The field of Psychiatry is the only topic mentioned in the help that is not, itself, a science.

It's like a physics Q&A site where they would include engineering or a biology Q&A site where they include medicine. While there is, of course, some overlap, there are lots of engineering questions that have nothing to do with physics and medical questions that have nothing to do with biology (or you could throw chemistry and medicine together).

Including what we have included other than Psychiatry includes all of the relevant bits of Psychiatry as well.

As it currently stands these are all acceptable questions.

Is Freud's theory of the oedipal complex useful in diagnosing schizophrenia? That's a potentially scientific question but the entire foundation has been soundly tossed by all modern science so anything starting with Freud isn't really within the scope of science. It's like asking an astronomer in what direction Venus moves around the earth. However, under Psychiatry psychoanalysis is still practiced. Furthermore, psychiatry includes lots of relatively archaic, but still practiced variations so question on Jungian therapy, Gestalt, etc. would be included. I'm not saying all related questions should be excluded but a scientific answer directly related to their current practice isn't really possible; whereas scientific answers about their efficacy, effectiveness, and empirical support can be answered. But those can fall under psychology.

How should I select a Psychiatrist? Again, this is currently an acceptable question because we're including psychiatry and any remotely related professional questions should be accepted.

These are just two questions that I think really don't fall under Cognitive Sciences. I can't think of any questions that we'd lose if we dropped Psychiatry that we would want to keep. Can anyone else?

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    Can you give some examples of questions that don't fit in with the overall scientific framework? I think the theory behind the practice as a medical science does fit in with our scope, but I'd like to hear others opinions as well. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 0:28
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    (also, even though it's not a major player in our equation, it may not be prudent to narrow our scope just yet) Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 0:29
  • I'm feeling like the proportion of psychiatry questions is pretty steadily increasing, and not to the benefit of the site. I think Psychiatry could handle their own site. Furthermore, what's wrong with my logical argument without the examples? The science in psychiatry is handled in neuroscience and psychology. There's no need to welcome the professional questions.
    – John
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 0:57
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    We can't drop it if we want any hope of @Chuck meeting my mom...
    – Josh
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 1:03
  • Amen to that... Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 1:04
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    I think when the time came, we could just close your latter question, as I don't think it's on-topic at all. As far as the former, I don't subscribe to Freudian ideals, but they are interesting from a historical context. If we purge psychiatry from the rolls, we'd lose out on a lot of good psychopharm questions, which from a practical perspective are dead on topic. I think anyone with a scientific bent around is already aware of the loopholes you've found and would pounce on such questions if asked. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 1:06

2 Answers 2


Part of the prominence of psychiatry in the site description is historical. The site proposal was allowed to proceed to beta because it involved the merging of cognitive science, psychology, and "psychology and psychiatry" proposals.

See this commitment page on Area 51 for cognitive sciences and this screen grab: enter image description here

That said, I have wondered whether the word "psychiatry" should be a little less prominent in the site description, for example, our about page says that included topics are:

cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, and psychiatry.

  • Pretty much any question about psychiatry could be framed as a clinical psychology or abnormal psychology question or a neurobiology question
  • So far StackExchange has not seemingly attracted any psychiatrists that I am aware of
  • We don't seem to use the tag as much as we use .

An alternative argument is that the term "psychiatry" should be prominent for historical reasons, and it further highlights the inclusive nature of the site.

That said, I think we have evolved an understanding of what is and is not on topic for this site. For example, too localised self-help questions are off topic. General scientific or practitioner questions are on topic. So I don't think we need to say anything more about whether psychiatry-type questions are on or off topic. I imagine we continue on a case by case basis.

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    Practically, clinical psychology (a field of psychology involving verbal and behavioral therapy administered by psychologists) and psychiatry (a field of medical science involving medical/pharmaceutical therapy administered by physicians) are quite distinct yet work closely hand in hand. I'm strongly opposed to removing psychiatry from the site description or changing its status to an appendage of psychology, which it isn't.
    – user3116
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 7:56
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    +1 from me @what. I think that attitude is what psychiatry needs on this site. You'll tend to get both an inclusive and pro-psychology perspective from me. Other people on the site seem to be coming more from a cognitive and neurosciences perspective and have clearly championed that approach. I think psychiatry probably needs more champions on this site. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 7:59

I would like to argue that we do need to drop psychiatry. The scope of CogSci is big. We cover neuroscience, cognitive science, neuroscience, social psychology, human-movement science, and much more. According to our description, we even include psychiatry. Such a big scope, however, may be one of the problems of CogSci.

As Jeromy said in another topic about sociology, in which he refers to an answer of Artem in another question, having a too diffuse website is harmful for the website. We need to many people to fill in the gaps of expertise. This opinion is shared by people who want to make a new neuroscience.SE, while neuroscience is probably the most on-topic topic at the moment. In response to an answer I've given glopes said:

I still think excessive aggregation by itself dilutes expertise, and makes it much more complicated to find answers. Cognition is an exceedingly large topic by itself and brings together at least 6 completely different disciplines. If you are proposing to change the name and make it into something even broader that encompasses the whole of the biology of the nervous system, I think the problem will only get worse, not better.

Although I didn't want to agree with him - I do think neuroscience needs to be on CogSci - he did have a point about diluting expertise. We must seriously consider our scope, because we do need a core user-base that can actually answer the questions.

Then why do we need to remove psychiatry
Because we cannot answer those questions. For the time that I am here, I haven't experienced any psychiatrist that posted a (high quality) question or answered one. Recently, this question was asked, but I don't believe this question will ever be answered here. We just made another pile for Garbage Valley.

Moreover, I believe that the question would fit more on Health.SE. Health covers these topics. It does (or should) not only cover somatic health, but also psychiatric and psychosomatic issues. As John also said, the questions are often not about science (often they are posed as self-help questions). If a question about a theory of Freud comes by, sure that is fine, because, in my opinion, it a question about psychology and how it has influenced psychological sciences.

In sum

We need to acknowledge the difference between psychological sciences and psychiatry. The latter are often questions about health, and we have a perfect website for that: https://health.stackexchange.com/

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