according to journals or wikipedia neurobiology mostly deals with genetics, molecular biology, epigenetics, animal experiments while questions linked to behaviour and cognition based on neurobiological models are categorized/tagged as behavioural neuroscience, biopsychology. (Neuro-)Psychiatry also is topic of this site. On of the linked meta questions shows to me rather concerns about this site becoming too big and user thinking neurobiology belongs to bio.SE. As said, I'm undecided, thats why I'm asking, but reading about human behaviour on biology.SE makes me feel, it's not clear where those questions belong or what neurobiology exactly means to everybody here and on bioloogy.SE and what is better tagged as behavioural science, neuropsychiatry. This "chaos" in terminology and different approaches of professionals coming from biololgy (reductionistic hard science) or psychology(not viewed as a hard science for many reasons by most biologists and physicists) may rather scare them away.

I have to add that in the top user profiles I see very few with a degree in psychology, neuroscience, but this site with psychology, psychiatry, neurobiology having a really huge scope, which means a lot very different questions without really user with background to answer them. On biology.SE there seem to be some students and graduates of biology and higher quality and more several in-depth answers on one question. I agree with some votes in the other meta question that merging all these topics based on some voters on AREA51 was not really a fruitful thing, as you have to ask, where are currently all these experts who voted for this merge. Adding now everything on animal cognition, brains, sociobiology to this site will yield such a high diversity in quality and topics that it looks rather uninteresting to me. In the end you want a site like physics.SE where experts explain things to you by not linking to a paper they found which contains some of the keywords in the question. Ive seen many of such Q&A here and on biology.SE and in the end this does not attract hobbyists nor professionals in the long term. I proclaimed myself the merge of various proposals related to biology on AREA51 and it seemed to work better, as a lot of the commiters in these proposals had a educational background in biology/chemistry and then joined the biology proposal. But being the former proposals here psychology and psychiatry, I dont think there are currently really experts to answer such highly tricky questions on neuronal models, processes and correlates, especially not from a biological pov.

In my experience with SE, a lot of low quality Q&A rather scare away the experts, I've seen this on philosophy.SE, atheists.SE, economics.SE, this site now has a even bigger scope and most important many different methodological approaches and backgrounds, a alarming very low A/Q ratio, I'm pretty unconfident.

  • Thanks for the extensive comments. I'll add my thoughts in an answer. Feb 5, 2012 at 0:17
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    Aside from this answer being significantly ranty, cogsci actually appears to have a better, or at least an equal, Q/A ratio for neuroscience questions compared to bio. Basically I'm not seeing your fears manifesting at all.
    – Ben Brocka
    Apr 28, 2012 at 14:46

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