Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/Archive 48

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Archive 45 Archive 46 Archive 47 Archive 48 Archive 49 Archive 50 Archive 55


I wish the Ref Desk pages were entirely transcluded, so that writing on them could trigger Watching the appropriate archive page. —Tamfang (talk) 07:45, 29 May 2008 (UTC)

There would be a number of nice advantages of transcluding all the per-day sections from the beginning. Unfortunately, there's also a huge disadvantage, which has torpedoed this idea every time it's been proposed (and implemented, at least once, somewhere): lots of readers like to look at the page history to see if there are new comments in threads they're interested in. If there's a page per day, there are then too many histories to watch to make this viable.
(Yes, of course, there are other ways of keeping tabs on the page than using page history in this way. But the point is that numerous people do do it this way. I can't say how many, other than that I'm one of them.) —Steve Summit (talk) 01:00, 30 May 2008 (UTC)

New reference desks

I feel it would be nice if there could be separate reference desks for physics, chemistry, biology with health and medicine, and "others". As all these are quite wide subjects in themselves.


—KetanPanchaltaLK 13:36, 29 May 2008 (UTC)

There is a tradeoff involved in such splits, however. Knowledgeable readers may be reluctant to watch and read a large number of desks; narrower subject sections may receive less attention. As well, many questions in the sciences cross over even those rather broad subject headings you've suggested. Questions on biochemistry, biophysics, pharmacology, astrobiology, bioinformatics – to name a few areas – would not be neatly pigeonholed. I fear that most of the questions will just end up back at the Miscellaneous Science category anyway. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 13:54, 29 May 2008 (UTC)
Well, you could be right. What trend will be established could be difficult to tell. But that was just a suggestion. What if the edits in the individual reference sections are automatically transcluded to a main Science reference desk? Thanks for the reply. Regards. —KetanPanchaltaLK 14:40, 29 May 2008 (UTC)


What's with the spate of trolly, childishly whimsical, phoney-baloney questions from red-link users all of a sudden? Many seem to be the work of a single personality, I'd say. --Milkbreath (talk) 12:17, 30 May 2008 (UTC)

I'm fairly certain that it's the AT. See this diff from the AL desk. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 12:23, 30 May 2008 (UTC)
So, is somebody going to take it to AN/I or involve an admin some other way? My last attempt at early intervention was less than successful, as some may know. --LarryMac | Talk 13:46, 30 May 2008 (UTC)
I can think of several extremely reasonable admins who read this page too, I guess it's up to them. Larry, there is lots of inertia, administrative and other, when it comes to troll-fighting at the rd, mainly because the desks and the jesters, in different ways, both thrive on the assumption of good faith. I won't take it to the noticeboard either. I suggest ignoring these questions. If someone removes them the way Zain Ebrahim did, I won't be complaining either. The less attention, the better. ---Sluzzelin talk 14:03, 30 May 2008 (UTC)
I have no idea if you number me among the "several extremely reasonable admins" who read this page, but yes, it is the idea of "The less attention, the better" that often stays my hand and usually that seems to pay off. But if anyone ever feels the need for concrete action, please feel free to write to my talk page; I'm around Wikipedia fairly often. (And I assure you that whenever I see the AL nonsense, I block or ban the offender(s).)
Atlant (talk) 15:41, 30 May 2008 (UTC)
Of course I do, the way you and Kurt handled it the other day was swift and extremely reasonable. I'm happy we have Übermenschen *cough cough* sysops who care about the refdesk. And I'll remember your offer. ---Sluzzelin talk 15:45, 30 May 2008 (UTC)
(Unless, of course, there is a way the accounts or IPs or range can be blocked. I don't really understand TOR and SHMOR and so forth, but from what I gathered this one is hard to eradicate, which is why I suggest starving him to oblivion by withholding attention.) ---Sluzzelin talk 14:16, 30 May 2008 (UTC)
It's the Avril troll? But -- but that guy promised he was going to stop! How can this be?!
...more seriously, a lot of these questions are pretty much obvious nonsense. If we treat them like any other questions, we are essentially enabling this behavior behavior -- "oh, look, they're falling for it, I'm gonna keep this up!". I really think they should be just removed on sight, with appropriate bans to follow. It's not as if they're hard to spot. And yes, absolutely, we can and should assume good faith in that if some questions from redlinked users are generally reasonable and don't contain patently ridiculous elements, even if they look a little iffy, but these questions are blatant trolling. (For example, no one is going to be dumb enough to attempt to give mouth-to-mouth to a fish (and it's even less likely that someone is going to believe that a fish is actually a reincarnated Kenny Everett. In the same vein, it's obvious that no one is sepia-toned in real life, and no WWI veterans are going to be using the Ref Desk to find random people they happened to pose with in a photograph 90 years ago.) -- Captain Disdain (talk) 20:11, 30 May 2008 (UTC)
I concur. The best way to stop graffiti is to clean it up, rather than leaving it there and naively hoping that people will stop doing it. Malcolm XIV (talk) 20:27, 30 May 2008 (UTC)
How is it the troll gets so many debate answers – if they're not being removed, do we need someone to tag the questions with something like the tick box only a TROLL box? Julia Rossi (talk) 01:16, 31 May 2008 (UTC)
DoNotFeedTroll.svg Overfed.
Honestly? I think it's because a lot of people are a little naïve and assume good faith. (A lot of them probably also don't follow the talk page, so they aren't aware of the history -- they just see a question and try to answer it.) That's why we can't just agree here that we'll leave this guy without any attention, because there'll always be someone who comes along, sees an unanswered questions and decides to help. I like the AGF policy a lot, but it's worth noting that it really requires a bit of common sense and critical thinking to work -- it's one thing to assume good faith, and another to insist that there is good faith when there's evidence to the contrary.
On a closely related note, Avril's all over the Ref Desk again in picture form. I don't know where the headers are, so I can't fix it. This is a great example of why we should never discuss terms with people like this. It's all about manipulation and stringing other people along, getting them to agree to things or to tolerate you or give you one more chance -- to assume good faith, as it were. They're not constructive, they're not contributing anything, and as long as their games work, i.e., as long as they aren't denied access to the thing and people they're playing with, they'll keep it up. (Which is not to say that they can't grow the hell up, because they can and often do, but it's not going to happen by letting them off the hook time and time again.) -- Captain Disdain (talk) 10:02, 31 May 2008 (UTC)
Here's the header: Wikipedia:Reference desk/header. This time he was going after the recent archives - see this revision history. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 10:08, 31 May 2008 (UTC)
Thanks. I'm online through a very slow GPRS connection right now, which makes going through various pages in search of specific information like that a real pain. Getting that Avril hit didn't help things any... -- Captain Disdain (talk) 10:39, 31 May 2008 (UTC)
Do you pay for data? Maybe you could try persuing the troll for your costs? Nil Einne (talk) 14:12, 31 May 2008 (UTC)
Nope, I pay a bulk fee, and that's it. (I doubt it would work anyway -- it's pretty much the standard to open web pages without knowing their content.)-- Captain Disdain (talk) 21:02, 31 May 2008 (UTC)
The Avril Lavigne troll is indeed back, see [1] (the Base64 is Avril Lavigne). I gave an immediate test4 to the user and will ask for a block if this editor persists Nil Einne (talk) 14:13, 31 May 2008 (UTC) Nil Einne (talk) 14:05, 31 May 2008 (UTC)
Idle aside: How do you figure that "the Base64 is Avril Lavigne"? When I decode it I get binary garbage. —Steve Summit (talk) 01:49, 1 June 2008 (UTC)
Well I was writing a response to the questionp linking to Base64 and used the first link [2] as an example except that when I tried it, the text Avril Lavigne was staring at me... Testing more [3] does the same thing. Further analysis reveals that [4] and [5] do not, but the binary data is a BMP and the BMP is just text saying Avril Lavigne. I presume the first two decoders recognised it as a BMP and so display it accordingly (didn't notice it was acutally an image although I was wondering why it seemed so long) the other two just show the binary output. If you're using a standalone tool save the output to a file and open it with an image viewing tool capable of seeing BMPs and you'll see the output, but I suggest don't bother, I already know more about this particular instance of trolling then I would care to Nil Einne (talk) 16:01, 1 June 2008 (UTC)
Why bother with test4? It's obvious malicious disruption, just block straight away. There's no good faith left to assume here. On a related note, a Bugzilla request has been filed to close the hole he's exploiting entirely. — Lomn 16:33, 31 May 2008 (UTC)
Given his incredibly disingenuous responses to Nil Einne, I've blocked indef—as can be done on sight to any further such throwaway accounts. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 19:33, 31 May 2008 (UTC)
I like the overfed box. Very nice. 10ofAll, will you do this or do you mean any other admins, Julia Rossi (talk) 07:54, 1 June 2008 (UTC)
I will make such blocks where I see the need, but I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that most other admins would be ready and willing to do so as well. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 14:55, 1 June 2008 (UTC)

Legitimate questions?

While others are free to respond, personally I will not respond to any questions from a known troll other then to point out it's the troll even if the question could be legitimate, particularly when the question sounds at least slightly odd/trollish. Why? Well I'l copy my response to the cumming but didn't orgasm question "..... Now that there's evidence this person is the Avril troll, I personally don't see any point responding to this question since this users repeated bad faith questions make me suspect he or she does not really have a genuine question and so there's a good chance no benefit will come from my answer so I don't see any point wasting my time further on someone who's already wasted enough of my time. Of course, others are free to respond how they see fit, but I think it's worth letting them know who that this comes from a known troll." Note just to be clear, I'm not suggesting we assume bad faith for every single question that comes along that sounds slightly 'funny' just that if there is conclusive evidence the question asker is a troll, e.g. they were later blocked for trolling I will probably not respond any further unless other people have an interest in the conversation. Nil Einne (talk) 18:56, 2 June 2008 (UTC)

Removed "medical" question

Diff here. --Milkbreath (talk) 15:40, 31 May 2008 (UTC)

Good call. The question provided a symptom and was asking for treatment advice. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 19:36, 31 May 2008 (UTC)
I agree. It is not possible to provide an answer without attempting to diagnose the problem. It is obvious that the person needs to read about TMJ, but we'll let a doctor point that out. -- kainaw 20:09, 31 May 2008 (UTC)
I'm getting so I'm glad the whole question is removed without polite restatements of policy. Then I'm not tempted to answer in any form whatever. :) Julia Rossi (talk) 07:57, 1 June 2008 (UTC)

The OP has answered on the project page, which answer I've moved here:

How is that considered a medical question?? If I am unable to do the splits and I want to find out how to increase the flexibility of my legs are you going to shoot down that question too for being "medical"?? (talk) 12:45, 1 June 2008 (UTC)
You described a condition that was causing a person distress and then asked what to do about it. The answer to the second question is that it depends on the actual question you ask. For myself, I would never answer any such question no matter how it was phrased, as I know how easy it is to hurt oneself with exercise and stretching, and I wouldn't want to give bad advice. I used to be able to drop into a full split, so I know what I'm talking about when I say I don't know what I'm talking about. This is all assuming that the original question was serious, which I don't believe for a second it was considering that you call it a "sexual" question later on. We are required to assume good faith here at Wikipedia, and although that would seem to ensure open season for trolls, it actually works very well in the long run, and saves everybody here ulcers. Sometimes those who come here to make trouble find out that this is one place where the internet doesn't suck, and they stay to help. --Milkbreath (talk) 13:14, 1 June 2008 (UTC)
Well, it's not a ridiculous question, though. I mean, I've had sex with a woman whose jaw just wouldn't open very much, which made kissing, never mind other activities, problematic. It wasn't a show-stopper by any means, but, y'know, it certainly was inconvenient enough to make me now think of the question as non-ridiculous. (But, frankly, it is a little stupid -- I mean, if stretching is going to help, you can see the results by stretching, and if it hurts to stretch, it's probably not a good idea.) -- Captain Disdain (talk) 13:35, 1 June 2008 (UTC)
Dialate your mind. ---Sluzzelin talk 14:50, 1 June 2008 (UTC)
Well, if it makes you feel better about it, she had trouble taking bites out of apples, too. And flossing. Point is, it strikes me as a fairly legitimate condition (but I absolutely agree that it isn't going to be solved by the Ref Desk). -- Captain Disdain (talk) 20:32, 1 June 2008 (UTC)

I intentionally avoided saying right out that it was a "sex" question because I figured people like Milkbreath wouldn't take the question seriously. The reason why I didn't just "try" stretching is because I thought that the muscles in the jaw were arranged differently than other bones, and that it wasn't the length of the muscles that determined how much aperture? you could get, and rather the arrangement of the bones. But I don't know anything about that, so I just thought somebody else might know. (talk) 15:55, 1 June 2008 (UTC)

This is me closing the picnic basket and heading for the car. --Milkbreath (talk) 16:05, 1 June 2008 (UTC)
Yes someone else will know. Specifically a doctor probably would, and can also advise you/her on what, if any, is the best course of action to increase the 'flexibility' of the jaw Nil Einne (talk) 16:07, 1 June 2008 (UTC)
OK, I'm gonna go ask my doctor if he can help her. I'm not bitter, I used to participate on the refdesks a lot a while back, and I know how it works. I just think you guys are acting way over the top this time. It's a personal opinion; I don't expect everyone to feel the same way. (talk) 17:45, 1 June 2008 (UTC)
I fail to see how you can claim your question didn't ask anyone to diagnose the problem and provide a prescription to treat the diagnosis. In my opinion, you could have used the RD properly by simply asking what the medical term for "jaw popping" is. You would have been told that it is a common disorder of the TMJ - and our article discusses it. It is all in what you ask for. Ask for a reference and you get a reference. Ask for a diagnosis and you get your question deleted. -- kainaw 21:18, 1 June 2008 (UTC)
I was unaware of the existance of a medical term for "jaw popping". My neck pops when I stretch it, and the popping itself was never uncomfortable nor did I ever feel it was ever related to any medical condition. In my ignorance I was unable to imagine a more serious origin for the jaw popping. Thank you for the link; I consider myself informed. (talk) 04:51, 2 June 2008 (UTC)

Removed another question seeking medical advice

Diff here. --Milkbreath (talk) 10:31, 3 June 2008 (UTC)

The person is not asking for advice to treat or deal with the phobia. He or she is asking for the medical term (in the first question) and an explanation of the phobia (in the second question). The problem with this question is that an answerer must diagnose the problem first to give a true answer. However, no diagnosis is required if there is a term for "fear of things being on the other side of the door." No diagnosis or advice is required to answer that question. -- kainaw 12:18, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
By the guidelines, "The Wikipedia reference desk is not an appropriate place to request...any kind of medical diagnosis...." The OP asked " Can someone explain this phenomenon?" The "phenomenon" was his own behavior that he found puzzling and disturbing. He was asking what was causing his bizzarre behavior, for a diagnosis. By calling it a "phobia" you provide a diagnosis. --Milkbreath (talk) 12:32, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
I was merely pointing out that I cannot answer the question without providing a diagnosis. However, if there is a specific scientific term for "fear of things being on the other side of the door," it would not be a diagnosis to provide that term. The person clearly stated the symptom. Providing the proper name for the symptom is not a diagnosis of what is causing the symptom. As far as I now, there is no term for that symptom, so none can be given. -- kainaw 19:29, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
When the original poster asks "Can someone explain this phenomenon?" he's asking us for an explanation for his (purportedly irrational) fear—we'd be offering a diagnosis for his symptom. There are a lot of potential causes for such a presentation, and we'd be doing a disservice to the poster to offer any comment beyond referral to his physician (who can, in turn, refer him to an appropriate specialist). As an aside, volunteers here should be very cautious about referrals to psychiatrists and therapists—some superficially 'psychological' problems stem from serious underlying disease.
Incidentally, Milkbreath, please try to remember to sign when you leave the {rd-deleted} template. A user may want to follow up with you if they don't understand why you removed his question. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 15:10, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
Right. I always forget to do that, but I do notify the user on their talk page. --Milkbreath (talk) 15:38, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
"What kind of phobia would this be considered to be? I am not afraid of aliens. Or at least, I don't think I am. Can someone explain this phenomenon?" I can see how you could decide that this is a request for a diagnosis, but I don't think it was one (which is why I answered it) -- I think it was a request for information about the subject.
This kind of illustrates something that strikes me as a pretty disingenuous practice -- if the original poster would have omitted the fact that he himself has these sensations and phrased it somewhat differently, and perhaps even stressed that he's interested in the subject and not looking for medical advice, you probably wouldn't have removed the question. But if he had still used the information as advice anyway, what's the practical difference?
And I'm not saying that we should start diagnosing people here, obviously! But if we're honestly this concerned about whether people are going to take what we say as advice, we might as well ban all medical and legal questions altogether and remove articles about these subjects from Wikipedia, because not only are people going to use them as advice, we can't really guarantee their accuracy, what with the whole "anyone can edit Wikipedia" thing. (Which is not to say that intelligent and careful users aren't going to make sure that they only use referenced information etc., but you know what I mean.) What's the point? It's not as if the rule is going to protect anyone from a lawsuit; if someone decides to sue, they'll sue. They might as well sue Wikipedia because someone gave bad science advice or whatever.
(And I'm not trying to be a pest here, I should probably stress; I'm asking because I'm wondering if I'm missing something obvious. I certainly know that the United States is an extremely litigation-happy country, and that's undoubtedly a factor in this... but still, it seems that there's a degree of overreaction here.) -- Captain Disdain (talk) 19:50, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
Have you read this essay? --Milkbreath (talk) 20:01, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
Yes, I have, and it's reasonable. "We don't want to hurt anyone," "Overdiagnosis is bad too," "You're not a doctor," "People lie," "Think of the children" and "We don't want to hurt Wikipedia's reputation" are full of good points. But none of it really addresses the question -- to wit, I don't see what real difference any of it makes. We provide plenty of information -- medical, legal and otherwise -- that can be construed and used as advice, and if someone wants to sue Wikipedia or us personally, they will. I mean, if I have an ear ache, read the article and, like an idiot, conclude that I must have mastoiditis and decide to attempt a myringotomy all by myself, I may sue Wikipedia just as well as I could if I had asked a question on the Reference Desk -- and I could easily word that question in a way that wouldn't look as if I was asking for medical advice.
And I should stress again that I don't think we should diagnose people here; I'm just saying that if the concern really is for Wikipedia users' well-being and for avoiding lawsuits, all this seems disingenuous. In this instance, the original poster wasn't really asking for medical advice, he was asking for information. We (well, technically, you, but that's irrelevant in that I might just as well have read the question the way you did) interpreted that as a request for actual advice, even though taken literally, he was asking someone to explain the phenomenon -- he wasn't asking what to do about it. My point is, if he had omitted the part that he himself had these feelings and had taken a little more abstract approach, it would have been purely a discussion about strange feelings of fear and what causes them, and we would most likely have let it be. And yet he might still have used it as medical advice. Or another reader with a similar condition might have. So what are we really saying here? That it's okay to ask for this information and use it as advice, as long as you misrepresent the situation? I mean, clearly -- unless I'm missing something here -- we're not keeping anyone safe here on any practical level, we're just pretending to do so.
And just to be clear: I really, honestly don't mean this as criticism of your actions; like I said, I might just as well have read the question the way you did and done the same. You acted well within policy, and not at all unreasonably. It's just that now that I think about it, I can't understand what difference it makes. It's just lip service that doesn't really have anything to do with actually keeping people safe. -- Captain Disdain (talk) 21:10, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
(edit conflict) I don't want to use an actual question as an example, because that takes us into the place we are trying not to go. But hypotheticals never work, either. So we're stuck with generalities. It's not disingenuous to read a question and see what it says. This is a typewritten medium, and all we have to go on is words in a row. Not a facial expression, not a tone of voice, no set to the shoulders or unconscious gesture. Words. And written words, that often fail to say what the writer thought they would. We form a mental picture of the questioner based on those words, but our mental picture is almost certainly wrong. So we have to read and interpret the words as they appear on our computer screens and deal with the question accordingly.
I see what you're driving at, but I'm inclined to demolish your position, I'm afraid. It matters who says what when. If something that happens here ever goes to trial, it will matter who said what when. It will matter whether we can reasonably have been expected to keep our bonehead opinions about a questioner's medical condition to ourselves. It will matter if we can be shown to have been simply acting in good faith and trying to provide information. It will matter if we can be shown to have been willing to sacrifice a human being on the altar of freedom. People get all muzzy when legal matters come up. The law is indeed arcane and rococo, but judges and juries are human beings with a degree of common sense and ordinary understanding. The things we legal layman can easily understand do matter within the legal system too. So I would twist your position to suit my own; we must avoid actually being disingenuous.
Speaking for myself, the whole matter is crystal clear, and all this dancing around the issue kind of pisses me off. But I'm a good Wikipedian, I hope, and I will always start by debating in good faith. The guidelines say not to supply medical advice on the reference desks. Couldn't be clearer. I know what medical advice is, and I know what the word "not" means, so, understood, let's move on. What I don't understand is why so many people try so hard to game the rules so they can provide medical advice. Have you ever tried to advise a mother on how to raise her children? Or advise a biker on concepts in personal hygeine? I hate to give advice, so why do so many love to? --Milkbreath (talk) 22:56, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
Please do demolish my position! I'd honestly love to have someone convince me that this makes sense. But you haven't done that yet. If your position is that the guideline says that there's no medical advice, that is straightforward. That's also completely ignoring the actual point I'm making. I know what the guideline says; I'm not questioning that. I'm questioning the intention and logic behind the guideline, because it seems obvious to me that many of the questions we answer can be used as medical advice, even if they don't explicitly ask for it -- so clearly, the concern for someone's safety is kind of dubious. The legal reasons seem pointless to me as well; if someone wants to sue us, they'll sue us.
I mean, why is it that someone can ask about possibly insane electrical projects or virus programming without problems, but asking about an ear ache is a no-no? Isn't there, logically, a far greater chance of injury or damages (and lawsuit) there? And, again, I want to stress that I'm not saying we should provide diagnoses or medical advice; I just don't think the rationale that just about all answers to medical questions are medical advice makes much sense, when answers to medical questions that are explicitly worded in a way that makes it clear that they are not asking for medical advice can still be interpreted as medical advice and used as a basis for a lawsuit -- when, in the end, it's a question of somebody asking something from some guy on the internet and that lawsuit isn't gonna fly anyway.
As for hating giving advice, well, I'm not sure dunno how that fits together with working the Reference Desk, but that's your thing, I guess. (I mean, if a biker comes along and asks what to do about these armpits, where's the problem?) -- Captain Disdain (talk) 14:56, 4 June 2008 (UTC)
Ah. To answer your question, I don't know. I've refused to answer many questions because I thought somebody might come to harm if I did. I don't feel in the slightest disingenuous about it. Human beings wrote the guidelines and are still writing them. If you have some wording you'd like to put in there, or some you'd like to take out, let us see it. I've always imagined that the proscription against giving medical advice had an at least twofold origin: some vague association with the laws against practicing medicine without a license (same for law) and the idea that people are frail animals subject to all manner of maladies from which they seek relief, desperate or confused, not to be toyed with. When Wikipedia gets asked whether nothing is sacred, we can say "Yes, the sick." It's a matter of mercy. I don't see how you can make immediate human suffering an abstract phenomenon and draw a parallel between that and anything else. --Milkbreath (talk) 15:28, 4 June 2008 (UTC)
I don't agree with this removal. If the OP had left out the bit at the end ("Can someone explain this phenomenon?") then this would IMHO have been an acceptable question (perhaps for the Language desk). Is there a word to describe the fear of something on the other side of the door even though you know nothing's there? Nothing wrong with that.
The fact that he added the request for an explanation doesn't change things as I see it. The purpose of removing "medical" questions is to protect the OP. I propose we change this to only allow for protection of reasonable OPs. For example, a "misguided soul" may respond to the question on expensive cognacs with "One only enjoys an expensive cognac after drinking 600 bottles over 3 years." An unreasonable OP would proceed to liquidate his retirement provisions for the enjoyment but no-one would remove that question. If we had responded to this question with "the fear of something on the other side of the door even though you know nothing's there is known as XXX-phobia" (with the usual IANAD etc) then I can't see how a reasonable OP would be harmed.
Zain Ebrahim (talk) 22:00, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
I'm with Zain on this one. People coming to the refdesk are not qualified-certificated-trained-supervised question posters (who should know how to depersonalise a question for a start so there's no legal recourse *ironical wince*). While I sympathise with Milkbreath being the activist here, imo there's a difference between asking What is...? and What should I do? (especially My friend/daughter/wife/'s like this so how to fix it?) People are responsible for their own further actions (such as looking it up on the internet or wikipedia) surely. To give someone a term for a thing like a Phobia is only describing it in Greek after all. I'd like to give'em a break while not being played – a balancing act, but worth it sometimes. Strangely though masturbation and sexual dysfunction stay put and invite big threads in reply... Julia Rossi (talk) 01:24, 4 June 2008 (UTC)

I'm the one who asked the question. I did not intend to ask for medical advice. If you look at my contribs you can see that I've been at the ref desk long enough to know better.--Goon Noot (talk) 05:36, 4 June 2008 (UTC)

Hi Goon Noot, I did see that, but rather than get into labels, phobias and other aversions, see your gp about anxiety and unexplained signs of stress. (also posted to user's talk page) Julia Rossi (talk) 12:23, 4 June 2008 (UTC)

How can you object to removing the question and then send the guy to a doctor? For this metadiscussion to be made into a revisiting of the original post defeats the purpose of the removal and undermines the process. Do not give advice. What's hard? Do not give a diagnosis. "Phobia" is from the Greek, to be sure, and "dunderhead" is German. How do you know it's a phobia? How you know it's a sign of stress? How do you know the problem is not physical? How do you know it is not dietary? How do you know it's not something you don't know a goddamned thing about, Dr. Fizzleputts? Do not give medical advice. Jeeze. --Milkbreath (talk) 15:43, 4 June 2008 (UTC)
I completely disagree. Dunderhead is not German! ---Sluzzelin talk 16:00, 4 June 2008 (UTC)
Milkbreath, I object to this particular question's removal but I would also suggest that User:Goon Noot speak to a professional for a diagnosis or advice. We can provide information (i.e. the fear of something on the other side of the door even though you know nothing's there is known as XXX-phobia) without advising or diagnosing. We only remove questions when we feel that someone else may come along and provide advice/diagnoses. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 16:21, 4 June 2008 (UTC)
I also disagree with the removal. Surely we can answer whether or not there is a name for such a phobia without actually telling the OP that we diagnose that they have that condition. StuRat (talk) 00:59, 21 June 2008 (UTC)

Another Medical Question

Here's the diff. Answering could result in possible life-threatening drug interactions. Fribbler (talk) 19:14, 3 June 2008 (UTC)

Yup, completely agree, I was going to remove it myself but got distracted. You don't get more blatant requests for medical advice than that! ~ mazca talk 19:30, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
This is a question for a pharmacist. While any dexbrompheniramine/pseudoephedrine med will likely work, the person probably wants a different brand with similar dose to Drixoral. -- kainaw 19:35, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
Aye. I left a message on the questioners talk page suggesting they speak to their doctor or phrarmacist. (pseudoephedrine and hypertension caused alarm bells to go off in my head anyway; they should see a professional to at least review this combination) Fribbler (talk) 23:00, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
With regards to my comments above, I should probably stress that this is an entirely reasonable removal, in my opinion. A wholly different situation. -- Captain Disdain (talk) 19:52, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
It looked like the op thought they were in touch with the distributor or manufacturer. They were confused but well removed. Julia Rossi (talk) 01:30, 4 June 2008 (UTC)
Well, parts of it we could have answered safely, like telling them whether or not that med was actually pulled off the market. But, of course, we shouldn't give them an alternative medication recommendation. StuRat (talk) 00:39, 21 June 2008 (UTC)
But leaving the question on the desk leaves it open to anyone to say anything. Proposals to edit the dangerous parts out of the question or use a standardised method of dealing with general requests for advice were met with some resistance (see Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/Archive 47#New approach to legal/medical advice). Zain Ebrahim (talk) 00:45, 21 June 2008 (UTC)


This one, keeps removing my posts. From their dubious questions about Abraham Lincoln no less. I had three here under "aside"[6]. Julia Rossi (talk) 04:32, 4 June 2008 (UTC)

I restored two of the posts because it irked me that a bad-faith contributor should be allowed to remove a good-faith volunteer's comments which also served as a warning to other good-faith volunteers. Once again, I recommend ignoring posts by 71.100 completely (i.e. no intellectual fisticuffs either). This is exactly what he feeds on. ---Sluzzelin talk 06:23, 4 June 2008 (UTC)
Thanks Sluzzelin, agreed. Some are quirky but this one's very different. Sorry about the box (though it's a fun idea), I'll rely on a verbal flag instead. Best, Julia Rossi (talk) 08:34, 4 June 2008 (UTC)

A different one - diff with implicit admission. For those who like to be aware. --LarryMac | Talk 20:11, 6 June 2008 (UTC)

Yes, that particular account (English translation: "wipeable") also appeared in the string of new users asking off-questions at the miscellaneous desk a couple of days ago, visible here. Another account present in that array got blocked a few minutes ago for vandalizing countless user talk pages. ---Sluzzelin talk 20:29, 6 June 2008 (UTC)
The user has 2 megabytes of crap commented into their talk page. Should it be blanked? Fribbler (talk) 21:00, 6 June 2008 (UTC)
Wow, Larrymac I missed that one. Disgur-stin'. There were so many thoughtful replies, but I think parc-sters are not the way to demonstrate the tender capacities of refdeskers. Blank'em I say. Anyone else getting leery of Dr Ruth type questions and their hooks (such as can-only-turn-to-you-guys kind of thing)? Julia Rossi (talk) 01:40, 7 June 2008 (UTC)
Just to clarify (and this may be a help desk question), this particular t***l's talk page has nearly two megabytes of commented out (and hence invisible) rubbish on their talk page. I'd imagine this is normally removed, but I'm loathed to remove anything from anyones own talk page. Any ideas? Fribbler (talk) 01:49, 7 June 2008 (UTC)
I'd only remove it if you're wearing a mask. Hey! At least that was an effortless meme. This guy is trying to hard. I'd focus on the I in WP:RBI and on all three letters when the account becomes disruptive. ---Sluzzelin talk 02:11, 7 June 2008 (UTC)
Good point. I'd say that's the way to go, Sluzzelin. Fribbler (talk) 19:57, 7 June 2008 (UTC)

Looking into the past

<moved to sci desk here[7]> Julia Rossi (talk) 02:20, 8 June 2008 (UTC)

rm'd trolling

Removed some trolling, [8], mentioning here because there was a good faith response.—eric 18:11, 8 June 2008 (UTC)


Check it out. -- (talk) 19:22, 8 June 2008 (UTC)

It was a "Reference desk/Medicine", and Athaenara has already deleted it. (Presumably [[Reference desk/Legal advice]] will be next. :-\ ) —Steve Summit (talk) 23:50, 8 June 2008 (UTC)

Vacation Suggestion

I intend to take a vacation from the RD for a week or so (if not more). I have two full-time jobs, I'm taking a full semester of Calc III in a four week course, and my son is almost 18-months - so he is at the "mine, mine, mine" and "no, no, no" stage. I figure that all of that has caused my patience for the idiocy of some questioners on the RD to decline drastically. Knowing that I need to take leave for a bit, I thought that there are times when I've seen responses from other well-known RDers turn to frustration. Then, I thought, is there a polite way to suggest to a RDer that they probably need a break? I'm rather surprised nobody told me to take a vacation - or, have I always been so rude to questioners? What are some suggestions for telling someone, "You deserve a vacation. Go away, relax, and come back when you feel better." -- kainaw 12:49, 9 June 2008 (UTC)

"You seem to be a wee bit bitey at the moment. Time, perhaps, for a short & stress relieving wikibreak?" --Tagishsimon (talk) 23:28, 9 June 2008 (UTC)
Should we make a template out of that, {{RD wee bit bitey}}?  --Lambiam 05:03, 10 June 2008 (UTC)
You seem to be a wee bit bitey at the moment. Time, perhaps, for a short & stress relieving dip in the cool and murky waters of real life.
Heehee. I like that. I think it should begin with "What happened?" to indicate that being bitey is not the person's normal state. -- kainaw 18:20, 10 June 2008 (UTC)

People answering a question that has already been answered

See here, for example. This annoys me a little, I have to confess. If I know the answer to a question, but someone else has already answered it, I would never add anything to the thread. Once a clear and unambiguous answer has been given, there is no need for further responses giving the same answer. Unless people feel that further identical responses somehow give weight to, or corroborate, the first answer? --Richardrj talk email 13:29, 9 June 2008 (UTC)

Generally, if you have a problem with someone's post (which is unrelated to the content of the question), it's best to leave a note on their talk page (unless they don't have a talk page). You may find that they did have a good reason after all. In this case, I would guess that User:Hotclaws simply missed User:84user's comment and User:AndyJones answered Hotclaws' question. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 14:17, 9 June 2008 (UTC)
In my 'umble opinion I don't mind people concurring on answers ("yup, user:xxxxxx is just right"). And I can forgive people who only read the title of the question and chime in with the answer even though it has already been given. What irks me is kind of the opposite: when people skim over questions that have recieved an incorrect reply. I'd prefer see a hundred identical responses to a question than one misleading/incorrect response that nobody chose to expand upon or correct. Fribbler (talk) 23:25, 9 June 2008 (UTC)
I took it the poster was putting the original suggestion into a context, even though personal and chatty. I didn't mind. I answered a post with stuff from the pedia and then in the history came across someone delcining to answer because they couldn't add more than the articles which i just did. I like to give some leeway (even to myself!). Also stuff happens I feel, and sometimes people don't get it right all the time. If it was a case of someone always adding the obvious like a chiming in, that might be a problem habit best avoided or challenged. Julia Rossi (talk) 07:45, 10 June 2008 (UTC)
I see several good reasons for giving the same answer:
1) As stated, it lends weight to that answer, which is especially important in case others give an incorrect answer.
2) There can be an edit conflict, in which case the person doesn't realize the other editor gave the same answer.
3) The second person may feel they can explain the answer better and/or add more detail.
4) For questions with a very long discussion, especially on off-topic items, it would take too long to read through the whole thing to see if the answer was ever given. Thus, it's better to risk repeating it than not give the answer at all. StuRat (talk) 00:27, 21 June 2008 (UTC)


[9] Seems very strange for a person to ask about such a specific software that gets 879 Ghits and the response sound like it's coming from a sales person. Should it be removed? --antilivedT | C | G 08:27, 10 June 2008 (UTC)

I guess my good faith supplies are depleted, because I'm finding the sight of two new users created within 15 minutes of each other whose only contribs are to ask and answer a leading question suspicious. Advertising doesn't seem to be mentioned specifically in the guidelines; should it be? Algebraist 08:44, 10 June 2008 (UTC)
When it becomes a problem – afaik this is the only instance spotted yet on the desk. With or without such mention, it is disallowed per WP:NOT: Wikipedia is not a vehicle for advertising. This applies to all content hosted in Wikipedia.  --Lambiam 15:43, 10 June 2008 (UTC)
I'd keep it out of the guidelines unless it becomes common, to avoid the risk of WP:BEANS. --Tango (talk) 01:25, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
I've removed it, and left polite notes on the talk pages of the accounts involved. Also filed an RFCU, just in case. —Ilmari Karonen (talk) 17:35, 12 June 2008 (UTC)

Homework Accusations

Its getting a bit tedius that almost every other question at the Science desk gets accused of being homework. Although some instances are obviously homework questions, many are legitimate questions. I urge people to please assume good faith or else users may get discouraged to post legitimate questions in the future. Thanks for listening. Jdrewitt (talk) 18:05, 10 June 2008 (UTC)

I basically concur and am not fond of drive-by "Do your own homework" messages offering absolutely no help whatsoever. I recommend reading SteveBaker's "Modest Proposal" which had a number of supporters at the time. (See also preceding thread, "Homework Questions" for context). ---Sluzzelin talk 18:19, 10 June 2008 (UTC)
Assuming good faith isn't such a good idea - we'll end up doing people's homework for them far too often. I think the harm from a false negative is worse than the harm from a false positive - too many false negatives and we're going to get schools blocking Wikipedia altogether, which would be a very bad thing. The solution, which many people do, is to try and point people in the right direction without actually giving them the answer. The problem is that with some questions it's very difficult to do that without giving too much away, and "Do your own homework." is the only valid response. --Tango (talk) 00:24, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
Tango, can you give an example of a question where "Do your own homework." (and nothing else) is the only valid response? ---Sluzzelin talk 01:09, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
That would be a good example, in fact! Questions starting "Give an example of..." - it's often very difficult to point someone in the right direction without actually giving them an example (not in all cases, certainly). --Tango (talk) 01:22, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
Do your own homework is never a helpful response, so it's never a valid response for a reference desk. We're here to help with answers; if you don't want to help, no one can force you to. We don't need an explanation of why you don't want to answer a question. Just move on. - Nunh-huh 01:15, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
Fwiw, I found it helpful to be warned by that kind of answer when starting at the ref desks. The wording can be softened probably, though takes more effort. Julia Rossi (talk) 01:57, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
I don't quite see how "being warned" is helpful. But I agree that being polite may require some effort . That doesn't relieve us of our duty to be polite. A librarian staffing a reference desk who answered a questioner with "do your own homework" would be - justifiably - fired. - Nunh-huh 03:43, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
If a person is not going to receive much or any response because it is a homework question then yes, it may be helpful to know why Nil Einne (talk) 12:20, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
One can respond to a question like this one with "See Addition". I'm not sure though that – given the question – it is an actually helpful response.  --Lambiam 08:11, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
Don't get me wrong, I think the template is an excellent idea when used properly but I fully agree that we should not simply point out that the question is homework or use the {{dyoh}} template without attempting to nudge the OP in the right direction. Also, I'm not convinced that we should not link to articles just because it contains the answer in the first line (assuming this is what Tango was referring to). Teachers should be cognisant of the fact that their students have access to WP when setting homework.
The issue is when it isn't obvious which article to read. If someone is asking about addition, pointing them to addition is fine. If someone is asking about how bubbles work, pointing them to surface tension might be giving too much away (of course, this is Wikipedia and we have an article on everything, so we could just point them to soap bubble - I can't think of an example we don't have a perfect article for!!). --Tango (talk) 12:44, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
And if you don't have the time/energy to add some courtesy to your response (or, at the very least, remove the sanctimonious arrogance from it) you should probably wait for someone who does to come along and answer. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 10:49, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
Pointing people in the right direction is a good idea and will nudge the OP to have a think and then maybe follow on with a further discussion about what part of the question/answer they may or may not understand. However, I feel that this can and should be done without actually accussing the OP of submitting a homework question (which is where the good faith assumption comes in), unless it is a really obvious case. Cheers, Jdrewitt (talk) 11:12, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
I prefer to explain why I'm not giving a full answer. It allows the OP to correct me if it isn't actually homework and explain why they want to know (you can usually tell if they're being honest or not). --Tango (talk) 12:44, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
Fair enough, there are cases where maybe you could ask for the OP to at least attempt the question themselves first. Could this be done without mentioning the word homework though only it suggests that the OP is breaking the rules, when maybe all they need is a bit of encouragement to push themselves. I do understand your point though. Jdrewitt (talk) 00:49, 18 June 2008 (UTC)
I agree that many questions are accused of being homework unfairly. This is not good either for our credibility or the experience of the user. It is also rather uncivil to baldly state do your own homework. There is no reason at all not to at least give a helpful link as well. If one is not reasonably sure that it is homework, then just give the helpful link without the accusation - if it was homework you have done no harm and if it wasn't you have at least helped the questioner. On the other hand, I think it is right to tag blatant homework questions in order to warn naive refdesk helpers. Certainly I was trapped into answering several homework questions when I started answering questions before I learnt better. SpinningSpark 13:02, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
Incidentally, it seems rather patronising to assume that anyone who wants to ask a question is some schoolchild trying to cheat at their homework. There are plenty of people over the age of 18 who use the Reference Desks, you know!
Homework questions that are clearly cut-and-paste jobs are easy to identify, and should certainly be discouraged. But so should this ageist assumption that we're all a bunch of lazy adolescents. Malcolm XIV (talk) 15:05, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
I agree with directing the OP to the appropriate article and also would add "redirecting the question". If they ask "What are the factors of 24", show them how to find the factors of 15, then say "now you try that method with 24". StuRat (talk) 00:16, 21 June 2008 (UTC)

Around the block

Is Taxa someone who's been around the block a couple of times?[10] Julia Rossi (talk) 00:53, 13 June 2008 (UTC)

Yes. Another 71.100 sock. See how this diff was signed, for example. ---Sluzzelin talk 12:26, 13 June 2008 (UTC)
Ah, so I'm not seeing things -- ironic that the font face is "rage italic". Sluzz, you're acute. Julia Rossi (talk) 00:12, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

Humanities desk vandalism and protection

I see that User:AndonicO semi-protected the Humanities desk for some hours this evening. I don't know about anyone else, but I think this is a poor idea, which I hope won't be seen as a precedent. We've got plenty of people ready and willing to revert anonymous-IP vandalism. (We've certainly dealt with much worse in the past.) I really don't think we should accept the collateral damage that results when good-faith anonymous-IP editors (of which we obviously have lots) are locked out. —Steve Summit (talk) 04:12, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

I agree, and I left AndonicO a note. ---Sluzzelin talk 05:41, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
Ah, I just saw AndonicO was responding to a request for protection here. Not a lot of harm done, but I agree with Steve: There are plenty of good-faith querents and helpful volunteers editing without a registered account, and the desks should always be open to them. ---Sluzzelin talk 09:00, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
I'm aware that most IP edits to the page are here to ask questions, but then again you had been being spammed recently. I'll try to rangeblock 71.100, which should fix the problem. Unless I screw up... · AndonicO Engage. 09:39, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
Oh my, indefinitely? That would be Christmas in June. But aren't range-blocks problematic because of the potential collateral damage to innocent editors within the blocked range? ---Sluzzelin talk 09:46, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
(Edit conflict) I've applied a rangeblock to User: If that worked, you should have at least a week of peace; if it didn't, you'll probably hear of my desysopping soon. :) · AndonicO Engage. 09:51, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
Not indefinitely, only for a week; rangeblocks can be problematic, yes, but I don't think there were any other alternatives other than protecting. I'll leave a note at WP:AN, though, in case anyone has a better idea. · AndonicO Engage. 09:51, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
No other alternatives? Personally, I'd rather waste my time reverting the troll than risk having "protection" against IP contributors. There are several GF questioners and valuable answerers who contribute via IP. I don't think that protection of the desk was a good idea. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 10:51, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
I meant rangeblocks were our only option (not protection, as you seem to have understood—I probably didn't phrase it very well). · AndonicO Engage. 11:16, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
(outdent) I was the user who requested a short period of protection. It seemed like a good idea at the time, since people were spending all their time reverting 71's edits, and "desk jockeys" watchlists were becoming blind to new questions. If consensus is to keep reverting in the future, then that's what I'll do. Mea culpa :-) Fribbler (talk) 12:05, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

Related protection

The semi-protection of the desk(s) I've been enacting is unrelated to the reason above. The ref desks keep getting hit by spam bots. There is a discussion taking place at AN/I. Seraphim♥Whipp 12:09, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

See also the related technical discussion also at AN/I. —Steve Summit (talk) 20:27, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
The discussion I've already commented on...Seraphim♥Whipp 21:02, 14 June 2008 (UTC)


Another admin has protected the Miscellaneous desk again. Clearly the anontalk spammer is persistent, but I still think I'd rather deal with it by hand. Let's have a quick straw poll, to demonstrate consensus:

no semiprotection for RD pages, or anything else which would lock out good-faith anon contributors

  • Steve Summit (talk) 20:27, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
  • D0762 (talk) 20:31, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
  • I think it's a little soon to be having a poll, but nevertheless, I think allowing anon's to ask questions is extremely important. I'm more than happy to clean up after vandals manually if it means people can actually use the desk. Killing the patient in order to stop the tumor growing is not a good approach. --Tango (talk) 21:50, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
  • As a very strong preference, I will put my name here (reasons given above too). That being said, my name probably belongs under other, because I recognize that there may be situations where a bot is working so fast that fighting it manually could actually be Sisyphean and result in more confusion and chaos than a short semi-protection of no more than a few minutes. I just don't understand enough about these spambots in order to judge whether it's really necessary or not, but I'm willing to consider the possibility. As long as it remains the complete exception and only a last resort, I guess I can live with very occasional page protection. If protection exceeds periods of fifteen minutes and/or happens more frequently than once a day, then we need to look for other solutions. ---Sluzzelin talk 03:29, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
    There's an IP querent asking for help below, and just to provide an example of a regular, learned, and helpful volunteer who couldn't edit, see this post. The actual (not theoretical) occasional necessity of semi-protection hasn't been established to my satisfaction yet (maybe we need to let the spambots run amok once, just for demonstration's sake, if I'm around I'll be busily reverting), but if it turns out to be inevitable, I propose trying to keep the duration as short as possible (i.e. trying out one to three minute protections too, maybe that's enough). ---Sluzzelin talk 06:40, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
  • What happens when the trolls [[The AT|create accounts]]? Are we then going to fully protect the desks? Semi-protection amounts to the same thing: we're denying use of the desks to GF contributors. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 12:07, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
The way I see it, a troll with a large number of "sleeper accounts" is, for all practical purposes, the same as the 71.100-type troll. In any event, that didn't form the basis of my vote. The way I see it, the collateral damage from any protection of the desks far outweighs any potential gain. Don't do this. If you don't want to revert by hand then someone else will. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 15:49, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
A range block was enacted, so that situation is hopefully dealt with. I've already made this point at my talk page (which I invite people to read for further context) but not yet here. The reason semi-protection will sometimes be needed, is that spam bots act too quickly for the human hand to beat. In an attack that happened yesterday, 4 different IP's were used in the space of 2 minutes. If protection hadn't have been instituted, it would have gone further. However, don't think us admins are lazy. I have taken different actions to try and beat this, namely adding the link to xlink bot's revert list, reporting the IP addresses at the open proxy project (of which a number have been blocked for the period of 2 years) and reported it at AN/I for further discussion. Another admin, East718 said he would also try and stop this. Sometimes though, quick semi-protection is the most useful tool. I don't really understand how bots work, but I imagine that short protects would interrupt the algorithm (if I've even got that right...) Seraphim♥Whipp 16:12, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
Attack just happened. Would you want new users to stumble upon a page that looks like this? I urge you to look at the history of that page when the attack began and when others began; they move too fast. I was trying to see if the short protect would be effective...guess we'll find out another time. Seraphim♥Whipp 16:19, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
Editing fast is not a problem, it's only a problem if they change IP addresses (and not just within a small range) quickly. Protection was unnecessary there, just blocking the single IP address that was vandalising would have been plenty. (Yes, it changed IP addresses later, but still to just one address which could be easily blocked.) --Tango (talk) 16:46, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
But bear in mind, there were IP edits that occurred in the edit history right before the attack, which I didn't have time to verify. I was trying to see if a really short protect could be effective against a spam bot (whoever is running it normally changes IPs very fast.) Seraphim♥Whipp 16:52, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
No, of course I wouldn't want a new user to stumble across that kind of vandalism -- but at the same time, I'd wouldn't want for them to be told they have to wait four days before they can ask their question, either. —Steve Summit (talk) 16:49, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
I don't think anyone is advocating that we semi for 4 days, and if they are, I'm firmly against that. The protections so far have not exceeded past a few hours, and now I'm testing the effectiveness of very short protections (5 minutes). Seraphim♥Whipp 16:55, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
I know we're not suggesting 4-day protection, but if a new, anon user discovers they can't edit and researches why, that's the impression they're liable to get (since 4 days is, of course, how long it takes before a newly-registered editor can edit a semiprotected page). —Steve Summit (talk) 17:29, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
  • I agree with Steve Summit, Tango, and Sluzzelin--don't risk locking out good-faith quesioners.--Eriastrum (talk) 20:16, 15 June 2008 (UTC)

yes: semiprotection for RD pages, or other extreme measures even if they lock out good-faith anon contributors

  • Semi-protection only for 15 minute periods when spambots are editing (I think that's enough time). Rangeblocks only when a certain IP range (such as yesterday) is being extremely disruptive. Anything else, revert by hand. · AndonicO Engage. 21:35, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
  • Semi-protection is a useful tool that has to be used in some instances, for example when vandalism or other bad faith edits gets out of hand. Yes it is sometimes used in talk pages and it should also be used in the RD if and when necessary. Generally it shouldn't last long, but we shouldn't block out a useful tool completely Nil Einne (talk) 11:18, 15 June 2008 (UTC)
  • Semi-Protection for a few minutes to an hour. I think the title of this voting option; including the words "extreme measures" is POV-tastic. I think that sometimes (and it is rarely) it is needed to semi-protect and we shouldn't rule this action out. Fribbler (talk) 00:36, 16 June 2008 (UTC)


  • Semi-protection is a viable tool to use against open proxy spam bots and enables good faith editors to continue editing, without the either the annoyance of being repeatedly edit conflicted or having to revert. It also prevents IP and new editors from being confused and frustrated when they see a ref desk that no longer has their question on. Seraphim♥Whipp 21:00, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
  • Occasional semiprotection may be necessary to deal with serious and recurring vandalism or spam. The duration of semiprotection usually won't need to exceed a few hours at most. If vandalism comes from a single ISP, rangeblocks should be considered as an alternative; this may not be a viable option if such a rangeblock is likely to cause signficant collateral damage to the rest of the project, or if the vandal/spammer is using open proxies on multiple ISPs. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 21:40, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
  • Semi-protect -- I don't have stats but questions on the desks seem (to me) to drop in quality when vandalism/spam is taking over. Anyone else see this? so I'm with astute use of the semi protect option here. And I'm wondering if only full-on manual reverts might impact like a "game" to them and become a kind of challenge. Fwiw, Julia Rossi (talk) 00:32, 16 June 2008 (UTC)


Responding to Fribbler's last comment. I agree that "Yes: semiprotection for RD pages, or other extreme measures even if they lock out good-faith anon contributors" is not a very fair or helpful title, hence there are several "others". This is part of the problem with strawpoll dichotomy. What prompted this poll was a comment by one of the protecting administrators that there was no "set in stone" consensus against protection. What seems clear now is that everyone who is familiar with the desk wishes for as little protection as possible. The question is whether occasional protection is necessary or not. There is currently no consensus on this one way or the other. Two reasons I'm (still) opposed to any protection:

  • I haven't seen why manual reversion can't actually be done, (in practice, yet)
  • I want every spambot-hunter to use page-protection as the ultimate resort here. I don't want protection to be explicitly allowed by consensus (just like I understand those who don't want it explicitly prohibited by consensus, which brings us back to the problem of strawpolls...)

Responding to Julia Rossi's remark, yes I've thought about the gaming too, and was reminded of hours wasted as a ten-year old when battling it out with one of our usual suspects recently. Encouragement is not desirable, but WP:RBI still looks like the best solution to me. Eventually they'll get bored. What really encourages some of them, is when we respond to trolling directly, in the thread or on their talk pages (or in edit summaries, something I'm guilty of doing), which is why I will continue to revert and ignore (and leave the blocks to the administrators). ---Sluzzelin talk 01:10, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

Sluzzelin has deduced my motives in starting the straw poll perfectly. (Thanks!) I don't particularly like !votes either, but I thought we had consensus and I wanted to demonstrate it unambiguously to passing admins in order that they not "helpfully" impose protection we didn't actually want.
But it's clear from the poll that the consensus is not, in fact, as unanimous as I imagined, and I accept that.
As to the POV-ness of the poll titles: yes, I guess they were, but it was deliberate. It *is* a stark choice, and I wanted to present it as such. If we have to report to semiprotection, we're saying that the health of the desks (protecting them from vandals we can't keep away any other way) is more important than the questions and contributions we receive from anon-IP users. Me, I don't wanna say that; my opinion (sorry if I sound defeatist) is that if we have to do that, the spammers have won, and we might as well shut down the desks and go home.
At any rate, I join Sluzzelin in hoping fervently that if we have to resort to protection, it can be held to an absolute bare minimum, and I further hope that it doesn't become a slippery slope we slide down. —Steve Summit (talk) 04:06, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

A compromise

Assuming the following:

  • it is impossible to stop disruptive bots by hand
  • very short (i.e. up to 15 min) semi-protections do stop disruptive bots,

I would be prepared to live with the following:

If it can reasonably be deduced that the disruption is coming from a bot using dynamic IPs then semi-protection for "very short periods" may be used.

If the disruption is not from a bot (it's usually easy to tell) then I don't think we should semi-protect. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 10:51, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

I would like to add a third assumption:
  • there are no other technical means available
Steve Summit (talk) 12:18, 16 June 2008 (UTC)
There are? Then my vote was only partly informed. Didn't want them taking over willy-nilly and ignore seems hard to achieve in all. Apols, Julia Rossi (talk) 03:59, 19 June 2008 (UTC)
I'm not very informed about botic matters either, which is why asked Steve. He mentioned some alternatives in this thread. I would very much like to see an autorevert-bot being tested. ---Sluzzelin talk 07:36, 19 June 2008 (UTC)
Ah, thanks Sluzz. Do I see our Steve preparing to step up to the plate there? : ) Julia Rossi (talk) 11:05, 19 June 2008 (UTC)
I've seen autorevert bots at work here before. Of course, our bot isn't necessarily any quicker than those doing the vandalism, so, if we still can't keep up, a short semi-protection would be OK. StuRat (talk) 00:01, 21 June 2008 (UTC)
You see me making making encouraging noises, but no, not quite preparing. (I'd love to write an autorevert bot, but it would be a fair amount of work, couldn't easily be built on the existing bot architecture I use, and would really be a wheel reinvention.)
I think the first thing we should do is list the desks on User:ClueBot/Optin, to see how well ClueBot does at stamping out vandalism. (I asked its maintainer here if he thought this would be a good idea, but unfortunately never received a reply.) What do other people think about this idea?
In my experience, anti-vandalism bots can revert vandalism very quickly, usually in less than a minute, and, yes, oftentimes faster than it takes the vandals to vandalize in the first place. —Steve Summit (talk) 03:02, 22 June 2008 (UTC)
Unless there's a compelling reason not to, I think we should go ahead and list the desks there. Note that my understanding of these issues is quite minimal. Some questions, then:
  • Would ClueBot misconstrue legitimate posts for vandalism?
  • Would ClueBot register the AnonTalk spam as disruption?
  • I see from User:ClueBot that it is 1RR compliant, is there a way to avoid this? Zain Ebrahim (talk) 08:39, 22 June 2008 (UTC)
I'm going to move this to a new thread below. —Steve Summit (talk) 14:13, 22 June 2008 (UTC)


I had the following question to ask on the Miscellaneous reference desk, right after I reverted another anon's vandalism:

[question moved to Wikipedia:Reference desk/Computing#Zelda DX]

However the page was semi-protected, and I could not post it. It would take a significant amount of time to become "established" even if I became a registered user. So I can't ask my question there; I have to ask it here and/or hope someone moves it there. (talk) 19:44, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

Never mind, the page is now unprotected. (talk) 19:47, 14 June 2008 (UTC)
Never mind that, the page is still protected.

Sorry about the semiprotection.

I've moved your question, but to the Computing desk, not Miscellaneous.

For future reference, the amount of time it takes to become an "established" registered user is 4 days. —Steve Summit (talk) 20:16, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

External willpower

Hey hey. As I'm finding it hard to leave a particular discussion alone, I'm staying off the desks for 24 hours. I'm posting this as a way of forcing myself to stick to this plan. :-) (talk) 23:27, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

Just for the fun of it

Just for the fun of it and inspired by Wikipedia:Reference desk/Miscellaneous#Silent Deskers I've started this (controversial I'm sure) page. Please add youself (to make my job easier) or not. I'll not get all of you I'm sure so feel free to help out with your own sig or other omissions. --hydnjo talk 03:29, 17 June 2008 (UTC)

I feel it would be more helpful if the list contained the person's area of expertise (assuming each person has one). Of course, this would be purely a good faith assumption. I could claim to have a PhD in Olde English Poetry. Of course, anyone here would assume that is not true since my answers show that I really have two areas of expertise: computers and hedgehogs. -- kainaw 12:58, 19 June 2008 (UTC)
I'm touched to be on the D list. I could say for sure what my areas are not: hard sciences, sports, games, soap operas, astronomy, mathematics, programming. Maybe the desks of choice would be a guide.  : ) Julia Rossi (talk) 13:08, 19 June 2008 (UTC)
I am a jack of all trades, master of none. But my Google-fu is strong. --LarryMac | Talk 14:44, 19 June 2008 (UTC)

Coriolis effect and cyclones

Question moved to The Science Desk. Fribbler (talk) 22:37, 17 June 2008 (UTC)