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Proposal: Biology

Musing about the biology proposal, and what I do most days, which could probably be best described as 'mathematical biology'. Lots of simulation work, epidemic models using differential equations, the study of biological networks (particularly human disease networks), etc.

The questions I'm asking are undeniably biological in nature, my background is in biology, but the way one approaches those questions is...a little mathier than most of the example questions.

So would questions discussing say, epidemic SIR or population ecology models belong in the Biology site, or the Math site? Or, most concerning to me, like the field itself will it get split down the middle with a somewhat arbitrary "This seems to have a lot of math in it" dividing line that separates experts into two groups that talk to each other less than they probably should?

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It fits perfectly on Scientific Computing.

  • Fair enough. Hence my excitement for it approaching beta :) – Fomite Nov 17 '11 at 4:12
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It is definitely the case that a lot of Mathematical Biology questions can be asked on Math.SE. However, this won't allow Mathematical Biologists to build a nice research community like Theoretical Computer Scientists built for themselves on cstheory.SE.

I for one would approve of having a mathematical biology site. However, it might be better to see how biology.SE does first. General topic sites like that tend to lose all research focus (look at physics.SE) and thus can't be a home for the research community. If that happens, then Mathematical Biology might be a good choice, since it will probably not attract as much interest from the general public and thus have an easier chance of being research only.

The difficulty, I think, will be in finding enough mathematical biologists to actual commit to such a proposal. cstheory.SE was easier since theoretical computer scientists sometimes program and a few of them had accounts SO, and a LOT of them had account on MathOverflow, so they were familiar with the system. It is not clear if mathematical biologists have enough of a web-presence to be assembled in such a way.

  • This was indeed my musing about it belonging in a Biology proposal - I've given up on other fields who are not solidly rooted in a programming or computer-field that can benefit from existing masses of users from Stack or MathOverflow from getting approved swiftly. – Fomite Sep 5 '11 at 1:43
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    @EpiGrad I am not very active on MO, so I am not sure if they might actually have some mathematical biologists that might want to come over. Without at least some MO folks, it is very unlikely that the site would launch. The only academic site on the SE network seems to be cstheory, I don't think many users there are interested in supporting a Mathematical Biology proposal. However, they have supported the Theoretical Physics proposal, if that site takes off, and Biology gets atleast a bit of attention, then Mathematical Biology might stand a chance of being launched. – Artem Kaznatcheev Sep 5 '11 at 1:47
  • I was surprised to see that there is not even a "mathematical biology" tag on MO, so I am afraid the impression that there are just not enough mathematical biologists hanging out on these sites to make a mathematical biology site work is correct. :-( – Gustav Delius Sep 8 '11 at 10:27
  • @Gustav I've been talking to Joe about the on-topic-ness of mathematical biology things that often pop-up in the biological physics section of Phys. Rev. E and if they will be on topic on phtheory/th-ph/TP/whatever-the-name-is. Hopefully they will be on topic, but I will ask a meta question as soon as the site goes live and the community can decide. – Artem Kaznatcheev Sep 8 '11 at 11:46
  • @Artem I feel that theoreticalphysics.stackexchange.com would be a good home for certain questions by mathematical biologists, even though it is of course dominated by quantum field theory. The parallels between spatial stochastic processes and quantum field theory will not immediately be obvious to people, but that will hopefully change. Perhaps by using that site we can even draw more theoretical physicists into mathematical biology. – Gustav Delius Sep 16 '11 at 8:31
  • @Gustav Do you think I should make a meta-question asking about the general on-topic-ness of math bio related things, or should we just start asking some mathematical biology questions that are closer to physics and see how the community reacts? I haven't had a chance to really look at the beta, yet. – Artem Kaznatcheev Sep 16 '11 at 8:37
  • @GustavDelius I guess part of my issue with this approach is what while some of these questions are similar, and it would be nice to have a site where they were actively welcome...humans (and their diseases) or animals don't necessarily act the same way things do in physics, and the field hasn't always been well served by adapting the approach of one field to another. – Fomite Sep 26 '11 at 3:36

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