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Context: A recent neuroscience proposal got shot down as a duplicate of Cognitive Science.

This proposal apparently was created by a group of experts:

This was a concerted effort across multiple institutions established by top practitioners in the field to create a much needed venue to exchange expertise and technical knowledge between students and researchers.

They were told questions which could be asked on their proposed site could find a place at Cognitive Sciences:

Bring your questions there. The claim is that "we already created your site!"

This is true, neuroscience questions are very much on topic here! However, historically, to differentiate our site from others like Biology and Stack Overflow, to some degree it was agreed that "when questions do not pertain to the mind or behavior, they are off topic here". Unsurprisingly, the people behind the Area51 Neuroscience proposal are upset, since many such questions they would like to ask on their site are being closed here. A latest example, also demonstrating this is an ongoing discussion, was posted by Petr, of which I was made aware about the Community team.

First of all, we need to initiate a discussion with the people behind this proposal; Robin Kramer already took the first steps to this end some time ago.

Clearly, this will involve being more open to more technical questions. If this brings along with it a group of experts, I see no reason not to do so, given this is high up on our list of currently ongoing efforts.

I therefore suggest to loosen the 'off-topic' close votes for neuroscience questions in an effort to reach out to this community. I have informed them about this (and this ongoing discussion) on the Area51 proposal, and will invite them to join in on the discussion of scope on our site.

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    Thank you Steven for your tireless efforts to make something of CogSci. I completely agree with you and I think this is THE opportunity to prevent @ChristianHummeluhr 's prediction and to finally graduate the website. – Robin Kramer Aug 11 '16 at 13:02
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    With Christian's prediction I meant that the will to improve was a yearly occurring event based on momentum efforts only that die out quite quickly. Was hoping to find an actual quote. – Robin Kramer Aug 11 '16 at 13:22
  • does this mean that research question about neuroscience are welcome? Like "has how the brain process X been studied before?" – Charlie Parker Nov 30 '17 at 18:32
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    @CharlieParker Yes, but it is worthwhile considering this would also be welcome on Biology SE. – Steven Jeuris Nov 30 '17 at 19:37
  • what I had in mind was something like this has how the brain process X been studied before where do you think it would get better answers? I also made a meta for it: cogsci.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2302/… – Charlie Parker Nov 30 '17 at 19:51
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I think It would be great to have these kinds of questions on our site. In particular, if the question appears to overlap a little with biology but has a neurobiology or neuroscience focus, then I think we should treat it as on topic. Just because it might also be on topic elsewhere does not mean it is not on topic here.

And if there is a community of experts looking for a home related to psychology, neurosciences, and cognitive sciences, then we should welcome them.

I'd be interested to see a more complete list of any neuroscience questions closed because of being perceived to be off topic, and suggest that where appropriate, we re-open them.

  • I agree... but there are too few experts in neurosciences in this SE... Is it possible to contact the guys that made the initial attempt and re-invite them here? – lf_araujo Dec 23 '16 at 1:49
  • is there a way to motivate them to come back? – Charlie Parker Nov 30 '17 at 18:50
  • Also, is the biology SE site a better place to ask questions about neuroscience than cogsci SE? – Charlie Parker Nov 30 '17 at 18:51
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As the two proposals stand right now, I see two major deal breakers for merging the neuroscience proposal into the CogSci website:

The site name

Despite the fact that Cognitive Sciences borrow expertise and research from multiple fields, it has a clear agenda: the study of cognition. Many students and researchers of neurobiology and neuroscience actually do not pursue this goal.

Although the Cognitive Sciences stand at an intersection of fields they do not represent a superset of all research done in those fields. The current site name would confuse and drive many experts away.

The style of questions

Looking at the kinds of questions which are currently asked in the CogSci website, it looks like the majority are primarily opinion based, or lend themselves to subjective discussion. For the same reasons that such questions are out of scope in Stack Overflow, they were out of scope in the Neuroscience proposal.

Specifically, from their very inception the two websites targeted a very different style of questions:

First, as mentioned above, the Neuroscience proposal didn't care only about questions of cognition, but also of biology, physics, electrical engineering and computer science related to the study of the nervous system. Case in point: if someone wants to crack down a gene involved in the metabolism of neurons and has a question about fluorescent imaging, we would gladly take them; I don't see how anything about this question would be in scope at the current CogSci.

Second, our proposal was developed from the beginning to address technical, objectively answerable questions on experimental neuroscience, in the same spirit of what Stack Overflow did for programming. The reason we badly need such a forum is that neuroscience itself is currently standing at the intersection of multiple engineering fields; in order to design and run experiments, students often need to master concepts of electrical and mechanical engineering, programming or physics. This is not easy for anyone, as students and researchers usually master at most one of these fields. The difficulty in sharing this kind of technical expertise is one of the big problems holding the field back right now.


Sadly, the way we were approached by the Area 51 moderators has made our initiative lose steam and has scared experts away (in fact the entire proposal was just deleted today and all data lost forever). Paradoxically, maybe it was a mistake to attract world-class experts and neuroscience professors, professionals and researchers at the very beginning. Basically we had a large amount of support from multiple institutions, and most users were actually completely new to Stack Exchange. This would have meant fresh new expertise not only for the Neuroscience proposal, but for other Stack Exchange sites.

They have since become very confused by developments and every single person I have contacted since then about this situation feels like this was a lost chance. CogSci probably won’t gain these new experts and questions, and also Stack Exchange won’t benefit from the interdisciplinary expertise which could have spread to other sites in the network.

  • Regarding the site name, that is nice timing, as just earlier today I posted this: Refining scope and new site name. You will be happy to hear that for a long time we have been trying to put 'neuroscience' explicitely in the name of this site. Given the deleted proposal, we now have even more reason to push this through when contacting the Community team (again). – Steven Jeuris Sep 2 '16 at 0:27
  • Regarding the style of questions, we also are working on changing this (Refining our target audience / Question expertise). Here is my opinion on this issue, but feel free to add your own. – Steven Jeuris Sep 2 '16 at 0:29
  • How did you attract these experts? Seemingly they were invited to the Area51 proposal, but the way they were contacted obviously was outside of Stack Exchange. I see no reason why this group of experts should disperse, given that they didn't meet on Area51 in the first place. – Steven Jeuris Sep 2 '16 at 0:34
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    @StevenJeuris: We work with them, we go to the same meetings and share the same interests, solve the same problems, we ARE them at different stages of our career. Some of us have more of a CS background and knew/used SE websites, so need met solution. Parent is right, the whole process was very frustrating and we probably lost some momentum. – nico Sep 2 '16 at 13:09
  • @nico You can thus still easily contact these potential users, correct? I recommend you to invite them to participate in the ongoing 'reboot' of the Cognitive Sciences. Currently we are introducing our own proposals, but the next step was (just like your efforts) to explicitly contact experts (including former users we have lost) to participate in this discussion simultaneously (see step 3). Perhaps we should try to align these efforts and pick a particular date to do so? – Steven Jeuris Sep 2 '16 at 13:22
  • Given that these users might not have the necessary reputation, we will definitely also make sure to point out they can participate in this discussion through our chat. It must be noted, however, that earning sufficient reputations is extremely easy, given that neuroscience questions are on-topic here and won't be closed. Thus you could easily start seeding the site with exactly the questions you are interested in to gain the necessary reputation, and try out how they are received here (especially after this meta post). – Steven Jeuris Sep 2 '16 at 13:26
  • In case questions do get closed, please flag them and us moderators can reopen them, pointing people to this meta post as a reason. – Steven Jeuris Sep 2 '16 at 13:31
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    @StevenJeuris the problem is not contacting the experts, the problem is making them adopt a new modus operandi of openly discussing and sharing their technical expertise. For this they would need a system and site that they can come to trust and depend on. Unfortunately SE shot down more than a proposal, it shot down trust in the network. – glopes Sep 2 '16 at 22:52
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    @RobinKramer We think the only reason neuroscience experts would be interested in a Stack Exchange site is if it tackles the interdisciplinary technical problems neuroscientists face every day. We argue that broadening the scope of questions to the point of including opinion based conceptual questions is not appealing to a community looking to share technical challenges. We believe it is better to start with a very technically focused site where questions can have clear answers. Experts will then attract experts and eventually regular users who want to get answers from experts. – glopes Sep 2 '16 at 22:53
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    @glopes If that is and will be the only scope you (plural) want, then I cannot support your proposal. However, if you are willing to accept in-theory-grounded psychological questions (again, not opinion based; we (try to) close those questions) then you are more then welcome here to me. At the moment, many technical questions are already and have already been asked, which I can really appreciate. Is that something you can live with or would that be a deal breaker? – Robin Kramer Sep 3 '16 at 5:30
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    @StevenJeuris I agree with you on content, but not on style. Even though Stack Overflow has questions on many languages, I expect them all to be technically focused, not opinion based questions. I think this alone is reason enough to split a website, because the way you moderate the two styles is very different. If this site was all about technical questions on cognitive science, HCI, neuroscience, that would be one thing. But if you want to start introducing theoretical debates and open-ended discussion, that is another, entirely different matter. – glopes Sep 3 '16 at 16:57
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    I can agree with that as well. Perhaps it would be interesting then, if you posted a list of questions (preferably in a new meta post) which would disrupt a Neuroscience Q&A site. This would allow us to see to which degree these are questions we are currently also planning to remove from the site, or whether these are questions we (that is, the current active meta users) do intend to keep. – Steven Jeuris Sep 3 '16 at 17:47
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    @StevenJeuris: basically here I see 2 problems: On one hand I think its harder to convince non SE users to start using a neuroscience site that is under cog-sci. Most of our users would have passionate academic discussions about where would neuroscience fit in a hierarchy of disciplines. These discussions would be off topic for the type of site we are talking about, they would add noise and probably spook away the highly technical oriented people that we want to convince to stay. – nico Sep 5 '16 at 11:05
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    One thing is to say just go to neuro[whatever-dot-something] and everything is there; another is having to explain how to de-noise this new resource that has still to be proven useful to new people. Basically its an identity thing. On the other hand there is a very practical thing, we would need moderators from our proposal to be moderators of cog-sci (or whatever name it would have). What is really frustrating is that we had momentum, and the time and posts spent on this rejection situation that could have been applied to the beginning of something new makes me shiver... – nico Sep 5 '16 at 11:21
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    Can't say I know how the SE thing works as this was our first real attempt, moderators are not something I feel (think would be better) we need, moderators exist and have, well as the word says, moderation powers. As proven by the unilateral decision that led to the closure of our proposal, moderators can screw things up pretty badly, they are effectively the ones who set the tone for the site. So, if, as glopes pointed out, we want a technical site, we need moderators that are knowledgeable of the techniques involved. – nico Sep 5 '16 at 13:40
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I'd like to say that I am an active user of CogSci, and I very much think it unlikely that Neuroscience proposal community could feasibly be integrated here.

It really is a totally different genre of question here. Even the good quality questions are of a conceptual nature, whereas the Neuroscience proposal was very much practical questions. Whether you sort by recent, by most upvoted, by most active, the top methodology question (in any field) not asked by someone from the Neuroscience proposal is at least 30 questions back.

No matter how you slice it, this stack is for conceptual questions, whereas the Neuroscience proposal was for practical technical questions.

  • We agree with you. Even if CogSci wanted to go in that direction you will have a really hard time getting there because of 1)How conceptual the site is 2) How psychology focused the site is. Both these things will dissuade Neurobiology experts. – nachosan Sep 12 '16 at 7:49
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    3) Because CogSci lacks the experts to start answering those questions effectively. As an example, I answered what I would consider a question that would be in the scope of a Neuroscience or Neurobiology technical site, this question (cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/13829/…). It had been asked 4 months ago and hadn't gotten a peep. It is an extremely good question that with the users we had in our proposal I it would have been answered in no time. Some of them even know how to assemble a 2-photon from parts. – nachosan Sep 12 '16 at 7:51
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Deleting the Neuroscience proposal shows a very bad judgement by the moderators. There is absolutely no duplication with Cognitive Science etc.

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    Care to elaborate on this? I believe that there are some differing opinions about your second statement. – Robin Kramer Sep 5 '16 at 21:22
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    How does study of microgla relate to cognition? – Dimiter P Sep 5 '16 at 21:24
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    How does optogenetics relate to cognition? I can go on. – Dimiter P Sep 5 '16 at 21:24
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    Perhaps it is any idea to read the chat or the comments of globes answer, where we discuss that CogSci does not only cover cognition and welcome neuroscience. Moreover, you referred to CogSci etc.. I figured you also meant Biology, Cross Validated, Health etc. Although not every topic is an overlap with every SE site, it does not mean that no overlap exists at all. It would greatly benefit the discussion if you could nuance your opinions. – Robin Kramer Sep 5 '16 at 21:31

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