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So, I stumbled across this question about how to safely watch a solar eclipse, and it got me thinking. An incorrect answer to this question could lead to permanent eye damage, which is a fairly serious problem. Normally answers like that would be weeded out through the downvoting system, since they'd be reviewed by other experts. However, that doesn't apply to Lifehacks, because we're not a site of experts. We're not qualified to determine if whatever tool someone whips up will allow them to safely view a solar eclipse, and being able to quote a website on the internet doesn't make us experts.

The problem all stems from fact that Lifehacks.SE isn't a site which attracts experts, which I've written a fairly length post about here. The short version is that you can't be an expert in Lifehacks, and that Lifehacks.SE is a horizontal site instead of a vertical one. We'll have questions which will either be best answered by an electrician or a doctor, but never by a "Lifehacker", because that's not a thing that exists. Compare that to Drupal Answers, where the topic is well defined: It's about the Drupal CMS, and the experts on that site are Drupal users. They're not going to have answers best answered by a Doctor, because if there was such a question, it would be closed as off-topic. This isn't true on Lifehacks, where a question asking for medical tips would be allowed if the answers are "hacky" enough.

The problem with all this is that it means Lifehacks isn't a site filled with experts. We'll have questions from all kinds of different topics, which are really best answered on other sites and by a professionals in a specific topic. Due to this, the normal Stack Exchange method of "let the votes weed out answers" isn't that reliable. Normally, this wouldn't be a huge problem, some shit answers get upvoted to that top, and the site quality suffers. However, for questions like this one, a wrong answer being upvoted to the top could result in someone actually being harmed.

I believe we have a responsibility to ensure our site doesn't create an environment where users could be harmed by following our advice. For the reasons stated above, we currently have such an environment, and that's not something that will ever change. Due to this, I feel the only responsible thing for us to do is to not allow questions where an answer could harm the asker. It's too great a risk for us to take, and it would be irresponsible for us to continue to take it. This would include solar eclipse question I posted above, medical advice questions, and any other question that could harm the asker.

Remember, the goal of Stack Exchange is to make the internet a better place. Creating an environment which could harm the users of our site makes the internet a more dangerous place, which is the opposite of what we want.

EDIT

Just stumbled across this answer

https://lifehacks.stackexchange.com/a/2139/165

Spray the outside of the bottle with any highly volatile compound... Evaporation causes cooling!

You may end up with a toxic or sticky bottle, but it will definitely be colder.

This question wasn't upvoted, luckily, and the answer was obviously intended as a joke (or I hope so). However,instead of downvoting the question and trying to get it deleted, our users asked for more details and suggestions on the kind of materials someone should use. I've since flagged the answer for deletion, but it serves as an example of the kind of thing I'm worried about.

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    Don't forget that disseminating accurate information is one of the things SO was originally built on. Providing information that is not only wrong, but actively harmful goes against that building block. – fbueckert May 13 '15 at 12:06
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tl;dr: Use common sense, especially on the internet.

some [crap] answers get upvoted to that top, and the site quality suffers

I haven't seen that happen on Lifehacks. Most importantly, common sense should prevail. If a bunch of Reddit comments agreed that lighting yourself on fire was smart, would you do it? Of course not!

That's not to say there are questions asking for answers that are clearly bad ideas. One such example being "How do I ride on the roof of a car?" This is dangerous no matter how it is approached. Reaction? Downvote and close.

In summary:

  1. Upvote the good and downvote the bad
  2. Don't write answers that advocate dangerous activities
  3. Don't ask questions that encourage #2
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    The problem is that common sense isn't always right. Wikipedia has a huge list of commonly held beliefs which are wrong, such as fan death or the belief that people during medieval age believed the Earth was flat. These are things experts would know. Additionally, common sense just doesn't always apply anyways. Common sense isn't helpful in knowing ways to clean your teeth without toothpaste. Additionally, even if it's true we haven't given out dangerous advice yet, we shouldn't wait until it does happen to worry about it. – Wipqozn May 14 '15 at 11:42
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    Like I said in my post, it's risk. That doesn't mean it's always going to happen, it means there's a chance it will happen, and in this case the risk is just too great, as far as I'm concerned. – Wipqozn May 14 '15 at 11:43
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    @Wipqozn "Common sense isn't helpful in knowing ways to clean your teeth without toothpaste." Maybe common sense won't tell you how to do it, but it'll tell you not to use a blowtorch if such a thing is recommended. – Mooseman May 14 '15 at 11:48
  • Are there legal implications to providing unintended dangerous answers? For example, a chemical solution is suggested and reacts with something else in an unexpected way. One could use common sense and end up with a dangerous answer. – Minnow May 19 '15 at 14:54
  • @Minnow This is a question asked on many sites, especially Health SE at the moment. – Mooseman May 19 '15 at 14:58
  • @Wipqozn And common sense isn't always too common.... – JDSweetBeat May 20 '15 at 16:17
  • @DJMethaneMan There's a danger to ANY piece of advice, whether or not the question is an inherently bad idea. Even with technology, for example, if a poor piece of advice is taken and due to it a server is hacked revealing personal information, should the question have been closed? – Mooseman May 20 '15 at 16:29
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This isn't an exact duplicate of How medical is too medical? or Close reason request: "See a professional", but it's pretty close. So I'll just cite the consensus from these previous threads.

This is a non-issue and y'all are wasting your time by talking about it. (Shog9)

If the premise of a question is ill-advised, you should explain your concerns in a comment and either help fix the question or vote to close it as off topic (or whatever reason applies). But creating an explicit close reason for this is overkill. (Robert Cartaino)

Not all medical questions are categorically off topic. (…) We don't want to create a situation where everyone is being directed to rubber stamp these questions automatically as a problem.

And also a relevant remark by RichardBernards:

you'll have to be an expert in a certain field before you can judge whether a professional needs to be consulted instead of offering a lifehack... Since the voting/reviewing systems can't only select people from a certain profession, this can never be succesfully implemented.

I agree that it is a problem that Lifehacks is a site without experts. However, “it might have harmful answers” is not a workable reason to exclude questions. Anything could have harmful answers. Questions involving electricity? Someone could electrocute themselves! Questions involving food? Someone could propose something unsanitary, or an unbalanced diet! Questions involving cleaning products? Somone could be intoxicated by detergent!

We should exclude questions that stray too far from everyday life and require subject expertise. But that isn't the same thing as having a potential for harmful answers, I don't think it's even correlated.

If you see a harmful answer, edit it to clearly indicate in what way or under what circumstances it is harmful. In extreme cases, moderators can step in and delete truly dangerous cases.

  • 1+ I feel this is what should be done and what is done mostly. – Pobrecita May 13 '15 at 21:49
  • Thanks for the tl;dr from those other metas. Is helpful with this discussion. – Wipqozn May 14 '15 at 11:44
  • "However, “it might have harmful answers” is not a workable reason to exclude questions." I strongly disagree, here. Additionally, like I said in my post, the problem with "let the community decide" is that our community isn't properly qualified to determine if an answer is dangerous. Yes, there are cases where it's obvious that an answer is dangerous, but that's not always going to be true, and it's those situations I'm concerned about. – Wipqozn May 14 '15 at 11:51
  • @Wipqozn Why do you think that we would be better at deciding whether a question risks having harmful answers than at deciding whether an answer is harmful? – Gilles May 14 '15 at 12:33
  • @Wipqozn So do you think that lifehacks.stackexchange.com/questions/2107/… should be closed because it's had a harmful answer? – Gilles May 15 '15 at 12:10
  • Both of those are good points, and are things I didn't think of. – Wipqozn May 15 '15 at 15:19

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